My Mini-Movie Reviews of "The Lovely Bones," "Invictus," "Nine," and "It's Complicated" 


I've been a busy movie warrior lately! Cramming for our deadline to vote for the Critics' Choice Awards (deadline -- Dec. 11th, YIKES!), I've been watching movies non-stop!

So without further adieu, here are my quick mini-movie reviews for "The Lovely Bones," "Invictus," "Nine," and "It's Complicated." I will post my full reviews for each film soon, but for now, here's the shorter, leaner version.

"The Lovely Bones"

Based on the popular novel by Alice Sebold, "The Lovely Bones" tells the story of Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), a 14-year old who is raped and murdered and must protect and look after her family from the afterlife.

Peter Jackson ("Lord of the Rings" films) teamed up with his perennial writing partners, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyen, to adapt the touching and heartfelt text.

The film version is entertaining yet it's lacking the weight of the novel. "The Lovely Bones" the movie becomes more of a suspenseful thriller than a meditative study on death, dying, and the afterlife.

I enjoyed the performances especially by Ronan (she's an accomplished actress-in-the-making -- check out her scene-stealing and Oscar-nominated turn for "Atonement"), Stanley Tucci as the serial killer (Oh I'm not giving this away -- it's not a big secret!), and Susan Sarandon as the booze-drinking grandma.

If you want to see a great thriller, then watch "The Lovely Bones." RATING: :35k

"Invictus"

I felt underwhelmed after watching "Invictus." It's not a bad film, but director Clint Eastwood has raised the quality bar of filmmaking, that watching his Academy Awards-baiting films is now an event! So what happens when your high expectations were not matched?

Based on John Carlin's book "Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation," "Invictus" revolves around the 1995 Rugby World Cup where first term South African President, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), unites his apartheid-torn country by enlisting a national rugby team, Springboks, headed by Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon).

The first part of the film is slow and repetitive in tone, but hang in there, "Invictus" culminates into a feel-good, people-power conclusion. The ensemble is great, especially Freeman. Music by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens is memorable and becomes part of the storyline. I really want to love this film, but for now, "Invictus" gets :35k

"Nine"

Speaking of movies that I really want to love but couldn't, "Nine" is one of them. What's not to love? There's a great cast based on a great Broadway musical which was based on a Federico Fellini 1963 film called "8 1/2" or "Otto e mezzo."

But in adapting Fellini's magnificent film, "Nine," the musical, falls flat. Much like "8 1/2" refers to Fellini's eight and a half film as a director, "Nine" (apparently the music adds the 1/2 part of the title), is about famous film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) who is having a professional and personal meltdown.

Guido is having a mental block and in order for him to move forward, he must revisit his relationships with his wife, Luisa (Marion Cotillard), his mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz), his Costume Designer Lilli (Judi Dench), his muse Claudia (Nicole Kidman), and his mother (Sophia Loren). Kate Hudson as Vogue writer Stephanie and Stacy Ferguson (Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas) as the prostitute Saraghina complete the cast.

"Nine" is a movie within a movie that talks about the trials and tribulations of filmmaking. I like how the musical production numbers weave in and out of the narrative as seen and heard within Guido's imagination.

I also like the fantastic first half where we meet all the characters. But the film failed to give Guido a likeable arc (even though Day-Lewis did his best, but give the actor credit for trying to sing and dance!), and so the result was a half-baked, half-hearted second half.

Predictably, the actors whose characters have satisfying arcs steal the show namely Cruz and Cotillard. I am boldly saying these two actresses saved the film!

Bottomline? Director Rob Marshall, who gave us the far superior musical "Chicago," failed to make us care for his main character in "Nine," and it's a shame because this is the last film co-written by the great Anthony Minghella. All I'm asking and praying for right now is I hope the viewers get to re-discover Fellini's "8 1/2" because of "Nine." Rating: :3k

"It's Complicated"

I'm still laughing days after watching "It's Complicated." Writer-director Nancy Meyers ("Something's Gotta Give") gave us one of the best romantic comedies of 2009.

Meryl Streep stars as Jane, a divorcée who suddenly finds herself falling in love with her ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin). To complicate matters, Jane is also falling for her architect, Adam (Steve Martin in a deliciously understated turn).

What makes the film work is the chemistry between the cast. Streep's charisma matches Baldwin's and Martin's. I also like seeing fifty-something characters falling in and out of love and cavorting in and out of bed.

Yes, Streep appears semi-naked, gets drunk, and smokes pot! Oh, and Baldwin appears semi-naked (booty shot), gets drunk, and smokes pot!

But the film is tender during its tender moments, funny during its LOL scenes, and sweet during its Hallmark-ready sequences. I love Streep's performance here more than her turn in "Julie and Julia." In "It's Complicated," the greatest actress of her generation was not imitating, but improvising a character made from scratch.

Baldwin is funny as always, and he allows his co-stars to shine. Martin's character, on the other hand, calls for a subdued performance, and the actor decidedly gave a tempered representation.

I enjoyed "It's Complicated" and you will too! Rating: :35k

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D.C. Critics Love "Up in the Air!" See Complete List of Winners 


The Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) has announced the winners of their annual awards and they picked Jason Reitman’s “Up In The Air" for Best Film and George Clooney for Best Actor.

"Up In The Air" already won the National Board of Review Awards for Best Film, so it's a sure bet that this movie is on its way to Oscar gold! I love this film!

(Take a look at my review of "Up in the Air" and my interviews with director Jason Reitman, and stars Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick)

"Precious" took acting honors for Mo'Nique and Gabourey Sidibe, while "The Hurt Locker" won Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow and Best Ensemble for the brilliant cast which includes Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, and Evangeline Lilly.

Here's the full list of winners:

Best Film
“Up in the Air”

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”

Best Actor
George Clooney, “Up in the Air”

Best Actress

Carey Mulligan, “An Education”

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”

Best Supporting Actress

Mo’Nique, “Precious”

Best Adapted Screenplay
“Up in the Air”

Best Original Screenplay

“Inglourious Basterds”

Best Breakthrough Performance

Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious”

Best Ensemble
“The Hurt Locker”

Best Animated Film
“Up”

Best Foreign Film
“Sin Nombre”

Best Documentary
“Food, Inc.”

Best Art Direction
“Nine”

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Why Are "Avatar" Aliens Blue? Director James Cameron Explains! 


It's a head-scratching question that deserves an answer -- why are the aliens in "Avatar" blue? Thanks to MTV and their "Avatar" Q & A, we now know why.

One online fan named Sarah T asked, "Jim, what inspired you to make the Na'vi blue?" To which, the director of such classics as "Titanic" and "Aliens" said, "We wanted to say that there was an otherness, an alien-ness to them. But we wanted to keep them human enough that we could understand their emotions. So, they were going to have two eyes, and they were going to have a mouth."

But it's all about the blue versus green argument. "So, we were down to blue and green basically — and green had been taken by all those Martian movies with the little green men," he remembered of his reasoning. "So, we have big blue women, not little green men."

"Otherness," "alien-ness," I am reserving my judgment until I see the film this coming Thursday, I'm so excited! I will let you know my thoughts on the film immediately, of course.

For now, visit MTV to read the full Q & A chat on "Avatar," and take a look at the cable channel's "Avatar" special.



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Elijah Wood, Robin Williams to Reprise Roles for "Happy Feet 2" 


Elijah Wood and Robin Williams are in talks to return to the penguin world for "Happy Feet 2," the sequel to the 2006's Academy Award winner. George Miller is returning to the director's chair as well.

The Hollywood Reporter told us that "Wood is reprising Mumble, the penguin who can't sing but can dance the tuxedo off of any waddler around him; Williams is back as (what else?) the hyper-acting and wise-cracking penguin Ramon; he also voices Lovelace."

Miller also wrote the script but the plot is top secret, for now. The actors will migrate to Australia in January/February to record the voice tracks.

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Sneak Peek: Natalie Portman in "The Black Swan" 


Production for Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" has begun in New York City. The film is set in the world of New York City ballet about a ballerina (Portman) who's competing with a rival dancer. But is the rival a ghost or is Portman's character just having a mental breakdown?

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Supposedly, this film will be very intense, and there's a possible sex scene between Portman and Kunis! Huh? Is that so Portman's character will be able to verify that Kunis is not a ghost? Hhhmmmmm....

"Black Swan" is set for release next year from FOX Searchlight. But if you want to see early photos from the film, click here.

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