The Artist pays tribute to everything we love about movies. Shot in black and white, without dialog but with music and sound effects, it uses silent film techniques to tell a story that combines “A Star is Born” with “Singing in the Rain.” Great looking Jean Dujardin opens the film as a silent star drinking in the applause after the premiere of his latest adventure. After the program he literally runs into Berenice Bejo, an ambitious extra. Sparks fly. And as silent film gives way to sound, her career ascends while his descends. “The Artist” fills its story with subtle tributes to the great films of the last century—”Citizen Kane” “Sunset Boulevard” “Vertigo” — it uses the original more square ratio of early film and tells its story without computer aid. Great cast includes John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell. Does it deliver what it promises? Old fashioned storytelling in the best sense of the word. Is it entertaining? Stays with you. Is it worth the price of admission? Yes.
Jason Segal and Amy Adams take a dream vacation to Los Angeles with Jason’s adopted brother Walter — who happens to be a muppet but just doesn’t know it. Walter idolizes the Muppets and hopes to visit their studio. Once there, he overhears a plot by Chris Cooper to buy the place and tear it down. Faster than you can say “Let’s put on a show!” they find Kermit, talk him into a reunion, gather up all the characters and ultimately reunite the frog and Miss Piggy. The movies glides along with jokes and music and celebrity camero. It never loses energy and throws out a parades of laughs and a good time for both adults and kids. The movie brings the characters back as good as you remember them for a holiday movie home run. Does it deliver what it promises? PG rated comedy with some wonderful familiar characters. Is it entertaining? Vastly. Is it worth the price of admission? Absolutely.
Michelle Williams plays Marilyn Monroe so well that at some point you stop looking at the actress and start watching the character. That’s high praise for an actress playing an icon. “My Week with Marilyn” recreates the period in which Marilyn went to England to film “The Prince and the Showgirl” with Sir Lawrence Olivier — played bigger than life by Kenneth Branagh. The collaboration does not go well. Film fans will tell you “The Prince and the Showgirl” (1956) is considred a high powered misfire. The third assistant director (read go-fer) played by Eddie Redmayne catches Marilyn’s eye. She makes him her constant companion, which includes bringing her out of her deep depressions. The story behind the scenes involves a clash of egos, insecurity, and the irony of Monroe hoping to grow into a great actor while Oliver desires working with her in order to turn him into a movie star—each has what the other wants and can’t quite achieve it. “My Week with Marilyn” tells an interesting story with a performance so good, I expect Williams to get a nomination for Best Actress this season. Does it deliver what it promises? The humanity of Marilyn Monroe. Is it entertaining? So interesting. Is it worth the price of admission? Much better than expected.
“The Descendants” tells the story of a family crisis with humor and humanity and never does what you expect. It also features one of George Clooney’s best performances. Clooney plays a hapless father trying to pull his family together when his wife has a boating accident that puts her into a coma. Early in the story Clooney’s teenage daughter spills the beans: the wife was having an affair and planning to leave him. Not long after doctors tell Clooney she won’t improve and by her directive must be taken off life support. Now he must prepare his daughters for their mother’s death and try to solve the mystery of her affair and why the marriage unraveled. Alexander Payne directed and adapted this story with the same flair that made “Sideways” so enjoyable. “The Descendants” has a wonderful script which seems to bring the best out of its cast. Clooney captures our attention and holds it. “The Descendants” never turns sentimental or ordinary. I think its an Oscar contender and one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Does it deliver what it promises? Surprising family comedy drama. Is it entertaining? Never ordinary. Is it worth the price of admission? Definately.
The crash of 2008 receives the movie it so greatly deserves in “Margin Call”—a tense, backstage drama that confirms your greatest fears. We’ve been had by a few powerful men and women who consider making and losing vast sums of money a game. The plot unwinds early one business day morning as a group of corporate lay off experts move through one floor of a vast financial firm to begin layoffs. Mid-level manager Stanley Tucci gets the bad news and mentions an analysis he insists someone needs to see. Tucci hands the analysis to young associate Zachary Quinto who continues working on it and discovers a frightening scenario: The junk bonds and default mortgages the firm has been buying and selling may bring the entire firm down. Soon that analysis works its way up the line of management until the biggest boss of all Jeremy Irons helicopters in for an all night meeting. “Margin Call” assembles a fine cast, including Kevin Spacey, Simon Baker and Demi Moore, and mentioned earlier Jeremy Irons and Zachary Quinto. “Margin Call” grabs you early and won’t let go—I couldn’t take my eyes off this remarkable drama. Does it deliver what it promises? Remarkable drama. Is it entertaining? Compelling. Is it worth the price of admission? See it—by the way this is available on demand as well as in theaters—a bow to our changing times.
George Clooney plays a presidential candidate, Ryan Gosling the man behind the candidate. Clooney directs but the movie belongs to Gosling—as a true believer who learns about politics the hard way. The opposition offers Gosling a job, and the offer leaks to the press. Suddenly the political innocent has to pull a few fast ones to keep his job. The plot thickens as Goslin accepts the overtures of sultry intern Evan Rachael Wood. This behind the scenes story unfolds in a compelling script, performed by one of the year’s best casts including Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymore Hoffman. Old school and grown up in the best sense of the word, I simply enjoyed every minute of “Ides of March.” Does it deliver what it promises? Political thriller. Is it entertaining? Great cast and script. Is it worth the price of admission? A movie like they used to make.
In “Moneyball” Brad Pitt plays Billy Bean, General Manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team in 2002. With no money and most of their good players lured away by bigger clubs, the season looks dire. So Pitt as Bean embraces the theory of a statistics nerd played by Jonah Hill — who reasons getting men on base and upping the team’s stats holds more weight than depending on a handful of gifted but expensive players. Once Johah Hill comes into the picture, the story turns into a buddy movie. A subplot explores Bean’s failed marriage and his relationship with his daughter. And a back story explains Bean’s brush with the majors and his disappointment as a player. “Moneyball” has a lot to say about thinking outside the box. It achieves this with sparking dialog courtesy of the great Aaron Sorkin. Brad Pitt takes this role and makes it his own—so good he reminds me of Robert Redford at his best. I just loved every minutes of “Moneyball”—one of those rare movies like they used to make where you care about the characters, where you laugh at the story, and where you can’t wait to see how things turn out. Does it deliver what it promises? Great story. Is it entertaining? Great fun and highly interesting. Is it worth the price of admission? Without a doubt one of the year’s best.
Based on the beloved novel by Kathryn Stockett—”The Help” tells the story of Black household workers in the pre civil rights South. These maids or “help”—essentially co parented or even mothered the white children of the families who embraced yet discriminated against them. The movie begins with a powerful statement by Viola Davis on the pain of raising other women’s children. Her story intersects with the return of Emma Stone to her home town of Jackson where she hopes to begin a career as a writer. A publisher tells her to write something edgy, and she comes up with the idea of interviewing maids on their experience working in white homes. Most of these women worked daily for one family exclusively. “The Help” never feels preachy. It includes a parade of great actresses—Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Cecily Tyson, Dallas Bryce Howard, and a particular stand out—Octavia Spencer as Minny who gets her revenge on the meanest white woman in town. “The Help” stands head and shoulders above the usual summer fare. I think it belongs in this year’s list of Oscar contenders. I highly recommend “The Help” Does it deliver what it promises? Fans of the book will be pleased. Is it entertaining? Mixes humor and a very serious subject. Is it worth the price of admission? One of this year’s must see movies.
A grand finale worthy of praise, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part two” picks up exactly where the previous film stopped. Voldemort—played to the hilt by Ralph Fiennes appears on the edge of victory, while Harry and his friends continue their search for the hidden pieces of his soul — all in preparation for the final battle. Alan Rickman as Professor Snape gets a star turn in this episode and an explanation of his behavior. Many will leave remembering Rickman’s great star turn. An all out battle for Hogwarts makes great use of special effects and looks like a replay of World War Two. The battle earned this episode its PG-13 rating as many beloved characters die. The finale echos the original “Star Wars” in excitement and a coda set a generation later gives us just the right touch of hope. I watched the final installment afraid to blink or move so as not to miss anything. So nice to see something special live up to its billing. Does it deliver what it promises? A grand finale. Is it entertaining? Vastly. Is it worth the price of admission? Every penny. One final note—I didn’t see anything especially great about the 3 D technique—2 D should do fine.
One of Woody Allen’s most delightful comedies in years. Owen Wilson plays a Woody Allen character, a nostalgia buff on vacation in Paris with fiance Rachel mcAdams. Wilson longs to see the Paris of the 1920′s and somehow manages to find a cab only available at Midnight that transports him to the world of Hemmingway, Picasso, and Gertrude Stein. Of course his friends remain puzzled. Change is in the wind. Does it deliver what it promises? Entertaining comedy. Is it entertaining? Easy to watch. Is it worth the price of admission? Delightful.