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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Mini Reviews: December 16 & 18
by John P. McCarthy

Below are Mini Reviews from Cineman Syndicate for four movies opening the week of December 14th, 2009.

NINE. Never mind that Daniel Day-Lewis sounds more like Count Dracula than an Italian movie director, this film version of the Broadway musical -- itself loosely based on Fellini's 1963 masterpiece -- scores a ten. Collapsing physically and spiritually, maestro Guido Contini tries to save his marriage and helm a comeback picture entitled "Italia." Everything hangs on the women in his life. Marion Cotillard pierces as his wife, Kate Hudson vamps as a journalist, and Penelope Cruz sobs as his mistress. Add Nicole Kidman (muse), Sophia Loren (mother), Fergie (prostitute) and Judi Dench (confidante and costumier), and director-choreographer Marshall does for a lesser stage work what he did for Chicago. (PG-13) GREAT MUSICAL. Director- Rob Marshall; Lead - Daniel Day-Lewis; Running Time - 112 minutes. Limited opening on December 18, goes wide on Christmas Day.

AVATAR. The most expensive and, arguably, most ballyhooed film ever made lives up to the hype without signaling the dawn of a new age of cinema. James Cameron's visually spectacular opus has enough soul to escape being hoisted on its own mechanically sharpened petard. On the planet Pandora, a paraplegic soldier (Sam Worthington) joins an indigenous clan and falls in love with a princess. Various passages resemble a Vietnam War movie, a western -- pitting the rapacious, bellicose white man against natives spiritually plugged-in to their environment -- and a Disney animated musical. Although it amounts to old wine in new skins, the scale and quality of the achievement are impressive. (PG-13) GOOD SCI-FI ADVENTURE. Director - James Cameron; Lead - Sam Worthington; Running Time -161 minutes. 

CRAZY HEART. In Bad Blake, a scuffed, whiskey-guzzling country singer driving between bowling alley-caliber gigs across the southwest, Jeff Bridges may have finally found his Oscar-winning role. Bad's protégé (Colin Farrell) has hit it big, while he's still hitting bottom. Can a fetching single mom (Maggie Gyllenhaal) get his creative juices flowing and reverse his fortunes? Nicely shot and featuring twangy ballads by T. Bone Burnett, this polished tribute to a genuinely American figure boasts a magnificently detailed, seemingly effortless performance. Exhibiting admirable restraint, writer-director Scott Cooper spotlights a classic protagonist and a hugely talented actor. It's just a pity he couldn't brew a slightly fresher plot. (R) GOOD DRAMA. Director - Scott Cooper; Lead - Jeff Bridges; Running Time --111 minutes. 

THE YOUNG VICTORIA. The older Queen Victoria and both Elizabeths -- even Henry VIII's paramours -- have gotten sumptuous cinematic treatments, so why not Victoria (Emily Blunt) as manipulated heir and then early in her reign? After all, her marriage to Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) ranks among England's most famously steadfast, if least spicy, romances. This movie occasionally resembles one of those kitschy commemorative plates the Brits are fond of issuing to mark grand occasions such as royal weddings. The beautifully costumed, intelligent performers peering out from its glossy surface keep you involved. And since screenwriter Julian Fellowes garbles the political machinations, you pardon any bombastic or glamorizing touches. (PG) GOOD BIOPIC. Director - Jean-Marc Vallee; Lead - Emily Blunt; Running Time - 104 minutes. 

(All capsule reviews by John P. McCarthy.)


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