Archive for December, 2010

‘Toy Story 3’ best film of 2010

Friday, December 31st, 2010
Toys from "Toy Story 3" Donated toys, led by cowboy Woody, attempt an escape in “Toy Story 3.”

The movies of 2010 thrilled us, chilled us and nearly killed us.

From Harry Potter’s half-swan song to “Black Swan,” from deception to “Inception,” the year’s films provided critics with more than enough ammunition to fire off a top 10 list.

Here’s mine.

In the immortal words of Lucky Ned Pepper from “True Grit,” I don’t varnish my opinion.

1. “Toy Story 3” — I realize the uncoolest thing a film critic can do is name a Disney animated comedy as the best film of the year. And a second sequel, at that.

Fire me.

When I reflect on all the magical, powerful moments I witnessed at the movies in 2010, I always come back to this one: the scene where Buzz, Woody and the rest of their toy friends face death. In the terrifying and touching moments before they drop into that giant incinerator, they make their unspoken peace with each other and with their fates.

I argued then, and I argue now, that this scene represents the single greatest galvanizing moment in the history of animated features, save for the shooting death of Bambi’s mother in Disney’s 1942 classic. (Read more…)

‘Casino Jack’ misses dramatic payout

Friday, December 31st, 2010
Kevin Spacey and Jon Lovitz "Casino Jack" Lobbyist Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey), left, discusses a scheme with a shady partner (Jon Lovitz) in “Casino Jack.”

Most fans of Kevin Spacey probably know the Oscar-winning actor is a gifted mimic who can replicate celebrity voices with uncanny precision.

He once called “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson’s office and ordered premium tickets for himself by imitating Carson’s voice. The secretary thought she was talking to her boss.

So, it probably seemed like an inspired idea to cast Spacey as Jack Abramoff in George Hickenlooper’s “Casino Jack,” a drama “inspired by” the true story of the super GOP lobbyist who apparently loved to quote famous movie lines before he was hung out to dry by the very politicians who accepted money from him and his varied clients.

When Spacey cuts loose with dead-on impressions of Al Pacino, Walter Matthau and other recognizable Hollywood icons, the effect undermines what little credibility “Casino Jack” musters as a work of drama, let alone a real-life rise-and-fall story.

How seriously can we take a movie where the main character breaks into movie star impersonations at key moments?

Instead of being a winning con man who draws us into his schemes of wealth and power, Spacey’s Abramoff becomes a prickly, irritating presence that fails to explain how so many people could fall for his pitches.

“Casino Jack” opens with a dramatic monologue delivered by Abramoff to himself in a mirror. He justifies his ego and lambastes mediocrity in a succinct speech that instantly and powerfully establishes his character.
(Read more…)

The best and worst of movies in 2010

Friday, December 31st, 2010
2010 worst movie "Standing Ovation" This photo says it all: “Standing Ovation” is the year’s worst movie.

This passing year saw worthy remakes (“True Grit”) and unworthy retakes (“Nightmare on Elm Street”). It saw major talents plunge to career lows, including Kevin Smith (“Cop Out”) and Jackie Chan (“The Spy Next Door”). 3-D pictures didn’t get any help with the releases of “The Last Airbender,” “Gulliver’s Travels” and “The Nutcracker.”

But 2010 did see some of the best acting (especially in women’s roles) in recent memory, plus a return to daring, high-quality movie making.

Here, then, are some inklings of thoughts as we bid adieu to 2010.

Worst movie of 2010: Give this title of shame to “Standing Ovation,” a tweener musical produced by none other than actor James Brolin, aka Barbra Streisand’s main squeeze.

“Standing Ovation” is a spiritually bankrupt, morally skewed, ethically unhinged and emotionally vacant musical comedy about a group of tweenies who can’t act, sing or convincingly lip-sync.

Oh, still not convinced?

The movie also traffics in gay stereotypes and token black characters. It advocates cheating. It condones revenge. It pushes the idea that money not only can buy happiness, money is happiness.

Jack Abramoff might like it. (Read more…)

‘Gulliver’s Travels’ tied down by shoddy effects

Friday, December 31st, 2010
Jack Black in "Gulliver's Travels" Gulliver (Jack Black) towers over the tiny citizens of Lilliput in “Gulliver’s Travels.”

I feel a little guilty savaging such a good-natured mess as “Gulliver’s Travels.”

I’ll have to get over it.

This special effects adventure looks so dark and fuzzy, 2 of its 3-Ds deserted the movie.

The technical craftsmanship is so shoddy that the digital components look faker than fake, and giant Jack Black’s eyes aren’t always in alignment with the eyes of the tinier characters he’s supposedly talking to.

The script, a superficial reinvention of Jonathan Swift’s classic 1726 novel (which did not, I recall, include a “Transformers” character), reduces the dialogue to cartoon level then loads it up with lame “awesome” clichés, as in “They threw me an awesome party!” and “You are the president of awesome!”

The main characters constantly flash us the “thumbs-up” gesture to convince us we’re watching a Roger Ebert-approved movie. But I didn’t fall for that, because Ebert was sitting in front of me at the screening Monday night.

Rob Letterman’s “Gulliver’s Travels” fails at expanding the cinematic art form. But to be fair, Letterman simply wants to direct a fun and engaging motion picture.

Yet, he fails at that, too. (Read more…)

Sofia Coppola’s ‘Somewhere’ goes nowhere

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010
Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning in "Somewhere" Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) spends time with daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) in “Somewhere,” but don’t expect a transcendent emotional moment between the two.

Sofia Coppola’s low-wattage character study “Somewhere” begins with a black Ferrari roaring around on a circular track.

Around.

Around.

Around.

Around, until it comes to a stop. A man slowly steps out and seems to be confused that he’s back where he started.
He’s going no place fast.

He’s stuck in circles.

He can’t move forward.

Metaphor alert! We get it.

The driver is Johnny Marco, a Hollywood movie star played with five-o’clock-shadowed lethargy by Stephen Dorff.

He resides at the Beverly Hills Chateau Marmont where he recovers from a broken arm (suffered during a drunken fall) with aid from painkillers, alcohol and two athletic, blonde pole dancers who entertain him in his room.

Marco has been around long enough to establish himself as an international star, but darn if this boring lifestyle just sucks the willingness to live out of him.

Everyday he forces himself to deal with publicists. (Read more…)

Cast wasted in dimwitted ‘Little Fockers’

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010
Robert De Niro,Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and Harvey Keitel in "Little Fockers" Jack (Robert De Niro), left, Kevin (Owen Wilson) and Greg (Ben Stiller) confront a construction con man (Harvey Keitel) in the sequel “Little Fockers.”

Forget about what’s really in that holiday fruitcake.

The biggest mystery of the holiday season is how three Oscar-winning actors — the greatest performers of their generation — willingly stood in front of movie cameras and recited the infantile, repetitive dialogue in this really, really, really, really dumb sequel to the funny 2000 comedy “Meet the Parents.”

If you laugh uproariously at the naughty-sounding title “Little Fockers,” you’ll probably like this movie, because it thrives on having characters constantly say the name over and over, as if it’s so funny it bears endless repetition.

“Little Fockers” also traffics in jokes based on flatulence and testicular violence, two reliably effective humor devices generally embraced by filmmakers devoid of imagination and wit.

Then, the film attempts to squeeze comic mileage out of senior citizens and little kids talking naughty about sex!

Hardee-har-har.

“Little Fockers” is the second sequel to a remake of the 1991 indie film “Meet the Parents” shot right here in the Northwest suburbs and Indiana. It bears little resemblance to the sequels “Meet the Fockers” and “Little Fockers.”

The “Little” plot continues the war of wills between male nurse Greg Focker (again played by Ben Stiller) and his secretive father-in-law, retired military intelligence agent Jack Brynes (again played by Robert De Niro, Oscar-winner No. 1). (Read more…)

Coens’ ‘True Grit’ improves on original

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010
Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit" Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) helps Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) track down her father’s killer in the Coen brothers’ remake of “True Grit.”

“True Grit,” the 1969 western that gave John Wayne his only best actor Oscar, probably ranks high on the list of motion pictures that don’t ever need to be remade.

Yet, that didn’t stop those rascally, genre-bending Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel, from turning the Dude into the Duke and putting their own twisted spin on the tale of a teenage girl out to avenge her father’s murder.

Even if you’re a dyed-in-the-saloon John Wayne buff, the brothers’ “True Grit” still represents a significant improvement over Henry Hathaway’s take on Charles Portis’ celebrated novel.

First, Jeff Bridges’ U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn is a trigger-happy, tough-and-gruff equal-to-life boozer in a stark contrast to Wayne’s bigger-than-life boozer Hollywood icon. Bridges’ Cogburn isn’t better, but he’s significantly more humbled and worn out by a life of chasing desperados and living up to his (couple of) wives’ expectations.

Second, Matt Damon creates an inspired LaBoeuf, the egotistical Texas Ranger who sees himself as something of a Sir Lancelot: a brave, noble soul who always gets his man. After 41 years, Damon finally erases the prickly memory of LaBoeuf played by Glen Campbell, easily the worst portrait of a western movie hero by a singing star, at least since Ricky Nelson wobbled and warbled his way through the classic “Rio Bravo.”

Kim Darby’s role as the ultrasmart Mattie Ross has been smoothly hijacked by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who plays the independent girl younger and convincingly sharper, able to get her way through astute and unyielding argument. (Read more…)

Dann Gire Crashes Dan Aykroyd’s Poster Party

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Dann and Dan on ‘Yogi’

DANN: I crashed Dan Aykroyd’s poster-signing party at Hollywood Blvd. and got a quick interview. (See the video)

‘King’s Speech’ a rich, royal treat

Saturday, December 18th, 2010
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in "The King's Speech" King George VI (Colin Firth) reluctantly takes advice from an Australian speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to fix his stutter in the fact-based drama “The King’s Speech.”

Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech” is about many things, but mostly it’s about an insecure man who racks up the courage to put aside his pride to simply ask another man for help.

And for that difficult act of humility, he is rewarded with a nation’s gratitude, and perhaps more important, a lifetime of friendship.

This fact-based drama features two of the best, most fully realized film performances of the year by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, backed up by David Seidler’s crisp and witty screenplay, Alexandre Desplat’s evocative score and an amazing movie set that’s not really a movie set at all, but an actual London apartment discovered by production designer Eve Stewart.

“The King’s Speech” details the unusual relationship that developed between England’s King George VI and an Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue.

Early on, King George V (erstwhile Harry Potter professor Michael Gambon) underscores the importance of public speaking as a monarch, particularly when using high-tech radio to speak to the masses in the 1930s.

His son, Prince Albert, the Duke of York (Firth), lives in terror of public speaking because of a terrible stammer that has afflicted him since childhood.

He doesn’t worry too much about rallying people with his words. His older brother Prince Edward (the chameleonic Guy Pearce) is the heir to the throne, and he’s never at a loss for things to say.

But we already know about Edward, don’t we? The king who threw away his crown so he could marry his true, divorced love, a commoner an action that would put his brother on the throne? (Read more…)

Well-acted ‘Fighter’ goes the distance

Saturday, December 18th, 2010
Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in "The Fighter" Micky (Mark Wahlberg) gets some pickup notes from his half-brother trainer (Christian Bale) in Mark O. Russell’s family drama “The Fighter.”

David O. Russell’s energized domestic drama “The Fighter” would be more accurately titled “The Fighters,” because it’s not really about a single pugilist, but an entire Massachusetts family of no-nonsense scrappers and offensive hitters.

If anything, Mark Wahlberg’s titular fighter Micky Ward is the least interesting character in the lineup.

An emaciated Christian Bale mops the boxing ring floor with him as Ward’s half-brother and trainer, Dicky Ecklund, an ingratiatingly entertaining guy fighting his own rounds with alcohol and crack addiction. (Bale dropped significant weight for the role, popped in some bad teeth and receded his hairline for his frightening and effective transformation.)

The perky Amy Adams packs on a few pounds and a whole new street attitude as Micky’s girlfriend Charlene, a tough bartender who doesn’t need a man to fight her battles.

Then there’s the amazing Melissa Leo. who almost didn’t take the role of Micky’s iron-willed manager/mother Alice. Leo fleshes out the one-note part into an entire symphony of control, pride, manipulation and guilt.

The fact-based “Fighter” is barely fueled by plot, which loosely follows Micky from his modest beginnings as a promising welterweight into his eventual victory in the ring, an ideal stopping point for any boxing motion picture.

Russell’s drama scripted by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson shows us enough boxing sequences to feed our expectations, but is far more interested in the dynamics of its characters outside the ring. (Read more…)