Movie Valley
July 2010 Movie Reviews
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Ramona and Beezus
Starring: Joey King, Selena Gomez, John Corbett, Bridget Moynahan, Ginnifer Goodwin
Directed By: Elizabeth Allen
Run Time: 1 hr 44 mins

Ramona and Beezus is based on the book by Beverly Cleary. It follows the life and misadventures of Ramona Quimby and her family. Ramona tries to be a good kid but things just have a way of happening to her. In this particular adventure, Ramona's father loses his job and her mother goes back to work. The odd twist to their routine proves to be interesting and trying.

I read the books as a kid and loved them. I think I read all of Beverly Cleary's books (Superfudge, etc). They're good-hearted. I took my nine year old niece to this movie, thinking that since I read the books at her age, she might enjoy it, too. We were the only ones at the show (up at "the lake"). She was very polite about it afterwards, but she seemed incredibly bored through the entire show. She said she enjoyed it. I liked it but I have to admit - I, too, was incredibly bored. It's a sweet movie filled with sister dynamics (both Ramona and Beezus and Ramona's mother and her own sister). There's angst, there are struggles, but they all truly love each other and get along quite well for all the rivalry. A lot of quirky things happen. But then... it really does seem like nothing did happen. Ramona's father loses his job, Ramona's mother goes back to work, Ramona accidently dumps buckets of paint all over her neighbor (and her aunt's love interest)'s car; something tragic happens in the family, the family almost loses their house, there's a potential move, Ramona gets made fun of for being quirky at school, Ramona and her father draw the world's longest picture, Ramona and her sister fight. A lot happens. But the movie is slow and a bit boring. Nice but boring. Nice because everyone gets along in the Leave-It-to-Beaver fashion.

The acting, I must say, it phenomenal... for the children (Ramona and Beezus). Some of the adults did that "we're-trying-to-be-cute-for-young-audiences" acting which is sooooo annoying to watch as an adult. I don't even think kids really like it.

All in all, it's a harmless movie. Sweet, nice, cute, quirky... but incredibly slow. You'll probably be bored. We were, even though neither one of us would admit it.

I Am Love
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Alba Rohrwacher, Marisa Berenson, Maria Paiato
Directed By: Luca Guadagnino
Run Time: 2 hrs

I Am Love is an Italian movie, all in Italian set in Italy. It's about an Italian family that seemingly has it all together. They seem happy and well-adjusted. Seem. And then the matriarch (played by Swinton) falls in love with her son's friend, a chef. Slowly everyone's problems surface. Slowly.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this movie.I'm not quite sure what it was about. There wasn't a lot of dialog. I had to read a synopsis of the movie to figure out what it was about.

I heard a lot about Tilda Swinton's performance. First, before the movie she didn't speak Italian. Since the entire movie - all of her dialog - is in Italian, she had to learn to speak it. Her character is also Russian (but living in Italy for 30 some years). She apparently speaks Italian with a Russian accent. I listened hard for it. The critics were in awe of this. I couldn't hear a difference between her accent and the rest of the cast. She didn't have much dialog anyway. But I was impressed with her performance just the same.

I thought this was going to be more of a food love affair, ala Like Water for Chocolate, considering her reaction to his prawn dish. It was interesting that she fell in love with his culinary skills and his culinary skills resulted in their affair's exposure.

I spent the first 45 minutes trying to figure out what the story was and when that story was really going to begin. And when I thought I had figured out the story, I lost it again. There was a huge, powerful ending unlike any I've seen before. But it also lost me. I think it was very powerful.

It's beautifully shot. And then it's also very artsy shot. There's a very odd snippet after the first band of credits. And one scene is almost like soft porn. I mean, wow. You don't see that much in a movie. But then there were a lot of blurry close-ups of body parts so what things I thought I was seeing may not have been the real thing. Interesting cinematography, to say the least. Very real - not Hollywoodized.

Not sure if I liked this movie. Not sure what it was about. Not sure about a lot of things. Not sure a movie is supposed to make you feel like that.

Winter's Bone
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes
Directed By: Debra Granik
Run Time: 1 hr 40 mins

Winter's Bone is about 17 year old Ree (played by Lawrence) searching for her father who put up their house as his bail bond and has since disappeared. If he doesn't show up for his court appearance, the family loses the house. Ree, who takes care of her little brother and sister and their catatonic mother, navigates the back woods of the Ozarks, pleading with her father's relatives and acquaintances, all who say they haven't seen him but probably have.

If you thought Precious was depressing, wait until you see this movie. Precious made me realize that none of my problems were anything compared to hers and none of Precious' problems are anything compared to Ree's. If you have a quarter in your pocket, you're ten times better off than Ree. She's incredibly poor, probably didn't graduate from high school, has no future, is inches away from being homeless, and has more responsibilities than most adults. The weight of the world is truly on her shoulders and there'll never be any relief.

I was confused for the first half hour of this movie, angry for the next half hour, and sad for the next. You know when you're so sad you can't cry because the tears just won't come? Ugh. That's how I felt - miserable without tears. Confused because English is apparently no one's first language. Talk about butchering the English language! It was insane how bad their grammar was. Such back-water speak. I couldn't follow what they were saying. I know it was technically English so why is it the words just aren't making sense?

The movie made me sad because these people were so poor, so uneducated that they couldn't even put a sentence together. I was amazed at how little the family had. It made me ashamed for my own life. I know there are poor people out there but seeing a potato feed a family of four and being forced to give up their horse because they couldn't feed it (and it had been four days since the horse had last eaten). I did wonder about the other things the family did have - all the toys and the trampoline. Were these things given to them, were they purchased during better times, or were their priorities out of whack (toys vs food).

This movie made me angry because I couldn't understand why people weren't helping Ree find her father. Did they really want her and her family to be homeless? Okay, so Ree never explained the urgency of the matter but in a town that small, don't people talk? Surely someone knew that if she didn't find her father, the family would lose the house?

I absolutely loved how strong Ree was. Tough, but not so tough she wasn't afraid (although I'm not too sure I would have been afraid of those people, mostly because I've never been around men who hit women out in the open (nor have I been around those who hit in private, either). I guess if you've never been hit or even seen it, you're not afraid. I liked how she wasn't whiny... and then I didn't. If she had perhaps explained to people WHY she needed to find her father, maybe someone would have helped her. I also didn't see why (until after) people were so outraged that she was indeed looking for him. After the fact, I see what they were trying to hide... or what they thought her motive might be.

As for random thoughts about the movie - I loved how the little girl woke up her brother. I loved how Ree didn't even bat an eye when Sonny (her little brother) home Peanut Butter (a dog), another mouth to feed. Obviously it had happened before.

Be prepared for a lot of dirty men, unbelievably poor people, so uneducated, and yet determined.

I kept wondering why there was so much hype around Jennifer Lawrence's performance. Looking back at the whole picture, I see it. She was simple but yet that simplicity was magnificent. Understated but powerful.

So... this is a sad, frustrating, and sad movie. It will depress you, make you thankful for your own life, and realize that you have no problems at all compared to Ree's. But it is a good movie. Shocking. Well acted. Bad English. But well acted. It's hard for me to say I liked it because it is just so depressing and scary. But I did like it.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer
Directed By: Jon Turteltaub
Run Time: 1 hr 51 mins

The Sorcerer's Apprentice is about a sorcerer named Balthazar (played by Cage) on the hunt for Merlin's heir. When his nemesis Horvath (played by Molina) is freed from his magical prison (a nesting doll), he and reluctant newbie Dave (played by Baruchel) must battle Horvath for if Horvath wins, the world will end. No pressure.

After watching the previews for this movie, I had a lot of questions. The movie seemed very implausible to me. I don't like implausible (this coming from someone who believes a city bus CAN jump a 50 foot gap in a bridge). Interestingly enough, all of my questions were resoundingly and definitively answered, which I loved. It was almost as if the movie makers read my mind. Spooky. The explanations were creative and natural.

The movie opens strong, with a heart-breaking battle between good and evil, moves on to the quest for the heir, and then another action-packed battle. It sucked me in. The middle, however, bored me a bit as the momentum and action derail during the sorcerer tutoring and the pursuit of Becky. The middle is long and slow and seems to go on forever. Thankfully, it picks up again for a grand finish. The beginning and the end and the overall tone to this movie makes it a really, really great movie.

I absolutely loved the Fantasia reference, particularly the twist.

I liked all of the characters, save the roommate. They were all likable, even the villains. They all had flaws. And they all had undercurrents that made them tick. Very mysterious. At first, I was not fond of the Becky sub-story line but the ending - the fact that she conquered her fear - really made me like her. She seemed very much like a blonde Kristin Stewart. I loved Tank. I did have a different ending in my head for the magician, which I thought had a better, campier feel to it than the real ending, kind of a justice meets "do-the-right-thing." Oh well. I really liked Dave, the science geek. I liked his kind-heartedness. I liked how smart he was. I also really liked Balthazar. He was actually reasonable. He understood life. Yes, the world would end if they didn't stop Horvath but life was still happening in the meantime and it had to be lived.

I liked Nic Cage with hair. He looked good. That may seem like an odd comment in a movie review, but I did read an article a year or so ago about Nic Cage's hairstyles in his movies - no two are ever the same. This one made the character interesting. Weird but I found it captivating (really).

I liked how science and magic are intertwined, connected. That was an interesting take. I loved the music-light thing (I can't remember the scientific name for it). I think any girl, whether science geek or music lover, would have been wowed by that experiment. It was cool. I liked how science and magic came together. I loved the mirror trick. That was one of my favorite magic bits. It was smart. And I liked how it circled back again.

I thought this movie was incredibly well done. I did have a fear, after watching the previews, that this movie might be a bit corny or perhaps take itself too seriously. That fear was not realized. This movie is great. I held my breath through the final battle scene. When I realized what I was doing, I tried to make a conscious effort to actually breath (passing out at the theater is probably not a good thing) but then I discovered moments later that I still wasn't breathing. The action, the suspense, the creativeness to it all, really grabbed my attention. It was such a wonderful scene.

I really liked this movie. It was funny. It was action-packed. It was smart. It was engaging. It was a really great movie.

Despicable Me
Starring: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Miranda Cosgrove
Directed By: Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin
Run Time: 1 hr 35 mins

Despicable Me is about a villain named Gru who gets topped publicly by a new villain named Vector, who steals the Great Pyramid of Giza. Gru (voiced by Carell) battles Vector (voiced by Segel) to regain his supervillain ranking. To become top villain again, Gru enlists the aid of three orphans - Margo (voiced by Cosgrove), Edith, and Agnes.

Aw, poop. That's going to be my new catch phrase of the summer.

I wasn't sure I was going to like this movie. That was a recent feeling, however. From the very first preview I was hooked. I really wanted to see this movie. But there were too many previews and too much information about the movie was divulged. I was snagged, sucked in with the first teaser preview. But then I discovered, to my horror, that the first two scenes were shown in the previews shot by shot, second for second. I was deeply upset. I felt betrayed. Seriously, the first 5-10 minutes of the movies were several of the previews strung together.

This movie was built on the previews. The first, which had a wonderful Alfred Hitchcock homage, simultaneously piqued my interest and sealed the deal. I knew was going to see the movie just from the first teaser preview a year ago. As I mentioned earlier, a couple of the previews strung together make up shot for shot the first 5-10 minutes of the movie. Too many previews. Then there previews that featured the kids. Suddenly, I almost didn't want to see the movie. It was taking a turn I didn't like. And all the different previews were giving too much of the story away. That's never good. I just wanted to see Gru be despicable but yet likable. With kids, I didn't think I would get that despicable nature. Luckily, I'm glad I put those previews out of my head. The kid storyline was well done. Edith had me with the door kick and Agnes had me with the, "Good-bye recorded message." It was sweet. It was funny. And the Home for Girls had me at the Box of Shame and I almost lost it with the girl in the Box of Shame... and then the three boxes later. Way to carry out a bit.

Normally I'd say to skip the 3D because lately everything is in 3D and most do not need it. The first five seconds of this movie says otherwise. The 3D is used well. I loved the opening title coming at you in 3D. Stay for the credits (although you can leave as soon as they roll the list of actors/characters). The 3D is definitely worth it, just for the credits (although it was fun during the movie, too)... and the Minions.

The Minions. They were adorable and funny and great... but I wanted them to be funnier and cuter. Of course, there were parts where I was absolutely dying. The Minions were funny and zany. I loved their good-natured spirit. I loved listening to them talk.

I was amazed that this movie is more about the characters and relationships than about the battle between Gru and Vector. The characters were absolutely wonderful.

I liked all the zany things the Minions did - the shopping spree, the punching (I particularly loved the reaction/retaliation of one blown-up Minion to the guy who shot him), the toilet paper game with the kids, the anti-gravity victims. I would strongly advise you to download the Minion app from Best Buy (no plug there) in order to translate the Minions at the end. Get to the theater early because there's a moment before even the previews run where it's announced that you have to start the app. I loved the shadow puppets at the end, particularly the Gru one.

I loved Gru. I loved all of his gadgets, including the bombs the children slept in. I liked his dog and loved his name - Kyle. Such a simple name for such a nasty dog. I liked his relationship with his mother. Each moment says so much. I did want Gru to be more despicable, with more of a struggle between him and Vector. I resisted the children and their affect on Gru as long as possible... until the unicorn story. Wow. That was sweet.

I didn't understand Vector. The defense of his house was beyond state of the art but his portable weapons left a lot to be desired... and feared. How could he have stolen the pyramid if he had such lame inventions? He didn't seem like a worthy opponent. I did like his shark floor, though.

I did actually like the children. To have been a fabulous movie, I think I would have needed to love the children. Edith and Agnes were quirky; Margo was just plain. She was smart and a great guardian for the other two but she didn't have much of a personality.

So... be prepared for this to be funny. You expected that. Be prepared for this to be smart - particularly with the way they brought gags back. You probably expected that. Be prepared for this to be more about Gru and the children and less about his battle to regain his title. You didn't expect that. And finally, be prepared for this to be really sweet. You definitely didn't expect that.

Toy Story 3
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Don Rickles
Directed By: Lee Unkrich
Run Time: 1 hr 49 mins

Toy Story 3 is about Andy's toys as he prepares for college. He cleans his room out but instead of going to the attic, his beloved toys accidentally get donated to a day care center. Life at the center isn't as fun as the gang hoped...

Although this movie is offered in 3D, the Pequot Lakes movie theater we saw this movie at didn't have that technology. After watching the movie, I couldn't fathom what scenes would have been better enhanced with another dimension. I didn't miss it. It was just fine in 2D. BTW, this was my birthday movie... a week late (but that was because I was in NYC).

It took me almost to the very end to really get into this installment. Don't get me wrong - this is a great movie. This version is just as sweet, cute, and funny as the first two but I needed something big pull me into the movie. I was just hoping for the hook. For me, that comes about 20 minutes before the end. The fire scene did it. The ending will get you so even if you're not pulled into the movie in the beginning, you will find redemption in the end. Even Jeff cried (a bit) so you gotta believe it is truly touching.

I liked the new heroes. You will definitely root for Woody and Buzz but it's nice to see other characters get a moment in the spotlight. I cheered out loud when one hero was revealed!

The overlying storyline runs through all of the Toy Story movies - the toys stick together and they do it for Andy. The final 20 minutes of this movie really rings that storyline resoundingly. I loved the "all in it together" anthem. That was an incredibly moving and touching scene.

A lot of the funny parts were in the previews but there were still some good surprises. I figured out the main storyline before I wanted to, before it was really revealed, which I never like. I would have liked a bit more mystery to the toys' new environment.

Toy Story 2 is still my favorite sequel. I liked it better than the first because it was scary. The ending sucked me in, though. I'm on the fence about Toy Story 3. Where does it fall? I liked it... but it didn't really get me until the end... which Toy Story 1 did, too. I think I liked the overall tone to the first movie but I really liked the underlying story to the third. And the third did make Jeff cry. Curiouser and Curiouser. Don't get me wrong. You won't go wrong watching any of the Toy Story movies. They're all wonderful. If you're in the mood for an animated scary flick, go with one. If you want one that will make you shed a tear and utter, "Wow" when it finishes, go with three. If you want one that has a killer opening, maintains the momentum throughout the movie, and makes you cry, go with two. They're cute. They're sweet. They're funny. And they'll make you kick yourself for ever giving away any of your toys (I still have my blue stuffed dog Woofie so there!).