Category Archives: Ratings

Despicable Me (2010)

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Despicable Me

When a criminal mastermind uses a trio of orphan girls as pawns for a grand scheme, he finds their love is profoundly changing him for the better.

This is a movie I have heard a lot about, but (not having kidlings) I had never really planned to watch it. I had expected, though, that on viewing I would find some hidden nods to adults – for instance, as they did in Enchanted – but, other than a slam of Lehman Brothers and a Saturday Night Fever reference, I don’t recall any.*

So, my thoughts…eh. Didn’t do much for me, doesn’t seem like the kind of movie the nephews & nieces would have wanted to watch repeatedly. Yes, I did spend unbearable weeks suffering through Pee Wee’s Big Adventure on a loop. D got his fill of The Lion King

I’m glad it was a free viewing (and I am glad it exposed the fact we were sold a floor model), doubt I’d watch it again. If you have kidlings, though, it would kill a few hours without destroying brain cells – theirs or yours.

Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood – but I thought it was just OK.

*We bought a new Blu-ray player at Fry’s Electronics Saturday. When we set it up, we found a disc in the drive. It was Despicable Me, clearly marked as “non-inventory demo”, so I’m guessing they sold us a floor model. Not sure whether it was the disc or the player, but the movie froze, jumped, and glitched repeatedly, making viewing less than optimal.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 81%; Audience 81%

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First Position (2011)

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First Position

Every year, thousands of aspiring dancers enter one of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions, the Youth America Grand Prix, where lifelong dreams are at stake. In the final round, with hundreds competing for only a handful of elite scholarships and contracts, practice and discipline are paramount, and nothing short of perfection is expected. Bess Kargman’s award-winning documentary, First Position, follows six young dancers as they prepare for a chance to enter the world of professional ballet, struggling through bloodied feet, near exhaustion and debilitating injuries, all while navigating the drama of adolescence. A showcase of awe-inspiring talent, tenacity and passion, First Position paints a thrilling and moving portrait of the most gifted young ballet stars of tomorrow. — (C) IFC

D picked this documentary for me knowing how much I love ballet. Though the dancing here is, of course, paramount, there is so much more to these stories. If any of you doubt the athleticism of ballet dancers, this movie will make you a believer.

I found myself laughing, cringing, crying, and cheering as we meet the dancers; young phenom Aran Bell, survivor Michaela Deprince, siblings JJ & Miko Fogarty, high school “princess” Rebecca Houseknecht, struggling for a better life Joan Sebastian Zamora, and Aran’s young Isreali friend Gaya Bommer Yemini.

At just 11 years-old, Aran is a powerhouse, spinning and leaping like a mini Baryshnikov. As a military brat, the sacrifices his family members are willing to make differ from the others, but you can see he is not about to let those sacrifices go to waste. I would love to see how he grows and matures in the dance.

Michaela, adopted from war-torn Sierra Leone, combines her fierce determination with explosive strength in a graceful package. She is the embodiment of a childhood fantasy brought to life – through incredible hard work and commitment.

JJ & Miko‘s pursuit of balletic perfection is encouraged by their tiger mother, and financed by their entrepreneur father. You will be wondering if both of these children are as jazzed about a future in the arts as their mother is.

Of all the dancers, Joan Sebastian seemed the least inspired by dance. His motivation tips strongly to the financial. For him, a good showing at the Grand Prix means the opportunity for “nice things, his own apartment” (as his mother back home in Colombia reminds him).

Least interesting was Rebecca. She is, to me, the stereotypical privileged, suburban, high-school dancer. She’s beautiful, she’s talented, she’s spoiled, she’s a bit grating…I couldn’t really get invested in her story. She is a lovely dancer, though.

As our main dancers make their way to the competition, we meet Gaya, a young friend of Aran’s. She is introduced as almost an afterthought, but quickly earns her place in the spotlight. Though her classical ballet is beautiful, she truly shines when performing modern works. I am generally not a fan of the disjointed, dissident contemporary dances, but Gaya’s performances are mesmerizing.

If you are a dance fan, do yourself a favor and check out the bonus features; the full-length performances of our competitors, and some additional dances including Gaya’s Cartoon Girl, Aran’s Mad Hatter.

A dance-centric film would generally suffer on my Word of Mouth scale, not everyone appreciates the arts, after all ;-). This documentary, however, is about dreams and the dedication and hard work that goes into achieving them. I think anyone in my circle will find this movie interesting – and perhaps inspiring. I’m giving it the full 5 of 5.


First Position Official Trailer


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 96%; Audience 87%

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Ruby Sparks (2012)

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Ruby Sparks

A novelist struggling with writer’s block finds romance in a most unusual way: by creating a female character he thinks will love him, then willing her into existence.

I think D picked this one based on star Paul Dano; everything we’ve seen him in, D has liked. This role of Calvin Weir-Fields seems written just for Dano (and it may have been, writer Zoe Kazan is his real-life live-in girlfriend). He perfectly inhabits the quirky, insecure genius. Kazan co-stars as Ruby Sparks, Dano’s leapt-off-the-pages infatuation.

The idea is not entirely original, but this presentation is fresh and fun. As the author writes and rewrites his dream girl, Kazan gives life to the phrase “be careful what you wish for”. Her portrayal of the perfect (and not so perfect) girl is strong, flitting easily through a range of emotions and behaviors.

Unfortunately, the film falls down a bit when we meet Calvin’s parents. The characters are so ridiculous and over-the-top, and the performances by Annette Benning and Antonio Banderas so silly, it distracts from the gentle silliness of the rest of the film.

Overall, though, the story and direction are charming. If you like romantic comedies, especially with an intellectual bent, this flick is worth your time.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 79%; Audience 79%

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She Wants Me (2012)

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She Wants Me

A neurotic writer working on his new film gets into a tricky situation when an A-list actress shows interest in the role intended for his girlfriend.

This movie was so small, despite having a couple of formerly big name stars (Hillary Duff, Charlie Sheen, Debra Jo Rupp, Wayne Knight…), that it seems no critics felt an inclination to review it. Going by the audience reaction on Rotten Tomatoes, those critics didn’t miss much.

I found it a little more appealing than that, but not much. Fairly disjointed, often absurd. I kept hoping it could become…something. Just when I would start to think it found its footing, up would pop an over-the-top, out of place scene to knock it off.

I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see this one, but if it ever shows up on cable late at night, and you are bored or suffering with insomnia, go ahead and give it a viewing.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics N/A; Audience 41%

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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

As an asteroid nears Earth, a man finds himself alone after his wife leaves in a panic. He decides to take a road trip to reunite with his highschool sweetheart. Accompanying him is a neighbor who inadvertently puts a wrench in his plan.

Apparently, the primary activities pursued by mankind when faced with their ultimate destruction are sex and drugs. Lots of drugs. Except for Dodge Pederson (Steve Carrell), who we are to see as so schlubby and milquetoasty he drowns his troubles with codeine-laced cough syrup.

Somehow, Dodge finds himself on a road trip with Penny (Keira Knightley) in search of a lost love. Anyone familiar with road trip movies knows the odd couple will eventually fall for each other. This couple’s differences should be insurmountable (despite the whole “end of the world” thing) but there is a sweet chemistry between Knightley and Carrell that draws you in.

There are a few laughs and some fun cameos, but for the most part this movie is just…blah. It isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t ‘good’, either.

Can’t think of anyone I would particularly recommend it to, but can’t think of anyone whom I would advise to avoid it. Guess I’ll give it a 2 1/2 because that is middle of the road – which is exactly how this film left me feeling.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 55%; Audience 56%

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Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

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Chernobyl Diaries

Six tourists hire an extreme tour guide who takes them to the abandoned city Pripyat, the former home to the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. During their exploration, they soon discover they are not alone.

The idea could have worked as a tense thriller or campy horror flick, if it had been properly handled. Unfortunately, the version we got is neither. The characters are cliched and flat, the ‘scares’ are of the everything-is-quiet-and-something-jumps-out-BOO variety.  It all wraps up in a predictable and unsatisfying end.

Get 1 of 5 only because of Uri, the tour guide, and zombies.

 


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 20%; Audience 30%

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Red Dog (2011)

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Red Dog

Based on the legendary true story of the Red Dog who united a disparate local community while roaming the Australian outback in search of his long lost master.

I love that D is so open to quirky titles he finds on the shelves at Blockbuster. Longtime readers will see a pattern of small movies I had never heard of, that D brought home to “check out”, that we end up loving. Red Dog is no exception.

Unlike some animal movies that tug at your heartstrings, this one lets you know up front the ending is sad. The story begins with the discovery that somehow Red Dog has been poisoned with strychnine. In a way, that knowledge lets you off the hook a bit, but it also makes some of the following scenes that much more poignant.

As the residents of Dampier gather at the club where the veterinarian is tending to their furry friend, they share stories of how they met Red and how he impacted their lives. Confidante, matchmaker, lifesaver…Red filled many roles. He truly represents all the wonderful canine qualities that make me glad humans decided dogs should be domesticated.

In fact, though the entire cast is competent and colorful, a big part of the magic comes from the perfect casting of our hero. If you don’t fall for Red (and Koko, who plays him) you have no heart.

Familiar faces include Rachael Taylor, Josh Lucas, and Keisha Castle-Hughes (all grown up). I don’t think you could make a movie in Australia without including Bill Hunter; always good for a smile, he delivered here in a very brief appearance (sadly, his final film role).

As they say; you’ll laugh, you’ll cry. You’ll also enjoy the ride – and you may want to go find yourself an Australian Kelpie to love. Great small movie for young and old.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 81%; Audience 82%

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