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Red Tails (2012)
Hokey history lesson
It's unfortunate that a story with such potential is told in such a poor fashion. "Red Tails" attempts to familiarize us with the true-life exploits of black American fighter pilots during World War II who battled racism to gain respect. But instead of rich storytelling, we get a somewhat sanitized version of history. The dialog is lame, the character development shaky and acting unsatisfying. The in-air action -in its CGI glory - feels like part of a video game. It pales when compared to the edge-of-your-seat excitement generated by great WWII movies such as Saving Private Ryan and Das Boot. Apparently, producer George Lucas waited years to make this film. Unfortunately, he should have waited around for a better product.
Kudos for risky subject, but thumbs down for poor plot development
While Schwimmer may be applauded for taking the risk of making a movie wrapped in such a controversial subject, I feel the script interfered with the effort. The movie had me up until the point where the girl accepted her middle-aged pervert "date" and decided to go to a motel room with him. That may have been slightly believable if she had come from a seriously dysfunctional family, but that obviously wasn't the case here. A few other plot devices bothered me. I don't believe that in such a case the FBI would call the student out of a class and let the whole student body look on as she is placed in a squad car. I would think the more likely result would be knocking on the door of the family's home after school, where they could quietly (and privately) discuss the situation with her and her parents. Also, the girl's behavior didn't seem to fit with her character, who seemed to be reasonably intelligent up to a certain point. Her antagonism toward her family and expressed "love" for her rapist didn't ring true for me. I can, however, relate to the rage exhibited by Clive Owen.
Date Night (2010)
Good date movie if you're wanting to make out at the theater
I have to admit: I have high expectations when it comes to comedies. That's because most simply aren't very good, even those that feature talented comic actors. "Date Night" certainly gives us comedy potential, with Steve Carell and Tina Fey in the lead roles. In addition, Ray Liotta, Mark Wahlberg, James Franco and Mila Kunis are cast in amusing cameos. Sadly, this TNT cast is handed a dud of a script. Silly plot devices, goofy car chases and cringe-inducing scenes had me watching the clock, waiting for the end. The premise was good: A couple caught up in a marriage routine wanting to do something a bit more adventurous try to get a table at a trendy restaurant without a reservation. They wind up in the middle of a mess involving a mobster, corrupt police officers, a former black ops consultant and a wide-eyed taxi driver whose cab becomes part of a bizarre car chase through Manhattan. (Actually, that scene consisted of some of the movie's funniest moments.) Unfortunately, the best thing I can say about this film is that it has a running time of under 90 minutes.
'Tenderness' has legs, but can't stand on its own feet
"Tenderness" is a film that falls into the category of movies that could have been good but ultimately fail to deliver. It's a psychological drama that invites us to enter the minds and motives of three disparate souls who all seem to be reaching for something they are not sure how to obtain. So far, so good, especially with Russell Crowe in the cast. But the movie seems to meander, never really drawing us in as much as is we'd like. The main portion of the film is a road trip, pairing the main character - a teen recently released from a juvenile correctional facility after murdering his parents - with a young female admirer who alternates between annoying and creepy. They are surreptitiously followed by Crowe, the semi-retired cop who originally put the boy away. Crowe is certain the boy's trail of murder includes more than his parents, and that he will kill again. We watch the whole thing unfold, waiting for something meaningful to happen, but by the time the credits roll, we're left wondering why we cared in the first place.
The Killer Inside Me (2010)
Twisted plot, Affleck character fails to draw viewers in
"The Killer Inside Me" contains two sexy stars (Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson), brutal violence (psychopathically delivered by Casey Affleck) and some twisted detective work. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a lot more than that. I'm a fan of some of Affleck's work, especially "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford." But he fails to draw me in here. Oddly, though, he seems to be appropriate for this role. It may just be that the character is not interesting enough. In any case, this movie made me feel as I imagine I would after witnessing an illegal dogfight in which my dog lost. It hurt to watch the violence, and I didn't get anything out of it to ease the pain.
Unncessary remake of a classic falls far short of brilliance
I suppose if I were to do a remake of the 1981 movie "Arthur" I could do worse than cast Russell Brand in the title role. He most closely matches the comic talent of Dudley Moore, who starred in the original. The point is, however, why do the remake in the first place? There is an inherent danger in attempting to resurrect a classic, which the original movie certainly was. The new version performs a couple of sex changes. The first transforms Hobson from a man - expertly portrayed in the original in an Oscar-winning performance by Sir John Gielgud - to a female nanny, played by Helen Mirren. Arthur's controlling parent this time around is his mother rather than his father. Other than that, there is little in this effort that is original. Don't get me wrong: Brand is a gifted comedic actor. But in my book, Dudley Moore was - and always will be - Arthur. With Netflix, Redbox and other services available, there is no excuse for those who haven't seen the original "Arthur" to watch this inferior version.
Glorious 39 (2009)
Intriguiging idea, but poor execution
We can't help but believe there could have been a good movie here, based on the beginnings of World War II. There has been scant examination of the angle of patriotic Brits who believed Neville Chamberlain's strategy of appeasement was the only hope to save an ill-equipped and unprepared Britain faced with Nazi expansion. That is understandable, considering this movie took place two years before the United States entered the war. It is entirely plausible that some elements of British intelligentsia favored leaving the Nazis to their own devices, so that English society could be saved. However, this movie darts, flits and dances all over the screen, where we often are unsure who we should be rooting for. Even in the end, we are disappointed. Many of the scenes do little but tease us, with no payoff. It's too bad. A good idea - as well as some good actors - were wasted in this production.
Flammen & Citronen (2008)
Excellent treatment of WWII resistance
World War II resistance fighters have understandably been held at high regard through the years. It's difficult to imagine folks more heroic than those who risk their lives defending their countrymen against the forces of evil. But as "Flame and Citron" reveals, in partisan warfare, the blood can be obscured by a thick layer of fog. The travails of the main characters - one a young, cool-headed killer and his partner, the older, conflicted but dedicated partisan - provide tantalizing drama. This is certainly one of the best WWII movies I've seen in the past decade, and it's a shame it hasn't had more exposure in America. I highly recommend this well-directed, well-acted film, which provides a look at events that most of us have never read about in history books.
The Dilemma (2011)
A feel-bad bromance that misses the mark
"The Dilemma," quite frankly, is one of Ron Howard's worst films. The shaky bromance toggles between comedy and drama, but never reaches adequacy at either extreme. There's so much wrong with this movie, it's difficult to begin. But I'll try. The script is uneven, never settling on what kind of movie it wants to be. The acting is second rate. Vince Vaughn does an admirable job, but Kevin James, Winona Ryder and Jennifer Connolly pretty much showed up to receive a paycheck. Perhaps if this had been a film school graduate's first attempt, it may be forgiven. But this is a Ron Howard film. And we expect much more than this pedestrian effort.
Boring and subtitled: Not a good combination
Despite the obvious care of the director, the performance by the wonderful Javier Bardem and the ambitious reach of the script, "Biutiful" never rises from its pedestrian takeoff point. I watched this movie with great anticipation, since it had gotten such rave reviews. Simply put, it was boring. Bardem plays a low-level criminal who organizes illegal workers in modern-day Barcelona. His life is complicated. His estranged wife is a bipolar alcoholic who earns extra cash prostituting herself with her husband's brother, among others. Bardem's character is diagnosed with terminal cancer and chooses not to tell anyone, including the children who are in his care. That's a combination that could make a good movie. But it falters because there is no action. Personally, I can enjoy a movie devoid of car chases, extreme violence or gratuitous sex scenes. But I have a difficult time getting into a movie when nothing much happens. And that's the case with "Biutiful." Many viewers choosing to sit through its 147-minute length may be left scratching their heads, wondering what it's all about. The film obviously struck a chord with some reviewers, but succeeded only in boring me to tears.