FSR's Weekly Grade Card

ZACK & MIRI MAKE A PORNO

Studio: The Weinstein Company

Rated: R on appeal for strong crude sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity and pervasive language.

Starring: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Jeff Anderson, Katie Morgan and Traci Lords

Directed by: Kevin Smith

What it’s about: Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Banks) are best friends who live together in Pittsburgh. They are never current on their bills, and after a disastrous visit to a high school reunion, their utilities are shut off. Zack then gets the bright idea to make a porno and sell it to all their friends (and non friends) from high school.

What I liked: This film represented Kevin Smith’s desire to return to the gutter and not try to stretch as a director (like he did with Jersey Girl). And I say that will all my love. As a Kevin Smith fan, I appreciated all of the raunch and all of the inside porno references (like how Katie Morgan’s character said she loved anal… and any self-respecting Katie Morgan fan knows she’s strictly exit-only down south). Taken along with Clerks 2, Zack and Miri Make a Porno is Smith’s return to raunchy greatness.

Other pluses on this movie include Katie Morgan in a (sort of) mainstream role, but still willing to show some skin. Jason Mewes has a nice turn as a not-so-Jay character, and Jeff Anderson shows he’s still Kevin Smith’s bitch when he needs to be. But it’s Justin Long who steals the show as the gay porno actor who gets the ball rolling… er… no pun intended.

What I didn’t: I know I’m gonna step on some toes here, but I’ve never been a big fan of Elizabeth Banks. The industry loves her, and they keep throwing movies at her. (Heck, she’s got one coming out next week as well.) Kevin Smith has never been great at writing good dialogue for the ladies, and at least Banks delivers it better than Shannon Doherty. But she just sucked the wind out of the scenes she was in. If only she had gotten naked for her sex scene…

Who is gonna like this movie: Kevin Smith fans and porno aficionados.

Grade: A-

CHANGELING

Studio: Universal

Rated: R for some violent and disturbing content, and language.

Starring: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Colm Feore and Amy Ryan

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

What it’s about: Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, a single mother in Los Angeles in the late 1920s. One day after work, she comes home to find that her nine-year-old son Walter has disappeared. She reports this to the police, and after a five-month investigation, they return a boy to her. However, Christine insists this is not her real son. The corrupt LAPD discredits her and even institutionalizes her while a rogue detective on the force stumbles upon Walter’s real fate.

What I liked: You can usually expect good work from a master filmmaker like Clint Eastwood. His work always looks brilliant, and he assembles a fine cast. Sure, John Malkovich still plays John Malkovich, but he’s well cast. The acting is extremely good for the most part (see below for more of that), and it’s a gripping movie. After looking up the real story, this seems to follow the truth a little better than most Hollywood films, but it does take some license. But hey, it’s nice to see J. Michael Straczynski from Babylon 5 fame get some screenwriting work again.

What I didn’t: Changeling violated two pet peeves of mine in regards to award films. The first is it’s somewhat bloated running time. I’ve seen worse than 140 minutes, but still the movie could have been shorter by just trimming some scenes, not milking long shots and addressing the next pet peeve…

…which is Angelina Jolie. Yes, she can act, but like her film last year (A Mighty Heart) and Jodie Foster’s Oscar grab from 2007 (The Brave One), there were a lot of scenes that showcased her a little too much. From the trailers, you’d think it’s her story alone, but there’s a lot more to this film than Angelina Jolie screaming, “I want my son!”

Oh, and as much as I love Burn Notice… Jeffrey Donovan’s cheesy Edward G. Robinson impression was just plain embarrassing.

Who is gonna like this movie: Eastwood fans, Angelina Jolie fans and people who like a grisly crime drama.

Grade: B-

ROCKNROLLA

Studio: Warner Bros.

Rated: R for pervasive language, violence, drug use and brief sexuality.

Starring: Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Mark Strong and Idris Elba

Directed by: Guy Ritchie

What it’s about: Gerard Butler plays a relatively small-time criminal in London who gets tipped off to a money drop between a major London gangster and a Russian investor. When he steals the money, this sets off a string of events in the London underground that threatens to topple Old School power… but in a somewhat humorous way.

What I liked: If Zack and Miri Make a Porno is Kevin Smith’s return to hilarious raunch, RockNRolla is Guy Ritchie’s return to London gangsters. This is what appealed to me, bringing back the flavor of films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. It’s not Ritchie’s best film, but it’s still a wild and fun ride. Gerard Butler is hilarious and very relatable. Thandie Newton gets a turn in a compelling (and sexy) role after her disastrous show in W. Tom Wilkinson plays the crime boss perfectly, which we have seen before, but it never gets old. The movie’s not as high-octane as his others, but it still has a fresh look, a gritty feel and one of the most ass-kicking soundtracks to hit the theaters this year.

What I didn’t: As innovating and interesting as Guy Ritchie’s work is, his artistic flavor sometimes gets in his way. There are several key moments in the movie that felt like he went off to a bar somewhere, leaving the director of photography in charge to try out some cool MTV-style moves. Fortunately, these moments are few and far between. However, when they show up, it’s a good point to run to the concession stand for more popcorn.

Who is gonna like this movie: Guy Ritchie fans, especially fans of his old stuff.

Grade: B

THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY

Studio: Freestyle Releasing

Rated: PG-13 for strong thematic material, violence and terror, brief strong language and some teen drinking.

Starring: Chace Crawford, Haley Bennett, Shannon Marie Woodward, Shanna Collins and AnnaLynne McCord

Directed by: Mickey Liddell

What it’s about: Molly Hartley is a senior in high school whose mother tried to kill her by stabbing her in the chest with a pair of scissors. After putting her mother in an asylum, Molly goes to a new private school where she struggles to make friends. However, she soon uncovers an unbelievable plot that might require her to die before her 18th birthday.

What I liked: If you can put yourself in the mindset of a teenage girl (and I’d like to think that I can, for totally platonic reasons, I might add), this could be a nice slumber party movie. The characters are generally likable, and the student body of this school is loaded with some of the hottest high school kids around. Too bad the movie’s PG-13.

What I didn’t: There’s a real R.L. Stine flavor to this movie. Not to knock Stine, but he specializes in cranking out very formulaic and not terribly original stories. This story could have easily been a part of his “Fear Street” book line. The characters, while not unlikable, are pretty unrealistic. The movie is about as predictable as a professional wrestling match, and the acting is pretty lame. With the exception of a well-placed f-bomb near the end, there’s nothing that would exclude this flick from being a movie-of-the-week on The N.

Who is gonna like this movie: Teenage girls (and Neil Miller) who love Chace Crawford.

Grade: C-

DEAR ZACHARY

Studio: Oscilloscope Pictures

Rated: Not rated.

Starring: Kurt Kuenne, Zachary Turner, David Bagby, Andrew Bagby, Kathleen Bagby

Directed by: Kurt Kuenne

What it’s about: Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne embarks on a journey to interview as many people whose lives were touched by Andrew Bagby, a doctor who was murdered in his late 20s. The film is meant to be a letter to Andrew’s son Zachary, who was in his mother’s womb when she committed the murder.

What I liked: This film has as much heart as can be crammed into a 95-minute movie. It is a true love letter to Andrew Bagby, and anyone watching it should feel regret that they never met him. It’s also a terrifying indictment of the Canadian judicial system in Newfoundland, where Andrew’s murderer fled to raise their child. I left the movie with a profound respect for Andrew’s parents, who moved to Newfoundland to fight a legal battle for justice and try to gain custody of Zachary. It’s a truly heartbreaking film, but it’s something that needed to be made.

What I didn’t: As a parent, this film is excruciating to watch. It will make you cry, which is a bad thing for me (since I really don’t enjoy crying at movies), but it’s a good thing if you want an emotional jolt. The filmmaking is rather rustic (which is actually part of its charm) and more along the lines of a local wedding videographer than a professional, high-end film.

Who is gonna like this movie: People who want a good cry.

Grade: A-

WHAT JUST HAPPENED

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Rated: R for language, some violent images, sexual content and some drug material.

Starring: Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, John Turturro, Robin Wright Penn and Bruce Willis

Directed by: Barry Levinson

What it’s about: Robert De Niro takes a break from playing cops and gangsters to play a Hollywood producer who is desperately trying to save the release of his new film (which is heading for a disastrous release). He also juggles several ex-wives and tries to keep other productions from falling apart at the seams, all the while under the threat of losing his grip on the slippery world of Tinseltown.

What I liked: There were moments in this film that reminded me of Robert Altman’s The Player, however it doesn’t quite live up to it. De Niro does a fine job shedding his tough guy image to be a smarmy producer. Hollywood just loves movies that look at the inner-workings of the industry. However, most people don’t realize how sleazy the industry can be. This might be too introspective to be tasteful.

From a filmmaker’s standpoint, it’s interesting to watch how producers do their jobs. And it’s a nice look at how even the richest moguls have major problems of their own.

What I didn’t: If I didn’t read the credits, I would have never believed that Barry Levinson actually directed this. There were several moments boiling over with misplaced artistic expression, featuring sped up images and out-of-focus shots. I expect this from the current crop of music-video auteurs, but Barry Levinson should have more class.

While the Hollywood angles were interesting, I was quickly bored with the guy’s personal life. The production is loaded with good actors, but they just don’t carry the film.

I did find it ironic, however, that this movie features a film that is utterly unappealing to the mainstream public… somewhat prophetic to the movie itself, don’t you think?

Who is gonna like this movie: Barry Levinson and Robert De Niro. Maybe Sean Penn.

Grade: D


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