Drive-Thru Review 2011 (August - December)

And finally, we bring 2011 to a welcomed close with the last of the fly-by reviews...

Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language, and thematic material)

Warrior stars Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy, two brothers who wind up renowned fighters going head to head in mixed martial arts. Their father, “Paddy” (Nick Nolte) is an alcoholic ex-fighter who is approached by his estranged son, “Tom” (Hardy) about being trained in the sport.

Warrior tries in more than a few ways to be Rocky, borrowing whole chapters from Rocky IV with a seemingly unbeatable Russian mixed martial arts champion and grim, street attitude, but a mixed martial arts Rocky movie this is not!

The direction the plot goes at the movie’s end is totally unbelievable. Its characters aren’t to the level of some well-loved sports dramas we’ve come to know, although the lead performances aren’t what is so disappointing.

Aside from Edgerton who puts on a fairly effective performance as Brendan, Nick Nolte is the only really good thing about this badly directed movie. The tiring drama overload with dark tinge might make the film seem more upscale to younger viewers, but there’s really not much here by way of effective storytelling. What it has is scrunched together too tightly.

By way of fights, we get a very narrow range of combat sequences and moves through a constant barrage of CNN clips and news coverage. It was an admirable effort, but the movie has the audience beaten down along with many of its characters. It wants to be like Rocky + Double Dragon, but it does justice to neither.

J. Edgar
Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: R (for brief strong language)

Directed by Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar stars Leonardo DiCaprio. The film has its plate full in efforts to tell us about the FBI’s first director, a man of great vision, resolve, and talent, but who the film portrays as a one-dimensional and arrogant man with a secret life his supporters never knew about.

While trying to take on way too much for a 2-hour movie, the film gives us much valuable information – told in a somewhat well-hemmed narrative – about a man worth making a movie of. But much of the dialog borders on sounding scripted and the attitudes tend to exceed 1930’s anti-communist zealot American and get us ready to wait for a “dame” in a black and white movie to come walking into a PI’s office with a special assignment. J. Edgar is so theatrical that it quickly becomes wearisome.

We are made to look down on the simplistic nature of the justice department, like we’re watching ourselves evolve. The stereotypes in politics-of-fear philosophies are well handled, reflecting properly the biases and prejudices of the time. But they can’t help but slip in some biases from our own time.

They should have fired the makeup artist responsible for the atrocious jobs done on Edgar and his number two man, “Clyde Tolson” (Armie Hammer). Both are nothing short of terrible. While shooting for the Oscar, this one makes the mistake of taking on too much hard-hitting drama and content in a stretched runtime. It’s another noticeably flawed Eastwood historical drama.

Sherlock Holmes
Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material)

As with the last Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes film, we are again treated to a re-ignition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

And while part II, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, might not be what the first film was, this one blows us away with an incendiary story, a juicy script, classy wit, and superb character selection/development. The movie combines the rustic appeal of credibility-oozing settings with gravity in a way most films can’t. Curiosity-piquing imagery, abundant humor (and with beautiful timing), and good continuity are an ever-present delight.

“Holmes” (Downey) and “Watson” (Jude Law) (who have a very Dr. House-Dr. Wilson chemistry) are up against “James Moriarty” (Jared Harris), a powerful professor who wants Holmes out of his way and has much more sinister plans behind seemingly ordinary devotion to political interests. Moriarty is the most brilliantly crafted character here, and is, in this critic’s opinion, in the running for one of the more memorable movie villains in recent years.

But aside from some fine performances and great pacing, it is a lack of focus on Holmes himself and his ability to unravel mysteries that is this film’s setback. We get just a few instances in which to see his genius at work and wonder if perhaps he is beyond gifted, but actually has some mystical powers. But the movie doesn’t count on the audience to put together the dots in deduction.

The movie sets up a story, but it doesn’t give us what we want in its supporting characters, either. Some are under-utilized, others irrelevant, and some literally thrown out of the story from a moving train so that they wouldn’t have to be written into the second half. This is a disappointment to those who were won over by certain of these characters in the first movie.

While it may not be a shining achievement, the movie has a lot to offer those who seek another vigorously re-endowed version of Conan Dowell’s classic work.

Midnight in Paris
Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for some sexual references and smoking)

Time travel couldn’t be this emotionless. This is my reaction to the critical acclaimed – but somewhat underwhelming – story of a to-be-married couple visiting Paris on a business trip. “Gil” (Owen Wilson) is to marry “Inez” (Rachel McAdams). Gil loves Paris, but his fiancé doesn’t share his passion—or any of his passions or interests.

Discovering a portal to Paris’ past and meeting the likes of Hemmingway (Corey Stoll) and Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill), Gil begins to see more of a side of life his love doesn’t share. And from here, what starts out as a so-so romance that began with a scenic five-minute showoff of Paris, becomes a rather weak comedy with equally weak performances.

The characters we get to know are distinct, but the writing doesn’t grab. The story does not engage in this, another up-hill-battle of a movie about troubled romances and finding destiny/true love. It’s another Woody Allen movie, but a bit of a dud.

It isn’t until somewhere near the halfway point where things get anywhere close to respectable, but this doesn’t entirely redeem the film. Cutaways are abrupt with the same humor-inspiring background guitar music for the duration of the film.

Midnight in Paris is a revisiting of history in the spirit of innocence/exploration/imagination, but as a romance and/or comedy, it is a near painful misadventure. This is in addition to the already noticeable problem of nobody getting excited when they find themselves walking into freakin’ other dimensions of time. The result is a rather unsatisfying 2 hours.

Puss in Boots
Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: PG (for some adventure action and mild rude humor)

Puss n’ Boots is an adorable and highly rated film that gives us the feline charm and challenge of its two main characters, “Puss in Boots” (Antonio Banderas, voice) and “Kitty Softpaws” (Selma Hayek). Joining forces with Puss’ former friend to lift magic beans from two renowned bandits, Puss seeks to regain his honor after “Humpty-Dumpty” (Zach Galifianakis) left his old heroic legacy in ruins.

This film’s biggest strengths are its wonderfully imaginative charm and highly relatable characters. But there is really no depth here, and the humor (when it doesn’t accompany a resilient verbal charm) is nothing to speak of.

The Adventures of TinTin
Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG (for adventure action violence, some drunkenness, and brief smoking)

The Adventures of TinTin has a title that makes us think of Rin Tin Tin, but we only wish we had something as substantial as that to work with. Instead, we meet TinTin (Jamie Bell), a boy who buys a sailboat and finds himself in the middle of a mystery.

The often cartoonish humor is not always welcome, but this is – in the finality – just a little more than an elite art project with good voice performances designed to tickle the fancies of the makers. There is not much here to chew on for the young, and the old won’t be so easily impressed with the CGI and life-likeness (not in place of a worthy story).

More is required than realistic animation in drawing out a mystery nobody cares about. Even Peter Jackson and Spielberg working together doesn’t make this animated adventure a wanted commodity.