The Blind Side

the-blind-sideThe Blind Side takes the true story of a young man who went from abandonment to success as a pro-football player and treats it with respect. The movie doesn’t oversell what is, on the face of it, already compelling. It’s almost impossible to describe the plot without sounding painfully inspirational: Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron, Be Kind Rewind), a hulking but gentle African-American teen in Tennessee, gets taken in by a well-to-do white family; the mother, Leigh Anne Touhy (Sandra Bullock), pushes and mothers the boy, who eventually wins a football scholarship to the University of Mississippi. In the wrong hands, this could have been maudlin, manipulative, and condescending. To the credit of writer-director John Lee Hancock, adapting Michael Lewis’s acclaimed book, the result is intelligent, genuine, and alternately funny and moving. Leigh Anne could easily have been grandstanding and virtuous, but Bullock doesn’t shy away from her vain and domineering side. The football scenes will be gripping even to non-sports fans because they’ve been so successfully grounded in Michael’s emotional life. The all-around solid cast includes country music star Tim McGraw, pint-sized Jae Head (Hancock), and Kathy Bates as the tutor who guided Michael’s academic success. Don’t be surprised if you can’t keep yourself from watching all the real-life photos of Michael, Leigh Anne, and the rest of the family that are featured in the credits; by the end of the movie, you will care about them all. –Bret Fetzer

All About Steve

all-about-steveA hunky TV news cameraman named Steve (Bradley Cooper, hot off of surprise hit The Hangover) gets stalked by a lonely crossword puzzle creator named Mary (Sandra Bullock, in a career resurgence after The Proposal) in the comedy All About Steve. Although only one screenwriter is credited, All About Steve feels like it’s been clumsily patched together from a dozen different versions of itself. The story makes no sense and there’s very little that resembles recognizable human behavior…and yet, for that very reason, the movie exerts a perverse fascination. Some parts are actually funny–Thomas Haden Church (Sideways), as a reporter hungry for an anchor position, unleashes arias of manipulative babble–but most of the movie is just baffling. The filmmakers seem to think they’re sending a heartwarming message about embracing yourself, no matter how out of the mainstream you may be. Unfortunately, all of the “quirky” people come across as brain-damaged because they’re not really people, they’re emblems of “uniqueness.” Mary is meant to be endearingly eccentric, yet her social ineptness verges on schizophrenia or severe autism. At every turn, All About Steve unintentionally reminds the viewer that someone wrote this, that someone thought this bit of behavior or this turn of phrase would somehow make us like this character or find them charming. Unfortunately, that someone was very, very off the mark. The result–seeing the bald intentions under the failed result–is a jarring yet oddly compelling experience. Also featuring DJ Qualls (Hustle & Flow) and Katy Mixon (Eastbound & Down). –Bret Fetzer

The Proposal

the-proposalThe Proposal is a romantic-comedy movie which revolves around Margaret (Sandra Bullock)who is a workaholic, tyrannical book editor (reminiscent of The Devil Wears Prada) and Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) her unsuspecting yet charming assistant. Margaret finds her career in the rocks when she finds herself in the brink of deportation back to Canada and her only solution was to fake an engagement with Andrew, who then blackmails her for a promotion. In an effort to make their story believable to the deportation officers, Margaret was forced to head to Alaska with Andrew to visit his family. They soon realized that their plan is not that simple after all.

Romatic-comedy favorite Sandra Bullock and the affably charming Ryan Reynold’s excellent on screen chemistry turns The Proposal from the otherwise romantic-comedy that we are used to that would really entertain and mert laughter. Supported by the great casting of Craig T. Nelson who plays Andrew’s dad, Mary Steenburgen as Andrew’s mom, and Betty White, who is still a scene-stealer at age of 87, who plays the crazy grandma, that combines into many amusing scenes. The bottom line is that the witty Reynolds and bullock are perfect sparring partners for each other and not half bad to look at as partners on screen either.
Lisanne Chastain


infamousInfamous is inevitably compared to Capote, since it also chronicles author Truman Capote’s spiral into chaos while composing his masterpiece, In Cold Blood, a breakthrough non-fictional tale told as fiction. It’s a shame that Capote’s critical acclaim eclipsed this film’s, as Toby Jones is perfectly convincing as Capote, with his small stature and eccentric manner. Infamous mimics the novel’s fictionalized non-fiction, opening on “interviews” with Capote’s New York friends like Diana Vreeland (Juliet Stevenson) and Babe Paley (Sigourney Weaver). The film, set in 1959, begins with Capote’s discovery of the farm family murder story and his trek out to Kansas with confidant, Nelle Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock). Stressing Capote’s relationships with Lee, the film justifies Capote’s marginal behavior by Lee’s speaking about Capote’s childhood neglect, which she also wrote into To Kill A Mockingbird. Capote’s own description of his rough childhood then serves as a barrier breaker between himself and Perry Smith (Daniel Craig), the half of the Perry Smith-Dick Hickock killing team who is at first unwilling to talk. Infamous makes much of the sexual tension between Capote and Smith, implying that Capote persevered through his project for Smith’s love. Based on George Plimpton’s oral biography, Infamous deserves a stellar place in Capote-lore, as there is ample room for both competing films. –Trinie Dalton

The Lake House

the-lake-houseKeanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock pair up again in what could be described as the anti-Speed: The Lake House, a sweet, relaxed-paced, whimsical romance. When Alex Wyler (Reeves, The Matrix) moves into an unusual glass house on stilts over a lake, he discovers a note from the previous tenant in the mailbox–but no one’s lived in the house for years. He replies and soon discovers that he’s corresponding with a doctor named Kate Forster (Bullock, Miss Congeniality) who’s writing from two years in the future. Their correspondence turns romantic and their paths cross in unexpected ways, but when they try to truly connect, danger looms. Though the plot of The Lake House sounds potentially static, the movie is skillfully structured and, despite some truly awful dialogue, will exert an emotional pull on anyone willing to embrace the device of the time-travelling mailbox. What the movie really demonstrates, though, is the genuine rapport between Bullock and Reeves; Reeves, though handsome, has a wooden presence–but in his few scenes with Bullock, his stiffness transforms into a palpable yearning. On-screen chemistry is slippery and hard to define, but these two have it. –Bret Fetzer


loverboyA quirky film about a single mother and the suffocating, tragic love she has for her 6-year-old child, Loverboy serves as an answer to anyone who might wonder if you can love your child too much: Absolutely. Emily (Kyra Sedgwick from The Closer) is an eccentric, anti-social woman yearning for the affection her parents showered on each other, but never on her. All her hopes and dreams are thrust upon her young son Paul (Dominic Scott Kay). Not only is adorable, but he’s also incredibly mature and patient. Though his mother lavishes him with attention, gourmet meals, and an almost fairytale existence, Paul wants stability and normalcy. He yearns for a father. He wants to go to school with the other kids. And though he’s only 6, he’s old enough to know that having a mother who refers to him as “Loverboy” is just plain wrong. Directed by Sedgwick’s husband, Kevin Bacon (The Woodsman, Mystic River), the film veers unsteadily between ironic comedic moments and touching drama. Full of cameos (Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Oliver Platt, Marisa Tomei, and Bacon, who plays Emily’s father in flashback sequences), the film does a fine job of conveying Emily’s desperation to be the only person who matters to Paul. But because she’s such a manipulative freak, it’s difficult for the viewer to feel much empathy for her as she tries to shelter her boy from the world. “There’s no falling in love like the falling in love with a child,” she says early in the movie. Ultimately, that’s her downfall. –Jae-Ha Kim


crashMovie studios, by and large, avoid controversial subjects like race the way you might avoid a hive of angry bees. So it’s remarkable that Crash even got made; that it’s a rich, intelligent, and moving exploration of the interlocking lives of a dozen Los Angeles residents–black, white, latino, Asian, and Persian–is downright amazing. A politically nervous district attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his high-strung wife (Sandra Bullock, biting into a welcome change of pace from Miss Congeniality) get car-jacked by an oddly sociological pair of young black men (Larenz Tate and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges); a rich black T.V. director (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) get pulled over by a white racist cop (Matt Dillon) and his reluctant partner (Ryan Phillipe); a detective (Don Cheadle) and his Latina partner and lover (Jennifer Esposito) investigate a white cop who shot a black cop–these are only three of the interlocking stories that reach up and down class lines. Writer/director Paul Haggis (who wrote the screenplay for Million Dollar Baby) spins every character in unpredictable directions, refusing to let anyone sink into a stereotype. The cast–ranging from the famous names above to lesser-known but just as capable actors like Michael Pena (Buffalo Soldiers) and Loretta Devine (Woman Thou Art Loosed)–meets the strong script head-on, delivering galvanizing performances in short vignettes, brief glimpses that build with gut-wrenching force. This sort of multi-character mosaic is hard to pull off; Crash rivals such classics as Nashville and Short Cuts. A knockout. –Bret Fetzer

Two Weeks Notice

two-weeks-noticeYou’d expect a cavalcade of cuteness from any pairing of Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant, but Two Weeks Notice admirably avoids the obvious. You get plenty of Bullock’s pratfalls and feisty sex appeal, and Grant’s snappy comebacks are never in short supply, but first-time writer-director Marc Lawrence (who wrote Bullock’s previous hit, Miss Congeniality) adds just enough antagonism to keep this romantic comedy from being a completely foregone conclusion. Neurotic lawyer, environmentalist, and landmark-preservation activist Lucy Kelson (Bullock) is determined to thwart the efforts of billionaire developer and jet-setting playboy George Wade (Grant); of course, fate brings them together and then rips them apart, just as they’re beginning to feel the panicky pangs of love. A replacement attorney (Alicia Witt) defies formula by being genuinely sweet, and Lawrence steers clear of the most familiar clich├ęs. It’s formulaic anyway, but in Two Weeks Notice it’s a comforting formula, delivered by stars who thrive within their limitations. –Jeff Shannon


premonitionIn Premonition, Linda Hanson (Sandra Bullock) is living in the Twilight Zone as she experiences recurring dreams of her husband’s car crash, mediated by days in which the tragedy hasn’t yet happened. By the time Linda does see her husband Jim’s (Julian McMahon) death, one feels relieved instead of grievous. Though Premonition mines fascinating material, investigating the ways women in particular have uncanny psychic abilities to predict impending family dangers, Linda’s premonitions are so convoluted, even to her, that it is difficult to determine their reality. Unrealistic scenes involving a sadistic psychiatrist and an unwarranted lithium prescription would lead one to question Linda’s sanity, but instead add falseness to the story. Irritating sequences in which Linda confides in a priest at the local church, who tells her that faith will heal all, seem like Christian propaganda that completely eradicates any real witchcraft in the story. For a truly scary film about clairvoyance, see Dario Argento’s Phenomena. Premonition is a bogus take on psychic prediction, as tearjerking as Ghost was during Patrick Swayze’s heyday. –Trinie Dalton

Murder by Numbers

murder-by-nubersWhile reinventing Leopold and Loeb for a new and troubled millennium, Murder by Numbers probes the disturbing psychology of two teenaged murderers and the cleverness of their crime. Like Hitchcock’s Rope and other films inspired by the Leopold and Loeb case of the 1920s, the film intensifies as it explores the repressed (and subtly homosexual) tensions between high-school outcasts Richard (Ryan Gosling) and Justin (Michael Pitt), who randomly kill a woman to enact an amoral philosophy–and to tease a savvy homicide detective (Sandra Bullock) with misleading clues. While clashing with the by-the-book procedure of her partner (Ben Chaplin), Bullock gives one of her best performances in a role that comes with its own set of psychological hurdles. It’s comfortable territory for Reversal of Fortune director Barbet Schroeder, who draws fine work from his cast while proving that there’s no such thing as a perfect crime. –Jeff Shannon