Home Viewing: In The Land of Blood and Honey

Bottom Line: Angelina Jolie’s directional debut is darkly ambitious and occasionally uneven, but shows promise.

The Gist: Just as a Muslim woman and a Serbian soldier begin to fall in love, war breaks out between their people in troubled Bosnia/Serbia in the 1990s. As the Serbian forces begin their campaign of “ethnic cleansing,” the soldier finds himself able to protect the woman he still desperately needs. But what is protection, what is love, what is exploitation, and can love even exist in such circumstances?

Our Take: Jolie was ambitious in the subject and filming of this movie, which is in Serbian with English subtitles. It’s a complex and dark story and she does well by not trying to simplify it. Her desire clearly is to explore what makes a decent person do horrible things and she nearly gets there. I was engrossed by the story and did not know where it was leading, which is a sign of good direction. That said, the violence, rape, and general evil are fairly graphically shown and wear one down.

Be Aware: Rated R for sexual scenes including rape, bloody violence, nudity, and language.

Home Viewing – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Bottom Line: This ambitious 9/11 story falls short of what it needed to be. Far short.

The Gist: Oscar was a troubled boy even before his father was killed in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. A year later, he finds a key he believes his father left him. Starting out on a quest to solve the apparent mystery, Oscar travels the six (yes, six) buroughs of New York City, meeting others whose lives have been changed by the attacks and by, well, life.

The Verdict: Skip it. Although there are undeniably moving scenes, the movie fails in two major respects. First, Oscar is so annoying that it becomes hard to sympathize with him. He travels New York on his own and parents waver between the fear something bad will happen to him and the desire to send him for a long time out. Secondly, the film refuses to address the issue of evil in and around the attacks, preferring to make some sort of wounded World War II warrior parallel and press the point that war dehumanizes people. It’s a soft, feel-good attempt to account for actions that can only be explained by evil and feels incredibly false and extremely unsatisfying. Read our full review.

Be Aware: Rated PG-13 for thematic darkness, some disturbing images (of people falling off the twin towers and such things) and some language.

DVD Release: The Muppets

Bottom Line: The Muppets was one of the best movies of 2011. Not just kids’ movies. One of the best overall movies.

The Gist: Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, and the gang have scattered to the four winds. Can a young muppet and his goofy brother get them all back together for one, last show to save the old theater? Why yes, yes he can. Read our full review.

The Verdict: Nostalgic, but with enough of an update to make it feel fresh, this movie is pure family fun on one level and, on another, an argument against cynicism and for hope.

Be Aware: Rated PG for some mild rude humor (I think it was the fart shoes).

DVD Release: The Adventures of Tintin

Bottom Line: A faithful and delightful adaptation of the Tintin graphic novels to enjoy with the kiddos.

The Gist: Tintin is an intrepid reporter with a knack for getting into trouble. With his dog Snowy, he goes on an adventure to solve the mystery of a missing model ship. Meanwhile, some bumbling detectives are on the trail of a pickpocket and Captn Haddock can’t seem to stay away from the hooch. Read our full review.

The Verdict: Watch it. With lots of exciting action and some pretty cool motion capture animation, this movie entertains.

Be Aware: Rated PG for some mild peril, smoking, and humorous drunkenness. The characters are based on the original from the novels, in which Captn Haddock is frequently three sheets to the wind.

DVD Release: Happy Feet Two

Bottom Line: The music is great and the animation occasionally breathtaking, but the story is M.I.A., which makes it a decent, not great, movie to enjoy with the whole family.

The Gist: Mumble the penguin is all grown up, mostly. He and Gloria have a little hatchling named Eric, who, like his father, can’t seem to find his special voice or special dance. When shifting ice trap the penguin colony in a chasm, it’s up to Eric, Mumble, and a few friends to rescue their flock. Read our full review.

The Verdict: Watch it. This movie isn’t great, but it’s still a good time with the family. Everyone will enjoy the toe tapping music.

Be Aware: Rated PG for some rude humor and mild peril, this flick is fine for all but the most sensitive children.

DVD Release: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Bottom Line: Murky in its plot and conflicting loyalties, it is either delightfully ambiguous or downright confusing.

The Gist: In the London of the Cold War, spies work to fight the Soviet Union. But when there’s a mole within their own ranks, Smiley (Gary Oldman) must ferret out which of his dear companions betrayed them all. Read our full review.

The Verdict: If you like spy drama, watch it. The characters and acting are amazing. I’m still not sure exactly what happened, but am also not sure I care. Perhaps that’s what they want me to think.

Be Aware: Rated R for violence, some sexuality and nudity, and language. Felt fairly mild to me.

DVD Release: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Bottom Line: A relentless and harsh look at brutal evil and strength to fight it, wrapped in a savage murder mystery. Well done if you can stand the darkness.

The Gist: When a journalist starts to investigate a decades old disappearance, and the wealthy family involved, he enlists the help of Lisbeth Salander. She’s a hardcore hacker, a vigilante for justice, perhaps mentally unstable. Together, they fight the evil and violence that is all to prevalent among human beings.

The Verdict: This movie is graphically violent, and that’s one of its points. In a world where evil is so very prevalent and redemption is a foreign concept, those who would stop the victimization of of others must be brutal. It’s a richly drawn and well-made portrait of post Christian philosophy. Read our full review.

Be Aware: Rated R, hard R, for graphic violence, graphic sexuality (both rape and consensual), language, and the works! Not for teens or, obviously, children.

DVD Release – Melancholia

Bottom Line: Beautiful, epic, and relentless in its worldview, Melancholia is the logical and depressing end point of a philosophy that believes humanity is just a sad accident of the universe.

The Gist: Presented in two acts. The first shows Justine (Kirsten Dunst) trying and failing to care about her wedding. Pitch-black humor and wicked characterizations of people back up her suspicion that nothing matters and humanity is evil. The second act takes place as the Earth watches a giant planet that may or may not be on a collision course with our planet, one that would wipe out all life.

The only rational person in the movie is Justine, who knows and accepts that life is meaningless and the universe empty. The end of human existence for her is a consummation greatly to be desired.

Two points betray inherent contradiction in the film:  One, Justine is heroic and kind in her desire to spare her nephew fear as the world ends. So something does matter. One thing matters, him not feeling fear. The premise of the movie is nothing matters, but he matters very much, so there’s some contradiction there.

Secondly, Justine believes humankind to be completely evil (in line with the total depravity of man that Calvin taught, but I digress). Evil is a term and concept with meaning. If there is such thing as evil, then there must be something being violated. Evil matters. Evil cannot exist without some sort of existence of good.

MELANCHOLIA is the opposite side but the same coin as TREE OF LIFE. both look at the same cosmos, both deal with large themes and ideas, but reach inherently opposite conclusions.

The Verdict: Watch it. It’s artsy and mind-blowing and depressing, but it’s excellently made and it’s about ideas, which is more than we can say about “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.”

Be Aware: Rated R for graphic (but artsy) nudity, language, and sexual content. A grown-up movie for adults.

DVD Release – The Descendants

Bottom Line: Incredibly acted, achingly honest, and brutally sad, this Best Picture contender will make you tear up.

The Gist: George Clooney is Matt King, the head of an extended wealthy Hawaiian family who must decide what to do with the last land tract that has not been developed. As business swirls through his head, he keeps vigil at the bedside of his comatose wife. When the doctors tell him there’s no hope, he must gather his daughters, one a troubled teen and the other an innocent gradschooler, and prepare them. But is he prepared for what he learns about his wife? Can anyone be?

The Verdict: Watch it, with caveats. This movie struck me as incredibly sad. The storyline involves dealing with the death of someone you love intermingled with anger and betrayal. It’s well done, but very heavy. Make sure you have tissues ready. It isn’t a tearjerker in the sense of being manipulatively sentimental, but it is in the sense of being a profound and painful passage so many go through.

Be Aware: Rated R for language, including some sexual references. No violence or sexuality, but quite a bit of discussion about sexuality.

DVD Release: Immortals

Bottom Line: A stylistic but confusing mess, this movie is no fun and won’t even help you write you Greek mythology midterm paper.

The Gist: Theseus fights the evil King Hyperion while the gods of Olympus gear up for war against the Titans, should they be released by Hyperion. Got that? Plus, a second-sighted oracle tells Theseus his future and hopes to be part of it.

The Verdict: Skip it. The complex Greek legends don’t get any favors from this movie that adds extra confusion to its storyline. The heavily stylized images are at times beautiful and at times laughable, as when the oracles, for reasons unknown, insist on wearing lampshades from Bed Bath and Beyond on their heads. Was there Bed Bath and Beyond in ancient Greece? No? I didn’t think so. Plus, the movie is at times very cool in its fighting and effects, but at other times painfully and unnecessarily gory and violent. Read our full review.

Be Aware: Rated R for strong, bloody violence and a scene of sexuality.