Thursday, November 26, 2009

A movie-related vacation!

nHi everyone. I've created a new blog, but don't worry, I haven't gone all Sybil on you - at least not yet. Maybe closer to Three Faces of Eve. That blog will be sort of my personal journal. However, since the first post has to do with movies, I thought I'd share it here too.

Next week I will be going to New Orleans for the first time to visit my dad (who lives there), and I'm very

Disney's new movie, The Princess and the Frog, is set in New Orleans. Alas, the movie itself will not play there while I am there, but the Museum of Modern Art has this cool exhibit, which I plan to attend!

My dad says he also intends to take to The Clover Grill, which was featured in a scene from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. 

And check out this EXTREMELY cool-sounding theater I found! They are showing Miracle on 34th St. (blessedly, the ORIGINAL and not the mezzo-mezzo 90s remake). And if you know me, you know I love nothing better than to see old movies in old movie theaters!

So that's some of my itinerary so far - and I welcome comments on this blog to. So in the interest of spawning some, let me ask you - anybody been to New Orleans and/or have any suggestions as to what I should see? I'll be there from Monday Nov. 30  through Friday Dec. 4.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A MASSIVE DVD review catch-up

For various reasons I will neither explain nor excuse, I have been extremely remiss in my DVD reviews. Given that I am about to go on vacation (mostly to New Orleans), this will likely be my last post for a few days. So I'd like to catch us up.

In the interest of space, and of time, and of challenging myself as a writer, I shall confine each review to a sentence of 10. words or less.

Aliens in the Attic: Would collect dust on my shelf.

Angels & Demons: The demons win, by a horn. C+

Bruno: The shock has worn off, Sacha. C

Food Inc: Viewing may trigger fasting. 

Four Christmases: Two great stars + lame screenplay = barely passable. C+

Funny People: Too long, but NOT as bad you've heard. B+

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra:  GI No: The Fall  of Coherence

I Love You Beth Cooper: What happened, Chris Columbus?

My Sister's Keeper: Cameron Diaz = mom? Does not compute. 

Santa Buddies: WHY???!?!?!?!?!

Shorts: I take it Rodriguez has done better.

Star Trek: Re-energized the franchise Can't wait for the sequel. A

The Taking of Pelham 123: Not bad, but the orginal was better. B

The Ugly Truth: This got a better Cinemascore than Funny People. Wither taste? C

 Up: Two thumbs. A+

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fun (mostly) with early reviews

I've been having fun perusing the early reviews of films coming to a theater near us.

First, some early takes on the film of the holiday  I am most looking forward to seeing, Disney's The Princess and the Frog:

 Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood reporter.
This is the best Disney animated film in years. Audiences -- who don't care whether it's cel animation, CGI, stop motion, claymation or motion capture as long as it's a good story -- will respond in large numbers. A joyous holiday season is about to begin for Disney.

 Lisa Schwarzbaum, Enterainment Weekly 
This old-fashioned charmer holds its own beside the motion-capture elegance of Disney's A Christmas Carol, the engrossing stop-motion universes of Coraline and Fantastic Mr. Fox, the CG-enhanced genius of Up, the wonder of 3-D technology, and, indeed, the unique, hand-drawn Japanese artistry of Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo as the year's deepest, most affecting, and most inventive movies.

Justin Chang, Variety - who's a little more mixed, but maybe my optimism interprets this as positive:

And whatever one makes of the material -- which sanitizes voodoo for mass moppet consumption and even serves up a G-rated Mardi Gras climax -- it's an unmistakable pleasure to behold an old-school, hand-drawn toon, assembled with pristine craftsmanship and attention to detail, at a time when CG, 3D and even stop-motion animation are all the rage.

Then there are the early review of Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones. Harry Knowles of Ain't it Cool News, predictably, loved it. 

I know what you’re thinking. How can a film about the rape and murder of a beautiful 14 year old girl be anything other than traumatic, but frankly… the film is lovely.

Less convinced is Todd McCarthy, chief film critic of Variety:

Unfortunately, the massive success Jackson has enjoyed in the intervening years with his CGI-heavy "The Lord of the Rings" saga (the source of which receives fleeting homage in a bookstore scene here) and "King Kong" has infected the way he approaches this far more intimate tale. Instead of having the late Susie Salmon occupy a little perch in an abstract heavenly gazebo from which she can peer down upon her family and anyone else -- all that is really necessary from a narrative point of view -- the director has indulged his whims to create constantly shifting backdrops depicting an afterlife evocative of "The Sound of Music" or "The Wizard of Oz" one moment, "The Little Prince" or "Teletubbies" the next.

Ouch. I hope I disagree.

Now to cheer myself up with some of the delightful pans of a film not even Amy Adams could convince me to see, Old Dogs:

Keith Phipps, The Onion (A.V. Club):

Adults should steer clear. Kids should be sent to it only if they’ve been extraordinarily naughty.

James Berardinelli, Reelviews

What's wrong with this movie? A better question might be: What's right?

Ty Burr, Boston Globe:

A pitiful family comedy about two aging buddies forced to play daddy, it looks exactly like what you’d get if Robin Williams and John Travolta went out, got hammered, scrawled scenes on a bar napkin in random order, gave the napkin to “Wild Hogs’’ director Walt Becker, and filmed it. Trust me, you could do this at home and save yourself the $9.50.

Schwarzbaum, EW

Six-year-old boys may laugh at the bowwow of a comedy Old Dogs. But then, 6-year-old boys laugh at the word poop — and the word poop plays a big steaming part in this stinky endeavor.

And best of all is Drew McWeeny, AKA Morarity, of, who wrote THE most vicious and delightfully acidic pan I have read ALL year:

If "Old Dogs" were a person, I would stab it in the face.
Millions of years from now, after Western Civilization has fallen and the Earth has ruptured and cooled and been reborn and a new life form has taken over the planet, if any of them happen to stumble upon a working DVD player and a copy of "Old Dogs," they will sum up the passing of our culture with two simple words:  "Good riddance." ....
If you truly hate your family and you're all trapped together this weekend, and you reeeeeally want to punish them and show them just how little you value their joy, then by all means, pile into the car and rush out to find a theater playing "Old Dogs."  But if you have any self-respect at all, and if your time and your brain cells mean anything to you, then skip it.  It's not ironically awful.  It's not so bad it's great.  It is a soul-crushing experience, depressing and sad, bad enough to make me retroactively wish away the careers of all involved.
Sad indeed. I remember when Robin Williams' presence in a comedy was a GOOD thing. Now it's like a collision alarm

Monday, November 23, 2009

REVIEW(S): Precious/An Education

When I watch movies, I frequently theme them. I'll go on "kicks" for a certain actor or director or series and watch several films of a certain kind in a row. For instance, just this past weekend, I watched Peter Bogdonovich's Paper Moon and Nickelodeon, both 1970s films starring Ryan and Tatum O'Neal (reviews forthcoming).

When I went to the movies on Sunday, I didn't have a theme in mind when I watched Precious and An Education back to back - they just happened to open in Dayton this weekend. Although the movies are very different in tone and style, both are coming-of-age tales and literary adaptations whose protagonists learn some very hard lessons. Both feature breakout performances that are Oscar worthy - and both pictures are excellent.

Precious, based on the acclaimed novel by Sapphire, centers around a teenager who have what may be the single most hellish family life I've ever seen in a movie. Almost illiterate, Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) is sullen and withdrawn. She barely speaks and seems to have a mask of depression fixed to her face. 

It's no small wonder why. Constantly belittled by her angry, resentful mother (Mo'Nique) Precious has one child with Down syndrome and she's pregnant with her second child - both of which are borne from an ugly, incestuous relationship with her father.

And yet, even amid such dire trappings, Precious' life is not completely hopeless. She excels in math, and her educators send her to an alternative school. They come to care for her, sensing a beautiful soul buried under layers of abuse and pain.  But every time Precious finds some ray of light, some new setback douses it. Parts of the film are utterly heartbreaking, and even punishing to witness.

That's why I found some of director Lee Daniels' visual flourishes distracting. A few fantasy sequences, in which Precious imagines a happier life,  occasionally pulled me out of the story. That they're out of sync with Precious' grim reality is part of the point, I suppose, but the sequences are so florid, they're jarring. Quite honestly, Precious' life is so downtrodden, it's hard to see how she can even envision such a fantasy at all.

And yet, I hung on because Precious hung on. I rooted for her. I sympathized with her. I cheered for her when she pulled herself up, and felt crushed when life kicked her back down. That's due primarily to Sidibe's amazingly intuitive performance, which is all the more remarkable because it's her debut. Even so, she totally inhabits the character, never seeming affected for a second. I wasn't watching an actor, I was watching a girl live and breathe.

Credit must also go to Mo'Nique for creating an unflinching portrayal of such a despicable character. Precious' mom may be a monster, but Mo'Nique never takes the easy way out, playing her character as a one-dimensional cretin. She explains the mother without ever excusing her. It's a fine line to walk, but Mo'Nique never falters.

Some will tell you Precious is depressing and sad. They're not altogether wrong. But there is hope to be found. Precious endures because I endured with Precious.


In An Education, Jenny (Carey Mulligan) learns some hard life lessons too, although hers travel down another path - the precarious path of romance.

It's very tempting to call Jenny "wise beyond her years," and indeed, she projects a certain self-confidence and an easygoing manner. She's bright, talented and beautiful, and she knows what she wants out of life - until  David (Peter Sarsgaard) drives into it.

David, who is more than twice her age, professes himself to be a music lover, and in a great meet-cute, gives Jenny's cello shelter from the rain in his car while Jenny hurries alongside it.
It doesn't take a genius to guess that there's more to David than meets Jenny's batting eyes,  but it also doesn't take a genius to guess why David charms Jenny.  She sees him as a worldly, exciting alternative to the seemingly conventional and stifling college life her parents have planned for her.

And it's also very easy to understand the effusive praise for Mulligan. To paraphrase Thelma Ritter in Rear Window, Carey Mulligan is the right actor for any filmmaker with a brain who can get one eye open. People have compared her to Audrey Hepburn, and that's not unwarranted.  When Mulligan steps out for a night on the town in a great short-sleeved dress, I repeated a line from Jerry Maguire in my head: "That's not a dress, that's an Audrey Hepburn movie."

And it's not just the Hepburn look that Mulligan captures. I don't mean to suggest that Mulligan is Audrey's equal yet, but Mulligan captures the same sort of effortless charm and guilelessness Hepburn wielded. The cast on the whole is uni formally solid; Alfred Molina particularly stands out as Jenny's critical but well-meaning father.

An Education also increased my admiration for writer Nick Hornby. A number of his novels, like High Fidelity and About a Boy,  have been adapted into great movies, but this is the first time he has written a screenplay, adapting a memoir by Lynn Barber. Hornby's writing is witty and sharply observed - even when the characters make foolish choices, they seem like the right ones because they're so vulnerable and human.

Even better, the film has a number of great little touches that add to its flavor, including a wonderful title sequence that brilliantly sets the tone, and a terrific soundtrack that's so authentic of the early 60s sound, that even the new original songs had me fooled into thinking they were genuine articles.

An Education is filled with different  kinds of charm - some are dangerous, some are delightful - and all are irresistible.


Friday, November 20, 2009

So will I see New Moon? Let's decide!

When I put together my fall movie preview earlier this year, I was in the mixed-to-positive camp on seeing New Moon, or as it is rather pretentiously and fully titled, The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

When it comes to all things Twilight (saga), I am neither a ferocious fan nor a virulent villain.  I liked but did not love the first movie. It was solidly entertaining, energetically made and decently performed. I could not rave about the film, and I couldn't rant about it either.

I am of the wrong age and gender to be persuaded by the Twilight books. When I screened the movie last year, I received a little booklet which was basically the first chapter of the first novel. I found it fairly interesting but wasn't that moved either way. I was not inspired to read the novels, as I had been with the Harry Potter series.

While I don't think Twilight is a saga any more than I thought Michael Jackson was the King of Pop after the 1980s, I also don't think liking the series means the death of culture and intelligence as we know it. If you love Twilight, you go and have your fun. You're not the devil if you like it, I'm not the devil if I don't. I'm much more interested in seeing An Education and Preciouis, which both open in Dayton this weekend. I also might revisit one of the best films of the year, A Serious Man.

Still, the question remains: Should I see New Moon? Let's go to the reviews, shall we? (Yes, I know, reviews don't matter to most fans of this series, but they sure as hell matter to me, said Sir Critic.) 

The excellent news for fans is that this sequel to 2008's Twilight is a durable, recognizably faithful movie adaptation of New Moon. - Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly. 

Hmm, OK. 

Why does “New Moon” basically work, even with its grave self-seriousness? A few reasons. Weitz lets the material breathe, and his actors interact. The film does not try to eat you alive. - Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune. 

Not bad. And I do like Chris Weitz as a director.

Carried by Kristen Stewart's compellingly dark performance, but also by helmer Chris Weitz's robust visuals.- Jordan Mintzer, Variety.

Nice. I do like Stewart quite a lot; she's the best thing about the first movie, even if she's done more interesting work elsewhere.

Constrained by the plot of the novel, the film keeps the two lovers apart for quite a spell, robbing the project of the crazy-in-love energy that made "Twilight," the first entry in the series, such a guilty pleasure. - Kenneth Turan, LA Times.


In the sequel, Weitz lays on a pop song and slow-motion during a critical scene involving the sudden reappearance of a fearsome villain, giving everything an MTV-slick, teen-friendly gloss and reminding you this is just a movie -- a somewhat silly and hollow one.- Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald. 

Oh dear.

The big tease turns into the long goodbye in The Twilight Saga: New Moon, the juiceless, near bloodless sequel. - Manohla Dargis, New York Times. 

Clever wordplay, but ouch! 

The irony in this movie about vampires is that the only thing doing any sucking is the movie itself. - Walter Chaw, Film Freak Central. 

DOUBLE ouch! 

The movie gives the 'Twilight' fans exactly what they want but doesn't offer too much for the rest of us. - Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times.

Oh, crud. I'm "the rest of us." 

Twihards will be OMG, OMG, OMG. The rest of us? ROTFL.- Kevin Willamson, Jam! Movies.

ROTFL at the review but OMG at the prospect. And AGAIN with "the rest of us!"

The characters in this movie should be arrested for loitering with intent to moan. -Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times.

My favorite critic. Yikes!

The cinematic equivalent of a Jonas Brothers concert. - Kevin Maher, Times Online.


Editor's note: The film reviewer known in Sir Critic has mysteriously vanished only moments after writing this post. He was last seen running down the street babbling something about how he could have seen Shutter Island a second time by now, but NOOOoooo ....

Monday, November 16, 2009

My favorites: Film score and composer - what are yours?

Notice how the title of the post is singular - film score and composers, rather than the plural film scores and composers.

That's quite deliberate. Some time back I thought about authoring a post listing my 10 favorite film scores and some of my favorite composers. A truly comprehensive, well-considered list would take some time, however. so that list will have to wait for a future date - if, indeed, I can ever settle on THE 10 greatest scores.

I WILL say however, that picking out my favorite film score and composer is beyond easy. My favorite score is the one for what is probably my favorite film, Vertigo, and the composer is the legendary Bernard Herrmann.
Here's the theme from it:

But my favorite piece from the film is the "Scene d'Amour," with Kim Novak's achingly beautiful reveal, as seen here (NOTE: DO NOT watch this if you have not seen the film - it contains major spoilers).

Ah, but that's still not my favorite piece of Herrmann music. And no, it's not the shower music from Psycho, brilliant as that is. That's the most INFLUENTIAL piece of film music, but it's not my favorite. My favorite film theme - the one that I dream of conducting in front of an orchestra someday - is the theme to Hitchcock's North By Northwest. Just thinking about it thrills and exhausts me.

And just think: None of Herrmann's Hitchcock scores - not a single one - was ever even NOMINATED for an Oscar. That, to me, is the Academy's most galling oversight.  (Herrmann did win an Oscar for The Devil and Daniel Webster, but still ...)

Finally, here's the clip that prompted me to write this post: a VERY nifty collection of Herrmann scores that serves well to remind us he wasn't just Hitchcock's guy.

So what are your favorite Herrmann scores? For that matter, who are your favorite film composers and what are your favorite film scores? Let's turn this into a REAL free-for-all! Comment away! 

Sunday, November 15, 2009

REVIEW: 2012

Hey, if I had Amanda Peet reaching out to me, I could outrun a wave of destruction myself! 

To review 2012, I must also review most of the cinematic oeuvre of Roland Emmerich.

Why? Because in a number of ways, 2012 is the ultimate Roland Emmerich film, for good and ill. This movie sums up everything that makes his work sometimes entertaining, and everything that makes his movies sometimes abysmal.

I have not seen his American breakthrough, Universal Soldier, so I have to start a little later.

Stargate: More like Boregate. Except for the Stargate sequences, the film moves with all the speed and urgency of a funeral. Even in some of his better movies, Emmerich paces badly, and that's true of 2012. There is absolutely NO need for the new movie to clock in at around two and a half hours. Emmerich could have shaved a half hour from the film and improved it dramatically.

Independence Day: Along with Top Gun, I find this film to be the quintessential example of entertaining junk. Neither film means a damn thing, but both have enough flash and bang and enjoyably silly dramatics to make them fun to watch. 2012 is also entertaining junk, albeit overlong entertaining junk. And it's the movie that proved that Emmerich could stage a good, solid action scene without editing it into a blinding frenzy, unlike his Big Dumb Movie compatriot, Michael Bay.

Godzilla: Certainly not a good movie per se, but it's also not the unmitigated disaster many people make it out to be. Once Godzilla really started stomping around in the second half, I enjoyed it, even if it took too long to get there. Similarly, 2012 takes way too long to get going before the money shots start delivering.

The Patriot: On balance, this is probably Emmerich's best film because it's the one time his characters came across as three-dimensional. Granted, having actors as good as Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger helps, but the film delivers on both the human level and the action movie level. What ultimately redeems 2012 is that it has just enough humanity to make it worth caring about.

The Day After Tomorrow: A lot of critics gave this mega-disaster pic a pass, but I never understood why. Sure, some of the destructo-scenes were impressive, but the characters had all the depth of a credit card. When an actress as appealing as Emmy Rossum can't save your movie, you screwed up. This is why 2012 is superior - it contains at least one character - John Cusack - that I happily rooted for.

10,000 BC:  Not even the alleged spectacle delivered in this nearly unwatchable slog of a movie that seemed to last 10,000 years. It's chock full of the kind of one-dimensional characters that drag 2012 down. I could have done without 2012's boorish Ruissan official, and I REALLY could have done without his Paris Hilton-esque girlfriend, complete with an annoying little yap dog.

Although 2012 has all of the features that make Emmerich's movies stupid, it has just enough of the assets that make them enjoyably guilty pleasures. Despite its stupid supporting characters and uneven pacing, the movie work, first  because the big action scenes deliver. I would say that Emmerich throws in everything but the kitchen sink, but he throws the sink in too, along with the stove, the microwave, the dishwasher, and the garbage disposal. His gleefulness at making everything crash and/or explode is palpable, I even forgave the movie when it became ludicrous. The first time Cusack's character JUST outran the wave of destruction behind him, I rolled my eyes. The second time, I said, "Aw, come on." By the sixth time he did it, I smiled and said, "Yeah, OK, I get it. It's a joke. Sure wish I had his luck."

What helped, though, was I really wanted to see Cusack make it out alive. At first I was puzzled as to why he was even in this movie. He fares best in lower-key dramas and romances. The last time Cusack appeared in a Big, Dumb, Movie, Con Air, he added nothing to it. In 2012, however, he takes the thinnest sketch of a character and makes it breathe. Even though I thought Emmerich piled on a couple of climaxes too many, the ending works becauseCusack himself hangs in the balance.

No prizes for guessing whether he makes it out alive, but I made it out of 2012 not only alive but reasonably entertained. At least it has the good taste not to use Louis Armstrong's "What  a Wonderful World" on the soundtrack. That would have been TOO on the nose.


Why I hate the "rent it" vs. "see it" distinction

Quite often people  if such-and-such a movie is good. Then, if I give a mezzo-mezzo, "not really" answer, or sometimes even if I say I actively disliked a movie, people will then ask "So I should just wait for DVD, huh?"

I have never, ever understood the logic of people who ask that question. I want to tell those people. "Well, no, you shouldn't wait for the DVD. You shouldn't see it at ALL."

 OK, I understand that viewing in the theater and viewing at home have different sets of standards. But if I tell you a movie is mediocre or worse, why is it good enough to watch at home but not in the theater? A bad movie is a bad movie, period. Full stop. No change of screen size is magically going to make it worthwhile. Sure, maybe you'll blow less money, but you'll still have wasted your time, just like you would have in the theater. And yes, you can turn a DVD off, but you're still out your rental fee AND the time it took you to decide the movie sucked.

Consider 2012. On the one hand, that movie's reason de etre is the kind of spectacle that demands a big screen. On the other hand that overlong film also badly needs a chapter-skip button. So where does that movie fall? I say since the spectacle is the reason you see it, go to the theater anyway to get the most bang for your buck. I've yet to see a home theater that truly matches the real deal. Maybe a home theater can replicate the picture and the surround sound, but it can't duplicate the atmosphere of a theater.

It isn't just me who thinks this way. Roger Ebert's Answer Man column has a great Q&A on this very subject, and a great line of logic I had never considered before (bolded by me)

Q. I love the new "At The Movies" with Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott (good riddance to you know who), but I must say that I still don't get the "See It/Rent It" distinction. Either a movie is worth seeing, or it's not, right? I mean, I think it does work on the show as a sort of "thumbs sideways" to deal with the two-and-a-half star movies that can't quite be recommended, but still have some value that deserves to be recognized.

What I really don't understand is why our standards are supposed to be lower for rentals rather than theatrical releases. When you go out to see a current release is when you have to make compromises. Maybe the movie you really wanted to see sold out, or just finished its run, so now you have to pick the second best thing at that theater. Or you're with a large group that doesn't want to see a foreign film, so you have to settle on the most tolerable current blockbuster.

When you rent a movie, however, you have nearly the entirety of cinematic history at your disposal. That makes the competition for rentals much more fierce. Looking at Time Out New York, I see that there are 51 movies out here right now. That's a lot, but compare that to the thousands of choices available on Netflix. Why would I rent a marginal film like "New York, I Love You" when I still need to see "Killer of Sheep," "Au Hasard Balthazar," "Mishima" and "The Grey Zone"?
Rhys Southan, New York, NY

A. Amen. I've been against "rent it" from the first time I was exposed to the concept. It makes no sense. Either a film is good enough to see, or not good enough to see. Here's my theory about the invention of this ersatz category: It's an attempt to pander to those who would rather die than rent a great film like, say, Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" rather than a "rent it"-style dim bulb like "Couples Retreat." I think some editors, not mine, are terrified that readers might get the idea a critic is stuck up. If you'd rather rent "Couples Retreat" than the new restored "North by Northwest," "Bonnie and Clyde" or "Cool Hand Luke," that's what I am, stuck up, and happy to be.

Me too, Roger. What about you? What's your take on the "Wait for DVD" line of logic?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gershwin, Mickey and Judy

After I see 2012 today (some people may ask, "Lord, why?" I'll explain when I write the review) I will be attending a Gershwin concert in Middletown Saturday, Nov. 14. He's my favorite of the classic composers. "I like a Gershwin tune, how about you," as the old song goes.

And that gives me an excellent excuse to post one of my favorite classic movie clips - of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland introducing that very tune in the film Babes on Broadway. It was written for that film and was Oscar nominated (although it very understandably lost to "White Christmas" from Holiday Inn).

If someone were to ask me, "What made Mickey and Judy great?"  this is the clip I would show them. Absolute magic.

Of course Judy was also great singing an actual Gershwin tune, like this one from my favorite of the Mickey-Judy match-ups, Girl Crazy. This is a song that resonates all too well with me, he said, getting somewhat confessional.

Back with the review,  probably on Sunday.

A new Amy Adams trailer? GOTTA blog about THAT!

Over on EW's Popwatch blog, writer Missy Schwartz laments the fact that Leap Year, the new romantic comedy with Amy Adams, looks rather lame, especially for a  star as luminous as Amy.

OK, I've gotta say something about this. For the handful of you who may not be familiar with me, Sir Critic is not only the Steely-Eyed Moviegoing Man, he is also The Man with a Giant Shameless Crush on the Delightful Amy Adams.

So when I hear a movie trailer with Amy Adams looks lame, my automatic response must be, "But it's Amy."

Now, I am not totally blind, I just wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Ms. Adams. I can easily spot trouble signs and cliches aplenty in this trailer.

Scene with girls trying on fancy dresses? Check.

But it's Amy.

Scene with sassy best bud? Check.

But it's Amy.

Solid old actor pro (John Lithgow) in the role of the father? Check.

But it's Amy.

Dopey "I'm nothing without a man" plot? Check.

But it's Amy.

Scene where our heroine confronts a phobia? Check.

But it's Amy.

Wacky fall-down drunk? Check.

But it's Amy.

Meet cute with a smart-ass antagonistic guy she'll obviously fall for? Check.

But it's Amy.

Fake-looking greenscreen footage that reveals the movie was obviously not shot on location? Check.

But it's Amy.

Attempted hilarity with uncooperative animals? Check.

But it's Amy.

Circumstances force would-be couple to get snuggly n' smoochy? Check.

But it's Amy.

Scene where guy sees girl kinda nekkid? Check.

But it's Amy. And Amy ... um, wow. Nevermind.

Unexpected kiss prompts bolt of lightning moment? Check.

But it's Amy!

Guy number one reappears to ruin everything? Check.

But it's Amy, I say! 

Movie trailer apparently telegraphs entire plot?  Check.

But it's Amy, I tell you!

Movie being released in the quality graveyard month of January? Check.

But it's Amy, dammit!!

Much as I hate to admit it, this movie looks like it could be Amy's first bad choice since she co-starred in The Wedding Date. But will I see it? You'd better believe it. I will watch Amy in anything. She could spend an entire movie swatting flies and I'd find it appealing.

And just to show it's not ALL about Amy, I will also point out the director credit gives me hope. It's Anand Tucker, who made two very fine films, Shopgirl, and Hilary and Jackie. That said, good directors have been known to be neutered by the rom-com machine before.

But then again ... it IS Amy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

REVIEW: DIsney's A Christmas Carol

Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol (which is what the movie should really be titled) is dazzling, wondrous, moving and imaginative. It boasts some of the most astounding visuals I've seen  in a movie theater all year. It's everything an adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic should be.

The thing is, that's only during the Ghost of Christmas Present sequence. I wish the rest of the movie were as good as its mid-section. Alas, the other parts range from merely decent to truly regrettable.

As much as I wish director Zemeckis would return to making live-action movies and drop his motion-capture obsession, his first movie in the process, The Polar Express, remains my favorite holiday movie experience of the decade (as long as it was in IMAX 3D). So even though the motion capture technology has improved since Polar Express, why doesn't A Christmas Carol work as well?

The answer can be summed up in one word: precedent.

There was no other movie adaptation with which to compare The Polar Express, so it stood on its own as a visual treat. I didn't even mind the so-called "dead-eye" effect. The detail of the animation and the fluidity of the camera movement were wonders to behold.

On the other hand, there have been countless adaptations of A Christmas Carol. (Click here for a fun, comprehensive recap.) Zemeckis has to work harder here because he has to bring something new to very familiar images. Sometimes he succeeds. Other times he tries too hard and falters.

The opening section and the Ghost of Christmas Past sections are fine, if indistinct - but that didn't trouble me too much as I watched it. Aside from a few impressive tracking shots, Zemeckis keeps visual flourishes to a minimum, because he's ramping up to increase the visual fireworks later.

This pays off handsomely in the Ghost of Christmas Present scene, which has ample invention and imagination. The room occupied by the ghost and Scrooge flies over London, but we never see the outside of the room  - we only see the inside and through the floor, as if Scrooge and the ghost were in a giant flight simulator. It's a stunning effect, similar to some of the visuals of  Jodie Foster's interstellar journey in Zemeckis' underrated Contact.  Even better, the emotions match the visuals, as Scrooge genuinely feels for the plight of Tiny Tim.

Then the Ghost of Christmas Future arrives, and it's all downhill from there. Zemeckis goes into overdrive to give the movie a rock-em, sock-em climax, but the movie trips over itself.  One scene in particular features Scrooge getting clobbered by icicles, which is jarringly out of place in this story - it feels more like Chuck Jones than Charles Dickens. Even worse, Scrooge shrinks in this scene and has a squeaky voice, which completely undermines the foreboding tone this part of the story needs.

Even so, the movie as a whole still stands up. Despite the transgressions of the Ghost of Christmas Future scene, Zemeckis, who adapted the story, is very faithful to Dickens' text - and Jim Carrey keeps his excesses to a minimum, making a fine Scrooge. Although I can't agree with Roger Ebert's 4-star appraisal of the film, he is correct when he says Zemeckis is the best director of 3D visuals. If you see the movie, at least see it in 3D if not the IMAX 3D version, or you're missing half the fun.

But is this the Christmas classic it so clearly wants to be? Except for the Ghost of Christmas Present sequence, no. It's good fun, but the best version of the past 20 years is still A Muppet Christmas Carol, which featured Michael Caine as the best Scrooge since Alistair Sim. That version proves that only a little razzmatazz goes a long way.

Note: Some readers have asked me how their kids might take this movie, as in, would they be scared? Please note it IS rated PG for "scary sequences and images." Some scenes are fairly intense, especially in the Ghost of Christmas Future scene. If your child is at all nightmare-prone, think twice on this one.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

An honest letter to Disney RE: DVD and Blu-Ray

Russell seems as perturbed as I am about the Up DVDs

To Buena Vista Home Entertainment:

Hey guys. You oughta know by now that when it comes to most things Disney, I'm a big fan. I love a great deal of your work and the Disney connection has gotten me some truly wonderful friends. 

So it really hurts me when you make me feel ripped off and devalued. 

How? With the packaging of the Up DVDs. 

Up is my absolute favorite movie of the year, so I was very excited to buy it this week. Then, when I watched the disc, I was sorely disappointed at how you skimped on the extras.

Let me backtrack a bit: The Pixar DVDs have been among my favorites in my collection, not just because of the movies themselves but for the excellent, comprehensive packages of extras. All the Pixar movies, from Toy Story through The Incredibles had outstanding packages of extras.

Then along comes this high-def format called Blu-Ray. And then you started skimping on the extras for regular ol' DVD while still loading the Blu-Rays with content. Unfair. Unjust. Greedy, even. 

The Cars and Ratatouille Blu-Rays had all kinds of goodies while the DVDs had hardly anything. I know some features only work on Blu-Ray, but it seems to me a lot of what was on those Blu-Rays could have gone on the DVDs too. Why should we be shortchanged because we couldn't invest in a high-def system yet?

Then WALL-E came along and you seemed to wise up. Both the Blu-Ray and the DVD had very nice extras packages. All seemed right with the world. 

Now, along come the Up DVDs and the configuration is rather maddening. There are three editions: 

1. A single-disc DVD which is pretty bare bones

2. A double-disc DVD with a few extras

3. A 4-disc Blu-Ray set.

The Blu-Ray was obviously out for me, so I figured this would be like WALL-E: get the two-disc set with more extras. Well, as it turns, out the second-disc of the DVD set is nothing more than a "digital copy" of the film, which I will never use.  Sorry, but I think watching movies on iPods and the like is pointless. 

Meanwhile, the Blu-Ray is stocked with all kinds of nice bonuses that aren't on the DVDs, like:

*Geriatric Hero. History behind the creation of our old guy. All of these documentaries are interview oriented with sketches and film clips to supplement.
*Canine Companions. In depth analysis on the breed choices, training and dog behavior studied to get the dogs in the film to be more - dog like.
*Russel Wild Explorer. Covers the reasons for his character to have the loss and why he was "egg" shaped as opposed to other sketch ideas.
*Kevin (bird). Nice reference to the Swiss Family Robinson ostrich; covered the hardest part of any of these animation films - the feathers.
*Homemakers Pixar. Enjoyed the work that went into them studying sub-floors and lighting options in making this look so real in the house.
*Balloons and Flight. Tells the now famous number of balloons used; some interesting dirigible history; shows the Pixar group using that local Bay Area air service I keep seeing fly around here (research stuff).
*Composing for Characters. Have to be into the musical/scoring stuff for this one. 

Now why on God's green Earth couldn't you have put those on an actual second disc? I can't think of any good reason. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to have the commentary and the few extras I have, but I still feel cheated  - especially since, with sales prices, the Blu-Ray is actually CHEAPER than the two-disc DVD set. That is nothing less than galling. 

Forget it, guys. You are endlessly pimping Blu-Ray, but when you pull this crap, that just ticks me off. I'm not convinced Blu-Ray has a long future anyway, and these kinds of shenanigans only make me LESS inclined to support it. Surely that wasn't in your plan.

All I can say say is if you pull this BS with Toy Story 3 next year, I think you'll find a lot of unhappy Sids, Scuds and Zurgs out there. 


Sir Critic

Monday, November 09, 2009

(SORT-OF) REVIEW: A Serious Man

By now, the Coen brothers have well established that they are master filmmakers. However, in addition to being masters of filmmaking craft in general, they're also the masters of a particular brand of film.

I call it the "What the Hell was THAT?" Film

Almost all of their movies have gotten that reaction from me - and almost all of them in a good way. But no film prompted a more dramatic take on that reaction than their masterpiece, A Serious Man, their story of a plagued Jewish man suffering any and all kinds of misfortunes in 1967.

Before I get to the meat of the film, I must lay a little groundwork and define a "What the Hell was THAT?" film. Such a movie catches you off guard in such a way that you don't know what you just saw, but you're pretty sure it was great.  O Brother Where Art Thou? was one. No Country for Old Men was another. So was Burn After Reading, especially after a second viewing. Even when I think I know all their quirks and all their tricks, Joel and Ethan put a spin on them and make them seem brand new.

A Serious Man isn't their best movie, but no film of their is more endearingly peculiar, or more idiosyncratic. Indeed, no film of the Coens may be more ...  them. It bears all their hallmarks: Put-upon characters who can't get anything right, odd camera angles, a particular fondness for the wide-angle lens, rat-tat-tat dialogue that circles around a particular word or phrase, which in this case, is "fucker." Apparently Jewish kids in 1967 called each other "fucker" quite a lot.

I point out that particular profanity not to be vulgar, but to demonstrate just what a grab bag of live wires this movie is. This is a movie where the F-bomb serves as a signifier, that finds deep meaning in Jefferson Airplane, that uses abrupt sequences which may or may not be dreams - there's even a brilliantly baffling pre-title sequence that's not only entirely in Yiddish, but is shot in the 1.37: 1 academy ratio used by most movies made prior to the 50s.

It strikes me that my thoughts might seem to be running all over the map, and indeed they are. This is one instance where I'm glad I'm not reviewing for a mass-media publication, because there is simply no way I can properly review A Serious Man after seeing it only once.

However, I am still going to take a stab at What I Think It All Means. I'll avoid spoilers, but this section of the post is best appreciated after you've seen the film.

(Cracks knuckles)

OK, here goes - A Serious Man is sort of a Jewish spin on No Country for Old Men.  Hear me out on this one.

No Country for Old Men struck me as being about the futility of trying to deal with evil, as personified by Anton Chigurh. You could delay evil's coming by knocking him/it down for for awhile, but sooner or later he would come and make his claim - if not on you, then on somebody close to you.

A Serious Man spins that thusly: It's about the futility of trying to figure out the meaning of life.

In the film, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is falling apart. His life is a complete shambles. His wife is leaving him. One of his students tries to bribe him. His brother gets arrested. He has medical problems. His son has a particular fondness for F Troop.

Larry goes to one person after another, to one Rabbi after another, trying to seek if not help, some sort of reason why all this is happening to him. One person even tells him a crazy story about a dentist's patient who had a hidden Hebrew message inscribed in the backs of his lower front teeth.

If only Gropnik knew - there IS no explanation. That's what I took away from the film.

What it said to me was that sometimes life hands you nothing but lemons for reasons beyond your control, and there's nothing you can do about it. You may ask God why it's all happening to you, or wonder what it is you did to "deserve" all this - but in those questions lie madness, so you might as well not wonder. The best you or anyone can do is take the hits as they come, and find solace in whatever blessings you have in life, because nothing matters more than those, especially in trying times.

At least, that's what A Serious Man said to me.  If you love offbeat cinema, I urge you to see it as soon as you can, but I'll forgive you if right now you're saying to yourself, "What the hell was THAT?"


Sunday, November 08, 2009

REVIEW: The Men Who Stare at Goats

The trailer for The Men Who Stare at Goats is manic, madcap zany and zippy. 

So is the movie - but not as much as I wanted it to be. It's a goofball lark, and that's fine - but I couldn't escape the feeling that the filmmakers missed an opportunity to make something even better. 

The premise all by itself was enough to make me say "sold." George Clooney stars as a kind of gifted psychic who was trained in an elite army unit commandeered by Jeff Bridges in pretty much "The Dude" mode. Ewan McGregor stars as a journalist investigating Clooney's story, which makes for a great joke because some of the soldiers are referred to as Jedis. And we all know that McGregor has some, shall we say,  experience in that area.

It sounds like a recipe for a great satire, and the movie made me laugh a fair amount, but it never made me laugh as loud as the trailer did.

Great comedies should ideally build momentum to a fever pitch, and that's were director Grant Heslov and writer Peter Straughan fall short. The movie starts in first gear, shifts quickly to second gear, and then never moves past that. The film just kind of amiably rolls along, spouting off a few good lines and staging a few funny scenes. But I kept wanting more.

It feels as though the filmmakers thought their silly premise was enough to sustain them. That may be fine for a two-minute trailer,  but even at a slim 93 minutes, the movie stretches itself thin. I also felt somewhat detached from it because it sometimes feels like the self-satisfied memory album of a group of pals who loved to kick back, get drunk and/or stoned and play Boston's "More Than A Feeling" over and over again. I couldn't quite relate.

I probably sound more negative toward the movie than I actually am. It's well worth seeing, and the cast in particular is fun to watch. The Men Who Stare at Goats is insane - it's just not quite insane enough. 


REVIEW: The Time Traveler's Wife

Movies about time travel often trip on those pesky paradoxes. The Time Traveler's Wife pretty much ignores them, and in so doing still trips all over itself.

Still, in any movie about romance, whether it's dramatic or comedic even sci-fi-ish, two key questions must be answered in the affirmative: Do I like this couple, and do I want to see them together? And yes, I did want to see Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams together. He plays a man who unwittingly travels through time and cannot control when he goes or where he ends up. She plays who must be the single most patient, tolerant and understanding woman in love ever put on film. I can't think of any other woman who would or even could put up with a man who literally vanishes at any given point.

The movie does a good job of putting the viewer in Bana's shoes - maybe a little too good. I often felt disoriented and confused, just like Bana and McAdams do.  The movie never clearly explains its "rules." We establish that Bana time travels unwillingly. Yet he seems to be able to control it sometimes. For instance, he vanishes just moments before he is to be married, but then, as his older self, reappears there to make up for his absence. How did he learn to do that? Experience? I couldn't tell.

I haven't read the much-loved book on which the movie is based, but I get the strong sense that its narrative difficulties stem from not quite licking the transition from page to screen. Since writer Bruce Joel Rubin comes up short on the time-travel, he compensates by concentrating on the difficulty of loving someone who can't be fully there for you. Thematically, it's not dissimilar from Rubin's best-known work, Ghost, which was more effective because as dopey as it often was, kit made its logic work.

And something else puzzled me. The story is called The Time Traveler's Wife, so why is the movie told mostly from the traveler's perspective? I think I would have been even more interested to experience the story from the vantage point of the wife, to whom we can most easily relate, since we can't time travel.

All that said, the movie works because the actors play their roles with such conviction. McAdams in particular has an uncanny ability to take even the sappiest stories and invest them with real believable passion. And Bana  comes close to matching her. As uneven and confusing as the movie is, I bought it because of them.


REVIEW: It Might Get Loud

I cannot properly call myself a great fan of The Edge, Jack White or Jimmy Page, but I was still enthralled by this documentary that compares and contrasts the lives and styles of three guitarists who are very different, and yet very much the same.

As the movies tells it, The Edge of U2 is the technology freak, obsessed with finding the right pedal or computer that will help him create the sounds he hears in his head. Jack White is the oddball who listens to old blues records and could hammer together a guitar made out of a broom handle, a voodoo doll, an egg carton and a wristwatch if you asked him to. Page is the seen-it-all reflective elder statesman who played on the title track of Goldfinger and who invented a double-necked guitar so he could play "Stairway to Heaven" on stage.

The movie compares and contrasts their rises to fame and has its three principals talk together, and most importantly play together in scenes that thrilled even this non-aficionado.

I may not be a guitar freak, but I am fascinated by how a record or an instrument arrives at a particular sound, and this was where It Might Get Loud truly fascinated me. I loved watching The Edge play with his various toys, watching White demonstrate how he made a guitar with a built-in microphone, or watching Page describe how Zeppelin songs achieved a spacious sound by being recorded in a mansion.

My only serious misgiving with It Might Get Loud is that it doesn't go quite deep enough; just as I would be fully immersed in one guitarist's story, the movie would rather abruptly shift away to another one of the guys. I wish director Davis Guggenheim had allowed some of the segments to breathe a little more.

Still, the movie really worked on me, and here's when I knew why. Not only am I not a fan of Led Zeppelin, I consider them one of the most overrated classic rock bands of all time. When "Stairway to Heaven" comes on the radio, I roll my eyes and turn it off. And yet ... and yet - the most enjoyable moment of this documentary for me was when Page breaks into "Whole Lotta Love" - and The Edge and White look at him like they want to marry him.

I didn't quite agree - but I understood.


REVIEW: Taking Woodstock

One might think that Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock might be a behind-the-scenes look at how the legendary concert came together. It's that - and it's also a coming-of-age story, a coming-out story, and an acid-trip story. 

That unwieldiness is the movie's blessing and its curse. It's an absolute mess, but an enjoyable mess. 

Lee and writer James Schamus never quite settle on a tone. Lead Demetri Martin, whose character sets the plot in motion,  seems to have come in from a Cameron Crowe film. Imelda Staunton, as the loud Jewish mother, plays all her scenes with the volume turned up to 11. The only thing her character is missing is a rolling pin with which to bat everyone on the bean.

There's Emile Hirsch playing the disaffected Vet like a castoff from Born on the Fourth of July. Then there's Jonathan Groff, looking like a dead ringer for Michael Lang, the entrepreneur behind the concert. Euegene Levy also makes a good doppelganger for Max Yasgur, the easygoing but shrewd farmer on whose land the concert was held.

The movie's biggest drawback is that sometimes it embraces the hippie culture, and sometimes it points and laughs at them in a too-cute "weren't they  trippy" sort of way. Yet as chaotic as the movie often is, it's also fair to say it's  a memoir of a chaotic time. 

The movie captures the dizzy headiness of it all, particularly when it resorts to split-screen editing similar to the documentary about  the concert. (Funnily enough, the technique reminded me of the "panel" editing Lee and editor Tim Squyres used on Lee's underrated Hulk.) The editing also aids in  a technique Lee uses of showing footage of the Woodstock documentary from an unfamiliar angle, something Spielberg employed impressively in Munich.

The visual style holds the film together and makes it an entertaining if uneven companion piece to the documentary, which will forever be the best way to commemorate that moment in time.


Friday, November 06, 2009

Oscar thoughts - The hosts, honorary awards and FYC

My recent absence from blogging has made me late in chiming in on the announcement of Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin as co-hosts. Simply put, I like the choice(s). I thoroughly enjoyed both of Steve Martin's recent hosting gigs and found him much more engaging and funnier than Chris Rock or Jon Stewart in either of his stints.   And I can't help but wonder if Baldwin's appearances on TCM's The Essentials factored into the decision to bring him on board. The man clearly knows movies. Should be fun to watch the two interact.

Finally, this year's honorary Oscars will be given out next Saturday, in an untelevised ceremony, and I roundly jeer that move. Yes, the ceremony is too long, and yes, the honorary awards are sometimes where people take bathroom breaks. But moving them to their own evening, and worse, not televising them, are BAD moves.  The honorary awards have provided Oscar with some of its best moments. Without them, we wouldn't have gotten to see Peter O'Toole graciously accept (after some initial reluctance) what may well end up being his only award from the Academy. We wouldn't have gotten to witness the fascinating polarized reaction to Elia Kazan's win.

And we would have missed what, in my opinion, is the single best awards acceptance speech, not just at the Oscars but anywhere: Director Stanley Donen, accepting his honorary trophy in 1998. I can't embed the clip, but you can watch it here.

So I extend my congratuations to producer-executive John Calley, to producer-director Roger Corman, to cimeatographer Gordon Willis and to Lauren Bacall, for whom no identifier should be necessary. You are all deserving of your honors; I only wish I could see them.

And finally, I saw this ad on a Web site the other day:

Ummm ... no disrespect meant to Betty White, who is a very funny lady, but




That's all.

Back in the blogging saddle again

I'm recovering surprisingly well from my oral surgery, and just in time too - there are a BUNCH of good prospects at the theater this weekend, all of which I plan to see in the next few days.

First, there's the movie with the best title of the season, The Men Who Stare at Goats. The reviews have been mixed, but I'm still there, because the trailer makes it look like a hoot, and because it stars George Clooney, whose presence lately has become like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. If he's in it, I'm pretty much assured the movie will be at the very least interesting. Since The Peacemaker way back in 1997, the only movie of his I've considered an out-and-out disappointment was Intolerable Cruelty, which was a rare miss for the Coen brothers.

And speaking of the Coens, I'm VERY hot to see their latest film, A Serious Man. It has very good reviews, but really, that doesn't matter. I could be told a film was a comedy about the manufacturing of HDMI cables, and I would go if I knew the Coens were behind it.

And finally, there's the new version of A Christmas Carol, directed by Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis is/was another director whose movies I always saw no matter what they were about - and indeed, he hasn't made ANY movies that were complete misses by my reckoning. His weakest film is Back to the Future Part II, and even that sports a lot of ingenuity.

Still, I have my misgivings about his obsession with motion-capture animation, which he used in The Polar Express and Beowulf. It was also used in the underrated Monster House, which he produced but not not direct. I liked all those films to one degree or another, but I remain unconvinced it's any wave of the future. And I'm still FIRMLY convinced remaking Yellow Submarine in this process is a LOUSY idea. 

All that said, will I still see A Christmas Carol? Yes, but I will wait until Tuesday, when I can see it in IMAX 3D at a reasonable price. I always tell people that if you haven't seen The Polar Express in that format, you haven't really SEEN it - you've only looked at it. Big difference. I suspect the same is true of A Christmas Carol. Even Roger Ebert, who has been an opponent of 3D, gives the movie 4 stars, writing "Disney's A Christmas Carol" by Robert Zemeckis (and Charles Dickens, of course) is an exhilarating visual experience and proves for the third time he's one of the few directors who knows what he's doing with 3-D."

So that's what's on my agenda - how about yours? What have you seen lately?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Mea culpa for the lack of activity

My apologies to everyone for the drop in the frequency of posts. I've been having computer/Internet problems (and various other problems) of late. I have oral surgery this week to remove five teeth, which will either A) totally knock me out and make me unable to write or B) force me to write so I have something to fill my time while I recover. I'm hoping for B - and a little cooperation from technology will help too.

I'll be back - I hope!

Monday, November 02, 2009

REVIEW: This is It

Yes - I was wrong about This is It.

Succumbing to curiosity after some rave reviews came in, I did indeed see Michael Jackson's posthumous concert film  - and came away very impressed.

I had thought This Is It was an awfully blah, nondescript title, but recent history has given the title a resonance it did not have before. Simply put, the documentary proves Jackson still had "it" - and that, above all else, is reason enough for even a casual admirer like me to praise it.

As I stated previously, I was never a particular fan of Jackson's, even during his heyday, but I enjoyed Michael Jackson the Entertainer, and I missed him when he got subsumed by Michael Jackson the Sideshow. This Is It brings the entertainer to the fore and convinced me that the concerts would have gone a long way toward restoring the goodwill that had been lost over the last decade.

By its very nature, the documentary is an incomplete record of an incomplete show. The director is Kenny Ortega, a longtime collaborator of Jackson's who was the creative director of the concerts.  How he has been able to assemble this footage into something coherent in only a few months, and under the most dire of circumstances,  is amazing. I'm not sure the movie contains a single fully realized performance. Jackson often drops lyrics, either to save his voice or to concentrate on the choreography. And after all, this is entirely rehearsal footage - in a way, it's  like watching a long making-of documentary on a DVD without a corresponding feature. The experience is odd but often riveting.

At the same time, This is It has been overpraised to some extent. And that's understandable. That comes with the territory of a legendary person passing away, particularly when the death is untimely. Just as this movie showcases Jackson's extraordinary gifts, it also showcases his notable, foibles, particularly a tendency toward excess when he really didn't need it.

Sure, a big show is part and parcel of a Jackson concerts, and some numbers, like "Thriller," warrant some glitz. But the production number built around "Smooth Criminal," which intersperses black and white footage of Jackson among the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Rita Hayworth? Ucch.  Such trickery didn't work when Fred Astaire danced with vacuum cleaner, and it doesn't work here.

And that flaw stands out because it's readily apparent that all Jackson really needed was his voice, which is in superb form throughout. When he leads a simple, touching rendition of "Human Nature," without razzmatazz, that's absolute magic. So is the closing performance of "Billie Jean," rough around the edges as it is. Jackson knows this and shyly says "At least we got a feel for it."

And that, in the end, is the best thing that can be said about This Is It. "At least we got a feel for it."  I, for one, am glad to have had this glimpse.