Movie Madness

My movie reviews and rants at your fingertips.

Monthly Archives: December 2010

Devil

I admit, I wrote this movie off quickly after its initial release. Now that it has been released on Blu-Ray and DVD, I gave it a shot and found a highly effective genre movie.

Unlike M. Night Shymalan’s recent films, this concept sticks. Devil is about 5 strangers stranded in an elevator. Each time the lights go off, another one of them dies. Despite the PG-13 rating, the film cleverly uses space and quick shots to build tension and keep the film moving at a brisk pace.

The cast, mostly of little known actors, do a great job of arousing suspicion and making each other look more guilty as things progress. The film is a take on the story The Devil’s Meeting; where the Devil visits on those most devious of people (thugs, pickpockets, gold-diggers) and takes them one by one to the underworld.

The beauty of the movie is its lack of spectacle. It’s a solid B-movie style film with a simple and effective plot. The script and direction keep your attention and rarely gives you a break. Clocking in at about 80 minutes, the film is a quick ride that will definitely have you reconsider getting stuck in an elevator. 3 out of 5 stars

How Do You Know

It took me most of the movie to realize that Paul Rudd and Reese Witherspoon have worked together before. Though it is nice to see how far they have come since the decent but forgotten Overnight Delivery, this film doesn’t take them anywhere.

Reese plays an accomplished softball player who is coping with the end of her career. She must find out what is next and get her feet back underneath her. Paul Rudd plays a young CEO being investigated for unethical practices. These two cross paths and together they watch as their lives become more stable. Reese has trouble with all her troubles, plus the awkward relationship with her boyfriend, played by Owen Wilson.

Unfortunately, this movie is a complete waste. Despite the director and the two leads (and Jack Nicholson in a supporting role), the film falls flat on all accounts. The script was initially about baseball, but that became an overlooked background detail. The film limps long without any realization or trajectory. The end of the film is predictable as early as the exposition of the characters. Aimed at appealing to those who loved last year’s It’s Complicated, it doesn’t have anything to keep you going along. 0.5 out of 5 stars

The Fighter

The boxing movie subgenre is one that is all about hope, perseverance, and commitment. The best ones, like Rocky and Million Dollar Baby, are about overcoming odds and having something to prove. The Fighter is no different. Here, we see the underdog rise and overcome countless obstacles.

The Fighter stars Mark Wahlberg as Mickey Ward, a small town boxer following in the footsteps of his older brother Dicky. His brother’s one claim to fame is a fight with Sugar Ray Leonard decades ago. Now he is addicted to crack, which constantly strains his relationship with Mickey. Mickey, stuck in a losing streak, is offered an opportunity to redeem himself. The choice he must make is whether his brother and overbearing mother/manager are causing more harm than good. The majority of the movie is Mickey overcoming one obstacle after another, finding hope and solace in his girlfriend (played by Amy Adams).

The film, a strong film on its own, is really a showcase of the actors. From Melissa Leo’s portrayal of Mickey’s mother, to Christian Bale’s most demanding role since The Machinist, the cast make the movie. David O. Russell seems to know this and lets the actors go. Fortunately, the script is sharp and rich. And setting the movie in the late 80s/early 90s gives the film a nice nostalgic vibe. The choreography of the fight scenes are realistic and filled with tension. I found myself recoiling a few times from some of the blows.

The final half hour really pulls at the heartstrings. You fall in love with these characters and you root for Mickey every step of the way. I really hope Wahlberg, Bale, and Adams each get a nomination come Oscar time. The script and direction, hell, everything about this movie is well executed. Definitely an uplifting and amazing story; the greatest boxing film since Rocky (in my opinion). 4.5 out of 5 stars

Black Swan

Leave it Darren Aronofsky to direct yet another tale about obsession. And like the ones he’s done before, they really get under your skin.

In Black Swan, Natalie Portman plays Nina. Nina is a perfectionist who longs for the big break in her career. Despite being rather cold in her execution of her performances, she is picked and must learn to dirty up the innocence that she represents so that she can also faithfully represent The Black Swan in Swan Lake. As the rehearsals progress and Nina is nearer and nearer to opening night, he fragile composure erodes.

Natalie Portman gives hands down the best performance of her career. You can tell that the year she took off to study and learn ballet pays off. She is backed by a sublime supporting cast. Barbara Hershey channels Ellen Burstyn’s Requiem for a Dream performance perfectly as Nina’s overbearing mother who lives vicariously through her daughter. Mila Kunis steals the scene as Nina’s potential threat. And the ever brilliant Vincent Cassel, in one of the best roles of his career.

But all the praise can’t rest on the cast and director, everything about the movie astounds. The costumes and cinematography are nothing short of stunning. The script is rich with dialogue and depth that is void of cliché. Definitely one of the best films of the year. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Tron Legacy

Over the past few years, 3-D movies have become a more and more common occurrence. But unlike Clash of the Titans and this year’s Alice in Wonderland,  Tron was filmed in 3-D. NOT converted in post-production like these two movies just mentioned. And like Avatar last year, it makes a world of difference.

This film takes place 21 years after Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has disappeared into The Grid, the computer based alternate reality. Flynn’s son Sam stumbles upon a pathway into that world. Once he realizes he’s there, Sam begins the journey to find and free his father. Along the way he is being tracked down by Clu (the artificial intelligence doppelgänger of Jeff Bridges), who is trying to use the Flynns’ knowledge to make it into the real world and take over.

This film has some of the best special effects I’ve seen in years. The film, already stunning, becomes even more exciting in 3-D. Where some movies are gratuitous with its 3-D visuals, this movie doesn’t flash it your face. Instead, it enriches the environment. Though the plot is a bit thin, the film manages to keep your attention to the end. The supporting cast is a blast. Olivia Wilde plays a key to everything but does so with great depth.

The action of the film is simple and surprisingly tame. The PG rating doesn’t hold the movie back. In fact, the rating keeps the action fun and not as violent as most other action movies. A fun for all ages and one that has you reaching for the first one on DVD (even though it is hard to find). 3.5 out of 5 stars

Love and Other Drugs

Every year, a few romantic comedies aim to be more than what they are. This year, we’ve seen some succeed (Easy A) and some fail (Eat, Pray, Love). This one reaches out in hopes of snagging award cred, and to a slight extent, it gets some.

The film follows Jake Gyllenhaal as a man who ends up selling pharmaceuticals for Pfizer. In his attempts to get Zoloft to replace Prozac, he meets a woman with young onset Parkinson’s, played by Anne Hathaway. We then follow their relationship as it goes though all the romantic dramedy checkpoints.

The film, directed by the director of The Last Samurai, falls into many of the trappings often associated with this style of movie. The saving grace are it’s actors. Gyllenhaal and Hathaway have strong chemistry and they carry the movie just the two of them. Even with a supporting cast of strong actors, the film falls on them.

The story alludes to a few things on the horizon, but it awkwardly avoids them. Had this film been allowed a little more room for chance, it would have been a much stronger movie. Instead, we are left a film that is barely saved by its cast. For fans of the cast only. 3 out of 5 stars.