From the Editor

Movie Review Archive

Thank you for checking out my movie review archive. I'm in the process of transitioning to something else, so I will no longer post new reviews to this blog. In the meantime, I will keep these reviews archived; these are from the fall of 2008 to April 2011. Please watch this blog for more info and keep in touch (you can still find me on Facebook and Twitter). Here's to more great movies!

Wes Singleton

North Texas Film Critics Association

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Inside Job - B+

Rated PG-13 for some drug and sex-related material, 105 minutes

"Inside Job" is a compelling, timely expose

You will leave the new documentary "Inside Job" angry, and rightfully so. An expose that details the global financial meltdown of 2008, this tells how how your investments, retirement funds and tax dollars were lossed and spent but it could've been avoided. More entertaining than you might think, documentarian Charles Ferguson ("No End In Sight") manages to make a dry topic engaging, gripping and wholly compelling.

"Inside Job" is the first film to provide a comprehensive analysis of the global financial crisis of 2008, which at a cost over $20 trillion, caused millions of people to lose their jobs and homes in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and nearly resulted in a global financial collapse. Through exhaustive research and extensive interviews with key financial insiders, politicians, journalists, and academics, the film traces the rise of a rogue industry which has corrupted politics, regulation, and academia.

"Inside Job" is a fascinating, thought-provoking and pertinent look at the financial crisis that still affects many as we speak. "Inside Job" covers much of the same ground that Michael Moore did with his 2009 documentary "Capitalism," but with much more exhaustive detail. Ferguson breaks his film into several chapters to analyze what went wrong, how it happened and what has happened since, and you won't like what you see. The fat cats who caused and allowed the crisis to occur still have their fortunes and aren't behind bars, as many feel they should be.

Not only is it interesting to see the many financial insiders Ferguson interviewed, but the many, many who refused to be interviewed for the film (if you were involved, would you?). It implicates the big financial instituitions for allowing the bad loans, ignoring the warnings that came from many experts and then running to the U.S. government for help, which itself is filled with former financial big wigs in cabinet or consulting roles. "Inside Job" is truly frightening (but unsurprising) as it details the corruptive influence of the financial companies within the government and educational institutions, and how a new U.S. Presidential administration didn't change things much.

The crisis continues to have a ripple effect (especially if you've paid attention to what has happened in Ireland and Iceland lately) even today, and some believe it may happen again. "Inside Job" pulls no surprises and is a little redundant and preachy down the stretch (thanks to Matt Damon's narration, used effectively here); ironically the millions affected by the crisis may not get to see the film because they don't have the money to shell out to see it. Still, it's a must see, powerful film that helps break down what happened, not to mention the many confusing terms you hear in the media.

As one Chinese official says in the film, why pay "financial engineers" so much for building a dream when actual engineers are paid little by comparison for actually building bridges and roads. Those financial engineers changed so many lives, but not for the good, and we're still paying for it. See this film and do something about it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Love and Other Drugs - C

Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, and some drug material, 113 minutes

Raunchy "Love and Other Drugs" falls short

By all accounts, I went into the new romantic dramedy "Love and Other Drugs" thinking I would love it. It has two lovely actors, Anne Hathaway and "what's his name" Jake Gyllenhaal and a solid director in Edward Zwick ("Defiance," "Blood Diamond"), but for some reason this raunchy film left me feeling a little empty. Sure, Zwick stages some steamy scenes with a naked Hathaway and Gyllenhaal, but does a handful of sex scenes necessarily add up to a great movie? Down beneath all the sex, there's not much there, and the weak story fails to deliver a strong emotional core.

Based loosely on Jamie Reidy's best selling non-fiction book "Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman" and it's set in the late 1990's. Gyllenhaal is Jamie Randall, a college grad struggling to find his way. He goes to work for pharmaceutical company Pfizer and does his best to eck out a living. Strong and handsome with chisled looks, he's never had a problem with women, until he meets free spirit Maggie (Hathaway), an artist struggling with some physical and emotional problems. They hook up, have hot sex, and engage in a "friends with benefits" type relationship until they begin falling for each other. Jamie realizes that Maggie is only using her problems as a shield to get in and out of relationships, but he must convey his true love for her.

Zwick and company deliver what has plagued many romantic comedies of late: a mediocre slipshod comedy with a few funny lines and moments. There are many mixed messages there - love in sickness and health - that are never really explored fully (and in one appalling scene a man whose wife has Parkinson's tells Gyllenhaal's character to promptly dump his woman and move quickly on because illness can destroy a relationship).

The uber-handsome Gyllenhall and the always warm, charming Hathaway (who bares just about everything here) perform well given the vacuous story, and while they're certainly eye candy, even their sex scenes have a cold, disconnected and very rehearsed feeling to them, lacking a certain hot vibe to make it genuinely steamy. And while the ending is heartwarming, you sorta know that these two would end up anyway ( see for yourself).

The rest of the cast is misused or underused. "21's" Josh Rad, way overused and largely unfunny; blink and you'll miss the cameos from George Segal and the recently deceased Jill Clayburgh as Randall's parents. Fine comic actress Judy Greer, hardly there. Handsome actor Gabriel Macht, not used enough. Pretty much explains the movie itself. It's certainly seeking a younger, edgier vibe with all the sex scenes, but as we know, good sex doesn't hurt, but it doesn't solidify a good relationship, or a good movie for that matter.

Given that a large part of "Love and Other Drugs" is about Viagra, the script could've risen to the occasion and toned down the sex and toned down the sex scenes and have these unsympathetic, cardboard characters work through issues we actually care about. But that would've been boring given the old addage that sex sells; in this case it sells the movie, just not a good movie.

Burlesque - C+

Rated PG-13 for sexual content including several suggestive dance routines, partial nudity, language and some thematic material, 105 minutes

“Burlesque” is campy, ridiculous fun

Veteran singer Cher still has it. Pop singer Christina Aguilera’s voice is stunningly powerful. They’re the main reason to see the predictably campy rags-to-riches musical “Burlesque,” which teams the two unlikely performers together. It seems evident that a creaky, old-fashioned story has been fashioned around Cher and Christina; both charmingly strut through the movie in video-music form and own the film, even when the weak script can’t keep up with them.

The premise for “Burlesque” is quite simple. Aguilera is a talented small-town girl named Ali with big dreams and even bigger voice. She comes to Hollywood on the first bus out and finds it difficult to break out. She eventually finds a job in an old-fashioned club called Burlesque owned by Tess (Cher) built around some sexy dancers, including Nikki (Kristen Bell) and Georgia (Julianne Hough). A rich businessman (Eric Dane) wants to buy up the place, but Tess feels it still has some life in it, particularly when Ali finds her way in the show and turns the place on its heels.

“Burlesque” is a cheesy, hokey nod to all those old-fashioned musicals of yesteryear, where the movie’s dated story clearly belongs. The energetic music and the dancing are, unsurprisingly, the best part of the film; everything else in between is largely forgettable. Cher and Christina make for a good time; in her film debut, Aguilera shows she has a stunning voice and is a sexy, electric performer. However, her acting skills need a little work, even if her energy and bland charm help carry the film. Cher looks fabulous as usual and is always good for a quip or two though some scenes she resembles a caricature of herself in drag queen form, but she’s still a a great deal of fun.

Of the large cast, only a couple makes a memorable impression. Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars”) proves to be a decent singer and dancer, while the presence of Stanley Tucci, while fun, is only necessary for the benefit for Cher having a sidekick. Eric Dane along with Peter Gallagher, Cam Gigandet and Alan Cumming have little screen-time, or in Gigandet’s case, a powerful on-screen presence (Gigandet, of “Twilight” fame, is one of today’s blandest actors).

It’s also unsurprising that “Burlesque” seems like an extended music video with about as much depth; video music director Steve Antin’s unoriginal direction doesn’t add much emotional connection, though the film is directed in clear crowd-pleasing form. It’s unfortunate that Oscar-winner Diablo Cody (“Juno”) is credited with the weak script, though substantial revisions were likely made later on.

The songs, the dancing are bouncy, fun and will have your feet tapping by the “Burlesque’s” calculated ending. Cher and Christina are in full control the film, but you’ll hard-pressed to remember any of the story after you leave the theater.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Faster - C+

Rated R for strong violence, some drug use and language, 95 minutes

Silly preposterous "Faster" is escapist, junky enterainment

The Oscar goes to…The Rock for “Faster”! You probably won’t hear those words this year, but the forgettable “Faster” is decent entertainment if you take it for what it’s worth: guilty-pleasure, junky entertainment and bloody fun taken in the right way. Some of it works, much of it doesn’t as it channels The Rock’s serious, darker side, but the preposterous “Faster” is a revenge flick that’s escapist entertainment at its best.

After 10 years in prison, Driver (Dwayne Johnson) has a singular focus—to avenge the murder of his brother during the botched ban robbery that led to his imprisonment. Now a free man with a deadly to-do list in hand, he's finally on his mission...but with two men on his trail—a veteran cop (Billy Bob Thornton) just days from retirement, and a young egocentric hitman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) with a flair for the art of killing and a newfound worthy opponent. The hunter is also the hunted. It's a do or die race to the finish as the mystery surrounding his brother's murder deepens, and new details emerge along the way hinting that Driver's list may be incomplete.

Taken as a serious film, “Faster” is a contrived, over-the-top mess. As low-brow junky entertainment it works far better if you don’t take it too seriously. Johnson is a better comic actor than a serious one, which is partly why “Faster” doesn’t work in addition to the rather uninspired direction from George Tillman Jr. (“Soulfood”).

Johnson lacks a range of emotion needed to carry this revenge movie off, especially paired against Thornton, playing his typically slimeball characters with great amusement as he chews on scenery. The final twist seemingly comes out of nowhere, but if you play close attention you’ll realize early on the connection that Thornton’s character has with Johnson’s. The car Johnson's car drives, a souped-up 1960s Chevy Chevelle, is by far the coolest thing about the movie.

“Faster” works best when it’s focused on Johnson’s singular mission to bring down everyone that had to do with the murder of his brother, after all this is a revenge flick. It’s when it incorporates the side story of the young rich hitman that it becomes too uneven, especially since you have to wait until the film’s final frames to find out truly why this guy is after Johnson too.

Bloody, silly, and utterly contrived, there are some good moments of violence and mayhem that will please audience looking for those things. “Faster,” much like its name, is quick and efficient, though it leaves a handful of things from its muddled story unanswered, making you wonder if he really got everyone on his list. If you need a quick escape from the turkey festivities this weekend, put “Faster” at the top of your list to see, though your food will be more memorable and flavorful than this.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tangled - B

Rated PG for brief mild violence, 92 minutes

"Tangled" is a smooth, witty, fun animated musical

Disney does it again. It's created a lively, colorful and charming new animated musical in "Tangled," a fun re-telling of the Rapunzel fairy tale. It comes as a surprise but a pleasant one, given that most of Disney's best work these days is done by Pixar. The fluid animation helps to advance the genre some even if the story seems a tad unoriginal, but this heartwarming tale will leave you with both a smile and a tear in your eye.

A baby princess named Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is born to the King and Queen and her hair has magical powers. However, an evil witch named Gothel (Donna Murphy) steals Rapunzel from the palace in revenge for the royal family taking a magical plant responsible for saving the baby princess and her mother. Gothel keeps Rapunzel for herself for years locked away in a high tower as Rapunzel's hair keeps Gothel young. However, one day a thief named Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) with the stolen royal crown in tow and a bevy of bad guys after him comes to her house, changing everything for Rapunzel, who's destiny hangs in the balance with Flynn's crown, which rightfully belongs to Rapunzel.

"Rapunzel" is a playful, often hilarious and entertaining fairy tale that casts its own spin on the Rapunzel story. The basic themes are in place, but those familiar with the tale will notice the significant changes, noticeably adding a love interest for Rapunzel with Flynn, and the addition of the fun songs. Most of it works well, though the story seems a little "Beauty and the Beast"-ish, which isn't surprising given the music, most of it emotional ballads, comes from Alan Menken, the guy who helped restore Disney back in the late '80s and early '90s with "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin," and of course, "Beauty and the Beast."

The cast does well, particularly Tony award-winning character actress Donna Murphy, who nearly walks off with the movie as the evil mother. She's a hoot and she has a glorious, rich voice that lift the story and music to a better place. Levi and Moore are decent but bland, and upstaged at every turn not just by Murphy but by Rapunzel's pet frog Pascal and royal horse named Maximus who acts like a dog and has a love-hate relationship with Flynn.

"Tangled" best, most touching moments come near the end with a host of different "lantern lights" fill the screen quite beautifully. "Tangled" should be a hit, but Disney may have trouble marketing it to anyone other than pre-teen girls, but really everyone will have a good time. "Tangled" is Disney's best non-Pixar film in years and is miles ahead of last year's disappointing "The Princess and the Frog." Definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Next Three Days - C

Rated PG-13 for violence, drug material, language, some sexuality and thematic elements, 122 minutes

Looking for nonstop action? Not in the uneven “Next Three Days”

You’d think that with Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe and Oscar-winning “Crash” writer Paul Haggis along with a slick marketing campaign, that the new thriller “The Next Three Days” would be a sure-fire action-adventure hit. Well, at least partly so. This uneven, implausible and by-the-numbers movie is mostly heavy-handed melodrama with a sprinkle of action on top, with the action-adventure not figuring in until very late into the film; with that said it will be a disappointment for those expecting nonstop action from start to finish.

Crowe is John Brennan, a Pittsburgh community college English teacher whose wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is accused and later convicted of a murder of one her professional colleagues. Becoming frustrated with the legal appeal system and convinced of her innocence, John devises a plan to break her free, in spite of the fact he lacks the skills to execute a flawless plan.

“The Next Three Days” is more bleak, downbeat drama than rousing action-adventure, requiring the audience to sit through the depressing story for the film’s best sequence, when Crowe’s character finally goes through with his plan. A remake of a 2007 French Film “Pour Elle,” “The Next Three Days” is most troubling in buying into these uneven characters; it spends far much too much time in its initial chapters detailing what a normal schlub Crowe’s character is and his lack of skill and knowledge. Sure, it’s a departure for the “Gladiator” actor, but it misses a beat or two in showing a credible transformation he makes to smoothly execute such a plan in a seemingly short amount of time, stretching the story’s believability.

“The Next Three Days” is also flawed by Haggis creaky, heavy-handed direction and adaptation; he spends little time developing Banks’ character, and her inexplicable, baffling actions in the final act hurt the film (doesn’t help that Banks is also miscast here). The film also considerably underuses some terrific character actors, especially Brian Dennehy as John’s elderly father, who remains dialogue-free until late in the film, and lovely British actress Olivia Wilde, stuck in a one-note role as the parent of a child he befriends, who should’ve traded roles with Banks (look for Wilde in the upcoming “Tron” sequel). Oh, and blink and you’ll miss Liam Neeson’s very brief cameo as an expert in the field of…breaking out of jail.

The film’s best sequence is its final one, an extended cat-and-mouse chase scene through the streets of Pittsburgh, when Crowe and Banks (and the movie itself) finally hit the ground running. Until then, there’s very little energy in the otherwise downbeat drama with an unnecessary epilogue that attempts to put a pat ending for what the audience likely knows anyway. An open-ended ending leaving the audience to decide for themselves would’ve been more effective.

“The Next Three Days” isn’t a terrible film by any means. Just an uneven, drab one with a bait-and-switch marketing campaign that wants you to believe it’s a breathless, nonstop action film (far from it). And given the A-list cast and story, it could’ve worked far, far better. One of the fall movie season’s first big disappointments.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1" - B

Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality. 146 minutes

This "Potter" is a leisurely, dark but entertaining journey

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1” is all about anticipation. Much like the classic Carly Simon pop song of the same name once used to describe ketchup of all things, it could also aptly describe the latest big-screen installment of J.K. Rowling’s literary icon. Slow, leisurely but embodied with a rich, distinct flavor, the first part of the finale serves its purpose well: to set up the penultimate installment next summer; saying that it leaves you hanging is an understatement. This Hogwarts-Quidditch-free outing is a stripped down one: less clutter, better acted, bleaker and more cerebral than previous outings, it takes its time; non-fans will feel the 146-minute running time, while true fans will only be more eager for Part 2 next year.

Voldemort's (Ralph Fiennes) power is growing stronger. He now has control over the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) decide to finish Dumbledore's work and find the rest of the Horcruxes, which are Voldemorts key’s to immortality and destruction. But little hope remains for the trio and the rest of the Wizarding World, so everything they do must go as planned.

The seventh film in the “Harry Potter” series, it is dark, low-key and the most understated of all the Potter films, if that’s possible. There’s still considerable entertainment value, even if some of it feels a little sluggish at times. Fans will love it, non-fans will appreciate it, if not endure it; all the while it prepares the audience for the final – truly the final – act of the book, which has spanned 10 years to Potter emerge into an adult. David Yates, who directed the previous installment, again tackles this one along with stalwart “Potter” screenwriter Steve Kloves, who has the unenviable task of condensing Rowling’s dense, thickest novel of the series into a film. This Potter outing takes it time, probably too much so at different points, but it comes together for a resounding climax that answers a handful of questions but leaves many more until Part 2.

The best thing about Part 1 of “Deathly Hallows” is that underscores the chemistry of the three leads, who anchor this film more than they ever have. This outing purposely reduces clutter and special-effects, taking it completely out of Hogwarts as more or less a road trip for the three, and becoming more of a character study, which accounts for some of “Deathly Hallows” slow-going. Radcliffe continues to develop Potter into a strong character, though Grint and especially Watson are effective as his pals, who get as much screen time and importance to the story. Of the rest of the large, mostly British cast, Fiennes makes the most memorable impression as the film's scariest character, the dark Lord Voldemont.

The production values are typically high, and the special-effects, sets and music are all first-rate. There’s a memorable episode that has the three taking on different bodies, and a scary one involving a rather large snake. As with the other “Potter” films, I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone under 10 years of age, and not just for the dark, intense content, but the extensive 2 ½ hour length that would make it a patience and endurance test for any young child and parent. The climax is exciting, but eager fans will literally be left dangling until next summer.

Anticipation can be a great thing. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1” only lays the groundwork for what will be surely be an explosive showdown between Potter and Voldemont, with death in the mix somewhere. This outing is an entertaining, albeit leisurely epic fantasy journey that’s about to end, so savor it while you can.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Skyline - D

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some language, and brief sexual content, 90 minutes

Visual effects only thing memorable about the banal “Skyline”

If you’ve seen the trailers for the new sci-fi film “Skyline” then it’s evident that the visual effects are impressive, first-rate and exciting. After you see the film you won’t remember anything else. In other words, the movie itself sucks and you get a few eye-popping CG special-effects here and there that were obviously added in post-production. The notes for the film indicate the physical production cost around $500,000, while the visual effects around $10 million. That’s never more evident since the film seems to have been shot in one location, a high-rise apartment; you’re also in trouble if the cast is headlined by the third lead from the TV-show “Scrubs.”

After a night of partying, a group of friends, including Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and his new pregnant girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson) and their friend, rap star Terry (Donald Faison of “Scrubs”) are distracted when beams of light awaken everyone in Los Angeles, that then attract every person like a moth to a flame. As the night progresses, they soon discover that once exposed to the light, they vanish into thin air, caused by extraterrestrial forces that later threaten to swallow the entire human species.

“Skyline” is the worst film to feature the best special-effects since the last “Transformers” film; the special-effects are the film, which isn’t a surprise given the film was made by the Brother Strause, Greg and Colin Strause, special-effects guru’s who’ve worked on many films, from “Avatar,” “Wolverine,” “2012” and “The Book of Eli.” The energetic, impressive special-effects are terrific; they literally come out of the sky and those mysterious terrestrial lights start grabbing hold of everyone in the film. Too bad the same thing couldn’t be said for the film, with the worst acting and writing this side of the latest Keanu Reeves and Megan Fox film, whose salaries alone would eclipse the budget of this film.

It’s evident the money for “Skyline” was spent in post-production, adding all those space-ships and lights that come down from the sky, supposedly over 800 visual effects shots were added. The cheap feel of the production is evident given the vantage point is essentially from one luxurious high-rise apartment building in L.A. (the apartment building of one of the film’s directors).

It’s admirable that the Brothers Strause completely filmed the physical production without the assistance of the major studios. It’s unfortunate that “Skyline” is largely a waste of time without those special-effects, which doesn’t make the film that special at all. If you’ve seen the trailers for the film, then you’ve seen the film, don’t bother.

127 Hours - A

Rated R for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images, 95 minutes

Intense, enthralling, inspiring "127 Hours" is a must-see

“127 Hours” will make you think twice about hiking in the mountains alone. Telling the incredible true story of hiker Aron Ralston, who became trapped on the side of a mountain for 5 days in Utah and had to amputate his arm. Gut-wrenchingly intense, moving and even peppered with some humorous moments, “127 Hours” is one of the year’s unforgettable cinematic experiences. “Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle skillfully brings Ralston’s story to life and is sublimely performed in essentially a one-man show by James Franco (“Eat Pray Love”).

In spring of 2003, the unmarried Ralston (Franco) goes hiking in some Utah mountains alone. An experienced hiker and guide, Ralston knows the area and how to navigate it. He slips and falls in the crack on the side of a mountain and becomes trapped as a huge rock lands on his arm. He somehow survives for 5 days but believing he will be left to die there, sees his life pass in front of him. Determined to live, Ralston eventually amputates his arm and hikes back to civilization.

Amazingly gripping, entertaining and enthralling, “127 Hours” is an extraordinary film based on an extraordinary, simple story, thanks to the masterful direction and writing of Oscar-winner Boyle and the commanding presence of Franco, in an Oscar-worthy performance. The film’s most-talked about scene, the realistic and detailed amputation scene, is well-handled and nothing short of amazing when you think that Boyle shot it in one take; it’s bloody but not overdone and surprisingly brief.

Equally impressive is the production itself, stunningly photographed, peppered with humor and some memorable music, including the original score from A.R. Rahman, who worked with Boyle on “Slumdog Millionaire.” The opening scene with jaunty, energetic music, takes you right into the flow of the situation. Listen closely and you’ll also hear songs from Bill Withers and even Edith Piaf that work well as Ralston sees his life in flashback. Amber Tamblyn, Treat Williams, Kate Mara and Kate Burton also appear briefly as family and friends, but in a story about Ralston, Franco’s the most memorable one here.

The touching, inspirational coda to the story shows the real-life Ralston surrounded by his new wife, baby and family members as the man who once said he “cut off his arm and gained his life back.” This could’ve been sentimentalized in a maudlin movie-the-week way, but Boyle and Franco refuse to that happen, and “127 Hours” rises to the occasion to become one of the most intense but moving films of the year. A definite must-see.

Unstoppable - B

Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and peril, and some language, 100 minutes

"Unstoppable" an entertaining non-stop joyride

In the entertaining new action-thriller "Unstoppable" you already know who the villain is: a runaway train. Starring Denzel Washington and "Star Trek's" Chris Pine and directed by Tony Scott, the film's action set pieces are breathless, exciting and white-knuckle, even if the story (inspired by real events) has a predictable "been there, done that" feel to it, not to mention a highly implausible but fun climax.

Pine is a newbie conductor named Will assigned to a train with a veteran engineer named Frank in Southern Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, at a nearby train station an error by an employee causes a train to spiral out of control at 70 miles per hour unmanned and carrying loads of toxic chemicals. Along with help from a disapatcher (Rosario Dawson), Will and Frank try to stop the train from crashing that would essentially wipe out a whole city.

"Unstoppable" is a enjoyable, action-adventure popcorn flick that could've easily been released during the summer movie season, when most films in this genre come out. Director Scott and his most-used leading man, Washington, re-team for the fifth time and their second outing together involving a deadly train (they worked together on last year's similarily-themed "The Taking of Pelham of 1-2-3"). Both films work near-perfect with Scott's usual fast-paced, frenetically edited, jumpy style, this even more so than "Pelham."

Based on real events that occurred in Ohio in 2001, the trains and the action take center stage in "Unstoppable" with characterization and story largely thrown out the (train) window (and once things get going, you don't really care). This is essentially "Speed" on a train, with Washington and Pine taking the Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves roles; you might also remember the 1985 Jon Voight thriller aptly called "Runaway Train," but "Unstoppable" runs the same colorful tracks as "Speed."

The film speeds predictably to a pat yet over-the-top climax, but there's no denying that "Unstoppable" provides some decent edge-of-your-seat entertainment that will likely make it a big hit. Washington gives his normal, stalwart performance that the veteran actor is accustomed to, while Pine continues his string of big action movies following his turn as the new James Kirk in the updated "Star Trek" films.

With the new "Harry Potter" film looming on the box-office horizion, this one will have a modest box-office take the first week and could be quickly forgotten, so enjoy it while you can.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Monsters - C

Rated R for language, 94 minutes

Low-budget "Monsters" doesn't have many of them

For a movie about and called "Monsters," there sure aren't many of them. On one hand, the movie is efficient, no-nonsense and intriguing, on the other hand the film's low-budget is never more apparent, given there's very little of the actual monsters. A NASA probe sent out to gather samples on alien life crashes in Central America, mainly in Mexico, and it becomes an "infected zone" since the place is crawling with some huge, awful alien creatures that cause considerable death and destruction.

Visual-effects producer Gareth Edwards debut feature film, "Monsters" shows promise by providing some tension and not relying too much on gore to make a point. Still, Edwards doesn't show the creatures enough, and we're stuck with a boring story of an American journalist (Scoot McNairy) escorting a young rich girl (Whitney Able) to safety through the infected zone. "Monsters" has an original story and the potential to be the next "District 9," but it's low-budget hampers the film, as there are large, large chunks of the film that are creature-less. The special effects are impressive for the small film, but it's not until the final scene that we truly get to see the creature up close and personal, something most impatient audiences won't enjoy.

Part sci-fi and part post-apocalpytic world, "Monsters" is an otherwise dreary, depressing film, as if "District 9" were written by Cormac McCarthy. However, Edwards is a director and writer to watch, and could do better work with a better cast and bigger budget.

Morning Glory - B-

Rated PG-13 for some sexual content including dialogue, language and brief drug references, 105

Wake up to see the spry, witty "Morning Glory"

Morning Glory” is the spry, cutesy new romantic comedy starring Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford. Slight, predictable but still energetic fun, it revolves around the backstage of a “Today”-esque national TV morning show. This thing has been done before and better (James Brooks’ “Broadcast News” comes to mind) but McAdams game energy and the Keaton-Ford chemistry make this an above-average entry in the genre.

McAdams is Becky Fuller, a producer of an early, early TV morning show in New Jersey. She’s fired due to budget cuts but ends up getting the job as an executive producer for the national morning show “Daybreak,” currently in last place in the ratings. She has the unenviable challenge of turning the show around, and brings in a veteran award-winning TV news anchor Mike Pomeroy (Ford) to help add a little credibility, and sparks soon fly as she has to play go-between Mike and long-standing “Daybreak” co-host Colleen (Keaton), putting everyone’s job on the line.

“Morning Glory” is as cute and calculated as you might think, but it’s worth a look for the Keaton-Ford bantering and McAdams’ spunkyness (as a friend astutely noted during the movie, she literally runs everywhere, which is true). The behind-the-scenes look at TV has been done before and this is really just a more comical version of the aforementioned “Broadcast News,” with McAdams in the Holly Hunter role. Roger Michell, who’s directed many from Peter O’Toole in ”Venus” to Julia Roberts in “Notting Hill,” stages many scenes well, especially the fast-paced environment of a TV studio, and the Keaton-Ford scenes.

Ford’s cynical grumpiness plays well against the perky Keaton and their bantering provides some of the film’s highlights. The script pulls no surprises and some may even call it misogynistic in its treatment of the women characters (Keaton in particular, whose role is clearly secondary to Ford) but there are fun moments along the way; add Patrick Wilson for love interest-eye candy and Jeff Goldblum throwing in a few barbs as Becky’s boss, and you have something for everyone.

“Morning Glory” is completely unsurprising and ends as you might expect it to, though in real-life it’d be hard to find any producer who would turn down the opportunities that McAdams’ character does here. Enjoyable, entertaining and mildly forgettable, “Morning Glory” is a good night out.

Due Date - C+

Rated R for language, drug use and sexual content, 105 minutes

"Due Date" is an unoriginal buddy-buddy comedy

"Due Date" is essentially "The Hangover" transformed into a forgettable buddy-buddy road trip comedy. There are some decent cheap laughts in the otherwise unoriginal, uninspiring comedy from director Todd Phillips of "Old School" fame and stars Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis.

Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) must get to LA in five days to be at the birth of his firstborn. He is about to fly home from Atlanta when his luggage and wallet are stolen, and he is put on the "no-fly" list. Desperate to get home Peter is forced to accept the offer of Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) to hitch a ride with him cross-country. Peter is about to experience one of the most terrifying and agonizing journey's of his life.

Derivative, predictable and terribly mean-spirited "Due Date" pulls absolutely no surprises down the stretch. Sure, there are some low-brow laughs, but this is essentially "The Hangover" on the road. Speaking of which, Galifianakis plays essentially the same annoying slob as he usually does (he and Jack Black take turns with this), while Downey is supposed to the straight guy. There are plenty of shenanigans along the way, including wrecking a car, getting thrown off an airplane and drink ashes as coffee. The two start out hating each other and by the end of the movie, well you know what happens.

John Hughes' "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" did this thing far better and funnier, with Steve Martin and John Candy providing better characters and timing than "Due Date." Downey and Galifianakis are indeed talented, but they need a better script and direction; it becomes tiresome and overly predictable by the end, you can probably guess what will happen just by looking at the trailers. Danny McBride, Jamie Foxx and Juliette Lewis also get in the act, to mixed results (only McBride, as a handicapped but tough veteran, is hilarious and he nearly steals the film).

"Due Date" will do well in its first week and will likely be forgotten after that, and very quickly.

Fair Game - B

Rated PG-13 for some language, 108 minutes

Political drama "Fair Game" flows with suspense

"Fair Game" is an entertaining, powerful real-story political thriller superbly acted and directed. It's based on the true story of CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose cover was supposedly blown by White House officials in 2003 after Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, wrote story about WMD's in the New York Times. Tense, affecting and relevant, Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity") directs "Fair Game" and features excellent performances from Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, as Plame and her husband Wilson, respectively.

Watts plays Plame, a high-level CIA employee whose cover is blown by Robert Novak in his Washington Post column in July 2003. Penn is her husband Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. Ambassador who feels his wife was unfairly targeted due to his political beliefs and his criticism of the Bush Administration for their lack of evidence in finding any Weapons of Mass Destruction.

"Fair Game" is a superb, tense drama featuring inspired performances from Watts and Penn. Watts in particular gives a fine, subtle turn as Plame, with whom she bears a striking resemblance. Penn is good too though his performance, much like the film itself, becomes a bit heavy-handed and preachy near the end. The story is fascinating enough with the messages of right and wrong, though it leaves out a considerable bit of the story and its aftermath (and truthfully, never resolved if you think about it enough).

"Fair Game" is well-acted, well-done, and a thought-provoking film that works better in its initial chapters than in the later going. Well-worth a look.

For Colored Girls - C

Rated R for some disturbing violence including a rape, sexual content and language, 120 minutes

Great cast best part of melodramatic "For Colored Girls"

"For Colored Girls" is the new urban drama from Tyler Perry featuring an all-star cast of some of the best actresses of our generation. The cast performs well in the soapy, overdone "For Colored Girls," based on the 1975 Ntozake Shange stage play "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf." In spite of a few poignant moments, Perry's stale script is the chief flaw for the ambitious film, which lacks the power and grit a story likes this needs.

The stage play had several nameless women reading a collection of poems that dealt with intense issues that black women face. In the movie version, Perry gives the women names and each of the women have considerable challenges. Jo (Janet Jackson) deals with infeldity; Tangie (Thandie Newton) is a sex addict; Tangie's sister Nyla (Tessa Thompson) is young and pregnant; Juanita (Loretta Devine) has trouble keeping a faithful man; Crystal (Kimberly Elise) is stuck in an abusive relationship; Yasmine (Anika Noni Rose) has shattered dreams and expectations; Kelly (Kerry Washington) desperately wants to have a child but can't let go of her past.

Perry's choppy, histrionic and downbeat "For Colored Girls" doesn't work in spite of the earnest efforts of the cast, which is unfortunate given the talented cast. Devine, Newton and particularly Elise are the most memorable of the large cast, which also includes Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg and Felicia Rashad, both of whom aren't given much to do. Jackson is woefully miscast and her wooden performance drags the film down.

The challenging source material, Shange's play, which was a series of non-linear poems and stories, is turned into a more linear soap opera with some of Perry's typically preachy messages. In spite of the great cast, inspiring play and a handful of good moments (most provided by the always-hilarious and shrill Devine) is a stale, unmemorable effort.

Megamind - B-

Rated PG for action and some language, 96 minutes

Charming, talky “Megamind” an entertaining superhero romp

Peanut butter and jelly. Abbott and Costello. Good and evil. Some things just go together. The charming, witty new Dreamworks animated film “Megamind” explores some of those ideas in bright 3D. Leisurely, playful but a little talky, some of it may go over the heads of the young ones it’s intended for. Well-voiced with some colorful hues, it’s not as zany as you might expect, but it’s still enjoyable fun.

Megamind (Will Ferrell), the super-villain with a huge blue head, and handsome superhero Metroman (Brad Pitt) have been lifelong foes, with TV news anchor Roxanne (Tina Fey) reporting their every move. After an intense fight, Megamind really kills Metroman but becomes bored because he has no one to fight. Along with his trusted colleague Minion (David Cross), Megamind creates a new superhero named Tigthen (Jonah Hill), but it disastrously backfires, and he finds himself making the decision to be a hero or villain.

The enjoyable “Megamind” is an above-average animated superhero tale from the makers of the animated “Madagascar” films. The movie is dialogue-heavy, most kids won’t get many of the references from other superhero movies or some of the jokes and most troubling, there’s a big lull in the middle of the movie, but it is peppered with some bright spots along the way.

Without its fun cast and colorful animation, “Megamind” might be a downright bore. Ferrell is his typical goofball self as the bored, blue superhero; Fey is chipper as the reporter caught in the middle, and Hill especially has fun with his good guy/bad guy hero part. Pitt’s role is much smaller than you might expect, but he lends an able hand to bookend the movie. Comic character actor Cross (currently seen in the Fox comedy “Running Wilde”) is witty as Megamind’s fish minion, and listen closely for an unrecognizable Ben Stiller in a small voice role.

“Megamind” works best when it doesn’t have to think too much and you don’t have to listen closely to the jokes. While some of the references are clever, such as a father that is a direct homage to Marlon Brando’s Jor-El in “Superman,” young ones won’t get it or realize that Fey’s role is really just another Lois Lane. Director Tom McGrath (“Madagascar”) should’ve kept it flowing better and it veers off in the second act, only to return to the high fun and energy in the climax.

“Megamind” is decent, original entertainment for the family, though it’s not as uproariously funny as it should be given the comic credentials of Ferrell, Fey, Cross and Stiller. The movie doesn’t have enough inspiration to provide mega-laughs but there’s enough to still leave with a mega-smile.