Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 TOP TEN + 2

This is the true story of one of the most incredible people of the 20th century, a woman holding title to many “firsts” not just in aviation but with product endorsements as well. And Hilary Swank nails it: not only does she look and act the part of Amelia she ably handles a full range of emotion. I think this is her best performance ever. The production values are top notch with great attention to detail creating the look and feel of the period. The producers have resisted the temptation to exaggerate a little (or a lot as sometimes happens in Hollywood) especially about the uncertainty of some events.

This is one terrific movie, particularly the acting which is uniformly superb, in this film about growing up and getting an education. I do not want to expound on that for fear of giving away too much. In any event, it all rings true. The dialogue and costuming are right on, the pacing excellent, the musical score fits in beautifully. This movie will win awards, it’s that good.

A really good movie combining a well-constructed character study with exceptionally fine acting. Movies about war and how it can destroy individuals and relationships are too often so predictable; this one is not. This is riveting stuff. Oh by the way: did I mention the superb acting? I’ve not seen better performances from Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal. In part because their character demands a wide range of emotion but more so because they are just that good and pulled it off beautifully.

Animated drama
The title says it all: it is a fantastic movie with all the right elements. The smart, funny, grown-up script seems to have been written more with adults and older kids in mind than for children. The voice work is superlative with just the right nuance and phrasing. The inter-titles (aka title cards) which are a throwback to the era of silent movies are a clever touch, reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Like that film this one is full of witty dialogue that often provokes smiles and sometimes outright laughter. And like Sundance there are exciting action sequences to keep things moving along at a good clip. The soundtrack is a delight as are the close-up expressions. This is a fun outing.

War action/drama
“Once upon a time ... in Nazi-occupied France,” the title card informs us so right away we know that what follows may not be consistent with fact. What we get instead is a fast paced, exciting, action adventure war movie. Told in five chapters, at times utilising the spaghetti-Western technique (especially the music) including some very clever dialogue. The performances are uniformly good, the costumes and cinematography top notch. One word of caution though: there are more than a few grisly scenes that may require you to avert your eyes. Generally these can be anticipated but some will catch even the wary off guard. Although at two hours and 35 minutes it is longer than most, the time passes so quickly I was surprised when the end credits began to roll. I was not surprised upon hearing the applause.

Drama, romance
Right from the onset you know you’re in for a treat: along with the stunning views of the Irish west coast there is the ambient sound that so often gets lost amidst all the other elements of a movie. And speaking of sound, the musical score is well done too and nicely complements this story of love set in the late ‘60’s, when traditional Irish values had yet to be supplanted by more modern ones. I loved the pace at which things evolve, very much like real life instead of the all- pervasive hurry-up, frantic, “let’s get to it quick” style. So if you expect to take in just one movie of this sort this year, make it this one. This film is definitely for the discerning viewer and their patience will be well rewarded with great performances in the telling of an absorbing story.

Musical performance
Accused of child molestation, rumoured to have paid $20 million to the family of a 13-year-old boy, his career was in ruins. Michael Jackson stopped performing, made no more albums, was no longer a part of the contemporary music scene. Following a sensational trail that acquitted him of all charges, he decided to make a come back and told the world about his forthcoming concert tour. “This Is it”, he said, “This is the final curtain call." How prophetic. The show’s producers had in mind to release a DVD of the actual concert along with behind-the-scenes footage of planning sessions and some rehearsals. Unfortunately for the massive following of his loyal fans that is all there is. Although not intended to be, the film is a wonderful tribute to a man who changed the popular music scene as we know it today, who inspired numerous other artists while also breaking down cultural, racial and generational barriers, who astounded everyone with his innovative choreography and dancing ability even more so than his singing. Is there anyone who has not tried to moon-walk at least once? The seamless mixing of different rehearsals of the same song is nothing short of amazing. At times dressed in casual street clothes, sometimes in full dress rehearsal these shots are melded together as one continuous performance without missing a beat. Someone spent a lot of time making this happen.

Primarily intent on divulging the secret activities that take place annually in Taiji, Japan this film also serves as a clear warning of the consequences. As a secondary consideration, the producers bring to light the underhanded activities taking place behind the scenes of the International Whaling Commission. At times difficult to watch, it is nevertheless of some importance that these facts be known.

War drama
It soon becomes apparent that this is a well-acted suspenseful movie with sequences of considerable tension. Frequently there is a palpable sense of foreboding so don’t go to see it expecting a relaxed feet-up experience: it is anything but. The effective use of a hand-held camera lends itself to capturing the realistic action scenes. In fact all of the camera work is outstanding and unlike most films it tells the story rather than relying on the narrative to do so. How refreshing. The film does not glorify war and there is no political agenda at all. Nor are there any comic book heroes, just the portrayal of real people doing a dangerous job. Excellent editing keeps things moving and great attention to detail makes it all too real. The director has been careful to not dwell on the gory aspect of war but the squeamish like me will have to avert their eyes about half way through as Sgt. James and Sgt. Sanborn checkout a suspicious building.

At the risk of giving away the plot let me just say this is a exciting crime thriller with great acting, superb camerawork and crisp editing to keep things moving along. And that they do, with gusto. Along the way, the tension mounts and the outcome never a sure thing. Riveting stuff.

Animated cartoon
It has it all: an original well-constructed story for adults that children will enjoy, spectacular CGI animation (Pixar’s best so far), lots of comical moments, great casting with the voices perfectly matched to their character and a wonderful score that fits beautifully with the action on the screen. The attention to detail is nothing short of amazing: the stubble that appears on Carl's chin becomes more evident as the days go by, the movement of eyes just to give a few examples.

This film is somewhat difficult to categorize given that there are elements of a romantic comedy along with some serious drama what with the impact the main protagonist has on “real people”. Consequently there are some smart witty lines along with some very sombre ones. Crisp editing keeps things moving at a good clip and there are great performances by all three principals although George Clooney is the best: he does not seem to be acting so much as just being himself. The role is tailor-made for him.


Although the central point of the movie is indeed about capitalism, in typical Michael Moore fashion more than a few other subjects are presented. Much of the film content will be familiar to most people but he has come up with a few lesser known things such as the Second Bill of Rights and life insurance policies to name but a few. As usual he pulls off a couple of stunts to make his point. Certainly if what he says is true, there is a lot of food for thought.

Drama based on a true story
With incredible insight Nelson Mandela knew of a way to unite his shattered country and bring about change. Although the centerpiece of his strategy was the game of rugby, there are other examples of how one person can play a pivotal role in history. There are excellent performances all around and some touching moments. All in all it’s a “feel-good” movie but with several shortcomings starting with hardly anything being said as background material to set the scene and bring us up to speed. Secondly since the game of rugby is such an important part of the story, and takes up a lot of screen time, the basic essentials of the game should have been explained so we can better understand what is going on. As it is fans of the game will be thrilled to see so much of it, non-fans less so.

This story of a ghetto teenager with wild ambitions trying to overcome enormous odds is riveting stuff. The acting is uniformly good but the Oscar-worthy performance by Mo’Nique, although not always easy to watch, is nothing short of amazing. Mostly shot with a hand-held camera and often dimly lit, this technique captures the grim, desperate mood with expert realism. And speaking of realism: the use of the vernacular is well considered but might result in some of the dialogue not being well understood. However you will likely get the gist of it and should present no great problem.


Amimated drama
Sometimes they should leave well enough alone. Anyone who has read the book or seen the 1951 movie Scrooge played by Alastair Sim will probably be disappointed with the latest incarnation of this classic tale by Charles Dickens.
Not because Disney strays from the basic premise of the story (which they don’t) but because it is difficult to relate to animated characters that for the most part look as though they are made of plastic. Although Ebenezer Scrooge shows a range of emotions and comes close to the real thing, the others do not. The use of the latest computer generated animation (including 3D in some theatres) has resulted in some really amazing scenes and Carrey’s versatility is nothing short of amazing. But that is not enough to evoke any real emotional involvement which is the whole point of the exercise. And the transformation Scrooge goes through lacks that eureka moment, overshadowed by all the whiz-bang technology.

Science fiction
Fans of this genre of movie with an abundance of time on their hands will absolutely love it. This is a film of superlatives and excesses:
• photorealistic imagery done in beautiful colours
• beautiful rendering of imaginative creatures
• a good story (although lacking originality)
• intelligent use of 3D to immerse us rather than scare us
• some excellent acting
• and it is loud, very loud; in fact your ears are constantly being assaulted by the intense sound
But the main problem is that it goes on forever and ever; well ok for two hours and 42 minutes. But it seems longer. Especially the final battle. I didn’t time it but after a good 30 minutes I had seen enough and left.

A few years ago we got to know Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat Sagdiyev, a Kazakhstani TV personality. Although the movie was not for everyone I for one really enjoyed it so looked forward to a similar experience with his latest movie, Bruno. What a shock: this time he is a megalomaniacal dissolute individual, the kind of person I would not want to associate with, not even if it’s in a movie theatre. As for the movie itself it is gross, vulgar, tasteless and obscene with no redeeming value. In a word: a total waste of time and money. So I walked out.
PS: it got a zero-star rating, only the second one in well over 600 movies I’ve reviewed. It’s just that bad.

To sum up in one word or less it is one boring film. This dragged out biography of the woman who changed the world of fashion will test your patience since things evolve at a snail’s pace. There are too many words and not enough action. Although it looks good with lovely costumes and grand sweeping exterior shots that is not enough to hold your interest for very long. I left after 45 minutes.

Instead of being the cerebral detective, Sherlock Holmes has been transformed into some sort of action hero like Bruce Lee, an expert in the martial arts quite adept at the brutal, violent pummeling of an opponent. Holmes also comes across as an arrogant slob lacking social graces like any lowly thug. Purists will feel cheated by this character assassination. Some of them, like me, will walk out.

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