These films were released during the 2010s

Brave

Marriage is not the end of the world.

This is less of a Pixar movie distributed by Disney than it is a Disney movie with animation by Pixar. The sumptuous visual experience we expect from a Pixar movie is more than up to our expectations, but as a story, Brave trods the familiar ground of more traditional Disney animation rather than the uncharted territories of WALL-E, Up, or The Incredibles. Unlike previous Pixar efforts, this is one for the kids and not as entertaining for the grown-ups in the room.

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Captain America: The First Avenger

For moviegoers, the Marvel Comics universe has been hard to avoid these past few years. We’ve been treated to the excellent (Spider-Man 1 and 2), the pretty damn good (Iron Man), a nice try (The Incredible Hulk), and the god-awful (the Fantastic Four movies). Captain America: The First Avenger slides comfortably into Iron Man territory.

As comic book film-making goes, Captain America is everything it needs to be, with a likeable hero, the right tone, nice retro touches, and a straightforward story, briskly told. Continue reading

The Dark Knight Rises

And you think this gives you power over me?

Bringing Chris Nolan’s Bat-Trilogy to a satisfying conclusion, The Dark Knight Rises is probably not everyone’s idea of a comic book movie, but if it’s not yours, then you’re missing out. It may tell a complicated story and take its sweet time in the process, but it doesn’t waste that time in any way. For this last film, Nolan uses the canvas of the Batman universe to weave an epic tale, planting the comic book notions of good and evil in something that feels like the real world.

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Cowboys and Aliens

If I didn’t already know this was based on an existing graphic novel, I might have assumed that the title was a leftover “working” title, and no one could be bothered to come up with anything better when the film was completed. Despite the major-league production values and the marquee value of Indiana Jones and James Bond in the cast, this is a forgettable pot-boiler that does proper service to only one half of its title.

A nameless stranger (Daniel Craig) wakes up with no memory of who he is, a wound in his side, and a large and strangely unremovable metal bracelet on one wrist. He reaches the nearest town, where people recognize him as Jake Lonergan, notorious stagecoach robber. Awkward.

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J. Edgar

The crimes we are investigating aren't crimes, they are ideas.

Back in 2004, Martin Scorcese released The Aviator, a biopic about a larger-than-life, but enigmatic 20th century figure, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately, while that movie was handsomely produced and impeccably acted, it failed to get inside the head of Howard Hughes.

Seven years later, Clint Eastwood releases J. Edgar, a biopic about a larger-than-life, but enigmatic 20th century figure, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately, while that movie was handsomely produced and impeccably acted, it failed to get inside the head of J. Edgar Hoover.

Seriously, when major directors are shooting biographical movies about major figures and failing to come to grips with their subject, it appears that their first instinct is to call DiCaprio’s agent.

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Contagion

Blogging is not writing. It's just graffiti with punctuation.

If this were a better film, it could do for the sales of hand sanitizer what Sideways did for Pinot Noir.

This is not a bad film. It’s well-produced, well-acted by a first-rate cast, and diligently convincing in its scientific details. Unfortunately, it maintains an emotional distance between the audience and its characters, and this serves to keep the film from being truly engrossing.

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Men in Black 3

You know, we been doing some pretty smart stuff over the past day or so. How about we do something stupid?

After ten years, the only real impression left behind by Men in Black 2 was a vague sense of dread at the announcement of Men in Black 3. After such a badly misfired sequel, the third film in a franchise can do one of two things: either drag the series further down the rat hole, or like Die Hard: With a Vengeance, actually redeem the series. Chalk this one down for option B.

The original film prospered on the casting of Tommy Lee Jones as an anchor for Will Smith. Wouldn’t you know that the third film’s success is the result of an equally inspired bit of casting. More about this later.

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The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet

I think someone learned the wrong lesson from the success of Iron Man. It’s either that or the movie studios need to implement drug testing before their pitch sessions.

“Hey, if Robert Downey, Jr. can be a comic book hero, what about that pudgy guy from the Judd Apatow movies?”

“Right… Here, fill this cup and give it to the nurse on your way out the door.”

It’s best not to think of The Green Hornet as a real comic book movie, but as a borderline “comedy” that somehow acquired the movie rights to the old radio show (presumably at gunpoint). That won’t actually make this movie “good,” per se, but it will at least keep expectations in line with reality and hold your disappointment to manageable levels.

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True Grit

True Grit

Remakes of John Wayne movies are a rare thing. Stagecoach was remade twice, but never with memorable results. The Sons of Katie Elder was kinda/sorta remade as the Mark Wahlberg film Four Brothers, but the modern-day gang parable was barely recognizable next to the source material.

In True Grit, Jeff Bridges would be stepping into the iconic role that earned Wayne his Best Actor Oscar and the only character that I can recall that Wayne actually played twice. It was a ballsy move for an actor now permanently identified with “The Dude,” the memorable slacker from The Big Lebowski. Fortunately for Bridges, the Coen Brothers, also writer/directors for Lebowski, had the actor’s back.

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The Fighter

The Fighter

I think we’re wasting money on all the “Just Say No” programs we think are going to keep kids off drugs. Two hours with someone like Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) should convince anyone that drugs are a one-way ticket to nowhere. The first time we see him in The Fighter, the ex-boxer is living for two things: his rose-colored memories of the time he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard and his next vial of crack.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

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The last Harry Potter movie (the Half-Blood Prince) was the first one to leave me genuinely cold when it was over. The first part of the film seemed to fritter about with various pieces of business until finally getting down to brass tacks in the last 30 minutes or so. I had to wonder if the connective tissue between these scenes was more apparent in the printed word and just didn’t translate readily to the screen.

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How to Train Your Dragon

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Dreamworks Animation has always labored in the considerable shadow of Pixar. With the exception of the original Shrek, their output has had its merits but they have never matched the relentless consistency of Disney’s seemingly unstoppable CG animation house. I don’t know if they have turned that corner, but with How to Train Your Dragon, they have finally produced a film that belongs in the same league as The Incredibles and WALL-E. Continue reading