I know I am behind on movie posts. Besides a review of the dreadful Avatar, I’m tracking movies with categorized posts here and I am sorry to say most of them have been just awful. Recent entry It’s Complicated and Disney‘s When in Rome (opening this weekend) come to mind. When in Rome is another misfire from Disney, a studio whose movies are rapidly becoming the worst in town. The romantic comedy is built around an actress named Kristen Bell, who can’t act, let alone carry a picture. The script is asinine. There’s no romance, not much about Rome, and the plot defies reality and description. Josh Duhamel (Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!) Danny DeVito (Taxi), Don Johnson (Miami Vice), and Dax Shephard (Zathura) are wasted in this pap about a magic spell. This movie combines the worst of everything: formulaic plotting, cardboard characters, bad dialogue, overdone slapstick, and an overbearing soundtrack. In most scenes, Bell looks, talks, and acts like a 12-year-old Olsen twin and seems very uncomfortable in the lead, evoking the late Brittany Murphy.

The smutty It’s Complicated is not much better, with Meryl Streep (Doubt, Mamma Mia!) emasculating every man in the movie, sucking the air out of the theater as usual and behaving like a geriatric trollop at everyone’s expense. It’s all supposed to be terribly cute, because she’s a woman, though we’re supposed to abhor the Alec Baldwin character, who plays her ex-husband, for doing the same thing. Actually, Ms. Streep’s restaurant businesswoman, who, like When in Rome‘s female lead, has not one shred of realism, is worse. Only in this dreck could Baldwin’s insecure Baby Boomer come off as more sympathetic. Also starring Steve Martin, who fares better in yet another architect role. That this movie has a female chauvinist pig double standard, complete with a lurid trio of friends who root for her character’s transgressions like they’re watching porn at a bachelorette party, is another sign of feminist fatigue.

Quick thoughts on recent movies, which I may review later: Sherlock Holmes was every bit as obnoxious as I’d expected from the jacked-up trailer, with Robert Downey, Jr. (The Soloist) acting like a scummy junkie in an action movie utterly drained of intelligence, wit, and humor. I do recommend seeing Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, with outstanding performances, especially by Mo’Nique as an abusive parent, if you can stand the subject matter, which tells the story of an abused black girl in the ghetto named Precious who struggles to overcome the fact that she is treated as if she’s the opposite of her name. You’ll never think of an obese, inner-city welfare recipient the same way again. That you think of her and no one but her is what makes Precious insightful and inspiring.

Three other race-themed pictures I also recommend: The Princess and the Frog, Disney’s animated musical, which is good, not great, and The Blind Side starring Sandra Bullock (also good in The Proposal) as a feisty Christian mother who is tough, kind, and loving. The Blind Side, based on the true story of a football player who becomes part of a self-made family, is not to be missed. Both pics are strong family fare.

Clint Eastwood continues to emerge from his morally gray period with a masterful follow-up to his Gran Torino in what amounts to last year’s best picture: Invictus. This intimate, softspoken character study has more in common with the understated Gran Torino and with another of Mr. Eastwood’s pictures, the taut, underrated Escape from Alcatraz (1979), than with his morally mixed Flags of Our Fathers, Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. He seems to be striving for a theme that expresses positive values and here, in this sports movie about a moment in South African political history, after Nelson Mandela had been elected, he achieves it with near perfection. Using the term ‘comrade’, Mr. Eastwood suggests Mandela’s political philosophy and he doesn’t exactly get caught up in the disintegrated racial policy of Apartheid. Instead, the director grants Mandela a quiet grace and focuses on the South African leader’s attempt to unify the nation. The vehicle is a rugby tournament in which a team captain (Matt Damon) must rally the players behind the concept of a nation’s unity. Leaving aside political reality, Invictus succeeds in dramatizing what such a monumental feat requires, with stunning photography, gripping athletic competition, and the year’s best performance, Morgan Freeman (An Unfinished Life) in his finest role yet. Mr. Freeman strikes again, portraying the African statesman as many imagine him to be: a man of peace, serenity, and harmony. His every word, look, and movement depict the larger than life character, not the larger than life actor who has become America’s voice of God, presidents, and nightly network news. The film is named after and based on one of my favorite poems, by William Ernest Henley, which Mandela, during his imprisonment, is said to have recited. The term Invictus is Latin; it means unconquerable:

OUT of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbow’d.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.