Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Twas the reviews before Christmas

Twas the day before Christmas, when here on the Net,
The film critic felt guilty and started to fret
The reviews were placed in a blog post with care
In the hope that page views and such soon would be there

That's just my rhyming way of saying I'm sorry I've been lax about posting on this blog of late. Crazy busy-ness with my job and the holidays, and  attempts at playing Beatles Rock Band have all slowed me down to some degree. But before some of us plunge TOO headlong into the holly-days, I'd like to leave you with a bevy of short reviews of fare on the big and small screens.


Brothers - This war/coming home drama unfolds with a certain obviousness, and I had problems with a major plot hole in that the military seems to tell the family in this film their loved one has died, when in fact the military would never do such a thing without hard physical evidence (this is per my brother, who is serving in Iraq). However, superior performances from Tobey Maguire as a damaged POW, Jake Gyllenhaal as his layabout brother and Natalie Portman as Maguire's wife still make it powerful. GRADE: B

The Blind Side - I can see why this movie has gone over so well with the public, even if I can't quite praise the film so highly myself. It's inspirational and not overly melodramatic, but for a story with such serious themes, it occasionally comes across as too cutesy and glib, and I get the distinct sense it's reality glossed over. All the same, it's still affecting and well made, for the most part. GRADE: B+

Invictus - Clint Eastwood's Nelson Mandela sports movie is eminently decent - perhaps a bit too much so. It's well worth seeing mainly because of Morgan Freeman's terrific turn as Mandela, but the movie as a whole feels too earnest and loses energy in the third act, when Eastwood relies on too many slow-motion shots. GRADE: B

The Messenger - This may be the most illuminating of all the current war films in that it takes a viewpoint we so rarely see - that of the officers whose grave duty it is to tell people their loved one has died serving their country. The plot thickens when one of the officers (Ben Foster) develops an affection for a widow (Samantha Morton). Powerful performances by everyone, especially Woody Harrelson as Foster's cynical superior, carry the movie a long way, but I wish the movie had done more with Morton's storyline, which dissipates too quickly. GRADE: B+

Up in the Air - With its themes of loneliness and isolation, and its brilliant writing and directing, Jason Retiman's new film affected me personally and powerfully. It's no surprise that George Clooney and Vera Farmiga give excellent performances, but Anna Kendrick truly impresses in a career-making turn that's more complex than it seems at first glance. This film deserves every bit of effusive praise it's gotten and then some - so much so that I may like this film even better than a certain animated film with a similar but much shorter title. And if you know me, you know that's saying something. GRADE: A+


District 9 - Absolutely terrific sci-fi thriller ingeniously filmed by Peter Jackson protege Neill Blomkamp. If acting awards were given the true consideration they deserve, Sharlto Copley would be a serious Oscar contender. Full review - GRADE: A
(500) Days of Summer - Lilting, uplifting, and eye-filling, this endlessly inventive romance offers more proof that the best romances tend to be the ones with the most anguish. (Casablanca, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind et al.) If acting awards were given the true consideration they deserve, Zooey Deschamel  would be a serious Oscar contender. Full review - GRADE: A+

The Hangover - I've never had one in my life, but I found the movie hilarious too. GRADE: A-

Inglourious Basterds - I remain somewhat surprised this is doing so well in year-end awards.Yes, parts of the movie are outstanding, but at the same time, they only serve to underscore how weak other parts of the movie are in comparison. It's biggest problem is that there's no emotional through-line connecting all the stories, as there is in Tarantino's best work. It's occasionally a great movie - but only occasionally. Full review - GRADE: B+

It Might Get Loud - Just as I've never had a hangover, I've also never been a huge fan of Jack White, the Edge or Jimmy Page, yet I still thoroughly enjoyed this documentary that contrasted their stores and styles in a highly entertaining way. Full review - GRADE A-

Taking Woodstock - Ang Lee's look at the forming of the legendary musical suffers from nostalgia that's too cute and twee, but terrific atmosphere and strong performances put it across. GRADE: B

I hope everyone has a great Christmas - or a great end of December, if you prefer. I'll be back next week with more reviews, my best of 2009 list and my best of the decade list.


Rob said...

I saw Invictus and The Messenger on the same day and I thought they both suffered from unsatisfying endings. I suppose in Invictus' case it can be blamed on the historical record, there's only so much you can do with a game like that, it's like showing a Super Bowl where the final score's 6-3.

vickie said...

I appreciated the fact that you quoted Alec in the review of Brothers. Although I havent seen any of these movies ( till they come out on DVD) I have enjoyed reading your reviews all year and Im glad you have continued to keep Sir Critic alive! Merry Christmas Eric!