Tuesday, December 27, 2011


“The GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO” (Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer & Stellam Skarsgard)

My background going into this movie was – I did not read the book, I did not see the Swedish version and, until I saw the trailer, I had no interest whatsoever in seeing this film. The trailer presented an interesting storyline and reputable actors Daniel Craig and Christopher Plummer.
This is not your conventional murder mystery – it gets a little hard-core – as well as being about a girl who disappeared 25 years earlier without a trace.
Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, a political writer that gets in hot water with the publisher of the magazine he writes for when he accuses a high ranking Swedish official named Wennerstrom of embezzlement. Mikael is disgraced when he can’t prove his case in court.
Mikael’s boss/secret lover (Robin Wright) sends him to meet with an elderly man named Henrik Vanger (Plummer) to both get him out of the public’s eye and to give him something to keep his mind off his recent troubles. Instead Mikael finds himself ensnared in a hornet’s nest of characters with questionable morals, otheriwse known as Vanger’s closest relatives. Close, and yet distant, as Blomkvist is told which relatives are not speaking and which, and which ones are on speaking terms but only if they aren't on speaking terms with the other relatives – And they all live in mansions that Henrik can see from his front yard.
Martin Vanger (Stellan Skarsgard) is the only relative who seems willing to help Mikael with his investigation. Skarsgard is a very good actor – I couldn’t tell what his character was thinking as he constantly swirled his glass of wine and seemed amused as Mikael became acquainted with his unsavory relatives.
Henrik’s request is for Mikael to use his investigative skills as a writer to figure out what happened to his niece, Harriet, who disappeared 25 years ago.
Mikael enlists the help of the woman that hacked into his computer and helped to bring him down in the court case against Wennerstrom.
“Why do you want me?” the female hacker asks, thinking Blomkvist is seeking revenge. “I was impressed with how you broke into my computer,” Mikael responses, “Now I want you to do it to him.”
The hacker is the title character, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) an unusual looking character, even for a geek. The more we learn of Lisbeth, the more we see that it isn’t just her hair that is an unsightly mess. The early scenes involving Lisbeth also had me wondering about how well her character was thought out – She gets mugged in the subway but is able to run down and beat the living snot out of the young thug that steals her purse, yet when Randy Bachman, of Bachman-Turner Overweight, attempts to rape her, he gets the upper hand quite easily.
It took me a while to feel sorry for Lisbeth because she is forced to do disgusting things to garner money to live on from lawyer Bachman - but what does she do with the money? She spends $3,000 on a tattoo (And it's not even the dragon!)
The film wants you to read the book, obviously, as Lisbeth’s quirks just didn’t happen overnight – she is deathly afraid of men touching her; when Mikael barely brushes against her as he stands up from the computer screen they’re staring at, she jumps like a scared cat at the bark of a big dog. Then, unexpectedly, she removes her clothing and joins Mikael in bed as if they were long-time lovers.
So, yes, Lisbeth has issues. But she’s also as loyal as a puppy once she finds a human being worth worshipping. She simply tells Mikael, “I like working with you.” and it seems clear to everyone except Mikael that she means ‘I’m falling in love with you’.
Even though I was intrigues by the trailer, I still wasn’t sure if ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ was going to be something I’d enjoy – or one of those ‘art house’ films I deplore. It’s the former – it’s good because it isn’t conventional – it’s downright bizarre at times. I was so glad that there weren’t any elongated scenes of martial arts nonsense – in fact there weren’t any at all and that’s what I was warned the books were about; a martial arts expert who was also a computer genius and mentally unstable. Mentally unstable computer genius’s I can live with – Martial arts experts, I cannot.
I still have no desire to read the books, but I’m in for the next Americanized installment of the series when it comes out on celuloid...


“MONEYBALL” (Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill & Philip Seymour Hoffman)

Some new morning talk show host here in Seattle told me to go see ‘Moneyball’ because it’s not about baseball – it’s about character building; an ‘inspirational’ story.
So when “Moneyball” came to the discount theatre we went to see it... It’s about BASEBALL – it is ENTIRELY about BASEBALL – no other subject matter is broached other than BASEBALL – It eats, sleeps and dreams BASEBALL. It is an exceptionally boring film about exceptionally boring people and the exceptionally boring game that they play, &/or played...
At my brother’s wedding reception a group of males gathered near the bar (Where, just as in the wild, males are prone to gather) The subject of golf came up. After silently listening for twenty minutes, I finally had to voice my opinion. I said, “I used to think the most boring thing on this planet was watching golf. Now I know there’s something even more boring – people who talk about golf.”
Later, since it was September and the baseball playoffs were approaching, baseball became the main topic. Once again, I let them ramble on and on until a break in the monotony allowed me to interject how I thought the second most boring thing on the planet was baseball – and now I could add ‘people who talk about baseball’ to my most boring things on the planet list.
Why is it that people who play and watch golf and actually pay attention when one of 163,000 baseball games are being played each year are under the opinion that those subjects are suitable for discussion among rational, thinking human beings?
I write this because I don’t want other people to be fooled by a misguided talk
show host that told them ‘Moneyball’ isn’t ABOUT baseball.
Being based on a true story doesn’t automatically make a subject interesting. The thing about sports movies that are based on actual events is that something special takes place at the finale – the underdog overcomes overwhelming odds and wins the championship – but in ‘Moneyball’ nothing like that happens. It’s simply the story of how a failed player turned manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) replaces three stars that signed with other teams by hiring Peter (Jonah Hill) a computer geek to pick his players for him using the complicated system of ‘how often do they get on base?’ – that’s it. That’s the ‘character’ builder here. “We want you on our team because you walk a lot.”
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Oakland A’s manager Art Howe as a typical baseball manager – totally disinterested in everything that’s going on around him until it starts to threaten his job. It is unquestionably, Hoffman’s worst performance to date.
It’s not really a spoiler to reveal what happens at the end of the season, but all of you Brad Pitt lovers out there that are waiting for the DVD to come out might not know so I won’t say anything except they don’t exactly win the World Series.
For a film that supposedly wasn’t about baseball, there’s a good twenty minutes of the running time devoted to one game when the home team blows an 11-to-nothing lead during the regular season. This ‘highlight’ is as pitiful as Mariner fans that think winning one playoff series is tantamount to winning the MLB championship.
The only interesting aspect came when Beane, unable to coerce manager Howe into playing the guy he wanted him to play at first base, trades the prize rookie Howe has been starting so that he has no choice but to play the ex-catcher at first because he ‘walks a lot’. In any other film that wouldn’t have been all that interesting, but here, it’s the only scene that didn’t utterly bore me.

Monday, December 26, 2011


“WE BOUGHT A ZOO!” (Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson & Thomas Haden Church)

“We bought a zoo!” is shouted a few times during the film, so I thought it apropos to add an exclamation point to the title. I’m a little surprised that this is getting some Oscar buzz, because, despite the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed this adorable little tearjerker, it isn’t what you would call a normal Oscar contender. In many ways, “We Bought A Zoo!” is just as sweet and sappy as the other adorable animal films released in 2011; “Mr. Popper’s Penguins”, “Dolphin Tale” & “The Beaver” . . . Okay, that last one’s a joke.
But “We Bought A Zoo!” has something extra going for it – maybe it’s the fact that it has multiple rascally animals in it as oppose to ‘just’ a dolphin or ‘just’ some penguins. This spreading out of wildlife however, did not work for the deplorable “Zookeeper”. I’ve heard that Matt Damon is being touted as a Best Actor possibility... if he squeezes in, I’ll be surprised – not that he isn’t good – but this is a cute movie – stars of cute movies don’t get Oscar nominations; especially when every actor in the film has to walk in the shadow of tiny Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Rosie. It is Rosie who loves shouting, “We bought a zoo!” and it is Maggie that provides the overload of adorableness to the production.
Matt Damon stars as recent widow Benjamin Mee. Benjamin (don’t call him Ben) has his hands full dealing with his moody teenage son, Dylan (Colin Ford) and precious young daughter Rosie – so you’d think when an attractive single mother keeps offering him pans of lasagne, he’d take the hint and at least invite the cute cougar over to share the meal – but we soon learn that Benjamin is having a very difficult time recovering from his wife’s passing.
When Dylan gets expelled from school for his 4th strike (drawing bizarre art projects that only Charles Manson would appreciate) Benjamin decides to use the money he received from his father’s inheritance to buy a home in the country – where the nearest Target store is 9 miles away! His brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church) is flabbergasted that he would waste his inheritance money on what turns out to be a run-down zoo. When Duncan asks, “Why buy a zoo?” Benjamin smiles and replies, “Why not?” When Benjamin uses those two words again it should put a lump in your throat... with or without the stale popcorn.
The zoo is run by pretty Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson) assisted by (among others) her teenage niece, Lily (Elle Fanning, who blew me away in “Super 8” but only does an average job here) As Lily attempts to bring a ray of sunshine to grumpy Dylan, Kelly attempts to educate Benjamin on how to bring the zoo up to code so they can re-open and start making money. As Benjamin pours more and more inheritance money into food and repair materials, he begins to question his decision to give in to his irresistible little girl who begged him to buy the zoo!
As Benjamin argues with Dylan one night, he shouts, “We live with a 7 year old girl who still believes in the Easter Bunny!” When Dylan ends the argument by slamming his bedroom door, Benjamin turns to see Rosie standing in her p-j’s and holding her teddy bear... “What ABOUT the Easter Bunny?” she whimpers with a demanding tone. Perfect delivery. I absolutely adored her.
But dealing with his life as a widow isn’t the only tearjerking moment for this film as one of the mainstays is an aging Bengal Tiger named Spar. Kelly keeps telling Benjamin that it is cruel not to ‘do the right thing’ by Spar and release him from his miserable painful life. The fact that Benjamin, obviously reliving his wife’s dying situation thru Spar, is unwilling to make the call causes a big rift between him and Kelly. When Duncan arrives to help out the first advice he offers is ‘get rid of the animals, but keep the girl’.
Scarlett does good work in this – maybe it was the drab hair and her glamorous looks were toned down so I wasn’t just ogling her – but I accepted her as her character; which, I think, is a first. Her dalliance with Sean Penn must have included some acting lessons, eh?
“We Bought A Zoo!” will definitely be in my Top 10 of 2011 and yet I still don’t think it will get any Oscar nods... except for Maggie as best supporting cutie-pie...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


“NEW YEAR’S EVE” (Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Hillary Swank, Halle Berry, Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Jon Bon Jovi, Abigail Breslin, Josh Duhamel, Jessica Biel, Seth Myers, Carla Gugino, Sofia Vergara, Larry Miller, Chris Bridges, Hector Elizondo, Lea Michele, John Lithgow, Sarah Paulson, Til Schweger, Cary Elwes, Alyssa Milano, Common, Peter Vogt, James Belushi, Matthew Broderick, Lisa Simpson, Penny Marshall & Ryan Seacrest)

Look at that star studded cast! How could this not be anything but spectacular?

It’s crap, people. It’s horrible, horrible crap from start to finish – even the good actors stink in this; the main reason being insipid dialogue and moronic plotlines.
Probably the leading candidate for the Worst Movie of 2011, I couldn’t recommend this movie to any age group or sector. The fact that this garbage was even made was embarrassing enough, but the fact that it was #1 at the box office says that the American movie goer is even dumber than polls had originally predicted. I exclude myself because despite the fact that I spent money to see this rubbish, it was one of the those weeks when I relinquished my choice to my wife and this is what she picked.
Looking on the bright side when I see junk like this it makes me appreciate films that only annoy me a little instead of from start to finish. ‘The Muppets’ seems thoroughly entertaining now after viewing ‘New Year’s (Bleeping) Eve’.

The 27 plotlines in a nutshell . . .

Ashton Kutcher does his best acting to date in this... no, I take that back, he was actually pretty good in ‘The Butterfly Effect’ but Jeepers, how long ago was that? Kutcher plays Randy, a laid back guy that doesn’t speak very often, except to his buddy via his cell phone (Yeah, one of THOSE a-holes) Randy gets stuck in an elevator on New Year’s Eve with Elise (Lea Michele) A spunky little Jewish princess who happens to be a back-up singer for Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi, but more on that fiasco of a subplot later) Elise is the complete opposite of Randy (meaning, she’s friendly) but she gets to the point where you want Ed Asner to magically appear in the elevator and tell Elise how much he hates ‘spunk’. The second half of the film, all Kutcher does is stand in a crowd and smile whimsically at Elise as she sings her little heart out for a crowd of drunken New York extras with nothing better to do than to listen to someone they’ve never heard of sing to them on ‘the most romantic night of the year’.
Katherine Heigl (Am I the only one that wishes she’d stop making movies and concentrate on a career selling jewelry on the Shopping Network?) plays Laura; a caterer who gets a big gig on New Year’s Eve thanks to ex-boyfriend Jensen (Superstar ex-teen idol Jon Bon Jovi playing a superstar ex-teen idol)
I don’t know which was worse, watching Heigl ‘act’ as though she hates Jensen or watching Ava (Sofia Vergara) fawn over him with a thick latino accent that even Charo couldn’t understand.
When pop sensation Jensen starts singing his repertoire of hits – they’re all remakes – and trust me, Otis Redding’s bones are rattling over the fact that one of his songs was covered in this train-wreck. You’d think the biggest musical star in the world would play at least one ‘original’ composition – Even something as bland as a Bon Jovi song? The saddest part of this segment is realizing that Jon Bon Jovi can’t even play Jon Bon Jovi convincingly.
Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog was right when he told Jon to stick to playing vampires – that way the role would require him to suck.
Then there’s the ultimate ‘creepy’ segment with Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Paul (Zac Efron) All I’m going to reveal is – the one thing you hope they don’t do, they do.
Then there’s mother Kim (Sarah Jessica Parker) loudly worrying about her daughter Hailey (Abigail Breslin) in a high pitched whine that made my dogs start howling out in the parking lot.
We’ve got Robert De Niro playing a dying man whose last wish is to live to see the ball drop one more time. Nurse Aimee (Halle Berry) promises to stay with him to make sure his Make-A-Wish comes true – but leaves him to go talk to her husband (Common) on Skype!
The stupidest of the stupid is a battle between two couples to win $5,000 by having the first baby of the New Year – Biel & Myers are the Byrnes & Schweger & Paulson are the Schwabs. This segment offers up what I consider to be the worse line spoken in any movie (at least of this century) when a gay male nurse (Peter Vogt) tells the two couples, “May the best va-jay-jay win!”
The only glimpse of someone trying to be entertaining came from Larry Miller as Harley, the tow truck driver who made me chuckle twice with lines involving Penn & Teller and watching porn. And that’s one of the chief problems here – the dialogue is so dreadful that the actors don’t even try to sell their lines. Most of them looked like Sarah Palin - just reading what was written on their hands.
The main storyline dealt with Clare (Hillary Swank) the person in charge of making sure the big ball was working properly and would be ready to drop at midnight. According to this film – the big disco ball dropping in Times Square is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT WILL EVER HAPPEN IN THESE UNITED STATES for the entire year.
Until, of course, it is time for the ball to drop again...
When the ball blows a fuse, goes dark and stops during a practice run – they cut to one of the news channels interrupting regular programming for the breaking news that the ball is stuck! This is followed by a Press Conference where angry reporters demand to know what is being done to fix the ball!
I found it amusing that – given how much value was placed by the leaders of New York City that the ball drop come off without a hitch – there was only one person in the entire world that knew how to fix the thing whenever it broke. Hector Elizondo comes to the rescue as a man known only as Kominsky. And how does the invaluable, but recently fired Kominsky repair the ball? By testing the bulbs one at a time to find the one burnt out bulb that shuts the entire thing down... And they say there aren’t any clever plotlines coming out of Hollywood anymore...
I know I’m forgetting at least a dozen other storylines, but I’m tired of writing about this sh*t.


“YOUNG ADULT” (Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson & Patton Oswalt)

This film ought to be called “Diablo Cody’s Revenge” (she wrote the screenplay) – it is so blatantly biased against every ‘prettiest girl in high school’ prom queen, the story itself becomes even more pathetic than Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary. And that’s pretty damn pathetic.
I was hoping that this film would be better than the trailer – just because Charlize was in it and I hadn’t seen her for awhile. When it was over I shook my head in disbelief wondering why Charlize would ever agree to play such a character as Mavis – unless it was her intent to show that she could play a believable pathetic loser. Which she does a decent job of doing, but the storyline is what drags this thing down into the desperate dregs of possible 10 Worse films of the year territory.
This is also Theron’s movie from start to finish; there are very few scenes that don’t involve Mavis. In fact, I can’t remember any. There are also zero scenes of Mavis doing anything positive – whether it’s stuffing her poor little Pomeranian into a handbag and zipping it up or thinking she could simply waltz back into her high school boyfriend’s life and steal him away from the woman that just gave birth to their first child, Mavis is the quintessential ‘hot mess’.
Mavis is an author – a ghost writer specifically – for a successful series of ‘young adult’ romance novels. Trouble brews when she comes down with a case of writer’s block.
After Mavis receives an e-mail from her ex-boyfriend announcing the birth of his daughter, she hatches the idea of using a trip to her old hometown to both win back Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) and use the journey as a plot inducer to finish what we learn will be her last novel for her current employer.
As desirable as Mavis appears, the story wants us to realize she has numerous flaws – the selfish beauty queen has an unsightly bald spot above her ear because she can’t stop pulling out the hairs from that area – so the nervous tick leads her to have to wear hair extensions. To let us know what a true slob Mavis is, they have her make the trip to Mercury (her hometown) wearing the T-shirt and sweats she slept in the night before. And, of course, the first place Mavis heads to when she arrives in Mercury is a dive bar because naturally the girl who peaked in high school yet is still stunning to look at – is an alcoholic. Mavis downs shots of bourbon like they were chocolate milk. Just to add insult to insult, Mavis is made out to be a complete moron by the fact that the only show she watches on television is “The Kardashians”.
Mavis meets Matt (Patton Oswalt) at the bar. Matt obviously remembers Mavis but she doesn’t have a clue as to he is even after he tells her their lockers were side by side all through high school. It is when she sees Matt’s crutch that she remembers him as being the gay guy that got beaten within an inch of his life and left for dead by a bunch of gay bashing jocks, even though, as Matt keeps repeating, “I’m not gay.”
Matt is clearly disturbed by Mavis’s rude behavior and lack of sympathy, yet still he sits with her all night drinking and conversing. Why? Because Mavis, despite being a female douche bag, is gorgeous – and morons like Matt feel privileged just to share a table with the witch. This is the one time Diablo lays off of Mavis’s shortcomings just long enough to let us know that unattractive men are pathetic creatures as well.
As the plot thins, Mavis’s deplorable behavior keeps getting worse; although the ex-boyfriend doesn’t help matters when he kisses Mavis passionately one night and then the next day acts as though he never made any advances towards his ex-lover. Another Diablo lesson – attractive guys are scumbags too.
It’s as if Cody wanted to show what a low life the ‘prom queen’ had become – so utterly pathetic that she turns to the only man in the buzzing metropolis of Mercury, Minnesota willing to have sex with her – meaning we’re supposed to believe that a woman that looks like Charlize Theron can’t get laid because of how she behaves... Uh-hu. Yeah. Right.
I know some will say that I’m being too harsh on this film – that it’s an in-depth character study of someone who ‘peaked’ in high school. That would be acceptable if Charlize’s looks had gone. They haven’t. Even though she isn’t a busty babe, Charlize was radiant in the scenes where she wore a low cut black dress. In a bar full of men I’m betting not a single one of them would have turned down an invitation back to her hotel room... except in Diablo Cody’s make believe world of revenge...


“The MUPPETS” (Jason Segel, Amy Adams & Chris Cooper as humans / Kermit, Fozzie, Piggy & Gonzo as muppets)

My appreciation for the Muppets came from 2 sources; when the original Saturday Night Live debuted – the Muppets were a part of the cast. After that I became a fan of their weekly ‘variety’ show. I never watched Sesame Street or was much of a fan of their movies – the TV show seemed to be their best avenue; a half hour of silliness highlighted by a (sometimes) big name star acting like a kid whilst surrounded by puppets of all shapes and sizes. My favorites were Statler & Waldorf – the grumpy old men in the balcony that made sarcastic remarks on how poorly the show was going.
When I heard this movie was based on the Muppets trying to save the theatre that housed their old TV show by putting on a ‘Muppet Show Marathon’, I was interested enough to buy a ticket – plus the lovely and talented Amy Adams added to my anticipation of being entertained by a batch of cloth puppets.
The usual conversation I have with my wife at the end of EVERY movie we see goes like this; (Me) “So what did you think?” (Her) (A) “It was okay.” (B) “It was fine.” (C) “I liked it.” At the conclusion of the Muppets her response was, “I didn’t care for it.”
Wow, not even a drab ‘okay’ for Kermit & Co.
The surprising thing is I agreed with her, I didn’t care for it either – although it was sweet and some of the cameos were humorous, Alan Arkin, Emily Blunt (as Miss Piggy’s secretary) and Zack Galifiniakis particularly – but they only made me smirk. I laughed out loud once – at Amy Adams’ line, “This is going to be a really short movie.”
The problem clearly was in the writing (Sorry, Jason) I was hoping for a grown-up Muppets movie aimed at us ‘older’ fans that grew up with them. Instead this film is aimed at pre-teens and toddlers. It has no edge, no adult content, no pizzaz. It was rather boring.
Early in the film, Kermit hears about the fate of the old Muppet theatre and sets about rounding up the other Muppets – his first stop is Vegas where he finds Fozzie Bear opening for an act called The Moopets (3 raggedy Muppet look-alikes and David Grohl in a half-Muppet get up) When the movie ended I found myself wondering why they didn’t make a Moopet movie instead. In fact, I yearned for an R-Rated Muppet movie because this one was soooo milquetoast, it wasn’t like the Muppets I remembered at all. (Not that the Muppets were ever R-Rated, but THAT would have been a fun idea – this seemed like a huge step in the wrong direction to me)
The story was kind of dumb; Jason Segel as Gary grows up with his brother Walter who for some unknown reason is a Muppet. Walter worships Kermit and the gang for obvious reasons and joins his brother and his fiancée Mary (Amy) on a trip to Hollywood.
Chris Cooper as billionaire Tex Richman plans to purchase the old Muppet theatre and tear it down. Walter overhears this plan and makes it his mission to find Kermit to let him know. And the journey to bring back the old gang for one final extrava-gonzo is on.
The best part about Walter is when he’s turned into a human during a dream sequence and the human form he takes on is that of Jim Parsons (Sheldon of “The Bing Bang Theory”) The worst part about Walter is that he’s uninteresting and not the least bit funny. When Walter’s ‘talent’ is finally revealed I had to roll my eyes and wonder how anyone would have thought THAT was a good way to endear Walter to the audience – I found him to be even more boring after sitting thru his less-than-entertaining addition to the Big Show.
Nostalgia-wise, the Muppets worked for a short while, but for the long run, this would have been a better ½ hour TV special – or written by someone who would give the sock puppets more bite.


“HUGO” (Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley & Chloe Grace Moretz)

‘Hugo’ is a pleasant little tale of a young orphaned boy that helps a broken old man
re-discover his dreams... but it isn’t much more than that.
It is obviously director Martin Sorcese’s tribute to the film-makers that began it all and because of that, “Hugo” quite frequently delves into ‘cheesy’ movies with exceptionally bad acting.
The storyline that works involves title character Hugo (Asa Butterfield) and the friendship he creates with Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz, who didn’t frighten me this time) The one that doesn’t is the antics of Sacha Baron Cohen as ‘Station Inspector’ whose sole duty seems to be tracking down orphans and having them sent to institutes where they will live their days out in misery. Now, if he was called ‘Orphan Hunter’ I would understand this obsession, but he supposedly is the head of security at the Paris train station so his existence in this film seems to only be for ‘comic relief’. Problem there is that Sacha Baron Cohen never has and more than likely never will be funny.
Other than a heartwarming scene involving two long haired dachshunds, ‘Hugo’ just kind of rolls from one scene to the next without much impact on any emotion – the kids’ friendship is sweet, but sweet don’t feed the Doberman.
The acting, other than the hammy Cohen, is fine – well above the norm; Ben Kingsley as George Melies is fine when he isn’t shown acting in one of George’s crappy films and cameos by Jude Law, Ray Winstone and Christopher Lee were greatly appreciated but too short-lived, especially Law as Hugo’s doomed father.
I was misled by a reviewer that made it appear as though this film was about an automatron that unites young Hugo with the elderly Melies, but the automatron is simply a mechanical device that contains a special secret message meant for Hugo from his departed father. When the message is revealed, it’s somewhat of a let down.
‘Hugo’ relies too heavily on circumstance; now a little circumstance is fine, welcomed, in fact – a little more circumstance can still work as long as its done logically, but ‘Hugo’ goes way over the top with it until you’re left shaking your head in disbelief. Example; Hugo is frustrated by his efforts to get his father’s automatron to work properly; his need, a heart-shaped key. After a chance meeting in the crowded train station with Isabelle and discovering that she’s related to the grumpy old man that runs the station’s gifts ‘n’ trinkets shop (Kingsley’s George Melies) Hugo invites Isabelle into his secret domain behind the clocks in the station – which he keeps running so no one will discover his orphaned existence. After showing Isabelle the automatron, Isabelle just happens to have a heart shaped key that she keeps around her neck – Just in case she might happen upon an automatron that needed starting?
Still, it is likeable but not lovable... Kind of like ‘Wall-E’ with dialogue.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


“The DESCENDANTS” (George Clooney & Shailene Woodley)

Because of my high expectations for this, it was a bit of a let down. I liked the plot, I liked the trailer, I like George – the critics were raving. I told my wife I was hoping to see the second best movie of the year. So with all that going against it – “The Descendants” is a very likeable film, but nothing to get excited about.
Clooney plays Matt King, a lifetime Hawaiian resident that happens to be descended from Hawaiian royalty – his family owns a huge plot of land that will be worth millions to him and his relatives. Matt has the power of attorney as to what’s to be done with the land – or, in other words, sell it to the highest bidder. As the deadline is approaching for Matt to make his decision; local buyers - or ‘outsiders’ from Chicago - his wife gets injured and lapses into a coma.
Matt then discovers his wife was cheating on him prior to her accident so he pulls his oldest daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) out of college so she can watch over her younger sister, Scottie (Amara Miller) while Matt goes about tracking down his comatose wife’s lover.
And that’s pretty much the plot, with a few twists and turns along the way.

Beau Bridges plays Matt’s amiable cousin Hugh; well, amiable until Matt starts to waiver on his decision to sell the property. But he brings nothing special to the table.
Robert Forster plays Matt’s father-in-law, Scott Thorson and other than punching Alexandra’s moronic boyfriend, Sid (Nick Krause) he brings nothing special to the table.
Same for Matthew Lillard as Brian Speer, Matt’s unconscious wife’s lover.
Judy Greer has a couple of nice moments but isn’t in the film enough to make an impact.
What gives this film a pulse is the combination of Clooney and Woodley; there were times when they seemed to actually be father and daughter and it’s their relationship that makes “The Descendants” a cut above your average movie-going fare.
But the problem with the film is that the high expectations from the set ups doesn’t pay off at the end. When Matt confronts Speers in his home you hope for some fireworks, something out of the ordinary to take place – but no, Brian simply apologizes profusely to Matt for the affair he had with his vegetable, er, I mean, wife.
I guess the scenic shots of the Hawaiian Islands will impress those that enjoy sight-seeing. I don’t. But anyone that calls this ‘Oscar’ caliber is either from Hawaii, or agrees with me that this is another lame year for films, because despite being underwhelmed by this movie, it still may make it into my Top 10 just from the acting of Clooney and Shailene...


“COWBOYS VRS. ALIENS” (Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde & Sam Rockwell)

When my friend Chris first told me about this film we both thought it was an internet joke. So when the joke became reality, it just made sense that we should wait until it came to the discount cinema and see ‘Cowboys Vrs. Aliens’ together.
It was worth the $3 admission basically due to Olivia Wilde’s engaging eyes – though Chris thought her rising from the ashes ala the Phoenix was ridiculous, I welcomed her back because I knew the film would suck without her to gaze upon.
But Chris and I agreed on everything else in this film – the beginning half was quite good, entertaining and humorous with an interesting concept – while the second half sunk to what we expected a film called Cowboys Vrs. Aliens to be – junk.
What worked was Daniel Craig’s Jake Lonegan. The film begins with Jake waking in the desert with a wound in his side and an odd metallic device clamped to his right wrist. Despite his efforts to break it off, the device remained attached.
Jake has no memory of who he is or where he was so he aimlessly wanders into the nearest town where he meets Paul Dano’s Percy, the son of the richest land baron in these here parts. Percy is drunk and shooting his gun off in the middle of the street when Jake makes a smart alec remark that Percy takes offense to. Percy winds up wounding a deputy and being kneed in the crotch by Jake before being carted off to jail – constantly claiming, “Wait until my daddy finds out about this!”
Jake soon joins Percy when the sheriff (Keith Carradine) finds a wanted for murder poster in his office.
Daddy (Harrison Ford in one of his ‘I just have to show up and read my lines’ moods)
shows up shortly before the aliens enter the picture. With Jake and Percy ensconced inside a prisoner transference wagon, Daddy demands that the sheriff release his son when the weird lights in the sky appear and begin shooting blasts of light that explode upon impact. As the blasts near the paddy wagon, Jake yells at Percy, “give me your hand!” A very frightened Percy whimpers, “I don’t want to die!” Jake replies, “You won’t if you give me your hand – I know how to get us out of here.”
Once Percy surrenders his hand, Jake proceeds to break every bone in it so he can slip the shackles over Percy’s wrist and thus make his escape.
So, yes, things were going along well at that point – I liked the mystery of ‘Jake’ and the object on his wrist and the humor of Jake constantly pummeling the spoiled rich kid.
But then came the frog-people...
Sam Rockwell played ‘Doc’ though he seemed to be the saloon owner and the local preacher was the one that tended to Jake’s wound. Doc joins the search party that forms after the aliens’ initial attack as his wife was one of the several townspeople that were abducted during the melee.
Jake discovers he was the leader of a gang of outlaws and they, along with a band of renegade Indians join the posse in search of the aliens that they are told by the beautiful Ella (Olivia Wilde) will wipe out all civilization in order to mine all of the earth’s gold.
The movie then descends into the silly cowboys versus aliens motif where it seems that dozens of cowboys and Indians are killed in battle, yet when the dust clears – all the cowboys and Indians seem to be accounted for.
The device on Jake's wrist is a weapon that gives the cowboys an upper hand - but it is one of the alien's weapons - How come they don't have the same thing to fire back at the cowboys and Indians? And how is it that cowboys on horseback can catch up to aliens in spaceships?
What disturbed me most was the ending which lent itself to set up a possible sequel or two – Coming next year “Cowboys Vrs. Aliens 2: The Wrath of The Frog-People”
followed by the Daniel Craig-directed, “Cowboys Vrs. Aliens 3: The Search For Ella”
and then, of course, the Back To The Past time travelling sequel, “C V A 4 : The Voyage Home (To The Old West)” where the cowboys are transported into the future to find a pair of humpback whales that they can bring back to their time to ease the Frog-people who now want blubber instead of gold. You laugh now, but stranger things have happened in Hollywood and you know it...



Normally I only review films I’ve seen in theatres, but after viewing these two movies on TV, I felt I should write these ‘warnings’ to anyone that hasn’t seen them yet...

“Let Me In” is simply harrowing – that’s the best word to describe how I felt after seeing it. When it came out I read that it was about a 12 year old girl who happens to be a vampire. I am not a 12-16 year old female, so I am not the least bit interested in these modern-day vampire tales where all the male leads look... well, gay. If that offends you, I’m sorry, but it’s the best way to describe these actors that wear feminine looking make up and don’t seem to have much in the way of acting abilities. So I passed on paying money to see “Let Me In”. But it was given mostly good reviews, so I taped it. First thing I thought when it ended was, “I sure hope no 12-16 year old girls ever see this!”
I don’t get ‘scared’ by movies, but “Let Me In” was frightening in the sense that there were a couple of scenes that will haunt me – probably for years.
Quick summary; 12 year old Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) moves into the same apartment building as 12 year old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) with what appears to be her father (Richard Jenkins) Or grandfather, Richard isn’t exactly a spring chicken. During their first meeting on the roof of the building Abby tells Owen, “We can never be friends.”
Small for his age Owen is the main target of three school bullies. Abby tells Owen to fight back – hard. As their friendship grows, Owen finds out that Abby can’t enter his room without him saying out loud that she can ‘come in’.
‘Dad’ is in charge of feeding young Chloe – with the blood of unsuspecting victims he finds by hiding in the back seat of their cars covered in black garbage bags. When he spills the plasma of his latest victim, Chloe is outraged and Owen hears her yell, “What am I supposed to do now?”
So sweet, diminutive Abby goes out and attacks someone. The scene isn’t scary as the creature Abby turns into is obviously computerized, but the idea that a small child would feign an injury and then 'eat' the person who stops to help her is.
The scene where ‘Dad’ is forced to disfigure himself when his last attempt to find ‘food’ for Chloe is the one that sticks in my mind the most – and gives me the creeps.
Owen remains clueless about Abby until the little nitwit decides he wants to be ‘blood’ brothers with his female friend and cuts his thumb with a knife in front of her...
What happens to the victim Abby attacks after fleeing from Owen, so she doesn’t ‘eat’ him is another disturbing scene that won’t clear from my memory bank.
What makes this film intriguing is the fact that when she’s been fed, Abby is a little sweetheart – in a dark foreboding kind of way – and she does eventually befriend Owen, who seems to be less freaked out by Abby the more freakish she becomes. The only time Owen gets upset is when he discovers who 'dad' really is.

The secret of who dad really is and the fate of the school bullies make “Let Me In” one scary film. Despite the sometime low-rent special effects – it’s the realism that kept me glued to the story. Abby is a normal 12 year old girl, cute when she’s recently dined on human blood, but the fact that she’s been ’12 for a very long time’ is kind of creepy and Owen is a sympathetic little geek that needs protection – they combine to help one another when needed and so the story – dark and gloomy for the most part does have a semi-happy ending.
With “Never Let Me Go” there isn’t a moment of brightness, or a single ray of sunshine in the entire film. I won’t reveal the ‘secret’ of Kathy, Tommy & Ruth –though it is resolved fairly early on, but these three children who are introduced as three of several children being brought up and schooled in an English institute called Hailsham.
I figured it out from the opening scenes, but for some reason telling the obvious is a spoiler. But the only thing that could spoil this movie for anyone is for someone to recommend it to you. It is depressing from start to finish. The secret is revealed by a glum, depressed, Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins) the students English teacher. Why Miss Lucy is fired is kind of a mystery because in time these kids HAD to be told what their lot in life was to be.
Kathy loves Tommy, but Tommy his social issues – he befriends Kathy but seems incapable of loving her back. Ruth, despite being Kathy’s best friend, seduces Tommy and becomes his lover until they graduate from Hailsham and go to live in The Cottages.
It’s a strange, depressing film because it just ambles along without any resistance from the students. They simply accept their fate without any outcry of protest or attempts to escape. That would have made this a much better story. And wait until you get to the end – You couldn’t imagine a more depressing ending if you tried.
So if you’re in a good mood and you want to lose it quick – Rent “Never Let Me Go” and the blues will encompass you for as long as you keep this glum movie in your brain...