Film Reviews : 2011

The Iron Lady  Badly flawed
December 31, 2011

The Iron Lady is an example of an actress being so much better than the film she's in.

Meryl Streep, as Margaret Thatcher, presides with grand humanity, over a film that is pretty much a shambles.

Streep transcends a med ... more

The Muppets  Exemplary
December 26, 2011

The "Rainbow Connection" is reconnected in 2011. It's a dazzling reunion.

The Muppets is a joyful mix of the nostalgic past and a vibrant present. It tops the list of family movies for the holidays.

If you're ... more

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close  Badly flawed
December 22, 2011

People Magazine picked Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as, "The Best Film of the Year!" At least that's what the ads blare.

There are at least a dozen movies that could validly be picked as best of the year. Extre ... more

Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol  Very Good
December 18, 2011

Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol was was made for IMAX. Be sure to see it on the huge screen.

It's MI - Maximum. It blows up the Mission Impossible Force's stature. It also blows up part of of the Kremlin. As well as reason and l ... more

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo  Great
December 14, 2011

David Fincher's American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a powerhouse of a picture.

My favorite film of last year was the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -- based on Stieg Larsson's fi ... more

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy  Watchable
December 13, 2011

If Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy had been released last February, it probably would be forgotten by now.

But because of its release date in December, it's appearing on "Best Ten" lists, and Gary Oldman actually is being ment ... more

My Week with Marilyn  Very Good
December 8, 2011

Who are Chris Foggin and Liam Lock?

They were third assistant directors on My Week with Marilyn.

They have the same title as Colin Clark did when he was third assistant director -- a self-described "gofer" -- during ... more

Shame  Badly flawed
December 4, 2011

Shame is a noxious porridge of porn and pointlessness. It's a penis in search of a plot.

Its protagonist is a masturbating cipher.

Shame has gotten a surprisingly favorable reaction from a lot of reviewers, who se ... more

The Artist  Exemplary
December 2, 2011

The Artist shouldn't work, but it does. Beautifully.

It's in black and white (and shades of gray), and is silent except for music and a few incongruous sounds. It's about making movies in the late 1920s and early 1930s. ... more

Hugo  Very Good
November 27, 2011

Hugo is a love affair -- palpable and personal -- between director Marty Scorsese and cinema. It sputters, floats, and soars.

In his boyhood Scorsese was isolated by asthma, but his parents took him to the movies, where he formed a ... more

The Descendants  Watchable
November 26, 2011

Calling Chevy Chase. George Clooney has taken your role.

The Descendants calls out for Clark Griswold and his brood -- The Griswolds in Hawaii.

This time around George Clooney plays the clueless dad.

The Descendan ... more

Melancholia  Great
November 16, 2011

At times I'm a believer in Dwight Macdonald's dictum that a reviewer tells what the audience thinks, and a critic tells what he thinks.

Melancholia is a challenge for a critic. It may stymie reviewers. Some viewers will find ... more

J. Edgar  Watchable
November 8, 2011

J. Edgar is not arresting.

It's more like a lengthy, failed stakeout. It doesn't deliver enough authentic evidence, and the subject of the scrutiny is pretty dull most of the time.

Has director Clint Eastwood turned ... more

Take Shelter  Exemplary
October 28, 2011

On rare occasions, a movie comes along that does genuine honor to Alfred Hitchcock.

Take Shelter is such a movie. It could be subtitled "Take Shelter with Hitch."

Director/writer Jeff Nichols knows the master well a ... more

Margin Call  Very Good
October 24, 2011

Margin Call puts human faces behind the masks of Big Business.

Although one character says, "This is not a prison" -- in many ways the business monoliths on Wall Street can be related to prisons.

They both have harsh ... more

The Mighty Macs  Watchable
October 23, 2011

Who is the target audience for The Mighty Macs -- 70-year old women?

It's G-rated (when was the last time a movie drama was rated G?). The Mighty Macs doesn't have a single curse word. A movie in which coaches and pla ... more

The Way  Very Good
October 18, 2011

The Way is real, personal cinema.

It's an Estevez family project. But it's not a vanity project -- it is a spiritual legacy.

It doesn't feature the most notorious of the Estevezes -- Carlos (who changed his name ... more

Love Crime  Very Good
October 9, 2011

Love Crime is a slick French cinema croissant filled with sweet and sour revenge.

Part way through, you wonder what is going on. You simply aren't sure where it's going.

It all falls into place at the end -- perhaps ... more

The Ides of March  Watchable
October 6, 2011

The Ides of March is like the Obama administration -- it doesn't deliver.

Movies about politics should have power and, perhaps, even sting. When they're diluted, because of attempts to reach the mainstream, they often lose t ... more

50/50  Better than average
October 1, 2011

50/50 is a movie in which the protagonist is very human, and his best friend is obnoxious.

It's also an apt study in acting. One actor is human; the other is obnoxious.

50/50 is the story of 27-year old Ad ... more

Moneyball  Better than average
September 26, 2011

Moneyball is an impelling triple. It's smart, agile, and effective.

But it's anti-climactic, as though the runner is stranded on third base.

Moneyball is the story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the general manag ... more

Straw Dogs  Watchable
September 21, 2011

If Sam Peckinpah were alive today and read that director Ron Lurie had remade his Straw Dogs, he would have scowled his famous scowl.

When he heard that Lurie had supposedly tweeted, "one of the reasons for remaking was to turn ... more

Contagion  Very Good
September 15, 2011

Don't touch that computer screen!

You don't know where it's been -- or who has coughed on it. Or who has made contact with it.

In Contagion, plain surfaces are deadly. And -- like governments -- computers lie. < ... more

Life, Above All  Better than average
September 9, 2011

Life, Above All is 100 minutes of grief and courage.

We share an arduous trek with 12-year old Chanda (Khomotso Manyaka) in rural South Africa, as she tries to fathom fatal illness around her. She has multiple, heavy burdens on her ... more

The Guard  Very Good
September 5, 2011

The Guard is a vulgar, Irish treat.

You may not understand Gaelic, but if you understand Familiar-Usage-Concerning-Kilkarney, you'll at least understand every other word in The Guard.

The Guard is the bo ... more

Sarah's Key  Better than average
September 2, 2011

Sarah's Key is elevated by luminous performances by two actresses -- veteran Kristin Scott Thomas and 10-year old Melusine Mayance.

Fortunately their talent often is able to transcend the contrivances that mar the plot.

... more

The Debt  Watchable
August 21, 2011

Films about bringing vile Nazi doctors to justice usually are serious dramatic and psychological explorations. But every once in a while, hokum overwhelms the subject.

Such is the case with The Debt.

Despite a stellar cast a ... more

Of Gods and Men  Exemplary
August 16, 2011

Of Gods and Men is a tribute to intelligent faith.

In a world in which faith and ignorance are often yoked together, Of Gods and Men lifts faith from just the throbbing heart to the thinking mind as well.

In a world i ... more

The Help  Better than average
August 11, 2011

The Help is Mississippi-lite. It's certainly not Mississippi Burning (1988); it's Mississippi on Low Heat.

This doesn't mean it's not an entertaining movie: it is quite enjoyable. It just means it avoids authe ... more

Rise of the Planet of the Apes  Very Good
August 7, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a gripping test of anxiety.

Those who have seen the previews know that the apes launch an attack on the Golden Gate Bridge in California. How far will they go? What will set them off? When is it al ... more

Cave of Forgotten Dreams  Better than average
August 5, 2011

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a 30,000-year leap of faith.

Written, directed, and narrated by Werner Herzog, the intriguing documentary explores the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc cave in Southern France, which contains the oldest cave art ev ... more

Cowboys & Aliens  Exemplary
July 27, 2011

"Hot damn!"

One of the characters says this in Cowboys & Aliens, and he's right -- hot damn right.

Cowboys & Aliens is a sizzling conflagration. It's Hellzapoppin' in the West. It's How ... more

Page One: Inside the New York Times  Very Good
July 22, 2011

Page One: Inside the New York Times is a sometimes fascinating, unsettling, and informative look at a venerable institution that has to cope with a rapidly changing world.

Can it survive a brave, new world in which information and ... more

A Better Life  Very Good
July 16, 2011

A Better Life is steeped in decency.

But how does decency survive in an indecent world?

Carlos Galindo (Demian Bichir) is an undocumented, Mexican day laborer, who works as a gardener in the posh neighborhoods of Los Angeles ... more

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2  Very Good
July 14, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is bursting with dark fury.

It's good versus evil. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) meets the vicious Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) in a final reckoning, a clamorous fight to the death. ... more

Beginners  Badly flawed
July 8, 2011

Boy, Beginners was a movie I was hoping and planning to like.

It had Christopher Plummer in a role that had to be tours de force and probably even Oscar worthy. It had Ewan McGregor, who is a solid talent.

And it had a dog w ... more

Buck  Better than average
July 4, 2011

If I were a young colt, I'd sure try to keep my distance from Buck Brannaman.

Brannaman is the main figure in the documentary Buck, about a horse teacher who is able to accomplish wonders with difficult young horses.

He& ... more

Transformers: Dark of the Moon  Badly flawed
July 3, 2011

Animator Chuck Jones was a brilliant master of comic destruction. It had wit, style, and grace.

Director Michael Bay is a master of destruction. It is witless, styleless, and graceless.

Jones's movies went "beep, beep." ... more

Cars 2  Badly flawed
June 29, 2011

Cars 2 runs out of gas. It's on fumes -- and some of them pretty noxious.

Pixar decided to dumb down the franchise. Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is not the star of Cars 2. The new star is Mater, the rusted to ... more

Bad Teacher  Watchable
June 27, 2011

Bad Teacher should be held back for bad comedy.

It's probably better just to see the previews than see the entire tired movie in a theater. It's the kind of movie that after the first ten minutes, one decides whether to leav ... more

Super 8  Better than average
June 14, 2011

Like Silly Putty, Super 8 is silly fun.

It stretches, snaps, and bounces. It's as elastic as pubescent imagination.

It may be something of a metaphor for the younger days of the two major filmmakers involved in Super ... more

Incendies  Better than average
June 7, 2011

Incendies is a grueling, harrowing trek in search of identity.

In French and Arabic, it was a Canadian nominee for the Best Foreign-Language Oscar. Director Denis Villaneuve based the movie on a play by Wajdi Mouawad.

Inc ... more

Midnight in Paris  Great
June 4, 2011

Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris is a luminous gambol of imagination and memory through the flickering City of Light. It's a pleasant dream.

Woody's Paris is a Cole Porter song, a Sidney Bechet instrumental rendition, a l ... more

X-Men: First Class  Very Good
June 3, 2011

On the surface, prequels may seem to be the final attempt to drain the last dregs from a franchise.

But, on occasion, a prequel can not only revive a franchise; in some cases, it can enhance it.

X-Men: First Class brings fre ... more

The Hangover Part 2  Watchable
May 26, 2011

Some movies try to solve the mystery of life. The Hangover Part 2 only tries to solve the mystery of the binge. It reaches that easily reachable bar.

The Hangover Part 2 is a ballsy, balls-up trip to nether regions that will ... more

Everything Must Go  Watchable
May 20, 2011

Everything Must Go is not a bad movie, but saying in the credits that it's "based on" a story by Raymond Carver is a blunder. It may even be a fraud.

I suppose this is a way for a novice writer/director (Dan Rush) to try ... more

The Tree of Life  Badly flawed
May 17, 2011

"My name is Terry, and I'm a cinemaholic."

"Hi, Terry."

"My sponsor is Michael Cimino."

"Terry, your new movie recently got booed at Cannes. Terry? Terry?"

"Terry has left the ... more

Hesher  Very Good
May 15, 2011

Occasionally a movie gets scattershot reviews that leave one with a misleading impression. Given the early reactions to Hesher, I expected a dark, grim movie about a repellant character. I expected a tiresome slog.

The Hesher ... more

Thor  Better than average
May 11, 2011

Thor is a spectacular hodgepodge.

A replacement director and a squad of misbegotten writers try to dodge the impressive special effects.

Thor is an amusement park ride through the Marvel universe from the realm of Asg ... more

Winter in Wartime  Better than average
May 4, 2011

Winter in Wartime (2008) is an evocative Dutch movie about a youthful adolescent coming of age in Nazi-occupied Holland in January 1945.

It smacks of familiarity, but has a few surprises that invest it with life, if not originality. ... more

In a Better World  Better than average
May 2, 2011

How does a pacifist prevail in an ugly, hostile world? How do children grow up in a world of isolation, alienation, grief, and bullying?

The Danish film In a Better World won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film dealing ... more

Born to be Wild  Very Good
April 23, 2011

Born to be Wild is a 40-minute return to innocence.

The documentary is so engaging and affirmative, the viewer may have a smile on his or her face for the entire showing.

Unfortunately many potential viewers probably will mi ... more

Win Win  Very Good
April 16, 2011

Tom McCarthy takes his time.

Only three feature movies that he wrote and directed have been released. The first two were serious contenders for top-ten-of-the-year lists.

McCarthy's The Station Agent (2003) made several ... more

The Conspirator  Very Good
April 12, 2011

The Conspirator marks a return for Robert Redford as a director. If not triumphant, at least serious.

Like director Clint Eastwood -- who made several important movies in his 70s -- Redford has made a significant one in The Consp ... more

Source Code  Very Good
April 6, 2011

Ah, product placement.

It's obviously a reason to take a train ride over and over.

At first upon seeing the movie, I thought Source Code might be some new kind of doughnut at Dunkin' Donuts. There's a well-placed ... more

Paul  Better than average
April 2, 2011

Paul is E.T.'s crude twin.

Paul smokes, jokes, and pokes. He's the antithesis of naivete.

Paul has a terrific concept -- an affectionate send-up of the sci-fi genre. Paul has it ups, but it also has unfortuna ... more

Limitless  Very Good
March 25, 2011

In Limitless, Bradley Cooper becomes a full-fledged movie star -- or at least half-fledged. He nails it. Fly, Bradley, fly.

Cooper took over the leading role from Shia LaBeouf, who was originally cast.

It's too bad Shia ... more

The Lincoln Lawyer  Better than average
March 13, 2011

Occasionally a movie succeeds simply on the persevering talent of its star.

The Lincoln Lawyer is such a movie.

Matthew McConaughey carries The Lincoln Lawyer with sheer credible willpower and personality.

McC ... more

The Adjustment Bureau  Watchable
March 10, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau should be titled The Demolition Bureau. It takes Philip K. Dick's story and blows it up.

One of course realizes that in Hollywood literature is passe. The late Philip K. Dick was a popular and renown ... more

Unknown  Watchable
February 25, 2011

Unknown turns Hitchcock into Hitchschlock.

The movie is purring along nicely relying on character and suspense, until suddenly it takes a U-turn and goes on a violent car chase, which shatters credibility. From then on it never reco ... more

Barney's Version  Watchable
February 15, 2011

Barney's Version is not Mordecai's version.

It is Paulie's version.

Paul Giamatti said he didn't even read the novel by Mordecai Richler when he portrayed Richler's Barney Panofsky.

Why screw up y ... more

The Eagle  Very Good
February 9, 2011

The Eagle is what an action-adventure should be -- gripping, literate, and entertaining.

It's a volatile tale that transports us to a faraway place and a faraway time. Although rooted in tradition, it avoids most of the cliches, ... more

Somewhere  Badly flawed
February 5, 2011

The major challenge in making a movie about ennui is how do you keep it from being dull?

Writer/director Sofia Coppola seems stymied by that test. Her movie Somewhere is a listless look at essentially dull people. Her presentation i ... more

Biutiful  Better than average
January 30, 2011

Biutiful is a harrowing, battering experience at the movies. Although titled with a word scrawled by a child on her drawing, the movie is steeped in ugliness.

In Biutiful, Mexican director/writer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ( ... more

Another Year  Watchable
January 21, 2011

Pathetic women are not really my cup of tea. British or otherwise. Alcoholic, pathetic women are not my cup of anything.

In Another Year, writer/director Mike Leigh serves up Mary (Leslie Manville), a woman who is aging with inc ... more

The Green Hornet  Awful
January 15, 2011

I thought only flies liked piles of dung, but hornets must, too.

Maybe that's the reason for the evacuated pile titled The Green Hornet.

When I first heard that Seth Rogen had been cast as The Green Hornet I had d ... more

Tangled  Very Good
January 6, 2011

Every year I hope to find at least one or two movies that I can personally recommend to everyone.

In 2010 my choice for almost all adults was 127 Hours, because I knew it would surprise most viewers, and they would leave the theate ... more

Casino Jack  Watchable
January 4, 2011

Casino Jack is as erratic as a floating craps game.

Part comedy, part character study, part satire, part fantasy, part violence, it has a heady run before crapping out.

Based loosely on the career and downfall of mega-lobbyi ... more

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