Sunday, January 31, 2010

Winter 2010 Movie Preview (Part II)

Movie releases in February are typically a mixed lot, as big hits rarely emerge from the month. But the quality of this year’s offerings for the month (at least at first glance) appears promising.

“From Paris with Love”
Starring John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak, Richard Durden
Directed by Pierre Morel

After the critically-panned “Old Dogs” limped into theaters late last year, it’s good to see Travolta back doing something with at least some edge – and sporting a new look, to boot. He’s sans hair in this action pic from the director of “Taken,” playing an aggressive FBI agent on the hunt for terrorists in Paris. “Taken” was a surprise hit last year, and some of the same elements that made that film successful seem to be in place here. (Feb. 5)
Official Web site

“The Wolfman”
Starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving
Directed by Joe Johnston

The 1941 horror classic gets a remake, retaining a similar storyline of a man (Del Toro) reuniting with his estranged father (Hopkins) in England following the disappearance of his brother. A vicious creature is discovered to be behind the deaths of a number of villagers and a Scotland Yard detective (Weaving) arrives to investigate. Despite having its release date moved around several times, Universal has been aggressively marketing the film in recent weeks. (Feb. 12)
Official Web site

“Valentine’s Day”
Starring Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Patrick Dempsey, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Ashton Kutcher, Julia Roberts, Taylor Swift
Directed by Garry Marshall

An all-star cast assembles for a comedy looking at relationships and love for a group of people in Los Angeles. With such a gigantic cast fighting for screen time, it’ll be interesting to see how director Marshall (“Pretty Woman”) can juggle the multiple story arcs. This would seem to be this year’s “He Just Not That Into You,” which also featured a relatively young and attractive cast dealing with love. (Feb. 12)
Official Web site

“Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”
Starring Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Jake Abel, Rosario Dawson, Steve Coogan, Uma Thurman
Directed by Chris Columbus

Based on the popular book by Rick Riordan, “Percy Jackson” involves a teenager (Lerman) finding out that the gods of Mount Olympus truly exist and are now a very real part of his life. They battle over Zeus’ missing lightning bolt, while Percy looks to find his missing mother. Columbus has generated big hits from youth-oriented material before (the first two “Harry Potter” movies, “Home Alone”), so this potential film franchise might be in trustworthy hands. (Feb. 12)
Official Web site

“Shutter Island”
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson and Max Van Sydow
Directed by Martin Scorsese

This thriller was bumped from its fall release date, presumably because of the lack of availability of DiCaprio to do publicity for it. It would be hard to imagine the studio feels they have a bomb on their hand. It can’t be with these stars and a director who is among the most consistently good in Hollywood. DiCaprio (in his fourth film with Scorsese) and Ruffalo are federal marshals who visit a mental institution to investigate the mysterious disappearance of one of the residents. (Feb. 19)
Official Web site

“Cop Out”
Starring Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Adam Brody, Kevin Pollak, Guillermo Diaz and Seann William Scott
Directed by Kevin Smith

For the first time in his career, Smith is directing a script that he didn’t write. This is the tried and true (some would say tired) buddy cop genre at work here, with Willis and Morgan (“30 Rock”) as the mismatched partners on the beat. Based on his background, it would stand to reason that Smith won’t be making the standard issue cop movie. Still, the trailer isn’t an instant confidence booster. (Feb. 26)
Official Web site

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What's New in Blu? (Week of Jan. 26)

Here’s a look at some of the Blu-ray releases coming for the week of Jan. 26.
“Atonement” (R)
Starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Romala Garai, Saoirse Ronan and Vanessa Redgrave
Directed by Joe Wright

“Fame” (R)
Starring Irene Cara, Eddie Barth, Lee Curreri, Laura Dean, Paul McCrane, Barry Miller, Gene Anthony Ray
Directed by Alan Parker

“Michael Jackson’s This Is It” (PG)
Directed by Kenny Ortega

“Paris, Texas” (R)
Starring Harry Dean Stanton, Natassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell, Aurore Clement, Hunter Carson
Directed by Wim Wenders

“Pride and Prejudice” (PG)
Starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfayden, Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland, Jena Malone, Judi Dench
Directed by Joe Wright

“Saw VI” (R)
Starring Costas Mandylor, Shawnee Smith, Tobin Bell, Betsy Russell
Directed by Kevin Greutert

“Soul Power” (PG-13)
Directed by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte

“Surrogates” (PG-13)
Starring Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, James Francis Ginty, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames
Directed by Jonathan Mostow

“Whip It” (PG-13)
Starring Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Daniel Stern
Directed by Drew Barrymore

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What's New in Blu? (Week of Jan. 19)

Here’s a look at some of the Blu-ray releases coming for the week of Jan. 19.

“Magnolia” (R)
Starring Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Robards, Melora Walters
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Assembling yet another great ensemble cast, many of whom are familiar from “Boogie Nights,” Paul Thomas Anderson has weaved a tapestry of stories about a very busy and very stressful day in the life of a group of Los Angeles residents. There’s some levity to be found in the movie here and there, but many of the stories take on a darker edge, with some great acting on display. There’s a reason why Anderson attracts so many standout actors to his material, as he writes some great dialogue. This marks Cruise’s best performance, having garnered an Oscar nomination as the slick and smug Frank T.J. Mackey.
Grade: A-

“Smokin’ Aces” (R)
Starring Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds
Directed by Joe Carnahan

After having displayed some true talent with the gritty cop drama, “Narc,” wrter-director Joe Carnahan takes a little bit of a step backwards with the loud, violent and over-the-top action flick, “Smokin’ Aces.” Granted, the majority of the chaos in the film was likely scripted, as a group of assassins converge on a Lake Tahoe hotel, attempting to collect on a $1 million contract put out on a mob informant (Piven). Three’s some fun to be had here, as the action moves swiftly, but most of the characters in the film feel just like that – characters, not real people.
Grade: C+

Other releases:
“Che” (R)
Starring Benicio Del Toro, Benjamin Bratt, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Franka Potente
Directed by Stephen Soderbergh

“Gamer” (R)
Starring Gerard Butler, Amber Valetta, Michael C. Hall, Logan Lerman and Kyra Sedgwick
Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor

“The Invention of Lying” (PG-13)
Starring Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Rob Lowe and Tina Fey
Directed by Ricky Gervais and Matt Robinson

“Pandorum” (R)
Starring Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet, Antje Traue, Cung Le, Eddie Rouse
Directed by Christian Alvart

“Weeds: Season Five”
Starring Mary-Louise Parker, Elizabeth Perkins, Justin Kirk, Hunter Parrish, Alexander Gould and Kevin Nealon

“Whiteout” (R)
Starring Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Columbus Short and Tom Skerritt
Directed by Dominic Sena

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What's New in Blu? (Week of Jan. 12)

As movie studios are seeing an increase in consumers of Blu-ray, the available titles on the format should continue to grow considerably in 2010. But as for reasonable prices on said available titles ... well, that’s a discussion for another time. At any rate, here’s a look at some of the releases that have rolled out the week of Jan. 12.

"Moon" (R)
Starring Sam Rockwell, Dominique McElligott, Rosie Shaw, Benedict Wong and Kevin Spacey
Directed by Duncan Jones

This sci-fi film has drawn comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s classic “2001.” But while “Moon” doesn’t reach those heights, it is a quite effective psychological drama on the effects of isolation in outer space. Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell in a great, versatile performance) works for a large corporation, mining an energy source on the surface of the moon. Working with just a computer named Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey) to keep him company, Sam’s becoming a little stir crazy as his three-year contract is coming to an end. Then, after crashing his lunar rover, things get strange for Sam. To say more would spoil some of the interesting plot developments of this impressive debut from co-writer and director Duncan Jones (son of rock star David Bowie). This is one of those small budget films worth seeking out.
Grade: B+

“Cliffhanger” (R)
Starring Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner, Rex Linn, Caroline Goodall
Directed by Renny Harlin

A pair of mountain climbers (Stallone and Rooker) are forced at gunpoint by thieves to use their skills to find suitcases filled with $100 million lost in the Colorado Rockies. Director Renny Harlin has experience with this kind of film (“Die Hard 2: Die Harder”), so the action sequences are well-executed and exciting to watch. And the actors, particularly Stallone, were put through their paces in filming the action. But the script is certainly intellectually lacking for stretches, with little suspense in the eventual outcome. Still, as far as Stallone action films, you could certainly do worse.
Grade: B

Other releases:
“8 1/2” (NR)
Starring Marcello Mastrioanni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée
Directed by Federico Fellini

“The Burning Plain” (R)
Starring Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger, Jennifer Lawrence, Joaquim de Almeida, John Corbett
Directed by Guillermo Arriaga

“Fame” (PG)
Starring Thomas Dekker, Kay Panabaker, Kristy Flores, Paul Iacono, Debbie Allen, Charles S. Dutton, Kelsey Grammer, Bebe Neuwirth, Megan Mullally
Directed by Kevin Tancharoen

“Halloween II” (R)
Starring Tyler Mane, Sheri Moon Zombie, Chase Vanek, Scout Taylor-Compton, Brad Dourif, Malcolm McDowell
Directed by Rob Zombie

“The Hurt Locker” (R)
Starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce, Brian Geraghty, David Morse, Christian Camargo, Evangeline Lilly
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

“I Can Do Bad All By Myself” (R)
Starring Taraji P. Henson, Adam Rodriguez, Brian White, Mary J. Blige, Gladys Knight, Pastor Marvin Winans and Tyler Perry
Directed by Tyler Perry

“In the Loop” (NR)
Starring Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, James Gandolfini
Directed by Armando Iannucci

“Last Action Hero” (PG-13)
Starring Arnold Schwartzenegger, F. Murray Abraham, Charles Dance, Tom Noonan, Austin O'Brien, Art Carney
Directed by John McTiernan

“Post Grad” (PG-13)
Starring Alexis Bledel, Zach Gilford, Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch, Carol Burnett, Rodrigo Santoro
Directed by Vicky Jenson

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Best Films of the Decade

Well, as it’s now 2010, I’m sure you’ve been eagerly anticipating another in a long line of lists dedicated to the best of the decade. You might have run across one in print or on TV sometime over the past few weeks.

But I’ll spare you from ranking this following list of cinema standouts between 2000-09. Frankly, it’s kind of arbitrary when it comes to determining which one’s worthy of sixth place vs. seventh place. Plus, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know if I could accurately rank them. Heck, I couldn’t even filter my list down to 10 (this one’s 21, folks). Why 21, you ask? Well, evidently, I can't count. (Yeah, that's right. By the time I finished this behemoth, I realized I had 21, not 20. So consider this a bonus gift from me to you. You're welcome.)

Now, keep in mind, this isn’t any definitive compilation of all of the superior films over the past 10 years. I’m sure I haven’t seen every film that would deserve consideration for the list. So, if you see one of your favorites missing from the 20 on my chart, I simply might not have seen it or else it just didn’t quite make it into this illustrious field of cinematic greatness.

With that said, here’s the 20 (in alphabetical order) I believe merited this prestigious honor. Hold your applause until the end.

“Almost Famous”
Now, in fairness, the only version I’ve seen of this movie is the director’s cut DVD, which went by “Untitled,” the original name that writer-director Cameron Crowe wanted. It’s a longer version by about 36 minutes, and is pretty spectacular. Crowe always makes great use of music in his films, and centering it in the music scene of the 1970s was right in his comfort zone. After all, Crowe was writing about real bands for Rolling Stone during the period, much like the central character, teenager William Miller (Patrick Fugit). So, you know there’s some autobiographical stuff in here.

And what a cast on hand for the proceedings: Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Zooey Deschanel and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I could go on, but you get the point.

Now if Crowe would only make movies a little more frequently ... (I mean, three in a decade?! Come on!)

Clearly, America didn’t know what to expect when Sacha Baron Cohen’s creation took to the big screen in this surprisingly successful 2006 comedy. Having originated from his “Da Ali G Show” on HBO, it certainly pushes the envelope in good taste. But his intrepid reporter from Kazakhstan is generally so good natured in his putdowns or cultural misunderstandings, it’s a little easier to not take offense. Of course, try telling that to the Kazakhs.

The film is consistently funny throughout, with Cohen disappearing into his role so fully, you forget you’re watching an actor at work. The story, such as it is, is really secondary to the interactions that Borat has with an unsuspecting public. Their reactions to him are priceless. How he was able to remain in character without cracking up (which continued all the way through the promotion campaign of the film), I’ll never know.

“Capturing the Friedmans”
With the original intent of being a short film about a children’s entertainer, director Andrew Jarecki fell into much more compelling and disturbing subject matter when his research into the family discovered convictions of child sexual abuse. A 1980s investigation and subsequent court case would center on Arnold Friedman and his son, Jesse, on child molestation charges.

What makes this story really stand out is the director’s access to the family, who are featured prominently in home videos that they themselves shot. Some of the videos were filmed during the preparation for trial and while it was in progress. It provides some exceptional insight into the emotional trauma this family was going through at the time, while maintaining a largely objective view on the guilt or innocence of the accused.

“City of God”
With the Olympics coming to Brazil in 2016, it’s safe to say this movie won’t be promoted by the country’s board of tourism, as it tells a tale of crime and poverty in a particularly violent suburb over parts of three decades. Adapted from a novel by Paulo Lins, director Fernando Meirelles’ crime drama pulsates with energy and eye-catching visuals.

It features a cast mostly made up of local Brazilians, some from the very neighborhoods where the filming takes place. It could be seen, in part, as a Brazilian version of “Goodfellas.” But the locale itself differentiates it from that Oscar-winner, making it a rare glimpse into making tough life choices when the options and opportunities are scarce.

“The Dark Knight”
Pulling off the rare feat of a sequel that surpasses the film it follows, “The Dark Knight” is able to step away from the origin story and character introductions to become what may well may be the best movie of all time based on a comic book. Featuring a top-notch cast, including a seamless recasting move (Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes), the story is fast-paced, yet doesn’t skimp much on character development – a rarity for summer movies.

While Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader gets some moments to shine, the movie is at its best when Oscar-winner Heath Ledger is on screen. His portrayal of the Joker is one of the all-time great villain performances. This is a film franchise that is thrillingly alive after seemingly facing death a mere decade ago.

“Deliver Us from Evil”
With so many reports in recent years about sexual abuse of children involving priests, it would seem only a matter of time before a filmmaker would document the taboo topic. Thankfully, director Amy Berg handles the weighty subject matter with a deft touch, largely focusing the spotlight on one Catholic priest, Oliver O’Grady, who committed sexual abuse against more than 20 children between the mid-1970s and early 1990s.

The Irish priest, who was deported back to his native Ireland after serving seven years in prison, is remarkably candid about some of his past transgressions, sometimes to chilling effect. The documentary also includes some staggering videotaped depositions involving others in the hierarchy of the church who were knowledgeable about abuse allegations, yet chose to essentially sweep it under the rug.

Through Berg’s interviews with a few of the victims and their families, you’re left with the feeling that some wounds will never truly heal. And as a result of what has happened, a sense of betrayal from the institution they should be able to trust the most permeates their lives. “Deliver Us From Evil” will (and should) leave you angry and disturbed.

“House of Flying Daggers”
A true feast for the eyes, director Yimou Zhang’s film makes great use of costumes, cinematography and set design to craft a martial arts epic that also doubles as a very effective romance.

The story, which centers around a rebel faction operating in the declining days of the Tang Dynasty in 859 AD, involves a romantic triangle between a blind dancer and two police captains. Sometimes the story seems to be at the service of the visuals, but when the look of a film is as spectacular as this, you can hardly mind.

“The Incredibles”
With the veritable glut of superheroes movies released over the past decade, the folks at Pixar also got into the act in 2004, creating “The Incredibles,” a fast-paced and highly entertaining animated adventure.

By this point, Pixar had already established itself as an animation powerhouse, and this film, written and directed by Brad Bird, might just be its most fun offering. Lots of humor and action is interjected throughout, serving up a winning mix for both children and adults alike.

“Inglourious Basterds”
Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist and fictional World War II-era film is a bloody good time that is right up among the director’s best. As with pretty much all of his movies, Tarantino receives little studio interference, allowing him to cast and film his script as he sees fit. Of course, having a big movie star such as Brad Pitt heading up your cast can’t hurt the bottom line.

As Lt. Aldo Raine, a gruff, take-no-prisoners leader, Pitt has some quite funny moments heading up a highly motivated band of Jewish-American soldiers. Still, he and most of the cast take a back seat to the stellar work on display by Christoph Waltz, playing a supremely confident Nazi colonel with a bit of a mean streak. The film is thrillingly alive whenever he’s on screen, building to a memorable showdown among many of the characters at a Parisian movie theater.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”
The middle chapter of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is able to move past some of the protracted exposition of the first film, with the quest to destroy the ring fully engaged. By now, most of the characters have been established, allowing the actors and director Peter Jackson to build on the solid foundation set before them.

Picking the best of what was a wonderfully realized trilogy might seem a bit arbitrary, and the more obvious choice would be to go with “Return of the King,” as it won the Best Picture Oscar. But “The Two Towers” was a slight standout over the other films, deepening the drama, and fully revealing the fantastic CGI creation of Gollum. The character, as fully realized in motion capture and voice of Andy Serkis, felt as real as any actor on the screen, giving the story an obsessed and tragic figure to showcase.

“Maria Full of Grace”
This harrowing tale of a pregnant Colombian teenager becoming a drug mule out of pure desperation is a triumph not only for writer-director Joshua Marston, but for star Catalino Sandino Moreno, who was nominated for an Academy Award in her film debut.

Marston generally lets the power of the material speak for itself, rather than using flashy visuals or action sequences to pick up the pace. It’s a straightforward story that isn’t based on any particular true story per se, but its gritty realism certainly makes it feel like it is.

A thriller with more twists than a pretzel, “Memento” isn’t one of those movies with an ending that pulls the rug out from under you. It openly does that from the first scene, keeping viewers mentally engaged as they try to decipher the investigation that Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) conducts.

The film, written by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, puts you in Leonard’s head – a scary place to be, as he suffers from short-term memory loss. Like him, you’re unsure of what the truth is and what people’s true motivations are. Few movies engage the mind as fully as this one does, with a narrative structure that makes pretty much everything open for interpretation.

Offering various moments of pensive examination into the worth of retribution as well as the violence associated with its pursuit, "Munich" is a brutal, yet conscientious movie. Director Steven Spielberg dramatizes the events involving the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich and the violent response from Israel.

Spielberg doesn't aim for the film to choose sides in the conflict. But it does effectively question the worthiness of revenge. Is killing people responsible for terrorism, as Israel chooses to do in this film, a morally acceptable response? "Munich" works not only as a strong historical drama, but an effective and tightly wound thriller.

Winning the Grand Jury prize at the Cannes film festival in 2004, “Oldboy” is the kind of film you can’t easily forget. In what had to be a grueling experience, Choi Min-sik delivers a powerful performance as a man hellbent on revenge after 15 years of captivity for reasons unknown. His character undergoes emotional and physical exhaustion in his unwavering obsession to discover who decided to ruin his life and why.

Director Park Chan-wook shows a real eye for striking visuals with a story mixing violence, sex and humor into a concoction that shows the true toll that vengeance can take on all parties involved. Undoubtedly, the film has got aspects that are sure to be polarizing to audiences (those with sensitive stomachs need not apply). But for those willing to press on through its tough to watch sequences might just discover a film that actually has an emotional payoff. True, its conclusion is a bit drawn out, but it most certainly packs a wallop. That’s more than can be said for many of the more predictable denouements to American movies nowadays.

“Pan’s Labyrinth”
Fantasy and brutal realities of war come crashing together to amazing effect in “Pan’s Labyrinth,” easily one of the most visually creative movies to come along in years. However, the story doesn’t take a back seat to the special effects, as some big-budgeted Hollywood releases tend to do. The screenplay by Guillermo del Toro (who also directed) is endlessly inventive, but doesn’t pull punches. The central character is a young girl, who falls into mortal danger at times in the film, which takes place in 1944 war-torn Spain.

While the film’s great success hasn’t really done much to vault the cast into American consciousness, del Toro has benefitted greatly, having landed writing and directing duties for the highly anticipated “The Hobbit.”

“Requiem for a Dream”
With only one film under his belt at the time, it was hard to predict that director Darren Aronofsky would produce such a devastating piece of cinema as he did with “Requiem for a Dream,” the adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.’s book. Few, if any movies have done such a sensational job of depicting the vice-like grip that drug addiction can have on people.

While some movies depict drug use as hip and trendy, “Requiem” goes in quite the opposite direction, showing how the lives of seemingly decent people can be completely unraveled by their poor choices. Credit has to also go to stars Jared Leto, Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans for their fearless performances in this memorable, yet difficult-to-watch drama.

“The Royal Tenenbaums”
After hitting comedy gold in 1999 with the great “Rushmore,” writer-director Wes Anderson had to have found himself in casting heaven when he got such a stellar collection of actors on board for his follow-up, “The Royal Tenenbaums.” A truly dysfunctional family comes back together to live under the same roof when their self-absorbed father (Gene Hackman) comes back into their lives.

There’s laughs aplenty in the well-written screenplay by Anderson and Owen Wilson (who co-stars). But there’s also some poignancy about the importance of family and desire to right wrongs of the past. Hackman as the self-absorbed patriarch of the family delivers one of his best performances of his illustrious career.

“There Will Be Blood”
Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie about an obsessed oil prospector is of a truly singular (and sensational) vision. It’s a bleak, yet undeniably fascinating character study of a man’s pursuit for fame and fortune – at any cost. With his portrayal of Daniel Plainview, Daniel Day-Lewis has crafted an indelible performance that can be paired with Charlize Theron’s work in “Monster” as the decade’s best.

“There Will Be Blood” certainly doesn’t toe the line with convention (witness the opening portion, which features no dialogue and only Jonny Greenwood’s haunting and mesmerizing musical score as accompaniment). That can make the film a bit polarizing for audiences. But the audacity and meticulous craftsmanship of Anderson makes him one to watch every time he steps behind the camera.

The latest offering from Pixar is another standout and its most poignant to date, focusing on 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner), who decides to fulfill a lifelong ambition to travel to South America. Being a longtime balloon salesman, he decides to go there in an unconventional fashion, by tying thousands of balloons to his house. In the process, Carl finds an 8-year-old stowaway named Russell, a plucky, young wilderness explorer who helps him rediscover his heart.

Few live-action movies center around senior citizens, so for an animated film to do so is a real rarity. But the combination of the older Carl with the younger Russell is a winning one, and while the film becomes a little more conventional in its second half, its execution is spot-on throughout. One would assume Pixar will eventually make a bad movie, but it sure wasn’t going to happen this time out.

In its most ambitious film to date, Pixar centered a story around a hardworking, yet lonely robot, who finds love in the unlikeliest of places. “WALL-E” is a triumph of sight and sound, with the story going without dialogue for long stretches of time.

The filmmakers obviously had faith that audiences would respond to the storytelling risk, and the fact that you get invested in the fates of a pair of robots is a real testament to the work of director Andrew Stanton and the sound design team led by Oscar-winner Ben Burtt.

Serial killer movies have seemed to have taken on a genre all their own, in large part due to the success of “The Silence of the Lambs.” But no film since then has been as sensational at depicting the pursuit of one until 2007’s “Zodiac.” Headlined by a great cast featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr., the crime drama is based on the true story of the Zodiac killer, who terrorized nouthern California in the 1960s.

The killings and subsequent investigation by police are meticulously recreated, with David Fincher directing a expertly crafted screenplay by James Vanderbilt. It would have been easily to sensationalize the material, but Fincher has a much better idea of revealing just how painstaking and exhaustive the investigation became as time wore on. To be sure, Fincher has covered serial killer territory before (“Se7en”), but hits a new high here by letting the already compelling true story unravel with minimal embellishment.