Movie Madness

My movie reviews and rants at your fingertips.

Monthly Archives: December 2009

Sherlock Holmes

Once again, Robert Downey Jr. has picked a film that further cements his comeback. And if things go well with this, he may have another franchise to fall back on. Guy Richie is mostly known for gritty, dirty crime movies set in and around England’s underbelly. This movie takes these finesses and applies them to what is probably Richie’s biggest budgeted project yet.

The film follows Holmes and Watson (played impeccably by Jude Law) as they attempt to solve a case that involves a case their previous case. We see Watson trying to create a life outside his life Holmes, only to have Holmes constantly lure him back in. The plot moves quickly. It has enough action and intrigue to keep you watching until the end when you feel you have just begun. The problem is that the script isn’t intriguing enough, to keep you as entranced as Richie wants you to be.

The cast is great, each one fully committed to their respective roles, both as actors and as the characters they play. Mark Strong does a good job of creating a menace to his mere presence, but clearly this is Downey Jr.’s show. Which is what makes this movie the glue in what could have been a train wreck. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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Nine

I have very little nice to say about this movie. To its credit, the list of musicals that I love the first go around is quite small. The problems with this one made it difficult for me to not walk out. In most musicals, the songs are part of the plot, the move the movie along. In this film however, the songs have close to no value in regards to the plot. In fact, the take the thin plot and end up making it feel even thinner. The story follows Guido, an Italian film director, as he attempts to bluff his way through his next movie. He hasn’t written a word but refuses to admit it to anyone. That’s it; like I said, thin.

Daniel Day-Lewis once again lives in his character’s skin. But this role reminded me quite a bit of Johnny from the so-horrible-it’s-great movie The Room. The shinning light was Marion Cotillard. Maybe it’s because she hasn’t been apart of the Hollywood machine long enough to realize she’s being wasted. But in spite of the small role, she truly shines. Her 2 numbers showed not only can she act, but she can sing!

All the actors sing their characters songs. Some with more success than others. Kate Hudson does better than expected. I wouldn’t mind seeing her perform this at the Oscars should the ballot go that way (though I secretly hope Stu’s Song from The Hangover is nominated over this)

If you like musicals or enjoy Show choir (some of you reading this do), I suggest ignoring my advice. But if you want my perspective as an avid moviegoer and elitist critic, ignore this movie. 1 out of 5 stars

The Young Victoria

I have trouble with movies set in this era. I usually can’t notice the dry humor and bureaucratic trappings of the characters’ every move. But that in The Young Victoria, it is one of its strengths. The lack of dumbing it down for the common audience member adds an authenticity to the film, even if some of the scenes aren’t completely true.

This is Emily Blunt’s show. She inhabits her role and fleshes out a layered young woman who refuses to be bullied by those close to her. The film follows Victoria from a young girl to her accension to the crown at the young age of 18. Then we get to explore her world as she tries to lead with her conscience. Rupert Friend plays her lover and ally. Watching them work together is something of pure entertainment. And seeing Paul Bettany is always a pleasure as Lord Melbourne.

Though a significant portion of the middle half of the movie is a sort of love triangle, the movie doesn’t let everything else fall by the wayside. I thoroughly enjoyed the moments when someone would suggest or push something on Victoria (usually a suitor), and watched her deflect and carry on. The plot could use a bit of a polish, but it’s still a good show. It’s a 3 star script with 4 and 5 star performances. 3 out of 5 stars.

The Best Films of 2009 (according to my Netflix ratings)

This is the list of the 10 best films released in 2009 according to how I rated them on my Netflix account. Since memory isn’t always 100%, I’ve decided to stick to the more concrete ratings than my own recollection.

1– The Hurt Locker

2–Up in the Air

3–Star Trek

4–Inglorious Basterds

5–Up

6–The Fantastic Mr. Fox

7–Avatar

8–Watchmen

9–The Damned United

10–District 9

Up in the Air

Ever since Jason Reitman’s first film Thank You for Smoking, I’ve come to enjoy the drama AND the comedy that he pulls from the script. Juno brought everyone else around to what genius Reitman is capable of making. Up in the Air is no exception. This is a movie in which the destination isn’t known ahead of time and you don’t even care. It’s the journey.

Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a surgeon when it comes to the delicate art of firing someone.  He lives to be on the road, or in this case, in the air. He prefers to live from a suitcase and keep all parts of his life compartmentalized as such. Early on we are introduced to our 2 female supporting actresses. Both brilliant in there roles, especially Anna Kendrick. Kendrick plays an up-and-comer that has a new idea for the company that will eradicate Bingham’s lifestyle. Bingham is forced to take her on the road and educate her as to why his way is more effective than hers. All the while, Bingham is seeing Alex (Vera Farmiga), a woman who is his female dopelganger.

Kendrick effortlessly plays opposite Clooney and walks the fine line between keeping up and completely stealing the show (though she did steal most of her scenes. Something difficult to do from Clooney). Having recently been in New Moon, it’s refreshing to see someone from The Twilight Saga who can act. I truly hope her Globe nom for this picture takes her to the greater prestige of Oscar nom. Ditto for Farmiga. A veteran of the genius The Departed from a few years ago, she is definitely deserving of a nom.

But in truth, the three central characters; Clooney, Farmiga, and Kendrick, transform the movie and make you enjoy it all the more. The characters feel built in a way that we can all see a piece of ourselves in each of them, making the film that much more enjoyable. And by opening and closing the movie with testimonials of real people who have been “let go”, adds gravitas as a means to convey the harsh reality of our economy today. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Precious

This movie is the Slumdog Millionaire of 2009. Both come out of nowhere with a story about a character who must overcome a great deal of adversity. In this, we find a girl named Precious. She’s a 16-year-old girl pregnant with her second kid and struggling to pass the same grade she’s been in for years. Her mother is living off of welfare and beats her regularly.

The story is told with a frankness I’ve never seen before in a movie like this. Most films previously like this dilute the reality or the extreme nature of the details to make it more lighthearted and uplifting. This movie has its moments that evoke smiles, but the majority of it is a grueling (yet rewarding) endeavor of watching Precious help herself out of the mess she has lived in since birth. As the story goes on, she continues to be inundated with tribulations and setbacks that weaker people would have given up at trying to remedy. The biggest joy of this film is watching her face the troubles but keep going. Something that inspires the audience as they go back to their lives after the movie.

Mo’Nique is brilliant in her role as the abusive mother. She deserves every award coming to her for this movie. And kudos to our adorable lead and Mariah Carey, they took what could have easily been one-dimensional characters and sat back, but they rounded them out so that felt like real people.

All in all a moving picture. It takes you through an emotional hell. But leaves you with a good feeling. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Avatar

Two things: 1) I hate CGI and 2) I believe that James Cameron is Michael Bay with talent.  That being said, I can tell you that Avatar is a movie that is going to be remembered for years to come.  Even before its release, a number of records were set and rules in the industry broken. Rumor is that this is the most expensive movie ever produced, somewhere around $300 million. And the concept of filming in a 3-D environment with motion capture suits. AND probably the biggest and most important 3-D movie ever made!

Cameron has a knack for big movies that change the way movies are made and Avatar is no exception.  The story revolves around a Marine named Jake Sully, who at the last-minute is hired to take his brother’s place on the planet Pandora.  The reason the humans are there is that we’ve wasted our resources and have found something of great value on Pandora. The trouble is, an indigenous race is currently living over the largest deposit of this ore. So we (the humans) rig avatars to infiltrate and learn about our resistance. 

What unfolds is the classic, love your enemy and hate your friend plotline used most familiar in The Last Samurai.  The plot has its snags but what is effective, are the characters. And I never thought I’d say this, but the special effects too. Cameron has crafted a world so visually stunning, that the notion of CGI is forgotten a lot easier than expected. The climatic dogfight is probably one of the most epic I’ve seen this decade. It’s nice to see that in his 9 year absence, Cameron hasn’t gotten soft.

If and when you see this movie, I urge you to see it in 3-D. The movie is fine without it, but this movie was intended to be seen in 3-D and to not watch it that way only hurts your experience of it. Though the length of the film is a bit of a deal breaker for some, it definitely keeps things moving. All in all, a great piece of filmmaking. Well deserving of its Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture  – Drama and Best Director. 4 out of 5 stars

The Damned United

Peter Morgan once again crafts a script that is perfectly complimented by Michael Sheen’s performance.  First with The Queen and then with Frost/Nixon, Sheen transforms himself seamlessly into his role.  This time around however, the focus is with Sheen front and center, with a cast set-up to support him instead of the other way around.

The film is about Brian Clough, the man sent in to fill in for Don Revie, Leeds United best and most favorite coach.  History tells us that he only lasted 44 days before he was replaced. But that isn’t the point of this film.  This isn’t a film about soccer. This is about Clough’s accension from a sub-par team to the coach of his biggest rivals. The film thrives on exploring the dynamics between Clough and those around him. Especially the disrespect between Revie and Clough as goes from just another coach to beating Leeds and Revie.

Sheen is brilliant as Clough. Even during the closing credits, we see the actual Clough and realize just how accurate Sheen’s portrayal is. Unfortunately, this movie is not getting nearly the amount of attention it deserves. After seeing this film, I would absolutely put Sheen in the best actor category for the year-end awards. If you have any interest in historical films, this is definitely worth a watch (or two).  The intelligence of this film is something truly brilliant. It refuses to talk down to its audience but it forces you to think. The mark of a great film. 5 out of 5 stars.

The Blind Side

This is starting to sound like this movie will be Sandra Bullock’s “Erin Brockovich”. Seeing it with my family, I can clearly see why this movie is doing so well at the box office. It’s a feel good movie that pulls all the right groups. Football, strong women, and themes such as acceptance brings in almost all the big demos.

The Blind Side revolves around a woman who decides to take in a basically homeless student from her children’s school. At first, there is a bit of uneasiness with everyone involved, but as the film unfolds, the family starts to embrace their “new addition” as one of the family as he grows more comfortable being a part of it.

This film is very formulaic, but the cast elevates the film above an otherwise by-the-books film. I enjoyed the roller coaster that it takes your emotions on. From complete solitude to laugh-out-loud to overwhelmed happiness, it makes you feel how the characters feel. And when it doesn’t do a good job of that, the film takes on the feelings of its characters.

This is a good show to see with your family like I did, or even by yourself. I hope that coming Golden Globes, Sandra’s nominated. This, doubled with “The Proposal” this past summer, Sandra is having a great year. A good movie with a great actress deserves recognition. 3 out of 5 stars

Ninja Assassin

Ninja Assassin is not a movie that I would run out to see. I enjoy the occasional Jackie Chan or Jet Li movie, but sadly, this is nothing close to that. I went in with an optimistic attitude, but quickly lost all patience. Had I not gone with my father, I would have walked out. Rarely do I do that.

The movie follows a man who used to be in a secret ninja cult that are hired for assassinations all over the world. A woman at Europol (European Police, like Interpol is International Police) has found evidence that the cult exists, so they set out to kill her. But our main character is actually attempting to bring down the cult as well, so protects her/helps her on her mission to get the word out about these men.

The action seems well-intentioned but phony all over. The requisite blood and gore is all CGI (something I can’t stand) and though the battle scenes are stylishly filmed, the stunts and acrobatics all feel like wire stunts. Not like Chan and Li, who used little or no safety harnesses at all. I can only hope that other action films don’t follow this example. Even Michael Bay films have something that resonates. If you thought the trailer looked awesome, go see Ninja Assassin. If you have taste and prefer something that doesn’t insult its audience, avoid this like STDs. 0 out of 5 stars (Why can’t Netflix let me give this movie a 0?! Why is 1 the lowest?)

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Once again, Wes Anderson creates a film that lives in its own universe. Few directors in Hollywood today can do that. Burton, Gilliam, Kaufman. All take a simple script and explore it, making a film more of a safari than a film.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox is about, obviously, Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) who promised his wife (voiced by Meryl Streep) to never go hunting for food again. Fast forward and now the couple has a son named Ash. He fights to earn his father’s respect despite frequently failing. One night, Mr. Fox craves one more score, just one more adventure that he plans with his super. He decides to steal from the 3 wealthy factories across the way. Aggravated, the factories decide to track down Mr. Fox and make him pay.

What unfolds is their revenge and the animals banding together in the face of extermination. With a vocal cast to die for (Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody in a small role as a mouse) and a whimsical feeling throughout, you find yourself enchanted. The stop-motion animation feels much more fluid than one would expect. The humor is dry but rewarding to those you catch it. As soon as it was over, I wanted to watch it again. Definitely a great film, especially how they censor their profanity. 4 out of 5 stars