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Matt's Ultra-Complicated Rating System:

GO! I can recommend this movie without reservation
CAUTION I liked this movie a lot, but you should check it out before deciding.
STOP! This movie is unworthy of your attention.
YIELD There is merit here;  I just wasn't a big fan--and I'll tell you why.
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The Descendants OK.  I admit it.  I hate George Clooney.   As a matter of fact, I AM jealous, if you have to ask.  So handsome.  So
talented.  So effortlessly charming.  I get it.  It's his world, an I'm just living in it.  So when he comes off as smug and self-satisfied in
movies like the
Oceans movies, Up in the Air--and most recently, The Ides of March, it's been easy for me to say, "Yeah?  So? Call me
when he starts acting."  Well, this is the call.  He's acting now.  I stand by my comment below that Rhys Ifans turns in the best acting
performance I've seen in a 2011movie in
Anonymous, but I have to say that I think Clooney is equally fine in this movie..  Academy Award
voters who have been trying to find a reason to give him an Oscar for years finally have an MO.  The Descendants in question are those of
King Kamehameha who own 25,000 acres of prime real estate on the island of Kauai.  Clooney is the trustee of the trust that controls the
land, and what happens  to it is his call.  As he goes about the process of making his decision, his wife is injured in a speedboat accident off
Waikiki.  She's in a coma and isn't coming out.  The movie deals with how Clooney's character Matt deals with these two events.  In
addition to Clooney, the rest of the cast is wonderful.  They're mostly people you've never heard of, but you will hear about them in the
future.  Alexander Payne of
Sideways fame has written and directed the movie in such a way that brings his vision to the screen masterfully.  
As I was waiting for the movie to start, I was thinking  about how much I liked the way that Hawaiian values and lifestyles were brought to
the screen in
Lilo and Stitch and hoping that The Descendants could at least approach that standard.  Mr. Payne and his accomplices have
certainly done that, and moreover, they have created a movie that speaks to everyone who's lost someone who drove them crazy.  
(12/18/2011)

With apologies  to
Mission: Impossible, and anything else that comes out between now and the end of the year, this is where I'm going to
end my official movie-going for the year.  It's been a terrific year at the movies, and I hope you'll click on the link above to check out the list
of my favorite movies of 2011.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Six months ago (heck, maybe six hours ago) I would have told you that I couldn't think of one good
reason to make this movie.  The Swedes had already filmed the source material back in 2009, and I thought it was terrific.  That movie and
its two sequels were seen all over the world--with the possible exception of the United States, where I assume that folks were too lazy to
read subtitles (or learn Swedish).  But somebody thought that director David Fincher and a stellar cast could bring a depth to the material
that might not have been in evidence in the earlier work.  And damned if they weren't right.  This version is both more stylish and more
disturbing than its predecessor.  Daniel Craig makes the journalist less of a blowhard than he was in either the book or the Swedish movie;
Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skaarsgard are outstanding as patriarchs of Sweden's creepiest family; as always, Robin Wright brings a
lovely presence to a role that was a cipher in the source material; and newcomer Rooney Mara is astounding as Lisbeth Salander.   I had
thought that Noomi Rapace had defined the role for the ages, but Mara brings a layer of insecurity and being troubled that give the movie a
depth that it sorely needs in order to be more than a run-of-the-mill creep show.  This is the most disturbing mainstream American movie
since
Silence of the Lambs, and it will be interesting to see if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences agrees.  (12/18/2011)

Young Adult The chief pleasure to be had from this otherwise cringe-worthy movie are the fine performances given by Charlize Theron and
Patton Oswalt as a couple of thirty-somethings who think they peaked in high school.  To their credit, they were right.  They did peak in
high school.  Theron was the head of the Mean Girls in the school and Oswalt was best remembered as the victim of a hate crime who
faded from memory when he admitted that he was not gay.  They meet in later years when Theron returns to the small Minnesota town to
try to hit the reset button for her life by reclaiming the high school sweetheart she thought she'd always end up with (Patrick Wilson).  The
only problem with her plan is that the guy is now happily married and the father of a newborn.  The story unfolds as she tries to persuade
him to run away with her.  As the story unfolds, she finds Oswalt in a bar, and he spends the rest of the movie serving in the role of a Greek
chorus.  This movie is from the team that brought us Juno a couple of years back, but it's nowhere nearly as fresh, original or entertaining
as that movie.

Sherlock Holmes:  A Game of Shadows    is itself but a shadow of its more interesting and fun predecessor.  (12/18/2011)

My Week with Marilyn   Don't hate me, but I loved this movie.  Michelle Williams has never been my favorite actress, but she's
Oscar-worthy in this story of the months that Monroe spent in Britain filming
The Prince and the Showgirl with Sir Laurence Olivier.  Death
and scandal--and most of the drugs--are far in the future,and it is a time in her life when she is still exploring what it means to be the most
famous woman on the planet.   Williams gets close enough to "the look", but she never goes over the top with it.   More importantly, she
gives you insight into the joy and pain of being Marilyn Monroe.  Someone in the movie--maybe Kenneth Branagh as Olivier--says that
Monroe's gift is the joy that she provides to others.  This movie makes you understand the truth of that comment, and darn if you don't feel
some of that joy coming off of Michelle Williams as well.   The cast is splendid, and while some of the characters --notably Arthur
Miller--are thinly drawn, you don't notice that until later.  This may not be a great movie, but it is a wonderful movie that reminds you why
we fall in love with the movies in the first place.  (12/11/11)

Anonymous  Oh, for a muse of fire!  I always wanted to work that line into one of these review-ettes, and I figured if I didn't do it now for
a movie in which it's actually a relevant line, I never will.  Later this month, I'm going list my favorite movies of the year.
Anonymous may or
may not be one of them, but Rhys Ifans will definitely be representing the movie as the best actor in a movie this year.  For those of you
who don't know Rhys Ifans from Reese Witherspoon, Mr. Ifans was Hugh Grant's daft roommate in
Notting Hill.  Here he plays the Duke
of Oxford who may or may not have had an affair and a child with Queen Elizabeth I--Vanessa Redgrave, in a wonderful performance--and
he may or may not have written the plays and poems later attributed to an "illiterate" actor named William Shakespeare.  I loved practically
everything about this movie, especially Mr. Ifans.  I --and you--might be a little confused by the way it jumped around on the time and space
continuum, and while some--like me--might think that letting Derek Jacobi do the prologue on a Broadway stage is ripping off Kenneth
Branagh's
Henry V, those are small complaints indeed.  I'm sorry I wasn't able to gush about the movie before it disappeared from most
theaters, but if you do get a chance to see it, I think you'll like it a lot.  (12/7/2011)

Hugo Darn that Martin Scorcese.  Just when you think his man-crush on Leonardo DiCaprio, whom he seems to want to cast in everything,
is going to cost him his ability to make watchable movies, he goes off an makes a masterpiece.  Yes, I said it.  And I believe it.  It's a
masterpiece.  It's got Paris.  It's got movie history. Hell, it's even got a dog named Schatzie.  I don't know why I would try to resist it.  After
being beaten about the head and shoulders with 3D in the last couple of weeks, I made a conscious decision to see this one sans the glasses.  
And while it might not be the way that Marty WANTS you to see his movie, I'm glad I did.  Even if the glasses do provide a believable 3D
experience, they shut out a lot of light.  If you LOVE movies, you'll love
Hugo.  It's that simple.  Ben Kingsley is Oscar-worthy.  A couple of
fine young actors carry the movie with panache--and are even capable of using the word in a sentence--and even a couple of hams like
Sacha Baron Cohen and Jude Law find a way to be charming.  Is
Hugo sentimental?  You bet.  Is it TOO sentimental?  I don't know.  
Maybe.  All I do know is that it's one of the best movies of the year.  (12/1/2011)

The Adventures of Tintin (IMAX 3D  Version) If you've read this much of the blurb, you've identified my greatest misgiving about this
movie.   Like its hero, the movie is a slight little thing, and it's amiable enough. But when you convert it to 3-D and plaster it on the side of a
10-story building, it becomes a great big thing--and not a particularly attractive thing.  This is not a "big" movie and to treat it as such as
Spielberg and company have done is not a service to the viewer--who in this instance paid about $16 to see it.  (OK, somebody else paid for
my ticket, but still....)   My other major complaint is that in the original source materials--children's books--Tintin was French.  Here  he's
Jamie Bell--and veddy English.  Heck, why not just make him a California kid. (11/29/2011)

Margin Call Kudos to Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons and the other terrific actors that made this recreation of the 2008 Lehmann
Brothers scandal as realistic as possible and not get sued for it.  To be sure, Occupy Wall Street -types will look at the movie and have their
worst  fears about the financial community confirmed.  Many of the denizens of said community do indeed appear to have the morals of chia
pets.  But it's saved from being too cartoonish by the performers I've mentioned already and others who do an outstanding of bringing a
slow motion disaster to life.  (11/29/2011)

Arthur Christmas No, it's not the Christmas sequel to that gawd-awful Russell Brand movie from earlier in th year.  I saw this movie in
Edinburgh, and I was kind of happy about it because it never occurred to me that a confection that is so very British could turn up in
America.   Yet, when I got home today, I noticed that it's playing in the theatre just down the street in Jackson.   Take a standard Tim  Allen
Christmas movie--any of them--OK, maybe not
Christmas with the Kranks--animate it and add the voices of some fine British actors like
James McEvoy, Hugh Laurie and James Broadbent--and you've got it.  It's --nice.  Ordinarily, that would be damning with faint praise, but at
Christmas, you take any bit of sanity (see next blurb) you can find.  (11/29/2011)

A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas  Really?  Am I the only one who didn't see this coming?  H and K have settled into their roles as
the Cheech and Chong of the 21st century.  Somehow, I thought that when Kal Penn (Kumar) took the job at the Obama White House,
maybe he'd raised his standards.  Turns out he was only doing research for the next movie--i.e., this one.  To dwell on any of the details of
the movie would be to miss the point.  It exists in the Harold and Kumar Universe, and if that's a place you--and you know who you are
--are comfortable, you'll dig the movie.    If not, you'll be smart enough to stay away.  I have to admit to a couple of snorts of
laughter--especially when a frustrated Harold shoots a gun into the air on Christmas Eve--with predictable results.   Also, they  poked fun at
the 3D concept, which was fine with me.  I have to admit that it was funny to see Neil Patrick Harris in the first couple of movies, but now
I'm sorry to say it--and he--is getting old.  There's enough drug humor to satisfy any Cheech and Chong--I mean, Harold and Kumar fan, so
don't even think about letting a child see it.  Otherwise, caveat emptor, dude!  (11/16/2011)

Immortals Throughout this movie, I kept thinking that I'd seen it before.   It may or may not have been assembled from the out-takes from
300
and Thor.  If you liked either of those better than I did, you'll  probably like this one.  (11/15/2011)

Tower Heist How charmed are the lives of the LSU Tigers these days?  The heist in the title of this movie (I'm not giving anything away)
takes place in the middle of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  The LSU Golden Band from Tigerland is nowhere in evidence, but the
random "parade music" on the soundtrack is the LSU fight song ("Victory for LSU" by the immortal Castro Carazo, if you're wondering).  It
kind of comes from out of nowhere and distracts you for a moment from how ordinary the rest of the movie is.  Ben Stiller and Eddie
Murphy have been better elsewhere; Matthew Broderick is completely wasted--and not in a good way.  The only two people you want to see
more of are Gabourie Sidibe, who shows comedic talent that was not on display in
Precious, and  Alan Alda, who has a couple of good
Snidely Whiplash lines as the Bernie Madoff character who is the object of the heist.  
Tower Heist could have been written by folks from the
"Occupy" movement (or perhaps some other juveniles) because the movie definitely reflects that vibe in a kinder, gentler way.  Even if
you're from Alabama, you'll have a few yuks.  (11/11/2011)

J. Edgar I guess it's a credit to this movie that even though I saw it three days ago, I still can't decide whether I can recommend it to you or
not.  If  I were a more curious person, I'd go online and see what Clint Eastwood has to say about the factuality of this movie.  He
pussyfoots with the notion that Hoover had something to do with the creation of the Dewey Decimal System (He even takes Naomi Watts on
a date to the Library of Congress to see it in what passes for action), and the use of fingerprints--which had been developed in France long
before he turned up at the Justice Department.  But most importantly, the movie dances around the idea that he was a closeted homosexual.  
Eastwood suggests that Hoover and FBI second-in-command Clyde Tolson were more than dinner companions, but steers clear of anything
that looks like affection or sex.  And maybe without hard evidence (sorry), that's all anyone can really say.  When I heard that Eastwood had
cast Leonardo di Caprio as Hoover, I groaned that Leo didn't have the gravitas for the role.  I was wrong.  He's not great, but fine.  Judi
Dench as his mother, Naomi Watts as his lifelong secretary, and Armie Hammer as Clyde are equally good.  The movie has received a lot of
criticism for its aging make-up.  I don't think it will be nominated for any awards in that category, but I thought that di Caprio's was
excellent and Naomi Watts' very good.   Armie Hammer, however, is another story.   He seems to have gone from 30 to 80 overnight.   But
that's a minor complaint about what otherwise is a solid achievement.  (11/14/2011)

The Way is a film by Emilio Estevez that comes as something of surprise as it covers territory that seems very personal to him.  The movie
lives at an emotional depth you probably wouldn't expect from a member of the Brat Pack.   Emilio's dad, Martin Sheen plays a Los Angeles
ophthalmologist in late middle-age who seems to be pleased with everything in his life--with the exception of his son, who is nearing 40 and
seemingly unable to "find himself."  The son's efforts in that regard take him to the Pyrenees in France, where he begins the traditional
Catholic ritual of El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) to the village of Compostela in Spain.  It's an 800 kilometer journey that
most people take on foot.  The son dies on the first day of the journey, and when the father comes to France to collect the body, he makes
the decision (against the better judgment of practically everyone) to finish the journey in his son's memory.  Along the way, he encounters a
Canadian woman who says she's trying to stop smoking, a Dutch glutton and an Irish writer.  Individually, they're all pretty obnoxious, and
all they seem to have in common is an inability to escape each other.  But along they way, trust and friendship grows, and by the end, we
enjoy their company.  As much as I like the idea of this movie, I recognize that Emilio isn't exactly at the top of his game as a storyteller.  
For example, after the Canadian woman lambastes Sheen for being a smug baby boomer who probably loves James Taylor, sure enough, we
get a country road montage set to Taylor's song.  Others will quibble at the unabashed Catholicism on display.  Still, I liked it quite a lot and
heartily recommend it to anyone looking for an original story that entertaining and even a little uplifting.  (10/29/2011)

3 (Drei) I think I'd have to say that this movie projects the next stage of family dynamics.  A couple have been living together in Berlin for
the past 20 years are now contemplating marriage.  She's a journalist for what appears to be a really boring show about philosophy on public
television; he designs art installations.  (Apparently, it's a real job.)  Out of the blue, they begin to discuss finally getting married and having
children.  While this is going  on, they both meet a doctor named Adam and fall in love with him.  Adam has yet to declare a major in the
sexual  revolution.  He and his ex-wife have a teenage son (who is growing up to be a video game vegetable), and he's diddling his handsome
young lab assistant-- in addition to Hanna and her husband.  After about an hour and a half of examining their lives (which seem to be pretty
empty), we discover that Hanna is pregnant, and naturally she doesn't know who the father is.  The movie ends as we discover how these
people plan to get on with their lives.  There's lots of sex, including scenes of guys doing things to each other that I didn't think was even
possible.  It's interesting, but not remotely healthy.  (10/27/2011)

The Big Year   is at least an original idea for a movie.  These days, that's an accomplishment in and of itself.  Beyond that, I don't think I'm
ready to accept Steve Martin in old-man roles (yeah, that probably says more about me than it says about Steve, but hey, this IS
mattisch.com.  Steve can say what he wants on his own webpage.)  The movie also features Jack Black as a 35-year-old schlub who
somehow manages to get Rashida Jones to fall for him, and Owen Wilson as a self-obsessed dolt (I know them when I see them) who
somehow convinced  some poor woman to marry him in the first place and then proceeds to abuse the privilege.  The movie, if you don't
know, is about birdwatching--er, "birding"--and the eponymous "big year" involves a year-long quest to physically lay eyes or ears on as
many species of birds as possible in a 365-day period.  Prior to the beginning of the movie, the record had been 732.   So we follow these
three around the country (literally) for a year as they seek birds (many of which seem to be computer generated) and find themselves --or
not.  For a comedy, you won't laugh much in this movie, but there are a couple of good snorts.  Check it out at your own risk.  (10/24/2011)

The Ides of March I  liked this movie a lot because I really like movies about politics, I like the omnipresent Ryan Gosling, and I love that
this movie was filmed in and around Cincinnati.  George Clooney (who also directed the movie) plays a candidate for the Democratic
nomination for President.  (He's not good enough of an actor to play a Republican.)  Gosling is his press secretary and alleged to be the."best
in the business."    Rival campaign managers Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman enjoy the political game way too much and don't
really care too much about who gets caught in their crossfire.  All of the principals--as well as Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei in
smaller roles--are excellent.  If you want to maintain your illusions about the purity of politics, this is not the movie for you.  But if you're
jaded and know in your bones that all politicians are
no damn good, check it out.  (10/09/2011)

Moneyball   Since leaving the theater, I've been wondering if it's fair to call Moneyball a sports movie.  I guess it is, but calling it a sports
movie seems to consign it to a kind of ghetto where it can be ignored or pigeon-holed.  
Moneyball is a sports movie like The Blind Side is a
sports movie.  I'd call it a movie about real people for whom sports is a big part of their lives.   (But that sounds kind of lame, doesn't it?)  
You get my point.  With
The Tree of Life earlier this year and this movie, Brad Pitt is finally becoming someone who appears to be
comfortable in his own skin.    If you like sports--especially fantasy sports, you'll really like this movie; and I'm guessing that even if you
don't care for sports, you'll probably like it anyway. (10/09/2011)

Drive Can we say that Ryan Gosling is the new Emma Stone?  He seems to be omnipresent.  That's a good thing because he's a fine actor.  
He seems to be taking the roles that Edward Norton is probably too old for now.  (If he turns up in the next remake of
The Hulk, we'll
know.)  In
Drive, he plays a character called The Driver, who-well, drives.  By day, he's a grease monkey at a Los Angeles garage and a
stunt driver for the movies.  By night, he's a getaway driver for felons  He develops a relationship with the attractive lady down the hall and
her cute son.  Her husband is just out of prison and-and-surprise, surprise--in need  of a getaway driver.  
Drive actually bends the mold by
making the convict/husband a decent sort who wants to go straight.  I liked this movie, but I suspect that
Fast and Furious fans will find it
somewhat slow.  (9/18/2011).

Contagion Did you every black out for a moment during the first twenty minutes of a movie, and you're too proud to admit that you might
have actually fallen asleep?  That would have been me at about the 20-minute mark of
Contagion.  Everybody you love is in the
movie--Gwynneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law.  (OK,  so maybe "everybody you love--plus Jude
Law"--is in the movie.)  Great cast.  Good director--Steven Soderbergh.  So why isn't it better? Probably because Mr. Soderbergh went to
the dark side and used the movie not to point out the heroism of the those who treated the sick, comforted the dying and discovered the
cure--but to point the finger of blame at greedy drug companies, incompetent governments and self-serving members of the press.  And in
the penultimate manifestation of cynicism, the movie is released on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  Now
that's a sickness.  
(9/12/2011)

Apollo 18 This movie is alleged to have been edited from 84 hours of actual footage from an unsuccessful Apollo mission which failed to
return in December 1974.  If you noticed the illogic of the first sentence, you'll know why I had trouble with the movie.  In short, the
existence of the movie disproves its premise.  But.  if you can get past all of that, it's watchable.  It's a cross between
Apollo 13 and Alien.   
Without giving away too much, I'll say that the "assembled footage" format of the movie keeps you from building much empathy for the
characters, but you sense that they're doing the best they can with the material available to them.  (9/7/2011)

The Debt  I saw this movie on a rainy afternoon in which I went to see Sarah's Key after the end of this one.  In between the two movies, I  
stopped in a third auditorium where
The Help was showing.  It was a wonder to see Jessica Chastain as a ditsy, 1960's-era Madison County
airhead, as opposed to the tough, sophisticated Mossad agent I had just seen her portray in
The Debt.   As you may know, she also played
Brad Pitt's wife in
The Tree of Life a couple of months back.  I can't imagine three more diverse roles for an actress, and I can't imagine an
actress doing a better job in all three films.  Ms. Chastain has already proved herself to be a fine actress, and I look forward to seeing here
again in the future.  In
The Debt, she plays an Israeli agent who is one-third of a team which infiltrates East Berlin in the 60's and kidnaps a
former Nazi who was known as the Butcher of Birkenau.  During the course of the mission, things go wrong which have repercussions for
decades and generations to come.  Ms. Chastain's character ages to become Helen Mirren who is compelled to undertake an equally
dangerous mission.  Mirren is fine--as always, and as I watched I remembered my Academy Award trivia from the year in which Kate
Winslet and the older lady both one Oscars for playing the same characters in the same movie (
Titanic).  Having seen Chastain and Mirren in
action, I can see history repeating itself.  (9/5/2011)

Sarah's Key That movies like this continue to get made in the Age of Marvel Superheroes is a wonder to me.   It's the story of a young
Jewish girl who is rounded up by the French police in WWII and shipped off to a concentration camp.  Before the police drag the family
away, she tries to save her younger brother by locking him in a closet in the bedroom of their Paris apartment.  (Hence the key.)  The girl
then breaks out of the camp and makes her way back to Paris to try to save him.  And that's only one of the stories that the movie tells.  The
other story is of a French-American journalist--a fine Kristin Scott Thomas--who follows the girl's story in the present day while dealing
with her own personal issues.  Sarah's Key rises about chick flick fare and stands as a story about the best and worst in all of us.  Even if
you're a guy, you'll like it.  (9/5/2011)

The Help As a movie, The Help is kind of a mess.  It goes on forever; the plot is all over the place; a lot of scenes don't seem to go
anywhere; and Skeeter (Emma Stone) appears to be about fifteen years younger than her "best friends" like Bryce Dallas Howard.  As a
historical reference, it's not much better.  Jackson may not be much of a city, but it is kind of a city.  In the movie, the main characters live
on a cotton plantation without telling you why, and girls like Skeeter didn't have trouble getting dates at Ole Miss.  And yet, it's one of the
best movies of the year.  I say so if for no other reason that it explores race relations in a three-dimensional manner that is hardly ever done
in movies, and almost never in mass entertainment.   "Separate but equal" was a mantra in the Mississippi where I grew up in the 1960's, and
The Help shows that the races were neither separate nor equal.  In the movie--as in life--some children (not me, but some) had black women
in their lives who were more than the help, they were the parents they wished they had.  In turns, some blacks were still the Mammies and
Prissys from
Gone With the wind that they would have liked to have, oblivious to the notion that these women might have lives and
aspirations of their own.  As such,
The Help is almost indispensable.  You can bet that there will be Oscar nominations galore.  It's a good
bet that  Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone and others are contacting gown designers already about what they'll wear to the
ceremonies next winter.  You probably won't want to see it twice, but you should definitely see it once.  (8/10/2011)

Cowboys and Aliens It's been a week since I saw this movie, I'm still trying to figure out what it means that the main takeaway from this
movie is that Daniel Craig has a better rack than Olivia Wilde.  I think it means that the director Jon Favreau knew that Daniel Craig is a
movie star, and that the butts in the seats like me were there to see a bare-chested action movie, not a bare-breasted love story.  And
C&A is
indeed long on action.  Insects from space have invaded some gold-producing part of Arizona, and the local settlers are little more than a
handy source of protein.  At the beginning of the movie, Craig awakens in the desert, not knowing who he is or where he is.  (Think of
The
Bourne Identity
set in the Southwest.)  He eventually comes into contact with friendly and hostile locals led by Harrison Ford (in a dreadful
role) who set off in search of their lost love ones who had been abducted by the bugs.  Along the way, they encounter gangs of bad guys
and tribes of Indians with whom the townsfolk learn to set aside their differences to fight a common foe.  It's a very "We Are the World"
kind of thing, and frankly, it just feels like filler.  There's a nice plot twist when someone turns out to be not who she appears to be.  
Otherwise, the movie is not much more than something to look at while eating popcorn.  (8/08/2011)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2   Is it really over?  Somehow, I don't think so, but I'm willing to accept that for the
present, the Hogwarts universe is as defined as it's going to be for a while.  It's more than a little shocking that in the course of making
several billion dollars over the course of the last decade, none of the Harry Potter movies have ever won an Academy Award.   Doesn't that
seem odd?  Maybe that will change this year, but if it doesn't, it won't make a difference to anyone--including me.   I wasn't a big fan of this
series (I did like it much better than the
Lord of the Rings movies, but that's saying nothing), but I do respect what it accomplished.  While it
was never my thing, I never felt that my intelligence was being insulted--which is the nicest thing I can say about movies that are primarily
geared toward children.  (8/01/2011)

Crazy Stupid Love   I think I may be losing my discerning eye for movies.  I think I'm just so grateful for something that doesn't insult my
intelligence that I'll give a pass to almost anything that looks competent.   Having said all that, I
really liked this movie.  Because of a plot
twist near the end that comes out of nowhere, it feels like
The Sixth Sense of romantic comedies.  And maybe it is.  What was great about
The Sixth Sense was that it was an incredible display of ensemble acting working with an inspired script.  So it is here.   Steve Carrell,
Julianne Moore, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are splendid in this tale of love and marriage in the new millennium.  It runs a little long for a
rom-com, but I for one didn't mind.  It's definitely a case of something taking as long as it takes, and I certainly didn't mind being left in the
company of such a splendid cast.  Try it.  I think you'll like it.  (7/30/2011)

Horrible Bosses   With apologies to  the guys in The Hangover 2 and the gals in The Bridesmaids, I have to say that Horrible Bosses is the
real
Hangover of 2011.  If you're looking for prurient humor, you can't beat Jennifer Aniston spouting raunchy dialog in a Tourets-like fury.  
This movie is a blatant repudiation of all the dreadful
Good Girl roles that most people associate with her that it might actually usher her back
to relevance..  Likewise, Jason Sudeikis, an actor who is new to me after doing a lot of television makes a splash her as any every-schlub
who needs career counseling (and probably other forms of counseling as well) after his beloved boss dies and the boss's son (played by an
unrecognizable  Colin Farrell) makes his life miserable.  Having said that, the real stars of the movie are Jason Bateman and Kevin Spacey
who have been stealing movies as long as anyone can remember.  They're great, and watching them here might make you think that
sometimes there are new and interesting to see at the movies.  (7/10/2011)

Buck A couple of paragraphs down, you'll see where I state that The Beaver is the best movie of the year so far.  I stand by the comment,
but I'll amend it to say that
Buck gives it a run for its money.  Buck is Buck Brannaman, an Idaho cowboy in his late 40's who could have
been the inspiration for
The Horse Whisperer. Indeed, in the course of this documentary, Robert Redford is interviewed and states that Buck
was a consultant on the set of that movie.   We are led to believe that Buck's almost supernatural empathy for horses is somehow linked to
his hellish childhood.  His mother died when he was young and his father was a miserable bastard who beat him and his brother in order to
whip them into shape (literally) as the first, only, and youngest blindfolded rodeo trick ropers.  Buck found his way to grace as he and his
brother were taken from the father and put into foster care with a farm couple whom Buck still thinks of as his real parents. Even if you
don't have a bit of interest in learning about the psychology of horses, I strongly urge you to see the movie because I think you'll learn plenty
about people.  (7/5/2011)

Larry Crowne is so sunny and cheerful that it almost makes you think that it wouldn't be so terrible to be fired by a bunch of mindless dolts
who don't ...wait, I lost my thought.  Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts prove again why they're stars as they put a big ole happy face on
Obamanomics.  This is a parable of a middle-aged man who is released from his job at a big box store "because he didn't go to college" and
rebounds by downsizing his home, car and lifestyle in order to attend community college, where he finds the meaning of life in the person of
burned out teacher Julia Roberts.  Which is fine.  I think there's an element of people in our country who need to hear this message now.  
(Hell, I need to hear it.)  I haven't seen any reviews for this movie, but I would guess that they're pretty good.  Paradoxically, I think those
same critics would have hooted derisively if the movie had been made while George W. Bush was president.   (7/4/2011)

Conan O'Brian Can't Stop  The best thing I can think of to say about this movie is that although I don't really like Mr. O'Brian any better
than I did before I saw it,, I certainly do understand him better.  This is a very well made observation of the forty-something city tour that
Mr. O'Brian undertook during the six-month period during which his severance agreement with NBC prohibited him from appearing on
television.  In addition to appearing frequently has he does on television as likeable and/or befuddled, he also appears in this movie as bitter
and angry as he grieves over losing his job and holds his fans in contempt at times.   It's a great look at a very interesting time in the life of
an interesting guy.  (6/29/2011)

Beginnings If you're a frequent visitor to this page  (don't worry, no one is), you know that Ewan McGregor is one of the few actors who
can do no wrong.  (See Best Actor recognition from 2010.)  In this new movie, he plays a 30-something graphic designer in Southern
California.  His personal life is something of a black hole.  His adored mother is dead; his 75-year-old father (Christopher Plummer) is out of
the closet--AND dying of cancer.  But he meets a young lady at a costume party, and love or something like it ensues.  McGregor is
excellent; Plummer, equally so.  This is a lovely, warm, human story that I think you'll like.   (6/27/2011)

Tree of Life I certainly bow to Terence Malick as master film maker, but his latest work (despite winning the Palme d'Or in Cannes last
month) is not one of my favorite.  In telling the story of the life of Sean Penn (who, unless I'm mistaken, doesn't have one word of dialogue
in the movie), he begins with the creation of the world, followed in close order by the rise and fall of the dinosaurs--and Brad Pitt, who plays
the father of the boy who will grow up to be Penn.  This may be Penn's story, but it's Pitt's movie.  The chief pleasure to be had here is
deciding whether or not Pitt's character (called "Father") is indeed a good father or not.  I went back and forth several times during the
course of the very long movie, and at the end, decided that at the very least he was a better father than the one I had.  Mr. Malick goes out
of his way to make a long movie seem even longer.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing; but unless you're into the story, it can be painful.  
(6/26/2011)

Cavern of Lost Dreams Werner Herzog is back and making movies about caves in France, where the earliest remnants of what we now
call Man have been found.  The cave has been preserved in its pristine state for over 30,000 years. Artwork on its walls reveal a remarkable
sophistication and beauty.  Curiously, the artwork in some places has been overtaken by stalactites and stalagmites that provide an additional
element of beauty to the scene.  The cave is covered in handprints, footprints and other evidence of early life.  At one point, Mr. Herzog
points out a human footprint next to that of a wolf and wonders whether the man and wolf were friends or enemies--or were the prints
made thousands of years apart.  It's a fascinating place, and Mr. Herzog brings it to life wonderfully.  (6/25/2011)

Bad Teacher I love you, Cameron, but this is sad.  (6/24/2011)

Mr. Popper's Penguins If you're a regular visitor to this space, you know that I frequently advise parents to keep their kids away from
certain movies.
Mr. Popper's Penguins proves that the reverse is also true.  Based on a children's book, it is a movie that no one should
venture into without someone under the age of eight who's more interested in penguin poop than you are. If you've been paying attention,
you know that we always give Jim Carrey the benefit of the doubt in this space.   He must have seen this movie as something in his
Liar,
Liar
vein.  While the vein might be familiar, the movie itself is not nearly as good.  Unlike Liar, Liar or The Yes Man, there's just nothing
here for adults.  Sorry.  (6/21/2011)

Stephen Sondheim's Company So at some point in the past few months, an amazing group of performers had some time on their hands
and decided to put on a show.  The group included Neil Patrick Harris, Patti Lupone, John Cryer, Stephen Colbert and some big names on
Broadway like Craig Bierko.  The show they decided to put on was Stephen Sondheim's
Company, and it played four performances at
Lincoln Center this spring.  The showstopper in the piece comes near the end when Patti Lupone belts out
The Ladies Who Lunch.   One of
my favorite lines in that song is "Let's hear it for that invincible bunch, the dinosaurs surviving the crunch..."   That line may also apply to
the show itself.  I've seen it onstage a couple of times, and on both occasions, it looked dated and very tired.  In this instance, a decision to
stage the work as a "concert" instead of a play provides the double benefit of toning the down the uninspired dancing and bringing out the
best in the music.  Of course, hiring a billion dollar cast doesn't hurt, either.  The movie is a fairly straightforward recording of the
concert,and frankly, you wouldn't want it to be more.  I think it's already too late to try to catch this show in a theater, but I think you'll
enjoy the DVD.  (6/17/2011)

Super 8  asks you to suspend a lot of disbelief from the very beginning (when a man crashes a truck into an onrushing freight train and lives
to talk about it) to  end (in which a couple thousand soldiers look all over a small Ohio town for a visitor and manage to look everywhere for
him/her/it, except the suspiciously enormous cavern in the very middle of the town.)  I went to this Steven Spielberg-produced movie,
hoping for a mid-80-ish
ET or Poltergeist summer movie experience.   In actuality, it was more like a Stand By Me experience--not
wonderful, but not completely disappointing, either.   The young cast is agreeable, but  only Elle Fanning is memorable.  There were a
number of things that didn't quite add up in the movie that I won't go into here.  In the end, the movie is a pleasant summer distraction that
goes down fairly easy.  (6/14/2011)

Midnight in Paris is 2011's disappointing Woody Allen movie.  There seems to be one every year.  Woody Allen (there is no one else to
blame) makes some really key bad decisions that make you want to hurt him physically.  First and foremost is hiring Owen Wilson to play
the Woody Allen character.  Owen Wilson.   Really.  Owen Wilson is the anti-Woody Allen.  I'm sure Mr. Wilson was happy to take on the
challenge of trying to play this role, but someone (talking to you, Woody) should have been smart enough not to hire him.  Second, the
movie opens with a sour scene in which the politics of the characters are established.  Unfortunately, the only thing that gets established is
that the moviegoer isn't going to have a lot of fun during the course of the next two hours.  To his credit, Mr.  Allen realizes that the real star
of his movie is the City of Light.  He photographs it gorgeously, and seeing those images of the sights of the city are the movie's chief
pleasure.  There's some foolishness about returning to the Lost Decade of the 20's, but in a movie that is all about surfaces, the story seemed
moderately distracting.   It occurred to me that this might be the first movie I've ever seen that would have worked better as a silent movie.  
(6/13/2011)

The Beaver    is  the best movie of the year so far.  Trust me, no one is more surprised to hear me say this than I am.   Of course, you pass
the time during the ads, the Coming Attractions and the first fifteen minutes of the movie wondering why director Jodie Foster would ask
him to take this role and why in the world he would take it.   But as the movie unfolds, you begin to appreciate that both decisions were
brilliant.  In all the hoo-haw about the train wreck that has been his personal life over the past five years or so, we've lost sight of the fact
that he has always been one of the most accessible and empathy-inducing actors in the movies.  Ms. Foster apparently remembers this from
her Maverick days, and she puts those talents to their highest use in
The Beaver.  While he has frequently been as good as he is here, he's
never been better.  The difference between this movie and almost everything he's been in since The Year of Living Dangerously is that he's
surrounded here by actors who are equally fine.  In particular, Anton Yelchin as his son, and Jennifer Lawrence as the high school
valedictorian the son has a crush on are outstanding.  (We're going to appreciating Jennifer Lawrence's talents as an actor for a long, long
time.)  And of course, Jodie Foster as Mel's wife shines in a role that anyone would have trouble playing.  Some will wonder if
The Beaver
will rehabilitate Mel Gibson's career.  Frankly, I think the question is irrelevant. It--and the performances in it--deserve to be appreciated for
themselves.  (6/6/2011)

The Hangover, Part Two   Here's a paradox for you:  The Hangover, Part Two is actually a better movie than Part I, but if had been made
first, I doubt if there would ever have been a
Part Two.  Huh?  Let me explain.  I don't think anyone had ever seen anything like Part One.  It
defined raunch (and bachelor parties) for a generation.  It was like
Porky's that had gone nuclear.  I don't know how many billion dollars it
made, but a sequel was demanded.  Rather than just repeating the formula of the first movie,  the filmmakers decided they could do better
and come up with something that--while hilarious--was somehow more, well human.  And they did.  It's very funny, but you're not sitting
there staring at the screen and seeing things you'd never seen before.  The situations are still ludicrous, but you know they'll be survivable.  
The characters are just a lovable (or obnoxious), but you know them now, and you know what they're capable of doing.   You're not as
spellbound or horrified, which may have been what made the first movie so successful.  So sure.  Take the trip.  It's very funny.  But know
that you'll get home safe and sound.  (5/30/2011)

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides  I can't say that I had a lot of enthusiasm for seeing this movie.  I barely tolerated the first
one, hated the second one, and ignored the third one.  But I figured that with Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly gone and replaced by
Penelope Cruz, maybe there was some reason for hope that it had to be better.  And it is.  If there is has been a constant in movie-making in
the past ten years, it's this: Penelope Cruz makes
everything better.  Vicky Christina Barcelona was low-to-middling Woody Allen until
Penelope showed up, and there are lots of other examples.  Here, she fills the roles of both Knightly and Bloom and makes the movie her
own.  And in a movie where Johnny Depp is on stage in full mascara during practically every moment, that's saying something.  It kind of
annoys me that such a breath of life has been pumped into this overstrained and lumbering franchise (meaning that the re might be more in
the future), but
aarrrrrr, I liked this  one. (5/21/2011)

Bridesmaids  This movie has been selling itself as a Hangover for girls.  Anybody going to the movie on that premise (God help them) is
going to be very disappointed.  There's a lot of depth and humanity here that was not in evidence in the earlier movie.  It's certainly crude in
places , but it's most definitely a chick flick--and not a bad one at that.  The highlight of the movie for me was seeing the last performance
of the late Jill Clayburgh as Kristen Wiig's mother.  Miss Clayburgh was a luminous presence on the stage and screen (as she is here),and
she will be missed.  I stuck around through the credits to see if the movie would be dedicated to her.  It wasn't, and I think that's too bad.  
(5/20/2011)

Thor Marvel seems to have developed a business model of putting highbrow actors in its summer popcorn flicks.   The most prominent
example is Gwynneth Paltrow in the
Iron Man movies.  In Thor, which could only have been a problematic sell for them, Natalie
Portman--of all people--steps into the superhero support network.  And thank God for that.  Without her (and to some extent Stellan
Skaarsgard),  Thor would have been pretty ordinary.  Chris Hemsworth plays the title deity, presumably because he was either already
blond, or could be made one.  He's one of those characters that you like best when you see them in the middle distance, buckling swash or
something.  When the camera moves in for a close up, he's got nothing to say.  And it doesn't help that the writers have made his evil
brother Loki a more interesting character than he is.  While this is one of the few movies I've seen in the past few years which seems to
know what to do with 3-D, that's not saying a whole lot.  There are things to see here, but it's really not much more than an excuse to buy a
$4.50 tub of popcorn.  (5/19/2011)

Something Borrowed   Wow.  Do they really make movies like this these days?  Young, rich, beautiful people in Lower Manhattan.  John
Krasinsky is young, Kate Hudson is rich, Ginnifer Goodwin is beautiful, and Colin Eggleston is all three.  How young, rich and beautiful is
he?  At the end of the movie, his girlfriend--herself a young, rich and beautiful attorney who works 80 hours a week, is happy to pick up his
laundry for him.  Nothing in this movie feels remotely real.  It's the kind of movie where John Krasinsky says on a Monday in July that he's
moving to London "in the fall"--and
by the end of the week, friends are visiting him at his very settled looking London apartment. Seeing
young, rich and beautiful people being young, rich and beautiful should be its own reward.  And I'm old, poor and homely enough to fall for
it.  (5/18/2011)

Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family I admit it.  I'm one of them.  I'm a clinger.  I drive a six-year-old car that has over 200,000 miles
on it; I still wear a pair of black lace-up shoes that I bought at Pay less in 1971 to wear with my Ole Miss band uniform--and yes, I still like
Tyler Perry's Madea, long after everyone else has had enough of her/him.  Or I did, anyway.  This latest installment, I fear, has cast me off
from the Madea reservation.  It's just
too ghetto-gothic, too formulaic, too self-reverential--and frankly, just too much.  In the process of
trying to strike as hard as he can while he's hot, I think Mr. Perry is stretching himself too thin in terms of content.  A scene with Madea on
Jerry Springer makes perfect sense, but it's too easy, and frankly, it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie that surrounds it.  Madea is
one of the greatest fictional characters of our age.  She--and Mr. Perry--can get me back.  But I'd like to see them put some effort into the
attempt.  Having said all that, the ever-wonderful Loretta Devine IS divine in this movie as the quiet center of the mess/family that swirls
around her.  (5/3/2011)

Water for Elephants   Attention whoever is in charge of picking out scripts for Reese Witherspoon:  GET BACK TO WORK!   The
woman's career is dying due to really, really poor choices of roles.   (See How Do You Know at the bottom of this page.)  Certainly, nobody
expected much from Robert Pattinson, but we count on Reese to shine in the big roles.  Making this tale of carney life in the Great
Depression was always going to be difficult, and the director actually does a pretty job of providing an intriguing glimpse.  The movie's big
problem is the movie's big thing--the relationship between Reese and the high school vampire--that just doesn't work at all, and in all
probability could never have worked with these two actors.  I thought she would have known better, but there you go.  (5/2/2011)

Super isn't for everyone.   Smarter people than I might even argue with some credibility that it's not for anyone, but I was fascinated in a
train-wreck kind of way.  Rainn Wilson (Dwight from
The Office) plays a very ordinary shlub who decides that crime must be fought by
superheroes and that God thinks he's just the guy to do it.  Due to his lack of superpowers, he takes a giant wrench as his signature weapon
and beats the crap out of people with it.  Frequently.  Graphically.  Brutally.  Tarantino-esque.  So much so that if you're at all squeamish
about violence, you should give
Super a wide berth.  Although it does have its several  moments of hilarity, under no circumstances should a
child be allowed to see it.  Of particular delight is Ellen Page from
Juno as a comic book store clerk who sees herself as sidekick material--all
evidence to the contrary, and Kevin Bacon as--well, Kevin Bacon.  If you can stomach the violence, you're in for a treat.  (4/20/2011)

Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 I was fine with the title of this movie, until it got to the Part 1.  With the possible exceptions of The Bible or Gone
With the Win
d, no book could require such canine fidelity as Ayn Rand's magnum opus.  Ms. Rand's loyal readers would riot in the street if a
film of her work did not capture every nuance of her work--not that her work was particularly nuanced.  Judging from the applause at the
end, I can verify that Rand fans in the theater  like this film.  The problem is that "the Rand fans in the theater" referred to in the last
sentence numbered seven.  If this is indicative of the movie's box office nationally, I fear that there will be no
Parts 2 or 3.  Which would be
too bad.  In addition to maintaining fidelity to the story, the film looks great and the writing pulls off the difficult task of softening Ms.
Rand's overbearing dialog while making her points.  Taylor Schilling makes a fine Dagny Taggert, and Grant Bowler is fine a Hank
Reardon.    Here's hoping that there will be a
Part 2 in my lifetime.   (4/16/2011)  PS:  At www.rottentomatoes com, a site where film
reviews are aggregated, 5 percent of the critics like the movie.  (One review actually says that only Fox News Channel watchers would like
it.)  Concurrently, a poll at the site indicates that 85 percent of audiences like the movie.  I think that somewhere Ayn Rand is saying, "See?  
See?  I told you!!")

Hanna In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I have what might be a somewhat inappropriate middle-age crush on 17-year-old
Saoirse Ronan.  (BTW, it's pronounced SER-sheh.) This movie is kind of mess--just like
Atonement and The Lovely Bones, come to think of
it, but Ronan rocks it and makes it her own.  She plays a trained assassin who happens to be a teenage girl--as if teenagers weren't enough
trouble already.  Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana are her parents--sorta, and they've been MUCH better elsewhere than they are here.  The plot
is such a muddle that even though I just saw it two days ago, I can't remember how it ended.  (I do remember that there were a lot of dead
people.)  I just remember that SER-sheh was awesome.  (4/11/2011
)

Source Code  As I type this, I'm listening to a discussion on the Coast to Coast AM radio show between the host and a neurological
scientist about how the viability of the science in this movie.  The scientist says that since he really doesn't believe in alternate realities, so
he's not much impressed with the movie's concept that the consciousness of an Air Force pilot can be inserted into a passenger on a train in
order to identify the individual who planted a bomb which ultimately detonated and killed everyone aboard.  Having expressed his disbelief,
the scientist said he thought the movie was very entertaining.  And so it is.  Jake Gyllenhall transcends his recent spate of half-assed
performances and is very believable as the pilot who finds himself in another man's body.  The movie's best performance, however, comes
from Vera Farmiga as his "handler" who directs his actions on the train from afar.  Hers is the best performance in I've seen in a movie so
far this year.  I can't speak to the science, but I can say that I think this is a terrific movie.  (4/2/2011
)

The Lincoln Lawyer is a pleasant surprise.  I was expecting another grim Sahara-Surfer, Dude- Failure to Launch Matthew McConaughey
movie.  In other words, I wasn't expecting much.  Instead, I found very good ensemble acting from McConaughey and his co-stars--Marisa
Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, Josh Lucas and others.  What tipped me off early-on that this movie might exceed my expectations was seeing how
this beautiful woman and these handsome men allowed themselves to be photographed looking like the dog's breakfast throughout the
movie.  Unretouched, they look pretty much like real people.  Matthew is a lawyer of debatable virtue who patrols Los Angeles looking for
improbably innocent rich people to defend.  Tomei is his-ex-wife; Philippe his client; and Lucas the prosecutor. The movie has a great
soundtrack that sounds like it might have been stolen from
Jackie Brown.  Check it out.  (3/31/2011)   

Paul   When I heard there was a movie about a funny-looking guy in Wyoming named Paul, I thought it might be about somebody I know.  
Nope.  Turns out, it's about a couple of British slackers touring the American West and visiting sites associated with extra-terrestrials.  Along
the way, they actually meet one.  His name is Paul, and he got the name because the spaceship he crashed in the 50's landed on a dog named
Paul.  The slackers and the alien are fairly humorous, but they are surrounded by the most cliched ensemble you can imagine.  Drunk
rednecks in bars--check.  Bigoted religious fundamentalists--check.  Daffy covert agents--check.  They're all there, and none of them do
anything you haven't seen a thousand times before.  The proceedings are so grim that even the ever-reliable Jason Bateman can't pull it out of
the muck.  When Sigourney Weaver (whose career seems to be in free-fall) makes an appearance in what's clearly meant to be a moment of
gleeful acknowledgment, it's just falls flat.  (3/29/2011)

Battle: Los Angeles   Did you see Skyline last fall?  It's the story of an alien invasion of Los Angeles--and not the Mexican kind.  It
featured a bunch of forgettable self-absorbed Angelinos running and hiding from the leathery monsters in their midst.  Battle: Los Angeles is
practically the same movie.  Happily, however, the characters are a tad more memorable than they were in the earlier movie.  This is
probably due to better casting.  In the new film, Aaron Eckhart plays the weary-of-it-all Marine who leads his small band of soldiers into the
no-man's-land of Santa Monica to rescue potential survivors.  Along the way, he encounters nasty aliens who look like a cross between the
prawns from
District Nine and the giant machines from War of the Worlds.  (Their craft look exactly like similar vehicles from Skyline.)    
Thanks to better writing and the efforts of Mr. Eckhart, Rick Rodriguez  and other good actors, we're more emotionally invested in who
lives and who dies in this movie.  It's no masterpiece--but it's n
o Skyline either.  (3/14/2011)

Take Me Home Tonight  Are there any actors you'll watch in anything?  Angelina?  Of course.  Matt Damon.  Sure.  I'd also put Topher
Grace on that list.  He's been in some really borderline movies (to say nothing of
That 70's Show), but he's made every one of them better.  
When I think of Mr. Grace, I think o
f Win a Date with Tad Hamilton--despite the best efforts of Josh Duhamel, Ginnifer Goodwin, Nathan
Lane and others who would like for us to forget it.  (Mr. Grace has some scenes with an advice-giving bartender in that movie that I think
are as touching as anything I've ever seen in a movie.  But I digress.)   He has the power to make a forgettable movie memorable--as he does
in this movie.  He's way too old to be playing this role, but when recreating the 80's, it's reasonable to conclude that everyone was too old to
be acting they ways they did.  There are some good moments, several likable characters and a killer soundtrack.  It could be a lot worse.  
(3/13/11)

Cedar Rapids When I was a kid, my father was a meat salesman, and every summer, he'd go to his company's (Wilson & Co.) annual sales
meeting in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (the home office).  I never gave a thought to what he might be doing at the meeting.  In reality, I assumed he
drank, gambled and screwed around there as much as he did when he was at home--which was plenty. But in truth, I didn't think much
about it.  Now, Alexander Payne, the Midwest visionary behind
Election and Citizen Ruth  has uncovered the seamy truth about what
happens when sales nerds go to Iowa--and it's hilarious--and a little creepy.  Ed Helms, Anne Heche and John C. Reilly--three actors that I
usually enjoy movies in spite of, as opposed to because of--put on a great show as insurance geeks away from home and on the make.  
They're all very good, and they make you care about a bunch of people that you really wouldn't want in your house.  Sigourney Weaver's
downward career spiral continues in a throw-away role as a Wisconsin school teacher.  (Given the current political headlines from
Wisconsin, this casting choice makes perfect sense.)  With this cast and the folks who put the movie together, you an guess that it will be
fairly crass--and you'd be right.  But you also think that maybe it's just oddball enough to be really funny--and you'd be right there as well.  
(3/12/11)

The Adjustment Bureau   I never think of Matt Damon as one of my favorite actors, but he does appear in lots of my favorite movies.  
One reason may be that he's just in lots of movies, period.  
(True Grit and Hereafter were still in theaters when this movie came out.)  But
maybe it's because he's a really good actor and he chooses really good roles.
The Adjustment Bureau is really not one of his better
movies--chiefly because he has absolutely zero chemistry with Emily Blunt, whom he identifies as his soulmate after two unconvincing
chance encounters.  It's hard to believe that these two people can't live without each other because they do--for years and years.  And
because the central romance is unconvincing, the science-fiction fable that surrounds it sounds all-the-more contrived.  That there are
faceless bureaucrats out there watching and regulating our every move in life is a great premise, but its manifestation--to say nothing of its
implications--just fall flat or are not explored.  Too bad.  (3/8/11)

Unknown There is a scene near the end of this movie in which Liam Neeson and Aidan Quinn try to bludgeon each other to death.  Very
few things are as unattractive as a couple of 50-somethings trying to do things best left to Jason Stratham.  Beyond that minor complaint,
this is a terrific movie.  If you've been seeing the coming attractions for the past six months as I have, you know that Liam Neeson is an
American scientist visiting Berlin who has the bad luck to be in the back seat of a taxi that plunges into the icy Spree River and who spends
the next four days in a coma.  When he wakes, he finds that his identity has been assumed by another man, and that his wife no longer
recognizes him.  If you've seen any of the Bourne movies, you can guess what's coming, but it's still a good ride, made even better by
presence of Diane Kruger as a freelance taxi driver and Bruno Ganz as a former Stasi agent.  (2/28/2011
)

Vision:  From the Life of Hildegard Von Bingen So who's Hildegard Von Bingen?  If you spent more time at Starbucks, you'd know that
she was an 11th century nun in Germany, who was left at the monastery to be raised by nuns.  When she grew up, she wrote several
hymns and songs that have recently come back into vogue in the form of coffee house background noise.  This movie, by Margarethe von
Trotta, informs us that in reality, Sister Hildegard was much, much more. She conducted useful research in to the uses of herbs and
minerals, formed one of the first convents in Europe at Rupertsburg, and--of particular importance to this movie--was transfixed by mystic
visions.  The movie is not only gorgeously photographed, it takes a tougher look at Sister Hildegard than you might expect.  Her visions are
treated respectfully, but why is it that she always seemed to have them when she wanted something from the archbishop?  Also, her
reputation attracted to her acolytes whose motives might have been something less than sisterly.  Even if the subject matter doesn't interest
you that much, I think you'll appreciate the performance of Barbara Sukowa in the lead role and the effort and care that Ms. von Trotta has
put into telling the story.  (1/31/11)

The Tempest   A couple of weeks ago, I sat in on Julie Taymor's latest Broadway creation, Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark.  I can't tell you
much about it, except to say that I'm pretty sure that the version I saw in previews will be nothing like what you might see if and when it
ever opens.  There is so much in the preview that I saw that needs to be thrown out that it's difficult to decide what--if anything--to keep.  
But I digress.  So there was some trepidation as I entered the theater to see what's she's done with the play that most consider to be
Shakespeare's farewell to the theater.  Happily, all of the surprises were happy ones.  Changing the gender of the lead role of Prospero (to
Prospera) and casting Helen Mirren was inspired.  Actors who have been insufferable in the past (yes you, Russell Brand--you too, Alan
Cumming) are delightful, as are great actors who fill other roles like David Straitairn, Tom Conti, Alfred Molina and Djimon Hounsou.  If
there is a weakness, it would be the pair of lovers, played slightly by Felicity Jones and Reeve Carney (who--come to think of it--also
underperforms in his role as Spiderman).   This a straightforward telling of the tale, as they say, and Ms. Taymor uses effects effectively.  I
think you'll like it.  (1/29/11)

L'Illusionist To tell you that this movie is in French would be pointless.  There's so little dialog that it could be in Aramaic, and it would be
easy enough to follow.  An over-the-hill magician from the music halls of Paris journeys to Scotland to find work wherever he can.  First he
performs in pubs in a small town in The Highlands, and then in the window of Jenner's Department Store in Edinburgh.  Along the way, he
attracts the attention and devotion of a young woman whom we first see cleaning rooms at the inn out in the sticks.  Apparently, no one
minds that she leaves for Edinburgh with him.  Theirs is a relationship not unlike that of Jean Valjean and Cosette i
n Les Miserables.   With
what little money he has or can make along the way, he buys her nice shoes and clothes that help her attract the attention of a young man
who is apparently the right sort of person for her.  When the magician disappears near the end, he leaves a note saying, "There is no such
thing as magic,"-- although it is clear that he has transformed her life.  Did I mention that the movie is animated?  (1/2011)
Top 10 Movies
of 2011
2011 MOVIE REVIEWS
Click here to see Matt's Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2011!