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Movie Musical “Pitch Perfect” fits the bill (Review) October 7, 2012

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A-capella singing has come a long way since the dorky days of “a capella glee club” which most of us remember from our college years…riding the wave of popular tv-competitions, Glee, as well as the stellar success of the Indiana University Men’s “Straight No Chaser”, along comes the very entertaining “Pitch Perfect”.

Starring Anna Kendrick (here shown with new-hottie-on-the-block Skylar Astin (Spring Awakening), the movie follows the basic storyline of all such musicals: out-of-her-element college girl finds a girl-group a-capella singing group she likes, is pursued by boy-she-isn’t-sure-she-likes and by the end has found musical success and a new boyfriend. Forget the story — see this for the music, the great chemistry between the actors, and the (for the most part) live performances.

Written by 30-Rock screenwriter Kay Cannon, and directed by Jason Moore (Avenue Q), the show rocks more than a few Broadway folks in the show. Astin himself originated Georg in Spring Awakening. You’ll recognize plenty of Broadway folks in the different ensembles that make up the competing a-cappella teams. Rebel Wilson turns in a superb performance as “Fat Amy” and brings most of the laughs to the affair, but Cannon’s very witty screenplay supplies enough humor to keep the movie rolling from scene to scene. Particularly funny is the banter between Elizabeth Banks and Michael Higgins doing the “play by play” at the competitions — in fact, its so funny that lines often get cut off because you are still laughing from the previous line. Think 30-Rock at its absolute best — you know, the scenes you rewind on your DVR and write down the dialogue its that good.

But what makes the whole thing work is the musical numbers. Arranged by a-capella kings Deke Sharon, Ed Boyer, Ben Bram and others, the songs are perfectly performed (and, yes, to some degree autotuned, though it sounds better here than it does on most episodes of Glee). But the staging is real, the production numbers pop, and the competitions feel very real. Look out cheerleading competitions, you might have met your modern-day match.

In a fall season so far lacking much in the world of musical comedy, you can place a sure bet on Pitch Perfect. Go, have fun, eat popcorn, and don’t think too hard. Enjoy the show for what it is, and don’t be surprised if it (or a similar incarnation) finds its way onto the Broadway stage pretty darn soon.


Titanic in 3D is exquisite April 6, 2012

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First, despite the fact that this is primarily a blog of reviews, I am NOT going to review TItanic, the 1997 blockbuster now released in 3D. I am instead going to say that the remastered 3D version of the movie is simply spectacular, especially if seen in IMAX where the spectacular becomes exquisite.

The re-release of the picture also demonstrates so very clearly why this is a motion picture that needs to be seen on a giant movie screen (hopefully, the larger the better) and not on your television, iPhone, or iPad.

There it is: larger than life; underwater and above, sweeping across smokestacks, and running through boiler rooms. And the movie magic takes over once the Titanic scrapes the iceberg and the combination live-action and CGI-wizardry comes to life for the last hour of the movie.

In 3D, the water simply glistens, both inside and outside. In lovingly remastered shots the focus clearly draws the eye exactly where Cameron wants it to go. Rivets pop at you; bubbles burst around you; and it all reminds you of why this movie was the Box Office and Academy Awards champ that it was.  Sure, there is plenty to quibble about — there is the sappy love story (which seems less irritating now than it did 15 years ago); there is the Celine Dion song that nobody wants to hear ever again in their lives (although its orchestral variations throughout the movie serve their purpose to manipulate emotion just as they should); and there is the haunting but manipulative “nearer my God to thee” sequence while babies are put to sleep over bedtime stories and Monets and Degas float away. Yet its haunting in its beauty.

If you have seen it before, by all means rest assured that it looks even better in this 3D version. If you have never seen it out of spite, this is a good time to go see it, and take a look at that technical feat that Cameron and his crew accomplished with this movie 15 years ago that seems it hasn’t aged a day. If you were too young to have seen it in movie theaters, what are you waiting for: this out-Potters and out-Games any of the current blockbusters. And if you have only seen it on tv, then you have not seen TITANIC. Go right now.

I recall seeing this several times when it came out, one of the few movies I have ever seen in a movie theater more than once. And I feel the same way today — I have already purchased another IMAX ticket for tomorrow. Its a sweeping, dramatic, and stunning work of film that needs to be seen on that big screen, the way most of us originally saw it many years ago.

2011 Holiday Release Movies – Capsule Reviews January 1, 2012

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In lieu of full reviews for each of the following films as I have done in past holiday seasons, this year the movies are so well known and so thoroughly reviewed elsewhere that I will merely add capsule review summaries….From the sublime to the terrible:

THE ARTIST, currently front runner for Best Picture, and deservedly so, is a throwback to silent movies of the 20’s, with a modern sensibility. It ends with a three minute tap sequence that is easily one of the movie highlights of the year. I loved this movie top to bottom, and if you enjoy the craft of movie making and story telling, then don’t miss it.

Hand in hand is its modern partner HUGO, Martin Scorsese’s paean to the creation of film making. Based on the children’s book, it faithfully captures the spirit of the novel, while adding a depth of artistic celebration of all things good in films. Highly enjoyable, moreso for adults than children.

WAR HORSE galloped into movie theaters on Christmas Day, and it’s a splendid adaptation of the book by Spielberg and company. Sure, it’s more magical on stage at the Vivian Beaumont theater at Lincoln Center with those gorgeous Handspring Puppet Company horses, but the story shimmers on the big screen. Filmed for family audiences, Spielberg’s violence quotient is toned down, while never eliminating the horrors of the war story beneath. Highly recommended.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 4: GHOST PROTOCOL is easily the best of the lot, and easily the best action movie of the holiday season. Jeremy Renner turns in an excellent performance, and Tom Cruise is tolerable. The action sequences are staged with brio and playfulness. You’ll have a great time, and woe-be-to-you if you have a fear of heights, because the centerpiece sequence of the film on the exterior of the world’s tallest building is brilliant – and nausea inducing, especially if seen in IMAX.

George Clooney scores another hit in the drama THE DESCENDANTS, which owes more than half it’s storyline to Terms of Endearment. The acting here is brilliant, and the film is a subtle study of grief, forgiveness, and those coincidences that give life meaning. Look for a Best Picture nomination. But don’t think it’s a fluff piece. This is serious drama, and its well acted and played, and the cinematography transports you to a Hawaii that most of us have never seen.

Also dealing with grief is the woefully misnamed WE BOUGHT A ZOO, which is really more about death, letting go, and moving on, and much less about the “hilarious zoo story” the movie is advertised to be to suck in your 7 year olds. There is little here for them, other than some adorable animals that make cameo appearances. But it’s really a family drama about learning to move on after the death of your spouse. I loved this movie, despite its schmaltz, and continue to admire what Cameron Crowe is able to do with minor material, and how good of an actor Matt Damon is becoming.

If you’ve already seen the Swedish version of GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO you’ve already seen the better of the two versions, although this is a perfectly good adaptation. Mostly you leave thinking that this was only the first third of the trilogy, and it’s a long one at that. The jarring Swedish accents by its international cast are also somewhat offputting. Its worth a viewing, but there are other films I’d see first.

THE MUPPETS is a perfectly awesome work of whimsy, thanks to Jason Segal and those hilarious Jim Henson creations. You’ll most likely find yourself tearing up often during this film if you are old enough to remember the original tv show and movies, and guaranteed during “Rainbow Connection” near the end of the film. Are you a Muppet of a Man, or a Very Manly Muppet? Go see this movie.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: GAME OF SHADOWS is basically a remake of the first movie, with a slightly more interesting story. Guy Ritchie has created a perfectly entertaining movie, while creating a London that is soul-less and bland. The sequel travels outside the UK for a good portion of the film, and its better for it. A decent evening out, but you won’t remember any of it the next morning.

THE ADVENTURES OF TIN TIN is mind-numbingly dull…most of us in the US did not grow up with this character, and its evident twenty minutes into the movie when you are on your third chase scene (all brilliantly drawn), when the under-12’s start gabbing, running around the theatre, and heading to the refreshment stands. The movie does nothing to create new fans, and doesn’t do much to keep those who are fans happy either.

Even worse is the mind and eye-numbing NEW YEAR’S EVE — in fact, you’ll want to stick a fork in your eyes by the time the twentieth major actor is introduced about fifteen minutes into the movie. In all honesty I lasted another 15 minutes and walked out at the half-hour mark, right around the time the film begins to get even more gag-bysmal. It’s the second worst reviewed movie of the year for very good reason. You have been warned.

YOUNG ADULT is a perfectly presentable movie if you a) like snarky and borderline psychotic lead characters; b) like Jason Reitman movies (yuck), and c) really have a love of those “go home to find yourself” movies…This is the second most feel-bad movie of the year. You won’t hate yourself for seeing the movie, but you might find yourself going home and deleting lots of old high school acquaintances from your Facebook contacts.

Several smaller films are still hanging around: MELANCHOLIA (the most feel-bad movie of the year) continues to show that Lars Von Trier is one of the best story-tellers around, and that his movies continue to become more depressing as the go on. MARGIN CALL is a brilliant look at the world of finance that most of us would never know about otherwise: it stars an excellent Zachary Quinto and ensemble cast, and views more like a play than a movie. Both Melancholia and Margin Call, while available at movie theaters, are also available on iTunes for rent or purchase, as well as Netflix. Also still hanging around are the less-than-blockbuster J. EDGAR, which has some excellent performances, and MY WEEK WITH MARILYN which seemed like it was a week too long to me.

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS is a decent enough Christmas movie, with creepy CGI-based animation that still hasn’t figured out how to make human faces workable. The story is lightweight and funny, and although it is far from the “instant Christmas classic” that it is advertised to be, it will keep the “Prep and Landing” crowd satisfied.

One more for your consideration — mostly because it will certainly be considered for Acadamy Awards this year….on DVD and download is the August release THE HELP. If you have not seen it yet, rent it or buy it now. You’ll thank yourself for going back to watch this feature. In a similar boat is 50/50, the largely unseen fall release about a young man with cancer that is among my top 5 movies of the year.

And that’s the capsule summary for the holiday season. The only movies I did not go see are any of the horror movies, which I do not go to see, and any movies geared to the under-10 crowd (i.e. the Chipmunks movies).

My choices for the Best 5 Movies of the year?


2. 50/50




and I have to add a sentimental sixth: THE HELP

Moneyball (movie review) one of the best baseball movies ever. September 25, 2011

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I waited a few days to write this review, since I’m still basking in the thrill of what is possibly one of the best baseball movies of all time. Moneyball, which opened on Friday, is about baseball, financing a team, and assembling the best team possible given the circumstances. If you have read the book, you know how it works. If you follow sports, you know what happened and how Billy Beane transformed baseball. Skeptic? Look at the Red Sox who use the moneyball system.

But like all of the best baseball movies, its about much more than that. There is a saying that if you want to understand America, you better understand baseball. That is on full display here in Moneyball. More than baseball itself, its a story about finding strength in what you have; in giving people a second chance; and in achieving something unexpected in return. There is a lot of heart in this movie, and it wears its heart on its sleeve (most effectively in the sub-story involving Scott Hatteberg, which will break your heart).

Performances here are superb. Brad Pitt leads the helm as Billy Beane; Jonah Hill as his recent college grad assistant (based on real-life Paul DePodesta but fictionalized here, DePodesta actually started working for the A’s in 1999) in a subtle, underplayed manner; Philip Seymour Hoffman as A’s coach Howe; and some great supporting work by Chris Pratt as Hatterberg (who looks eerily like the real thing). Indeed, most of the A’s players look like the ragtag team that Beane assembled, from Justice (yeah, that Justice) to Giambi (no, not that Giambi, the other one).

What happens in the film is a snapshot of a season in which the Oakland A’s, with a measly yearly budget compared to the big boys (i.e. Yankees), assemble the most undervalued but highest on-base-percentage players and lead the team to a 20-game winning streak and the playoffs. Baseball fans can look at the historical record and see that the A’s didn’t win the World Series. There is no big home run where outfield lights shatter and sparkle to the ground (although one comes close, at least emotionally in this film). But what Beane and his team did was to change the way baseball players are managed forever.

In the very fine understated final reel, the full emotional impact of what occurred hits you pretty hard. And it stays with you for days. You get home, and you turn on the end of the game on tv, and you see the players in a completely different light. And that is what good filmmaking is all about. And that is what Oscar gold is about. Look for high accolades come next year’s award season.

Highly recommended, even for those who aren’t big baseball fans. It’s a movie movie. And it’s a great tale told well.

“Warrior” movie joins ranks of best fight-movies (Review) September 5, 2011

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You’ve probably seen those posters around town — in subway stations and bus stops — in cineplex lobbies…you know, the type of poster that sells tickets without any other need for explanation:

I’m happy to report that WARRIOR, seen at an advanced screening yesterday, won’t need much more than those posters. It’s a terrific fight movie, and possibly the years first Best Picture candidate.

Tom Hardy (Inception) and Joel Edgerton (countless Australian movies and tv shows) playing brothers, are superb in Gavin O’Connor’s (Miracle) MMA-themed family tragedy movie. Nick Nolte positively shines in his role as their father. And there isn’t a single wrong note in the casting. O’Connor proves that Miracle wasn’t a fluke — he has a genuine knack for the inherent drama in sports and competition.

But this isn’t your standard fight movie. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA, or for us old-timers “cage fighting”) holds center stage here, but like the best fight movies, serves only as the background for the grander themes being played out: in this case, family-related loyalty, pain, and destruction.

Without giving away too much in this surprise packed drama that heaps one revelation upon another, I’ll give away only as much to say that Nolte plays an ex-alcoholic who has driven a wedge so deeply into its family system that brothers haven’t spoken for almost two decades, and there isn’t much love going around. Hardy’s character has cared for his mother and served in Iraq; Edgerton’s character has stayed behind and raised a family, now up to his ears in debt due to a sick child, and works as a schoolteacher.

The master-strokes of drama delve into Hardy’s attempts to escape the grief that follows him from one life situation to the next; while Edgerton’s follows an anything-for-my-wife-and-kids path.

Sure, the themes have been seen elsewhere. Sure, much of the symbolism has been seen elsewhere. But that doesn’t mean that O’Connor hasn’t discovered something all-together new and different in this tale. I won’t say anymore, but to add that the ending is about as perfect as you can get. Alternating between standard film, hand-held cameras, and media coverage, it all feels gritty and real…the movie is fiction, but it plays like a true story, and by the time you reach the final fight sequence, your emotions will be as conflicted as those depicted on the screen.

About halfway through the movie, O’Connor achieves something in film that rarely works well – and here it works spectacularly: escalating the action of almost two months into a several minute split-screen montage of slices-of-life of what is occuring in two parallel families, the film lifts from the ordinary to the sublime. And it stays there for the remainder of the film.

Choose your sides — root for your favorite brother — and have a swell time at the movies. This is an emotion-packed big old fashioned wallop of a motion picture, and I highly recommend it.


Charming “My Future Boyfriend” – ABC Family (review) April 10, 2011

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Ok, it’s not “art”, but it’s heartwarming and family friendly (though maybe not for the under 10’s because of the talk of “sex and lust” although it doesn’t show any of it).  What it is, instead, is a charming, somewhat predictable, and well-acted movie presented by ABC Family.

Sara Rue and Barry Watson play the conflicted couple here — Barry a fish-out-of-water traveling from the future to find the writer of the book he has found in archeological dig that talks of lust, passion, and love a thousand years earlier. That’s the McGuffin for what ends up being a warm family movie about accepting differences, finding the things you like in others, and finding “the one” that speaks to your own passions.

There are fine supporting performances by Fred Williard and Valerie Harper, and the whole thing has the air of an old-fashioned made-for-tv caper like those many of us grew up with in the 70’s and 80’s. There’s a short sequence with a chase scene in a garage that steals gimmicks, lines, and even car ballet moves from movies you will recall from your youth. It’s not all bad.

But in the end, Barry and Sara’s natural chemistry together is what sparks this above most family made-for-tv fare.

One note: DVR this — the entire movie is about 60 minutes long, but it’s padded by ABC Family to 102 minutes with the added 52 minutes of commercials. DVR and fast forward and you will have yourself a fun hour of easy going sci-fi romantic comedy.

Wash it down with a viewing of “Tangled” on PPV, and you’ll have yourself a dandy date night.


Country Strong (review) proves Hedlund a rising star January 8, 2011

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Nobody is going to be nominating COUNTRY STRONG for any awards anytime soon (with the possible exception of Score); but this critically lambasted movie is nowhere near as bad as you might think from the mainstream reviews.

Garrett Hedlund in Country Strong

The critics are going to go to town on this movie…but I really liked it. In fact, I liked it so much that it was a shame that many of the songs were cut in half, or dissolve into the background during scenes, because the country music score in this movie is excellent.

That being said, the story is standard old-fashioned melodrama….and not even that, it’s soap opera…It’s the kind of thing that might have been fresh in the 50’s or 60’s, but was already passe by the time television evening soaps rolled around (think Dynasty, Dallas, Falcon Crest).

Garrett Hedlund is the standout here — as moody and emotional as you would expect from this type of character, and  lightyears (sorry about the pun) better than his Tron:Legacy cardboard cutout part. He does his own singing, and he sounds and looks great. Apparently he spent 6 months learning to perform country music with some of the industries top guitarists and singers, and that effort shows here. He is a true rising star and is quite simply the best reason to see this movie. You can say you were there when you discovered Garrett Hedlund as a true movie actor (even though he’s already amassed a good deal of work), even though they do manage to get him out of his shirt as often as possible, knowing a good thing when they see one. Ironically, while he carries the bulk of the singing in the movie (and he is very good) only one of his songs made the cut on the soundtrack album, the other songs being studio recordings by Trace Adkins and Faith Hill (!)…

Tim McGraw turns in a very good performance, one that separates him from a wanna-be actor and a bonafide one. He has grown in each role that he has played (from  drunkard in Saturday Night Lights to Sandra Bullock’s aftertought-of-a-husband role in The Blind Side), but here he truly comes into his own. Being the only true country singer, he of course does not sing at all in Country Strong (although he and Gwyneth duet on the end-credits song).

Leighton Meester (as singing and love rival) also has an energy and maturity level onscreen that goes far beyond what her television history would indicate. She radiates warmth and could easily be mistaken for a true country singer.

Gwyneth Paltrow is the victim here in what turns out to be a thankless role. Recovering addict, most of the melodrama falls to her (leaving others to react to her crying, unpredictable behavior). She does a fine job with an underdeveloped and limited character, especially when the audience pretty much stops caring about her about halfway through the movie and turn their attention to the budding Hedlud-Meester romance. Still, the final concert sequences are superb, and there are flashes of movie delight when her already fragile character is forced to visit a make-a-wish patient and the movie finally spurts to life. This scene, and one in which she “tutors” her younger rival are the films highlights. She also gets the films lowlights — including an ending worthy of eye-rolling.

The direction by Shana Feste is sure-handed. Somewhere along the line, I think she realized that the movie is little more than a modern-day update of all those old weepies you’ve seen before at the movies, and decided to just let it ride. The camera lingers on people just long enough to allow you to think about them. If only they had better material to work with.

But overall, the film has a spirit and a heart that a lot of recent biopics have not. Sure, the story is made up, but it could be based on half a dozen real performers (think Brittany Spears, Lindsey Lohan, etc)… Does it have problems? Yes. Not the least of which is a scenic design that looks like they paid too much for the music soundtrack and didn’t have enough budget left to hire enough extras for other scenes. In a bus-loading scene it literally looks like the small-town bystanders watching the filming were asked to just fill in the background for a few minutes. In bar sequences, there are a dozen or so in the “Crowd”.  But overall, the movie lingers quite pleasantly afterwards. Add extra points if you are a country music fan (I am).

Forget that you have seen this movie done better half a dozen times already: go enjoy Hedlund’s superb performance, and enjoy this the way you would an episode of Dallas or Dynasty.

“Leap Year” is predictable, light, and ultimately a “crock ‘o shyte” (Updated) January 8, 2010

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OK, off the bat, this is a solid B movie with a horrible script and two great performances.

That being said, this is a movie you have already seen — many times. Let me tell you off the bat, the Girl gets the Boy in the end — the right one. How they get there you’ve also seen in every romantic comedy that involves a bickering couple — which is almost all of them. You will recognize every rom-com you can remember in here; and every situation is unrealistic, forced, and strains credibility. This is the type of film that asks you suspend the notion, for example, that a smart career woman would not change into a pair of jeans and flat shoes (she does late in the film) but instead trudge through sand, muck, hail, mud, and cow-doo in high heels. If you are okay with that, then it’ll be easier to go with the flow for the rest of the movie.

The inhabitants of Ireland are reduced to blathering “idjots” and idiom-hurling stereotypes. It’s as if the authors hadn’t even been to Ireland before writing their scrip, and saw it for the first time when they were there filming. That explains the half-realized scenic design — at times, as if the producers suddenly said “Ireland looks like this?? This is pretty!  Film this! Put this in there somehwere!” and left it at that.

But what you do have here is a very charming Matthew Goode in the same role he plays in every movie, and a miscast and embarrassing but well-performed role for Amy Adams. It’s as if the movie was written for someone else but got Amy instead. Their relationship does indeed grow during the course of the film, and you do end up wanting them to get together by the end (which you already know they will). How they get there is as predictable as the rising of the sun and the tides. What Amy and Matthew are able to do, though, is play off of each other with a twinkle in the eye and a furrow of a brow. It’s great acting for two capable performers stuck in a horrible script. I want to repeat that one more time just for the record — this is a HORRIBLE script. It’s from the same folks who wrote “Made of Honor.” That’s probably all you need to know about the script. Oh, and it’s horrible.

There is nothing here creative, new, or thought provoking — but once or twice a year we need to see this type of movie again to remind ourselves of the long-lost romantic notion that love shines through differences and that we find our true soul-mate when we least expect it. It’s fun because we all know that it is complete and utter “shyte” in real life. There are four previews before the movie — all of them are for the same type of romantic comedy so there is lots more shyte on the way this winter.

UPDATE: Thought you might like to see what Matthew Goode thought of this masterpiece….”I didn’t do it for the script, I did it so I could fly home to England on the weekends”…


“Up in the Air”; “Sherlock Holmes”; “It’s Complicated”; “The Blind Side” (Review) December 30, 2009

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I’ve previously reviewed “Nine”, “The Princess and the Frog”, “Avatar”, and “2010” from this holiday season. Here are four more.

First — the far-and-away best movie of the holiday season is UP IN THE AIR. Directed by Jason Reitman, it’s a timely and highly entertaining look at the life of a social-tie disconnected man whose job it is to travel across the country as serve as a job termination consultant. But more than that, it’s about the love of motion, the freedom from emotional connection, and the sense of complete egotistical freedom to do what you want, when, where, and with whom one chooses — until choices need to be made that may (or may not) change that lifestyle forever. It’s brilliant film-making. For local interest, much of it was filmed here in Detroit.

To be sure, this is not a film for under 20’s — and I’m not sure it’s a film for under 40’s…it takes a certain amount of life experience, skepticism, and humor to fully appreciate the amazing script and performances at play here. Have no doubt, keep your under-16’s at home – it’s an adult film with adult themes, sexual situations, and language. Kids will also be bored stiff, since they won’t be able to relate to the story nor the central dilemma. This is a film that takes at its core that it is OK not to be in a relationship, something that is foreign to most kids. It’s a film that will stay with you long after you see it. This is my personal choice for this year’s Best Picture.

Much more enjoyable than it should be, SHERLOCK HOLMES is Guy Ritchie’s take on the tried and true Watson/Holmes formula — but throw what you know about this out the window — here, the duo is re-imagined as an action/adventure duo, and it generally works well. The CGI work and the recreation of London is terrific cinematography, and the film is quirky enough to keep you on your toes. Good guys win, bad guys lose, and the ending points to a sequel. Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. are both terrific, and I completely found myself entertained by this quirky take on the genre. It’s a popcorn movie that is fun. It’s not for tiny tots, but it is generally family friendly. There is some Guy-Ritchie type violence here, but it’s done with a great sense of humor and relatively tastefully compared to his previous movies. Holmes purists will hate the film, it’s not meant for them — it’s a popcorn adventure movie with a bit of Die Hard, Van Helsing, and Indiana Jones thrown into the mix.

Finally, I have to admit that I laughed more at IT’S COMPLICATED than I have at any movie this year. It’s formulaic, and very funny. Don’t get me wrong, this is not nuanced subtle humor — this is more in the vein of recent crude comedies like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. It has great performances, and its plain old funny. This is another picture that is inappropriate for your kids (not that they wouldn’t find it funny). It’s adult fun, and it has more laughs per scene than any other out there right now. Streep and Baldwin are terrific together, and there are also great performances from Steve Martin and John Krasinski.

The Blind Side is the surprise box-office hit film about Michael Oher’s rags to riches rise from the slums of Memphis to pro football. Sandra Bullock turns in a nicely performed role as his no-nonsense adaptive mother (and she’s channeling Kathy Lee Gifford all the way), and Tim McGraw is eye-candy as her husband. He gets lines like “I know that look” and “I think I know who is going to win this argument”.  The film is a tear-jerker that is appropriate for the entire family, and I really liked it. It’s Lifetime Movie Channel fare done one better with a big budget and a big star. But you care about these people, and this year, there haven’t been that many movies where you do. I even liked the Tim McGraw song over the final credits. This makes for a great date movie or a family evening out. Go see it, you’ll feel good about what nice people can still do in the world.

Sadly, my most anticipated movie of the year, A SINGLE MAN, has yet to open in Michigan, and it looks like it’s not on the books anywhere locally for the time being, Will report back on that once it is released here.

All in all, I would have to rank the current crop of pictures in the following order as far as my favorite of 2009:

1. Up in the Air

2. Avatar

3. The Hurt Locker

4. Precious

5. Up

6. District 9

7. Star Trek

8. Invictus

9. The Blind Side

10. (500) Days of Summer

“Nine” movie adaptation is jaw-droppingly awful (Review) December 27, 2009

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First, for the record, NINE is one of my favorite 3 Broadway musicals. I saw the original 1982 production 3 times in NYC, and the revival as well (which was already watered-down…pun intended).  But what Rob Marshall has done with the movie version of NINE is jaw-droppingly awful.

First, Daniel Day-Lewis is woefully miscast. He looks vaguely Italian, and acts vaguely stereotypically Italian — but he can’t sing well, and he’s not Italian. He’s also 10 years too old for the part, and this is reflected in lyric changes.

Second, nobody in this cast is Italian with the exception of Sophia Lauren, who mutters through her role as Guido’s mother, and looks strangely CGI-like. I can list twenty Italian and Italian-American actresses right now that could have been cast instead. It’s nice to see her in the movie, but Sophia herself looks like she would rather be anywhere but.

Third, despite the star power here, only Penelope Cruz and (surprisingly) Kate Hudson turn in anything worthy of musical theatre performance. Sadly, Kate Hudson does so in a role created for the movie that does not exist in the stage production, and her number (in black and white) is awful. Her entire storyline, song, and character could (and should) be cut. Still, she has energy that is palpable, as is Cruz’s. Marion Cotillard turns in a nice acting performance as Luisa Contini, Guido’s suffering wife. Too bad most of her songs are cut.

And therein lies the biggest problem — characters and songs are cut, added, moved around, and rearranged to the point that NINE the movie no longer resembles NINE the musical. Judy Dench as a seamstress sings “Folies Bergeres” instead of Lillian LeFleur. In fact, Lillian LeFleur is cut! “Be on Your Own”, the most powerful song in the show, is cut. In fact, more than 60 percent of the musical score is cut, as is the drama. The new songs added do nothing. (By the way, they add new songs to movie adaptations so that there is something to nominate for “Best Song” for the Academy Awards — any song already performed in a Broadway musical is ineligible for consideration). Nothing here is worthy of nomination, and most likely nothing will be.

I enjoyed some of Fergie’s “Be Italian”, but the production number itself is like a bad advertisement for Victoria’s Secret — it even has haze lighting! Haze lighting!! But I liked the choreography, and it has some life.

Nicole Kidman, the most over-rated and talent-free actress of our time, here continues her long history of displaying both her over-ratedness as well as her inability to act, sing, or carry a scene. Plus she looks fat. Rob Marshall must not have liked working with her too much, since  her part is cut down to a sliver, and he gives her the least flattering camera angles of all the ladies in the show. Half of her spoken lines are not discernible as “Unusual Way” is intercut with dialogue.

As in CHICAGO, Rob Marshall tries to open up the film — instead, what happens is that boundaries are lost, scenes become discontinuous. Ghosts wear colorful clothing. Black, White, and Color, so integral to the original musical, is completely lost here. The script is changed beyond recognition…Carla is weakened and given a suicidal plot! What??? Guido’s ultimate decision to shoot himself or not, is also cut.

I could go on. I will stop here. I had a very difficult time sitting through this movie, a story and score that I just adore. This is an awful adaptation. I give it a C as a movie, a D- as an adaptation of a stage musical, or one star for effort. Wait for the DVD. The movie adaptationn of Mamma Mia looks like a masterpiece compared to this awful adaptation, because it at least followed the original script with a sense of integrity.

For Musical Theatre purists….Songs from the score of NINE that are cut in the movie version:

The Germans at the Spa…Only With You…the Follies sequence of Folies Bergeres…Guido’s Vision…Nine…The Bells of St. Sebastian…A Man Like You…the duet portion of Unusual Way…The entire Grand Canal sequence…Simple…Be On Your Own…Getting Tall…and all underscore music of the second act of the musical.