Every holiday season, I see so many movies in such a short period of time that it's hard to keep up with the reviews, and really, at this point, my focus starts to shift to best of/worst of the year lists. So, I'll keep things brief for now - just give you the skinny on all the holiday releases so you'll know which ones to see and which ones to avoid. As is so popular in Hollywood these days, I'm going to split this post into two parts. Part 1 will cover My Week with Marilyn, Young Adult, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy, and Alvin & The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. Part II will be posted later this week and will cover: The Artist, The Adventures of Tintin, War Horse, Sherlock Holmes 2, and We Bought a Zoo. Then, next weekend, I'll post my Best Of/Worst Of 2011. Here we go, in order of quality:
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Though the Swedish films were only released about a year or two ago, David Fincher's version of Stieg Larsson's best-selling book is the only one that really matters. While the prior film versions were wonderfully acted, they had the production quality of a TV movie. Not so with Fincher. His Dragon Tattoo is cold and crisp, gorgeously photographed, and though it runs over 2.5 hours, it never fails to engage the viewer. It moves at a clip, always moving, always searching for the next clue, which is befitting given its two protagonists. Daniel Craig is spot-on as disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist, but Rooney Mara owns the show as Lisbeth Salander. It's an awesome, iconic role, and Mara does it justice. She is riveting in every scene. This may be billed as the "feel bad movie of Christmas" but you'll definitely feel good after seeing it. Rating: **** out of 5 stars.
Charlize Theron gives, for my money, the best performance by an actress this year in Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman's pitch black comedy. To their credit, Young Adult bears no real resemblance to their last collaboration, Juno. It's painfully funny in parts, and reminded me a lot of the cringe-y humor of Election. Patton Oswalt makes a credible bid for best supporting actor as Theron's former schoolmate, a victim of a violent "hate crime"-type of beating. Oswalt is the heart of the movie and his interactions with Theron give it real emotional heft. For about an hour, Young Adult is as good as it gets, but it has a rushed final act that proves unsatisfying. Still, Cody's screenplay is honest and funny, and Theron is the perfect choice to play this character. Rating: ***1/2 out of 5 stars.
MY WEEK WITH MARILYN
Nothing all that surprising happens in My Week with Marilyn, the story of a young production assistant's (Eddie Redmayne) week-long crush on Marilyn Monroe during the filming of Laurence Olivier's The Prince and the Showgirl. Michelle Williams captivates as Monroe, especially in early scenes on the film set where Monroe acts like a deer in headlights when it comes time to act. Ultimately though, Williams is forced by the script to play the troubled, pill-popping, emotionally unstable version of Monroe and it's at that point when the movie becomes something we've all seen before. I liked Williams here, but I liked Kenneth Branagh (as Olivier) even more. He dominates most of the first half of the film - the interesting half - but then he's tossed to the side so we can see more of Marilyn whining in bed. A decent effort - not a bad rental. Rating: *** out of 5 stars.
TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
I'm all for a slow burn, but this is ridiculous. Billed as a "spy thriller," Tinker Tailor can't muster the energy to produce one single, legitimate thrill. The closest it comes is the scene where Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC's Sherlock) steals a file folder from an office while others look at him. Most critics will label this as intelligent and a real "puzzler", but don't listen to them. Tinker Tailor is subtle to the point of snoozing. There is no build, no tension. It is dramatically inert from start to finish. For a while, I gave it the benefit of the doubt - that whole "slow burn" thing and all - but it never paid off. The movie is well-acted, and director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) is obviously talented, but Tinker Tailor really tried my patience. Whatever interest you may have in whether a Soviet agent has infiltrated the ranks of MI6 agents is gone by the time the credits finally roll. Or Maybe I'm just spoiled by the non-stop action and brisk pacing of M:I-4. Now, M:I-4 - that's a spy thriller. Rating: ** out of 5 stars.
ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED
The movie equivalent of Chinese water torture. Say what you will about the first two Chipmunk movies, but at least they were mildly tolerable. This is proof that the creativity well has run dry with these Chipmunks and Fox should probably call it quits at three movies. Remember when David Cross was Tobias Funke? Here, he's stuck in a raggedy old pelican costume - the entire movie! The Chipmunks cover Lady Gaga (twice), Pink, and other assorted pop hits. My 3 year-old son seemed to enjoy it though, and it runs under 90 minutes so you basically get in and get out. But you don't get out without some permanent scarring. Rating: * out of 5 stars.