EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE, Sweet and Sour

 

The touching film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close delves into the mind of a young boy on a quest.  It’s not the quest that’s important here, but the determination and desire to make peace with a loss so great it’s nearly impossible.   Director Stephen Daldry takes us on that journey as if we were the ones looking for answers. 

 

Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) has lost his father (Tom Hanks) to the catastrophe of  9/11 and finds himself a lonely young boy without hope.  One day while going through his mother’s (Sandra Bullock) closet he accidentally knocks over a vase and finds an envelope with a key in it.  Thinking that it must be a message from his father he goes on an adventure throughout the tri-boroughs of New York City trying to track down what the key opens.  By the time he gets the clue that could give him the answer, he’s already found something even greater.

 

 

 

Thomas Horn as Oskar finding a key

The whole film rests on the acting ability of newcomer Thomas Horn as the young determined lad who cannot come to grips with the loss of his father.  Horn does an incredible job of bringing Oskar to life on the screen.  His sad inquisitive eyes tell most of the story as he goes from one person to another in search for the meaning of the Key.  In the sensitive capable hands of Director Stephen Daldry (The Reader, Billy Elliot) the young actor reveals the sweet personality, heartfelt loss and relentless drive of the character.

 

 

Max Von Sydow as The Renter with Oskar

Interestingly enough I was intrigued more with the back-story on Oskar’s meeting with The Renter played by Max von Sydow.  Handled nicely by von Sydow I found that an underlying secret that surfaces a nice touch to the storyline. It’s a fine performance by von Sydow and without him saying a word.

 

Although I liked the film a lot, there are downsides to the movie that distract and cast doubt.  On the distraction I found both Bullock and Hanks performances maudlin and ineffective. As Linda Schell, Bullock seems almost absent in the film as Daldry doesn’t give us enough character buildup to make her and even Hanks an important enough part of the story.  It’s this lack of relationship between the two that’s distracting.  The quick on and off the screen of the two stars bothered me since they are the impetus that Oskar finds himself on the quest.

 

Also problematic is the doubt that Mrs. Schell would allow the boy to go from stranger to stranger looking for the answer to what the key may bring.  With New York City being the venue in which the boy has to search, it had me wondering more and more about his safety.  It’s cute that Oskar makes himself a detective intruding on private lives, but I am not certain that those chosen as his subjects would really have opened up to him.  

 

Daldry moves his camera in and out of the streets of New York as if it were a wonderland giving the feeling that the 9/11 was a thing of the forgotten past with everyone back to normal and yet such a short time passage.  His brief showing of the ‘Towers’ catastrophe in the most heinous way didn’t work for me either. 

 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language. Be cautioned when bringing the very young to see the film. Oh, and you may want to bring some tissues.

 

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: Saving this suspect film are the fine performances. (C )

 

 

 

 

CONTRABAND, ACTION ADDICT’S DELIGHT

 

 

I can see why Contraband has been set for release in January, with December being action/adventure month this gem would have been buried in their dust. And that would have been a shame, because this gritty story has a lot going for it.  With non-stop thrills, chills and spills this film entertains big time.

 

Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) has to dump his smuggled drugs overboard when the coast guard boards his ship.  But Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) for who he pulled the job blames him for botching the gig.  He offers Andy an out; pay back the huge amount of money they lost in the purchase. Andy ends up in the hospital where his brother in law Chris (Mark Wahlberg), an ex smuggler, hears out his story.  Briggs won’t back off the debt so Chris promises him that he will get the money to repay. When he gets his old gang members together to purchase some counterfeit bills in Panama, Andy makes a bad decision starting a high-speed chain reaction.

 

The film has a lot of wrecks, gunfights, brutal beatings, and a kidnapping all rolled into adventure enough for two films.  What makes this film stand alongside action thrillers like Killer Elite, The Expendables, and The-A-Team comes with the unexpected. Like in those you are given a problem and they have to come up with a solution.  It’s the twists and turns with surprising results that makes this film different and fun to watch. 

 

 

Giovanni Ribisi as Tim Briggs in CONTRABAND

I enjoyed watching the effortless acting of Wahlberg especially when he has such a great support cast like Kate Beckinsale who plays Chris’s feisty wife who gets kidnapped in an attempt to force Chris to abort his original plan.  Then there’s Ben Foster who plays the part of Chris’s best friend Sebastian who seems to cause more trouble then expected.  But the showstopper-acting job in this movie comes from Giovanni Ribisi who plays Briggs one of the meanest killers on screen.  He makes his character threatening, brutal, frightening and evil, you know, the type of guys that make your skin crawl.

 

 

Director Baltasar Kormákur on the set of Contraband

With an Icelandic name like Baltasar Kormákur, you would think that this guy would be making films with ice skaters, but not him.  The only ice that Baltasar shows comes from his veins that control his need for conflict.  And conflicts are at the center of Contraband, which he fills with explosive situations, brutal vengeance, cunning escapes and crafty twists.

 

Contraband has been rated R by the MPAA for violence, pervasive language and brief drug use. The film also contains some brutal acts and gory images.

 

 

FINAL ANALYSIS:  Candy for the action junkies who like their crime in huge scoops. (B)

 

 

CARNAGE, Wit Wars

 

 

Bizarre and yet a tasty morsel, Carnage is one of those ‘fly on the wall’ films where in this case you get to watch the decay of one’s social skills and can laugh without them hearing you. It’s four stellar actors in a room with a very wacky script and a tall order of ego, all moving in opposite directions over a simple solution. 

 

The simple stimulus concerns two boys who have a fight on a playground and report it to their parents, the Longstreet’s Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly) versus the Cowen’s Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz).  The Longstreet’s invite the Cowen’s over to discuss this act of aggression because a stick was used in the altercation that injured their son’s face.

 

Penelope (Foster) and Nancy (Winslet) mull over a snide statement in CARNAGE

When we pick up the story the Cowen’s have already arrived and the couples are summing up a written report so they can agree on what had happened.  After some nice pleasantries, a few phone calls received by Alan and idle chat the Cowen’s decide to leave.  Just as they get to the elevator Penelope invites them back into the apartment for some special homemade crumb cake and a drink.  So starts an evening of unnecessary intervention that spirals into madness.

 

A tipsy Nancy trying the find the contents of her purse

I’m sure you have probably met couples like this and have gone though some very embarrassing situations where you upchucked on someone’s table, got drunk, dropped a few F bombs, embarrassed yourself and your husband, yelled, screamed and then the most despicable thing – you smashed their tulips.  Well if you haven’t experienced this phenomenon it’s time you did cause you need to see it coming before you accept the invitation to little Billy’s friend’s house for a quiet conversation about behavior.

 

Director Roman Polanski (The Pianist) spools out his tale giving the audience just enough line to get hooked.  Then he starts to unleash the mayhem, outrage, chaos and…oh yes carnage.  His actors are perfectly cast for the roles with Foster coming on as the dotting housewife, Reilly a comical oaf, Winslet an understanding lady and Waltz an uncaring businessman.  That is until the layers start to get pealed away and you see their real persona come through. 

 

Carnage is not exactly a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf (if you saw the film made back in the 1960’s), but not too far off base. The two mirror each other in many ways with the drinking, arguments, embarrassment and more.  But with Carnage, Polanski doesn’t push the envelope far enough to make his ‘audience fighting mad’ leaving the theater with sights set on a possible chance at road rage.  Polanski only goes far enough to the edge so as to laugh at his characters, not want to tear their eyes out, and that’s a good thing.

 

Carnage has been rated R by the MPAA for language.  I does contain a lot of alcohol usage however, so be cautioned about that also before bringing youngsters in tow.

 

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: A great study in human behavior with laughter for the prize. (B)

 

THE IRON LADY, A GIFTED PERFORMANCE

 

 

With a genuinely gifted performance, Meryl Streep depicts Margaret Thatcher one of the world’s greatest leaders in The Iron Lady.  Thatcher served as the longest serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and during some of the most trying times.  If you like biographies, real life stores and historical happenings, The Iron Lady is a must see.

 

The Biopic covers three days in Margaret Thatcher’s (Streep) retired life as she recalls her past in a vivid mesmerizing tone that keeps you glued to the screen not wanting to miss one word.  Streep’s acting and physical resemblance gets so astonishing that one would believe the real Thatcher’s playing the part.

 

As the film takes place she’s in her 80’s and as she thinks back we get a glimpse of Thatcher’s childhood through the eyes of this strong woman, yet now frail, widowed and fighting the challenges of age.  It was the war era with Brittan entering WW II and the tough going of her parents. In following scenes she recalls her discussions with her husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) whom she lost as a companion and confident in his death, her arguments in parliament, her strong will to make sure the people are served and more, all structured from her own memory without outside influences.

 

The Thatchers, Meryl Streep as Margaret and Jim Broadbent as Denis

Touching, sometimes biting and most of the time revering the movie is not a tell all, but a taste of how one woman could stand up for all her people in he face of resistance by her challengers.  Making monumental decisions that affected the whole world, Thatcher became know as the ‘Iron Lady.’

 

Streep has a close resemblence to Thatcher

It’s also a sad and emotional film to see the realization that time has taken a toll on this icon of history.  The love of a faithful husband during her political life shows how he stood by her in her fight against prejudice due to gender in the male dominated world. The stalwart lady fought throughout her career to keep the country a global power only to end her career betrayed by her own party’s treacherous colleagues.

 

Direction by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) puts the emphasis on the woman, more of a reminiscent storyline faithful to the female gender.  The Iron Lady becomes a reminder of what Thatcher stood for rather than the a sappy story about her life, pointing out her hard stand against trade unions, strong conservative policies and foot down approach against the Soviet Union. 

 

 

The Iron Lady has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for some violent images and brief nudity.  It runs about an hour and 45 minutes, but goes by quickly. 

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: A double win, an elegant acting performance and homage to a powerful lady. (B)

 

JOYFUL NOISE, A HEAVENLY SOUND

 

 

If you have some time, want some cool entertainment and like updated gospel music then sit-in on Joyful Noise, a very entertaining musical.  Director Todd Graff keeps the story simple, predictable yet enjoyable with a glowing cast, hip tunes and amazing vocals.

 

Following the recent death of their choir director, the board of a small-town church appoints Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) to lead the choir in the annual quarterfinals of the Joyful Noise competition.  When Vi takes over she finds out that she isn’t the most able leader due to the home life baggage, attitude toward other members of the choir and an old school choice of music.

 

G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton), the widow of the deceased director has hurt feelings that she was not appointed which adds to the difficulties that lie ahead for the small choir facing the best competition in the USA.  When G.G.’s grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) comes back to live with her and gets romantically involved with Vi’s daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer) things start heating up between the two matriarchs.

 

G.G. (Parton) and Vi Rose (Latifah) in JOYFUL NOISE

The fun within this film comes with the infighting between Latifah’s character, Parton’s role and the choir.  But, the best part of the film is the music.  Filled with enjoyable upbeat songs and choir arrangements mixed in with a family story, that although you can tell where it’s going, Joyful Noise is just that, joyful.

 

Writer/Director Todd Graff (Bandslam) keeps his relationships realistic enough to keep the audience interested in the story while he spins the music using Palmer’s strong voice and Parton’s country twang.  Taking some older rock, pop, country and blues, arranged by five time Grammy winner Mervyn Warren, he turns old choir into a modern toe-tapping concert right up to the down right incredible finale. Even Latifah gets in on the singing action with her thrilling rendition of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.”

 

Parton, Keke Palmer and Latifah kick it up in JOYFUL NOISE

I really don’t think there’s more to say, except ‘go and see the rousing film’. To enjoy it best however, go along with the predictable story that even your youngest teen can enjoy. The film has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for some language including a sexual reference. Taking pre-teen children accompanied by a responsible adult should be okay with Joyful Noise.

 

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: An uplifting film that should fill you with spirit. (B)

 

 

 

THE SCORPION KING 3, ON DVD AND BLU-RAY

 

Not the best of the three in the series, but still entertaining for those who like fantasy adventure films. The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption, the third in the series that started with The Scorpion King (2002) seems to have hit the budget crunch with the lack of good CGI, low-grade special effects, a novice director and inferior make-up.  Although it has other downfalls, the movie should screen well with male teens.

 

Since his rise to power as the Scorpion King, Mathayus’ (Victor Webster) kingdom has fallen. Now an assassin for hire, he must defend a kingdom from an evil tyrant and his ghost warriors for the chance to regain the power and glory he once knew. His wife recently buried, Mathayus joins with Olaf (Bostin Christopher) and Silda (Krystal Vee) on a dangerous trek to wipe out Talus (Billy Zane). Along the way they fight Ninja’s, Talus’s army, elephants and other obstacles. Just when they think they have declared victory, Talus brings two vicious assassins, Zulu Kondo (Kevin ‘Kimbo Slice’ Ferguson) and Tsukai (Selina Lo), to life.

 

Watching the WWE & UFC stars David Bautista and Slice in their fight routines provides some teen fun. Billy Zane as the pompous King Talus however, gets a little over the top and his character becomes more comical than it should have been. The film also features an appearance by Ron Perlman as the wicked Horus the powerful King of Egypt.  

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIaXKP8yTFg[/youtube]

I did like the aerial stunts that were performed during the Ninja battle, the attack with the eight elephants, and the choreography of the final fight in the film.  I am not fond of the direction by novice Roel Reine who seems to let the plot get away from him at times and the actors looked like they were ‘reading’ their lines direct from the script in some scenes.

 

The bonus features are good.  The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack includes:

Digital Copy of The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption
Deleted Shots Montage
Gag Reel
Swords and Scorpions: A Making Of
Preparing for Battle- With black belt champion Victor Webster
Feature Commentary with Director Roel Reine

 

In addition to the regular bonuses the Blu-ray Combo pack exclusive BONUS FEATURES provide access to:

BD-LIVE™: Access the BD-Live™ Center through your Internet-connected player to watch the latest trailers and more!

pocket BLU™ app:   The groundbreaking pocket BLU™ app uses iPad®, iPhone®, iPod® touch,  Android™, PC and Mac®  to work seamlessly with a network-connected Blu-ray™ player. Plus iPad® and Android™ tablet owners can enjoy a new, enhanced edition of pocket BLU™ made especially to take advantage of the tablets’ larger screen and high resolution display.  Consumers will be able to browse through a library of Blu-ray™ content and watch entertaining extras on the go in a way that’s bigger and better than ever before.  pocket BLU™ offers advanced features such as:

ADVANCED REMOTE CONTROL:  A sleek, elegant new way to operate your Blu-ray™ player. Users can navigate through menus, playback and BD-Live™ functions with ease. 

VIDEO TIMELINE:  Users can easily bring up the video timeline, allowing them to instantly access any point in the film. 

MOBILE-TO-GO:  Users can unlock a selection of bonus content with their Blu-ray™ discs to save to their device or to stream from anywhere there is a Wi-Fi network, enabling them to enjoy content on the go, anytime, anywhere.

BROWSE TITLES:  Users will have access to a complete list of pocket BLU™-enabled titles available and coming to Blu-ray™ Hi-Def.  They can view free previews and see what additional content is available to unlock on their device.

KEYBOARD:  Entering data is fast and easy with your device’s intuitive keyboard.

DIGITAL COPY:  In addition to redeeming a Digital Copy of the movie through the pocket BLU™ app, Viewers can also download a digital version of the full-length movie from participating digital retailers to enjoy on a choice of popular electronic and portable devices.

 

The Blu-ray Combo pack specifications:

Layers: Duel, BD-50

Number of Discs: 2
Aspect Ratio: Widescreen 1.78:1
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action and sexual and crude references
Languages/Subtitles: English/Spanish Subtitles/French Subtitles
Sound: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
Run Time: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Release Date: DVD on January 10, 2012. Blu-ray Combo Pack on January 17, 2012

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: Only average and not the best of The Scorpion King series. Movie (D) Bonus Featurs (B) total experience (C )

 

 

TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY, It’s Mind-Numbing

 

The British movie Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is not for everyone.  It’s a mind-numbing film for audiences that crave an involving storyline, can deal with British accents and are into the underpinning of espionage that fueled The Cold War in the 1970’s.  I am not a big fan of films like this one, but those who are into author John le Carre’s The Constant Gardner, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and The Tailor of Panama will eat this one up like good ice cream.

 

The story involves Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and the spies that report to it.  One spy in particular, retired agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) has the best record for getting the information needed to keep the bureau on top of outside elements that may jeopardize Britain’s security. When things go wrong during a mission by operative Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) in Hungary a Soviet mole entrenched in British Intelligence is suspected and Smiley gets commissioned to ferret him out.

 

The story, although interesting and intriguing, moves along slowly under the direction of Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) who has all the tools to make the film a thriller.  With a cast of brilliant British/Irish actors including Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Tom Hardy (My Week With Marlyn), John Hurt (Melancholia), Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes) and Claran Hinds (The Debt) peppered throughout Alfredson uses the ‘bling’ to work his audience into an acting feeding frenzy, but still comes up with a tedious mind-numbing movie.

 

Gary Oldman as George Smiley

 

The movie has been rated R by the MPAA for violence, some sexuality/nudity and language. The two hour plus length needs a bit of pruning and the cinematography gets dull and uneventful.

 

 

FINAL ANALYSIS:  Unless you are an Englishman, very patient or an avid follower of writer John le Carre, my suggestion is wait for the DVD. (C )

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Movies for 2011

In 2011 I saw nearly 250 USA released films, not counting the Independent offers viewed at film festivals or sent to my home for comment.  Unfortunately this was no year to brag about due to an over abundance of  sequels, enough superhero’s to save two planets, worn out story-lines, not enough good drama, a lot of raunchy romance with more skin and sex than in an art house, very few box-office blowouts, a small number of good acting newcomers, and some bad performances by our legends.

The following is my selections for the best of 2011 each selected for their uniqueness and strong presentation that provides enjoyable entertainment. Read more

WAR HORSE, Emotional War Tale

 

Steven Spielberg adds another holiday film to the mix, but this one tends to skew higher on the age scale due the violence and cruelty.  The film called War Horse has a bountiful cast of good actors, a bold story and brilliant cinematography that sometimes seems ‘too’ real.  Although targeted to young boys, the film gets a little too strong for immature adolescents. For acting and story however, the movie is a must see. Read more

WE BOUGHT A ZOO, Uplifting True Story

 

The heartfelt drama We Bought A Zoo comes to town and it’s for the whole family.  A true story perfect for the holiday season with an uplifting account that shows what one family can do to help a community while healing themselves.  I am a fan of this kind of film as it reminds us of the principles on which America is built, with dreams, hard work and service to humanity.

 

The recently widowed Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) has had a hard time with the loss of his wife and raising his two children young Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and teen Dylan (Colin Ford).  So much so that with Dylan’s school problems, no time for Rose and a dead end job, Ben decides to quit and move out of his city far enough away to get control of their lives.  After looking at unsuitable homes for his children the realtor takes a chance on showing him a house with a lot of property attached.  When Ben’s daughter Rosie says she feels that this is the one, the realtor presents them with a problem.  If Ben purchases the house he has to take a zoo complete with 200 animals.

 

Matt Damon as Ben in WE BOUGHT A ZOO

The actors are perfect for their roles as you can see it in the way they seem to have fun portraying the characters.  The Mee family proves exciting with cutesy Jones as an eager Rosie who loves animals; Ford realistically playing an upset Dylan who has to leave his friends behind; and Damon as Ben an earnest decision maker who takes a chance on a challenging future.

 

Scarlett Johansson and Matt Damon

In support Scarlett Johansson plays the no-nonsense Kelly Foster, manager of the failing zoo. She shows her steadfast side while trying to understand why the mild mannered Ben would take on the huge task.  Her pivotal performance makes the story work bringing sense to the family while trying to hold on to her job.  Elle Fanning becomes the ace in the deck being the one who brings Dylan out of his stubbornness and back into the family.

 

We Bought a Zoo provides a touching story that should hopefully resonate within the families of America showing what one family can do to help themselves and others in need.  “All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage and I promise you something great will come of it.”- Benjamin Mee. Whether it’s the reopening of an attraction that helps support the community, patching up relations or providing much needed work for people, the film should win the hearts of all who see it.

 

The movie has been rated PG by the MPAA for language and some thematic elements.

 

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: An inspirational film for the whole family. (B)

 

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, A KIDS THRILL RIDE

 

Making the most of the animation called performance capture Steven Spielberg creates a wonderful kid adventure with The Adventures of Tintin.  The veritable rollercoaster ride of a film is even more spectacular in 3D.  Targeted at lads of any age and for good family fun, rush to see the full feature film The Adventures of Tintin.

 

The movie follows a young reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) and his white furry dog Snowy as he begins to explore a mystery when he finds a piece of a map hidden in a ship model.  The two meet up with Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), a weather worn sea captain who takes a liking to them.  The dastardly pirate Red Rackham (Daniel Craig) gets word that Tintin has a piece of the map needed to find the treasure of the shipwreck Unicorn and he sets out to steal the fragment from the boy. When Tintin and Haddock set sail on their incredible adventure, Rackham isn’t too far behind.

 

Tintin has a bumpy landing in the desert

The intriguing mystery behind the map makes for great fun for youngsters who like adventure and thrills.  Spielberg doesn’t hold back a thing presenting a wild ride around the globe as Tintin sails, flies, rides and slides his way in and out of trouble.  The fast paced movie leaves no time for antsy squirms or yawns, perfect for even the youngest family member.

 

Tintin and Captain Haddock

The voice cast ably lead by Jamie Bell (Nicholas Nickleby) as Tintin and Andy Serkis (Arthur Christmas) as Captain Haddock make the dazzling film work.  Bell keeps his character full of excitement, inquisitive and caring, while the blustery Serkis provides Haddock’s take charge demeanor.  Adding the sinister voice of Red Rackham, Daniel Craig brings some mystery and suspense to the mostly lighthearted film.

 

The Adventures of Tintin has been rated PG by the MPAA for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking. The film is a compilation of original the graphic novels The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure by Hergé.

 

Peter Jackson and Stephen Spielberg

In order to achieve the enjoyment the film provides I thought it would be interesting to provide my readers with some facts on how performance capture is used in the making of The Adventures of Tintin.

 

“The performance capture animation cinematography that was used in Tintin is a remarkable tool that uses groundbreaking techniques developed by Spielberg during the filming process. According to Paramount: Entirely unlike a traditional soundstage set, the performance capture process unfolds on what’s called a Volume—a clean, white-and-grey stage featuring up to 100 cameras mounted in a grid on the ceiling, able to capture 360-degree coverage and render that data into three-dimensional space. On the Volume, all the actors (and also the wire-framed props and set dressings) wear reflective dots that are picked up by the camera in less than a 60th of a second, and interpreted into a 3D virtual moving picture.

 

“In addition, another eight HD video cameras captured the raw performances as they unfolded.  This was later used as reference for the animators to make sure every grimace, smile, shiver and nuance of emotion, from fear to friendship, came through as the actors’ performances were morphed into digital creations.

 

“Operating the virtual camera using a device slightly larger than a video game controller with a monitor attached, Spielberg was able to walk through the Volume, watch the actors’ avatars interacting within the film’s universe on the virtual camera’s monitor, and compose the shots he wanted in real time.  The actors, too, could see themselves in the movie’s world on monitors positioned throughout the studio, allowing them instant feedback. 
 

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: An exciting fun ride for boys and families. (B+)

 

 

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, SUSPENSE THRILLER

 

The mystery and suspense in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo gets menacing giving audiences an unsuspected thriller.  I liked this version over the foreign release of the movie in 2010 because it’s in English, has Daniel Craig and the story moves along as it should, unencumbered by faulty direction.  For those who like a good detective drama with a lot of action, see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. 

 

The movie finds reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), recently convicted of libel, being invited to the home of a multi-millionaire Henrik Vanager (Christopher Plummer). Offering him a chance to clear his name, Vanager enlists him to find what happened to his daughter Harriet who went missing some 40 years ago.  After running into difficulty, Vanager gets Mikael in touch with a computer hacker and rogue investigator Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) who teams with him.  She comes up with some clues he has missed leading to a number of suspects that may have murdered Harriet.  When they get too close to the fire, both Mikael and Lisbeth find themselves scrambling for their own lives.

 

Henrik Vanager (Christopher Plummer) and Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig)

Daniel Craig does a very good job of keeping his character interesting and vulnerable to the evidence he uncovers.  Mikael may be an investigative reporter, but he’s never been this close to murder and mayhem.  Craig may look a little James Bondish here, but it’s all in the name of a thrilling film with a lot of action.

 

Mikael and Lisbeth Salander ( Rooney Mara)

Rooney Mara comes up equal to Noomi Rapace in their performances as Lisbeth Salander the cunning private eye who helps Mikael with his case.  The two are very scary at times and when they are brutally victimized, they each fight back with abandon. I would be hard pressed if I had to choose which one was best in their respective film appearances, but the edge would go to Rapace.

 

The big question here is whether the film gets good enough for audiences who have already seen the foreign version?  I say Yes!  Even though it follows the intricate storyline of the same book by Stieg Larsson, the brilliant acting here along with the English language presentation and the superb direction by David Fincher (The Social Network) make it all worthwhile.

 

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has been rated R by the MPAA for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language.  The first-rate cinematography makes the film look very realistic. The close ups of some of the graphic violence may be very disturbing to the timid and the rape scene borders on an NC-17 rating in my estimation.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: Better than the foreign version that was highly touted when it was released in 2010. (B+)

 

 

 

M:I 4 – GHOST PROTOCAL, Breathtaking in IMAX

 

The word action has many meanings according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, but the definition of the word to me is Mission: Impossible –  Ghost Protocol.  A non-stop thriller that gets so relentless there’s hardly time to catch your breath.  If there’s one spy thriller you want to see on the huge IMAX screen this is it.

 

The movie opens this weekend only in the IMAX format around the country a chancy way of outdoing the film’s nearest competitor Sherlock Homes 2 opening in all theaters the same day. Both have a lot of energy, cool stunts, an intriguing plot, awesome acting, pinpoint direction, incredible special effects, misdirection, amazing cinematography and I can go on and on about the two, but having seen both my suggestion, SEE BOTH. 

 

This fourth mission finds the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) out on a limb when Carter (Paula Patton), Hanaway (Josh Holloway) and Dunn (Simon Pegg) get the tables turned on them by assassin Sabine Moreau  (Léa Seydoux) while in the process of intercepting nuclear launch codes.  Now in a dilemma the IMF breaks Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) out of a Moscow prison and puts him in charge of the team. 

 

Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner

Trying to get to the launch codes now in the hands of the evil Cobalt (Michael Nyqvist), the team enters the Russian Kremlin that gets blown up.  Blamed for the incident, Hunt finds himself an outcast on the run with the clock ticking and Cobalt about to destroy humanity with a nuclear holocaust.

 

The acting here proves superb with stellar support by Paula Patton as the feisty agent who can show her kick-ass side with some well-choreographed fights.  I especially like her encounter with the assassin Moreau played well by Seydoux in a catfight that was fun to watch.  Along side Cruise, Jeremy Renner does a good job of depicting the newest member of Hunts renegade band William Brandt that comes on board reluctantly after finding himself on the outside due to the team’s ghost protocol. 

 

Adding a mix of comedy and adroit capability, Pegg’s Dunn has the group guessing while trying to keep the mission on target using his technical abilities. He’s the one who has all the gadgets that make it possible for the team to get into places that are ordinarily impossible. Pegg’s a clown at times, but it is much needed for comic relief during some of the more intense situations.

 

Cruise does his normal thing keeping the plot interesting with narrow escapes, smooth detection, strong will and his straight no nonsense personality that cracks a little when the moment needs it. His Ethan Hunt’s the leader, the consummate agent and the guy you go to when all else fails.  Although a bit old and a little frail around the edges, Cruise still has the screen presence that makes him famous and especially when he plays the spy, hit man, or secret agent we love to watch.

 

The action never stops in this thriller helmed by Brad Bird and what a terrific job he does directing M:I 4 with all its twists, tense scenes, explosions and misdirection.  Best know for his animated Academy® Award-winning films Ratatouille and The Incredibles, you would think Bird would play it soft and whimsical, but he blasts out this film without a hitch.  Fast moving, relentless action makes up most all of the film and you would think we were watching explosive directors like Tony Scott (Déjà vu), Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down), Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes), John McTiernan (Die Hard), and Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) at work instead of a newcomer to the action attraction.

 

A lot of the action takes place on the tallest building in the world located in Dubai called Burj Khalifa, a skyscraper that houses a hotel, corporate offices, and residences.  The amazing thing about the structure is that Tom Cruise does his stunts on the outside of the nearly 2,717 foot building that not only has a death defying drop but reaches temperatures of over 100 degrees.  Held by piano wire rigging, the actor climbs, swings, jumps, runs and repels down its face at amazing heights. In IMAX watching the stunts from special cameras is like standing on the edge of the world. 

 

 
 
Here is a surprising note from the Paramount Pictures: ‘Proving yet again his lack of fear of heights, sometime during the shoot, Cruise, stunt coordinator Gregg Smrz and a photographer took a trip up to the very top of the Burj Khalifa for a photo shoot.’  “You have to take multiple elevators and even more flights of stairs before you reach the top,” Producer Bryan Burk describes.  “Then you go inside this tube, where the spire is, and climb a single ladder.  It took Tom 20 minutes to climb that, which means it would have taken me 45 minutes.”

 

At the very top is a submarine-style hatch, to keep wind from entering the building.  Once at the top, Cruise was unable to resist, and asked Smrz to lower him down by a rope 15 feet over the edge – to autograph the building.  “The only person who will ever see that is the guy that paints the building years down the road,” Smrz says.
 

Filming by director of photography Robert Elswit takes your breath away during the stunts off tall buildings, underwater narrow escapes, shots inside a sandstorm, and fast moving cars to amazing vistas of Moscow, Prague, Dubai and Mumbai. Filmed with many different cameras including IMAX the movie comes across bigger and better than most that have been made for release in 2011.  Seeing it in the IMAX format is a special thrill and one I will not forget too soon.

 

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence. 

 

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: In IMAX it’s the most explosive film of the year. (A)

 

 

 

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS, “A”

 

Another fine adventure for the London detective becomes afoot in the newest 19th century Sir Arthur Conan Doyle crime story Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.  The cast from the 2009 release reprises their roles under the able direction of Guy Richie making this outing even more exciting than the last. Don’t skimp here; choose the theater with the best sound and picture quality to magnify your action experience.

 

Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) are at it again solving a mystery of magnitude consequence when the detective ends up with a mysterious note following a run in with his on again off again romantic interest Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams).  Quick to smell a rat, Holmes puts things in perspective leading him to a Gypsy named Madam Simza (Noomi Rapace) who gives Holmes a clue to the whereabouts of his archenemy Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris).  But, there’s more than meets the eye here as Holmes and Watson find out, it’s about an evil plan to make a fortune selling war armaments, the most modern cannons that deliver devastation and mayhem.  Will Holmes and Watson make it in time to stop a world war?

 

Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. are Dr. Watson and Holmes

Downey and Law continue to entertain bringing Holmes and Watson to life as they pick at each other, protect each other’s lives, figure out the clues and charge full ahead until their perpetrator has been caught.  Whether it’s diving into a huge falls, fleeing machine guns, throwing Watson’s new wife off of a moving train or fighting an outnumbered number of adversaries, the two are complete as friends with each other.

 

Noomi Rapace as Madam Simza gets a message from Holmes

Adding to the wild and adventurous film Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) takes on the role of Madam Simza the sister of the ‘key’ in the game of shadows. Strong willed and spirited, Sim blends in well with the investigating duo as they track down her brother in order to stop Moriarty from starting a war.

 

The trick here is to reproduce and continue the momentum from the first Sherlock Homes film keeping it palatable enough for the action adventure junkies.  Without a doubt, returning producers Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram, Susan Downey and Dan Lin have repeated with even more energy than their first release.  Not holding back a penny, you can see the quality of the production in the special effects, locations in France, Germany and Switzerland, a heightened production design team, extremely good make-up, and thrills provided by some cringing computer graphics.

 

Enhancing some tricks used by director Walter Hill, director Guy Richie develops a scene in the forest that’s reminiscent of The Long Riders.  This event, although less gory, provides a cacophony of sounds as bullets and cannon fired rounds burst through trees and shred anything that’s in its deadly path.  Shown in slow motion you can hear branches and trunks of trees split, and shrapnel wiz by the heads of Holmes and his mates fleeing through the dank forest.

 

What keeps this a big adventure is the music by Hanz Zimmer with its consistent brilliant percussion and brass musicians pounding out urgency and suspense.  Using some of the music from the original soundtrack, he ramps it up to pandemonium during most of the fighting scenes evoking memories of the beginning foot chase in the first Sherlock Holmes.

 

I like Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows as much, no even more than the original that spawned this sequel.  It’s probably the best film Richie has made and he should thank Downey Jr. and Law for believing in him so we the audience can benefit from the nicely written script.

 

Sherlock Holmes:A Game of Shadows has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: A smart action adventure with high energy and thrills. (A)

 

 

 

YOUNG ADULT, TOO JUVENILE

 

Take two aspirins and go to bed, a great remedy for Young Adult, an over stated understatement that never gets entertaining.  Billed as a comedy, the more the cast tries to make it one, the lesser it becomes.  If you like a film with angst riddled plot, underdeveloped characters and only one very good performance than you are the only demographic for this film.

 

At the center of the plot is an alcoholic Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) a ghostwriter who has been giving her all to a series of teen books that has hit its final chapter.  Drawing a blank for the final story, she decides to go back to the home town on which she has turned her back so many year ago.  Her intention here is to reclaim Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) her high school sweetheart, dive into a past that only her dreams remember and start a new life.  One major problem, Buddy is married to Beth (Elizabeth Reaser).  Her solution to the problem, forge straight ahead no matter what the obstacle.

 

Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary and Elizabeth Reaser as Beth Slade

Something bothered me about Young Adult and then it came to me, Charlize Theron.  The awesome actress that can ordinarily play any character with her amazing ability was terribly miscast.  The persona she portrayed sadly did not fit the part of this ‘lost’ writer that finds herself at the crossroads of her career.  Maybe it’s the abundance of her acting brilliance that overshadows her Mavis Gary, but her performance looked forced, unsympathetic and not in balance with the storyline.

 

There are problems with directing by Jason Reitman (Juno) and the storyline as well.  Reitman’s characters are not developed, especially Mavis who we only get negligible information of her life prior to returning to her past.  Why did she stay in Minneapolis?  Why no contact with her hometown within the same state? What drove her to drink?  Why wouldn’t she have achieved her own fame as a writer after the many years since she has left her hometown?  All of which would have helped her character, otherwise I got the impression she is a psycho.

 

Mavis runs into Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) at a bar

Patrick Wilson and Elizabeth Reaser play the dumbed down characters that are supposed to provide the competitive action in the film, but seem to be the butt of most of the comedy that Reitman is trying to accomplish.  They are laughable characters, not ones that find themselves in a situation comedy.

 

Patten Oswalt’s performance provides the only reason to see Young Adult. Giving a terrific characterization of Matt Freehauf, a damaged man who was nearly beaten to death by his high school classmates after being accused of being gay, he becomes the comforter to Mavis as she plays out her plan to steal Buddy Slade from his wife Beth.  Secretly in love with Mavis in High School, Matt agrees to help her in the chance that he can get one last shot at accomplishing his wet dream.  You may have seen Oswalt in many roles where he was just a pawn in the plot (A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas), but here he steals the show.

 

Young Adult has been rated R for language and some sexual content.  It also has scenes of alcohol abuse.  If this helps with how I feel about this film, I didn’t like Rachel Getting Married starring Ann Hathaway for some of the same reasons.

 

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: Casting and story development tube Young Adult. (F)