Like my book reviews site, these are movie reviews I write for entertainment purposes only. These are just my reviews and my opinions. They are not endorsed by Blogger or any movie studios or anyone else. So there. I borrowed my scoring system from the Metacritic site, which does not imply an endorsement from them, although I think they do have a very nice website. I convert the 1-100 scores into 1-4 stars, essentially it works like this:

1 star = 25 points
2 stars = 50 points
3 stars = 75 points
4 stars = 100 points

And then if something falls about halfway between, then I'll give it an added half-star.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Doubt/Michael Clayton/Gran Torino/Up


As a former Lutheran, I've never been a big fan of the Catholic church and "Doubt" certainly wasn't going to improve my opinion.  It's 1964 in New York and Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has recently come to the parish.  His new school beliefs about embracing the parishioners leads him to come into conflict with the old school nun Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep).  Caught in the middle is young Sister James (Amy Adams) who thinks Father Flynn is having an inappropriate relationship with the school's first black student.  Did he or didn't he?  That's the question but "Doubt" certainly leaves a lot of doubt about this.

I'm not one to usually comment on technical things like direction but some of the strange camera angles reminded me of the old "Batman" TV show, which is never a good thing and it really seemed to serve no purpose.  As well, the surprise confession at the end seemed kind of forced to me.

My score:  50/100 (2 stars)

Metacritic Score:  68/100 (2.5 stars)


"Michael Clayton"

Someone has to do the dirty work, even in corporate law.  Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a big law firm's "fixer" or the guy who comes to your home after you've hit someone with your car or killed a hooker or something like that to spearhead damage control.  Meanwhile, Michael is facing financial problems after his junkie brother botches a bar Michael invested in.  Then things take a turn for the worse when a friend and fellow attorney Arthur (Tom Wilkinson) goes off his meds and freaks out in a meeting with clients in a case concerning an agrochemical conglomerate.  As Michael involves himself in this situation, he finds that something stinks--and it's not the cow manure down on the farm.

Two things that bugged me is first the movie starts with a scene that in the film's chronology takes place near the end.  Of course there's no way I as the viewer could realize this until later, which is really confusing and disconcerting.  Also, the end depends upon one of the oldest cliches in film, the old villain confessing into a recording device.  Otherwise it's a passable thriller, but not all that thrilling.

My score:  50/100 (2 stars)

Metacritic score:  82/100 (3 stars)


"Gran Torino"

When I saw the previews for this, the premise seemed ludicrous to me.  An octogenarian Dirty Harry battling an Asian gang a quarter his age?  Why don't they just steal his walker and push him down?

Of course it's not really Dirty Harry.  Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a former Ford assembly line worker in a Detroit-area neighborhood that has gone to seed, like much of the city itself.  Walt is recently widowed and has no one except his ingrate family who are basically waiting for him to die so they can sell off the house and take possession of the rest of his stuff like his cherry 1972 Gran Torino.  But someone else tries to take it first--a young Hmong kid named Thao.  A veteran of Korea, Walt doesn't like Asians much--or anyone really--but when a local gang picks on Thao and his family, Walt intervenes to help them.

This was a nice story of a jaded old coot bonding with a needy young man.  How this comes about manages to seem believable.  Even Walt confronting the much younger Asian and black kids in the neighborhood didn't seem as absurd as I'd feared when I first saw the previews.  And the end really comes as a surprise, especially for those who remember Eastwood from the Dirty Harry pictures, though I'm not sure his plan would really work in real life.

BTW, an interesting fact is Eastwood was one of the first to take advantage of new tax credits to film in the actual Detroit area instead of trying to have Toronto or Vancouver sub as the Motor City.

My score:  75/100 (3 stars)

Metacritic score:  72/100 (3 stars)



I keep waiting for the Pixar movie that's finally going to let me down.  But they do it yet again with "Up."  A sweet movie that still manages to tackle some grown up issues.  The movie itself is completely implausible, but only an idiot expects what is ostensibly a kid's movie to be plausible.

In really the most touching part of the movie, it begins with a montage about how young Carl Fredricksen (voice of Ed Asner) comes to meet Ellie.  They both worship adventurer Charles Muntz (voice of Christopher Plummer) who goes to South America in search of a rare bird back in the '30s.  Carl and Ellie go from best friends to husband and wife and dream of someday joining Muntz in Paradise Falls.  But someday never comes for Ellie.  So on the verge of being thrown in a retirement home, Carl ties a bunch of balloons to his house and floats away.  He has a stowaway in Wilderness Explorer Russell, who has no choice but to accompany Carl to Paradise Falls.  When Carl finally gets to Paradise Falls and meets his idol, he discovers his hero has feet of clay.

As I said, this is a really sweet movie that is enjoyable for the kids without all the gross out fart gags prevalent in "Shrek" and other computer animated kids movies.  At the same time it also deals with loss, love, and loneliness in a way that kids and adults can understand.  Basically if you liked "Wall-E" then you'll like this too.

My score:  100/100 (4 stars)

Metacritic score:  88/100 (3.5 stars)

That is all.

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