Capsule Reviews

As promised (or threatened, depending on you point of view) here are some short reviews of movies I saw too late to write a timely full length review or ones that I missed in the theater and saw on DVD in preparation for the Oscars.  I have two more films to see before I am ready for the big show. I never did get to see Changeling and I don’t recall Frozen River ever playing here. In any case they are both being released on DVD in before the Oscars and I’ll try to see them before I make my picks.

On to the reviews:


Mike Leigh almost–almost manages to surround his dynamite main character, perennially happy Poppy, played with verve by Sally Hawkins, with a plot.  There is at least one interesting minor character, Scott, her driving instructor but his story doesn’t really come together. The film is shot in cozy London neighborhoods that look very livable.  But the story doesn’t add up. But when you watch Hawkins light up the screen with her ever constant smile and ready double entendres you won’t care.


With Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep locking horns in this one, there is great acting all over the place. The two leads give the powerhouse performances you’d expect from these titans of film. Amy Adams and Viola Davis are also terrific in smaller roles. Unfortunately John Patrick Stanley’s screenplay from his play, and direction are unable to overcome the theatrical origins of the source material. Still, this is a very watchable film.


Bryan Singer’s taut film based on the true story of an almost successful plot to kill Hitler. Tom Cruise plays the main conspirator, Claus Von Stauffenberg, who is today regarded as a hero in Germany. The film is built more along the lines of a thriller rather than a heavy historical drama, so don’t expect much in the way of motivation or moralizing. But do expect a great time.

The Reader

Back to Germany, this time in the post war period. Teenager Michael Berg, played by David Kross and Ralph Fiennes in the frame story which takes place twenty years later, has an affair with trolley car conductor Hanna Schmitz, played by Kate Winslet. It lasts a summer before she mysteriously disappears. Micheal in in law school when she reappears again, but it is not a happy reunion. It turns out that Hanna has a horrible secret in her past. The Reader is a well made and engaging film with a serious theme that is presented in an engrossing fashion. Winslet turns in her usual great performance as an emotionally closed woman. David Kross deserves mention as the young Micheal. He’s smart and vulnerable.

Kung-Fu Panda

This is a decent computer generated animated feature from Dreamworks. Jack Black plays Po, a fat and lazy Panda bear who idolizes a team of martial artists called the Furious Five. But when Po is chosen, seemingly by accident, to be the chosen one to fight the dreaded snow leopard Tai Lung, he finds that they do not reciprocate his admiration. It works out in the end. I hope I didn’t give anything away there.

The Visitor

This and The Reader are the two films I really wish I could have given full reviews. Fully tenured economics professor, Walter Vale, played by veteran character actor Richard Jenkins, reluctantly comes to New York where he keeps an apartment, even though he teaches at a college in Connecticut and owns a house there. He hasn’t used the apartment for years and when he arrives he finds it inhabited by a couple of illegal aliens, notably Tarek, played by Haaz Sleiman and his girlfriend Zainab, played by Danai Gurira. Not quite cold enough to toss them out on the street, Walter lets them stay and eventually bonds with them. Then Tarek is arrested and put into detention to be deported. Watching Jenkins portray this most standoffish of men, gradually open up his heart to let in humanity and music is a fascinating experience. The other two leads are terrific too.

In Bruges

This is another film about eccentric British criminals. Brendon Gleeson and Colin Farrell play two Irish hitmen laying low in the medieval city of Bruges, which is in Belgium, until their boss calls them with further instructions. Ken, the older one, played by Gleeson has an appreciation for the old buildings and the history. Ray, played brilliantly by Colin Ferrell is bored out of his skull. The performances are great and the script has some terrific dialog and, not to get too Ken on you, Bruges does look really nice.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Barcelona provides the scenic backdrop to this light drama from Woody Allen about two American women, who spend the summer in Spain. Rebecca Hall plays Vicky, the sensible one who’s planned out her life and Scarlett Johansson plays the more adventurous Cristina. Wandering in and out of their lives is Juan Antonio Gonzalo, a painter played by  Javier Bardem.  He has a volatile ex-wife, Maria Elena, played by Penelope Cruz. The acting is good, especially Bardem who has a natural charm that is very easy to watch. The script is one of Woody Allen’s more talky efforts, unfortunately. It even has an annoying narrator, telling you information that is readily apparent in the following scene. It’s pleasant enough but far from the director’s best.


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