Monday, February 25, 2013

John Carter

A really good B-movie. Unfortunately, it was not intended to be a B-movie. Taylor Kitsch plays a civil war vet who is on a hunt for gold in the west. While hunting, he gets transported to Mars, where the lower gravity makes him stronger and able to jump higher than the locals. He gets into the middle of a planetary war where he, of course, gets to rescue the beautiful princess and take her side in the war as a force for good. Just a bad implementation overall. Only watch this between 1am and 5 am for full enjoyment.

2 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Pitch Perfect

Clearly I am not what the producers envisioned as the target audience for this film. A teen, coming of age story peppered with singing, dance, and teen angst. But from the moment I saw the preview last year, I knew I wanted to see it. I am an aca-sucker for acapella. Becky is a new college freshman and going to her fathers school against her wishes. She gets pulled into the campus competitive acapella groups and develops a reason to enjoy school and care about what she is doing. Of course, she must battle the socialites, the mean girls, the crazy anti-social roommate, and the frat-boy shenanigans. But she overcomes and takes her group to a new level of cool. Surround all this by a harmonization that I could only dream of and Christopher Guest quality commentary during the competitions and you get aca-awesome.

3 stars (out of 5)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It has obviously taken awhile for me to get to see this, having been in theaters for months now. Bilbo, at the behest of Gandalf, joins a party of 12 dwarves on a journey to reclaim their homeland from Smaug the dragon. Along the way, the encounter elves, orcs, and goblins and Bilbo acquires the one-ring from Gollum... to be continued. I like Tolkien and Peter Jackson and the entire middle-earth world. But knowing that the book was expanded into a trilogy that I won't be able to finish for over a year left me flat. Overall, the film was an excellent visualization, hitting all the right notes and expertly portraying the fantastic journey of Bilbo. However, after the attention and extravaganza of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, this felt like it should have been a direct to DVD followup, Aladdin II so to speak. I suppose that when I finally sit down in 2014 and watch all three Hobbit films together, I will appreciate them for what they are. But now, it will have to sit as an excellent, average offering.

3 stars (out of 5)

Trouble With the Curve

Clint Eastwood is his normal gravely self. Amy Adams the good daughter. Justin Timberlake the good looking young upstart. Plus baseball. Can't really get any better. Eastwood is an aging talent scout for the Atlanta Braves who happens to be going blind. He is also starting to do battle with saber-metrics  whose proponents (in this film at least) are pushing actual scouts out the door in favor of stats. Adams, having grown up her fathers daughter, knows more about baseball than anyone around apparently and when she takes leave from her high powered lawyer job to spend some time with dad, demonstrates this expertise. In spite of the severely contrived attempt at romantic tension  the film works pretty well and a standard coming of age/coming home sort of story. Nothing surprising here, or really astounding. But Adams and Eastwood are always good and any film that John Goodman shows up in is a good day in  my book.

3 stars (out of 5)

Silver Linings Playbook

Category: Sports movies that aren't really about sports, but use sports as a unifying plot device. The Blind Side and Invictus are a couple of recent examples and now we have Silver Linings Playbook and Trouble with the Curve. The sports theme makes you feel comfortable (if you know the sport) or curious (if it is new). In this case, the film isn't even about football, but about the superstition of football fanaticism. And this lets us delve into familial relationships, romantic relationships and mental health. Add in quirky friendships and dance a la Little Miss Sunshine and you have a pretty good outing.

Bradley Cooper plays a recently released from the mental hospital guy who entered the hospital because he was jilted by his wife. Jennifer Lawrence plays a recovering, mentally unstable widow who has a dream to compete in a local dance competition. Robert DeNiro plays the fanatical Eagles fan who is convinced that holding the TV remote in a particular way actually changes the outcome of the game. All three of these principals hit their stride perfectly, presenting a chemistry that drew me in and made me care. And of course, I am a sucker for dance movies...

4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, February 8, 2013


This was a pretty good Norwegian thriller. Based on a book by author Jo Nesbo (whom I like), our protagonist Roger Brown is a high level headhunter. It so happens that on the side, he is a high level art thief, a habit that he maintains to support the expensive tastes of his supermodel of a wife. While this starts out as a straight up heist and discovery film, it turns into something pretty different and Roger Brown finds out what kind of man he really is. [get on soapbox] My only complaint with the film is the couple of scenes of graphic violence, including both humans and animals. Such gore and cruelty is definitely not necessary in a smart film like this. I am hooked on the story, on the suspense, and on the tense situations that Brown is in. You don't need to make me cringe to get your point across about how dire his situation is. I get it. I don't need to feel it. In fact, one probably sees films like this specifically to not feel things, so the cruelty is counterproductive even on an artistic or capitalistic level. [get off soapbox] Otherwise, I like the smart turns of plot and creative methodologies for getting into and out of tension. Well done.
3 stars (out of 5)