Movie Review(s) – Catching Up

The last few months have been packed with movies and I didn’t have any place to give my thoughts on them.  I’ve been asked a lot lately “What good movies are out now?” or “What have you seen lately?”  Since going live with my blog I’ve received several requests for my review of movies curently in theaters.  While I think the time has passed to give a full TMMM review I did want to present my capsule reviews on 15 movies that I’ve seen in the last two months.

Here they are…in alphabetical order.

The Adventures of Tintin

The Facts:

Synopsis: Intrepid reporter Tintin and Captain Haddock set off on a treasure hunt for a sunken ship commanded by Haddock’s ancestor.

Stars: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig

Director: Steven Spielberg

Rated: PG

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I admit to not being overly familiar with the legacy of Tintin.  Hergé’s hero of his Belgian comic series comes to vivid life under Spielberg’s direction and the input from Peter Jackson  After viewing the movie (which is quite impressive in 3-D) I went back and viewed some of the source material.  It’s clear from comparing the two that the filmmakers stayed close to the realism and humanistic nature of the source material.  As someone who loves a good globe-trotting adventure flick this filled a need I’d been having for something to get involved with and excited about.  As Tintin is more popular in Europe it’s not surprising that the movie hasn’t quite caught on here.  However, this reviewer will be making another trip to the theater to see this again – and looking forward to the supposed sequel that Jackson will direct.

The Artist

The Facts:

Synopsis: Hollywood, 1927: As silent movie star George Valentin wonders if the arrival of talking pictures will cause him to fade into oblivion, he sparks with Peppy Miller, a young dancer set for a big break.

Stars: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo and John Goodman

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review:  Leaving the theater I tried to put into words how this film made me as a viewer feel.  I came up with the idea that this is a movie for everyone who loves to love movies about people who love movies.  It’s a classic Hollywood story that bravely is presented with no dialogue…a silent movie.  As we know from stars of yesteryear who saw their fame fade when ‘talkies’ came to town, there was an art form to actors who performed in silent films.  Casting the two leads was one critical element for the film to work and Dujardin and Bejo are so spot on that it really does feel like they’ve been transported from the 1920’s.  Bejo’s megawatt smile and Dujardin’s handsome features achieve an almost 3-D effect, bringing you into the fold.  The score by Ludovic Bource is a revelation…it’s the other element that needed to be in place to nail the tone and provide symmetry to the film.  People hear “Black and White” film and recoil, people here “Black and White Silent Film” and start to look at what’s playing nearby instead.  Resist that urge and give this a try – it’s a genuine surprise of a film that lives up to its hype.

The Darkest Hour

The Facts:

Synopsis: In Moscow, five young people lead the charge against an alien race who have attacked Earth via our power supply.

Stars: Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachael Taylor

Director: Chris Gorak

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: The darkest hour is really the time you are spending in the theater with this nonsense bunk.   I turned to my movie-going companion before the credits even finished and said “This is going to be a rough one”.  This premonition was realized quickly with the introduction of an entire cast of unlikable and unrelatable boneheads.  The aliens are laughable, the acting atrocious (Joel Kinnaman who was so excellent in AMC’s The Killing is particularly dreadful), and the “Mother Russia” faux freedom fighter subplot a laughable bore.  During this film I rolled my eyes as much as Penelope Cruz rolled her “R’s” in Vicky Christina Barcelona. Don’t rent it, don’t even think about this movie.

 The Descendants

The Facts:

Synopsis: A land baron tries to re-connect with his two daughters after his wife suffers a boating accident.

Stars: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Beau Bridges

Director: Alexander Payne

Rated: R

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review:  My favorite film of the year…hands down.  I’ve already seen the film three times and foresee another viewing or two before it reaches the home market.  Clooney is perfectly cast waaay against type as a flawed family man that has to juggle the fractured relationships with his daughters, his comatose wife, and a family land deal that stands to changes their lives forever.  It’s not the comedy that the trailers have made it out to be…yet it IS a deeply funny, very moving exploration of the intricacies of family life and the outside forces that can disrupt and enlighten.  Alexander Payne has directed a mini-masterpiece in my opinion.  True, the acting by some periphery characters does not match up with the leads but that’s something you’re just going to have to get over.  Woodley is really the find here…she tackles a pretty tough role and resists making it predictable.  Her interactions with Clooney are personal and well crafted scenes that I appreciate more with each viewing.  I love that this film is so much about family and family history – if you are paying close attention you’ll get how it all ties together.  While The Artist is going to give this movie a healthy run for its money…I’m putting my money on Clooney, Woodley, and the Picture to take home Oscar gold.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Facts:

Synopsis: Journalist Mikael Blomkvist is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing for forty years by Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker.

Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Joely Richardson, Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgård

Director: David Fincher

Rated: R

Running Length: 158 minutes

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review:  I’d been looking forward to this movie for so long that I probably should devote a larger space on here to it – however after two viewings and long discussions after I almost feel a bit talked out on Fincher’s epic take on Stieg Larsson’s first novel of the Millennium Trilogy.  From the fantastically twisted (if slightly out of place) opening credits to the last heartbreakingly haunting shot the movie pulses with energy.  Fincher’s casting of Mara as heroine Lisbeth Salander is to be praised as she anchors this movie and brings it to another level.  I’m still a fan of Noomi Rapace’s take on Lisbeth in the original Swedish films but Mara’s performance is layered on a different level…allowing both actresses to lay claim to the role without saying one is “better” than the other.  The film wisely jettisons subplots that can be tackled in the next movie to focus on the central mystery of what happened to the grand niece of a wealthy Swedish industrialist.  The movie has some pretty intense and sexually graphic violent scenes so if you have an aversion to that violence against women you may be advised to steer clear.  Revenge is sweet and there’s plenty to be had here.  It’s a chilly, frost-bitten movie with teeth that you can really sink your choppers into.

Hugo

The Facts:

Synopsis: Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton.

Stars: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kinglsey, Jude Law, Helen McCrory

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rated: PG

Running Length: 126 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Scorsese’s film adaptation of the most excellent novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” is a dazzling look back at the early days of film, innovation, and creativity that makes for rewarding viewing.  Seeing it over a month ago I think my original excitement has faded a bit now that I’m able to see a bit of the heavy-handedness that plagues Scorsese’s films at times.  It’s a little too long and a little too interested in itself to let the audience fully in.  Scorsese makes excellent work of the 3D techniques (one shot of Sacha Baron Cohen’s face that keeps getting closer and closer to the camera really does feel like the face is protruding from the screen).  Much praise has been (deservedly) heaped on the film but I’m not sure it’s one that will, for me, stand up on repeated viewings.  Still…Scorsese is keenly aware of the experience of watching a film…and make sure you take advantage of his hard work by seeing this in 3D.

The Muppets

The Facts:

Synopsis: With the help of three fans, The Muppets must reunite to save their old theater from a greedy oil tycoon.

Stars: The Muppets, Amy Adams, Jason Segal, Chris Cooper

Director: James Bobin

Rated: PG

Running Length: 103 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  The Muppets have returned in a new film adventure to mostly positive results.  Yes, it’s fun to see our favorite characters back in action and anytime I hear The Rainbow Connection I need a box of Kleenex to make it through…but there’s a certain haphazardness to the proceedings that failed to fully warm me to the film.  There isn’t even any real resolution to the film which puzzled me a bit – it’s almost as if they simply forgot to film a page or two of dialogue.  That cranky observation aside, I laughed a lot during this and appreciated the reverence Segal and company devoted to this entry into the Muppet canon.  I’m hoping more adventures are to be had but please, next time, figure out how to end it.

My Week With Marilyn

The Facts:

Synopsis: Colin Clark, an employee of Sir Laurence Olivier’s, documents the tense interaction between Olivier and Marilyn Monroe during production of The Prince and the Showgirl.

Stars: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Julia Ormond, Judi Dench

Director: Simon Curtis

Rated: R

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  If you would have asked me when Dawson’s Creek first premiered which actor would have the most longevity and be nominated for multiple Oscars I probably would have said Joshua Jackson.  I’m kidding.  I wouldn’t have said ANY of them.  My humble pie is tasting good about now and Michelle Williams continues her streak of fully realized performances with her take on Marilyn Monroe.  While she doesn’t always necessarily look like Marilyn Monroe (and if you look closely you’ll see a pretty bad wig line when she is at a London airport) she nails the self-doubt and demons that haunted Norma Jean.  The film itself isn’t nearly as good as her performance – but it still makes for interesting viewing.  I do enjoy movies about the making of movies – I think it provides a fascinating view to what goes in to getting something on screen.  Branagh is giving some great meat to chew on as Olivier and Ormond is a delicate Vivien Leigh.  Judi Dench, as usual, steals her scenes while Eddie Redmayne just looks pleased that he is surrounded by such luminaries.  Emma Watson’s small role as a love interest for Redmayne shows that she might be wise to stick to her plans of hitting the books at college.

New Year’s Eve

The Facts:

Synopsis: The lives of several couples and singles in New York intertwine over the course of New Year’s Eve.

Stars: Michelle Pfeiffer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ashton Kutcher, Jon Bon Jovi, Zac Efron, etc.

Director: Garry Marshall

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

Review:  As if Valentine’s Day wasn’t bad enough, this film remarkably tops that one in the lame factor.  Everyone in this movie is really playing a version of themselves so there is about 1% of acting involved.  It’s an empty film with hollow performances from a cast that should really be better.  Take a look at the Trivia page on IMDB to see how many people were SUPPOSED to be in the movie but were replaced by others.  I’m not sure the original actors would have made it better but it’s hard to imagine it being much worse.  It’s bottom of the barrel filmmaking on every level.

Shame

The Facts:

Synopsis: In New York City, Brandon’s carefully cultivated private life — which allows him to indulge his sexual addiction — is disrupted when his sister Cissy arrives unannounced for an indefinite stay.

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie

Director: Steve McQueen

Rated: NC-17

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Buckle up for a depressing ride through the bedroom of one unhappy guy and his off-kilter sister.  I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to leave the theater with any big revelation or saying that you ‘liked’ the film.  It’s too wallowing and sad to be something you want to say you enjoyed.  Presenting some seriously flawed people against the backdrop of New York City over several days, the film explores some notion of sexuality and how people use it to erase hurt and calm demons within.  Credit must be given to Fassbender and Mulligan for really going for their roles…full frontal nudity from both actors has been the buzz phrase but what they do with their clothes on is much more risky.  Beharie plays a co-worker of Fassbender and they have several powerful scenes.  I found myself wanting to know her more…she’s a glimmer of light in his dark world.  Fassbender’s character sees it too but can’t muster the strength to explore it.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

The Facts:

Synopsis: Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson join forces to outwit and bring down their fiercest adversary, Professor Moriarty.

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris

Director: Guy Ritchie

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 129 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  I wasn’t the hugest fan of the first film but grew to like it on repeated viewings.  I can safely say that I don’t believe repeated viewings will help this dull second entry.  Heavy in its exposition, the film collapses under the weight of big set pieces with nothing happening.  I’ve liked Ritchie’s earlier work but it’s becoming clear that he’s not that good of a storyteller.   Downey Jr. and Law play off each other nicely but I would much rather watch the BBC’s Sherlock (have you seen it, you should!) than this turgid outing of Holmes/Watson.  Poor Rapace has nothing at all to do in this…she’s an afterthought and for her first US outing she deserved better.

The Sitter

The Facts:

Synopsis: A comedy about a college student on suspension who is coaxed into babysitting the kids next door, though he is fully unprepared for the wild night ahead of him.

Stars: Jonah Hill, Ari Graynor, Max Records, J.B. Smoove, Sam Rockwell,

Director: David Gordon Green

Rated: R

Running Length: 81 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review:  An absolute waste of celluloid and the rubber on your shoes that carry you into the movie theater.  It’s a thinly veiled remake of Adventures in Babysitting, replacing the PG-13 niceties of that film for disgusting gags, perverted sex jokes, and racist antics.  81 minutes have never felt so long.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

The Facts:

Synopsis: In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6’s echelons.

Stars: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, John Hurt

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Rated: R

Running Length: 127 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Adapting John le Carré’s hefty spy thriller was done before quite well in an epic BBC mini-series.  The adaptation here is smart and streamlined – but it requires almost otherworldly attention from its audience.  So make sure you are fully alert and in the mood for a low-key Cold War espionage tale that boasts an impressive cast.  It’s hard to speak too much about this without giving something away so I will keep this short and say that the film gets high marks for me for its design and efficiency.  I marked it down a bit for the pacing overall…especially in a troublesome middle section.  Oldman gives one of his best performances here…his eyes and face tell such a strong story that when he’s not onscreen the film does falter.  It may be one of those movies that requires a second viewing to catch all the twists and turns.

War Horse

The Facts:

Synopsis: Young Albert enlists to service in WWI after his beloved horse, Joey, is sold to the cavalry. Albert’s hopeful journey takes him out of England and across Europe as the war rages on.

Stars: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis

Director: Steven Spielberg

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 146 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  Nobody tells a story quite like Spielberg.  By now he’s an expert at the art of moviemaking and knows how to move the audience in the direction he wants.  Boasting some of the most beautiful/breathtaking shots of his career, he frames his story among gorgeous fields of crops and war.  While all of the acting in the film is impressive I was quite stunned at how expressive and elegant the horses were.  It almost felt like they had lines because you knew exactly what they were feeling – further proof to the genius of Spielberg.  It’s a pretty simple story of the relationship between boy and horse and the years apart they spend.  How they are separated tugs at your heart and how they are reunited will get the waterworks flowing.  The war scenes are typically intense and realistic…almost too intense to really enjoy yourself.  I actually closed my eyes more in this movie than I did in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I’m not sure how much the Academy will buy into some clever manipulation on Spielberg’s part, but I know that fell hook, line, and sinker…or rather, bit, bridle, and saddle.

We Bought a Zoo

The Facts:

Synopsis: Set in Southern California, a father moves his young family to the countryside to renovate and re-open a struggling zoo.

Stars: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Patrick Fugit, Angus Macfadyen, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Colin Ford, Elle Fanning

Director: Cameron Crowe

Rated: PG

Running Length: 124 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  I read the book that this movie is based on and I’m still not able to get over some major changes that the filmmakers felt they needed to make.  Changes are necessary at times, yes, but changing locations and events for the purpose of making this a star vehicle for Matt Damon seems wrong in my book.  What we have here is a not fully successful family drama that never can decide what type of movie it wants to be.  It’s a problem that Crowe started having around Almost Famous and hasn’t been able to shake.  There are moments of slapstick comedy sandwiched in between heavy dramatic scenes.  You feel like you are being pulled in several different directions and that gets exhausting after a while.  The cast is really hit or miss as well…Damon does do nice work here and Johansson gets the job done.  Thomas Haden Church (whose face is starting to resemble a Honeybaked Ham) is the weak point here – you know when he shows up that something ironically funny will happen.  Here’s hoping Crowe can get his mojo back and start to make movies from his original scripts.  Too many changes to the original story had me going in on the defense…and after seeing the film and seeing there were no real reasons for the changes put me slightly on the attack.

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