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Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Having read the popular novel (along with 65 million others) and having viewed the Swedish screen version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I wasn’t sure what a new American film version could bring to the franchise.

My anticipation peaked as the title sequence kicked in, blazingly set to Trent Reznor’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. Ah-ha, perhaps the American film is going to kick up the intensity?  Nope. The spark provided by that opener developed into just a fizzle of a firework. I was about to watch another faithful adaptation of the novel.

Rooney Mara (above,left) creates the exact same essence that Noomi Rapa (above,right) did in the original film. They both make a convincing Lisbeth, the outlaw heroine of the series. Likewise, Daniel Craig is an even match for Sweden’s Michael Nyqvist.

This is a good thriller, but it’s hauntingly similar in look and storytelling to the Swedish film. David Fincher, the director of Fight Club, Seven, Zodiac, and The Social Network, should have raised the bar a bit.

 Simply put:  A convincing thriller to anyone who hasn’t met the Lisbeth Salander character yet; a two hour and 40 minute bore to anyone who’s seen the equally good Swedish film.

Award potential: Pundits are thinking nominations for film and actress. I’m thinking neither.

The ten buck review:  Worth 2 bucks. Save your theater money and rent the Swedish film instead.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

There's a lot to like in this new installment of the Sherlock Holmes franchise: Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law's bantering bromance is good cinematic fun, director Guy Richie's crunch-and-thud action shots are superbly choreographed and Sherlock Holmes' Victorian London is fascinationg to view. So why didn't I enjoy it?

This stylish film is probably just too stylish to love. I watched the story and action at such arms length that I never fully vested in it. As a plus, the charm of Holmes and Watson's witty sniping breaks through all the stylish clutter. But Downey Jr. has similar chemistry with co-stars in all of his recent films, so I can't recommend the film based off of that alone. 

Simply put: Without Downey Jr., I presume this movie would be a bombastic bore.

Award potential: Technical awards only.

The ten buck review: Not worth ten bucks.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Week With Marilyn

In 1956, Oxford grad Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) worked as a lowly assistant on the set of "The Prince and the Showgirl", a film starring Sir Laurence Oliver (Kenneth Branagh), Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) and Dame Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench). On the set, Marilyn befriends the trustful Colin during the shoot. And that's the setup for a movie that's light on plot but heavy on performance.

There's a pleasant clash of British royalty vs. American celebrity going on, and the real tension is revealed as Oliver notes that for all his theater-trained acting, the silver screen rewards the magic of someone like Marilyn.  Much like Monroe's work in the "Prince and the Showgirl" film, the astonishing experience of watching Michelle Williams transform herself  tends to block out everything else going on.

At one revealing moment, Monroe turns to Colin and asks, "Shall I be her?" And, instantly, she is.  The film's story has a few slow spots but it dazzles when Marilyn, ahem, Michelle Williams is on screen.  Perhaps the creators knew this.  They give us opening and closing music numbers to guarantee that this film is worth your big screen bucks.

 Simply put:  A simple story with one blonde ambition: Michelle Williams magically recreates Marilyn Monroe. 

Award potential:  Michelle Williams (Actress) and Kenneth Branagh (Supporting Actor) are  front-runners.  Judi Dench (better in J.Edgar) is less likely. Don't look for the screenplay to rise to the short list.

The ten buck review:  Worth ten bucks.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Muppets

Romney Muppet

"I guess people sort of forgot about us," Kermit the Frog laments early on in The Muppets. This joyous, charming film should remedy that.

The revival comes from director James Bobin (Flight of the Chonchords, Da Ali G Show), screenwriters Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Jason Segel (who also stars with Amy Adams).  Bret McKenzie (Flight) also contributes three songs.

As you'd expect from that talented group, the dialogue and the songs are superb. They've added some sharpness but kept the sweet streak. It's clear that this was the team that was meant to make this movie. This fact was made clearer by how poorly the cameos were misused, the movies biggest flaw.

Will adults who grew up on The Muppet Show enjoy this reboot? Can the muppets still resonate in a cynical world? It's time to cue the music, it's time to light the lights....

SImply put:  Delightful.

Award potential:  "Life's A Happy Song" should get noticed for Original Song. I'd love to see "Man or Muppet" make that list too.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks. Worth nine and a half just to hear the chickens sing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Descendants

The Descendants is the new film from Alexander Payne, the creator of Sideways and About Schmidt. It’s the story of a detached husband and father (George Clooney) dealing with difficult daughters, a failing marriage, real-estate troubles, and death of a family member. 
Sounds like a lot of laughs, right?

I'm not sure how, but most of the film is surprisingly lighthearted. And Payne expertly makes both a Hollywood star like Clooney and also a lush locale like Hawaii seem quite everyday.

The stellar supporting cast help Payne and Clooney create a story about life and loss that feels very human. By the end of the movie, you are completely invested in these characters. And it's probably the only movie with this subject matter that I'd recommend for the holidays.

Simply put:  Expertly enjoyable film about some serious subjects.

Award potential: Big contender for Picture. Director. Screenplay. Actor. Supporting Actress.

The Ten Buck Review:  Worth ten bucks.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

J. Edgar

In both The Aviator and Gangs of New York, Leonardo DiCaprio seemed trapped in his youthful boyishness and unable to transcend to those strong adult characters. He has no problem here. It's a fully realized, subtle performance.

But Clint Eastwood's film is all over the place. The film spans seven decades and you feel every one of them.  Flashbacks. Highlights of history. Layers of aging makeup. And I'm not sure if the film was about his personal life, his rise to be the most powerful man in government, or his contributions to the modern FBI. The likely intention was to tie these all together but I felt like I was watching three films.  For your entertainment or biopic bucks, this is no King's Speech.

Simply put: Leonardo has his acting moment. Too bad the movie was an epic miss.

Award potential: Nomination and possible win for Leo. Picture and Director are likely for this high profile film. Potential supporting noms for Judi Dench and Armie Hammer. 

The Ten Buck Review:  Not worth investigating.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Nigel is a young boy who loves food. Perhaps this is because his mom never quite got the hang of cooking anything without ruining it - except for toast. After Nigel's mom dies, his father takes interest with the new cleaner (Helena Bonham Carter) who knows her way around both the kitchen and the bedroom.  This is the setup for a coming of age story that wants to be the Billy Elliot of food movies.

It's mostly lighthearted fun, but unfortunately everything is overplayed.  The mother is such an overstated bad cook that she actually misses the bowl when putting butter in it. The father too dismissive. The cleaner too sinister.  With such obvious characters, this comic movie would probably play better at home than on the big screen.

Simply put: Like toast itself, this film is just OK.

Award potential: Helena Bonham Carter will have to wait a little longer.

The Ten Buck Review:  Pass. Not worth your ten bucks. 

Friday, October 28, 2011


"How can you not be romantic about baseball?" muses Brad Pitt as Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane in Moneyball. And it's a truth. Baseball has translated onscreen to more good movies than bad ones. And this is a great one.

Moneyball is mostly a business story. The book, to be blunt, focused on analytics. But writer Aaron Sorkin, who made business dealings exciting in The Social Network, has no trouble bringing drama to the dealings of baseball.  In fact, you not only get a good business story, you also get everything you want out of a passionate baseball movie.  Except you don't get that traditional, corny ending.  For my money, Moneyball is one of the best films of 2011.

Simply put: Out of the park

Award potential:  Picture, Screenplay, Actor Brad Pitt (Oscars).  Probably too early in the season for Academy to remember a remarkable supporting performance by Jonah Hill.

The Ten Buck Review:  Worth ten bucks.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Ides of March

Last year's bestselling book, Game Change, gave us enlightening, provocative, fly-on-the-wall insight into the 2008 Presidential campaign. The Ides of March, which similarly focuses on a campaign team and the days before a heavily contested Ohio Presidential primary, has no such revelations. Unless, of course, you are shocked that Washington is a corrupt place.

Ides is not an important film.  Once you realize that, you can enjoy it as a political thriller.  The cast is fantastic to watch. Clooney, Hoffman and Giamatti hold your attention every second they are on screen. And your root for Gosling  even as his character darkens. Watching these four banter on screen (with a bag of popcorn in hand) makes up for the fairly predictable story.

Simply put: Actor's showcase

Award potential:  The actors will be rewarded more than the film.  Gosling (Oscar, Globes).  Clooney, Hoffman and Giamatti have potential nods in the supporting category but they've all had better material.

The Ten Buck Review:  Worth ten bucks.  (Twenty with popcorn and drink)

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Ryan Gosling, hot off of his memorable roles in Crazy, Stupid Love and Blue Valentine plays a driver for hire.  He's a stunt driver for movies by day and a getaway car driver by night.

He's a modern day Steve McQueen and the opening chase pulls you in fast.  

But after that stylish opener,  the whole story gets too familiar. Boy meets girl, (a lovely one played by Casey Mulligan), boy gets in too deep with the girl, boy gets in too deep with the bad guys and pretty soon, everyone gets in too deep with guns. And of course, there is a bag of money. By the end it was like any tv show and I was ready to drive home fast.

SImply Put: Downshift

Award Potential: None. But gives points towards Rosling's Ides of March nomination

Ten Buck Review:  Worth 2 bucks. (Rent it to watch instead of a CBS procedural)

Midnight In Paris

Woody Allen, has found a credible blend of whimsy and wisdom with Midnight In Paris. The central story revolves around an American writer's (Owen Wilson) great love for a city, Paris, and the illusion people have that a life different from theirs would be much better.

The city is shot beautifully and the script is full of wit.  I loved the whole package. For those who've been waiting to fully enjoy a Woody Allen film (or an Owen Wilson one), this is a dream.

Simply Put: Charming

Award Potential: comedy picture, director, screenplay and actor (globes) long shot picture, screenplay (academy awards)

Ten Buck Review: Worth 10 bucks