More recently-seen movies, and my thoughts on them. <VERY MINOR SPOILERS PERHAPS>
Julie and Julia: I saw this because of the rave reviews that Meryl Streep received. I predict that she will win her third Oscar for her funny, joyous portrayal of Julia Child. Amy Adams, as recent Queens transplant, foodie, and blogger Julie, was also good, but let's face it: she's no Meryl, and I think most moviegoers wanted less of Amy and more of Meryl (or at least more of Meryl). I also loved Jane Lynch in a too-small supporting role as Julia's larger-than-life sister. Solid support by Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina as the men in Julie and Julia's lives. The main problem with these kinds of movies, though, is that the two protagonists never meet. Anyone remember the Eddie Murphy-Dudley Moore dud "Best Defense?" B.
District 9: Take Independence Day, cross it with City of God, add a dash of Cloverfield (for the documentary-feel, liberal use of handheld cams, etc.) and throw in more f-bombs than all of Quentin Tarantino's movies put together, and you've got District 9, a funny and quite gory social commentary that moonlights as a sci-fi film. You won't recognize the director or any of the actors (though Peter Jackson produces), but you can be sure that you'll see more of them in the future. Of course, having recently traveled to Johannesburg and Soweto, where this was filmed, may bias my review a bit, but I really dug it. That's really all I can say - the movie's better if you don't know much about it beyond the "no humans allowed" tagline. A-
The Hurt Locker: Thanks to Critico's rave review and the fact that's been playing here in LA for what seems like forever, I finally checked this out, and was mostly pleased by what I saw. It's probably the best Iraq War movie out there, with great camerawork and editing, and one helluva lot of suspense. Nice work by Anthony Mackie as a burned-out Bravo Company soldier and by newcomer Jeremy Renner as his new sergeant, a real adrenaline junkie who has disarmed over 800 bombs (in the opening scene, his predecessor tries to do the same and isn't so lucky). Both Mackie's and Renner's characters are terrific soldiers - though very different and often butting heads. Kathryn Bigelow, who directed "Point Break," helmed The Hurt Locker and has once again proven that she is as adept as handling action scenes as, say, James Cameron (her ex-husband, incidentally). There are so many great, tense action scenes. Where THL suffers is during the non-combat scenes. Mackie and Renner's characters wrestle, share beers, and attempt to lock away their personal pains (hence the title, perhaps?), but it's been done better in other films. B.
Inglourious Basterds: In Tarantino's latest, the title characters, led by a mustachioed Brad Pitt as a Jewish-descended moonshine distiller-turned-WWII Nazi hunter, literally hunt, kill, and scalp Nazis, earning themselves quite a reputation as the "basterds." But for more than half the film, they take a backseat to two other storylines - one about a French Jew (the excellent Melanie Laurent) who witnessed her families execution by the very, very, very evil Col. Hans Landa and who vows revenge; and one about a German silver screen actress who secretly allies herself with the Brits as a spy. I've already said too much, but the results are funny, violent, and surprising, in the best Tarantino tradition. The writer-director's epic is, in several ways, his most mature, most brilliant work (though purists and WWII historians may wanna give this one a miss). A few missteps along the way (mostly that we really don't get that much time with any of the basterds except for Brad Pitt), but the best 2-and-1/2 hours I've spent at the movies since, probably, The Departed. My prediction: you'll find the first scene to be your favorite from the entire film. A-.
Rob Zombie's Halloween: the movie channels have been running this one a lot, prolly b/c Zombie's sequel is now playing in theaters. Well, I have NO DESIRE to see the sequel. Zombie's retelling of Halloween is awful, just awful. It certainly moves fast - and the body count is much higher than in the original - but its origin story that makes up the first 20 minutes of the film - really sucks. And the ending is different (not in a good way). And Malcolm McDowell's Dr. Loomis is so different - too different - from Donald Pleasance's. Oh, and Scout Taylor-Compton, who plays Laurie Strode this time out, is no Jamie Lee Curtis. I don't hate horror movies; I hate BAD horror movies. The only saving grace in this one: lots of nudity. D+.
Pineapple Express: Okay I'll say it: James Franco prolly should've gotten a Best Supporting Actor nomination last year - not for "Milk," but for Pineapple Express. As Saul, the perpetually-stoned dealer for Seth Rogen's process server, Franco steals his every scene. Also good is Danny McBride (from "Tropic Thunder and TV's "Eastbound and Down") as Saul's slightly-swishy provider. The story, in which Rogen's character witnesses a murder and then goes on the lam with Franco, is a comedic version of so many innocent man-on-the-lam-from-the-cops-and-crooks movies, and it mostly succeeds, except for a dragged out finale that has lots of tone-shifting action but little comedy. Really, why does everything with Rogen and Apatow go on for at least 15 minutes longer than it needs to? Seriously Judd, Seth: cut these off at the 100-minute mark. B-.