This page contains reviews of films seen during the months of January to March 2011


“Burlesque”-Christina Aguilera (Ali) is cute and can belt them out, but she’s got a lot to learn as far as acting is concerned. Cher (Tess) is an old pro and can still roll down the highway to some extent, but her treads are looking a little worn. This story of the talented and starry-eyed young Ali’s travels from her roots in the sticks of Iowa to Tess’s glorified strip club (okay, a cabaret) on Sunset Boulevard has a dull script, is loaded with clichés, and is interminably repetitious, including the production numbers which never seem to end. The idea that Ali would be satisifed with starring in this small club in the heart of Hollywood is laughable. “Burlesque” should have been reduced to a five-minute music video. That would have been acceptable. In the supporting cast, Stanley Tucci does a professional job as Sean, the club’s gay choreographer, but Alan Cumming is completely wasted as the club’s host of sorts. Eric Dane is ho-hum as Marcus, a wealthy and handsome real estate mogul who wants to buy the club, and Cam Gigandet lacks charisma as Jack, the club’s bartender who becomes Ali’s roommate and potential lover. Others who pass through without making much of an impression are Julianne Hough (“Dancing with the Stars”), Kristen Bell (“Gossip Girl”), and Peter Gallagher. This is one that should not be on your list of films to see. D (3/27/11)


“The Fighter”-Director David O. Russell has made some questionable films, such as “I Heart Huckabees,” but he’s hit the jackpot with this taut tale of a failing boxer from a truly dysfunctional family in Lowell, Mass. Loaded with brilliant performances, “The Fighter” tells the story of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a boxer whose chance for success is brought down by his dependence on his manager/mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), and his trainer/half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Eklund, who lives off the memory of having once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in a fight, is an unreliable drug addict. Alice, the mother of Micky, Dicky, and a slew of daughters, couldn’t find a decent match for Micky if she tried. After meeting the lovely Charlene (Amy Adams), a tough but supportive girlfriend, Micky has to face the need to break away from his family and when he does, he begins to experience success. Let me say right now that Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are astounding in this film, both deserving of the Oscars they received. Amy Adams was also deserving of her Oscar nomination in a part so different from anything else she’s done in the past. This is one of the best ensemble cast performances I’ve seen in a long time. If for nothing else, see this film for the chance to see what great acting is all about. But “The Fighter” is also a classic sports film and lives up to its efforts to bring back a little of that “Rocky” feeling. A (3/25/11)


“Red Hill”-This is the third rather violent Australian film I’ve seen in the last six months. The others were “The Square” and “Animal Kingdom.” I don’t know whether it’s a trend in Aussie films or simply the genre that gets exported to the US, but it’s certainly different from many of the Australian films we’ve seen in the past. If I had a choice of the three, I’d pick this one because of a variety of factors, including the cinematography, the mystery, and the fact that the film has a hero. Constable Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) has been transferred from the big city to what appears to be the serene town of Red Hill to provide some rest for his pregnant wife, Alice (Claire van der Boom). On his first day on the job, he is so disorganized he can’t find his gun. And when he arrives at police headquarters, he doesn’t exactly get the friendliest welcome. And it doesn’t take long until the serenity of Red Hill is disrupted when Jimmy Conway (Tom E. Lewis), an aboriginal serving time for murder, formerly a resident of Red Hill, escapes from prison. Cooper’s superior officer, Old Bill (Steve Bisley), immediately understands that Conway is headed there with murderous intent and organizes the locals to head him off. But when Cooper meets Conway, whose face is disfigured by burns, he realizes that there is something very wrong going on in Red Hill. Written and directed by first-time feature director Patrick Hughes, “Red Hill” starts with lovely scenery during the daytime and descends into night-time violence as Conway attempts to wipe out the locals. The film is loaded with excessive violence but at least Cooper provides someone to root for in the midst of all the shooting as he solves the local mystery. B+ (3/12/11)


“Never Let Me Go”-Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, “Never Let Me Go” is the strange and tragic tale of a trio of young British people who are among those who have been officially cloned from others so that their organs can be harvested when they reach their twenties. Science fiction? I guess that’s the best way to describe it. The film takes place in the past, from 1978 to 1994, making it even more off-kilter. Ultimately, it’s a love story about a trio of these young people, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield of “The Social Network”) and Ruth (Keira Knightley). What makes it even more unusual is that the film has almost no political point of view. There’s only a very minor hint at the end of the film of any commentary or judgment about the ethics of raising people simply to harvest their organs and kill them. And there’s no rebellion on the part of the three young “donors.” While they realize the tragedy of their brief lives, they never question the official purpose of their existence. “Never Let Me Go” is an odd and distressing, but somewhat moving (thanks to the fine cast) romantic tale. Carey Mulligan especially stands out as the young "donor/carer" at the heart of the story. Of note in the cast is Charlotte Rampling (“Swimming Pool”), a fine actress, as Miss Emily, the headmistress of Hailsham, the special private school the donors attend while growing up, and Sally Hawkins (“Happy-Go-Lucky”) in a brief role as a teacher at Hailsham who gives away the secret and loses her job. B (3/11/11)


“Secretariat”-I’m a sucker for films about sports triumphs and about great racehorses, such as “Seabiscuit.” So I wasn’t surprised by the fact that although this film doesn’t exactly have an overwhelming cast or a great script, I thoroughly enjoyed myself watching the story of probably the greatest racehorse ever and his indomitable owner, Penny Chenery Tweedy (Diane Lane). However, the film makes several important changes in historical fact (one would never know from this film that the Chenerys' Meadow Farm outside of Richmond, VA, produced the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner in 1972, Riva Ridge, the year before Secretariat’s amazing Triple Crown, and the film changes an awful lot about Penny Chenery's marriage, her children, and details about where they were living at the time). As a result, Diane Lane's inspiring performance as a housewife in Colorado who suddenly finds herself taking over her father’s horse farm in Virginia in 1969 is only partially true (in reality, Chris Chenery, Penny's father, had been in a nursing home since February 1968, and the Tweedys were already living on the east coast). So as portrayed in this partly fictional story, despite the opposition of the males in her family (her husband, Jack Tweedy (Dylan Walsh) and her brother, Hollis Chenery (Dylan Baker)). Penny decides to keep the Chenery farm and stable going, especially after she falls madly in love with a new foal, informally named Big Red, because by looking into his eyes, she knows instinctively that he is special. Directed by Randall Wallace, “Secretariat” has some of the most thrilling and beautifully photographed horse race scenes I’ve ever seen. Real jockeys on real horses and choreographed exactly like the original 1973 races. I guarantee you that despite the fact that you already know that Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973, you’ll find the suspense of the buildup to each race as thrilling as if it were just happening. I must not fail to mention the charming performance by John Malkovich as the eccentric trainer, Lucien Laurin, hired by Penny Chenery (in the film she fires a crooked trainer, but in real life Laurin's son left the farm to join Ogden Phipps (played in the film by James Cromwell)). Malkovich sometimes drives me batty with his weird and annoying performances. But when he plays a positive eccentric, as he did recently in “Red,” he’s a delight to watch. Finally, I must not forget another charming performance, that of Margo Martindale, who plays Miss Ham, the Chenery secretary who has the wit and wisdom to give Big Red the official name that would become a legend in the world of horse racing. Yes, the secretary named Big Red “Secretariat." Before I realized how much the film had changed the facts to suit its dramatic needs, I gave it an A-. I enjoyed it that much. But considering that the historical changes harm the film to some extent, I've decided it only deserves a B+ (3/10/11)


“Megamind”-Modern animation techniques are fascinating because of the depth of detail that’s possible. So what makes one animated film great and another just so-so? The quality of the graphics, the depth of the theme, and the cleverness of the script. And in all those categories, Pixar Studios excels by far. Films such as “Toy Story 3” and “Wall-E” contain animation and intelligent themes so far above the level of other studios’ animation output that they seem to be coming from another planet. Which brings us to “Megamind,” a decent and fun, but fairly run-of-the-mill film about creatures from other planets who find their way to Earth via the Superman route (i.e., sent off by their parents as their planets appear to face extinction). One is a little blue baby who comes with a companion fish named Minion (voice of David Cross). The other is a white male child who grows up to be the good Metro Man (voice of Brad Pitt), while the blue baby, always left out of the social crowd at school, grows up to be the evil Megamind (voice of Will Ferrell). But this one has a slight twist, as Megamind, in his obsession to be bad, especially when he attempts to defeat the hero Metro Man, creates a much worse creature in the form of Tighten (Jonah Hill), a former TV cameraman turned superhero villain whose bad behavior encourages Megamind to go in the right direction with the inspiration of the lovely TV broadcaster, Roxanne (voice of Tina Fey). “Megamind” is on the right track theme-wise (if not a little clichéd and stale due to Megamind’s need for female inspiration), but never rises above the level of normal expectations. The animation is first-rate, if not quite at the superb “realistic” level of the Pixar films. In our current culture in which entertainment is loaded with themes of violence and evil, I suppose “Megamind” would be okay for kids, at least older ones. Unlike the Pixar films, however, it has little to offer adults. C+ (2/26/11)


“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”-Woody Allen always has very good taste in music and begins this film with a Leon Redbone version of “When You Wish Upon A Star.” He’s obviously alluding to the theme of supernatural beliefs that come to dominate a main character. But the song that really seems to apply to this and so many other Allen films would be The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Using his delightful and original technique of introducing characters through zippy narration backed by brisk jazzy music by such as Benny Goodman, Allen introduces us to Helena (the wonderful Gemma Jones, the “Duchess of Duke Street” herself) as an older depressed woman who has just lost her husband of many years, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), to divorce. On the somewhat flippant advice of her daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts), Helena is headed for a fortune teller (Pauline Collins) to get some hopefully uplifting news about her future. Alfie, meanwhile, doesn’t take long to find “love” with a blonde bimbo, Charmaine (Lucy Punch). At the same time, Sally, married to a once successful but now failing writer, Roy (Josh Brolin), is attracted to her art gallery boss, Greg (Antonio Banderas), while Roy is fascinated with a beautiful young Indian woman in red (Freida Pinto of “Slumdog Millionaire”) who just happens to live across the alley and leaves her shades up. And that’s just the start as the characters seek the unobtainable. “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” is classic Woody Allen, although the opening upbeat and comedic introductions can be very misleading as the tale descends darkly at the end as almost anything that can go wrong, does. Like most recent Woody Allen casts, this one is loaded with first-rate and very watchable actors. Gemma Jones is a delight as the lady who lets the "stars" control her life and others around her. B+ (2/22/11)


“Kick-Ass”-So much of the movie business these days seems dedicated to reviving childhood fantasies, such as by recreating the comic books of yore in cinema form. In “Kick-Ass” the teenage Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson of “Nowhere Boy”), who is not particularly successful with the opposite sex, dreams of becoming a superhero. Dave thinks all he has to do is put on a costume, call himself “Kick-Ass,” and walk the streets waiting for action. And action he gets, including some very serious injuries. But in the movies, even getting hit by a car is not enough to stop most lead characters. Dave doesn’t realize what he’s getting himself into, including a battle with the thugs of the gangster father, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong, seemingly always cast as the “bad guy”), of a classmate, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse of “Superbad”). But it seems there’s another team of superheroes in the picture, when we meet Damon Macready (Nicolas Cage) as he appears to be shooting his young daughter, Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz). But alas, it’s only practice as Mindy is in training to become one of the hottest little superheroes of all-time and Chloe Grace Moretz (“(500) Days of Summer”) provides an astounding zippy performance. This is a kid with a lot of acting pizzazz who is either going to hit it big in Hollywood or fade quickly as she gets older. I’d predict the former. As for the movie? Unless you really like lots and lots of violence, it really isn’t worth it, except for Chloe Grace Moretz’s extremely entertaining performance as Hit-Girl. C+ (2/18/11)


“Inspector Bellamy”-In what was the last film directed by Claude Chabrol, Gerard Depardieu plays Paul Bellamy, a police inspector on vacation at his wife’s country home who never wears anything but a suit and is incapable of getting his mind off work. And of course work comes to him when he is contacted by a mysterious man in hiding who tells him a story about the death of another man that he may have caused. But although this man’s story is the element that moves the script, the film is really a psychological study of Bellamy and his relationship with his wife, Francoise (Marie Bunel), and his unhappy half brother, Jacques (Clovis Cornillac). Like most French films, there is virtually no action but talking, and this time it simply isn’t that interesting. Gerard Depardieu has been in so many French films, it’s as if all he has to do is sleepwalk through the film, and that’s exactly the feeling one gets. Oh, there are a few almost titillating scenes between Bellamy and his wife, but nothing interesting develops. Even when his interactions with the women involved in the mysterious man’s plot seem to be about to lead him astray, it turns out all he wants is information from them. At one point, he thinks his wife and brother are fooling around and then immediately realizes how absurd and apologizes. Bellamy has a secret from his childhood involving his brother that comes out towards the end, but it has little effect on the plot. Neither the mystery nor Inspector Bellamy and his psyche are really that intriguing. The characters initially seem to be interesting, but they quickly lose their appeal with the plodding script. This film is, ultimately, a yawner. C (2/11/11)


“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”-This Oliver Stone update on the doings of Wall Street fits right in with the economic crisis of the last few years. The film goes in two basic directions. One is a family affair in which Jake Moore (Shia LeBeouf) is engaged to Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan), the estranged daughter of the famed Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), who has just gotten out of the clink after a relatively long prison term for insider trading. Moore happens to be a very busy broker with an affinity for what appears to be an energy company with little likelihood of success (but it’s said to be “green” and that’s automatically good). Moore is hell-bent on getting a million dollars to the company’s owner, Dr. Masters (Austin Pendleton) and he keeps finding ways to get the money only to have either the market or personal affairs fizzle. Which brings us to the other half of the story which concerns the serious unregulated shenanigans that go on in brokerage houses and banks leading to economic crises of the kind we have all been experiencing. In this part of the film, Frank Langella is Louis Zabel, the seeming good guy and Jake’s boss, who comes to an unfortunate end, while Josh Brolin is Bretton James, Jake’s second boss, the bad guy, responsible for Zabel’s downfall and someone who will eventually get his comeuppance. Like so many Oliver Stone films, an awful lot of detail emerges and it’s not exactly the easiest thing to follow the minutiae of the money plot. However, you get the general picture and that’s probably enough. Jake is a little too nice for his occupation. Winnie, the daughter of a corrupt Wall Street felon, seems to be in the wrong relationship with someone like Jake who is following in her father’s footsteps. And Gordon Gekko blows hot and cold. You really can’t tell from minute to minute whether he’s being sincere or a gigantic fraud. Oliver Stone makes some good points about the market, and the romance is, well, pleasant enough if not unlikely. Not a bad film, not a great film. At least, Oliver Stone doesn’t take himself too seriously in this one. B (2/6/11)


“Red”-Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a former CIA operative, is relaxing at home at Christmas and looking a little out of sorts. One of his favorite pastimes is calling and flirting with Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), the woman who issues his pension checks. Suddenly, Frank finds himself fighting off an invading horde of automatic weapons-toting killers, and this sends him on a mission to find out who wants him dead. His mission takes him first to Kansas City where he picks up the initially reluctant Sarah, and together they go from city to city gathering up Frank’s old team of eccentric CIA operatives, including Marvin (John Malkovich), Joe (Morgan Freeman), and Victoria (Helen Mirren). And they find themselves in a battle against current CIA operative William Cooper (Karl Urban) under the orders of his mysterious superior, Cynthia Wilkes (Rebecca Pidgeon). That’s the set-up for one of the most amusing tongue-in-cheek thrillers I’ve seen in a long time. With an absolutely perfect cast for this kind of fun, “Red” (meaning “retired extremely dangerous”) is one of those films that makes you smile or laugh from beginning to end. Take this stuff seriously? No way. How often do you get to see Helen Mirren (“I kill people, dear”) behind a machine-gun, or John Malkovich doing what he’s best at (be funny)? Or Morgan Freeman simply having fun as a dying old, but still tough operative? And for anyone who is a veteran of watching “Weeds,” it’s a nice variation to see Mary-Louise Parker as a lovestruck follower who has to get right in there with the tough guys. Bruce Willis plays Frank as a soft-spoken nice guy who is capable of taking care of himself under any adverse conditions. And he’s delightful in this kind of part. What else would you expect from a guy whose career started out in the successful tongue-in-cheek TV series “Moonlighting”? This smart cast also includes brief appearances from the likes of Richard Dreyfuss, Ernest Borgnine, James Remar (“Dexter”), and Brian Cox. Director Robert Schwentke, whose last film was the disastrous “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” must have had a much better time making this very agreeable film, which, incidentally, has crisp cinematography by Florian Ballhaus (“The Devil Wears Prada”). You want some fun when watching your next film? Don’t miss “Red.” A- (2/5/11)


“Animal Kingdom”-I like thrillers, whether psychological or otherwise, but I’ve never been particularly partial to films that center around goons and thugs for no good reason other than sensationalism. A classic like “The Godfather,” for example, had to have a deep and complex family saga story to tell as well. “Animal Kingdom” is the story of a miserable family in Melbourne, Australia, made up of three such characters under the watchful eye of their outwardly calm and innocent, but obviously manipulative mother, Janine or “Smurf” (Jacki Weaver). When Janine’s estranged daughter OD’s, 17-year old grandson Josh or “J” (James Frecheville) comes to stay with Janine and her three sons, “Pope” (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), and Darren (Luke Ford). We hear a little about drugs and robberies, but the film shows little or nothing of the family criminal history. That is, until a non-family member of the gang, Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton of “The Square”), is slaughtered by the police. Led by the brooding, overbearing and very scary Pope (an outstanding performance by Ben Mendelsohn), the Cody brothers decide to get revenge and they force Josh to become involved in their plan by stealing a car. While the film makes clear that there are rogue elements in the local police, detective Leckie (Guy Pearce) is the good guy who wants to save young Josh from his unpleasant relatives. My problem with “Animal Kingdom” is that it’s another in a long-line of recent films that center around thoughtless, violent criminality and, from Australia, the recent similarly themed “The Square” (co-written and co-starring Joel Edgerton) comes to mind. Jacki Weaver has been nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress. Although she does a fine job, and has one particularly hair-raising scene towards the end, I was somewhat surprised that her performance got the attention from the Academy that it did. I’ve seen many similar outstanding and subtle performances in foreign films that got no recognition. It’s not clear to me what got Jacki Weaver’s performance so much attention in the US. Young James Frecheville, a tall lanky and handsome teen, does a fine job as the initially clueless and somewhat expressionless 17-year old who gradually begins to realize just what his grandmother and uncles, particularly Pope, are all about. Guy Pearce (“Memento”) gives the film some positives as the upbeat and hopeful detective wanting to solve a terrible crime and save young Josh in the process. Normally, I’d give this film a B, but the quality of acting raises it to a B+ (2/4/11)


“Restrepo”-Seen early in the film and then at the end of this documentary is a medic named Juan Restrepo. A member of a platoon of Battle Company deployed in 2007 into the Kornegal Valley of Afghanistan, one of the most dangerous places in the world of the US military, Restrepo is one of the first to die in battle. Soon thereafter, an outpost is named after him, and OP Restrepo becomes the home of the platoon for the next year or so as they fight the unseen Taliban. “Restrepo” is a fascinating documentary that puts the viewer in the middle of life in OP Restrepo. We see the fighting, the fear, the rare moments of fun, and the officers’ interaction with local elders in the valley, especially after a firefight results in the death of innocent locals and the death of a local cow. And then there is “Rock Avalanche” when the men must walk into the valley to get closer to the enemy. And we hear the comments of the soldiers, some while the deployment is going on and some, later, when they have left the valley and are in the safety of a base in Italy. The film was made by two men, Sebastian Junger (author of “The Perfect Storm") and Tim Hetherington, a photographer and documentary filmmaker, who appear to have lived with the platoon and accepted the danger in order to portray this harrowing and very real experience. A- (1/30/11)


“Nowhere Boy”-Directed by first-timer Sam Taylor-Wood, this is the story of a teenage boy named John (Aaron Johnson) in late 1950s Liverpool who has been brought up by his loving but strict Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), rather than by his real mother, the fun-loving but fragile Julia (Anne-Marie Duff). John is a decent kid, but troubled by the circumstances of his youth, finding himself drawn alternately between Mimi and Julia, and by tragedy. This young man just happens to be John Lennon, and “Nowhere Boy” inevitably tracks John’s nascent interest in rock and roll, and his determination to learn to play the guitar and create a band. The initial band, The Quarrymen, made up mostly of schoolmates (one even plays the washboard) soon expands to include the more talented Paul (Thomas Brodie Sangster) and George. You undoubtedly know where this will lead. “Nowhere Boy” is a fine film, never exploiting the Beatles connection, but instead concentrating on the human story of John’s teen family-related angst. In fact, the words “The Beatles” are never spoken in this film. Instead, we see a taut, first-rate drama about a young man of obvious intelligence who has to overcome the psychological stresses placed on him when his mother and father essentially abandoned him at age five. Aaron Johnson is a handsome young actor who has just enough John Lennon in him to remind the viewer that this is the story of an up-and-coming legend. The veteran Kristin Scott Thomas is perfect as the tough-loving aunt who John rebels against despite the sacrifices she has made for him. But the most memorable performer in this film is Anne-Marie Duff as Julia Lennon, a woman in her early to mid-40s, who experiences a resurgence of her youth when John comes to visit. Her zest, excitement, and regret over the past, is impressively portrayed in Duff’s dynamic performance, made all the more powerful when tragedy strikes. Recommended. A- (1/29/11)


“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”-At last the resolution of the story of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) that began with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and really got going in “The Girl Who Played with Fire.” As this film begins, Lisbeth is hospitalized, awaiting trial for attempted murder. Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is dead set on proving Lisbeth’s innocence and he arranges for his sister, Annika Giannini (Annika Hallin), to represent the extremely taciturn heroine of the tale. And we begin to learn of a governmental conspiracy, as we also see the antics of Lisbeth’s murderous half-brother, Ronald Niedermann (Mikael Spreitz). “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” does its job of revealing, through Mikael’s efforts, the full story of Salander’s childhood, the attack on her father (the evil Russian, Zalachenko), and the reasons why she was institutionalized as a child and placed under the authority of a guardian even into her adult years. However, there is, by necessity, a great deal of detail missing that was present in the books on which the films are based. Also, the filmmakers had to change elements of the story to fit into the limited screen time for a movie. The best example of this here is the puzzling business of the nasty emails Erika Berger (Lena Endre) receives at Millenium. In the book, Erika has left Millenium and become editor of a major Swedish newspaper. The threatening emails are more numerous and make more sense in the book. The film also introduces us to a new character, a police officer named Monica Figuerola (Mirja Turestedt), a character who plays a much larger role in the book, especially with regard to Mikael’s love life. Too bad they couldn’t have included that here. This film assumes prior background knowledge, initially develops slowly, and contains a lot of potentially confusing scenes. The courtoom scene at the end which resolves everything is nowhere near as thrilling as it was in the far greater detail contained in Stieg Larsson's novel. The stars, including the amazing Noomi Rapace (who barely talks in this film) and Michael Nyqvist, with the aid of Lena Endre and Annika Hallin, do their best with limited material. If you’ve seen the first two films in the trilogy, this one is a must. If not, don’t even think of starting with this film. (In Swedish with English subtitles) B (1/27/11)


“Easy A”-Emma Stone is an impressive young actress. She’s got presence and her performance in “Easy A” is particularly notable for a film about high school kids, a genre that rarely is mentioned in the same breath as “impressive performance.” She plays Olive, a lovely high school girl who is seen telling her story in flashbacks as she’s preparing a video presentation to restore her reputation. Seems she made the mistake of telling a friend a fib about a sexual encounter that never happened. It was overheard by a fellow student (Amanda Bynes), a religious zealot, and it was soon all over school. With her reputation failing, Olive decides to go even further, offering, in return for something of value, to tell people that she had done things with her customers which she hadn’t really done in order to build up their sexual reputations. But obviously in doing this, Olive was tearing down her own reputation. Having just recently studied “The Scarlet Letter,” Olive goes whole hog, placing a red “A” on her blouse. The script of “Easy A” is more clever and sophisticated, and surprisingly tasteful (considering the subject) than one would normally expect from this genre. Emma Stone’s fine performance is supported by a first-rate cast of stars, including Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as her “with it” parents; Thomas Haden Church as Olive’s favorite teacher; and Lisa Kudrow as a guidance counselor in need of significant guidance. A surprisingly enjoyable film thanks to Emma Stone who is in almost every scene. B+ (1/23/11)


“The Social Network”-When we see films based on true life events, we usually expect straightforward tales told with a few flashbacks. But we don’t usually get cinematic thrillers told with pulsing excitement. And that’s the magic of “The Social Network,” a film which has already been deservedly recognized as one of the outstanding filmmaking achievements of 2010. With a first-rate script by the very talented Aaron Sorkin (“Charlie Wilson’s War” and “The West Wing”), who appears briefly in the film, and directed by David Fincher (“Zodiac” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), “The Social Network” exposes us to a chillingly thrilling world of Harvard brainiacs who seem to have an idea a minute spitting out of their computerized ultra-competitive souls. When two characters meet in a club, their voices can barely be heard over the din of the background noise and this technique comes to symbolize the theme of the film, which is the surreal and somewhat dehumanized nature of the founding of the “social” network, Facebook. How much of “The Social Network” is based on actual fact is not clear, but it is nevertheless the story of a young Harvard student named Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), whose retarded social talents are demonstrated in the early scene in which he manages to insult and lose his girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara). Driven by the apparent bytes that travel through his bloodstream, Zuckerberg creates an offensive website in one night aimed at hurting Erica and ridiculing the women on the Harvard campus, and gets thousands of hits. This instant and easy success provides the impetus for the idea of what was originally known as The Facebook. But the question that’s at the heart of the film is whether or not Zuckerberg actually stole the idea from his fellow Harvard students, the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer, who plays both twins, and Josh Pence, who plays one of them at times). That’s debatable, but what’s not is how Zuckerberg managed to use and then literally screw his only friend and co-founder of Facebook, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield of the “Red Riding” trilogy) with the encouragement of Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the founder of Napster who manages to weasel his way into the company, pushing Saverin out. The lawsuits by the Winklesvoss twins and by Saverin provide the setting for the flashbacks that tell the eerily cold early 21st Century story of how some of these bright young men were driven by their talents and greed. “The Social Network” thus becomes an allegory for much of what is considered “success” in this country despite its lack of humanity. Jesse Eisenberg (“Adventureland”) is brilliant as the soulless Zuckerberg who is told by a young woman attorney (Rashida Jones) at the end that he’s trying awfully hard to be an asshole. Other performances of note are those of Andrew Garfield as Saverin, the young man of money who thinks, mistakenly, that Zuckerberg is loyal; and Justin Timberlake as the smooth-talking Parker. This film deserves to be seen by all. A (1/22/11)


“Mother”-Writer/Director Joon-ho Bong (in Korea it would be Bong Joon-ho) is a very talented young man. A few years back I enjoyed his film “The Host,” about a monster emerging from the Han River in Seoul. This time, he gives us a murder mystery, with themes and touches reminiscent of the films of Alfred Hitchcock. “Mother” centers around the woman of the title (Hye-ja Kim) whose son Do-joon (Bin Won) is mentally slow and easily influenced by his friend Jin-tae (Ku Jin). When a schoolgirl is murdered and found hanging off a roof, the police arrest Do-joon on skimpy evidence and manage to get him to sign a confession. Mother attempts, first, to convince others that her son is innocent. Later, she starts poking around on her own, initially blaming Jin-tae, but then with his help she stumbles on important facts. These facts convey her and the story to an unexpected conclusion; one which raises a variety of moral issues. (In Korean with English subtitles) B+ (1/16/11)


“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”-I’ve never really been a big fan of Joan Rivers or related much to her humor. So, I was surprised to be entertained by this funny and poignant documentary about an entertainer who, despite her age (she’s now 77), just can’t stop. Seems Ms. Rivers, who looks surprisingly good for her age and all of the plastic surgery that has tightened up her face, is obsessed with working. To her, an empty calendar is a nightmare. It’s obviously not the money; she just can’t stand being idle. “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, shows us Ms. Rivers in settings ranging from her rather opulent home, taxicabs, social gatherings and, most importantly, on stage. It humanizes her, showing her as a rather appealing figure who seems to treat those around her with care and respect, although she can certainly turn it on in anger. In one of the most interesting scenes in the film, Ms. Rivers is on stage and finds herself being harassed by a man in the audience who obviously doesn’t understand her humor. She goes on an angry tirade against this person, yet manages to turn it into a part of her delivery. If you enjoy Joan Rivers or are interested in what the life of a successful comedienne is like behind the scenes, this documentary is for you. B+ (1/12/11)


“Waking Sleeping Beauty”-This documentary is about the fall, rise, and fall of the Disney animation studio from the 1960s through 1994. After Walt Disney died in 1966, the studio was run by his nephew, Ron Miller, and seemed to be heading for oblivion. A corporate battle led by Walt’s nephew, Roy Disney, resulted in the takeover of the studio by Michael Eisner and Frank Wells and the appointment of Jeffrey Katzenberg to run the animation department. The result was a series of tremendously successful animated films, including “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” and “The Lion King.” But all was not well behind the scenes, especially after Frank Wells, COO of Disney, died in a helicopter crash in April 1994, and Jeffrey Katzenberg felt it was time for him to be promoted. “Waking Sleeping Beauty” provides background to this tale, with interviews by a slew of those involved, including many of the animators. The treatment of the incredible, but aging Disney animation department ranged from pathetic (being kicked out of their original home and then horribly overworked) to glorious. But the problem with “Waking Sleeping Beauty” is that it feels more like a corporate ad for Disney and ends in 1994, as the animation department was once again fading after “The Lion King.” Unless a sequel is planned, we never get to see what happened later when Disney eventually took over Pixar, the great CGI animation studio, in 2006. C+ (1/7/11)


“Creation”-Despite major stars Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin and Jennifer Connelly as Emma Darwin, this film has the feel of a made-for-television movie, which it may well be as it is a BBC production. While it purports to show the atmosphere surrounding Darwin’s writing of “On the Origin of Species,” possibly the most profound science volume ever written, it concentrates on personal and family matters, including Darwin’s constant complaints of illness and the illness and death of their beloved 10-year old daughter, Annie (played with a great deal of spunk by Martha West). Although little is shown of Darwin’s research or the thinking process that led to his incredible achievement, the film does point out the conflict that existed between Darwin’s growing disbelief in religion and Emma’s desire to stick to the beliefs with which she grew up. Bettany and Connelly, husband and wife, do a decent job of portraying these significant 19th-Century personages, but one leaves the film with the feeling that it would have been a more complete experience if we learned more about the thought processes which led Darwin to his conclusions about evolution. In this film, it almost appears that he wrote “On the Origin of Species” as a hobby in his spare time. C+ (1/2/11)


“The American”-When we first meet Jack (George Clooney), he’s relaxing in a snowbound Swedish country house with a beautiful friend. But it isn’t long before we’re shocked into realizing that he’s involved in a very dangerous business. Jack takes himself to a small village in Italy where he waits, communicating by pay phone with a man who appears to be his “boss,” and watching over his shoulder for the danger that is always lurking. In the process, he’s given one assignment, to provide a quiet high power rifle and bullets to a beautiful woman (Thekla Reuten) who appears very capable of using that equipment. “The American,” directed by Anton Corbijn (“Control”), contains gorgeous cinematography (provided by Martin Ruhe) of the Italian countryside, a breathtaking background for the palpable tension that grows around Jack as we watch him going about his business, and we wait for the expected action. In the process, Jack is befriended by Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), a local priest, and sees Clara (Violante Placido), a beautiful prostitute, relationships which raise issues of morality and love that Jack apparently had rarely if ever thought about before. George Clooney is solid as a quiet man with a mission but with the never-ending suspicions of his profession, and slowly developing doubts. European stars Thekla Reuten, Paola Bonacelli, and Violante Placido provide outstanding support for this slow-paced but gripping thriller. B+ (1/1/11)

Return to top