The Amazing Spider-Man 2 

         Well, Rochester looked amazing.
         Audiences where this writer is based had perhaps the most interest in The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s opening chase scene – filmed in downtown Rochester, NY, done up to look like New York City  (And did you all catch the Kodak-brand on full display during the later Times Square scene?).  Director Marc Webb staged a wonderfully exciting police chase with Spider-Man bouncing from car to car, while trying to keep his love life in order.    
         And then we have to wait a long time for another good action scene. Like – a long time. The only action sequence worthy of the opener is at the movie’s near-climax, and it is hugely suspenseful (code for comic fans – I say the words “Gwen Stacy” and you know why it’s suspenseful). Otherwise, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is devoted to the romance between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, and it goes through the motions of your typical Spider-Man story.  He’s a misunderstood hero; he works through his personal relationships with his girlfriend, Aunt May and best friend Harry; there’s a brilliant scientist who suffers a workplace accident and becomes a super-villain.  
          That villain is Elektro, played by Jamie Foxx. A super-hero movie is only as good as its super-villain, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 totally wastes its dynamic Oscar winner with a role that is nothing special. He’s underwhelming as nerdy scientist Max Dillon, and so awash in special effects as Elektro that really anybody could have played the role. His motivations for villainy are never fully realized and you kind of wonder what the whole point is.
          When I walked the streets of Rochester trying to get a glimpse of the filming, the crew moved me along and told me “nothing to see here.”  Ironically, they were kind of right.  






The Wolf of Wall Street          
         I liked it the first time – when it was called Goodfellas          
         Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s still Scorsese (and frequent collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio) so it’s going to be a good film to watch and it’s going to be interesting storytelling. Ultimately, it’s a good movie.
         But it’s a movie that goes on way too long – ironic given that it’s about a man consumed by excess. It didn’t need to go three hours for us to get the point – which was kind of the same point as Goodfellas: you can make yourself feel like a king and live on the edge, but in the end, you’ll pay – even if in the end you’ll have no regrets.
         Seriously, if you saw it, tell me you didn’t hear Ray Liotta every so often over DiCaprio’s narration. And tell me you weren’t wishing for some Goodfellas violence to break up the sameness. White collar crime may affect us more than armed car robberies and prostitution, but it’s not as interesting. Scorsese should have presented a “wolf” we got to know better instead of an imitation white collar Henry Hill.

August: Osage County  (It Is What It Is)
         I won’t give away what happens, but I’ll tell you something about the screenwriter and playwright who created August: Osage County.
         Tracy Letts is a man.
         I tell you this so that you don’t spend the movie as I did – thinking it’s a tell-all by a woman with a horribly dysfunctional family who made the movie to get back at them. She returns to Osage County, Oklahoma after the death of her father. The family’s matriarch (Meryl Streep) is terminally ill and her darkness casts a shadow over the entire family, who all have troubles of their own. At least the mother’s problem is diagnosable. Everyone else needs a mental diagnosis.
         It’s a stellar cast, and they deliver – especially in a dinner scene where Roberts, Streep, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper. Dermot Mulroney, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Abigail Breslin and Benedict Cumberbatch just let it all out. Streep in particular earns her Best Actress Academy Award nomination (although I’d argue she’s not the lead character – Roberts is).
         That scene is the centerpiece. From there – well, I for one thought “Tracy Letts” was just being vindictive. But I assumed some things about “her.” The real Tracy Letts didn’t have a family like that. So now that you know that, you finish the movie and see if you also ask yourself “What was I supposed to get out of that?”



About Time   
It’s ironic:  one wishes someone connected to About Time could inherit the same time traveling powers as the movie’s protagonist. He or she could go back and encourage some editing or even a rewrite to keep a movie that was a sheer pleasure in its first half from becoming unbearable to watch in its second. It’s such a shame because Richard Curtis created a film that could have been “actually loved” as much as his own Love Actually... You’re happy for Tim. You’re happy for Mary. You’ve got a new star in the relatively unknown but very humorous Domnhall Gleeson.  It’s a feel good movie... And then it’s a REALLY feel good movie. And then it just keeps laying it on thick.
Full review is at

Iron Man 3  
Well OK, it’s better than 2, not nearly as good as 1 and certainly nowhere near The Avengers (which is Robert Downey Jr.’s second best work as Tony Stark).  The ending is a little baffling and a little abrupt, and it puts a little bit of rust on the movie as a whole, but until then, there were some moments. Downey is dependable as the cocky billionaire and fires off some trademark lines. He’s a little too happy in life – we need some edge. “Demon In a Bottle” from the comics is where we should have been going – not “I’m Afraid Because of What Happened in The Avengers.”  Ben Kingsley -- proving now anybody can do a comic book movie – is a pleasant surprise. Not that he wouldn’t be good as The Mandarin, but in that he takes The Mandarin to some places comic fans wouldn’t have expected.



 Pitch Perfect 

Pitch Perfect was made by and for people who cringe at Glee and think a cappella singing is just plain goofy – but despite themselves, find themselves singing along.  It’s black humor with just a hint of affection.  Its spirit is summed up the A Cappella Tournament announcer played by John Michael Higgins who says these kids are about to learn “life doesn’t get better after high school.”...  And by movie’s end? Well, “nailed it” would be extreme and “pitch perfect” would be an exaggeration -- but it hits enough notes to let you a-ca-ppreciate it.
Full review is at

Hope Springs  

It’s truly an acting dream couple... opposite each other for the first time, team up for a dramatic movie in which… they spend a lot of time sitting on a couch talking to each other.  That’s not a bad thing, but we shouldn’t get people’s hopes up too much for big over-the-top drama in Hope Springs.  These are funny, subtle, laid-back, realistic performances snuck in at the end of the summer for a more mature crowd that decided to skip The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises...  They sit and they talk, like a real couple would.  There’s no great moment where Kay or Arnold just stands up and blurts out a great secret.  Orchestral music doesn’t blare for an emotional outpouring.  There is honesty at a reasonable volume.
Full review at

21 Jump Street  
When you think of the 80s hit TV show 21 Jump Street, do you laugh?  Oh, maybe you chuckle a little at the idea that megastar Johnny Depp actually started on a TV series about a cop posing as a high school student to battle youth crime.  But do you really laugh at any moments of great comedy?  No, because while there may have been some cuteness, 21 Jump Street was serious in its intent.  It was a drama, not a sitcom.  It knew what it wanted to be, unlike the new film that shares the 21 Jump Street name...  Parody?  Stoner flick?  Buddy-action movie?   21 Jump Street never chooses a subject to major in.
Full review at


Dolphin Tale  
The best thing about the movie is Winter the bottlenose dolphin, who plays herself.  To do that, director Charles Martin Smith and team (we’ll assume including trained handlers) had to remove the tail to make the scenes genuine.  Watching a tail-less dolphin swim is both a curiosity and when you think about it, an inspiration...  Kids will marvel, skeptical adults may wonder if everything they’re seeing happened exactly that way or not.  Certainly it’s something you can enjoy with your kid – or through your kid’s eyes, but your adult eyes might be better served by The True Story of Dolphin Tale that we can hope someone will produce.
Full review at


If there is one takeaway from Colombiana, it is this:  Zoe Saldana has one great body.  Make no mistake about it:  Saldana and her lithe figure are the stars of Colombiana.  Director Olivier Megaton makes a point of capturing Saldana’s figure in the best possible light in every scene, and no matter what may be exploding around her, he makes sure she looks fantastic... no real thinking is required – the murder “plots” are not that complex – in fact, a couple of mysteries from the beginning of the movie remain unresolved.  Detail isn’t terribly important – consider: the murder of Cataleya’s parents takes place in 1992. For some reason, the adult action takes place “15 years later.”  That would be 2007, not 2011.  Yet characters have the very latest smartphones and a CIAagent has a picture of Barack Obama on his wall. Colombiana is less about twists and turns than it is its star’s curves. It’s action movie eye candy.
Full review at

30 Minutes Or Less   (It Is What It Is)
What’s great about 30 Minutes Or Less is it gets to the point and wraps it all up in 90 Minutes Or Less. 
          Not that it’s not an entertaining movie – because it is.  30 Minutes Or Less knows what it is – a fairly funny action/comedy with some crude jokes, a hip cast and a clever comedy of errors. 
          Jesse Eisenberg plays a pizza delivery guy who gets caught up in a criminal plot – two wannabes (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) need to come up with money to pay a hit man, but don’t want to rob a bank themselves.  Instead, they kidnap Eisenberg, strap a bomb to him and force him to do it in 10 hours or less.
          It’s a late summer comedy that doesn’t hold up to the higher profile films like Horrible Bosses or Bridesmaids.  Mostly, it will be an answer to a trivia question when charting the careers of Eisenberg, McBride, Swardson (who appears in a lot of R-rated comedies and whose appeal I just don’t get) and Parks & Recreation’s Aziz Ansari as Eisenberg’s best friend and co-conspirator.  Ansari’s star is on the rise, and this will be the movie we’ll remember as when he started to show his big screen potential.  This reviewer was an early detractor of Eisenberg – I called him a Michael Cera imitator.  But it’s like he is a changed man after the Oscar-nominated job he did in The Social Network.  A switch was thrown, and he’s suddenly full of personality.
          The bank robbery itself is the highlight, featuring a slapstick moment that I can’t believe nobody ever thought of before.  Other bits are hit-or-miss, but they happen fast enough that you can forgive the ones that make you groan.  30 Minutes isn’t a bad way to spend 90 of ‘em.


The Smurfs   
The Lilliputian-like creatures that are the Smurfs famously substitute the word “smurf” for other more complicated English words.... the word could be good… could be bad; depends on the mindset of the Smurf in question.  In that open-to-interpretation spirit, let’s say that The Smurfs is one smurfy smurf of a movie.   The little kids of previous generations who want to see this will fall into two groups:  the ones that want to share the experience with their kids, and the ones who were fans and maybe keep a figurine on a shelf or wear a Smurfs t-shirt to be nostalgic or ironic.  The latter group will go thinking it’s a lot of fun.  About ten minutes in, they’ll realize this really isn’t for them and that it was more fun to say you were going to The Smurfs than it actually was to go to The Smurfs.
Full review at


Bad Teacher  
It’s as if the makers of Bad Teacher were taking a standardized test full of multiple choice questions.  They didn’t know for sure everything that needed to go into a raunchy but good comedy, so they took their Number 2 pencils, took a chance and filled in the blanks as best they could.  Sometimes they hit on the right answers, sometimes they didn’t...   The end of the movie is way too rushed...  as if the scriptwriters were taking an essay test and didn’t know how to wrap it up.  Their good teachers should have taught them it’s not good writing to just sum things up with a quick closing sentence that starts with “In conclusion…”
Full review at


The Hangover Part II  
All of your favorites are back for The Hangover Part II… the only character missing that was essential to the first movie:  the city of Las Vegas.   The first movie’s depiction of Las Vegas made it somewhat relatable.  Yes, the first movie had naked men jumping out of the trunks of cars, tigers walking around hotel rooms and Mike Tyson so it’s not 100% true life.  But like Phil, Stu and Alan, we probably want to be the same cool guys they do.   And like them, we’d probably see things go kind of awry.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever received an invitation to a bachelor party in Bangkok.  Exactly.   
Full review at



 Something Borrowed  
To Something Borrowed’s credit, since the entire back story and the hookup were spelled out in the trailer, it gets right to that hookup moment and then to the dilemma:  now what?  Unfortunately (it) gets to the point – and then belabors it.  As the characters yell at each other to “make a decision,” we in the audience are silently yelling the same thing to them, because after a while we get it.  Rachel is tortured.  Dex is tortured... The whimsy of a romantic comedy gets bogged down in whiny drama.
Full review at


Justin Bieber: Never Say Never   
"Never Say Never’s marketing campaign will have you believe this is the story of a kid who’s paid his dues and no matter what the odds against him were, he never gave up.  This is actually the story of how one can use the social networking world of 2011 to achieve optimum success... We’re watching a kid who found his success through YouTube and tweeted his way into the hearts of millions.  His first album came out in 2009, and he’s already headlining the Garden!...  but Bieber never actually sits in front of a camera and tells his own story.  Justin’s employees and fans speak for him, and of course, they’re preaching to the choir.  One can’t help but wonder if Justin has anything to say about his own success – or if maybe somebody’s hiding something." 
Full review at


The Green Hornet  
Let’s clear up potential market confusion:  this movie is not the one starring Ryan Reynolds as an Earthman chosen to be a member of an elite intergalactic police force who wears a power ring that runs on his own willpower... So who and what is The Green Hornet and will the ComicCon attendees that drive market research and movie buzz want to go?..  The movie’s premise seems to be “why can’t an ordinary man become a super hero?” – which is actually the same premise as Kick-Ass, a film executed with much more style, wit, action and modern sensibility.   The Green Hornet and Kato come off as a diluted Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl.
Full review at



Yogi Bear  
"If Yogi Bear is your chance to take a batch of little kids to their first 3-D movie, by all means, go ahead and have at it.  They’ll probably have a lot of fun.  Its three-dimensional bits (Yogi’s pilfered picnic basket breaking open and its contents flying everywhere; a slimy tree slug shooting out of Yogi’s nose) are straight out of Cartoon 101, and when they’re done in 3-D, they’re sure to make kids giggle.  In a good way, they’re childish comedy bits...  To you though – it might feel like Warner Bros. made a quick little 3-D movie based on a beloved retro character to sucker you into the theater...  try to remember the feeling you have leaving the theater if down the line they decide to follow-up with a Snagglepuss movie."
Full review at

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Copyright(c) Warner Bros. Pictures. All Rights Reserved.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 Don’t let the “Part 1” in the title “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” fool you.  This movie is a horrible starting point for someone to watch the Harry Potter movies...  What they’ll get when they see this movie is a darker Potter than ever before... It’s Harry Potter vs. Voldemort – winner take all, to the death..  When the Dark Forces attack, it’s a pretty good action movie...  (but) Harry, Hermione and Ron go even deeper into hiding midway through the film and then things start to drag, and we’re stuck watching Harry Potter & the Deathly Long Stretches of Time Where Nothing Happens.  Well, maybe something happens, but it probably takes a real die-hard Potter fan to figure out what it is.  
Full review at 


Due Date  
With Thanksgiving looming, sometime in the next couple of weeks, some cable station is going to be showing Planes, Trains & Automobiles... and someone having just seen the new comedy from the director of The Hangover will think, “Hey, this is pretty much just Due Date.”  Well, it is and it isn’t.  Planes, Trains & Automobiles will be run again and again because it’s ultimately a heartwarming family movie... Due Date doesn’t really have that part down... Director Todd Phillips clearly is still feeling the effects of The Hangover and is looking to recreate the appeal of his mega-hit much more than he is looking to remake Planes...  If you liked (Zack Galifiankis as) Alan, you’ll like Ethan.
Full review at



Conviction - Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell

It sounds like the type of story you see in a TV movie, focusing on “One Woman’s Struggle” to save her brother and keep her family intact.  The true story could certainly have been turned into a movie-of-the-week type project, but the performances in Conviction elevate it to a more prestigious level... As a family drama, Conviction is pretty good.  As a legal drama, it falls a little flat...  It’s matter-of-fact:  he’s in prison; she’s going to try and get him out.  And after awhile, you’re ok with that.  The family stuff is good enough on its own.
Full review at


Life As We Know It  
... just ludicrous.  For the first fifteen minutes of the movie, we see Holly, Messer and the soon-to-be departed interact and hang out with each other at your various parties and holiday gatherings.  As an audience, it’s hard to enjoy because we’ve seen the trailer and we know the hosts are going to leave their baby orphaned.  Holly and Messer saw each other after their one and only date – they’re at all these parties.  The parents see that Holly and Messer hate each other.   Why would they leave them their baby and at the same time, upend their friends’ lives?...  Charming people, some funny material – but let’s not forget – dead parents.  It’s hard to enjoy Life As We Know It when a Death puts such a pall over everything.
Full review at 


The Virginity Hit  
There are some big raunchy laughs, many of which can’t be recounted here... The teens who see it will find great quotes and share laughs for months to come.  Those teens will probably be ok with it – because they’re watching their peers.  For an adult, it can be kind of disturbing... when you see a skinny kid in his underwear ready to do the deed – and the film looks homemade and gritty – sometimes it’s hard to laugh. 
Full review at 


The Karate Kid   
Each Karate Kid’s target audience is about the same age of the kid in the title role... Don’t go to the new one for nostalgia, you won’t get it... The karate scenes are few and far between as director Harald Zwart attempts to teach us all patience... but a paying audience should demand more.   (Kids) likely won’t be able to sit still unless they’ve had proper training on keeping butts in seats.

Full review at

Iron Man 2  
A full write-up is on my Examiner page....  please follow this link:  
Looking back (already) at Iron Man 2

How to Train Your Dragon  
“How to train your audience:  base your animated adventure on a children’s book, make sure they know it’s from the studio that brought you the Shrek films, and drive home the point that this movie is in 3-D… Actually, How to Train Your Dragon does have a bit in common with Avatar  – there are some visuals like nothing you’ve ever seen before, illustrating a story that’s well… a lot like something you have seen before…  But most noteworthy is the look – the animation is exquisitely detailed – from the freckles on Hiccup’s face and the scales on the dragons to the cascading oceans and the majestic mountains.  It’s all enhanced by being in 3-D.”   Full review at


Valentine's Day   
 Since all the movie really offers is big stars playing people who are connected getting paired off, we’ll describe the cast in pairs and point out how they’re kind of linked.  Marshall gives us two Jessicas (Alba & Biel), two Taylors (Swift & Lautner), two Roberts sisters (Julia & Emma), two stars of Grey’s Anatomy (Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey & Eric “McSteamy” Bane), two stars of That ‘70s Show  (Ashton Kutcher & Topher Grace), two older women (Shirley MacLaine & Kathy Bates) two Hispanics (George Lopez & Hector Elizondo), and two African-Americans (Jamie Foxx & Queen Latifah)...   Is that everyone?  It’s hard to tell, because with so many people crammed in there, it’s really hard for anyone to stand out – especially since the storylines are no better than what you see in the average sitcom.  
Full review at


Edge of Darkness  
Fair or not, audiences and critics are going to judge Edge of Darkness entirely by its star.  The last time we saw Mel Gibson in front of a camera, it was a mug shot and he was on the edge of some personal darkness...  Edge of Darkness was a good choice for him.  Audiences should like a family man out to do good who has enough of an edge that action fans will like him.  He needs to be hero, not an anti-hero, and it’s certainly too soon for the guy who called a female cop “sugar t**s” to play a romantic lead.  You can’t help but notice there is no female lead in Edge of Darkness.  So – good choice, Mel...   but it’s only on the edge of being a good movie.  It’s on the edge of being an all-out action movie; it’s on the edge of being a murder mystery, and on the edge of being a political thriller.  It only touches on and is only average at each.
Full review at


The Book of Eli 
“It takes forever to get to what isn’t so much an allegory but a flat-out obvious religious fable.  It’s almost the Left Behind movies with A-list stars. That’d be fine if it didn’t move so slowly and feel like any other post-apocalyptic thriller.  Everyone wears layers of clothes, including gun belts and knives.  There’s trading for goods, scavengers on the hunt and a lot of standoffs that end just after our hero tells the unsuspecting gang that “they better just move on.”  As directed by The Hughes Brothers, the world is very grey with occasional sunlight peeking through.  It looks cool, but not all that original.  Pardon the pun, but it’s all done by the post-apocalyptic book.”
Full review at 


Planet 51  
"Any good UFO story is going to involve a good conspiracy theory, where the characters and audience try to unearth questions about what’s “really going on here.” Sometimes we get answers, sometimes we don’t – and after seeing Planet 51 I’m left with questions myself.  Mainly: who do they think this is for?...  None of it is particularly original, which gives logic-minded adults opportunity to think about those unanswered questions: how is it everyone speaks English, all the signs are in English, yet no one can read the wrapper on Chuck’s Twix bar?" 
Full review at

Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince   
          Admittedly, when it comes to Harry Potter movies, I’m something of a Half-Blood Critic.  Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince is the sixth movie, and I’ve seen three of them.  I’ve never read a J.K. Rowling novel.  I honestly had to go back to the archives and look up what came after the ampersand in the movie I saw in the middle.  Many of you reading this probably know about Harry Potter than I do.
          But I’ll say this:  I enjoyed this one considerably more than the other two I saw.  I felt the other ones I saw were just going through the motions – that they were so concerned with recreating the experience of the book that they weren’t all that interesting as movies.  “You smiled with wonder when you read about Hogwarts.  Now, here it is.”
          I don’t live in a complete bubble:  I knew about names like Dumbledore and Voldemort, I knew what Hogwarts was, and I could even tell you what quidditch is.  By the sixth movie, the real fans and guys like me no longer needed introductions and by-the-book plotting.  We can let ourselves get caught up in the doings at the school for wizards – and I did.
          Hogwarts just seems like a fun place to be.  Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione aren’t little kids anymore – they’re teenagers about to become adults, and they have the same concerns Muggle kids would have.  Their hormones are raging, and that leads to all the comedy and drama of any good coming-of-age story.  To the moviemakers good luck (or incredible pre-planning), Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have all matured into very good actors who can carry the comedy and the drama. 
          It’s interesting to see them have some very real life experiences as they “experiment with potions.”  They drink some things they shouldn’t and have to deal with the consequences.  I get it, J.K.  I get it.  I won’t tell the people concerned that your novels promote the devil about this other stuff.
          They’re matched by the wonderful supporting cast who play their mentors.  Michael Gambon is a convincing Dumbledore, and the marvelously snarky Alan Rickman is great as the perhaps untrustworthy Snape.  Jim Broadbent is a great addition as Horace Slughorn, the returning Professor of Potions that Dumbledore asks Harry to spy on.
          But eventually, in relying too much on the fun, returning director David Yates shoots himself in the foot.  We see so much of Harry Potter the man that we don’t see enough of Harry Potter the myth and the legend.  Not enough attention is paid to the Harry Potter Mythology – where he’s “the chosen one” who will bring down the evil Voldemort.  When the villains of the movie do show up, they do what they have to do – and then take off.  That’s not enough for a Half-Blood Critic like me – I need to know their motivations.  It makes the last half hour of the movie completely confusing.  By the time they do the dramatic thing that I knew would happen (when the Half-Blood book came out, I asked Potter fans to just tell me the ending), I had no emotional involvement in it..
          I know who the Half-Blood Prince is by the way.  But I’m left asking:  “So?”
          In this two and a half hour movie, we have a good two hour movie, and a half hour set up for the final installment.

The Proposal  
The idea behind The Proposal’s been done a few hundred times, so if it’s going to work it has to have the right people and the right setting.  And they got it half right.  The right people are Sandra Bullock’s Margaret and Ryan Reynolds’ Andrew...   Unfortunately, The Proposal makes the huge mistake of leaving the office environment and heading up to Alaska...  Instead of a workplace romance between two people who know each other so well, what we end up with is a diluted Sweet Home Alabama."
Full review at 

The Hangover  
"There are guys who probably do have a raunchy decadent time on their Vegas vacations, and then there are guys who probably like to yell “Party!” and do a lot of fist pumping without really knowing how to pull it off.  The Hangover’s promos make it seem like a fist pumping kind of movie, but it really isn’t that.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing:  watching guys yell “Party!” is only funny for so long, so you have to give The Hangover credit for being a more mature comedy than it advertises... it tries too hard to be a cult classic, when what it really is is an ok comedy with a neat idea.  Personally, I found the solution to where the groom was and what really happened unsatisfying, but I will admit it’s an original solution, so you may feel differently."
Full review at

Terminator Salvation 
"...There are spectacular chase scenes and plenty of fights – very loud fights.  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard such loud metallic crashes... But while the fights are interesting, the story really isn’t.  It’s a movie about destiny and keeping up the Terminator continuity – which means all the original ideas were spelled out for us in the first three movies... It’s too grim to be much fun."
Full review at

Angels & Demons 
"At the risk of sacrilege, let’s compare Dan Brown’s books and Ron Howard’s movie adaptations of them to a Sunday worship service.   Sometimes you go and you’re inspired when you hear a wonderful speaker with fresh ideas.  But sometimes, you listen to a sermon or a homily and you think your clergyman is just going through the motions...    The Da Vinci Code held our attention because it looked at the idea that there were secrets we never knew about right in plain sight.  It’s not as fun to see a secret revealed that we never knew anything about anyway.  Since he’s chasing kidnappers based on clues they leave behind in the present day, it’s less like Langdon is unlocking pivotal historical mysteries and more like we’re watching Batman’s chased the Riddler from Gotham City to Vatican City."
Full review at



"Give Obsessed credit --  it knows it’s a rip-off of Fatal Attraction and other stalker-themed suspense thrillers, so it doesn’t waste any time setting things up for us.  In fact, within the first minute, I literally figured out exactly how the movie would end...   But you know what?  I kind of enjoyed Obsessed.  I laughed a lot.  I don’t know if that was the idea, so Beyonce and her staff may not be thrilled with this review."
Full review at

17 Again 
"It’s also not exactly the most original idea for a movie either, but Hollywood is “doing it all over again” with 17 Again.  But to be fair, “Hollywood” is not one big entity responsible for every movie – it’s a number of competing studios trying to outdo each other.  Back in the 80s, there was a quick succession of movies about men trapped in boys’ bodies, and if we’d written them all off, we never would have gone to see the last one in that set – Big.  And to continue to be fair, every movie like this is somebody’s first movie like this...  So, if you saw 18 Again and go to 17 Again, then you’re seeing 18 Again again.  But if you’re seeing 17 Again with young eyes, you may be entertained."
Full review at

Fired Up 
"What were the Wedding Crashers like in high school?  That is basically what we have here – two fast-talking, quick-thinking charmers – one brunette, one blonde – who scam their way into a place they shouldn’t be – all so they can hook up with as many females as possible... But you know what?  It’s not like they’re ripping off Citizen Kane here...  I’m not ready to necessarily cheer “F.U!!” repeatedly after seeing the movie, but I’m far from wanting to scream “F.U.!” at the movie either."
Full review at

Hotel For Dogs 
"OK, my stay at Hotel For Dogs didn’t have the most luxurious accommodations, but I’m none the worse for having been there.  Sure, it’s not all that memorable, but checkout time was reasonable.   Lame hotel analogies aside, parents won’t find much here to enjoy, but their kids will be ok with it.  If you’re looking for anything more, you’re barking up the wrong tree... Oh yeah, the dogs.  They’re the real stars.  If you’re inclined to see the movie, it’s because you saw the word “dogs” in the title.  And fans of cute dogs won’t be disappointed.  Even the big ones are docile, well-trained charmers."
Full review at

Seven Pounds 
"You were willing to see him as a drunk and bitter superhero in Hancock.  You were willing to see him practically all by himself in I Am Legend.  You were willing to see him with gray hair in The Pursuit of Happyness.  But are you willing to see him in a movie where you have no stinking idea what’s going on?"
Full review at

Four Christmases 
"At first, it may seem like this is Take 2 of the Vince Vaughn Holiday Classic Movie (a year ago, Vaughn starred in and produced the under-appreciated Fred Claus).  But don’t be fooled into thinking this is a holiday film... Four Christmases is s a comedy about relationships.  As Vince Vaughn movies go, Four Christmases is really a lot closer to The Break-Up than it is to Fred Claus."
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Quantum of Solace 
"Honestly, I’ve never understood the plot of a single James Bond movie, but for some reason, I get excited before each new one.  The action scenes, the dapper secret agent, the fights, the cool villains, the babes – they really seem like something any red-blooded American action movie fan should like.  No, you don’t have to understand everything about a Bond movie to enjoy it.  But if it’s fun, you can smile and overlook it.  When the bullets and fists are flying, you can.  When they aren’t, you look at the screen and wish Daniel Craig would give us a little wink to let us know he’s enjoying it."
Full review at

Zack and Miri Make A Porno 
"Some of the dirty jokes are brilliant. Like a porn star willing to experiment, (Kevin Smith) comes up with some clever moves. Other times, full frontal nudity is just there for the sake of full frontal nudity. And that makes Smith more a dirty uncle than a clever writer and director. Smith, like Jay & Silent Bob, is probably too old for this. He created two good characters in Zack and Miri. He should put the porno away."
Full review at

Body of Lies 
"Director Ridley Scott is back with collaborator/muse Russell Crowe, but to get a little more bang for his big budget’s buck, he’s borrowed Martin Scorsese’s current collaborator/muse to take the role that once would have been Crowe’s.... The action scenes go on for an awfully long time though – and for a good hour, they seem almost pointless. They certainly establish Leo’s bona fides as a tough guy, and they set up the relationship between DiCaprio and Crowe very well, but it’s not all that obvious that they’re accomplishing anything – or what their goals even are. It’s going to take some patience to get through it all."
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Nights in Rodanthe
"Fans of the movies inspired by Nicholas Sparks’ novels... won’t be surprised by what they find... It’s a place where people always have wine with dinner, listen to jazz and sit on adirondack chairs by the water. It’s a world where people still write letters to each other by hand, and hear the voices of the writer as they read them. It’s a world where eventually one or both of the lead characters drawn to each other no matter how they fight it will have to scream at the other: “What are you afraid of?”
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Pineapple Express
"Stoners should have two new heroes this summer... Like Harold and Kumar, Dale (Seth Rogen) and his drug-dealing friend Saul (James Franco) are stoned throughout the movie.  And like Harold and Kumar, they’re in what’s essentially a dumb stoner comedy.  But the dialogue is sharp, and the movie is as entertaining as listening to any dude with a high IQ start rambling.  You know when you hear lines like “Pandora’s out of the box and you can’t put her back in” that you’re dealing with guys who are writing what they know – but they are good writers... Potheads do tend to ramble once they get going, and sure enough, Pineapple Express is just a little too long.  It is essentially a one-joke movie that could have wrapped up about half an hour earlier."
Full review at

The Perfect Game
"... is almost too perfect.  It’s a sports movie with very little tension, suspense or challenges for the young players.  Let’s put the emphasis on the young.  Our players are a group of Little Leaguers, and their peers are who the movie is made for.  If you’re going to take your kids to a movie and they’re just discovering baseball, then The Perfect Game is a fine choice for them... The other teams aren’t much of a challenge whatsoever.  For kids used to their baseball on a video game screen, it’s like coasting through on the easy setting.  Nobody could be on the edge of their seats watching this thing.  But it won’t send you running from your seat either.
Full review at

          Hancock is lucky he’s played by Will Smith, otherwise he wouldn’t stand out amongst summer’s superheroes.  When you’ve got a movie as good as Iron Man or (fingers crossed) The Dark Knight, you really have got to work hard to stand out. 
          But the idea of a disgruntled superhero isn’t even an original one.  Did you see Superman IISpider-Man IISpider-Man III?
          OK, the idea of a superhero who doesn’t want to be one is a good one – Stan Lee owes his millions to it.  And with Will Smith’s personality and charm, he could have made it work.  But what should have been light-hearted fun takes a dark turn halfway through and essentially forces in another storyline that should have been Hancock II.  There are some laughs early on, but in the end you wonder what Hancock's "signature" storyline is supposed to be.

Son of Rambow 
"With a title like Son of Rambow, a pop-culture-obsessed film critic would likely get excited that we have a film that parodies a cultural icon.  And with a little religious kid expressing himself to others for the first time, that same critic could hope we have a subversive film about art triumphing over fundamentalism.  And for a little while we get that.  The boys have big fun making their film, and it’s expressed nicely through charming performances by Milner and Poulter.  In our eyes, they’re smearing ketchup on themselves and fighting scarecrows with garbage cans on their heads.  In their eyes, it’s blood and some kind of demon.  Two lonely kids form a nice bond through their imaginations, and it’s nice to see." 
Full review at

Sex and the City
          I’m not ashamed to say I know how Sex and the City on HBO ended.  In fact, I’ve seen every episode.  Each character all settled down in ways that fit each of them -- Carrie ended up with Big after all, Samantha took control of her boy toy Smith’s career and had him at her disposal, Charlotte adopted a baby girl and Miranda and Steve started a family and made significant sacrifices in their respective lives.
          It was actually a pretty good ending.  All those years of discussing every possible sexual issue under the sun finally paid off as the women moved to new stages of their lives.  There really weren’t any loose ends.
          Ah, but Michael Patrick King, Sarah Jessica Parker and the other creative minds behind SATC must have had another ending in mind.  1A worked very well on HBO, but they must have been thinking about a 1B.  So they made it. 
          And 1B isn’t too bad for awhile.  The first 45 minutes to an hour of the movie are pretty entertaining as we see Carrie and Big ponder their relationship and prepare to take it somewhere else.  The buildup is pretty good and the dramatic moment leading there is the best part of the movie (I’m trying so hard to not write spoilers, but I feel like an idiot being so vague). 
          Then we get ending 1C, which is like the three most boring episodes of SATC strung together.  The aftermath of 1B is exactly what you think it would be, and then this fairly unnecessary movie is pretty much made up of unnecessary scenes, unnecessary concepts and unnecessary characters.  The ladies zip off to Mexico for a meaningless jaunt where nothing happens (you’d think in a movie with the word “sex” in it, one of them would get some action in another country).  The writers remember that the franchise was built on women talking frankly about sex, so they throw in token conversations about Halloween costumes for women and Miranda’s self-grooming.  At that point, the ladies are doing impressions of their past glories – the conversations aren’t exactly revelatory.  Then there’s the addition of Jennifer Hudson as Carrie’s assistant – a bland character poorly acted that makes me think Hudson’s going to need to sing to win another Oscar.
          So I’m at like 5 out of 10 on SATC.  The women I talked to?   8!  9.5!  10 out of 10! 
          They get essentially the 2 ½ hour family reunion they’ve been dying for, so good for them (speaking of reunions, was it necessary for the women to scream every time they were reunited with Samantha, who now lives on the West Coast.  Once would have been enough and I would have gotten it – she lives in another state).
          So yeah, I know it wasn’t made for me, and the fans loved it.  If you weren’t one of the fans:  don’t bother.  This movie will mean nothing to you.
          If you are one of those fans, I just want to address you for a moment.  I’m talking to the kind of fan who went with their gal pals in groups, drank Cosmos ahead of time, and walked side-by-side into the theater like the women in the series walked everywhere in Manhattan (and how do you walk side-by-side like that in Manhattan without bumping into anyone?).   You know that guy dressed like Boba Fett at the last Star Wars movie?  OK, you don’t actually, you think you’re too good for him, and you don’t know who Boba Fett is.  You know that guy dressed like Harrison Ford’s character in one of those Star Wars movies?   You’re the same.  You’re doing the same thing.  I’m just saying.

No History Channel documentary is going to have the visuals 300 has.  It is spectacular to look at, even when it gets very gory.  The fight scenes are slowed down or sped up at just the right moments, and it’s hypnotic to watch Leonidas hit and chop his way through the invaders... Why then does this comic book geek not give 300 a full recommendation?  1) After awhile, it’s the same fight scene again and again, with different looking villains to kill.  2)  It’s as easy to immerse yourself in the world of 300 as it is to immerse yourself in the world of Sin City.  But when you’re caught up in Sin City, you feel kind of cool.  If you get caught up in 300—and really think about it—you’ll feel a little silly.  
Full review at

Speed Racer
"The live action version of Speed Racer really is like nothing we’ve ever seen before though.  I’m not even sure we can even call it live action frankly...   It’s a stretch to take a cartoon and turn it into a 90-minute feature film.  But a 2-hour and 15-minute film?  It’s a test of the viewer’s patience, whether it’s an all-out animated spectacle or not...  I give Speed Racer a lot of credit for technical achievement, but the Wachowski Brothers have to learn when to apply the brakes.
Full review at


Forgetting Sarah Marshall  
Producer/writer/director Judd Apatow doesn’t forget his friends, especially if they have talent... he continues to use many of the same people, confident they’ll deliver. And with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, he’s mostly right.   Segel and company will absolutely be delivering Apatow another box office hit... and will be delivering to fans some more great and quotable lines – but they aren’t delivering the movie world another comedy for the ages like Virgin or Knocked Up proved to be. 
Full review at

Anyone who’s won or lost at the tables will understand the feelings. It’s thrilling to get blackjack, to beat the dealer, to be treated like a king, to see the chips pile up, and to get the attention of all the people around you. Whether you’re at a small Indian-owned casino or jumping from casino to casino on the Vegas strip, it’s hugely exciting.  Then you’ll come crashing down to Earth when the cards stop going your way.  21 is like that. Not just because it teaches the lessons of over-extending yourself while gambling, but because it’s fun and thrilling during the glamour and disappointing after the inevitable crash.

Vantage Point
          There are all kinds of ways to look at Vantage Point.  It’s part-JFK, part-Lost, part-24, and part-Rashomon, which could have made it pretty cool.  But it’s also part-French Connection, and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with a good car chase in a good movie, it’s just thrown in and proves they had no clue how to end this thing.
           In the middle of a rally on a crowded Spanish street, someone takes a shot at the President of the United States.  It’s seen from many different angles by an all-star cast, including Dennis Quaid, Sigourney Weaver, Forest Whitaker, Matthew Fox and William Hurt as the Commander-in-Chief himself.
           We see everything Sigourney Weaver’s TV producer (the noblest of all jobs really) sees for about 10 – 15 minutes, then the film rewinds itself back to the beginning, and then we see it again from Quaid’s perspective.  Then it rewinds again to another character’s vantage point -- each time we learn just a little more and see how the different vantage points tie together.  It’s intriguing, and after awhile, you look forward to each rewind.  The audience even makes little noises each time it happens, like they would if they collectively watched an episode of Lost or 24.
           But after the last rewind, we discover maybe it’s not as intricate as we thought.  Quaid’s apprehensive secret service agent suddenly becomes a Jack Bauer-type who can do no wrong (and is really an exceptional driver).  I don’t mind a movie about a super government agent, but I need to know early on that he is one.  The intriguing ideas become a mess, the movie becomes noisy and it stretches reality too far.
          And as it turns out, I totally called the big plot twist. 
          From my vantage point, they blew it.


It Is What It Is

These would be the movies in current release or from the recent past that aren't all that great but aren't all that bad either.  Consider these your Return Of The Jedis... your Spies Like Us's... your Notebooks...  if these were bands, they'd be Poison or The J. Geils Band...