23 December 2010

The best of 2010

From left, Dileep Rao, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Leonard DiCaprio, Ellen Page and Ken Watanabe are shown in a scene from "Inception."
Writing about the movies today, it's easy to focus on the negative. But where's the fun in that?

As much as people like to complain, 2010's release schedule included several wonderful films. In fact, so many were so good that I cannot single out one as the best picture of the year.

Maybe I'm taking the easy way out, but how do you make comparisons between a survival story that largely features one actor in one location; a psychological horror movie about ballet; a film based in dreams that ultimately has four action movies spinning simultaneously; a digital-age "Citizen Kane"; and a classic Western?

The next tier was nearly as solid: a Swedish import heralding the arrival of a major new star; one of the most entertaining comic book adaptations to date; an incredibly well-acted period piece; a mindbending thriller from one of our master filmmakers; and a taut crime drama.

So here they are, my picks for the best movie of 2010, in alphabetical order.

True Grit

Jeff Bridges, left, and Hailee Steinfeld are shown in a scene from "True Grit."
Whenever I watch a film by Joel and Ethan Coen, I am reminded of what Joss Whedon (creator of the TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly," among others) often says of his philosophy toward writing. Paraphrasing, he says every character must have something to say and a reason to be there, and it is important that the audience understands the perspective of each character.

Whether they have ever stated it outright or not, the same goals drive the Coen brothers. There are no insignificant characters in their latest picture, "True Grit," and everyone who appears adds something to the movie, even if they wander through only one scene before moving on.

The Coens' movie is not so much a remake of the 1969 John Wayne film, for which the Duke won his only Oscar, as it is a new adaptation of the 1968 novel by Charles Portis. So even though the story is an older one and known to many, "True Grit" 2010 is readily recognizable as the Coens' work, incorporating their signature quirky characters and humor against the backdrop of a classic Western. It's even something of a crowd-pleaser, a first for the idiosyncratic brothers.

17 December 2010

Black Swan

Natalie Portman is shown in a scene from "Black Swan."
What a devious trick Darren Aronofsky pulls off with "Black Swan."

The film takes place in the world of a professional New York City ballet company, so you might expect something sophisticated, classy, intellectual. It begins by presenting the action in a cinema verite style, following dancer Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) with a handheld camera, showing us the nitty gritty of ballet—the bitter backstage rivalries, the hours of arduous practice, the bruised, bloody toes.

That's not to say "Black Swan" is not sophisticated, classy and intellectual, and does not show us the world of ballet from the inside out—it is and it does. The trick occurs after the first act, when the movie shifts from the documentary feel of Aronofsky's last feature, "The Wrestler" (2008), to a twisted psychological drama bordering on horror, its story mirroring that of "Swan Lake," the venerable ballet at the heart of the action.

The Fighter

Christian Bale, and Mark Wahlberg, right, are shown in a scene from "The Fighter."
Who is the title character of "The Fighter"?

The obvious answer is Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a struggling welterweight boxer from the working-class town of Lowell, Mass. Not even a has-been, Micky is a never-was, north of 30 years old and viewed as a stepping stone for up-and-coming boxers. After a particularly bad fight against an opponent who outweighs him by 20 pounds, his heart just isn't in it anymore. Maybe it's time to give it up, move on with his life, settle down.

The title just as easily could refer to Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), Micky's half-brother and trainer, a former boxer himself whose shining moment was going the distance but losing a late-'70s bout with Sugar Ray Leonard. Even with a debilitating crack cocaine addiction and multiple stints in jail, Dicky is affectionately known as "the pride of Lowell" by its inhabitants. An HBO camera crew follows him, but the movie they're making is not, as Dicky claims, about his attempt at an in-ring comeback.

10 December 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Will Poulter, right, and Reepicheep the warrior mouse are shown in a scene from "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader."
Loads of cash are being poured into it, but "The Chronicles of Narnia" just can't seem to find its footing on the big screen.

The first installment, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (2005), was a certifiable hit, grossing $291.7 million at the domestic box office and $745 million worldwide even though it was not a particularly good film, struggling to find a balance between its fairy tale atmosphere and heavy-handed Christian symbolism.

Part two, the darker, grittier "Prince Caspian" (2008), was more war movie than fairy tale and the best fantasy film of the decade without hobbits or Harry Potter. Yet audiences weren't particularly interested; its domestic box office take was less than half that of its predecessor, causing Disney to back out as the distributor of future installments. (20th Century Fox stepped up in its place.)

26 November 2010

127 Hours

James Franco is shown in a scene from "127 Hours."
Could you do it?

That is the unspoken question of "127 Hours," a riveting, life-affirming story of determination and survival from director Danny Boyle, whose last film, "Slumdog Millionaire," swept the Academy Awards two years ago.

Would you do it?

Have you truly lived your life? Appreciated the people around you, your family and friends, and the time you spent with them?

Life, even to the most indomitable of spirits, can be such a fleeting thing. It's also our most precious gift, sharing it with others.

19 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Daniel Radcliffe is shown in a scene from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1."
So here we are, nine years after the first film, 13 years after the publication of J.K. Rowling's first novel. The boy wizard Harry Potter and the actor who portrays him, Daniel Radcliffe is a boy no longer. Neither are his companions, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), the children we first met. The wise and kindly Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), teacher, adviser, friend and protector, is no more. Hogwarts, the school that had been the primary setting to this point, is virtually absent, replaced by the streets of London, the forests of the English countryside.

As film No. 7 in the saga, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1," opens and as it progresses, the bad guys, led by Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), have won and continue winning, claiming both Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic. They aim to subjugate not just the wizarding world but the world of Muggles, as well.

12 November 2010


Chris Pine, left, and Denzel Washington are shown in a scene from "Unstoppable."
"Unstoppable" is a lot like the runaway freight train at the center of the movie's action.

Starting slowly, it's kind of boring as it chugs along the tracks. We expect something dramatic to happen, but we're not sure what that is. We don't know what the stakes are. It's just a half-mile of screeching, groaning metal meandering through rural Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, locomotive engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) has taken conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine), fresh out of four months of training, under his wing for his first day on the job. Frank, who has been railroading for 28 years, and his other old-timer friends, many of whom have been laid off, resent youngsters like Will coming in and taking their jobs. So the pair spends the morning bickering and bonding, while dispatcher Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) searches for a way to stop the runaway train.

05 November 2010

Due Date

Zach Galifianakis, left, and Robert Downey Jr. are shown in a scene from "Due Date."
At one point in "The Hangover" (2009), Bradley Cooper's character, Phil, says to Alan, played by Zach Galifianakis, "You are literally too stupid to insult."

But here's the thing: Alan isn't stupid. That's what "The Hangover" got right. Alan, we later learn, is kind of a genius. He's naive and childlike and very, very weird. He's driven by an endearing sincerity, and—here's the key—the movie never mocks him, never flat-out laughs at him and doesn't encourage the audience to do so either.

That brings me to "Due Date," which also features Galifianakis as a weird, immature man-boy and reteams the actor with his "Hangover" director, Todd Phillips. This time, Galifianakis' character, an aspiring thespian named Ethan Tremblay, is a buffoon. In "The Hangover," the gangster Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) laughs at Alan, saying, "It's funny because he's fat." Over and over again, "Due Date" all but says, "It's funny because he's stupid." Ethan feels like a refugee from "Dinner for Schmucks," the horrid summer comedy in which Galifianakis also appeared.

29 October 2010

A new Halloween classic: Michael Dougherty's 'Trick 'r Treat'

The character Sam is shown in a scene from "Trick 'r Treat."
Halloween creates a natural setting for horror movies. It even gave John Carpenter's classic 1978 slasher and its many sequels and remake its title. But Michael Myers could kill teenagers on any day of the year and his story wouldn't change.

As popular as Halloween has become, there never had been a film specifically about the holiday itself until 2009, when "Trick 'r Treat," an anthology along the lines of "Creepshow" (1982), fought and scraped its way onto DVD and Blu-ray.

That realization drove writer-director Michael Dougherty, whose Oct. 28 birthday helped inspire his lifelong interest in Halloween, to make "Trick 'r Treat."

"Having grown up obsessed with the holiday, I really knew about a lot of the traditions and a lot of the back stories and origins of these traditions why we carve jack-o-lanterns and why we dress up and hand out candy," Dougherty said from Los Angeles in a phone interview.

01 October 2010

The Social Network

Jesse Eisenberg, left, and Joseph Mazzello are shown in a scene from "The Social Network."
I have heard people discuss "The Social Network," laughing it off as "the Facebook movie." But here's the thing: It isn't really about Facebook.

Directed by David Fincher and written for the screen by Aaron Sorkin (based on the 2009 book "The Accidental Billionaires" by Ben Mezrich), "The Social Network" tells a classic American story of capitalism and greed, friendship and betrayal, fueled by envy and lost innocence, presenting Facebook co-founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg as Charles Foster Kane for the new millennium. He might even have a Rosebud or two of his own.

The great irony of the film is that Facebook, a sprawling online community of 500 million users based on acquiring "friends" and sharing, in some cases, the most minute details of your personal life with these people, is created from the ashes of bitterness and resentment, by a young man whose only true friend later sues him for millions.

17 September 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire

Noomi Rapace portrays Lisbeth Salander in a scene from "The Girl Who Played with Fire."
Intrigued by the challenge of telling a story with no real beginning or end, I often find the middle installment of film trilogies to be the most interesting. "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" immediately come to mind. To that we can potentially add "The Girl Who Played with Fire," the follow-up to "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," based on the second novel in Swedish author Stieg Larsson's "Millenium" trilogy.

By now, the story behind the books and movies is well-known. Larsson, a journalist, died prior to the publication of his novels, which became worldwide best-sellers and spawned film adaptations from his native country, as well as American versions now in the works under the direction of David Fincher ("Seven," "Fight Club," "Zodiac").

Because most movie-goers here refuse to read subtitles, the English-language adaptations surely will reach a larger audience. But it is hard to imagine them being better than the original Swedish films, featuring the fiery Noomi Rapace in an iconic performance as the title character, misfit computer hacker Lisbeth Salander.

The Town

Rebecca Hall, left, and Ben Affleck are shown in a scene from, "The Town."
"The Town" is a film full of heists, shootouts and powerful emotional moments. But one quiet scene pulsates with more tension than any other.

Bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebbeca Hall), recently taken hostage during a bank robbery, unknowingly finds herself sharing a table at an outdoor cafe with two of the crooks. One, Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck, who also directed and co-wrote with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, based on a novel by Chuck Hogan), the brains behind the operation, is her new suitor. He's wormed his way into her life to find out what she knows after learning she lives just a couple blocks away in the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown. The other, Jem (Jeremy Renner), bears the only identifying mark Claire has on them—the tattoo on the back of his neck. Doug knows this, though Jem does not and Claire has no reason for suspicion.

It's a perfect scene of Hitchcockian suspense in a film that, on the whole, has more in common with "Heat" and Affleck's first directorial effort, the superb "Gone Baby Gone."

03 September 2010


Danny Trejo stars as a legendary ex-Federale in a scene from "Machete."
A common complaint about movies today is that all of the best parts are in the trailer. So what happens when you make the trailer years before the feature?

That is the case of Robert Rodriguez's "Machete," which began life in 2007 as a fake trailer accompanying the Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino tribute to 1970s exploitation flicks, the double feature "Grindhouse."

Danny Trejo, finally getting his shot as the leading man after racking up nearly 200 film and TV roles in the past 25 years, is the title character, an ex-Federale-turned-day-laborer in a Texas border town hired to assassinate State Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), whose hard-line stance on illegal immigration includes support of an electrified fence. The whole thing is a setup engineered by Booth (Jeff Fahey), an aide to the senator, and the Mexican drug lord (Steven Seagal) responsible for the murder of Machete's wife and child three years earlier.

06 August 2010

The Other Guys

Mark Wahlberg, right, and Will Ferrell are shown in a scene from "The Other Guys."
It seems the movie-going public has been suffering a bit from Will Ferrell overload. All you need to do is take a look at the box office returns and critical assessments of some his recent films, both of which bottomed out with last year's flop, "Land of the Lost."

So for "The Other Guys," he returned to his comfort zone with Adam McKay, who directed him in "Anchorman," "Talladega Nights" and "Step Brothers." The quality of their collaborations also has followed a noticeable downward trend, one that "The Other Guys" easily reverses.

The premise is golden: Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson are P.K. Highsmith and Christopher Danson, New York City's biggest hotshot cops. They are celebrities not just within the police department but to the public at large. Car chases, shootouts, millions of dollars in property damage—they're all in a day's work, even when the perps are caught with less than a pound of marijuana.

In short, they are the kind of cops that are the focus of most action movies.

30 July 2010

Dinner for Schmucks

Steve Carell, left, and Paul Rudd are shown in a scene from "Dinner for Schmucks."
Why the title, "Dinner for Schmucks"?

To my recollection, no one in the film ever uses the word "schmuck." In fact, the event of the title quite often is referred to as a "dinner for idiots," to which each of a group of financial executives brings a guest to (unknowingly) compete for the distinction of being the biggest idiot of the bunch.

That's one of the multiple head-scratching facets of the film.

The most problematic is that it takes two of our most gifted comic actors, the great Paul Rudd and Steve Carell, and turns them—and everyone else in the movie, for that matter—into obnoxious cartoons whose behavior is determined solely by the needs of the plot.

16 July 2010


Marion Cotillard, left, and Leonardo DiCaprio are shown in a scene from "Inception."
Where to begin when discussing "Inception," Christopher Nolan's mind-bending, jaw-dropping summer masterpiece?

To say it is the best movie so far in 2010 is inadequate.

The writer-director's finest film to date? Now we're getting somewhere.

I don't know if any review truly can do justice to the achievement of "Inception." I could describe the plot beat by beat, and it still would not accurately convey what the film is about and the experience of taking it all in on the big screen.

You've seen glimpses of the spectacle in commercials—Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page calmly walking through the streets of Paris while the city folds over on top of itself; the same two actors sitting at a cafe as their surroundings explode; a freight train barreling through a city street; a zero-gravity action sequence in a hotel hallway.

The technical virtuosity pouring from every frame is astounding.

25 June 2010

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Xavier Samuel, center, is shown in a scene from "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse."
It is not exactly praise to call "Eclipse" the best film in "The Twilight Saga" to date.

Cliched, maudlin dialogue and painfully wooden acting gussied up with vampires who sparkle in the sunlight and computer-generated werewolves marked the first two entries, "Twilight" and "New Moon."

And it's more of the same in "Eclipse." The difference is this time, the reins are in the hands of a director ("30 Days of Night's" David Slade) who has some aptitude for creating an air of menace and shooting an action scene.

The story picks up where "New Moon" left off, with Bella (Kristen Stewart) torn between two creepy, borderline stalkers: the eternally 17-year-old vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and the werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner).

11 June 2010

The A-Team

Bradley Cooper, left, and Liam Neeson are shown in a scene from "The A-Team."
I remember having an "A-Team" bicycle as a child. I think it was red and black. So I must have watched and enjoyed the TV series that aired from 1983 to 1986 on NBC. Yet aside from Mr. T's Mohawk, I cannot remember a single thing about it.

Hannibal, Faceman, Murdock? Not ringing a bell. The theme music? Nope.

There was no nostalgia factor for me, then, as I watched the big-screen version of "The A-Team" directed by Joe Carnahan ("Narc," "Smokin' Aces"). No memories stirred up, no childlike excitement. Nothing.

I don't know whether that's my fault or the movie's.

04 June 2010

Get Him to the Greek

Jonah Hill, left, and Russell Brand are shown in a scene from "Get Him to the Greek."
The "him" of "Get Him to the Greek" is the fictional British rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), first seen two years ago in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." The "Greek" is the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, where Aldous and his band Infant Sorrow recorded one of the best-selling live albums of all time. Young record company suit Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) must bring Aldous there for a special 10-year anniversary performance.

The catch: Aldous, ardently sober when we last saw him, has fallen spectacularly off the wagon following the failure of his latest album, the hilariously tasteless "African Child," and his split from Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), his longtime girlfriend and mother of his son.

On strict orders from his boss, Sergio (Sean "P. Diddy" Combs), Aaron must retrieve Aldous from London, get him to New York for an appearance on the "Today" show, then take him to Los Angeles for his comeback concert. Aldous, though, is a drinking, drugging mess. It's like watching an episode of VH1's "Behind the Music" in the present tense as he leads Aaron, not to be confused with the character Hill played in "Sarah Marshall," from one party to the next, introducing him to a smorgasbord of substances.

14 May 2010

Letters to Juliet

Amanda Seyfried is shown in a scene from "Letters to Juliet.
Sometimes there comes a movie that is easy to nitpick—the story is overly contrived, the dialogue trite, the characters crafted a little too perfectly to fit the demands of the plot—yet it succeeds on the basis of pure delight, the optimism it emits and an earned happily-ever-after ending.

That's "Letters to Juliet," a romantic comedy starring the genre's rising "it" girl, Amanda Seyfried, and in a beautiful performance, the venerable Vanessa Redgrave. The multigenerational love story shakes up the rom-com conventions just enough to add a hint of unpredictability and weight to a blooming romance.

Seyfried, all wide eyes and expressive, innocent face, is Sophie, a fact-checker at The New Yorker who longs to be a writer. She and her fiancé, Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), travel to Verona, Italy, on a sort of working pre-honeymoon. The distant, distracted Victor spends most of his time visiting suppliers for the restaurant he's opening back home, leaving Sophie to wander on her own.

Robin Hood

Russell Crowe is shown in a scene from "Robin Hood."
The Robin Hood story has been told over and over again by Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra, Disney, Kevin Costner, Mel Brooks and too many more to mention. So the best thing about Ridley Scott's new film, cleverly titled "Robin Hood," is that it does not cover the same ground as those that have come before it.

Scott's "Robin Hood" serves as a sort of prequel to the well-known legend. Instead of building the story around stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, screenwriter Brian Helgeland ("L.A. Confidential," "A Knight's Tale") focuses on how the English folk hero, known here as Robin Longstride, achieved his outlaw status. As you would expect in a Ridley Scott historical epic, that occurs only after much medieval warfare, swordplay and archery.

Ostensibly, the idea is to focus on the man behind the legend. But since there is no definitive history of the man and some question whether he ever existed at all, the movie really is just another Hollywood concoction.

Not that there's anything wrong with that—not when it's made with such skill as this, at least.

07 May 2010

Iron Man 2

Gwyneth Paltrow, left, and Robert Downey Jr. are shown in a scene is shown from "Iron Man 2."
Robert Downey Jr. seemingly can do no wrong.

Does anyone think "Sherlock Holmes" would have been even half as entertaining as it was without him as its anchor?

Could anyone else have emerged from a broad summer action-comedy like "Tropic Thunder" with an Oscar nomination?

And let's not even try to imagine another actor as billionaire-industrialist-turned-humanitarian/superhero Tony Stark in "Iron Man." The 2008 blockbuster established Downey as one of Hollywood's most bankable and engaging leading men, and opened the floodgates to a vast library of Marvel Comics titles and characters.

30 April 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Jackie Earle Haley portrays Freddy Krueger in New Line Cinema's horror film "A Nightmare On Elm Street."
After Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes production company made new versions of "Friday the 13th" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," along with lesser known horror flicks like "The Amityville Horror" and "The Hitcher," and Rob Zombie tackled "Halloween," it was inevitable that Bay and friends would take a walk down Elm Street.

In many ways, remaking Freddy Krueger is a much more difficult task than Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers or Leatherface. Freddy is a character with a personality, with a single  actor (Robert Englund) associated with the role. The others are unspeaking, masked psycopaths portrayed, in many cases, by stuntmen.

So for the 2010 version of "A Nightmare on Elm Street," the producers found themselves an Oscar nominee in Jackie Earle Haley ("Little Children," 2006; he's also known as Rorschach from last year's "Watchmen").

16 April 2010



"With no power comes no responsibility." So says the protagonist of the superb new superhero movie Kick-Ass, based on a comic book series by Mark Millar (Wanted).

But is that true? Shouldn't we all feel a responsibility to try to make the world around us a better place?

That is the mindset of New York City teenager Dave Lizewski (an amiable Aaron Johnson), a comic book geek who wonders why there are no real-life superheroes. He also thinks he'll look cool as a costumed crime-fighter.

So he orders himself a green and yellow wetsuit, which is baggy and not remotely cool on his skinny frame, though he thinks otherwise. Armed with a pair of batons and calling himself "Kick-Ass," he hits the streets in search of evildoers.

He ends up in the hospital.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Like the novel on which the film is based, this review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will be heavy on exposition.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first in Swedish author Stieg Larsson's internationally best-selling Millennium trilogy, all of which was published after his 2004 death.

All three films already have been made in Sweden and were released there and elsewhere last year. The first in the series--released under its original Swedish title or its literal English translation, Men Who Hate Women, in most other countries--did not wash up on these shores until March. It arrived here after becoming the highest-grossing European film of 2009 and the highest-grossing Swedish film of all time.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the rare film that lives up to the hype preceding it.

Interview: Runaways director Floria Sigismondi

I recently interviewed Floria Sigismondi, writer and director of The Runaways. Read it HERE at Live-Metal.net.

The Runaways

The Runaways

The Runaways tells the story of the 1970s all-girl rock band of the same name, but it is a man who looms largest over the action in the film. Dressed in garish '70s glam rock fashions (with makeup to boot), Michael Shannon's Kim Fowley, manager/producer/songwriter/architect of the band, stalks and prowls through the movie, dominating the screen whenever he appears.

Emotionally abusive if not physically (though at one point he brings in kids to throw trash and worse at the girls for rock 'n' roll "boot camp"), his methods are extreme, his behavior often revolting. He's being kind by his standards when he calls the girls "dogs." He's exploitative and creepy (his reaction after meeting Currie: "Jail-(expletive)-bait! Jack-(expletive)-pot!) yet somehow exudes a bizarre charisma. In that way, Shannon, nominated for an Oscar for 2008's Revolutionary Road, brings to mind Christopher Walken.

Date Night

Date Night

Date Night works as an action-comedy precisely because its characters do not know they are in either a comedy or an action movie. They don't seem to realize they're in a movie at all.

They are simply Phil and Claire Foster (Steve Carell and Tina Fey), a married couple from New Jersey. They have a good but dull marriage. They genuinely like and love each other (yes, there is an important distinction between those two concepts). But between their jobs--he's a tax lawyer, she's a real estate agent--and caring for their two young children, their time for each other is limited to one weekly date. And even that has become routine--same restaurant, same food.

Trying to break out of this rut, the Fosters head into Manhattan for a night on the town. Of course, they can't get a table at the trendy new restaurant they want to try. In a rare moment of spontaneity, Phil claims the reservation of another couple the Tripplehorns that hasn't shown up.

Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans

Let's get this out of the way: 3D adds nothing to Clash of the Titans other than headaches and a few dollars to the ticket price. And, oh yeah, it makes the images darker and blurrier, too.

Avatar showed 3D can be used effectively, to bring the movie to the audience, creating a richer, more immersive experience. James Cameron, of course, conceived and shot that film in the format, even developed new technology to ensure his vision made it to the screen intact.

Clash of the Titans, a remake of the 1981 Ray Harryhausen movie, was filmed in the traditional two dimensions. It was only during post-production, after Avatar raked in the dough, that the decision was made to try to cash in on what has become with the one notable exception the most annoying Hollywood trend of my lifetime.

Maybe the filmmakers are hoping the extra dimension can mask the movie's deficiencies in other areas.

She's Out of My League

She's Out of My League

I was not expecting much from She's Out of My League, which, from the trailers, looks like an Apatow-lite romantic comedy with an untested leading man surrounded by a bunch of little known faces. What a pleasant surprise this movie is, then, coming from first-time feature director Jim Field Smith and screenwriters Sean Anders and John Morris (who also have credits on the upcoming Hot Tub Time Machine).

Skinny, awkward Jay Baruchel is 20-something Kirk, whose dream is of being a pilot and reality is working in security at Pittsburgh International Airport. He hasn't had much luck with the ladies since being dumped by Marnie (Lindsay Sloane), who won over his family so completely that she still hangs out at his parents' home with her new boyfriend (Hayes MacArthur).

Kirk has a support group--a trio of fellow airport employees (T.J. Miller, Mike Vogel and Nate Torrence)-- that urges him to forget Marnie and move on with his life.

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

For all of the wild, 3D effects, eccentric characters and sly nods to its source material, the highlights of director Tim Burton's take on Alice in Wonderland are the performances of his two favorite actors Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

Depp, starring for Burton for the seventh time, is the Mad Hatter, whose shattered mental state is reflected in his physical appearance perpetually shellshocked, tattered clothes and hair apparently styled by Carrot Top. Depp, as is his wont, loses himself in the role and emerges with a Hatter who is as mad as ever yet more fleshed out and human than we have seen before.

Bonham Carter, Burton's longtime partner and the mother of his children, appears in her sixth film for the director. She is the nefarious Red Queen, she of the bulbous head, who controls the dreaded Jabberwocky, keeping the inhabitants of Underland in a perpetual state of fear.

Shutter Island

Shutter Island

During the past eight years, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have become arguably the greatest contemporary director-actor combo. Their last pairing, The Departed (2006), finally won Scorsese the best director Oscar that had eluded him so many times before. It was also the movie that, in my mind, established DiCaprio as one of our most dynamic leading men. It deservedly won the Academy Award for best picture and was one of the finest films of the decade (narrowly missing my top 10).

I tell you this so that it has meaning when I say that Shutter Island, the fourth collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio, is the best work they have done together.

This isn't Scorsese chasing an award or some other form of prestige. Or DiCaprio looking to be taken seriously as an actor and not just as the Titanic heartthrob.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson

The premise of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief holds great potential potential the film never realizes.

Based on the first in a series of novels by Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief introduces Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), a New York City teenager whose less-than-charmed life finds him plagued by dyslexia and living with his mother (Catherine Keener) and wretched stepfather (Joe Pantoliano).

But there is a reason why Percy can hold his breath underwater for an astonishing length of time: His father is none other than Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), Greek god of the sea. Percy doesn't know this, of course, until he and his best friend, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), who turns out to be a satyr (half man, half goat) sent to him as a protector, are whisked away to a training camp for demigods (the offspring of god-human couplings) sort of a rustic, low-budget Hogwarts.

The Wolfman

The Wolfman

For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of the classic Universal horror movies. Some of my earliest movie heroes were Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr., stars of Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931) and The Wolf Man (1941), respectively.

The Wolf Man, which revived the studio as a leading producer of horror films, holds up better today than the others. The 10-year gap did wonders for reducing the stage influence on the acting and the unimaginative, static cinematography.

Werewolves have been prevalent in many movies over the years, but for some reason, Hollywood left the original alone until now.

Given its troubled path to the big screen, The Wolfman (2010) is far better than it has any right to be.

When in Rome

When in Rome

If nothing else, the casting of When in Rome amazes.

The casting directors managed to find an actress tinier than tiny leading lady Kristen Bell (Alexis Dziena) and an actor that she towers over when she's wearing heels (Danny DeVito).

Little else about the movie is as amusing.

Bell is Beth, a young curator at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, married to her job and, jaded as she is about love, unlikely to be married to a man at any time in the foreseeable future. In Rome for her younger sister's (Dziena) whirlwind wedding, she meets Nick (Josh Duhamel), the best man, and surprisingly finds herself smitten until she sees evidence of his womanizing ways. A drunken foray into the "Fountain of Love" ends with her taking a handful of coins tossed in by lovesick tourists tourists who then find themselves hopelessly in love with Beth.

Up in the Air

Up in the Air

There is perhaps no film that represents the present better than Up in the Air.

A boss (Jason Bateman) gathers his employees and lays out the situation: It is a time of economic turmoil, the worst recession since the Great Depression, people are losing jobs at an alarming rate.

"This is our time," he says.

The company sends its employees across the country to do the dirty work--the firing--when other companies have to let workers go. One of its best is Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man who keeps an apartment but whose real home is airports and airplanes, hotel rooms and conference rooms. Where is he from? "Here," he answers from several thousand feet in the air.

There is truth in that, as he is approaching 10 million frequent flyer miles with American Airlines.