Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Worst and Most Surprising Films of 2011

"Why am I doing this movie, again?"
2012 is upon us, and I originally wanted to do a "Best of" list for 2011; however, that's not very original, and if you've been reading my reviews, you can most likely tell what my favorites were for the year.

Instead, we have something much more fun: a "Worst of 2011" list and also, for variation, a "Most Surprising Films" list.

Click here to read the rest of the article at my Examiner.com page.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Darkest Hour

Oh, Max Mingella. What are you doing in a movie like Darkest Hour? Emile Hirsch, you're in it for the paycheck, I get that - you haven't done a ton of movies recently - but Mingella is fresh off such hits as The Ides of March and The Social Network. Mingella and Hirsch are two actors I like a lot, so I was happy to see that they were in this movie ... until, of course, I actually viewed it.

American friends Sean (Emile Hirsch, Taking Woodstock) and Ben (Max Minghella, The Ides of March) have traveled to Moscow to present an idea for a new social network, which they are hoping to expand to Russia. It turns out, however, that a Swede named Skyler (Joel Kinnaman, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) has stolen their idea and is ready to present it to the Moscow company. Ben is in despair over this, and he and Sean go for a few drinks at a club, where they meet fellow Americans Natalie (Olivia Thirlby, No Strings Attached) and Ann (Rachael Taylor, TV's Charlie's Angels). They have fun together until the power goes out, and the clubgoers are forced out to the streets, where they see something weird: a orange electrical force of sorts, that soon kills a policeman and many others.

This induces mass panic, of course, and the four of them end up cowering in a storage room at the club, along with Skyler, who has somehow weaseled his way in there with them. After three or four days, they decide it's safe to come out, and they want to find their way to the U.S. Embassy (even though the streets are deserted, there will be people at the Embassy! Right?). They find a map to help them, and they soon figure out that the alien forces, whatever they are, activate electricity, so they learn to only venture out at night, when they are able to sense the aliens before they are in danger. Eventually they meet up with a few other survivors, and they find out that there's a submarine ready to depart Moscow the next day, to meet up with survivors around the world. They must get themselves to the sub, although it means going through alien-infested areas, before it leaves Russia.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Artist

With the focus on big-budget special effects, 3D movies, and Blu-Ray movies, it's somewhat anachronistic to see a silent movie in 2011. Nonetheless, The Artist tells a story about the film industry in the 1920s, as "talkies" first arrived on the scene. Although there are a few modern actors in it that you may recognize, the two main actors are foreign (French and Argentinian, respectively), so most Americans probably won't know them by sight.

The year is 1927, and silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin, A View of Love) is enjoying a lucrative and successful career. By chance, he meets Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo, Prey), and pictures of the two of them are splashed on the front page of Variety the next day, to the chagrin of Valentin's wife. He later has a run-in with Peppy again, as she has auditioned for and been cast as a dancer in his new movie. Two years later, however, in 1929, the "talkies" start production, and studio exec Al Zimmer (John Goodman, Red State) wants a fresh cast of characters; he fires Valentin and brings in Peppy and some younger actors to start this new era in filmmaking.

Valentin decides to become a director and make his own film, since the big studios are no longer doing silent films, but it flops. Meanwhile, Peppy's star is rising, and she has become one of the more sought-after actresses in the business. However, she still remembers that it was Valentin that gave her her start in the business, and, in fact, even advised her to add a mole of sorts to her face, to make her stand out from the other actresses; indeed, her mole is now her signature "look." She tries to help Valentin but unfortunately he sinks deeper into depression and despair, since he is no longer the star that he was just a few short years ago.

War Horse

War Horse is directed by Steven Spielberg, and distributed by Disney/DreamWorks effort, which gives you one reason right there to see it. From the trailer the film looked a little sappy, and it was, but overall it was an interesting film, if a little long.

After his father (Peter Mullan, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1) overpays for a horse at auction, Albert (newcomer Jeremy Irvine) gets to train the horse. Albert names it Joey, and he must train him to till their fields, since his family is now in debt to their landlord since they spent so much on the horse. Joey will not be tamed easily, but Albert gives him love and respect, and soon the fields are ready for planting. After an ugly storm, however, their crops are ruined; in addition, World War I is upon England. Albert's father sells the horse to the English army, amidst Albert's protests, so that they will not be homeless, and the officer who will take Albert as his own horse (Tom Hiddleston, Thor) promises to take good care of him.

As these things usually go, Joey ends up with a myriad of different owners throughout "his time" in the war, including a little girl and her grandfather, the Germans, and many other armies. When Albert is old enough, though, he joins the army, and he hopes to maybe find Joey again some day.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin is based on a European comic book series written by an author who uses the pen name Hergé, and at the beginning of the movie we see a poster of one of the book's covers on the wall of an apartment. Just like the books, the film follows Tintin, a reporter, and his dog, Snowy, as they uncover wrongdoings and have many adventures. There are no cell phones or internet searches here, just "old fashioned" sleuthing; in a way, Tintin reminded me of Nancy Drew, but with a male protagonist.

Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell, Jane Eyre) and Snowy are browsing at a market one day when he comes across a miniature ship model that he has to have. Immediately upon buying it, a shady-looking man approaching him and offers to pay him twice what he paid, but Tintin refuses. Another man, too, comes up to him and offers to buy it, but Tintin takes the ship and brings it home. Later, Snowy gets into a fight with a cat in Tintin's apartment, and the ship's masthead breaks, with a secret part inside of it falling to the floor; this later turns out to be fortuitous because Tintin's apartment is broken into, and the ship is stolen. Tintin eventually finds the secret part on the floor of his apartment, and he begins to piece together why it is so important.

A side plot involves the Inspectors Thompson and Thomson (voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) trying to find a wallet thief, who has stolen Tintin's wallet as well. They devise a plan to catch him, which works, but the two are not the brightest, and they don't figure out that the man is indeed the wallet thief until later.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

A Game of Shadows is the sequel to the 2009 Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Although the new film features a lot of action sequences and intrigue, I still prefer the first Sherlock Holmes movie, and you must watch the first film before the second in order to understand the characters and motivations in A Game of Shadows.

Dr. Watson (Jude Law, Contagion) is about to get married, and he is counting on his friend and comrade Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man 2) to throw him a "stag" (bachelor) party. However, Holmes needs Watson's help on an unfinished case. It turns out that Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris, TV's Fringe) has been stockpiling weapons and bandages and has become involved with specific events that he hopes will turn France and Germany against each other, thus resulting in a war for which Moriarty will be able to meet the demand for supplies. Moriarty sends assassins to kill Watson and his new bride (Kelly Reilly, Sherlock Holmes) on the train which they are taking to their honeymoon destination, but luckily Holmes has anticipated this and is on the train as well. From there, Holmes and Watson must join forces once again to take down the Professor, who is planning on causing an incident at a Peace Summit in Switzerland. In addition, they receive some help from the gypsy fortune teller Madam Simza (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), whose brother may be involved in the Professor's plan.

Young Adult

There has been lots of buzz that Young Adult could be a "dark horse" Oscar contender, and I was interested to see it, especially at an early screening. I generally like director Jason Reitman's movies a lot (Juno, Up in the Air, Thank You for Smoking, etc.), and he worked with writer Diablo Cody on Juno, which is one of my favorite movies. Unfortunately, Young Adult ended up not really being "my cup of tea," though perhaps others will like it better.

Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron, Hancock) is a ghostwriter of a young adults series, Waverly Prep, which has just been canceled. She needs to write the last book in the series, however, and she has no inspiration for it. Sick of the random guys with whom she's been having one-night stands, she convinces herself that her high school sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson, TV's A Gifted Man), is the one she is meant to be with, even though he is married with a newborn daughter, and so Mavis returns to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota, for an extended stay at the Hampton Inn. Mavis tells everyone that she's in town for a real estate deal, even though she's there trying to snag Buddy, and some people are excited that she has returned, as she is a "famous book writer" now.

Friday, December 9, 2011

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve is the newest film by director Garry Marshall, and is sort of a follow-up to last year's Valentine's Day. Unfortunately, even though the formula was basically the same, NYE's script was not half as good as its predecessor's. On top of that, the movie is far too long, clocking in at 117 minutes ... and you know there's a problem when I enjoy the bloopers in the credits more than the actual movie. I would normally say that the problem was cramming too many characters into one movie; however, Valentine's Day managed to do that and make itself interesting too.

It's New Year's Eve in New York City, and everyone is getting ready for the ball to drop. Claire (Hilary Swank) is in charge of the ball-dropping spectacle herself, but she has somewhere urgent she needs to be at midnight. Tess (Jessica Biel) and her husband Griffin (Seth Myers) are waiting to have their first child, and they just found out that whoever gives birth at their hospital closest to midnight gets a cash prize. Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) has just quit her job, and she wants to complete her 2011 resolutions list before midnight, so she hires a bike messenger, Paul (Zac Efron), to help her complete the tasks. Stan (Robert De Niro) has rejected chemotherapy for his cancer, and is waiting in a hospital to die; Aimee (Halle Berry) is a kind nurse who doesn't mind spending the night talking to him. Laura (Katherine Heigl) is busy catering an event for the famous rock star Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi), with whom she happens to have a past. Randy (Ashton Kutcher) is trapped in an elevator with Elise (Lea Michele), a back-up singer for Jensen who needs to get to Times Square before midnight.

And if that's not enough for you, there's more ... Hailey (a grown-up Abigail Breslin) desperately wants to get to Times Square at midnight to be kissed, but her mom (Sarah Jessica Parker) absolutely forbids it. Sam (Josh Duhamel) has a problem because he needs to get into the city for a meeting, but his car just broke down. We also have Ryan Seacrest as himself, Hector Elizondo, Penny Marshall (as herself), Ludacris, Matthew Broderick, and Sofia Vergara; in short, New Year's Eve definitely has no shortage of star power.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Holiday movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, 1990
The holidays will soon be upon us, and as the weather gets colder here in Michigan, it's a great time to curl up at home with a glass of hot cocoa and a movie.

Here are my top five best holiday movies, and a few "worst" ones as well.

Best:

1) Love Actually, 2003. 135 minutes, rated R.

From IMDb: Follows the lives of eight very different couples in dealing with their love lives in various loosely and interrelated tales all set during a frantic month before Christmas in London, England.

There are a lot of movies out nowadays that use this format - lots of stories, but they all relate to each other in some way (see: Valentine's Day, and New Year's Eve, out in theaters soon). Love Actually has a stellar cast as well: Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, and others. It's one of my favorite Christmas/holiday movies, and I own it on DVD so I may watch it again this season.

2) Bad Santa, 2003. 91 minutes, rated R.

Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa
From IMDb: A miserable con man and his partner pose as Santa and his Little Helper to rob department stores on Christmas Eve. But they run into problems when the conman befriends a troubled kid, and the security boss discovers the plot.

This is a hilarious film, but definitely not for everyone, especially the younger set. Billy Bob Thornton is Santa, but not your typical one - he swears, drinks, and hates children. He and his partner plan to rob a department store on Christmas Eve like they do every year, but they run into some problems along the way. There have been talks lately of a sequel to this, which hopefully would be as funny as the original.

3A + 3B) Home Alone, 1990, and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, 1992. PG & 103 minutes; PG & 120 minutes.

Home Alone: An 8-year-old boy, who is accidentally left behind while his family flies to France for Christmas, has to defend his home against idiotic burglars. (IMDb)

Home Alone 2: One year after Kevin was left home alone and had to defeat a pair of bumbling burglars, he accidentally finds himself in New York City, and the same criminals are not far behind. (IMDb)

I used to LOVE these when I was a kid, growing up in the '90s, and they are still great movies that have stood the test of time. I believe I have Home Alone 2 on VHS somewhere too. Macaulay Culkin played the unfortunate Kevin, who had to catch burglars in the first movie, and, in a twist of fate, reunites with them in the second. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern play the burglars, and these are a great example of slapstick comedies.

4) Arthur Christmas, 2011. Currently playing in theaters. 97 minutes, rated PG.

On Christmas night at the North Pole, Santa's youngest son looks to use his father's high-tech operation for an urgent mission. (IMDb)

I saw this movie at a screening a few weeks ago, and it was hilarious. It shows that it literally takes a village (of elves) to succeed in "Operation Christmas," and even then, it's possible for one child to be overlooked. The 3D was pretty good as well, and my favorite character in it was Grandsanta, the previous Santa, because he was a bit crazy. Arthur has a talented voice cast as well, including James McAvoy and Hugh Laurie.

Will Ferrell in Elf
5) Elf, 2003. 97 minutes, rated PG.

After inadvertently wreaking havoc on the elf community due to his ungainly size, a man raised as an elf at the North Pole is sent to the U.S. in search of his true identity. (IMDb)

I remember Will Ferrell being hilarious in this film, as an elf that wasn't quite like the others. James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Amy Sedaris, and Zooey Deschanel star as well.


Worst holiday movies (aka, watch if you dare):

1) Four Christmases, 2008. 88 minutes, rated PG-13.

A couple struggles to visit all four of their divorced parents on Christmas Day. (IMDb)

One would think that a film with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn in it would be great ... but no. At 88 minutes, the film drags on far too long, and I almost didn't finish watching the DVD because it just wasn't a funny movie.

Jamie Lee Curtis, Julie Gonzalo, and
Tim Allen in Christmas with the Kranks
2) Christmas with the Kranks, 2004. 99 minutes, rated PG.

With their daughter away, her parents decide to skip Christmas altogether until she decides to come home, causing an uproar when they have to celebrate the holidays at the last minute. (IMDb)

I was excited to watch this film, because it's based on the novel Skipping Christmas by John Grisham, who consistently writes great books. However, the movie adaptation, with a new name and starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, was just so-so. It's always a disappointment when books don't translate well to the big screen, and I imagine that many of Grisham's fans were let down by the movie.


What holiday movies are your favorite? Are there any that you watch every year?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Palladium to host canned food fest on Dec. 8th

from metrotimes.com
If you're looking to see a movie in December while at the same time being charitable, check out the Uptown Palladium's "Filmanthropy" festival. The first 1,000 people who show up between 6pm-9:30pm on December 8th with three canned goods each can see any "first run" movie of their choosing, except for those in 3D. Metro Times, the Palladium, and 93.9 The River are sponsoring the event, and the canned goods will go to Gleaners Food Bank of Southeast Michigan.

From 93.9 The River:

This is an opportunity for individuals and families to give back to the hungry in their communities while having a fun night out together during the holidays!

It is recommended that guests arrive early as Film-anthropy is only open to the first 1,000 attendees. Donations that consist of quality canned goods that are not expired nor will expire within the upcoming months are preferred.


I'm planning on seeing Happy Feet 2 (in 2D), since I missed the screening of that movie. What will you see?