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Movie Ratings and Reviews

Eighth Grade
Eighth Grade(2018)
½

Brilliant and authentic point of view of a modern teen struggling to find herself in this social media-centric world. It's hard to watch at times thinking of our own 8th grade experience, but it's magnified by what kids today have to endure. Touching, heart-wrenching and important.

Uncle Drew
Uncle Drew(2018)
½

Absolutely adorable and funny. Stay for the outtakes.

Lincoln
Lincoln(2012)

Masterful dialogue and a flawless performance by the best actor of my generation, Daniel Day-Lewis. Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, even James Spader, all are brilliantly directed in this captivating movie of the final months of the Civil War and enactment of the 13th amendment. Not to be missed.

Jimmy Neutron - Boy Genius

Following on the heels of their moderate success with the Rugrats franchise, Nickelodeon, the famous channel for all ages, continues its foray into the wide-release market with the release of the much-hyped, over-exposed Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius. Being the father of 6 and 2 year old boys, there was no way I was going to be able to avoid seeing this. Luckily, many of the family movies released are worth watching. Many...that is, most. However, some are just plain awful...and poor Jimmy fits that mold.

You know, I have a hard time relating to modern cartoons. They just don't have the magic that toons like Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry, Droopy, Yogi, Superfriends and others from that generation have. I dig a couple that I am convinced are geared more toward adults, but for the most part, I just don't get them. Ed, Edd and Eddy? Courage the Cowardly Dog? Cow and Chicken? Weird stuff...snooze city.

Luckily Disney, Dreamworks and Pixar can still keep 'em comin' with quality toons, but Nickelodeon cannot seem to get it. I have seen ads for Jimmy Neutron since early in the summer. They have advertised and hyped this movie for QUITE a while. Being a kids flick though, my expectations were tempered. However, I see why the build up was so big. Something needed to hype this thing. It might be the dullest kids movie I have ever seen.

Basically, the plot is that Jimmy is (gasp) a boy genius. He tinkers with stuff all the time, much of it with failed results. His latest invention is a toaster-turned-satellite he puts into space to communicate with alien life forms. That satellite is picked up by an alien race who want to rule the galaxy. They go to Earth, kidnap every adult in Jimmy's town and now it's up to the kids to rescue them with all the nifty gadgets and tools created by Jimmy. The kids fly to the alien's planet and rescue the parents.

You know what happens then? Nothing. Movie's over. Yep, that is how exciting it was. So exciting I wrapped it up in one short paragraph.

Every kid in the theater was quiet. Yes, I said QUIET. Why? Well, this movie was not holding their attention at all. I'm convinced many of them fell asleep. My 6 year-old laid down in my lap for much of the second half of the relatively short 84-minute flick.

The story is weak, the dialogue was weaker (and poorly edited) and the animation was just flat-out bad. I felt like I was watching a computerized version of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer claymation show. The movements were not fluid at all, the faces had no expression, and the dialogue between some of the characters, particularly the father, seemed pieced together. The conversation just did not flow.

All around, it was just a bad movie. I hope Nickelodeon stops churning out this rubbish. I realize I am an adult criticizing a kid's movie, but c'mon. At least TRY to have a story. Jimmy was nothing more than a long Saturday morning cartoon, and a bad one at that. Nickelodeon needs to think long and hard about trying to make a movie out of a toon that is not established. Rugrats was a pretty established franchise that did "ok" in wide-release. Jimmy is definitely destined for the trash heap. Maybe he should use some of his genius and consult the Nickelodeon execs next time they want to do another toon movie.

The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Live Action

A wonderful collection of shorts that, for my third year seeing them, seemed a tad high-budget, but all very enjoyable. Also, there was not a comedic entry, which was unusual. All were dramatic and, frankly, depressing. However, the clear winner to me was "Henry." Not only was it the first short film to make me cry, but the story, acting and the way the film progressed and showed his mental deterioration, symbolically represented in lights turning off and moving from room to room, was just brilliant. It was a heartbreaking film and one of the best shorts I've ever seen. "Buzkashi Boys" was probably the best filmed, though, in the heart of Kabul. However, the story was a bit predictable and forced. The acting was so good, though. The unique "Death of a Shadow" was unlike any short I've seen nominated before, with what seemed to be an astronomical budget for such a short film. It almost seemed unfair. The bottom two for me were "Curfew," which is perhaps unfair too as it reflected what I'm used to in short films, which is low-budget, independent, average acting, and the bottom of the list, "Asad." Sadly, preliminary reports indicate "Asad" is the frontrunner. I hope that isn't the case.

The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Animation

This was my first year to see the animated shorts, and I hate that I've missed them in the past. I loved all of them, even the "Highly Commended" non-nominees. "Adam and Dog," a story of how dog and man became inseparable from the very beginning, was my favorite. It was stunningly animated in a more artistic manner than simple cartoon-like animation. It was almost a painting that told a dialogue-less story that never missed the words. The pacing, the look on the characters faces said it all. I don't quite understand why "Maggie Simpson: The Longest Daycare" was nominated. It was only 5 minutes long and, while cute, it wasn't nearly the level of talent as the remaining nominees. "Fresh Guacamole" was a short, eye-catching stop-motion photographic marvel, but given that PES has done other items like this, I didn't see why this one was so special as to be nominated. In a tough second was "Head Over Heels," which told the sweet story of a couple growing old and apart in the day-to-day doldrums of life, but unique circumstances bring them back together. And finally, "Paperman," which was shown before some major films in December, is an entertaining matchmaking story of two having met by chance in a city subway station. The bonus was the 28 minute "The Gruffalo Child," beautifully animated and narrated by an all-star case from the children's book.

West Side Story
½

Two street-crossed lovers, in fair New York City where we lay our scene. A mid-20th century version of Romeo and Juliet, except with horrendous songs, a terribly miscast, non-Hispanic Natalie Wood who couldn't sing or act her way through this beating of a film, 1961's Best Picture and winner of 10 Academy Awards, "West Side Story" is the most confusingly praised film of someone under the age of 40 who prides himself on appreciating a variety of films. Yes, musicals are my Kryptonite. And they have to complement the singing with a story that makes me care about the characters before I will put aside the fact that the characters are needlessly singing. "Les Miserables" and "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut" come to mind as some of the very, very few examples of such work. "West Side Story" was filmed very well. From excellent shots above the large street sets, to the beautifully lit nighttime scenes that dominated the second half of the film. Clearly the choreography was also expansive and well-rehearsed for the expensive shots it must have taken numerous attempts to achieve. For that, the film is impressive. However, it's a musical. First, the songs are supposed to be good. Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim write some of the most atrocious songs I've ever heard in a musical. From the crotch-kicking "Crazy Boy" to the sheer stupidity of "Love is Love," nothing in these numbers made me give two cares about the characters. The story lacks depth and emotion, even though it tries VERY hard to force it. The story is simple and spoon-fed in short bites to allow the ridiculous songs to continue. The acting is so bad, it's embarassing. No depth, no emotion, poor acting and bad songs ruin the film. I can only believe that the bar in 1961 was so low or the Academy was on crack to have voted against Jackie Gleason in "The Hustler." Even as a musical, "West Side Story" is just terrible.

Oz the Great and Powerful
½

It is only fitting that attempting a movie like this only be done when technology can take on the task. Visually, Oz is gorgeous, fit for the best Blu-Ray/HD home experience for years to come. For even the most casual of Wizard of Oz fans, the story of how the Great and Powerful Oz came to be the Wizard is very interesting and, especially by midway through the film, is exciting to watch. The story, though very slow-starting and buried by the horrendous acting from James Franco and miscast Mila Kunis, eventually becomes all about the larger Wizard of Oz story and, thus, entertains. The viewer has to wait, though. Clearly this version is for kids. The dialogue is ridiculously simple, choppy and hard to sit through, at times. Honestly, it may not have been as bad had James Franco not been playing the main character. His performance is painful. Mila, though more adorable than I've ever seen her, has too high of a voice to pull of the "evil" persona of Theodora, once a good witch, turned wicked by her sister as a result of Oz hurting her. She just didn't fit. Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz, on the other hand were the best of good and evil. Rachel is perfect as a conniving witch. Michelle is pure and beautiful as Glenda the good with of the south. How the story begins in Kansas was very well done, especially as you watch the screen turn from old black and white, center-screen film to stunning colorful, widescreen high definition. It was gorgeous. Having his own companions ala Dorothy with Zach Braff as his monkey companion and China Doll brought back the charm of the original film. Eventually the story unfolds and merges perfectly into the Wizard we know. It was an enjoyable film, but Sam Raimi could have done better at directing through the poor script. He may have done his best with what he had, but in any case, the dialogue could have been written by me. The kids in the theater seemed to love it, though. And that may have been the point all along. If you enjoyed the Wizard of Oz, you have to give a theater version of Oz a chance.

The Switch
The Switch(2010)
½

Another generic rom-com where Jennifer Aniston is Rachel from Friends and Jason Bateman plays an intelligent, neurotic guy in the friend zone. Not much growth for either actor, which is especially irritating for fans of Jennifer Aniston since the best roles she's ever played, "The Good Girl" and "Friends with Money," she played someone insecure and flawed. She needs to stretch more. The story, which actually improves in the last 30 minutes, begins poorly, jumps right to the premise without any character build-up and then drags on through unnecessary drama until it finally saves itself with a rather sweet ending. The saving grace in this movie is Thomas Robinson, the child Jason and Jennifer share. He actually played a neurotic young Jason Bateman better than I think Jason Bateman could have played himself.

The Impossible
½

Wonderful actors, touching story and an incredibly overpowering tsunami scene can't save the middle 45 minutes of elongated drama in the search for each other after experiencing a horrendous event. While I know the story is based on a true story, I don't think the Hollywoodization of the event did anything but disrespect its seriousness. To be fair, there were a few times where the story intentionally showed that they were simply one example of a large, impactful set of stories. The overdramatic elements, however, belittles the reality.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

First, this movie is head and shoulders better than the last one. However, it took too long to make, the year-long delay to make it 3D was a waste of time and the changes they made were hit and miss to improve upon the last one.

For fans of the cartoon/toy/comics as kids (namely, me), there are a lot more elements of Retaliation that make it more of the GI Joe we know and love than Rise of Cobra. Let's start with the positive aspects. The Rock as Roadblock was great. Without Michael Clarke Duncan in this world anymore, I can't imagine a better cast. Adrianne Palicki, fresh off her failed Wonder Woman pilot, was very good as Lady Jaye. Ray Stevenson was the strongest add as a PERFECT Firefly. They greatly improved on the presentation of Cobra Commander, who sounded perfect and acted like the commander from the 80s. Zartan's character, though portraying the President most of the movie, still acted like the Zartan we all knew. Introduction of the F.A.N.G copter, the H.I.S.S. tank and even the Moccasin airboat made my 13 year old pants go crazy. Very cool stuff. And, as always, Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes were perfect. The best action scenes were, by far, the mountain fighting. Superbly done. Best stuff I've seen in a long time. Any battle with Firefly was exciting.

Now the bad...

While the story was right out of the cartoons and maintained the same vibe, the dialogue was just idiotic (not that the . I know the strength of the actors wasn't great, but with a script that bad, they never had a chance. While the cartoon and comics do a very thorough job of explaining the Storm Shadow/Snake Eyes relationship (which are some of the best stories I've ever read, oddly enough), the way they come together in this movie is just stupid and sudden. No emotional build-up or story/character strengthening. It's as though fans of the show/comics/toys tried to cram in as much as possible to appease fans without actually writing much of a story. It was disappointing as there was a ton of potential to do it right. I know Christopher Nolan can't bring every childhood memory of mine to life, but still. Didn't the rest of Hollywood LEARN anything from Nolan's Batman series? You CAN have action, good actors, great action and a VERY GOOD SCRIPT.

As for the changes from the first to the second movie that didn't go well, the primary mistake was not bringing back Rachel Nichols as Scarlet was a HUGE mistake. Not just because she is liquid hot, but I can't fathom a GI Joe movie without some basic characters. Duke, Scarlet and Snake Eyes are MUSTS. So not having Scarlet was bad move number one.

Bad move number two. Duke dying in the first 5 minutes of the movie? Channing Tatum clearly had no interest in doing this movie, but was contractually obligated. Well...they got him in the movie and on the poster, but he isn't a player in this movie at all. Sorry for the spoiler.

Bad move number three. Not taking Destro with Cobra Commander from the prison was just...dumb. Destro is CC's right hand man. Not having him in the second movie in any meaningful way was just...dumb.

Bad move number four. I understand why Sienna Miller would not have wanted to return, but no Baroness??? Ridiculous.

Retaliation wasn't as bas I was expecting it to be, but given all the good things from it, I know how much better it could have been.

Starbuck
Starbuck(2013)
½

It's hard to find unique stories anymore. And great storytelling is the foundation of any great film. Laced with humor and unmatched sweetness, "Starbuck" tells the unusual story of a man whose persistent/obsessive donations to a local sperm bank as a young man catches up with him in his later life. The revelation of his donations being attributed to the subsequent births of 533 children, of which 142 are actively seeking him, as well as his current-day girlfriend becoming pregnant, forces him to grow up quickly. His curiosity about the children he has father, he finds is that, in a very "My Name is Earl"-like way, he feels obligated to help them with their myriad of normal-life problems. All the while, he is running from thugs trying to collect on $80,000 he owes. Even typing this, the story sounds insanely unimaginable, and of course it is, but the inherent sweetness of starbuck's well-written character, his relationship with his own family and the realization that he isn't as much of a screwup as he's always thought, makes for one precious film. For fathers, it's a must-see.

Cleopatra
Cleopatra(1963)

Riddled with historical and ethnical inaccuracies, movies like "Cleopatra" have to be given a certain amount of credit if for nothing else but the sheer radical attempt at such a grandiose scale of a film in the early days of blockbusters where every massive level of detail was from set design, costumes, etc. No CGI or special effects here. However, like many other early Hollywood big-budget films, the desire to be Shakesperean ruins period pieces, especially when they are set in foreign lands. "The Ten Commandments," "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Cleopatra" fit this irritating mold. However, the film is so beautifully presented, and the acting from Liz Taylor is very strong, in spite of the bad casting. Overall, "Cleopatra" was too over-dramatized to view as a historical representation of anything other than Hollywood ego-gone-wild.

Elysium
Elysium(2013)

The trailers for "Elysium" never intrigued me, but I enjoyed District 9, I love Matt Damon and Jodie Foster and Rotten Tomatoes indicated that it was a fresh movie, so my son and I gave it a shot in IMAX. Apparently I should have gone with my gut or at least READ the reviews, especially some of those specifically considered "fresh." This movie was awful.

"Elysium" is an extraordinarily beautiful looking film. Blomkamp does as good of a job in this as he did in District 9 in painting a realistic world with EFX that are as real as I've ever seen. The concept of "Elysium" is very timely and a bold attempt at creating a view of where our world will go if the "Haves" keep distancing themselves from the "Have-Nots." The only problem is...to tell a story like this, via the medium of film, with actors of this caliber, viewers expect the script to not be garbage. The viewers expect the acting not to be poorly overdubbed and unnecessarily overdramatic. "Elysium" had great intentions and had all the style required for a good film about this subject, but the execution had zero substance. There were numerous scenes where laughter took place, yet laughter was not the intended emotion. There were scenes forcing the viewer to feel something for Matt Damon's "sacrifice," yet there was never any emotional connection made to feel as though his sacrifice really meant anything. The many flashbacks to Max and Frey's past kept trying to mean something, but since depth of story and characters toook a backseat to unnecessary language, overdramatic acting (specifically by the horrible villain Kruger) and an unreal progression of Max's illness, I couldn't connect or care about them. Frankly, I just couldn't wait until the film was over. It was the longest hour and 37 minutes of my life.

Blue Jasmine
Blue Jasmine(2013)

I find it odd when so many critics choose to embrace a film that, done by any other director, would be considered a tremendous bore. Woody Allen has fallen flat with Blue Jasmine, not because it is a boring subject, it is actually a rather interesting topic. It isn't because the actors perform poorly, they were rather strong, especially the incredible Kate Blanchett. No, it was because Woody wrote a lazy screenplay that seemed more like an ad-libbed outline to a good film that was saved in part because of strong acting. Alec Baldwin and Louis CK were under utilized, particularly Alec. The plot is full of holes and under explored elements. The dialogue is so weak for a Woody Allen movie. While the movie does end, it is a rather weak one. The pacing is uneven and some scenes are just poorly directed, full of unnatural pauses and unbelievable emotions. In short, it was embarrassing for a Woody Allen movie, but even more embarrassing that 117 out of 130 critics are so snowed by Woody's aura that they cannot be objective. Read the 13 dissenting opinions. They saw this film for what it was.

The World's End
½

I was present at The Dark Knight Trilogy, watching "Batman Begins," "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises" on the opening night of the third film. The first two films I loved. So watching the progression from one, to the other to the final one seemed like pure heaven to me....until "The Dark Knight Rises" sucked. I ended up liking it better after a couple of more viewings, but strung together, the Dark Knight Trilogy does not hold up. It falters in the third act, similar to how Spider-Man, Superman and just about every trilogy does.

However, I also sat for the entire Cornetto Trilogy for opening night of "The World's End." Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg hit it out of the park. While I prefer "Hot Fuzz," just because I'm not much into zombies (Shaun of the Dead) or aliens (The World's End), the writing, acting, humor and directing are consistent throughout the trilogy and progressively more impressive.

While the formula didn't change, and would have been a disappointment if it had, stirring up a fresh new story with variations of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's comedic roles in "The World's End" allowed the viewer to enjoy something fresh from something comforting and familiar. The message was a bit political in nature and it does get a little sickening when hardcore fans read more into the message than I believe was intended (one movie-goer claimed it to be the best movie about alcoholism he's ever seen...uhm...ok). Yes, the message was that we need to relax, enjoy our lives, not get hung up on the past, be happy with who we've become and, if we don't like who we've become, change it. The message is about respecting friendships, our fellow man and our planet...all those wonderful liberal things that can only be made more perfect with the introduction of the Marmalade Sandwich.

The writing doesn't get much better. Simon Pegg has become such a strong comedic actor since his days on "Spaced" and overall, seeing the trilogy in its entirety shows how truly talented this bunch is. Cheers to taking a little longer, but getting that third film right.

No se aceptan devoluciones (Instructions Not Included)
½

Funny, tender, sweet, sad and a powerful, yet lighthearted, film about the sacrifice and love of a parent and child. The twist at the end lifts an above average dramedy into a brilliantly-written family story.

About Time
About Time(2013)
½

I'm a sucker for movies like this. And it didn't disappoint. Great casting and precious dialogue. Brilliant and adorable story of love and family.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

A perfectly-constructed trailer has sucked in many a fan of Jackass and vulgar humor (sorry if that sounded redundant), including me. It's very funny, but I had already seen the best scenes in the trailer and, 45 minutes into it, I'm staring at my watch ready to leave. It's an interesting take on the "Jackass" theme and a natural progression, but the growth that took place in "Bad Grandpa" is overshadowed by the fact that this concept has run its course. The funniest parts include the male strip club and the young pageant. Other than that, the laughs are sorta steady and moderately funny. If you like this kind of stuff, wait for cable.

Delivery Man
Delivery Man(2013)
½

I had mixed feelings about seeing "Delivery Man." I loved the original that it was based upon, the French-Canadian film by Ken Scott, "Starbuck." However, of all American actors I could see playing a lovable loser in a movie that is quite charming, Vince Vaughn would be the best choice. Then, when I got free passes to an early screening, my decision was made for me. While the movie is a shot-for-shot copy of the original, the choppy start, which didn't seem so choppy in the foreign version, really dragged in the American one. The first 20-30 minutes were hard. I love Bobby Moynihan, but didn't care for the scenes with he and Vince. These scenes, among others, were entirely too scripted and unnatural. This soon changed though when the meat of the story, aided by the perfectly-cast Chris Pratt in the best character of both versions, Avocat/Brett. With Ken writing/directing both versions, he was able to convey the exact same emotions and vision independent of the cast. The story is just so damn sweet, it's impossible to hate.

Thor: The Dark World

With Phase 2 of Marvel's Avengers' saga, it is clearer than ever that Marvel needs to manage all of their own properties. First, "Iron Man 3" and now "Thor: The Dark World," have cinematized these stories from my childhood (and, admittedly, young adulthood) in near-perfect order. It's embarrassing to see movies from Fox and Sony, like "Fantastic Four" and "The Amazing Spider-Man," respectively, screw up such treasured characters when the company that actually owns the characters has proven it can handle them correctly. I recently watched "Thor" again and it really doesn't hold up very well except in the grand scheme of Phase 1, but admittedly, I was concerned about a viable sequel. How silly I was. "Thor: The Dark World" was masterfully directed by "Game of Thrones" director, Alan Taylor, after Kenneth Branagh and Marvel chose not to continue together. I was always uncomfortable with the mythical Thor storyline being made into a meaningful movie as it is too "fantastic." After seeing "Thor" again, while I thought it was an admirable effort, it reeked a little to much of "Flash Gordon." Yet, it was redeemed with how great "The Avengers" was, and Thor/Loki's roles in it, so I've swallowed the sheer weirdness of it. Oh my, how Marvel has turned me around. "Thor: The Dark World" is a true-to-canon Thor story. The relationship amongst Thor, Loki and Odin is so well done (without spoiling the story) that I give all the glory to the mighty Marvel Bullpen. With Alan's directing style, we get a grittier, more medieval theme. Most of the great moments are never shown in the trailer. Marvel flawlessly merges the Asgardian world with Midgard without making it seem too outlandish. It's surgical in its precision and, even though the pacing is drawn out at times in the film, plus the final battle was a little over-the-top cheesy, I just don't see how they could do those stories better on film. Finally, the fanboy in me was bowled over with the in-credits short, which I won't spoil. I'll just say that I simply can't believe the things from my childhood being put to film now. Bless Marvel for continuing to exceed expectations.

Man of Steel
Man of Steel(2013)

While not generally a fan of Zack Snyder's storytelling, the only real knocks on this version of Superman is the clunky span of time through his Smallville years until he is discovered by Lois Lane. I honestly think I need to see it a second time to understand why it was paced and sequenced the way it was for the 45 minutes or so. Otherwise, after Zod arrived at Earth, it became the perfect Superman movie I've been wanting to see for years. I was mildly concerned with him killing Zod, since Superman isn't a killer. And Lois Lane just wasn't a good fit in this version until the fantastic ending clearly leading to a sequel. Overall, I enjoyed it and look forward to what this means for the hopefully-expanding DC universe in film.

Promised Land
½

Matt Damon and John Krasinski collaborate on this indie drama that, while well-written, is uncomfortably sappy at times and too strong of a "Hollywood" political message, even when the message is a good one. Gus Van Sant directs it beautifully and Frances McDormand strongly supports the fine performances of the entire cast. Unfortunately, it just comes across, especially at the end, as an ego-driven, spoon-fed, liberal mess.

Your Highness

Entirely too long, unworthy of the cast's talent and beyond stupid, "Your Highness" was greenlit for some reason and widely released while so many other much better films are relegated to the festival circuit. Heck, it even took convincing over many years to get the "Anchorman" sequel approved while this crap was fast-tracked. While it had its humorous moments, this film is an embarrassment to filmmaking. Hopefully the delay of "Mr. Machine" by pretty much the same main cast and crew is a sign that cooler heads prevailed.

People Like Us

Drivel. It had the potential to be a better film, but it became too drawn out, too spoon-fed, too "Hollywood."

The Dark Knight Rises

Unfortunately the benefit I thought I'd get by seeing the entire Trilogy tonight of Christopher Nolan's brilliant Batman world actually worked against me. Seeing Batman Begins, by far the best of the three, again had just as much of the magic as my first opening night screening. The Dark Knight, too, continued to set the GOLD standard for superhero filmmaking. That is why seeing those two masterpieces bumped up against this awful excuse for a Batman and an even worse excuse for a Christopher Nolan film, made the evening purely miserable. First, the opening scene introducing Bane and the ending wrapping up the Trilogy were the best 20 total minutes of the movie. That, and a fantastic, yet not-used-as-much-as-she-should-have-been Catwoman portrayal by a very sexy Anne Hathaway, pretty much summed up what was worth seeing in this clumsy, poorly written, poorly acted travesty of a sequel. The vast majority of its 2:45 running time resembled not one ounce of a Christopher Nolan film, save for the above caveats. Christian Bale even appears to have forgotten how to play Batman and Bruce Wayne. The cast was almost unrecognizable, and for that I blame the script. Color me disappointed.

The Hurt Locker

A brutal view of the pointlessness of war, as told through the soldiers of the most pointless of wars. Watching a movie this raw can lead to the most heated of political discussions since it's hard not to have a harsh opinion if the reality of what these soldiers do are accurate and not overly Hollywood dramatized. Nevertheless, movies like this are not to be missed. The Hurt Locker shows that the art of storytelling through film doesn't require $250 million budgets to hit the viewer hard.

Hyde Park on Hudson

It can be difficult to translate the experience of watching a play to traditional film. The strength of the story is tested when it changes mediums. In the case of "Hyde Park on Hudson," it may have been a benefit that I knew it had been a play first, even though I had not seen the play. I watched it as a play, so it wasn't as poorly received by me as it appears to have been by others. Maybe it is my generation, but seeing Bill Murray continue to take on roles like this does my heart good. While I can't say he did an admirable job of portraying a president I've never seen in social situations, he definitely holds his own in the company of veteran Laura Linney. The history of the story of "Daisy" and her special relationship with FDR has been challenged, so knowing how valid the story is becomes important if the reason for watching is to understand history. However, the historical components that include the King and Queen of England are known and add to perceived authenticity of the overall story. Also, given Daisy's length of service with the FDR library and museum years after FDR's death, one can make an assumption that a good portion is probably true. However, the blunt nature in which their relationship begins makes the viewer have to adjust rather suddenly in ascertaining exactly what the point of the movie is, which I'm sure is the reason for many viewers being turned off by the film. Once past that early scene, though, I was able to appreciate the story for what it was. Yes, it could have gone a more traditional route and helped establish more depth around just who Daisy was, but again, this was a play. Characters just don't often get constructed that way. There is little time to do them justice and to have done that for the film may have been perceived as tarnishing the source material. While it isn't a bad film, one has to question why it was deemed worthy of translating to film. It didn't accomplish enough or have the historical strength required to be a story worthy of the big screen.

John Carter
John Carter(2012)
½

Not having read the famous novels/serials of John Carter, I feel almost ill-equipped to write about how good John Carter is in terms of an adaptation. However, I can tell you that, as a film and sci-fi fan, I loved Disney's "John Carter." I wonder what others see when they watch films. For some reason, "Twilight" sells many tickets while "John Carter" is left to die on the vine. Perhaps it is the fact that "John Carter" was released 100 years from its first appearance in written form, not a recent female teen-centric series. "John Carter" was supposed to be a new franchise and the film was certainly constructed to lead into a second film. However, its enormous failure financially at the box office has surely killed such an idea, which is a shame. "John Carter" is just as adventurous as "Indiana Jones" and "Star Wars," with a hint of "Sherlock Holmes" or "Sleepy Hollow." Taylor Kitsch was a very strong leading man and Lynn Collins was a stunning leading lady. I can only hope enough of the post-box office buzz I continue to hear about how much of a cult favorite "John Carter" is becoming will eventually lead to a sequel. One can hope.

The Dark Knight

It's 1981. I walk in to QuikTrip, a convenience store in the Midwest, in this case Broken Arrow, OK. I fumble through my allowance, trying to find out if I want a 3 Musketeers bar, a Twix bar or a made-by-me sundae from the soft serve ice cream bar. I'm bored with all that stuff, I tell myself. And I drift over to the comic book rack. I've never read one, except maybe for an occasional Richie Rich, Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry one. I find a rather odd book from DC Comics called Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew. #1. It's a collector's item! Aren't they all?

I buy it. I read it. A gazillion times. I love it. But it doesn't translate into other additional comic book purchases, at least for another year or so. No, I was too busy pumping my allowance into Ms. Pac-Man.

Fast forward to 1982...maybe 1983. I walk into a Walgreens in Sunrise, FL. (I got around quite a bit as a kid). I buy a DC Comics issue of Brave and the Bold. It's a "team-up" comic, which featured, in this case, Batman and Ragman. Yes...Ragman. I read it. A gazillion times. Again...no translation into additional comic book purchases though.

Fast forward even more to later in 1983. I walk into a 7-Eleven in Thousand Oaks, CA (see what I mean...I got around...cross country this time) with my allowance. Still struggling to define the merits of one calorie-laden candy bar over another. And out of the corner of my eye, I locate the Avengers. I buy it. I read it. A gazillion times. This time, I'm hooked. Yeah, maybe I'm a little slow, but I finally realize that I like these little things.

Obsessively, comic books consume my life from 6th grade until early high school, when girls took over my interests. During that span of time, Daredevil met Elektra. Superman was rebooted John Byrne style. Mike Zeck introduced the black Spider-Man costume that would eventually become Venom. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out of their shell. Alan Moore made sure adults would read comics too with Watchmen. And Frank Miller redefined Batman, and comic book writing, with the The Dark Knight Returns.

I was done with comics when all of the above ensured that prices outlasted the paltry allowance of an early teen. I just couldn't afford to continue. It didn't stop me from being interested when Batman, from Tim Burton, Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, came out. It looked dark. Not Frank Miller/Dark Knight Returns dark, but dark. It was outstanding, at the time. It was the best anyone had, and could have, done. And it became a joke of a franchise.

Then came Batman Begins. I saw it the day it came out in 2005. I was absolutely blown away. I still think it's the best comic book movie ever made. The film snapped in the middle of the presentation. I waited for an hour or so to get into another showing so I could finish watching. And at the end, when they alluded to the Joker being the next villain, I was salivating.

And then came The Dark Knight.

I was a bit confused when I heard that the title would be The Dark Knight.
I know Batman had been called that for a long time, but I guess I equated it to Frank Miller's story. Also, the choice of Heath Ledger didn't fill me with a lot of confidence. I mean, I liked him, but I had Johnny Depp in my mind as a good Joker.

Was I wrong...

This movie was appropriately titled, but it could have easily been called The Joker. The movie was entirely about, orchestrated and scene stolen by Heath Ledger's absolutely flawless portrayal of Clown Prince of Crime.

I winced too when I heard early buzz about The Dark Knight. One, I didn't want to get too hyped about it because it would not have been able to meet my expectations and, in some ways, it didn't. However, I really hated the talk of Heath getting Oscar mentions. Everyone knows that those kinds of things are randomly leaked to create buzz, plus the added death of Ledger only exacerbated the talk.

I have to say though...I saw The Dark Knight twice. I had to, apparently. No, not because it was "the thing to do." I had to because I clearly missed some things in the first showing.

First things first...The Dark Knight is a very different movie from Batman Begins. This shocked me. Batman Begins flowed so perfectly that I thought, at the very least, it would be a smooth movie. It was far from it. The beginning was a little slow starting, but at the same time it had to set up so much of what the whole movie was about, and the length of the movie was already too long, the result was a very choppy, seemingly poorly edited movie. I was stunned by this. When I saw it a second time, I didn't get it as much, and when I go see it in Imax next week, it may flow even better. But Batman Begins was perfect the first (full) time I saw it, so this cut seemed rather messy to me. I'm curious if there will be a different, extended cut of the film on Blu Ray that may make it go more smoothly.

Nevertheless, it is a nonstop roller coaster ride of a movie (how cliche is that??).

Let's talk comics.

Joker has never had a fully established origin. It's curious to point out that nearly every writer who takes him on as a character takes past origins and adds to them, subtracts some, etc. And all the changes are from his perspective. As though HE changes his origin. That is why the "Jack Napier" character in Tim Burton's Batman now looks to be pretty stupid, especially the completely fabricated component that The Joker killed Batman's parents. I never liked that.

Needless to say, I was SO happy to see David Goyer and Christopher Nolan treat Joker the traditional way. No matching prints, no names, no aliases, an ever-changing explanation of his scars, etc. From a comic book character-to-screen portrayal, it was absolutely perfect.

What is overlooked many times in these two movies, compared to the campy Batman franchise from 1989-1997, is that Christopher Nolan hates CGI. He believes Batman is a human trying to be more than human, which is true to the comics, and that the portrayal of him should be very human as well. From straight combat, to references to real military equipment, to the scars and bruises on his body, Batman is as real as he can possibly be. That is why, when he thinks he has the "typical Gotham criminal" pretty sized up on how to handle them, it was very human to admit that he didn't see a criminal with the complete chaotic, insane, without-a-weakness criminal coming. Joker outplayed Batman throughout the whole movie, which was absolutely perfect. He made Batman a better hero, a better detective. This movie is just as much about Batman's growth as Gotham's Dark Knight as it is about the impact Joker has on everything in sight.

It was also human, as well as tightly tied to the Batman Begins story, that Bruce wanted to inspire fear in the hearts of Gotham's criminals while, at the same time, inspiring strength in the people of Gotham to take over their city, and that humanity saw given hope when Harvey Dent entered the picture. He and Bruce shared the goal of a stronger, people-run Gotham, only he did it legally and in public. He was definitely Gotham's White Knight. Throughout most of the movie, I understood (at least I thought I did) the contrast between Batman's Dark Knight and Harvey's "White Knight." Batman had to be dark and fearful to rattle the cages and inspire change. Harvey had to be the white knight so that, as Bruce alluded to in the movie, Batman could slip back into the shadows while the people of Gotham finished what Batman had begun.

And in yet another show of humanity, the Joker exploits every single person in the movie for his own amusement to prove that no matter how admirable Batman and Harvey's efforts were, they were all corruptable. Joker thought the pursuit of law and order was, itself, the big joke. And Joker had every intention of delivering the punchline.

In the end, Joker was right. Harvey, after losing his beloved Rachel Dawes, played by the wooden Maggie Gyllenhall (my only real complaint of the movie), plays right into the Joker's plan and shows his "other side" (Ugh...I'm sorry...I even had trouble typing that one) by killing a few traitors and kidnapping Gordon's family.

The movie was pure chaos from minute one, with the Joker the only one capable of keeping his finger on the pulse. The anarchy, combined with the history of the Joker character and Ledger's flawless performance, made for a movie that absolutely delivered the goods. No one could have done it better.

The end, when, in yet another humanity-laden theme, Batman realizes Harvey wasn't perfect, but that he represented the closest thing to perfection Gotham had in years. His "legend" needed to continue so that Batman's vision could be realized. And, as all good heroes do, he sacrificed his already-damaged reputation as a vigilante so that Harvey's legacy, and Gotham's path, could continue. He had to be the true DARK KNIGHT to Harvey's White Knight. He would continue fighting as a vigilante, but he would also have to now linger in the shadows even more so that another person would step in one day where Harvey left.

I ranked the movie a 9 out of 10, one rank short of the 10 out of 10 I gave Batman Begins, because of some very small, seemingly insignificant problems I had with the movie. One, it was too choppy during the first 30-45 minutes. Again, maybe I will grow out of that, but I stand by it at this writing. Two, Maggie G sucked. She is just unappealing in every way and was absolutely the wrong choice for this movie. Third, I, like most of America, are a little irritated with Christian Bale's Batman voice. In the first movie, I liked it. Especially in his first battle scene as Batman. It worked, while making me giggle...just a little. However, in The Dark Knight, it was too much. I get that he has to instill fear, so that has to be over the top, plus he has to completely differentiate Batman from Bruce and this "character" was it. It just seemed to be a bit much in The Dark Knight. And if something like that makes the audience giggle or wince, it's not working.

All in all, though, The Dark Knight was near-perfection. I would hate to be Christopher Nolan and David Goyer. It's going to take Johnny Depp as The Riddler and Angelina Jolie as Catwoman to even get close to amount of interest The Dark Knight stirred. I doubt anything else will ever come close to $471 million in 5 weeks and the #2 all-time highest grossing film. The stars (pardon the pun) were aligned for this one. It hurts that Ledger died, but what a way to go...

Don Jon
Don Jon(2013)
½

As much as I've been irritated at how many times JGL has been rumored to play the lead in a comic book movie, I really do like him. I just don't think he's right for a comic book character but maybe Nightwing. "Don Jon" is a welcome relief for fans of his as he has written and directed something unique and talent-showcasing. The story is even and doesn't disappoint, but it doesn't bowl the viewer over with something extremely powerful. It's impressive for his age and experience, though. It is the right amount of funny, twisted and, eventually, heartwarming as his sleazy character learns some powerful lessons. Transforming ScarJo from the "dime" she is thought to be into the truly ugly person she is was very well done. I didn't like the casting of Julianne Moore, but all things considered, that was a pretty light issue. Tony Danza and Glenne headley's roles as Jon's parents really surprised me. Danza dropped the F bomb more often than DeNiro in a Scorcese pic, which also surprised me since I thought he was bothered by that sort of thing, but it was nice to see him in that kind of role. The film was precious and more like what I want to see JGL attempting.

Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas(2012)

A brilliant, imaginative and stunning narrative woven amongst many time periods, telling similar stories implying how we continue to repeat our selfish ways generation after generation. The film pays homage to other similar apocalyptic films over time while constructing its own unique epic. This is what filmmaking should be.

Blackfish
Blackfish(2013)

A powerful documentary on the marine entertainment industry, especially as it pertains to Tilikum, the whale that killed a SeaWorld trainer in 2010. My only issue with the content is that it mentioned a couple of people who had been hurt, yet were still alive, yet there was seemingly no attempt to talk to them about their experience. Instead it focused on a specific group of former employees and trainers. The film made a point to say that SeaWorld repeatedly declined to be interviewed for the film, but nothing about attempting to talk to those whose stories were allegedly manipulated by SeaWorld's reports. However, that fact doesn't alter the reality that this entire concept of using these large animals for the purposes of entertainment is an abomination. Nothing discussed in "Blackfish" is surprising. In fact, most of it is common sense. I was surprised by the collapsed dorsal fin statistic and the lifespan lies that SeaWorld told, but generally speaking, who is surprised that the use of these animals for entertainment is a cruel endeavor?

Salinger
Salinger(2013)

2/3 of the documentary on reclusive author J.D. Salinger is engaging and fascinating learning about how J.D. grew to become a writer, join the army and his early failures in love. However, the latter third of the film drifts into tabloidish filmmaking with overdramatic music, silly editing tricks and unnecessary graphics that appear to be something out of TruTV or our modern-day "news" outlets, not an actual documentary.

The God Who Wasn't There

While factually it's hard to argue against someone proving that Christianity, or any religion for that matter, is fiction since we have entirely more historical and scientific proof of that, this is an awful documentary done in a very elementary fashion. I'd like to see this topic done in a more professional and less subjective manner since that isn't hard to do.

Constantine's Sword

Yet another brilliant documentary questioning religion and the political/military structure surrounding religion for the purposes of controlling larger populations when undergoing military and ruling objectives. The more people who educate themselves with information from books and films like "Constantine's Sword," the more that reason would begin seeping into our population.

Frances Ha
Frances Ha(2013)
½

In the vein of early Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach and partner Greta Gerwig team again after the unique "Greenberg" from 2010. As is normal with Noah's films, the characters are really hard to like. He has a strange style in that through the purpose of establishing his characters, he almost forces you to know and remember them through how hard it is to really like them, which is unlike any writer I've ever seen. It may be why I never could get into "The Squid and the Whale." Nevertheless, Frances, and Greta in general, is more easily palatable for the viewer. She had a similar appeal in "Greenberg." She just comes across as a lovable, yet sad, figure. In "Frances Ha," Greta plays the title character, who is stuck in the purgatory between college and life, leaning on the friendships she has, the youth-supported dream of becoming a dancer and completely unprepared to handle that either might fail or live up to the expectations she had for them. As people start to go the way of life and reality begins to set in, she panics. The story continues through her struggles and growing pains with Woody Allen-like dialogue and the whiny selfishness that age exhibits. It ends much better than it began, even while the journey through it seems just as painful to the viewer as it is to Frances, which means that it was pretty well written and directed, no matter how hard that is to realize over the course of the film.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
½

Wow...where do I start? I was cynical about how good this sequel to the brilliant "Anchorman" would be, especially when I saw the all-out marketing blitz start to build over the past couple of months. Will Ferrell has appeared as Ron Burgundy so many times in so many places that my immediate reaction was, "Oh no...this movie is bad." Then I saw all the critical acclaim. I was going to see it anyway, but I got my hopes up thinking that maybe this might be a sequel worth watching. It isn't. Not even close. This movie is bad. And it depresses me to say that. There is too much talent here to put together a film this bad, right? Apparently not.

So, right off the bat, let's just list the immediate gaffes. One, they did a sequel. Mistake number 1. Most of the movies from this genre of comedy have been hits. And they've ALL been standalones. This movie is exactly why. Two, they took too long to do a sequel. Ok, so maybe the first one was a stand-out and brilliant enough to warrant a sequel. They should have done it in 2006 or 2007. Nearly 2014? Yeah...not funny anymore. Three, they should have tried to duplicate the absurdity of the first one, not duplicate the same damn jokes that made the first one funny. Except for a couple of specific items, most of this movie was either a complete rehash of the first one or just simply not funny.

The appeal of the first "Anchorman," which some needed to see three or four times to fully get since it was way over the head of most people, was not just the parody being presented, but the absolute absurdity of much of it. Sex Panther? A street riot? Bear fight? Whale's vagina? All brilliant stuff. So...the worst thing would have been to see Sex Panther again. Or a street riot again. Or Baxter saving Ron from a dangerous animal. But...we see all of them again. And they weren't funny.

So, where did "Anchorman 2" work? SPOILER ALERT - "Anchorman 2" was poorly, poorly edited. And because of that, there were storylines and elements that had no reason to have had them in the film. The pacing was slow as hell in spots. However, when the writers were attempting new levels of absurdity, it worked. In the beginning, Champ has left broadcasting and opened a San Diego Chicken restaurant that doesn't actually serve fried chickens. He serves fried bats. Out of nowhere, complete idiocy, perfect new material. Yet it took an hour or so into the film, all the way until Ron loses his sight and attempts to live alone as a blind man, that the genius of the first one is truly seen. The highlights include his lighting a fire in the dishwasher, his pictures upside down on the wall, his nursing a shark back to health and his checkers-and-caulk hors d'oeuvres. All insane stuff. Yet, those elements totaled about 15 minutes of this 2-hour film.

The street riot was just flat-out stupid. I won't even attempt to go into it. They tried to get cute with it, but it was just a sad rehash. The only element of it that was halfway unique was the ghost of Stonewall Jackson, which was brilliant. Other than that, zzzzzzzzzz.

I hate to say that this genre may have finally worn out its welcome, but this cast looked its age and the comedy was even older. If they want to stay classy, they should go out while they still have some dignity.

The Central Park Five

Brutal. Sad. Frustrating. Irritating. Simple evidence was completely ignored all for a very racially-charged indictment and prosecution. There aren't enough Law & Order episodes to compare to something this repulsively true. While longer than I believe it needed to be, it's still very well constructed and told.

Dallas Buyers Club
½

A gritty, dark look at life during the early AIDS crisis in America perfectly portrayed by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto who both did dramatic things to their bodies to play HIV positive characters who, through desperation to find a cure or treatment for their disease, bring together two completely different worlds and run an underground drug cocktail club instead of waiting on the greedy FDA and pharm companies. Oscar worthy performances by Matthew and Jared overshadow the tiny over-dramatization and flawed character construction of Jennifer Garner.

American Hustle

Stylistically a ripoff of Scorsese pics, American Hustle is, at the very least, very entertaining performances by a stellar cast. They support an otherwise bloated, formulaic script that is being given entirely too much credit and is not Oscar worthy. However, every cast member shines and I wish they could all be nominated. The surprises of the film were the Louis CK/Bradley Cooper relationship, which were the highlight for me, and Jennifer Lawrence's insane portrayal. Christian Bale seemed to channel DeNiro too much and was the weakest character. Amy Adams was so sexy and was refreshing after her snoozefest part in Man of Steel. Definitely worth seeing, but not stellar.

The Wolf of Wall Street
½

While stylistically in the vein of his "Goodfellas," but swapping mob guys for stock brokers, the pace and insanity of "The Wolf of Wall Street" is infectious and captivating. At a very long 3 hours, the story is very thorough and furiously entertaining to the very end. Dark comedies of this scale are rare. The performances of Leo, Jonah Hill and the large supporting cast were choreographed like a musical, which is a testament to the brilliance of Scorsese. It's almost unfair to see this within close proximity to a good film like "American Hustle" since "Wolf" makes "Hustle" look like a student film.

Philomena
Philomena(2013)
½

A precious story of a mother forced to give up her child for adoption seeking to reconnect at a later age with the assistance of a journalist. What they find is surprising, heartbreaking and a lesson on everyone's individuality and humanity.

Inside Llewyn Davis

An well-written, if not almost intentionally dull, tale of a wandering musician at the crossroads of life where he has to choose between abandoning his youthful dream of being a musician or realizing who he is and settling for what he can actually achieve. Although it is only a week in his life, and the movie begins at his moment of final decision, the viewer is clearly walked through evidence that where he is in life has been coming a long time. Typical Coen brothers style, which is always great and better than most, unfortunately there is nothing really new for them.

The Place Beyond The Pines

Ambitious and beautifully filmed, no acting can save such a predictable and weak, overly-told story. At 2 and 1/2 hours, this film qualifies as a long-winded bore.

Admission
Admission(2013)

I have a strange fixation with Tina Fey, so right off the bat, my rating may be tainted. However, I thought it was the best acting she had ever done, especially the final dramatic scene with her mom. I love Paul Rudd too, so this would have just had to be stupidly written to have been bad. And it wasn't. It was unique and precious. I'm not sure why there was so much hate toward it.

Her
Her(2013)

A bold, unique take on a love story, not just for the fact that it is with a computer, but all the underlying components that make up such a chemistry. Though the story doesn't discuss love differently than other love stories, it filters those progressive steps of a relationship through incredibly odd lenses. It is proven that though we may get to a point where we can create artificial intelligence capable of getting close to the concept of feeling, computers are still logic-based, processing in binary steps of 0s and 1s, on and off, black and white. No matter how smart we make a system capable of learning, then solving problems as they improve their intellect, humans still have not progressed much in how to deal with matters of the heart. We can't fix our own internal system and logic and problem solving rarely come into play. In the end, our own machines progress beyond us and move into the next level of interaction. If only humans could too.

12 Years a Slave

Powerful, horrifying and, aside for its instant reactionary content, it was so well directed, it has to win many Oscars. If American Hustle wins anything over 12 Years a Slave, the Oscars are a farce.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
½

Another brilliant film from Wes Anderson. His imagination and creativity is unmatched, with elements of past films permeating their way throughout, including flashbacks to "The Fantastic Mr. Fox." The characters are adorable with some of his mainstays, like Ed Norton, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray, back in tow for another round of Anderson's wonderful zaniness.

Enough Said
Enough Said(2013)
½

Beautifully performed by two underrated actors, "Enough Said" is so authentically portrayed that it hardly seems like a movie. The writing is perfect and the chemistry between Eva and Albert is mesmerizing. Movies don't get much better than this.

Noah
Noah(2014)

I'm embarrassed for everyone who had anything to do with this awful movie. The list of what was wrong is longer than I have time to type.

Easy Rider
Easy Rider(1969)
½

While it may have been important at the time in representing the counterculture movement in its most realistic form, it's hard to watch it as anything but a poorly-directed, hardly-acted piece of self-importance. It's average, at best.

Transformers: Age of Extinction
½

Conceptually the best in the series. In fact, in the first 40 minutes, it was probably mor actual story than any Michael Bay film. However, that notion was quickly discarded in favor of 2+ more hours of mostly - unnecessary action that inflated this film at least an hour beyond its usefulness. The effects are, as always in a Michael Bay film, extraordinary. However, the gratuitous use of bad language in what I see as a kids film (and if you don't agree, you weren't in the theater I was where more than half of the patrons were under 5. That's right...5) as well as the continued over use of teen sex appeal and the horrid dialogue these "actors" has to spout, ruined the film. The only saving grace is that it appeared to actually set up a sequel this time, one that led Prime into outer space. Maybe the next Transformers can be directed by someone who knows how to do a Sci Fi film and we won't need the silly retread human actors in it.

The One I Love

I'm a bit speechless as to what I just watched. This movie is the cinematic equivalent of tripping on acid. Starring "The League"'s Mark Duplass, who brings with him his typically bone-dry wit along with a better ability to act than I would have thought, as well as the adorable Elisabeth Moss, "The One I Love" is one of the most unique films about love and relationships that I've ever seen. Though predictable at times, simplistic this movie was not. It's a headscratcher, but it's insane premise keeps you locked in wondering what in the world is going to happen next.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
½

Fans of Peter Jackson's Tolkien films will be satisfied, if only to see the stories finally wrap up. However, compared to past Tolkien, and even past Hobbit, films, "The Battle of the Five Armies" merely succeeded in tying the two trilogies together. The defeat of Smaug was quick and anti-climactic. Too much so. The film honestly seemed rushed, which is a shame. However, it wasn't all bad. The performances were as strong as ever, but given the changes to the general story and fatigue that has set in regarding this franchise, the true battle was with my interest.

The Imitation Game

Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, "The Imitation Game" tackles a modern subject using a World War II story and backdrop. Conceptually, the story of the mathematician-turned-British cryptographer working with a team to create the earliest known computer that broke Germany's Enigma Machine, is fascinating. Unfortunately, the dialogue is cheesy, unnecessarily over-dramatized and over-acted. It wasn't until the very end when the machine finally worked and Alan was having to deal with the law-breaking activity of homosexuality that the theme became as powerful as it had intended. Unfortunately, that was the last 15 minutes of an otherwise boring two-hour film. While the performances weren't bad, calling anything about this film Oscar-worthy is a stretch.

Still Alice
Still Alice(2015)
½

A tender, yet brutal, view of the onset and progressive nature of Alzheimer's Disease, "Still Alice" is another brilliant performance by Julianne Moore, surrounded by an equally brilliant supporting cast. The director uses editing and the camera to perfectly pace the film with occasional prolonged fuzziness to tie the viewer's observation of what is happening to Alice in tandem with the progression of the disease. It doesn't fall into a couple of very easily possible Hollywood traps during the film and, thus, stands out. It ends perfectly and respectful of the movie's theme. Why overrated films like "American Sniper" and "The Imitation Game" are nominated for Best Picture and "Still Alice" is not, in spite of the 10-film limit not being reached, is beyond me. It's certainly worthy of that consideration.

Kingsman: The Secret Service
½

Mark Millar and Matthew Vaughn come together again and raise the action, acting and story to another level since working together on "Kick-Ass." Colin Firth and a cast of exquisite British thespians, including Michael Caine and Mark Strong, come together to save the world against the evil genius of Samuel L Jackson. What is presented includes the best of international spy flicks, super hero movies and all tied together with a message of family, trust and loyalty. I can't wait for the sequel.

The Theory of Everything

Oscars love movies like "The Theory of Everything." Biography? Check. Illness/condition? Check. The fact that it's someone still alive is just gravy. Unfortunately, as beautifully filmed as it is, the story covers a lot of ground, so it rushes through very key moments of development, which might have been the only option. However, it takes away from the movie and is awfully distracting. That being said, there is not a better acting performance than Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of Dr. Hawking. Everyone else is a distant second, so he should win Best Actor easily.

The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Documentary

Quite possibly the worst selection of shorts I've ever seen. While these may have technically been Documentaries, 3 of the 5 shorts were painful to sit through. "Joanna," while strong as a subject of a woman dying of cancer and how she deals with treatment and the impending death's impact on her young son, the topic was handled very poorly and in an immensely boring fashion. "The Reaper" also took entirely too long and never reached an interesting point as it attempted to show the business of cow slaughtering. The interviews were painful, slow and dull. "White Earth" was moderately interesting and of adequate length, but the subjects interviewed were more sad than interesting.

Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts

n what is one of my favorite things about the Oscars, this year's shorts weren't as good as previous years, but the uniquely presented "The Bigger Picture" stood out as ground-breaking. In addition, "The Dam Keeper" was beautifully told. It seems unfair that "Feast," funded by Disney, beat the other grass-roots efforts in the Oscar race.

Inherent Vice

An absolutely insane film, an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel of the same name, "Inherent Vice" is painstakingly dialogue-rich and full of many off-the-wall characters. The viewer must pay close attention to every minute of the 2.5 hour flick to have even a hope of a chance to follow what is happening. I'm not sure anyone but Paul Thomas Anderson could have attempted this nutty story and extracted what I believe Thomas Pynchon intended to visually portray with his novel. While not near the top of one of PTA's best, it's definitely worth your time.

Terminator Genisys

Conceptually, "Terminator Genisys" is a natural and clever twist to the continuation of the first two Terminator movies. However, what was missing was decent casting, dialogue and directing. The first half of the film is stupendously boring, while the second half redeemed it somewhat. Nevertheless, I hope they consider this the end of it. While they set it up for another potential sequel, my bet is the low box office take will find this a fitting end.

Fantastic Four

Ripping the latest Fantastic Four reboot seems to be the sport du jour. While the news about the impending negativity this movie would spark has been circling the media for nearly a year, my inherent fandom of comics in general made this a necessary film for me to see. While not a huge fan of the previous two movies (I've never seen the bootleg from the early 90s), generally speaking, Fantastic Four is a difficult story to interestingly bring to the screen. It's very cosmic in nature, has a long history of some very strange villains and story lines, and can be kind of boring. In the 2005 initial outing, the good things included a very good origin story, representation of Ben Grimm as a pilot and a perfect Johnny Storm. However, Dr. Doom was horrible. Not representative of the comic version at all. Jessica Alba's ethnicity came across strangely as a blonde woman. And, while looking like the very early 60's Thing, the orange suit was...just bad. The second movie, centering around Silver Surfer was a much better representation of the comics, in spite of the weird Galactus. The stories overall were very weak and too goofy. When I heard they were going to reboot it, I was ok with it, for the recasting of Dr. Doom alone. Fast forward to the introduction of Josh Trank as the director. Someone who had done ONE film. Yes, it was a decent film, but given that he was handed the keys to the FF reboot AND a Star Wars film, I was confused. So...fast forward again to nearly a year ago when word came out that the movie was in trouble. Josh was acting erratic. He had destroyed the house he was staying in while shooting in Louisiana. Fox secretly told Disney that Josh would be a bad idea to keep on staff for the Star Wars movie. Then suddenly, Josh was off the Star Wars film while rumors were abound that he had abandoned the final steps in FF post-production. The studio had come in and held reshoots and was completely in control of editing. So much bad press that nearly no one was looking forward to this movie coming out. Marvel was grinning like a cheshire cat wanting to get the rights to making FF back in the House of the Mouse. Then word came that an embargo was being put on all screenings and release of critical reviews until 2 days prior to opening day, always the kiss of death to a film. Then...3 days ago, the embargo broke and the messages were loud and clear. This movie was horrendous. I still planned on seeing the movie, but after Sony destroyed anything interesting about Ghost Rider...twice...I wasn't feeling good. Expectations were in the toilet. So, this morning, as I'm making my way through the surprisingly short (one hour, forty minutes) reboot, I was pleasantly surprised. The acting, even from the kids at the beginning, was very strong. The characters were coming together well. While the origin was different and the inclusion of Franklin Storm, Sr. and a mixed-race Storm clan was...well, unnecessary, it worked. I was buying it. Then they got their powers. From this point forward, it's like a completely different director and/or editor ran the film. There was essentially only ONE action scene. The end. And it lasted mere minutes. Without spoiling what led up to that one action scene, I will simply say that Doom was introduced. A very good Dr. Doom. Character and actor-wise, I very much like this flavor of Fantastic Four. And the tweaked origin introduces the potential for much more cosmic inclusion. The potential is exciting to this comic fanboy. The problem is, from the point where they go their powers, which was on a planet that required CGI and special effects, I was confused as to where the budget went. The effects were some of the worst I've ever seen. Just awful. So many story points were shortened, sped up and left to the viewers interpretation and assumption. Weird considering how well-paced the story had been until this point and how well-developed the characters had been. For the final 40 minutes, character development evaporated. The effects were horrible. There was no story. Just...scenes. Leading up to a very short and shallow action scene. Then...it just ended. A short, quick wrap-up, not to mention dumb, especially considering how strong the film had been the first hour. I simply couldn't understand why the film shifted tone and pace so quickly. As a result, I couldn't give it more than 2 stars. I believe Fox should give the rights back to Marvel or, at the very least, allow this film to have a sequel with a PROVEN director.

Justice League: Gods and Monsters

When the short clips started to be released from the upcoming Justice League: Gods and Monsters characters, I was intrigued. I loved seeing the return of Bruce Timm's animation, but I have never been a big fan of alternative universe stories, even when it includes beloved characters. I began watching the full-length film with moderate expectations that were quickly exceeded. Bruce's animation is simply stunning. If I were DC/WB, I'd never use anyone else unless I absolutely had to. Ever since Batman: The Animated Series, no one has portrayed DC characters better. Visually, it's obvious, but the teams he puts together to tell these film-quality stories never ceases to impress. Benjamin Bratt as this world's Superman is exquisite. As the son of Zod, not Jor-El, he has a darkness to him never seen, with a unique backstory to match, which didn't include Lois Lane featuring an adorable pixie cut, voiced by Paget Brewster. Wonder Woman isn't from Paradise Island, but New Genesis as a member of Kirby's New Gods, which has never been done well by anyone but Timm. Bruce captures Kirby's block/angular drawing style perfectly, even in the costumes. It's as though Jack himself is drawing the scenes on Apok0lips. The last member of the Trinity, Batman, voiced by Dexter's Michael C. Hall, is an actual vampire, transformed by Will Magnus, voiced by C. Thomas Howell. Without spoiling the plot, the story brilliantly unravels like a mystery with Sentinel-like creatures, seemingly copied from X-Men, framing the Justice League for brutal crimes they didn't commit. The violence is pretty harsh, but it works, with battles culminating in a surprising revelation. The casting, for the most part, was superb, though I didn't quite enjoy Michael C. Hall's Batman. There seemed to be too much Dexter melancholy in him. Overall, though, the emotions work, the story flows well and, along with Bruce's flawless animation, was finally a DC/WB animated movie worth watching in years.

Moonlight
Moonlight(2016)

Barry Jenkins, screenwriter and director of the adaptation of "Moonlight," is the most recent Hollywood darling after releasing the most authentic film of 2016, portraying a side of black society rarely seen, even when it's in the backdrop of what most would imagine urban black living is like. The bold and intense movie about a boy split into showing three phases of his life is based on an intriguing story based in Miami over the past 25 or so years. It isn't, unfortunately, hard to imagine a black youth in Reagan America living in the projects without a father, living only with his crack-addicted mother, that is when she is around, and attempting as best as he can to get through school and life. What isn't common to see, however, is how said boy befriends the very drug dealer who is supplying his mother's habit and somehow becomes a part-time family with he and his girlfriend. And it isn't common to see the hard life and confusion within the young boy manifest itself into sexual introspection and the development of a spine to defend himself against bullies eager to mock his preference and social situation. The path young Chiron travels is one no one would want to follow, but some have to travel anyway. The viewer can't help but be affected by the brutal realism of his situation. The acting in this movie, specifically by the three actors who portray Chiron through life, can hardly be beat this year, but the movie isn't perfect and, thus, shouldn't win Best Picture, even though Vegas odds have it very close to the movie that should, "La La Land." The story has its choppy moments and ends rather abruptly, though it comes to resolution. I can't say where else I would have wanted the story to go and, frankly, it might have been too Hollywood if it did, but the end came suddenly for me and ended with a sweet whimper. Not to take away its importance in theme, but a perfect film, or Best Picture, it is not.

Crank
Crank(2006)

There is clearly a market for these kinds of movies, but I don't fall into that category. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor can do some pretty creative things to get some insane shots, but their movies are just too mindless for me. I need more story. More depth. Not just stuff blowing up, gratuitous violence and idiotic sex scenes. The biggest positive to this movie is its very effective use of music for its scenes. Jefferson Starship's "Miracles" as Statham is falling to his "death" was probably the most interesting moment in the film. Judging by IMDB, much of the industry has figured out not to give these guys much more work, though. After the idiotic "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" and the box office disaster, "Jonah Hex," I guess studios realized people actually like stories. I hope Lexi Alexander takes a cue from them.

Black Mass
Black Mass(2015)

Third-time director, Scott Cooper, gets no help from his Oscar-worthy actors in improving the horrendous dialogue co-written by first-time writer, Mark Mallouk. Subject matter this interesting should never be left to such hacks. This is two hours and two minutes of pure boredom telling a story that shouldn't be remotely this dull. Depp is trying. Hard. But his performance (and makeup, for that matter) seems forced. There are several scenes, specifically the ones with Depp and Dakota Johnson and Depp and Julianne Nicholson, that are unnecessarily long, with uncomfortably cringe-worthy dialogue that is offensive to actors of this caliber. Even Kevin Bacon, who tends to steal every scene he has when he cameos in movies, is equally as boring and unbelievable in his role. There are countless scenes that mean absolutely nothing to the story. There are countless behaviors that are meant to define "Whitey," yet are inconsistent depending on the character, and when said characters aren't treated the way "Whitey" is meant to act, the characters inexplicably disappear with no explanation as to what happened to them. For a story that is rooted in truth, it frequently makes no sense. This movie could have been done so much better, but in this form, isn't worth the viewing.

Mad Max: Fury Road

THIS. This is an action movie. I hate action movies because the stories are often vapid. The story in Mad Max: Fury Road is meaningful, It's powerful. And it's matched only by the stunning cinematography. This movie is gorgeously shot and perfectly edited. Every action scene is natural. It isn't forced, even if there are some very choreographed scenes. It works. And considering the movement of the vehicles as these shots take place, it feels real. I'm sure there are some effects used, but the scale is epic and reminds me of the intensity of the chariot races in "Ben-Hur." Simply said, this movie is brilliant.

Jupiter Ascending

I like sci-fi, but the only movies I've ever walked out of in the theaters were "Dune" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," so I have my limits. While I watched "Jupiter Ascending" on an airplane, I had the same reaction to it as I did "Dune." Slow, stupid and intolerable. I stopped watching halfway through. It's flat awful.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Well, I finally watched it. I'd read the book and it was just disturbing. No, not because of the content, which is just normal erotica, but by the horrendous writing. EL James is a talentless hack. The popularity of this book is just sad on many levels. Ladies, there is much better erotica out there. In fact, I'm quite sure I could write my own better erotica. In any case, while the first 15-20 minutes stuck to the book, that's what made me almost turn off the ridiculous thing. Seriously stupid dialogue with absolutely no character generation at all. Just straight into it. However, I'd like to at least point out the positives. One, I'm so glad they used an actual writer for the screenplay. Kelly Marcel changed up quite a bit, especially toward the end, that made the movie pseudo tolerable. While Jamie Dornan had the arrogance down, I expected a taller, blonder, more Nordic look to Christian. And, while Dakota played the timid girl-turned-submissive quite well, I honestly expected someone more attractive. Yet, given the crappy content, they both made it work as best it could. I admit, I liked the ending much better than the book as it leaves anyone enjoying the film, yearning for the follow-up, which was really the intent all along.

Batman Vs. Robin

Partially basing one of their animated movies on the "Court of Owls" storyline by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo seems like a no-brainer. While it's missing some interesting elements from that series, enough of it was kept to make an incredibly interesting movie. The animation is very good, but I do not care for Jason O'Mara as Batman. While it was nice to hear Kevin Conroy as Thomas Wayne, I'd much rather hear him as Bruce. I've enjoyed most voices for Batman, but O'Mara has now done 4 movies, with a 5th one to be released in 2016. It's enough.

The Hateful Eight

I just left a special 70mm film screening of "The Hateful Eight." It was nice to be able to attend the roadshow of actual film presentation they are doing before mass release in digital on Dec 31. If you can, I highly recommend it as it is the first film in Ultra Panavision 70mm in wide release in over 50 years. I'm curious how different it will look in digital. That being said, this 2:47-long film (add 20 minutes to that for an intermission) was gorgeous to watch. There is no doubt that Quentin is a die-hard, true filmmaker, probably the best of my generation. And his talent for writing supreme dialogue is a marvel to behold. "The Hateful Eight" is no different. In spite of the film's length, you are hooked in for the entire ride. Mesmerized by the characters, the situations, the dialogue, I was captured throughout. The shots, the scenery, the locale, are all just as strong a character as any actor in the film, all coming together to tell an amazing story. The movie is a mystery. During intermission, people were trying to figure out "whodunit." No matter how egotistically derived my guess was, it wasn't remotely accurate. Quentin weaved his own version of "Clue" circa late-1800s Wild West-style. And, like the "Clue" film, it is written and performed like a stage play. Set almost entirely on one set for 3/4 of its length, I don't think Quentin has captured better performances from his pseudo-regular cast since "Pulp Fiction." Unfortunately, the last 15-30 minutes had to wrap it up. And, unfortunately, the ending is weak. Almost as though he couldn't figure out how to end it. While it isn't a horrible ending, the movie was a 5-star masterpiece, in my mind, the best since "Pulp Fiction," until the last 15-30 minutes. The movie is so much better than most, though, so I highly recommend it.

The Big Short

Adam McKay, known for SNL and his partnership with Will Ferrell, finally applied his talents to a film about a very important subject, and did so with a unique twist that, thus far, has me hoping he gets an Oscar. "The Big Short" is a phenomenal film about the biggest story of the last 10 years, the Mortgage-backed Securities industry that killed our economy. It's well-written, perfectly acted and directed in such a strange way that I'm shocked Hollywood let this movie get made. Plan B, who produced it (Brad Pitt, Brad Grey and formerly Jennifer Aniston's company) continued their trend of successful films with a fantastic, groundbreaking take on how our economy got into this mess. It is a must-see!

Joy
Joy(2015)

A really good movie is meant to be one that is edited at a natural pace, directed well, acted in such a way as to be believable and written to allow for the smooth flow of a plot, to rising action, to climax, to denouement until a resolved ending, unless a resolved ending is assumed to be not possible. "Joy" is nominated for several Golden Globes, so when I started to make my list of movies I need to see prior to the Oscars, "Joy" was on that list. Then I looked at Rotten Tomatoes. 58% (at this writing) by both the critics and viewers. After seeing "Joy," I simply don't get it. To grade my objectivity, know this about me. One, I'm NOT a fan of David Russell, the writer, director and producer of "Joy." Two, I don't particularly care for directors who use the same cast often. In this case, pretty much the exact same cast is used as David's past two other films. And, three, the Rottentomatoes ratings worried me. Yet...I was extremely impressed with this movie. Jennifer Lawrence is great, again. The cast, as a whole, is just such a strong ensemble who help define the plot and carry the story. The pace was edited perfectly. I mean, flawlessly. The movie was never slow when it could have been or too fast when it shouldn't have been. It. Was. Perfect. And the story was engaging, interesting and resolved itself wonderfully. I don't get what others didn't see. I'm glad, in spite of some of the poor reviews, it was still nominated for Golden Globes. I hope the Oscars see what the Hollywood Foreign Press saw as well.

Bridge of Spies

A solid script and safe acting make this period piece about Cold War spies an enjoyable movie, but nothing really special. After two solidly, slightly-above-average movies, "Bridge of Spies" and "The Martian," I'm a bit worried about what constitutes an Oscar-worthy Best Picture nomination.

Room
Room(2015)

I was beginning to lose faith in the Academy's selection capability considering I've only really liked 2 of the Best Pic nominees so far, or consider them worthy. "Room" is a traditional Academy darling, and rightfully so. It's dramatic, emotional, suspenseful and a phenomenal film. The story is intense and heartbreaking (times 4 or 5). The acting performances of Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay deserve Oscar recognition. While I haven't seen all the performances nominated thus far, young Jacob Tremblay is jaw-dropping. I was excited to see Brie Larson, one of my favorites, finally show her stuff, and that she did. I hope she gets the win. However, Jacob blew me away. There were no words to describe how incredible his performance is for someone so young. Better than any adult actor I've seen this year. I'm serious. There is an incredible career in the making there. The screenplay, based on the novel of the same name, is beautiful. Aside from one scene that bugged me a little, the dialogue is so real. The director did a masterful job pulling the screenplay, performances and the perspective of "Room" against the much larger world Brie and Jacob are denied for so long. I'm so glad at least 3 of the 8 Best Pic nominees are worthy.

Straight Outta Compton

It's been rather interesting to read how anyone couldn't have liked this film. While it sits at an 88% on Rottentomatoes right now, there are a few people who didn't care for it. However, when I read their reviews, it's clear they didn't get it, which I can admit is easy to have happen. "Straight Outta Compton" is the movie of a generation. Those younger than that generation find it interesting like I find "Selma" interesting. Those older than that generation can be prone to seeing this generation as not worthy of a story like this because they didn't live through the Civil Rights era, slavery, etc. However, as I explained to my children during the significant conversation that this movie sparked, the culture represented in this movie has had to overcome different levels of socio-economic hurdles since the creation of America. First slavery, then civil rights and, as represented here, artistic freedom and entrepreneurship, all had to be dealt with just to get close to being seen as equal. Having lived during these years, having very vivid memories of this era, and already knowing much of the story presented in "Straight Outta Compton," I was still mesmerized by the masterful direction, phenomenal script and talented acting, especially by Ice Cube's son O'Shea Jackson, Jr. The movie highlights how these kids overcame tremendous odds to get out of the situation they were in, inspired an entire generation of disenfranchised youths and made our evolving country take notice of the realities with which this first generation of "equal" blacks still had to contend. Rodney King, black-on-black crime and intimidation, immaturity, corporate and personal greed, as well as having an unintentional responsibility of ensuring their messages were understood to the rest of the US who couldn't comprehend their realities, all played into the construction of what is now the foundation of how rap went from being an Adidas-wearing novelty in the inner cities, to the cars, bedrooms and arenas of every race and every social class. While there was some dramatic and timing license taken for the sake of story-telling, "Straight Outta Compton" is a remarkable achievement I hope is remembered during Oscar season.

Deadpool
Deadpool(2016)

I'm happy to see the scores for this movie be so high because, frankly, this had the makings of being a movie that people just wouldn't "get." I have to say that, while I'm not surprised it was successful, the records "Deadpool" broke in its opening weekend have absolutely stunned me. One, it's a rated R movie. That alone should have tamed any expectations. Two, it made more money in its opening weekend than "Man of Steel," Batman Beyond," any "X-Men" movie, "Iron Man," "Captain America: First Avenger," "Spider-Man," "The Incredible Hulk," and even "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," the disaster of a movie that had the completely wrong first incarnation of Deadpool. From a comic book fan perspective, this movie represents a complete change in generations. I was a huge Avengers fan and stopped collecting in the late 80s. When I was a collector, artists were becoming the big reason to like comics. Frank Miller, John Byrne, etc. When Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld came onto the scene as I was leaving the hobby, I missed out on the whole multiple-covers, poly-bagged, trading card, overly-collector-driven disaster of comics that exploded with the X-Men reboot, X-Force, Deadpool introduction, etc. Over the years as I dabbled back and forth into the hobby, I read about Deadpool, Cable, X-Force, etc. and found it intriguing, but once the artists mentioned above moved on to create Image Comics, and Rob Liefeld, the douchebag creator of Deadpool, began his series of back and forth love/hate situations with fans, his colleagues, his stupid Spike Lee Levis 501 jeans commercials, etc., I could tell that I had little interest in investing myself in this idiot's work. His artwork was unique and I never quite understood it, but I was never as critical of it as many people are. The Internet has volumes of hate for this guy. If you regularly read his Twitter feed too, it's clear this idiot has never learned his lesson. He's a moron of the highest order. Despite Rob's strong denial, Deadpool is, in fact, a blatant rip-off, structurally, of DC's Deathstroke with a dab of Spider-Man. Deathstroke's real name is Slade Wilson. Deadpool's is Wade Wilson. The costume is designed similarly with pouches, swords and guns. Sure the personalities are completely different, but I attribute that to Fabien Nicieza and subsequent writers like Gail Simone. The appeal of Deadpool has always been his 4th-wall interaction with readers, his insane anti-hero antics, his vulgar humor, etc., all completely different comics than the ones I collected. While I appreciated the jolt that gave to the industry, which was getting kind of stale, I believe it single-handedly killed kid interest in the genre. It became an industry for adults, which has an ever-diminishing audience. Look at the sales numbers today and the past 20 years, and that is very clear. Liefeld's era ruined comics. That being said, for everything Deadpool isn't in terms of his look (which is Liefeld's fault), he is very unique in personality and character development. The brilliant writers over the past 20 years have built upon that initial insanity and kept him relevant. Frankly, it's overdue that he had a film, especially since Spawn had a movie in the late 90s. However, it's good that Fox waited. It's even better that they yielded to how horrible of a depiction they did in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and allowed Ryan Reynolds and the brilliant writing team in this film to go full Deadpool, no questions asked, no limits, nothing. The brilliance of Deadpool IS the writing (sorry, Rob). There is not a better way to have made a Deadpool movie than this film. Ryan Reynolds IS Deadpool. He was born to play him. Physique, humor, age, everything. His love of the character and his commitment to get this movie made was redeemed with this massive opening weekend. The movie never falls into a boring state. It's consistently funny. It's action-packed. It's got the perfect immersion in the X-Men world. It sets up perfectly for a sequel that will obviously include Cable and, hopefully, lead to an X-Force movie. It is the breath of fresh air that the X-Men franchise needed, especially after we see what appears to be an awful translation of the Apocalypse storyline. Just like in the comics, Deadpool is taking the movies to a vulgar, more sophomoric version of the status quo. People believed it was a breath of fresh air back then, even if it ended up ruining the genre. While I believe this was the perfect Deadpool movie that could have ever been made, could seeing movies made from this 90s generation of comics also kill off the comic movie industry as they appeal more to adults? The similarities are...ahem...uncanny.

Paddington
Paddington(2015)

As a fan of the Paddington books and the uniquely animated television series in the 1970s and 80s (Paddington was a stop-motion puppet while he interacted with drawings of the other characters), I should have been the target audience for this film, along with my children, assuming I had any young enough to be interested in the film. The days I spent watching Paddington on "Calliope," which, in turn, made me want to send the show a letter and my picture, which they aired, are sweet childhood memories I have. So to say I was excited about this film is an understatement. While the trailers made the movie look awful, it does redeem itself a bit by retaining some of the serious tone of its original content, which I always loved. However, for the most part, this is a remake of "Stuart Little" in the vein of "Home Alone," and thus, ridiculous for Paddington fans. Yes, Paddington always had misadventures, but the idea of a villainous character, played by Nicole Kidman, being a part of the misadventures just loses the magic for me. Paddington still comes across as a child-like bear who makes honest child-like mistakes, I simply cannot shake the dumb villain element. Maybe this element was needed to create a movie-length story, but that's why it was so hard to tell a story of Paddington in film and why it's taken so long to do so.

Spectre
Spectre(2015)
½

It's difficult to pin down "Spectre." As a James Bond fan, I enjoyed seeing another chapter. Compared to "Skyfall," however, which appeared to be a door opening for a new style of Bond film, "Spectre" meanders between cool Bond flick and elongated mess. At 2:30 hours, it is about 45 minutes too long. I thoroughly enjoyed "Spectre," especially the concept of tying all the Daniel Craig Bond movies together, for most of the first 2 hours. It didn't feel that long. That all changed in the last 30-40 minutes. The decline began when Bond and his girl-of-the-moment escaped from villain, Christoph Waltz. It was idiotic and reminiscent of an Austin Powers movie. From there it was painful almost-ending after almost-ending. By the time it actually did end, I had lost all interest in the film. It's probably a good idea to kill this franchise or do something very drastic 5 or so years from now to completely change things. Sad, though. "Skyfall" gave me a lot of hope. It's almost as if the disinterest Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig began having with the franchise was reflective in the last half hour of "Spectre." The final scene even seems to confirm this. These two won't be back. To be honest, I'm not sure I will be either.

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs(2015)

Generationally, I was a child of Apple II, using them in grade school. I also used/supported NeXT systems in college. Everything that happened in "Steve Jobs" recapped most of my life and interest in computers. I would read news about Steve throughout most my childhood, so none of the storyline around his firing from Apple, John Sculley running Apple into the ground and Steve's triumphant return were news to me. Unfortunately, I've also read that, for dramatic purposes, much of the movie is made up of combined conversations, embellished situations, etc., so it's not entirely truthful. "Steve Jobs," is, however, a remarkably written, paced and acted film. Both Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet both deserve their nominations, but Aaron Sorkin deserved one for an adapted screenplay. The dialogue was magnificent, as was Danny Boyle's direction. The film is almost exclusively behind-the-scenes situations that attempt to show Steve's larger-than-life presence in our cultural lives reduced to a version that is both sympathetic and empathetic. The irony is, for someone so unbelievably unique and unlike the rest of us, he wasn't very different at all. He dealt with ex-partners, part-time parenting, contentious colleagues and personal humiliation. And no matter how brilliant he was, the only solutions for those were empathy, love, forgiveness and wisdom.

Daddy's Home
Daddy's Home(2015)
½

I didn't have very high expectations of "Daddy's Home," and it met those expectations. As slow as the first 30 minutes were, and as average as the meat of the movie was, the last 15-30 minutes were adorable, especially the ending. While this isn't an Adam McKay written/directed Will Ferrell movie, you do get quite a bit of that humor. Thomas Haden Church is quite a funny addition, as was the surprise ending.

Creed
Creed(2015)

Nicely shot, especially the fights. Sly and Michael were good. Yet, this could not have been a more pointless, completely unnecessary movie. There's nothing original in it. It's too long. Unnecessarily long. It serves to do absolutely nothing but perpetuate a dead franchise. I do not see why this has the ratings it has. It was average, at best.

The Intern
The Intern(2015)

The Intern was a refreshing change of pace for me, theatrically speaking. A story with a heart, solid acting and quite a bit of realism. I love DeNiro and Hathaway anyway, but the chemistry between the two was very strong. The performances won't get recognized at the award level, but I haven't enjoyed DeNiro this much in a long time. It was a departure for him and he was precious. The vibe of the film was reminiscent of similarly-themed 80s and 90s films, but I haven't really seen anything like this in almost 20 years. They just don't make these kind of movies anymore. For someone my age, it was a pleasure to watch.

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

I won't spoil anything. The movie was wonderful. After reading the small number of negative reviews, it's interesting that my only issues with the film seem minor (especially compared to the prequels), yet are the very reason those few people disliked the film entirely. I guess it all comes down to the weight of those issues on the ability to enjoy what, I believe, is now officially the 3rd best film in the franchise. Maybe even tied for 2nd.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

I have anticipated this movie almost as much as I did Star Wars: The Force Awakens. When it was pushed from July 2015 to May 2016, I was concerned. When Marvel moved Captain America" Civil War to the same weekend in May 2016, Warner balked again and moved the movie up to March 2016. A dead period. Was this a sign?? Heck, for anyone who knows me, I cannot STAND Zack Snyder. Like Michael Bay, I've always considered him style without substance. Beautiful films with absolutely zero ability to tell a story. I hated "300." While I loved how "Watchmen," looked, it was a shot-for-shot portrayal of the comic, which didn't flow well as a movie. "Sucker Punch." "Legend of the Guardians." Even "Man of Steel," though it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be even when my chief complaints was its ability to tell the story. When Zack got hired to do "MoS," then it was subsequently announced that he would be the chief movie runner, ala Marvel's use of Joss Whedon, I wrote Warner's obituary. I've still never understood why they didn't learn their lesson when Christopher Nolan gave them credibility again. No, they went back to the "cartoon maker" type of director that killed the first Batman franchise. The truth is, Zack did a better-than expected version of "Man of Steel." As I mentioned, my only real complaints are how they told the story of Superman, inter-weaving it within the movie and having Lois find out whom he was so early in the plot. Then the world went nuts at the amount of destruction "MoS" showed, culminating in the ultimate no-no, Superman killing...KILLING...Zod. WTF??? The past month or so, the Twitterverse has been saturated with long-time comic book creators and fans re-critiquing "Man of Steel." It's been quite a drain, actually. And that's coming from someone who can nit-pick with the best of them. :) Fast forward to this week when the critic embargo was lifted and the Rottentomatoes rating quickly plummeted into Paul Blart territory. Unheard of!! Yet, my premonition of how much Zack Snyder would ruin this whole thing seemed to be coming true. As a superfan of these kind of movies, I was so bummed. I didn't even buy tickets until Sunday morning after it launched. Easter Sunday. Guaranteed to get a cheap ticket with low audience participation. I even ate right before going so I didn't even buy my trademark snacks. And, finally, my expectations were now in the toilet. Without spoiling too much, I was pleasantly surprised, perhaps by my lowered expectations, but also because I have less to complain about in terms of Zack Snyder's filming and I believe I know more about the storyline than the average bear. When I heard this film was for the superfan, I'm thinking they were right. So what went right... First, while there was a lot of CGI, "BvS" is the best constructed film Zack Snyder has ever done. I saw more actual FILM, dramatic progression, character construction and even some very Christopher Nolan-esque action scenes. Nolan Brothers/David Goyer's Dark Knight stamp was all over this thing. From the Batmobile chasing the semi through the tunneled streets to a phenomenal opening as the Batman origin is briefly discussed to lay the foundation for what was to come. The second chapter that links "MoS" to this film was masterfully done. Showing the on-the-ground, 9/11-ish terrifying perspective could not have set the stage for Bruce's concerns any better. His own company, building, etc. all impacted by the "MoS' destruction. This was the first time these two major gladiators were brought together, so the DC-intended setting, with Metropolis and Gotham separated by the bay, was such a refreshing thing to see in film. As a kid, I always saw Metropolis as NYC and Gotham as Chicago, even as Gotham is NYC's nickname. In the DC Universe, Metropolis is an NYC-like city with Gotham sitting across the bay from Metropolis in a New Jersey-like locale. Not quite in Philly, but definitely New Jersey. The contrast between the two cities represented by cleanliness and prosperity on the Metropolis side, with darkness and pessimism of Gotham. Ben Affleck is an excellent Bruce and Batman. Ben as an aging pessimist ala Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Returns" turned out to be a pretty good casting choice. Ben is not a good actor. He just isn't. He's come such a long way since "Mallrats" though. He wasn't overdramatic, he didn't underact and I look forward to his future portrayal as the Caped Crusader. Jeremy Irons as Alfred complemented Ben's Bruce perfectly. I really have nothing negative to say about them. The Batcave, Batmobile, Batwing, Wayne Manor, how they interact while out in the field, etc. were just perfect. Rumors were abound the past couple of years that the female Robin (later changed to Batgirl), Tim Drake's Robin having been killed by the Joker, etc. would be shown in adding to Batman's increased cynicism, but other than a casual stroll through the Batcave and seeing The Joker's graffiti on a Batman uniform, "BvS" didn't dive too deeply into his past as Batman, just Bruce. I'm hoping "Suicide Squad" and his solo movies talk more about his sidekicks since even Christopher Nolan's Batman didn't talk about them. The Superman/Clark/Lois dynamic continues on as it did in "MoS." They are in a more-developed relationship. Their careers at the Daily Planet have matured, but one of my complaints about the film is the plot hole that Clark doesn't seem to have ever heard of Batman, even though he's been crime fighting across the bay from Metropolis for over 20 years. I enjoy Henry Cavill as Superman, but where he seems to indicate that his character has matured more into his role at the end of "MoS," he seems to have regressed for the 18 months between "MoS" and when the main storyline in "BvS" begins. He seems to understand less about the impact of his decisions, collateral damage, etc. than I would have expected. It almost makes Superman seem like an idiot once or twice in the film. This was odd. I read and heard about the strength of Wonder Woman's debut on the screen. I didn't see it. Gal Gadot's portrayal was not bad at all. I liked her interaction as Diana Prince with Ben's Bruce at a couple of spots in the movie prior to her "coming out," but her Latino accent and the glaring re-drawing of her in the CGI scenes as a much-more muscular and buxom woman, really made me think they regretted the casting in post-production. I'm looking forward to her Captain America: First Avenger-like solo film next year, though. My final judgment on her will wait until then. Nevertheless, seeing the DC "Trinity" on screen together was a fanboy's dream. The development of the story over the course of the film, this very, very, almost too-long film, still had to be chopped up like "MoS," which didn't sit too well with me. The first hour and a half quickly went from short scene-to-short scene to plow through more plot than is normally done in a film. I think it satisfied those who had been through many versions of origin stories and were not interested in rehashing yet again, but it was reminiscent of the choppiness of "MoS"s origin story, my biggest pet peeve of that film. It wasn't nearly this bad this time, though, and I found the choppiness tolerable. I don't think it took away from the development of the characters. This wasn't a Superman movie, nor was it a Batman movie, though the latter definitely needed, and received, more screen time. Appropriately so. The result, though, was that "BvS" was too long. That's really my only major (and not even major, really). It was too damn long. After the battle between Batman and Superman, the film could have ended. Yet, the "Dawn of Justice" portion wouldn't have come about. The whole element of Dan Jurgen's "Death of Superman," which was used like the Avengers needing Coulsen's death to bring them together as a team, came across as unnaturally forced, if not a complete rip-off of Marvel's direction. That being said, it only mildly bothered me. Considering much of the first half of the film was choppy and rushed, the fact that, in the end, it was too long of a film, shows that this probably should have been two films (God help me). Had Warner/DC gone that route, then they could have elaborated in the first half what they chopped up, then used the second volume as "Death of Superman." Finally, one of the biggest complaints I read/heard about the film is that Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor was horrible. I'm not sure it's that easy to say. They don't tell much of an origin story of him or explain his insanity. I think he played an intelligent sociopath hell-bent on power pretty well. However, there were times when he had an almost Joker-like personality, which is not at all Luthor. Also, I expected there to be a more corporate-like Lex. Maybe even the future-President-like Lex. Jesse's portrayal wasn't at all like that, especially at the very end when he is imprisoned. The final scene with Lex is the most un-Lex scene I've ever seen. Additional cringe-worthy moments, aside from Latino Wonder Woman and the lack of story build-up to Lex's psychotic nature, include Batman's odd decision to dump the Kryptonite spear after working so hard to obtain the Kryptonite in the first place, Lois knowing where that spear was, then Batman and Superman's mothers both being named Martha (which I never noticed before) and how that plays an unusual role in the film. I have probably spoiled more than I should have here, but the bottom line is, I love seeing these two major characters interact. I think it does a fairly good job of setting up the Justice League movies, but admittedly, Marvel did a much better job of kicking off their franchises because they allowed for individual movies to be done first. Warner/DC, while not wanting to copy the Marvel method, should have looked more at this concept instead of having someone not good at telling a story, shove a quick one down our throats. I am happy it wasn't as bad as my initial expectations were, but it might have been my reduced expectations that allowed me to enjoy "BvS" for what it was. I have a free ticket to see it again, so I will in the next week or so and see if my thoughts on it change.

Concussion
Concussion(2015)

Though more dramatic than I think was necessary, and inclusive of story elements that seemed gratuitous, the subject matter in "Concussion" is yet another story that had to be told. Like "The Big Short," another Oscar-contender tackles (pardon the pun) a topic that most Americans should have seen coming long ago, yet we collectively bury our reality TV heads in the sand. Who in the world didn't think repetitively hitting your head against another head at full force for years wouldn't have long term consequences? File this one under DUH. Cinematically, it's too long, has some questionable directorial choices, but the script and acting are solid. While I don't think it's Will Smith's best (that one is from "Pursuit of Happyness"), he is due. I hope he is recognized for it in some capacity. Albert Brooks and Alec Baldwin are, as always, wonderful to watch.

The Ridiculous 6

This movie has been completely skewered. Cmon, guys. It's an Adam Sandler movie. What in the world did you expect? I'm glad my expectations were in the toilet, though, because I ended being a lot more impressed with this movie than I thought I would. No, it isn't Shakespeare, but it is not even remotely the worst Adam Sandler movie ever made. The cast is huge, the directing is quite impressive and the locales are big budget. The construction of it is not bad at all. Sure, it's offensive as hell in parts, but, again, it's an Adam Sandler movie. Everyone is offended and stereotypes are abused. From black penis jokes, lazy Native American jokes, greasy Mexican jokes to stupid white guy jokes, the point of this Adam Sandler, and if I'm not mistaken, ALL of his movies, is to completely ridicule everyone to the most offensive extent in the name of sophomoric humor. And, as Adam Sandler movies go, this is one of his best ones. If you disagree, I'm not sure what you were looking for when you decided to watch it. At least it wasn't Grown-Ups 3.

The Revenant
The Revenant(2015)
½

There is no denying that Alejandro Inarritu is a brilliant director. The single-shot opening to "The Revenant" displayed what made "Birdman" so brilliant. The scenery, cinematography and acting are a triumph in "The Revenant," but what degrades this film is its unnecessarily extended length and relatively weak story (especially considering how little it appears to match the novel). I hope Leo is finally recognized for another consistently strong performance, but even its stellar cinematography cannot match "Mad Max: Fury Road," which is weird to write.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
½

I am, frankly, confused as to the mass praise this mediocre film has garnered. I was excited about this film after seeing the trailer several times, in spite of the fact that Martin McDonagh films have never been interesting to me. I stopped watching "In Bruges" mid-film. I went to see "Seven Psychopaths" in the theater and was bored.

The performances in "Three Billboards" saves this film from itself. Frances McDormand, while not breaking new ground in her character, she is a joy to watch, as always. Sam Rockwell is the most disturbingly enjoyable performance to watch as his behavior is so uncomfortable that one has to wonder how he got into such a mental state to be so unappealing. Woody, too, carries some of the most intense scenes in the film with a fantastic portrayal as Chief Bill Willoughby.

Where this film loses me is in its unnecessary and unsuccessful attempt to be "quirky" and toy with its audience. It's such an embarrassing attempt at "artsy" that it comes across a first-year screenwriter trying entirely too hard to be "edgy." Yes, I get that irony of having "Ebbing" as the fictitious name of the city in Missouri in which this whole story takes place, as the entire perception and emotions of the main characters ebb and flow throughout the film, confusing the viewer into developing a belief or emotions about a character before zig-zagging into a completely altered perception of the character. This intentional mind-f*ck is elementary, poorly written and, frankly, hidden by how well the actors perform.

The bottom line of this film is that the viewer is supposed to see Frances McDormand one way, Sam Rockwell in the opposite way. Then, when the spindle of the film, the centerpiece, Woody Harrellson, dies, situationally, things change to alter how the viewer sees Frances' character and how the viewer sees Sam's character. There are many plot points used to create the details around why we see these two characters the way we do that, in this climax of Woody's death, are abandoned as "irrelevant" when we are made to see them a different way. Without going into a lot of details, the plot devices used are offensive, racially charged, homophobic, just disgusting on every level, which are items we've come to anticipate in movies from people like Quentin Tarantino, but they always seem to be relevant in the character and/or the plot. Here they are incredibly insensitive items, but then discarded as pointless for the sacrificial sake of forcing the viewer to change their opinion of these two characters. In the meantime, those plot devices are left there and leave so many unanswered questions, that one can't help but blame horrific writing for such careless use and resolution of those plot devices. It's astoundingly poor writing.

In the end, while the film intentionally doesn't end it the way most people would expect (which I'm fine with), and forcibly makes you realize that this film is about the change in its characters rather than wrapping up a typical storybook end, the flaws radiate more than ever.

As a result, I don't recommend anyone pay money to see this film. I also hope the white-dominant Academy and Hollywood Foreign Press see this film for what it is and not focus so much on the spoon-fed redemption, then judge it accordingly.

Lion
Lion(2016)

The first 45 minutes of "Lion" are some of the most powerful scenes a film has ever shown. Anyone who has experienced even a brief memory of being lost as a small child will sit on the edge of their seat as the story of Saroo is told. "Lion" is thought-provoking, to say the least, as it will stay with you for much longer than its 129 minute length. Unfortunately, the story weakens when Dev Patel, an adult Saroo, reaches a point in his life where he is on his own, building his future and stumbles upon a memory from his past. While the viewer isn't surprised at Saroo's desire to go back to India to find out what happened to his family, the story implication that this thought was seemingly nonexistent from the day he was adopted to this memory-stirring moment, is confusing and unbelievable. The film resolves itself in an equally powerful way as the first 45 minutes of the film, but while it's a great film, the second act takes it out of Best Picture contention for me. Still, for the statistical horror it portrays, "Lion" is a must see.

Jackie
Jackie(2016)

I cannot imagine a more unnecessary bio to have been put to film. Aside from a valiant effort from Natalie Portman, this idiotic movie is so overdramatized with its heavy handed music and Stanley Kubrick pacing that I was waiting for Jackie to put on an orgy mask. If the purpose of the music and pacing was to emphasize the state of shock Jackie was in after the assassination of her husband, mission accomplished. In unnecessary spades. 100 minutes of boredom that could have been summed up in 30.

La La Land
La La Land(2016)

Absolutely brilliant in every possible way. Incredible direction, precious script, heartfelt acting and unique for our time. I cannot remember the last time I've had not one single criticism of a film. It is a perfect film.

Fences
Fences(2016)

After railing a bit on "Manchester By the Sea" yesterday, I had a strong desire to be cinematically satisfied. Unexpectedly, I went to see the one movie I wanted see over any other, the film version of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Fences." I'm glad I did.

Denzel Washington directs this beautiful film with some of the richest characters I've ever seen collectively in a film, all flawed in their own way and as real as I can imagine. Set over the course of the 1950s and 60s in urban Pittsburgh, "Fences" symbolically represents the constructs we build around ourselves, the choices we make, the consequences of our life decisions and the impact we have on others. There is such immense humanity in these brilliantly acted characters. They represent all of us more closely, even uncomfortably so, than many characters portrayed in film.

The extensive dialogue is indicative of its status as a play first, but fits very well for the film. Denzel mixes camera turns/circles with brutal stationary shots that perfect match the mood and subject matter occurring at the time. As a result, the translation from stage to film is near perfect. Viola Davis is phenomenal, as usual, but the major scene when Denzel's Troy gives her some particularly bad news, is Oscar-worthy in and of itself. I hope the Academy notices and showers this film with everything it can.

Manchester by the Sea
½

The Oscar season this year hasn't appeared very promising. After watching the Golden Globes, I felt even less interested. Coupled with the fact that it is mid-January and I've seen one movie in 2 months, and only one real Oscar-level contender, "Hell or High Water," which was a disappointment, I haven't been very excited. Today I chose to see the one movie that promises to be a contender and actually looked interesting to me, "Manchester By the Sea."

Another New England-centric drama by the Affleck/Damon clan,along with recent addition of John Krazinski, didn't fill me with a lot of hope. However, the trailer looked good when I saw "Nocturnal Animals back in early November, plus the buzz and Casey Affleck's Golden Globe win sold me. Unfortunately, I wasn't blown away.

"Manchester By the Sea" isn't a bad movie. It's head and shoulders above most of the drivel in theaters today. The acting is pretty darn good, the setting is lovely and the story has a lot of potential. For the newbie, Amazon Studios, which has been more hit than miss, it seemed like its inaugural legit hit. And, for the most part, it's been perceived that way with a 97% Rottentomatoes critic score. I simply don't get this. Again, the movie isn't bad, but it isn't anything special.

I'm the first to criticize films that are "too" Hollywood. This movie isn't.

I'm the first to criticize films that are too easy to predict. This movie isn't.

I'm the first to criticize films that have perfectly defined bookend starts and finishes. This movie doesn't.

I'm the first to criticize movies that have an ending that isn't an ending. This movie really isn't that either.

So...why is it barely above average to me? Well, "Manchester By the Sea" had some familiar story elements that have steered my emotions into places that stick with me long after the film is over. They make me go back to the movie and watch it over and over. It's these kind of elements that give richness to the characters. What's weird about this film, though, is while there is a lot of depth to the characters, the story is pieced together in such a way that you really don't fully grasp the depth of issues in Casey Affleck's character, Lee, until near the end. I'm guessing that's intentional, but at 2 hours and 15 minutes, it just annoys me. The movie is entirely too long with a myriad of inexplicable starts and stops that appear to lead nowhere. They seem to be placed in the story to explain certain pieces, but then are left alone. The result is a spoon-fed story that makes the emotions we are supposed to be feeling, artificial.

The plot has a ton of potential. It's rooted in a sad subject that the strong acting is capable of executing in a powerful way, but the story, or at least the editing, prevent it from doing so. Repeatedly. This choppiness and eventual petered-out ending left me feeling like this was a college film. Certainly not worthy of the Oscar buzz.

"Manchester By the Sea" suffer under the weight of its topic. The characters trying to carry this story to its eventual finish line are frequently readjusting their place in it, causing ripples in the flow of the film, making it hard to fully appreciate the writer/director's intent.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The new concept of the "Star Wars Story" is a risky proposition for the now-purely-Disney-fied version of Star Wars, but with the investment they made, they are wanting to squeeze as much return as possible. Completely understandable. While everyone was thrilled to see Episode VII last year, the more I watch it, the more irritated I get at the creative laziness of it, essentially milking the same storyline from Episode IV and modernizing it. Say what you want about the weakness of the acting, dialogue and direction of the prequels, Lucas at least created an entire new trilogy that, once the Clone Wars and Rebels series were added, have become a very strong story in and of itself. Episode VII needs some strong growth in Episode VIII and IX to keep up the caliber of what makes an "Episode."

That being said, we Star Wars fans in our mid-40s who grew up in a Star Wars haze for most of our childhood, would absolutely attend this "Star Wars Story" and give it the right amount of rope with which to hang itself if the concept reached for more than it was capable. The result was not just a very, very strong story, script, acting and pure filmmaking, but this "story" tied into Episode IV better than any other Episode tied into another. I am rating this movie 5 stars because even hours after the film is a memory to me, I cannot find a single flaw. Was it joyless? Absolutely. But so was Episode III, which was similarly a dark time in the storyline. Yet, for all its intended darkness, Episode III suffered from poor script, poor directing and horrendous acting. Lucas rushing the birth of Luke and Leia, introducing the concept of "Force Ghosts" and shoe-horning in the separation of the kids just made Episode III's darkness seem cartoonishly silly. That was not the case in "Rogue One." The drama, script, acting and tone were pure Star Wars, but also a product of very strong filmmaking. I feel for poor Natalie Portman, a tremendous actress stuck in the worst era of Star Wars. I can only imagine she watches "Rogue One" with her face in her palm wondering where it all went wrong. The inclusion of many elements from Episode IV, from the elementary effects of X-Wing flight being mimicked to perfection, to the cameos of the original Red Leader, Gold Leader, a CGI Tarkin and CGI Leia, this was the film Episode VII wished it had been. This movie was essentially a 2+ hour extra addition to Episode IV. And done brilliantly. The bar has been raised significantly for future "Episodes," sure, but what "Rogue One" has really done is set an expectation that all future "Stories" must be done equally as perfect.

Joshy
Joshy(2016)
½

While I love the cast and premise, it isn't a very well written story. The dialogue was really good at times, but structurally, the story buckled under its own weight.

Nocturnal Animals

Intense, cold, brutal, cruel, perfectly filmed, acted and strong dialogue. While I know this is based on the novel, "Tony and Susan," I'm shocked Tom Ford, more known for fashion design, is able to channel his creative side so well into film-making. The screenplay he writes is very strong. The tension I felt throughout most of the film is the most I've truly felt during a movie in years.

Doctor Strange

I'm not sure if the sheer volume of comic book movies has gotten to me or if I'm becoming more critical of the seemingly watered-down collective product. At my most optimistic, making a high-budget blockbuster film based on a D-level Marvel character could not have been done much better. "Doctor Strange" had to be an original story too, so the level of adventure was going to be limited by the requirement to explain how he became Doctor Strange. Benedict Cumberbatch is a perfect Doc. The action scenes are top notch and had me thinking what a great movie the Wachowskis could have made with this subject matter. And knowing where the integration of Doc in the Marvel Universe will be going, I am excited for future encounters with him. That being said, this movie isn't particularly great. It has an unusually high satisfaction rating, which makes me think Marvel has controlled their brand so well, they simply cannot do any wrong. Doctor Strange is the worst Marvel Studios has made thus far. That is how high the bar is. It wasn't an awful movie, but it was average, which is what we have not come to expect from Mighty Marvel. It's not Suicide Squad bad, but it is as good as it could have been.

The Accountant

This contains semi-spoilers, so if you haven't seen it, don't read.

Ok...so the trailers for "The Accountant" had me interested from minute one, but after seeing ~50% on Rotten Tomatoes, I was a little worried. However, I ventured out this evening and saw it anyway. I wasn't disappointed. I'm not sure if it was lowered expectations or what, but I left pleasantly surprised at what I just saw.

Let me just get it out of the way...I've never liked Ben Affleck much. I'm sure he's a good ole guy and all, but he's consistently been one of the worst actors in the modern era. This movie cast him perfectly. Wooden. Emotionless. Very little in the way of dialogue. Perfect. He's got the intellectual-yet-tough look that this character needed. He even looked dumb quite easily when the script called for it. That being said, bravo Ben.

As for the story, I went back and forth all during the movie because certain elements were easy as hell to figure out, perhaps intentionally, but by the end, it unraveled in a way that still surprised me in certain ways. It wasn't as simple as I had thought it was while watching. No, it wasn't "Silence of the Lambs," but it wasn't that different in ease as "Seven" was.

Either way, I guessed the part about the brother from minute one. Same with John Lithgow. However, I was grossly incorrect in guessing JK Simmons' true role in the film and was quite surprised when he was unveiled to be whom he was. And the end, like I said, really came out of nowhere. But in a good way. The action scenes were also very well choreographed and filmed, worthy of a theater's surround sound system.

Jonah Hex
Jonah Hex(2010)

I didn't wait long enough, apparently, to finally see this movie. The cast is very strong, but the story is weak. The directing is almost as weak. Too bad too as this was a wasted opportunity. Hex is a very strong, very interesting character. Like Marvel's Ghost Rider, I'm not sure why studios chose weak approaches to these kinds of characters. There is almost no development of anyone in this film. The short origin explanation at the beginning is all the audience gets, presumably because the rest of the story is just too strong to bog it down with character development. Sigh.

Warcraft
Warcraft(2016)
½

I have never played the game, nor have I read any of the books. My son is a fan of the series and I wanted to share with him in something he likes the same way he goes to nearly every comic book movie with me. I had no expectations since I was not aware of not a single plot point, but thanks to my son, I went in fresh while being mildly prepared for the kind of story I'd be walking in to. I was very surprised how much I enjoyed the film. While the big budget went to very impressive CGI on the orcs, especially very detailed facial expressions, there were moments of early 80's "Flash Gordon"-like effects that turned me off. However, the story was very interesting. It held my attention and, with some post-credit expansion of knowledge from my son, I greatly appreciate what the film brought. The end was rather abrupt, and there were a few edits that made me cringe, but generally speaking, this was a good film. Though the critics have torched it, it was nice to see 83% of the audience liked it as it was clear they were for whom the movie was made.

X-Men: Apocalypse

I have had absolutely no interest in seeing this film. I love Bryan Singer's ability to tell stories, especially in the first two X-Men films, but the look of Apocalypse and his voice have just looked plain silly, as have the effects of Magneto and Angel's fight scenes. They looked way too green screened and cartoony. Yet, I am a sucker for comic book movies, so I went anyway. The first 30 minutes were abysmal. The writing, editing, cramming of the story, etc. just made it an immensely boring film. Very un-Bryan Singer-like. However, the rest of the movie, specifically when Quicksilver makes his entrance, was well done. I'm reaching a point in these films where stories are coming from books I had stopped reading, so some of it is quite new. Apocalypse was introduced in X-Factor in the late 80s, one of the last comic books I would buy before giving up that hobby in high school. Archangel, originally Angel (Warren Worthington III), was altered to become one of Apocalypse's Four Horsemen, which really kind of bored me and contributed to me leaving the comic book world. However, I liked his character in the movie, though there was no discussion about his rich-boy backstory. As one of the original X-Men, I expected more for Angel. Alas, it was not to be. Let me get the superficial stuff out right now. I have a crazy crush on Sophie Turner. I am a sucker for good-looking redheads and she was smoking-ass hot in this film. I don't watch Game of Thrones, but have seen a couple of episodes and knew her prior to the movie. While she doesn't look anything like Famke Janssen, the original "Jean," she was very good cast. The reveal of her Phoenix alter-ego was AWESOME. The fanboy in me was very pleased, especially after Brett Ratner's ridiculous X-Men 3, which was made fun of in this film in a not-so-subtle manner. The short Wolverine component to the story is weaving all of the Fox-centered "X-Stories" together very well. Jackman was in full berseker mode and wore his "Weapon X" attire, which had never been seen before this film. The post-credits scene is tying the Weapon X program into Mr. Sinister and Deadpool quite well. Knowing that Cable is forthcoming in Deadpool 2 is seeming very natural now. Good job, Bryan Singer. I still have a fundamental problem with the bi-polar nature of how they present Magneto. Yes, he's a bit of an anti-hero in the comics, but he's had his pure evil moments. Seeing him bounce from extreme to extreme in the films is getting boring. I also don't like Mystique's "good" component. She is not an X-Man. She's certainly not a teacher at Xavier's school. Conversely, she was never a quiet sub-character either, as portrayed in the first 3 films by Rebecca Romijn. To me, they've never gotten her right. Jennifer Lawrence is closer, but again, not as a good guy. This is why I loved the subtle inclusion of Caliban, one of the founders of the underground Morlocks, which played a tiny part in helping bring Apocalypse's Four Horsemen together. This was interesting because Caliban played a "Fifth Horseman" in the comics, as Death and Pestilence. As I mentioned, the movies are getting to a level where I stopped reading the comics, so much of this will start to be new to me. However, what made the last 75% of the film a good one was the inclusion of all of those "X-Factor" components. Again, I never thought I'd see the day when these things were brought to the big screen in such a big budget way. It's definitely a "wow" moment for me. My only real complaint about the film, though, is it is showing me that this genre, which may be in the process of becoming tiresome to mainstream audiences, is finally becoming a bit tiresome to comic fans. Fox cannot get sloppy, like it did in the first 25% of this film, and just assume we will like whatever you put on the screen. The rush job and poor story development mattered. It also mattered in last year's reboot of Fantastic Four. It also mattered in DC's Batman v. Superman. The story still matters. In fact, the ability to tell that story cinematically is more important than ever. Batman Begins, Dark Knight and many of Marvel's films are setting the bar very high. These studios need to keep up that level or these movies will start to die.

Carol
Carol(2015)
½

I was intrigued, even though "Carol" was not nominated for Best Picture, why both Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara both received Best Actress nominations during the Golden Globes, but only Cate receiving the Best Actress nomination for the Oscar, relegating Rooney to the "Best Supporting Actress" pile. Early in the process, I was actually under the impression that this was the movie to beat this Oscar season, which is why the lack of Best Pic nom really surprised me. Having finally watched it, I'm even more confused. "Carol" is nearly as strong a love story as "Brokeback Mountain." I don't mean to compare the two as they include the forbidden love of two gay characters in a time when there was practically zero acceptance. To me, those are coincidental elements. I felt the love between these two characters very deeply, like I did in "Brokeback." Being gay had nothing to do with it. Maybe the societal taboo of it all made the sadness of their inability to love like they want seem that much stronger, and thus portray a stronger love story overall, but being gay never entered my psyche about it. These two tremendously strong actresses wandering through a slow, sensual build-up of falling in love, culminating in that eventual, passionate expression of love, was masterfully done. What made "Brokeback" better, I believe, is that the forbidden nature of it eventually resulted in a powerfully sad ending, while "Carol" received more of a Hollywood ending. Given that both were based on novels, though, the stories were already written. While I walked away from "Brokeback" with a heart as crushed as Heath Ledger's, I walked away from "Carol" with optimism and excitement for a love that looked as though it would make it. Cate Blanchett powerfully delivers the key, unapologetic acceptance of who she is in a deposition with her estranged husband that wasn't overdramatic for a minute, but couldn't have been a stronger statement. Then Rooney, for all her young confusion and mending, jilted heart, embraced whom she was and, in the end, sought out her love for what no doubt was a happy ending. I loved the pacing of the film and how it had just as much to do with the build-up of their love as the actual story, even when it seemed slow. Nothing was unnaturally rushed. While I don't believe either should beat out Brie Larson for Best Actress, I don't know how the Academy believed Cate was anymore of a lead than Rooney. The Golden Globes got it right. As a result, I believe Rooney will take the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and that may have been the reasoning all along.

Trumbo
Trumbo(2015)
½

Knowing that my birth was not even a decade removed from the end of such an idiotic time in our political history makes watching a movie like "Trumbo" somewhat difficult. Not only am I aghast at how people could have treated other people in the manner the movie represents, but I also cannot believe that investigations continued 3 years into my own life. These kind of activities now would be halted very quickly. That being said, while at times a bit slow, the story is captivating and the performances riveting. It was interesting to see Jay Roach do something so serious, even in its comedic moments. Louis CK continues to show his range in the most dramatic role in which I've seen him. Helen Mirren, whom I love, had me legitimately hating her. Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G Robinson is phenomenal, as is Dean O'Gorman as Kirk Douglas. However, the most amazing performance is from Bryan Cranston himself, who continues to prove what an incredible actor he is. It's almost shameful that he has to compete with the like of Matt Damon, who does absolutely nothing special in "The Martian," yet is up for the same award. While many have Leo pegged to win for "The Revenant," Bryan has to be a close second.

Brooklyn
Brooklyn(2015)
½

Wrapping up my season of Oscar Best Pic nominees (the first time I've done that before February...ever), I finally saw a movie I've wanted to see since I saw the first trailer 4-5 months ago. Though I didn't quite make out what the plot was from trailer, the story was not what I expected and, even in my increased level of expectations after seeing the 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes, I left thinking it was even better than I thought it would be. This period piece set in 1950's Brooklyn is precious from the opening scene. The performances are authentic, especially by Saoirse Ronan, the stunning lead actress, who is also nominated for an Oscar. The story is consistent, well-written and directed to keep the attention of the audience every minute of the film. They don't make films like this very often, so it's a treat when they are made and they are this good. While it doesn't beat out "The Big Short" for me in the Best Picture category, it's very close to it and "Spotlight." Definitely worthy of the nod, your money and your time.

American Sniper

I say it every time I see a Clint Eastwood movie. I swear I will never go to a theater and see another one. Such an iconic actor for so many decades, I'd think he would have figured out how to direct a film. He's just awful and has to stop being given a camera. Bradley Cooper's performance transcends the weak dialogue, as does Sienna Miller's. However, the fact that any of this movie is nominated for an Oscar is testament to the fact that Clint Eastwood plays the politics of Hollywood well. While the movie isn't awful, the direction, the editing, the pacing and the flow of the movie are an absolute mess. Add the dramatic license taken throughout the film, and it's hard to look at this film in a very positive light.

Birdman
Birdman(2014)

A well-written movie, with superb acting and phenomenal directing will usually get 4 and a half stars from me. To get 5, it needs to be that one element more special than just a fantastic movie. It has to be unique or a different perspective on a previously tackled subject. "Birdman" (or "The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance") fits that description and gets 5 stars only because it cannot get more. Every movie starts with a story. The story portrayed here is flawless. It is a brilliant story written in such a dark, nonsensical way, yet anchored with so much dialogue that 2 hours zooms by as the viewer tries hard to absorb it. It's the kind of story that leaves you talking about it, reading more about it and wanting to watch it again just to be sure you got it all. In that sense, it was perfect. To execute all of that dialogue, the casting and acting had to be perfect, and I see no way it could have been done more perfectly. The attraction to the initial construct of the story centers around a seemingly washed-up actor who, 20 years removed from his heyday, is seeking to be both respected as an actor and appreciated by the fans who left him long ago. However, as all good stories will include, the irony is, the meat of the story is not truly about that at all. Sure, it is peripherally, but the point of the film is about so much more than that. So, on the surface, getting Michael Keaton to play a role that is meant to lure audiences in thinking that the comparison to Michael's character, Riggin, and Michael himself is what the movie is about, but instead the audiences will be fed so much more. And to do that not only takes excellent writing, but also solid casting and acting. "Birdman" also perfectly does this. Since the majority of the film is about the pretension of acting as a whole, both in celebrity-driven Hollywood as well as the self-importance of the Broadway theater scene, it was vital to cast actors who have done both and can seriously, yet ironically, play those kinds of characters. Emma Stone and the brilliant Edward Norton solidify the execution of this story in a way that makes it so fun to absorb the deluge of dialogue in this 2-hour film. That brings us to directing. The gasoline in this machine, which relies heavily on how the acting carries out the dialogue and story, is rooted strongly in how the camera and direction guide the audience cinematically through it. The dizzying, sometimes frantic, pace of the camera work and the perception of a 2-hour single-shot film, is the main reason the acting and script is able to be absorbed by the audience. The chemistry of all of these elements are done so perfectly, that 4.5 stars was an easy award. What put "Birdman" over the top, however, is the sheer absurdity of its subject matter. The film is so schizophrenic, yet has to be in order to be coherent. It's a dark comedy. It's a drama. It's an exquisite study into the minds of the type of people who become actors, why they get sucked into the field, what tortures them throughout their careers and, in the end, how they wrestle with the drama that has to be created in their own lives to even continue on such a seemingly-futile balance of integrity and popularity. The definition of success as an actor is almost completely blurred. Then to attempt to blend any success in that craft with success in real life is just impossible. "Birdman" is such a farce, yet brilliantly constructed as an almost educational analysis of the industry that one walks out of the film simply amazed and nearly breathless trying to comprehend what had just been witnessed. "Birdman" is what filmmaking is all about and what is so rarely seen. It will be taught in universities for years. It deserves Oscar recognition for directing, best acting, best supporting acting and screenplay. It's just that good.

St. Vincent
St. Vincent(2014)

It is a delight to see the great Bill Murray continuing to take on such different roles. While his portrayal of Vincent isn't much of a stretch comedically or even dramatically, it's a much braver choice than Groundhog Day 2, Scrooged 2, Stripes 2 and Ghostbusters 3. He genuinely looks like he's having fun and is quite natural playing the funny old guy who wants people to think he's a pain when really, he's quite the opposite. Melissa McCarthy finally plays a role that isn't an insult to her, and she's fantastic as the single mother of Oliver, the young boy who brings all of the main characters together and allows everyone to see Vincent for the good guy he actually is. Naomi Watts is almost disturbing as the hooker with a heart of, well, bronze maybe...I think gold might be a stretch. St. Vincent is precious. As an indie movie, it has its flaws, but is a precious film nonetheless.

Begin Again
Begin Again(2014)
½

What "Begin Again" was attempting, it mostly succeeded. That is, developing multiple perspectives that needed resolution, growth and, in essence, the ability to "begin again." From Mark Ruffalo's relationship with his wife, Keira Knightley's closure with her boyfriend, played by Adam Levine, to the need for the way the music industry deals with the release, promotion and distribution of new artists' material. While I enjoyed the movie overall, the pacing, editing, acting and dialogue were all very inconsistent, choppy and, in the case of Mark Ruffalo's performance, just poor at times. Keira, whom I don't enjoy very often, was perfect in this role, and quite adorable. Had she not been as good, the movie might have been much worse.

The Skeleton Twins
½

"The Skeleton Twins" is an unusual, but perfect vehicle for two of the best SNL has ever produced, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, who play emotionally stunted and damaged siblings making their way through life after never having fully recovered from the suicide of their father, flakiness of their mother and a surprising split themselves years earlier. It's a refreshing change to see such talented actors show dramatic chops after being known so strongly for their comedy. I wish other SNL stars had followed this same career path. The story is very raw, well-written, perfectly-acted and authentic in its presentation.

Get On Up
Get On Up(2014)
½

Unusually sequenced and edited, but still powerful, the life story of James Brown could have been much longer than this already-long movie was, but that would have been just fine with me. Chadwick Boseman plays a superb Brown through the intertwining portrayal of Brown's incredible life. Unfortunately, there were two large portions of that life, his teenage years and the last two turbulent decades of his life, that they simply skimmed over out of chronological necessity, I'm assuming. They focused heavily on the music, which was wonderful in and of itself, and not too much of a surprise given that Mick Jagger was a producer of the film, but it certainly would not have hurt the film to cover some of those other formative years in his early and later life. If you are a fan of JB, or just music history in general, few made the impact James Brown did. To watch just some of it unfold onscreen is much better than watching none of it.

Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
½

While not nearly as good as the first one, this sequel is not nearly as bad as it is being made out to be. Marv is almost a parody of the original and not very menacing. The Dwight story was very good, though the "dame" was an awful actress, even for the overdramatic noir element she was supposed to be playing. The Joseph Gordon-Levitt story was very good, though the ending just...happened. And Nancy's revenge story, while ok, didn't carry the weight of Bruce Willis' prequel from the original. And Jessica Alba's acting is just bad. I miss Clive Owens as Dwight. The late Michael Clarke-Duncan was well replaced. And Rosario Dawson wad still sexy. All in all, worth seeing if you loved the original, but it won't gain any new fans.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Bryan Singer is a master storyteller. And for someone who didn't know much about the X-Men when he first took them on a decade and a half ago, I sincerely don't ever want anyone else telling their stories anymore. This movie was something I'd been waiting for from the moment I heard about it. It is plucked directly out of my childhood and seems surreal to see onscreen. I have an emotional attachment to this story. However, when I saw the first trailers, I was immensely disappointed. It did NOT look good. Well, considering the Godzilla trailers DID look good and it was a steaming pile of lizard dung, looks can clearly be deceiving. XMen DOFP is a masterpiece. Singer eradicated the ridiculous Ratner movie, cleaned up some loose ends from other films, introduced the most exciting new character, Quicksilver, and even alluded to him being the son of Magneto, as he is in the comics. I was concerned about another Wolverine-focused picture, but it worked. Very well. In fact, it was just as much a Professor X and Magneto movie, which is great considering that Michael Fassbender is a PERFECT Magneto. Cold, emotionless and focused on his mission. He has personified Magneto more than Ian McKellen ever could. I always thought they went way too old for that role and Fassbender fixes that. The complexity of the time traveling is not without its holes (like every time-traveling story), but the portrayal of the Sentinels, Trask, Stryker and Chris Claremont/John Byrne's original dystopian future was modernized as perfectly as can be. Just amazing in every way, especially if you're an XMen fan.

Nebraska
Nebraska(2013)

One of my favorite films of all time is Alexander Payne's "Sideways." Payne's ability to tell a story with such humanity is almost unmatched. He is a master of redemption with endings that have such an immense amount of optimism and sweetness that one can't help but tear up. "Nebraska" is a family, but more specifically, a father-and-son movie. Will Forte and Bruce Dern exhibit the fine

Guardians of the Galaxy

Better than I expected when it was announced two years ago, but not nearly as fantastic as everyone seems to think it is. The good: introduction of the Nova Corps., introduction of the Kree, Ronin the Accuser, Thanos, Rocket, the comedy. The bad: the pacing was slow in spots even though some of the story lines were rushed, the editing seemed patch - work in places and some of the elements were just corny, like the way the whole scene with the Collector was done. Don't get me wrong. I liked the film, and am happy to see it weave into the greater storyline, but I'm genuinely surprised it is getting the level of praise it is getting.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

Yeah, Seth. Please stop making movies that, even when they seem like an homage or a throwback to references of when you and I were both growing up, seem to still fail in being inspirational, humorous or clever. When Gilbert Godfried is the funniest part of your movie, and he's only in it for about 30 seconds, you have a BIG problem.

Chef
Chef(2014)
½

I read Jon Favreau say that getting movies like this made in the modern era was next to impossible. I certainly don't see many movies like Chef, so I'm guessing he's right. And that's a shame. In the same week that I was kicked squarely in the baby maker by the abysmal "Godzillla," what made everything alright again was this precious and adorable film by the same man who told another wonderful father - son comedy, "Elf." Jon Favreau goes back to his indie roots by bankrolling, writing, directing and starring in "Chef," a film about a lovable, hard - working chef of a California restaurant that he loves running, but quickly finds himself learning the social media ropes when he accidentally tweets an angry response to a nasty food critic. The story leads him to perform some immense self discovery, redefinition and reconnecting with a son he hadn't realized had been drifting from him for a while. The story is unique, funny, loving and a welcome change in the superhero blockbuster era that Jon himself helped create. I had no doubt Jon could do this kind of film, but I've never seen Jon act this well. With help from his friends, Jon takes the right turn away from big budgets and serves up a perfect alternative.

Godzilla
Godzilla(2014)

Dumbest film I've seen in years.

Spartacus
Spartacus(1960)

I simply don't understand the appeal of this film. Epics were a dime a dozen during this era and, for the most part, I can respect what was accomplished, although hearing and watching Shakespearean actors portray foreign roles is immensely annoying. However, "Spartacus" is in a class by itself. Kirk Douglas is too American, too old and too wrong for this part in every way. Sir Laurence Olivier and Peter Ustinov save it from being a complete disaster, but attributing this snoozefest to Stanley Kubrick is just a shame. The gladiator training scenes were boring and poorly choreographed. The big battle scene is too long and anti-climactic. Compared to "Ben-Hur," released the year prior, "Spartacus" is a bore. I never care about Spartacus' hatred toward slavery. I never quite see the transformation from slave to revolutionary. It just happens. As a result, character development is mixed and, in some cases, completely lost.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

What I hated about AS1 was the seemingly lackluster approach to telling a story. It was more about showing off Garfield's take as Peter Parker and blowing a ton of stuff up. Now, with AS2, that doesn't so much lessen as it is done with purpose, for the most part. The first 30-40 minutes felt a lot like AS1. I was not terribly excited to see AS2 because of how much I was bored by AS1, but after the initial rush-job of storytelling, Marc Webb finally let the story unfold as it was naturally intended. The final hour and 45 minutes was nearly a masterpiece of Spider-Man storytelling. First, a masterful job was done on the modern take of the Gwen story. It may be because Garfield/Stone are an actual couple that enhanced the emotion between the two, but I FELT Peter's pain. And the way the two of them interacted was superb. Harry was done so much better than in the Raimi version and is leading to an exciting Sinister Six movie, which will apparently feature at least Rhino, Vulture, Doctor Octopus and Green Goblin. Maybe even Black Cat, since the movie introduced us to Felicia Hardy. I've read complaints that the story is too plot filled. I completely disagree, at least for the last hour and 45 minutes. When it was announced that Mary Jane would be cut from the film as it was just too much, I can now see why. The Gwen story needed to be the focus. Personally, I'd love to see Emma, in her fiery red hair, come back as Mary Jane. I believe that would be an interesting twist. As though Mary Jane reminds him of Gwen. Felicia, I thought, was a little too much, but maybe it will work out in the end. The first half hour the movie felt like they had to stuff a lot to get the story moving and into a certain place, especially between Peter and Gwen. However, in the end, the decisions made in trimming down the story left me extremely satisfied and surprised at how pleased I am to see the franchise going in this direction. Especially after AS1.

The Heat
The Heat(2013)
½

Predictable, easy and formulaic, "The Heat" at least does it well. The trailers don't do the comedy justice as my low expectations were surprisingly exceeded. It isn't "Citizen Kane," but neither is it meant to be. It's an adorable comedy with a well-arranged story. Frankly, McCarthy and Bullock are better than this, but they add weight to what would be less with most other actresses. I could have done without the requisite dance-in-a-bar routine, but at least it wasn't full of those kind of scenes. For an afternoon of laughs, it was pretty good.

The Wolverine

Christopher Nolan has clearly started to impact the way superhero movies are made, especially with its dark characters. After an underrated, but still rather weak, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," a movie version-done-right for Logan was an absolute demand of comic fans. While I love Frank Miller, and using his limited series as a basis for some of the film was definitely the right way to go, I was never much of a fan of the Japanese storyline. I was worried that "The Wolverine" might go too obscure and lose much of its audience. To be honest, the final product may, in fact, push away some generic fans of the mutant, but for comic fans like me, not to mention quality film fans like me, have reason to celebrate this new film.

The storytelling and pacing of "The Wolverine" are what highlight this film the most for me. I saw Christopher Nolan's stamp on many elements of the film. It was practically told in the vein of an independent film. Even the action scenes were not over-the-top action-y. They were choreographed, but more of a simple stylization, not an actual choreographed fight, ala Daredevil/Elektra or Daredevil/Kingpin(both of which ruined an otherwise ok film). The shots were unique. The relationships were allowed to unfold. Aside from a pretty weak representation of Viper (whose voice, I'm convinced, was overdubbed by someone else), the film was near perfect. It had depth, authentic portrayals and character development. It may not have been as good as "Batman Begins," but it was much more worthy of a film for a character of Wolverine's caliber than much of anything else he's been in.

This Is the End
½

Brilliantly written, this unique comedy blends everything I love about comedies. One, consistent laughs throughout the films, not just a few easy laughs that you see on trailers. Two, extreme vulgarity. Three, seat-squirming moments of things that shouldn't be funny, but are. And Four, dry, improvised dialogue. This movie has it all. The concept is funny enough. Wrapping it into a fictional story pretending to happen to real Hollywood actors was just self-parody perfection not seen since Howard Stern's "Private Parts." From the best opening 15 minutes since "Saving Private Ryan," to the Kevin Smith-like ending, I was in tears the whole time. My only real complaint isn't really a complaint. This is the same humor Kevin Smith, an inspiration to co-star and co-writer, Seth Rogen, has been doing for two decades and not getting enough accolades for, while this movie hits 80% on Rotten Tomatoes. I'm happy because this film deserves it, but so have a lot of others.

Superman Unbound

After the last Superman made-for-DVD movie, "Superman vs. the Elite," I began to see that the Bruce Timm-era of really great DC properties in animation had started to lose their way. I was happy to see that "Unbound" improved upon the last outing, albeit with only slightly better animation. The unfortunate thing, though, is that the story wasn't all that better. To me, the best Superman stories of the past 20 years include Brainiac. And as much as I like Geoff Johns, I didn't care for this Brainiac story as much as I did how they had him in the Superman Animated Series. Humanizing him into the android form reminded me too much of the old comics and Legion of Doom-era Brainiac, and that just wasn't very interesting to me. However, he was a lot more interesting in THIS android form than in those old comics and cartoons. Just not as good as TAS. It was definitely worth seeing if you are a fan of this genre. The voice actors were very good, even if they were very unknown. Andrea Romano continues to prove the she knows how to cast these characters and stay true to fan's views of them.

The Iceman
The Iceman(2013)
½

The trailer for "The Iceman" was enough to sell me on seeing Michael Shannon and Chris Evans showcasing their strong acting chops in a gritty mob drama ala "Goodfellas," complete with cameos from Ray Liotta and a couple of other Sopranos vets. Unfortunately, Michael Shannon's perfect casting was wasted on horrendous dialogue, weak directing and slow editing. Chris Evans either improvised his dialogue, making his character a lot more interesting than anyone else in the film, or he is a much better actor than I ever thought. The subject matter was obviously interesting enough to warrant the film, but too bad the screenplay was crap.

Star Trek Into Darkness

I was unimpressed with the new Star Trek Into Darkness, especially considering how much I enjoyed the first incarnation of JJ's Star Trek. While Khan was an immensely well-performed character and a welcome addition to the story, I didn't find the impersonations of Spock, Bones, Scotty, etc., quite as charming this time around. Chris Pine as Kirk was definitely good, but Quinto lost a little something for me this time. And, while this may be a parallel Star Trek universe, the comparison's, albeit flipped a little, to the original Wrath of Khan, were just...weak. I rolled my eyes more than a few times. Visually, the film was beautiful, but the story was elementary, the dialogue was too full of unnecessary banter and bickering and the fight scenes were entirely over-choreographed. I now hesitate to see what JJ does with the Star Wars franchise, when I was ready to hand it all over to him. I guess he can't hurt what George was doing, but Star Trek Into Darkness seemed thrown together and, since the end takes them to the beginning of their 5-year mission to explore strange, new worlds, it doesn't seem like there will be a sequel.

The Guilt Trip

Considering I'm not a Barbara Streisand fan AT ALL, I was hesitant about seeing this movie. Thanks to JetBlue, I got to see it for free. Fortunately, I wasn't just a captured audience. The chemistry between Babs and Seth Rogen was very natural. In what I thought would be a goofy comedy ended up being an adorable, heart-warming romp with mother and son where lessons were learned by both and wonderful memories were made. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it.

Les MisÚrables

I am not much of a fan of musicals. In fact, they are my least favorite form of entertainment. However, I wanted to see Les Miserables for the story, as I've never viewed any incarnation of Les Mis. While nearly 3 hours of 100% singing is a bit hard to swallow, the performances make most of the songs worthwhile and the story more than makes up for the rest of it. My only real complaint was the hideously poor casting of Russell Crowe. What I liked about the filmmaking aspect of it was that most of the singing is filmed live, not overdubbed with studio recordings. Sure, this means the performances aren't flawless and are sometimes out of synch with the music, but it portrays the story as it is intended, in a very stage-like display. This doesn't prove a positive thing for Russell Crowe who, while he may have looked the part, was painful to hear singing.

The Great Gatsby

For a movie about which I had no, or at least very low, expectations, I walked out of "The Great Gatsby" not just pleasantly surprised. I left immensely entertained, even through the credits. Baz Luhrmann has been known for his visually stunning...err...bores. At last in my opinion. I have a deep disdain for period pieces that use modern music, so at early glances, this seemed like an extended eye roll. However, as I saw more trailers, the more I was intrigued. The good news is, the music wasn't an over-the-top distraction as I thought it might be. At least not after the initial, speedy first 30-45 minute introduction to the characters and premise. Had the movie continued the pace and music, I would have easily hated the film. However, it didn't. The story unfolded as beautifully as the visuals. The music matched the mood. The dialogue, pacing and acting carried through to the unfortunate end. Book-ended by orchestral versions of an older, little-known, yet long-time favorite of mine Gotye song, "Heart's a Mess," I ended up impressed with how well-constructed the soundtrack was around the film, even if it was modern. All-in-all, while I have not read the original source novel, the film was spectacular.

Mud
Mud(2013)

In what is definitely my favorite film of 2013 so far, writer/director Jeff Nichols overshadows his brilliant cast with what is clearly an emotional purging of love lost, heartbreak and growing up. Nichols has only done 3 films, all well-received, and he was only born in 1978. "Mud" is the story of a teenager, Ellis, magnificently played by young Tye Sheridan, who wanders off with his friend Neckbone in a boat on an Arkansas outlet of what appears to be the Mississippi River. They travel to a deserted island and encounter Matthew McConaughey who, as Mud, recruits them in helping save the love of his life from the retribution of her former lover's family. This almost coming-of-age story unravels further to reveal that Ellis himself is beginning to learn his own lessons of love and betrayal that apparently seem to have never been learned by Mud, some 30 years older. While seeing love fall apart all around him, Ellis struggles to decide what love is and how much he can trust the fairer sex since every influence around him indicates that he shouldn't, no matter how deeply he wants to believe in it. Ellis and Mud parallel each other throughout the film, which is a treat as the viewer. The acting is just so good, the story is so well constructed and the film is directed in such a raw manner that all the elements came together and made this a nearly flawless piece of art. McConaughey shows why he deserves the opportunity to do more than your everyday rom-com or adventure piece. With both "Bernie" and "Mud," he is quickly becoming one of the best out there. Tye Sheridan steals the show, though, and is worthy of Oscar consideration.

Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3(2013)

In what, to me, has become the Marvel standard (unfortunately, DC still wears the crown for Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy), Iron Man 3 is now the best third Marvel movie ever made. And better than most second ones. Stepping away from Favreau's direction was refreshing, and maybe that's the key here. Shane Black's writing and direction of Robert Downey Jr is masterful. While (spoiler alert), the twist with the Mandarin was silly (yet probably the best way to have the Manadarin in a feature film since he has always been a lame, yet prominent Iron Man character), introducing AIM the way they did and moving the story along through some great dramatic dialogue and storytelling, bumpered by flawless action scenes, proves that one can do a third movie in a franchise that isn't worthless. The ending blew me away though, and I'm convinced there will never be an RDJ Iron Man solo sequel again. We will see him in Avengers 2, I believe Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers 3, but that's it. And maybe even only as Tony Stark. Just as team rosters changed frequently in the comic, so shall, I believe, we will see in the films. Just as Nolan told the perfect Batman stories, RDJ IS Iron Man...and Tony Stark. There was never anyone more perfectly suited to play them both.

42
42(2013)
½

As a baseball and history fan, I get strongly interested when the subject is BOTH baseball AND history. I've always counted on baseball as a social barometer of where America is since the Civil War. "42" is a beautiful dramatization of the Jackie Robinson story. Historically, we know that there were probably better black players, specifically Satchel Paige (even though he was older). The dramatization in "42" streamlines the layout of Jackie's history and, especially for the first hour, truly hits the highlights to progress with the story. As someone who has sat through the Ken Burns baseball series, I prefer the longer version. The acting in "42" is quite good. The casting was perfect, with an all-star cast led by Harrison Ford's brilliant portrayal as Dodgers' owner, Branch Rickey. The story does hit the emotional high points and, admittedly, I had a tear in my eye a couple of times, but while "42" was great for Hollywood, I prefer the documentary version.

Orgazmo
Orgazmo(1998)

Unfortunately the fame of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's South Park did not carry over into their late-1990's feature films. Unfortunate because, frankly, they are even more brilliant than South Park itself, specifically Orgazmo. Created, written, directed, edited by and starring South Park co-creator Trey Parker, the NC-17-rated gem from 1998 can still be found on VHS, as well as DVD if you order it as a black-market import (as I did...it took about a month to get it from Hong Kong). Ebay and other auction sites have the DVD version all the time. If this film escaped you, allow me to guide through a short tour of one of the funniest films ever made.

If you are a South Park fan, the humor won't surprise you at all. However, as much as I love Trey Parker and Matt Stone's humor, I still am dumbfounded at how they come up with some of this stuff. For instance, the entire premise of Orgazmo surrounds a clean-cut Mormon (yes, Mormon) doing mission work (yes, mission work) in Los Angeles as part of his studies at BYU in Salt Lake City. That setup is the first five minutes of the film. You almost have to watch it two or three times to appreciate the sheer nutiness involved in coming up with such a beginning. You can hardly picture the session that took place where discussions like, "Ok...so there's this guy, right? He is a real religious guy...he's a, a, a...a Mormon! Yeah, that's it...and he is in Los Angeles doing mission work and he gets talked into doing porno." THAT is brilliant!!

That is exactly what happens though. Joe Young, a.k.a. Orgazmo, played by Trey Parker, desperately wants to marry his virginal bride in the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, but it costs a lot of money. While defending himself from some thugs who try to pummel him during his mission work, the director of a pornographic movie sees his action skills and talks him into being the star of his action-porno Orgazmo. Wrestling with this moral dilemma, Joe chooses the money because he knows it will go to a good cause, marriage to his love in the Temple.

Throughout the film-making process, you meet all kinds of insane characters including the sidekick Choda Boy, who actually holds two PhD's in Physics and Engineering from M.I.T. Although highly educated, Ben (Choda Boy) does porno due to his high sex drive. However, he utilizes his intelligence by inventing things and selling them on the side. Of course! Duh!! The hilarity that ensues is nonstop. Matt Stone even makes an occasional appearance as a technical assistant on the set of Orgazmo who can't stop saying the most inappropriate and inexplicable things. Toss on top of that the fact that Orgazmo becomes a box office smash and Joe is strong-armed into doing a sequel.

At the heart of Orgazmo is its originality. Granted, the theme is very sexual in nature, but in a very comedic sense. You never see anything hardcore. It is simply discussed, very ridiculously acted out and, at times, just implied. I have no idea why it got an NC-17 rating, which killed it at the REAL box office. However, Orgazmo is such a funny movie. Rarely do geniuses like this get the appreciation they deserve. If you get a chance, buy it, rent it, at least see it.

X-Men
X-Men(2000)

You know...the really mean part of me wants to say, "It's about God Damn time!!!!!"

The fan in me says, "Oh man, it was worth it!!!!"

Let's just get it out on the table. I was a comic nut as a kid. I spent so much damn money on comic books, it's obscene. I was also a huge fan of the X-men, circa the Chris Claremont and John Byrne years. So my opinion on this movie will be very biased.

If I hate it, it's probably because there is no way a live action version of the X-Men could live up to the expectations I had set for this movie. If I like it, then it is because I am such a die-hard fan and could not possibly be objective about it.

Therefore, I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. That being said, here is what I thought about the movie....

THIS WAS THE BEST GOD DAMN INTERPRETATION OF A COMIC BOOK TO LIVE ACTION THAT HAS EVER BEEN MADE!!!!!!!!!!

This movie was phenomenal!! There is no other way to describe it. I am downright giddy because I loved this movie SO much!

Only my wife probably knows just HOW BAD I have wanted to see this movie. I have been on the web site, www.x-men-the-movie.com every two weeks looking for a new trailer. Every time I hear anything about it, I salivate. It's so darn sickening.

I had built up this damn movie so much, it was a let-down waiting to happen. However, I'll be damned if this thing didn't blow me out of my chair.

Every few moments, I just sighed, amazed at what I was watching. I cannot believe the comic was translated THIS WELL into a live action film.

First of all, there ARE a couple of slight differences. They are SO minor though that I hate to even mention them.

Let's start at the beginning. First of all, in the comics, Rogue did not get her white stripe "do" from Magneto. She got it from sucking the power away from Carol Danvers (AKA Ms. Marvel/Binary/Warbird). However, the way they gave Rogue the stripe in her hair in the movie is caused by the same action, a trait picked up from someone she zapped. In this case, Magneto.

Secondly, in the comics, Rogue joined the X-Men after a stint with the NEW Brotherhood of Evil Mutants after a mentorship by Mystique. In the movie, they combined the "Brotherhood" lead by original leader, Magneto, original member, Toad, and future leader, Mystique, with future member, Sabretooth. Rogue was never a member of the Brotherhood in the movie.

Third, Rogue is pretty young in the movie compared to her buxom self in the comics, but Anna Paquin seems to be packing boobage too so not many should be turned off by this. The cameo by Kitty Pryde was cool, as was the cameo by Bobby Drake, AKA Iceman, a seemingly obvious Jubilee and a kid who I can only describe as a play off of Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. There was a kid named Johnny who created fireballs. I do not remember anyone in the X-Men comics named Johnny who could create fireballs, though I could just be forgetting. In any case, having Bobby Drake as a kid rather than one of the original members was a bit odd. However, not enough to matter.

Finally, I am not sure why they named Magneto "Eric" and not his comic name Magnus, or even his later persona, "Joseph."

No big deal though, because the characters were DEAD ON. I kept reading that the character development was priority ONE to director Bryan Singer. It is obvious. You learn exactly what you are supposed to learn regarding these characters AND I love how very close to accurate Bryan pulled it off.

Hugh Jackman as Logan was 100% perfect. I had heard several complaints about him not being big enough, but that is horse shit. No, he is not Lou Ferigno, but he pulled off Wolverine better than anyone I can think of off the top of my head. Anyone who is a die-hard Wolvie Berserker freak who does NOT like Hugh's portrayal basically will NEVER be satisfied.

James Marsden, who played Cyclops, did just what he was supposed to do. He looked good, he lead based on what Charles has taught him and he tried to be as calm as possible while watching Wolvie move in on Jean. STRAIGHT OUT OF THE COMIC!!

The relationship between Wolvie and Cyclops mirrored the book so well, it was scary. Even down to the line where Cyclops asks Logan to prove that he is who he is instead of being a Wolvie-impersonating Mystique. He says, "Ok...you're a dick." I CRIED!!!! What a great line!

If I wanted to be critical about the relationship, I guess the ONE thing I could say is that you never really have anything happen between Logan and Scott that makes them so antagonistic toward one another. It is almost as if the competition was just instantly there. Yes, you could say it is because of Jean, but even BEFORE Logan knew Scott was seeing Jean, he was inexplicably giving Scott an attitude.

Jean's character, played by Famke Jannsen, has been criticized because she does not have the real red hair of the girl in the comics. It is more strawberry colored in the movie. If you complain about this, you are an idiot. I feel her character will really blossom in the next movie too. The rumors are that the next movie will be Dark Phoenix- driven, which will ROCK! I can see it now....Sharon Stone as the White Queen...YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST!!!

Halle Berry as Storm was probably the weakest character. She was, of course, very beautiful and pulled off a great Storm, but she seemed almost whimpy as Storm and, quite frankly, I picture Storm taller. I'm thinking David Bowie's wife IMAN as Storm in the next movie...she is tall, good looking and has the attitude that Halle was missing.

I was SHOCKED at how much I liked Ian McKellen's Magneto. Not only does he play a great evil guy, but his relationship with Charles Xavier, played by Patrick Stewart, was done so well that I could not have pictured anyone else as Magneto. This was probably the hardest thing, next to Wolverine, to pull off. Kudos Bryan, you did it!!!! I think the perfect example of how well the relationship was presented is in the scene where Magneto and Xavier are playing chess. GOD it was great!!!! I heard a rumor too that Magneto's helmet was designed by PRINCE.

MAJOR die-hard fans may be a tad upset that the X-Men movie did not focus on the original members much and chose to focus primarily on more recent (albeit early 80's) characters Rogue and Wolverine. However, the story was just SO good and fit SO well in a live action format, I really did not care that Beast, Angel or an adult Iceman were not in the mix. Though, I must say, I was beginning to think they were preparing to make Senator Kelly THE BLOB, which would have been interesting.

A SIDE NOTE: Being a huge AVENGERS fan as well, I did notice that the first person Mystique killed in the movie was Henry P. Gyrich, the governmental troublemaker for the Avengers (remember their security clearance being taken away from them?) and for the later collaboration of the original X-Men, X-Factor. I am surprised that as much of a visible asshole as Henry was to the mutant community, he was not made the central troublemaker rather than Senator Kelly.

Ray Parks' Toad was dead on and quite entertaining. Tyler Mane's Sabretooth was fantastic. I expect to see him in the sequel, especially since a Wolverine-centric story was setup at the end of this movie. Heck, since Wolvie was heading back to Canada, maybe we will see some Alpha Flight in there as well. I'm thinking George Clooney, "Puddy" from Seinfeld or Alec Baldwin as the original Guardian and the midget friend of Kramer's or Danny Devito as Puck....

Rebecca Stamos' version of Mystique was great, but she had NO dialogue. Mystique was very much a verbal, influential person in the comics and was a great leader. She was almost the "Boba Fett" of this movie, silent and ominous.

And, of course, Patrick Stewart was a natural Xavier. He had such warmth as a teacher and a leader. You really thought he cared about his mission. It was so incredibly believable.

If you were a fan of the comics back in the Chris Claremont/John Byrne years, you will THOROUGHLY enjoy this movie. Bryan's writing made this such an interesting story and captured the real literary heart of the early "Uncanny" years, while not losing the political undertone of the Lee/Kirby years, that I dare to say that there has never been a more successful translation of comic-to-movie EVER.

I am drooling again just talking about this movie. You have to see it. There is no way I can put it into words. Get up off your ass and go see it. You won't regret it.

The Muse
The Muse(1999)

Ok...those who know me know that I like a little quirkiness every now and then. It's mostly in my music, but sometimes in my movies. I love Albert Brooks movies too. Broadcast News single handedly made me want to be an executive producer in TV news and sparked me to enter Radio/TV/Film in college. The night I am writing this spotlight happens to be THE night I actually watched The Muse. It was adorable, quirky, quite funny and just a relaxing movie to watch. Let me tell you all about it...

The dialogue in Brooks' movies always comfort me, humor me and make me feel so down-to-Earth. I think, for the most part, people are insecure about a lot of things. And in the same vein as Woody Allen, Brooks does an excellent job of being the average Joe who cannot catch a break. Yes his characters can get annoying (they actually seem to annoy most of the women I know), but that is his forte. The key to Brooks is making a movie with intelligent, humorous dialogue and memorable characters who touch us in some way, if even to annoy us. The realism he brings to the screen always intrigues me.

In The Muse, Brooks does what has been done in several movies, and that is present Hollywood making fun of Hollywood. They tried it in Bowfinger, with some success, Get Shorty, with MUCH success, and now The Muse. Now, I'm not a big Sharon Stone fan (acting that is), but she pulls off her character very well as the Muse. She is self-absorbed, whiny and demanding. Ok, maybe she did not need to do that much acting, but she looks great on the screen and is very believable as a beautiful inspiration to middle-aged men.

Albert, for the second time that I know of, plays a Hollywood career man. He is a screenwriter who has "lost his edge." His movies have become stale and the studio he had signed a deal with drops him. Suddenly he is out of work and old news. The scene where he tries to meet with Steven Spielberg and is issued a "walk on" pass to the studio rather than a "drive on" pass indicated just how fast Hollywood can love ya, then spit ya out as used up food.

Desperately searching for some sort of inspiration to bring him back his edge, he goes to visit his best friend Jack, played by Jeff Bridges. Jack has had recent success in Hollywood, including an Oscar, and attributes it to a Muse. It takes some convincing, but Brooks' desperation leads him to try anything. He soon begins doing whatever it takes to win the Muse's interest as a prospective "client."

Without telling you the whole story, the meat of the movie centers around what the Muse does (or doesn't do) to help bring him inspiration. The situations, dialogue and unbelievable things that happen while trying to build back Brooks' edge have even the audience suckered in to the Muse's abilities. By the end of the movie (and I cannot give away too much), everyone in the movie and watching the movie are dumbfounded by the things that happen just by trying and how silly things we could do every day are chalked up to the inspiration or brilliance of others.

It is such a cute movie, perfect for couples who just want a silly movie to watch. My wife and I loved it. The Muse has a couple of messages that are pretty straight-forward. First of all, Hollywood is a big joke. I honestly cannot believe how anyone can base their career in Hollywood. The only place worse is Washington DC. Also, It does not matter what you use to inspire you to do great things. However, the point is, YOU CAN DO GREAT THINGS! Everyone can. Everyone has a different way of bringing it to fruition, but we all have it in us. We just need to bring it out.

In summary, I recommend seeing The Muse. Warning though...the ending is a bit cheesy. It's cute, but cheesy. It's also full of cameos by TONS of Hollywood favorites, including Jennifer Tilly, James Cameron, Martin Scorcese, Rob Reiner, Steven Wright and many more. When you are feeling like something fluffy, go rent it.

The Emperor's New Groove

I had no interest in seeing this movie. I went into it thinking that this was another 1 1/2 hour snoozer I have to sit through to spend some time with my son. Yes, this is a Disney flick so I should have expected greatness, but the ads really had not positioned this film well enough.

Folks, this movie was fantastic!

By far one of the best Disney movies I have ever seen, The Emperor's New Groove was one of the funniest movies I had seen all year! The writing, casting, timing, everything, A-rate, hence my grade.

The story is about Kuzco, ruler of an Aztec empire. He is basically a spoiled brat voiced by the king of showbiz brats, David Spade. Perfect casting though as David plays this character perfectly. You really develop a deep disdain for Kuzco. David's attitude, even from the start of the movie, makes you detest him more quickly than one would expect. In fact, not really having paid much attention to the ads, I was surprised to see how this movie began. You want to know? You are going to have to go see it.

In any case, the story progresses nicely, keeping the attention of both me and my 5 year-old. The humor is unbelievable. You get a short showcase of Kuzco's self-centered behavior from his wanting to destroy Pacha's (voiced by John Goodman) village to build a new summer home, to his nonchalantly firing of Yzma, the evil character in the story voiced by Eartha Kitt.

After Yzma is fired, she begins to seek revenge. Kuzco, being so wrapped up in himself, never notices. (One side note...It's about time the world got to the point where, instead of a strong man having a ditsy woman beside him, a strong woman has a good looking oaf for a boy toy.) Yzma recruits the help of her latest boy toy, Kronk, voiced by infamous oaf Patrick Warburton (Puddy from Seinfeld). Kronk, who loves to dabble in the culinary arts (which is hysterical) helps Yzma devise a potion that will kill Kuzco.

Through some quick wit, hilarity and excellent writing, the potion is never given to Kuzco the way it should have been. The plan goes horribly wrong and Kuzco becomes a llama. I know it may not sound funny, but the whole scene will make you roll.

After turning Kuzco into a llama, then knocking him out cold, Kronk is ordered to dispose of the unconscious carcass. The sensitive side of Kronk cannot do it, but secretly places the llama carcass on a wagon being pulled by Pacha's llama. Soon after, Kuzco awakens at Pacha's house and realizes he is a llama.

The rest of the movie is about Pacha helping Kuzco get back to the Aztec temple, despite the fact that Kuzco wants to destroy Pacha's village to build a summer home. All the while, Kuzco is learning that he is not as beloved as he thought with very little notice that he is even gone from the empire.

In the meantime, Yzma takes over the empire, believing all the while that Kuzco is dead. Once Kuzco tries to reclaim the throne and become human again, Yzma's desire to dispose of the boy king is heightened.

I've given a whole lot more detail about the story than I should have, but trust me, I have not told you the movie. The true appeal of this movie is its very-easy flowing storyline and intense humor. I have not laughed that hard at an animated film since South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.

Again, the cast is perfect, the story is great and the writing is superb. Plus, it is sweet enough and adventurous enough to keep the kids interested, both boys and girls. I highly recommend it.

Spy Kids
Spy Kids(2001)
½

Troublemaker Studios and its creator, Robert Rodriguez, capitalize on the fame of the last year's Spy Kids with a VERY quick follow-up, Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams. The first film was a surprise hit that, frankly, was one of the best modern family films ever made. Setting aside his routine overly-violent pictures ala Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez found the right formula for entertaining both kids and adults. Though the first half hour or so had me thinking he blew his wad early, by the end of the film, I was just as pleased with the sequel as I was the original.

For those of you who saw the first one, you will remember that one of the agents the family rescues from Minion is played by actor and Beavis and Butthead creator Mike Judge. In the sequel, the OSS (I never caught what it stood for...Organization of Secret Spies or something...) has developed an entire Junior OSS program of Spy Kids. In fact, Mike Judge's character is agent Donnagon Giggles. He is made the new director of the OSS (the original director was played by George Clooney in a cameo in the first film) and places his own children, Gary and Gerti Giggles, at the top of the Spy Kids hierarchy. As a result, the new top Spy Kids get the best assignment and compete with the film's original Spy Kids, Carmen and Juni Cortez.

Donnagon turns out to be a power-hungry spy who is searching for the Transmooker device, which can shut down all electricity on Earth. He uses his position to send his own kids and, subsequently the entire Cortez family, which now includes Grandpa and Grandma, played by veteran actors Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor, on a search for this device on a secret island. This island is actually an illusion that, as a result of the Transmooker's power, shuts down any electrical device that nears it. This makes the cool gadgets and trinkets used in the first film, not to mention the cool new ones, useless. Without the ability to use any of the vehicles or gadgets, travel to the center of the island is treacherous, requiring the Spy Kids to use their brains, instincts and natural abilities. Unlike the first film, it's the PARENTS this time that have to go search for their kids.

As I mentioned above, the "family" component of the first film continues into this one. We meet an extended piece of the family when Ingrid's, played by the INCREDIBLY sexy Carla Gugino, parents decide to join in the search for young Carmen and Juni. Grandma and Grandpa, who apparently never agreed with Ingrid's decision to marry Gregorio, played once again by Antonio Banderas, learn to accept their son-in-law while also helping to save the day.

The first half hour of the movie is very fast. Rodriguez actually does a pretty bad job of getting the audience to the point of the movie. Granted Robert had to create a film that kept the attention of both kids and adults, but cramming so much detail into the first half hour was a bit hard to swallow. The rest of the movie was at a decent pace though and the story unraveled rather well.

If you want a good film with excellent action, minimal violence and almost nothing bad, in terms of language and innuendo, Spy Kids 2 delivers.

Spirit - Stallion of the Cimarron

The follow-up to the last huge Dreamworks animated smash, Shrek, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron might be a sleeper hit since it appeals to the same audience that loved movies like Lion King and Bambi. Me being the family guy I am, I took the kids to see this one with, at first, LOW expectations. However, I made the mistake of listening to critics over the past few days who claimed this movie was a sleeper hit. My expectations rose, but were not met. It's a beautiful piece of artwork, but there is more to it than that. Or should I say LESS to it than that?

Spirit is unique in that the songs Bryan Adams contributed to the movie are placed at points in the movie that tell a bit of the story. Unlike Lion King, Bambi, etc., the animals do not talk. This was one of the interesting parts of the movie, along with beautiful artwork of the Western (specifically Montana-esque) landscape. On a large screen, you really see a beautiful three-dimensional backdrop to Spirit's story.

However, the interest ends there. The story is short and essentially weak. It's a wonder these stories even get the green light. I thought that when I saw the previews. The movie looked plain stupid. However, it is much sweeter than I had anticipated and I was able to sit through it completely due to its short duration.

The story is, at times, narrated by Matt Damon. It takes the audience through the birth and quick growth from young colt to strapping stallion. As you can guess (and what seems to be the theme lately...see Ice Age.), humans enter the picture and begin rocking the boat. American military men capture Spirit and try to break the mustang. Unfortunately, this horse has "spirit" (yuck) and cannot be broken. Spirit befriends a Native American, also captured by the military. Together they work to free themselves of their captors and find their way home.

That is essentially it.

As you can guess, they find their way home. The lead military man, voiced by veteran actor James Cromwell, who arrogantly claims he can break any horse, finally yields to the stallion in a ridiculous ending scene where the horse and human exchange nods of respect as each walk off into the sunset.

The movie is flat out dumb. It's a waste of money and a waste of time. Again, the only nice things are the artwork and the fact that the animals do not talk. Otherwise, save your time and money. It will be on cable soon.

Spider-Man
Spider-Man(2002)

The long awaited movie adaptation of the popular comic book has finally been made! Despite all the legal hassles preventing it from being made throughout the 1990's, due to Marvel Comic's bankruptcy, the wait has finally ended. Was it worth the wait? Well, I have mixed feelings about the results, but I recommend the movie. Even the most casual of comic book fans will enjoy most of it.

I will say this though, the box office results have astounded me. I never saw that much money for this franchise coming. X-Men maybe, but not Spider-Man. In fact, I'm actually stunned that Spider-Man has beaten X-Men at all. I guess I underestimated its more widespread appeal. In any case, I'm happy for Marvel since they have wrestled with getting this picture made for darn near two decades.

That being said, I'm surprised this picture was not better than it was. Don't get me wrong. It wasn't a BAD movie, just really not a great one. I almost graded it a C, but it was an above average COMIC book movie, so I inched it up in grading.

Let's look at the positive side of things. First of all, they stick to most of the original story. The parts that differed were either an improvement, like webs coming naturally from his arm rather than via mechanical web shooters, or needed for the movie, like Ben getting shot while picking up Peter from the library rather than having the robber break into Peter's house, with which I was OK..

Also, the action was second to none. Even X-Men did not have this much action. It truly was a comic book come-to-life and, considering how many dud comic book movies Marvel has put out, like The 1980's Captain America movie and The Punisher, Spider-Man was refreshing. They pulled no punches either. Green Goblin, at one point, was going to kill both Mary Jane AND a bunch of kids! The final battle was bloody and violent. It was great.

As for the characters, Toby McGwire was a fantastic Peter Parker and Spider-Man. His voice was perfect to represent the playful character that Spider-Man is. Very boyish, even when he matures. Though there was a lot of bad press when Toby was announced as the lead, I think his performance, as well as his physique, quieted critics.

Willem Defoe was a perfect Green Goblin. While I did not care for the uniform since, in the comic, he is mutated into a green creature, the insanity scenes, specifically the one when the Green Goblin helmet is on the chair and Willem crawls to it while talking to his evil alter-ego, were the best. When John Malkovich was touted as the lead, I was pleased. When John dropped out and Willem joined, I thought it was a mistake. Now, having seen the movie, I cannot think of anyone but Willem in the role.

Kirsten Dunst has great tits. She was a good Mary Jane as well. I look forward to seeing "more" of her soon.

Again, I recommend the movie, even to families, but really if you have older kids. Younger kids might be frightened at some of the Green Goblin monologues as scary flashbacks occur. I took my 6 year old and he loved it, so you just have to be the judge of what your child can handle. However, the movie needed to be made the way it was. A PG-13 rating is appropriate.

There are some critical downsides to this flick though. Primarily the needless dialogue between Mary Jane and Peter. When Toby was Spider-Man, the interaction between he and Mary Jane were great! However, the droning on and on during the hospital scene following Aunt May's encounter with the Green Goblin, as well as the not-well-prepared final scene between Peter and Mary Jane were just awful. I realize a story was needing to be told, but they spent too much time on Peter's awkwardness toward MJ and less time building up why Peter snubs her confession of love at the end.

If I did not know the story, I would have been pissed at the ending. However, for those of you who do not know the story, Peter does try and avoiding getting close with anyone due to his love for them and desire to keep the foes he has away from them. That is why Spider-Man never really joins a super group, like the Avengers. He is a loner, both personally and professionally. While you get some of that idea at the end, they don't hint at it enough throughout the film. Instead they spend 99% of the time discussing how much Peter is in love with MJ. Heck, this could have easily been remedied by Peter distancing a little bit after finding out the Goblin knows who he is. No, instead he says a ton of loving things to her only to finally sway her into loving him and then dissing MJ. It was just a bad sequence of events between the two of them. Throw in the fact that the dialogue between them is like listening to nails on a chalkboard sometimes, and you have some very uninteresting components to this movie.

Finally, the movie was almost TOO animated at times. I heard other critics complain about this, but the CGI effects were great when swinging around town, but when Peter first discovered his powers and was jumping from building to building, I felt like I was watching Toy Story, it was that animated. In addition, the Green Goblin costume I mentioned earlier was bad. It was fat and bloated when it was clearly Willem in the suit, but thin and darker when flying around via CGI. Again, I did not like that change. Green Goblin's skin should have been impacted by the experiment, bit just mental state. During the one scene where Green Goblin was trying to talk Spider-Man into joining him, I just kept thinking of how Willem looked like a villain in Power Rangers or a Sid and Marty Krofft character. It was just uneasy.

Overall though, I recommend the movie. If, at the very least, to appreciate what Marvel has worked so hard in trying to accomplish. The best part of Spider-Man's success is that it opens the door for next year's Hulk movie, Daredevil, X-Men 2 and future development deals like Fantastic Four and a new version of The Punisher.

Showtime
Showtime(2002)

At first glance, Showtime looks like another silly comedy ala Big Momma's House. Well...it is. Granted it is much better than Big Momma, but this is definitely a wait-for-cable. Though very light in the story, dialogue and acting departments, the movie has some very funny moments. The laughs are not enough to carry the film, however.

Eddie is back in FULL EFFECT circa Beverly Hills Cop and he is hysterical. Unlike the family-humor of the Nutty Professor movies, the kind of humor in Showtime showcase Eddie's strengths. He is just downright genius when it comes to purposeful overacting, flamboyance and hilarity. Too bad the story isn't nearly as strong as the Beverly Hills Cops movies. Because of that, Eddie does benefit though. One cannot help but call him the highlight of an otherwise weak film.

DeNiro, on the other hand, must have done this movie out of obligation to someone. Never has such weak dialogue been wasted on such a profound actor. He does take jabs at himself and he performs his character well, but he must have been paid a bundle because I cannot see an actor of his caliber reading HIS lines and saying, "Oh yeah...that's me."

The story is simple. DeNiro is a loose-cannon cop whose big bust is screwed up by rookie traffic cop/part-time actor, Eddie Murphy. Due to the botched job, DeNiro takes his frustrations out by shooting a TV camera. Voila, the TV station/company wants to either sue the police station or profit off his loose cannon attitude with a new reality-based TV show ala Cops. Guess which option the police station chooses? The Chief orders DeNiro to be on the show or lose his job.

In the meantime, the actor-wanna-be cop, Murphy, sets up an fake arrest in front of the TV show's producer, played by Rene Russo (who was HORRIBLE in this movie), to get the role of DeNiro's "partner" on the show. As you can guess, he won the part. The rest of the movie is DeNiro, still pissed at Murphy for botching his big job, and Murphy battling each other and trying to solve the core crime related to his botched job. Murphy spends the movie trying to be a real actor for the show, yet proving to DeNiro that he can be a serious cop.

Of course you will have to see the movie to see if there is a Hollywood ending to wrap it up...Nah, I will just tell you now...it does have a Hollywood ending. You can probably guess before even seeing it.

In any case, as average as the overall movie was, Eddie's performance is hysterical. Plus, I saw it for free, so I wasn't expecting Hamlet. It was worth the afternoon. However, don't go spend cash on it. You will be disappointed. Wait for HBO.

Scooby-Doo
Scooby-Doo(2002)
½

The long-awaited live-action film version of America's favorite canine sleuth, Scooby Doo, has made it to theaters. Honestly, I never liked the cartoon. I have really never understood the appeal of it. It bored me. However, I have probably seen every episode due to the fact that I was forced to watch it every day at La Petite Academy in the early 80's, so I know the characters, the history and the setup for what ended up being a spectacular movie.

Like the cartoon, the story is cheesy and the lines corny, but that was the appeal of Scooby Doo. That and the unique characters, specifically Shaggy, Velma and Scooby. Therefore, to successfully pull off movies like this, it is vital that the actors mimic those unique qualities as best as possible. The Brady Bunch movies did a pretty good job, whereas the Beverly Hillbillies failed. However, actor Matthew Lillard NAILS Shaggy, as does Linda Cardellini, who perfectly plays an attractive Velma.

While Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a respectable Daphne, Freddie Prinze, Jr.'s portrayal of Fred is yawn-inspiring and not worthy of the lead role that Fred's character played in the show. In fact, the interesting direction of this movie was more toward Shaggy and Scooby's relationship rather than on Fred. Maybe it's me, but I expected the movie to be the other way around. However, with Prinze's lackluster performance, I liked the direction the movie took.

Luckily I had not read much about the movie going into it. I remember seeing a review that said it was weak, but fun. That was about it. What the movie REALLY became was a refreshing surprise. I'm so glad they did not take the "Phantom Menace" route and try to gain a NEW audience with today's kids. Instead they focused on satisfying the adults that loved the show in the 70's. As my wife indicated to me, Scooby's ongoing popularity on The Cartoon Network could have indicated the movie would have been made for the kids rather than the adults.

My kid's were very entertained by the endless flatulence and pee-pee jokes and the exciting action. But the adults were also entertained by the sexual and pharmaceutical references that the Saturday Night Live-generation now attributes to the inspiration of the show. It was done with care though with hidden messages like, "Mary Jane! Like that's my favorite name!" as Shaggy professes when meeting an attractive passenger on the flight to Spooky Island.

The movie was not a long one and flowed just like the cartoon. The movie got to the point pretty quickly and did not give the audience time to get bored. However, the highlight of the movie is the fact that villain was Scrappy Doo. I had not read this in ANYTHING, so it was quite a surprise. Plus, it was probably refreshing for those who were disillusioned by the Scooby Doo series when they got rid of Fred, Daphne and Velma in exchange for the arrogant little puppy.

The movie is a pure delight. Whether you like Scooby or not, take the whole family. It is worth the time and money.

Jonah - A VeggieTales Movie

Just because I am not a Christian doesn't mean that I can't recognize the good moral lessons that religions, like Christianity, teach. In fact, I have been a huge fan of the Veggie Tales cartoons since their inception. My kids are too! So when the long, long, long-awaited Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie was finally released, needless to say, we were first in line. The humor, music and downright magical way Big Idea Productions pulls off such fables while remaining entertaining to both adults (even non-religious ones, like me) and children, asstounds me. It always has. Veggie Tales has become a marketing phenomenon with a myriad of toys, games, videos, CDs, etc. Can Big Idea succeed in the movie industry as well with a Christian-based cartoon? As much as I love these guys, I'm afraid not.

I was really excited about seeing this movie, believe it or not. I looked forward to reviewing it as well. I seriously point to the Veggie Tales series as an example that I, a non-religious person, can appreciate a well-told story and entertaining cast, even if they are religion-based. To top it off, my kids have always loved them and learned a lot through them. It was only fitting that we patronize the theater in support of this feature film.

With popcorn and soda in-hand, we sat down for the relatively short 1:23 production. Animation-wise, it's just as clever as ever. the 3-D computer animated food characters are superb. The comedy is rich, the characters are cute and the meaning is memorable. However, stretching out the story of Jonah and the whale into a feature-length film was entirely too much for this Veggie Tales fan to handle.

I knew something was wrong when my 2 year-old, notorious for staring at the television and reciting the dialogue in several cartoons word-for-word (you think we let him watch too much TV?), started getting bored. Yes sir, Big Idea's big idea to move to the big screen was a mistake. Nothing about Jonah was spectacular enough to warrant big screen treatment. In fact, I wonder if Jonah's constant release postponement was due to the fact that executives struggled with whether or not to release it in the theaters, an untested market, versus home video, an already proven market for Big Idea, for such a mild, lackluster feature.

If you know the story of Jonah and the whale and are Veggie Tales fans, I still urge you to wait until home video. Save your popcorn and soda budget for something less expensive, like college tuition. I predict Jonah will make its paltry $14 budget back, and then some, considering how full the theater was this weekend. But I predict massive drop-off next week, resulting in most of its money coming from the home video market, where it should have been in the first place. Nice try Big Idea, but Jonah wasn't much of a GOOD idea.

In the Bedroom
½

This story of a couple whose son is killed before really starting his life is beginning to get a lot of buzz. In fact, Sissy Spacek just won the 2001 American Film Institute Award for Best Actor - Female - Movies for her portrayal of Ruth Fowler, the mother. The articles I have read and TV I have seen surrounding this movie made it too intriguing to miss. Too bad the movie wasn't interesting enough to warrant seeing it before it goes to cable.

Don't get me wrong. In the Bedroom is not a BAD movie. Especially compared to a lot of the crap that has been out in the last year (i.e. Bandits and Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius). The story kept my attention even though the content was devastating and the dialogue was painstakingly slow. I really did feel, as a parent, for the mother and father in the movie after having lost their only son to such a tragic event. However, there are some basic problems with the movie that were just to large for them not to be considered detrimental to the film.

Primarily the problems stemmed from the dialogue and the flow of the movie. Though very natural and well-acted, the dialogue had too many points of silence. Too many unnatural periods where the characters either ignore the fact that the other character is speaking or are pausing needlessly before responding. Kubrick did this in his films too, but it didn't wear on me as it did in this film. I understand that I am supposed to think about the situation from the perspective of the grieving parents, but cmon. No one waits THAT long to respond to interaction, if they even choose to interact at all. I'm really not sure what the point was and it was just flat out irritating. My brother would tell me that I was wanting something spoonfed to me, which is not what GOOD movies do. However, I could have had a LITTLE more interaction between the characters without SO MUCH silence. I don't think the movie would have been compromised at all.

What I did like about the movie though is that it did NOT have your typical Hollywood ending, though there were many times it was leading in that direction. I truly thought that the movie was going to express how much the grieving father would have wanted to seek revenge for his son's death, but when it came down to it, he wanted to turn a negative into a positive and take care of the children left behind as a result of the tragedy. The good thing is, the movie did not do that. The father did what every guy in that audience wanted him to do. He killed him. That was nice.

In addition, I like the subtle way that shortly after Sissy Spacek tells her husband that he never shows any emotion, he proceeds to carry out his VERY meticulous plan to avenge his son until the last minute when his emotions overcome him and he kills the guy anyway before he had planned.

For those of you who enjoy Hollywood endings, this movie is not for you. It does not sugarcoat anything for you. It is very natural in that respect. It is very much real life. In addition, some of you may look at the movie as not truly ending, which is a pet peeve of many movie goers, including my wife. However, as my brother said, the movie sticks with the natural part of the story where something like this never truly leaves you. It never truly ends and so the movie should reflect that. And it did.

In any case, it's a pretty good movie, just not as good as many are making it out to be. If you have any hesitation whatsoever, wait for this one on cable.

Ice Age
Ice Age(2002)

In a continuing quest to outdo Pixar in the computer animation department, another failure has emerged in 20th Century Fox's Ice Age. While it is a superbly animated film, much better than Jimmy Neutron or Shrek's animation, it does not measure up to Toy Story or A Bug's Life in animated quality. However, the film is adorable and perfect for the entire family.

I find it interesting that normally crude, very adult comedians would voice a cutesy family flick. Ice Age features two usually-decadent comedians, Dennis Leary, as Diego, the sabretooth tiger with a hidden agenda, and John Leguizamo as the naive sloth, Sid. Sid and Diego team with Manny, the loner Mammoth, voiced by Everybody Loves Raymond's Ray Ramano, to buck the instinctive migration south during the onset of ice in order to get an infant human back with his family.

Throughout the film, everyone learns something, but specifically important is that they all learn what it means to be in a family and to look out for each other. Sid, the cute but annoying sloth, doesn't understand why his family leaves him every year during the migration route. He's one of those characters that is annoying on many levels, but never realizes it. I have a friend like this, and Dave, you know who you are. :-)

At the same time, Diego is struggling to live up to his pack's expectations, go with his tiger-instinct and lead these weary travelers to a sabretooth pack trap. Even though humans killed most of his pack, he grows to love the human infant. And even though a mammoth would make a great, meaty alternative to the human infant, Manny saves Diego's life during the trip. However, the ball is already rolling and the sabretooth pack is waiting for Sid, Manny and the infant on the other side of the glacier.

Meanwhile, Manny, who tries to play the consummate loner, very opposite of a typical, pack-oriented mammoth, succumbs to the fact that he too needs a family since his was slaughtered by humans years before.

Through a series of events, these individuals meet and are drawn, for one reason or another, to the idea of taking this human infant, found in his dead mother's arms, to his family. On the way, they come to rely on each other and instead of loners in their individual lives, they develop their own pack/family.

The story is sweet, very family-oriented and, at times, a little sappy. However, this is a family film. The story is funny and sweet enough to keep both adults and kids interested. In fact, the highlight of the film is the Scrat, the squirrel-like creature whose job to locate acorns to store for the winter. Throughout numerous points in the film, the Scrat attempts to gather a sole acorn, but is struck by lightning, stepped on by animals, frozen in ice, etc. It is definitely the comedy relief of the film.

The movie is short, a mere 81 minutes, so my 2 year-old actually sat through it completely. It's humor, family message and beautiful animation are definitely worth catching on the big screen. Take your kids to see it ASAP!

Hulk
Hulk(2003)
½

This movie had a lot to prove right out of the starting gate. With its seemingly disappointing too-CGI look, depth of star-studded talent onboard and $150 million price tag, Hulk was destined to be this decade's Waterworld. In fact, I questioned whether or not I wanted to spend the money to see this movie. Me...the comic book fan (not necessarily a Hulk fan, really, but definitely a comic book fan). However, what made me pay the $8.00 and spend the nearly 2 and a half hours in the theater was the fact that, as a kid, I looked forward to the day when Marvel finally put all of their characters on the big screen. So out of support of that inner child, I went.

Frankly, I feel for Ang Lee because he was an art-house filmmaker tasked with creating a summer blockbuster. As we all know, summer blockbusters are for the masses, who don't necessarily CARE about art-house filmmaking. They like to see stuff blow up! Well, stuff definitely blows up. However, Ang blows stuff up with STYLE. Really...no kidding. There is an art to the action in this movie. It is superb!

But I digress....

I've been reading a lot of reviews of this movie. Some nail the issues on the head, but some just flat-out don't get it. Yeah, the brain-blob thing at the end and the obligatory "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry" at the end were cheesy. In fact, those two things single handedly dropped this movie down to a B for me. But the point is, this is well-known character, a pretty old story and, no matter what, it needed to be ambitious. I've read that people thought, "it could have been better" and "lacks focus." Ok, it wasn't perfect. But the fact is, no one (and I mean NO ONE) could have made this movie, using this story, about this character, any better. This was the best Hulk movie that could have ever been made.

I've never been a huge fan of the Hulk. It was one of the comics that I never really bought. I was a huge Avengers fan, whose early issues featured the Hulk, but the Hulk was never a hero for me in the traditional sense of spandex-wearing, glory-hound heroes. And, as a kid, I never really cared for the television series with the late Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, who has a cameo in the film with Stan Lee. The stories were always too serious and I never bought a "human" Hulk. Lou was just too small and, frankly, retarded looking. The show never captured the true impact of the Hulk's strength, agility and rage. As an adult though, I have watched a few of the old Hulk TV episodes and I'm surprised how well done the stories are.

So it came time to add Hulk to the long list of, pardon the pun, green-lit Marvel Hero pictures. X-Men, one of the riskiest franchises in which to try a movie, especially with the passionate fans of Wolverine, has been done perfectly. Spider-Man, although I did not care for it at first, has grown on me in home video to where I realize how perfectly it was done compared to its original story and feel. Daredevil, a comic for which I never cared, resulting in quite a good, dark movie. So how does one now add a huge, very un-human-like character who obviously, to be done correctly, had to be CGI?

Well, first of all, it had to be action-packed. That was a given. In fact, this movie will probably not make its money back because it's not a mindless continuous action-driven bore. It's not 2 Fast 2 Furious. At the very least, the story had to out-do the cheesy television show in depth. And, although it seemed like it would not be a difficult challenge, it had to out do the weak Hulk on TV and the two-dimensional Saturday morning cartoon Hulk. And finally, it had to make the comic book purists happy.

Oh...and one more thing...it had to make money.

Come on! Get real! Those expectations alone are pretty unrealistic, at least in their entirety. Heck, making comic book purists happy could be the hardest part sometimes. However, I started thinking that things were going to be alright with the Hulk when Ang Lee was announced as the director. I mean, you have to hand it to Marvel. Bryan Singer? Sam Raimi? Ang Lee? Heavy hitters baby! These are very good filmmakers tackling these projects. So, at the very least, the best shot would be given.

So let's take this step-by-step. First of all...to comic book purists. I'm interested in hearing more feedback from them about this movie. There are some radical changes to the original story, which may turn off some of the purists. For instance, there was never a father named David Banner (Nick Nolte) who performed a radical experiment on himself only to have the genetic alteration be passed on to his son. However, purists may overlook some of the changes because, in my opinion, the movie makes the Hulk story better, for the most part. Purists may also be so impressed with the comic-book-like editing that they overlook the story changes.

Secondly, the story. I think this part I should have been the least surprised. Ang Lee is a master story teller. In his films, he goes to great lengths to provide extensive character development. Hulk is no different, almost to a fault. However, and I'm not sure if it is because the movie execs made him cut a lot of story out (which is what I read), there are many holes.

The many complaints I have heard about this movie are that Ang spent too much time developing the characters and, that may be true. It is 45 minutes until we see the Hulk (which was fine with me) due to the extensive build-up story and character development.

However, for all its attempts at character development, I never understood why Bruce liked being the Hulk when I saw more evidence to the contrary. I never understood why the "moments" Bruce had seemed uncontrollable until Talbot WANTED Bruce to turn into the Hulk, then he consciously stopped it from happening. And I never understood, until a ridiculous, over-dramatic rant at the end, why David Banner was so hell-bent on creating this genetic alteration. I never understood why some people died (Bruce's mom) as a result of the gamma explosion, but some did not (Betty, David and Bruce). Finally, I never understood why General Ross left his daughter in the cafe alone.

The David-and-Bruce father-and-son thing never really got to me, which may explain why I hated the end so much. In fact, since this was a father/child movie, I actually believed the General Ross/Betty Ross relationship more. Sam Elliott's performance as Thunderbolt Ross was excellent, while Jennifer Connelly's performance was good and well-cast, but I could not get over her empty stare, which I've seen in many of her movies. I'm not sure if she's trying to be sexy (which she lost the ability to do years ago) or if she is just that odd.

One thing that Ang did very well was the relationship between Bruce and Betty. I bought into the fact that Bruce was emotionally distant because his natural instinct, from the genetic mutation, was to suppress his feelings. And when his "emotions" finally came out following the gamma accident in the lab, all he wanted to do was find his love, Betty, who had wanted him to "feel" for so long. Excellent job. This was very well done.

And I liked the father-squabble between General Ross and David Banner. It was believable and drove the story well, even when Ross put aside his anger to allow David to see Bruce one last time because it was "what Betty wanted." It was the father-child relationships that were not very well done. I'm wondering if they were cutting room floor casualties.

Finally, and this was the important question for many, but was the Hulk himself done well? As disappointed as I was in the "fat face" of the Hulk in the Super Bowl trailer, $20 million was successfully spent "reworking" the CGI Hulk at the last minute. In fact, the CGI Hulk was one of the best parts about the movie. At last, there was an accurate portrayal of the green monster in all his strength, rage and agility. Ang outdid himself and he should be very proud. Comic purists should be relieved and pleased at the result of this $150 million investment. From a selfish point of view, I almost don't care if they make their money back. I'm just glad someone spent the money to do the movie right! This success also makes me look forward to the CGI version of the Thing from next Thanksgiving's anticipated Fantastic Four movie.

The build up to the introduction of the Hulk was perfect, as were the battle scenes between the Hulk and the mutated dogs, as well as the military attacks. However, all of the action culminates into an absurd battle against a now-mutated David Banner for a father-son finale. I walked away wondering, "Ok...how did Bruce live through that, but David did not?"

In summary, I would have actually added more story (though I think most people would have left the theater) to explain a lot of the holes in the film and I would have chopped off the pointless final 20 minutes. I honestly think Ang had that idea as well, but was forced into some ridiculous parts to appease the masses.

Hulk was a very enjoyable film though, as long as you don't want to critique it. I left the theater very pleased and only thought about the holes later. At the very least, the action is worth the price of admission.

Comedian
Comedian(2002)

Think of the greats...Richard Pryor, Jackie Gleason, Sam Kinison, Milton Berle, Andy Kaufman...many of the great comedians in the last 60+ years have entertained us for hours. On stage, in films...they made it look so easy. But when we dig down deep into their lives, we usually find a tortured soul who began using comedy to fill some void left behind for some reason or another. Many of us think that it just takes a certain personality to deliver the genius lines night after night, pushing our buttons, tickling our funny bones. Delivering what 1988's Punchline never could, Jerry Seinfeld's brilliant documentary, Comedian, displays the work, emotion, heart and agony it takes to make it as a stand-up comedian.

Fans of Seinfeld know that Jerry spent years on the comedy circuit paying his dues. He appeared on countless Tonight Show and David Letterman episodes, toured the country and, eventually, developed what would become a landmark sitcom, some say the best sitcom of all time. By his early 40's, Jerry Seinfeld had it all...a family, more money than he could ever need, fame, worldwide recognition and legendary status. But shortly after his show ended, Jerry Seinfeld performed an HBO special billed as "the last time he would ever us his old material." While it didn't seem like that big of a deal at the time, since most of us would have taken the money and run, it turns out Jerry had a much larger plan in mind. Granted, it seems like it is one that is made up as he goes along, but he definitely had a direction, if even a windy one.

In Comedian, the viewer is invited to small comedy clubs, backstage and even to friendly chit chat at dinner with fellow comedians. What initially looks like a behind-the-scenes look at how Jerry made it, gradually turns into a film with much deeper intentions. The viewer is allowed to watch a man, known around the world as one of the best in comedy ever, essentially start his career over. What the viewer watches is not just act after act. The viewer is allowed to watch and become part of the stress, the worry, the blind journey through beginning, developing, honing and, hopefully, perfecting an "act." We see that it is not, in fact, an easy job. In fact, I for one, never could really grasp that industry as a "job." However, now I see that it not only a job, but a very hard one.

What is easy to forget, and what the viewer is quickly reminded of, is that where Jerry Seinfeld is today is the product of years of experience. When he tossed his old material away last year and decided to start over, it wasn't easy to re-develop an "act" from scratch that would satisfy an audience. During the course of the movie, we see Jerry start with a few opening lines, working clubs night after night testing new material, discussing new material with peers, like Colin Quinn, Mario Joyner and Chris Rock. We watch as Jerry gets nervous before finally performing an hour-long show with all new material in Washington DC, only to have the show fall relatively flat.

There are numerous quotes throughout the movie that crystallize what Jerry, and obviously every comedian goes through when trying to build an "act." For example, at one point, Jerry tells a story to a young up-and-comer, Orny Adams, about Glenn Miller and his orchestra who, one night, had to land a plane in a field because the airport to their destination was snowed in. Upon landing, fully decked out in suits, the band walks miles to a house filled with the typical nuclear family. The family, warm and happy in their cozy home, is being looked upon by the suit-clad orchestra covered in mud and slush, tromping around for hours in the snowy mess only to have one band member state, "wow...who lives like that?" The point being that it takes a certain kind of person to be a performer. It's easy to go live the family life, safe job, salary, etc. It takes passion and the love for the art to be a full-time comedian.

In one scene, Jerry and Colin Quinn are having a discussion about starting over. Colin keenly mentions that, even though Jerry is well-known, the audience only gives you a pass for about 5 minutes...then they still expect you to make them laugh. It is painfully apparent in Comedian that Colin speaks truthfully. Jerry uses the wisdom of his friend in his own routine later mentioning that, only in comedy and the comedic television industry, can artists who know the business, are around the business all the time, write the work, perform it, etc. go through the pain and heartache of trying to be funny and then leave it up to complete strangers, the audience, who know nothing about the industry and have probably never written a joke in their lives, gauge and judge the validity of their work. And whatever the audience's response is, the industry and comedians blindly accept it as gospel. Jerry correctly asks, "How would you like it if I came to your work and said that I didn't like how you talked in a meeting, even though I know nothing about the business you're in, what you were talking about or who you are?" It was a great point, though, as one could guess, one without a solution. It just works that way...It just IS.

During the course of Jerry's progression in his act, his manager, the infamous George Shapiro, takes another young comedian under his wing, the aforementioned Orny Adams. While getting to know Orny, the viewer becomes aware that this young man is just as passionate about succeeding in the world of comedy. Orny shows us his seemingly endless collection of journals, jokes, notebooks and articles. This 30 year old man has spent more than half of his life either dreaming of or attempting to become his comedic childhood idols. We see Orny get accolades, offers to festivals and even his first network appearance on David Letterman. We see him moving in the direction he has worked so hard to achieve. Yet, we also see how painful it is to get there. There are different audiences who respond differently to his jokes. There are network censors bringing you in because of your talent, only to make you change much of what made it appealing in the first place, just to satisfy one microcosm of the audience. Despite all his growth and success during the movie, we see that Orny is not a happy person and, it seems, never will be.

As the movie continues, the viewer is shown the strange parallels between young Orny, who so desperately wants to make it so that he could finally be happy, and wise Jerry who, after making it, still doesn't seem satisfied with the mark he left in the entertainment world. Both of them are at different points in their lives, yet seem to still be working for the same satisfaction that, for some reason, continues to elude them.

Finally, after watching Jerry perform what is termed as "miraculous" progress in honing an act over 4 months, a short discussion between Jerry and Chris Rock point to why Jerry is still working toward a goal. Chris pointed out that he had recently seen Bill Cosby perform over 2.5 hours of material non-stop, twice a day. No opening act, no intermission, just non-stop comic brilliance. As much as Jerry has done for the comedic world, hearing that made his jaw drop. After working months and months to get to a starting point for performing the new material, one could tell that it was Bill Cosby's kind of success and mark that Jerry wanted to make. And, from what the viewer could see, that was still along way away.

So while the young Orny Adams looks for just a shot at becoming the next Jerry Seinfeld, Jerry continues honing his new act in hopes of becoming the next Bill Cosby. Their journeys seem long and, at times, like they could not possibly ever end the way they want and bring them true happiness. But during the 30-minute sitcoms or hour-long HBO specials, the viewers will enjoy those short moments of brilliance while never truly understanding what it takes to become that brilliant.

Austin Powers in Goldmember

It is so hard to put this movie down since its entire reason for existence is stupidity. The best I can really do is compare it to other Austin Powers movies, other Mike Myers movies and other similar parodies. So how does it rate? Well, it is funny. I found myself laughing a WHOLE lot more than when I saw The Spy Who Shagged Me, but that did not necessarily make it a good movie. For instance, nothing will be funnier than Mike Myers in So I Married and Axe Murderer, no matter how many times he says, "Yeah, Baby!" The sad thing is, these movies have become a parody of themselves. There were some things I appreciated about the movie, but frankly, the world would not have been worse off without it never having been made.

Let's face it...Mike Myers is funny. He is brilliant. He is intelligent, yet he can dumb down comedy with the best of them. He's just an all-around likeable guy to whom audiences naturally flock. So he could really make one of these every year, which he has professed he would LOVE to do, and they would still do well at the box office. However, true fans of Myers saw this film, I bet, and thought, ok man...enough already.

First of all, let's talk about what is good about Goldmember. As I stated above, it is VERY funny. Without letting the cat out of the bag, I believe I can state that the cameos are the highlight of the film. This franchise has become so likeable, there are a ton of A-list actors that agreed to put themselves in cameos for this version. When you see them, you cannot help but crack up! They are funny, adorable and you just have to feel proud for Myers for having come this far in his career. It really is nice to have so many reputable people justify his brilliance.

Other than cameos, the only good new addition to the cast was Michael Caine. He plays a perfect father to Austin. Since Austin, the character, is based on an old Michael Caine spy character, he was a natural to play the father. The movie does not do a good enough job of digging into his character, but then again, just about everything in these movies are surface-deep. In fact, you learn quite a bit about Austin in this movie, which took until the third in the series to explain.

The story ends quite surprisingly, so I will not ruin it by going into detail here. I will say, though, that one can tell Myers believed this version might not be strong enough to carry the franchise into a fourth volume, so he tied up a lot of loose ends and wrapped up some key storylines from the first two films. In fact, he does way too much, which is my primary complaint about the film.

The first two films, which contained a lot more potty humor than this one (though this one is not light in it either), at least had a pretty clear flow and story to them. As corny as they may have been, you at least had a direction. My brother crystallized how this movie flowed and that is that the film really is a series of bits put together to make a story. The flow is quite different from the first two. Myers tries to shove a LOT of story into the 95 minutes of the film, so much detail is left out. You simply get the highlights. One feels at the end like what we've seen is a 95 minute trailer. You never have an adequate build up to the very surprising ending, so you are felt a little cheated by the time you leave. The film feels rushed, even when Myers seemed to be at his comedic height with the script.

Another poor component to the movie is the poor choice for the Austin's female counterpart, Foxy Cleopatra, played by Beyonce Knowles, of Destiny's Child fame. As sexy as she is when she is oiled up, as she is all through the movie, her acting is atrocious. As Samuel L. Jackson said, elevating popular singers to the same status of actors who study much of their life to hone their craft is insulting to the audience and detrimental to any film. Granted, a few Will Smith's will make their way into the inner circle, but studio execs MUST get a grip on hiring the Beyonce's and the Britney's of the world to large roles in films.

Myers even lacks a little in the film playing way too many characters in such a short period of time, one has to ask if some of them were even necessary. The audience never gets to dig deep into the Goldmember character and at no time is it explained why he is even important to the film at all.

The humor, which was superior to the other two films, cannot make up for the lack of direction in the rest of the film. It was too much, too fast and at no time could the audience member thoroughly enjoy what he/she was watching. I wish they had mentioned what happened to Felicity Shagwell's character, like they explained Vanessa Kensington's departure in the second film. I also missed Will Farrell's Mustafa character, but that is a personal thing. All in all, you need to see it if you are fan of the series, but I would be hard pressed to recommend a fourth installment.

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

Well, it came. I saw. I WAS BLOWN AWAY!! Yeah, I am a fan of the Star Wars series, but even I was disappointed in The Phantom Menace. With many of the industry's well-known critics slamming this movie, my expectations began to lower. Yes, I was still excited, but I was preparing myself for another flop-ola. So what happened? I'll tell you what happened. I saw a film that brought back the magic of the first trilogy. I saw a film that never had a dull moment in its 2:30+ in duration. Do you have to be a Star Wars fan to enjoy this movie as much as I did? Maybe, because I cannot understand what these other critics missed. So instead of spoiling the movie by giving away all its twists and turns, this review is for those who saw it, liked it and are confused. This review will be a comparison of reviews from other critics to help give the reader a perspective of the "type" of person (in the best way possible) who did not like this movie.

Before we get to the critics, let me make one short statement. Movie critics were not prevalent, as they are now, in 1977 when the first A New Hope was released. Since critics can, at times, be very harsh, I doubt A New Hope would have been the hit it was in 1977 had critics broken it down piece by piece. As dead-on as these critics are sometimes, everyone needs to remembers that they are just critics. They are just giving their opinions. Since most of them are fans of film as an art, they critique films as such and their opinions are derived not from how entertaining the film is, but rather how successful the movie makers artistically expressed the film as a whole via the story, the dialogue, the acting, cinematography, etc. Now, you may be saying, "uhm, Jeff, all you are doing is giving your opinion. Why should I listen to you?" Well, good point. But if you will notice, I write my opinions (at least for movies) based on how I would recommend them as entertainment value, specifically for families since I tend to see a lot of family movies with my kids. And in the case of Attack of the Clones, I will be writing and comparing other critics' opinions based on the Star Wars' FAN's point of view, as well as a family recommendation. Either way, I'm not going to get carried away with the "art" of Attack as a cinematic masterpiece. In fact, I love that the fact that Attack does not satisfy the artsy-fartsy movie critic, yet is still a FAN's movie and broke $100 million in its first weekend. Since the original Star Wars trilogy was so huge AND had an established fanbase before critics were prevalent, it makes Attack bullet-proof to the critics. Let's remember that fans loathed The Phantom Menace, while many critics like Roger Ebert, gave it a near-perfect rating (see his 1999 review here).

Now onto the critics...

Let's start out with the Grand Pooh-bah of movie critique, Roger Ebert:

First of all, after reading his review of The Phantom Menace, then Attack of the Clones, there were a couple of lines that were hypocritical.

In the The Phantom Menace review, he wrote, "The dialogue is pretty flat and straightforward, although seasoned with a little quasi-classical formality, as if the characters had read but not retained "Julius Caesar." I wish the "Star Wars" characters spoke with more elegance and wit (as Gore Vidal's Greeks and Romans do), but dialogue isn't the point, anyway: These movies are about new things to look at.".

However, in the Attack review, he wrote, "But as someone who admired the freshness and energy of the earlier films, I was amazed, at the end of "Episode II," to realize that I had not heard one line of quotable, memorable dialogue." While at another point he states, "

Hypocrite...

Frankly, the dialogue in the Star Wars movies has always been a little weak. And, yes, I can completely understand that there is an element missing from this second trilogy so far that is the cynic, the skeptic, like Han Solo was in the first trilogy. However, these movies are pre-destined. We already now the RESULT of these three movies. We want to know HOW it gets there. The Phantom Menace was boring in many aspects (though not really as bad as everyone thought--our expectations would have NEVER been satisfied), but there had to be a start. There had to be a beginning to it all. I'm pretty sure that Lucas could have done a little better, but not much. Building those characters and setting the tone for the future had to be done and with Attack, you can tell why Lucas did what he did. Yes, he eats some crow in the movie by displaying the biggest fan-favorite character, Boba Fett, and limiting Jar-Jar's lines (yet maximizing his impact to the overall storyline). However, Lucas did a superb job in getting the story moving toward where we know it will end up.

Across town from Ebert, the Chicago Tribune gives their version. Mark Caro, who gave Attack 2 stars as Ebert did, writes: "For such a visually oriented filmmaker, Lucas commits an unpardonable sin: He tells instead of shows."

I can actually agree with this. While the dialogue did not impress me much, the dialogue is not why I go to Star Wars movies. It's the story. Granted, like The Phantom Menace, Lucas is packing a lot of story into the allotted time, Attack is more exciting, has more interesting twists and, frankly, is setting us up for a what should be an incredible third movie. However, as Caro wrote, to help pack more progress into this film, Lucas does end up "telling" a lot without showing the progress in visuals. The exception is when Anakin goes to Tattoine and begins descending to the darkside once finding his mother. The way that part of the story progressed was very visual and lead-up-to via the many references to his recurring bad dreams.

So is it a bad thing that Lucas has to tell us rather than show us? Well, since it does not impact the overall amount of action in this movie, I would say no. Is it different for Lucas? Absolutely, but not necessarily a bad thing. I think Lucas is trying to get himself out of the rut he put himself into by starting the story with Anakin as a child in The Phantom Menace. In the first trilogy, the story seemed to flow better because there were not as many time-delays. Luke was an upper teen in A New Hope and ended as a twenty-something in Return of the Jedi. Lucas should have avoided trying to bring in new children fans and started Anakin out that way as well.

Mark Caro's co-hort at the Chicago Tribune, Michael Willmington, is more of a fan focusing on the fan's appeal to this movie. He gives the movie 4 stars and writes: "Nothing in the first four movies quite matches the continuous visual bravura of this one, which is almost as much a digital age marvel as the '77 "Star Wars" was of an earlier era of miniatures and models. For most of its 2-hour span, the movie keeps topping itself, not dramatically, but with one pure, explosively delivered, ripely detailed action set-piece after another."

I could not agree more. When I was a five year old watching A New Hope, my interest in the movie was not because of the intricate storytelling, the relationship of the force to modern religious beliefs, the contrast of Han's cynicism to Luke's desire to believe it all. No, I like how cool the Landspeeder was. Man, it was a FLOATING CAR! And I liked the Millennium Falcon. Hyperdrive was cool!! Lightsabers? AWESOME! And the X-Wing fighters flying through the corridors of the Death Star to find that one little hole that will make it blow up? Oh yeah, baby. THAT was what the movie was about. Carry that interest to The Empire Strikes Back when there were the cool snowspeeders on Hoth, the dual-cabined Cloud Pods on Bespin, Boba Fett's cool costume, Luke and Darth's first encounter, etc. Then carry that yet again into Return of the Jedi, where there is an all-out, free-for-all fight extraordinaire when the second Death Star was going to be destroyed. Have you ever seen so many Tie Fighters?? And those Biker Scouts were cool!!

See what I mean? Ebert had it right when he reviewed Phantom. Dialogue is secondary (if not even LESS important) to the cool visuals, the overall story and the action! Lucas remembered that this time and that is why Attack is so good. Hayden Christensen is an absolutely horrible actor. I thought that throughout the film. But does it ruin it? Not at all. You see more and more of where the story is going. And to top it off, what you THINK is going to happen doesn't. Despite how many trailers were released, you DON'T know what's going to happen. As much as they showed you, you have not prepared yourself for what you will be seeing.

So go do it...now...many, many, many more times over the summer. Ignore the critics. Go see Attack of the Clones today and form your own opinion. If you are a Star Wars fan, you will love it.

About a Boy
About a Boy(2002)

From the author of High Fidelity, Nick Hornby, comes a sweet, funny and heart-warming film of a man trying to come to terms with the fact that he may not be as happy as he thought as a bachelor, while also beginning to open his heart to a young boy who needs a father figure. Like in High Fidelity, the main character narrates the story, but unlike High Fidelity, you actually care about the main character's insecurities. Instead of seeing Hugh Grant as a whiner, you get the impression he just hasn't been shown what he is missing. The audience, in turn, almost wants to lead Hugh down the right path. The casting is excellent, the story is adorable, the dialogue is witty and the result is a fantastic movie.

Everyone knows someone who is just a little short of where he should be in terms of life and family. Not that every person should get married, have kids, etc., but there comes a point where everyone should grow up. And despite how fun it might be to sleep with lots of people, party all the time, etc., the fact is the meaning of life is to gradually learn, improve and move on. When people reach the age of 30, 40, etc. and they still act like they are 22 year old college students, denial has set in. These people do not want to admit they are getting older. Yes, with medical advances, people can certainly postpone having children, and consequently marriage, until later in life, but who wants to voluntarily be a father of a 2 year-old at 40?? Having both a 6 year old and 2 year old at 29, I'm telling you...you do NOT want to chase down a 2 year-old after getting gray hair.

But I digress...

The example I talk about is pretty much the personality of Hugh Grant's character, Will, in About a Boy. Having inherited royalties from a popular Christmas song his father wrote, "Santa's Super Sleigh," Will rides around town all day in his Audi TT scoping the chicks and avoiding responsibility. If he is home, he's watching TV. If he is out, he is trying to get laid. Sound like anyone you know? If so, then you know there are always a few characters, usually relatives, around telling him what he should be doing to straighten his life and grow up. Will, as you guessed, has these same caring people in his life who constantly try to point him down the path of the straight and narrow. Hugh Grant is the perfect actor to play this part since he has played the reluctant father (9 Months) and slimeball boyfriend (Bridget Jones' Diary) in other movies. Throw in his brilliant comic timing and a witty script and you see what I mean.

The bright spot in this movie, aside from Hugh's flawless performance, is the unusually interesting child actor, Nicholas Hoult, who plays Marcus, the boy who will change Will's life. Marcus, like Will, has needs. He is a young man who is forced to be older than he is since he has a mother, played by Toni Collette, who is suicidal and a basket-case. Unlike Will, however, Marcus narrows down what he needs to make his life better and seeks it out. In this case, he believes he needs another person in he and his mom's life, specifically a husband for his mom/dad for him.

Through a series of circumstances, which I will not go into since it will take away from much of the humor of the story, Marcus and Will meet. Forcibly, Marcus inches more into Will's life until Will realizes that Marcus is what he is missing. Although the story is a bit fed to the viewer, in typical Hollywood fashion, watching Will transform from a self-absorbed single guy who measured the progress of his day in "units" (which is hilarious...and equally pathetic) to a mentor and father figure for young Marcus is heart-warming. I will admit it is easier for me to be touched by this movie than single people though since the impact you see on the screen is that of a child on an adult. Those who do not have children may not fully understand this impact kids have on their parents/loved ones.

In any case, About a Boy is a must-see, if only for Hugh Grant's comedic brilliance. Though I hear the book is different in its approach of telling the story, the movie is definitely worth a look.

Zero Dark Thirty
½

After having been supremely let down by the seemingly politically-charged, over-hyped and over-dramatized "The Hurt Locker," then after hearing the controversy about the use of torture in "Zero Dark Thirty," I was not too keen on putting myself through another 2.5 hour "opinion" by a subjective director and feeding the machine. However, after forcing myself to look at the film objectively, the reality is, Kathryn Bigelow has produced a beautifully directed dramatization of the efforts from 9/11 to the death of UBL. The opening "scene," as it were, was very powerful. Opening the film with the calls, fears and chaos during 9/11 was the perfect way to put the entire audience in the right frame of mind. And while the facts may have had some dramatic license taken for the sake of filmmaking, I've read that it is remarkably accurate. As for the controversy around the torture scenes, I didn't watch the film believing that Kathryn Bigelow was making a statement of the effectiveness of torture in finding UBL. It simply came across as the beginning of a series of steps that got us closer and closer to solving this long-cold case. I intentionally didn't read too much about the "controversy" or Kathryn's response to the criticism until after I formed my own opinion. What I found is that her intent is exactly how I took it. It wasn't meant to convey torture's effectiveness. It was simply meant to convey its role in the process. While there were a couple of scenes that made me cringe a little from its over-dramatic stance, overall "Zero Dark Thirty" is a remarkable improvement over her previous effort and one of the best of the year.

Silver Linings Playbook

While rom-coms are known for their Hollywood endings, there are clear differences between the Kathryn Heigl nightmares versus something like, say, "When Harry Met Sally." Even WHMS' writer, Nora Ephron hit it out of the park, but followed it up with moderate snoozers like "My Blue Heaven." "Silver Linings Playbook" is an absolutely perfect film, not to mention a perfect rom-com. The characters are complex and flawed, and perfectly played by their respective actors. The dialogue is consistent, nonstop and natural. The story is tragic in inception, but ends sweetly and hopeful. I couldn't have loved this movie more. One of the best of 2012.

The Wild Bunch
½

The impact of the "The Wild Bunch" on Quentin Tarantino is undeniable. Following the bad guys around attempting to operate as a team, the violence, the inevitable demise of the main characters are all traits that seem modernized in "Reservoir Dogs." Labeled an unnecessary violent film in its day, "The Wild Bunch" isn't a terribly strong story that you think about days and months later, but what is inspiring about the film is its cinematic beauty. The orchestration of the major battle scenes are perfectly edited, appropriately slowed in places, choreographed to maximize the realism and, yes, very bloody for its time. It was a daring film and an undeniable classic.

Superman vs. The Elite
½

I rated it right in the middle. No matter how good the story is, and it is a welcome storyline ala Judge Dredd, this is the worst Bruce Timm-produced animation I've ever seen. It's so bad, it takes away from the viewing experience. Please, Bruce...don't use that company again. I like my characters to have eyeballs. And why Superman's face had to be so badly shaped, I have no idea.

DC Showcase: Jonah Hex

In line with what DC has done updating the character (in spite of the failure of the live-action movie), this DC Showcase short embodies the aura, mystery and fear of the disfigured bounty hunter, perfectly voiced by Thomas Jane. While not a huge western fan, I could definitely enjoy more like this.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
½

The long-awaited prequel to the Lord of the Rings has finally arrived after numerous director changes and expansion into three more Peter Jackson films. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey begins as we are familiar, in the Shire, specifically in the house of Bilbo Baggins. The style of filmmaking is familiar and equally as seductive as the original Lord trilogy. However, an inherently weaker story in The Hobbit naturally translates into a less interesting film. That isn't to say, however, that the film is bad. It certainly isn't. However, by the end of Fellowship of the Ring, I was endeared to Aragorn, Sam, etc. The cast of dwarves, which is prevalent in The Hobbit, just don't meet with the same appeal. By the third film, I may feel different. However, there were elongated components of this film that could have easily been trimmed, namely the first 45 minutes and some of the battle scenes. I also thought the interaction between Gollum and Bilbo was entirely too long, which leads me to believe that stretching this out to 3 films may be unnecessary. Again, I may feel differently by the end of this trilogy, as I recently watched all three extended Lord films in succession and feel like the trilogy was PERFECT. It's possible I will feel that way by the end of this one, but my gut is telling me I won't. I am looking forward to the next one, though, so that certainly says something.

Hitchcock
Hitchcock(2012)
½

A moderately enjoyable snapshot of Alfred Hitchcock's life during the making of Psycho, most certainly done with some dramatic license, but tainted with mediocre performances by Anthony Hopkins and Scarlett Johansson. Helen Mirren and Toni Collette, specifically the former, make the film tolerable, but generally it's worth waiting for cable before spending the hour and a half watching Hitchcock.

Django Unchained

I'm at a point in my Tarantino affair that I want to see him do something different. Maybe that's a bad idea because he is the best at doing what he does. However, as much as I loved Django Unchained, I am at a point where I'm finding (probably trying too hard actually) flaws. QTs formula is a unique story, colorful, yet brilliant dialogue, a couple of long build-ups to super tense situations that engross the viewer and perfect endings. He is simply one of the best. Hands down. However, with Django Unchained, while there were tense moments, they weren't nearly the level of the adrenaline shot in Pulp Fiction, the opening scene to Inglorious Basterds or the latter's basement bar scene. Django is a fantastic film that is quintessential Tarantino. The dialogue is fantastic. The acting of every major character is unmatched. Yet, because it lacked those crucial tense moments that made me feel the same way I have before inTarantino flicks, it does make me wonder if he has worn out his formula and needs to pull a Scorsese and do a film like "Hugo." Then again, if he just isn't capable of doing that, I'd watch as many Djangos as QT wants to film since, really, it is better than 99% of the crap out there.

This Is 40
This Is 40(2012)

**INCLUDES SPOILERS**

Judd Apatow has represented my generation perfectly for the past decade or more with gems like "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up" and the underrated "Funny People." The trailers for "This is 40" appeared to be leading him to another notch in his belt as he hits the mark more often than not, even if represented in outrageous or vulgar ways. Unfortunately, "This is 40" misses the mark in the most surprising of ways for a Judd Apatow movie. As a man who turned 40 this year, I spent the first half of the movie relating to just about every aspect of the setup with this couple. Stress of raising kids. Grandparents you need to financially support. Grandparents who are absent. Stress of keeping a relevant job. Providing for a family of 4. Trying to keep the romance alive and looking toward life together after the kids are gone. The unfortunate realities of getting older and how a couple leans on each other through that emotional and physical change. I was extremely impressed, even when I wasn't laughing as much as I would in a Judd Apatow movie.

Then something happened. The movie got much funnier, yet the amount of things that piled onto this one couple turning 40 crossed the line into absurdity. The realism masked by comedy became a Keystone Kops routine. After all of these common 40-isms, Leslie Mann gets pregnant. In words, that may not seem like much, but while watching the movie, the viewer immediately thought, "ok, PLEASE...this is too much to happen to ONE couple." What bothered me most about it is that what is typical in Judd Apatow movies is that the protagonist usually shares experiences with a cast of others that he bounces things off of in order to move forward. It seems real that one would reach out to friends, family, etc when dealing with emotional and physical changes, so it seems like an easy fix would have been to have most of the things happen to the main couple, but when a baby was thrown into the mix, it seemed forcibly piled on. Why not have other 40-something couples/friends who would go through one of the major 40-isms? Share the wealth. It is a lot more natural to have many 40-somethings go through similar experiences and can discuss them, yet MAJOR things happen to one person here, one couple there. I know, as a 40-something, every single possible event that could impact the happy embrace of turning 40 doesn't happen to a SOLE couple or person. There are some things we share, but then there are some things my wife and I will discuss and say, "Wow...I can't believe that happened to them! OMG, we are SO lucky that hasn't happened to us." That seemed more realistic.

As a result, the structure got clumsier and clumsier over the latter half of the film until it just...ended. Like a story for which he couldn't determine an ending. Very un-Apatow like.

That being said, I enjoyed the film, the dialogue, most of the situations and the characters. The story was just severely damaged toward the end. It's worth seeing, but I'd discourage paying full price.

Parental Guidance

I love Billy Crystal, which is why I wanted to see this movie. Given his love for baseball, it didn't surprise me to see it littered throughout the film. And, as a parent of older children, the subject matter interested me. However, this film follows the low-brow trail blazed by "Meet the Parents" and other unfunny comedies like it. The film was about 25 minutes too long, all at the beginning of the film. It doesn't get partially interesting until the first little league game and it doesn't get tolerable until Marissa Tomei leaves town. Casting is questionable as I have no idea who thought Marissa Tomei, of Italian descent, would be the daughter of two NY parents of Jewish descent. "Parental Guidance" has a very sweet message, but it is average, at best, overall.

Casa de mi padre
½

When is Will Ferrell going to get credit for being the genius he is? While Casa de mi Padre is certainly no Gone with the Wind or even Anchorman, it is a brilliant experiment that was much funnier than I had been led to believe. Will's lily white ass amongst his supposed Hispanic family, fake white tigers, intentionally poor edits, telenovela drama, all done in Spanish...comic genius. As Roger Ebert once said, if you didn't get this movie, it says more about you than the film itself.

Skyfall
Skyfall(2012)

While there are elements of Skyfall that made me cringe a little as being not-so-Bond like, and the overly critical part of me was bothered by the ridiculous computerization of some of the elements of the movie, the fact is, Skyfall is a beautiful modern continuation of the classic Bond series. Humanizing Bond follows in the footsteps of other franchise films leaning on "realistic" elements of stories rather than larger-than-life ones. Yes, there was still an amazing opening sequence that seemed completely unreal, but that is simply Bond. Javier Bardem was the perfect villain as a rogue agent, which is much better than some other international terrorist. Skyfall "borrowed" components from many other films like "Dr. No" and "Dark Knight," but that may just be a sign of the times. In fact, Javier's character borrowed many things from Heath Ledger's Joker. I've stayed away from other articles about Skyfall, but I can only assume I'm not the only one who caught Javier's message "Think On Your Sins" spelled the anagram TOYS. Javier mentions his toys later, but never explained the anagram. I saw a lot of Heath's portrayal in Javier's. As an all-around Bond flick, though, they don't get much better than Skyfall.

Wreck-it Ralph

Adorable, precious and sweet. Wreck-It Ralph is a wonderful bit of nostalgia for us Gen X-ers and afun, exciting adventure for kids of all ages.

The Sessions
The Sessions(2012)

Though Oscar buzz has been circling Helen Hunt for her strong and fearless portrayal as Cheryl, a sex surrogate assisting in allowing disabled Mark O'Brien to experience all matters of sex with the opposite gender, as good as Helen's performance is, John Hawkes' flawlessly portrays a dry-witted, lifelong Polio victim struggling to balance his religious teachings with the natural desire to have sex. His humor and writing style bring a very palm-under-the-chin type of viewing that demands attention. The story is told very sweetly with meaningful dialogue and touching situations, even to its sad ending, which is still humorously narrated by Mark until the last line.

The Maltese Falcon

Finally a decent John Huston/Humphrey Bogart vehicle. Huston's directorial debut might be his best.

Idiocracy
Idiocracy(2006)

5 stars not because it's a great movie, because it isn't. Five stars because it is brilliantly accurate.

Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths, billed as a quirky, funny film about...er...seven psychopaths, turns out to actually be a quirky, funny, metafilm. It's directed and edited brilliantly to pace with the formation of the story over time that, essentially, becomes the very film you see. While it may seem slow in parts, especially in the beginning, I believe it's intentional to help guide the viewers through the same decision-making process of its author and protagonist, Martin, played by Colin Farrell. To describe the film would take too long and ruin what the film itself does for the viewer, so I will simply say, go see it.

Argo
Argo(2012)

Although there was some dramatic license taken with this incredible story of 6 Americans rescued from a Canadian/US covert ops mission in 1980, the movie is so well directed and authentic to its period that it grips you from opening credits, complete with the old Warner Bros. logo, to final fade, complete with a Star Wars first release collection stage for the original figures (where R2-D2 is spelled Artoo Detoo) on a bookshelf. Hats off to Ben Affleck, whom I've always felt was an untalented hack, for maturing into a superb director. He also stars brilliantly as the main character. The audience openly and loudly applauded its climactic scene. As someone Ben's age and a child of that era, Argo was an important snapshot of events we were almost too young to understand.

Gone With the Wind

Not much else to say. Pretty much the best film ever made.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

I didn't get it when I was 10 (and I was the target audience). I don't get it now, at 40. It's supposed to be a heartwarming story of an isolated child looking for something to love to fill a hole left in his heart from his wandering father, but it is too elementarily written, even for a 10 year-old. It's artificial and forced. The redeeming qualities are the precious performances of the children and Spielberg's direction of them. Also, as weird as the effects may look now, they were groundbreaking at the time. Unfortunately, overall, E.T. is anything but out of this world.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The best movie I've seen in 2012 and the best teen movie since The Breakfast Club. Wallflower is as flawlessly written, acted and filmed as movies can get.

The African Queen

It is difficult to understand the opinion of most that this movie is a classic. While the cinematography captures a locale not previously so detailed at the time, the value of a movie comes not only in its flash, but its substance. This was the worst chemistry, acting, dialogue and painfully long story I've ever been made to endure since walking out of "Dune" in the late 80's. I did not buy the transition of these characters from strangers to lovers, especially given the supposed spiritual roots of Katherine Hepburn's character. The most excitement happened during the rafting scenes, which comprised about 5 total minutes of the 1 hour, 45 minute snoozefest. It's an unbelievable premise with main character dialogue that seemed completely unnaturally forced and purposeful. One of the most overrated films I've ever seen.

DCU: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Deluxe Edition

Brilliantly written and character-rich war film that goes far beyond the bullets and explosions and captivatingly displays multiple perspectives of men all standing up for their honor in different ways. How they all come together throughout the film and into the tense ending is nothing short of a masterpiece.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Brilliantly written and character-rich war film that goes far beyond the bullets and explosions and captivatingly displays multiple perspectives of men all standing up for their honor in different ways. How they all come together throughout the film and into the tense ending is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Celeste and Jesse Forever
½

Rashida Jones, daughter of famous producer Quincy Jones, and known for her appearances on The Office and role on Parks and Recreation, makes her big screen writing debut, while also producing and starring in this smartly-written comedy about a couple, together since high school, but finally seeing the light as young adults and attempting to move on with separate lives. Rashida plays the most interesting character I've ever seen her play as a successful marketing executive who loves her best friend, played by Andy Samberg, who also plays his most interesting character to date, as a lovable, but maturity-stunted man-boy (not a stretch). She has come to love him, she believes, as a friend as her maturity has quickly outpaced his. Or so she thinks. The movie is a quest to understand what makes a relationship successful and, in the end, coming to terms with mistakes even the most mature people make, especially when they lead to a result they don't really want. Those results are usually a deeply broken heart, which both sides experience at some point in their extended breakup. The film is shot in a very independent-like and free form style, with unique angles and pacing. Rashida's writing shows how much of a comedic talent she truly is. However, the film overall deserved a more emotional response from its audience, which couldn't occur because not enough time was spent in the beginning giving the viewer enough information to care about these two as a couple before springing their impending divorce into the plot. Then the film elementarily attempts to make up for that lack of depth of knowledge between the two characters throughout a much longer-feeling hour and a half duration. Leaving, the ending made me feel sad for Rashida's character, but confused as to how the lack of a Hollywood ending for her, which I appreciated, then resulted in an almost immediate bounce-back for her. Nothing in the film made me think that would have been reality. In addition, Andy's character began with a much more broken-hearted foundation, but when he "gave up," it was hard to buy why a normal person would have fought so hard, but then not even consider the option for reconciliation when it came to fruition. It just didn't seem natural. All things considered, though, Celeste and Jesse Forever is much better than most Hollywood junk and Rashida is one to watch for in the future as it is clear she is a diamond in the rough.

Lawless
Lawless(2012)

I struggled with giving "Lawless," either an arrogant display of self-importance, or naive example of big names being able to make any semi-serious film appear to be grandiose, a whole star over a half star. The only things larger than life in this absolute disastrous mess of a film are the egos behind the scenes believing they could pass this second-rate crap to the everyday audience as an independent film.

Lawless is the WORST kind of film. It pretends so much to be a powerful, strong-statement kind of indie-like film meant to be the antithesis of blockbuster, dumbed-down Hollywood garbage, like Transformers, Battleship, etc. Unfortunately, I have to actually give credit to Transformers, Battleship, and heck, even every Tyler Perry film ever made, for at least being honest in the fact that they represent and cater to the dumbest, lowest common denominator audience. No, Lawless is a snake oil salesman. Even in the trailers one believed the audience would be treated to a dark, powerful story of a family running moonshine during Prohibition and dealing with the rise of gangsters in the early 1930s. Even I was convinced, 1 hour into this nearly 2-hour waste of time, that, at some point, I'd be treated to some sort of climactic justification for sucking so bad since the opening credits.

First, a minor irritation opened the film. Hollywood...if you are going to do a period piece, use period music. Do NOT put in modern music.

Second, Nick Cave can't write screenplays. Please, Nick, just go back to playing music. The dialogue is the root cause of the failure at nearly every level in this movie.

Third, John Hillcoat can't direct. There is a reason he's attached to mostly Nick Cave material. Crap begets crap.

Fourth, Shia LaBeouf has charisma, can memorize and recite lines very well. He can't portray a Virginian hick without me constantly giggling. POOR choice. Just horrific choice. Of course, part of it is the poor dialogue, but still...

Fifth, how can this amount of talent be so wasted? Gary Oldman's character, Floyd Banner, was a completely pointless component of the movie. He appears in 3 cameos and provides not one single thing to the point of the movie. Guy Pearce is probably the most appealing performance in Lawless, but even then, every scene he's in is over-dramatized, dragged out and only serves to be grateful for his hopeful, eventual death. Tom Hardy is very good in his role as the main brother, but the fear he instills at the beginning is eventually reduced to a goofy fool. Again, the product of poor, poor writing.

None of the characters in Lawless are defined and consistently portrayed, save for Cricket Pane. The whole theme of "invincibility" seemed to drive a forced interest in this family survives the era when their "invincibility" seemed ridiculously unreal, with Tom Hardy's character in particular, deserving death many times. Shia's narration, which is expressly intended to suck the viewer into relating, empathizing or at least sympathizing with what made the family enter into moonshine running in the first place, and how that "life" changes as the world around them does.

The piss-poorly written dialogue forces incredible talent to give lukewarm, and sometimes just plain BAD, performances, it's embarrassing. Editing flaws litter the final cut resulting in 2-hours of viewer's remorse. I feel bad for the actors as they simply had no idea their back-camera staff had such little vision.

High Noon
High Noon(1952)

Though over-dramatic, as many movies were for the time, I've never been a fan of the overly-testosteroned Westerns of that era. While the film adheres to many of the common traits of other 50's Westerns, such as saloon banter, man-on-man fisticuffs, etc., where High Noon stands out is in its more realistic human side. Gary Cooper plays a brave town marshal on the brink of retirement when his newlywed plans are interrupted by a sudden visit at "high noon" by his former nemesis, Frank Miller, returning to certainly gain his revenge on Will for putting him in jail. Will, unlike the John Wayne flicks, expressed fear and a struggle with whether or not to stick around and face his hunter. Even though Will's bravery led to the original capture of the town scourge, the town isn't interested in helping Will, who spends the real-time duration of the film counting down to the eventual showdown. The humanity of the protagonist, suspenseful wait and build up to high noon is powerful, in spite of the laughable acting and the unfortunate sudden ending.

Jaws
Jaws(1975)

Where it all began, the original horror film that made me not want to bathe for weeks, apparently (at least that's what my mom says). I still can't believe my parents took me to it at the age of 3, but nonetheless I sat in the CInemark Classic Remaster of the original with my own children, though they were considerably more mature (at 16 and 12). I have attempted to watch this on cable in the past, but just couldn't start at the beginning. This time seeing it all the way through with adult eyes made me realize how well done it was. It legitimately startled me on one or two occasions and the fakeness of the shark didn't bother me that much. However, I will say it's one of Spielberg's weaker films. Which, at 4 stars, is still pretty damn good. If I could only forget he made War Horse...

Singin' in the Rain

I hate musicals, but this was absolutely fantastic. Funny as could be, wonderfully entertaining, classic dancing and singing, wrapped up in an adorable story. This movie is a musical and movie masterpiece.

The Devil's Double

While being an intriguing story, the acting, writing and directing leave a bit to be desired. In addition, the story on which this is based is doubted by many. The violence in this movie, I believe, is necessary as this was a violent area and time, carried out by a psychopath. However, even if it is merely supposed to be based on a true story, the entire premise seems too far-fetched and unbelievable, even for something so allegedly uncivilized.

Hope Springs
Hope Springs(2012)
½

It's refreshing when I see movies as well-written, acted and touching as "Hope Springs." While the story has a bit of a Hollywood ending, any evidence of Hollywood cheese is removed from the perfect casting. Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell add a level of authenticity to the emotions of these characters that make this film nearly perfect. The acting is about as good as it gets. As an old married guy myself, I couldn't help but smile even through the ending credits as this sweet story came to a close.

Valley of the Dolls

My lifelong attraction to Patty Duke (don't ask), the clear allure of the late Sharon Tate and this film's cult status couldn't get me to care one second about this campy look at Hollywood starlets and what I hope are exaggerations, though I admittedly couldn't stop thinking about Lindsay Lohan. If the book is as long and drawn out as the film, I happily admit to only seeing the movie. It was beating enough.

North by Northwest
½

They simply don't make them like North by Northwest anymore. The main reason is that there simpy isn't anyone like Alfred Hitchcock anymore. Cary Grant flawlessly plays the Mad Man, Roger Thornhill, who is pulled out of his humdrum, meticulously scheduled life and into an adventurous mystery as a pawn in a chess game of international spies and the US government. Hitchcock weaves a smooth story and directs a nail-biting thriller that is groundbreaking for its time. Eva Marie Saint is stunningly sexy as the double agent, Eve Kendall, who changes Rogers's life as the adventure takes twists and turns into false endings and confusing directions, bordering on overkill by the time the famous Mt. Rushmore escape from the antagonist, Vandamm, occurs. While a typical film might have been viewed as entirely too long, North by Northwest's maze of a story is classic Hitchcock-ian confusion and, as a result, gets a pass.

Ted
Ted(2012)

Seth MacFarlane was finally allowed to go balls-out and take his vulgar, insulting, dry humor to an R-rated movie. And clearly he enjoyed it. Showing the blurry line between TV and movies these days, Ted is only slightly worse than his show, "Family Guy," tastefully speaking. "Ted" is very funny with co-star Mark Wahlberg perfectly cast as a dim-witted Bostonian trying to grow up without needing his lifelong companion, "Ted.". The premise is genius, wrapping such vulgarity around a childish fantasy, but where "Ted" goes wrong for me is that it seemed entirely too much like everything else Seth has done. Seth is obviously one of the funniest comedy writers out there, but what Seth needs to do is take some lessons from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. While Seth might be bold in his content, the delivery is always in a one-liner mode. The South Park guys deliver their vulgarity is better stories, dialogue and with an honesty that they really aren't interested in sugar-coating the insult. Seth's writing always comes across as intentionally shocking with a back-handed , "what? What did say?" attitude afterward. "Ted" was cute, very funny, but in a cowardly way. However, I can say that I'll never look at parsnips in the same way again.

A Clockwork Orange

I turn 40 next month and it took me, a huge film lover, this long to see "A Clockwork Orange." In fact, I still haven't seen "Dr. Strangelove." Some film lover, huh? Well, I'd like to think that waiting this long has made me appreciate the genius behind Kubrick's style a lot more than I would have 20 years ago.

Anyone who would read this has probably already seen the film, so there is no need to rehash the plot. Instead, I want to specifically point out that Kubrick's consistent way of taking whatever twisted source material he is using to tell the story his way, no matter how much it may differ from the original, shows how incredible he was at not just choosing the right material, but filtering it literally and figuratively through lenses that show the viewer a little about what made him tick. Yes, it may come across as intentionally shocking, but he does it without seeming like he is intentionally doing it. He truly conveys a sense of artistic intent around his effort. It's not just trying to tell the viewer a story, but showing, via film, the grittiest, most impactful way to experience that story to get the most not just out of the plot, but every nugget of crisp detail.

By now I've read numerous articles about how Kubrick made his individual films. A common message I get is that his genius and his end product is always thought of as top rate, but that those with whom he worked, even the original writers of the source material, conflicted with him. He demands a lot of his talent, reduces them to their barest art and brings out the best in them. This process isn't entirely enjoyed or appreciated by those with whom he worked, but I've seen a lot of films with the actors he uses and I cannot point to many, if any, efforts those actors do away from Kubrick that are better than the one they did with him. Malcolm McDowell is as perfect in "A Clockwork Orange" as I have ever seen him. His performance was raw, real, demented and just perfect. I was astounded to learn that one of the creepiest, most disturbing element of the film was him singing "Singin in the Rain" while beating the writer and meticulously preparing to brutally rape his wife, was improved by McDowell and not originally called for in the scene. The dichotomy of the brutal scene and the uplifting song amplified the creepiness of it all the more, proving that Kubrick had his actors right where he needed them to be.

The Amazing Spider-Man
½

As a comic book geek for the past 3 decades, I'm a little more critical than most. However, "The Amazing Spider-Man" gets some things right, comic book-wise, but gets a lot wrong. And from a movie perspective, it's really quite weak. Overall, it's an amazing, albeit expected, disappointment.

I think it's important to look back on what the original Sam Raimi trilogy did right and wrong, and what led Sony to dump the entire cast and crew when the 4th movie was being developed and all stars were locked in. The original Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 were, pardon the pun, absolute marvels. The stories were first-rate, the translation of the comic onto film was near perfect and, even when it wasn't accurate, it held its own in the context of the films. For instance, Green Goblin was not a suit. It was a Jekyl/Hyde transformation. While he may have looked like a character out of Power Rangers, Willem Defoe was a great Norman Osborne. In addition, Dr. Octopus was not American, nor even the Persian persuasion he was portrayed by in the second film. Yet, it worked. I never really questioned them since those characters didn't have a strong portrayal in any other way that completely ruined the perception of the viewer. Tobey Maguire was a near-perfect Peter Parker, playing up the naive, innocent teenager aspect of his character.

However, that changed when Spider-Man 3 was released. As has been the case with many of the major Marvel storylines translated to film, viewers had thoughts on how characters like Dark Phoenix in X-Men: The Last Stand should have been portrayed. However, giving hacks like Brett Ratner the helm to such an important story resulted in minimization and, eventually, complete destruction of what should have been very carefully presented. Many of us hardcore fans will never forgive Ratner. Such is the case, as well, in Spider-Man 3. Hardcore fans had been waiting for a long time for Raimi to take on Venom. When Spider-Man 3 eventually came out, while I still believe it wasn't given its due, there is validity to the fact that Venom was badly, badly handled. Venom should have been very beefy and muscular at 3 times the size of Spider-Man. Topher Grace was an awful casting as Brock. And even though I loved Thomas Haden Church's Sandman, there was just too much going on in Spider-Man 3 that minimized yet another very, very important villain and diluted an otherwise phenomenal storyline. Don't get me started on Harry's "Goblin" either.

So when it came time to deliver a 4th movie, it would not have surprised me for them to go a different route, maybe bring on a new writer/director, maybe a new cast, maybe a reboot. And that was the word for a while. But when all of the cast and Sam signed on for the 4th, I was pleasantly surprised and a tad excited since I never thought Spider-Man 3 was as bad as people thought, even as I agreed to the poor handling of Venom. The first two were so good that I was willing to give them a pass.

Something happened, though, and I'm not sure what. It's never been discussed much, but Sony just decided to "go a different route." In fact, they went down that different route quickly, unexpectedly and pushed heavily for the reboot. The result is "The Amazing Spider-Man."

Rumors were that the Lizard, whose identity is Dr. Curt Connors, who appeared, played by the great Dylan Baker, in the last two of the original Spider-Man movies as one of Peter's college professors, would be the focal point of Sam Raimi's 4th film. I was surprised, especially after the unexpected addition of Sandman in the third film, that the obvious setup of including the Lizard was there, that it had taken this long to produce him. However, the Lizard, frankly, is a boring character. The story is pretty simple and, given the mythos Raimi had created, it probably would have resulted in a boring movie. Yet, with this reboot, the Lizard was finally prepared to take center stage. Given how quickly after the original trilogy this was made, my expectations were this movie were very low. I personally thought Sony had jumped the gun in pulling the reboot trigger so quickly after 3 very successful films. Punisher, I understand. Ghost Rider, I get. But this seemed too quick.

So I casually kept up with the creation of this new film. When Emma Stone was cast, I thought she would be a GREAT Mary Jane with her red hair and attitude. I was shocked to hear she was cast as Gwen Stacy, the original love interest of Peter from back in the day. I thought Bryce Dallas Howard did a great version of Gwen in Spider-Man 3, but given that Mary Jane had been such a central character, I thought it was weird to try and force that, but it fit in the context of the film. I was curious how Emma's portrayal would differ.

Then Andrew Garfield was cast as Peter. I had just seen The Social Network and thought they hit it out of the ballpark. I remember having a long conversation with an old comic buddy of mine about 10 years ago after the original film was released and how we both thought there was NO way someone else could ever play Peter again. I was wrong, I thought, after hearing about Garfield's casting. Excellent modern choice.

Then Sally Field, as Aunt May (huh?? She's not THAT old!), and Martin Sheen, as Uncle Ben, were cast. Ok, I could see Martin, but I really liked Cliff Robertson in the original trilogy. While I like Martin Sheen, his acting ability gets worse with every film in which I see him. The Amazing Spider-Man was no different, and I'll explain why later.

Of course I would end up seeing The Amazing Spider-Man, but I really didn't hold out much hope, especially after reading rumors that Sony execs absolutely HATED the film. I couldn't get Brett Ratner out of my mind.

July 3, 2012, it was finally released. I tried to go see it July 4, but it was sold out. Apparently the early Rotten Tomatoes buzz got people in the seats. Critics had been thinking well of it, so that intrigued me. the trailers hadn't done much to inspire me with much hope, but I did like the more playful, arrogant and cocky teenage attitude Andrew was putting into some of the scenes that were shown. A couple of days later, I finally got to see it.

Now, let's talk about what The Amazing Spider-Man did right. Spider-Man was created by Stan Lee (writer) and Steve Ditko (artist). Ditko's initial artistic take on the character was as a skinny, gawky, nerdy teenager dealing with typical teenage problems, developing a love for science and photography. Even though I had read that Willem Defoe seemed irritated that they were retelling the origin, I was convinced Sony was going to play it perfectly like they did with the Hulk reboot. Don't waste our time retelling the origin, or, God-forbid, CHANGE the origin. Just start with the next story and allude back to the origin and any convenient pieces you need to progress the story, and that would be that. Well, that's not what happened.

Raimi's modernization of Spidey's origin fit well for movies. The fact that he could shoot webs from his wrists was an ok change from the original comic book story that he used his scientific prowess to develop the web shooters. To portray any sort of comparison to the real world, I always Raimi pulled that off well. Yet, when I heard that The Amazing Spider-Man would include him making his own web shooters, I was intrigued how that would be done. Clearly Sony looked into fan complaints of the original trilogy and made adjustments. Only, as they did that, they undid or even fabricated, completely new stories. Nearly 50 years of Spider-Man stories, yet they had to make one up for this movie. I didn't get it, at all. Even on all the promotional posters and ads, they proclaim, "The Untold Story." Uhm, WHY? The story was great. Why mess with it???

However, back to what was done correctly.

Andrew Garfield's portrayal of Spider-Man and Peter Parker were very good. He was skinny, gawky, cocky and funny. He WAS Ditko's Spidey. I loved him as much as I loved Tobey. And that is saying a LOT. They included his love and aptitude for science. His dialogue while dealing with common criminals was very accurate with a teenager given a little bit of power, yet not realizing the responsibility that comes with it. Painful lessons then ensued to bring said cocky teenager back down to Earth. This interpretation of the teenage mind was actually better than the original trilogy. In addition, the creation of his web shooters being a product of Oscorp that he essentially weaponizes was a perfect modern take on them, and another improvement on the original trilogy.

Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy was absolutely adorable. Her strength, personality and sheer cuteness (even though I prefer the red hair...I have such a thing for red hair) complemented Andrew's portrayal well, especially as they interacted more and the story progressed.

While I was hesitant about the Lizard as a primary villain, they wove him into the story so well that I was pleasantly surprised to find him so interesting. While Rhys Ifans did a great job as Dr. Connors was a much better selection for portraying the raging Lizard, I always liked Dylan Baker's Dr. Connors. The key to making the Lizard a suitable primary villain, though, was weaving him into a story with some depth, which they did. He was centralized very well with not only a reason to become the Lizard, but also a reason to tie him into Peter/Spidey. Also, fixing the problem they had with the portrayal of Venom, the Lizard was larger than life, ominous and a physically superior being to Spider-Man.

Finally, while it took until end to finally see it, the last scene with Peter and Aunt May established a very good chemistry and character element to the overall story. I look forward to seeing this blossom in the future movies as it greatly exceeds the original casting by Raimi. At first I was concerned about May not being portrayed as old enough, but in the end, it worked.

All of the good things above transpired in the second half of the film, which made me actually stay because, while I've only walked out of two movies in my life (Dune and the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), this was very close to being my third. The first hour of The Amazing Spider-Man was mind-numblingly boring. I was not aware they were seriously going to redo and/or retell his entire origin. The "untold story" required it, apparently. For those who love the ACTUAL origin story and loved the way Raimi told it, this was a kick to the crotch. It was insulting. It was unnecessary. It was so very badly done. It, frankly, ruined the movie for me. I think there was a way to weave the actual origin into this without redoing it all.

The major element of it that I hated was the inclusion of his parents. Spidey's parents are an afterthought, not a primary story. This story had not been told because it tainted (not ruined, but tainted) an otherwise strong origin story and 50 years of building against that origin. I find that Sony dumping Raimi and the cast to tell THIS story is a major reason why Marvel is trying to get all of its properties back. Embarrassingly bad.

Next, the script. While the second half of the movie added meat to this new origin, which made the rest of the film tolerable, the dialogue was complete crap. As much as Andrew and Emma seemed good together, the dialogue between them tried repeatedly to screw it up. It was weak, fake and hard to watch. Completely unnatural for two people who appeared to have chemistry.

Next, the directing. Direction in this film is clumsy, spotty and elementary. Some action scenes are good, some are choreographed and/or edited very poorly. The camerawork during the Emma/Andrew scenes meant to bring them together and have the viewer care about the relationship developing, misses the mark completely. Editing may be more at fault here, especially during action sequences, but the qualitative variance from scene to scene smack of a poorly directed film.

Finally, I didn't like that not much time was spent with the Daily Bugle, none with J. Jonah Jameson and the public dynamic with Spidey and the paper. By the end, citizens were helping Spider-Man when it was never really shown or explained why the public liked Spidey so much or why they knew Spidey needed to get to Oscorp tower. Just another example of choppy, clumsy story-telling.

In the end, while I am always a sucker for comic book movies, especially beloved ones like Spider-Man, nothing happened in The Amazing Spider-Man to warrant dumping Raimi and the original cast. As bad as some may have thought Spider-Man 3 was, this movie did absolutely nothing to prove this was the right direction in which to go. Yet, based on audience and critical reaction, as well as the press around the mid-credit surprise ending piece, two more movies have been announced to tell yet another trilogy. Hopefully this movie will improve over time as the story unfolds, but with Christopher Nolan's Batman/Dark Knight masterpieces and Raimi's original bar set, there is no reason this movie shouldn't have been able to stand on its own, independent of supporting story lines in later films.

Midnight Cowboy

A very unique, gritty story with equally gritty performances and directing. A disturbing view of lower class life as shown through the eyes of a hustler from Texas who moves to New York and develops an odd friendship with an equally disturbing New York hustler. Their path to survival takes them into seedy situations, showing the basest of existence. All the while, sleeping through nightmarish flashbacks of life inTexas that made him who he was. Stories like this don't deserve a happy ending, and Midnight Cowboy didn't.

Sullivan's Travels

This highly-regarded, classic film of a movie executive wanting to make a film showing the gritty, realism of Depression-era America needs to be watched in the context of the year it was released and compared against anything at the time. Otherwise, it's importance and the respect it deserves is easily overlooked. Upon the screen of a 2012 audience, the movie may seem average and so dated as to be misunderstood. However, it is a dark comedy, one of the first of its kind, and should be noted for how gritty and honest it truly is, especially for 1941. Since I've been watching a lot of classic films lately, it was easy to notice how the "language" and "attitude" of this film is definitely cutting-edge compared to its contemporaries. John Sullivan applies the "method" manner of film development by taking on the persona of a homeless, every-day man in order to obtain the feel of how his audiences were dealing with r

The Way
The Way(2011)
½

While at times over-dramatic and overly-scripted, I really blame Martin Sheen's "over-acting" as making those flaws seem so transparent. Emilio Estevez does a remarkable job with "The Way," as writer, director and producer. The story is heart-breaking and has a very sad premise, but is heartwarming as more time goes by. While I'm not a religious person, I find the whole concept of religious history and what humans have done over time to search for the meaning of their lives, probably the most interesting and fascinating subjects. This conversion of one man's soulful journey and historical representation of the pilgrimage of St

Everything Must Go

Comedy is hard. The hardest, so I hear. When you are at the top of your game as a comedian, you should be able to act. So when comedians like Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler and, in this case, Will Ferrell, attempt drama, assuming the script is right, it should work, but it doesn't always turn out that way. While the script to "Everything Must Go" isn't perfect, Will's performance is darn close. He doesn't, at any point, try to morph into the Will we have come to know in his comedic roles. The story is sad, depressing and real. And Will plays the role perfectly. I feel his sadness, depression, progression through the stages he's moving through as a result of enduring a lot in such a short time. For a many who can command so much in his film roles, I truly hope he does more low-budget, well-written roles like this. He's worth it.

Moonrise Kingdom
½

Moonrise Kingdom is an absolutely adorable film superbly written by Wes Anderson (who also gorgeously directed it) and Roman Coppola about two kids from completely different familial situations who find a connection in their shared sense of loss, either from parents who were deceased or parents who were alive, yet never present. The struggles to survive their individual childhoods are soothed by each other. In one another they find the support to move through their pain, progress into adult situations and give each other comfort they couldn't receive from adults. The quirkiness of the script's situations are typical of Anderson films, but the "yellowing" of the film's color and the exquisite use of children as the main characters add to the depth of perspective, showing the adults as the goofy, clueless, immature element of the cast. In their own chaos, the kids appear to have it together much more than the adults. Throughout this wonderful film, the kids deal with the adult scenarios with maturity and logic while the adults come across as trained monkeys. The children come together as a strong, empathetic team while the adults are miserable robots succumbing to the rigidity of their mundane lives, clinging to every vice there is, from cheating, lying, drinking, smoking, etc. while all the kids want is to be loved and happy. The simple things we all set out to obtain.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Say what you want about the interpretation of how 2001: A Space Odyssey ended. The fact is, this film is one of the most beautifully shot films ever. Such great care was taken by director Stanley Kubrick to envelope the viewer visually. He perfectly slows the pace down so that the viewer actually feels the slow pace of operating in space. It is a flawlessly made story-telling film. Oh, and it does so over 2.5 hours with very little dialogue. Oh, oh...and he does it with 1968 special effects technology. As I was watching the last 30 minutes, I was as mind-f*cked as every other viewer. However, realizing it was Kubrick and mind-f*cking comes with the territory, I began to attempt at interpreting what those last minutes meant within the context of the film. At first glance, I was convinced that humans were lab rats in a larger experimentation by a more evolved race. When I read interpretations by others, I saw that many others thought elements of that as well, but wrapped around much larger explanations, such as using the monolith's appearances to symbolize places in time that the experimenters used to force evolution of our species. First, with the monkeys grasping tools and using them to first murder, then eventually evolve. Second, with the astronauts on the moon when the monolith signals to Jupiter that "they made it to the moon...they are coming!". Third, when they reach Jupiter and the higher race begins assessing the final product that has arrived. They find that they've gone from apes with tools to creating tools like HAL that, at the end, acted with more emotion, feeling, jealousy, etc than the seemingly cold, robotic humans. The aliens, seeing the flaws of that development, then proceed to fast-track the extinction of man, as witnessed in the time warp of Dave's life resulting in the 4th and final appearance of the monolith, resulting in a restart of the race in the form of the embryonic child going back to Earth. Unfortunately, neither Kubrick or Clarke would ever state for sure what it meant. Either way, the film was so visually stunning and intellectually stimulating, there isn't any question that it is one of the most incredible films ever made.

The Dictator
The Dictator(2012)

As a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen, I respect his talent and genius. And as a fan of vulgar, over the top comedy, I respect that Cohen would pursue a movie like "The Dictator.". However, when you are as talented as Cohen and get the opportunity to follow up your past successful creations with a solid Hollywood budget and studio support from Adam McKay, Larry Charles, Alec Berg, etc., don't throw together a limp, directionless, hit-or-miss collection of "shock and awe". Cohen needs to take the lead from Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Vulgar comedy is at its most brilliant when it's constructed into a
tight, well-written story. There were extremely funny scenes, but occasionally brilliant scenes do not make a brilliant comedy. "The Dictator," as constructed, should have never been made.

Men in Black III

What made MIB special was the interaction between Agents J and K, along with the special humor their interactions sparked. However, in the first half hour of MIB III, the viewer is so ready for this movie to be over as the chemistry and humor just aren't there. If one can get past the first half hour, though, the true magic is recreated with an incredible portrayal of a "young" K by Josh Brolin. At the same time, the story, which began as a very generic MIB adventure not capturing my interest at all, swerves into an unexpected direction with a very special ending that made the whole movie worthwhile. Will looks too old to play Agent J and has lost his youthful appeal, though I guess we all do. Tommy Lee is overly made up and must have wanted very little to do with this movie because he's hardly in it and hasn't been featured much in the trailers. MIB III has a very different feel than the previous two, but I suppose that is because its original audience is older. I'm not sure viewers could consider it a worthy film, but if one has any love for these characters, you will be pleasantly surprised at where this film ends. Unfortunately, the dialogue is weak, the pacing is almost painful, especially in the first half hour, and, had I not been so interested in the ending, I would heavily question why this film was even made.

Some Like It Hot

I may have to watch this again, but honestly, it was hard as Hell to get through the first time. It had its moments, but even as Billy Wilder films go, the odd pacing was even odder. The quirky humor was even quirkier. I much more prefer Billy's work in "Double Indemnity" and "The Seven Year Itch," the latter being one of my all-time favorites. Even though I blame the slow pacing and not-as-funny-as-people-think script, part of the problem may be my inability to enjoy Tony Curtis in his heyday. I love Jack Lemmon, especially in his dramatic roles, but not being a big fan of Tony Curtis in general, plus minimally enjoying this role of Jack Lemmon's, may be the reason I didn't care for the chemistry pieced together for this film. Marilyn was Marilyn, but I've been amazed at the negative comments around her weight. She was still one of the most beautiful women ever in film and, no matter how little I enjoyed "Some Like It Hot," it was quintessential Marilyn. I've just seen better out of everyone else involved.

Bernie
Bernie(2012)
½

Jack Black stars in this immensely dark comedy of a funeral director, Bernie Tiede, in rural Texas loved by the entire community. He befriends a universally despised, but very rich, widow played by Shirley MacLaine. Their odd closeness has destructive results at the hands of the kind and selfless funeral director. The story gets darker as the collective intellect of the small town feels more sympathy toward Black's murderous character than his victim. The genius of this film is the abundance of locals and their single-camera, documentary-style explanations of the events leading up to Bernie's trial. The movie drags a little longer than it needs to, but is very well-written with entertaining, though not very unique, performances by Black, who channels about every other character he's ever played, albeit with a toned-down "Jack Black," and Matthew McConaughey, who channels his inner Texan with shades of his character from Tropic Thunder. Be sure to stay through all of the credits though as the locals have much more to say...

Marvel's The Avengers

At the core of a great film is an even greater story. At the core of every great story are even greater characters, chemistry and a strong foundation of source material. The Avengers have been around since the early 60s, and the characters even far beyond that. Personally, in the midst of my parents divorcing, I decided to take a second chance on comic books after dipping my toe into Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew in March, 1982 while living in Broken Arrow, OK during one of my many, many trips to QuikTrip to either buy ice cream, donuts or penny candy while playing Ms. Pac-Man. It wasn't a wonder why I became fat around this time. Fast forward 2 years to May, 1984, when I purchased Avengers (Vol 1) number 243, mostly due to my being intrigued with Captain America. I instantly fell in love with comics, and needed them to help me cope with the massive changes going on around me at the time.

For the next 3-4 years, I was obsessed with comic books, which centered completely around the Avengers, like Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Secret Wars, etc. I read everything I could and became immersed into the years and years of Avengers history. Even as girls and music became more interesting to me than comics, I still always had an affinity for the Avengers. At one point, after beginning to earn a good living about 15 years ago, I tried collecting every issue ever made. I got about 95% there when comics started being graded by CGC and "guaranteeing" condition. I then sold most of my mediocre conditioned books and wanted to collect 9.2-10 (Near Mint-Mint) copies of every issue. Only, the expense far outweighed my dedication and, to this day, I only have a few.

My heart has always been with the Avengers, though. My heart was broken when the first Avengers cartoon series in 1999-2000 was an embarrassment. Just a pathetic series. However, when the X-Men movies did well and other titles like Daredevil, Elektra and Fantastic Four started to be released, I was excited to eventually see, at least, Captain America, Iron Man, etc. on the big screen. Never did I think a studio would be ambitious enough to attempt The Avengers as a whole.

Then came Iron Man...a B character, at best, perfectly cast Robert Downey, Jr. as a spot-on Tony Stark. And it was huge. Then came the news that Marvel had owned the properties again and had a strategy to deliver individual movies leading up to an all-encompassing Avengers movie. NO WAY, I thought. Oh this was BOUND to get screwed up. And, frankly, there was probably NO WAY to please me, a die-hard Avengers fan, on the big screen. Just no way. Especially after Ang Lee's atrocious Hulk movie. Surely Hulk would be left out of the mix.

Then came Edward Norton as a superb Bruce Banner in the Incredible Hulk movie that hit all the right buttons, continued the Iron Man storyline, eluded to the Super Soldier serum, tying it all together with SHIELD. The final scene in the Incredible Hulk showed us a meditating Bruce Banner with an evil grin, seemingly embracing and enjoying the monster within, which told us die-hard fans that he must be in the control of Loki, Norse god of Mischief, as was the case in the classic Avengers #1 issue from the early 60s. Could they be setting up Loki and the Hulk as the villains of the Avengers movie as a modern interpretation of the old comic book??

Then came Iron Man 2. A poor sequel with a very casual inclusion of more Nick Fury, Black Widow and Avengers talk. Way too rushed, and thus what caused Favreau's exit as director. My interest was still high, but I became cautious as the humor of Iron Man began leaning this whole thing in a direction I had hoped wouldn't come to pass. Then, at the end of Iron Man 2, Thor's hammer in the middle of the desert sparked my interest, as designed, again.

Then came Thor. I was really worried about this one. A Norse god? Among all these high-tech, very human heroes? Given the extremely strong representation of Batman by the Nolan films, this movie had the ability to throw the whole thing into full-blown CAMP. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Introducing Hawkeye helped a lot as well. Then, at the end, with Loki seeing through the eyes of Erik gave us fans another glimpse of Loki controlling humans, which sparked the interest of the Hulk again.

Finally, Captain America, perfectly cast Chris Evans and developed a near-perfect story around the Red Skull and the Cosmic Cube. The foundation was almost full strength and The Avengers movie was on the horizon. Could it meet the expectations of the film fans? Better yet, could it meet the immensely critical expectations of the decades of comic book fans?

Over the past few months, I've seen some of the most uninteresting trailers for The Avengers. I have been so worried thinking that the movie I've waited 28 years for was going to be an absolute disaster. Trailer after trailer, it didn't look any better. Did Joss royally screw this thing up???

Well, I saw it opening night, tonight. The trailers show the tiniest fraction of what happens in this absolute masterpiece. Sure, it's action-packed. It's expected to be. Sure it's got funny moments. It's expected to, especially with Robert Downey, Jr. as a leading man. What Joss Whedon did was take the greatest care of characters since Nolan's Batman series. The interaction between the characters, the way they deal with their own personal concerns and flaws, and how they come together as a team is so perfectly executed it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

To most people it might be looked at as an enjoyable popcorn film; a great kickoff to the summer movie season. To me, a die-hard, multi-decade fanatic of this comic, these films, these characters and the integrity of keeping them authentic was paramount and, honestly, impossible to achieve, in my eyes. Joss proved me oh-so-wrong. When I began seeing the very nigh praise, the 93% on Rottentomatoes, etc. my low expectations became super high expectations. How often are expectations like that ever met? Well, I can at least say they weren't met. They were left in the dust, exceeded beyond anything my fanboy mind could have conjured. Bless Marvel, Whedon and these actors for treating multiple generations of fans to a perfect example of how it can be done right. Sure, Nolan has become the gold standard, but Whedon showed everyone that Marvel can do it too.

My only regret is that Edward Norton couldn't reprise his role as Bruce Banner. Of the 3 Bruce's, he was the best. Mark Ruffalo was the worst. I like him as an actor and he had some of the mannerisms, but Edward captured the intellectual, frightened and loner aspect of Bruce Banner perfectly. Hulk, however, stole the show. Without spoiling some of the key aspects of the movie, I will just say that Joss' inclusion of Hulk in the manner in which he was was the cherry on top of this perfect sundae.

While I can't imagine them topping this one, I've been so strongly surprised, I would never say never. The setup at the end of The Avengers has me so excited about where these movies will continue to go. I even guessed the surprise ending way early in the movie, but that was a product of my pure geekiness made happy by clearly other geeky people who wrote the film. Bring it on, Marvel. Excelsior! Nuff Said!!

Owning Mahowny

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Minnie Driver give painfully depressing, but outstanding, performances in this gritty film based on a true story of a banking executive, responsible and reliable in every way...except for a debilitating gambling problem. Dan Mahowny (Hoffman) uses his clout and trust to manipulate the system to keep his addiction going. The movie is hard to watch as the situations are very tense. The performances and direction are superb, though, engaging the viewer in the first few minutes of the opening scene.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
½

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is, on the surface, the story of bringing a visionary idea of a rich sheik, an avid salmon fisherman, to life via Investment Consultant, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, played by Emily Blunt. That idea is to replicate the cold Northern European fishing environment in the dammed, desert conditions in the Yemen. While initially brushed off as lunacy by British proper, the opportunistic Kristin Scott-Thomas, the Prime Minister's Press Secretary Patricia Maxwell, uses the Anglo-Yemeni venture as a way to "wag the dog" in order to keep the British public away from the reality of the Afghan War. Enter Ewan McGregor's Dr. Alfred Jones, a British Fisheries expert whose natural tendency to maintain current thinking and ignore such insane ideas, but is forced to adhere to the Prime Minister's directive to make this project happen for PR's sake. The fast pace of the film keeps the British tone and humor very interesting and entertaining for the first half until all involved came to the realization that the project was worth pursuing.

The second half of the film was a victim of its own setup as the story rides its elementarily presented symbolism as an almost-forced chemistry between Dr. Jones and Harriet blossoms into love for the sake of supporting the theme of the story. Dr. Jones (even his name is generic) is a status quo man with the comfortable life, generic marriage, boring sex life, cloudy communication, yet is working toward a good pension and a drama-free existence, reflected symbolically in the Koi pond in his back yard. Fat and happy fish content to live in their small pond never needing adventure or challenges as they have their comfortable owners to feed them generic white bread every day. Meanwhile, the challenge of the sheik's vision is equally reflected in the behavior of the very salmon he wants to bring to the Yemen. Challenging, full of hard work, demanding, seemingly impossible at times and, if successful, immensely rewarding.

For the second half of the film, the viewer watches Dr. Jones fight his own instincts to be Koi-like, choosing to resign from his comfortable British job, fall in love with Harriet and discover his passion for making this visionary idea happen. His transformation mirrors the very project he leads, meant to impart that to achieve what brings us passion takes stepping out of our comfort zone, perhaps even doing and being more than we had ever been. Not everyone will understand, some may criticize, try to bring you down, etc., but passions, loves of such heights may not be understood by the everyday "Koi" in the world as they are content to do the safe things, the easy things, devoid of risk taking for their own passions and loves. In the end, Dr. Jones and Harriet choose to keep pursuing the road less traveled as their rewards are bringing the sheik's vision to life while following their hearts with each other.

While the romantic chemistry seemed quick and, at times, a little unnatural, the story pointed to a somewhat depressing truth, even if the end was a happy one. The reality is, some people simply don't take chances, don't follow their hearts and choose the comfortable road in order to avoid the potential difficulties pursuing their loves. I couldn't help but personally relate to the film in this respect as I try every day to follow my heart, my dreams and take chances as often as possible. While not always successful, and as much hurt or pain those failures may cause me, I feel stronger in the end knowing my love, my heart and my passion were worth more than the risks. Sadly, I know those who do the opposite, choose the safe route and never pursue their hearts. As the sheik reiterated throughout Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, the strength and confidence in such seemingly impossible pursuits is our never-ending faith that they are worth it and can happen.

Casablanca
Casablanca(1942)

It seems ridiculous to review Casablanca since it is the model for a romantic adventure. With perfect writing, acting and directing, they don't get any better.

Friends With Benefits

Essential to a good romantic comedy are: a believable chemistry between the protagonists; a story that is real enough to make you think it could happen; humor that is generally appealing enough to maintain levity through the majority of the movie and emotional enough to care about the characters situation when not smiling; the setting or locale is almost a third party in the relationship. When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, etc. Down with Love is one of my all-time favorites too, but not exactly realistic, but still adorable. Friends with Benefits fits the criteria better than I've seen in years. In the Rom-Com genre, the film is near perfect. The chemistry between JT and Kunis is flawless and believable. The use of New York and Los Angeles were reflections of both their personalities and, thus, enhanced an understanding of the characters. The writing is smart, the editing makes the movie flow seamlessly and it even finds a way to make fun of itself and its genre. I enjoyed the film from the opening scene to the final credits.

Jeff Who Lives at Home
½

An absolutely precious film about how each of us, individually, make our way through our lives, especially after realizing, as adults, just how finite our time is. Dealing with fears, loss, expectations, love, etc is at the root of every character in this film, each going through their own perspective. This film is perfectly cast with the best performances I've seen out of these actors in a long time. It is, perhaps, Jason Segel's best acting ever. Though short, easily predictable and full of strange camera shots, nothing takes away the pure sweetness of the story.

Bad Teacher
Bad Teacher(2011)

There isn't much to say about this film other than, "What a shame." There isn't a lick of cinematic value here. The story, acting and reason for existing are nowhere to be found.

Meet Monica Velour
½

Extremely low budget Indie about a teenager in love with an aged former porn star. While occasionally reminiscent of Napoleon Dynamite, "Meet Monica Velour" is much more serious, even in its dark humor. While it isn't a bad movie, it isn't particularly good either. The performance of Kim Cattrall is actually pretty good and a welcome change from her "Sex and the City" typecast she's been saddled with the past decade. Yeah, this film may not seem like much of a departure from the type of character she's been playing for a long time, but it did give her a chance to be more raw and serious. Definitely worth watching at least once.

Friends With Kids

An epic failure of a movie that spends too much time on two moderately appealing characters and never expands on 4 other equally-as-interesting characters. Formulaic for about 95% of the movie, I spent most of my time wondering why it seemed so conceptually similar to When Harry Met Sally, yet was centered around babies. Then, with 10 crucial minutes left to wrap up a story that, if continuing with the formula, had a very predictable ending, yet if it strayed from the formula, it was going to happen very quickly and would ultimately ruin the movie. Somehow, this movie did both. This was a long hour and forty minutes. And the depth just wasn't there. On one hand, it seemed like Jon Hamm life partner, Jennifer Westfeldt, was constructing a sweet film about friends who fall in love, but then on the other, she reduced it to a very shallow and empty story. Such a waste of an incredible cast.

Dr Seuss' The Lorax
½

While a well-animated movie and modern interpretation of the Dr. Seuss classic, unfortunately it didn't impact me the way the book did when I was a kid. The Lorax is my favorite Dr. Seuss book. It always seemed like the most serious. And when I saw the first animated interpretation of the book as a child, the story flat-out depressed me. This one, not so much. It wasn't a bad movie, but the Lorax him(it)self was not as prominent in this movie as I would have expected him to be. There is a time during the movie where he is, but other than that 20 minute piece, he is almost an afterthought. And because of that, the message wasn't as impactful.

M*A*S*H
M*A*S*H(1970)
½

I come from the most peaceful time militarily in number of years. I've always known the stigma around Vietnam, and lord knows the concept of vulgar comedies has thrived in my lifetime. South Park, anyone? And though I know little of the Korean War, I get that M*A*S*H was groundbreaking when Robert Altman unleashed the film version of the book in 1970 because it not only made light of war, which, when the book was released in 1968, was a hot topic, but also because of the unique pacing of the film and the astoundingly vulgar situations, by even today's standards. The film, I didn't know, was originally given an X rating. However, I always thought the TV series was painfully boring. I still think it is one of the most overrated shows ever. So the desire to see the original film was not in me. Yet, I did. My take is that there is vulgar and there is disturbing. If I took M*A*S*H contextually at its time in history, I get it's relevance. I realize there was nothing like this movie at the time, and has been little like it since. I praise it for being such a groundbreaking film, but to watch it for the first time in 2012 is a hard thing to do. Especially as a Gen-Exer, who can't appreciate why making fun of war so strongly is a humorous thing. Why being so insensitive to women, blacks and authority in general while at war makes absolutely no sense to me. I found the movie dull. I may have chuckled a couple of times, but maybe this movie's genius is that it is such a strong portrayal, albeit unrealistic, of what war does to its participants and the inhumane conditions it expects modern people to accept, so the way they cope is to cure the boredom and sadness with as much outlandishness as can entertain them. I understand that the book was meant to be a satirical and over-the-top comedy about war told from someone who was very much against war, but had to participate I war, but calling it a comedy is stretching things a bit far. At best, it's an inside joke. To me, it just wasn't funny.

The Searchers

Looking past the 50s over dramatic acting is a prerequisite to seeing the beauty of films like The Searchers. ┬ What is important to recognize is the sheer difficulty of filming such large, elaborate scenes back then in such majestic locales like Monument Valley. ┬ Visually, the scenery and battle scenes are marvelous. ┬ However, the additional reason The Searchers is such a great film is the emotional battle in Ethan, played by the great John Wayne. ┬ It's never explained where he was between the end of the Civil War and when he arrives at his brother's home. ┬ Clearly he learned the ways of the Comanche and of the Indians as a whole. ┬ He developed an understanding of their thoughts and way of life, something he clearly wanted to eradicate. ┬ So much so that he was willing to kill the very girl for whom he's been searching for 5 years after discovering that she has adapted to the Comanche ways. ┬ In the end, his humanity wins and he brings Debbie home to the only family she has left. ┬ The ones who want her home no matter how much the Comanches have changed her. ┬ The struggle between family and the perceived duty to eliminate the country of the Indian way is at heart of what is truly being sought.

Young Adult
Young Adult(2011)

I officially don't like Diablo Cody. ┬ Juno was nice and quirky, made even more appealing by Ellen Page. ┬ However, after that abysmal show, The United States of Tara and now this poorly written movie, I'm convicted that, while performances, like the superb ones by Patton Oswalt and Charlize Theron in Young Adult, can enhance bad writing, it can't mask it. ┬ This movie is full of holes, the inability to stay focused on a solid story and, at the beginning, painfully dull. ┬ By the end, I'm affected by Charlize's near-perfect portrayal of a self-righteous, arrogant, narcissistic depressive, so she played the part well. ┬ In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that Diablo's screenplay could have had a hand I how this messed up character is displayed, but the overall story is choppy, poorly plotted and void of basic comprehension in certain areas that I feel as though I could have written it.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

First, the good things. GRSOV is better than its predecessor. This wasn't a sequel, it was a reboot. And with David Goyer writing, it was expected to be better. Graphically, GR looked much better. He was much more of a character in this film. Nic Cage's Johnny Blaze was much better. I loved that they skimmed over the origin. It was very well done. The action sequences were also top notch. However, the bad is a mix of what is bad about film-making in general and the unmet expectations of comic book lovers for Marvel Knight characters in general. Ghost Rider is a pseudo interesting character to begin with. In theory, he should make a bad-ass film protagonist. In reality, he's great in action and graphically, but even Goyer's writing skills can't make him that interesting. Like the abysmal attempts at getting a good Punisher on film, the reality is, the Marvel Knights characters will never make interesting films as long as the focus is on the violent part of their characters rather than what makes them dark in the first place. So, in the long line of poor attempts, GRSOV ranks higher than Punisher: War Zone, Dolph Lundgren's Punisher and the original GR, but that's about it. I truly hope there isn't a third.

Lawrence of Arabia

Epic filmmaking perfection. Such a story filmed at this grand scale demands respect, especially in the early 60s. The scope of Lawrence of Arabia is matched or exceeded only by the likes of Cleopatra, Gone with the Wind and Spartacus. Peter O'Toole's flawless, emotional portrayal of T.E. Lawrence, and in his first major role on film, is awe-inspiring. Independent of historical flaws and tremendous length, Lawrence of Arabia is what the art of filmmaking is all about.

The Convincer (Thin Ice)

An interesting concept and the makings of what could have been a cool scam. If only it wasn't burdened by an extremely slow story that took way too long to get to its climax. Then, when it did, it only maintained it's interesting edge for about 10 minutes. The scam turned out pretty clever, but it simply too long to get there. My interest was LONG gone. Had it not been for some fantastic actors, I would have had a hard time giving it a single star. A plot like this deserved a lot better.

Cedar Rapids
Cedar Rapids(2011)
½

Quirky, dry, at times vulgar, but this story of a coming-of-age insurance salesman (yes...I wrote that) played by the seemingly typecast Ed Helms as a naive, middle-aged man learning about love and business while trying to maintain his integrity and heart-of-gold. About as unreal as it gets, the story is adorable and sweet with well-written characters played by a talented ensemble including John C. Reilly, Isiah Whitlock and Anne Heche. This threesome embraces young-at-heart Tim Lippe while also learning a bit about themselves and the lives they've allowed themselves to get sucked into as tacky insurance salespeople. The result is a warped moral and an unlikely happy ending.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

All unmet 1999 fanboy expectations aside, I can now watch The Phantom Menace with different eyes now that I know where Luas and the broader Star Wars Universe was going. I can appreciate the whole midichlorians, Chosen One, etc components that in 1999, pissed me off. However, the first 20 minutes of Episode I are still the worst 20 minutes of the 6 film stretch. Getting past them is hard, but once I do, I'm sucked in and, despite the subpar acting and even less impressive dialogue, I'm too in love with the whole Star Wars thing that I'm immediately in line for this 3D version. Seeing Episode I, not filmed in 3D, rotoscoped to appear 3D is absolutely elementary. We are talking ILM, here. And even they couldn't get it right. Unless you want to experience Episode I in the theater again, don't waste your money on the 3D.

2012 Oscar Shorts: Live Action & Animated

I'm lucky to live in an area where they make these available in theaters every year. I went in 2011 and enjoyed it so much, I was excited to go again. This year the selection is much stronger. All of the films have reason to win. The selection begins with the adorable comedy of "The Pentecost," a story of an altar boy forced to conform to the straight-laced duties of an altar boy while wanting to spend all his free time daydreaming about futbol. The performances are precious with an outrageous ending. Next, the mood changes tremendously with the edge-of-your-seat drama about a German couple wanting to adopt a young Indian boy. "Raju" is a disturbing tale of couples desperately wanting to fill the void in their marriage with the addition of children by quickly seeking services out of the country where nefarious groups are all-too-willing to provide kidnapped children under the guise of giving them a better life. In the meantime, there are parents searching for Raju. What is more important? The good life these German parents can provide or the rights of the parents keeping this child in extreme poverty? The question is a dilemma for the male protagonist as he struggles with wanting to make his wife happy and doing what is right. Next, "The Shore," my personal favorite and pick for Oscar gold, is a very professionally executed film about a man returning to his homeland in Northern Ireland to confront his past with the woman he left behind and his best friend, whom he wronged and with whom his jilted lover ended up. It's funny, full of perspective and the performances are top notch for such a low budget film. "Time Freak," the only US entry, is cute, but very weak compared to the rest of the selections. Honestly, I think my son at 16 could have done this film about a man who builds a time machine and, instead of going back to ancient Rome, his dream, he can't get past correcting some of the basic everyday flaws I his life, like conversations with girls and dry cleaning vendors. And finally, the most unique film is "Tuba Atlantic," from Norway. It's the quirky story of an old man going through the five stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance after finding out he's about to die. He does it with the help of his Angel of Death, which has to be seen to understand the humor. The protagonist and his brother haven't spoken in 30 years since the brother moved to America. Throughout the story, the old man tries to get this enormous Dr Suessian tuba to play so that his brother in America can hear it before he dies. All of the films were great this year, but my favorite was "The Shore."

Hugo
Hugo(2011)
½

Scorsese steps outside of his typically gritty box and achieves pure magic filming a gorgeous rendition of the popular children's book, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret." While pieces of the story change for the purposes of film, my personal opinion is that (and I'm going to offend hardcore readers here) it tried too hard to be a film version of a book. As a result, the first hour was very hard to sit through. It was long, it was slow, but so beautifully shot that I couldn't fall entirely asleep. However, the second hour more than made up for it. The movie, which takes a while to get to its point, eventually uncovers a sweet, precious film with a wonderful message. That is, our dreams make us who we are. If our dreams die, so do we. To "fix" ourselves, to truly live life, we must chase our dreams, even when we perceive ourselves to fail. Only then can we truly become what we were meant to become.

J. Edgar
J. Edgar(2011)

Someone let Clint Eastwood near a camera again. I know he buys a lot of the rights to these stories he wants to tell, but I don't know how someone takes a story and life full of potential and create this mess of a film. Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the finest young actors we have, and while his performances can tend to run together, he had an opportunity to shine even more in a role like this similarly to how he did as Howard Hughes in "The Aviator." The difference between "The Aviator" and "J. Edgar" is sitting behind the camera in this one. Clint Eastwood, who has the biggest track record of empty, overrated directorial presentations, just blows it all to Hell in this one. The directing is weak, bringing out the blandest performances with its horrid storytelling. The movie shortchanges the viewer during what appear to be pivotal scenes, yet drags out the ones we knew were coming. Pretty standard stuff from "Bronco Billy." The actors and viewers deserved better. I hope the awful reviews send him a message. I'm glad I only spent $1.25, although I deserve some change.

Midnight in Paris

There is a certain chemistry or make-up in film that yields the perfect result, for me. Writing is primary. The story has to be enticing. The dialogue has to be intriguing. The acting has to be believable. The setting, ideally, would play a supporting role in the overall theme, almost like a character in and of itself. While Owen Wilson doesn't stretch much as an actor, he plays "Owen Wilson" perfectly and, thus, is the perfect cast as Gil, a screenwriter who makes the leap to novels, yet doesn't have the self-confidence to fulfill his potential. Through a series of midnight, time-traveling trists, Gil meets his artistic idols, from literary giants Hemingway and Fitzgerald, to painters Matisse and Salvador Dali, who all, through almost dream-like inspiration, allow him to clarify his own reality. "Paris" is so perfectly-written that it is almost unfair to others nominated for screenplays this year. At this writing, "Hugo" is the only Best Pic nominee I've not seen and, so far, "Paris" only slightly surpasses "My Week with Marilyn," even though the latter has stronger individual performances. For all intents and purposes, "Midnight in Paris" is a flawless film leaving one to wonder, "Who has the intellect and writing skills to replace Woody Allen when he is gone?" I can't imagine whom that would be.

The Artist
The Artist(2011)

A refreshing, unique movie in these modern days of 3D, robots, aliens, and huge, vapid blockbusters, "The Artist" is the charming story of a huge silent movie star, George Valentin, on the precipice of industry change, unable to adapt as "talkies" begin to rule the world. The appeal of this film is centered around animated performances, adorable situations and a genuinely stellar attempt at something different. While it certainly deserves recognition as one of the best of the year, the push as "Best Picture" is a tad overzealous. The simplicity of the plot is required in order to supplement the lack of voice for the sake of common understanding. As a result, it's hard for me rank it as the absolute best of the year. However, the genius of "The Artist" is how that simple story is woven into a tapestry of the brilliance of sound and how George can finally use his own "voice."

Double Indemnity

Taken in the context of early Hollywood filmmaking, Double Indemnity defines the film noir genre. While it's hard to watch movies like this without MST3K-type banter about the way men treat women, the over-dramatic acting and the sometimes-unreal premises, overall Double Indemnity tells the kind of story one only sees in parody today and keeps the viewer intensely interested the entire time. The mystery takes twists and turns, teasing the audience with the direction in which the investigation will go until the inevitable discovery ends the plans Neff and Phyllis took such great care to construct. Edward G. Robinson plays another memorable role in his list of many throughout his career as the manager of Neff's Insurance Claims Division who eventually figures it all out.

My Week with Marilyn
½

It will be a race to the Oscars this year as Michelle Williams' portrayal of Marilyn Monroe is neck-and-neck with Meryl Streep's portrayal of Margaret Thatcher. What makes both of their performances amazing is that they don't just LOOK like the people whom they are portraying, but they capture the absolute essence, making the viewer believe wholeheartedly that they ARE the person, not just acting the part. Williams doesn't just doll herself up to look like Marilyn. That alone was quite a feat since Michelle Williams is structurally unlike Marilyn. I was very impressed with the makeup and wardrobe. However, what sets her apart as an extraordinary portrayal of Marilyn is how stunning, and I'm truly understating it, of a job Williams does evoking the tortured soul of this woman. I've read a lot about Marilyn over the years and knew about much of the history discussed in this movie, but I've never had a sense of how she was able to be this darling on the screen and for the public while also being so troubled in the background. I absolutely loved watching how Kenneth Branagh's Sir Laurence Olivier struggled with realizing her brilliance, yet making sure he wasn't captured in the web she clearly likes to weave around those who fall prey to her. For a woman who proclaimed to not be loved by her parents or by her many husbands, thus dramatizing and victimizing herself, she creates an air of powerlessness, but those closest to her, especially the men who fall helplessly in love with her, she has all the power in the world. While Marilyn's story has always been told from a sad perspective, the reality shown here, and what seems very natural considering her past and condition, is that Marilyn didn't understand what real love was. No father. An insane mother. A very false sense of love and admiration from Hollywood and her fans. Husbands that wanted her because she was Marilyn. And, in this story, Milton and Colin, two in this movie of probably countless men who succumbed to her charms and story, wanting to care for, love and help her, which she allows, until she doesn't need them anymore. The trail behind her of broken hearts, to which she gives very little thought. The performances by all are amazing in this movie. In the end, Michelle Williams may have the edge over Meryl in the Oscar race simply because the strength of the story and supporting performances are much stronger.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Having seen the 49% critical rating on Rottentomatoes.com concerned me since the trailers for this film had me anxiously awaiting its release. I never read those reviews until after I see the film. Then, if I disagree, I go back and read what insight other critics had in the film that I didn't see. 9 times out of 10, it is because the critic doesn't like the translation of the written material from book to screenplay. That appears to be the case with "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." I haven't read the book, so aside from some small "Hollywoodisms," I can't see how anyone could hate this movie. Thomas Horn's portrayal of Oskar is touching, heartwrenching, precious and incredibly real. I cringed a couple of times where it was clear that the story was being manipulated and, as a person who is known to cry at these kinds of things, I didn't. I was moved by how "father-and-son" the story was. However, I wish I had received more than a "meh" from my 16 year-old who saw it with me. 9/11 is such a risky theme around which one would base a story, but, aside from the recon adventures and Asperger element of Oskar's character, I can imagine that the emotion and the time it took to let sink in the inexplicable and sudden horror that happened on that day had on families, especially children, of the victims as very close to reality. The setting of New York City is a character in and of itself in the movie. As a lover of NYC, i strongly connected with every stop in his tour of the boroughs, seeking the answers he thought his father wanted him to find. Overall, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is worth the time and engagement, if for Thomas' performance alone. Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock are perfect to support Thomas without smothering his wonderful work. And while it's hard to imagine Max von Sydow as anyone but Ming the Merciless in "Flash," his script-less role is stronger than most in other movies with 2 full hours of dialogue. The movie is precious from beginning to end.

The Iron Lady
½

As a child of the 70s and 80s, I knew of Margaret Thatcher peripherally. My memories of the importance of Margaret Thatcher to the British people from 1979-1990 is peppered with memories of the latest video on MTV, how cool the DeLorean was in Back to the Future and the latest comic books coming out that week. I knew her relationship to Reagan was important. I kind of knew that she shared many of the socio-political beliefs as Reagan, which made them a strong pair. I knew of her importance as the first British Prime Minister. However, I wasn't aware of how hated she was in Britain for a time. I knew nothing of her personal life, obviously. And had I not been such an avid history and periodical reader since high school, I wouldn't know much more. However, it's hard not to be entranced by Meryl Streep's stunning performance of such a distinct person in history. Not surprisingly, she BECOMES Margaret Thatcher and carries an otherwise lukewarm film. To be objective and separate the "distraction" that is Meryl's perfect portrayal was very difficult, but in what seems like a random display of memories and moments in her life as the viewer is taken through her deeper descent into dementia, an optimistic person would say that the film was designed to seem random so as to match the point of view of the protagonist. However, my honest belief is that the film's story really has no point. It's just meant to have a flawless actor bring to life public and private moments of an important historical figure. It represents real life, so I guess it isn't supposed to hold any more drama than what actually occurred, but if that was the case, the drama around her envisioning her long-deceased husband, Dennis, seems to contradict the focus of the movie. The Iron Lady is appealing if only for the performance by Meryl Streep and the walk down memory lane.

The Company Men

The Company Men represents, but nearly insults, the white collar Americans caught up in the recent economy. While it accurately shows the reality of people who over-extend themselves and have been quickly impacted negatively by layoffs and a down economy, it doesn't spend any time on pointing out the blame on the individual level, instead choosing to blame the business completely. Not to say the companies aren't very much to blame for how this economy was handled, being deep in corporate America in similar positions as those represented in the movie, I was not touched the way the movie clearly tried to touch the hearts of its viewers. It's hard to feel sympathy for someone making $120-160K a year who suddenly gets laid off, but then cannot handle that downturn more than 3 months. Even though, in life, I am strongly critical of the stock market-based importance of growth and efficiency as to the life and health of a company, since the ability to handle downturns in demand and proof of diversity and breadth, I believe, are more important, I was turned off by how the film spent too much time implying that it was ok to develop these lives, but provide no security to live through down times. No, the companies succumbing to stock market and shareholder demands and repeatedly putting band aids on on problems that were keeping the stock price down were the REAL problems. Yes, it does a good job showing how the characters suffer through their loss, and that realism was very well portrayed, but the intent of the filmmakers was to make you feel sorry for those who put themselves (and their families) in an unprotected state, but vilified the big bad businesses, even though their decisions for dealing with such economic times were equally as bad. As good as the cast is, I feel "Hollywooded" when I see movies like The Company Men. This movie was someone's agenda, and that never sits right with me.

Tower Heist
Tower Heist(2011)

Occasionally funny, predominantly boring. I'm happy Eddie is in a more adult comedy again, but it's also kind of sad to watch. It was also weird to see him take a backseat in an ensemble cast. I realize the concept was his, and it was a nifty concept, but leave it to Brett Ratner to be the poor man's Michael Bay: occasional flashes of interest, but no knowledge of how to tell a story via film. The highlights were Gabourey Sidibe, who steps up during the funniest moment in the movie versus an FBI guard, and Matthew Broderick, who looks so old and chubby, but pulls off a teetering-on-the-edge former stock broker who has lost it all. Unfortunately, the movie wastes the talents of Ben Stiller, Alan Alda and the always-underrated Tea Leoni. If you miss it, you won't miss it.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
½

My expectations werent necessarily low, but I was very pleasantly surprised by how brilliantly written, meticulously directed and fantastically edited this better-than-the-original sequel was. Critic response hasnt been very positive, so I expected some level of disappointment, but I left disappointed in the lack of praise this movie has received. The cast is downright perfect, as it was the last time, but what improved this version over the extremely wonderful predecessor was the extensive insight into Sherlock's detective mind, something I considered lacking in the original. The relationship between Holmes and Watson was more deeply built, as was Holmes' relationship with his adversary. Moriarty was a perfect counterpart and a joy to finally see on screen. Other than the length, I have very, very little criticism of this intellectually stimulating, action-packed feast for the senses. The getaway scene from the armory was enough to praise Ritchie, and this is coming from a not-so-interested-in-action-movies kind of guy. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a masterpiece in a genere not often represented or respected.

War Horse
War Horse(2011)

The magic of Spielberg is and always has been his ability to touch a part of our hearts with an emotionally charged scene, or spark a part of our brains to make us think about something historical because it has some relevance to our current times. Doing so in the form of a near-flawless film has always been a sensory-enveloping experience. However, with stinkers like The Legend of Zorro, the Transformers series, Cowboys and Aliens, The Lovely Bones, etc, he is losing his luster. While War Horse is a beautifully filmed effort, his ability to be thought-provoking is nearly gone. His ability to stir emotions are earmarked for simple stories appealing to the masses. There is no substance to this stylish attempt. It tries. It tries real hard. It fails. It fails real bad. The weak story and over-dramatic acting do not support what Spielberg as clearly trying to evoke in its audience. Through most of the movie, I was irritated at the pacing and the inability to care about the characters. I kept thinking, "c'mon Spielberg...you are going to turn it around...". Yet, it never came. It was just more of the same pile-on of forced sympathy and brutally extracted emotions. By the time the final scene was dragging out in an almost-parody of Gone With the Wind-style cinematography, I was ready to see the credits. Spielberg's movies used to be a "guarantee." After a string of watered-down mass appeal movies, I will seriously reconsider the desire to see his next.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I have not read the books, nor have I seen the original version of the movie. Therefore, some of my pet peeves about the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo may lie somewhere in the story itself rather than the editing. Don't get me wrong. The movie is great. I immensely look forward to sequels. Rooney Mara's performance alone is enough to want to see the series continue. The entire cast is fantastic, but what seemed to bug me most during the movie is the extended amount of time spent on some elements of the story, like her being a ward of the state, but how much time wasn't spent on explaining the backstory re: Daniel Craig's lawsuit and relationship with Robin Penn. A lot effort was spent building up the need for Christopher Plummer to hire Daniel Craig to solve this mystery, yet very little into connecting Craig and Mara together. For someone so unsociable, she unnaturally connected quickly with Craig. Then, when it was all said and done, the story seemed to wrap up too quickly as compared to the build up. So, while the story was good, the directing was good and the cast was good, the piecing together of the film itself seemed haphazardly done. Was this editing? Was it the story itself? At 2:34 long, I would have expected a better flow, but nonetheless, my high expectations were met and I look forward to more.

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

Being a James Bond fan, I've actually not put much effort into seeing the many flavors America has produced in a similar genre. I remember seeing the first Mission Impossible, and liking it. I saw the first Bourne movie, and liked it. They've just never struck me with the same interest that 007 has. Honestly, had my son not wanted to see this for his birthday, I probably would not have wanted to pursue seeing it either, but I'm glad I did. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol keeps the viewer on edge pretty much the entire time, similar to Bond. While there are simplistic points to elements of the story, I'm glad they didn't try to go too deep into complexity as the length of Ghost Protocol was almost enough to make me lose interest. However, the cast is incredible. I'm a huge Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner fan (although with Renner taking over the Bourne series and Hawkeye in The Avengers, it seemed odd that he accepted this one). Tom Cruise is aging very well and is well-received (obviously) in this role. What makes Ghost Protocol the most interesting though is its key scene in Dubai. From the eye-opening, jaw-dropping IMAX city scenes, especially those scaling the Burj Khalifa, to the unique sandstorm car chase, this 30 minute scene made the movie, for me. One can only expect so much from a story in a movie like Ghost Protocol, but when the supplement is a fantastic cast and superb film-making (without being overly effects-oriented), one can't help but enjoy the ride.

The Descendants

I'm wondering if George is capable of choosing a bad script after the Batman & Robin fiasco. It certainly doesn't appear so after enjoying The Descendents. While slow in parts, the script and acting were emotionally intense, even by the two perfectly-cast children. This powerful story of a man in mid-life having to come to grips with the unexpected, impending loss of his wife, the damage done to his daughters' upbringing and having to find a way to do the right thing after also discovering his wife had been cheating on him prior to her accident. While George isn't the most versatile actor, this is the most human I've ever seen him. He captured the pain, struggle, sadness and anger in his character so well that the final scene with his wife is so real, it can't help but bring on tears.

The Muppets
The Muppets(2011)
½

Thrilled to see the return of The Muppets, I enthusiastically visited my local theater on opening day! Jason Segal, a self-described Muppets fanatic, co-wrote and produced this revival of my childhood. While the script isn't very polished, the story is adorable and a perfect modern representation of these characters. After the boring "Muppets in Space" from the late 90s, I was thrilled to see these characters treated with such love. The numerous "4th Wall" we're cute, especially when they were self-deprecating, but I think it was a bit overdone. The flow of the film was very choppy, but much of it intentional. Kids and adults alike should absolutely love it.

Moneyball
Moneyball(2011)
½

While the book was made more dramatic for film and concentrated more on the relationship building of Billy Beane and a fictional account of his assistant, Paul DePodesta and others into a new composite character, Peter Brand, Moneyball hits every element of a good baseball movie where it should. Right in the heart. A key line in the film is, "It's hard not to be romantic about baseball." Being a die-hard baseball fan, it's hard not only to not get romantic about baseball, but it's also hard not to be romantic about stories like this. While based on a true story, written by Michael Lewis to explain the sabermatic approach that Billy began taking with his previous GM (when he was an assistant), and continued on with Paul, the movie never mentioned the previous GM and began the story of using the sabermatic method after meeting the fictional Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill. The acting is the best I've seen Brad Pitt do. He was a great fit for this role and I can see why he produced it. He must have thought the same thing. I've heard Oscar buzz about it, but I don't see it carrying that far. He certainly deserves it more than for the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Jonah Hill plays seemingly the same character he does in every movie, and does it well. And Philip Seymour Hoffman is perfect as a generic portrayal of uncooperative manager, Art Howe, a portrayal in the film and book that the real Art Howe has heavily criticized and blames Beane's disregard for him. Aaron Sorkin brings his skills as a co-writer of the screenplay to dramatize the story very well and make it palatable for non-sports fans, but for those die-hards like me, Moneyball hits all the right places.

A Single Man
A Single Man(2009)
½

It's funny as children, at least in my case, when we think adults have it completely together. That don't have to deal with the day-to-day uncertainty and learning we do. That they know it all. A Single Man is a misnomer. Not knowing the story line, I felt as though the movie was literally about a single man. And, yes, while he IS a single man, the reality is, this movie is rooted at perspective. More precisely, the differences in perspective. Male vs. female. Old vs. young. Teacher vs. student. Happy vs. sad. Such a very human film, A Single Man is a rivetingly written and acted portrayal of a love unexpectedly lost. In all its flaws and sadness, a man struggles with the sudden loss of his true love, feeling like he's supposed to move on, to live and tries very hard over a year to do so. Yet, he realizes time doesn't heal him and the clarity he finally comes to is that death is much better than the life he's made to live without his love. He attempts to take his life and just can't seem to do it, no matter how much he may want to. In the end, life takes him, just as a part of him is shown a slice of being able to move forward. Colin Firth's performance is even better than his Oscar-winning role in the King's Speech, proving he is one of the most underrated talents in film. The key to this film though is the story and flawless direction. This one is not to be missed.

Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work

As a person who has never been a Joan Rivers fan, much less a Joan-and-Melissa Rivers fan, this documentary of a year in the life of the most irritating comedienne on the planet is surprisingly, uhm, UN-irritating. Joan is the most human I've ever seen her and, like the movie Comedian by Jerry Seinfeld showed, the makeup of a comedian is rooted in insecurity and a sad, self-loathing existence that they feel trapped in. I'd never related why we saw George Burns, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, etc. continuing to publicly perform their comedy until near-death. We still see it in people like Don Rickles and, as is painfully displayed here, Joan Rivers. On one hand, the viewer has to admire her raw talent and endless drive, but on the other hand, one wants to just hug her and say, "uhm...go retire. Go do something you've always wanted to do." That's just it, though. She IS what she's created. And that IS what she wants to do, even as each year looks sadder and sadder. She owns her existence, though, and while even aware of its flaws, she continues to power through. If you've seen her honest dialogue with Louie this past season and was moved by the honesty of it, this documentary will blow you away.

The Debt
The Debt(2011)

In what had the potential to be a gripping thriller, The Debt takes way too long to get to its interesting plot twist, which turns out to be poorly overwritten, pathetically directed and mind-numbingly paced, even stellar acting pedigree cannot save this immensely bad film.

The Help
The Help(2011)

While I have not read the book and was frankly a little scared I was walking into another Steel Magnolias (one of the worst movies ever made), I walked out surprisingly pleased and entertained with an enjoyable story, talented acting and characters worth caring about. Follow up discussion with those who have read the book, I learned it was pretty true to the book, but the parts that bothered me as a viewer, such as the lack of depth around Celia's past, a deeper understanding of Minnie's abusive marriage, etc. are all told in a more detailed way in the book. However, those who have not read the book will still find this movie rich enough in story and an emotional connection to the characters to enjoy this film beginning-to-end.

Salt
Salt(2010)
½

As a fan of James Bond, The Bourne series and other well-written, acted and action-packed spy thrillers, Salt definitely ranks up there. While it isn't the strongest performance ever by Angelina, I'm not sure who else is suited for this kind of character. I've heard they are making a sequel and are trying hard to get her to return to the role. I hope they work it out. I enjoyed the grit and action so much in this film that I'm hooked enough for at least one more movie.

The Hangover Part II

Moderately funny and a complete Mad Lib rewrite of the first movie. It was unnecessary and certainly not worth the money to see in theaters. Wait for free cable.

The Change-Up

Well, I officially disagree with apparently every critic on the planet. While the premise for this movie is tired, overdone and the green-lighting of this movie could have been considered a very questionable move, the fact is, the hard R The Change-Up has earned has also given a very adult and empathetic undertone. The movie has much more of a message than its vulgarity implies and it is flawlessly delivered by two of the most underrated comedic actors in Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds. I absolutely adored this movie, squirmed often, but eventually smiled a very pleasant smile at the pure sweetness of its message. I highly recommend it!

Miller's Crossing
½

A near-perfect film complete with rich dialogue, perfect directing and cinematography and acting that is expected in a Coen brothers movie. It's hard to watch Hollywood blockbusters dumbed down for the masses when one knows movies like Miller's Crossing have been made and flawlessly convey a story to the viewer in as rich a way as a novel is to a reader. It defines the art of cinema.

Easy A
Easy A(2010)

Very well-written, superbly acted by an adorable Emma Stone, Easy A is a story of gossip, insane judgment and all of it done in our modern society with the Internet, texting and the never-ending story of mean people. With constant references to the impact of 80's movies to a more modern teen culture, Easy A develops its own version and niche for Gen M (or Gen Z, depending on what you read). Very much worth the watch.

Dinner for Schmucks
½

Funnier than I was expecting, but still not a very interesting movie. It has some funny moments, but not nearly to the level Jay Roach, Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd are used to providing. Zach Galifanakis and his dynamic with Steve Carrell was the highlight. There are elements of the movie that are unique, such as the whole "mouse-scape" hobby of the Carrell's character, but the premise is pretty dumb, no matter how much of the movie's talent tries to make it better.

Cowboys & Aliens
½

Two hours of high budget and top talent backed by the biggest pillars of the industry, Cowboys and Aliens fails at nearly EVERY level. I was surprised to read Jon Favreau say, "It was very well laid out, well planned, and there were a lot of discussions with a lot of actors who called me to task on things that seemed too convenient, so we made sure we earned each step." Really? That shocks me considering this movie moves at a snail's pace, is full of the worst dialogue and embarrassingly wastes some of the strongest acting talent there is. This movie is bad. So MUCH of it is too convenient and if it was PLANNED that way, then shame on Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, Brian Grazer, Jon Favreau, Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, Sam Rockwell and a host of very well-known character actors who deserved better than this 2-hour monstrosity.

Horrible Bosses
½

Vulgar, funny and an enjoyable adult comedy, Horrible Bosses avoids being a generic comedy by utilizing underused greatness in Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikas and the underrated Jason Bateman. Coupled with an immensely sexy Jennifer Aniston, the casting was great. I'm a bit puzzled by Donald sutherland's inclusion, as I am equally puzzled by the under-utilization of Collin Farrell. It wasn't a bad movie, but It wa

Captain America: The First Avenger

ive Stars. Yep, that's right. Because I cannot be objective about Captain America one single bit. My first comic book (when I started collecting) was The Avengers. Through years of reading many comics, The Avengers was always my favorite and Captain America was always my favorite hero. Yes, I know they did a really bad movie in the early 90s of Cap, but given the budget and the plan to make the Avengers movie happen in continuity, I EXPECTED perfection out of this movie. They would NOT have been able to pull off any Avengers movie without a solid Captain America foundation. While Chris Evans definitely had the LOOK, I was initially concerned since he had very recently played Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies. And, in my mind, him playing the immature Johnny Storm was much different than the responsible, mature Steve Rogers. Chris was absolutely perfect. The story was absolutely perfect. The cheese was minimal. The setup for the Avengers movie was perfect. People who have no emotional connection to the characters may find some of it cheesy, but Marvel, while not churning out dark masterpieces like DC is doing with Batman, this was everything I could have possibly wanted in a Captain America film. The Avengers trailer at the end put me over the top. My childhood coming to life on screen is mesmerizing. Excelsior!

Buck
Buck(2011)

A good documentary is entertaining, educational, informative and usually makes you leave the theater thinking long after the movie has ended. While many documentaries have a political or moral stance, it is the rare documentary that fulfills all of the criteria for a good documentary, yet really has no purpose other than to enlighten. "Buck," is the documentary of real-life horse whisperer Buck Brannaman, his path to the life he chose, the lessons he learned as a child and how he took the right path as an adult in spite of his past.

"Buck" was timely for me as it represented what is in my heart at the moment. Wanting to enjoy each moment as they come. Not dwell on the past. Turn the negative things that have happened to me into positive things for the future. While the documentary did serve to tell Buck's story, as well as give insight into the amazing work he does as a horse trainer, it did much more. It displayed immense insight into fatherhood, parenting, patience and living for the positive things in our short lives.

While watching, I frequently thought of my estranged father-in-law, whom I believe would love this movie. Not only as a father, but also as a love for the roots of what makes a good cowboy.

"Buck" is a beautifully shot film with a captivating, heartwarming, as well as heartbreaking, story. I couldn't encourage seeing it more.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Those who know me know that I cannot stand Michael Bay. Not that I know him personally, but he has exhibited quite a bit of douchery over the years. However, I wouldn't judge his films because of that. The guy clearly is talented, extremely so. Quite possibly the best action director there is. My problem with him is the same problem I have with most of America. The masses are quite dumb and no depth to them. So goes the typical Michael Bay film. It's remarkable how someone so visually talented has absolutely no ability to actually convey any realistic emotion or make you feel at all for a character. Just very surface portrayals. All that being said, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is his best Transformers film. He even tells a much better story than either of his previous Transformers films, or any of his other non-Transformers films, for that matter. The action is not just good, it's freaking spectacular. The amount of detail and realism in his action is absolutely unmatched. This was definitely what a summer film is supposed to be. Considering I've seen every blockbuster this year so far, the action in this film surpass the others by miles. As a Transformers fan as a kid, seeing Shockwave and Laserbeak play such prominent roles had my 11 year old pants on fire! Sadly, though, the nearly-40 year-old in me was critical of the unnecessary length, the gratuitous/immature language and the vapid ending. However, it all depends on what you are looking for in a summer film and, if it's what most people want, I would highly recommend it. It will definitely satisfy the masses and impress budding filmmakers.

Catfish
Catfish(2010)

There is a lot of press around whether or not the events in this documentary are true, but nevertheless, it is indicative of the way people deal with internal pain in the digital age. Before the Internet, Myspace, Facebook, dating sites, etc., people dealt with loneliness and pain in completely different ways. With the advent of new technology, though, seemingly shut-in, anti-social or introverted people can now explore a outside life without the fear of exposure or rejection. Well, unless you do what Nev allegedly did during this movie to get to the bottom of a relationship he THOUGHT he was building with a girl named Megan. The story that unwinds gets sadder and sadder, showing what this powerful, worldwide tool can be used for given the minds of certain people. True or not, Catfish does show the capabilities a twisted mind can use in this modern world.

The Tree of Life
½

Not a movie for most, The Tree of Life is an over-dramatic representation of what seems like a personal, spiritual struggle waged by the writer/director himself. If you can get through the first 30 minutes, you may be able to consume the entirely-too-dramatic message being delivered. Brad Pitt is as good as I've ever seen him as the father of Jack and his two siblings. Jack, played as an adult by Sean Penn in a very tiny role for him, is the protagonist (and I believe a representation of the writer/director) and is enduring the lessons and loss every boy, not to mention person, goes through over the course of their lives and trying to make sense of the meaning of life. The film, like Jack, starts off very general, if not pessimistic, in his beliefs, highlighting the inconsequential nature of life. A very Agnostic,if not Atheist, view. It ends, dramatically shown as adult Jack dropping to his knees and succumbing to the complexity and reality of life, praying to some "God" to watch out for us all...until the end of time. The meat of the story is young Jack learning boyhood lessons, which were almost painful in their accuracy to watch. I found myself squirming from very vivid memories of my own the mirrored Jack's own a little too similarly. It was this immensely detailed and understanding of a growing boy, as well as the deeply emotional and over-dramatic display throughout the movie, that makes me believe this is a personal film for the writer. For people who generally hate these types of films, I would highly dissuade you from watching it. In fact, several people screening the film before me came out demanding refunds and urging people to change films. When I saw it, people clapped and laughed at the end, and not for good reasons. They were glad to see it done and happy to be leaving. It is definitely a niche film and would only be appreciated by that niche.

Green Lantern

I might be overly complimentary giving it 3 stars. I love Ryan Reynolds. I'm excited about him being Deadpool. But the combination of he and Blake Lively who are clearly here for eye candy, along with dialogue that makes the Fantastic Four series seem like Citizen Kane, cannot sustain the brilliant effects and perfect representation of the Green Lantern Corps and backstory. As a comic fan, they did a GREAT job with the Green Lantern aspect. But Ryan and Blake + awful writing = MEH.

Knight & Day
Knight & Day(2010)

Quite a lot better than my very low expectations. Quite funny and cute. Tom and Cameron make quite a good pair. The premise may have been ridiculous and some of the action ridiculously unbelievable, it wasn't meant to be taken seriously.

X-Men: First Class

A combination of the Chris Claremont/John Byrne years, Children of the Atom and the Christopher Yost years of New X-Men, X-Men: First Class brings back Bryan Singer, this time as writer and producer, leaving the director work to "Kick-Ass" director, Matthew Vaughan. Combined with a perfect casting Magneto, Professor X, Mystique, Sebastian Shaw and a surprisingly good Emma Frost, this is the best ensemble and story in the franchise so far. Even better than X2, which I never thought could be topped, especially after the franchise-ruining Brett Ratner debacle. Hardcore fans will love every minute.

Kung Fu Panda 2

Cute, but bland. The best scene was the last scene, and not just because the abnormally long-feeling 1:30 was finally over. It set up what looks to be an even more interesting third movie. We shall see. I can't imagine this one having the staying power it would require.

Bridesmaids
Bridesmaids(2011)

Vulgar, twisted and humor as disgusting as it gets this side of South Park. And it was all done by chicks. So great!! Kristen Wiig finally gets a vehicle to show off her talent away from SNL and, based on critical and audience response, has hit it out of the park. The only real problem is that the theme rode the coattails of The Hangover and was entirely too long at two hours and five minutes. There was about 30 minutes that could have been eliminated. But it was a great mindless flick and consistently funny, not just spotty parts for the trailers. John Hamm shines as an absolute sleazeball boyfriend!!

Thor
Thor(2011)

What has made Nolan's Batman, as well as Favreau's Iron Man, movies so well-received has been because they have taken normal humans and had them rise into something bigger, making it more believable, no matter how outlandish. So when I heard Thor would be included, as he should, in the Avengers saga, especially with his own film, I was admittedly concerned that there was no way to maintain the integrity established by Nolan and Favreau and retain the strong story and audience. I was wrong. While not a perfect film, I cannot imagine a better handling of this mythological story and have it connect to the world today as perfectly as Kenneth Branagh's Thor.

Paul
Paul(2011)
½

Comedy perfection! Nick Frost and Simon Pegg hit it out of the park again! End to end, absolutely brilliant!

Grown Ups
Grown Ups(2010)
½

It's funny how Adam Sandler is completely plugged into the normal joe. Howard Stern said it perfectly. Adam Sandler doesn't care how average, unclever and generic his movies are. He doesn't care that critics hate everything he does. The domestic gross of every move he does is always at least double the production cost. When he, Spade and Farley were accused of being too sophomoric and dumbing down SNL, they laughed all the way to the bank. While the subject matter of his drippingly nostalgic movies have progressively reflected his self-awareness that he is aging, he keeps trying to progress his comedy to match it. While he's significantly lost his comedic edge, he will always generically appeal to his solid fanbase, which is why his movies will always do well. While his movies will never break new ground, Grown Ups not being an exception, there are always elements of cuteness, sweetness and some parts that most people can relate to. Again, Grown Ups not being an exception. For those of us who have grown up with Sandler, who enjoyed his sophomoric rise (even though it really did dumb down SNL) and are reaching the same places in life he is now, may not be able to critically enjoy his films, but for those times we want some popcorn and mindless entertainment, he always succeeds. Grown-Ups not being an exception.

MacGruber
MacGruber(2010)

Silly, juvenile, sophomoric...and absolutely brilliant. How could anyone have expected more from a full-length version of a MacGruber skit?? It is a silly SNL skit, for God's sake! Gratuitous in language, violence and 80's references, the only reason not to like this movie is if you thought they shouldn't have made a movie version of it. Deal with it. They made it. And if you were a fan of the skit, I cannot imagine why you wouldn't have loved the film.

Youth in Revolt

In what is becoming a type-cast role for Michael Cera as the soft-spoken, horny teen, Youth in Revolt continues to allow Michael to successfully stay employed in said type-cast role. While his agent may want to spread out his role flexibility a bit, Michael shows he's perfected it with intellectual, social retard, Nick Twisp. His humorous courtship of Sheeni Saunders via the rebellious Francois is adorable and just sweet enough to root for. Surrounded by a surprising cast, including Steve Buscemi, Jean Smart, Ray Liotta, Fred Willard, Justin Long and Zach Galifianakis, this ensemble lends a very strong comedic foundation to the dark story.

Valentine's Day
½

Gone with the Wind it is not, but anyone expecting it to have been needs to re-evaluate themselves. While apparently in the extreme minority, I have a soft spot for rom-coms. Valentine's Day, while attempting to blatantly rip off the format and appeal of "Love, Actually," American style, it may not succeed as an honest, heart-tugging rom-com, but it's entertaining, funny, cute and sweet enough so as not to completely fail. I adored it, actually. I've always enjoyed Garry Marshall movies, one of my favorite being "Nothing in Common," because Garry has a knack for displaying humanity quite well, even when masked with comedy. It was natural for him to do a movie like this. I just wish it hadn't been so easily comparable to "Love, Actually," which was remarkable. I think it unfortunately took the wind out of what could have been a pleasant movie.

Rango
Rango(2011)

Exceptional as an animated picture, Rango is actually a superb FILM! The story of a lizard trying to establish his own identity is followed through a journey of self-discovery that is seldom seen in animated form. The story is adorable, exciting and surprisingly deep. The climax of the film finds Rango at his lowest point, crossing over to the other side and coming to realize who he is...just in time to save the day in the destitute town of Dirt. Funny for kids and meaningful for adults, Rango is the surprise of the year!

The Tourist
The Tourist(2010)
½

Every once in a while, I completely buck the trend and abandon the masses. Actually, the masses I abandon pretty frequently. However, with The Tourist, I seem to be bucking everyone. I loved this movie! No, it wasn't brilliant. No, it wasn't flawless. However, it was a wonderfully entertaining film reminiscent of 60's British spy thrillers with a very different Johnny Depp and an ending that made the film. Clearly the high-tone cast saw something in it too. And considering the crap people do like, I am going to borrow a line from Roger Ebert. If you don't like it, it says more about you than it does about me. :)

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia

Seeing Johny Knoxville as the Executive Producer, it doesn't shock me that this was a movie exploiting the biggest collection of hillbilly trash I've seen since Deliverance. While it's a decent documentary and very informative re: this disturbingly uneducated band of trash, the local Defense Attorney said it perfectly at the very beginning: a local kid got accepted to MIT. Why isn't a camera following him around? This documentary is a saner, longer version of Jerry Springer.

X-Men Origins - Wolverine

This movie is a train wreck. Continuity isn't followed, not only from the comics, but even X-Men and X2. It's as though no one at Marvel was thinking when they guided the making of this film. Liev Schreiber was excellent as Victor Creed/Sabretooth and Hugh Jackson continued his perfect version of Logan. While Gambit was great, he was forced, as was Scott Summers and Professor X, even though their whole inclusion implies that they know what happened on 3-Mile Island, not Alkali Lake. Yet...in the X-movies, they have no clue. Logan even awoke from being shot with no memories except what began that moment. And, at that moment, he was on the island where he allegedly got his bones and claws. Wouldn't he remember that?? Idiots.

Secretariat
Secretariat(2010)
½

Moderately enjoyable, precious story about the legendary horse milked down for the masses by Disney.

Old Dogs
Old Dogs(2009)

I am beginning to wonder why I can't rate something with ZERO stars. This movie would have definitely be eligible. Quite possibly the longest 88 minutes of my life.

The Lovely Bones

Entirely too long. Entirely too stupid. Entirely too boring. There was less drama in the OJ Simpson trial. I'll never get this time back. I would have gladly chopped off one of my own lovely bones to forget I ever saw this movie.

Greenberg
Greenberg(2010)

It doesn't surprise me that, after-the-fact, I found out that this movie was directed by Noah Baumbach. The direction is unique, painfully slow at times (intentionally) and physically makes me squirm in my chair while watching because the uncomfortable things happening to the characters in this movie are entirely too real. Mid-life crisis is an understatement here. A man so arrogant that he believes he's better and deserving of so much more than he's received in life, which has turned to pure bitterness. At the same time, that bitterness is tempered with sporatic episodes of maturity and responsibility. That dichotomy results in very schizophrenic behavior toward the friends and family he loves. At times he's defensive of the mistakes he's made that brought him to the misery he is currently experiencing, while he also calms down and realizes that he shouldn't blame and that he, in fact, is causing his own misery. It's painful to watch and so uncomfortable to the viewer, especially me who experiences bouts of the same thing every now and then (though to a lesser extent). One almost has to be older to appreciate what this movie is saying, but even those open to its content have to also get past the brutal way Noah brings it to the screen. The Squid and the Whale was depressing enough. It makes me wonder how depressed Noah is to consistently present this much raw pain. However, what makes the movie is its optimistic, and sweet, ending.

The King's Speech

I don't get to see movies like this too often. While the pacing was slow in parts, I felt like it was intentional due to the need to have the viewer "feel" King George VI's own slow pace. Otherwise, the acting, script, locations and emotion were flawless. The effort made by the recently-defunct UK Film Council to get this picture made and distributed was Herculean.

Beer League
Beer League(2006)

While I appreciate Artie Lange more than most, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Ralph Macchio in a movie again, this movie was nothing more than a vulgar, low-budget collection of one-liners straight from the Howard Stern show. While that normally wouldn't bother me, Artie is better than this. No, really. He is.

Good Hair
Good Hair(2009)
½

While it's hard to believe he stretched a documentary about hair on black women to an hour and forty five minutes, Chris Rock does a superb and informative job. Though slow in parts, Good Hair is a welcome departure for Rock, who skillfully executes a documentary much better than I thought he was able to.

Cop Out
Cop Out(2010)
½

I'm from Kevin's generation. Not just chronologically, but also inspirationally. Fletch is one of my favorite comedies. As is Stakeout. As is Lethal Weapon. All elements clearly and intentionally paid homage (as Tracy Morgan humorously mispronounces at the beginning of the movie). It was Kevin's not-so-subtle message (along with the cheap synthesizer and Fletch song at the ending fade) that he was about to show a film that had not one ounce of originality, but was meant to be an enjoyable popcorn film for fans of his, fans like him and those who just wanted to be entertained.

I had NO expectations coming into this movie as critics and viewers alike ripped it apart. From a critical perspective, it's only slightly above average. However, from the INTENT of the film, it was perfect. The movie was fun, enjoyable and made me happy to see the genre revisited. Thanks Kevin!

Clash of the Titans
½

People crack me up. This movie was roasted when it came out. So much so, that I didn't go see it in the theater. As a die-hard fan of the original, I couldn't bear to see them make it too serious, which would eliminate the beauty of the original's adventurous cheese, or make it too cheesy as well, thus insulting the original. Well, I finally decided to watch it on DirecTV. Granted, my expectations may have been low, but after watching Louis Letterier's directorial follow-up to a superb reboot of The Incredible Hulk, I am convinced people are absolutely crazy. This movie was fantastic!

I read that it was cheesy. Yes, it had some cheesy elements to it, but have you seen the original? It DEFINES cheese!

I read that the Kraken was disappointing because it was too octopus-like. Uhm...do you KNOW what a Kraken is? It is based on a GIANT SQUID. If anything, the original movie's Kraken was wrong!

Louis Letterier did as good of a job remaking this classic than anyone could have done. He didn't insult it and wasn't so serious to make the original look cheesier than it already is. It was absolutely fantastic. The action, the CGI, even the elements of the story they changed. Yes, the acting was very bad in parts, but knowing the bad acting and effects from the original, can one really be THAT critical of this one?

No, Gone With the Wind it was not, but it wasn't meant to be either. I question who could have expected more.

Tron Legacy
Tron Legacy(2010)

Visually gorgeous, yet abysmally retarded, this outrageously poor follow-up to such a ground-breaking film was better off left in someone's mind. While I'm not averse to the movie-with-a-message, this movie was so ridiculously PC it made me openly groan several times during the movie. Instead of respecting the first film's cutting edge theme, the filmmakers chose to one-up the graphics, which with 25+ years-later technology available, I would certainly expect, and dumb-down (while simultaneously backslapping the heart) the concept that was so pioneering that it was better left alone. Unfortunately, in between weak, watered-down action scenes, we get elementary dialogue, poor acting and way too many messages about why building the perfect digital world has made us neglect and forget the perfect world in which we already live. To top it off, we have a techie-gone-hippie Kevin Flynn, played by a tepid performance by Jeff Bridges who can't help but occasionally morph into "The Dude." Sure, we all change as we get older. And, absolutely, we come to appreciate the world around us more as we increase with age, but this movie needed a Wachowski Brothers-like approach to the action and deep theme in order to warrant any serious consideration. Instead it was written by people who have spent more time on CW teen dramas than anything of technical substance. If you haven't seen it and love the first one, don't waste your time or memories on Tron Legacy.

W.
W.(2008)

As an independent, I consider myself pretty neutral, party-wise. In fact, I voted for Bush twice. The first time because I didn't know any better and hated anything to do with Bill Clinton. The second time because while I had no interest in voting for Bush, I had even less interest in voting for Kerry. So, I get that Bush was immensely flawed and that if any of W is in fact true, then it's pretty scary someone like that can get to the Presidency.

That being said, I've lost a lot of respect for Oliver Stone, a wonderful filmmaker who, even when stretching the truth for the sake of getting a message out, has made some of my favorite movies capable of sucking me in and holding my attention for hours. He is becoming the old uncle who you know is slowly losing his mind and all that respect you had for him as a kid begins to be diminished with each passing day you see his mental health slide.

No matter what point Oliver Stone was trying to convey, and no matter how much truth there was to the content of his movie, he completely lost me when, instead of just using factual, public instances of Dubya's ignorance (for which there is plenty), Oliver destroys any ability to show an objective view of the Dubya rise to power by including private conversations, which he couldn't possibly know, and intentionally throws in a line or two implying pure stupidity. Dubya on the toilet having a private conversation with Laura indicating that there has never been a father-and-son presidential pair, but when Laura points out John Adams and John Quincy Adams, his response is, "Yeah, but that was 300 years ago."

What is the point in that? Oliver, you don't have to sell us on the fact that he was an idiot. We all think that. In fact, we all seem a bit dumber ourselves for voting him into office in the first place. Some of us, twice. And while there are very interesting moments showing what I'm sure are relatively accurate insecurities of his place in the family name and the love of his father, when you pepper all of it with your own personal political smear campaign, you lose the audience.

This was a poor movie released at an opportunistic time to kick a president while he was down after spending 8 years attempting to lead the largest world power through the worst domestic crisis since the Civil War and its unfortunate downstream impact around the world.

I'm the first to criticize how dumb we are as a society, but we are all capable of making mistakes. The rest of us are lucky that an arrogant, past-his-prime, tasteless director isn't pouncing on us ready to make a film not only re-showing the world our poor decisions, but also blowing it out of proportion for the sake of amplifying those poor decisions. In fact, even making some up. I know Oliver's intent was to expose Dubya's stupidity. He only exposed his own.

Alice in Wonderland

While I saw the original 1951 animated film when I was a child, and had the LP that told the story in an abridged form during my younger years, I've never read the Lewis Carroll novels, nor do I really remember much from Walt Disney's original masterpiece. What I can attest to is how beautiful and entertaining Tim Burton's version was.

I've read several reviews from those who did not care much about this film. Those who hated the deviation from the original story. Those who hated the deviation from the animated film. Those who thought it was another fantastical, yet watered down, version of Tim Burton's imagination.

I suppose all of those opinions could be true. However, while I can understand how tired it is to continue seeing Depp in a lot of makeup and playing what appears to be the same character with a different voice in yet another Tim Burton movie, the fact is, this was a Disney feature film. It wasn't budgeted for Tim to go all "Tim Burton" on it. It needed to appeal to kids and adults alike, and this film greatly achieved that. Disney is using the most colorful and imaginative director to bring to life another Disney classic in order to achieve the same success as Pirates of the Caribbean. Adults and children alike are very familiar with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, so to have expected anything more than what was delivered was unrealistic. To go farther Tim Burtonesque would have resulted in a movie Disney would not have been able to market. To move further away from Tim Burton would have watered down what Tim is good at.

The visuals, action and theatrics of Alice in Wonderland were the perfect mix of original story, contemporary taste and modern talents. No one else could have pulled this film off better.

True Grit
True Grit(2010)

Being a huge Coen Brothers fan, I was surprised to hear they were remaking True Grit. I know they were fans of the original, but my experience with them made me believe they were going to take the original and improve it dramatically the Coen Brothers way. Well...they didn't. In fact, this was the most un-Coen Brothers movie I've ever seen. Not to say that is a bad thing, but having just watched the original, I could have not seen this version entirely and not missed anything. Being fans of the original, they clearly wanted to pay homage to the original. In fact, dialogue and setting-wise, it was about a 90% carbon copy of the original, down to the shots, the script and the way the characters were portrayed. The Coen Brothers really didn't do much to put their stamp on the film, except maybe the perfect casting. Aside from very minor differences throughout the film (such as Mattie covering the chimney to smoke out the first couple of ruffians rather than LaBoeuf and having LaBoeuf interact with Ned Pepper the first time instead of Rooster), the only meaningful change in the script is the last 30 minutes. I've never read the book, but the compliments given to this version is that it is more like the book. That must mean the ending. It is very different, and honestly, better than the original. However, anyone could have done this film the way it was done. The Coen Brothers didn't do anything to make this film special, so I'm grading it as an average film. I hope they enjoyed making it more than I enjoyed watching it and I look forward to them returning to their style soon.

Good Will Hunting

Perfect direction, a rich, thought-provoking story and flawless acting. It gets better every time I see it. I never thought I would equate 5 stars to anything Ben Affleck did, but he and Matt Damon hit it out of the park with Good Will Hunting.

True Grit
True Grit(1969)
½

While strange to watch such choppy dialogue and overdramatic acting from the cast of John Wayne, Kim Darby and newcomer Glenn Campbell, it is a sign of the times. A classic that is probably the most violent G rated movie ever, but adorable, humorous and adventurous all at the same time in the vein of Indiana Jones. I'm curious to see the difference in the new version by the Coen Brothers, which is supposed to be more faithful to the book.

TRON
TRON(1982)

I saw this movie as a 10 year old child and was so completely confused. In my kid brain, I always thought this movie was weird. In advance of the new film, I decided to re-watch it and absolutely loved it. Yes, it is certainly dated, but since I'm in Information Systems, it completely made sense to me now what was being attempted. I am excited to see the new one now.

I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With
½

Having been a huge Jeff Garlin fan for years, especially after seeing him on Curb Your Enthusiasm, I was surprised to see this little self-written and self-directed nugget from him and a similar band of improv's best in Sarah Silverman, Amy Sedaris, Richard Kind, Dan Castellaneta and quite possibly my favorite overall entertainer, Bonnie Hunt. The premise of the movie is real and precious. Knowing that he wrote this and the fact that his character's acting background seems very similar to his own acting background, I can't help but think this was rooted at some real-life feelings and experiences. It's an adorable, sometimes sad, view of love later in life. The ending was a bit sudden and took me off guard, but it was precious nonetheless.

The Bounty Hunter

Yet another movie for morons. It continues to be a downhill slide for Jennifer Aniston who finds new ways to carve out bad decisions in selecting films. She was so good in "The Good Girl" and respectable in "Friends with Money" and "The Break-Up." Other than that, whoever is picking vehicles to showcase any talent she may have continues to fail...miserably. I won't even go into Gerard Butler who is immensely overrated and an absolute pathetic actor.

The Kids Are All Right

Rich, natural performances by three amazing leading actors, Annette Benning, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. I had not seen any of them in a similar role before, which enhanced their ability to pull off these roles even more. The very human traits of these characters are flawlessly translated to screen, supported by an extremely strong story and perfect direction.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
½

One of the most entertaining, funny, clever and wonderfully voiced animated film I've ever seen. Wes Anderson's screen adaptation is brilliantly cast, uniquely animated as clever as the cast who voice the main characters.

Red
Red(2010)

Fun, humor, action and an exciting story make up this more-tame-than-Pulp-Fiction over-the-top shoot-em-up about a retired group of former government agents/killers who now are the targets of a government trying to protect an executive official. Mary Louise Parker doesn't stretch much outside of her Weeds comfort zone, but Bruce Willis, who appears to look better with age, shows his appeal on screen yet again showing the tough-and-tender side he's become typecast as being. His rapport with John Malkovich's character, Marvin, is priceless. Oscar winner it is not, but RED is what movies are all about. Pure entertainment!

The Fighter
The Fighter(2010)

Uniquely written, floundering back and forth between drama and comedy, then depressing, yet optimistic. Christian Bale displays one of the finest acting performances I've ever seen. Although pieces of it played out as too Hollywood, especially the ending, it was beautifully shot and very entertaining.

Crazy Heart
Crazy Heart(2009)
½

Crazy Heart is a superbly acted movie that transcends the story. Any less of a performance by Jeff Bridges or Maggie Gyllenhaal would have made this a sub-par film. Story-wise it never connects with me. Not enough time is spent on specific emotional elements between Bad and Tommy, Bad and his son or even Bad and Jean. However, you can extract the pain from Jeff's performance alone. He was extremely worthy of his Best Actor Oscar. While I've seen him in a rugged role before, he takes a character that is clearly meant to exhibit a painful presence and, in spite of the strength of the story, makes you see and almost feel his pain.

Law Abiding Citizen

A poor man's "Seven." Gerard Butler is so unappealing on screen, but combined with the personality-less Jamie Foxx, it doesn't matter how on-edge some of the scenes are. It still comes across like a B movie.

Funny People
Funny People(2009)
½

Two-thirds through the movie, I had this at 5 stars. It completely sucked me in with its spectacular writing and acting. However, it reached a point where the end dragged and it kind of lost its way. Overall though, the movie exceeded my expectations. Very good.

The Proposal
The Proposal(2009)

Call me a sap, but this movie was just adorable. Yeah, it was simple, but the comedic performances of Sandra and Ryan were perfect. The chemistry was fantastic.

Hot Tub Time Machine

I really didn't want to like this movie, but I couldn't help it. For the same reasons I like the vulgarity and absurdity of Sex Drive, the same writers churned out a better script and more well-known cast for this delightfully awful romp through the decade most of us would like to forget. John Cusack was more perfect for this than I had imagined.

Couples Retreat

Since I had low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie. Yes, it was slow in parts, but fun nonetheless.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

So dull it couldn't hold my interest. Too bad too since I had wanted to see this for the longest time.

Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3(2010)

Not as strong of a story as the first two, but still very heartwarming and adorable. Definitely worth seeing.

Religulous
Religulous(2008)

Nice to see Bill tackle a subject most people would not. I give it 5 stars simply because it says what so desperately needs to be said worldwide. This poor world is at the mercy of stupid people. And religion is at the heart of it.

Julie & Julia

Absolutely adorable. Typical feel-good Nora Ephron fare, coupled with the best onscreen chemistry between Streep and Tucci. I hope to see more of them together. Amy Adams is charming.

Life Is Hot in Cracktown

This movie is beyond bad. No, I'm not one of those people who requires a Hollywood ending or a movie to shed some positive light at the end of films to show some amount of hope. The one (and ONLY) thing redeeming about this movie is that there isn't an ounce of hope in it. Sometimes life just sucks, and this movie shows the worst of life. Unfortunately it also shows some of the worst performances and directing I've ever seen. The movie is just plain bad.

Adventureland
½

It has its moments, but overall forgettable. Entirely too slow moving, but it has sparks of humor, sweetness and nostalgia, especially for my generation. Unfortunately, it's not enough to want to sit through this movie ever again or highly recommend it to anyone else.

The Ugly Truth

What a waste of film and time. I'll never get that 1 hour and 36 minutes back.

Capitalism: A Love Story
½

As usual, Michael Moore mixes up some incredibly interesting factual information with absurd political ideas. It's worth watching for the ties between Goldman Sachs and the US Government. Unfortunately he ruins his expose with his personal politics.

The Men Who Stare at Goats

I really don't understand why people hated this movie. It's hysterical! Clever, dry and flat-out nonsensical. Fantastic cast and extremely entertaining.

Magnolia
Magnolia(1999)

Cinematic perfection

Food, Inc.
Food, Inc.(2009)

This should be required viewing for every American. Not only does it show the horrible way food is mass produced but also another example of just how broken our governmental system is.

Tyson
Tyson(2009)

This is what happens when a rich young NBA player funds the open forum ramblings of an egomaniacal sociopath. It's one of the worst documentaries I've ever seen and doesn't belong in the same category.

Get Smart
Get Smart(2008)

Underrated, funny and action-packed.

Frost/Nixon
Frost/Nixon(2008)
½

Although I've felt like Ron Howard's movies have been hit-and-miss, he hit the bullseye on this one. I was around 3-4 years old when this happened in real life, so I never knew it had occurred. In addition, since one of my favorite movies of all time is All the President's Men, one would think I would have heard about this interview. It took me a while to finally get around to seeing it, but the acting was very strong. The story was intriguing. And, I learned a little something. Not bad at all...

The Invention of Lying
½

It is no surprise this movie fared poorly in the US. It comedically bit the most sacred of beliefs in this crazy country. Ricky Gervais brilliantly exposes, then amplifies, our stupidity, just as he did with The Office. Unfortunately the movie is longer than it should be and ends with much too syruppy of a conclusion, perhaps to appease the Hollywood in us. Still, very few are brave enough to attempt such sarcasm and blasphemy and, for that, this movie is perfect.

A Serious Man

While typical in style of the great Coen Brothers, it hits harder than normal in it's brutal bluntness. Simply put, don't take things too seriously and wrap yourself up in worry and unnecessary stress. Whatever is going to happen, is going to happen. While most if us know this, if you don't, the Coens will smack you hard with the message.

Avatar
Avatar(2009)

James Cameron is the anti-Michael Bay (and anti-George Lucas, for that matter) as he clearly understands the value and importance of ensuring that a movie is not just visually stunning in its action and effects, but it should also be wrapped around a meaningful story about which the audience can care. While the story is simple and predictable, it's topical and timely. The movie never stops and shows what a true visionary can do to a film. Jaw-dropping, breathtaking. Avatar is magical.

Sherlock Holmes
½

Although the trailers only had me moderately interested, I guess they were a good manager of expectations because this move was PHENOMENAL! Robert Downey Jr is superb as the intellectual detective Sherlock Holmes. Jude Law is perfectly cast as his partner, Dr. Watson. Even though the trailers are full of the witty quips that run rampant in this flick, they don't do justice in showing just how intelligently this story is delivered. The script is near flawless. The story is intoxicating from the first minute. The acting is immensely entertaining. The sets were exquisite. The directing was surgically executed. Like Batman Begins, the story is almost nonstop, even up to the very end when the sequel is teased. Except instead of the Joker, we learn that Professor Moriarty will be the next villain!

Up in the Air
½

One of the best new movies I've seen in a long time. It met all my expectations. With the charm and comedic sensibilities of Broadcast News, the brutal realism of Glengarry Glen Ross and the humanity of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, this movie is a must-see.

Revolutionary Road

An intensely dark view of suburban life made entirely too overdramatic in it's cynicism and performances.

August Rush
August Rush(2007)
½

A magical, adorable, extremely wonderful film. If you are remotely a music lover, this movie, despite the requirement to suspend belief at times, will touch you. The acting and music are superb.

Last Chance Harvey
½

While there were elements of sweetness and sadness, I don't buy these two together at all. For two such great actors, the casting was bad. It wasn't natural at all. Frankly, I blame Dustin's weak performance. It may be the editing as well since the progression of this relationship, even in its suddenness, doesn't seem like right at all. The flow just isn't believable. As a result, it seems way over-dramatic. Even for a drama.

The Soloist
The Soloist(2009)

In what had the conceptual, talent and makings of a fantastic movie, this film loses its way about halfway through and teeters back and forth until the viewer moves from wanting the story to go the way it is leading, to the viewer just wanting it to end. Fortunately, the movie does pick up toward the last half hour. The actual ending is very sweet and probably more realistic than the Hollywood ending it could have had. At the very least, this movie is a snapshot of the plight of homeless people and the fact that each one is unique, with their own story and are worthy of respect as human beings.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

An absolutely horrible film. Michael Bay should be ashamed that he isn't capable of toning down his over-the-top action, concentrating a LITTLE on the story and, when doing a film marketed to kids, leave out all of the sex, drug and racist material.