Film Reviews : 2009

Up In the Air  Better than average
December 20, 2009

Up in the Air is all over the place. It flies the friendly skies of termination.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a casual cynic and pleasant pragmatist who flies around the country as the hired executioner for corporations that are ... more

Avatar  Exemplary
December 15, 2009

At the end of a decade, James Cameron seeks revolution -- not only in the way we see movies, but in the way we see life.

With Avatar, Cameron is on a risky flight of fancy. His new movie is significant not only for its technical pr ... more

Invictus  Watchable
December 7, 2009

Make no mistake about it, I'm a fan of Clint Eastwood.

Eventually he will be my model for aging gracefully with his creative faculties intact and flourishing. If I ever reach the age of 79 [Clint's age -- born May 31, 1930], I hope ... more

The Lovely Bones  Better than average
December 5, 2009

The Lovely Bones aims at heaven -- and misses.

It also aims at Oscars. It has a better chance of hitting them. The Lovely Bones is a movie geared to Oscar time. It probably will get a nomination as Best Picture -- this year ... more

The Blind Side  Badly flawed
December 2, 2009

One of the meanings of the title The Blind Side is that in football, the left tackle defends the quarterback's blind side -- from the defensive linemen he doesn't see.

But in the movie The Blind Side, truth is sacked ... more

Fantastic Mr. Fox  Very Good
November 23, 2009

When one first reads the cast list of Fantastic Mr. Fox, he assumes it must be a serious heavyweight drama.

The cast is a Who's Who of formidable acting talent: George Clooney. Meryl Streep, Willem Dafoe, Brian Cox, Michael Gam ... more

Everybody's Fine  Watchable
November 22, 2009

Everybody's Fine is a nice picture about a dysfunctional family which keeps secrets. It should appeal to nice, dysfunctional, secretive people in the audience -- which probably is the majority.

One wonders why Robert De Niro wou ... more

The Damned United  Very Good
November 19, 2009

Peter Morgan is a screenwriter with a golden touch.

Morgan does screenplays that take actual figures and events from recent history and gives them a burnish that attracts Oscar notice.

In 2006 The Queen was released. Morgan ... more

2012  Awful
November 11, 2009

After seeing 2012 I had to take a shower I felt so unclean. I guess I'm not a fan of Apocalypse movies, and I really dislike crappy Apocalypse. 2012 is crappy Apocalypse.

After 50 minutes 2012 has its first catacly ... more

Pirate Radio  Exemplary
November 10, 2009

Sometimes there's a movie that comes along that shivers your timbres.

Pirate Radio is one such delight. It's a treasure trove of rock and roll memories, energy, and infectious spirit. It's as groovy as the 1960s.

... more
The Men Who Stare at Goats  Watchable
November 5, 2009

I think I stared too intently at the screen and made The Men Who Stare at Goats comatose.

The Men Who Stare at Goats is stilted whimsy; it's a superficial romp and slog through familiar sand. The story may be new, but the ... more

The Road  Badly flawed
November 4, 2009

Alaska has its Bridge to Nowhere. The movie The Road has its Bridge to Less Than Nowhere.

One wonders why it was made. It's misery, misery, misery. It's misery for The Man (Viggo Mortensen), The Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and t ... more

Coco Before Chanel  Better than average
October 29, 2009

French biographical dramas are a mixed bag. Coco Before Chanel is a mixed Chanel bag.

French films of its ilk usually emphasize character, evocative settings, substantial performances, and often a sense of predestined foreboding. Th ... more

A Serious Man  Better than average
October 23, 2009

"No Jews were harmed in the making of this motion picture" is a coy line in the end credits of the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man. Actually some thought they were.

Jewish reviewer Ella Taylor screeched as though the Coens ... more

Paranormal Activity  Very Good
October 16, 2009

God created the world in six days. It took indie director/producer Oren Peli one day more -- seven days -- to create his blockbuster movie, Paranormal Activity.

The world is a heavenly creation; the movie is a hellish delight.

... more
The Boys are Back  Better than average
October 9, 2009

The Boys Are Back is a poignant and rowdy celebration of a broken family dealing with grief and drastic change.

It has a lame title and a rambling story, but it also has an outstanding performance by Clive Owen and beautiful Austral ... more

Fame  Watchable
September 27, 2009

It's a party. Fame rocks!

At least part of the time.

At its best.

It also sputters.

Fame is not as bad as I feared -- given the deluge of negative reviews. If you're a tolerant viewer, you' ... more

Capitalism: A Love Story  Very Good
September 25, 2009

Michael Moore titled his most recent film Capitalism: A Love Story, probably because in Capitalism you never have to say you're sorry.

And Moore never says he's sorry as he trashes Capitalism in America.

An assault o ... more

The September Issue  Very Good
September 17, 2009

Film can transport you into a world where you are an alien. It can enchant, bewilder, and inform.

The documentary film The September Issue is enchanting, bewildering, and informing.

My fashion sense begins and ends with the ... more

District 9  Very Good
September 8, 2009

District 9 is a ferocious fable.

Potent and provocative, it is an allegory for our time. It is bursting with contemporary themes -- oppression, greed, power, propaganda, and the conflict of disparate cultures.

District 9< ... more

Taking Woodstock  Badly flawed
August 28, 2009

Taking Woodstock tells a story about the monumental, historic music happening on Max Yasgur's dairy farm in the Catskills in 1969.

The movie is homogenized mud.

Director Ang Lee slides all over the place. He takes away a ... more

Inglourious Basterds: Additional Thoughts  Better than average
August 26, 2009

After I write a review, I post it on and IMDB. Both sites have a compilation of select reviewers' reviews.

On Rotten Tomatoes they have a rating that is favorable -- "fresh" -- and one that is negative -- "rotten." ... more

Inglourious Basterds  Better than average
August 19, 2009

"Vengeance is mine," sayeth the gospel according to Quentin.

In his new film Inglourious Basterds, writer/director Quentin Tarantino creates a witches' brew of vengeance, curdled history, and pulpy ego.

It's a mixtu ... more

Julie & Julia  Very Good
August 14, 2009

Julie & Julia is a scrumptious delight.

I am not an avid fan of Meryl Streep's usually mannered performances, but this time out as Julia Child, she gives a vibrant breakthrough performance that rattles all her acting pots an ... more

500 Days of Summer  Watchable
August 12, 2009

The independent film 500 Days of Summer is as refreshing as hot air.

It might be subtitled The Dog Days of August. It's as independent as a hula hoop.

500 Days of Summer was cheered by sweaty reviewers at t ... more

Funny People  Watchable
August 6, 2009

Schlep and Schlock are together again.

The former Los Angeles roomies actor Adam Sandler and writer-director Judd Apatow have teamed up to make Funny People.

Funny People is an odd mixture of humanity, vulgarity, and ... more

G-Force  Watchable
August 1, 2009

G-Force stands for Gross-Force.

The first gross is the money G-Force has made. When it was released, it went to #1 at the box office, knocking off Harry Potter.

G-Force is a whirlwind movie for family audience ... more

The Hurt Locker  
July 23, 2009

Watching The Hurt Locker is a stunning ordeal.

It takes the viewer by the scruff of the neck -- that's why the hairs on one's neck stand up. And it embeds him or her in the middle of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal squad in B ... more

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince  Very Good
July 22, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is an intoxicating potion of teenage hormones and evil spirits. Both are raging.

In the sixth movie in the Potter series -- one of the best -- about Harry's exploits at Hogwarts School of W ... more

Motherland  Watchable
July 17, 2009

I'm afraid criticizing a movie such as Motherland is like booing at a funeral.

It's almost out of place to have doubts about a movie that so earnestly wants to offer healing. Almost.

I have a soft spot for an endeavo ... more

Bliss  Very Good
July 14, 2009

Bliss is a provocative voyage across the exotic landscape and placid waterways of Turkey.

Set in an intriguing locale, based on an important novel, Bliss is the tale of diverse culture and sharp -- sometimes brutal -- confli ... more

Public Enemies  Great
July 2, 2009

When contemporary songstress Diana Krall sings "Bye Bye Blackbird" -- as Johnny Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) have their first dance -- it becomes the theme song for Public Enemies. It's a bolt from the ... more

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen  Watchable
July 1, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a popular mixture of absorbing adventure and clattering claptrap. Unfortunately, the latter dominates way too much.

It's machines on Viagra. I'm happy for the machines -- less so for th ... more

Very Bad Things  Very Good
June 22, 2009

The box office success of The Hangover puts into interesting context another movie about a bachelor party that goes wrong in Las Vegas. The other brutal bachelor blast is 1998's Very Bad Things.

The Hangover is an ... more

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3  Better than average
June 19, 2009

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 begins in disarray.

The dialogue starts with a spate of obscenities -- blank, blank, blankety-blank. Blah.

If the dialogue makes obscenity vapid, the style is spastic. The opening credit sequence j ... more

The Hangover  Watchable
June 11, 2009

The Hangover is a bumpy, raucous, raunchy road trip.

It's also pretty forgettable.

A couple of Bufferins and you'll be ready for the next comedy. Why do movies about overindulgence have to be overindulgent?

... more

Up  Great
June 6, 2009

The previews for Up were not enticing.

They showed a grumpy old man and a dumpy little boy. This seemed a very pedestrian odd couple. They inspired little or no anticipation.

Up is Pixar Animated Studio's latest a ... more

What Goes Up  Watchable
June 4, 2009

Usually I'm the naysayer, going against the preposterous flackery of such venal arbiters as Pete Hammond and Rex Reed.

But I find myself giving faint praise to a movie that 20 out of 20 reviewers on Rottentomatoes rated "rotten."

... more
Rudo y Cursi  Very Good
May 31, 2009

Rudo y Cursi is a kicky movie about the giddy heights and crushing lows of the sporting life.

It's the tale of two half-brothers -- Tato (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Beto (Diego Luna) -- from a village in Mexico, who work on a banan ... more

The Brothers Bloom  Watchable
May 27, 2009

The Brothers Bloom is a movie about con men that winds up conning itself.

It is one of those films that should be better than it is. The Brothers Bloom has a first-rate cast, a good basic plot, and great locales.

But ... more

Angels and Demons  Watchable
May 11, 2009

Angels and Demons performs a miracle. It makes 2 hours seem like 4 hours.

Angels and Demons should thrill, but director Ron Howard's suspense has no edge or vitality. Most of it is running, panting, doggy-paddling. And si ... more

Star Trek  Great
May 10, 2009

Star Trek is one slick, Enterprising movie.

In making yet another Star Trek, the great challenge the filmmakers -- J.J. Abrams, et al. -- faced was to be contemporary while also respecting the past.

The Trekkie franc ... more

Tyson  Very Good
May 8, 2009

Mike Tyson is thoughtful.


The documentary movie Tyson reveals a Mike Tyson I can almost guarantee you haven't seen before.

Hardly anyone thinks of former boxer Tyson as articulate and sincere. But director J ... more

State of Play: Movie vs. TV Series  Classic
May 5, 2009

The movie State of Play is equal to its brilliant source (the BBC television program aired in 2003). Until the end. Then it gets contrived and caves in. The movie becomes an average thriller; the BBC version never is average. From beginning ... more

The Soloist  Watchable
May 1, 2009

Just because The Soloist is about a homeless person doesn't mean it should have pedestrian direction. But it does -- pedestrian and clodhopping.

When it was announced that Steve Lopez's book The Soloist was going to b ... more

State of Play  Better than average
April 30, 2009

I'm not Oliver Twist.

I don't need "more, please." My first portion was satisfying, thank you.

State of Play is like a very filling meal. As it appears to end, one sighs with satisfaction. It was an exciting thriller ... more

Sunshine Cleaning  Very Good
April 17, 2009

Independent films are the stepchildren of cinema.

They often lack the sustenance of normality. They are hit-or-miss offspring.

Because they are outside the immediate family of Hollywood, they lack conventional discipline. But they ... more

Adventureland  Watchable
April 9, 2009

Was young actor Jesse Eisenberg in the latest Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden? He should have been. He's as cute as a puppy.

Eisenberg's doggone precious looks are in evidence all over his latest movie ... more

Tell No One  Very Good
April 3, 2009

A lot of people have stopped going to movie theaters. Going out to the movies is a habit. It's a great habit, but it's a habit.

Today many people wait until a movie comes out on DVD, so then they can watch it at home.

On occa ... more

Duplicity  Watchable
March 26, 2009

Duplicity is a lazy movie about corporate espionage.

It's lazy because its director/writer Tony Gilroy relies on easy gimmicks and lame conventions to tell his tale. Gilroy uses techniques that might enliven home movies; they de ... more

Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience  Watchable
March 19, 2009

I went to see the movie called Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience.

The who?

Not The Who. Certainly not The Who. The Jonas Brothers. They're more The What?

The Jonas Brothers are a contemporary phenomenon - ... more

Watchmen  Better than average
March 13, 2009

Duck, here comes the kitchen sink -- from Mars!

Author Alan Moore kept the sink secure in his graphic novel Watchmen; director Zack Snyder throws it clattering erratically across the screen in his screen version.

Watchme ... more

Waltz with Bashir  Very Good
March 5, 2009

The Israeli film Waltz with Bashir looked like a sure thing to win the Oscar as Best Foreign Film.

It had received raves; it had garnered more than 90% favorable reviews. It had better distribution than any of the other candidates. ... more

The Values in Dirty Harry  Great
March 1, 2009

People who most appreciate action genre films are those who go beyond the literal. They recognize that there is a creator with a vision behind the action and that his film has insight; the action is an end in itself. Of course viewers are aware of ... more

...Around  Watchable
February 25, 2009

For much of its length ...Around seems like a companion piece to Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986). It could be titled Doyle Simms's 4 Years Off.

It's not only that the leading character Doyle Simms is glib a ... more

Coraline  Very Good
February 19, 2009

Coraline is a mesmerizing tale with macabre stitching.

There's no blood, but Coraline is a haunting horrorfest located in a weird wonderland.

Coraline is the animated story of Coraline Jones (winningly voic ... more

Happy-Go-Lucky  Badly flawed
February 16, 2009

Happy-Go-Lucky is flibbertigibbet cinema.

Mike Leigh directed Sally Hawkins in this paean to a peahen.

Sally Hawkins plays Sappy -- I mean Poppy. Poppy is a primary school teacher in London; she's on a journey to see the ... more

Must Read After My Death  Better than average
February 5, 2009

Playwright Luigi Pirandello once wrote Six Characters in Search of an Author.

Filmmaker Morgan Dews has concocted a movie that could be called Six Family Members in Search of a Way Out.

Dews's film is titled Mu ... more

Last Chance Harvey  Very Good
January 29, 2009

Last Chance Harvey is an easygoing trip abroad.

It features two relaxed pros playing acting tennis -- hitting graceful lobs to each other, and then artful returns.

The two acting aces are Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, wh ... more

Slumdog Millionaire  Better than average
January 27, 2009

Say it ain't so, Patel.

Slumdog Millionaire will win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The Producers Guild selected Slumdog Millionaire as Best Picture of 2008, and their choice has gone on to win the Oscar 12 o ... more

The Reader  Badly flawed
January 27, 2009

The Reader is the most undeserving of the five Academy Award nominees for Best Picture.

A nice quality for a movie to have is if it has one or more characters to whom one can relate. In The Reader the two main characters are ... more

The Wrestler  Very Good
January 23, 2009

Mickey Rourke is the favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor.

Mickey Rourke?

You mean the guy who ruined a promising career with destructive abuse of others and self?

The guy who went through botc ... more

Gran Torino  Great
January 15, 2009

In 2004 I spent an hour and 45 minutes with Clint Eastwood (interview on and was properly impressed. He was gentler than I assumed and more well read.

As he has many ... more

Revolutionary Road  Badly flawed
January 6, 2009

Revolutionary Road is a dumbed down movie.

But it's not dumbed down for just general audiences; it's dumbed down for would-be intellectual audiences, people who are supposed to like books.

It sorely fits contemporar ... more

Defiance  Better than average
January 5, 2009

Defiance runs for 137 minutes, but that doesn't make it an epic. It just makes it long.

Near the beginning, we are informed on screen that Defiance is "a true story." It may be a true story, but it is not truly told. ... more

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