Category: 3 stars


Dir. Daniel Alfredson
(2010, R, 147 min)
★ ★ ★

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, concluding the Swedish film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy novels, is a broad, pulpy thriller about how our heroes Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) unravel a vast conspiracy to cover up … um, something or other. In my review of the previous film, The Girl Who Played with Fire, I wrote that I wasn’t exactly clear on the plot, and I’m still not exactly clear on the plot of that film, which had to do with secrets from Lisbeth’s past coming back to haunt her. Hornets’ Nest picks up where Fire left off, but in its more straightforward, bad-guys-get-their-comeuppance way, I was surprised to find that I enjoyed it. It’s quite long at 147 minutes but moves briskly.

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Dir. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
(2010, R, 102 min)
★ ★ ★

Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) started lying early and never stopped, like a snowball rolling downhill. That’s how he learned to get along in life, and eventually it was the only way he knew. It’s how you get and keep a job. It’s how you get and keep love. It’s how you make people trust and admire you. And sometimes lying is how you get out of another lie. I Love You Phillip Morris, which tells his story, is a fascinating portrait of compulsion, showing how a brilliant man, fueled by narcissism, self-entitlement, and sometimes plain survival instinct, got on the wrong track and never got off it.

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Dir. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
(2010, PG-13, 110 min)
★ ★ ★

My favorite scenes in True Grit are the battles of wits involving Hailee Steinfeld, in a breakthrough performance as 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who consistently proves to be of sharper mind than her older male counterparts, who talk down to her only to have her talk down right back. The Coen brothers wrote and directed, adapting a novel by Charles Portis that was previously made into a 1969 film starring John Wayne, and they give her rich, dense dialogue that she fires with the precision of an expert gunslinger and with such poise and confidence that we know immediately that Mattie can get the better of anyone.

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Dir. Olivier Assayas
(2010, Not Rated, 330 min)
★ ★ ★

If international terrorism is as tedious as Carlos makes it appear, it’s a wonder anyone ever signs up. Director Olivier Assayas’s epic miniseries, which aired in the United States on the IFC network, tracks anti-imperialist radical Carlos the Jackal, whose real name is Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, from the start of his infamous career to the end, and along the way I struggled through a convoluted soup of allegiances, counter-allegiances, compromises, negotiations, and betrayals. At different points, Carlos is working for the Iraqis, then alongside the Iraqis, then hiding in Syria from the Iraqis. A crucial operation fails because of an offense to Libya, but later Libya enlists him to carry out another. He is in league with the East German Stasi and the Soviets, and he’s harbored in Hungary, until at least one or two of those groups turn their backs on him. If I got any of the details wrong … well, I probably got some of the details wrong, and I haven’t even mentioned the French, the Saudis, or the Algerians … Read the rest of my review at Culturazzi.org.

Dir. Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg
(2010, R, 84 min)
★ ★ ★

My familiarity with Joan Rivers began at about the time she was already hosting red-carpet specials for the E! Network. I had not seen her earlier stand-up work and had only the faintest knowledge of her embattled history with Johnny Carson. In giving an overview of her career, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is a successful film, showcasing an interesting, charismatic personality and a trailblazer for women in comedy. However, the film is also a bit over-congratulatory. Directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg present a warts-and-all portrait, but even the warts seem designed to flatter her: she works too hard, she’s too fiercely loyal, she speaks her mind too boldly. The accounts of her life and career are predominantly her own. This is strictly Joan Rivers through her own eyes.

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Dir. Tom Hooper
(2010, R, 118 min)
★ ★ ★

The King’s Speech is burdened with self-ascribed import. It tells the story of King George VI, who ascended to the British throne in the years leading up to the Second World War. He suffered from a stammer that, at the dawn of the age of radio, crippled him as a leader. But of course by then the British monarch was a figurehead who, as George himself admits at a moment of self-doubt, appoints no government and makes no command decisions. As the symbolic representative of the British people at a time of crisis, his words had meaning, but the film almost gives us the impression that George’s improved speech all but won the war. As he steps out onto his balcony, received by his adoring subjects, the film seems to say, “Problem solved! War’s over! He successfully read a prepared statement!” (The specific words chosen for that statement seem irrelevant to the story; all we’re told before it’s put in the King’s hands is that the speech was approved, by someone or lots of someones who presumably know about such things as proper word selection at a time of war.)

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Dir. David Yates
(2010, PG-13, 150 min)
★ ★ ★

At first, I thought a better title would have been Harry Potter and the Treacherous Exposition. For a while, The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 — the penultimate film in the decade-long franchise — seems saturated with it. First we meet a new character, the Minister of Magic (Bill Nighy). Then we’re reintroduced to about a dozen of the good guys and another dozen bad guys, some more familiar than others; I never re-watch the previous films before seeing a new one — feels too much like homework — so I’ve grown accustomed to forgetting and relearning certain details as I go along.

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Dir. Michael Winterbottom
(2010, R, 109 min)
★ ★ ★

The duality at the heart of The Killer Inside Me gives it its dark fascination. Adapted from a 1952 novel by Jim Thompson, it tells the story of Lou Ford, a West Texas deputy sheriff who appears unassuming and gentlemanly but underneath harbors violent, misogynist impulses. He’s played by Casey Affleck, whose baby-faced handsomeness is put to good use. He seems gentle-natured, but Affleck conveys the emptiness underneath. In voice-over narration, he seems absent of emotion. In the murder scenes he shows neither relish nor remorse. That’s what makes him so scary — he represents not the dark side of humanity, but a void of humanity.

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Dir. Danny Boyle
(2010, R, 94 min)
★ ★ ★

Danny Boyle is an effective filmmaker who perhaps knows a little too well that he’s an effective filmmaker. Sometimes his effects veer into self-consciousness. That is the case in 127 Hours, his followup to his Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire. It’s a film that demands the guiding hand of a strong and confident director, taking place as it does in a single setting for most of its running time: the canyon where adventuring hiker Aron Ralston was trapped for nearly a week in 2003 before amputating his own arm to escape. Boyle’s flourishes work when they evoke Ralston’s mental state, but did we really need POV shots from inside his water bottle?

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Dir. Brian Koppelman and David Levien
(2010, R, 90 min)
★ ★ ★

Solitary Man is a more minor achievement than its credits would suggest. Its cast is filled top to bottom with actors I admire: Jenna Fischer, Mary-Louise Parker, Richard Schiff, Susan Sarandon, Jesse Eisenberg, and Danny DeVito — and that’s the supporting cast. Its star is Michael Douglas, who gives a very good performance as a disgraced car salesman in a mid-life crisis. Suddenly struck with fear of his mortality, he makes drastic changes in his life, none of them for the better.

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