Movie Reviews: Wall Street, Legend of the Guardians, Buried, Never Let Me Go, Catfish, Alpha and Omega, Solitary Man

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It's been about 23 years since the first Wall Street came out, but the timing couldn't be better for a sequel.  Too bad the story doesn't make the most of the current economic climate and ill will toward Wall Street fat cats.  It's just a serviceable tale of good kid (Shia LaBeouf) in way over his head, that bides its time waiting for Michael Douglas to arrive on screen again.  Douglas is in top form, returning to the role of Gordon Gekko that won him an Oscar back in '87.  Gekko is one sly fox, and he keeps the characters and the audience on their toes at all times.  Oliver Stone is engaged behind the camera in a way we haven't seen for over a decade now, though he still makes some questionable, out-of-touch choices like a soundtrack full of David Byrne songs.  The movie feels oddly dated, when it should feel up-to-the-minute.  Still, LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan (as Gekko's estranged daughter) are both good, and Douglas came to play.
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If you can get past the horrific title - surely one of the worst of the year - you'll find a stunningly animated, absolutely beautiful (and dark) children's movie.  Refreshingly short on humor and levity, Legend of the Guardians is directed by 300 and Watchmen's Zach Snyder and it bears the same imprint that he gave those live action films.  The movie is a visual tour-de-force with owls and locations that look so real, you'll forget you're watching animation.  The production design is as good as anything I've seen before.  The story takes a while to get rolling and seems a bit scattershot at times, but the intense visuals more than overcompensate for the lack of compelling storytelling.  This is a kids' film that Jim Henson probably would have made in the '80s - strongly reminiscent of The Dark Crystal (though not as scary).  I could have done without the out-of-place, cutesy montage scored to Owl City music though.  
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Buried (****)
It could have been a big mess - falling apart after the first five minutes, but Buried does the near-impossible: sustains a palpable tension and suspense from 90 minutes of Ryan Reynolds in a coffin-like box underground.  The movie starts with about 3 minutes of blackness and then never leaves the box.  Director Rodrigo Cortes makes the most of the premise, keeping the story focused, tight, and fast-paced.  The lighting is dynamite - achieved mostly through the glare of whatever item Reynolds'  Paul Conroy is using to see - flashlights, cell phone screens, lighters, etc.  The sound design is equally good - the audience hears every little rustle of gravel and breath of limited air Paul takes.  There are some logistical improbabilities (Paul gets better cell phone reception than most Chicagoans) and claustrophobics would be wise to avoid it, but the ending is terrific - a giant sucker punch to the gut.  Cortes and Reynolds took a risk, but Buried pays off big time.
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Though artfully composed by director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo), and boasting excellent source material (the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro) and a fine cast (Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield), Never Let Me Go is an emotionally cold, drearily paced bore.  The actors appear lost - each giving the same vacant performance.  The horrific nature of the plot twist - what these three English boarding school students are really being raised to do - should have made for gripping drama, but the filmmakers are too tied down with trying to make an important, prestige film that they forget to entertain the audience.
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Catfish (***1/2)
The less you know about this going in, the better.  Billed as the "other Facebook movie," Catfish is a documentary about a photographer who befriends an 8 year-old girl and her family on Facebook and then learns that all is not what it's cracked up to be.  The studio has been hyping this as a Hitchcock-type horror thriller, and though it is suspenseful in parts, the ending is much more subtle, sad, and, well, real than you might imagine.  As far as documentaries go, Catfish proves an effective exercise in showing the dangers of the Internet.
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Perfunctory, straight-to-DVD worthy animated movie that lacks shape and personality.  It kind of wants to be Happy Feet for wolves instead of penguins.  It's no Happy Feet.  Save this one for home viewing and then leave the room while your kid watches it.
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Solitary Man (***1/2)
More Michael Douglas - here, he gives another solid performance as Ben, a professional and personal screw-up who sleeps with his girlfriend's daughter while touring his alma mater with her.  Nothing extraordinary, just an insightful, well-acted character study about a deeply flawed guy.  That Douglas makes us empathize and care about Ben is a credit to the actor.

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