THE RITE

Just five months after The Last Exorcism showed us there is still life
in religio-horror pics, this new entry falls into the same old same
old category. The filmmakers avoid twisting heads and pea soup effects
— instead framing their story around an almost academic debate about
the nature of possession. Priest Anthony Hopkins (mostly) believes
it's the Devil in there. Not-quite-a-priest-yet Colin O'Donoghue
thinks the sufferers merely need a shrink. The “possessed” mostly jerk
about and contort themselves into painful looking positions, so you
don't know if they've been demonized or are just nuts. That's fine,
but it's pretty much the whole movie, which builds to a…. huh?
Hopkins is ok; he even has some fun with the part by not taking
himself too seriously. But O'Donoghue underplays to the point of
vacancy. And Alice Braga seems like she's there because the producers
said “there's gotta be a girl”. Also, will some filmmaker please wake
up and give Chris Marquette a real part instead of the nothing crumbs
(like his near-cameo here) they throw his way? — Jeff Schultz

BLACK SWAN

I won’t go so far as to call BLACK SWAN a turkey…but I will say it didn’t impress me as much as it did Oscar voters or most mainstream critics. Natalie Portman gives a blistering performance that deserves all the praise she’s received…but (SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!) you pretty much know she’s nuts when the movie starts so there aren’t any real surprises. And okay! We get it! Black Swan=bad, White Swan=good, stop reminding us of that every 10 minutes!! Swan feels like a companion piece to last year’s THE WRESTLER, which also gave us a character hellbent on self destruction for the love of his sport. That movie was more subtle but I thought worked better.
This one seems to be trying too hard. While I admired the look of this one and thought it was interesting to see the hard work these dancers go through, Swan doesn’t soar. A good movie. Not a great one.
-Stormy Curry   

WINTER’S BONE

When you first hear about WINTER'S BONE and it's setting, one's prejudices might immediately kick in. A drama set in the Ozarks.  Must be a story about how a brave man or woman is struggling against their station in life to achieve better for their family. That's what came to my mind. Just goes to show, never prejudge. Boy was I wrong. This is film noir set among rednecks. The wonderful Jennifer Lawrence is Ree. She's running the family. Mom's a basket case. Dad's in jail. Or so we think. Seems he bonded out and is on the run. Ree has to find him or lose their home (log cabin that it is). To do that she has to confront every Meth cooker in the county, including one scary old fat dude named “Thump Milton”. It's her strong will that drives the story. She won't let anyone take her younger brother and sister from her. She's desperately trying to keep the family together. It's that amazing strength and will that is so wonderfully portrayed in this movie. A great screenplay by director Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini is brought to life by Granik and her cinematographer. Lawrence has acting chops beyond her years and John Hawkes populates the moral center (if a coke snorting, meth cooker can be the moral center) as Ree's uncle, Teardrop. Their nominations are richly deserved. They won't win with the likes of Portman and Bale also nominated, but they deserve some kind of recognition for carrying this fantastic movie to a satisfying conclusion. — Alan Yudman

BLUE VALENTINE

There are romantic comedies. BLUE VALENTINE is more of a romantic tragedy. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are Cindy and Dean, a couple living a modest existence in Pennsylvania. They have a daughter, Frankie. And while all seems pretty normal, it soon becomes apparent that Cindy is just going through the motions. Dean is unambitious and starts drinking almost as soon as he wakes. At one point Cindy questions if he doesn't desire more from life and points to the drinking as a problem. Dean looks at it as a positive. He has a job where he GETS to drink early and often! Dean is all positive. Cindy is all negative. At least where their relationship is concerned. But you also learn that it wasn't always that way. Through flashbacks, we get a glimpse at the courtship and happier times. Especially how Dean stepped up during one especially trying period in Cindy's life (don't want to spoil it). Blue Valentine shows how a couple can fall out of love. It' an advertisement for thinking twice before getting married or falling in love. The cinematography is as bleak as the story.. all grey and washed out. But what shines through is the undeniable talent of the two leads. Williams and Gosling are amazing. It makes one wonder why Gosling didn't get a nod instead of say, Jeff Bridges (love him as Rooster, but he won last year). Williams deserves her Oscar nomination and it's obvious that Natalie Portman has some serious competition come voting time. This is a valentine wrapped in divorces papers and sprayed with the perfume of defeat. — Alan Yudman

BURIED

A go for broke performance by Ryan Reynolds drives this intense, gritty, and extremely uncomfortable thriller. All of Buried takes place inside a coffin and the way the story unfolds is clever and original. Through a cell phone that barely gets a signal, we learn who Reynolds is and why he’s ended up six or more feet under. Amazing camera work makes you feel like you are trapped alongside him and through different angles, gives you both depth and despair. Not for everyone, Buried got buried at the box office and Reynolds was overlooked by Oscar and that’s a shame. If you’re looking for a movie that takes chances and is original, grab a shovel and start digging! Otherwise, rewatch The Proposal.
-Stormy Curry

CIRQUE BEZERK

There's no Big Top. The clowns don't have giant shoes or water-
squirting flower lapels. No lions or tigers or bears. But oh my! Has
anyone ever seen a circus quite like this? It's Gogol Bordello meets
Cabaret; Tim Burton meets Bob Fosse; Ringling Brothers meet Scissor
Sisters. There are aerialists who not only leave your mouth gaping
with their muscular high-wire skills, but your crotch aching too with
the sheer eroticism of their mid-air couplings. There's a
contortionist whose “human pretzel” formations will leave YOU reaching
for the liniment in the morning. Acrobats who stand on each other's
hands — and then take one of those hands away in impossible balances.
Not to mention kick-ass choreography, singers who range from
otherworldly shrieks to Weimar-tinged dark ballads, and a live band
that plays its heart out from start to finish. Oh yeah, and fire
eaters! The show — which began at Burning Man seven years ago, then
moved to Downtown L.A.'s State Historic Park — is now at Club Nokia,
and while the venue might seem a bit antiseptic for such a balls- (and
tits-) out production, the space works beautifully. If you miss the
troupe this go-round, be sure to catch them the next time they play
L.A. — Jeff Schultz

THE GREEN HORNET

Wow! This movie had so much potential. Michel Gondry, Christop Waltz, Tom Wilkinson, 3D, a modified 1965 Chrysler Imperial(very cool). But not even 3D helped this from falling flat. Based on the radio serial of the same name, The Hornet is newspaper publisher Britt Reed. He's a spoiled rich kid who parties all night and sleeps all day. Until his father James (Wilkinson) is stung by a bee and dies. Yeah, you read that right. That is the plot device that sends Britt along his merry journey. Seth Rogen is Britt. He's believable as the party-all-night dude, maybe even as the Hornet, but now way is this dude a newspaper publisher. Rogen co-wrote the screenplay with Evan Goldberg. He tries to turn this into an action/buddy/superhero comedy. But it's not enough of any of the genres to actually work. It has some chuckles, the action scenes are pretty standard fare (even with Gondry's touches), the “creation story” of the superhero even works a bit on some level. But it never all meshes into one coherent unit. The one aspect that totally worked was Jay Chou as Kato. He is great as the sidekick/man behind the hero and a great comic foil for Rogen. Would love to see him get his own Bruce Lee style martial arts movie. Maybe he's the next Jackie Chan? The 3D is OK, but ultimately pointless.. kind of like the movie. Wilkinson and Waltz are wasted. And seeing Rogen's weirdly huge front teeth in IMAX/3D was disturbing. This could have been really good in the hands of more skilled screenwriters(Sam Raimi anybody?) or a better lead actor. The idea of a hero joining the bad guys to be a good guy is intriguing, but ultimately not fully developed here. The 1960's TV show was kind of campy fun in the way the Batman TV show was (same producers). That is what had me interested in seeing this. Would Rogen/Gondry take it in that direction? Or would they take it in the Christopher Nolan/Batman direction? Ultimately the people behind this film drive in circles. Seth, stick to playing the lovable schlub. This Hornet has less sting than an annoying mosquito bite. Rub some lotion on it and maybe it will go away. — Alan Yudman

PIRANHA

Despite some fun gore and carnage in the final 30 minutes, Piranha lacks any real bite. Watching it in 2-D, I realized the only thing I missed without the 3-D were lots of boobs, and several floating body parts (including one cast member’s “member”). The biggest problem is that it spends too much time trying to be tongue in cheek and is more of a distraction…because they’re trying too hard. The people behind the film also took a page out of “Quarantine’s” marketing campaign and decided to use the final shot of the movie in the trailer…not that this was a good one anyway. Still would have been nice to have had the chance to be surprised. Not awful, just not as good/bad as it should have been.
-Stormy Curry

DEVIL

DEVIL plays out like a longer version of a Twilight Zone episode. Five people trapped in an elevator. One is a devil. There you go. A simple story with some clever moments and several “wait, it’s him! No, her!” moments make this whoizzzit a fun little thriller. Don’t let the fact that M. Night Shamalyan’s name is on the credits deter you. It’s actually good.
-Stormy Curry

TRON: LEGACY

TRON: LEGACY has to be one of the most entertaining movies I have seen all year. Watching this sequel reminded me the sheer fun you can have at the movies, and the 3D made it even more spectacular. While the original is a bit dated FX wise and the story never felt fully developed, LEGACY learns from TRON’s mistakes and does it better. Watching this sequel, you felt like the writers not only knew the original inside and out, they also realized what worked and what didn’t. Unlike certain Crystal Skull sequels where you wonder if anyone bothered to rewatch the originals, this one works on every geek level. More than once did I let out an audible “Cool” in the theater, much to the amusement of my wife. It’s not that often anything new is cool, but this one was. Many twists and turns, eye popping visuals, 2 Jeff Bridges, and one kick ass soundtrack make me want to go onto the grid and rev up my light cycle. End of Line.
-Stormy Curry