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Green Lantern (2011)
4/10
The most powerful force in the galaxy is not Fear or Will, but Boredom.
24 June 2011
Green Lantern - Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) receives a ring from a mysterious dying alien and finds that through it his thought can be turned into reality. He uses the ring to fight a fear-based enemy Parralax, which is not a pharmaceutical drug but an intergalactic glob of space doom.

You know, for a story of such intergalactic peril, it's hard for me to remember anything of significance. The movie is literally slipping from my mind, but I'll do my best to diagnose the film.

The Good: The Green Lantern planet of Oa, and the power ring effects are pretty. The performances aren't bad. Ryan Reynolds is a good actor, even though he wouldn't have been my choice for Hall Jordan. Peter Saarsgard is also good as Hector Hammond, and the film would have benefited from more of him. Whenever Mark Strong appears, I feel like caring. There's a training sequence that is easily the most entertaining thing in this film. Mark Strong just has a gravitas and an intensity that the movie needed more of. That's not to say that the rest of the film is full of laughs. It's not. Humor would have also added a lot to the film.

The Bad: About that lack of humor. I'm going to blame most of the faults in this film on the writers. Nearly all of them have only written for television. They've all produced more than written, and two of them have written for No Ordinary Family and the bad half of Heroes. Oy. To quote the Mythbusters in a pseudo-plumber voice: "Well there's your problem." There are a bunch of superfluous scenes and some fairly random cuts to unrelated stories scattered through the film. Nearly everyone mentions Hal's dad's jet fighter fatality to him at least once, just to make sure we remember. Then there's the problem that the audience is supposed to believe two test pilots, a senator, and biology scientist all know each other stretching back to childhood or are related. And two of them receive superpowers. It's not like this is going to ruin the film. It's just another thing that subtly tells you someone wasn't trying. And that's the gist I get from this film.

The film basically has no real antagonist. There's a floating cloud of blackish-yellow Parralax doom, but it never really poses a threat. It's kind of laughable that Hal Jordan travels to Oa and back to Earth twice before Parralax could conceivably reach either. Thank goodness when it gets to Earth it attacks the half of that planet that's in broad daylight, or you'd never find it. Hector Hammond should be a better nemesis, as he has telekinesis and telepathy and an actual personality, but the film spends too much time trying to make him sympathetic rather than a true villain. He has no real scheme or goals, he's just a victim of Parralax. I know the reason the filmmakers went with these two sad sacks is they want to save Sinestro for a sequel, but judging from the box-office returns (only $50 million on the opening weekend? for shame.) they should have hedged their bets and spent that rainy day money early.

Because there's no real villain, the problem Hal faces is...self doubt. How exciting. He has substantial fears, which is exactly the sort of thing I would think should probably disqualify someone from being a test pilot. Anywho, I think Hal's real problem is a lack of imagination. A minigun, chainsaw, and a couple of jet fighters are the most interesting things Hal does with the ring.

The Ugly: The film has a drastic overuse of CGI. Green Lantern should at LEAST have a real honest to goodness costume. Superman's from another planet too, but his costume is made of honest to goodness cloth. It's hard to really be interested in a hero when 85% of his body is digital. And when his power is to create green CGI from the power of will, there should be more creative uses than what we see. What should be Hal's iconic entrance into the public eye has him instead - I kid you not - rollar skating a helicopter through a series of Matchbox Car-style loops to safety. Like a Cartoon. I think Daredevil slicing a man in half with a subway train was a better superhero introduction. Even the characters later admit how stupid and un-iconic an introduction Green Lantern's display of power was, which means the writers probably also knew.

Bottom line, the movie is ho hum. There's just no wow factor. Aliens and power rings and telepathy seem to faze almost nobody in this film. And if they're not interested, I'm not interested. There are few moments of power, depth, or interest or anything. Therefore, I give the film a D+
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Tron (2010)
6/10
Good for 10 year old boys. Disposable but not worth hating.
23 December 2010
Tron: Legacy - A sequel 28 years later to the original, Tron follows Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) the creator of Tron. Sam is called to his father's old arcade mysteriously and gets zapped into a program where he interacts with other bots including his father's doppelganger Clu (Jeff Bridges), a murderous zelot program.

This is a sequel that few waited for or wanted, probably. I suppose someone wanted to do a remake, but someone else had too much nostalgia to deny Jeff Bridges (guy's on a roll lately) another movie. It works much better as a sensory experience than a film. The atmosphere is enjoyable. Whilst everything in the Matrix was a flat black and green, here we get black, blue and orange! Although otherworlds are supposed to be vastly more complex and intricate than ours, look at how many colors they have and the simplistic nature will come crashing down to you. There's freaking nothing to do in the world of Tron. There are the discus gladiator matches and the races (both cool), but that seems to be all that's interesting in this world. Bottom line, the story sucks and the world doesn't feel like a universe worth exploring. It makes no sense for the most part (why are there storms in a computer world?). The Iso's aren't explained properly an neither is why a 20 year stalemate is in place between Clu and Kevin when they live a 5 minutes drive from each other and Kevin seems to care little for home defenses of any kind.

There's nostalgia aplomb. Bruce Boxleitner (guy from the first movie) appears at the beginning and end of the film. Sam puts a quarter in an old arcade game and I thought of the Zoltar machine from "Big". Journey's "Separate Ways" is used to great effect. That song, awful music video and all, is a good metaphor for this movie. Its feel is nice and it's a great song, but it's also a bunch of campy guys running around an empty warehouse with nothing to do.

The performances are a mix. Jeff Bridges is always welcome in a film, but here he is channeling "The Dude" from The Big Lebowski. He's all zenned out and I almost expected to here him say "this aggression will not stand" or "hey man, that's just like, your opinion man". Garrett Hedlund is pretty much a blank slate. There's nothing exceptional about his performance. I'd have forgotten his name if I didn't look him up. Olivia Wilde is better as Quora. She adds some much needed spunk and glee to the movie. A pity Garrett has so little chemistry with her. Cillian Murphy has a blink and you'll miss it cameo. He has to be one of the most talented working actors of his generation to be in so many bit parts in blockbuster films. Michael Sheen seems to be channeling campy devious performances from any 70s to 80s sci-fi film. Movies like "Logan's Run" or "Mad Max" come to mind as Michael chews scenery and does kicklines in albino makeup. And Jeff Bridges as Clu is a mix. He's good when he is malevolent and ambivalent in the first scene but keeps getting worse and worse and bellows at everyone far too much. And why do stadiums of loyal computer programs need so many over the top motivational speeches? Maybe that's how programming works in the world of Tron.

The effects and music are really the show. And a pretty good show at that. It would be better as a thrill ride than a 2 hour film. The music is fitting and atmospheric, so hats off to Daft Punk, though I'd like to hear what MGMT might have done. The film's story and universe don't really work, but the trimmings, costumes and effects are enough to warrant viewing. They, thankfully, will be what stays with you later.

Remember the CGI, forget the sci-fi, The Big LeTronski gets a C.
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5/10
Disappointing, though not quite the train wreck that was Public Enemies.
13 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Superman/ Batman: Apocaplyse - Superman's cousin Kara/ Supergirl is discovered in a meteorite, and her existence is a point of dispute for Batman and Superman, and she also becomes a being of interest for Darkseid.

The main problem with this film is the story and dialogue. Parts of the story don't quite make sense. Why does Kara emerge a full grown woman from her pod when Clark was a baby in his pod? Why was her trip so much longer than Kal-El's? Kara's alieness and lack of control of her powers seem to completely disappear with no explanation other than she goes to swing a sword with some Amazons for training. Why does a girl who can bend steel need sword training? Relations between characters are skimmed over for time, the creators are obviously hoping the audience will fill in those gaps. It's not enough to be told that someone is someone's best friend. That's lazy scripting. Kara's relationship with every character feels brief and 4 to 5 lines of dialogue long. There is a heartfelt scene mourning the loss of a character that literally had two or three lines of dialogue. Superman acts less like Kara's cousin but instead her father, which is weird, considering they were both babies when Krypton was destroyed and thus should be the same age.

With characters raced through poorly scripted scenes, there's no real emotional connection to these demi-gods. Fight scenes are impressive but unengaging. Thus there is never a moment of tension when main characters are constantly on the brink of dying, but don't. Batman and Wonder Woman are scripted as a stubborn jerk and a bitch, respectively.

The creators were hoping you'd ignore this and focus yet again n the stunt casting of Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, Summer Glau and Andre Braugher. It's not enough as they have nothing good to say. Conroy in particular is wasted. It's less a script than a bare bones outline, this movie. Swearing, blood, and camp don't mix. I could go on, but you get the idea. It's not worthy of the Justice League of old, much less fine films like Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Justice League: The New Frontier, or Batman: Under the Red Hood. At least it's not quite as jaw-droppingly bad as Superman Batman/ Public Enemies.

Other lowlights include Superman having a caped dog, which is dumb.
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5/10
Shallow and lacking. But what else could one expect from Jeph Loeb?
17 September 2010
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies - Lex Luthor becomes president because the DC world inevitably tips the scales in favor of Lex Luthor for some reason. Superheroes become outlaws, and a meteor of kryptonite is going hit Earth. This is based on a comic series written by Jeph Loeb.

One aspect of this story did not need to happen, and it's the meteor. By now, everyone must be rolling their eyes at the lack of rarity of kryptonite. Approximitely all of Krypton must have exploded onto Earth at this point. And there are other types of krytonite. Surely one of those could have brought a fresher element to the story, like say, Red Kryptonite? Batman and, more importantly, Superman being public outcasts (Batman has always been on the in and out with public opinion) is a far more interesting story. It the story this movie claimed to have been about, but decided it couldn't follow through on. Instead we get 5 minutes of plot and 55 of action. Intermittently there are spots of overly friendly dialogue between Batman and Superman (when the hell did that happen?) and fairly stark wooden dialogue from anybody else. Luthor's super-enforcers and Luthor's scene with Power Girl stand out best in my mind.

The animation is decent, but why oh why is everyone so overly muscled? Did necks go out of style? Genitalia must have too for Captain Atom because that looks like a skin tight suit. Power Girl is kind of a joke too, albeit decent eye candy.

Just to be clear, where did the rest of the Justice League go? And since when did Supes and Batman become an item (Batman doesn't like to be held? Awww. Intimacy issues)? Because the two men should be completely different and less trustworthy of each other to my knowledge, like when Batman kept a log on how to defeat every other member of the Justice League in case they turned rogue. It's a relationship the audience is to accept with no explanation, or lead into. There is a niceness to the differences in their combat styles. Batman's inventiveness, gadgetry and martial arts expertise are nicely demonstrated as he puts down superpowered foes. I also like Superman's ability to whip up tornadoes and flying of foes into levels of the atmosphere where they can't breath.

Frankly though, a little goes a long way. While action is expected over story in a 65 minute cartoon, it's too much muscle and no meat and bones. There is almost no drama, tension or story. It's a slugfest, worthy of a generic video game. While other films like Justice League: The New Frontier, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, and Batman: Under the Red Hood had drama, themes and issues to explore, this film does not. Superman never loses faith in humanity or doubts whether or not he is in the right. Lex Luthor is simply evil and cannot be trusted, which WE KNEW. It would have been better if some other politician had come around to demand a ban of the superheroes. Marvel's Civil War this isn't. The less I say about the end the better. It involves a giant robot/rocket, an irritating Japanese boy out of left field, and Lex Luthor losing whatever menace he ever possessed.

It's a shame and a lost potential. Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly should not be whored out like this for subpar animated films like this. And what the hell was with bringing John C. McGinley into the mix as Metallo and only giving him two lines?
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Iron Man 2 (2010)
8/10
A blast! well, several....
7 May 2010
Iron Man 2: Taking place immediately after Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) reveals himself as Iron Man, enigmatic rival Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) has some sort of grudge against the Stark family and builds his own unique suit of power armor. Flash forward, and Tony Stark finds not all is roses with his new life. His armor's power source is slowly killing him, and government suits and military forces are demanding the power armor be handed over.

I find it funny that when Iron Man first hit the scene in 2008, some people scathingly pointed out the similarities between Iron Man and Batman. Now that enough clear differences have been made between the characters and the original walks on water in many people's eyes, the sequel has been dismantled and hardly given unanimous praise. If you're wondering why I first mentioned Batman, it's because I find many of the complaints critics have made about Iron Man 2 to be the very things they loved about The Dark Knight. Too many supporting characters, too many plots juggling in the air, too dark, the villain isn't shown as much, and the film seems like a set-up for a sequel.

Suffice to say that, damn the critics, I had a great time. There is a perceptible change in tone and scale between the first and second movies, but on the whole, I think people want to see the universe a character occupies expand between movies. That child-like glee you felt at Iron Man flying for the first time? Yeah. Look we can't have a second film that just involves Tony tinkering in his workshop again. Sequels are supposed to offer challenges and complexity.

Robert is great. He brings believability and gravitas to a larger than life character. He shines particularly in some unexpected scenes such as one where he is trying to win Pepper's favor back (unsuccessfully). Tony really likes his redheads, as he's now juggling Pepper Pots and Natasha (the vivacious Scarlett Johanson). Gweneth Paltrow is sharper as Pepper this time around and seems more comfortable bantering with Tony a la Robert Altman. Am I the only one who notices that her character seems to spend a LOT of time watching shows where talking heads bash the Stark company? Kinda lends a perspective to her typically on-edge persona.

Don Cheadle gives more presence to the role of Rhodey than Terrence Howard, and by the end is swingin' one liners with the best of them. It's nice to see the director Jon Favreau on screen more this time as Happy Hogan the driver. Sam Rockwell is over the top and a treat in Stark-less scenes as part-time rival and full-time jackass Justin Hammer. Mickey Rourke disappears into the role of Ivan Vanko, and sans the Batman sequel, there isn't enough of him. He definitely makes his mark in the first third and the conclusion of the film. Iron Man has never been known to have the best villains, but the same could be said for most of the Marvel Universe (About half to two thirds are generic thugs with super-strength) as far as a realistic movie villain goes. I think Jon Favreau did well combining a few choice elements from a few villains and getting a great character actor like Rourke to play Whiplash. I'm extremely interested how he'll pull off the questionably named Mandarin.

The story holds interest through what some people might consider quieter moments. Despite many things given away in the trailers the film still has some surprises. There are thrills and laughs a plenty. Some of the action is frankly quite awesome. The film does not close quite as quickly as the first one did, but it still feels wrapped up too soon. There are some cool scenes hinting at the much anticipated Thor and Avengers films, I for one, can't wait. You can't go home again, but you can grow up. Iron Man 2 gets an A-
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Alice in Wonderland (I) (2010)
5/10
Incredibly pedestrian given the subject matter and the director!.
6 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Alice in Wonderland - Alice (Mia Wasikowska), now 20 years old, is being forced into an arranged marriage and decides to escape again to Wonderland. She finds her old band of weird misfit characters, The Hatter (Johnny Depp), The Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), The Caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman), who all seem to know each other this time around. Team Alice must take on the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and it is up to Alice to slay the mighty Jabberwocky.

Of all the good directors to lose their touch, Burton's descent is probably the most interesting. Don't get me wrong, I love Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Big Fish, and Sleepy Hollow very much, but Burton has undeniably lost his touch over the last few years. A man always attracted to images, he has always enjoyed the imagery of horror but not necessarily the pathos behind it. Motivations and details tend to elude Burton's characters and their worlds in his works. Burton has gotten frankly lazy with his casting over the years. Now, in Burton's seventh film with Johnny Depp and his most eye popping yet conventional film yet, it is clear that Burton is comfortable in just letting the imagery and Danny Elfman's music do the dramatic work for him. If I found parts of Sweeney Todd boring and emotionally vapid, it had nothing on large chunks of Wonderland. There is not an ounce of drama to be found anywhere. Now I ask why would a man who has admitted to not being familiar with fairy tales or good scripts, desire to do Alice in Wonderland? If one had large chunks of time to spare, they could go over what a weird mistake it was to put Alice, whose original adventures ARE the archetype for the woman's adventure, squarely in an archetypal male's adventure of achieving their destiny by slaying a dragon. I mean really, what was the point of rebooting Alice just to turn it into Narnia? This is not entirely Burton's fault. Linda Woolverton, who wrote The Lion King, is also behind this.

If there is one place where schmaltz, logic, conventionality, epic battles and foretold prophecies/destinies, should be forbidden, it's Wonderland. Gone is the political satire, the wackiness and the randomness of Wonderland. Mr. Burton, good lord but what were you thinking? Mia Wasikowska is completely lacking in charisma. I liked some of the things Depp tried to do with Mad Hatter, even if a random Scottish accent appears sometimes and a horrendously inappropriate hip-hop routine comes out of freaking nowhere at the end. Ironically, trying to give the Hatter depth was a huge mistake. Stephen Fry is pitch perfect as the Cheshire Cat. Alan Rickman's voice is similarly great for the Caterpillar. Helena Bonham Carter raises the performance level some with The Red Queen. Anne Hathaway looks vacant and sashays around as the White Queen. The film is beautiful, and Burton fans will be satisfied. It is, I repeat, a shallow conventional Wonderland. Alice in Wonderland gets a C-.
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7/10
Standard fare, but entertaining turn from Mel and Martin!
6 February 2010
Edge of Darkness - Mel Gibson's first film as the lead in almost decade has him as Boston policemen Thomas Craven who is seeking revenge for crimes against his daughter. His harrowing quest for justice gets Craven deep in bureaucratic affairs and intrigue aplomb. I went into the film knowing almost nothing about it, and would likewise like to keep you viewers in the dark, or on the edge of it (tee hee!) as well. Trust me, you'll have more fun the less you know.

It's a nice reminder of why Mel Gibson used to garner such attention. Talented as he is behind the camera, he is far more enjoyable on camera. Unlike Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, Mel Gibson actually gives credibility to an old man kicking a fair amount of ass simply because he has nothing left. As a man tortured by the deception and cruelty unfolding around him, Mel gives the film vitality. The same can be said for director Martin Campbell, action director extraordinaire. They project the film a notch above similar fare. Danny Huston and Ray Winstone give good performances to fairly generic characters: a corrupt businessman and a Deepthroat style character.

The film is tight and occasionally surprising. And by surprising, I don't mean as to whether a character is going to die or not, but how they are going to die. The plot is comprehensive if a little far-fetched given the surroundings and motivations. It too elevates the film above the likes of a Steven Seagal film.The action is tight and well choreographed. I loved watching Mel Gibson enact revenge in Lethal Weapon. I loved it in Braveheart. I enjoyed it here as well. His brand of crazy vengeance is just one of the simple things you treasure in life. It's a film about a simple man who demands honesty from a frequently morally bankrupt world that is driven by greed. I think that's why we have so many films in which good is portrayed as winning in the end. Not because it's true to life, but it's the truth that we desire to see.

Sidenote: This film was made largely in my home of Western Massachussetts. I am reminded of how I felt during my viewing of "In Bruges" in which a quaint countryside town is given a wildly-inappropriate-given-its-settings gangster story. This alternate Massachussetts is like if Sin City were mixed with Dr. No's nuclear scheme. Sounds like a fun place. Wish I lived there.

A solid entertaining film that delivers in February no less. Edge of Darkness gets a B.
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Avatar (2009)
10/10
Moving blockbuster with appeal to all ages.
31 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Avatar - Avatar is James Cameron's much awaited epic - the likes of which has not been seen in several years. It's great to know that something this long in the making was actually worth the wait. Jake (Sam Worthington) is a marine sent to replace his twin brother in a mission on an enemy planet. Jake is uploaded into an "Avatar", a genetic copy of the Na'vi the alien race he is to infiltrate. Jake's loyalties are put to the test.

Avatar reinforces why certain ideas, now scathingly called cliché in the first place, are still so potent in the collective unconsciousness. The problem with so many films that tried and failed to utilize similar themes, is they have lacked the emotional maturity and depth of Avatar. The mere fact that Avatar succeeds so well indicates the truth of it's message. Is Jake going to convert? Of course he is. A relatable realistic portrayal of Jake by Sam Worthington makes us believe this. Who wouldn't want to fly? Who wouldn't want to see so much simple natural beauty and trade it in a heartbeat for their mechanized, false environment? One of the things I liked with that Jake's defection was not just for the sake of his co-star Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who is played with vitality and heart.

There is great work form the ensemble. Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez and Joel Moore all give quality work as the good guys. Stephen Lang plays the badass villain Colonel Miles Quaritch, while Giovanni Ribisi plays a scummy corporate shill.

The aesthetics and scope of the film are incredible. Whether it is seen in 3-D or not the film is a work of art. The planet is gorgeous from head to toe. Its destruction is a painful reminder of the Amazon Rainforest. Some of the creatures resemble underwater creatures, whilst others bear resemblance to the conquered by nature dinosaurs. The Na'vi are a subtle mix of various conquered peoples through history. Part Indian in bone structure, part African. And who took these people by storm in the first place you ask? It is a look into the other side's shoes that Avatar provides. We haven't been the good guys for a long time guys. I love my troops for their sacrifices, but I feel that these are very much the wrong wars.

The film succeeds at being preachy by diving in with it's heart on it's sleeve. The message isn't tacked on: We are the assholes when we go forth with our worst instincts for cruelty and greed. The message is strengthened by a millenia of history. The film jogs it's viewers over to the side of peace and naturalism and has them rejecting corporate greed and military strong-arming in the course of three hours. If that's not a testament to the amazing power of correctly done film than I'm not sure what is.

My tiny problem is the choice of the name for the precious metal the Earthers desire so badly: unobtainium. Yeesh. C'mon guys. How about a little subtlety for audience members over the age of 12? How about "nofindium" or "macguffium". In such a well crafted film, this feels like a first draft problem everyone was too deeply involved on the project to feel like changing.

Several sites indicate that two sequels are in the works. My initial response was a groan, as I thought this was a great stand-alone film that needed no further examination, but this is James Cameron the master of sequels we're talking about here. I'm sure this will bear amazing children for the years to come.

2009 was a sorry year in many respects, but film was not one of them. Virtually all of the films I deeply enjoyed for using their brains, brawn and wit were financial successes. Perhaps the mass appetite/recognition for quality has not been diminished, only starved in the past few years. Maybe there is hope after all. If we're going to survive, we'll need intelligence, artistry, and ecological conscientiousness, whether we like it or not.

Avatar gets an A.
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The Road (I) (2009)
6/10
Mortensen is strong but this suffers from tired problems of the genre.
28 December 2009
The Road - Viggo Mortensen stars in the role of "Man" who contends with cannibals and earthquakes all for the safety of "Boy" (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Flashbacks to the start of the not-explained apocalyptic situation show us "Man"s relations with now dead "Wife" (Charlize Theron).

I eagerly awaited this film as soon as I saw the trailer, in spite of my growing impatience with the litany of apocalypse films now on the market. Viggo Mortensen has, with the exception of "Appaloosa", been in a series of exceptional films in this decade and created several unforgettable characters. His portrayal of "Man" is, if not unique, certainly convincing as a man on the edge of defeat in a harsh and impossible situation. If anything can bring him over the edge, it is his incessantly whining hindrance of a son.

In the genres of horror and survival, writers feel that no situation is too barren and terrible that a defenseless sidekick cannot be added on to make it even more unbearable. It's one of the things that needs to be dropped from the mix because when it doesn't work, a film risks being plain unenjoyable. In this case, Kodi Smit-Mcphee says "Papa!" enough times with enough incessant pleading to give all but the most maternal viewer a headache. When Man gives Boy a revolver with one bullet to commit suicide, I immediately think that with those big gloves and that sad sniffle, the Boy will likely botch the job. This is a child with no born survival instinct. Every decision Boy demands (loudly) is almost certainly the wrong one. Can we invite scary looking Robert Duvall over to dinner? Can we follow the possibly cannibalistic boy back to his tribe? Can I shout loudly whenever something might be around, thereby directing it to my location? If Boy is supposed to be a gift from God, I'd say God truly has screwed the world over.

It transformed quickly from being an eagerly awaited film to one that demands nit-picking concerning logic in character choices, especially since survival is so pertinent. If you have a small gun with two bullets, do you a) teach your son how to commit suicide (for over the top dramatic effect) or b) use one of said two bullets to kill an armed man and take his gun? Alas, director John Hillcoat and writer Joe Penhall are less interested in logistics and specifics (what exactly happened to bring us to this state?) than in loose Bible associations and simple Western ideas of "good" and "bad". "We're the good guys, right?" Struggling for that nobility in a world ripped apart is as futile as it is tacky and simple. The only thing that seems to be in shades of gray is the scenery.

The atmosphere of The Road is bleak and suitably depressing. The film provides some thrills and chills but they are few and far between. It loses steam about two thirds of the way through, where I lost concern for the safety of the characters. It's not bad, but a long shot from Mortensen's usual. The Road gets a B-
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Nine (2009)
5/10
Estranged material lacking in emotional resonance kills this one.
26 December 2009
Nine - A renowned Italian filmmaker Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is having trouble writing a script for his latest film. Why he does not simply hire a few writers or simply call off the film is beyond me. Instead Guido racks his brains and visits several different women (to call them muses is too much of a stretch, as they don't actually help him write). They are played by Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, Fergie, Sophia Loren and Marion Cotilard.

A movie about writers block does not make for great entertainment. It is the lazy man's way of telling a story. I should know, because I've done it for a school project. Nine immediately feels both too long and too short. Some puzzle pieces appear to be missing, and what would be a perfectly acceptable two to two and a half hour theater piece crawls to the finish on the silver screen, probably due to languid scripting. The film has become far too quiet and vague in its transition. I'm not familiar with the original show, but Guido's character feels lacking. As such, one loses interest in his troubles and all the women he has had fornicated with or had interest in. It doesn't help that the country and the filmmaker the film centers on are terribly obscure to American audiences.

Day-Lewis disappears into the role with what I suppose is an Italian accent. It was only near the end when he starts shouting and grows a beard that I recognize his trademark acting. Again Antonio Banderas has got the short shift for a lead in a musical in favor of someone from the UK (Last time it was Gerard Butler in Phantom of the Opera). Day-Lewis does okay, but it was a part that could have been done by anyone, and would have been best left to someone with musical theater training. He looks out of his element dancing and hanging from rafters. When he sings, Day-Lewis is sometimes reminiscent of the Count from Sesame Street.

Marion Cotilard does much better and does so much more with even less. For a few minutes, the film is golden as she heartbreakingly sings "My Husband Makes Movies". Of the few reasons to see the film, she is one. Why Guido didn't simply divorce her years ago rather than torture her by sleeping with other women is, again, beyond me. Lo, what fools these mortals be.

Kate Hudson and Fergie tie in the my contest for whose character least deserves a musical number. I have to give it to Hudson, as her song is more annoying and likely to stick in your head and she is in all of two scenes. Why give a character a song if they have nothing to say and the song does nothing to advance the story? A musical only works if the music ties into the story and has emotional resonance for the characters. This only happens a few times, as director Rob Marshal (Chicago) tries to use that film's trick of compartmentalizing the music again. It doesn't work as well in Nine as it did in Chicago. At times, the other world music and the real-world dialog even fight each other for supremacy. You'll find yourself quickly rooting for the music as the dialog is often dull.

Sidenote: This is the second musical of the last few years to cut the theme song(Sweeney Todd was the first). To future musical makers: Don't. There are so few catchy tunes in this that Nine would have benefited from it's theme song.

Nicole Kidman's screen time is mercifully short. Actually everyone's screen time is incredibly short. I'm having trouble remembering where the time went.

Fergie and Penelope Cruz shake their admirable ahem...assets and provide welcome eye candy. What is less welcome is when Judi Dench gets into the cleavage game as well, with a small presumably traumatized boy by her side as well. Blech. They're all game for singing but none of them are Broadway, though Fergie's voice is impressive. With the exception of Cottilaird, no one acts their songs. The casting by and large is easy to decipher. As "Nine" has such little appeal nationally, the filmmakers thought they'd crowd the stage with as many Oscar folk as possible. Director Rob Marshal (and the Golden Globe committee) would have you think he has made another Chicago. He has not. Nine gets a C.
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