Kate Winslet WINS the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress

Witless Protection (PG-13)

Mark Burger

Hollywood.com Says
What should be the worst movie of the year, if not all time, is instead a reasonably passable vehicle for Larry the Cable Guy. No kidding.

Story
Small-town deputy Larry Stalder (you know who) unwittingly (of course) intercepts and kidnaps a beautiful blonde, thinking she’s being kidnapped. Well, as it turns out…somehow, along the way, Larry uncovers some dirty business within the FBI and saves the day. Story?

Acting
Believe it or not, Witless Protection is actually a showcase for Ivana Milicevic, as Larry’s not-entirely-reluctant captive. She is not only great to look at (even Larry says so), but she plays things so incredibly straight that she manages, almost single-handedly, to bring a semblance of balance to these lowbrow proceedings. And, fair’s fair–Larry the Cable Guy (nee Dan Whitney) plays right into the hands of both fans and critics alike. He is who he is–or who he plays. This is about as good a showcase for him as you’re likely to see. That can be construed, deservedly so, as faint praise or faint condemnation. If nothing else, Larry the Cable Guy plays well with others: Yaphet Kotto, reprising his character from Midnight Run and enjoying his biggest screen role in years; Peter Stormare, channeling Jeremy Irons, it seems, as the principal bad guy; Eric Roberts, Jenny McCarthy–as Larry’s waitress girlfriend and not doing a bad job of it; and finally Joe Mantegna. OK, so he embarrasses himself.

Direction
Witless Protection marks the feature debut of Charles Robert Carner, a veteran of the small screen making the leap to the large. He keeps things moving, if nothing else. This isn’t a technically well-made movie. The color sometimes veers, jarringly, from scene to scene, and in some scenes the actors aren’t mouthing the words being broadcast. Other scenes are clearly shot against a blank background (all the better to composite a digital image there later), but the folks who are going to rush out to see this movie simply do not care–and will not care–about such incidental matters. It’s best to go into this with that in mind. Then again, it might be best to leave one’s mind behind.

Be Kind Rewind (PG-13)

Brian Marder

Hollywood.com Says
Michel Gondry’s first stab at broad-ish comedy is hit-or-miss, but his stroke of mediocrity is almost any other director’s stroke of genius.

Story
In the teensy-weensy town of Passaic, New Jersey, there exists a dying breed: a video-rental store–as in VHS, not DVD. Just across the street from said store exists a power plant. And in between the store and power plant exists a doofus named Jerry (Jack Black). Yeah, it’s a disaster waiting to happen (at least in writer-director Michel Gondry’s kooky mind). One night, when Jerry sets out to sabotage the power plant whose microwaves he swears are killing him, that disaster happens. He winds up getting zapped and, even worse, erasing the contents of every single tape at the nearby rental store, Be Kind Rewind. It was already at risk of being demolished in favor of an aesthetic upgrade to the building, but this turn of events would seem to be the nail in its coffin. And when a faithful customer (Mia Farrow) threatens to tell Be Kind Rewind’s owner (Danny Glover) unless Ghostbusters is in stock by the end of the day, Jerry and his friend Mike (Mos Def), the store’s loyal employee, must think and act quickly. And so they do, recreating Ghostbusters and every other movie that is requested for rental. Unwitting customers are none the wiser, and before long their store-made movies become a hit in the neighborhood and possibly a source of sufficient enough funds to save Be Kind Rewind from demolition. That is until Hollywood comes knockin’.

Acting
Jack Black continues to expand his comedic horizons with Be Kind, proving that virtually any role calling for funny has his name written on it. This isn’t his prototypical flaunt-your-paunch, scream-like-a-maniac role, and as a result, Black’s versatility within the realm has never been so apparent. He gives the well-meaning dimwit several layers–vulnerability, imagination, pitifulness, ambition–but maintains the recognizable energy for which we all know and love him for. Rapper-turned-actor Mos Def, however, is rather bland in playing straight-man to Black’s klutz. It’s occasionally a nice disparate dynamic between the two actors, but Mos, much like some of his past movies (16 Blocks, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), just doesn’t seem suited for the style at play. Glover, meanwhile, is suited for Be Kind, lending stability to the quasi-fairytale as an old-school sage. Then there’s Farrow, who only further tarnishes her once legendary status with another laughable role choice and performance. Of course, it’s hard to ever look at Farrow the same way following her role in last year’s worst movie, The Ex.

Direction
In a somewhat disappointing turn of events, Michel Gondry’s (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep) screenplay for Be Kind Rewind just doesn’t make the grade. It goes from a silly conceit in the beginning to a way-too-feel-good ending, using filmmaking as a sappy, uniting-the-people cure-all to get from point A to B. And oddly enough, the movie often resembles a traditional, slapstick-y comedy. Luckily, Gondry the director comes to the rescue. Chief among his accomplishments here are the meta moments, the film-within-a-film sequences. The scenes are truly enlightening and elevate Be Kind a great deal. In fact, a movie full of such scenes would make a great next project for Gondry–and maybe would’ve made a better project out of Be Kind. The sequences, which thriftily remake mainstream classics like GhostbustersDriving Miss Daisy and Robocop–the only kind of movies that would exist in a VHS-rental store–offer a glimpse into Gondry’s fantasy mind, where the creativity wheels are always spinning and the camera is always rolling. Some of the remakes are featured in Be Kind’s trailer, and it’s unfortunately one of those cases where the trailer shows the movie’s best parts. But it’s still worth seeing, and his fans will likely not suffer such a letdown.

Charlie Bartlett (R)

Brian Marder

Hollywood.com Says
Much like its title character, Charlie Bartlett just doesn’t fit in with its peer group (teen movies and psychology dramedies). And both the character and movie go to show you that sometimes it’s good–in this case very good–not to fit in.

Story
On the outside, Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) couldn’t be further from the mold of a “normal teenager.” He wears a suit everywhere, he is precocious, and he has a spring in his step that suggests oblivion to his high school surroundings. Of course, Charlie isn’t really at all oblivious and at his core is very much that “normal teenager”: He wants only to be popular. After starting anew at a public school–because he got kicked out of yet another private school for distributing fake IDs–Charlie is promptly pummeled for the way he dresses by the school’s bully (Tyler Hilton). He complains to his psychiatrist, whom his mother (Hope Davis) keeps on retainer. The shrink decides to put Charlie on Ritalin. Ever the entrepreneur, Charlie tries to parlay his easy access to drugs into popularity, and it works like gangbusters. Before long, “Dr. Charlie” is listening, diagnosing and prescribing drugs to the entire student faculty. He’s got the popularity, the trust and the girl (Kat Dennings), the latter of which just happens to be the principal’s (Robert Downey Jr.) daughter. And that relationship–not to mention the slight legality issue of prescribing controlled substances to minors–threatens to ruin his whole operation.

Acting
Yelchin (Alpha Dog) is a Hollywood rarity: He’s an ‘it’ boy because of his acting, not his looks (sorry, Anton). Rarer still is the fact that Yelchin’s actual age is near that of Charlie Bartlett, and not since the days of Freaks and Geeks has that industry taboo been broken so successfully. It’s all a credit to the young actor, who, in the span of Bartlett, oozes everything from vulnerability and precociousness to Ritalin-induced mania and the theatricality of a much older actor. There’s nothing he can’t do in this movie; the same goes for his acting future. And the same goes for his adversary in Bartlett, Downey Jr., although that’s been abundantly clear for decades now. Downey Jr. is famous for making seemingly effortless work of a complex character, which is precisely what he does with Principal Gardner–a concerned parent, recovering alcoholic and dutiful high school enforcer/villain. He’s a force to be reckoned with on screen, and when Yelchin’s Charlie finally squares off with him, the scene is a thing of beauty. As an essential link between those two characters, Dennings (40-Year-Old Virgin) is a credible charmer and, refreshingly, the rare non-ditzy, non-clichéd high school-portrayed girl we’re used to seeing. Rounding out the cast is Davis (American Splendor), aka Laura Linney-in-waiting. Her clueless alcoholic mom is a source of laughs and, ultimately, sobriety–for the character and us.

Direction
For the first time in his decades-long career, Jon Poll trades the editing room for the director’s chair. And after seeing Bartlett, it makes sense that Poll, who has edited movies like Austin Powers in Goldmember and Meet the Parents/Fockers, is a behind-the-scenes veteran but a rookie helmer. His debut is fresh and loose but also very sure-handed. The movie is constantly a pleasant, unclassifiable surprise, spurning both the raunchiness of teen comedies and the pretention of psychology dramedies. The result is something far less precious and opaque than Wes Anderson’s Rushmore–to which Bartlett bears a broad thematic resemblance–yet a sharp commentary nonetheless. To that end, Gustin Nash’s debut screenplay is just as impressive as his director’s rookie effort. His writing is clearly steeped in satire, namely how loose today’s doctors are with the prescription pads–especially when it comes to our children–but it’s also able to be sweet and real when necessary. It’s the most impressive screenplay debut we’ve seen in a while–gold standard Juno notwithstanding–and the directorial one isn’t too shabby itself.