Drive Thru Review (2010)

Welcome to the Drive-thru Review for 2010, that spot on HMR to catch the brief-but-impact-ful reviews on the other films Joe didn't quite have time to get to. Juggling two careers isn't easy, but here the reviews are, in miniature “drive-thru” form, ready to steer you right...

Alice in Wonderland
Grade: D+ (1 ½ stars)
Rated: PG (for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for smoking)

Like many fantasy films in recent years, the overdose on the make-up doesn't help things in this fantasy-based, but adulterated remake of Alice in Wonderland as you've never seen it before. In its bullying and daunting light, with contorted bodies, disproportionately sized heads, and a near total disregard for the childlike innocence of the Alice we came to know, the disjointed oratory and bizarre theme makes this an identifiable, if soft-handed work from director Tim Burton, starring Johnny Depp and Mia Wasikowska.

Beyond dispute is the all-the-way visually impressive, albeit less than memorable story that only grows in appeal ever so slightly. The only truly relevant and familiar terms are “red queen,” “white queen,” and “jabberwacky.” The characters, with floating cats and shrinking/enlarging potions made from “rhino urine,” do expectedly nothing to these characters to make them lovable. Comical more than it is epic, this one makes the mistake of going neither route as far as it should (or could have).

Black Swan
Grade: B+ (3 ½ stars)
Rated: R (for strong sexual content, violent images, language, and some drug use)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, this remarkably well done story of a prodigious balet dancer is a narration-free portrayal of a struggling girl's life on and off stage. Torn between her home life with her mother and a highly stressful four-year-long dancing career at its peak, the story of Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is as rocky and troubling as it is amazing with co-star Mila Kunis.

Delicate and soothingly choreographed – with accompanying music that only rarely misses the mark in drawing out the right emotions from viewers – the pulling dynamics and deeply disturbing elements make this work what it is.

Mindful of terminology, style, and the grace that comes with the movie's subject, this winner only ever errs in the employment of a too sensual/sexual theme, including one clothed female masturbation scene and one girl-on-girl copulation segment, with abrupt scene changes that take too far the artistic license of symbolism.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: PG (for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action)

It gets off to a difficult start, partly because the baseline isn't set, but what at first sounds and feels like an English comedy with awkwardly fast pacing that borders on feeling overacted, soon blossoms into a powerfully entertaining third addition to the C.S. Lewis Narnia line-up.

This inspirational tale is never poisoned by Lewis' traditionally heavy Christian allegory occasionally coming through.

Non-pluses are several animal suits that don't look real, and a few bloodless fight scenes that force the viewer to leave a lot to the imagination. But much is to be said for creating fantasy characters you actually care about that aren't shoehorned into favor by cute animation.

Powerfully creative, definitely not boring, and sometimes even funny, this one works because it is unapologetic in vision and message--far more entertaining and engaging than the Harry Potter series or Lord of the Rings.

The King's Speech
Grade: A+ (4 stars)
Rated: R (for profanity)

The King's Speech, starring Collin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter, gives us the story of King George VI from his days as the Duke of York to his ascension to the thrown of his older brother, King Edward VIII.

The severely speech-challenged reluctant king is assisted by loyal friend and speech therapist Lionel Logue (Rush) as he tackles what for him is a monumental task of addressing the nation while inspiring confidence and courage.

Firth's Oscar-winning performance isn't the only way this boundlessly inspiring and uplifting film will render audiences "speechless," with every eye welled up. Perhaps best of all, this heartfelt bringing-to-life of a chapter in the life of a British monarch trusts its viewers to be intelligent enough to follow it in a perfectly-paced distribution of high-output drama that is virtually impossible to disappoint.

Directed by Tom Hooper, this Golden Globe-winner slams The King's Speech right into the #1 film of the year spot.

Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: PG (for brief mild language)

Brought to you by Disney – in a movie that feels as made-for-cable-tv as any – this true story account of the race horse Secretariat is excellent and old-fashioned family viewing, starring Diane Lane and Dylan Walsh, as has seldom been done in recent years on the big screen.

Forgiving some besetting melodrama, some weak, middle-aged humor, and some simplistic character constructions that distract the viewer, we have here an inspirational horse-lover's tale for the family since 2003's slightly superior film, Seabiscuit.

Green Zone
Grade: B+ (3 stars)
Rated: R (for violence and language)

Matt Damon continues his winning streak of picking great movies as he plays Roy Miller, a determined sergeant hell-bent on getting to the truth behind the bad intel on weapons of mass destruction. 

Going all the way back to 2003 with the beginnings of the Iraq war, this action-packed thriller, with blood-rushing intensity, brings home the goods as a well acted and convincingly created story that moves in and out from the excitement into its provocative narrative at just the right times.

The Jack Bauer-style invigoration doesn't do much to hide the anti-war sentiments of the film, which will anger some viewers, but this isn't a problem, considering how well the explosive story grafts itself to the viewer's emotions.

Shutter Island
Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: R (for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity)

Directed by Martin Scorcese, this cryptic tale of a U.S. Marshall (Leonardo DiCaprio) who follows an assignment on a prison island is big-budget, with some big-named talent, including Ben Kingsley as Dr. John Cawley and Mark Ruffalo as Chuck Aule.

When a mental patient escapes from a seemingly impossible mental facility on a remote island, Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) is sent in to investigate. But when the clues start to come together, he finds himself “wanted” for a lot more than his investigative skills.

The visuals are beyond-reproach stunning, but this isn't Scorceses's best work. The acting is well above the cut, but the story washes out to a rather limp tale that will disappointment audiences that come to see more than is offered in this rather unenthusiastic thriller that could have been so much more than it is.