Category Archives: 2011

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 9)

Red State (2011)

Red-State-poster

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)

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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)

tinker tailor

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)

Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-On-Stranger-Tides-Posters-pirates-of-the-caribbean-21175443-800-1185

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

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 8)

The Art of Getting By (2011)

The Art of Getting By

This is a really weird movie which I don’t really get. It’s the first feature from writer-director Gavin Wiesen and I believe it’s supposed to be a coming-of-age comedy drama, although the whole thing just felt kind of “meh” to me.

George (Freddie Highmore) is a high school student and gifted artist who is a rut because he finds life meaningless. He is put on academic probation and told to get his act together, and at around the same time he meets a pretty girl, Sally (Emma Roberts). They form a bond, become friends and maybe something more.

See, even writing that brief synopsis was boring to me. I’ve always been a fan of Highmore and I think Roberts is a cute actress, and both put in solid performances, but the film itself failed to sustain my interest (and it’s only 84 minutes!).

Perhaps I am getting too old, but for some reason the actions and dialogue of these kids seemed totally unrealistic to me. It’s not just they are so self-absorbed but watching them act and talk like adults made them lose whatever charm they had. I didn’t find them innocent or sweet at all.

There might have been a bigger message in the film somewhere but it jumped right over my head.

1.5 stars out of 5

Drive Angry (2011) (2D)

DriveAngryPoster

Another Nicolas Cage movie where he’s paid to be Nicholas Cage? Yes, that’s precisely what Drive Angry (which is supposed to be in 3D at the cinemas, though I caught it on the small screen) is all about.

Cage plays Milton, a felon who breaks out from Hell (yes, the opposite of Heaven) to prevent a satanic cult led by Billy Burke (the dad from Twilight) from sacrificing his granddaughter. Somewhere along the way he picks up a waitress played by Amber Heard. Lots of gun fights, car chases and explosions ensue.

Surprisingly, however, Drive Angry is not as bad as it sounds. Sure, it’s forgettable and blends into all of the other B-grade films Cage has made in recent years, but at least it is occasionally fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Classier moviegoers might be turned off by all the relentless, over-the-top violence, the loud sound effects and the ludicrous but unapologetic plot, but those looking for a silly albeit entertaining grindhouse flick might find it a guilty pleasure.

By the way, the score probably would have been lower had I watched it in cash-sucking 3D.

3 stars out of 5

The Rum Diary (2011)

rum diary

I am a fan of Hunter S Thompson’s writing and his Gonzo journalism, so I was kind of excited about a film based on his novel starring Johnny Depp. But The Rum Diary turned out to be slightly disappointing. It was occasionally entertaining and amusing but felt like there was no focus and the film drifted all over the place without a compelling storyline to follow.

Depp plans Paul Kemp, a down-on-his-luck writer who gets a job for a paper in Puerto Rico. There are shady deals, lots of drinking and crazy shenanigans, but nothing that really gripped me to the characters or the plot.

Depp is pretty good, as is the steady Aaron Eckhart. Amber Heard is very good as the seductress, so good, apparently, that she ended up breaking up Depp’s marriage. Oh well.

On the whole, The Rum Diary is not bad for some light amusement (although it felt too long with a 2-hour running time), but it’s ultimately quite forgettable.

2.5 stars out of 5

The Devil’s Double (2011)

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The Devil’s Double is apparently a true story based on the life of Latif Yahia, who looked so much like Saddam Hussein’s son Uday that he was forced to be his body double.

The story has not stood up well after several debunking attempts, but I still found the concept utterly fascinating. Imagine being forced to be the doppelganger of the son of a ruthless tyrant and being sent to do all the crap he doesn’t want to do and the places he doesn’t want to go. It also means constantly being placed in danger and having no way out – well, apart from torturous deaths for you and your family.

Dominic Cooper players the duel role of Latif and Uday and he is dynamite. There was never any doubt in my mind that he was two completely separate people, and it’s not just because of the clever make-up and prosthetics that made their appearances slightly different, at least at the beginning before the forced plastic surgery. Can’t believe was only nominated for a single Saturn Award for this performance.

It’s a flawed film with an overdose of brutality and occasional lulls in the narrative, but Cooper’s performance and the premise alone were enough to keep me interested for the majority of the 108-minute running time.

3.75 stars out of 5

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 7)

I think we’re slowly getting there, but there are still a few more installments to come in what feels like a never-ending movie blitz.

Melancholia (2011)

Lars von Trier makes some strange films, and Melancholia is one of them. To be honest, had I watched this film a few years ago I would have categorised it as another contrived arty farty film that bores with pretentious pretty images and little substance, but I guess as I get older I am starting to appreciate these kind of things better.

I’m not sure if this is a spoiler but Melancholia is actually an apocalypse movie. Well, it’s actually a family drama disguised as an apocalypse movie, so don’t expect to see any asteroids or Bruce Willis blowing stuff up. The first half is set at Kirsten Dunst and Alexander Skarsgard’s dysfunctional wedding, where a lot of melodrama happens, and the second half is about the aftermath and how they deal with their impending doom.

I’ll admit, there is some interesting stuff here. The film is lovely to look at and full of, um, melancholy, as the title suggests, and Kirsten Dunst has arguably never been better as the depressed bride. But it’s not really my type of movie, and there is a lotta fluff. I mean, can we really say it’s not gratuitous to have a naked Kirsten Dunst laying on the grass under the moonlight? Not that I’m complaining, but still.

3 out of 5

One Day (2011)

One depressing film to the next. One Day is based on the book of the same title by David Nicholls and focuses on the relationship between Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess, not the serial killer), following them every day on July 15 from 1988 to 2011.

That sounds like an interesting idea for a novel but a potentially and brutally boring one for a movie if handled poorly. Fortunately, Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education) has enough tricks up her sleeve to keep the film compelling enough to keep me intrigued for the majority of its 108-minute running time. The dialogue is crisp and the chemistry between the two leads, powered by strong performances, feels genuine, although Hathway’s accent has apparently been criticised for its inconsistency.

On the other hand, there is the unavoidable monotony of the film’s structure and the occasionally strained melodrama that is more infuriating than romantic. I have to admit that the ending got to me, which was surprising because I didn’t really believe I cared about the characters until then.

3.25 stars out of 5

The Whistleblower (2011)

The Whistleblower tells the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz), a US police officer who goes to post-war Bosnia to work for a security company under the UN where she discovers a shocking human trafficking ring. When she tries to lift the lid on the crimes she finds herself being stifled by the UN at every turn because it does not want to lose its lucrative security contracts.

I was really captivated by this powerful film from start to finish, although I suspect it was more the harrowing subject matter than anything else. It’s revolting what some people would do to make a buck and watching officials perpetrate abuse against the very people they were paid to protect is deeply disturbing.

This bleak but inspiring film is driven by a super performance from Rachel Weisz, even if she is far too pretty to play the role. In many ways, it’s a typical woman-against-the-system type of movie, but I found it surprisingly effective due to the sense of paranoia and frustration created by debut Canadian director Larysa Kondracki. I’d definitely recommend catching this on DVD if you haven’t already.

4 stars out of 5

50/50 (2011)

Seth Rogen movies are often hit and miss for me, but 50/50 might very well be the best Seth Rogen movie ever because he’s only a supporting character. Thankfully, 50/50 is dominated by the wonderful Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who continues to demonstrate his range as Adam, a 27-year-old who finds out that he has cancer. The film is based on the real-life experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser and is directed by Jonathan Levine, who has done a bunch of films I’ve never heard of people.

I’m not ordinarily a fan of comedy dramas, or dramedies, as they are known, because they tend to be stuck painfully in the middle by being neither truly funny nor dramatic. But if they’re all like 50/50 then maybe I would have loved them from the beginning.

This is a real eye-opener and crowd-pleaser that manages to be both genuinely funny and moving. How people deal with cancer is an interesting area that is seldom attempted in cinema, let alone a young man who has his entire life ahead of him, with all those hopes and dreams waiting to be fulfilled. You would think it’s destined to be a bleak film or a disturbing black comedy, but 50/50 reflects life and all its amusing complications and contradictions far better than anyone could have expected.

Perhaps the film works so well is because it contains jokes that worked in reality. I know the fact it’s a true story is likely to be the reason why Rogen shines as Adam’s best friend, because he played the same role in real life to Reiser. He essentially plays himself, generally insensitive, crass and vulgar, but shows flashes of humanity and decency when he needs to. He’s funny in doses but doesn’t annoy, which is when he’s at his best. Rogen should consider retiring right here because it’s unlikely he’ll ever top this performance.

This is a thought-provoking, sweet and touching film that’s as good as any comedy or drama I’ve seen this year.

4.5 stars out of 5

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 6)

It’s been a while since I did one of these, but it’s not because I haven’t had any lined up. Here goes. I suppose this is the “drama” portion of my catch-up review blitz.

War Horse (2011)

I wasn’t as high on this Steven Spielberg epic as I thought I would be. As the title suggests, it’s about the life of a horse, from its birth in the early 1900s to the end of the First World War, and the lives of all the people it touches along the way. There’s not much to dislike about the film — it features a stellar ensemble cast, looks absolutely amazing, and is designed to tug the heart strings. Ordinarily, that’s more than good enough for me.

But for some strange reason I wasn’t blown away by it. Perhaps it’s because I’m not the biggest horse fan, or perhaps its because the ensemble cast meant there wasn’t a particular human character I could really connect with. Or maybe it’s because it was so serious, lacking in that light touch I had been used to from Spielberg movies. But it is overly long at 146 minutes and my guess is that I found the subject matter a little on the bland side.

Ultimately though, it’s still a fine piece of filmmaking from one of the masters. I just wish I liked it more.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Descendants (2011)

The Descendants is remarkable in that it takes an interesting but unspectacular concept and turns it into a poignant, funny and unexpected gem driven by excellent performances.

Based on the book by Kaui Hart Hemmings, it’s about a Honolulu lawyer (George Clooney) who happens to be the sole trustee of a family trust that owns a lot of very expensive land. He’s filthy rich, but as usual, not content with life. Following a tragic accident to his wife, he is forced to confront his two daughters and the fact that his marriage wasn’t as perfect as he thought it was.

This is the kind of movie critics just love. Well-written and well-directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election), and with possibly the best performance of Clooney’s career, The Descendants treads a fine line between genuine emotion and melodrama, but manages to come out on the right side. If you’ve seen Payne’s earlier films you’ll have an idea of the kind of dark comedy and tone that he is accustomed to creating.

I wouldn’t say I absolutely loved this movie but I did think it was wonderfully made and produced laughs and stirred up emotions I had not expected. While it probably deserved its Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, I doubt this is a movie we will look back upon in a few years as a classic, or even a particularly memorable film.

4 stars out of 5

Puncture

Captain America as a drug addicted lawyer? And it’s a true story? Yep, that’s what Puncture is all about. Chris Evans is Mike Weiss, who looks like a bum off the street but is actually a very smart guy with a law degree. The problem is, he doesn’t care much about anyone except himself, and is usually either drunk or on drugs.

Weiss and his partner take on a case where the manufacturer of a safety syringe (which would be perfect in hospitals) claims it was shut out of the market by the big bad pharmaceutical companies (sounds like a true story already). As the case progresses and the odds become more and more against him, Weiss starts developing a conscience and begins to genuinely care about the cause — with your typical “flawed protagonist finds redemption” vibe written all over it.

Essentially, Puncture is a darker, grittier version of some of the other little lawyer against big bad corporations kind of film. Matt Damon’s The Rainmaker comes to mind. But unfortunately, Puncture takes far too long to get off the ground that by the time I found myself engaged it was almost over. And no, it’s got nothing to do with Evan’s acting, which was fine, by the way.

I think it had a great story to tell and the final third was executed rather well, but it’s a shame that the film could not have gotten interesting sooner.

3 stars out of 5

The Beaver (2011)

This film had things going for it and against it. On the one hand it is directed by Jodie Foster and is called The Beaver (which is awesome), but on the other it stars megadouche and anti-Semitic psycho Mel Gibson. In the end, I decided to put my biases aside and watch the film, and I still can’t decide in the end whether I made good use of my time.

The Beaver deals with Depression by creating a bizarre scenario. Water Black (Gibson) is a depressed toy company CEO who handles his issues by speaking through a beaver hand puppet (as though it were a different person). And to everyone’s surprise, the beaver makes Black a huge success and enables him to rekindle his relationship with his wife (Foster) and son (Anton Yelchin).

If you can stomach the premise and the actor, The Beaver is a solid drama that tells a serious story in a semi-lighthearted manner. There isn’t as much humour as you would expect, though I suppose it’s hard to be funny when you’re dealing with a mental illness that affects millions of people. I think Foster dealt with it respectfully and she injects the film with warmth and honesty, but I’m not certain that I was sold by it as a whole. In the end of the day, it’s still a family drama starring Mel Gibson, and neither is really my cup of tea.

3 stars out of 5

Battle of the Polarizing Films: Drive (2011) vs The Tree of Life (2011)

It’s November and I still haven’t finished reviewing my list of 2011 films. So here’s another film battle — this time,  between two of the most polarizing films of last year — Drive and The Tree of Life. I thought one of these films was amazing, and the other boring and pretentious — but can you guess which is which?

Drive (2011)

I had heard some mixed reviews of this Ryan Gosling neo-noir crime drama. Some said it was slow and boring and too violent for its own good. Others said it was one of the best films of the year.

The story follows Gosling’s unnamed lead character, who works as a mechanic by day and a getaway driver for criminals at night. You don’t know much about his past or background, but all you know is that he is one heck of a driver who can stay calm under the tensest of situations and a badass you wouldn’t want to mess with. He befriends a neighbour, played by Carey Mulligan, and her young son, whose father is in prison and owes protection money to the mob.

It’s a simple story driven by a fascinating character and a sublime performance from Gosling, who seems to be unable to do anything wrong these days. It’s also boosted by a superb all-star cast, including the omnipresent Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman and Christina Hendricks.

With the exception of Mulligan, who gives a good performance but feels miscast in the role, I loved everything about this riveting film, which had been hooked and on the edge of my seat from the opening sequence — which is, might I add, one of the best of any movie ever. I loved the tension and I loved the mystery of Gosling’s character — the calmer he was the more nervous I got. And I don’t often notice the soundtrack but this one’s was rocking — the ethereal-electronic-pop-dominated score was perfect for the look, style and feel of the film. (For some reason it reminded me a little of the video game Grand Theft Auto!)

As for the violence, yeah, it might have been a little excessive (elevator scene, anyone?) but I thought it fit in well with the overall tone and added an edge to the tension. I’ve always been a fan of well-executed violence (thanks, Tarantino), and I suppose this is a great example of it.

One of the best, and potentially one of the most memorable, films of the year for me.

5 stars out of 5

The Tree of Life (2011)

The buzz around The Tree of Life before I watched it was that it is a revolutionary piece of filmmaking that cements his place in cinematic history as one of the best directors of all time. But word of mouth from relatives was that it was so confusing and boring that walking out would have been a better option than staying until the end.

My previous experiences when it comes to Terrence Malick have not been positive. I remember when people were calling The Thin Red Line a vastly superior film to Saving Private Ryan and decided to check it out, but had too much trouble trying to decipher all of Nick Nolte’s mumbling to really understand what the fuss was all about. Then I watched his next effort, The New World with Colin Farrell, but I gave up on it about 20 minutes in after, again, failing to get through all the mumbling voice-overs. What’s this guy’s deal with incomprehensible philosophical mumblings?

Anyway, I thought as a more mature movie viewer, I would now be more capable of appreciating Malick’s art. But in the end, I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it. The Tree of Life had its fair share of mumblings as well, but that wasn’t its problem. Its problem was trying too hard to be “profound”, to be “different”, to be a “masterpiece.”

Essentially, this “experimental” film follows a middle-aged man’s (Sean Penn) memories of his childhood in Texas in the 1950s with his parents (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain), but at the same time it is also supposed to be some chronicle of the history of the universe that explores the meaning of life.

I don’t have a problem with ambitious projects, which this clearly is, but I suppose you need to be in the right kind of mood to enjoy The Tree of Life (ie, high on LSD or something). If you’re expecting a linear narrative with a clear story to tell, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. But if you’re expecting a movie to suddenly turn into the National Geographic channel and show the images cosmos and dinosaurs and asteroids, and feel that it explains what life is all about, then you’ll probably love The Tree of Life.

I do appreciate the artistic merits of the film to some extent, as well as the beautiful images of nature that Malick projects onto the screen. The scenes depicting the children and their relationship with their father are also done well and occasionally stirring. In that sense I guess I don’t despise The Tree of Life like some others do, but at almost 140-minutes it was just too much to take and digest. Frankly, I was often bored and frustrated.

Maybe I’ll have more luck with Malick’s next film, To the Wonder, a romantic drama starring Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams. I heard people booed laughed at it during the Venice Film Festival earlier this year.

2 stars out of 5!

Battle of the Biopics: The Iron Lady (2011) vs J Edgar (2011)

I’ve been thinking of ways to hasten the catching up of my movie reviews, but at the same time it didn’t feel fair to put some of the higher profile films in a four-film blitz. So I came up with a compromise. A head-to-head between two of the biggest biopics of 2011, Meryl Streep’s The Iron Lady and Leonardo DiCaprio’s J Edgar. Ladies first.

The Iron Lady (2011)

The Iron Lady was a little slow, not terribly exciting, and a little selective in the events it wanted to depict, but it does boast a powerhouse performance from Meryl Streep and tells the story of one of the most intriguing political figures ever.

I admit, I didn’t know much about Thatcher other than her pointy face, crooked teeth and trademark voice, and The Iron Lady helped illuminate her life to some extent.

The story is told through flashbacks, from 2008, where Thatcher is battling dementia, and relives some of the most pivotal moments of her astonishing political career. You don’t have to understand politics or British politics to get this film (though it will help) because it’s essentially about how an ordinary woman overcame the odds to rise to the top of the UK’s political ladder.

Thatcher is painted as a complex person: highly ambitious, relentless, cutthroat, and ultimately quite tragic. I know a lot of people kicked up a stink about the film because they hate Thatcher’s guts and think she butchered the country, but I get that she’s the protagonist of the movie, not the villain, so she had to at least have some redeeming qualities or have the ability to make people feel sorry for her.

Much of the film’s effectiveness comes from Streep’s performance. I don’t know enough about Thatcher or have seen enough video clips of her to know how close Streep is, but by most accounts it was a fantastic impersonation (similar to what people said about Philip Seymour Hoffman when he won for Capote). But was it worthy of the Oscar (again)? I’m not 100% sure.

The Iron Lady was an unusually short 105 minutes (for a movie of this kind), but it actually felt longer than 2 hours. It’s an intriguing biopic but will unlikely break into any “top biopic” lists any time soon.

3 stars out of 5

J Edgar (2011)

Clint. Leo. Armie (Hammer, that is). What’s there not to look forward to in J Edgar, the biopic about J Edgar Hoover, the most legendary FBI director of all time? While there are no cross-dressing scenes (apparently this was just an “unconfirmed” rumor), Eastwood makes it 100% clear in his film that Hoover (DiCaprio) was not only gay but for many years pined after his longtime assistant Clyde Tolson (Hammer).

Like The Iron Lady, this film is also told in flashback format. It begins as an aging Hoover tells his life story to Ed Westwick from Gossip Girl. The story follows a young Hoover working for A Mitchell Palmer in the US Justice Department in 1919, later rising to become the head of the FBI before introducing many of the most monumental improvements in crime solving techniques – in particular, criminal science.

While the film covers the most significant events and cases in Hoover’s life, such as the capture of John Dillinger and the Lindbergh kidnapping, the heart of the movie undoubtedly lies with Hoover’s sexuality and his tumultuous relationship with Tolson. It’s not quite Brokeback Mountain but I found it to be rather moving at times. It was hard to root for Hoover at times because he was deeply flawed and could be a colossal prick, but the love he felt for Tolson, at least for me, felt genuine and heartbreaking.

Even though he looked nothing like Hoover and was obviously a lot taller, Leo’s performance was, as expected, awesome. As was Armie Hammer’s. What I didn’t realize before watching the film was that it also starred Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy, Hoover’s loyal secretary who stuck with him for a zillion years, and Judi Dench, who played Hoover’s somewhat frightening mother.

Look, when you have Clint Eastwood at the helm, you know you’re going to get some quality cinema. I don’t think it’s a stretch to call him, on a film-by-film basis, the best director around today, so naturally I am a little biased when it comes to his movies.

My problem with J Edgar for me was that the story lacked cohesion at times and certain plot points were covered with too much subtlety, to the extent where it became confusing and unclear. The biggest complaint, which you might have guessed, is the make-up. I couldn’t quite understand, with the advancements in modern technology and make-up techniques, how they managed to make both Leo and Armie look so bloody freaky and unnatural. They weren’t even that old (60s?) but looked like Guy Pearce in Prometheus.

Anyway, apart from that, I have to say I quite liked J Edgar. It’s not one of Clint’s best films, but it’s among his better ones. In any case, I liked it more than The Iron Lady.

4 stars out of 5

Winner, J Edgar

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 5)

A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas (2011)

I have always been a fan of the Harold and Kumar series despite its tendency to be very hit-and-miss. And you really can’t go wrong with any film that features Neil Patrick Harris.

In this third installment, Harold (John Cho) has married his dream girl Maria (from the first film) and works on Wall Street. Kumar (Kal Penn) is still the same old stoner who failed to become a doctor after flunking a drug test. It’s Christmas, and of course, the dynamic duo team up for one more wild adventure. This time, it’s finding a Christmas tree.

To be honest, A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas is perhaps the lamest of the trilogy. It doesn’t quite have the freshness of White Castle or the outrageousness of Guantanamo Bay. This is a “family” film, so to speak. But you know what? It’s still freaking funny a lot of the time.

As usual, there are some dud jokes thrown in there, but the good thing about there having been two earlier films is that you know Harold and Kumar’s personalities so well now that the laughs all come fairly easily.

Great to see Cho and Penn back in awesome form. Penn, in particular, had to resign from his post in the Obama administration to take the role, and there is a cracker of a joke about that in the movie. Needless to say, Neil Patrick Harris, who is supposed to have been fatally wounded in the second film, is back, and in peak condition. The always intimidating Danny Trejo (I last saw him in Machete…actually, in the PS3 game, The Fight) is also pretty good as Maria’s dad.

3D Christmas will probably go down as the weakest film in the series but fans of the two stoners will no doubt still be able to find plenty of amusement from it.

3.25 stars out of 5

Haywire (2011)

Okay, so Steve Soderbergh, the Oscar-winning director of Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Oceans Eleven and Contagion is a pretty big deal. No wonder he managed to get guys like Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas and Michael Fassbender to be in an action flick headed by an MMA star, Gina Carano.

Basically, Carano is a government agent who gets set up. Bad idea, because she knows how to kick some serious male ass. The story is a little convoluted for my liking but part of it has to do with Soderbergh’s distinctive style. Whenever the film gets into the fight scenes, however, the story is happy to take a back seat.

I don’t know much about Carano and I don’t care much for MMA, but I suppose the action in Haywire is pretty cool, somewhat Bourne-like in its pace, brutality and supposed realism, except with a less shaky camera and an actress that really knows what she is doing when she’s bouncing off walls, bashing heads in and choking people into submission. As a thespian though, I think Carano still has some work to do. Not horrible by any means, but could be better.

At the end of the day, Haywire is a decent action flick – but it just won’t be a very memorable one.

3 stars out of 5

Hesher (2011)

I’m a huge fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Tremendous talent and versatility. And there’s no one quite like him in Hollywood. I was recommended Hesher by a bunch of people and I had a ball with it. The big surprise is that the screenplay was co-written by Aussie David Michod, the genius behind one of the best films from last year, Animal Kingdom.

It’s a highly-random, WTF kind of movie about this dude, Hesher (played by Gordon-Levitt), who intrudes the life of a weird little boy called TJ. He’s dirty and scruffy, walks around bare-chested, has awesome tattoos, smokes a lot, and does heaps of crazy and random things. To be honest, he doesn’t do a lot, and the things he does don’t always make sense. He’s just…there.

It’s really hard to describe what this movie is about or why it is so compelling to watch. The comedy in it is jet black. It’s not for everyone but I laughed out loud frequently and ferociously. Unbelievably, it has Natalie Portman in it. And she’s funny too, in a strange kind of way.

Towards the end, the movie moves ever so slightly from its path of irreverence to toss in some unexpected poignancy. It was something I had dreaded but surprisingly, it worked, in a Hesher kind of way. It’s not the kind of movie I would put in any “best of the year” lists, but it’s one I could definitely see becoming a cult classic.

4 stars out of 5

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

This was a film that divided critics and viewers alike. Some thought it was a heartfelt tribute to those who lost loved ones in 9/11. Others thought it was a pretentious, manipulating tear-jerker that failed to hit the mark.

I belonged to the latter.

The idea, based on a 2005 book of the same name, is not bad. A kid (Thomas Horn – who, amazingly, became an actor after competing on Jeopardy) loses his father (Tom Hanks) in 9/11. He finds a key in his father’s belongings and sets out on scavenger hunt through the five boroughs of NYC to find out what it opens, meeting a bunch of people along the way.

For starters, you need to be able to buy into the whole premise about there being something magical about this kid’s adventure. I didn’t have a problem with that. What I had a massive problem with was the kid, who comes across as someone who will grow up into one of the most annoying and obnoxious adults on the planet. I’m not entirely sure if it is the character or the performance, but it’s probably a lot of both.

For me, the whole thing just felt wrong. I didn’t find it entertaining or exciting. I found it desperately trying to elicit an emotional response, one that I could not squeeze out. I was surprised, because the director, Stephen Daldry, was previously at the helm of The Reader, which had its flaws but was on the whole pretty good.

The film was not poorly made, but personally, I hated it. It must be one of the worst Best Picture nominees at the Oscars – ever.

1.75 stars out of 5

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 4)

Puss in Boots (2011)

Like just about everyone else, I laughed at the adorable cat from the Shrek movies the first time I him on screen. He was a fantastic character — so undeniably cute but also extremely self-assured and a bit of a ladies man. The potential for laughs was high.

And so it was not unexpected that the cat, Puss in Boots, got his own spin-off movie given that the Shrek franchise has been beaten to death with repetition. I knew before I watched this film that it was going to have a lot of obstacles to overcome – after all, a little bit of the cat is sweet, but will too much of him be a bore?

Fortunately, while it was nothing special or groundbreaking, Puss in Boots was not a failure. It pulled all the kitty jokes out of the bag in a witty, light-hearted manner that is pleasing to both kids and adults alike, and I found myself laughing out loud to a lot of them. Antonio Banderas, who voices Puss, is charming as the surprisingly kind-hearted hero, and Salma Hayek was also solid as love interest Kitty Softpaws. Very different though to the first time these two were on screen together in Desperado, the film that launched Hayek’s career.

Being a spin-off film, Puss in Boots felt like it was very much part of the Shrek universe, which I guess is both a good and bad thing. There is that sense of familiarity, which is good, but also the tendency to feel a lack of freshness, which is bad. Nonetheless, I enjoyed myself with this one, though I can’t see there being a sequel.

3.25 stars out of 5

Final Destination 5 (2D) (2011)

Hang on a second…didn’t they kill off this franchise already? I could have sworn that the gimmicky and fairly abysmal The Final Destination (3D) was the last one. After all, it was THE final destination.

As it turned out, there was a little life left. The fifth film of the series was essentially more of the same, and of course, it was also in 3D (which I avoided like the plague). If you like watching people die in an assortment of gruesome and creative ways, then you might still find some enjoyment in this one. But otherwise, stay away.

For me, it was a little “meh”, to be honest. The franchise has become a one trick pony in recent years – a bunch of people survive something they should have died in, and death comes back to pick them off, one by one. As usual, the initial “incident” is done quite spectacularly (in this one it’s a bridge collapse…oops, did I spoil anything?), and it then becomes a guessing game of who will go next, and how. I admit, there is some decent tension, and it can be fun guessing the manner in which the person will die while ignoring all the red herrings. But if you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen them all.

Kudos for placing the characters in a work environment this time and finally taking out of high school, and credit to the writers for coming up with a clever ending (I won’t spoil this one, but it’s not bad). Apart from that there’s not much separating this one from the rest.

2 stars out of 5

What’s Your Number (2011)

This movie was kinda gross. A girl (Anna Faris) realizes she has had twice as many sexual partners as the average person and decides to track down her ex-boyfriends with the intention of marrying one of them. Her neighbour (Chris Evans) is a douchebag who is into one night stands and is constantly running away from women he has just slept with. She agrees to help him and he agrees to help her. You can guess the rest.

What’s Your Number does have the tiniest bit of charm because Faris is sharp and witty (as usual, though she seems to have settled into this stereotype where all her performances turn out similar) but the characters are not particularly likable and the jokes are mostly flat and predictable. And you know right from the start how things will end up.

Is it worse than the average rom-com that gets churned out these days? Not really. Despite arising out of a fresh idea, in reality it’s just more of the same. I can’t think of much else to say.

2 stars out of 5

Johnny English Reborn (2011)

I will probably lose all credibility for this, and perhaps rightly so, but I am being dead serious when I say I enjoyed Johnny English Reborn.

Hear me out. When I saw snippets of the original Johnny English film I cringed and switched it off. When I saw the trailer for this film, I told myself it was going to be the worst movie ever.

And yet when I watched it (don’t ask me how or why), I laughed. It’s a guilty pleasure, for sure, and you probably need to be in the right mood for it. But I laughed. I found it funny. Rowan Atkinson was funny. So was Daniel Kaluuya, who plays bumbling junior agent Colin Tucker. And Gillian Anderson is always good to have around.

This is a spy spoof but the obvious spoof parts are not necessarily what generate the laughs. Make no mistake, this was a hit and miss film, and there were plenty of misses, but there were also some good jokes. Simple as that.

3.5 stars out of 5

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 3)

Here’s Part I and here’s Part II.

New Year’s Eve (2011)

I still cannot believe I watched New Years Eve, possible one of the worst abominations ever to hit the big screen in recent years. Putting all the biggest stars in the world (I’m not even going to attempt to name them all) in a romantic comedy about the yearly celebration has to be the most contrived idea since…Valentine’s Day, which was obviously trying to cash in on the success of ensemble films like Love, Actually.

The biggest problem with such films is that it are so in awe of the fact that it has all these big stars that it doesn’t bother with anything else – it’s as though seeing them on screen is reason enough for audiences to fork out some money. For some, that might be good enough, but for me it was pure torture (and I didn’t even fork out any money).

The other obvious problem is that with so many stars it’s impossible to give them a decent character or a decent plot to work with. Not unless you’re freaking Joss Whedon. As a result, you end up with a bunch of half-assed, obnoxious characters you don’t give a crap about doing very annoying and contrived things.

All of this could be forgiven to some extent if this romantic comedy was actually romantic, or funny. I don’t know about romantic, but it certainly wasn’t funny. Perhaps a couple of chuckles at most, but the rest was pure cringe city.

0.5 stars out of 5!

Footloose (2011)

Everyone knows about the song, but personally I have not seen the original with Kevin Bacon. In fact, I knew nothing about it other than the spoof scene from Hot Rod a few years back.

The remake is said to be better, though if you ask me I don’t really see why it had to be made in the first place. Professional dancer Kenny Wormald comes to a small town which has banned all unsupervised dancing due to a tragic accident involving some teens three years ago. But you can’t stop a man who wants to get down and boogie, and so Kenny finds himself up against church reverend Dennis Quaid while simultaneously trying to court his rebellious daughter, played by Dancing with the Stars champ Julianne Hough.

The plot is cookie cutter and the feel is very 80s, but I suppose Footloose does have a little bit of that country charm. And it does have a lot of energy. I’m not a big fan of dancing but if you are you might end up enjoying it more than I did. At the end of the day, however, I can’t see them remaking this one in another 27 years.

2.5 stars out of 5

Tower Heist (2011)

Ben Stiller movies aren’t what they used to be, but at least he hasn’t fallen as low as Adam Sandler these days.

Tower Heist, which combines the comedic talents of Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick (Mr Ferris Beuller himself), Casey Affleck and Gabourey Sidibe, plus one of my faves, Michael Pena, is nowhere near as good as it could or should have been, but it’s still relatively harmless fun that can be enjoyed on a lazy afternoon.

Basically it’s about a bunch of employees at a luxury apartment complex inNew Yorkwho are cheated out of their life savings by a wealthy businessman who lives there (Alan Alda), and come up with a scheme to try and get that money back.

It’s your typical heist movie with your regular bunch of misfits and quirky characters, and for the most part the chemistry is strong. Eddie Murphy returns to form a little (I don’t even want to mention the trash he has been involved in lately) but to be honest I didn’t find Tower Heist particularly clever or funny. It had its moments and there’s not a whole lot to dislike about it, but it’s a shame it couldn’t have been more memorable. A poor man’s Ocean’s Eleven, perhaps?

3 stars out of 5

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

I assumed it was “remake” of an original I haven’t seen before, but apparently the 2011 version of Conan the Barbarian is not related to the Arnie films of the 80s and features a new interpretation of the Conan mythology.

Whatever.

I’m a sucker for sword and sorcery films and there haven’t been a lot of high profile ones lately, so I suppose you could call Conan a guilty pleasure of mine. Jason Mamoa (who also played a barbaric fellow on season one of Game of Thrones), gives a pretty decent, if not uninspiring portrayal of the relentless, sword-wielding titular character who is out for revenge against those who killed his tribe and father. I’m sure he’s more believable than some beefy eastern European guy with a funny accent and a gap between his front teeth anyway.

The action in Conan is brutal and bloody, just the way it ought to be. Mamoa’s physicality is an advantage here, but it’s unfortunate that his character was not more interesting. Rachel Nicols plays the love interest (body double, people) and Avatar villain Stephen Lang and a freaky Rose McGowan are the central villains.

I have no idea why this film had to be 113 minutes, which was way too long and had me yawning through most of the second act. If they had pared it back to a compact 90 action-packed minutes it would have been a much more enjoyable ride.

Nevertheless…

2.75 stars out of 5!

 

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

This was one of my most anticipated movies of the Christmas/New Year period but I was too busy being a new dad to have an opportunity to check it out. I know not everyone agrees with what Guy Ritchie has done to the beloved detective but I quite liked Robert Downey Jr’s version of the character in the original film: a neurotic, slightly disturbed, fist-fighting action hero — who happens to solve a crime or two along the way.

Well I finally got a chance to watch it recently, and as it turned out, the sequel was pretty much more of the same. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you enjoyed the shenanigans of the first film, but personally, I was looking forward to more evolution in both Holmes and Jude Law’s Dr Watson.

In Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Sherlock investigates a series of murders and dodgy stuff he believes is connected to some sinister professor, as his trusty sidekick Watson prepares for his wedding to his long-time girlfriend Mary. The plot is actually rather convoluted, though that doesn’t really matter because the strength of the film again lies in Ritchie’s fast-paced action and Holmes’s personality quirks and one-liners. Rachel McAdams has a smaller role in this sequel and the main female role is given to the original girl with the dragon tattoo, Noomi Rapace, who plays a rather thankless gypsy.

Ritchie is a slick director, so you know you’re in for a high quality piece of entertainment. A couple of the action sequences (especially the one on the train) were done exceptionally well and the comedic timing was superb. If you’ve seen the original then you’ll have a fair idea of what to expect, and you’ll know that much of the film’s charm comes from the chemistry between Downey Jr and Law, a dirty, squabbling, scrappy odd couple that gets into all sorts of strife but always comes out on top.

My problem with A Game of Shadows is that it was too similar to the original. The story was different but the “feel” was virtually identical. It was terrific the first time round but another 129 minutes of it had me wanting something different. For instance, Holmes’s “prediction” of future events where time would fast forward (and slow down) as he talks about what he aims to do as he does it — that was cool in the first film and the first time he did it in the sequel — but by the fourth or fifth time I was desperate for something else.

I also would have preferred to see Holmes’s crime-solving genius in action, rather than always having it revealed in what I like to call “Aha!” moments, which inevitably occur just when you think Holmes and Watson have been beaten. I think it is more impressive if the audience is also presented with all the facts before having Holmes show us how he solved the mystery on the spot, rather than showing us all his elaborate prep work in hindsight through crafty flashbacks.

At the end of the day, A Game of Shadows is very solid entertainment that is every bit as good as the original. But personally, I wished it could have been more — or at least more different. For a sequel it was enough, but if there is a third film in the series the same formula won’t be able to cut it again.

3.5 stars out of 5