Movie Reviews – January 2010

Share this:Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0

A Single Man
The Weinstein Company
In Theaters: 01.08
From the first shot of a nude man submerged in water and floating insensibly in a dreamlike state, fashion designer turned director, Tom Ford, instantly transports the audience to the 1960s with a deliberate muted color scheme and a soft focus on his subject matter. Centering on the themes of loss and acceptance, the film features Colin Firth as George, an English professor who has reached his emotional limit with the anguish brought on by the tragic loss of his long-time partner, Jim (Matthew Goode), who died in a car accident eight months prior. As George performs his daily routines, like leading a class on the subject of fear, he also carefully plans his imminent suicide by emptying his safety deposit box and purchasing bullets for his antique revolver. Determined to carry out his desperate fate, George’s plans are continuously obstructed by various outside sources including an infatuated student (Nicholas Hoult), a charismatic drifter (Jon Kortajarena), and his alcoholic, chain-smoking best friend, Charley (Julianne Moore). A stylistic Ford briefly loses footing with an uneventful third act, but rebounds by creatively and effectively expressing the constant alternating emotions though the use of color. The lens captures depression with dreary and bland tones, but as the lost soul is reminded of the love once shared, Ford instantly intensifies the palette giving renewed life to the griever. That is, until the misery somehow finds its way back. Firth offers a soulful performance that truly embraces the struggle of coping with death and self-destruction while searching for meaning in a cruel world. –Jimmy Martin 

Avatar
20th Century Fox
In Theaters: 12.18
It’s been over a decade since James Cameron sat in the director’s chair and helmed a feature-length production. His last film, Titanic, garnered $1.8 billion worldwide and remains the highest grossing movie of all-time, so his homecoming project was guaranteed to be an endeavor of epic proportions. Set in the year 2154, a strong arm of hired mercenaries and a group of scientists have colonized the foreign planet of Pandora in search of the precious mineral, unobtainium, to rescue a dying Earth, but the largest composite rests beneath the home of the indigenous and primitive race of the Na’vi and they aren’t too keen on relocating. In order to build relations with the 10-foot tall aliens with blue skin, the scientists engineer a human/Na’vi organic hybrid that is capable of being remotely driven by the mind of the operator, who is resting in a pod. Assigned to handle the operation is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic Marine hoping to earn enough cash to pay for spinal surgery, but after he initiates an interspecies relationship with the enchanting Princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), the soldier begins to question his orders and principles. Cameron unleashes an exotic world of pulsating color and unbelievable imagery with groundbreaking digital technology that not only fascinates but terrifies as well. On the down side, his self-scribed screenplay is weak and derivative in regards to its laughable dialogue and regurgitated plot points already utilized in Dances with Wolves and The Last Samurai. And while I’m not quite ready to fully invest my life savings in Worthington as the next action star, the actor does deliver an adequate performance that will keep my eyes on his future projects. Even though it isn’t another master stroke for Cameron, it’s great to see the talented director back where he belongs.  –Jimmy Martin

Did You Hear About the Morgans?
Columbia Pictures
In Theaters: 12.18
It’s becoming quite evident that Marc Lawrence is incapable of evolving as a director, seeing that his third feature is his third dreadful romantic comedy and his third partnership with Hugh Grant. Is someone still considered a one-trick pony if their original ruse is faulty to begin with? This clichéd and witless story is a paint-by-numbers excursion that stars Grant and Sarah Jessica “We get it, you’re from New York” Parker, as a well-to-do married couple: he’s a lawyer and she a real estate agent, who’s been separated for months due to his infidelity. In an attempt to rekindle their marriage, the two have an awkward dinner together and end the uncomfortable night by witnessing a murder and being seen by the killer. Witness Protection Program here we come! After agreeing to testify, the two are sent to Wyoming and placed in the protective custody of the town sheriff (Sam Elliott) and his wife/deputy (Mary Steenburgen) who not only offer protection in the form of Smith & Wesson, but recommend corny marriage counseling tips as well. How convenient! From Grant’s non-stop excruciatingly annoying nervous body language to the dead end subplot involving their two personal assistants’ budding romance, Lawrence reveals the true nature of his inability to direct in the closing 15 minutes when it’s obviously clear all creative hope is lost and the only leftover remaining is the unbearable torture of absurdity. –Jimmy Martin

Invictus
Warner Bros.
In Theaters: 12.11
On February 11, 1990, the divided country of South Africa saw the release of convicted anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) two separate ways: the majority of the politically dominant white population saw it as a travesty against their country, while the repressed Afrikaans saw it as a glimmer of hope in a racially segregated nation. Either way it was construed, the debatable icon was elected the country’s first black President in its first multi-racial election four years later. Hoping to create a “Rainbow Nation” of forgiveness and reconciliation before addressing the region’s other key issues of food shortages, unemployment and rising crime rates, the philosophical leader saw an opportunity for unification in the state’s controversial rugby team, the Springboks, and their slim chance of winning the 1995 World Cup held in Johannesburg. In order to set his radical theory into motion, Mandela called upon the team’s captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), and the two form a unique bond of optimism committed to progress for the future. Director Clint Eastwood must have a monogrammed seat inside the Kodak Theater for the Academy Awards, because he continues to deliver powerhouse productions stocked with authentic emotional integrity and rigid aptitude over and over again. Along with a commanding story of unrelenting determination, he creatively personalizes the heartbeat of a nation through a subplot concerning the tension-filled relationship between the multi-racial security detail assigned to protect Mandela’s life. Damon puts on an admirable display as a competitive leader eager to separate from his father’s bigotry and enthusiastic for change, while Freeman delivers a career-defining performance worthy of universal praise. The only drawback from the film’s execution is the lack of explanation in the unfamiliar sport’s rules and regulations that may leave some viewers scratching their heads in confusion but definitely not boredom. –Jimmy Martin

It’s Complicated
Universal
In Theaters: 12.25
Writer-director Nancy Meyers has found her ideal niche in the filmmaking world with comedies intended for the middle-aged moviegoer, but her latest undertaking invites younger audiences to take a gander at the craziness life brings post-nuptials and children. After having been divorced for 10 years, Jane (Meryl Streep) has finally learned to play nice with her ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin) and accept the fact that his old mistress is now his new wife. However, on a trip to their son’s college graduation, the two former lovers, both sans a significant other, rediscover the old spark in an ambush of martinis and shots in the hotel bar and engage in a wild affair of their own. Waiting on the sidelines to sweep the divorcee off her feet is Adam (Steve Martin), the architect hired to remodel her dream kitchen and hopefully her life. At least that’s how the hopeless romantic envisions their paired future. Sound like a plot your parents would drool over? Well, you’re right, but the hysterical interactions between Streep and Baldwin are strong enough to reach Meyers’ next generation of ticket buyers. A particularly interesting yet hilarious point of view comes from Jane’s soon-to-be son-in-law, Harley (John Krasinski), as he singlehandedly witnesses the devious couple’s interactions unfold, but isn’t quite sure how to break the news… or even if he should. The script is full of authentic family-centered chemistry and a few bumbling gag blunders that could have been left out, but the heart and soul of a loving family, no matter how dysfunctional, is present and accounted for. –Jimmy Martin

The Lovely Bones
Paramount
In Theaters: 01.15
After barricading himself within the confounds of Middle Earth for the past decade, director Peter Jackson emerges from his hillock of awards and recognitions to helm a project devoted to the fragile structure of a family coping with the horrific loss of a loved one. Jackson adapted Alice Sebold’s novel concerning the brutal murder of 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), as she observes the devastating aftermath her family suffers and the ongoing actions of her killer from her own personal heaven. Along with the family’s difficult transition from sorrow to acceptance as her father (Mark Wahlberg) and sister desperately attempt to solve the crime, Susie, too, must acknowledge her own death in order to progress to the subsequent stage in the afterlife. The film is a true testament to Jackson’s talents as a visual storyteller and director as he not only captures the mesmerizing beauty of an adolescent’s imaginative paradise, but guides his actors’ performances to excellence, especially in the case of the endearing Ronan and the utterly terrifying Stanley Tucci. The film does feel rushed at moments, neglecting a number of emotional building blocks necessary to truly convey the five stages of grief, but knowing Jackson’s history, all will be mended in the DVD’s 3-hour director’s cut. –Jimmy Martin

Nine
The Weinstein Company
In Theaters: 12.25
Rob Marshall must feel some sense of irony, since the star of his newest musical adaptation is a movie director who’s hit a creative speed bump and the only discussions concerning his work are those of his “earlier films”. After he took home the Oscar for Best Picture in 2002 with Chicago, Marshall didn’t acquire the same appreciation for his follow-up project, Memoirs of a Geisha, and he certainly won’t receive nearly as many accolades with the disappointing Nine. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as said fictitious director, Guido Contini, who’s been quick to promise the press and the public that his upcoming project will be his best yet, but the minute fact that he hasn’t even begun to write a script due to writer’s block he’s decided to keep to himself. In attempt to break the curse, the womanizing artist seeks inspiration from the most influential female figures in his life: his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penélope Cruz), his actress (Nicole Kidman), his costume designer (Judi Dench), his admirer (Kate Hudson), his childhood infatuation (Fergie), and his deceased mother (Sophia Loren).  There’s no question that the intricate production side of the film is stellar. The set design is pulsating and the costumes radiate with unrelenting energy, but it’s the insipid cast and Maury Yeston’s forgettable song selection where everything falls apart. Day-Lewis is an actor who’s known for selecting his roles with precision and care, so this detached interpretation is even more uninviting than natural. It’s a shame to witness a line-up of such talent and capability, minus Fergie, to fail to deliver the expected. Here’s to Marshall’s next try. –Jimmy Martin

The Road
Dimension Films
In Theaters: 11.25
The concept of an apocalyptic film isn’t anything new. Whether it’s nuclear annihilation or slimy aliens destroying national monuments, we’ve all seen how this world might play out its final encore. However, the same cannot be said for director John Hillcoat’s (The Proposition) sensational adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize winning novel. As the world rests in an inexplainable ash-covered ruin, a father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) travel south in order to escape death via another freezing winter. As they travel along the barren highway with their possessions stacked in a rickety shopping cart and a pistol with only two bullets, they must fight off starvation, dehydration, infection, and cannibals in order to survive. Hillcoat and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe have captured an absolutely beautiful-looking film with an unnatural gray color scheme that leaves a relentless sense of hopelessness left in the pit of your stomach. In a film where little action is present, which is not a bad quality, the actors are given the challenge to carry the weight of entertainment directly on their shoulders and Mortensen and Smit-McPhee, along with Charlize Theron and Robert Duvall, shine brightly, even in the murky unforgiving landscape. –Jimmy Martin

Up in the Air
Paramount
In Theaters: 12.25
In a time when the national unemployment rate is rising above 10% and doom and gloom speeches run rampant through office hallways, business is not only usual for Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) it’s booming. As a third-party downsizing consultant, Bingham travels the country over 300 days out of the year to carry out the difficult managerial duty other executives are too “pussy” to perform. Given the challenging requirements his occupation demands, the desire for a life weighted in intimate relationships has been exchanged for an obsession for elite benefits at rental car companies and hotel chains. Forget marriage and children, Bingham’s life ambition, other than sleeping with his traveling female counterpart Alex (Vera Farmiga), is to earn 10 million frequent flyer miles. All is set for aeronautical glory until a storm of technological change is conjured by Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a young and innovative addition to Bingham’s team that proposes the company utilize the internet to perform layoffs via webcam thereby grounding all employees indefinitely. In a reluctant act of desperation to alter her perception, the veteran takes the rookie under his irked wing to reveal the ins and outs of frequent travel and the art of divulging disparaging news to strangers in their most vulnerable moments. This film couldn’t be any more appropriate or poignant, especially in today’s rough economical climate. Adapted from Walter Kirn’s satirical novel, it flawlessly focuses on harsh realities, yet is full of non-stop laughs brought on by interesting characters performed by talented actors. Clooney gives his best performance in a role that was tailor made for his distinctive quirks and charm. –Jimmy Martin

The Princess and the Frog
Disney
In Theaters: 12.11
Growing up, I was immersed in the pinnacle of Disney’s grandest hand-drawn musical animation achievements with films like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, and when it felt like it couldn’t get any better… it didn’t. For years, an onslaught of run-of-the-mill projects was released and the conglomerate soon began solely relying on the talents and executions of Pixar films for approval. Now, in a move to return to their reputable status, Disney has welcomed back the directors of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, Ron Clements and John Musker, to develop a new princess tale engulfed in the upbeat jazz scene of New Orleans, Louisiana. As the dashing-yet-penniless Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) sets foot in the booming Big Easy, he soon finds himself the target of the deceitful voodoo shadow man, Dr. Facilier (Keith David). On the other side of the city, Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), a hardworking girl whose dream of owning her own restaurant has taken over every aspect of her life, finally finds an opportunity to make her vision a reality when she discovers Naveen has been turned into a frog. A financial deal is agreed upon in exchange for a kiss, but, contrasting to the classical tale, it is Tiana who is transformed, and into a frog, no less. Together, the two must journey the dangerous region’s bayous to find Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis), the only conjurer capable of reversing the curse. Welcome back to Disney’s foundation! Every character is enchanting, the animation is beautiful, the charming story provides a valuable moral lesson, and the catchy Cajun musical accompaniments with striking vocals deserve an assortment of accolades. The romantic side of the tale comes across a bit slapped together, but all is remedied with the brimming positive elements. –Jimmy Martin

Photos: