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

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Drive Angry 3D - C

Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, grisly images, some graphic sexual content, nudity and pervasive language, 95 minutes

"Drive Angry 3D" energetic but trashy entertainment

I can sum up the new Nicolas Cage action film "Drive Angry 3D" quicker than you can run a stop sign: 1) it's far, far better than his most recent film "Season of the Witch", 2) it's certainly not dull, and 3) the plot is essentially "Ghost Rider" in a car instead of a motorcycle. Of course, none of this means the film is actually any good, but as my friend Edith said following a recent screening, "you won't fall asleep." A spectacular but enjoyable piece of crap designed to instill a cult following, please Cage's fans and make the rest of us cringe, it should cruise along to a hearty afterlife at the box-office.

Milton (Nicolas Cage) has broken out of Hell and along with a tough-as-nails waitress (Amber Heard) is out to prevent an evil cult leader (Billy Burke) that murdered his daughter from sacrificing his infant granddaughter. However, he is being pursued by 'The Accountant' (William Fichtner), a supernatural operative of Satan who has been sent to bring Milton back to Hell.

"Drive Angry 3D" is cheesy, low-grade guilty pleasure entertainment that's exceedingly and gratuitously violent and misogynistic but far more energetic than you might think. Directed and filmed in 3D by Patrick Lussier, the guy who did the 3D reboot of "My Bloody Valentine" a couple of years ago, this forgettable film is only worth seeing for a couple of reasons: character actor Fichtner, who almost walks away with the film, and those smokin' hot muscle cars that literally power the film: a 1969 Dodge Charger, a 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle, and a 1964 Buick Riviera.

It's hard to believe that Cage is the same guy who won an Oscar for "Leaving Las Vegas" and appeared in such films as "Moonstruck" and "Adaptation." After his Oscar win, he has seemingly made a deal with the devil to receive huge paychecks for dreck like this that somehow passes for entertainment these days in Hollywood. For what it's worth, the 3D is above-average this time and there is an extended car chase that will rank as one of the year's most memorable. Cage gives another terse performance that has him speaking softly and carrying a big gun, he's Buford T. Justice from hell.

"Drive Angry 3D" will do big business the first week and will drop off once audiences realize the film is just a big gimmick to get people to speed into the theater to see another awful 3D film. As bad as it is, it entertains in its own trashy, low-brow way, with big guns, big cars and big explosions. With a shelf life of a few weeks at most, it's as disposable as those 3D glasses you pay extra for. See it if you must, but you've been warned.

Wes's Grade: C

Hall Pass - C

Rated R for crude and sexual humor throughout, language, some graphic nudity and drug use, 98 minutes

More of the same Farrelly schtick in "Hall Pass"

Poor Owen Wilson, he can't seem to catch a good break as of late as his last two films have been met with wildly mixed results. "The Little Fockers" was a box-office hit trashed by critics (including this one), and the romantic comedy "How Do You Know" was an outright flop in every way.

Now Wilson headlines the new Farrelly Brothers crowd-pleasing comedy "Hall Pass," that examines what it'd be like to have one week "off" from marriage to do anything you please i.e. a hall pass. With a paper-thin premise, outrageous gags that come across as desperate and funnier cast members than Wilson, "Hall Pass" unfortunately doesn't quite cut it, but the film will probably still make money.

A married man (Wilson) is granted the opportuniy for a one-week "hall pass" by his wife (Jenna Fischer) to do anything he wants, in hopes of improving their sagging marriage. Joined in the fun by his best pal (Jason Sudeikis) and his wife (Christina Applegate), things get a little out of control when both wives start having a little fun of their own as well.

"Hall Pass" is a forgettably raunchy, mildly enjoyable comedy with some low-brow gags that will likely make it at least a modest hit. "Hall Pass" directors and writer-brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly are the M. Night Shyamalan of movie comedies; they've been working hard to re-create the magic of a couple hits they had back in the '90s (yes, it's been that long) with "Dumb and Dumber" and "Something About Mary," much like Shyamalan has been attempting to do from "The Sixth Sense." Note to the filmmakers: it's no longer the '90s and times have certainly changed, we do not have be shocked into laughs.

There are a few reasons that "Hall Pass" doesn't work as well as it should. For one, those "shocking" Farrelly moments from earlier outings now seem desperate, with a pair of penises, some vomit and a dump their attempts to be amusing (they're not, and in the case of the vomit scene, just plain digusting). On top of that, Wilson isn't used to good effect here (i.e. he isn't as funny), and as the "other couple," "Saturday Night Live's" Sudeikis and "Samantha Who's" Applegate upstage the bland Wilson and an even blander Fischer with better lines and in Sudeikis' case, better physical comedy.

Lastly, the film's premise, widely known by now, is ultra-thin, with everything else, including a woefully contrived climax, remarkably tame filler given what actually happens. Sure, there are a few sporadic reflex laughs, which could describe the film itself: mildly funny but overall a tame effort. Don't feel too sorry for the likable Wilson, he's still paid for these things, as are the Farrelly's (I can only imagine how their upcoming Three Stooges film will turn out), and hopefully Wilson will be seen or heard to better effect later this year in Woody Allen's new rom com and in Pixar's animated "Cars 2."

"Hall Pass" isn't a great date movie, likely appealing only to young males who enjoy this type of thing. Go if you must, but you may regret it later (especially if you're on a date), this is more of a rental.

Wes's Grade: C

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son - F

Rated PG-13 for some sexual humor and brief violence, 107 minutes

“Big Mommas” a big stinker

Truthfully, should this come as any surprise, given that the first two “Big Momma” films weren’t exactly classics? What was initially very mildly amusing and a fun urban take on the 1959 classic “Some Like It Hot,” the very very broad comedies have grown worse and more annoying, but that could be due to the acquired taste of Martin Lawrence, a comedian known to grate the nerves.

This third installment continues his shenanigans as Big Momma, except this time he has along a son, “Tropic Thunder’s” Brandon Jackson. With utterly predictable, even offensive material and acting from both the leads that largely consists of running and mugging for the camera in women’s clothes and makeup, this “Big Momma” is easily one of the worst films of the year and one of the worst of Lawrence’s career, which says something.

Malcolm (Lawrence) and stepson Trent (Jackson) go undercover to escape some bad guys at a girls prep school (what else?). Malcolm is Big Momma, Trent his great niece, Charmaine. The same hijinks ensue and Big Momma is pursued by an equally big janitor (Faizon Love) while Trent tries to romance one of the young girls in the school.

“Big Mommas” is simply terrible: cheap, formulaic, offensive laughs that aren’t that funny to begin with. If you’ve seen the other “Big Momma” films (and let’s hope you haven’t) then you’ve essentially seen this one too. Lawrence is finding himself in the same position as another comedian, Eddie Murphy, who was funny back in the day but whose schtick has grown extremely tiresome over the years.

“Big Mommas” takes down another young comedian in Jackson, a moderately funny actor and comedian who may not want to include this on his film resume. It’s also unfortunate that the film makes so much fun of a naturally large person in Love, who must need the acting work to take dreck like this.

There’s nothing worthy about “Big Mommas” so I’d say that it’s really time to put Big Momma to rest for good.

Wes's Grade: F

Cedar Rapids - B

Rated R for crude and sexual content, language and drug use, 86 minutes

“Cedar Rapids” is low-key but sincere fun

The new comedy “Cedar Rapids” may seem billed as a cross between TV’s “The Office” and “The Hangover,” but it strikes its own chords of unassuming hilarity. Good-natured, but unpredictable, its fish-out-of-water story is overly familiar but still well-acted by all the principals, including “The Office’s” Helms and scene-stealer John C. Reilly.

To call insurance agent Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) "naive" is a gross understatement. He's never left his small Wisconsin hometown. He's never flown in an airplane or stayed at a hotel. And he's never experienced anything like Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Sent to the "major metropolis" to represent his company at an annual insurance convention, Tim is soon distracted by three convention veterans (John C. Reilly, Anne Heche and Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who will show him how it works but also push a few of his buttons. For a guy who plays everything by the book, this convention will be anything but conventional.

“Cedar Rapids” is a sweet, low-key and offbeat comedy with its heart in the right place. It’s easy to make comparisons with “The Office” with Helms leading the cast, and while some of it has to do with corporate relationships, it’s more about finding yourself outside of the corporate structure. It’s directed by Miguel Arteta, the guy who directed equally offbeat comedies in “Chuck and Buck” and “The Good Girl” and the colorful characters seem to fit Arteta well.

Helms grounds the ensemble comedy film very capably and shows his comic skills and his character undergoes the most changes of the four leads. Reilly comes in and nearly steals the show as the film’s most loathsome but funny character as a slimeball insurance sales that he’s seemingly born to play. Helms, Reilly, Heche and character actor Whitlock (seen most notably in HBO’s “The Wire”) all work well together with a warm chemistry.

The touching film’s observations on middle America may resonate with some, though others may feel the story is too familiar and obvious. Whatever the case, you’ll come away with a smile on your face.

Wes's Grade: B

I Am Number Four - B-

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for language, 105 minutes

Energetic, fun "I Am Number Four" holds few surprises

"I Am Number Four" could essentially be an alien version of "Twilight," after all it's based on a best-selling young adult novel, stars a handsome young British actor and even features a crusty old pickup. "Four" may not have the draw of the teenage werewolf-vampire series, but it's far more energetic and fun to be a part of. Some of it is predictable, cookie-cutter sci-fi fare and it gets rather noisy in the last act, but it's enjoyable escapist fare, something that can't be said for the rather colorless "Twilight" films.

Extraordinary teen John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) is a fugitive on the run from ruthless enemies called Mogadorians sent to destroy him. Changing his identity, moving from town to town with his guardian/father-figure Henri (Timothy Olyphant), John is always the new kid with no ties to his past. In the small Ohio town he now calls home, John encounters unexpected, life-changing events-his first love (Dianna Agron), powerful new abilities and a connection to the others who share his incredible destiny.

"I Am Number Four" is a colorful, modestly entertaining sci-fi film that's mostly geared for the young set. The film is a pleasant sleeper given that the film hasn't been marketed well by the Disney machine (released under its Touchstone label), a troubling sign for a film that could have limited appeal outside of sci-fi fans or fans of the James Frey-Jobie Hughes best-selling novel of the same name. Fans of the book will notice a handful of changes but otherwise this is mostly a faithful adaptation of the novel.

D.J. Caruso, director of the hit action film "Eagle Eye," is a serviceable director though a stronger director with experience in this type of genre, say Chris Columbus, would've done a better job in bringing the novel to life. Caruso can't escape the more predictable elements (teenage love story/angst, ugh) or a downright noisy but fast-paced climax that seems out of place with the rest of the film. Pettyfer, an English model and actor, is a capable lead, and he's well-paired with pretty but bland "Glee" actress Agron. Australian actress Teresa Palmer makes more of an impression as a fellow alien who literally flies in to help save the day.

More so than the "Twilight" films, "I Am Number Four" is modest, escapist fun and while it may lack a lot of big surprises with limited appeal outside the comic-con set, it's worth seeing, along with a decent soundstrack, a few nifty special effects (note: watch for the beagle) and those who enjoy seeing a grayish Timothy Olyphant, star of one of my favorite new shows, "Justified," in small role.

Wes's Grade: B-

Brotherhood - B

R for pervasive language, some violence and sexual content, 81 minutes

“Brotherhood” an intense, absorbing indie thriller

If you’ve ever wondered what fraternity life is like, the gripping new independent thriller “Brotherhood” sheds some light on that. A fictional, Texas-based and Texas-filmed drama, it concerns what happens when a fraternity initiation goes horribly wrong, and you must choose between bad or completely awful consequences.

College freshman Adam Buckley (Trevor Morgan) finds himself in the back of a van dealing with the fact that he has to rob a convenience store as the final step of his initiation into the Sigma Zeta Chi fraternity. Minutes later, he discovers that a fellow-pledge, Kevin Fahey (Lou Taylor Pucci), just got shot while doing it.

Frank (Jon Foster), the senior fraternity brother in charge, gets Kevin out of the store alive, but the fraternity's troubles are just beginning. Thinking they can get out of the situation without taking Kevin to a hospital and alerting the authorities, Frank decides the fraternity will handle things themselves. But when every move is met with disastrous consequences, Adam soon realizes that in order to save his friend's life he must find it within himself to go against Frank and his new brothers.

“Brotherhood” is an absorbing, efficiently made and tense low-budget thriller directed and written by first-time director Will Canon, a native Dallas-site in his debut feature-film. It’s an auspicious debut for Canon, though the film, which has been making the festival circuit for a year now (I saw the film last year at the Dallas International Film Festival), is actually an expanded remake of his 2001 short film “Roslyn.”

Canon quickly establishes the forces of good (Adam) and evil (Frank) in the story, and the fraternity house becomes a battleground to see which man will be standing at the end. The messages and themes (good v. evil, do what is right regardless of the consequences, et al) are a tad redundant and reinforced throughout the film, and the message itself has been around since the days of “12 Angry Men.”

Even with that, we also know that the tension provides some decent entertainment, and “Brotherhood” is an above-average, well-made debut film. Some of it could’ve been better developed, but it’s still an entertaining film that’s worth a look.

Wes’s Grade: B

Unknown - B-

Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sexual content, 113 minutes

Far-fetched but entertaining Neeson thriller “Unknown”

Two years ago character actor Liam Neeson proved himself to be a capable action hero in the thriller “Taken,” and he again sufficiently proves himself in the new action film “Unknown.” Entertaining, fast-paced but a little silly, particularly in its last act, “Unknown” is engaging enough to hold its audience in spite of a few plot holes.

Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) awakens after a car accident in Berlin to discover that his wife (January Jones) suddenly doesn't recognize him and another man (Aidan Quinn) has assumed his identity. Ignored by disbelieving authorities and hunted by mysterious assassins, he finds himself alone, exasperated, and always on the run. With help from an unlikely ally (Diane Kruger), Martin plunges headlong into a deadly mystery that will force him to discover who he really is.

“Unknown” is a captivatingly swift late-winter action-thriller entry that’s part action-adventure, part-spy thriller, though I won’t reveal any key plot details. There a few inconsistencies that you’re sure to pick up on throughout the film, until the last act when it goes a little overboard on twists and turns. “Unknown” is an interesting film: an American production filmed in Germany that’s based on a French novel “Out of My Head.”

A tad preposterous, “Unknown” is standard action-thriller that will likely sweep you off your feet due in large part of the likability of Neeson, who carries the film in nearly every scene. He’s also well-paired with the tough Kruger, best-known for being a side-kick to another well-known actor, Nicolas Cage, in the even sillier “National Treasure” films.

“Mad Men’s” voluptuous beauty January Jones is also well-cast as Harris’ mysterious wife; Quinn is a bit of a waste as the bad guy, who’s given little screen time, while Langella makes the most of a very brief role. Even more memorable is Swiss character actor Bruno Ganz (“The Reader”) in a strong supporting role as a wizened former police officer who helps Neeson’s character.

There are a few entertaining action scenes in the streets of Berlin, particularly a couple of decent car chases and it speeds to a somewhat predictable but explosive climax. It may or may not make sense to you in the end, and what is unknown may still be unknown, but what is for sure is that Neeson is an able action-adventure hero.

Wes's Grade: B-

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Barney's Version - B+

Rated R for language and some sexual content, 134 minutes

Giamatti's engaging performance highlights dramedy "Barney's Version"

Barney Panofsky hasn't had an easy life, nor is he an easy person to live with. The captivating, touching performance by Paul Giamatti in the title role is the highlight of the entertaining yet slightly overlong dramedy "Barney's Version," based on the 1997 best-selling novel by Mordecai Richler. Superbly-acted, it's a journey filled with moments of emotional depth and a decent, low-key film overlooked by the Oscars this year.

Barney's story is told over several decades and his experiences with his friends, three wives and his extended families. His first wife Carla Chambers (Rachelle Levefre) commits suicide after Barney leaves her due to her unfaithfulness. He and his second wife (Minnie Driver), a rich Jewish woman with a big family and even a bigger inheritance, loathe each other and her unfaithfulness with Barney's handsome but drug-addicted best friend Boogie (Scott Speedman) causes that marriage to fall apart. At the reception of his second wedding, Barney finally meets his true love, Miram (Rosamund Pike), and while they spend many happy years together, his bad choices threaten to drive her away too, all the while receiving guidance from Barney's unconventional but loving father Izzy (Dustin Hoffman).

"Barney's Version" is a poignant, touching story of an incorrigible man who doesn't always make the best choices in life, even when he has it going pretty good. Directed by veteran TV and movie director Richard J. Lewis, the film energetically opens up Richler's novel with a memorable, tour-de-force performance by Giamatti who emotionally grounds the film and carries the film on his back as the man who's part grump, part lover and part mensch. The early part of Barney's story is a little choppy and uneven, but fortunately Lewis spends the most time with Barney's third wife, the sympathetic Miriam, in a warm performance by British character actress Pike.

Giamatti's tender performance underscores the fact he's one of Hollywood's hidden gems and an underrated actor; you sense what he's feeling just by the look on his face, a unique quality that many actors don't have. The performance, which won a Golden Globe earlier this year, was overlooked by the Oscars, and as good as Giamatti was, there were just too many outstanding male performances this past year.

Hoffman is also fun as Barney's father, and watch for Hoffman's real son Jake in a small role as Barney's son at an older age. Driver is fitfully annoying as his second wife, the pretty but chatty girl who can't seem to shut up. Speedman is adequate as Barney's junkie friend; a better actor with depth would've made a stronger impression, but he is blandly likable.

For what it is, "Barney's Version" goes on too long and there a couple of subplots from the novel that could've been trimmed here, but the last section is the most moving, when Barney starts to forget things. It could've ended up mauldin and sappy but Giamatti's poignant, understated scenes make it believable. The enjoyable "Barney's Version" is a treat to enjoy and a good late winter date movie.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Just Go With It - D

Rated PG-13 for frequent crude and sexual content, partial nudity, brief drug references and language, 105 minutes

Please, do not "Just Go With It," the latest Sandler dreck

Truthfully, I do not hate Adam Sandler as a person. I've seen him in interviews and have heard for years what a nice guy he is. His movies, on the other hand, are a different story. Usually broad, low-brow comedy that's designed to entertain and make big bucks for the studio, Sandler clearly makes films for audiences and not for critics. His latest comedy, "Just Go With It," co-starring Jennifer Aniston, is no different. Offensive, unfunny and often boring, you've seen the best parts in the trailers.

Sandler is Dr. Danny Macabee, a successful Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who was jilted at the altar years ago due to his looks. Instead, he pretends to be married, and uses his bad "marriage" to pick up women for one-night stands. Then, he finally meets a girl named Palmer (Brooklyn Decker) that he really seems to like. She finds his fake wedding ring in is pocket and he concocts a story that he's actually going through a divorce. The only thing is, Palmer wants to meet his soon-to-be "ex," so Danny's assistant, Katherine (Aniston) pretends to be his ex and mother of his children. They plan a trip to Hawaii that will ultimately change all of their lives.

"Just Go With It" is an unfunny, tiresome waste of time and talent that follows the familiar Sandler formula of a schlubby guy finding the real meaning of love and relationships with a hot woman. This time, he brings down not one, but two lovely women, with the busty Decker and the always-hot Aniston to keep him company this time (but both of whom, especially Decker, are wasted; this represents a career-low for Aniston).

Aniston and Sandler, who have been longtime friends in real life, have a playful, warm chemistry together, but when the script (very loosely based on the 1969 film "Cactus Flower" that turned Goldie Hawn into a star) and direction from Dennis Dugan, who's responsible for most of Sandler's comedies, is this awful, it doesn't really make a difference. It's so offensively and predictably done that not even Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman's brief appearance could help this mess out; there's more T&A here for a PG-13 film than most rated R films.

"Just Go With It" could likely describe Sandler's Hollywood career. His inability to play anything other than a version of himself will likely keep him doing comedies like this for years to come, and audiences will continue shelling out their hard-earned dollars for unfunny muck like this. As with most anything Sandler does, I don't recommend it unless you plan on making out through it.

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never - B

Rated G, 105 minutes

Pleasant Bieber concert film shows the boy has got it

No, I do NOT have Bieber fever, though I will admit that I liked "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" more than I thought I would. I'm still not a huge fan of his music, but this enjoyable behind-the-scenes documentary concert film shows the boy wonder (and a Canadian no doubt!) does have talent, charm and the ability to attract a huge, huge female fan base. Even non-fans will have a little more respect for this young teen who has already sold millions of records and become a worldwide phenomenon.

The film tells the story of Bieber's discovery and rise to stardom, all as it follows Bieber on his 2010 concert tour. There are loads of interviews with family, friends, business associates and the like, not to mention lots of pictures and videos of a very young Justin before he got his start. Fans and non-fans will learn of Justin's humble upbringing - he was raised largely by a single mother and his grandparents in a suburb of Toronto, Canada - not to mention he was just a normal boy who enjoyed sports and had a keen interest in music. After he won a talent contest, his mother posted some of his videos on You Tube, and the rest is history.

"Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" is a pleasantly satisfying surprise for a couple of big reasons. For one, the boy has a charm and talent that few his age possess, and two, he isn't part of the faux-squeaky clean Disney or Nickelodeon machine. The insight into Bieber's background is what most revealing about the film, and he seems to be a genuinely nice, normal guy who has hit it big (he eats donuts out of the trash, dude please). Sure, the concert scenes are also fun, but his rags- to-riches story is by far the more interesting part of the movie.

The challenge with the film will be finding a large, mainstream audience outside of Bieber's large, almost exclusively female fan base, who seem to stalk the boy at every appearance. Initially it's fun to see some of his squealing young fans, but then a shade creepy when they show some of his fans who are a little old for something like this. Still, it's all good, clean fun, even with the likes of Miley Cyrus (Hannah who?), Usher (who helped discover Bieber), Boys II Men and Sean Kingston.

No, I won't be rushing to download any Bieber songs anytime soon, nor will I style my hair the way he does, but I'll say that the fresh-faced, lithe Bieber has the talent and charm to last longer than anyone named Miley or Jonas.

The Eagle - C-

Rated PG-13 for battle sequences and some disturbing images, 114 minutes

This lifeless "Eagle" doesn't fly

First bad sign for a film: it doesn't screen for critics. Second bad sign: it stars Channing Tatum, though in fact the second sign may the reason for the first sign. No more speaking in circles, the handsome but pallid historical drama "The Eagle" crash lands and has trouble getting off the ground early on. Tatum is bland eye candy, even when surrounded by costumes and decent actors like Donald Sutherland, a great actor now doing movies like this one strictly for the money.

In 140 AD, twenty years after the unexplained disappearance of the entire Ninth Legion in the mountains of Scotland, young centurion Marcus Aquila (Tatum) arrives from Rome to solve the mystery and restore the reputation of his father, the commander of the Ninth. Accompanied only by his British slave Esca (Jamie Bell), Marcus sets out across Hadrian's Wall into the uncharted highlands of Caledonia - to confront its savage tribes, make peace with his father's memory, and retrieve the lost legion's golden emblem, the Eagle of the Ninth.

"The Eagle" is a tedious, flavorless affair that's awkwardly staged, unevenly scripted and badly acted. That wouldn't come as a surprise given that one of Hollywood's hottest young stars, Tatum, headlines the film. Slap a Roman costume on him, give him a sword and place him in the middle of some handsome sets, and the guy still can't act. His woefully in-and-out half British accent is the worst this side of Kevin Costner's Robin Hood. Even Robin Hood couldn't save this dreary, uneven film, which has epic aspirations of "Braveheart" or "Gladiator" but is more geared to the Lifetime Channel, given the legions of his female fans that watch him just to watch him.

Jamie Bell, that once eager "Billy Elliot" of long-ago, is better than Tatum though he needs to smile more, and Donald Sutherland, as the uncle figure here, gives another quick take-the-money and run performance that he learned from Sean Connery. The film has a few good action sequences, but the supposedly factual story, based on the 1954 historical novel "The Eagle of the Ninth" by Rosemary Sutcliff (itself a work of fiction), isn't given a great, or even entertaining, adaptation. Instead, we're treated to Tatum's posing and attempts at acting, not to mention a weird homerotic tension between the Tatum and Bell characters.

I wouldn't recommend it, unless you enjoy mediocre historical drama and awkward attempts at good acting.

The Illusionist - B

Rated PG for thematic elements and smoking, 85 minutes

Soft-spoken but wistful "Illusionist" tells a sad tale

"The Illusionist" shouldn't be confused with the 2006 Christian Bale thriller "The Illusionist." Though both are about magicians, this is an animated story from Sylvain Chomet, who directed the fun tale "The Triplets of Belleville" a few years back. It's a pensively wistful, unique tale with minimal dialogue; though suitable for children, adults will get the most out of the emotionally rich story of a magician who's lost his passion.

An aging French magician is forced to leave his homeland and now lives in Scotland with a young woman he met there. Alice is a teenage girl with all her capacity for childish wonder still intact. She longs to be a real woman without realizing the day to stop pretending is fast approaching. She doesn't know yet that she loves The Illusionist like she would a father; he already knows that he loves her as he would a daughter. Their destinies will collide, but nothing - not even magic or the power of illusion - can stop the voyage of discovery.

"The Illusionist" is Chomet's enertaining but intelligent, sad tale of love, growing older and life changes; it's an unconventional animated tale filled with some beautiful images. Based loosely on the life of French artist Jacques Tati and his daughter, it's really a father-daughter love story set against the backdrop of Scotland. It's also nominated for Best Animated Film at this month's Academy Awards, a surprise but worthy nominee in a year filled wih great animated films.

The animation is much like a painting or drawing that comes to life; the audiences is actually engaged more by the minimal dialogue and Chomet is able to draw you into the downbeat story, though that lack of dialogue and depressing story may not be for everyone. If you enjoyed Chomet's "The Triplets of Belleville," you will enjoy this too as it has a similar tone and scope to it as that film. Also, please know that while it's animated, know that young ones may get easily bored with it.

Gnomeo and Juliet - C

Rated G, 84 minutes

Say no to the animated Shakespeare ripoff "Gnomeo and Juliet"

The new animated film "Gnomeo and Juliet" is based on the classic William Shakespeare "Romeo and Juliet," is directed by one of the "Shrek" directors and voiced by some of the most renowned actors in the world. With such hefty source material and talent involved you'd think that it'd be better. Though it's certainly an original idea, much like gnomes themselves, "Gnomeo and Juliet" is shapeless, kinda weird and rarely funny.

Kelly Asbury, the guy who directed "Shrek 2," takes Shakespeare's most beloved, tragic play and fashions into a contemporary animated comedy about a couple of young garden gnomes (James McAvoy and Emily Blunt) on the opposite side of the fence who fall in love to the chagrin of their family and friends, voiced by Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart, Ashley Jensen, Jason Statham and even Ozzy Osbourne. But with plastic pink flamingos and lawnmower races in this family feud, can this young couple find lasting happiness?

There are a handful of fun moments in "Gnomeo and Juliet" and while the animation is bright and colorful, the story would make Shakespeare turn over in his grave and is tragic in more ways than one. Gnomes are a bit of a strange sight anyway, and while some may fancy them, cute and cuddly don't always come to mind. Veteran director Asbury, who's had plenty of experience with kind of thing, wants to do the same with Shakespeare's story as he did with "Shrek," but this one falls flat, unfunny and in some ways, just plain bizarre.

Kids who don't know Shakespeare's story still won't after this, given that the story is completely changed and bares little resemblance to the play. Shakespeare purists, or anyone that likes decent animation, should probably stay away. A pale imitation and ripoff of Asbury's own "Shrek" and "Toy Story." Not worth the money, particularly the 3-D.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Roomate - D

Rated PG-13 for violence and menace, sexual content, some language and partying, 93 minutes

You'll want to get rid of this dull, lazy "Roommate"

There's a good reason why I've never had a roommate, there are just too many issues with more than one person sharing a living space. "The Roommate" is one of the new year's worst films, a dull, predictable and unoriginal thriller that obviously fell apart in the editing room. It also wastes a few young talented stars in its wake, who won't want to add it to their cinematic resume.

University of Los Angeles freshman Sara (Minka Kelly) is randomly assigned a roommate for her first semester of college, the unassuming Rebecca (Leighton Meester). However, Rebecca turns out to be a disturubed psychotic as she obsesses over every aspect of Sara's life, relentlessly stalking her, leading to tragic results.

You can probably guess how the awful "The Roommate" turns out in the end, just by viewing the trailers for the film, and it isn't pretty, in more ways than one. Choppy, cheap and badly acted, it's unfortunately one of the first feature films from Danish director Christian E. Christiansen, he takes it down a path that all these types of films, geared toward the younger set, tend to go.

"Gossip Girl's" Meester has fun with the villain role but can't do anything about the fact that most of it isn't that scary; as the nice girl, "Friday Night Lights" Kelly is wasted, as is most of the rest of the cast (yes that's Billy Zane, with obviously nothing to do but dreck such as this). Fires are set, people are killed, even belly button rings are ripped out, but above all, the boring, dull "Roomate" is just a waste of time. Don't bother.

Another Year - B

Rated PG-13 for some language, 129 minutes

Superbly-acted British drama "Another Year" channels life over a year

"Another Year" is a film from renowned director Mike Leigh ("Secrets and Lies") that is just now getting it's release in the states and in this area for the new year. Make it a point to see the touching, believable, albeit overlong, drama that's superbly acted, directed and written. It's surprising that the acclaimed film was largely overlooked by Oscars, receiving only a single nomination for its screenplay.

Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) are a happy couple in their sixties, with professional careers and a grown son, but during the course of one year we see that some of their friends are not as happy
. Mary (Lesley Manville), of of Gerri's close friends, has been drinking too much since her husband left her. Gerri tried to set her up with Tom's friends Ken (Peter Wight), but it did not work out. Now Gerri is surprised to find Mary flirting with Gerri's son Joe (Oliver Maltman), a man much younger than herself. Mary's emotional state is not helped when she stops by Tom and Gerri's house and meets Joe's new girlfriend.

Mike Leigh's poignant new drama "Another Year" has some nice shades to it; the family issues are familiar Leigh issues and it goes on too long in its second act, but it's definitely worth seeing for the touching, warm performances. It's evident that the cast, all of whom have worked with Leigh in his films over the years, is comfortable with his relaxed, improvisational direction. Unsurprisingly, he elicits the film's strongest performances from the women in the film, something that Leigh is noted for (see Brenda Blethyn in "Secrets and Lies" and Imelda Staunton - who has a brief role here too - in "Vera Drake").

Sheen's straight-laced, caring Gerri grounds the film well, but it's British character actress Lesley Manville, as Gerri's flighty, overemotional best friend that bursts the film open to new territory. It's the type of character that Shelley Winters would've probably played back in the 1950's, and it's a tribute to Manville's remarkably touching perfomance that she steals the film, given that the film is a supporting role. The film's long stretches without her may have the audience missing her, though Leigh's strong direction and story hold up on their own.

Without Manville, the relationship-oriented "Another Year" wouldn't be as much fun, but it's still worth seeing. It's too long, especially in the final act, but you'll have yourself wondering why the deserving Manville wasn't nominated for an Oscar for Supporting Actress.

Sanctum 3D - C-

Rated R for language, some violence and disturbing images, 109 minutes

Cave exploration thriller "Sanctum" comes up short

The new 3D thriller "Sanctum" is very fortunate to have Oscar-winning director James Cameron's name above the top as an executive producer. He may change his mind after he sees the flat, disappointing film that's inspired by true events. Some of the action sequences are OK, but everything else - the story, acting, dialogue and special effects - are second-rate at best.

Master diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) has explored the South Pacific's Esa-ala Caves for months. But when his exit is cut off in a flash flood, Frank's team - including 17-year-old son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) and financier Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffuld) - are forced to radically alter plans. With dwindling supplies, the crew must navigate an underwater labyrinth to make it out. Soon, they are confronted with the unavoidable question: Can they survive, or will they be trapped forever?

"Sanctum" is an unsatisfying, predictable 3D ride that definitely isn't worth it and seems a lame excuse to set up the cave sequences. The weak, weak story and unmemorable direction from newcomer Alister Grierson make this thriller a huge disappointment if you're expecting Cameron's size first-rate effects. Instead, the effects are second-rate, at best, and while some of the action sequences keep things moving, it ultimately becomes too predictable and unrevealing.

The story, based on the real experiences of the film's writer, Andrew Wright, it falters in its storytelling and presenting any shaded characters. The cave walls are far more memorable, but after while you come to know what to expect. As for the 3D, it also disappoints considerably, making "Sanctum" definitely not worth your movie dollar this weekend.