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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.

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“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”…

http://hollywoodcrush.mtv.com/2010/02/25/matthew-goode-bashes-rom-com-leap-year-admits-he-didnt-do-it-for-the-script/

“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.

James Cameron’s “Avatar” has wow-factor to spare (Review) December 19, 2009

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James Cameron’s AVATAR is, to put it mildly, the WOW-movie of the year. Or any year. You’ve never seen anything like this. Nobody has ever seen anything like this.

You know you want to see it — so just go see it. It’s everything it has been proclaimed to be. But before I even go any further, make sure you see it in 3D, or better yet IMAX Real 3D. Some theaters are showing it in the standard format 2D as well — DO NOT SEE this 2D version. This is a film that is designed in 3D and is meant to be seen in 3D, and the only way you will truly immerse yourself in the world of AVATAR is to see it in 3D. If you see it in 2D, you are likely to leave the theatre scratching your head as to why the amazing reviews — it’s not the movie itself that is getting raves, it is the WAY you see this movie — fully immersed in the 3D world of CGI film.

There is a star-turn here in Sam Worthington’s Jake Scully. He has personality to spare, and his Australian accent only once makes itself apparent. He made a blip on the American audience radar last summer in Terminator: Salvation. Here he becomes a full-blown star. Also turning in a showy performance is Stephen Lang. Great to see him on the screen again, he has been absent too long. Here he plays a blustery army general in a performance worthy of an oscar nomination — and that’s an amazing feat in a film that is 95% CGI. Sigourney Weaver has a showy role as a biologist and educator, and both Joel David Moore and Michelle Rodriguez turn in fine performances.

Not a month after 2012 set the CGI standard to beat – now comes AVATAR with visuals that you have never seen before…correction…you’ve never seen them this way before…it brings a new standard to 3D film-making as well. There’s no cheap tricks here – and no breaking of the 4th wall. Nothing comes hurling or poking at your eyes (think Walt Disney World 3D movies) — instead, it’s used to enrich the stunning visuals and bring you into the movie. Within a few minutes you are there. You feel like you are IN this movie. And I don’t say that lightly.

Those who suffer migraines, easily become nauseous, or otherwise suffer from visual difficulties will not enjoy watching this movie, and perhaps that is why there is a standard 2D release, other than accommodating those theaters that are not equipped to run 3D films. But if they don’t catch up soon, they’ll find themselves shuttering down, since this is the dawn of a new movie-making age. 3D not only comes into its own here, it blazes the path for what future films can accomplish with the techniques.

Also noteworthy is a return to SciFi which is bright, colorful, and visually appealing. You won’t see any of the Matrix-type inspired scenes here — there are no heroines wearing sunglasses and leather. The first scene on planet Pandora reminds you more of the moment in The Wizard of Oz when the door to Dorothy’s house opens and you see OZ in technicolor. AVATAR has that same magical moment — followed by another shortly afterwards as Pandora comes to magical, glow-in-the-dark colorful life.

There is some clunky dialogue here — your not going to care. There is a standard good-guys-win storyline here as well — again, your not going to care. But more importantly, you never feel the 2 hour 46 minute length of the movie is too long — and it’s not. The richly developed characters have immediate emotional resonance, and it makes the drama in the final scene battle (think Lord of the Rings stuff) dramatic, exciting, and sad.

By the way — it’s not for the kiddies — its rated PG-13 for a reason, and it’s not appropriate for young’uns, even though they will want to see it because of the commercials and McDonald’s happy meal tie-ins — which are misbegotten.

Go see it. It’s awesome filmmaking, and you will find yourself finding time to go see it a second time. I’m going again on Monday. It is that good.

Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” is a gorgeously crafted snooze-fest December 11, 2009

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As my last duty before heading off to Orlando for a week, I saw Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” in its first showing at the Showcase Cinemas this morning. It allowed me a short nap before heading off to Florida.

The first 15 minutes and the last 15 minutes are absolute Disney at its best. If only the entire movie could maintain that tone. The hour in between those opening and closing bookends is a snooze-fest clearly aimed at 6 year old girls.

It’s great to have an African-American “Princess” in Tiana (I don’t think I give anything away here, since Disney has been touting this as their newest “Princess movie”)…and the voice cast is stellar. But the movie ends up emphasizing money rather than empathy with another human, and it dissolves into the typical “gotta marry a Prince and live happily ever after” fantasy that does no good for any children in this day and age no matter what their race.

Randy Newmann’s music is peppy at best, serviceable at worst, and there isn’t a memorable song in the bunch. The middle portion of the movie set in the bayou makes no sense even for Disney – an alligator that plays jazz with human counterparts on a riverboat…a “shadow man” that appears far too many times in the film and feels basically there to just “fill out the hour”; and long drawn out sequences where I literally found myself nodding off. I have NEVER in my life found myself nodding off at any film, let alone a Disney picture. But there is very little there to keep adults involved in the middle goings of the film. It’s a big-screen equivalent of Saturday morning television messages — although it all looks and sounds a lot better.

Once we get back to New Orleans for the final act, things take a turn for the much better, and Disney film-making at its best is at play. But at no point in this film did I ever feel anything “magical”.  Instead, I found myself looking around the theatre wondering if any of these 4-year olds that were brought there by their parents and nannies this morning had any clue as to what was going on in this film.

Heigh Ho — it’s off to WDW I go.

Roland Emmerich’s “2012” is insanely entertaining November 13, 2009

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2012_poster

If you’re not a fan of “Independence Day” or “The Day After Tomorrow” or “Armageddon” or “The Poseidon Adventure” by all means, bypass 2012 at all costs and you can stop reading now — but if you did like any (or all) of those movies, then run, do not walk, to your local theatre to see Roland Emmerich’s insanely entertaining end-of-the-world disaster film.

Let me say right off the bat that I love destruction and explosions and volcanoes and tidal waves in my movies, so right off the bat, I knew this was going to be great fun. And it is. It’s bigger, louder, visually eye-popping science fiction — with a big emphasis on the fiction. It’s 2012 and as predicted by the Mayan calendar thousands of years ago, the planets and sun are in perfect alignment – solar flares cause a heating of the earth’s core, and the fun begins when the earth’s plates start to shift around. The science is murky and not referred to a second time, but that’s all you need to set the story into motion. Presidential advisors sound alarms, noble acts are committed, ignoble ones are defeated, and for the lucky ones, half a million implied survive in arks. Yeah, you heard me right, arks.

But getting there is one rollercoaster ride of a grab-your-popcorn-check-your-brain-cheer-for-the-CGI-destruction experience. John Cusack tries to salvage family ties (he apparently was too distracted writing a fiction novel about the end of the world to pay attention to knock-out Amanda Peet and the kiddies). Woody Harrelson has the strangest cameo as a pirate radio host who predicts it all and narrates it as he watches Yellowstone erupt (this is of the Randy Quaid in Independence Day strange variety). Every character is a paper-cutout as far as backstory and interest. But who cares about the people here. It’s about the effects — and I do not say this lightly — the effects here don’t border on Art…they define CGI Art.

There are wonderful things here — and there are laughable things as well. Emmerich knows that the best way to approach the (bad) script is to make fun, and let the audience laugh along. And you do. There are times you laugh with the movie, and there are times that you laugh at the movie. And it’s all perfectly blended into one extraordinarily entertaining motion picture.

One scene about 3/4 of the way through this (almost three hour) movie finds our family and other stragglers having crash-landed in the mountains, watching helicopters carry a surprising load to their final destination: it’s both art and ludicrous at the same time. It made me smile for many minutes.

I just loved this movie, and I can’t wait to go see it again. Seen in a surprisingly full movie theatre in Ann Arbor this afternoon (I thought I was the only person that didn’t work on Fridays), this is sure to be the fall blockbuster the movie studios have been waiting for. I can’t wait to see the grosses on this one come Monday morning…one caveat — as in many recent adventure action movies, there are several scenes of children in peril: not as intense as Jurassic Park, but enough to cause parents pause to think about their young-ones and their tolerance for this kind of mass-destruction and death and counterbalance it with their estimate of their own kids nightmare quotient before bringing them into the theatre. It’s typical PG-violence — bodies fall but don’t land — drownings, fire, crushing, crashing are mostly implied — bodies fly, they occasionally cling to things in the distance, but for the most part disappear. Again, it’s about the special effects, not the people.

Visual parallels can be drawn to Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow – complete with space-view shots of the world below. But it’s a formula that works — and here, it works bigger, faster, louder, and better. It’s the disaster movie to end all disaster movies. And I absolutely had a ball. There is nothing to think about here after you leave the movie theatre, except how amazing the special effects are. And that is exactly what I needed this afternoon. And that’s the view from Ann Arbor today…

UPDATE: Sunday 11-15-09 — The first weekend boxoffice take for 2012 was 65 Million Dollars over three days.