This week at the movies, we’ve got a combative computer (Tron Legacy, starring Jeff Bridges and Garrett Hedlund), buffoonish bears (Yogi Bear, starring Dan Akroyd and Justin Timberlake), a rollicking romance (How Do You Know, starring Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd), a promising pugilist (The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale), and brooding ballerinas (Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis). What do the critics have to say?
Upon its release in 1982, TRON was hailed as a technical marvel; its status as one of the first films to rely prominently on computer-generated images helped to cover the fact that the plot was a little goofy. Now, the long gestating and heavily-anticipated sequel Tron Legacy is here, and critics say it has the opposite problem: its dazzling visuals and stellar production design do a good job of distracting you from the fact that it’s a little too self-serious. Garrett Hedlund stars as a young techie on a mission to find out why his father (Jeff Bridges) disappeared; soon, he’s sucked into the same tech vortex that claimed his old man, and with the help of a cyber-warrior (Olivia Wilde), they must navigate the increasingly precarious digital terrain and defeat an updated version of dad’s old computer program. The pundits say Tron Legacy is the virtual definition of a feast for the eyes, with sleek visuals and a killer score from Daft Punk. However, others say that while the imagery is immersive, the movie’s a little too long and not always dramatically satisfying. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, which runs down some of the highlights of movie computing, as well as our interviews with stars Wilde and Michael Sheen and our list of the movie games we wish we could play.)
Hey, Boo-Boo! Did you hear there’s a new live action/CGI movie starring everyone’s favorite Jellystone Park-dwelling bruin? Well, there is, though critics say Yogi Bear is no pic-a-nic — indeed, its script isn’t as smart as your average family comedy, leaving its talented voice cast stranded. Yogi (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) is his usual mischievous self, stealing picnic lunches with the help of his faithful sidekick Boo-Boo (Justin Timberlake). However, the unusually intelligent ursine’s days may be numbered, as his beloved Jellystone may be up for sale to nefarious logging interests. The pundits say Yogi Bear is thoroughly mediocre, depending almost entirely on Yogi’s amiability and ancient plot devices to stretch the film to feature length.
Once upon a time, James L. Brooks was one of Hollywood’s most skilled purveyors of smart romantic comedies. He can still capture witty banter from time to time, but critics say How Do You Know plays like a sitcom, with its all-star cast reduced to contrived behavior. Reese Witherspoon stars as a star softball player who’s torn between two charming guys: a goofy, arrogant major leaguer (Owen Wilson) and a down-on-his-luck financial wiz (Paul Rudd) with a dictatorial father (Jack Nicholson). Which one will she choose? The pundits say it doesn’t much matter, since the characters are both paper-thin and hopelessly narcissistic, even as the actors work mightily to give them some charm.
If you’ve seen one boxing movie, you’ve seen them all, right? Maybe so, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing — at least according to critics — when it comes to David O. Russell’s The Fighter, a biopic about the rise of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his relationship with his troubled half-brother Dicky Ecklund (Christian Bale). When Dicky, an aspiring boxer, suffers a humiliating loss and falls into a life of drugs and crime, Micky dons his own pair of gloves and struggles to pull his family back together by becoming a winner himself. While the Certified Fresh The Fighter covers some familiar ground in the inspirational sports genre, critics are so far impressed by the performances not only from Wahlberg and Bale, but also from co-star Amy Adams, and the result has been some significant awards season buzz. (check out Amy Adams’s Five Favorite Films here).
Darren Aronofsky acquired an early following with films like Pi and Requiem for a Dream, but he made a mainstream name for himself with 2008’s The Wrestler. That trend looks to continue with the Certified Fresh Black Swan, a dark psychological drama set in the world of professional ballet. Natalie Portman stars as Nina, a gifted dancer who can’t quite pull off the Black Swan half of the lead role in Swan Lake and, in the face of competition from a new dancer (Mila Kunis), embarks on an ominous path of self-discovery. The critics have been impressed with Portman’s powerhouse performance and with Aronofsky’s work as director, and the result is an intense and passionate film that boldly showcases the talent of its actors.
Also opening this week in limited release:
Rabbit Hole, starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as a married couple dealing with profound loss, is at 81 percent (check out director John Cameron Mitchell’s Five Favorite Films here).
Alien Girl, an action movie set in post-Soviet Ukraine, is at 20 percent.