Theatrical and DVD reviews.

Review: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel


Alvin and the Chipmunks

Just in time for the holidays comes the latest animated movie featuring the furriest pop sensations of the last 50 years, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. Based on characters created by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. in 1958, the singing group consists of three chipmunk brothers: Alvin, the lead of the group and the head troublemaker; Simon, the bespectacled nerdy intellectual; and Theodore, the chubby and gullible brother. The group is managed by Dave Seville, who also acts as a father figure to the young chipmunks.

In Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, an unfortunate accident leaves Dave(Jason Lee) laid up in Paris, so Alvin (Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney) are left in the care of Dave Seville's twenty-something gamer nephew Toby (Zachary Levi).

Review: Did You Hear About the Morgans?


Did You Hear About the Morgans? Do you really want to hear about the Morgans, because you've heard and seen it all before, several times, and it's a formula that needs to be put to rest.

On the run from organized crime, an estranged New York couple (Sarah Jessica Morgan, Hugh Grant) are forced into witness protection. They balk, but they, to the middle of nowhere, where they have to deal with their issues.

Review: Avatar


Avatar Neytiri and Jake Sully

Apparently James Cameron was not content just being "King of the World" with Titanic -- now he's tackling other planets, with lovers even more star-crossed than Jack and Rose in one of the most anxiously awaited epic science fiction film of the decade, Avatar.

The story takes place on Pandora, a lush planet light years from Earth where a multinational corporation has established a mining colony. Harvesting of the rich deposits of the fittingly named unobtanium on the planet is made difficult by the toxic air and seemingly primitive and hostile inhabitants, the Na'vi. In an attempt to make nice with the natives, the conglomerate uses "avatars", remotely controlled biological bodies created by mixing the "driver" human DNA with that of the native genome. The avatars can then act as proxies within the local inhabitants to infiltrate and then negotiate their exodus from a prime mining location. The guns for hire military forces prefer wielding a heavy stick, with oversized armored robots and firepower, than finding a peaceful solution. In a world where everything is connected -- think biodiversity -- mining under the Na'vi Hometree and the "Sky People" brute force has cataclysmic effects.

Review: Up in the Air


Need an antidote to the sentimentality to the holidays? Up in the Air is a breath of cinematic fresh air.  Jason Reitman's third film is another book adaptation, this time a novel by Walter Kirn, a 2001 novel.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a "career transition" consultant, is happiest when he's up in the air, and upping his frequent flier miles to astronomical heights. He barely sees his own family, and may not even make it to his own sister's wedding.  This is the guy most of us fear; the guy delivering the deathblow to your paycheck as he tells you it's really a rebirth.  To Ryan, the less weight in your life, from relationships to possessions, the better. But when he's forced to team up with the upstart analyst (Anna Kendrick) has found ways to automate the system and threatens Ryan's way of life, and changing his perspective.

Clooney can play smarmy well, but he also adds humanity to a man whose only connections are at airports despite dramatically affecting the lives of dozens of people every new assignment.  Kendrick's Natalie holds her own with Clooney even as she trips over her own inexperience.  But it's Vera Farmiga's Alex who steals every scene, right from the moment she and Clooney (Ryan)  flirt over business traveler perks. 

Review: Serious Moonlight


Serious Moonlight

Veteran actress Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) directs her first film, Serious Moonlight, a dark comedy that premiered as the opening-night film at this year's Austin Film Festival. This film depicts a couple who would seem to have a perfect marriage of 13 years, but turns out that the husband thinks otherwise. Louise (Meg Ryan), a high-powered Manhattan lawyer, is touched when she arrives for the weekend to her family’s upstate getaway to find it strewn with rose petals by her husband of 13 years, Ian...

Louise (Meg Ryan) is a high-powered Manhattan lawyer who finally manages to get away early for the weekend to their upstate home, where she finds her husband Ian (Timothy Hutton), who has also arrived early. Only Ian is expecting his young girlfriend Sara (Kristen Bell) and is planning on breaking the news to his wife that he's leaving her. Louise appears to take the news well -- until she duct tapes Ian to a chair, with the intent of not releasing him until he commits to working out their marital issues. Mistress Sara arrives looking for Ian, as the lovestruck couple are about to fly to Paris for a romantic getaway. The situation gets even more complicated with the arrival of a gardener turned home invader, played by Justin Long (Dodgeball, Zack and Miri Make a Porno).

Review: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans


Bad Lieutenant

My goodness. I hardly know where to begin. Werner Herzog took me on the strangest trip, with Nicolas Cage as my erratic, no, insane tour guide, and I still feel exhausted and weirdly exhilarated every time I think about it.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is not a conventionally Good Movie. It's not gonna sweep the Oscars. I stifled laughter in the wrong places, and in a few places I simply could not stifle a giggle. But I must say there was never a dull moment, and it was rarely predictable ... and how many movies can you say that about these days? I was having far too much fun to look at my watch or take notes or fidget.

Review: Invictus



After the success of his first sports movie, Million Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood takes on the sport of rugby, but with a social consciousness slant. Based on the novel by John Carlin, Invictus tells the story of Nelson Mandela's ambitious plan to use South Africa's national rugby team, the Springboks, to help unite the country in the wake of apartheid. The Springboks had to defy the odds to be able to make it to the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship, held in South Africa.

After the first democratically run election in 1994, South Africa was still divided racially in the financial and political sectors as well as the sports arena. Reminders in the colors and symbols of the white supremacist rule are despised, but President Mandela recognized the opportunity to unify both races of his recovering country through the universal language of sport. Mandela's decision to keep the Springbok name, jersey, and colors is not approved of by the sports association or his advisors, yet he stands his ground in an attempt to reconcile with the Afrikaners.

Review: The Princess and the Frog


Disney's animation bread-and-butter has been the fairy tale, with princesses in peril and a happy ending. The Princess and the Frog delivers, but with less heart than usual, despite the merger of Pixar and Disney animation concerns.

Set in early twentieth-century New Orleans, Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) and Charlotte (Jennifer Cody) are childhood friends because Tiana's mother is a seamstress for "Big Daddy" La Bouff (John Goodman), a wealthy, overindulgent widower. The girls have very different reactions to a fairy tale: Charlotte can't wait to find a prince, and Tiana has more vocational dreams. The girls grow up in their separate but connected worlds with obvious results -- one spoiled, the other an overachiever working drudge jobs. 

Review: Me and Orson Welles


Me and Orson Welles

I am not only a sucker for 1930s comedies, but I also love movies that are set in the 1930s. The dialogue! The costumes! The music! And especially the hats. I love a good hat in a movie, right up there with a well-written script and a lack of treacly sentiment.

Fortunately for me, Me and Orson Welles has a well-written script, no treacle, and lovely Thirties period costumes, including a few sharp hats. The latest film from Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater is set in New York City in 1937, when Orson Welles decided to stage Julius Caesar at the newly dubbed Mercury Theater. Local screenwriters Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo, Jr. adapted the novel by Robert Kaplow.

Review: The Road


It's the holiday season, and that means we get a lot of relentlessly cheerful comedies in theaters. But it's also the Oscar season, which means we get some heavy-duty dramas. The Road is one of the latter -- in fact, you may find the post-apocalyptic drama a refreshing antidote to forced holiday cheeriness.

I've heard some complaints from people who read Cormac McCarthy's book before seeing the movie that they felt the adaptation of The Road has pulled some punches -- it's not as relentlessly downbeat as the book. Personally, I think the movie is one of the most grim I've seen in a long time, and I didn't need to see babies cooking on a spit to reinforce the film's tone.

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