Collateral... sucked. And I actually like Tom Cruise, he's an actor I always think I should despise but then I end up enjoying his performances. I think Vincent was a gutsy choice for him, he could just as easily played Max. I loved Jamie Foxx as Max, though: Max for whom the Perfect was the eternal enemy of the Good. But the movie itself was so full of holes as to earn the overall "sucked" assessment.
Elf... cute but, Meh. My shoulders go up, they come down. Who was this movie written for? Kids? Kids of what age? I have three, and this movie would go right over their heads, although they would be amused at the idea of putting maple syrup on everything. This is one of those movies where you're asked to suspend your disbelief -- OK. But having done that, I expect there to be at least a modicum of internal logical consistency. That means the film is allowed to have its own logic, but it must remain consistent to it. Which Elf completely failed to do, and even Will Ferrell, whom I admire for his continued willingness to make a complete fool of himself, and his ability to do so while remaining free of any self-awareness of same, could not make up for the serious lapses. James Caan was realistically mean to the extent that his redemption was unconvincing. Mary Steenburgen's off-key singing was delightful, as was the singing voice of the female lead, some actress who remains unknown to me as I am too lazy to look it up.
Compare and contrast those two films with the two I watched parts of, again, tonight: Office Space, and X-Men 2. Obviously these are all very different movies. Office Space is one of those things that you either get or you don't, but since I was a cubicle dweller myself for many years, it "speaks to me." The X-Men thing should need no explanation. The whole good-evil thing is awesome, as is the fight choreography. (hee) I love it that the writers let Jean Gray die, and they let her death affect the people she left behind. Oh, the epilogue was otherwise dippy, but Jean's moment of sacrifice/transformation was glorious.
The best movies let us take something away with us. From Office Space, I was reminded in a droll way to carpe diem. X-Men inspires us to think twice about prejudicial thinking in a more or less non-PC way, but it also gives a clear example of noble sacrifice. Collateral could be said to have the same carpe diem message, and there was the whole existential meaninglessness of life conversation that I'm sure was intended to provoke some deep thinking. But that was all garbage -- Max saw through Vincent's facade nearly immediately. And the movie did nothing with that nice little philosopher's rant, either, choosing instead to wrap up with your standard suspenseful shoot-out. Elf? There's not a thing to take away, not even a renewed commitment to hang onto "the Christmas spirit," whatever this very confused movie thinks that is. It was kinda cute and didn't leave me disgusted that I'd lost 90 minutes of my life, but when that's the best thing you can say about a movie, that's pretty pathetic.
Best movie I've seen recently is without doubt The Incredibles. The Lemony Snickett movie met my low expectations; I thought, going in, that the "look and feel" of the thing would overwhelm the actors, and the story, pretty much completely, and I found that to be the case. That the look & feel is extraordinary can't be denied, but it's not enough to hang a movie on, alas. When neither we nor the main characters know why something has happened, some part of the movie should be devoted to revealing that vital information, or to the main characters' search for it. That's where the Unfortunate Events falls short, alas.
So I'm back to The Incredibles. It's a comfort to me that there's at least one studio out there that still knows how to tell a story.