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

Friday, January 28, 2011

Biutiful - A-

Rated R for disturbing images, language, some sexual content, nudity and drug use, 147 minutes
In Spanish with English subtitles

Bardem is perfecto in the anguishing drama "Biutiful"

"Biutiful" is not always beautiful to watch. As a matter of fact, some of it's downright difficult to watch. The wrenching, overlong new drama from Mexico stars Oscar-winner Javier Bardem ("Eat Pray Love") and after viewing the film, it's none too surprising that Bardem received a nomination for Best Actor and the film is a shoo-in for the Best Foreign Language film Oscar. It's a staggering, brauvera performance that as painful as it is to watch, you can't take your eyes off Bardem, who single-handedly carries the film.

"Biutiful" (it is the Spanish-language spellling of the word beautiful) tells the journey of Uxbal (Bardem), a conflicted man who struggles to reconcile fatherhood, love, spirituality, crime, guilt and mortality amidst the dangerous underworld of modern Barcelona. His livelihood is earned out of bounds, his sacrifices for his children know no bounds but then Uxbal is diagnosed with cancer and his life changes once more. Like life itself, "Biutiful" is a circular tale that ends where it begins. As fate encircles Uxbal and thresholds he must face the challenges of love, forgiveness and true redemption.

"Biutiful" is a painful, overlong but beautiful story of redemption, love, and family, as so poignantly told by acclaimed Mexican director
Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Babel," "Amores perros") and superbly acted by Bardem, who is deserving of the accolades he's received for the downbeat, very long film. Most of Inarritu's messages are well-played with relevance by Bardem, who deglamourizes himself for the role, but it's more than just an "illness of the week" story of someone trying to make good; the messages are deeper and more heart-felt than that as Uxbal comes to terms with death and dying and must make amends with his loved ones.

Inarritu photographs Uxbal's tragic story with dark overtones and close-ups to give a shared intimacy with his story, and you will be right there in the midst of Uxbal's painful story from start to finish. Much like some of his earlier tales, Innaritu shows he's a fine filmmaker but one who can be redundant and one who could trim a few minutes of excess that don't move the story along as well as it should. But otherwise "Biutiful" is a superb, finely acted, emotionally rich and sad portrait of a man's journey from this life and comes highly recommended.

Ip Man 2 - C

Rated R for violence, 107 minutes
In Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese with English subtitles

More of the same kung fu in "Ip Man 2"

If kung fu or marital arts is your thing, you'll enjoy "Ip Man 2," the sequel to the successful Chinese 2008 film "Ip Man," a semi-autobiographical tale of Ip Man, a grandmaster of the Wing Chun martial arts. This follows Ip Man (Donnie Yen, again reprising his role) in Hong Kong following the events of the first film, this time facing even more challenges from other martial arts practictioners in the area. Chinese filmmaker Wilson Yip again directs, but the flimsy story seems a weak excuse to stage some sublime martial arts sequences, which are the clear highlight of the film. The fast-paced, quick style provides good enough reason why the "Ip Man" films are so popular in the East and just now audiences are beginning to discover them. The first film is clearly better, but if you want some above-average martial arts, then "Ip Man 2" is your man.

From Prada to Nada - D

Rated PG-13 for brief drug use and a sexual situation, 107 minutes

There's nada worth seeing in the Latina comedy "From Prada to Nada"

At least there's nothing good worth seeing in "From Prada to Nada," a Latina version of Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" yet Austen would turn over in her grave if she knew what her story was turned into. Starring Camilla Belle and Alexa Vega as two wealthy Beverly Hills sisters who are forced to give up their lifestyle when their father suddenly passes away. They must trek across town to live with their Aunt (fine Oscar-nominated character actress Adrianna Barraza woefully slumming it here) in East L.A. Austen's story, played as an Elle Woods-fish-out-of-water story, is cheap, offensive and plays to Latina stereotypes in the worst way, and how many times must we hear "Cielito Lindo." Belle and especially Vega (who you may remember as the little girl from the "Spy Kids" films) are shrill, unfunny and play it out like an Latina version of "Hannah Montana," minus any comedy. Forgettable, stale as a three-day old corn tortilla, this one (obviously geared toward the tween set) lacks any spunk, spark or spice. Stay away.

The Way Back - B

Rated PG-13 for violent content, depiction of physical hardships, a nude image and brief strong language, 133 minutes

Touching but overlong "The Way Back"

"The Way Back" is one of those hidden gems of a film based on a reportedly true but little-known story set in Russia during World War II. It tells the story of a Russian gulag who escape from prison and trek over 4000 miles from Russia to India over some treacherous, deadly terrain. Directed by veteran filmmaker Peter Weir ("Dead Poets Society," "Witness"), the epic film is an overlong but moving, uplifting journey to freedom.

Janusz (Jim Sturgess) is a young Polish POW sent to 20 years in a Russian prison in Siberia for supposedly being a spy by the Russian government. There he meets an elderly American who calls himself Mr. Smith (Ed Harris) and a Russian lowlife named Valka (Colin Ferrell). They along with a few others in their Gulag escape into the Siberian forest with plans to trek Mongolia to freedom. Along the way, they pick up a Polish orphan named Irena (Saiorse Ronan), on the run from the Russian government and nowhere to go. They're plans unexpectedly change and they decide to go to India instead, though the treacherous terrain and longer journey will undoubtedly claim a few, if not all, of the Gulag along the way.

"The Way Back" is a fascinating, touching portrait of an excessively long, tough road to freedom. Based on the book "The Long Walk" by Polish POW Slawomir Rawicz, it's based on his supposed true story though in fact much of it is fiction (even director Weir now says this). Epic in scope, Weir directs and co-writes the screenplay with a sweeping focus, though the story holds up well on its own, and the small, emotional moments in the extensive film are the more beautiful ones. Handsomely told, it's overlong and requires you to stay with it until the end, but once you get there it's a beautiful place.

Sturgess and Harris ground the film well in solid performances, as does young Oscar-nominee Saiorse Ronan ("Atonement") as the lone female for much of the film. Ferrell is decent in what is really a non-essential role, he's there to add a little toughness to the film, but Harris already does that nicely. Ferrell's abrupt exit from the film in the second act is a bit baffling considering how far his character has come, and the film actually works better without him.

Shot on location in several locations, including Morocco, Bulgaria, India, and Pakistan, there are some lovely set pieces and entertaining moments, but "The Way Back" does go on too long, and Weir could've trimmed some of the second act down, but overall, it comes recommended whether it's true or not. Too bad "The Way Back" hasn't received a wide release because it's a satisfying journey and worth it in the end.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Mechanic - C

Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity, 94 minutes

"The Mechanic" is forgettable, trashy entertainment

"The Mechanic" is a weak machine. Forgettable, trashy and fast-paced entertainment that will likely be a modest hit, it's actually a remake of a trashy 1972 Charles Bronson vehicle. Loud and unnecessary, it utilizes Jason Statham well, who has morphed into a decent, if not low-grade, action-hero. He's paired with Ben Foster, a terrific young actor who often underuses his talents, though he makes for a fine bad guy.

Here, Statham is Arthur Bishop, a hired hitman by Harry (Donald Sutherland) who makes millions by hiring people like Arthur to do his dirty work. Because Harry is so corrupt himself, he ends one of Arthur's victims, and then Harry's estranged, slimy son named Steve (Foster) shows up and becomes an apprentice hitman with Arthur as the teacher. Together they work to bring down the slimeball (Tony Goldwyn) who still runs Harry's company.

Trashy, typical forgettable winter fare, "The Mechanic" makes good use of Statham and Foster, who still can't overcome how ridiculous and unnecessary the story is to begin with. Statham can play these roles in his sleep and will continue making good money playing them, much like Bronson himself did in the 1970s and '80s. Directed with loud, unoriginal flair by Simon West ("Lara Croft: Tomb Raider"), West thinks the bigger explosions the better, but after all they all run together, and after it's over, you won't remember much of it.

The Company Men - B+

Rated R for language and brief nudity, 104 minutes

Relevant, affecting “Company Men” tackles a difficult subject

If you’ve ever been laid-off from a job, then “The Company Men” will hit closer to home than you want it to. The pertinent, well-acted drama tackles the issue of unemployment due to corporate restructuring; whereas last year’s “Up in the Air” told the same story from the people doing the laying off, this has to do with those being laid-off. Downbeat but fresh, “The Company Men” features a superbly talented cast in what was one of last year’s overlooked gem’s; some of it lacks a sharp, edgy quality to it but it’s certainly worth a look.

When the Boston-based GTX Corporation must cut jobs to improve the company's balance sheet during the 2010 recession, thousands of employees will take the hit, like Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck). Bobby learns the real life consequences of not having a job. Not only does he see a change to his family lifestyle, and the loss of his home, but also his feelings of self-worth. It also affects those left behind at the company to pick up the pieces, including disillusioned executives Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) and Phil (Chris Cooper), who are also at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives.

“The Company Men” tackles a heavy subject with an effective, sublime grace and poignancy. It’s no wonder the film has been overlooked, with so many out of work some audiences may not care to see something that hit so close to home. Directed and written by “The West Wing” producer John Wells, it shows how differently unemployment affects people and how remarkably attached to our jobs we are, it can make us or break us. It also has one of the best casts of recent memory, including Oscar-winners Affleck, Jones, Cooper along with fellow Oscar-winner Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Craig T. Nelson and Rosemarie DeWitt.

Of the large cast, Affleck and Jones, who work remarkably well together, are most effective (and sympathetic), and it’s also nice seeing Costner in a supporting character part (and decent Boston accent). The movie is slow-going in its mid-section and some parts of the later-going are a bit predictable, but it’s wholly believable and involving, with some parts downright touching. Wells’ approached is a bit scrubbed and too clean-cut, but then his view is primarily middle America.

Sure, it’s not exactly a crowd-pleasing subject, but give the winning “The Company Men” a shot, it’s one of the year’s most affecting films.

The Rite - C

Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material, violence, frightening images, and language including sexual references, 127 minutes

Except for Hopkins, the dull "Rite" is mostly wrong

Sir Anthony Hopkins can do wrong, even in movies that aren't quite right, as is the case with his new thriller "The Rite." Whether playing Hannibal Lecter or C.S. Lewis, he embodies each character he plays with sublime perfection. He does the same in the "The Rite," a dull and hokey horror film that until the film's final minutes, drags instead of thrills. A few jumps along the way don't make for a great film.

Based on the nonfiction novel "The Making of a Modern Exorcist," "The Rite" concerns an American priest named Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) who has become dillusioned with his time in seminary and is questioning his faith. He is sent to study at an exorcism school in Rome, and is paired with an unorthodox Welsh priest Father Lucas (Hopkins) famous for his many exorcisms. While at the school, Michael meets a European journalist (Alice Braga) seeking questions of her own, but the two, along with Father Lucas, come face to face with true evil that will change them all.

"The Rite" is a slick but empty thriller that comes up short on chills and backstory. Without Oscar-winning legendary actor Hopkins on hand, it would've been a total drag. When exorcism/demon movies get it right, which is rarely, it can be genuinely frightening - "The Exorcist," "The Omen" and "Carrie" are prime examples - but when they don't, which is pretty much everything else, it can be as wrong as "The Rite": dreadfully slow and confusing with a few jumps thrown in for good measure.

"The Rite" is problematic in a few areas. First, the direction by Mikael Hafstrom ("1408") doesn't bring out many details of Michael Petroni's (writer of the recent "Narnia" film) vague, murky script with little backstory, especially into Hopkins' vastly underwritten role. It's a tribute to Hopkins' acting prowess that he can generate any interest at all in his character or the film itself for that matter, which is really a thin excuse to turn Hopkins into another evil character. Second, Irish TV actor and relative newcomer O'Donoghue is miscast as Kovak, but his blandness is strikingly amiss anytime he's onscreen with Hopkins, which is most of the movie.

And while "The Rite" is slickly, handsomely produced (and supposedly inspired by a true story), especially with Hopkins on hand, it lacks the genuinely frightening thrills that stick to you like pea soup. It starts off mildly interesting (and watch for a barely recognizable Rutger Hauer in a tiny role as Kovak's father), drags considerably in its mid-section, only to re-energize for an entertaining climax. "The Rite" could've been much more frightening, but it all comes off with a few pops instead of the fireworks it should've been. Hopkins is always worth watching, even in something as dull as "The Rite."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

All Good Things - C

Rated R for drug use, violence, language and some sexuality, 100 minutes

Chilling but unsatisfying “All Good Things”

“All Good Things” is a fascinating, well-acted but unsatisfying thriller based-on-a-true crime story, which works in its favor but is also its biggest flaw. Based on the chillingly bizarre experiences of rich real estate investor Robert Durst, for some reason the story is given a fictional slant, an odd choice from the filmmakers given their stance in essentially implicating Durst of the crimes.

Ryan Gosling is David Marks, the son of wealthy New York City real estate investor Sanford Marks (Frank Langella). He meets the girl of his dreams, a pretty, smart blond named Katie McCarthy (Kirsten Dunst). When they get married, David leaves the family business as he and Katie buy a health food store named “All Good Things.” But David is lured back to the business, the two begin leading separate lives and Katie applies to medical school. However, David begins acting strangely and violently toward Katie and others, and Katie disappears. Through a strange series of events over the years, the now 20-year old case of Katie’s disappearance is re-opened.

“All Good Things” is an intriguingly murky, well-acted dramatic thriller whose real-life story seems to cast a pall on its effectiveness. It’s well-acted and “Capturing the Friedman’s” director Andrew Jarecki, directs “All Good Things” with an astute attention to detail, but it’s baffling as to why Jarecki and his screenwriters Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling didn’t just use Durst’s story outright instead of changing the names and a few minor details (even Durst himself - strangely enough - has approved the film).

Gosling and especially Dunst, in an understated, low-key role, are quite good as the couple with some problems, but the unrevealing, confusing script doesn’t provide insight into the notorious real-life case and explaining some of Durst's bizarre behavior, especially in the film’s last act. The title of the film, "All Good Things" itself is an odd choice; ironically it's the only thing about the actual Durst case not fictionalized in the film, the name of the health food store Durst and his wife had, but it's such a fleeting, minor part of the movie it seems an ill-fitting name. Sure, it’s supposed to be a metaphor for Durst’s life, though in reality it would apply to just one part of his life and not the case as a whole.

“All Good Things” ends up a vacuous, hazy tale of rich people acting badly, rather than intimately profiling an intriguing, somewhat appalling character as Durst, who as an adult was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which isn’t even mentioned here. The unresolved missing person case of Kathleen McCormack, Durst’s missing wife since 1982, deserves a more fulfilling, powerful examination than “All Good Things” gives it.

No Strings Attached - B-

Rated R for sexual content, language and some drug material, 110 minutes

Kutcher, Portman a likable team in "No Strings Attached"

If there ever a movie couple you were rooting for, it'd be Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, in the predictable but likable new rom com "No Strings Attached." By now, you've probably have seen the ads, but the premise is a familar one: the two leads engage in a "friends with benefits" or "sex friends"-type relationship to keep their relationship less complicated. This is far more pleasant than you want it to be and the engaging leads bring it a notch above other movies in this genre, even if you know exactly where it's going to end up.

Kutcher is Adam and Portman is Emma, childhood pals who forge an unlikely friendship over the years that turns into a strictly a sexual relationship only, a contemporary term called "friends with benefits." This seems to work well especially for the busy Emma, who is working long hours to complete her residency at a local hospital, and Adam, an assistant on a high school-themed TV show. However, as we all know by now, relationships carry with them far more complications than just sex, and the two must either decide to carry on a serious relationship or go their separate ways.

"No Strings Attached" is a charming but calculated romantic comedy that might exceed your expectations, given this time of the year isn't a great time for films (Nicolas Cage, The Green Hornet and Vince Vaughn, take note!). It helps that it has two enormously appealing leads in Kutcher and Portman, the latter of whom is playing it far less intense here than her recent, award-winning turn in the psychological drama "Black Swan." Second, it also helps that the director is veteran Ivan Reitman (of "Ghostbusters" and "Twins" fame and father to Jason Reitman), whose steady hand keeps things from going awry, or in this case, keeps Kutcher from mugging for the camera too much.

"No Strings Attached" also benefits from a stellar supporting cast that clicks well, something that is often hard to come by these days. Oscar-winner Kevin Kline is hilarious as Kutcher's famous father, and he promptly steals every scene he's in (and by the way, the birthday song he sings to Kutcher is a tune the talented Kline wrote himself). Lake Bell, Ludacris, Jake Johnson and "The Office's" Mindy Kaling all contribute a few good laughs along the way; yes, the film is a tad raunchy but mostly in good fun (it's R rating comes mostly from the strong language, not the sex scenes, which are actually pretty tame for a film about "sex friends").

You have a sense even by seeing the trailers for the film of where the charming but mildly forgettable "No Strings Attached" will end up, after all this is Hollywood's most predictable genre, and in many ways it takes far too long to get there. But the cast and director's seemingly unaffected approach and likable performances will grab you and touch you before you can say "friends with benefits." Fun yet absorbing, this is a great date movie and exactly what the recent "Love and Other Drugs" should've been but wasn't.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Dilemma - C-

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving sexual content, 112 minutes

Dark and uneven, this "Dilemma" is no fun

The trailers for the new comedy "The Dilemma" feature a Maroon 5 song called "Misery" to describe the situation that Vince Vaughn and Kevin James are in. It could also very well describe having to sit through this wildly uneven, surprisingly dark and unfunny comedy that attempts to tackle some serious issues. What's worse, it wastes the talents of director Ron Howard, clearly slumming it here, along with an A-list cast.

Ronny (Vaughn) and Nick (James) are best friends and partners in an auto design firm. They are pursuing a project to make their firm famous. Ronny sees Nick's wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) kissing another man (Channing Tatum). Ronny seeks out answers and has to figure out how to tell Nick about what he saw while working with him to complete their critical presentation but could also cause some problems in trying to ask his longtime girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) to marry him.

"The Dilemma" is a dreadful and dreadfully unfunny dark and talky comedy with a couple of big problems First, the marketing campaign for the film is a bit of a bait-and-switch. It markets the film as a lighthearted comedy, and the film is far from lighthearted, fun or humorous in any way. Second, the film has the wrong director. Oscar-winner Ron Howard has been around for years, but Howard is clearly out of his element here, and he's ill-matched with both the actors and the material.

With that said, "The Dilemma" would've worked better with a director more suited to the material. The film goes back and forth dealing a myriad of relationship, friendship and marital issues, along with honesty and integrity personally and professionally. The subplot with the small business really doesn't belong in a film about relationships.

Vaughn and James do their best with the material, but don't expect another "Wedding Crashers," Vaughn's biggest hit that he has been trying to replicate with awful comedies like this. Vaughn tread similar ground with then-girlfriend Jennifer Aniston in "The Break-Up" a few years ago, but even that film, while hardly a classic, had a few more light moments. It only further reveals that Vaughn, while a likable comedic star, is growing annoyingly overrated and tiresome, which could also explain the film in a nutshell.

The film itself is also remarkably misogynistic in the treatment of its female stars, even the female characters who cheat. Oscar-winner Connelly and Ryder, both of whom are wasted here, are given second billing to their male counterparts though they have as much to do with the story as the men. Especially uncomfortable is the bizarre, unnecessary cameo from Queen Latifah, who pops in and out of a couple of scenes spouting dialogue like "I want to have sex with your words." Huh?

The unsatisfying ending in this overlong, dour dramedy may be "The Dilemma's" biggest sigh of relief, but only because the film is finally over. If you're going expecting a laugh-out loud comedy, "The Dilemma" is not it and definitely not worth your movie dollar this weekend.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Green Hornet - C+

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content, 105 minutes

"Green Hornet" is hit-or-miss superhero fun

I will say right off the bat, for those interested, and I'm sure there are many, that the new superhero film "The Green Hornet" is not awful. As a matter of fact, the entertaining film is energetic, well-cast (with one major exception, more than that later), and filled with the coolest car this side of the General Lee. But a bunch of nifty gadgets and a hot car don't necessarily make for a great film, and this modern take on "The Green Hornet" is re-envisioned as a buddy-buddy comedy, a genre that is largely (like this film) very hit-or-miss.

Playboy Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) becomes the new publisher of Los Angeles' "The Daily Sentinel" after the sudden death of his father. Britt's party life is about to change when he and his driver and kung fu expert, Kato (Taiwanese actor and singer Jay Chou), stop a robbery. With the help of Kato, Britt starts a new career of fighting crime as the masked superhero "The Green Hornet."

The entertaining but forgettable "The Green Hornet" is the latest superhero film to emerge, and with mixed results. What works: Kato, a smokin' hot car, the gadgets and a delicious villain in last year's Best Supporting Actor, Christoph Waltz. What doesn't: Rogen and an uneven, all-too-familiar superhero storyline (penned by Rogen and his frequent collaborator, Evan Goldberg). An inspired director like Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") fortunately keeps it from being a total mess, which it could've easily been given the star and the script.

"Green Hornet's" script meanders way too much, doesn't give enough background and relies too heavily on the charm of the now slim and trim Rogen, a likable comedic actor, but as a superhero, a mixed bag. On one hand, he provides the film with a little levity and spunk, which isn't necessarily bad, but it also reveals Rogen's annoying penchant for talking too much and stating the obvious (and obvious that he co-wrote the script, giving himself the best lines), something that works well in buddy comedies but grows tiresom here.

Taiwanese actor Chou is the real find here at Kato, utterly charming with minimal dialogue and the one who really makes The Green Hornet who he is, the creator of all the cool gadgets and one smokin' hot car, a mid-1960's Chrysler Imperial. He, along with a wonderfully funny villain in Waltz ("Inglourious Basterds") nearly steal the show (especially in a terrific opening sequence with Waltz) and probably would've had it not been for gadget-filled car. Wonderful character actor Tom Wilkinson is seen in a tiny role while Cameron Diaz is wasted in a one-note secretary role; note to Diaz: you're not Lois Lane or Pepper Potts.

"The Green Hornet" stumbles badly in the final stretch toward an ill-conceived climax and it certainly leaves it open for more of these, but if there are some improvements should be made. Keep Rogen the actor, fire Rogen the writer, and give Kato his own movie. Don't get me wrong, you'll be enertained by "The Green Hornet," but it's nowhere in the league of "Spider Man" or "Iron Man." Do stay over until the end for some colorful end credits, which work well in 3D.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Blue Valentine - A-

Rated R on appeal for strong graphic sexual content, language, and a beating, 114 minutes

“Blue Valentine” finely details what happens after the honeymoon

If you’re a newlywed, then “Blue Valentine” may not be the best movie for you to see. Otherwise, it’s a finely drawn, superbly acted but pensive romantic drama about a married couple’s communication issues. Ryan Gosling, who stars in the film and starred in “The Notebook,” has said this works as a perfect companion piece to that aforementioned film.

Gosling is Dean, Michelle Williams (“Brokeback Mountain”) is Cindy, a lower middle-class couple with a small daughter. They fell in love years ago but like many married couples, have gone in different paths. Cindy, a pretty small town girl, wants a stable life and career, while the eccentric Dean is perfectly happy revolving his life around his family; as they come to a crossroads in their marriage, they reflect on a happier time during their courtship.

“Blue Valentine” is a sad, leisurely but often emotionally gripping drama about the dissolution of a marriage. It perfectly contrasts the earlier time when the couple fell in love with the later “older” married couple that has grown distant and annoyed with each other. Documentary filmmaker Derek Cianfrance directs and writes a pensive character study that is hallmarked by two excellent performances from the leads, who make an otherwise reflective, downbeat film watchable.

Gosling and Williams are two of contemporary cinema’s finest actors, in a portrait of a troubled contemporary marriage that’s often difficult to watch, especially in the film’s darker (there are a handful of explicit scenes for those that care about that thing), even heartbreaking, last act. Both Gosling and Williams are wholly believable and their warm chemistry together is effective at getting the audience to buy into their relationship early on in the film. Though both actors carry the film, Williams is especially good as the shattered young wife who is unable to communicate with her husband, and of the two, she is the more likely to receive an Oscar nomination.

“Blue Valentine” is filled with many great scenes, and while it isn’t a perfect film (a little choppy at times, a very downbeat tone), Gosling and Williams, in two of the year’s best performances, will help you emotionally connect to the story and make this gripping film a must-see.

Season of the Witch - D-

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence and disturbing content, 98 minutes

Not a good time for the awful Cage drama "Season of the Witch"

I must admit that January must be a cursed month for good movies. Coming off the holidays, we're treated to leftovers or Oscar-worthy films now just making their way to the area. If January were to be Crappy Movie Month, then the new Nicolas Cage film "Season of the Witch" would fit in just fine. Cage's career may be cursed after you see his wretched new action film, but then his career (and his finances) may have gone south awhile ago. A silly attempt at blending a period film, action-adventure and buddy-buddy comedy proves to be a colossal bomb for everyone involved.

A medieval knight named Behman (Cage) undertakes a mission pitting him against a devious witch and making him the last hope for the world against an ancient and dark force. His faith broken by years of battle as a crusader, Behmen returns to central Europe to find his homeland decimated by the Black Plague. Behmen and his trusted companion, Felson (Ron Perlman totally wasted) are ordered by the dying Cardinal (Christopher Lee) to deliver a young peasant girl (Claire Foy) believed to be the witch responsible for the Plague back to her home to be destroyed, but find the mission is more challenging and the girl more powerful than they ever believed.

"Season of the Witch" is a dreadful, totally disappointing action mess with Cage sleepwalking through another role with a messful of fake hair. The worst thing about the film, other than Cage himself, is the fact the film loses connection with its audience early on with some jumbled, confusing tale about the Crusades and witches. Had it focused just on the Cage-Perlman pairing, it might - and that is a big might - have been tolerable. But director Dominic Sena, who directed that other lousy Cage film, "Gone in 60 Seconds," fills the proceedings with unnecessary fights, action and loads of second-rate special effects. Lost in all this is Cage and Perlman mumbling lines attempting to be funny.

"Season of the Witch" is unfortunate in that it wastes so much talent and time, but most unfortunate in the fact it's just a bore and not a bit tense or scary. This is a story that could've worked well, but fell into the hands of the wrong actor and director, and turned it into an awful modestly-budgeted travesty
that's hardly watchable. "Season of the Witch" is Cage's worst film in ages (which is saying a lot) and is cursed from the start, and I'd recommend skipping it all together.

Country Strong - C-

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving alcohol abuse and some sexual content, 112 minutes

Music best thing about the weak, soapy drama "Country Strong"

Well at least the music is good, if you're a country music fan that is. The uneven new film "Country Strong" is certainly a likable film, Oscar-winner Gweneth Paltrow will charm your socks off as the lead, and there are a few toe-tapping original country-flavored songs, but everything else is a mess, primarily the stale, melodramatic script, a disjointed tone and a sloppy editing job.

Paltrow is fallen country music star Kelly Canter, whose rough living has landed her rehab and the eyes of a young worker at the rehab named Beau (Garrett Hedlund), a promising singer and songwriter himself. Kelly's controlling husband and manager James (Tim MacGraw) pushes her back on the road too soon, though Beau and another rising country music star, former beauty queen Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) tag along as her opening act. Romantic complications and demons threathen to derail Kelly's comeback and the lives of everyone around her.

"Country Strong" is a forgettable, borderline lousy movie made better by the movie and the Paltrow's homespun charm. This is essentially a female version of last year's superior Jeff Bridges film "Crazy Heart," but without any of the grit, style or sense of emotional connection to the characters. Paltrow tries hard but even her much-talked about singing, well there's not much of it or to it; we only hear her sing a few minutes of the film and what we do hear is a serviceably sweet, thin voice that sounds better as a backup.

While Paltrow is the best thing here, the contrived script and sloppy direction from Shana Feste ("The Greatest") don't do her justice. Her co-stars don't fare much better, but her handsome young co-star Hedlund (interestingly enough, Bridges co-star in another recent mediocre film, "Tron: Legacy") is the most memorable and believeable of the cast as a cowboy trying to make it big (he has a strong voice too). Country music star MacGraw should know a thing about country music but obviously not acting, as he lacks any sort of plausibility as Paltrow's husband and manager. Even worse is "Gossip Girl's" Meester, carrying a fake accent and smile that makes her romantic scenes with Hedlund cringe-worthy.

"Country Strong" doesn't give country music a good name (same for the city of Dallas for that matter) though the country music soundtrack, already a hit, is the only memorable thing to come from the film. The story goes off in too many directions, lacking a core emotional connection and any sense of what these characters are or mean. They sing, they cry, they sleep together, sing some more and drive off into the sunset. Sounds like a twangy country song doesn't? Not a very good one at least, and not a very good movie, either.