State Journal-Register (Springfield, IL)
Tropic Thunder (2008)
"Consider the $4,970,802,499 its quintet of leads has made for Paramount at the box office as long-held escrow on a legendary prank. Robert Downey Jr. is all wild-eyed brilliance, Tom Cruise is re-christened in cool and the film is comic gold."
Pineapple Express (2008)
"Forget the puff-puff. Pass on this protracted, problematic comedy with Hot Fuzz aspirations in which neither Seth Rogen nor the grim, leaden violence is much fun at all. James Franco, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson at least salvage the film."
"Soulless, loud, dull and aggressively unintelligent. Questioning creature-feature logic usually is a buzzkill, but in a film with Tibetan yetis somehow aware of football gestures, it's essential to keep your brain from turning to goop."
Step Brothers (2008)
"It's nice to have Will Ferrell back, and not as, say, a sex-addicted curling champ from Liechtenstein with a testicle that hasn't descended and an appetite for Funyuns. A riotous movie that delivers on its promise thanks to expert improvisation and squirm"
"With half-formed discussions of pedophile priests, same-sex marriage, stem-cell research, media manipulation, American health care and George W. Bush, one could call it Michael Moore's "The X-Files." But "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Sicko" were considerably mor"
The Dark Knight (2008)
"Do not go gently into The Dark Knight. It's an electrifying, thought-provoking meditation on the modern wages of fear. And you haven't danced with the devil by the pale moonlight until Heath Ledger has taken your psyche for a twirl."
"A fabulously freaky and fun immersion into a world of skin, hair, teeth and bones that aren't our own. Revolving around the ideas of bedtime-story imagination and fatherly obligation, it's more exciting, elegant and confident than its predecessor."
"Fate, mythology and even racism in America are tossed in to a climax so grim it's like watching "Men in Black" morph into "Requiem for a Dream." The movie doesn't earn that drama, feeling cobbled together from earlier, less-commercial drafts."
Get Smart (2008)
"Dedicating this film to Don Adams is like killing seeing-eye dogs as tribute to the American Council of the Blind. Lest insults not be spread to the deaf, it's cruel irony that Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" is an integral part of a dreary, dismal and soulless"
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
"One stupid Hulk movie, now a stupidly entertaining Hulk movie. A franchise reset with zany, boneheaded breathlessness, this is loose, lean, fast, comical, thrilling, loud and as flirtatious with substance as necessary to avoid instant disposability."
Kung Fu Panda (2008)
"To paraphrase "Kung Fu Fighting" - mercifully heard only once, and in tweaked end-credit form by Gnarls Barkley - "Kung Fu Panda" is as fast as lightning and a little bit frightening but done with expert timing."
"Affectionately aimed at both the AARP crowd and those who grew up with Indy. Temper comparisons to the trilogy and take it on its own terms as a fun ride with a rejuvenated Harrison Ford and enough great action to trump a blah finale."
"It's like the Little Golden Book version of "Gladiator," a mostly bloodless but mostly barbaric PG film with R-rated aspirations. Worse yet, it's even more wearisome than its predecessor - drained of magic or emotion by a plodding pace."
Iron Man (2008)
"Director Jon Favreau displays the same wonderment and control over visual effects as he did in 2005's underrated "Zathura." Excepting a clunky prologue and escape sequence, it's a flawlessly paced origin story with humor, smarts and soul."
Baby Mama (2008)
"Michael McCullers is a pedestrian director, but a potent screenwriter, wittily playing to the strengths of his stars and who's-who supporting players. This comedy isn't without complications, but it's affable, breezy and buoyant."
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
"If only Jason Segel's screenwriting matched his comic presence. This is an occasionally riotous, but shapeless, romantic comedy, whose only relatable angst is that it's just marginally better than last year's "The Heartbreak Kid" remake."
"Self-assured even when it's self-aware, this is a fizzy concoction with three fingers of Billy Wilder and one of Frank Capra. It's shaken with the Coens and topped off with a splash of Ron Shelton and a cinematographical cream-soda sheen."
Street Kings (2008)
"The charisma of its cast should be included amid its bloody body count. It's hard to know what anyone saw in this particular dirty-cop tale co-written by James Ellroy. It's not "The Black Dahlia." It's "The Black Duh-lia."
"Part of "21's" problem as it ups its stakes is that it's about as dangerous and sexy as a $1-minimum keno game. But it's still a mildly tantalizing timewaster about wish fulfillment told with casual confidence before a dragging finale."
"Likely to be the year's most entertaining film withheld from critics, Neil Marshall's latest finds him pigging out at a B-movie buffet of bangers and mash. His alchemy of anarchy in the U.K. is exhilarating and playfully perverse."
"With all the vertical leap of a pygmy in a pick-up game, "Semi-Pro" is like a movie in the mind of a 10-year-old who's discovered profanity, pornography and a shoebox of blank Mad-Libs - funny only to the person coming up with it."
"Boring, bland and nasty. Christensen is the new Ryan Phillippe - no compliment unless you enjoy annoyingly blah detachment. And Bilson is a damsel of whom you hope distress gets the better - anything to shut her droning, dull yap."
The Savages (2007)
"There are resonant moments of elderly vulnerability and strong acting from Hoffman and Bosco, but Linney's overly familiar exasperated-woman performance and Jenkins' been-there, done-that-better story sink "The Savages."
There Will Be Blood (2007)
"A masterful tale of the parallels and disconnections between primal bloodlust and a life of luxury. Both the movie and the man that sit at the center of that idea are a marvel to watch. Sumptuous and snarling all at once, it's a classic."
"Just like the original, it's too caught up in its mythological zeal and furious pacing to do much for our "Indiana" jones. A capably filmed diversion that's breathlessly wired for whiplash but instantly forgettable."
The Orphanage (2007)
"The historical details and enthralling magic of Guillermo del Toro's own productions are missing, and it's more reliant on boo scares than its somber story can support. Yet an intriguing subtext, fierce lead performance and a perfect ending make it work."
The Bucket List (2007)
"Calling it Rob Reiner's best film in 12 years doesn't mean much. Remember "Alex & Emma"? Still, this is a modestly entertaining Hollywood fairytale of facing death head-on. Its occasionally leaden story gets light, familiar notes from two legends."
"The monster is every animal and no animal all at once, classifiable only as a behemoth your brain might conjure in REM sleep. A bonecrushing story of apocalyptic attack that's hard to shake, this is the stuff of primal nightmares."
No Country for Old Men (2007)
"Balloons don't blow into funny shapes, and its narrative direction isn't fairly self-explanatory. Yet to watch it is to gaze at the chilling, pitch-black flipside of "Raising Arizona," and be haunted by penetrating, unflinching stares it gives back."
The Golden Compass (2007)
"Catholic pundits are half-right in proclaiming that watching The Golden Compass could be hazardous to children. It shows that even the most lyrical and challenging literary story can become a stupid, sloppy film."
"The dots of Beowulf's epic exploits are connected in a way that could have, and should have, matched a tone of grand lust on display in John Boorman's "Excalibur." Instead, the movie's schoolboy snickers about sexuality torpedo the script's inventiveness."
Bee Movie (2007)
"Not a flawless animated adaptation of Seinfeld's sometimes-cynical, always-obsessive takes on the trivial. Even at 91 minutes, it's long, and some of its voices too shrill, but the energetic brio of its social satire stings without turning inappropriate."
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
"The whodunit is predictable. Its ambivalent, bittersweet fallout is not. Ben Affleck has delivered a film impossible to shake, buoyed by his brother's haunted performance as a man impossibly, and tragically, caught between justice and personal absolution."
"A chamber-orchestra cousin to Paul Greengrass's topical symphonies of discussion. Sharp, damning and, at times, funny, this intricate thriller wisely chooses a puzzle-box pace, with no big speeches or easy outs for any character."
Michael Clayton (2007)
"George Clooney wastes nothing in his best performance, and the film is as breathtakingly efficient. Specifics and surprises unfold with methodical care, and attentive adult audiences can savor one of the smartest, classiest legal thrillers ever made."
The Heartbreak Kid (2007)
"The real heartbreak is how comedienne Malin Akerman's considerable assets are tossed aside. She's good enough to be on the rebound soon. The rest of the film is a desperate, forgettable overlong movie that makes "Along Came Polly" look like a masterpiece."
The Kingdom (2007)
"Even in clearly diluted form, the film wrestles - or at least grapples and slaps - with questions and interpretations of the Middle East. It's passable buddy-cop formula with a better director's cut waiting for DVD."
The Brave One (2007)
"OK, Jodie, if you're making comparisons to "Taxi Driver": One's a masterpiece about the penchant for emotionally apocalyptic violence. The other is manipulative junk tapping into its star's success at kicking butt. Guess which of those is "The Brave One.""
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
"Unapologetically harsh and heedlessly entertaining despite its imperfections, the film includes two masterful performances from Crowe and Bale - actors so intense, they could wear red and intimidate a charging bull."
"Like all great pop songs, you can't wait to hear how it ends, and few conclusions feel as complete as that in "Once." For a film so joyfully attuned to the tumultuous nature of composition, it's no surprise that this is one of 2007's best."
The Nanny Diaries (2007)
"Those with deep pockets sometimes have shallow hearts. The post-college lurch can be a panic zone. And the only shocker in "The Nanny Diaries" is that there's not one sprig of chest hair to be seen on a shirtless Paul Giamatti."
The Invasion (2007)
"There are no pods to be found here, other than the one off-screen into which the better judgments of most involved here must have been stuffed. If Nicole Kidman doesn't watch out, she'll awake to find her career replaced by Meg Ryan's."
"The reassuring message of 2007's most uproarious film is there's no prefab, encompassing approach to life - just a hope that stumbled-upon strengths will work. On the way, barking at the moon can be a great temporary defense mechanism."
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
"A sit-up-straight action film. Jason Bourne's clenched-teeth exasperation and raw rage are, in part, our own, and they screech as loud as all the motorcar metal and metropolitan mayhem in 2007's best film so far."
The Simpsons Movie (2007)
"Oversold as a story suitable only for the big screen and lacking a raised-stakes mindset, it's still a moderately funny magnification of what's made the show tick and tickle for 18 years. Plus, it proves Illinois is home to the one true Springfield."
"The still-burning fire of Baltimore's dicey racial-relations history is reduced to torched creme brulee. But, song for song, this is the bounciest, bubbliest movie musical of the modern era, and it boasts John Travolta's best performance in a decade."
"Not so much anti-gay as it is anti-humor, it's easily Adam Sandler's worst comedy ever, and it's depressing to watch him strain to be a Walter Matthau to Kevin James' sweetly exasperated Jack Lemmon. It's a groaningly obvious, abysmally unfunny dud."
"A severely streamlined, stiff series low. Aside from Imelda Staunton's spirited performance and Daniel Radcliffe's typically impressive stoicism, this adaptation reduces J.K. Rowling's zesty prose to lumpy, gray porridge."
"Given the combined involvements of Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg, call it a Ka-Blamblin production, filled with many jaw-dropping marvels. Eventually, this vehicle runs on fumes, but only because it revs the gas so hard and so well for so long."
Live Free or Die Hard (2007)