Movie Reviews – January 2011

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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
20th Century Fox
In Theaters: 12.10.10
To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of the Narnia series. They feel like a failed replica of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings without the maturity and sense of peril that works so well with J. R. R. Tolkien’s adventures. When it was announced Disney was no longer producing the series and 20th Century Fox had picked up the remnants, I hoped a new and enjoyable beginning was in store for the franchise, and it turns out it was. This chapter explores a darker side of the Pevensie family with exciting results. Now that their older siblings are too old to revisit Narnia, the younger members of the Pevensie family return to the mythical land with their snobbish cousin in tow and must solve the mystery of an evil mist that kidnaps the region’s inhabitants. It is certainly the most entertaining film in the franchise, with intense action sequences and a story that actually progresses evenly from beginning to end. This installment adds a level of polished professionalism to its characters and the special effects. These two improvements should attract and please weary viewers who have been duped by the previous dull engagements. The downfalls come from an excruciatingly irritating performance provided by Will Poulter, a climatic scene stolen directly from the 1984 comedy Ghostbusters and a failed attempt at toning down the preachiness of the source material. –Jimmy Martin


The Fighter
Paramount
In Theaters: 12.10.10
In a matter of seconds, boxing films can easily transition from an inspirational tale of courage to an unbearable slap-fest with humdrum motivational speeches that wouldn’t encourage a gullible child. Thankfully, David O. Russell’s true story of Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) bears the resemblance of classics like Rocky and Raging Bull, and disregards the atrocities found in flops like “The Main Event” and “Play it to the Bone.” The spirited story follows Mickey as he balances his unsteady boxing career with life’s other responsibilities, including a new girlfriend, played by a confident Amy Adams, and his selfish family members, led by his drug-addicted former boxer brother (Christian Bale) and his domineering mother (Melissa Leo). Wahlberg has always been an actor who requires a skilled director to force him to deliver a first-rate performance, so it’s a coin flip every time he appears on camera (i.e. The Happening vs. The Departed). While Russell does garner a fine act from his lead actor as he also did in “Three Kings”, it’s the three supporting roles that outshine everyone involved, especially Bale. The gaunt actor, who resembles his feeble physical appearance from The Machinist, provides his greatest performance to date that incorporates both heartbreaking drama with pratfall comedy and is sure to receive multiple honors in the coming months. Russell captures the dedication required of the demanding sport with raw cinematography usually seen on live television broadcasts and surrounds the athleticism with moving characters willing to challenge family bonds for personal growth. ­–Jimmy Martin


Little Fockers
Universal
In Theaters: 12.22.10
What happened to Robert De Niro? Seriously, the man is one of the greatest actors of all time who starred in some of the greatest movies of all time, and nowadays, all we get from the former legend are pranks involving bodily functions and spoofs on his earlier and superior projects with little to no return on laughs. It appears this latest take on portraying Jack Byrnes in the Focker franchise may be the last nail in the coffin on the infamous artists’ career. I suggest we bury it next to the once semi-promising career of Ben Stiller. This time around, the themes of faithful marriages, keeping the spark alive and being in charge of the family legacy are key. Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Stiller) is the father of two five-year-old twins and the responsibility of raising them correctly is so overbearing, it’s affecting his sex life and his uptight father-in-law suspects foul play. Enter Andi Garcia (Jessica Alba), Greg’s newest scantily clad business partner and let the lame misinterpretations and mistaken identity jokes commence. The writers display their greatest moments of creativity with fetching lines of dialogue like “Do girls poop out of their vaginas?” which is uttered by one of the child actors. How that form of stupidity made it to the final script after several rewrites truly exposes the idiocy that was floating around on set. While De Niro may be able to receive leniency by his once adoring public one last time, it’s time for Alba to officially bid the world of acting adieu. Her inability to act has grown so powerful, it overshadows any and all actions taking place on screen. We as a global community must recognize her for her beauty, but that is all and nothing more. ­–Jimmy Martin


Gulliver’s Travels
20th Century Fox
In Theaters: 12.25.10
Ever since the unexpected success of Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover, it seems every coveted role requiring a portly funnyman has gone to the newbie rather than to the former go-to actor, Jack Black. Is it because Galifianakis is a better improvisational actor, or is it because Black’s style of comedy expired about five years ago? It’s most likely both. Black stars in the umpteenth adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s novel as Lemuel Gulliver, a gutless mailroom employee at a newspaper publication whose daily routine involves Guitar Hero sessions (a reoccurring and obvious product placement) and secretly obsessing over the company’s Travel Editor (Amanda Peet). While trying to impress his flame with plagiarized articles, Gulliver receives an assignment to explore the Bermuda Triangle, but a nasty storm sends the deceiver into the middle of a massive waterspout and he soon finds himself washed ashore on the island of a land occupied by a race of tiny inhabitants. Utilizing his mysterious past and colossal size to his advantage, Gulliver soon becomes a celebrity amongst the land, but the truth of his origins come into question once a neighboring land becomes infuriated with his rise to power. Black, who certainly comes across as the least interesting actor in the film when paired with Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, can’t help but regurgitate old gags like b-boppin’ and scatin’ within the first five minutes. His unnecessary performance of Edwin Starr’s “War” stops the film dead in its tracks and from there it sluggishly crawls to the credits. Granted, there are some hilarious pop culture references including theatrical interpretations of “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Titanic”, but the joke is done excessively and ultimately becomes as redundant as films based on Gulliver’s Travels. –Jimmy Martin


I Love You Phillip Morris
Roadside Attractions
In Theaters: 12.23.10
It has been quite the journey for Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s (the writing team behind the crassest holiday classic Bad Santa) true tale of pure love between two gay males to make its way to theaters across the country. It actually premiered at the Sundance Film Festival two years ago and is now just starting to see the light of day. You would think the star power between Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor should be enough to have the uproarious film released immediately, but it’s a shame we don’t live in that world quite yet. Based on the novel by reporter Steve McVicker, Carrey stars as Steven Jay Russell, a married family man and an officer of the law who decides to drop everything and be true to himself by living his life as a gay man, but does so by being as dishonest as possible and performing every elaborate scam an immoral con artist has in his deceitful arsenal. After being arrested and sent to prison, Steven meets Phillip Morris (McGregor), a naïve and dainty inmate, and soon an eternal spark is ignited that’ll test both of their devotions and limits. Ficarra and Requa unleash a dark comedy that’s as obscene as it is affectionate, but both elements are pleasantly appealing. Carrey takes command of his over-the-top acting style and perfectly pacifies it in all the right moments yet lets loose when the situation calls for it. McGregor is the shining star in this pairing as he lays his heart on the table and allows the audience the opportunity to witness the actor at his most vulnerable of moments. –Jimmy Martin


Somewhere
Focus Features
In Theaters: 12.22.10
Seven years ago, Sofia Coppola painted a lovely and heartbreaking portrait regarding the life of an actor who had past his prime and sought companionship with a young woman in the middle of bustling Tokyo. It was a spectacular achievement for Coppola as well as Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, but it appears the director is attempting to hit the same note with a new batch of actors and sadly, lighnting is not striking twice. Somewhere follows the spoiled life of Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), an actor on the top of the world who spends his time between projects by binge drinking in luxurious hotels. It’s not the type of character you feel sorry for when he celebrates his birthday in a hotel room with only two gorgeous twin strippers in attendance. Poor baby. To add a sense of humanity to the character, his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), is dropped off at his doorstep and a decision must be made on the correct method of parenting in the chaotic world of Hollywood. The entire film plays out like a lackluster episode of HBO’s Entourage where nothing happens except for handsome actors playing with expensive toys. Do I care to watch Dorff drive on a racetrack in his Ferrari for five minutes straight as the opening shot? Not particularly. The characters are one-dimensional with no sense of emotion to drive the story. If Coppola is attempting to simulate reality, then kudos, but what she forgets is that reality is excruciatingly monotonous nine out of 10 times. –Jimmy Martin


The Tourist
Columbia Pictures
In Theaters: 12.10.10
This lazy Hollywood notion that all a successful film needs is two superstars and an exotic locale for filming is utter hogwash (I’ve always wanted to use that word in a review). The rest of the cinematic elements will not just simply fall into place no matter how popular your well-paid actors are. Such is the case with Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s sluggish “wrong man” pseudo-thriller. An American tourist (Johnny Depp) traveling through the mesmerizing landscapes of Italy has his identity mixed with that of an international thief who has stolen billions from a ruthless gangster. As he avoids capture and dodges bullets, he discovers this mishap may have been orchestrated by the real thief’s lover (Angelina Jolie), a mysterious woman who may be playing all sides for her own benefit. This Hitchcock-toned remake fails immediately from the announcement of its casting. Jolie is incapable of portraying anything other than a sexy assassin who looks attractive in a Versace evening gown and the film’s ultimate twist is ruined with the arrival of Depp who has never been made a fool of on camera in any project, let alone this one. It’s clear as day he’ll have the last laugh from the get go. The sluggish action sequences, including a leisurely boat chase through the Venetian canals, may appeal to some audience members, but not those born after 1945. Donnersmarck may have wanted to unveil an adult thriller, but instead released a crime caper surrounded by immature, childlike wonder. ­–Jimmy Martin


TRON: Legacy
Disney
In Theaters: 12.17.10
One of the main purposes of the TRON series is to showcase the latest and greatest in computer technology. It’s an opportunity to shock viewers with what’s actually capable of being generated onscreen. Sometimes it works and other times it’s distracting and hurtful to the film’s foundation. Audiences were dazzled by the images placed before them in 1982 (even if they do look as chintzy as they do nowadays), and they’ll be just as astonished with the mind-blowing effects embedded in this revolutionary reboot. Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), son of computer-wiz Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), lives a rebellious lifestyle with the haunting past of his father’s mysterious disappearance during his childhood. After receiving a puzzling message from his father’s rundown arcade, the twenty-something soon finds himself laser blasted into “The Grid,” a cyber world created by his father, but ruthlessly taken over by Clu (performed by a younger CG rendition of Bridges). In order to return to his world, Sam must reunite with his estranged father with the assistance of a mystifying program (Olivia Wilde) who may hold the key to returning the electronic world to its former glory. The need to retell the story’s origins is understandable (it has been 28 years), but constantly bringing the film’s flow to a halt with back-story upon back-story isn’t beneficial for anyone. When the action is at its peak with light cycles and disc war battles, first-time director Joseph Kosinski offers unbelievable imagery that will remain with spectators well beyond the credits. –Jimmy Martin


True Grit
Paramount
In Theaters: 12.22.10
The instant a filmmaker announces they’re remaking a cinematic classic, an aura of pessimism fills the room with the preconceived notion that nothing is ever as good as the original. Leave it to the Coen Brothers to shatter this belief as they implement their own visual brilliance to the 1969 John Wayne film by developing a much stronger, commanding and unforgettable experience that stays true to Charles Portis’ novel. This Old West tale of revenge follows the merciless life of Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenager whose father was brutally murdered by a handyman (Josh Brolin) and hires the most ruthless U.S. Marshall, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), as a bounty hunter to carry out justice one way or another. Joining the hunt across treacherous “Indian Territory” is a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) whose prideful fortitude refuses to sit well with the alcoholic officer of the law. Bridges and Damon are genuinely engaging as they bring a balanced sense of humor and drama to their characters with playful banter, but it’s Steinfeld who provides the year’s greatest breakout performance that’ll keep people chattering all the way to the Oscars. To make the situation at hand even better, the Coens flawlessly capture the majestic landscapes with Roger Deakins’ striking cinematography where every shot could be hung respectfully as a portrait in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. –Jimmy Martin


The Warrior’s Way
Relativity Media
In Theaters: 12.03.10
The task of blending well known genres in films can be a difficult task to achieve. Jon Favreau is already in post-production with his science-fiction western, “Cowboys & Aliens” (scheduled to release on July 29), but first-time director, Sngmoo Lee, tests the waters with a slightly different arrangement with his directorial debut that combines Americanized westerns with Asian-inspired, sword-wielding martial arts. Dong-gun Jang stars as an assassin who becomes public enemy number one of his own clan after he refuses to murder the last remaining member of a rival tribe—who happens to be an infant. Forced to hide amongst an eclectic group of traveling carnies in a nearly deserted ghost town, he befriends a troubled cowgirl (Kate Bosworth) who has a dark and twisted past of her own. The swordplay, wirework and martial arts choreography are quite stunning, especially in the grand finale that embodies just about as many ninjas and cowboys than the screen can withstand. On the other hand, there is so much clutter and disappointment beforehand with a tepid screenplay and disinterested actors, it’s a burden to reach the finer moments of the film. Bosworth appears to have lost all of her credibility as an actress as she seems to be channeling Joan Cusack’s Jessie from the Toy Story franchise for inspiration, and Danny Huston should be expecting a Razzie nomination at any moment for his aggravating performance as a perverted sinister soldier. –Jimmy Martin