Tag Archives: reviews

CHUCK’s Back!

Did you catch the Chuck season three premiere last night? Talk about two satisfying hours of television. I’ve always enjoyed this show, but now that Chuck (Zachary Levi) has downloaded the Intersect v.2 into his head, giving him access to skills like kung fu and flamenco-guitar playing, the fun factor has ratcheted up a few notches.

This doesn’t mean our Buy More nerd is James Bond. He’s too emotional for the Intersect to work properly so his klutziness is alive and well. He’s also still in love with Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski), the tension between them as thick as ever, if not more so because of something we see in flashback. Though I feel for their predicament (“Spies don’t fall in love,” she tells him), I kinda hope they never get together because the show will be over.

It might end anyway after this season if ratings don’t pick up. It baffles me why a well-written romantic action comedy like this (what other show does all that?) can’t find a bigger audience. I hope recurring guest stars Brandon “Superman” Routh and Kristin “Lana Lang” Kreuk will be able to help.

If you missed the premiere last night, you can watch it at nbc.com and another fresh episode airs tonight at 8 p.m. Any other fans out there?

Nerd verdict: Chuck yourself

Movie Review: LEAP YEAR

by Eric Edwards

You’d think a romantic comedy named after an event that occurs only once every four years would be something special. Well, Leap Year (opening today) isn’t.

Anna (Amy Adams) and Jeremy (Adam Scott) are a seemingly perfect, upwardly mobile couple. They are both attractive, great at their jobs and have bright futures. What they aren’t is married and Jeremy doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to propose.

Thus, when business takes Jeremy to Ireland, Anna decides to follow him and take advantage of a popular Irish custom in which women propose to men on February 29. Due to inclement weather, one of her connecting flights is canceled and everything goes awry as she tries to make it to Dublin before leap-year day is over. Severely strapped for cash, hot innkeeper Declan (Matthew Goode) agrees to drive her to Dublin for a fee. Though they encounter endless mishaps along the way, I think you can figure out what happens.

From L.: Goode, Scott, AdamsThis film suffers from severe formula-itis. Yes, we’ve seen it all before, but director Anand Tucker (2005’s fine Shopgirl) doesn’t even try to give a fresh spin to the screenplay by Harry Elfont (who is also responsible for the equally forgettable Made of Honor). It is so obvious Anna and Jeremy do not belong together that the whole initial setup of the story lacks credibility.

By the time Anna meets Declan, I was wondering if maybe I should have gone to see Up In The Air for a second time. That said, it isn’t the worst thing currently playing at the box office and Newton Thomas Sigel’s breathtaking cinematography of the Irish countryside had me checking flights for the Emerald Isle as soon as I got home.

Reviews of SHERLOCK HOLMES, INVICTUS & CRAZY HEART

While I was away on holiday, contributing writer Eric Edwards was busy taking in multiple screenings of Oscar-bait films. He was kind enough to submit the following reviews.

Did you see any of these? What did you think?—PCN

Photo by Alex Bailey/WARNER BROS.

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) is bored and depressed. His genius sleuthing abilities keep him from helping the throngs of people who write him because he solves their cases before he even finishes reading their letters. Dr. Watson (Jude Law) wants to get married, leaving Holmes’s childish behavior and their shared lodgings behind. Thankfully, a challenge to Holmes’s intellect arrives in the form Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), a villain dealing in the black arts and one whom Holmes and Watson recently apprehended for Scotland Yard.

Screenwriter Anthony Peckham (who also penned Invictus; see review below) has taken the brilliant Holmes we’re all familiar with and attempts to make him more hip by adding martial arts to the detective’s arsenal. Holmes is even shown proving his prowess in the ring at an underground boxing arena. Oddly enough, in scene after scene in which he goes up against actual bad guys, Holmes doesn’t fare well.

In portraying the famous detective, the usually charming Downey, Jr. carries the burden of an English accent and it’s cumbersome. By contrast, Law’s put-upon Dr. Watson is much more interesting to watch because his accent is genuine and the actor uses a less-is-more approach. As Holmes’s former flame Irene Adler, the very talented Rachel McAdams is mired down by a script that doesn’t give her much to do. This movie is a mess that can be skipped by all but die-hard Holmes fans.

Photo by Keith Bernstein/WARNER BROS.

Invictus

The major problem with this “inspiring true story” of how newly elected President Nelson Mandela employs South Africa’s national rugby team to unite the apartheid-torn country is that it lacks a balance between earnestness and heart.

It’s supposed to be the end of apartheid in South Africa, but the hate between black and white still remains and Mandela (Morgan Freeman) needs to help his beloved country move forward. He looks to emulate the business plans of successful countries such as the United States and China. But how to appeal to the working-class citizen? Create a hero they can get behind.

Mandela summons South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to a meeting and they hit it off. While the president sets about memorizing the player’s names and stats and attending their matches, Pienaar visits Mandela’s former prison cell to better understand his new benefactor. A mutual respect blooms between the two.

Director Clint Eastwood sacrifices what could have been a heartfelt story and spends most of the film developing the relationship between Mandela and Pienaar. Damon and Freeman work well together and both deserve accolades for their performances, but as a whole the film is less than compelling. Each character, from Pienaar’s family maid to Mandela himself, speaks in clunky soundbites uncharacteristic of Eastwood’s usual subtle style. We never really get to know the rugby players, resulting in apathy on our part when we’re supposed to be rooting for the team. And if we don’t care about whether or not it wins the match and helps unite the country, the entire point of the film is lost.

Photo by Lorey Sebastian/FOX SEARCHLIGHT

Crazy Heart

Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), once a famous country singer/songwriter, has seen better days. Five marriages and a hard-drinking, heavy-smoking lifestyle has left him broke, forced into playing rundown bowling alleys and small dives across the Midwest just to make ends meet. Bad can still put on a show, but his fans are fewer, much older and his brand of “real country” is no longer relevant to today’s country music fans. What he needs is the inspiration to write a hit song. Enter budding journalist and would-be muse Jean Craddock (a completely miscast Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her 5-year old son, Buddy (Jack Nation).

Bridges’s performance, which includes doing his own singing, is solid throughout. His frustration with the cards life has dealt him is subtle, but etched as deeply as the lines on his face. Any frame of this movie without Bridges is a stark reminder of how much the film needs him to stay alive. It wasn’t the age difference between him and Gyllenhaal I found myself wincing at, it was the complete lack of chemistry between the two. Bridges, channeling a younger, better-looking version of Kris Kristofferson in his heyday, so richly deserves a more engaging companion to be inspired by and fall in love with than Gyllenhaal, who displays no allure whatsoever.

Colin Farrell shows up as Bad’s former protégé and current country superstar Tommy Sweet, and surprises me with his strong singing skills. Who knew? Both Farrell and Bridges could easily have careers as singers.

Writer/composer T-Bone Burnett provides the very catchy songs in Bad’s repertoire, but I wish the inspiring song that leads to his salvation was more memorable and not so morose. What should have been uplifting instead strikes one of the wrong notes in the film.

Movie Reviews—IT’S COMPLICATED, BROTHERS, THE LAST STATION

With all the holiday activities going on, I’m woefully behind on everything (haven’t seen Avatar—what?!) so the following reviews will be a little abbreviated. They’ll take less time for you to read so you can fulfill your obligations, too.

It’s Complicated

In writer/director Nancy Meyers’s ultimate female fantasy, Meryl Streep plays a woman who’s lusted after by two successful, attractive men: her lawyer ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) and the sensitive architect (Steve Martin) who’s renovating her house, an already gorgeous spread in Santa Barbara she’s trying to make bigger and more awesome.

The movie is a very mature, if flawed, exploration of the emotional complexities of divorce, not making anyone out to be the bad guy or completely blameless. Streep is as radiant as ever (she doesn’t age!), Baldwin has some very funny scenes, including an unfortunate Skype incident, and Martin turns in a lovely, understated performance as someone who might be falling in love but is reluctant to move forward with the bitter taste of his own divorce still fresh in his mouth.

The most refreshing element for me was seeing how the family, though damaged by divorce, is so functional. They talk things out, they’re respectful towards each other and the kids don’t seem to prefer one parent over the other. Conflicts exist and obstacles abound; the affected parties just don’t turn their affairs into a Jerry Springer episode. I’m not sure what it says about the state of our times when I was surprised, but pleasantly so, to see family members not bitching each other out on screen. Nerd verdict: Complicated but fun.

Brothers

After Marine captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) goes missing and is believed dead in Afghanistan, his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) helps his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) and daughters Isabelle and Maggie (Bailee Madison, Taylor Geare, respectively) through the grieving process. Uncle Tommy gets a little too close and of course, this is exactly when Sam comes home. [Note: This isn’t a spoiler. We see him alive in Afghanistan even while the family mourns.]

Maguire does impressive work as the conflicted soldier who comes back haunted by things he was forced to do to survive, actions for which he can’t forgive himself. He’s a shadow of his former self, unrecognized by loved ones, feared by his children. He’s intense in a quiet way, which is much scarier than an over-the-top way.

Portman is more sensual and womanly than usual as a young wife and mother trying to navigate uncharted waters. Gyllenhaal is believable as Maguire’s brother but I didn’t buy for one minute that he’s some tough ex-con who just got out of the Big House. The real stars for me, though, are the two actresses who play Sam and Grace’s little girls. They have a natural, easy style that made me think they were simply being, not acting. It’s an easy concept to grasp, not necessarily to execute on camera. Drawing out amazing performances from young actresses (see In America) is a specialty of director Jim Sheridan, who makes his movies intensely personal.

I also like his way of covering heavy subject matter with a light hand. He often cuts away from a scene before its natural end because he trusts we can fill in the rest. When two military reps arrive at Sam’s house to notify Grace of his so-called demise, we see Grace approaching the open door, the horrible realization washing over her face, and the scene ends without the actual notification. Sheridan doesn’t jerk tears; this isn’t a war movie. It’s about people trying to find a way to live again after a part of them dies. Nerd verdict: Relatable Brothers.

The Last Station

I’m going to keep this one brief because I fell asleep three times while watching it. The performances can’t be faulted, except for maybe Paul Giamatti’s scenery chomping as a devout Tolstoyan who wants Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) to will his estate to the movement, much to the chagrin of the author’s wife. The movie is one long melodramatic tug of war between Giamatti’s Vladimir and Helen Mirren’s Sofya and none of it was compelling. It’s more a history lesson than entertainment and even James McAvoy’s presence as Tolstoy’s secretary couldn’t save this for me. Nerd verdict: Bypass this Station

Book Review: U IS FOR UNDERTOW

I’ve been reading Sue Grafton for a quarter century now, starting in high school when I found her books in the school library (I spent a lot of time there). I devoured the “A” through “C” Kinsey Millhone adventures like an ex-con having his first meal on the outside. Over the years, the books were uneven but I kept reading out of obligation, as if Kinsey had become an old friend whose imperfections I accepted. I listened to her tales even if she rambled a little.

I was thrilled, then, to find her latest adventure, U is for Undertow, utterly captivating. After only a few pages, I knew Kinsey was back on track and I could dive in out of pure pleasure.

The case begins when Kinsey is approached by a young man named Michael Sutton who suddenly remembers something that happened when he was six years old. At the time, Sutton attached no significance to the incident but, after reading a newspaper article about an unsolved 21-year-old kidnapping of a little girl, he believes what he saw were two people burying the child.

After Sutton hires Kinsey to investigate, the story moves back and forth between 1988 (Kinsey’s present) and 1967, when the kidnapping occurred. Grafton deftly juggles multiple POVs; besides Kinsey’s, the author doles out pieces of the puzzle from the perspectives of several characters who are directly and tangentially involved in the crime, painting a full-bodied portrait of each. The plot turns in unpredictable directions and though it might be obvious early on who did it, Grafton keeps you guessing about the why.

The case is complex enough to keep Kinsey busy, but she’s also grappling with personal issues after making startling discoveries about her past which destroy her long-held perceptions of certain family members. Because the books are told in first person and I’ve sided with Kinsey for years against the relatives who abandoned her as a child, these new revelations threw me for a loop as well. Kinsey won’t be able to change overnight but at the end of this book, she takes brave, hopeful steps towards what could be an extreme life makeover.

Nerd verdict: Strong Undertow will pull you in

Movie Review: NINE

Nine (and the movie 8 ½, on which it’s based) is about a writer/director who has a hard time coming up with a story for his latest film. It’s ironic, then, that Nine, written by Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella, also seems to be lacking a plot of its own.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays the auteur, Guido Contini, who’s having a breakdown since his movie Italia is supposed to go into production within days but he still hasn’t written one word. His leading actress, international star Claudia (Nicole Kidman), is getting impatient and demanding to see a script. He’s haunted by memories of the women in his life, including his mother (Sophie Loren) and a prostitute he knew when he was a boy (Fergie). In the real world, he continues his dalliance with mistress Carla (Penélope Cruz) despite telling his long-suffering wife, Luisa (Marion Cotillard) the affair is over.

Rob Marshall said during the post-Variety-screening Q & A that he thought long and hard about how to integrate the musical numbers into the movie. On that level, he succeeded; the songs are interwoven well and don’t really disrupt the story’s pacing.

Trouble is, there’s not much plot to interrupt. It’s mostly about what’s going on in Guido’s head and since he comes across as a self-absorbed, lying, cheating bastard, I couldn’t sympathize with him. He hasn’t earned the self-pity because his misery is of his own doing. It’s not Day-Lewis’s fault; he gives a consummate performance as usual. His Italian accent is spot-on and his singing robust (is there anything he can’t do?). The problem lies more with the character and this was partly why I also disliked Fellini’s film: Guido is a whiny little boy.

As for the all-star female lineup, Cotillard, Cruz and Dench come through most spectacularly. Cotillard is wistful and heartbreaking at first then busts out the sexy in “Take It All,” doing a striptease and letting Guido know she’s done being the accommodating little wife. Cruz scorches the screen in her “A Call from the Vatican” number, with her, um, gymnastic moves. She’s also emotionally flexible, going from vixen to little girl lost, and somehow manages to make me feel sorry for her adulterous Carla. And Dench, as Guido’s confidante Lilli, displays a fun side and hearty voice along with her usual gravitas.

Kate Hudson also knocked my socks off, singing and dancing with abandon in the movie’s catchiest number, “Cinema Italiano,” but her Vogue reporter is otherwise given nothing to do. Likewise Fergie’s Saraghina. Although this character was in Fellini’s movie and Fergie attacks “Be Italian” with impressive ferocity, the prostitute from Guido’s past has no usefulness here. Kidman looks great but this version of Claudia could have easily been played by any other beautiful actress with a passable singing voice.

The costumes are dazzling, the dancing and singing energetic, but I’m afraid I’m not in love with this Cinema Marshalliano.

Nerd verdict: Nine‘s a 6 on scale of 1 to 10

All photos by David James © The Weinstein Co.

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Movie Debate: THE BLIND SIDE

It’s the return of PCN vs. EE. Every once in a while, I post a Siskel & Ebert-style movie review instead of a traditional one when my occasional movie partner, Eric Edwards, disagrees with my take on something.

We recently attended a screening of Sandra Bullock’s upcoming movie, The Blind Side (opening Nov. 20), based on the true story of Michael Oher, an African-American teen with a mother addicted to crack  who bounced through the foster care system before he was taken in by a Memphis family, the Tuohys. He eventually went to college and became a star NFL player with the Baltimore Ravens.

After the screening, Eric and I had the following discussion.

THE BLIND SIDE

Warner Bros./Ralph Nelson

PCN: What didn’t you like about it? It stars your girl, Sandra Bullock!

EE: Sandra Bullock is the best thing about it. Take her out of the movie and you’ve got something that should be a Lifetime movie of the week.

PCN: Yeah, but it does have Bullock and she elevates the material like she usually does. You can’t judge it on what it might have been.

EE: Okay, but you must admit the movie’s very safe. The stakes are never very high and no matter what Michael does, there are no repercussions. Also, we hear there are issues at school but we never get to see any of it. He may have had a rough past but once the family takes him in, everything works out and he’s beloved by everyone.

PCN: You’re right, the movie doesn’t break any new ground. But since there are supposedly only seven original ideas in Hollywood, I look at the execution. Bullock’s performance as Leigh Anne is quite engaging and there are some funny moments. The Proposal wasn’t an original concept, either, but Bullock made that watchable.

EE: But she only brings to life her role. She can’t carry the whole movie and whenever she’s not on screen, the movie drags.

THE BLIND SIDEPCN: I thought Quinton Aaron did a nice job as Michael. He’s got such sad eyes and a gentle soul, which make for an interesting contrast with his intimidating size. Aaron hasn’t done much film work but he kept up with Bullock.

EE: I think the director told him that less is more and that’s what he did. He let his eyes do most of the acting and he’s got great eyes.

PCN: The casting of Tim McGraw was curious. He turned in a good enough performance as Leigh Anne’s husband, but I was thinking, How come they had to get a country singer for this role? There weren’t any qualified actors who could have played that?

EE: I agree, and there’s no arc for that character at all. He’s pretty much written as one-note all the way through. The only justification I could think of for casting him is that it’s set in Nashville and he’s a country star.

PCN: Yeah, but this movie is opening nationwide, not just in Nashville.

EE: But country music is huge and maybe they’re going after those fans, to give the film any kind of advantage possible. I maintain, though, it’s not worthy of the big screen. It’s a nice family movie with very little drama and low stakes.

PCN: How about looking at is as a character study instead of a plot-driven piece? You didn’t find these people compelling?

EE: The problem is, the strongest character is Bullock’s, but the movie isn’t about her. It’s about Michael and he’s not that interesting.

PCN: He’s a kid from a really rough childhood who makes good in the NFL!

THE BLIND SIDE

Warner Bros./Ralph Nelson

EE: But we only get tiny glimpses of his childhood in flashback. It’s not enough to make me care. The story mostly deals with him living with the Tuohys, where it’s pretty much smooth sailing.

PCN: I know where you’re coming from; normally I’d be making the same arguments you are.  This time, though, I recognized the movie’s flaws but went with it anyway because I was rooting for Michael and thought the Tuohys were pretty cool for what they did. Maybe I just have a soft spot for true stories about kids overcoming adversity to achieve great things.

EE: It’s not a horrible movie but I’d still recommend waiting for the DVD.

Nerd verdicts—PCN: An enjoyable Side show, EE: Movie turns Blind eye to conflict