"The Big Year" is a physically beautiful movie, with spectacular scenery. The plot is unusual--it's about a race between three men to see the most birds in a year. In other words, it's a movie about bird-watching, a topic which I think has never before been covered by Hollywood.
The stars are Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black, with a very brief cameo by Anjelica Huston. Corbin Bernsen plays a rather nutty helicopter pilot.
At first the film is hard to follow, as you try to figure out all the characters and where they are going and when and what birds they are chasing after. The film takes place in 2004, but all the reviews I've read said that it takes place in 1999!
This is a film best seen in theaters because much of it was filmed on location. It's also easier to see the birds on the big screen--I can't imagine how some of them would look on a TV screen, even a larger one. The closing credits show 750 bird photographs.
"Courageous" is the best of the low-budget Christian-themed movies that have been released in the past 10 years. Still preachy, but the acting (the entire cast is of unknowns) was greatly improved.
It's the story of five men--four police officers and a carpenter--who make a written, public commitment to be good husbands and fathers.
"Anonymous" puts forth the question of who wrote Shakespeare's plays, if not him. The movie says it is a man named Edward DeVere, a lover of Queen Elizabeth.
The movie is confusing because it keeps jumping back and forth in time, between the years when Edward and Elizabeth were young and Shakespeare was first putting on his plays, and 40 years later, when Elizabeth is dying. There are many characters and they are hard to keep straight, especially since the film is literally somewhat dark and many of the characters look alike.
It's entertaining but you really have to keep track of what is going on. Don't leave the theater to go to the restroom!
There was one clever bit of casting. British actor Derek Jacobi, who was the opening narrator for Kenneth Branagh's productions of "Henry V" and "Hamlet," was also the opening narrator for this film.
I'm not a fan of Shakespeare one way or the other. The main reason I saw the movie is that I like producer Roland Emmerich (yes, I admit I like him). He's mainly known for disaster movies, and "Anonymous" was a very different sort of film for him.
"The Descendants" joins a growing list of stories (Everwood, Grace is Gone, Heartland, etc.) focusing on a clueless, self-centered father who becomes widowed and is forced to raise his two children alone. This time the story focuses on George Clooney as Matt. What makes "The Descendants" stand out is that Matt has a very large family--it's difficult to keep everyone straight--and the story is set in Hawaii.
The movie is sad and touching. It's very well-done and really keeps your interest. Unfortunately, the movie does not have really wide distribution. Its audience is also older and female, just like "The Help" and "Mamma Mia."
"The Descendants" has been nominated for several awards already, and will probably be nominated for Best Picture.
One added bonus for the movie's female fans--surfer Laird Hamilton has a bit part in the beginning of the movie.
"The Way" is a movie from 2010 that has been making its way into various theaters for the past 15 months. It stars Martin Sheen with cameos by his son Emilio Estevez. The movie was filmed across Europe and I am unfamiliar with the other actors.
The plot is this: Sheen is an ophthalmologist in California who learns that his son Estevez has died hiking through the Pyrenees in France. Sheen heads to France to collect the body (which he decides to cremate) but then also decides to scatter his son's ashes across the El Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, an 800-kilometer walk which will probably take him two months.
He meets many people along the way from all over the world. He ends up hiking most of the time with an overweight Dutch guy, a bitter divorced Canadian woman, and a writer from Ireland.
The movie is a bit too long and you think it is ending about 20 minutes before it actually does. There's really not much plot, but you learn much about the characters, while the places they stop for the night are amusing. It's mainly a way for Sheen to get over his grief.
I don't know when this was filmed, but I wondered if it was being filmed in Europe at the same time Charlie Sheen was getting into so much trouble in the United States. I kept thinking that the movie was a way for Martin and Emilio to distance themselves from Charlie, and that perhaps Martin's grief wasn't just acting, it was for the way he was probably losing his other real-life son.
With two three-day weekends in a row I was able to see several movies. On New Year's Day I saw Dolphin Tale, a different sort of family movie.
DT is not a movie for small children. The plot is too complicated and the scenes with the stricken dolphin and/or the amputee veterans may be too much for them.
But DT is a beautiful movie, filmed in Clearwater, Fla., where it takes place. Although the plot is a little predictable--you just know the owners of the marine animal hospital will raise enough money to keep it open--it still can cause a lump in your throat in some scenes.
I think that DT has pretty much completed its run in the theaters, but I would recommend finding the DVD as it is a very entertaining family film.
Marilyn Monroe is experiencing a recent resurgence in popularity. "My Week with Marilyn" stars Michelle Williams in the title role. It's an entertaining, and very beautifully filmed, movie, but from what I've read I don't think it's that historically accurate.
It's about her filming of "The Prince and the Showgirl" with Laurence Olivier in 1956 in England. Kenneth Branagh plays Olivier, and he was the main reason I saw the movie. I've always loved Branagh in historical roles. His frequent co-star Derek Jacobi is also in the movie.
I'd recommend this movie, but if you're looking to learn something, I'm afraid you won't.
Today's movie was "The Ides of March," starring George Clooney and Ryan Gosling. It was largely filmed in Cincinnati, and is still playing in a few Cincinnati second-run theaters, three months after its release. By the way, the city is portrayed accurately, with no strange fictional names or shortcuts from one area to another.
I thought it was going to be a political thriller, but it turned out to be just a soap opera. The first half is a lot of maneuvering between the candidates and their potential allies, but the second half, well, it became a story about a publicist (Gosling) who extorts the governor running for president (Clooney) because the publicist learned that the governor slept with an intern and gotten her pregnant.
It's kind of slow in the first half, but moves quicker in the second half.