Captain America: The Winter Soldier 
          There are at least two different Captain America eras in the comic books – his initial adventures during World War II and the Golden Age of Comics, and his adventures alongside The Avengers and the spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. after he’s thawed out of suspended animation in modern times.
          Captain America: The First Avenger was a great throwback to the Golden Age of Comics – a movie you can show your parents (and grandparents) that will remind them of classic, traditional war movies or even the old serials.  
          And now once again, Marvel Studios has successfully adapted another era of Captain America onto film. Captain America: The Winter Soldier can stand up to most recent spy thrillers, the only difference being the hero isn’t exactly undercover in his American Flag uniform. It’s a thrilling action movie with an intriguing villain in the enigmatic Russian “Winter Soldier.”  It fits in nicely with the narrative of The Avengers-based movies, giving nice parts to not just Captain America but to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury.  It even earns a new level of credibility for a super-hero movie with the addition of the very credible Robert Redford. Most importantly, Chris Evans is great a somewhat square man-out-of-time who still inspires those around him and earns the name “Captain America.”
          Bottom line: It’s the best post-Avengers Marvel Studios movie. It makes me look forward to Captain America 3 much more than I would Thor 3 or Iron Man 4.


The Lego Movie 
         The whole Lego thing has escaped me the last few years – I remembered them as simple building blocks. I’ve been shocked it’s turned into a giant brand with its own stores, video games, expansion kits and somehow video games featuring Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
          And when I heard there was going to be “The Lego Movie,” I rolled my eyes and asked why. I thought it would be a crass Lego commercial.
          But seriously, I loved this movie.
          I loved how it enters a child’s mind and creates a play world that doesn’t necessarily have to make sense. If you’ve got figures of Batman, Gandalf, Abraham Lincoln and The Simpsons’ Milhouse, why can’t they co-exist? And since they’re small, why can’t they live in a world where batteries, X-acto knives and used Band Aids are giant props?
         The Lego Movie is very clever – there are jokes and puns aplenty to keep adults entertained, great voice work from stars including Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell and Morgan Freeman, and it has cameos you wouldn’t expect.
It’s even fairly touching.  It’s no Toy Story, but it has the potential to make you cry. Seriously.
          And if features a better Batman than George Clooney.




American Hustle
          I faintly remember seeing news reports as a kid of something called ABSCAM.  I knew it involved hidden cameras, disgraced Congressmen, the FBI and fake Arab sheiks – but my juvenile brain never processed what it was.  It was over my head, and when I think of those elements as an adult, I think: it couldn’t have been real, right?  It’s ridiculous, right?
           David O. Russell’s made a movie about it all, and he embraces its ridiculousness. Operating behind the opening disclaimer “Some of this actually happened,” Russell has created a movie that’s suspenseful, dramatic, twisty, unexpected, funny and cheesy in all its late 70s/early 80s glory. Maybe he’s hustling us, but he’s crafted it all into the most entertaining movie of the year.
           The great Christian Bale personifies all that’s good about this movie. He is easily one of our best dramatic actors. And here he is in a life and death situation – with a gut and one of the worst hairpieces ever on film. We’re laughing and we’re enthralled.  He leads a quartet of actors (fellow Oscar nominees Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper) who are just as cheesy and yet just as sympathetic. They’re our guides through a ridiculous dramedy about white collar crime and con men that is honestly what I had hoped for from The Wolf of Wall Street.


12 Years A Slave
         I’m glad I saw it so I could learn more about this horrible, shameful part of history. I’m glad I saw it because it absolutely made an impact on me.  And while I recommend it, I warn anyone who might go that 12 Years A Slave is sometimes excruciating to watch.            Most any other movie about slavery might have shown the same atrocities, but the camera would have cut away at the moment where you would have understood what was happening but didn’t have to see it. Not 12 Years A Slave.  Director Steve McQueen lingers. I’ve seen movies on slavery where I see a slavemaster lash a whip. I’ve seen the faces of someone getting whipped.  I’ve seen the simulated scars on an actor’s back.  But I’ve never seen a whipping look so brutal.
         There’s also a scene where Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejifor) - the free man sold into slavery -  is caught in a noose and just left there, struggling on his tiptoes. And it goes on forever. You feel his pain. You think about what you would do in his situation. You look around at the screen for someone to come into the shot and do something. But you never once stop paying attention.  Ejifor is incredible in these moments. There’s one part where he looks right at us – he doesn’t break the fourth wall, he stays in character – but he looks at us – beyond the camera, and it takes your breath away.



         Director Alexander Payne continues his streak of presenting quirky movies about men at crossroads, and while it’s not going to have the impact of Sideways or The Descendants, it gets the job done.
         This simpler film (in black and white so it’s way simpler) is really about two men. The elderly father (Bruce Dern) who thinks he’s won a million dollars in a sweepstakes and the lump of a son (Will Forte) who humors him by driving across the country to claim it. 
         Dern is getting all the attention – and got a Best Actor nomination -- as the grizzly demented dad who wants his last chance to be a big shot. So I’m going to use this space to talk about SNL veteran Will Forte – who is a giant surprise. One wouldn’t think “MacGruber” had this in him – he’s played some sad sacks on SNL of course, but he’s never made one “real” until now. The funny man is now the straight man in scenes with Dern, his pull-no-punches mom (the deservedly Oscar nominated June Squibb) and his loser cousins. I’d argue Forte (as I argued for Julia Roberts in the August: Osage County review) is the true lead actor of this piece. Bruce Dern is a beloved veteran who gives the more dramatic and flamboyant performance, but I don’t know that the story is really about him. 
         A tangent: It’s something I’ve long thought about Rain Man, which I couldn’t help but think of here. I’m not comparing autism to dementia, but I will compare two stories about family members connecting on a road trip. Dustin Hoffman got a Best Actor award for playing Raymond, but I didn’t think the movie was about him. Raymond was never going to change – the movie was about Tom Cruise. 
         Of course, I’m a 40-something-year-old man. And if I had to identify with anyone in Nebraska, it would have to be Forte’s character. Everyone else in the film – and everyone in the theater with me at my screening--was older. So they may have identified with Dern. Nebraska has something for both of our demographics.


          It’s actually not as creepy as it sounds.
         Oh, a guy falling in love with his “Operating System” (think Siri who can do and knows everything) has a bit of an “ick” factor.  But Joaquin Phoenix’s isn’t portrayed as some kind of degenerate or sex offender. He’s a lonely guy looking for something more out of life. It’s not a sex movie – it’s a relationship movie disguised as science fiction.
          Like any good science fiction movie, Her has something to say about the world we live in – but who or what he falls in love with isn’t the issue.  “Her” could have been a talking car or a television set or someone on a phone sex line – what’s important is that we see Phoenix use his OS (who names herself Samantha) to work through finding himself. The movie is less about “Her” and more about “Him.”
          That said, the movie wouldn’t be nearly as good if Scarlett Johansson wasn’t so incredibly good as Samantha. You never see Johansson – and it’s one of her best performances ever. You hear her think, flirt and come alive  (almost as good but not quite as significant to the movie – listen for Brighton’s Kristen Wiig as a voice that is somewhat funny and somewhat disturbing).
         And how do we know this doesn’t take place in the real world and we shouldn’t think about what it says about us a society?  His battery never dies!  None of us could ever have a relationship like that with our smart phones in our world. 


Viewed after knowing it got a Best Picture nomination leads to a little disappointment – you think: “this little movie is a Best Picture?”
         That’s too bad, because what you should think is “this is a good little movie.”
         Philomena (Judi Dench) is an unassuming little woman who just wants to know whatever happened to the son she was forced to give up for adoption while living under the harsh rule of nuns in an Irish Abbey. She’s lost a lot, yet somehow still accepts her church and doesn’t have issues with anger like you’d think she might. The angry character is the jaded journalist (the film’s co-writer Steve Coogan) who’s had it with government, establishment, religion and authority.
         The two have a thought-provoking dynamic, especially considering Philomena is an actual person who went through this. Dench and Coogan are a good team, and while the real life events in this movie don’t have the scope of Oscar contenders like 12 Years A Slave or Dallas Buyers Club, they are no less interesting. Philomena is worth a good little chunk of your time.




         Director Alexander Payne continues his streak of presenting quirky movies about men at crossroads, and while it’s not going to have the impact of Sideways or The Descendants, it gets the job done.          This simpler film (in black and white so it’s way simpler) is really about two men. The elderly father (Bruce Dern) who thinks he’s won a million dollars in a sweepstakes and the lump of a son (Will Forte) who humors him by driving across the country to claim it.
         Dern is getting all the attention – and got a Best Actor nomination -- as the grizzly demented dad who wants his last chance to be a big shot. So I’m going to use this space to talk about SNL veteran Will Forte – who is a giant surprise. One wouldn’t think “MacGruber” had this in him – he’s played some sad sacks on SNL of course, but he’s never made one “real” until now. The funny man is now the straight man in scenes with Dern, his pull-no-punches mom (the deservedly Oscar nominated June Squibb) and his loser cousins. I’d argue Forte (as I argued for Julia Roberts in the August: Osage County review) is the true lead actor of this piece. Bruce Dern is a beloved veteran who gives the more dramatic and flamboyant performance, but I don’t know that the story is really about him.
         A tangent: It’s something I’ve long thought about Rain Man, which I couldn’t help but think of here. I’m not comparing autism to dementia, but I will compare two stories about family members connecting on a road trip. Dustin Hoffman got a Best Actor award for playing Raymond, but I didn’t think the movie was about him. Raymond was never going to change – the movie was about Tom Cruise.
         Of course, I’m a 40-something-year-old man. And if I had to identify with anyone in Nebraska, it would have to be Forte’s character. Everyone else in the film – and everyone in the theater with me at my screening--was older. So they may have identified with Dern. Nebraska has something for both of our demographics.

The Way Way Back 

You don’t have to go way, way back to find a movie about a young man or woman surrounded by misfits using their time away on summer vacation to find themselves. But it has probably been awhile since you’ve seen one this clever and well put together... It sounds like a throwback to a time way, way back – the above description is a template for a coming-of-age summer movie. And yes, lakeside cabins, pretty girls and water parks could exist in a flashback tale, but the movie also feels very contemporary. It’s got smart pop culture references, dialogue that’s clearly written for a modern audience, and kids dealing with 21st century family problems -- including divorce and parents who have come out.  Liam James plays the sad sack Duncan just right, too shy to speak up or even to smile when he should. He nails the part with his body language – watch how his shoulders are slumped and how his skinny little arms don’t even move when he walks. He’s just the right counterpoint to Sam Rockwell, who goes way, way back to channel Bill Murray in Meatballs.  (Full review at

Man of Steel 
You know who this movie is about, right?... “Man of Steel” though may not have been the most accurate nickname to use to title the first film in Zack Snyder’s rebooted franchise. “Man of Steel” describes the hero we all know. This movie is not about that guy. “Son of Krypton” may have been more accurate... Man of Steel doesn’t present the character we all know, but it does get to the root of the character – which is fascinating when you think about what it is and what it means. What we have here is a pretty decent science fiction film, but not necessarily a Superman movie.
Full review is at



Star Trek Into Darkness           
It’s been said more times than there are Star Trek movies: the best science fiction reflects the times. So I should be depressed that a movie titled “Into Darkness” reflects these times so well.  Star Fleet is dealing with some heavy issues beyond “exploration.” What is its role? Who is in charge? Where does it have jurisdiction? How far is far enough when it comes to dealing with its enemies – both obvious and covert?
            But I can’t possibly be depressed at a movie that’s so much stinking fun. Star Trek Into Darkness could also be called Star Trek Into Action. It’s one of the best sci-fi action movies in recent memory and has plenty of humorous moments to keep you smiling. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto continue to be dead-on as Kirk and Spock – they are true to the iconic characters they’re playing, yet are never doing an impression of Shatner and Nimoy. You don’t have to ever have seen a Star Trek movie to enjoy this (although I think there is one tiny little moment that may throw you).
And if you are a Trekkie?  Heaven.  Some parallels to canon are sprinkled in nicely to make you smile and know that the moment was just for you. And if you’re bothered by them, you’re too far “into darkness” to be saved.

Django Unchained  
Quentin Tarantino characters have pretty much always been cowboys anyway, so it’s about time we got a Tarantino Cowboy movie (I’d call it a Western but that’s only in spirit – this is the South). Django himself (Jamie Foxx) is a unique cowboy hero, who we watch transition from sidekick to alpha male. But even more engaging is the alpha male who takes him under his wing – Oscar nominee Christoph Waltz.  And Waltz is just part of a great supporting ensemble, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Tarantino stalwart Samuel L. Jackson and Don Johnson – the latest nice bit of Travolta-esque casting in an “A Band Apart” film.



This Is 40   
…40 minutes too long as it starts getting into the melodrama. Until then – hysterical in how damn true it is.  It may be less about being 40 than it is about being 40 and being married, but it just nails it.  If by chance you’re reading this in the bathroom in between turns on Words With Friends, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.  Pete and Debbie were the best parts of Knocked Up, so the idea of giving them their own movie is actually pretty brilliant.

So much has been said about this movie that I’ll be repeating – but despite the “Tremendous” rating, I’ll point out it goes too long. We kind of know what happens to Lincoln ultimately – there was no need for the little extra epilogue. Now, as to the performances – Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones – no brainers, they were fantastic. So I’m going to use this little blurb to point out how damn good James Spader was as the behind-the-scenes operative with the foul mouth. Any other real stories to be told around that guy?



Silver Linings Playbook
The ironic thing about Silver Linings Playbook is, unlike Bradley Cooper’s bipolar star, you don’t have to make an extra effort to find a silver lining in what you’re experiencing. It is easily one of the best movies of the year... Silver Linings Playbook is somewhat bipolar itself. It’s a comedy and a drama. It’s a ballroom dancing movie and a football movie (you’ll see)... If there’s a flaw in the film, it’s one Russell, Cooper and Lawrence can pat themselves on the back about.  The portrayals of a bipolar man and angry widow are so well-written, so well-acted and so realistically disjointed, the audience can get as frustrated with them as anyone in their support network might.
Full review at


The Sessions  
A movie about a polio-stricken man who hires a sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity is actually one of the funniest movies out right now. It’s not that it’s a comedy – it’s that John Hawkes’ character is so charming and witty you can’t help but laugh along with him.  It helps alleviate the tension in what would otherwise be awkward scenes.  It doesn’t hurt either that Helen Hunt is so damn good as the surrogate.  She alleviates the tension for us as well as she does for Hawkes, making their sessions perhaps the best non-erotic sex scenes I’ve ever watched.



It’s amazing how you know the ending already, yet you can watch Argo and be on the edge of your seat the entire time. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a movie this tense.  I give credit to Ben Affleck for creating such a harrowing re-creation of the siege of the US Embassy in Tehran. When you’re reminded so vividly of the real life villainy, it reminds you of the real risk Affleck’s CIA agent and the escapees he was trying to get home were actually taking.  Affleck also deserves praise for re-creating the period with such accuracy, right down to making sure that when his kid said he was watching Battle for the Planet of the Apes, that that is what he was watching – not just any other Apes film.  The Mego dolls and Star Wars action figures on the shelf were a nice touch too.


The Master  

Rochester’s PSH nails it again.  He is mesmerizing as a the religious leader (con artist?) who may or may not be based on L. Ron Hubbard.  But he’s really just the supporting player to Joaquin Phoenix’s disturbed WWII vet looking for a purpose and a direction.  You won’t be able to take your eyes off them – which makes Paul Thomas Anderson’s conclusion to thing all the more frustrating. If I was so mesmerized and paid such close attention, how do I not understand the ending? The first two-thirds make The Master a worthwhile experience, but you do end up needing a Master yourself to make sense of it all. I saw Looper within the same 24 hours and was less confused by the movie about a guy who has to kill an older version of himself sent back in time.


We’ll look past the fact that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s makeup doesn’t make him look like a younger Bruce Willis but instead makes him look like Kirk Cameron – because otherwise Looper is a pretty much flawless work of science fiction.  Time travel movies can sometimes make your head spin, but Looper manages to bring it all full circle to an extremely satisfying conclusion. Gordon-Levitt has graduated from Inception/Dark Knight sidekick to his own action leading man. Shia LeBeouf probably wishes he could go back in time and be Joseph Gordon-Levitt.   

The Dark Knight Rises 
It’s a little longer than it needs to be, but the payoff is fantastic.  When I saw the trailers about the “final chapter,” I asked why it had to be the final chapter.  That’s because Christopher Nolan has had a story to tell, and he does it in a trilogy of movies that truly are a trilogy of movies that fit together.  Yes, they have made an obscene amount of money, but the two sequels weren’t tacked-on money grabs.  These are Christopher Nolan movies, not comic book movies (think about this: the word “Catwoman” is never spoken.)  An “Amazing Spider-Man” reboot is inevitable, but I hope Warner Brothers can let this simmer – and let us enjoy the best Batman, the best Commissioner Gordon, the best Alfred, the best Batcave and the best movie Batman ever.

The Amazing-Spider Man 
"(New director) Marc Webb goes back to the comic book idea that has Peter invent his web-shooters… the writers realize that in 2012, scientists aren’t necessarily the outcasts they might have been in the 60s. In the age of Facebook, a young guy with that kind of technological know-how can be kind of cool. Andrew Garfield’s re-imagined Peter – while an outsider – isn’t invisible. Other students kind of admire his skills. He has enough confidence to stand up to bullies, even if it means getting his ass kicked. And while some girls may not appreciate his gifts, at least one – the ultra cute Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) notices him. And so we watch a familiar story unfold in a wholly inventive new way, just ten years since we last saw it onscreen. The first moments where Peter discovers his powers are actually very original. And without giving anything away, the new movie even manages to take the dynamic between Peter, Uncle Ben and ‘the burglar” and tighten it up and make it less convoluted.”  
Link to full review at my examiner page.  Click here please. 

Prometheus vs. Alien:  From my examiner page:  click here.

Men in Black 3  
"It’s fitting that Men in Black 3 deals so much with time travel, because one can’t help but watch this third installment and think about how much has changed… and at moments get a little nostalgic... Men in Black 3 is indeed of its time – it’s in 3-D like any movie with “3” in the title has to be now.  Sonnenfeld throws in chases, great special effects, and gross-out alien effects.  But he still manages to make the film... well... kind of cute... yet I didn’t end up clamoring for Men in Black 4.  Men in Black 1 had its nice little moment in time.  Men in Black 3 has one too."
A link to my  full review is at my examiner page.  Click here please.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 
"Audiences are probably more familiar with them for their roles in the Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, James Bond or Batman movies.  We probably see each onscreen and think “Oh yeah, I like him/her”... What’s wonderful about this dramedy is that it doesn’t treat these senior citizens as novelties or special miracles – but simply as adults.  There are no Cocoon-like moments where we think “oh cute, the old people can swim.”  Music doesn’t come up dramatically as each makes a major life change.  They never degrade themselves acting younger than they are.  They just live their lives.  Honestly, this movie could star seven younger actors facing crises and it could have worked.  But it’s enhanced by making it about people with some perspective and dignity.  
Full review is at 


The Avengers 
My full review is up at my examiner page... click here please. 



Pirates!  Band of Misfits  
The makers of Pirates! Band of Misfits are a band of misfits indeed.   And they’ve done it again with this odd little pirate film. Chicken Run director Peter Lord’s new movie is the story of a pirate captain named… well.. “The Pirate Captain”, whose looting and pillaging is just a means to an end – he’s longing to be recognized by his peers and earn the coveted “Pirate of the Year” award... Even their names are different.  It’d be odd to be in a toy store and see dolls made of characters whose names in the credits actually read “The Albino Pirate,” The Pirate with Gout” and “The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate.”  The last one is a favorite running gag – a woman wearing a fake beard so she can be part of the crew.  Yet, the movie never spells that out for us.  We never see the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate without a beard. The film trusts that adults and kids will be smart enough to get the joke.
Full review at 

Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston are essentially playing the same characters they do in every movie – which is a good thing since the idea is to take those familiar characters and put them out of their element at a hippie free love commune.  They turn in reliable performances in the middle of cleverly written chaos.  But the scene stealers turn out be relative newcomer (and Aniston boyfriend) Justin Theroux as the cult leader, and shockingly for an R-rated comedy -- Alan Alda and Linda Lavin  (let’s talk reliable!)


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  
Fans of the dark tale can be reassured that it’s being adapted by David Fincher, the director who both entertained and disturbed us in Fight Club, Seven and Zodiac...  But it’s not the white supremacists and missing girls that give the story its dark edge – it’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo herself Lisbeth Salander, played by Rooney Mara...  Mara is a relative newcomer, but a comparison of her publicity head shots to the pale, pierced tattooed Lisbeth lead us to assume she’s immersed herself in the role.  It’s not just on the surface – beyond looking like a miniature Marilyn Manson, Mara transforms into a dark and complex emotional creature.  She’s cold, blunt and off-putting – except in some moments in the first act where her performance turns astonishingly raw.  At the risk of speaking for those who have actually read the book, one can’t help but think readers found their Lisbeth.
Full review


Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol  
If you liked the first three movies in the series, it’s impossible not to like the new Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.  It has everything the others had – elaborate action scenes, big fights, breathtaking stunts – and Tom Cruise running as fast as he can...  The movie is literally a Tom Cruise Production starring Tom Cruise wearing sunglasses, Tom Cruise smiling at the camera, Tom Cruise being intense, Tom Cruise running fast and Tom Cruise doing a lot of his own stunts.  Like in the Mission: Impossible TV series there is a Mission: Impossible Team, but like in the other movies, they’re only there to support Cruise’s character Ethan Hunt.    It would be annoying if Cruise wasn’t so good at it.
Full review at

Young Adult   
A writer of young adult romance books living in the big city, has just gone through a divorce and begins to think maybe she was with the wrong guy all this time anyway.  She decides she wants her high school sweetheart back.  She packs up her cute little dog (so little he fits in a handbag) and goes back to the small town she always hated and thought she’d left behind.  While working to get her sweetheart away from his new wife, she bonds with an old classmate she’d always mistreated and tries to find herself.  Because Hollywood has trained/ruined you, you would think this is another predictable chick flick.  From My Best Friend’s Wedding to Sweet Home Alabama, it sounds like we’ve seen this before.  But we’d expect better of  Theron, director Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody  – and we get it.
Full review at

One would have to have a particularly sharp eye and see all the 3-D films of the last few years back-to-back to really judge whether or not Hugo makes the best use of 3-D since Avatar.  It’s certainly one of the best... And Martin Scorsese is certainly the most significant filmmaker to do a 3-D movie since James Cameron...  the mastermind behind violent masterpieces like Raging Bull and GoodFellas – has said he wanted to finally make a movie his kids could see.  And he certainly did.  But be warned – he made it for his kids, and it’s pretty well focused on showing his kids the things that fascinated him as a boy.  It’s a masterwork of art by a great artist – that pays tribute to some other pioneering artists.  But you have to be into that sort of thing.
Full review at




The Descendants   
          Alexander Payne hasn’t directed many movies, but when he does, he is the master of showing men at a crossroads.  This time it’s George Clooney as a man trying to figure out how to relate to his daughters after his wife slips into a coma.  And then the poor guy learns his wife had been cheating on him.
          It’s maybe Payne’s heaviest topic, yet he still manages to produce a dramedy as good as or better than his past (we’ll say not quite as good as Election but better than About Schmidt or Sideways).  There are laugh out loud moments throughout The Descendants, including one courtesy of Rochester’s Oscar winner Robert Forster as Clooney’s father-in-law.
          Clooney is arguably the best he’s been, yet this isn’t a case of “George Clooney as you’ve never seen him before.”  He’s not over-the-top emotional despite his predicament.  He’s a tired, awkward guy who probably thought he had everything figured out until now, and when he does show his emotions it’s just right.

Arthur Christmas  
Be warned:  if you take your kids to Arthur Christmas, depending on what you’ve already told them about Santa Claus, you may have some explaining to do.  The movie makes some changes to who Santa is in the modern world.   That said: that’s your biggest problem if you take your kids to Arthur Christmas, because otherwise, you’ll all enjoy yourself...  it is very much of the times with its jokes about GPS’s and Google Earth, so someday, it probably will be dated  (sorry, Google Earth, but something else will inevitably come along).  But then again, stop-motion animation looks really dated now, and we’ll all watch the Rankin Bass specials year-after-year.  As long as its message is timeless, the movie has a chance to be timeless too.    
Full review at

The Ides of March   
 Watching George Clooney’s political drama The Ides of March, you’ll be able to figure out pretty early why it has that name – but the intrigue will come from figuring out who’s supposed to be Caesar and who’s supposed to be Brutus...  One would assume in the jaded and salacious age that we live in that the movie would mostly be about a political scandal – and be patient, there is one.  But... moves at a slower pace than we’re used to these days... it’s a political drama, not necessarily a political thriller...  puts its characters in situations that make us ask what we would do (“Et Tu, Brute?”)  Those of us on the outside hope the political world isn’t like that, but we suspect it probably is.
Full review at

The baseball drama Moneyball is indeed for all fans of the game, but it may be targeted specifically for a certain type of fan in the stands:  the guys who stay sitting the whole time, scribbling notes into the margins of their programs and doing all the math.  For them, Moneyball will be bliss... Yes, the first great baseball movie in a long time isn’t about a superstar player winning the big game under the bight lights.  It’s about statistics and a winning streak by, of all teams, the Oakland A’s.  And yet a lot of baseball fans are anxious to see it.  That actually makes sense in the modern sports world.  This is not necessarily the movie for guys who fantasize about playing baseball – it’s the movie for guys who play fantasy baseball.
Full review at


The Change-Up  
Jason Bateman probably doesn’t want to change places with anyone right now – he’s already starred in one of the summer’s funniest comedies (Horrible Bosses), and now he gets to star in another of summer’s funniest comedies.  Ryan Reynolds shouldn’t want to change places with anyone right now – Green Lantern is not as bad as you heard it was, and let’s face it, chicks still love him.
          Their best friend characters do switch places in a comedy that does have people rolling their eyes.  “Boy, we’ve never seen this before,” they say as Freaky Friday and the string of movies in the 80s including Like Father Like Son and Vice Versa.  But have you seen it R-Rated, where the magic happens because the stars piss in a magic fountain and broach the idea of having sex with each other’s partners?
          It’s Bateman who really gets to “change up.”  I’ve already written that in Horrible Bosses he plays the same straight man struggling to stay composed that he played in Arrested Development.  He’s the same guy here – until the switch.  Then he gets to play Reynolds’ slacker playboy failing at being a straight man struggling to stay composed.  He is on a roll.   
          Guys in the audience may wish they could switch bodies with Bateman and Reynolds given their love interests, who both really shine.  Other than magazine photos, this was my first real exposure to Olivia Wilde… and um… wow.  Meanwhile, Leslie Mann shines yet again in a role she’s got down by now:  the sexy, funny, cool wife. 

 Crazy, Stupid, Love  
This summer we’ve seen bridesmaids get sick in their wedding party dresses, grown men have their second big hangover, and three childhood friends plot to kill their horrible bosses.  Some of that stuff has been very funny, but now it’s apparently time for a more mature comedy.  That’s not to say Crazy, Stupid, Love doesn’t have its share of misunderstandings, comedic twists and even crude humor.  It definitely does.  But this one is about a family going through a rough patch, and it treats it all with a combination of clever humor and sensitivity.  
Full review at 


"Cap" prepares for a fight

Captain America:  The First Avenger  
As the title suggests, “Cap” will be one of The Avengers before long, but for now this truly is an adaptation of Simon & Kirby’s story – its World War II setting makes it unique among modern super hero movies.  Instead of Foo Fighters music, we get boogie woogie bugle boy-type patriotic songs.  It makes for a very fun movie.  The scriptwriters are smart enough to know though that a story created in the 1940s has to be adapted to modern audience’s eyes if we’re going to take it seriously. 
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Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows - Part 2 
“We’ll leave it to the diehards to compare all eight movies and tell you whether Hallows Part 2 is the best… It is a considerable improvement over Hallows Part 1… Director David Yates front-loaded story.  Part 1 was nearly two and half hours; Part 2 is more reasonable at a little over two.   Part 1 had those deathly silences; Part 2 is largely action.  And it’s spectacular … They are detailed scenes that look like violent exchanges between people, wizards and monsters – never looking like a video game as so many special effects films do.”
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Horrible Bosses  
They are three horrible bosses, but they are also three hysterical characters.  And the titular supervisors in Horrible Bosses are merely the supporting characters backing a trio of likeable losers.  Together, they’re the stars of one of the summer’s funniest movies.Together, they embark on a truly inept (and very R-rated) attempt at whacking three people who may just have it coming.  And together, they are very entertaining.  For three potential murderers, they have a lot of charm – they’re guys you would want to hang out with and be your friends.  Amid the slapstick, there is quick dialogue –   they bicker and get frustrated with each other, but in the way you do with someone you’re kind of stuck with.  They don’t surprise each other – they never cease to amaze one another.
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Green Lantern 
Campbell has worked on two James Bond and two Zorro films, and now has to take a hero to all new worlds…  It’s in Outer Space that we have the most fun.  Like this summer’s Thor, the story takes place both on Earth and an out-of-this-world kingdom.  Unlike Thor, the hero is the fish-out-of-water when he’s not on Earth - but the fish-out-of water stuff is still the most fun…   Those who aren’t huge comic book fans should enjoy Green Lantern but will see some flaws the faithful may be willing to forgive.  Chief among them is Reynolds himself.  He’s a likeable star whose abs have turned many heads, but he doesn’t necessarily offer anything to the role that any other cocky pretty boy couldn’t have pulled off.

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Their Kodak 8 mm camera is ready

 Super 8  
There was a time when Super 8 would have been the movie of the summer, and if you’re nostalgic for those times, Super 8 is indeed the summer movie for you.  It’s the story of some suburban kids in the late 1970s, trying to figure out an alien secret, sharing an adventure and a friendship, working out problems with their parents, hiding a secret from the government, using bikes as their primary method of transportation – and starring in a film with Steven Spielberg’s name in the credits as a producer.  Director/writer J.J. Abrams  has created a wonderful homage to the man who produced the man who produced his film. "

Full review is at my examiner page.  Click here please.



On the big screen at least, Rochester's own Kristen Wiig has been something of a bridesmaid and never a bride.  She’s had some solid supporting roles, but honestly, you’d be hard pressed to come up with them on your own. 
 Oh, on Saturday Night Live, she’s a standout talent – arguably, the best the ensemble has right now.  But off the top of your head, did you remember she was in Knocked Up, Walk Hard or Forgetting Sarah Marshall?  Maybe not, which is something of a back-handed compliment to her skills as a character actress.  Now, she’s written her own movie – she’s center stage and one senses we’re seeing some glimpses of the real Kristen Wiig.  And she’s smart, cute and funny...  the type of man who crushes these days on Tina Fey will feel similar pangs for Kristen.
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From “Thorsday” at midnight to this Sunday, the Marvel Comics God of Thunder had a great weekend at the movies.  ally, so did those of us who went to see Goldilocks’ big screen debut...  Thor was a good movie on two levels:  the otherworldly 3-D realm of Asgard was a majestic sight.  It may not be as layered or complex as Middle Earth, but a movie completely set there wouldn’t have been awful.  But -- Thor was even more entertaining on Midgard, where his Fallen Thunder God routine played great with mere mortals.  It bodes well for his interaction with the heroes and villains in the upcoming Avengers movie.   

Full review is on my examiner page... click here please...


Win Win  
 You may just be “blind sided” by Win Win.  Comparisons to The Blind Side have to be made, but whereas that was a big budget movie that hyped Sandra Bullock’s performance and that manipulated us into liking it despite ourselves, Win Win is a humbler project that’s just as good...  Giamatti and Ryan aren’t as good looking as Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw.  And it probably has less mass appeal because it’s about a high school wrestler not a real-life NFL player.  In other words, it’s much more relatable. 
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Red Riding Hood  
For the last few weeks at the movies, there have been some snickers in the audience during the Coming Attractions.  A dark forest, a menacing figure, attractive young adults, ominous music, and then, in all seriousness, up comes the movie’s title:  Red Riding Hood.   There are moments you feel a little silly  but if you can go with it, you’ll have fun...  some of us are more comfortable revisiting childhood memories than teenaged ones.  It’s not cool to act like a teeny-bopper girl and choose sides in “Team Blacksmith” or “Team Woodsman.”  But taking a beloved children’s story and subverting it?  That’s kind of cool.
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How Do You Know  
How do you know you’re watching a good romantic comedy?   It avoids the standard moments – the chase in the airport to stop someone from getting on the plane, the disapproving sister who watches over the female lead, the guys’ horny best friends who just want him to have some fun and “forget her” – and focuses on charming leads work out how they feel about each other.  It also helps if like How Do You Know if it comes from a master like James L. Brooks.  The writer/director of Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets and even the unappreciated Spanglish has delivered again... It will be worth at least a second viewing to get the lines down – they’re the kind of lines you really like when you hear them, but there are just too many to remember once it’s over (me, I like “I don’t drink to get better, I drink to get even better”).

Full review at

The Tourist    
You rent a classic Hollywood thriller you’ve been hearing about forever.  It’s held up as one of the best – an adventure for the ages, with a great plot, a dashing leading man and a gorgeous female lead.  And when it’s over – you think, “That was it?”  Something was missing... so many elements you could praise in a classic Hollywood thriller are in The Tourist, but you don’t have to worry about it disappointing...  an intriguing mystery, shot in glamorous locales with modern photography and featuring two of the biggest movie stars we have right now...  But it’s not a total throwback.  Like a tourist in a strange land who keeps his cell phone handy, there’s enough of a modern take to make it both a movie for the ages and of its time. 
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The Social Network 
Were The Social Network a Facebook page itself, I’d click “like” underneath it.  And I’m sure I’m not the only critic who would.  But don’t think you have to know what the “like” option is to enjoy The Social Network.  The movie about a web site that has made the words “friend” and “friend request” into verbs (as in “I friended him on Facebook” or “You can Friend Request” me”) is actually about friendship – and how big business and ambition can destroy it...  I still don’t know how Facebook makes money.  That explanation may have made for a boring movie, but you never know – you might not have thought a movie about the founding of a web site could be that interesting a movie...  Tell your friends.
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The Town  
Ben Affleck loves his town but has a funny way of showing it.   The Boston native has set the movies he’s written or directed  in his hometown, and the starring characters have been brawling street thugs, drug dealers and even pedophiles.  His second directorial work The Town is set in the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown, which has produced more bank and armored car robbers than any other place in the U.S.  The best that can be said of the core group of robbers is one of them doesn’t want hostages hurt.  Heck, even the movie’s main law enforcer comes off as a prick.   Yet...  Affleck does his town proud by directing his second quality crime thriller in a row.

Full review at

Going The Distance 
"There’s a ridiculous moment in nearly every modern romantic comedy... The relationship has gone past a turning point, and one half of the couple (usually the woman) is about to leave for a new life somewhere else– be it boat, train or plane.  The man realizes how he feels and what he has to do and goes off on a mad chase to stop her.  It’s an old-fashioned declaration of love that saves the relationship.  Never mind that this isn’t the 1940s and if he got to the airport after she leaves, he can phone or e-mail or text or skype.  It’s not like she’s going to Mars.  Going the Distance gets that moment out of the way and then deals with modern reality..."
Full review at


Scott Pilgrim vs. The World  
If you haven’t played a video game in about ten years or haven’t read a modern graphic novel, you may watch Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and wonder “What in the world am I looking at?"...  It looks like the real world, but then you’re reminded it’s not when you see the word “Rinnngggg” come out of a phone or you see someone’s wardrobe change in an instant. No one questions when a character suddenly shows a burst of superpowers and flies through the air. It’s not a world of constant lights and beeps and violence – it’s actually quite witty and seems like a lot of fun.
Full review is at


Before there was CGI, there was the CIA.  And the FBI. And the KGB.  And back then, the organizations with those initials were responsible for our spy thrillers.  They renew their rivalry in the new Angelina Jolie thriller Salt, and fittingly, the movie is a throwback to days when stunts – not special effects – drove an action movie... As much of a throwback as Salt is, it also make some strides.  Salt is clearly intended to be a new action movie franchise, and there aren’t that many like it headlined by a woman.  In fact, Salt was written for man, but Jolie proves a good actor in good, athletic shape is a good actor in good athletic shape, regardless of gender.
Full review at 



Is it all just a dream?  In the middle of a summer of lackluster sequels and unimaginative ideas, has the creator of the cult hit Memento put together a movie with just as fantastic a concept?... Is a thought-provoking action flick also the best movie of the summer?  No, you’re not dreaming, but you’ll question what’s real and what isn’t as you remain glued to Christopher Nolan’s Inception...  No matter how twisted or ludicrous a dream gets, you will buy into it.  Nobody ever does anything corny like sit straight up, look at the camera and scream.  The only ones screaming will be Nolan’s Hollywood rivals – who are probably wishing they had Cobb in their employ.  The germ of an idea behind Inception would have been worth stealing. 

Full review at

Grown Ups

Before and after he was a Hollywood heavyweight, Adam Sandler has populated his movies with his friends. With Grown Ups, the actor/writer/producer may be taking this “Six Degrees of Adam Sandler” to the extreme. The movie is peppered with people he’s worked with in all stages of his career.  This is either a Sandler Vanity Project or a tender reunion of friends, depending on how you look at it.  And how you look at it may depend on how much you like these friends...  It may be a disappointment for their fans to see them all in “Dad mode,” but that’s not to say it isn’t funny.  Mostly, it’s funny watching the five friends interact.  They do nothing but trash talk each other in a comfortable way only close friends can.   
Full review at



Technology has gotten more advanced since Dr. Frankenstein put an abnormal brain in a corpse to create artificial life.  The new Splice is a much more modern tale, but the lesson is the same: don’t play God.  Bad things will happen.  But before we get too bogged down in morality, what really has to be said about Splice is: it’s a lot of sick fun. .. You’ll admire this story, even as you think only an abnormal brain could have come up with this.
Full review at



Shutter Island  
What exactly are we looking at as we wind through the Shutter Island labyrinth?  That’s the fun of the movie, as Leonardo DiCaprio starts to question who he can trust, what their motivations are and what’s even real in the first place.  And there are real surprises.  I admit at one point I was disappointed when I thought I had it all figured out – and thought the solution was something I’d seen before in better movies.  But the story fooled me...  Director Martin Scorsese lets the movie go too long.  Once the final secrets of Shutter Island are revealed, he really needed to go to black and put up the credit “Directed by Martin Scorsese.”  Instead, what was explained to us once is then acted out for us, and then explained again ad infinitum.  There’s even a scene that perhaps even the most avid Scorsese fan – with all the graphic imagery that comes with the distinction – might find too much.  Martin, there was no need to go crazy.
Full review at


Sherlock Holmes 
Robert Downey, Jr. is to Sherlock Holmes what Johnny Depp is to Pirates of the Caribbean – the right guy to guide a hard sell but good idea to the masses.  And by Jove, the old chap pulls it off strikingly.  When we like Downey (as we did in Iron Man), he’s a bit of a cad but also charming, witty and self-effacing.  He brings all that to Holmes and throws in a convincing English accent while he’s at it.  He’s buff, but not enough to make you think he can clean everyone’s clock.  He’s going to have to use his mind... Director Guy Ritchie slows the action down enough to let us hear Holmes think – and then he strikes, throwing punches that hit as hard as they do in any other Ritchie film.  It’s modern special effects fighting set in old England – and it works. 
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"Last month, this critic was totally manipulated into liking the sports movie The Blind Side. I knew it was a corny movie, but I stand by my review, even if I knew I was being manipulated as it happened.  How did I let that happen?  Sandra Bullock and the people behind The Blind Side know a good sports story can rally an audience to their point of view and provide a giant shared feel-good moment.  Director Clint Eastwood knew it too while making Invictus, and South African President Nelson Mandela knew it while setting in motion the real-life events that inspired Eastwood’s film...  It’s an inspiring story, and just like Mandela and Eastwood wanted, I bought into it."
Full review at

Fantastic Mr. Fox  
At first glance, The Fantastic Mr. Fox seems like it’s a kids' movie. It’s a stop-motion animation fable based on a book by Roald Dahl, about a fox who retired from chicken-stealing but comes out of retirement to steal from a trio of evil farmers. The cat-and-mouse game that follows is as funny as any Looney Tunes cartoon where animal and human do battle. And it’s very, very funny.  But it’s not funny because of animals getting flattened by anvils or because they use props that they ordered from Acme. It’s because it’s written for the screen and directed by Wes Anderson, who gave us the modern classics Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. Fans of those movies (this critic included) love those films for their dry humor and quirky characters. Fantastic Mr. Fox is in the same tradition as those films; the only difference is the quirky characters are talking animals."
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The Blind Side  
"There are certainly some eye-rolling cornball moments in the trailer for The Blind Side.  “You’re changing that boy’s life,” says a friend of adoptive mother Sandra Bullock.  “No, he’s changing mine,” she answers back predictably.   But The Blind Side is the opposite of a movie where the only good stuff is given away in the trailer.  While I knew which lines would make me roll my eyes, I don’t think I rolled my eyes any other time.  The Blind Side may be a corny story, but it’s also a true story.  And it’s a story well-told."  
Full review at

This Is It 
Whether he was performing, simply walking through a crowd or sitting in his thinking tree in that TV special from several years ago, you couldn’t look away from him.  Sadly, the gifted performer gave us few actual performances in the last few years and more train wreck moments than we can recount in this space.  But in This Is It, even though he may not have intended for us to see it, he finally gives us real performances.  He finally gives us something good to look at and reminds us of his considerable gifts... In the interviews he gave in the last several years, Jackson gave off the image of a mousy little boy and a victim to the world.  Fans of his music will love seeing him take charge:  telling a musician to wait for his cue, letting the sound engineer know the mix is too loud or explaining why there needs to be a long pause so that the music can “simmer.”  It’s a reminder he was a creative force.
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"It’s fitting that a rag-tag team of zombie killers are on an odyssey to an amusement park in Zombieland, since the creators are aiming for a thrill ride that leaves a smile on your face... If you’ve seen any other zombie movie you know how this all goes... It’s been done, well, to death.  We’ve seen everything from the gross-out metaphors of the George Romero Living Dead films to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  We’ve seen it as a comedy before in Shaun of the Dead.  For director Ruben Fleischer to have a film that’s going to stand out among the bodies, he had to have something original.  So he went for strong, funny characters portrayed by strong, funny actors."
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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs  
"I can’t forecast it for sure, but if there’s justice, the much beloved book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is about become a hit movie as well.  It’s a comedy that will make everyone in the family laugh out loud.  And that’s not because adults watching will get in touch with their inner child or because the humor is lowest common denominator jokes about bodily functions.  It’s because some things are just plain funny and very clever."    
Full review at

The Informant!  
"Matt Damon gives a great performance in The Informant!, and director Steven Soderbergh has delivered another bit of quirky fun.  But the real star of The Informant! would be Damon’s inner voice, which goes absolutely everywhere...  He goes from focusing on the task at hand to wondering how some other guy got such a big office to imagining calling his home phone and hearing himself answer to wondering how a polar bear knows he has a black nose.  His disjointed thoughts are hysterical, and they also mean we never know what Whitacre is going to do next.  Neither does anybody else onscreen, which makes The Informant! so entertaining."
Full review at

Julie & Julia   
"It’s like a female version of The Godfather Part 2.  Two of the better actresses working today appear in the same movie, but their scenes are set decades apart, so we never see them together.  Instead, we watch how two lives in separate times can be so similar and how one can cast a heavy shadow over another.  Director/writer Nora Ephron (who’s given us some of the very best chick flicks) takes each of their stories and serves them to us in just the right doses.  She goes back and forth to show how each of their quests changes their lives and their relationships.  It’s fascinating to see how these journeys of self-discovery can affect those around them:  not just in the home but in their social circles. 
Full review at

(500) Days of Summer  
"If you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship, then you’ve lived at least 400 of the 500 “Days of Summer.” But while they’re familiar situations, there’s nothing familiar about the movie. It jumps from, for example, Day (40) to Day (279) then back to Day (55); the jumps illuminate the different ways the relationship grows and/or deteriorates. It tells its story out of order and somehow it makes more sense than if it was traditionally linear. Ever been in relationship trouble that you didn’t see coming?   They and the audience don’t see the warning signs, but since the story’s told out of order, you experience their moments of clarity as they do. You’re right there with Tom as he thinks, “Oh yeah, I should have seen that coming.”
Full review at

Year One  
"One of the best things about Year One is there’s barely a trace of Year 2009...  The two primitive men wandering the Earth have a modern attitude for sure, but at no time in this new comedy do they wink at the camera and imply they’re really 2009 men in ancient times...  It’s been a long time since we’ve had a good solid Biblical comedy.  The last one I can think of is Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part I... We never got a History of the World Part II.  So until Mel Brooks gets to it, I’d be up for Harold Ramis’ Year Two."
Full review at

Easy Virtue 
"Jessica Biel takes her shot at respectability – not by actually going on stage and doing a play, but by doing a movie based on a classic play.  And she pulls it off.  It’s probably a back-handed compliment, but that’s the biggest surprise in Easy Virtue.  Biel’s never been a bad actress, but her work would probably not be described as highfalutin’.  She’s not who you’d expect in a comedy set in 1920s England, based on a play by Noel Coward and starring actors of the caliber of Kristin Scott Thomas and Colin Firth. 
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Ghosts of Girlfriends Past 
"It’s got to be hard to write a romantic comedy that’s original – whatever twists in life you hand your leads, the audience pretty much knows how it’s going to turn out.  Ghosts of Girlfriends Past gives itself an inventive twist, although it makes the writer’s dilemma worse.  It’s the umpteenth movie to employ the theme of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol... again, the audience pretty much knows how the movie about a bitter individual visited by three ghosts who want him to change his ways is going to turn out.  So I give Ghosts of Girlfriends Past credit:  it’s actually pretty enjoyable."  
Full review at

The Brothers Bloom   
What we have in The Brothers Bloom is a familiar story to fans of heist movies:  a couple of con men hoping to pull off one last job.  And wouldn’t you know it?   Their mark is a beautiful woman named Penelope who Bloom can’t help but feel drawn to.  But writer/director Rian Johnson peppers the movie with all kinds of original touches that make it at times life-or-death dramatic or at other times pretty darn funny.
Full review at

"The documentary is the story of a man who’s seen drama after drama, tragedy after tragedy, and who largely fails to accept responsibility for his role in it...  Tyson’s story has been told many times by sports journalists, but not like this.  With the exception of a few sound bites from news footage, the only voice you hear is that of Tyson himself...  Boxing movies are almost always the best sports movies – there’s so much drama to be gleaned from a one-on-one fight between two souls.  Mike Tyson is fighting his own soul – and doesn’t even know it.
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"If Superman and Spider-Man are “comic book movies,” Snyder’s films are true “graphic novel movies.”...  The world of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is exactly the world of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen.  When a conventional novel is turned into a movie, readers can watch and judge whether or not it’s what they imagined.  But a graphic novel already has everything drawn for you.  And Watchmen recreates the visionary images exactly."
Full review at
"Defiance shows the Jews during World War II doing something they don’t do a lot in the movies – fighting amongst themselves...  Defiance is complex and fascinating – because it was all so real. It shows how the complexities of war trickle down to the simple man trying to live the simple life – even a way simple one."
Full review at

The Wrestler
"The Wrestler is the greatest movie ever made about pro wrestling. Granted, that wouldn’t be hard, as it’s never been captured right on film.  It’s always portrayed as if it was a real sport and not scripted entertainment – and is almost always used for comic relief... It’s the first time pro wrestling has ever been photographed correctly on film – you hear the guys talk to each other, you hear the grunts, and you hear the hits.  And you’ll wince while you see The Ram get pieces of glass picked out of his back.  It looks both scripted and real."
Full review at

Gran Torino  
"You can’t honestly expect Clint Eastwood to go quietly.  The auteur can’t make his last appearance without making some kind of statement... Eastwood the director makes violent movies, but he always manages to say something about the violence – whether it’s in the boxing ring or on the battlefield.  Still, even if you’ve never heard of Clint Eastwood or know nothing about his movie history, Gran Torino stands on its own as a movie about a guy trying to change his environment and do one last decent thing before he goes away."
Full review at

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
"The new movie starring Brad Pitt faces some big competition at the box office on a very busy Christmas Day, and while it’s hard to say how this 2 hour and 45 minute movie will do on its opening weekend, it’s probably safe to say it will age better than any of those others... the story of a man who ages backward – is easily one of the best movies of the year.  It is Forrest Gump-like in its scope, and like Forrest Gump, it is full of all kinds of sentimental moments and scenes that make you ponder the meaning of the world and your place in it. "
Full review at

Slumdog Millionaire
" It sounds like it could be a Saturday Night Live skit – a poor man from the slums of India goes for it all on the Hindi version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?.  Actually, I’m pretty sure it was one, called “Who Want To Eat?”  It was funny to watch, but if you say the title out loud, you realize what’s being joked about.  Slumdog Millionaire can make you smile, but it’s an intensely dramatic and well-layered story... This is the most suspenseful game of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? ever played."
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"With all due respect to those who have fought and are still fighting the fight, onscreen at least – the first half of Milk seems familiar.  As a narrative, it plays out like any other movie about a civil rights champion...   The second half though gets a little more interesting.  If you’re on the fence about seeing it, there’s a big reason to go:  the acting, particularly Sean Penn’s.  The guy once famous for beating up photographers is totally believable as Harvey Milk.  Penn’s Milk is gentle, he’s effeminate, he’s slight, he’s not that sure of himself early on – and he’s totally believable."
Full review at

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist 
"Sometimes, stuff ends up on your iPod that you don’t even remember putting on there.  It’s probably a deep track on a soundtrack or something that got moved over when you dubbed the entire album.  It’s the kind of song that makes you feel cool because you think you’ve discovered something.  Someday, the young talent involved will be stars.  Alright, alright… you get it.  I’d like to think director Peter Sollett will appreciate the musical analogies, as he’s put together one of the better comedies about rock and roll we’ve seen in a long time."
Full review at

"Comedian Richard Belzer, a frequent guest on Bill Maher’s Real Time, once had a great little gag after telling some religious-themed jokes.  “God… I kid God.  But that’s because I know God has a sense of hu...”  (He grabs his heart, falls over)...   Bill Maher’s subjects in the documentary Religulous often ask him:  “What if you’re wrong?”  After Religulous, he’d better hope God has a sense of humor... He’s a comedian, not a journalist – and he goes where the jokes are.  I laughed my proverbial ass off.  I sure hope God has a sense of hu…"
Full review at

The Lucky Ones
"The lucky ones are anyone in the audience who likes drama about current events but doesn’t want it to be heavy-handed.... There are no lengthy talks about what we are or aren’t doing over there, nobody has a total mental breakdown, and the way people react to them is the way we’ve seen people react to vets they meet in their real life. Subsequent to seeing the film, I read that by design, they don’t even mention the word “Iraq” in the movie – and darned if that isn’t correct."
Full review at

Lakeview Terrace 
"If you saw the trailers, you know a lot of what happens next – which is too bad, because a lot of what happens next is pretty interesting. Thanks to Samuel L. Jackson, you still pay close attention to the movie and are afraid for the Mattsons...  Jackson never lets you forget Abel is the kind of guy who will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy his brothers."
Full review at

Tropic Thunder
"A couple of controversies have stormed around Tropic Thunder, but if you can pay attention to what’s really being laughed at, you’ll laugh right along with it.  Actually, you’ll laugh pretty hard.  Director/writer/star Ben Stiller uses Tropic Thunder to poke fun at some Hollywood pretension.... He can laugh at all of it – and luckily, he can encourage some A-listers to laugh along with him. "
Full review at

You Don't Mess With The Zohan    
 … you would also think you don’t mess with a sensitive subject like the violence in the Middle East, but Adam Sandler and crew do take it on in You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.  Other filmmakers in the post-9/11 world have bravely taken on the subjects of terror and the unease in that region – big names like Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, and George Clooney.  You know those names, but off the top of your head, can you name the movie?  Probably not.  No one went.   But an Adam Sandler movie that makes fun of both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?  People are going to go.  And people are going laugh.  Because somehow, he actually makes it work...   If you don’t want to read as much into the message of Zohan as I have, you don’t have to.  It’s still just an Adam Sandler movie that relies on bare asses about every fifteen minutes to get a laugh.
Full review at

The Dark Knight  
"Movie critics and comic book fans (OK, mostly comic book fans) will always debate what the best comic book/super hero movie is.  As of this summer, they have to hit “reset.”  Not just because Iron Man is so good, but because The Dark Knight is absolutely fantastic.  It has twists and turns, high adventure, an engaging love triangle and solid performances from Oscar-winning and Oscar-nominated actors.  It just so happens the lead wears a cape and the antagonist wears clown makeup.  Take the above elements and throw in elements from the DC Comics and fans of the genre may just have the best… comic book movie… ever."
Full review at 

Journey To The Center Of The Earth
"There’s something kind of quaint about a 3-D movie based loosely on a classic sci-fi novel being out in theaters this summer.  That’s not a knock – it’s a compliment.  It’s hokey, it’s old-fashioned, it’s family-friendly, and it’s also quite a bit of fun... The deliberate pacing should make this easy for kids to watch and enjoy.  And parents can take heart that it’s a pretty harmless movie.  There’s not a dirty word uttered (when you think you hear one, it’s a joke), and even when there are giant monsters, we don’t get treated to a fecal matter joke like other recent movies have felt a need to throw in."
Full review at

The Love Guru
"I’m going to be rooting for Mike Myers because this comedy about a self-help guru is going to be a tough sell.  To Myers’ credit, he’s often followed his own inner guru when it comes to comedy.  He’s known his strength is characters, not playing a wise-cracking version of himself put into comedic situations.  That’s why Austin Powers, Dr. Evil, Dieter, Linda Richman and Wayne Campbell have endured.  He’s also trusted that if he thinks it’s funny, we might too.... He was right again.  This is funny.  (And yes, I may the only one who thought so back when this was written).
Full review at

Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
"It’s been an exciting last few years for those of us of a certain age – the fanboys who were part of the movement as dolls became action figures so they were acceptable for us to play with.  As adult movie-goers, we’ve watched as the Sith got their revenge, as Superman returned, as Batman began again and as James Bond entered the Casino Royale.  Now, Indiana Jones is back in his hat with his whip by his side, to entertain a group of us who bought all the DVDs of our heroes and aren’t quite ready to fully grow up.  Indy’s back in action, and as we watch, we can forget that we’ve all grown a bit ol… uh oh, wait a second...
 Still, I’m quibbling, only because I hold Raiders in such high regard.  It is something of a national treasure.  Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is no national treasure, but it’s better than National Treasure… or any other Indiana Jones ripoff.  So I’m glad they dug up the old fossil.
Full review at

Young @ Heart
"I’ve never liked the Rapping Granny. 
I’m not picking on any particular elderly lady; I’m talking about the concept that shows up in unimaginative commercials or sitcoms or hack films...  So a whole movie of rapping – or in this case rocking—grannies and gramps made me a little skeptical. The documentary Young @ Heart follows the choral group of the same name, made up of a couple dozen septuagenarians and older, singing rock and roll from James Brown to Talking Heads to Sonic Youth...  But think for a moment about why this band’s members can’t stay the same as the years go on. Young @ Heart addresses that without getting overdramatic. It’s not maudlin when the inevitable happens – it’s real and dignified."
Full review at

Iron Man
I could write a lot more on Iron Man, but I saw it a couple of weeks late and it became a huge hit anyway.  As Marvel Super Hero movies go, it's the best debut yet.   Better than the first Spider-Man, better than the first X-Men, but I'm not sure it's better than Spider-Man 2 or X2...  They gotta call the sequel Iron Man Lives Again.

The Rolling Stones - Shine A Light
I'm biased as a huge Stones fan, but this was great to watch.  Martin Scorsese favors Mick Jagger over Keith Richards in the shots he chooses to use, but when you've got a frontman like that running around, you use the best shots.  The duets are the best part, especially a killer blues jam with Buddy Guy on "Champagne And Reefer."  Like any of my bootlegs, I could do without yet another version of "Brown Sugar" or "Satisfaction," but it's worth it to get "Loving Cup" and "As Tears Go By."

A Mighty Heart
          If you followed the sad story of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, you know how it ended—which could have ruined this mostly procedural drama about the hunt for his kidnappers.
          However, we ignorant Americans really don’t know all that much about Pakistan or what it’s like to be a journalist there, so for those who want to learn, A Mighty Heart is fascinating.  When I first thought about the Pearl story, I foolishly imagined the guy out in the middle of Afghanistan somewhere, grabbed by cave-dwelling members of the Taliban, but Pearl and his wife Mariane (Angelina Jolie) were staying with friends and U.S. allies in Pakistan.  They were very much at home there, holding dinner parties and discussing world affairs and philosophy with their international friends and keeping in touch with the rest of the world via the internet and cell phones.
          I’d like to think that’s something that Daniel and Mariane Pearl would have wanted me to get out of this movie.  Mariane spends much of the movie not only waiting for word on her husband but appearing on TV or in front of the police defending the couple’s presence in Pakistan in the first place.   It sounds very Lifetime-Movie-Of-The-Week, but its authenticity and a strong performance by Jolie keep it above that level.
          It’s not quite football’s Bull Durham, but it could have been – and that’s enough to get it a recommendation.
          Like Bull Durham, Leatherheads takes place with a “minor” league sports team, but in 1925, the minor team are the professionals and the major leagues are the colleges.  With no helmets and no rules, guys who love the game of football will play in pastures or wherever they can get a crowd to show up and play the game. 
          Bull Durham had respected veteran Crash Davis as its lead character;   Leatherheads has Dodge Connelly (Crash?  Dodge?) played by director and star George Clooney.  It’s the first time as a director that Clooney’s really had to direct himself as the star.  Sure, he had a hand producing and casting other movies, but this time, he’s completely the leader of the team – and it’s obvious the guy knows his own charm.  In a 1920’s setting, he is very much an old school leading man from a different era– a movie star.
          He pairs himself with a reporter played by Renee Zellweger, who herself is a formidable presence on the screen.  I’ve always admired her acting, but at the risk of sounding superficial, was never that into her looks.  Maybe it’s because she’s the only female with any screen time, but she stands out here, and is as much a glamorous old school movie star as Clooney – they’re a great couple you could picture in a black and white feature.
           Enter Leatherheads’ version of Nuke LaLoosh – The Office’s John Krasinski.  He’s a college star persuaded to do the unthinkable and turn pro.  Dodge knows his team – and his business – need a star if they’re going to succeed, and Krasinksi’s “Bullet” Carter Rutherford is the man.  He’s not only a football standout but a war hero who’s captured America’s heart.   (I sense the often political Clooney is up to something here).  “Bullet” draws crowds and suddenly pro football is no longer a joke.
          With its black and white photos and small town charms, Leatherheads also seems to come close to being A League Of Their Own – but there’s a turnover.   Zellweger’s reporter looks into Bullet, and the movie becomes more about whether or not there’s a “swift boat” thing going on here than it is about whether those leather helmets will ever become what we’re used to today.  It’s an alright storyline (covered better and with more reverence in Letters From Iwo Jima or perhaps with more at stake in the 2004 Democratic Presidential Campaign), but fans hoping for a truly great sports movie might feel a little cheated. 

The Bank Job 
I've been remiss at writing a full review of this outstanding movie -- it's a great heist film featuring some ordinary guys in way over their heads. 

The Other Boleyn Girl
"The idea of a movie with Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson fighting over the same man would get a green light. Certainly a Woody Allen could turn it into some kind of comedic farce, and certainly the two have the dramatic chops to make it a Closer-type story that touches on the sometimes harsh realities of relationships in 2008.  But The Other Boleyn Girl raises the stakes – it throws in the King of England and a true-life juicy story that forever changed an entire country... It’s a juicy, juicy story alright, and if it wasn’t based on some historical fact, you’d think it was as ludicrous as any nighttime soap. Any member of the Church of England will tell you though the story has some real importance."
Full review at

In Bruges
"Like Colin Farrell’s hitman-in-exile, I too had no idea where Bruges is. (It’s in Belgium, and for your purposes while reading, it’s pronounced “Brooj” like “Rouge.”)...
One’s first thought that the notoriously hard living Farrell is playing a hitman would be that Ray would be a gritty tough guy. He’s tough for sure, but surprisingly funny. He’s blunt (he doesn’t like Bruges because he wasn’t raised on a farm and he’s “not a retard”), boyish (he has to stare at a movie shoot because they’re “filming midgets”) and full of great lines (were I British and crude, I’d use a priceless line about John Lennon often)... Behind the comedy though is a tragedy as Ray deals with a horrible mistake. Ken becomes his counselor, and Brendan Gleeson proves a worthy partner to Farrell. He’s just as funny, witty and adds even more depth."
Full review at

The Spiderwick Chronicles
"The Spiderwick Chronicles is almost a reverse-Chronicles of Narnia... Really, this is a kids’ horror movie. With a whimsical-sounding word like “Spiderwick” in the title, parents could be forgiven for thinking this is a light-hearted little fairy tale. But the goblins are serious about getting a hold of Jared and well – killing him to get the book. They come at the Grace family full-throttle, and I can’t help but think a more sensitive kid would be absolutely freaked out. Big kids? They’ll love it. The goblins are gross but hard not to stare at. Jared, Simon and their sister are good kids, who the kids in the audience will root for to get away—even if they’re looking at it through their fingers as they hide their eyes."
Full review at

District 9     
          District 9 is an obvious allegory to issues or racism and segregation.  It tells you right upfront that the aliens could have landed anywhere – but they chose Johannesburg, South Africa.  They’re stranded and are going to have to live among the South Africans, so along comes a new apartheid, with the aliens forced to live in slum called District 9.

          That’s some pretty heavy stuff – the kind of stuff the best science fiction deals with well.  And District 9 is absolutely the best kind of science fiction.  But before you have a chance to get too bogged down in the deeper meaning, the action happens.  A hapless drone (outstanding newcomer Sharlto Copley) is assigned to head up the relocation of the aliens from District 9 to what’s essentially an internment camp. Things go bad for him, things go bad from the aliens, and then the action begins.
          And then this potentially heavy message movie becomes way freaking cool.
          Peter Jackson is the big name attached to District 9The Lord of the Rings auteur is its producer, but he lets director/writer Neill Blomkamp step up as the real star.  His film is unique in its look and incredible to look at.  Much of it is shot documentary style – with experts talking about the landing and the events that unfold.  The documentary parts are so good, I almost wish the entire film was shot that way (maybe the DVD will have more?). 
          Then there are the "prawns."  That’s the slur the South Africans use to describe their new neighbors who look a lot like sea creatures.  They walk onscreen flawlessly as if they really were there.  And they’re so ugly.  It almost made me feel like those lousy humans onscreen who wanted to get rid of them:  they are really, really disturbing to look at.  But I did.
          For sci-fi fans starved for something good this summer, this is it.  Terminator Salvation was a disappointment, Transformers 2 stunk and Star Trek now seems like so long ago.  By the way, did you notice that as good as the latter was, it didn’t have the social relevance the franchise has been known for?  It makes it seem like a really long time since we’ve had anything comparable to District 9.


There Will Be Blood

          It’s not called There IS Blood, it’s called There WILL BE Blood.  It’s an ominous title, giving you the feeling that something very, very bad is going to happen.
          Paul Thomas Anderson has created a movie where tension is very high and where for long stretches, when you stop and think about it, nothing all that much really happens.  But you just know something will.
          That’s largely due to the considerable presence of Daniel Day-Lewis as oilman Daniel Plainview, who as I write this is a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination.  Plainview moves into a small barren town to drill for oil and practically takes it over through force of personality.  He’s not necessarily the most successful oilman to ever drill, but he can bully his way right into the lives of these unsuspecting and simple folk.  Even when he’s saying nothing, you’re watching him.  And you’re afraid of him.
          His main opposition is a squirrelly little wannabe preacher who wants to use Plainview’s oil money to build his own congregation.  He’s played by Paul Dano, who was so memorable for his silence in Little Miss Sunshine.  It’s fascinating to watch him preach.  He’s got the townspeople hoodwinked, but Plainview ain’t having none of it.  What’s best for the town of Little Boston, Middle of Nowhere?  The preacher’s Church of The Third Revelation or Plainview’s Church of Black Gold?  You KNOW that’s going to come to a head and well.. There will be blood.
          The script and the acting build tension well, but perhaps nothing will make an audience more tense than the soundtrack.  Jonny Greenwood’s music (it’s rare I care enough to look up the score to give someone credit) is ominous, grating, over-powering and sometimes absolutely annoying.  It may even make some audiences turn on the movie – that’s if they’re able to keep themselves from being hypnotized by it.  You’ll realize how strong it is when it abruptlly stops – and then the silence is effective too.
          There Will Be Blood is long, foreboding and challenging.  There Will Be Squirming if you go.  But stay with it.  You’ll have to see what happens.

          Some have said Juno is on its way to being this year’s Little Miss Sunshine or Napoleon Dynamite.  And for theirst ten minutes, I thought to myself, this movie is trying real hard to be this year’s Little Miss Sunshine or Napoleon Dynamite.
          But I’ll be damned if Juno’s quirky charms, as annoying as they were at first, didn’t eventually win me over. 
          Juno is a smart teenager who did a dumb thing—she got pregnant.  She’s smart enough to know the best thing for the baby is to give it up.  She’s also smart enough to know one good way to deal with such a sad situation is with humor.  Finally, though, we get some reminders she can do dumb things—and she does a couple that keep this dramedy moving along. 
          You could argue that teenage pregnancy is no laughing matter, and of course it isn’t—but Juno’s director Jason Reitman and first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody treat it with warmth, sensitivity and realism.  Cody is a former stripper, who may know something about smart people doing dumb things.
          Juno’s star should become a star after this.  My fellow fanboys will remember Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde in the X-Men movies, but this is her coming out performance.  She is sometimes hysterical while never letting you forget what she’s dealing with.  You feel sorry for her, especially when you realize she’s in over her head.
          Ellen Page is deservedly getting a lot of attention, but let me heap some praise on the reunited stars of Arrested Development:  Michael Cera and his TV dad Jason Bateman.  Cera will be best remembered this year for his sweet guy in Superbad, but he proves he’s got some depth too as Juno’s Baby Daddy.   Bateman is wonderful as the adopted father.  I’ve liked him for awhile and have gotten a kick out of him on both Arrested Development and as an ancillary member of the so-called Frat Pack.  He isn’t as big a star as your Wilsons, Vaughns or Stillers, but he’s provided some good laughs in supporting roles in their movies.  Here, he’s not all that funny—he plays a complex character that could be a bit polarizing to some in the audience.  But he’s very, very good.
           Jennifer Garner is just as good as Bateman’s baby-obsessed wife, as are veterans like JK Simmons and Alison Janney as Juno’s parents.  They help add both the drama and the comedy to this dramedy.  But they stay enough in the background to let Ellen Page have her breakout moment.

It is of course very ironic that the star of the movie musical about fame and who deserves it is someone who only finished seventh when she was on American Idol
           Sure, Jamie Foxx, Beyonce and Eddie Murphy get top billing and are bona fide movie stars, but Jennifer Hudson steals the show to the point where you have to call her the star. 
          Dreamgirls, based on the long-running Broadway hit, is the story of The Dreamettes, which is pretty much the story of The Supremes.  Like Florence Ballard in the real life drama, poor Effie (Hudson) is moved to the back of her group as she watches a music mogul turn the prettier Deena Jones into the star she deserves to be. 
          But by the time Effie sings “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” Hudson is a star.  For that few minutes, Foxx, Beyonce and Murphy… heck, even Fantasia… don’t matter.  She owns the movie at that point.
          That’s not to say the others in the movie aren’t good.  Shockingly, another supporting player steals the scenes he’s in.  Shockingly, that player is a supporting player.  Superstar Eddie Murphy is willing to take third billing to play one of his best characters ever.  Murphy is fantastic as James “Thunder” Early, an amalgam of James Brown (who we ironically lost as Dreamgirls opened), Little Richard, Marvin Gaye and a handful of other influential music legends.  Murphy was meant to play Early:  director James Condon needed someone who could be comic relief, but could also sing and dance.  In the setting of Dreamgirls, Murphy never becomes the James Brown caricature he was on Saturday Night Live.
          Condon (who wrote this screenplay as well as Chicago’s) is not blessed with a great cast but with great music to drive the movie.  These are not typical show tunes:  they are tributes to some wonderful American sounds:  Motown, soul and R&B.  Jamie Foxx’s Curtis Taylor, Jr. (essentially Motown’s Berry Gordy) controls and shapes his artists, and while he’s at it, controls and shapes a large chunk of the music scene.  The songs in Dreamgirls—which didn’t exist in the eras they’re put in—provide an amazing musical history lesson.  Even when Deena sings a soulless disco song or Jimmy Early sings a soulless ballad, you’ll appreciate the care that went into the song, and despite yourself, you’ll even find yourself liking the soulless music.  That’s because Taylor knows how to give the public what they want.
          Actually, so does Bill Condon.

I Am Legend
          The less said about I Am Legend, the better I think.
          In the spirit of the barren wasteland Will Smith finds himself in, I won't write that much.  I'll be almost as quiet as the movie's soundtrack and the deserted streets.
          That's because I didn't know much going in, other than I Am Legend was based on a book and was very similar to the classic The Omega Man.  So I liked watching how Smith and his dog struggled to survive in a completely abandoned Manhattan.  A virus forced the city to be evacuated, and those who were left behind all perished.  Smith, conveniently, is both a solider and scientist, so he can fight to survive and spend time in his lab working on a cure.
          And that's all I want to say about it, because if I'd known more, I would have been disappointed.  Others I've talked to about it either already knew some things or found more details on the internet-- and if I'd known what they know, it wouldn't have been nearly as suspenseful.
          Me-- I was glued to every move Smith and his loyal companion made as they worked their way through the streets on their own, not knowing what could be coming around the corner next.  Certainly it helps that Smith is that Tom Hanks-kind of actor who we can enjoy in comedy and drama, and like Hanks in Castaway, we can stand to stick with when he’s the only human in sight.
          So if you looked stuff up… shhh. 
          I Am Done.

          It’s a spy movie even I can understand, which makes it a pretty good one.
          Espionage is never really all that easy to grasp.  You’re dealing with trying to figure out who’s on who’s side, combined with the very complex nature of government and bureaucracies.  Watch Syriana if you want to see how those issues can become a giant overrated mess.
          But Breach isn’t really about the true life spying that Robert Hanssen did in what was called the worst spy case in American history.  It’s about the complexities of his own personality as well as the FBI’s efforts to take him down.
          FBI agent Robert Hanssen, you may remember, was arrested in early 2001 for spying on the U.S. government and selling secrets to Russia over a period of several years.  He was one of the most respected and accomplished agents in the bureau and was a devoted family man and extremely devout Catholic.  But he also led a secret life involving not just spying, but pornography and strippers.
          The almost-always great Chris Cooper (Adaptation, American Beauty) is great again as Hanssen.  He is a strong presence in any room he’s in.  When he barks out advice to fellow agents on security, you know he knows what he’s talking about.  When he tells his protégé he needs to pray more, you know he believes it.  And when he mulls over what he’s done, you know it’s about more than just money. 
          The protégé is played Ryan Phillippe, who is working as a double agent against Hanssen.  He’s been assigned to work with him and learn what he can, but while he does, he’s taken in by Hanssen’s authority and confidence.  If you watched the news, you know how this all turns out, but it’s fascinating to see how it did.
          It’s also fascinating to look for little touches about how the world has changed.  Hanssen was a big story in early 2001, but you may have forgotten him because of other national security issues that obviously became very important later in 2001.  Little touches like mentioning Louis Freeh, John Ashcroft and even Bill Clinton remind you of the world pre-9/11 and how different national security was.  It wasn’t that long ago, but watching Breach, you’ll see what they’re using for computers and how the FBI worked.  You’ll feel like you’re in the world before Microsoft Vista or Jack Bauer entered our lives. 

The Pursuit of Happyness
          Chris Gardner, the stockbroker-in-training played by Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness (there’s a reason for the misspelling) points out the founding fathers didn’t say we were all entitled to happiness; rather, we’re all free to pursue it.
          Gardner pursues it, and boy, he gets no guarantees it’s going to work.  You will feel for this guy as he encounters obstacle after obstacle.  (I hate to give away too much of Gardner’s real life story for fear of giving away the ending of the movie.)  He is struggling with what was clearly a bad business move (selling what seems to be glorified x-ray machines),  his marriage is in trouble, he owes back taxes and he’s just shy of having nothing.  So to fix it?  He takes an unpaid internship to learn how to be a stockbroker:  with no guarantee it will all work out.
 Some would say it’s foolhardy, but I would think anyone who watches The Pursuit of Happyness will find Gardner’s pursuit an inspiration.  This is a decent, hard-working guy who wants to better himself and provide for his son, and he wants to do it himself. 
          It is one of Will Smith’s better performances in a while.  With his moustache and just a touch of grey hair, he is far from the Fresh Prince or Hitch.  You won’t think of the movie star but rather the working class guy Smith is playing.
          Ironically, one his co-stars hasn’t paid his dues in the workplace and struggled hard to get a big role in a major motion picture.  That would be Jaden Smith, Will’s son, who plays Chris' son.   Smith is talking a lot in the press about Gardner’s pull-yourself-up-by-the bootstraps story, but it’s a little hard to ignore the fact that he just handed his kid a job.  That said, he’s a very talented little actor who is given a lot to do, and I give him credit:  it has to be hard for a little kid to act out hard times with his real dad. 
          As the hard times keep piling up, the movie can be a little stifling.  If you’ve ever faced some hard financial times or been—ahem—laid off, you may relate and start thinking about worst-case scenarios.  But you’ll stick with it because you’ll be rooting for this guy’ pursuit to turn out alright.

Fred Claus
          In one scene in Knocked Up, one of Seth Rogen’s stoner friends asks Katherine Heigl’s E! News Reporter if she knows Vince Vaughn and if he’s cool.  “You know, because he seems like a cool kind of guy to hang out with.”
          Should said stoner be concerned that his idol has made a family-friendly kid movie?
          I’d lay odds he was a Will Ferrell fan who didn’t stop liking Ferrell after Elf, and he’ll be relieved to know Vaughn doesn’t sell himself out to make Fred Claus.  True, he’s not sleeping with bridesmaid after bridesmaid and the language is so sanitized that when someone says “what the hell?,” it’s very jarring.  But he retains enough of his cool factor as Santa’s brother Fred for his fans not to be disappointed.  It really is like Ferrell doing Elf, or even like Bill Murray doing Scrooged.  Kids may get their first exposure to Vaughn as Fred Claus, and not know until years later about the raunch.
          The movie itself probably won’t be a prime time holiday staple in the years to come, but it will be a pleasant enough way to pass a Saturday afternoon when it makes its way to HBO or TNT.  Adults will like it mostly for the scene where Fred attends a sibling therapy group for jealous brothers.  Fred Claus will ultimately be a jealous sibling to the aforementioned Elf or Scrooged, but it’s funny enough for a viewing in 2007.

American Gangster
My apologies for no full review yet... Very quickly, let me say I'd see any gangster movie starring Denzel Washington and I'd see any gangster movie starring Russell Crowe.  A gangster movie with both as the leads?  I was there, and it was worth it.

Martian Child
          Martian Child is a lot like its title character— it’s gentle, harmless and just a little off—even though deep down, he’s like any other kid.
          Simply, it’s the story of John Cusack looking to adopt a child and forming an attachment to Dennis (Bobby Coleman), a 10-year-old who thinks he’s from Mars.  When they first meet, Dennis sits inside a box because of what the sun could do to him.  He wears a weight belt to keep himself from floating away and is convinced the mothership is coming back for him someday.
          Martian Child the movie is a lot like "the other kids"—you can probably guess pretty much how the story will resolve itself.  There are things that will happen in any movie about a single father and an adopted child.  But along the way, there are some pleasant surprises that help this movie stand out. 
          Here’s how a typical Hollywood hack would have constructed it:  Cusack’s single dad would be like a professional athlete or something like that, would be a big time womanizer and having a kid would be the furthest thing from his mind—until he met Dennis and his life changes.  The hack would have Dennis follow him around until he caves and takes him in.
         Cusack instead is a widowed science fiction writer who is very slowly pursuing a romance with an old friend (trust me—very slowly).  Most refreshing to see:  he wants to adopt, right at the onset of the movie.  He wants someone to take care of—and as someone who was misunderstood as a child, he looks or someone who could have been him.
         Then it plays out pretty much like you expect, but that’s ok.  It’s a sweet little story, and Cusack is very likable and deals with Dennis very well.  They have their moments, but there’s never an overly dramatic scene where one gets too upset with the other and gives into histrionics just to show off as an actor. 
          It’s actually very down-to-earth.

Michael Clayton
          Patience please, it will be worth it.
          George Clooney is the title character in Michael Clayton, a lawyer for a big name firm at the center of a controversial case.  He’s a former litigator, who’s now relegated to the role of “behind-the-scenes fix-it man.”  If you need a problem to go away, call Michael.
          Things aren’t going all that smoothly for Michael when the movie starts though.  He seems to have something of a gambling problem, someone has blown up his car and one of his closest friends at the firm has lost his mind.   Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal is calling his firm for comments on a rumored settlement with a powerful corporation, and the spokesperson for that corporation is having hot flashes in the ladies’ room and looks paralyzed with fear.
          But why?
          Again, patience, please.  It will all be explained eventually. 
          But my plea for patience is really to get you into the theater.  I’d hate for you to think it’s too convoluted and too frustrating to enjoy.  (Clooney’s Syriana from last year comes to mind as an intriguing mess).  Michael Clayton will hold your interest as it unfolds, and it has a great payoff.
          When I say Michael Clayton will hold your interest, that’d be both Michael Clayton the character and Michael Clayton the script.  Clooney does a great job with this guy—a talented but morally-conflicted lawyer who wonders if he’s on the right side of things.  As to the script (by writer and director Tony Gilroy, also responsible for two of the Bourne movies), it’s very layered and very interesting—but when all is said and done, it makes complete sense.  What starts with a car blowing up ends with one of the better closing credit ideas in a long time.

Shoot 'Em Up
          The title tells you exactly what this movie is, but in case you miss it, the creators of Shoot ‘Em Up want you to know this is really just a cartoon.  Clive Owen’s “Smith” chomps on carrots and even asks “What’s Up, Doc?” of the Elmer Fudd-like Paul Giamatti.
           Smith does pretty much everything with his gun-- or while shooting.  That’s also spelled out for us right from the get-go, when he even finds a way to use the gun to deliver a baby.  The mother doesn’t make it through that delivery though, and for reasons unknown to Smith, an army of gunmen want that baby.  Like Bugs Bunny or maybe the Road Runner, Smith grabs the baby and is on the run for 87 violent—but fun—minutes.
           There’s not all that much more to it really, unless you throw in the lactating prostitute Smith enlists to watch the baby.  She’s played Monica Bellucci, who played Mary Magdalene in The Passion Of The Christ.  So yes, she, Owen and Giamatti have all been in higher-brow fare, but all three know exactly what kind of movie they’re in here and just go for it.  They let the sound guy fire up the Nirvana and Motorhead music and let the bullets fly.

          When you were going through your awkward teenage phase, I know it didn’t feel funny, but think about it:  it really was.
          Nothing was more important than the opposite sex, and there was very little you wouldn’t do to impress them.  For reasons you didn’t even understand, drinking parties were pretty important too, and you would go to great lengths to make the right impression.
          And you looked like an idiot.  I don’t care if you were captain of the football team or the chess club, you looked like an idiot.  Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen know this and use it to get huge laughs in the incredibly funny Superbad.  Apatow, the director of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, produced this film, written by his Knocked Up star Rogen.  They excelled at adolescent humor with adult stars, so there was no reason to think they wouldn’t get it right with real adolescents.
          Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Arrested Development’s Michael Cera) are just right as two best friends out to impress the girls they have crushes on.  They figure the best way to do that is provide the booze for one of the last big parties of the school year.  They don’t go to a lot of parties, and their quest to get to just this one goes wrong at every turn.  Their misadventures include a buddy with a fake ID screwing everything up, a run-in with two cops that are pretty much grown-up versions of themselves and a party that’s creepy for reasons that are hard to quite grasp.
          Superbad ties those misadventures together very well.  Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg have written some great little predicaments for these kids, but more importantly, they’ve written great dialogue for them.  Sorry parents, but kids trying to be cool do talk this way.  Rogen and Goldberg are great at working pop culture references into dialogue without feeling the need to explain it to the audience.  You either know who Zack Morris is or you don’t.
          Jonah Hill—a relative unknown—gets Seth just right.  This kid is a foul-mouthed, trash-talking overconfident fool.  There is no reason for him to have the confidence he does, but like many a nerd before him, he does (I maintain that’s the difference between a nerd and a geek). 
         Their friend with the fake ID is about to become a cult hero to the high schoolers who shouldn’t be allowed to see this movie but will anyway.  I encourage anyone who looks like him to be a geek, not a nerd, and embrace what you are-- because for the rest of your high school career, you are about to be called “McLovin.”  Just go with it, and the other awkward idiots will love you for it.

          What’s nice about Stardust is that’s probably it—it’s a pleasant and inventive self-contained story.  It likely won’t be a Harry Potter/Lord Of The Rings multi-part epic, but a 2 hour experience fans will always remember fondly.
          Stardust is based on a novel by fantasy and comic book writer Neil Gaiman (whose Sandman is among the best comic book works ever created).  It’s a fairy tale about old England and a mysterious wall on the outskirts of one village.  If one can get by the ancient guard at the wall’s opening, he will step into a magical world full of witches, wizards, magic and ghosts. 
          A young man named Tristan (Charlie Cox, the lowest profile of the film’s high profile stars) takes a chance and goes off into that world—he’s heard a falling star has landed over the wall, and he wants to bring it to the woman he loves to prove he’s worthy of marrying her.  The star is actually a person (Claire Danes), and Tristan isn’t the only one after her.  An aging decrepit witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) wants the star’s heart to give her eternal youth, and the princes of the kingdom want the gem she wears around her neck because it will make whoever has it the heir to the throne.
          It sounds pretentious, but it’s really a lot of fun.  Those princes are hysterical in their hatred for each other, and not to give anything away, but their deaths (and after-lives) provide some great dark comedy.  Robert DeNiro is among the big stars with a supporting part.  He’s a pirate, and at first, you’ll think he’s really just there to parody his mob roles.  His Captain Shakespeare has a pretty funny secret.
          DeNiro is just one of the big name actors having fun in these very different parts.  You can also look for Peter O’Toole, Ian McKellan, Rupert Everett, Ricky Gervais and Sienna Miller in smaller parts.  The most notable though is Michelle Pfeiffer as evil witch Lamia (cutting and pasting a line from the Hairspray review:  “Where has she been anyway?”).  It’s fun to see her having fun, although for long-time admirers of Ms. Pfeiffer and her appearance, it’s a little frustrating to still not really know how she looks after a long absence from the screen.  In Stardust, she’s ancient, then she’s young and vivacious, then her age starts to show, then she’s young again… where are the camera tricks and where is the real Michelle Pfeiffer?
          Years from now, fantasy fans will look back fondly on Stardust and say:  “Oh yeah, Michelle Pfeiffer (or Claire Danes or Robert DeNiro) was in Stardust.  I love that movie.”  And I suspect one reason they’ll look back fondly is that after its fairy tale ending, there were no more.  Neil Gaiman is one of the few comic book writers to actually end a series and walk away from it without letting it pass on to another writer.  I suspect he knows when enough is enough, and the magic of Stardust will stay behind that mysterious wall.

Talk To Me
          In fame and notoriety, radio host Petey Green falls somewhere between Howard Stern and Good Morning Vietnam’s Adrian Cronauer.  While not “The King of All Media,” he had a huge following in Washington, DC in the 60s and 70s among the African-American community.  And like Cronauer, he was a guy who just wanted to entertain but found himself in the middle of a very volatile and emotional situation.
          Green (Don Cheadle) is hired by uptight programmer Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to shake up a DC rhythm & blues station.  The just-released convict does just that, making his bosses nervous but becoming a hero to his listeners.  He becomes even more important to all sides when Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated. 
         It’s a mostly great movie thanks to the work of the very versatile Don Cheadle.  It’s not surprising, knowing he played the lead in Hotel Rwanda and pulled off Sammy Davis, Jr. in HBO’s The Rat Pack.  He gives the assassination of Dr. King its proper respect, stands up for the black community, handles the complexities of a charismatic convict-- but most importantly:  he’s hysterical.  Even without the weighty issues, this would have been a very good comedy.
          About three-quarters of the way through, Talk To Me decides it’s also about the Petey Green-Dewey Hughes partnership.  Unfortunately, Hughes is not the personality Green is.  True, he’s supposed to be blander so I mean no offense to Chiwetel Ejiofor who does what he’s supposed to.  But when you make your movie about a blander personality, your movie gets a little dull.
          Still, Petey Green’s shadow is cast over the scenes he’s not in, so the problems toward the end don’t ruin it.  Talk To Me is an entertaining look at a guy who in a different era could have been The King Of All Media.
          (The movie’s liberal use of the “n” word and its radio theme make it something those who had a strong opinion either way on the Imus story should check out.  I wish Mr. Imus had a forum right now to talk about it).

The Simpsons Movie
          The Simpsons is the funniest TV show ever created.  I don’t even want to argue about it (or maybe I do.  Click the e-mail link on top of the page).
          So is The Simpsons Movie the funniest… movie… ever?  No.  But while it doesn’t rank as high as some of Springfield’s best moments, it certainly holds its own when compared to standard ones (and it’s easily better than the show has been the last couple of seasons).  What we’re really watching is a multi-part Simpsons episode, to be continued immediately.
         Fans of the show will not be disappointed, and there’s frankly no reason non-fans shouldn’t enjoy it.  You don’t have to know who the Sea Captain or Bumblebee Man or Lenny or Carl are to know that they’re funny (I think everyone gets at least a moment onscreen.  I’ll have to find a cast list to be certain).   The Simpsons is not the X-Files.  All you need to know is they’re a family of five in a fictional town called Springfield.  Dad Homer is a screw-up, Mom Marge is a worry-wart, son Bart is a brat, daughter Lisa is a smart activist, Maggie is a baby, and eventually they get themselves in some kind of trouble. 
         I will always defend The Simpsons' morality, no matter how poor an example Homer or Bart set.  The show also has some of the sweetest moments you’ll ever see, which reaffirm the importance of family.  There is at least one moment in the movie that could bring a tear to the eye.
         Most of the moments though are just plain laugh out loud funny.   It will require repeated viewings to really get all the moments down.  As of this writing, Bart steals the show for me.  He’s great when he taunts Homer about how he thinks neighbor Ned Flanders is a better father, the scene where we see “little Bart” is wonderfully clever, and Bart makes for a very funny drunk.  (I swear it’s “family-affirming.”)
         As I think about it, maybe Mrs. Hoover doesn’t get a line?  I’m not sure about Jimbo either.  Or maybe I just want those e-mails.
          Everybody in Hairspray is just so happy to be there. 
          They’re full of pure joy at almost all times, singing and dancing non-stop (thankfully, it’s a musical).  Even the black kids in detention-- segregated from everyone else-- spend their time dancing and celebrating.
          If it were Up With People, it would get annoying fast, but in Hairspray, the mood is infectious.  That’s mostly thanks to the wonderful work by standout performers including John Travolta, Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah and Nikki Blonsky.
          Wait… who?
          That name again is Nikki Blonsky, a teenage unknown given the lead role in a movie requiring her to sing, dance and be funny in front of more-seasoned A-listers.  Like her character Tracy, she becomes a star you have to like despite the odds against her.  Fans of the original John Waters movie and the Broadway musical that followed know this story:  Tracy auditions for and becomes a star dancer on the early 1960s American Bandstand-like Corny Collins Show, despite her weight problems and the fact that the show has always embraced more traditional beauty.  Everybody ends up loving her, but Tracy doesn’t take time out to bask in her new fame.  Instead, she fights to get the show integrated, so that the black kids can dance more often than just the once-a-month “Negro Day.”
          Everybody rallies around Tracy, just like the audience will get behind Blonsky.
          Everybody else is pretty good too.  Michelle Pfeiffer makes a welcome return to the movies (where has she been?) as the station manager determined to keep Tracy and the black kids off the air (that sounds weighty, but her performance is less George Wallace and more Cruella De Vil).  Queen Latifah is as good as ever, and teen queen Amanda Bynes proves she does have some adult-sized talent. 
          The second most talked about performance in Hairspray will be John Travolta as Tracy’s mother.  He’s in drag like the late Divine was in the first movie and is clearly having a lot of fun under that fat suit.  He is sometimes a little hard to understand, but the personality he gives the mom is enough to make up for that.  Of course, if you have John Travolta in a musical, you have him dance.  He and Christopher Walken as Tracy’s dad (himself an accomplished dancer) share a great dance scene. 
         Watching the two of them together in this campy movie, you almost forget they were each in Pulp Fiction.  They’re having so much fun, you forget the edgier stuff.  Heck, this movie even made the anti-segregation movement seem kind of fun. 
          In some ways, Sicko is the opposite of Fahrenheit 9/11.  (Fahrenheit opened with the tragedy of 9/11 and ends with the kind of humorous George W. Bush quote that fills up “Bushism” 365 day calendars.  Sicko begins with a poor choice of words from Bush and works its way into a 9/11 tie.)
          Oh, don’t get me wrong:  this is still a Michael Moore movie, but the writer/director/provocateur steps back a bit, not even appearing on camera for about 45 minutes.  He doesn’t have to get in people’s faces to tell these stories of the out-of-control cost of healthcare; they tell themselves.  One gentleman had two fingers severed and actually had to choose which one to save because he couldn’t afford to keep both.  Frustrated insurance company employees talk about the nightmare of telling clients their claims have been denied and the tricks they use to make the system work to their advantage.
          Moore does very well explaining how the United States got to this point, and even the conservatives who won’t see a Moore movie on principle will appreciate how he skewers Hillary Clinton.
          He does drive home one point to death:  that what we pay outrageous amounts of money for is free in other countries.  There are only so times you can watch a guy in a baseball hat ask “What do you pay for this?”  (The answer every time:  “Nothing.”)  It probably wasn't necessary to go to four different countries to repeat the same question.  
          There is only one real trademark “Michael Moore stunt,” and it’s a good one.  Toward the end (it’s made news so I feel okay giving it away), Moore somehow escorts 9/11 rescue workers into Cuba to get them healthcare they aren’t able to get here. 
         Is it journalism?  No, of course not.  It’s a Michael Moore movie.  But if you’re happy paying what you do for healthcare, you be sure and let him know.


These would be the movies in current release or from the recent past that I'm recommending.  I'm exaggerating a bit, but consider these your Empire Strikes Backs... your Naked Guns... your When Harry Met Sallys...  if these were bands, they'd be Van Halen or The Rolling Stones...