‘Tamara Drewe’ by Matt Wedge – November 12, 2010 –
Stephen Frears has proved to be a consistent and versatile director in his long career. Moving comfortably from crime dramas to romantic comedies to westerns to period pieces, he has had some great career highs with films like Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, High Fidelity, and Dirty Pretty Things and very few outright misfires (Mary Reilly). Unfortunately, ‘Tamara Drewe’ comes very close to falling in the misfire category.
127 Hours by Mark Dujsik – November 5, 2010 –
He tests the rock with his foot — solid — and begins to climb down. The stone gives, and he falls, desperately grasping at the sides to slow himself down. He hits the bottom. The rock crushes his right hand and half of his forearm and pins them to the side. The camera pulls back to a medium shot — the wall, the rock, and his face — and the title finally arrives in silence. Here we are with Aron, drastically pulled out of the highs of his trip and into shock.
The by Kyle Kogan – June 30, 2010 –
Joe Carnahan, director of The A-Team, apparently has much affection for Michael Bay. He has an affinity for snappy comedic dialogue, hyper-kinetic editing, loose insubstantial plots, and prefers a fiery explosion to a moment of true emotion. The A-Team features all these aforementioned characteristics, but they in no way detract from its appeal. This is a summer blockbuster through and through. Most moviegoers expect visceral action over emotion when it comes to summertime popcorn fare, and this film is no exception.
Agora by Mark Dujsik – July 23, 2010 –
There is no denying the modern parallels of Agora, partially the story of the teacher, philosopher, and astronomer Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), who lived and taught in Alexandria during the upswing of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Her life and work is a bit of a historical mystery, and so is her death — although the basics are pretty much agreed upon by contemporary and later accounts. What is known is that she studied the stars and was killed by a group of Christians because of her perceived influence over a state official. One side finds the blame on them, the other on her.
All Good Things by D. B. Bates – December 25, 2010 –
Like too many works of speculative “true crime” fiction, All Good Things focuses far too much on the questions of what and how, and virtually none on the why. Aside from its abuse of obvious pop-psychology tropes and truly bizarre leaps in logic by way of explanation, the film spends very little time or effort trying to demonstrate what really makes David tick. Rob Simonsen’s pounding, Herrmann-esque score tries to turn his misdeeds into acts of horrific suspense, but director Andrew Jarecki undermines the attempted suspense with deliberately fuzzy storytelling.
The by Mark Dujsik – September 1, 2010 –
Rowan Joffe’s screenplay (based on the more appropriately titled novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth) is basically little more than a career criminal on one last job. The important part is that he is unaware of that fact, while we can sense it almost from the start.
And Soon the Darkness by D. B. Bates – December 22, 2010 –
It comes close to greatness but misses the mark as a result of some clumsy foreshadowing and director/co-writer Marcos Efron emphasizing the film’s familiar plot rather than its unique, fairly compelling characters. Still, it’s a slick film with gorgeous locations, a capable cast, and at least one interesting twist.
Animal Kingdom by Matt Wedge – September 17, 2010 –
Animal Kingdom is an Australian film that operates as a highly effective look at a dysfunctional family slowly destroying itself. The fact that the family is comprised of armed robbers, drug dealers, and psychopathic murderers is almost beside the point. This family, even if they strictly obeyed the law, never stood a chance of surviving in the dark world presented.
Barney’s Version by Mark Dujsik – January 21, 2011 –
The movie is so intent on wallowing along in Barney’s misery that it bypasses the only chapter of his life in which he might have been content, if not happy, with a photographic montage — watching as his kids grow up and ending with a smiling family portrait. Ultimately, even those kids can’t muster any positive feeling for the old man — one hates him, the other can only pity his lonely state. It is a story full of drunken encounters and long drags on countless cigars, told by a bitter man, signifying despair.
Black Swan by Kyle Kogan – December 10, 2010 –
Ballet, an art of grace and subtlety, is the subject of Darren Aronofsky’s seminal film Black Swan. While it most certainly is a gorgeous film, it by no means is graceful or subtle.
Blue Valentine by Matt Wedge – January 21, 2011 –
It’s among the cruelest tricks that Cianfrance pulls that the worse things get for Dean and Cindy in the present, the happier they get in the flashbacks. As frustration and contempt spill forth from the couple over behaviors the other exhibits, we are shown how those same traits attracted them to each other in the first place.
Buried by Mark Dujsik – September 24, 2010 –
Buried never cheats. It seems a simple thing to point out but is vitally important to the film’s success. Here is the story of a man, buried alive in a barebones wooden coffin, that does not once leave him. Somehow, director Rodrigo Cortés works a notch below minimalism.
Burlesque by Mark Dujsik – November 24, 2010 –
Burlesque is completely, totally, madly in love with itself, and that’s fine because only a few will admit to mildly liking certain parts of it. I am not one of them, even though I could kind of, sort of tolerate a couple of the dance numbers, if only because it stopped what passes for a plot from moving and the characters from talking for a few minutes.
Carlos by D. B. Bates – October 23, 2010 –
I’ve said it before: docudramas and biopics are tough. Too frequently, they either skim the surface of real-life events or, in their quest to give an inherently uncinematic story a three-act structure, fictionalize it to the point that it shouldn’t actually qualify as fact-based. To that end, Carlos has two advantages over the typical biopic/docudrama: it doesn’t try to perpetuate myths about its subjects, and it has the luxury of a five-and-a-half hour runtime. Ironically, though, it’s a bit too long.
Casino Jack by D. B. Bates – December 17, 2010 –
Such is the overall problem with Casino Jack, which tries very hard to make a light, quirky comedy out of information that should enrage and disgust its audience. It’s too much like a movie to feel like anything we’re watching is true, but it’s too much like a docudrama to have the depth and nuance found in high-quality drama. A shallow portrait of a man the film alleges is shallow (though it reveals the occasional detail, which it subsequently tries to undermine, that shows him as much more complex than anyone involved in this film gives him credit for) may seem thematically appropriate, but it’s not very compelling.
Catfish by Hanna Soltys – September 17, 2010 –
You can’t just give away too much on this documentary as the twists and turns make this film what it is: eye-opening and amazing. I sat in the theatre with my mouth open in disbelief for at least half of it, and I want you to have the same reactions.
Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore by Mark Dujsik – July 30, 2010 –
The negatives of Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore are a bit too obvious, so perhaps it’s best to begin in a lenient mood of defense. This is a sequel that well surpasses the original, although if one takes into consideration the predecessor, that should set the bar for trumping pretty low.
Centurion by D. B. Bates – August 29, 2010 –
Centurion makes a fatal misstep in its very concept. It focuses on a ragtag group of one-dimensional Romans fighting for their lives against the Pictish tribes of Caledonia, when the Picts are the ones depicted as sympathetic and just in their fight. A movie about the tricky gray areas and moral ambivalence inherent in war could have pulled off a story focusing on the Romans, but this is not that movie. For the majority of its runtime, this is a movie about black-and-white heroes and villains, and because the story focuses on the Romans, they become the heroes whether we like it or not.
Charlie St. Cloud by Mark Dujsik – July 30, 2010 –
Charlie St. Cloud continues the line of movies about death, where ghosts hang around the living, concerned only with earthly matters, stuck in a sort of developmental suspended animation and holding those involved down with them.
The by D. B. Bates – January 21, 2011 –
The Company Men shares a number of common problems with another uneven, heavy-handed film about our country’s economic collapse: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. It forces us to spend most of our time with a lead character, Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), with whom it’s nearly impossible to empathize. It fills out its story with a large, spectacular ensemble of actors with thankless roles representing archetypes — not fully formed characters — to address each facet of What’s Wrong With Corporate America. Then, it limps through a handful of resonant moments (and more than a handful of mediocre moments) toward an unearned happy ending without ever digging deeply enough into What Went Wrong in the first place.
Conviction by Hanna Soltys – October 9, 2010 –
Eight in ten Americans have a sibling. What people would do for their siblings is often a grand list, from helping raise children to helping make ends meet. A sibling love is a bond that is deep, rich and tightly bound.
Cropsey by Matt Wedge – July 30, 2010 –
It’s hard to think of a recent documentary that wastes more potential than Cropsey. The directing team of Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman start out promisingly, with an engrossing opening twenty minutes before settling into a familiar pattern of bland archival footage and talking heads.
Despicable Me by Matt Wedge – July 9, 2010 –
I wish I could say that I liked Despicable Me more than I did. It’s not a bad family film, but it adds nothing new to the genre that we haven’t seen a thousand times before.
The by Mark Dujsik – January 14, 2011 –
To tell or not to tell is the question for about five minutes of The Dilemma, and the rest of the time is spent with a character waiting for the opportune time to tell his best friend that the guy’s wife has been cheating (that he finds the least opportune and appropriate time to do is not mandatory for comedy or drama but certainly a cheap way to try to force both). That situation in a feature-length comedy, of course, means that there must be transparently contrived obstacles on top of transparently contrived obstacles.
Dinner for Schmucks by Mark Dujsik – July 30, 2010 –
There is nothing mean about Dinner for Schmucks, which contains a cast of idiots so absurdly stupid that they register only as the conduit for jokes. Quite the opposite: The movie is just too darn nice.
Due Date by Matt Wedge – November 6, 2010 –
It’s a credit to Robert Downey, Jr., and Zach Galifianakis that Due Date works as well as it does. They share a chemistry and loose style that makes many of their scenes together feel like they’re improvising their dialogue and actions. It’s lends a high-wire feel to the proceedings that increases the entertainment value. Watching them spin funny bits out of shopworn gags lifted wholesale from films like Planes, Trains & Automobiles and The Big Lebowski is worth the price of admission, even if the script that they are working overtime to breathe life into is nothing more than your average road trip comedy.
The by Matt Wedge – February 12, 2011 –
In a better movie, the prickly relationship between Marcus and Esca would have been the focus of the story. The ever-present threat of betrayal by Esca and the shaky moral ground on which Marcus stands would have given the material the potential for great drama. Unfortunately, the movie that director Kevin Macdonald and screenwriter Jeremy Brock give us is more concerned with battle scenes (bloodless to insure a PG-13 rating) and clichéd ideas of honor above all else. Never mind the bodies that pile up as Marcus wages his war for the honor of a man long dead.
Easy A by Mark Dujsik – September 17, 2010 –
Bert V. Royal’s screenplay is a lot less clever than it imagines it is, and based on the onslaught of pop culture references, pithy witticisms, self-aware reflections, and sarcastically superior characters, Royal imagines it to be quite the crafty charmer.
Eat, Pray, Love by D. B. Bates – August 14, 2010 –
Eat, Pray, Love desperately seeks to tell a unique story of female empowerment. Unfortunately, it manages to get things wrong at pretty much every turn. For starters, the “unique” story is just a rehash of 2003’s Under the Tuscan Sun (plus two extra countries for more culture-clash wackiness!): a newly divorced woman impulsively decides to travel abroad to find herself. True, Eat, Pray, Love contains more food porn and eye-rolling attempts at deep spirituality, but the core of the story remains virtually identical.
The by Mark Dujsik – August 13, 2010 –
It’s not so much that the characterizations exist on a single plane. It’s not so much that the dialogue amounts to restating the plot, blatant motivation baiting, shouted taunts, and “one-liners.” It’s not even so much that The Expendables stingily doles out its action scenes.
No, the biggest offense of Sylvester Stallone’s casting-ploy-cum-movie is that, when the movie finally tosses in a shootout or car chase or fistfight or all-out war, it gives the distinct impression of cinematic vomit.
The by Mark Dujsik – August 13, 2010 –
There is no shortage of quirky individuals in this group of friends and enemies, living a life of splendorous squalor in Manhattan — escorting wealthy old ladies (who apparently do know better this time around but still enjoy the attention), begging for opera tickets and return-entry stubs at intermission, and painting “socks” on one’s feet for lack of real ones. They revolve around the same dream, not of being rich or famous, but of having some class, more often than not making asses of themselves in the process.
Fair Game by Matt Wedge – November 26, 2010 –
There are films where a good director can make a so-so script better. Other times, there are films where a good script bails out a director who is in over his or her head. It’s rare that both instances occur in the same film, but with Fair Game, that’s exactly what happens. Of course, it also helps that the film is expertly cast, keeping it grounded as a personal story of betrayal and eventual triumph.
Faster by Mark Dujsik – November 24, 2010 –
Faster is a film that relies on the strength of its types. Its trio of central characters doesn’t have names (or if they do, they are noted briefly and offhandedly), yet they are a recognizable bunch.
The by Matt Wedge – December 18, 2010 –
An underdeveloped script can only hide for so long behind good direction and performances. In the case of The Fighter, the amount of time that director David O. Russell and his talented cast are able to distract the audience from underwritten characters and the clichés that they act out is approximately ninety minutes. It’s too bad that the film goes on for another twenty minutes.
Flipped by Mark Dujsik – August 27, 2010 –
Rob Reiner’s film goes back and forth between the viewpoint of the boy and girl, each commenting on his or her feelings about an event, its buildup, or its aftermath. It’s a simple device but one that has a tangible effect on the narrative. In presenting both sides, Reiner and Andrew Scheinman’s script (based on a young adult novel by Wendelin Van Draanen) furthers our insight into these kids, and from that insight flows the sympathy.
For Colored Girls by Mark Dujsik – November 5, 2010 –
Tyler Perry’s strange amalgamation of panicky social melodrama and the pained poems of Ntozake Shange’s 1975 stage play reaches a climax of extended monological lunacy. This seemingly endless sequence of lyrical soliloquies played — quite, quite erroneously — as dialogue (the answers to calls or the calls to answers instead of cries hanging unanswered in a darkened theater) surpasses even the manipulative level of the double murder that ends the second act.
Four Lions by Mark Dujsik – November 12, 2010 –
Nothing should be sacred in comedy, especially that which people hold sacred. When that belief is as wrong-headed as the concept of a suicide bomber killing oneself and as many others as possible and believing the end result of mass murder will be a direct route to Heaven, it’s almost a moral imperative to counteract such lunacy by pointing out how insane it actually is.
Get Low by Matt Wedge – September 3, 2010 –
Get Low opens with a haunting, horrifying image. It’s the dead of night and a farmhouse is consumed by fire. A lone figure, aflame, leaps from the second floor window and disappears into the night, leaving the house to be destroyed by the fire. It’s a stunning shot to begin a film with, so it’s not surprising that the rest of the movie fails to live up to such a dramatic image. Still, it delivers as a low-key character study with some very good acting.
Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,
The by Matt Wedge – October 29, 2010 –
It’s easy to spot what went wrong with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the third film in the Millennium trilogy. To put it quite simply, it’s not a complete film. It is merely a continuation of the second film in the series and, as such, it feels disjointed and perfunctory — as though everyone involved has the attitude that they need to serve up an ending, so let’s just get this over with. By the end of the film, I felt the same way.
Girl Who Played with Fire,
The by Matt Wedge – July 14, 2010 –
A film trilogy is tricky business. Too often, in an attempt to tell an epic story, the filmmakers resort to making films that fail to stand on their own, feeling more like episodes of a television series. With the first film in the “Millennium trilogy,” The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the filmmakers managed to successfully craft an engrossing, stand-alone mystery that laid the groundwork for the next two films. Unfortunately, part two of the trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire, falls into the common trap that the first film avoided. Filled with dangling plot threads, a cast of characters that seems to increase exponentially with every scene, and a convoluted mystery at the heart of the script, the film fails to work as a satisfying, stand-alone piece of storytelling.
Gnomeo & Juliet by Mark Dujsik – February 11, 2011 –
It’s not really Romeo and Juliet when the characters can come back to life with a lot of time and a little glue, and by the tone, this loosely adapted version starring lawn ornaments really, really understands that basic fact. If only Gnomeo & Juliet were as imaginative in poking the ribs of its central storyline as it is about developing the silly cuteness of its background characters, the movie might have been on to something.
Going the Distance by D. B. Bates – September 4, 2010 –
The film isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination. Hollywood product is so starved of decent romantic comedies that Going the Distance feels like the It Happened One Night of the 2010s. It’s not an instant classic, it doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it approaches a believable romantic pairing with appropriate sincerity and respect.
The by Mark Dujsik – January 14, 2011 –
The Green Hornet doesn’t do much to improve the hero’s stature, turning him into a spoiled, buffoonish publishing tycoon who knows as little about journalism as he does about crime-fighting and feigning to be criminal, and demotes the sidekick’s far more effective tactics, making them secondary to slow-motion, effects-laden brawls with a video game aesthetic.
Grown Ups by Matt Wedge – June 25, 2010 –
If familiarity breeds contempt, Adam Sandler must be really familiar with his audience. Grown Ups is a stunningly lazy assemblage of lame gags and creaky one-liners assembled into something roughly resembling a movie. That Sandler, as star, co-writer, and producer would choose to foist this under-cooked mess on the fans that loyally support his every movie, is insulting.
Gulliver’s Travels by D. B. Bates – December 26, 2010 –
It’s insane to think an innocuous Jack Black comedy aimed at the same kids who fell for him in the infinitely better School of Rock would retain the satirical edge of Jonathan Swift’s novel. The Jack Black of Tenacious D and High Fidelity might have made that movie, updating the satirical targets in the same way this film updates the character of Lemuel Gulliver into a sad-sack loser of a writer. But this is a big-budget studio film designed to appeal to a broader base via fart- and urine-based humor.
Hall Pass by Matt Wedge – February 25, 2011 –
That setup supplies a wealth of opportunities for the film to explore any number of possibilities that could be both very funny and insightful. Are Rick and Fred so driven by their hormones that they would cheat on their wives, even if it’s not technically cheating? Are Maggie and Grace unhappier in their marriages than they realized? Do they want their husbands to have affairs so they would have an excuse to end their marriages? Could having this valve to blow off steam actually improve their marriages? These are all interesting questions, rife with potential for conflict. Unfortunately, the Farrelly’s blow their intriguing setup on an assorted bag of their greatest hits (not one, but two feces jokes, an embarrassing masturbation scene, multiple men obsessed with a beautiful blonde, and grown men acting like twelve-year-old morons).
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 by D. B. Bates – November 20, 2010 –
As you might recall from …Half-Blood Prince, the wizard world has basically split in two: the “death eaters,” and whatever they call the good guys. Now that Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes buried under snake-like makeup) has returned, the death eaters have effectively become magical terrorists. They know the only one who can stop them is 16-year-old Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), so killing him is their top priority.
Helena from the Wedding by D. B. Bates – December 26, 2010 –
If Woody Allen had let John Cassavetes take over September, it might have turned out a lot like Helena from the Wedding. (I admit, though, that throwing out those two names might give the impression that this film is better than it is — it’s good, but nothing revelatory.) At once raw yet theatrical, insightful yet mundane, and cynical yet romantic, the film’s jumbled yet effective stylistic choices sort of match the characters’ mixed feelings about life, the universe, and everything.
Hereafter by Mark Dujsik – October 14, 2010 –
Peter Morgan’s screenplay for Hereafter begins at the end, ends at the beginning, and hopes all the loaded inference of such structural choices will make up for the rambling, thin, and shallow scenes of idle characters in between. The end, after all, is just the beginning, no one literally says, but every passive action that befalls these characters makes sure to drive that point home and then take it out for another spin, just so the movie can do it all again.
How Do You Know by Mark Dujsik – December 17, 2010 –
Lack of proper punctuation in the title aside, How Do You Know (a phrase that cannot possibly be anything other than a question, right?) features a love triangle of downright equilateral monotony. Even the characters are unable to work up any kind of enthusiasm over their trying romantic lives. After all the false starts and lapses in judgment that keep them apart, the ultimate victors at love catch each other’s eyes, smile, and show the full extent of their passion: They shrug at each other.
Howl by Hanna Soltys – September 24, 2010 –
If you’re someone who can hear a poem and understand its meaning, props to you. I am not that person, nor will I pretend to be. But I am someone who appreciates superb acting, a passionate script, and a unique cinematic experience.
I Am Number Four by Matt Wedge – February 18, 2011 –
Needless to say, this is a ton of plot to shove into a movie that runs less than two hours. I would take the film to task for not cutting some of the more extraneous plot details, but director D.J. Caruso has his hands tied by the fact that the film is supposed to be the first in a series. When taking that into account, it’s actually surprising how well I Am Number Four turned out. This could have been a dispiriting failure along the lines of The Vampire’s Assistant — a film that felt like one long first act setting up all the fun for films down the road. But Caruso is able to make John just an interesting enough protagonist and capitalize on a great performance by Olyphant, that I was willing to sit through the explanations and plot setups until the overblown, but rousing third act finally rewarded my patience.
I Love You Phillip Morris by Matt Wedge – December 3, 2010 –
Nothing is more frustrating than watching a director make a mess out of a good script. It’s even worse when the director also wrote the script. In the case of I Love You Phillip Morris, the writers/directors, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, had the good sense as screenwriters to let the true story of Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) and Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) play out in all its demented glory. As directors, they fail to trust the audience to understand the inherent comedy of the situations and characters and force a string of juvenile sight gags, an obnoxiously “funny” score, and a pervasive tone of unneeded wackiness onto the film.
I’m Still Here by Matt Wedge – September 24, 2010 –
While it seemed obvious to me that the whole thing was a hoax, the confession by director Casey Affleck that the whole thing was just an act caused a surprising amount of controversy over the last week. This seemed ridiculous to me, but having seen the film, I can now understand at least some of the surprise.
The by Matt Wedge – February 9, 2011 –
The Illusionist is the type of movie that sneaks up on you. I spent most of my time watching the film in a sort of pleasant trance. I marveled at the beautiful, hand-drawn animation. I smiled and chuckled quietly at a running gag about the titular character and his surly rabbit that hates being stuffed into a hat. I drank in the attention to character design that made it possible to tell the story with incredibly sparse dialogue. And then the film hammered me with such a bittersweet — and ultimately sad — third act that I was stunned when I realized how emotionally invested I had become in the slight story and eccentric characters.
Inception by Matt Wedge – July 16, 2010 –
Just ten years ago with Memento, Christopher Nolan hit us over the head with what should have been an obvious question: What is reality? It sounds like a simple query, but it’s actually quite tricky. Does knowing something as a fact make it real? If you know something is false, yet it feels real, doesn’t it become a truth? Obviously, these are questions and ideas that have been bounced around by artists, philosophers, and stoners for…well, seemingly forever. But few people have managed to wrap them up in such purely entertaining packages as Nolan.
Iron Man 2 by Matt Wedge – June 25, 2010 –
Iron Man 2 largely eschews the popular practice of action sequels offering nothing but bigger and louder explosions. While it does throw a bone or two to the action crowd with at least two scenes of destruction and mayhem, it largely plays down the action angle in favor of several nice character moments that play into the comedic talents of its large cast. If only it had avoided stacking its script with too many characters and plot twists, it might have surpassed the fun of the first movie.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Matt Wedge – October 16, 2010 –
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a frustrating film. For everything that co-writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck get right, they get something just as wrong. For every cliché they avoid, they use another like a crutch. This push and pull between alternately subverting and embracing expectations leaves the film strangely inert — a story with good intentions that fails to completely satisfy as an exploration of mental illness or teenage angst.
Jonah Hex by D. B. Bates – June 25, 2010 –
What went wrong here? A compelling comic book character, great actors, a goofy but potentially funny revisionist-western storyline, excellent production values. This could have been one of the great, bleak, Dark Knight-esque comic-with-a-conscience summer movies. Instead, it limps through a barely-feature-length runtime, telling an incoherent-to-the-point-of-avant-garde story that’s stupid when it should have been sublimely ridiculous.
Just Go with It by Mark Dujsik – February 11, 2011 –
There’s a difference between a movie that features dumb characters and a dumb movie, and you can see that distinction firsthand in Just Go With It, which begins the former and, about halfway through, becomes the latter. Both halves are maddening in different ways: the first in how unlikely and illogical character decisions are, and the second in how monotonous the lack of jokes and predictable romantic comedy formula are.
The by Matt Wedge – June 25, 2010 –
As a general rule, I think remakes are a bad idea. There are so many great original scripts floating around that it is a sign of cowardice on the part of the studios that they constantly turn to the past instead of embracing new ideas. That being said, I took an oath to judge films solely on their own merits. As far as I’m concerned, the 2010 version of The Karate Kid is a solidly entertaining film that exists in a vacuum where Ralph Macchio’s career never showed a spark of promise.
Kids Are All Right,
The by Matt Wedge – July 25, 2010 –
The Kids Are All Right is a good but frustrating movie. On the one hand, it features an honestly original story with some very good acting. On the other hand, co-writer/director Lisa Cholodenko finds it difficult to just get out of the way and let the story play out. It’s not that she’s using unnecessarily flashy camerawork or editing; she just doesn’t seem to trust that the audience is smart enough to understand what she is trying to accomplish. This results in three cringe-inducing monologues that bring the film screeching to a halt.
Killer Inside Me,
The by Matt Wedge – July 26, 2010 –
Based on the novel by acclaimed hard-boiled author Jim Thompson, it would be easy to believe this tale of murder, revenge, and lust set in 1950s West Texas to be a dark film noir. That seems to be what director Michael Winterbottom would be going for, with scenes that alternate between shadowy interiors, dimly-lit back-country roads, and sunny Texas summer days. But despite the source material and Winterbottom’s attempts to ape the look of classic film noir, the final results are closer to a Rob Zombie-style horror film that seeks to shove the audience’s face in scenes of abhorrent violence.
The by Matt Wedge – January 7, 2011 –
The downfall of many films about royalty, particularly the British monarchy, is that they portray the individuals involved as either being stuffy and completely out of touch with the common man, or touchingly human and (surprise!) just like the rest of us. Rarely are they allowed to be fully formed characters with shades of gray that find them both out of touch and human. If for no other reason than the fact that it remedies such a stereotypical approach, The King’s Speech would warrant polite applause. That it also functions as an engrossing drama about the demands of leadership in the face of crippling self-doubt makes it more than the highbrow Oscar-grab that it initially appears to be.
Knight and Day by D. B. Bates – June 25, 2010 –
Even though I still have no idea what the title means, I enjoyed Knight and Day a lot. It blends cheerful, good-natured comedic moments with some very impressive action sequences much more successfully than the similar Killers. More to the point, it’s exactly what a summer popcorn movie should be: fun.
La Mission by Mark Dujsik – July 9, 2010 –
Full of tediously consistent or arbitrarily inconsistent characters, La Mission is unsuccessful as a personal drama and almost irresponsible as a social one.
The by D. B. Bates – July 9, 2010 –
For most of its runtime, The Last Airbender suffers from the problem that has plagued the last few Harry Potter movies: familiarity with its source material is required to understand the movie itself.
The by Matt Wedge – August 27, 2010 –
There is a point, roughly 80 minutes into The Last Exorcism, that would have been a great conclusion for the film. Hardcore horror fans would have cried foul, claiming it to be a bait-and-switch, but as far as the film goes, it would have been a sublime, emotionally satisfying conclusion. Unfortunately, the film continues for a supremely ridiculous climax that delivers laughs instead of the terror it was supposed to evoke.
Lebanon by D. B. Bates – August 29, 2010 –
Like the best war movies, Lebanon makes a statement about the nature of war without seeming like it’s making any statement at all. It doesn’t get swept up in examining the political machinations that led to the First Lebanon War and picking sides. It simply depicts four inexperienced men inside the turret of an Israeli tank as it rolls through Lebanon at the start of the war in 1982. It’s at once a microcosmic view of the hell of war and a harrowing thriller. Not to sound too hyperbolic, but it’s a tremendous film that makes The Hurt Locker look like The Delta Force.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole by Matt Wedge – September 24, 2010 –
It would be easy to get lost in the handsome animation that brings to life the characters of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. The details are so sharply designed and beautifully executed, the film could have coasted through its largely derivative story without adding any wrinkles or subtlety and I probably would have written a decent review that focused on the impressive technical accomplishments of the film. Fortunately, even with a story that was derivative when George Lucas used it to create Star Wars almost 35 years ago, the film’s creaky plot and familiar characters slowly come to life during the second act in time for a surprisingly rousing climax.
Let Me In by Mark Dujsik – October 1, 2010 –
Yes, it is a remake of a film released only two years ago. Yes, the original film is absolutely fine on its own merits. And yes, in Let Me In, writer/director Matt Reeves improves on certain elements of Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In.
Life as We Know It by D. B. Bates – October 9, 2010 –
When a romantic comedy’s biggest liability is its central romance, it’s time to rethink the genre. Life as We Know It spends its first hour in a shallow exploration of some pretty interesting ideas about the way priorities shift when a child enters the picture. Then, it abandons those ideas for routine rom-com pablum (pardon the pun) that’s almost saved by the two lead actors. Almost.
Little Fockers by Matt Wedge – December 22, 2010 –
I don’t think I’ve seen a movie with so many actors looking embarrassed to be taking part in it. Stiller, De Niro, Hoffman, and Laura Dern (cameoing as the head of a private kindergarten) are all fine actors, but they’re not good enough to hide the shame behind their eyes as they spout groan-worthy puns, offer up exaggerated reaction shots to ridiculous moments, and recycle old bits from the previous movies that have long since lost any effectiveness they may have once held.
Lottery Ticket by D. B. Bates – August 21, 2010 –
Lottery Ticket has done a wonderful thing. It has successfully merged a ridiculous, high-concept studio idea with a nuanced, character-driven slice-of-life comedy. The result is one of the best comedies of the year — granted, a lackluster year for comedies thus far, but that shouldn’t diminish this film’s accomplishments.
Love & Other Drugs by Mark Dujsik – November 24, 2010 –
Jamie apparently is not enough of a jerk for screenwriters Charles Randolph, Edward Zwick (who also directs), and Marshall Herskovitz (working from a nonfiction account of the industry by Jamie Reidy) who decide to keep piling on the self-indulgent drive he considers ambition, the calculated smile he thinks of as charm, and the need to make other people do as he thinks necessary he calls selfishness.
Love Ranch by Mark Dujsik – June 30, 2010 –
Love Ranch is a shambles of trashy story arcs, made partially digestible by the dichotomy of its lead performances but unable to fully cope with its sleazy pedigree.
Machete by Matt Wedge – September 3, 2010 –
While the plot is fairly paint by numbers action movie material, the sense of fun is palpable. Trejo grounds the film with a constant scowl and his usual surly charisma. This allows the mayhem and the other actors to go as far over-the-top as they want.
Mao’s Last Dancer by Matt Wedge – September 10, 2010 –
If good intentions always produced good movies, I would never have to write a negative review. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Mao’s Last Dancer shows how a unique, powerful story can be nearly ruined when buried under a heaping mound of schmaltz and heavy-handed political messages. What should have been an inspiring film about hard-won personal triumph is turned into a simplistic message movie about the absolute evils of communist China and the glorious freedoms of the United States.
The by Mark Dujsik – January 28, 2011 –
It’s not that the rest of this loose remake of Michael Winner’s 1972 movie of the same title is forgettable, but it is fair to say many of the movie’s action sequences are primarily ordinary affairs heightened by a macabre sense of glee at the bloody finesse of its anti-heroes.
Megamind by Mark Dujsik – November 5, 2010 –
The dilemma is unexpectedly and maturely clever: What happens when a person who bases his life on fighting the establishment becomes the establishment?
Middle Men by Mark Dujsik – August 6, 2010 –
With its hyperactive narrative, featuring a nearly constant and roaming narrator, Middle Men feels more like a pitch session than a fully formed story.
Monsters by D. B. Bates – October 29, 2010 –
What little marketing exists for Monsters gives the impression that it’s a split between District 9 and Paranormal Activity: A high-concept underground horror flick about aliens who have invaded. In reality, the film plays out more like a standard road movie, with a sci-fi backdrop to make it more interesting than those annoying indie road movies Matt and I just complained about. Luckily, compelling leads and a decent script prevent it from looking like a hackneyed riff on a stale genre.
Morning Glory by D. B. Bates – November 10, 2010 –
Morning Glory is a comedy suffering from a frustrating identity crisis. The film has all the focus of a cocaine-addicted squirrel, so it never decides which story it wants to tell. As a result, nothing in the film is particularly satisfying, despite sparks of potential all over the place.
Music Never Stopped,
The by Hanna Soltys – January 29, 2011 –
The Music Never Stops, based on a true story and Oliver Sacks’s case study, elicits those same emotions and feelings. After having a brain tumor removed, Gabriel Sawyer (Lou Tyler Pucci) returns to his parents, Henry (J.K. Simmons) and Helen (Cara Seymour), nearly twenty years after leaving them. Gabriel’s prognosis doesn’t look good as his surgery was very invasive, causing him to be in a vegetative-like state. After listening to The Beatles on a nurse’s Walkman (the film takes place in the ’80s), Gabriel seems to awake, but only when the music plays.
Never Let Me Go by Mark Dujsik – September 24, 2010 –
Science-fiction set in the future lets us off easy. Certainly, the present and past inform a writer’s vision of the future, but there is always the caveat that goes along with stating, “This is where we could be heading.” There’s a distance in the inherent comfort of recognizing that the chance to reform is present. Surely, we think, we will not let it get that bad.
Hence the subtle brilliance of the conceit of Never Let Me Go, the film based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, which is not set in the future but in the past. This is not where we are heading; it is where we have been and where we are.
Next Three Days,
The by Hanna Soltys – November 19, 2010 –
The Next Three Days has all kinds of promise in its cast (mainly Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, and Liam Neeson) and its director (Paul Haggis of Crash fame). The film, adapted from the 2008 French film Anything for Her [Pour Elle], which starred Diane Kruger and Vincent Lindon, lacks character development, any type of realistic situations and has a very misleading trailer.
No Strings Attached by Matt Wedge – January 22, 2011 –
Maybe that’s why the script by Elizabeth Meriwether feels so underdeveloped — she’s trying to keep too many balls in the air. It also doesn’t help that Reitman’s direction is so flat. He does a commendable job of trying to keep a silly premise grounded in a semblance of reality by not letting the film become a series of one-liners. But the trade off is that when there is a laugh line, it feels forced and awkward, as though the characters are constantly half a beat behind the audience.
Nowhere Boy by Matt Wedge – October 22, 2010 –
Because the man left behind an impressive body of musical work and was cut down by a psychopath at a young age, he was transformed into something far bigger than himself. That Nowhere Boy seeks to humanize and demythologize Lennon is commendable. That it struggles to maintain a consistently interesting through-line is disappointing.
The by Mark Dujsik – August 6, 2010 –
While it suffers from inevitable lag during third-act plot reveals and generic action sequences, The Other Guys is a tight comedy that skillfully maneuvers from the extremes of specific parody to general absurdity and many points in between.
Piranha 3D by Matt Wedge – August 20, 2010 –
This remake — the second after a 1995 TV-movie version — has no concerns with offering up a thoughtful subtext or interesting characters for the audience; all it wants to be is dumb, bloody fun. Director Alexandre Aja delivers on the dumb and bloody, but forgets all about the fun.
Predators by Mark Dujsik – July 9, 2010 –
There’s little new about Predators from the first movie, except that the band of prey has a more diverse collection of careers, there are three of the creatures hunting them, and it takes place on some planet or moon that’s not Earth. It still features a group mainly made up of military personnel running and hiding for their lives from an alien force in a jungle.
RED by Mark Dujsik – October 13, 2010 –
The group of former intelligence spooks that populates RED (a title formed from the acronym stamped on the personnel files of people like those that make up the reassembled team: “Retired, Extremely Dangerous”) is some sort of casting coup. Everyone who shows up not only makes perfect sense but also adds an edge of the slightly unexpected, as though their respective characters are just on the brink of breaking out of mold of their assigned characterizations. That they never quite do is either impressive self-control or a lower level of involvement.
Rabbit Hole by D. B. Bates – December 25, 2010 –
I know this subject matter sounds particularly dour, but it’s not. Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who adapted his play for the screen, has a flair for screwball banter. Ultimately, it’s a drama, and Lindsay-Abaire is not afraid of digging into the sorrow felt by both Becca and Howie, but he does so with a light touch and a sense of the absurd.
Resident Evil: Afterlife by Matt Wedge – September 11, 2010 –
By the fourth film in a franchise, diminished returns are to be expected. When those returns are diminished from a series as creatively bankrupt as the Resident Evil films, the results can be damn near unwatchable. With the bar of expectations lowered that far, it shouldn’t have been difficult to clear it and put out a watchable, if derivative film. But writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson isn’t even able to do that. He takes a good running start, leaps and crashes headfirst into that bar of lowered expectations, meeting it, but failing to clear it.
The by Matt Wedge – January 29, 2011 –
If you’ve ever wondered just how I determine what star rating to give to a movie, I don’t really have an answer. I wish I could say I had a scientific system that allows me to judge a film on a sliding scale, beginning at four stars and deducting from that point for every egregious sin committed by the filmmaker. Unfortunately, that would never work. There are too many intangibles at play when dealing with films. I hate to sound like the Supreme Court talking about what constitutes pornography, but I know a two star movie when I see one, and The Rite is the epitome of a two star movie.
Salt by Mark Dujsik – July 23, 2010 –
Mainly, it’s Salt’s indecisively sly nature, which is hesitant to be either a Kafkaesque wrong woman story or to challenge the notion of its heroine’s loyalties, and weak narrative that undo the movie’s promising grounding.
Sanctum by Matt Wedge – February 4, 2011 –
I’m all for trying to create three dimensional characters, but once the survival aspect of the story began, it was time for Grierson to abandon the clunky attempts at building conflicts between the characters. Quite frankly, I learned more about Frank, Carl, and Josh by watching their physical abilities under stressful situations than I did through any of the leaden dialogue.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World by Matt Wedge – August 13, 2010 –
Taking visual cues from video games, Chuck Jones cartoons, and the ’60s Batman TV series, Wright creates a kinetic comedy of absurdity that never forgets to honor the emotions of the characters.
Secretariat by Mark Dujsik – October 8, 2010 –
For all the nostalgic gloss of Dean Semler’s cinematography on the inspired-by-an-inspiring-true-story-meant-to-inspire-you Secretariat, it is a few of the horseracing sequences that stand out. Semler switches to digital camerawork, getting in down and dirty along the trampling hooves of the horses and high above the ground from the point-of-view of the bouncing, grasping jockey. It’s a strange aesthetic choice, considering how the rest of the movie looks, and perhaps the only one to properly portray the exertion and ferocity of an equine in full gallop.
The moments are prominent among the rest of the movie because they are authentic. In the middle of inspiring speeches to people, animals, and inanimate objects and the ham-handed assertions of how the odds are stacked against just about every major character in the story, here, in some small way at least, is something honest in a true story.
The by Mark Dujsik – October 1, 2010 –
Mark Zuckerberg has changed the world. Facebook, the website of his design, has altered how we communicate, play, work (or avoid it), flirt, date, share our lives, see others, discover new interests, advertise, and the list goes on and on. It is as impersonal as it is easy, and the view of Zuckerberg in David Fincher’s The Social Network explores, in a sympathetic but unflinching way, a possible reason why a phenomenon that revolves around a circle of one’s friends has expressed itself in a medium that intrinsically maintains distance between people.
Somewhere by D. B. Bates – December 22, 2010 –
With some judicious editing, Somewhere would make a solid first act to an infinitely better film. It has pair of interesting characters in Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) and his eleven-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning). It sets up a fairly interesting conflict in the form of their relative estrangement (he’s a sometime Dad, full-time movie star who doesn’t know enough about her to know she’s been figure skating for the past three years) and an interesting premise in the form of bringing together these two characters — one who coasts through a life run entirely by other people, another who is completely self-sufficient. Unfortunately, the film is pretty much killed by writer/director Sofia Coppola’s frustrating unwillingness to allow audiences to derive any pleasure from her work.
The by Matt Wedge – July 14, 2010 –
Despite the story that moves in fits and starts of cumbersome expositional dialogue and action sequences that range from adequate to downright boring, the film nearly succeeds because of the casting and the occasional clever idea.
The by Mark Dujsik – August 20, 2010 –
The Switch ends where it started, reaching for meaning in narrated trite phrases, and it’s a massive disappointment. Here is a movie that pulls itself up from a rambling, uninteresting start only to fall right back in the same hole.
Takers by Mark Dujsik – August 27, 2010 –
Takers goes just far enough in looking into the lives of some of its characters that they all feel short-changed. It goes just far enough in eliciting a primary sense of visceral potential in the action sequences that the ultimate reliance on quirky sound mixing and slow motion is disappointing. It goes just far enough in aggrandizing the good life that comes from stealing money that there’s a temptation to watch it from a perspective of exploitation. It goes just far enough to moralize the results of criminal activity that we can only wonder about the rationale for taking the previous two steps.
The movie goes just far enough to start down any of these paths and ends up coming up short on all of them.
Tangled by Mark Dujsik – November 24, 2010 –
The Walt Disney Animated Studios logo announces Tangled as the fiftieth animated feature from its official canon, certainly an equally noteworthy and irrelevant accomplishment. What makes the milestone worth mentioning at all is the fact that it is a true return to a formula that works — a musical based on a classic fairy tale — in a newer medium — computer animation.
The by Mark Dujsik – December 17, 2010 –
The Tempest, though late in his life and career, is not one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, but writer/director Julie Taymor does much to turn it into one. Indeed, at the end of her visually and thematically rambling (the former being far more worth the trouble than the latter) adaptation, we are left simply wondering as to the point.
The by Mark Dujsik – September 3, 2010 –
This is the portrait of Pat Tillman that director Amir Bar-Lev shows. A man of simple ways, who rode a bike to football practice (parking it next to all the expensive cars in the lot), was always bluntly honest in interviews (even going so far as to breaking the unspoken rule and telling fans they shouldn’t come to games until the team proves they’re worth watching), and looks embarrassed on camera whenever someone pays him a compliment, but not — as too many were more than happy to presume — simple.
The by Mark Dujsik – December 10, 2010 –
Venice, that lovely, lovely and improbable city on the water, serves as the main and, more importantly, mainly as a backdrop for The Tourist, a detail that might seem trivial but gets to the point of where the movie is lacking. Apart from a barefoot, pajamaed man running across roofs, a boat chase, and that we see the characters travelling using the canals, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck doesn’t take advantage of his location in a way that makes it come alive.
The by Mark Dujsik – September 17, 2010 –
The Town has the general framework of a cops and robbers yarn that could take place anywhere, yet it is a very individualized story about a particular place and set of people that could not occur anywhere else. The place is the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston. The people are those who live and breathe that community, which has a distinction of infamy in producing an exorbitant number of bank robbers.
Toy Story 3 by Matt Wedge – June 25, 2010 –
For fifteen years, Pixar has put forth characters and stories based in the ultimate artificial environment: computer animation. With every single film, they have not only breathed life into these artificial characters and worlds, they have hit an emotional truth. They have masterfully manipulated audiences into laughter, tears, and, no matter how far flung the premise, recognition of themselves in the characters on screen. With Toy Story 3, they have honed this skill to a fine point, crafting a film that stands with the best they have produced.
True Grit by Matt Wedge – December 22, 2010 –
Surprisingly, considering their background of subverting genre expectations, the Coen brothers play the rest of the western elements straight. There are gunfights, hangings, stabbings, horseback chases, a character getting dragged behind a horse, people falling into open mines, and other traditional western tropes that are too numerous to list.
Twilight Saga: Eclipse,
The by Mark Dujsik – June 30, 2010 –
A giant step up from its redundant predecessor, the third installment in the eternal love affair between the mopey, teenage human Bella (Kristen Stewart) and the (abusive) vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) succeeds in soap opera frivolity — taking everything a lot less seriously — although it still fails to make these characters and their drawn-out struggles anything more than such.
Unknown by Matt Wedge – February 19, 2011 –
Sometimes I feel as though we don’t appreciate Liam Neeson enough. Moving easily between leading-man roles and character work, he’s able to chew the scenery when a script calls for it and just as easily dial his performance down to a subtle level approaching minimalism. Ever since his breakthrough turn in Darkman, it seems that every time I look up at the screen, there’s Neeson, doing good work in films that often aren’t worthy of his talents. Such is the case with Unknown, an otherwise soggy conspiracy thriller that Neeson practically horsewhips into watchability.
Unstoppable by Mark Dujsik – November 12, 2010 –
A lot of things get in the way of the train in Unstoppable, and that is the way it should be. To complain about the presence of scenes of helpless entities in peril in a disaster movie is like complaining about the presence of songs in a musical.
Vanishing on 7th Street by D. B. Bates – February 18, 2011 –
Vanishing on 7th Street has so much going for it, I vacillate between feeling bad that I can’t quite recommend it and feeling enraged that it’s not as good as it should be. For most of its runtime, it’s a film of great style, great performances, and thoughtful explorations of well-worn character types. It punctuates intense dialogue scenes with thrilling moments of action and horror. It has one of the best opening sequences I’ve ever seen (even if it borrows a bit from the first Left Behind book — though, thankfully, it doesn’t slide into hokey fundamentalist propaganda). It’s the type of movie I’d enthusiastically recommend if not for two things: its shadow people, and its ending.
Waiting for “Superman” by Matt Wedge – November 5, 2010 –
For most of Waiting for “Superman”, director Davis Guggenheim provides the audience with faces and names that humanize this tragedy. It’s during these scenes that the film scores major points underlining the urgency of fixing the public school system.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps by D. B. Bates – September 25, 2010 –
“How do you make money on a loss?” asks longtime Wall Street broker (and part-time Larry King impersonator) Louis Zabel, played with impressive gravitas by Frank Langella. This question drives much of the stock-market intrigue in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, an entertaining but unexceptional sequel to the iconic 1987 original.
Welcome to the Rileys by Mark Dujsik – November 26, 2010 –
Whether seeing him as a business partner or a father figure, it’s clear that, by the end of Welcome to the Rileys, Mallory (Kristen Stewart), the teenage stripper/prostitute, will call Doug Riley (James Gandolfini), the small business owner on a conference trip, “daddy” — or at least just “dad.” The setup is too pat for any other option, really.
Winnebago Man by Matt Wedge – August 6, 2010 –
In 1989, Jack Rebney was a corporate filmmaker, producing and hosting industrial films about Winnebago RVs. During one particularly long and frustrating two-week shoot in a miserably hot summer, Rebney had a prolonged meltdown that resulted in some of the most excessive and creative uses of profanity ever caught on camera. A member of Rebney’s crew edited together these tirades as a collection of outtakes that quickly became an underground video sensation. When the Internet and YouTube came along, the footage quickly found its way online and Rebney became an Internet sensation, one of the first viral video superstars of the new medium. In the entertaining documentary Winnebago Man, director Ben Steinbauer puzzles over just who this “Angriest Man in the World” really is and what has become of him.
Winter’s Bone by Matt Wedge – July 9, 2010 –
Forget the fact that the settings and characters of Winter’s Bone fail to meet the iconic visual standards of classic Hollywood film noir, the haunting story and lead performances by Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes cut straight to the corrupted heart at the center of all great noirs.