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Friday, January 2, 2009

Three to See at the Movies

Our papers have been extremely small lately because advertising is down, so I haven't been able to print Ryan Michaels' movie reviews. I thought this space would be a nice alternative. Enjoy!

I am Ryan Michaels, a 12-year-old movie fanatic who loves writing reviews as much as watching movies. Below is my take on “Valkyrie,” “Doubt” and “Yes Man.”

Tom Cruise recently said in an interview, “Go kill Hitler this Christmas!” in promotion for his film “Valkyrie.” The ironic part is that in this film Cruise tries, fails and is executed for his attempt.

It’s not really a spoiler in any way, for this is actually a true story. Regardless of Cruise’s false statement, “Valkyrie” is a fun, tense thriller that will keep you glued to your seat –– ridiculous moments included.

Cruise is Colonel Klaus von Stauffenberg, a German officer in 1944 who is becoming increasingly fed up with the Nazis’ planning and ideals. He begins to assemble a team to plot to kill Adolf Hitler himself. What results makes history.

The plot of the film is simple, the plan of the characters is not. The director of the film is Bryan Singer, who has mastered tension before, to the tune of two Oscars. The fact that even though we know the end, Singer still creates such tension deserves to be mentioned. The musical score is partly responsible. It’s elegant yet undeniably gritty.

The supporting cast is great, featuring Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and Terence Stamp. But the best supporting performance is by David Bamber. I’ve never heard of him before this. But in his three minutes as Adolf Hitler, he almost literally gives you chills.

Cruise is pretty good in this. Nothing Oscar-worthy, but not distractingly or face-meltingly bad, as he has been called.

It isn’t all roses, though. There are some moments that are undeniably corny. I won’t give most away, but one in particular where Cruise is forced to “Heil Hitler” with his severed arm was just ridiculous. It was the only time during the movie where people actually laughed.

One major thing that bugs you is the absence of any accents whatsoever. They all have the look of Germans, and type in German. And yet everyone has an American or British accent. Oddly enough, Cruise’s eyepatch doesn’t ever bug you, though.

It has taken a lot of bad advance buzz, a hundred date swaps and one big budget to get “Valkyrie” to the screen. It was worth it.

I give it a “B+” rating.


Perhaps the most compelling, and unlikely opposition of wits, occurs in “Doubt,” Meryl Streep vs. Philip Seymour Hoffman, featuring two of the best actors of our generation, in an emotional, exhausting duel of morals.

One is right, the other is wrong. Finding which is which tests your patience, and there is sort of a “That’s it?” feeling at the end. However, it has four of the best performances of the year –– three of those expected, one that one wouldn’t suspect.

It is 1964. Times are changing, and Sister Aloysius is watching it all, with contempt. The whole movie is set in a Bronx Catholic church/school, and it takes a while to realize just how confined the film really is. She is the principal of the school, feared among the children, parents and even fellow nuns.

The church itself is changing. The charismatic Father Flynn is trying to bring more fun and friendliness to the church, which raises Sister Aloysius’ eyebrows. But when a young African-American boy is called to the rectory by Father Flynn, Sister Aloysius immediately suspects inappropriate contact and, right or wrong, crusades against Father Flynn to have him removed. What results is more tense than most straightforward thrillers this year.

If there is a major weakness, it’s the direction, though I’ll get to that later. Although it could have been a great cliche, Streep plays it as the more human, more conflicted nun. It goes without saying that Streep is probably the best actress alive right now, and it's really interesting seeing her go from Mamma Mia to this. She is almost disturbingly bleak, unflinching in her quest to take out this priest. She only lets up at the very end, which is almost disturbing to see.

Hoffman has been consistently excellent in everything he does: “Capote,” “Charlie Wilson’s War,” heck, even “Mission Impossible 3.” He acts quite well in this, and somehow pulls it off where you honestly believe it could be either way. He is charismatic, warm and occasionally funny, but almost sinister in an odd way. It truly does leave you guessing until the end.

The ending, many will argue, is unsatisfactory. On a storytelling level, it is. Emotionally? Heck, no. The ending is probably the most involving part of the film, as in the last 20 minutes.

The film is interestingly paced. At least 40 minutes of establishing shots and characters and circumstances then boom. The last hour is a firecracker filled with quick-paced arguments that truly show off all the acting talent this film has to offer.

Amy Adams, who you remember as the princess from “Enchanted,” plays a fellow nun in this film. She isn’t exactly Oscar-worthy, but by no means is she inferior to anyone else in this film. She has some great moments. The best performance in the film is likely the most brief: Viola Davis as the young boy’s mother. Her scene with Meryl Streep is like the film: Starts slow and then escalates, bit by bit, into sheer intensity.

“Doubt will split people, on its quality and implications. I’m on the side that unabashedly loved it.

I give it an “A-.”

‘Yes Man’

Jim Carrey does his normal hilarious, over-the-top schtick in a normal, over-the-top, occasionally hilarious comedy. In 1998, Carrey did a fairly good movie called “Liar Liar.” Basically, an average Joe, mildly disappointed with his life, trying something outrageous that changes his life. That is almost the exact same story here. The fact that this remains really enjoyable is a testament to Carrey’s talent, I suppose.

Carrey plays a bank loan officer named Carl, who after a tough break-up is sort of living in a shell with his job, two friends and apartment. But his friends take notice, and sign him up for a seminar: “The Power of Yes.” Basically, he must say “yes” to anything and everything.

It has its advantages. He finds a new love and gets promoted. But there is always a downside to freewheeling, and Carl will realize that the hard way.

Zooey Deschanel stars as Carl’s free-spirited girlfriend. Ever since “Elf,” she has become more and more charming by each film that goes by. Terence Stamp (that old guy from “Superman II” and “Wall Street”) plays the man who introduces Carrey to “Yes.” He mostly looks bored, although he has the best line in the whole movie, at the very end. The end is actually the best part, although seeing Carrey play guitar and speak Korean is hysterical beyond most measure.

It goes without saying that the general story is kind of tired, and that the formula for the whole thing is really evident. But Carrey plays practically the same character he has since “Dumb and Dumber.” The saving grace about that is the character is insanely likable. You’ve seen it before, but you like it.

I give it a “B+” rating.

Film critic Ryan Michaels, a student at Emerson School in Ann Arbor and winner of a journalism award in the 2008 Michigan Press Association Better Newspaper Contest for his reviews, can be reached through


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