Red State (2011)
Hard to categorize this movie except to call it an interesting Kevin Smith film.
Written and directed by Silent Bob himself, Red State is about a bunch of kids who meet a woman on the internet for naughty business, only to find themselves kidnapped by a religious cult. Cops get involved, mayhem ensues.
Doesn’t sound particularly original but it is a very unusual film with some fascinating characters, fine details, unexpected twists and turns and the feeling that anyone could die at any second despite a star-studded cast – featuring the likes of John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Michael Parks, Kevin Pollack, Kyle Gallner, Stephen Root, Anna Gunn, Kerry Bishe – not huge names but a very solid lineup.
It’s been described as an action-horror but that’s not quite right, though I’m not sure how else to categorize it. In any case, I really enjoyed the tension and being taken this wild ride with no idea where it was heading. It was a little messy at times and got less interesting as it progressed towards the end (though it had a ripper of a conclusion), but at a swift 88 minutes it was good enough for me.
3.75 stars out of 5
Red Dog (2011)
I’m not usually a fan of animal movies or Aussie movies, so a combination of the two was unlikely to produce anything I would want to watch. But strong word of mouth and curiosity got me to check out Red Dog, which is apparently a true story about a legendary dog with his own statue in Western Australia.
It has a pretty decent Aussie cast with Rachael Taylor, Luke Ford and Noah Taylor, but of course they had to amp up the star power a little bit with American star Josh Lucas, whom I didn’t really mind here despite this being a very Aussie film.
I’ll admit, I was surprised that Red Dog was so entertaining and occasionally moving, making it a great family film and dog/animal-lover film. It doesn’t aim to be anything it isn’t and succeeds as a fairly low brow buddy movie with kiddy humour, clichés and an unexpected dose of charm. It doesn’t wow but has its effective moments.
I didn’t love it but I certainly didn’t hate it either.
3 stars out of 5
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
This is one of those films that had the critics calling it a masterpiece and the majority of regular moviegoers calling it a boring turd. Personally, I’ll admit it took me more than a couple of goes to get into it, having fallen asleep during my first two or three attempts. I finally managed to stay engaged on my final try but I still couldn’t see why it was so unbelievably great.
Perhaps I needed to have read the 1974 novel by John le Carre on which it was based, or the acclaimed 1979 mini-series that was able to squeeze in a lot more of the source material, to really enjoy this one. Sure it is stylishly made and fuelled by impeccable performances from an all-star cast featuring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch (best name ever), but I found the story quite unremarkable and lacking an adrenaline kick.
Told primarily through flashbacks, Oldman’s character, Smiley, a retired British intelligence agent, tries to figure out which member of their upper echelons is a Soviet mole. There are a lot of characters, a lot of detailed conversations involving spy lingo and people sitting around doing everything really really slowly.
I can appreciate certain elements such as the well-crafted tension in a few scenes, but on the whole I expected a lot more and don’t get what the fuss is all about. I can certainly understand why people have walked out or fallen asleep in this film (I personally know a few) because it is deliberately slow paced and looks extremely gloomy. It’s almost as if Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (who directed the brilliant Let the Right One In) is telling his audience: if you can’t sit through this then you’re just not clever enough for my movie.
It may have been a tremendous feat to condense such a complex novel into a 127-minute movie, but having never read the book it made no difference to me whatsoever.
2.25 stars out of 5
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2012)
Even though I had seen all three previous entries in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, I never really got into it like I thought I would. In fact, I can barely remember what any of them are about.
That might have been the reason why I actually thought the fourth instalment, On Stranger Tides (better known as Pirates 4), was pretty decent. Or maybe it’s just because it’s the first movie of the series without Kiera Knightley and Orlando Bloom.
Anyway, this one follows Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) on his quest for the Fountain of Youth. The main antagonist is Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter, and the Jack’s love interest, is played by Penelope Cruz.
It’s your typical pirate adventure movie (if there is such a thing), and the thing I will remember the most from it is the freaky mermaids, who play a key role in helping the pirates locate the fountain.
It’s still filled with sword fights, loud battles, special effects and Johnny Depp running and dancing around like a lunatic, but for once a film in the franchise felt shorter than its actual running time (for me, anyway). This one was still too long at 137 minutes, but it’s actually the shortest of the lot. Pirates 3, which I actually fell asleep in, is a mammoth 168 minutes.
I can’t say I thought it was fantastic, but it might be the first Pirates movie since the first that I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to (and of course there will be).
3.5 stars out of 5