Most critics are expressing obvious disappointment that Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs, didn't turn out better than it did. And they're primarily blaming Kutcher for that. Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune writes, Kutcher is everything except interesting. Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times observes that while Kutcher himself has made personal investments in technology, as an actor, he's still Ashton Kutcher. Though Kutcher does throw himself into the role with all he's got, trying to capture Jobs' distinctive walk and mercurial temperament, his performance comes off as an assemblage of mannerisms with no deeper feeling or understanding. Lou Lumenick in the New York Post concludes that Kutcher's performance, like the movie, is all surface. None of the critics really rips the film and Linda Bernard seems to sum up their attitude in the Toronto Star when she writes that Jobs is a film that can be described using a term that Jobs spits out with palpable distaste as 'the worst thing you can say' about anything undertaken by Apple: 'It's fine.'
It's certainly rare when a horror flick is even screened for critics in advance of its opening. It's rarer still when such a movie receives overwhelmingly positive reviews. But such is the case with director James Wan's The Conjuring. Several critics are comparing it with the best of the genre. It brings to mind '70s' supernatural horror films such as The Exorcist with its stillness, steady build of suspense and handsome cinematography, writes Claudia Puig in USA Today. Ty Burr in the Boston Globe compares it with The Amityville Horror. The movie, he writes, digs up no new ground -- indeed, it seems almost proud of its Old School bona fides -- but it plows the classic terrain with a skill that feels a lot like affection. Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune argues that The Conjuring is a far better movie than Amityville Horror. He concludes, Might this movie actually be too good, in a slightly square way, to find the audience it deserves among under-20-somethings? Maybe. Maybe not. I hope not. Manohla Dargis in The New York Times praises it as a fantastically effective haunted-house movie. She also expresses her theory about why such movies do so well at the box office. It's been estimated that 75 percent of Americans believe in the paranormal, while only 54 percent believe global warming has begun. Evidently it's easier to believe in the terrors that can't hurt us than to believe in those that can, which may partly account for why so many vampires, zombies and their paranormal ilk are running amok in the popular imagination. But Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal says that while the film may be entirely irony-free and enjoyable up to a point for its straight-faced burrowings from the Exorcist and The Amityville Horror, the difference is that The Exorcist took the nation by storm with fresh ideas and brilliant filmmaking. The Conjuring conjures with amped-up echoes of old ideas and represents a bet that they still retain their creepy appeal For Today's audience.
Critics have given the fourth Ice Age movie, Continental Drift , a mostly cool-to-cold reception. Sean O'Connell in the Washington Post , suggests that viewers are nonetheless likely to overlook its faults. "Logic [in the plot] may be extinct, but, boy, do these movies whiz by like ice cubes zipping across a linoleum floor." Moreover, he writes, "What Continental Drift lacks in character development ... it makes up for in visual wizardry. The animation is spectacular, and the 3D is some of the best I've seen this year." And Betsy Sharkey in the Los Angeles Times points out that the movie is "all geared to be easily consumed by little ones" and concludes, "The dialogue is sometimes too sluggish and definitely too preachy, The Ending is a little too sappy, yet somehow this strange collection of prehistoric critters and their completely illogical life are consistently likable, if not quite lovable." Most other critics are not so generous. A.O. Scott in The New York Times , while remarking that Continental Drift "is much too friendly to dislike," Nevertheless expresses his dislike for the film's preachiness, which, he suspects, could inspire "a new theory of prehistoric extinction All those species clearly died from the hot air that gathered in the atmosphere as a result of their inability to shut up for even a minute." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times notes that the kids in the theater where he saw the film seemed delighted. However, he continues, "Watching this film was a cheerless exercise for me. The characters are manic and idiotic, the dialogue is rat-a-tat chatter, the action is entirely at the service of the 3D, and the movie depends on bright colors, lots of noise and a few songs in between the whiplash moments." Several critics comment that Ice Age 4 is pretty much a reworking of each of the other Ice Age films. "You know what I feel like doing right now?" asks Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune. "I feel like digging out an old review of an earlier Ice Age movie and 're-purposing' it." Claudia Puig in USA Today echoes that sentiment. "There's far too little here that's fresh," she writes. Several critics observe that the real star of the show is not the feature but the short that precedes it, featuring The Simpsons. "Don't be late," advises Kyle Smith in the New York Post. "The best part of Ice Age 4 happens before it begins." Amy Biancolli in the San Francisco Chronicle notes that the cartoon is "only a few minutes long, but those few minutes boast more imagination, pathos and suspense than the entire film that follows." Scott in the New York Times comments that the short should audiences "cause to rejoice" -- calling it "witty and touching and marvelously concise, part of a series that has managed to stay fresh and inventive after many years in the pop-culture spotlight." Unfortunately, he remarks, you have to buy a ticket for Ice Age Continental Drift if you want to see it.
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The unlikely winner of the award for best-reviewed movie of the weekend is Aardman Animation's The Pirates! Band of Misfits . Of the major critics, only Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel sends it to the plank. "Amusing in small doses, Pirates is the first Aardman film to suffer a serious shortage of sight gags, the first where the whimsy feels forced and the strain shows," he huffs. You have to wonder if Moore saw the same film as the Chicago Tribune 's Michael Phillips, who calls it "maniacally inventive" and goes on to write that hours after seeing it, "I was smiling at the memory of the best bits, some so fleeting they practically dare an audience to catch them on The Fly." Or Tom Russo in the Boston Globe who writes similarly, "There's so much going on, often so subtly, you may want to sail with this crew more than once." Likewise Nell Minow in the Chicago Sun-Times "The wonderful folks at Aardman have created another deliriously silly stop-motion animation delight, filled with giddy pleasures and so many witty details flying by that you wish for a pause button." Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times simply calls the movie, "a clever piece of business that is a complete pleasure to experience." Linda Barnard in the Toronto Star assures readers that while the filmmakers at Aardman do employ computer effects "to play backup," fans of the Wallace & Gromit TV shows and movies and the Chicken Run and Arthur Christmas features, should rest easy. "This marriage doesn't scupper Aardman's classic clay-based animated heritage," she writes, "and The Script is still filled with the kind of dry laughs only The Brits can conjure up." Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News took two little girls with her to the press screening, who, she says, "made this heartfelt request as soon as it ended 'Please please please give this movie five stars!!!" She wound up giving the movie three, "But I can say that most 5 and 7-year-olds are likely to have the same response they did." Adults, she says, are likely to have "a rollicking good time, even if Aardman's ambitions don't quite dazzle as usual." But Manohla Dargis of The New York Times , ordinarily one of the toughest critics on the block, seems completely won over by the filmmakers. "The movie is a curiosity cabinet of visual pleasures," she writes, "but so breezy and lightly funny that you may not realize at first how good it is. (You're too busy grinning.)"
Virtually all the critics are avoiding using the term "gripping" to describe Man on a Ledge , the drama starring Sam Worthington in which for most of the film he is seen perched on a 14-inch ledge on the 21st floor of the Roosevelt Hotel in New York. The reason, it would seem, has less to do with the tension -- and acrophobia -- inherent in watching a man on literally The Edge of death with nothing substantial to hold on to, but with the fact that most of the critics have had a problem getting a handle on the story. Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times is one critic who does use the word "gripping" in her review -- as in "[I] was gripping anything in reach, palms dripping, thinking I might not have survived the effects had they been 3D." However, she adds, it would have helped had The Script been as effective as the effects." Director Asger Leth, she writes, "does well in taking us to dizzying heights. If only he had found a way to ground that thrill in some real pathos as well." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times reacted similarly. "I feel toyed with," he writes. "The movie cuts back and forth between two preposterous plot lines and uses the man on the ledge as a device to pump up the tension." Associated Press critic Christy Lemire acknowledges that she got "a little rush of vertigo" every time the director showed Worthington's POV looking straight down to the ground. Otherwise, she writes, " Man on a Ledge is so clichéd and reheated, it almost feels like a parody of a generic action picture." Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune has no qualms about exposing the effects makers' bag of tricks. "Why does the distance between the ledge and the Pavement seem to vary from shot to shot, depending on whether we're watching actor-harnessed action filmed on location or actors doing their thing on a mock-up of the location?" he asks. But Tom Long in the Detroit News maintains that those scenes count for a lot. "There's no escaping the sheer terror of a guy standing on a ledge that high up. Man on a Ledge delivers the sweats it intends to deliver," he concludes. And Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle is more than willing to overlook any of the film's implausibilities. " Man on a Ledge ," he writes, "doesn't aim high, but what it aims to do, it does. It grabs the audience's attention, engages its anxieties, stokes its resentments and, at the finish, sends people out saying, 'That was good.'"
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You have to wonder whether the studio executives who decided to produce yet another remake of The Three Musketeers did so so they could use the "three" in the title to promote the fact that it's in 3D. Critics are virtually unanimous in agreeing that the movie has very little else going for it. "The very existence of this film illustrates barrel-scraping desperation of the Hollywood kind," writes Peter Howell in the Toronto Star , who concludes that the movie is "all swish and no sword." Kate Muir in the New York Post observes that despite a cast that includes Christoph Waltz, Orlando Bloom and Milla Jovovich, the plot "thickens into a soup of incomprehension." Muir notes that the Alexandre Dumas tale "has suffered some egregious adaptation over the past two centuries ... and this is one of the worst." And Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune -- his review is printed in a number of newspapers -- scowls, "There's a word for the latest screen edition of The Three Musketeers 'Whatthehell?'" He advises moviegoers that instead of taking in this 3D version, they should take a look at Richard Lester's 1974 version of the Dumas classic. "That impudent entertainment, both plush and merrily slapdash, had little to do with Dumas, but it had a Spark to call its own. This latest version is le pits ."
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If you think you have seen a movie about every sport that has ever existed, think again. The Big Year is a movie about competitive bird watching and stars Owen Wilson as the champion -- a man who has spotted more than 700 bird species in a single year -- and Steve Martin and Jack Black as two of his challengers. The contest's color analyst ... er ... narrator is John Cleese, who also provides a primer on the sport of "birding." The movie, writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times , "has an innocence and charm that will make it appealing for families, especially those who have had enough whales and dolphins for the year." A.O. Scott in The New York Times uses the adjectives "gentle and low-key" to describe the film, adjectives that are unlikely to turn up in ads appearing on the movie pages, where the preferred words for selling comedies include "outrageous" and "uproarious." Likewise Ty Burr in the Boston Globe observes that the three leading characters in the movie are "good company. So, in its fubsy [dumpy] way, is the movie." And Betsy Sharky writes that while the movie "might not soar ... there is some harmless pleasure to be found when feathers aren't ruffled, when the fowl is not foul." Rex Reed in the New York observer was neither Charmed by the movie -- nor by its stars. "Steve Martin has isolated moments trying in vain to choke some humor out of a film that is only slightly less amusing than a case of bird fever," he writes, "but he's got his work cut out for him sharing the screen with Jack Black and Owen Wilson, two of the screen's most annoying unsolved mysteries." And Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune concludes that this "gentle, diffident concoction ... has barely enough pulse to power a hummingbird."
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You win some, you lose some, the saying goes, and Monte Carlo , starring Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester and Katie Cassidy, does both so far as the critics are concerned. Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle begins his review by writing that the movie is "unpleasant where it should be pleasant, convoluted where it should be streamlined, anxiety provoking where it should be easy, and long, long, long -- at least 20 minutes longer than it has a right to be." Sara Stewart in the New York Post writes that the movie is so "earnest and predictable" that it amounts to "the cinematic equivalent of a pop hit by star Selena Gomez's boyfriend, Justin Bieber." (Coincidentally, co-star Cassidy is the daughter of David, the Bieber of the 70s.) It's all a mistaken-identity tween fantasy, and, writes Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel , "You take movies like this for what they are and for whom they're intended. But this script, this leaden direction, ensures that ... Monte Carlo fails." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times does indeed take into account the targeted tween girls who will make up most of the audience for this film. It's all "harmless" and "innocuous," he writes. It's also "chirpy, it's bright, there are pretty locations and lots happens. This is the kind of movie that can briefly hold the attention of a cat." But Manohla Dargis in The New York Times also takes into account the intended audience for this film, expressing bewilderment over its PG rating "when it really should have earned a Gee." Dargis calls it all "packaged entertainment so familiar it feels like a remake and so wholesome you could swear Sandra Dee starred in the 1959 original." Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune apparently saw the movie after sitting through screenings of the critically reviled Transformers Dark of the Moon , which opened on Wednesday, and Larry Crowne , which opens today (Friday). " Monte Carlo is nothing much," he writes, "but it leaves your soul un-crushed, and this week, especially, it's cause for a celebration-ette."
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Reviews for Transformers Dark of the Moon read like, well, reviews for the other Transformers movies that is, they're replete with complaints about a senseless plot, senseless Mayhem, and senselessness in general. But a couple of reviewers make the point that that's the whole point of a Transformers movie. As Betsy Sharkey observes in her review in the Los Angeles Times "You don't go to Transformers for the character or the plot, you go for metal-crushing, sensory-overloading action. Between [director Michael] Bay's obsession to make his 3D matter and the artistry of the special effects legions amassed for the project, the visual payoff is striking. The individual character articulation is so finely rendered we can see the complexity of the robots' construction as they morph from the ordinary -- car, plane or whatever -- into their towering mechanized essence." Her review is far from a total rave, however. She complains that the action scenes go on for too long. "For anyone who makes it through to the bitter end, I think certificates of completion are in order," she concludes. A couple of reviews lampoon the movie with such subtlety that the review website Rotten Tomatoes seems not to be able to determine whether their reviews are positive (red tomato) or negative (a splattered green tomato). They err on the side of the red. For Example, here's A.O. Scott's opening shot in The New York Times "There are filmmakers whose work is characterized by thrift, efficiency and devotion to the subtleties of cinematic expression. And then there is Michael Bay, whose films are symphonies of excess and redundancy, taking place in a universe full of fire and metal and purged of nuance. I'm not judging, just describing, and since today's theme is bluntness, I might as well come out and say that Transformers Dark of the Moon is among Mr. Bay's best movies and by far the best 3D sequel ever made about gigantic toys from outer space." Rotten Tomatoes bestows a red tomato on that review. It also dispenses one to Roger Moore's in the Orlando Sentinel , who does indeed begin his review by remarking that the movie "delivers the popcorn in gigantic fist-fulls of fun," a line that may soon pop up in ads for the movie. But he then goes on to pummel it for the rest of his review, concluding by expressing the hope "that we've seen the last of the Transformers." Early buzz was that this was the best of the Transformers movies. But Peter Howell in the Toronto Star comments "Picking the 'best' of the three Transformers movies is like choosing death by firing squad, shark mauling or being crushed by one of Wile E. Coyote's giant anvils. On reflection, I'd choose the Anvil drop, which is what the last 45 minutes of Transformers Dark of the Moon feels like." Amy Biancolli admits in the Houston Chronicle that she happens to be "one of three or four people in the English-speaking world who like[d] the last Transformers sequel. ... Ever since, I've been informed by irate readers that I am a bonehead. Who knows? maybe I am. One's opinions do evolve." You'll find a lot of other dismissive digs at the movie from the critics. "We're calling it Toy Story 3 at my house," Wesley Morris writes in the Boston Globe. But there is little that is subtle about most of the critics' reviews they hate it. Indeed, the veteran Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert writes, "It provided me with one of the more unpleasant experiences I've had at the movies." (As for those reports that Bay ordered special digital prints of the movie dispatched to theaters that would supposedly brighten up the 3D screens, Ebert remarks, "In my screening, it was as dim as usual." And Lou Lumenick calls Bay's assertion, "hooey, hooey and more hooey.") His fellow Chicagoan (the film's climactic scenes take place in Chicago), Michael Phillips of the Tribune , calls the movie "a work of ineffable soullessness and persistent moral idiocy." And Elizabeth Weitzman concludes in the New York Daily News "If this movie is an accurate reflection of human culture, it's hard to believe the Autobots would risk everything to save us."
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Moviegoers heading to the theaters this weekend to see Hereafter may likely have been wondering what, at the age of 80, was Clint Eastwood going to say about the hereafter? Well, quite a lot, say some critics; not nearly enough say others. Indeed rarely has a film evoked such clashing reaction from critics. Some are hailing it as another Eastwood masterpiece, while others -- they're about equally divided -- are expressing forlorn disappointment with it. Most agree that the opening CGI sequence in which one of the characters appears to drown in the Indonesian tsunami is an astonishingly realistic sequence, brought off with consummate artistry. They divide right and left over the low-key ending, however. "Eastwood's latest is serenely, even masterfully eccentric," writes Ty Burr in the Boston Globe , "the sort of movie that begins with a tsunami and ends with a kiss." But Michael O'Sullivan in the Washington Post has quite the opposite reaction, writing that the movie simply "fizzles" out at the end. "It starts out with a tsunami -- and ends up standing in a puddle," he observes. The critics are also divided over the pacing of the film. Writes Claudia Puig in USA Today "The narrative's complexity has a quiet force that requires an unhurried pace. Our compassion for each of the key characters is enhanced by the measured storytelling." And Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times praises Eastwood's "quiet but potent filmmaking that believes nothing is more important than the story it has to tell." Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe and Mail writes that "the methodical pacing compels you to feel the weight of the individual episodes" involving the three principal characters. But Kyle Smith in the New York Post remarks, "The movie drags, yet it feels like it's missing an hour." Joe Neumaier in the New York Daily News calls Eastwood's direction "laconic" and "lethargic." And Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune comments that viewers watching the three tales intertwine are likely "to become a tiny bit antsy with Hereafter . With his trademark blend of stoicism and savvy manipulation ... Eastwood refuses to pump up the melodrama." Critics praising the movie slightly outnumber those who are writing it off as a misfire. In a parenthetical comment, A.O. Scott in The New York Times remarks that the movie "has the power to haunt the skeptical, to mystify the credulous and to fascinate everyone in between." Scott concludes "It leaves you wondering, which may be the most fitting way of saying that it's wonderful." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun Times says that he found the film "enthralling." But Ebert finds compelling what some of his colleagues find frustrating. He writes "Eastwood and his actors achieve a tone that doesn't force the material but embraces it Not dreamlike, but evoking a reverie state. These characters are not hurtling toward the resolution of a plot. There is no 'solution' to their stories. " It is, he concludes, "the film of a man at peace."
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