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Movie critics: Our advice to friends when we're not on duty

In January, a time warp separates me from my friends and family. I’ve seen everything big now playing at the multiplex; sometimes I’ve seen a movie months ago, and sometimes twice. But everyone else who’s not in the same business as I am is just beginning to have access to those movies, many of which are just going wide now. So, my movie-loving friends and family ask me, “How’s It’s Complicated? What about The Hurt Locker? Have you seen Avatar?” A parent asks, “Can I take my daughter to Fantastic Mr. Fox?” My dentist asks, “What’s worth seeing?”

Thing is, at this time of the year, my own critical assessment has little to do with how I respond. Instead, I become a little bit of a matchmaker, a little bit of a shrink, and a little bit of a listings guide. I mean, I know the value of when to let go of my brilliant argument that Invictus is square and lazy filmmaking, and instead let the cousin who’s a big Matt Damon fan know that she’ll like him as a rugby player. I can talk until I swoon about how much I love The Hurt Locker, but I would never urge it on the friend who hates war pictures and flinches at all scenes of violence; for her, instead, I suggest It’s Complicated — a movie I know she’ll enjoy, much as I harrumphed at it in my review.

So as a service to moviegoing friends everywhere in these first days of the new year — and to my dentist, too — I offer Lisa’s Mild Guide to the Megaplex. And yes, by all means, take your daughter to Fantastic Mr. Fox — it’s great.

Avatar: Big! Blue! Looks great! Forget the script and story!

Crazy Heart: It’s all about Jeff Bridges. Nice music.

Invictus: Morgan Freeman and guys in sports shorts save South Africa!

The Lovely Bones: Have you read the book? Then definitely skip the movie. If not, well, it’s still meh.

Nine: A crazy dull mess. Oh, but you say you liked Chicago? Well, it’s still a crazy dull mess.

The Princess and the Frog: Love it.

A Single Man: Love it. It’s a about a gay man whose lover dies, by the way, whatever the posters suggest.

Up in the Air: Love it. Yes, George Clooney is good.

The Young Victoria: Nice.

The Last Station: Nice, especially for Mom.

Did You Hear About the Morgans?: Awful, especially for humans.

Want to add to my Mild Guide? Here’s your chance.

Image credit: Melinda Sue Gordon

Morgan Freeman: He makes any movie better, but in 'Invictus' he's finally a great actor again

Whenever you sit down to watch a movie, it’s always a welcome moment when the name Morgan Freeman appears in the opening credits. Whether he’s playing God in Bruce Almighty, a saintly janitor in Million Dollar Baby, or a judge, detective, mechanic, or prison inmate, you can rest assured that each and every moment Morgan Freeman is on-screen, the movie, even if it’s a dog, will snap to attention, and that Freeman, even in a nothing role, will take the lines he’s been asked to deliver and, through the sheer magnetism of his presence, turn them into something forceful and vibrant and compelling. Those eyes, so kind yet with a hint of deep, and even dark, knowledge, never fail to twinkle with merriness and sly perception, and that voice, of course, is pure music, so playful and resonantly wily — the sound of homespun American authority. I have no doubt that Morgan Freeman could literally read the phone book and make it come off as a work of art.

There’s another thing, though, that I feel compelled to say about Morgan Freeman: In virtually every one of those roles, he is more or less the same. The slightly rascally but deeply moral dominion of his presence clearly derives from something deep inside him, a wellspring of character that he brings to every film. It’s always welcome (he makes every movie better), but at this point it’s almost never revelatory. He surprises us in small ways, but never in big ways. READ FULL STORY

'Invictus' and songs in movies (that don't need songs)

It’s clear in every frame that Invictus is about Nelson Mandela’s strategy to use a national love of rugby in the service of national racial healing in post-Apartheid South Africa. But in case we miss the point, the South African vocal group Overtone sings the emotions we’re meant to feel, in a song called “Colorblind.” So welcome to the first in an occasional airing of one critic’s pet peeves: I hate songs in non-musical movies that tell us what we’re meant to feel! Especially in serious dramas! The minute the tunes come up, I think, “Uh oh, they couldn’t figure out how to get the action across in silence.” Sometimes, I even mentally strip the music out as I’m watching.

I mean, I’m not even crazy about including cool songs by bitchin’ indie bands, the kind incorporated into Up in the Air. And believe me, I love that movie.

See that picture above? That’s Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, riding his new-fangled bicycle to Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” Great song, great scene, great use of music because the music is the action. In a movie set on a rugby field, though, in the heat of competition, when Nelson Mandela himself has urged victory, don’t you think that’s enough inspiration?

Here’s where you tell me all the songs you do or don’t like in movies, and I hum along.

Image credit: Everett Collection

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