Studio: 20th Century Fox
Rated: PG-13 for some violence, a scene of sensuality, and brief strong language.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson, David Gulpilil, David Ngoombujarra, and Brandon Walters
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
What it’s about: A lot of things… A cattle drive across Australia. A romance between a cattle drover and a proper lady. A story about the Stolen Generation down under. The film follows Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), who travels to Australia at the dawn of World War II to run a cattle ranch after her husband is killed. When she fires her ranch manager after discovering he’s been rustling cattle to her competition, she joins with the rugged freelancer Drover (Hugh Jackman) to driver her cattle to a big sale in Darwin. Meanwhile, she’s trying to save a young child of mixed white/Aboriginal blood from being sent to a mission. Finally, everyone faces the devastating bombing of Darwin when the Japanese reach the Australian coast.
What I liked: There were parts of this film that were breathtakingly awesome and visually stunning. The landscape of the Australian outback was beautiful, and the cinematography was top-notch. Luhrmann never fails to offer an interesting look to his films, whether historical or contemporary.
The cast was pretty good. Nicole Kidman was a bit stiff, but she smoothed out when her character was allowed to loosen up a bit. Hugh Jackman was perfect for the role as the rugged scoundrel helping her out. I imagine that Russell Crowe could have pulled it off as well, but this version of the character just seemed tailor-made for Jackman. And anyone who agrees with People Magazine that Jackman is the sexiest man alive will swoon over his shirtless muscles, which ripple in the golden light of a camp fire. (Did that make me sound gay?)
As far as historical epics go, this kept my attention better than most. It’s not as cohesive as Titanic, which is the gold standard of this genre and the film all others seem to emulate, but it’s still the only thing out there like it right now.
What I didn’t: As gorgeous as the cinematography was in this movie, there were moments where it broke down… and broke down hard. Some scenes had a very false feel to it, but that was deliberate to give it that historical and epic look. Still, other moments had such awful green screen work that they couldn’t have possibly been meant to look so bad.
Many rumors were circulating about this film, including talks about Luhrmann changing the ending to appease audiences and frantically editing the movie only days before it was screened for critics. Whether true or not, it feels like this movie had these post-production problems.
There’s a serious loss of focus at times as the movie tries to figure out what it’s saying. Sure, it’s a love story, but there’s a lot of focus on the young Aboriginal boy they’re trying to save. And in the end, the World War II half seems like a separate film that was tacked on when the director discovered he probably wouldn’t be able to make a sequel.
Who is gonna like this movie: Epic movie fanatics, romance junkies, cinematographers and anyone who gets moist at the sight of Huge Jackman with his shirt off.
Studio: New Line Cinema
Rated: PG-13 for some sexual humor and language.
Starring the Voices of: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Jon Favreau, Mary Steenburgen, Dwight Yoakam, Tim McGraw, and Kristin Chenoweth
Directed by: Seth Gordon
What it’s about: Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) are the perfect modern couple. They live together, never want to get married and don’t want children. Each year, they avoid their families during the holidays by taking a trip. However, when their flight is canceled, they’re forced to spend Christmas at home visiting all four of their extended families.
What I liked: Last year when Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn’s other Christmas comedy) came out, I had hoped for a snarky look at the holidays. Instead, Wedding Crashers director turned it into a cute family film. Now, Vaughn is given a shot at an edgy holiday movie, and this seems more his style. Vaughn’s improv works so much better in this film because he’s not restricted by a PG rating.
While it’s not the funniest movie around, there are plenty of laugh moments in this movie. Despite their tumultuous working relationship, Vaughn and Witherspoon have good chemistry, and that helps the audience care for them a little bit.
The real strength in this movie, though, is the cast. You have Robert Duvall as Brad’s father, with Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw as his brothers. Sissy Spacek plays his mother while the sexy Kristin Chenoweth plays Kate’s sister. And to top it off, you have Jon Voight as Kate’s dad, and he’s always good, even in his bad roles.
What I didn’t: Like any dysfunctional family Christmas movie, there’s always a moment when the movie tries to get all warm-hearted. Here’s where the movie loses steam. Brad and Kate have been developed as somewhat obnoxious characters, and we suddenly have to feel for them. I’d prefer to take the Bad Santa route and keep them caustic, with just a dash of cheer rather than turning the movie into just another adorable holiday flick.
In general, this movie is made for people who think their family is terrible and want to see someone in a worse situation. Hopefully the audience will identify with at least some of the antics in the film. However, if you identify with it too much, you should seek professional help.
Who is gonna like this movie: Vince Vaughn fans, people on dates if they don’t mind some blue humor and anyone looking for the lone comedy in the multiplex this season.
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, some sexual content and drug material.
Starring the Voices of: Jason Statham, Natalya Rudakova, François Berléand, Robert Knepper, and Jeroen Krabbé
Directed by: Olivier Megaton
What it’s about: Professional transporter Frank Martin (Jason Statham) is trying to live a normal life, but things go awry when he is kidnapped and forced to do a new job. He has to transport a package to an undisclosed location, and to keep him in line, he’s been fitted with a bracelet that will explode if he goes more than 75 feet from his car. While doing the job, Frank uses his wits, connections and wicked martial arts skills to uncover the truth about who is behind his new employment.
What I liked: This is an action movie. It’s not a love story. It’s not a comedy. It’s not even a crime drama. It’s about a guy who drives a car really, really fast and kicks a whole lotta ass. In that light, Transporter 3 is a great film.
The action sequences are the height of the film. Plenty of car chases are crammed into the relatively short running time, and we even get to see Statham chase down his Audi on a crappy bicycle. And Statham leaning into the martial arts is always fun to watch, especially for the women because in this movie he seems to always strip down shirtless and use his clothes as lethal weapons.
What I didn’t: This wasn’t as over-the-top as its predecessor, and that’s a bit of a shame. There’s a nice moment at the end where Frank Martin manages to do something with the car you probably never thought you’d see, but it’s not so wild that it borderlines on a cartoon. And I miss a bit of the cartoon nature of the Transporter films.
A lot of noise has been made about Statham’s freckly-faced co-star, Natalya Rudakova, who was plucked from the streets of New York by producer Luc Besson. However, she failed to impress me. Maybe it’s because I’m just not wild about red heads. She’s not particularly sultry, and her character isn’t given a whole lot to do other than swoon over Frank Martin and pee on the floor of a gas station.
Who is gonna like this movie: Action fans and Jason Statham acolytes.
Studio: Focus Features
Rated: R for language, some sexual content and brief violence.
Starring: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, James Franco, Alison Pill and Victor Garber
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
What it’s about: After spending years in the closet and enjoying an awakening in the 1970s, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) campaigns to be the first openly gay person elected to public office. However, as a champion of the gay community in San Francisco, Milk faces hate, prejudice and violence, all leading up to his untimely death by assassination.
What I liked: I haven’t seen very many of Gus Van Sant’s movies, but the ones that I have seen (Psycho and Good Will Hunting) haven’t impressed me much. Then there’s the fact that he also directed a Hanson video in the late 1990s. So I went into Milk with low expectations.
I was very impressed, however. Even though Sean Penn isn’t my favorite actor, he did a great job as the likeable and outspoken Harvey Milk… of course, that’s with me never seeing the real Milk on television, so I can’t speak to how accurate his portrayal was. Still, he offers an overwhelming amount of sympathy, and considering how politically charged the film is, the preaching is kept to a minimum.
Other good performances come from James Franco, who is normally a dud but impressed me in this year’s Pineapple Express. Emile Hirsh and Josh Brolin also shine as a gay activist and a fellow city supervisor, respectively.
Van Sant uses a documentary style to give the film a realistic, historical look. Most of the time, the blending of old, grainy film footage with the crisp 35mm stock works out well, and the editing bounces the audience back and forth between narrative and historical context very nicely.
The film stays out of the politics of the modern day, which is nice, considering the temptation to relate the story to this year’s Proposition 8. However, political blame is not tossed around lightly, and the movie works as a biopic to honor a man rather than a politician.
What I didn’t: After sitting through the film, I found very little to nitpick, which is a very good sign, considering I’m not a fan of the director or lead actor. One thing that bothered me was an overuse of the artsy documentary style, which became tedious at a few points.
The only other problem I had was with the story’s deification of Harvey Milk. I’m sure he was a great guy, but he is presented as a near-flawless individual. His only real downfall is that he loves and cares for people too much. I wasn’t looking for a wreck of a man, but the lack of any chips in his character made Milk a little hard to swallow at times.
Who is gonna like this movie: Arthouse fans, biopic hounds and pretty much anyone interested in the history of the gay rights movement.