When a director and screenwriter adapt a wildly successful novel, the challenge is to make the audience forget about the novel they loved so much. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is not an easy novel to adapt. It's got loads of layers and characters who interact with each other, yet move in separate universes for a lot of the book. The book's fan base is another difficulty. It's like adapting a Harry Potter or Twilight novel– fans know the books inside and out. Count me among those fans. So, I'll gauge the fan's reaction by my own. No director can take on a challenge like this as well as David Fincher. He earned the reputation with Zodiac and The Social Network. So it was natural to go to him for the film adaptation of the first of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. And whoever made that call deserves a raise, because Fincher once again knocks it out of the park. When the movie began I was comparing every scene, every word of dialog to the book. That didn't last long. I was so involved in the story, the acting, the look of the film that I forgot about the novel. First the look. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth creates a beautiful tableau. Sweden is gray and cold, just like the film. The acting is first rate and Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard and Robin Wright are wonderful. Daniel Craig is perfect as MIkael Bloomqvist. Craig brings an intensity to every role. And that intensity serves to convince the audience that Bloomqvist is more than just a competent journalist. But the real discovery here is Rooney Mara. Fincher had to fight to get her the role and he was absolutely right. Mara is perfect, even more perfect that Craig is for Bloomqvist. She completely nails the innocence, intelligence, seething anger and reserved beauty that is Lisbeth Salander. Awesome doesn't begin to describe Mara's talent in this role. I thoroughly enjoyed TGWTDT. I'm sure it will get its share of nominations. But first among them should be Mara and she should take home at least one statue. — Alan Yudman


Charlize Theron is one of the most stunning women in the world. But she can set aside that beauty in the furthering of her art. She makes just such a transformation in YOUNG ADULT. Oh sure, she is beautiful in the movie. A beautiful mess. The movie's title refers to her job, she's the writer of Young Adult novels. It also refers to her level of maturity. Her character is mentally still a young adult. She has convinced herself that she can win back her high school love (convincingly played by Patrick Wilson). She goes home trying to fulfill her fantasy, just like the heroines of her novels might. Theron's Mavis Gary gets drunk as a matter of habit and meets the high school geek she ignored (the wonderful Patton Oswalt). They get drunk together and share miseries together. Mavis is living a fantasy that eventually gets busted. Diablo Cody's screenplay is funny and poignant, filled with subtle and not so subtle jabs at beauty and self flagellation. Jason Reitman brings just the right touch and once again proves he should be the “go to” director for comedy. But without the fabulous Theron, this movie would go nowhere. It relies heavily on the lead, and Theron is more than up to the task. I may also be living a fantasy here, but I see nominations for Theron and Cody when awards time rolls around. — Alan Yudman


Once again, Guy Ritchie brings his own unique style to the story of the “World's Greatest Detective”. If it was only about style then this would be the best movie of the year. Alas, it's not. The immensely talented cast carries this movie beyond the pedestrian to the enjoyable. Ritchie's unique eye is always fun to watch. The story isn't complex, in fact it may be a bit too straight forward. It's too easy to follow. That doesn't mean it's predictable. It's twisty enough, but it's a very simplistic good vs. evil tale. The only unique elements are the way Holmes can foresee the outcome of an impending fight. We saw it in the first movie. As a device, it's less impressive the second time. Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law once again have great chemistry as Holmes and Watson. Jared Harris is fine as the evil Prof. Moriarty, but he doesn't bring much below the surface. I think I liked this second attempt at “Holmes” better than the first, but it still seems like a lot of wasted potential. — Alan Yudman


Funny is normally not a word used to describe a movie about cancer, but it works for 50/50. Joseph Gordon-Levitt once again shows why he is one of his generation's best actors playing the lead character diagnosed with the big C. Seth Rogen also shines as his best friend who has more depth than he let's on….especially when it comes
to his sick friend. Almost every situation just feels real (romance being the exception). Touching and moving without being sappy, 50/50 is one of the year's best movies.

Stormy Curry


There are movies that surprise you and movies you know even before
they start how they'll play out. THE SITTER is in the second category,
and that's no put-down because it's a close to perfect comedy. Yes,
and probably sad to say, we're a cruder society today than we were in
1987, when this movie's DNA ancestor, ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING, came
out. How much cruder? THE SITTER opens with Jonah Hill's face in
between meanly non-reciprocal Ari Graynor's legs. Plus the language
and the drugs. But, damn, Jonah's funny — dry as the Gobi and with a
droll way of fading the volume at the end of a punch line. It speaks
to Hill's talent that even here, in his last movie before a dramatic
slim-down, he has such great chemistry with women. Of the three kids,
Culkin-eque Max Records impresses. His coming-out story is handled so
gently and sweetly (if patly) you find yourself shocked to realize the
character is only 13. Hill, who was also an Executive Producer on the
film, may be the most gay-friendly straight player in this town. (But
perfectly willing to be non-PC: seen Fox's “Allen Gregory”?) My
biggest disappointment: the non-part given to the great J.B. Smoove.
The squandering of his talent is criminal. — Jeff Schultz


Using Nazi atrocities to fuel melodrama raises issues of taste and
appropriateness — and that point needs to be made despite the
pleasures of watching the story play out. Unlike Steven Spielberg's
similarly themed MUNICH, this English-language remake of an Israeli
thriller isn't so much interested in Big Issues (Jewish identity, the
cycle of violence) as it is in creating a contrived dilemma, then
adding derring-do spy stuff amid a lot of hand-wringing. The target,
clearly meant to be Dr. Josef Mengele, is more like a James Bond
villain than the “Angel of Death” himself. (Only one sequence taps the
deeper horror: when Jessica Chastain, as the young Helen Mirren, looks
through photographs for the first time of the mad doctor's victims —
photos whose images we can't quite make out… except to see that
they're horrific.) If you saw Chastain as the bottle blond rocket in
THE HELP or soldier-bland Sam Worthington in AVATAR, you wouldn't
imagine them as Holocaust survivors (or Mossad agents). But they're
both solid, as of course are the pair who play their older selves,
Helen Mirren and Tom Wikinson. — Jeff Schultz


A killer thriller that combines the richness of a novel with enough
breathless action to impress Michael Bay, awash in blood and
delivering an almost three-hour wallop to audiences left reeling from
a succession of fistfights and pursuits (on wheels and on foot) done
so well you catch yourself panting. The length is not a problem
because the movie never slows down, even when it's quiet, which it is
much of the time thanks to the central character, who is most often
silent but always interesting to watch. (The actor, Ha Jung-Woo,
struck me in ways as the Korean [actually Joseonjok] counterpart of
Ryan Gosling's Driver in DRIVE). You know when you sit up and take
notice of a car chase nowadays that there's a director at work who's
discovered how to put new engine whines in old battles. Hong-jin Na,
with only one other feature to his credit, is just such a director and
seems poised to be snatched up by Hollywood. You can imagine front
office types asking their assistants, “Who is this guy?”… and “Let's
sign him.” — Jeff Schultz


THE FIRST GRADER will captivate and inspire you and make you wonder why this film is flying so far under the radar. It is the story of a former Mau Mau freedom fighter who wants to learn to read. The government has declared that everyone can get a free education. So, Kimani N’gan’ga Maruge decides to take this final opportunity to become a literate member of Kenyan society. I won’t reveal his prime motivation for this quest, but it is the emotional, heart-string tugging high point of the movie. Maruge joins a class of 6th graders and his sympathetic teacher takes him under her wing. Naomie Harris is Oscar-worthy as Mrs. Obinchu. Her superiors, the villagers, politicians and even her husband think it is a ridiculous quest. But she is unwilling to yield and Margue simply won’t let her doubt herself. Oliver Litondo brings a grizzled dignity to the role of Maruge and Justin Chadwick just lets the story unfold for the viewer in a simple yet effective way. Is this the best picture of the year– that’s up to voters. Does it deserve a nomination as one of the year’s ten best? Well, THE FIRST GRADER is first rate. — Alan Yudman