Jim Carrey has shrewdly been mixing up his career choices, offering award-flirting turns in movies like Man On the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind while placating the masses with his perfected shtick in such titles as Bruce Almighty and Liar Liar. Yet even in his broadest work, it’s difficult to see the gears in motion — his comedic instincts are so fine-tuned, he morphs into his personas with amazing ease. Not so in this new picture. As Count Olof, a villainous actor who seeks to inherit a fortune by knocking off three intelligent orphans (Liam Aiken, Emily Browning, and Kara and Shelby Hoffman alternating as baby Sunny), Carrey delivers a disappointing performance, the sort of calculated turn we had come to routinely expect from Robin Williams until his recent dramatic awakening. Luckily, other elements of the project come to the rescue. The children are aptly cast, and the translations of baby Sunny’s coos and cackles are very funny. Jude Law provides the voice-over narration as writer Lemony Snicket, and his moody musings make up the bulk of the best lines in Robert Gordon’s screenplay.


This is an exploration of the life and times of a complex individual, a man whose outrageous career choices were often at odds with the rather square nature by which he presented himself. The rumors surrounding Kinsey — some truthful (his bisexuality), some nonsensical (the notion that he was a Communist trying to undermine American decency by talking about s-e-x), some still being debated today (did his data involving children indicate he was a pedophile, or merely a neutral gatherer of others’ immoral activities?) — made him a constant target of the religious right, who — as the past presidential campaign once again confirmed — are only satisfied when all Americans are ideologically marching lockstep to their own narrow-minded principles. Kinsey therefore emerges not only as a movie about another time but as a movie about our time, a reminder that progress can only be made when someone’s willing to step up to the plate and challenge conformity and complacency. During those years in the late 30s and 40s, Alfred Kinsey (marvelously played by Liam Neeson) had plenty to challenge. Convinced of the need for sex education that was informative and accurate — as opposed to the fire-and-brimstone tirades of a repressed colleague (Tim Curry) — Kinsey opts to teach a sex ed class, but soon finds that he doesn’t have answers for many of his students’ questions. A sexual novice himself — he’s a virgin when he marries student Clara McMillen (Laura Linney, matching her costar step for step) — he then assembles a research team and begins collecting valuable data regarding all forms of human sexuality. He interviews college students, scouts the gay bars, and even enters into a homosexual romance with one of his assistants (Peter Sarsgaard). But Kinsey’s research comes at a price, particularly in the way this difficult man subjugates his emotions and empathy for others in pursuit of his science. Kinsey, sharply scripted and packed with powerhouse performances (look for John Lithgow packing a punch as Alfred’s Bible-thumping dad), pulls back the covers with aplomb, exposing its subject even as it hopes to reveal some naked truths about ourselves.


Already, there’s been a lot of talk regarding the often odious behavior of the four characters at the center of the ferocious water-cooler piece Closer. Yet I would gladly invite this quartet over to my house for Christmas dinner if in return I would never have to spend another minute with Tea Leoni’s unbearable character from James L. Brooks’ Spanglish. With an Oscar out of the question, Leoni should probably win some sort of Good Sport award for enduring the humiliations that Brooks throws her way in this otherwise easy-to-take comedy-drama. The actress, who already played (nicely, I might add) a neurotic in Flirting With Disaster, is now forced to take that characterization to the extreme — her Deborah Clasky is presented as a miserable excuse for a companion, a wife and mother whose behavior doesn’t make her intriguing, merely insufferable. The movie’s true star is a newcomer to American cinema, celebrated Spanish actress Paz Vega. Vega delivers a luminescent performance in the movie’s largest part: Flor, a Mexican immigrant with brainy 12-year-old daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) in tow. Flor lands a job as housekeeper for Debbie Klasky and her husband John (Adam Sandler), a sensitive chef constantly working at being a good dad to an insecure daughter (terrific Sarah Steele) and a patient husband to his lunatic wife. But as Debbie’s behavior continues to alienate everyone around her, John finds himself seeking solace in the company of Flor, a development that could easily lead to complications down the line.

Sandler has rarely been this laid back on screen, while Cloris Leachman, as Leoni’s booze-guzzling mother, sparkles in the sort of colorful role that usually wins veteran actors an honor or two during awards season.


As one of the proud members of America’s Eleven — i.e. one of those 11 moviegoers in the continental US who didn’t understand the big deal about the box office smash Ocean’s Eleven — my expectations weren’t exactly sky-high for Ocean’s Twelve. Except for a couple of self-contained set pieces and some fine work by Brad Pitt, Elliot Gould and Bernie Mac, Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake of the 1960 Rat Pack yarn wasted lots of top talent in a threadbare project that had nothing going on beneath its air of cool collectedness.

Ocean’s Twelve is more of the same: a bunch of overpaid, overpampered movie stars getting together with their directing buddy to shoot scenes for a movie in between their nonstop partying through European and American hot spots. Only this time, instead of feeling like I was being forcibly ejected from the club, I at least felt like I was allowed a seat at the bar. Ocean’s Twelve isn’t much better than its predecessor, but at least there’s a more focused attempt to create something remotely resembling a motion picture experience.


How much one enjoys Closer fully depends on how charitable one feels toward the four characters at the center of Mike Nichols’ lacerating new film. These men and women, originally created by scripter Patrick Marber for his stage play of the same name, are alternately petty, vicious, narcissistic, perverse, illogical and frustrating. Viewers not interested in shifting through the rubble of these people’s immorality in an effort to locate some common truths will have no use for this picture, surely the most divisive film about modern relations since Eyes Wide Shut. Others willing to dig deeper will be rewarded not only with some choice dialogue and a quartet of finely etched portrayals but also with a heady buzz that will remain long after the movie’s over. Set in London, the movie centers on two British males and two American females — all strangers when the story opens. Dan (Jude Law) is a caddish obituary writer who falls for sweet-natured stripper Alice (Natalie Portman); Anna (Julia Roberts) is a moody photographer who ends up attached to dermatologist Larry (Clive Owen, nailing the film’s most complex role). With time jumps that will catch the daydreaming viewer off guard, the film tracks relationships, as Dan chases Anna, Larry sniffs around Alice, and all four characters take the notion of “brutal honesty” to such an extreme that their words suddenly qualify as deadly weapons. Many will criticize the film because the characters’ motivations don’t always make sense and their actions aren’t often in their own best interest. And that differs from real life exactly how?


Blade II was that rare sequel that managed to trump the original, but the franchise ascension ends there. Blade: Trinity is easily the least of three, an overlong action yarn that has nothing fresh to say on the subject of vampires nor on the curious holding pattern of Wesley Snipes’ career.


Alexander isn’t just one of the worst movies of the year - it’s the worst film ever made by Oliver Stone, an immensely talented filmmaker who, three Oscar wins notwithstanding, has never received enough credit for a strong filmography. But he’s gone terribly astray with Alexander. Colin Farrell gets trampled under the weight of Stone’s expectations in tackling the role of Alexander, the warrior king whose claim to fame was conquering most of the known world by the time he was Ashton Kutcher’s present age. Anthony Hopkins provides the doddering exposition - lots and lots and lots of exposition - as Alexander pal Ptolemy, who, 40 years later, relates their adventures with all the enthusiasm of a theater employee removing bubble gum from under the armrests. As Alexander’s parents, Angelina Jolie (sporting an accent that suggests she’s channeling Bela Lugosi) and Val Kilmer get to bellow and howl and gnash their teeth, to little avail. The homoerotic content (Alexander was bisexual), which had been receiving more gossip-rag ink than any other aspect of the film, is conveyed through an endless series of demure looks between the male players; this skirting around the issue may make the movie more palatable to a nation that’s passing anti-gay measures with Aryan expediency, but it also adds a campy quality that’s furthered enhanced by laughable dialogue.


There’s a certain crazy appeal to the central thrust of National Treasure, which suggests that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and other Founding Fathers did such an exemplary job of hiding a sizable bounty that the only way to find it is to unscramble the clues that have been hidden on the Declaration of Independence, the Liberty Bell and other mainstays of American History 101. This finds Nicolas Cage (as the do-gooder who seeks to protect the treasure from greedy foreigners) again turning his back on his talents to sleepwalk through yet another undemanding part. The only treasure connected with this film is the gargantuan paycheck the actor received for his somnambular contribution.


Almost one year after being treated to a delightful live-action version of Peter Pan, we now get a fanciful tale that seeks to explain how playwright J.M. Barrie initially came up with the idea for this children’s classic. What ends up on the screen is as much fiction as fact, but it’s the sort of inspirational saga that will make audiences wish this was the way it really happened. A gentle Johnny Depp is just right as Barrie, who, as the story begins, is unhappy with both his work and with his marriage to a beauty (Radha Mitchell) who doesn’t share his passions. He eventually finds inspiration through a widow (Kate Winslet) and her four sons, but these newly formed friendships are hampered by interference from the widow’s stern mother (Julie Christie) as well as his own neglected wife.


More by Matt Brunson

  • Review: Keeping Up With The Joneses
  • Review: Keeping Up With The Joneses

    Galifianakis continues to become less annoying and more likable with each subsequent turn (this might be his best role to date), and Hamm again reveals the prankster’s soul buried underneath the matinee-idol looks.
    • Oct 19, 2016
  • Review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
  • Review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

    Niceties have fallen by the wayside for this dreary sequel, which seems to exist for the sole purpose of serving as a vanity project for its aging star (who also produced).
    • Oct 18, 2016
  • Review: The Accountant
  • Review: The Accountant

    Smart movies tend to avoid offering obvious patterns, imbecilic narrative coincidences, and imploding third acts. Unfortunately, The Accountant isn’t that smart.
    • Oct 11, 2016
  • More »


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