Confessions of a Shopaholic (3 out of 5 Swans): This owes its entertainment value to the outstanding acting by Isla Fisher (who sparkles), Hugh Dancy (who brings freshness and excitement to a role that could have been pretty bland), Krysten Ritter (who creates a bizarre character with aplomb), and the rest of the cast, many of whom I have admired in the past. First is Wendie Malick. I got to appreciate her in her scintillating role in “Dream On,” an inventive 1990-96 HBO sitcom. Then there’s Julie Hagerty, who stands out in my mind for her terrific performance in Albert Brooks’ brilliant “Lost in America” (1985). Both can still bring it. Everyone contributes to a surprisingly (at least for me) entertaining result.
Two Lovers (1 out of 5 Swans): Good performances by Isabella Rossellini, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, and even Joaquin Phoenix are pretty much wasted in this implausible, depressing film about a bipolar man and his relationships with two beautiful women, one a druggie, in which entertainment value was ignored by the makers. Never has a film flunked the watch test as badly as this one did. More scenes with Rossellini would have improved it. But watching a 120-minute film like this, even though Gwyneth does bare her breasts, makes each second seem like an hour.
New in Town (3 out of 5 Swans): Terrific supporting performances by Siobhan Fallon Hogan and J.K Simmons bolster fine performances by Renée Zellweger and Harry Connick, Jr. in this simple but feel-good film. Hogan and Simmons speak in accents that are enchantingly reminiscent of William H. Macy and Frances McDormand in “Fargo” (1996), making their scenes entrancing to watch.
He’s just not that in to you (3 out of 5 Swans for women; 1 out of 5 Swans for men): Since this is created by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, who wrote “Sex and the City,” it should come as no surprise that this is as chick-flicky as chick flicks come. The women, save one, are all wonderful, tender, thoughtful, and sensitive, while the men are wimpy or whipped or cruel, guys so stereotyped they would be comfortable in beer commercials. Peopled by an all-star, A-list ensemble cast, if these people are typical of today’s 20- and 30-year-olds, I’m glad I was born when I was. I doubt if I’m alone among men when I say I found the film annoying. Do these chick flicks really reflect the way today’s young women are? It’s a depressing thought.
The Pink Panther 2 (0 out of 5 Swans): Steve Martin is trying to revive the Peter Sellers/Inspector Clouseau franchise and his performances are simply unwatchable. Even though the Clouseau films, created by Blake Edwards, consisted mostly of relatively unfunny, unentertaining, bland spoofs, while Sellers played Clouseau as a bumbling fool who didn’t recognize his ineptitude, he was lovable. Martin’s take is to play him as an unlikable egomaniac. In effect, Martin is not playing Clouseau, he’s playing Sellers playing Clouseau and it is a dismal thing to watch. There is nothing remotely funny in this film. It’s not a coincidence that MGM and Columbia waited until the dead of winter to release this bomb.
Taken (5 out of 5 Swans): Wow! Director Pierre Morel delivers a non-stop, high octane thriller that never lets up. Liam Neeson’s 17-year-old daughter, (Maggie Grace) is kidnapped by some Albanian white slavers in Paris. Neeson is an unlikely action hero, and this adds to the mystique as he uses all the skills he has honed as a CIA operative to seek out and punish the bad guys as he tries to find Maggie. There are bodies all over the place. There’s not a lot of time spent in contemplation. Nor is there any hint of giving in to political correctness. The bad guys include Arab sheiks and Frenchies without scruple, and Liam uses everything at his disposal, including torture, to find his daughter in 93 minutes that fly by with heart-pounding speed.
Bride Wars (1 out of 5 Swans): This is an infantile chick flick about two vacuous women, best friends for life, who go to war because their weddings are scheduled at the same time, date, and place. If there is a more intellectually offensive movie made in 2009, I don’t want to see it.
Donkey Punch (5 out of 5 Swans): What happens when seven ordinary young people, inexperienced in the rough and tumble of life, are thrust into an extraordinary situation requiring life-altering decisions to be made in an extremely short period of time? That’s the dilemma faced by the seven young people in this exceptional film. As they try to deal with the problem, tension mounts and violence rears its ugly head. Acts that none of them would have thought themselves capable of suddenly become possible courses of action. Director Olly Blackburn shows a deft hand in spinning a spellbinding metaphor for what separates people from civilization and barbarity.
Paul Blart Mall Cop (3 out of 5 Swans): The first half hour fulfilled all my low expectations. Blart (Kevin James) is pictured as a pathetic loser who washed out of police school and ended up as a Mall Cop. Then a group of robbers takes over the Mall, and the movie quickly changes from a piteous, low-intellect attempt at humor to a light-hearted takeoff on Bruce Willis and the “Die Hard” movies as director Steve Carr keeps the pace up during the last hour.