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Pitch Perfect (2012)
The perfect box set
If you liked "Mean Girls," "Easy A" and especially "Bring It On," here is the perfect final movie for that box set you've been building of smart, very well-written, insightful young adult films. Possibly - barely - just a step below the rest in quality because each one had already set the bar so high, but very equal to their attempts to make intelligent comedies in a day when dumb, tone-deaf, and formulaic all rule at the box office. Kendrick is charming and sharp, Wilson manages to wring one more funny variation on her standard character, and Astin more than holds his own as leading man among all the strong women surrounding him. Looking forward to seeing what each of the people involved does next.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
The musical to end all musicals...
...Because once it's done you'll never want to see another one for the rest of your life.
As you watch you won't be tapping your foot, you'll be kicking yourself in the shin so the pain and blood will distract you from your headache. You won't be taking in the beautiful scenery and rambunctious choreography - you'll be wondering how a movie so expensive could look like it was shot on Universal's backlot and choreographed by a straight man. You won't walk out humming the music or singing the lyrics, you'll be cursing the screen and screaming for your money back.
I'll put it this way: "Mame" is better.
Brutal, but Terrific
Yes, brutal, like a lost Stephen King short story from the seventies, one of those with a small cast of characters that keeps getting smaller. You cross your fingers and just hope the ones you're rooting for survive to the end.
And terrific. The cast totally sells a script that could have either gone over the top into "Cliffhanger" territory or become sentimental, and ditto for the sparse direction. Nothing is wasted, everything works, and you are on the edge of your seat the whole time despite the almost non-existent plot. The script is a textbook example of taking a compelling hook and playing it out to its conclusion no matter the cost.
The perfect film to watch in the dead of winter, with all the lights on and - most importantly - a fire in the fireplace. Even then... you still may not be all that glad your character made it to the last page.
Plan B (2009)
My plan b: rent a different movie
If I didn't know better I'd have guessed that the writer and director of "Plan B" were two different people, neither of them very experienced or talented, totally working at odds. The film seems like a collaboration between filmmakers who had never made movies before, or even seen better ones.
"Plan B" is too long by half, especially for as little story as there is to tell. Scenes drag on forever, broken up by shots of buildings and rumbling ambient sounds that belong in a more suspenseful film. There is a lot of will-he-or-won't-he going on, lots of staring and deep thinking, but none of it out in the audience. Which isn't to say that this little story is boring, only badly told. In the right hands, two men discovering that trying to define yourself is only fooling yourself could be completely fascinating.
The film's biggest problem is the distance from each of its characters - not only emotionally but literally, in front of the camera. There are so few closeups it becomes difficult to follow what any of these people are thinking, and the script's refusal to put any of their struggles into words only hurts the process. Lucas Ferraro breaks through once, with a silent scene where Pablo realizes what has happened and what it means to him. Manuel Vignau's Bruno gets no such scene, so it's almost impossible to register where his plotting ends and his supposed love begins. Other characters, their relationships unclear, wander through adding almost nothing to what's going on.
So "Plan B" is a disappointment mainly because of the squandered opportunity it represents. With dialog that developed its ideas and a director who better exploited not only its comic but tragic aspects, the brilliant hook of the script could have resulted in another minor classic like "Parting Glances." Instead, it is just one more foreign import with a great-looking trailer: lingering glances, a few butt shots, and a hope that the gay guys who've rented it will be too busy reading the subtitles to realize how thin the story and emotions actually are.
Liam Neeson has made so many movies in which he's miserable you would certainly think he'd have the expression down by now. And throughout "Taken," even before the action starts, he proves it like never before. From the first frame his face is screwed into a look of discomfort you haven't seen since John Boehner's last interview.
There's nothing to say about plot here - or character development, logic, or anything else new to the genre. The movie is as generic and bare-bones as possible: hero, victim, bad guys, death. It moves, and that's good in an action movie, but to say it moves is like saying Glenn Beck cries. Of course it moves. It's supposed to.
The better question is whether it's different from anything else you've seen in the last ten years. That is, since digital manipulation of editing, special effects, stunts and now apparently screen writing has become so prevalent. The answer in my opinion is no.
It's exactly the same, with the popular new twist added that the hero is completely invincible. He feels no pain, has no emotions, never gets injured, is prepared for everything and can get out of any outlandish situation. So not only is "Taken" generic (and sexist, and xenophobic), it's also dull and very predictable.
Which might explain Mr. Neeson's more incredibly pained on screen expression. Could he be picturing his foreseeable future in movies? Not as the brooding leading man of intelligent, well-written pictures, but as Jason Statham's new daddy.
The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
And so ends the short, undistinguished career of Basil of Baker Street...
I waited almost 25 years to see this movie, thinking it might be an underrated work, from a period animation was no longer of the quality it had once been. It starred one of the best film villains of all time, was based on a beloved series of children's books, and was a Disney Studios production. What could possibly be wrong with it? As it turns outs, almost everything.
Well, not everything. Vincent Price as Rattigan and Henry Mancini's swanky score are the movie's two saving graces. Price is wickedly enjoyable, and Mancini more professional than the material deserves. They bring class to a project that otherwise belongs in obscurity.
Meanwhile the rest of the movie, while filled with inappropriately adult situations, still suffers from a completely dull script, blandly generic voice work, terrible songs, and lazy animation that wouldn't have been out of place on any of Disney's mid-1980s Saturday morning TV shows.
This was a complete disappointment to me. It's amazing that this movie was nearly contemporary with The Secret of NIMH. Costing a fraction of this, an independent studio produced something with more creativity in its trailer than GMD has in its endless running time.
The extra star that keeps this from being "awful" goes to Price and Mancini.
I believe "stolid" is the right word to describe this latest version of Miss Marple. The new series seems to be an earnest, though in my opinion misguided, attempt to appease fans who hated Garaldine McEwan and her much more zesty movies.
Say what you will about the last Marples, they were never dull. Yes, some of the plots and characters were retooled to inject more life into the proceedings, motivations rethought and endings changed. But Christie did all that herself, in adapting her written works to the stage. And McEwan made Jane more appealing, not to mention more energetic, than anyone since Rutherford more the cape.
I hate revisionism as much as the next person but I do recognize the appeal in letting your material breathe. 100% faithful, the McEwans were not. Down to the sprightly new theme music, 100% fresh they were. "Rye" is not, and in spades.
Unfortunately, one of the things lost in the yawns here is a wonderful performance by Julia McKenzie. She looks determined to do the role justice, and she holds her cuteness in check admirably, but it's all in the service of a show that any of the other Marples could have done just as well. She is so restrained by the narrow confines of the script that she isn't allowed to shine at all. Given the chance to inhabit the character instead of stuff herself into Saint Joan Hickson's sensible shoes, one day I'm sure she'll be great. Here's hoping.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Big Disappointment after "Royale"
This has been a year of huge disappointments for me at the movies. "Dark Knight" depressed me, "Crystal Skull" made me want to knife George Lucas, "Mamma Mia" to poke out my eardrums... And the dozen previews before this one made me want to stop going to the theater at all.
The director and editor of "Quantum" obviously had no idea what makes an action sequence work, what pace is, how to tell a story, or how to make an audience care what happened to these characters. Shots during the action fly by so fast you have no idea what's going on or even where characters are in relation to each other in each scene. However the exposition all drags by so slowly that you lose interest in even trying to untangle the plot. Not that the plot itself is so interesting. Far removed from the careful character work and set-up of "Casino Royale", "Quantum" is perfunctory and Bourne-by-the-numbers. It could just as easily have been Craig's last Bond; his "View to a Kill" or "Die Another Day", the one that kills off his slice of the franchise and makes the audience want to see someone else take over.
The worst offense for me, speaking as a fan who has loved almost all the previous Bonds, is that "Quantum" is so totally lacking in any sense of fun. This relaunched Bond doesn't enjoy what he's doing, as others before him have, and doesn't seem likely to grow into a man who will. He has no rapport with the other characters, least of all M or the superdull villain, and his motivation to hop from location to location -revenge - is so one-note that I started to miss the complexity of Roger Moore's later work.
If nothing else, "Quantum" should be huge selling point for new Blu-Ray players; I don't doubt it will drive people into stores to buy the newly re-released Bond collection so they can remind themselves what made this series so fantastic in the first place.