Sunday, January 16, 2011

“Movie scoreboard: 'Blue Valentine,' 'The Dilemma,' 'Rabbit Hole' - Detroit Free Press” plus 1 more

“Movie scoreboard: 'Blue Valentine,' 'The Dilemma,' 'Rabbit Hole' - Detroit Free Press” plus 1 more

Movie scoreboard: 'Blue Valentine,' 'The Dilemma,' 'Rabbit Hole' - Detroit Free Press

Posted: 16 Jan 2011 02:20 AM PST

"Blue Valentine" * * *

This dissection of five years of a relationship and marriage sets out to answer the question once posed by writer Tom Robbins: "Who knows how to make love stay?" "Blue Valentine" skips back and forth across time as it reveals a woman named Cindy (Michelle Williams) confronting the limits of being married to Dean (Ryan Gosling), a mercurial and unsatisfying spouse who rationalizes his life choices and his drinking in every argument he starts. The film, made notorious because of a needless dust-up over its not-all-that sex scenes, feels off-the-cuff and improvised. Director Derek Cianfrance doesn't blink when the going gets tough. Rated R; graphic sexual content, language, a scene involving a beating. 2 hours. By Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel.

"Country Strong" * *

This predictable outing about a famous country singer (Gwyneth Paltrow) who's drinking her way to the bottom is at heart a mystery. As in: Who stole the plot? Alas, that question is never answered by writer and director Shana Feste ("The Greatest"). Several good performances (Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund) are left adrift as the script roams from one cliched moment to another. Rated PG-13; mature themes, alcohol abuse, sexual content. 1 hour, 52 minutes. By Bill Goodykoontz, Gannett News Service.

"The Dilemma" * *

Vince Vaughn (Ronny) and Kevin James (Nick) are partners in a Chicago auto-engineering business. When Ronny stumbles across Nick's wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), making out with a hunky younger man, he's troubled: Should he tell Nick? How can he tell him so the news won't mess up an impending business deadline? As usual, James tries too hard. Vaughn picks his moments to turn it up and blow it out. Ryder reminds us in a single funny-poignant scene what she's capable of as an actress. She's so good she left director Ron Howard with a real dilemma: how not to make this movie totally about her. Rated PG-13; mature themes, sexual content. 1 hour, 57 minutes. By Roger Moore.

"The Green Hornet" * *

Because the script comes from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who cowrote "Superbad," the first half of the movie feels as if it's meant to play like a Judd Apatow-style bromance -- one with elaborate gadgetry. But it devolves into a numbing onslaught of automatic weapon fire, shattered glass and explosions. Rogen plays Britt Reid, a publishing heir who becomes a vigilante crime fighter by night, as a version of the good-natured, wisecracking slacker he plays in everything he does. Having an actor with some depth and range can elevate this kind of playful material. Rogen simply doesn't have the skill to pull it off. Rated PG-13; violence, language, sensuality, drug content. 1 hour, 58 minutes. By Christy Lemire, Associated Press.

"Rabbit Hole" * *

David Lindsay-Abaire's play about a married couple trying to cope with the death of their 4-year-old son finds its focus diluted in this screen adaptation by director John Cameron Mitchell. The questions of how we work through grief are unquestionably valid ones, but an air of genteel familiarity stifles their effect here. Despite everyone's best intentions and an outstanding performance by Nicole Kidman, the devastating tragedy at the heart of the story feels generic. Rated PG-13; mature themes, drug use, language. 1 hour, 32 minutes. By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times.

"Season of the Witch" *

Nicolas Cage collects another check in another junk movie. "Witch" has him playing a wayward knight who is forced to escort an accused witch to an abbey where she can be tried, sentenced and executed, thus lifting the curse of the Black Death that has descended over Europe. The best you can say about this hooey is that Ron Perlman, King of the B Movies, is along for a few sidekick laughs. Rated PG-13; mature themes, violence, disturbing content. 1 hour, 32 minutes. By Roger Moore.

"Somewhere" * * *

The latest film from writer-director Sofia Coppola is a perceptive look at celebrity culture even if it sometimes feels like a mere collection of scenes, a character piece in search of a larger story. Anchored by engaging performances by Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning, it trains a sharp eye on both the rarefied existence of a movie star and the world of an adolescent who is shuttled between divorced parents and yearning to find a home. There's a hypnotic, poetic quality to the film, and some viewers may find that it verges on self-indulgence. Still, we care about the two main characters, and we root for them to reconnect as father and daughter. Rated R; sexual content, nudity, language. 1 hour, 37 minutes. By Claudia Puig, USA Today.

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Movie review: Country Strong , starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester ... - creative loafing

Posted: 07 Jan 2011 10:23 AM PST

country-strong-movie-posterI didn't think I would enjoy Country Strong. While the trailer made it look like there would be some good performances, I'm not a country music fan. Also, I usually don't like music dramas, which tend to be all about song performance at the expense of story. I like Gwyneth Paltrow, and had heard that she actually sings in the movie, but I didn't think that would be enough to hold my interest. Man, was I wrong. How wrong? As soon as the movie was over I went home and downloaded — uhh, I mean, bought — the soundtrack. A surprising turn of events, to say the least.

Country Strong stars Paltrow as Kelly Canter, a famous country singer who has literally fallen on hard times after taking a header off a stage while drunk and pregnant. Now recovered, Kelly is attempting to return to her old life with a husband (Tim McGraw) who can't forgive her while she's also dragging two rising stars (Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester) into the spotlight.

First off, you expect solid work out of Paltrow, and she more than delivers with a great performance and some amazing singing. She plays the broken singer really well, and hides the one thing the audience expects (her singing talent) until the end. When she finally cuts loose, I promise you'll be more than satisfied. Her character's actions make you root for her — only to be disappointed through most of the movie. But the longer she's on screen, the more you want her to get back on her feet.

The most surprising thing about this movie, however, is that Paltrow nearly gets outdone by Tron: Legacy star Hedlund. The actor plays Beau, a country star in the making with a soft spot for both Paltrow's Kelly and Meester's rising star Chiles Stanton. The performances are mostly outstanding, with even Meester delivering a surprisingly sufficient turn.

While the performances are amazing, the music is the star here. The actors all apparently sang for themselves, and they made this non-country music fan smile. (I have no idea how the purists will feel.) The songs are heartfelt and extremely well done, with the up-tempo numbers leaving space for an intimate tune or two.

Country Strong plays much like your average country song, with plenty of heart, love, sadness and strength. If there's one fault to the flick it's the pace of the story, which sometimes leaves the viewer unsure of what motivates the characters. The movie loses its way a little in the middle, but the finale amazed me and made up for any shortcomings I found. (There were some tears shed at the screening I attended.)

Overall, Country Strong is a terrific movie — whether you like country music or not — thanks to the strength of the performances. I expect some recognition for the actors come Oscar time. Country Strong won't dominate the awards, but it should leave a mark.