Category Archives: 2011

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 2)

Let’s get straight down to it. Part 1 is here.

The Awakening (2011)

This one’s not bad for a British ghost movie. Set in the 1920s, the lovely Rebecca Hall plays a supernatural debunker who has been called to boarding school to investigate a ghost sighting related to the death of a student.

As you would expect, The Awakening has an abundance of chills – nothing new or innovative but there are so few well-executed ghost movies these days that it was actually refreshing to see some old-fashioned scares. The setting of a spooky boarding school full of pale English boys helped a lot, especially when most of them head home for the holidays and there’s nothing but a whole bunch of echoes.

The gradual change of Hall’s character from sceptic to believer was done very well, and both Dominic West and Imelda Staunton do great jobs in supporting roles. The ending was a little out there even for me but on the whole it’s certainly a worthwhile movie to get on a DVD night.

3.5 stars out of 5

ATM (2012)

Slasher film starring Alive Eve and two blokes set in an ATM room in some random parking lot. If that sounds stupid to you it’s because it is.

The three co-workers leave a function together and one of them has to go get some cash from an ATM in one of those isolated little glass rooms. A crazy dude dressed like Kenny from South Park starts terrorizing them and killing people who may be able to help them. Why? Who knows and who cares?

This is one of those films where the main characters deserve to die for continuously doing really stupid things that make no sense whatsoever. The premise is so preposterous that it drains all the fun out of the film – which is mainly just a lot of panicking and screaming and ending up back in the same place. Instead of being scared by their predicament I was more annoyed by how moronic they were being.

Interesting idea to try and make a slasher film in such a confined space but they really should have put a little more effort into the script and the execution. And a scarier antagonist with a little bit of personality wouldn’t have hurt either.

1.25 stars out of 5

We Bought a Zoo (2011)

My sister kept raving on about what a great movie Matt Damon’s We Bought a Zoo was, so I had to check it out, even though I’m not ordinarily a fan of family films. It’s supposedly based on a true story (albeit set in the UK, not the US, but I supposed it worked just as well) about a grieving widower who decides to start over and buys a zoo. Not a tank of fish, but a full-blown zoo with lions and everything.

The movie focuses on Damon’s character and a bunch of zookeepers, led by Scarlett Johansson, who are trying to keep the animals alive and the zoo licensed on very little money. Meanwhile, Damon has to deal with the rebellious activities of his son, who is still struggling to cope (his cute younger daughter loves it though).

I think that gives a fairly complete picture of what to expect from this film. Kids and people who like animals will probably enjoy this feel-good film. I’m not saying I don’t like animals or that I didn’t enjoy it, but I simply didn’t think it was anything special. Part of it is because it felt too much like a kids’ movie – everything was predictable and flowed too smoothly; even when there was conflict you knew it would all turn out rosy in the end. On the other hand, I did find parts of it quite uplifting, and it’s always a pleasure to see Thomas Haden Church (whom I’ve been a fan of since the Ned and Stacey days) and John Michael Higgins (my third favourite lawyer from Arrested Development), two of the best three-named actors around.

3 stars out of 5!

The Darkest Hour (2011)

I remember when I saw the trailer for The Darkest Hour and I thought to myself – this looks pretty interesting. Plus it had Emile Hirsch, who I’ve been a massive fan of ever since Into the Wild, one of my favourite movies of all time. Instead, The Darkest Hour should have been called The Darkest Hour and a Half, because that’s what it felt like watching this piece of trash.

The story is about two young Americans who travel to Russia to pitch a social network idea and find out they’ve been screwed over — this was the best joke of the movie because one of the Americans is Max Minghella, who was the non-Winklevii dude from The Social Network.

They go to some Russian nightclub to drown their sorrows, meeting a couple of girls (Olivia Thirlby and Rachael Taylor), and then some invisible aliens attack, turning humans into dust everywhere.

Now, when I first saw the trailer, I thought the idea of an invisible enemy was kinda cool, and certainly very scary. I was wrong. The invisible alien thing sucked badly precisely because you couldn’t see it. It became just a bunch of losers running around screaming. The worst part of it is that when you finally see how lame the alien is you wish you never saw it in the first place.

For a sci-fi thriller I found The Darkest Hour inexplicably boring and completely lacking in excitement. This probably could have worked with a better script and better direction (it’s directed by Chris Gorak, a former art director who had only previously been at the helm of one other film), but unfortunately it ended up being one of the most disappointing films of the year.

1.25 stars out of 5!

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 1)

With around 25 movies waiting to be reviewed in my draft folder, I have decided that it’s no longer possible for me to just “catch up” to present day with detailed reviews for each film, especially not when I have plans to eventually put out a long overdue “Best of 2011”film ranking.

And so I have decided to go on a bit of a mega review blitz and get most the majority of the films out of the way with condensed reviews. I have reserved more detailed reviews for the newer and more high profile films I have something to say about, which I will hopefully chuck in there somewhere.

Anyway, here is the first batch:

The Way Back (2010)

My only 2010 film in this entire review blitz. I had been dying to see The Way Back for quite some time but never managed to get around to it until a couple of months ago.

It’s supposed to be inspired by real life events (also have to take that with a grain of salt), about a bunch of gulag prisoners who literally walk fromSiberiato Nepal/India. It features an all-star cast including Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan and Colin Farrell, and I believe the film was nominated for a 2011 Oscar for its make-up.

This is one of those visually stunning, well-acted, inspirational “true” stories that highlight the strength of the human spirit. Most of the film is about the kind of amazing feats (and crap) these people went through to survive, so from that perspective it was compelling to watch, but on the whole it didn’t quite have that “memorable epic” feel to it. At the end of the day, I enjoyed both the story and the technical achievements of the film but also came away slightly disappointed that it didn’t blow me away like I wanted it to. I’m glad I caught it on DVD.

3.5 stars out of 5!

The Three Musketeers (2D) (2011)

My knowledge of the Three Musketeers, sadly, comes almost exclusively from that 1998 Leo DiCaprio movie The Man with the Iron Mask, where the Musketeers are played by powerhouses Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich and Gerard Depardieu, with Gabriel Byrne as D’Artagnan.

This new version of Musketeers, on the other hand, is played by relative unknowns – Luke Stevenson, Ray Stevenson and Matthew Macfayden (Mr I love, I love, I love you from the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice), with Percy Jackson himself (Logan Lerman) as a young D’Artagnan. The bigger stars, Orlando Bloom, Christoph Waltz and Milla Jovovich, on the other hand, are relegated to smaller roles.

I’m afraid this one was not at all very memorable for me. The lack of star power amongst the key roles might have had something to do with it, but for some reason despite all the swordplay, flying around and blowing things up I never felt…well, anything. It wasn’t awful and admittedly it was fun at times, but I found myself watching for the sake of it and not really caring what happened next.

Apparently a sequel was planned but I’m not sure I’d want to see it.

2.5 stars out of 5 

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

Having called the original overrated and the sequel one of the worst films of last year, I returned for more punishment with Paranormal Activity 3, which is actually a prequel about a young Katie and Kristi, the sisters who led the first two films in the franchise.

I suppose the makers deserve some kudos for coming up with the prequel idea so they can milk a little more money out of audiences – but still, the movie sucked dog scrotums. Perhaps it was scarier than the other two from a “boo” factor perspective and slightly less tedious in its build-up, but those are the only positive things I have to say about the film, which has really scraped the bottom of the barrel this time.

For one thing, I thought being set in 1988 meant that the “film everything” philosophy would have to be slightly reconsidered, but instead this family had some of the most advanced video camera technology ever used. I mean, seriously, what kind of family from the 80s would install cameras in just about every corner of the house, and what kind of futuristic cameras were they using to capture both crystal clear audio and high definition quality video for every second of the freaking day? This would have had to have been on tapes, by the way.

But I guess people who watch these films already know what to expect — a lot of time fillers, a few chills and several boo moments here and there, and a crazy ending where all hell breaks lose. Strictly speaking this might have been the most enjoyable movie of the three, but because the predictable formula has been reused so many times I can only give it…

1.5 stars out of 5

The Double (2011)

Richard Gere. Topher Grace. Straight to DVD (I think). That just about sums up The Double, a film about a Soviet operative called Cassius who is some super deadly killer seeking revenge against those who harmed his family. Gere and Grace are two CIA agents trying to track him down, but is there more to the story than meets the eye? And why is it called The Double?

Actually, this was not too bad for a straight-to-DVD flick (if that’s indeed what it is). But as a feature with two somewhat marketable stars – plus the likes of Martin Sheen, Odette Yustman, Stana Katic (from Castle) and Stephen Moyer (True Blood) – The Double fails to generate any real suspense or genuinely exciting action. It reminded me a little of those Carlos the Jackal films that were popular for a while, except those films were considered cool back then but not now.

The so-called “twists” were fairly obvious and didn’t add a whole lot to the drama. The execution wasn’t all bad but I think the script itself needed work. Not an atrocious effort overall but still a completely forgettable film. As you can see I am struggling to remember the details.

2.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Chronicle (2011)

Doesn't this remind you of something?

I’m usually not a fan of pretend home-made video movies shot with hand-held cameras that are supposedly pieced together from “found footage”. I find the concept gimmicky, contrived and overdone, and most of all the constant shaking makes me nauseas.

Accordingly, while it might not say a whole lot, Chronicle may very well be the best film of this type that I have ever seen. Surprisingly and unexpectedly, I should add.

The premise of Chronicle is simple. Seattle teenager Andrew starts filming his life. His mother is dying of cancer and his dad is an alcoholic. Life is not much fun for him – until, of course, a discovery (which is never fully explained) which gives him, his cousin Matt and his friend Steve, totally freaking awesome superpowers.

I won’t go too much into what kind of powers they are but if you’ve ever played the game Infamous on the PS3 then you’ll have a bit of an idea. In fact, I’m pretty sure that game had at least a bit of an influence on this film.

Anyway, as Andrew and his friends learn to harness their powers and become more and more powerful, things inevitably start to get out of hand.

What I particularly liked about the film, apart from the fact that it’s damn entertaining, is that it’s not about superheroes. It’s not about making the world a better place or saving it. There’s none of that “with great power comes great responsibility” crap. These are immature teenage kids who suddenly find out they can rule the world – what do you think they would do? What do you think you would do? If anything, this is a film about the corruptive nature of inheriting too much power for one’s own good.

The film works because it doesn’t try to be “big”. For the most part, it operates within the confines of the teenagers’ lives and the issues accompanied by their daily problems, such as bullying, rebellion, girls, popularity, and so forth. This gives the story a more personal feel and makes it more relatable to viewers.

The short 83-minute running time is another plus, keeping the story progression tight and compact. There are very few “time fillers” in this movie, unlike say all the films in the Paranormal Activity franchise. An extra 20 minutes could have completely ruined this movie, so kudos to debut director Josh Trank for knowing when enough is enough.

The actors are largely unknowns (I had never seen any of them) but they give natural performances. Good enough to pass the “home video” test, anyway.

The real stars are the special effects, which are essentially seamless and added an additional layer of realism to the film. The stuff the kids do in the film is incredible, but never did I feel like I was watching digital effects while they were doing them.

As for the nausea, the film made a very clever choice to keep the camera as still as possible (for the most part) and used an ingenious method of justifying it. If you’ve seen it you’ll know what I mean.

Chronicle might not be “superb”, but it’s a rare film that manages to make the home video/found footage idea work, and for that I give it…

4 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

I saw this movie several weeks ago but I can’t seem to get it out of my head. It just had that kind of an effect on me.

Based on Lionel Shriver’s acclaimed 2003 novel (which I have not read), We Need to Talk About Kevin follows a grieving mother (Tilda Swinton) as she tries to come to terms with a horrific atrocity committed by her teenage son, Kevin (Ezra Miller).

I had some idea about the premise but I had no idea how or why things turned out the way they did, which still enabled the film to be very effective as the story is interspersed with various chronological flashbacks, from Kevin’s conception until “present day”. We see Swinton’s character, Eva, at the start of it all, a young, carefree woman full of hopes and desires, and we see the way she is now, barely a shell of a person — and these flashbacks slowly peel away the layers until the two versions of her merge into one.

It’s not often that a film makes me feel physically compelled to keep watching or makes me feel emotionally drained by the end of it , but We Need to Talk About Kevin manages to do both. It’s an old cliche, but the film truly is a parent’s worst nightmare. As a new parent myself, watching Eva struggle to bond with Kevin — who might as well be called Damien — is gut wrenching and terrifying. In fact, although the movie would be traditionally categorised as a drama, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to call it a horror.

This is a film that raises a lot of questions about the role of a parent in bringing up a child, as well as the nature vs nurture debate. Was Kevin born evil or did she make him that way despite her best efforts? What can you do when a child simply refuses to listen and is intent on making your life hell? And what can you do when your partner has no idea what is going on?

With all due respect to Meryl Streep’s Oscar win for her portrayal of The Iron Lady (which I intend to review shortly), Tilda Swinton should have claimed the statuette for the performance of her career. She was simply heartbreaking as Eva, and I could feel her anguish, pain and despair as though her emotions were my own. Her ability to convey Eva’s conflicting feelings towards Kevin was simply incredible and I have a hard time coming up with another actress who could have taken the character to the same level.

Ezra Miller also did very well as the chilling titular character (though perhaps a little overdone at times), as did John C Miller in a surprisingly good performance as the oblivious husband Franklin, but this was without a doubt Swinton’s movie. It’s one of those rare films that captivated me from start to finish and had me sitting in silence through the credits, shattered by what I had just seen.

I don’t have much more to say about We Need to Talk About Kevin except that I highly recommend it. For me, it was undoubtedly one of the best movies of 2011, and when all is said and done, probably the year’s most memorable.

5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Help (2011)

Even before I saw The Help I knew it was going to be a polarising film.  While some called it the best film of the year, I had also heard that the film was accused of trying to ‘glamorise’ what some African-American maids had to go through during the Civil Rights era of the early 1960s.  I can’t say I know enough about it or history to make any sort of meaningful comment on that, so instead I simply approached the film as a piece of entertainment.  And as such, I would say The Help worked on most levels, even though it didn’t blow me away like it did for many others.

The Help, based on the book of the same name by Kathryn Stockett, is about Skeeter (Emma Stone), a young white journalist who decides to write a book from the point of view of black maids as they work for their white bosses and look after their white children. Skeeter herself was more or less raised by a black maid, and unlike many of her peers, such as the insufferable Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), sees them as people rather than something a lot less. Two of the maids central to the story are Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer), who are both initially reluctant to help Skeeter with her book for obvious reasons but eventually take it in their stride.

I guess it’s easy to view The Help as a “good white person saves black people” kind of movie, because to some extent, it is. Skeeter is so obviously “good” and characters like Hilly are so obviously “bad” — there’s really no middle ground. As a result, I can see why some people felt the film was trying too hard to skew audiences in one direction, as Hollywood films often tend to do.

However, what prevents it from being more than merely a melodramatic feel-good movie aimed at making white people feel better about themselves are the awesome performances from Davis and Spencer, both of whom received worthy Oscar nominations. Spencer, who won the best support actress gong, was especially brilliant and stole the show as the outspoken Minny.  By making the film more about these extremely strong black characters rather than Skeeter, The Help ended up being a lot more entertaining and touching than I initially expected, without making me feel like I was being over-manipulated.

Also unexpectedly good was fellow best supporting actress nominee Jessica Chastain, playing the outcast Celia, who gave the film a different dimension with her affable naivete and sweetness. This is the type of film that would have been a complete flop had it not been for the strong ensemble cast. Full credit has to go to director and screenwriter Tate Taylor (who adapted the book) for eliciting such solid performances and penning an adaptation that utilises humour so well. Yes, although it tackles some serious themes, The Help comes across as generally quite light-hearted and contains plenty of funny moments.

At the end of the day, while it does oversimplify the situation a little (or a lot, depending on your point of view), I found The Help to be an entertaining feel-good film that generated exactly the type of emotions I expected it would. It’s not perfect and it’s not the type of film that usually appeals to me, but I think it’s a little unfair that the film is being criticised for not being certain things when it probably never intended to be those things in the first place.

3.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Moneyball (2011)

To me, there is simply something romantic about the sport of baseball.  It really is the only sport where anything can happen until the last out and sometimes does.

The biographical sports drama, Moneyball, directed by Bennett Miller (Capote) and starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman, does an outstanding job of capturing the essence of that romance.  Based on the Michael Lewis’s book of the same name, it tells the true story of Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane (Pitt) and his attempt to use sabermetrics (basically statistical observations) to build a winning baseball team with limited money. It sounds kinda lame, I know — I thought it would be a boring movie too — but somehow, Moneyball works as a moving drama that hits all the right emotional notes.

Moneyball is, at its heart, an underdog story. Beane was a high school standout that made it to the majors but failed to live up to expectations, and as GM of the Athletics, he constantly faced an uphill battle with one of the smallest budgets in the MLB and constantly losing good players because they can’t afford them. By chance, he comes across Peter Brand (Hill), a young Yale economics grad who introduces him to sabermetrics, a system of player selection that was ridiculed and almost regarded as blasphemous amongst Beane’s old (in experience and age) staff.

Personally, I knew very little about what actually happened in real life, which made Moneyball an exhilarating experience to watch. If it wasn’t a true story I would assumed it was too good to be true — you really can’t make this kind of drama up. And full credit to Miller for approaching the story with a steady hand and the requisite subtlety, without overplaying things too much, something a lesser director easily could have done. It’s not so much the baseball action as it is the action behind the baseball, if you know what I mean.

As a result, Moneyball achieves the rare feat of being a sports movie that doesn’t feel bogged down by cliches. It helps that the baseball action looks incredibly authentic, and you could have fooled me into believing that what I was watching was real game footage.

The screenplay by Steve Zaillian and Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) also plays a big part in the film’s success. As is typical of Sorkin’s writing, Moneyball‘s screenplay is witty and sharp, with awesome dialogue and no wasted words.

But of course, it’s the terrific performance of Brad Pitt that anchors the film from start to finish. I’m not sure about an Oscar win, but the nomination was certainly well-deserved. I can’t say I can agree with Jonah Hill’s nomination for best supporting actor though. Sure, it’s one of the rare times he isn’t playing an obnoxious bozo, but was his supporting performance really one of the top five of the year?

The only other minor complaint I have is the slightly over long 133 minute running time, but given the amount of things that happen throughout the film I didn’t find it that big of a deal.

I’m not sure if you need to be a baseball fan to appreciate film, but for me, Moneyball was a personal delight — a film about taking chances, believing in yourself, and ultimately, knowing what is important.

4.5 stars out of 5!

PS: Young Kerris Dorsey, who plays Pitt’s daughter, almost steals the show with her few scenes. I am currently hooked on her rendition of Lenka’s The Show, which has a key role in the film.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xT1esMERSNA

 

Movie Review: Hugo (3D) (2011)

To 3D or not 3D, that is the question.

If you know me or have read some of my reviews, you’ll know I hate 3D films with a passion usually reserved for botched haircuts and cakes with hairs on them.  But I heard there were rumours on the internets that Hugo is the first ever film worth watching in 3D.  The Martin Scorsese directed family film (which is weird enough in itself) apparently utilises the technology wonderfully, so well, in fact, that it actually enhances the film rather than distracts it.

Is it true?  Mmm…that’s a hard one.  I haven’t actually seen the 2D version so it’s hard to make a comparison, but I can’t imagine liking the film any less just because it doesn’t have 3D effects.  To Scorsese’s credit, this is one of the rare 3D films that doesn’t make me squint because the screen gets too dark, since he always ensures that visuals are bright enough, even with the dimming glasses on.  The film also employs some neat tricks with the camera which makes great use of depth, but perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay is that the 3D does not feel like a gimmick.

Anyway, all this discussion about 2D and 3D is ultimately kind of irrelevant because no matter how many Ds Hugo has, it’s still one of the best movies of 2011.  It’s so clever, so magical and has so much heart that I’m struggling to think of another family film that even comes close.

Set in the 1930s, Hugo tells the story of the titular character (played by Asa Butterfield), a lonely 12-year-old boy who lives behind the walls of the Paris train station.  Hugo has a secret project he needs to complete which requires him to steal spare parts from the station’s toy store.  The store’s enigmatic owner is played by a marvellous Ben Kingsley, and Isabelle, his goddaughter, is played by Chloe Grace Moretz. And Sacha Baron Cohen is the crippled station inspector who seems to like nothing more than sending little children to orphanages. I won’t reveal much more than that, and I hope if you haven’t seen it you’ll try to go into the film knowing as little about the plot as possible.

If you love film, chances are you’ll love Hugo.  It’s really a love letter to the origin of motion pictures and the art of filmmaking that ingeniously blends genuine film history with a fictional story that is both beautiful and incredibly moving.  I really enjoyed the feeling of not knowing where the film was heading and not caring — I completely surrendered myself to Scorsese’s masterful storytelling and just let Hugo take me along for the ride.  Sure it was a little long at 128 minutes, and the film takes a while to hit its stride, but eventually I was immersed in Hugo’s world and  I actually found myself wanting more by the end of it.  Simply put, the film was exciting, mysterious, heartfelt, magical and absolutely stunning to look at.

The performances played a big part too.  The kid, Butterfield, was pretty good, as were Moretz and, surprisingly, Cohen (not a hint of Borat). Butterfield’s innocence and romantic ideals made Hugo a very likeable protagonist, and Moretz, after playing a kid assassin (in Kick-Ass) and a vampire (in Let Me In), demonstrated her versatility once again as the lovely Isabelle.  Even Jude Law was excellent in a small but important role.  But the movie truly belonged to Sir Ben Kingsley, who was utterly mesmerising as the heartbroken toymaker — you’d probably have to go as far back as his Oscar winning role as Gandhi to find a performance that rivals this one.  I know Hugo swept the technical awards this year at this Oscars but it’s hard to believe none of the actors even got nominations at any of the major awards.

That’s enough rambling from me. All I can say is that Hugo is not only one of my favourite films of 2011 (I am hoping to be able to get to that list I’ve promised to do…eventually), it is the kind of film that made me fall in love with movies in the first place.

5 stars out of 5!

 

Movie Review: Jack and Jill (2011)

Can someone please explain to me what the f@&! happened to Adam Sandler?

I guess I am just a glutton for punishment.  After hearing that Sandler’s latest comedy about twins, Jack and Jill, in which he plays both titular characters, raked in the Razzies nominations, I decided to check it out because it made me curious.

Could it really be that bad?  After all, I had seen some real shockers last year, and the Razzies usually tend to be based on hype more than anything else.  Most of the time the winners were nowhere near the worst films of the year, or so I believed.

And thus I held out a little bit of hope for Jack and Jill.  Sadly, while I doubt it is the worst film of 2011, it was a colossal disappointment, even by Sandler’s recently abysmal standards. And hey, I loved his earlier films like Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, The Waterboy and so forth.

Jack and Jill is just so wrong on so many levels.  Sandler plays Jack, an advertising executive married to the most thankless character I’ve seen in years, played by Katie Holmes (I’ll get to her later, don’t you worry).  He is what you would probably call a “normal guy”.  His twin sister Jill, also played by Sandler, is an overweight, embarrassing, ignorant and probably slightly mentally challenged woman who comes to stay with him for a little while.  During her stay, Jill somehow inexplicably catches the attention and affection of Al Pacino (played by the real deal), whom Jack is trying to get for one of his commercials.  And I can’t believe I just tried to explain the plot of this film.

The biggest problem with Jack and Jill is that it’s just not very funny, especially when Jack and Jill are on screen, which is almost all the time.  I don’t know why, but lately Sandler keeps playing these rich, “normal guys”, probably versions of himself, who are complete dickheads.  Jack is no different.  He’s just his mean, highly unlikable guy who’s pretty much a big bully.  I know he also plays Jill, but this feels different because she’s a woman and we know she’s nothing like Sandler in real life.  And the whole film is essentially Jill, who is actually quite likable despite her flaws, being bullied.

You can probably already guess what happens. Jack can’t stand Jill at the start of the movie and tries to use her to get to Pacino, but in the end he realises…need I say more?

In fact, I’ve come to realise that most of Sandler’s films follow this same trajectory nowadays, and it stinks. Jack and Jill painfully reminded me of one of the worst films I saw in 2010, the appalling Grown Ups, in which Sandler and his comedian buddies were about as unfunny as I had ever seen them.

Here, watching Sandler on screen was as funny as watching some successful millionaire make fun of a handicapped person begging on the side of the street.  When I saw him revert to incredibly obvious and lame toilet humour I knew he had hit a new low.

The only thing that saved the film from complete disaster was the great Al Pacino, playing the great Al Pacino…or at least a caricature of the great Al Pacino. I have no idea how they convinced him to star in this movie, but Pacino was the film’s saving grace and provided essentially all the laughs — though to be fair even he was a little hit and miss at times.

Oh, and before I forget, Katie Holmes.  Is this what Tom Cruise allows her to do these days?  Really?  She did basically nothing.  A pot plant could have played her role, and probably could have done it better.  It made me wonder whatever happened to her after carving out a successful TV career in Dawson’s Creek.  Sure, she was popular for a while, especially after she bared her gifts in The Gift, but has she had a role in which her character really mattered since?  Batman Begins, maybe, but remember how much better The Dark Knight was without her in it?  It’s a tragedy because I think she has a lot more potential.

I hate to finish on a sour note after this rant, but the truth is Sandler needs to get back to his roots, where “character development” takes a back seat to just plain old silly fun.  That’s what he was good at and that’s what he’s always been good at.  His earlier movies were funny because he made fun of himself.  Now he is, explicitly or implicitly, making fun of others who don’t deserve the ridicule, and that’s just not fun to watch.

1.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Shame (2011)

Writer-director Steve McQueen’s sex-addict movie, Shame, has been the talk of the town lately because of Hollywood’s biggest new star, lead actor Michael Fassbender’s…um…”assbender”.

Fassbender’s appendage, which is on full display in the film, has been the subject of a slew of jokes, including from George Clooney, who asked during his Golden Globes acceptance speech if Fassbender had ever played golf with his hands tied behind his back (other jokes include “Fassbender puts pornstars to Shame“, “Fassbender has nothing to he aShamed of”, “Fassbender puts Vincent Gallo to Shame”, “Fassbender is going to be starring in Boogie Nights 2: No Prosthetics Needed“, etc). (Okay, I made pretty much all of them up.)

Oh, yes, what’s the film about?  Fassbender plays Brandon Sullivan, a successful New Yorker who just can’t keep it in his pants.  The guy just needs it all the time, wherever, whoever, you name it.  And he’s not even the master of his domain, if you know what I mean.  It’s actually quite debilitating and not as exciting as it seems.  His sister Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan, shows up out of nowhere and turns Brandon’s life upside down.  Sissy has some serious issues of her own, and it’s obvious they are both trying to forget their troubled past, which is hinted but never revealed.

You would think that a film about a sex addict would be a comedy, but Shame is extremely dark and depressing, pretty much all the way through.   Like most addictions, Brandon’s issues are deeply rooted (pun intended), and McQueen does not glamorise it at all, making his best efforts to convey the condition in a realistic manner.  It’s portrayed not a whole lot differently to any type of serious addiction, be it drugs or alcohol — though I wouldn’t say the film is as harrowing as say Requiem for a Dream.

Despite the film being centred around sex, it’s not gratuitous — though there is a fair bit of it, there’s not nearly as much sex and nudity as one would expect.  Credit to McQueen for showing enough to convey what’s necessary but not to the point where it becomes exploitative.

I haven’t seen all of the Oscar best actor nominees, so I can’t make a definitive statement — but it’s a minor travesty that Fassbender, who also starred in McQueen’s acclaimed debut, Hunger,  was not given the nod this year for his daring, brilliant, controlled performance.  Without him, I’m not sure how this film would have turned out.  Also very impressive is Carey Mulligan, who hadn’t jumped out at me before in previous roles but was particularly effective here as the needy, disruptive Sissy.  The singing scene was a little cringeworthy but everything else was solid.

Shame is very much an indie drama film, so it’s not going to be for everyone.  There are long, lingering shots and plenty of conversation and silence.  But at the end of the day, everything is there for a reason and as a result the film works as a piece of compelling cinema.  It’s a an effective and disturbing portrayal of an addiction that robs the afflicted of their ability to make an emotional connection with other people.  I was riveted from start to finish.

4 stars out of 5

 

Movie Review: Columbiana (2011)

Apparently, allegedly, supposedly, Columbiana was originally envisioned as a sequel to The Professional (otherwise known as Leon), you know, Natalie Portman’s debut as a pre-pubescent assassin wannabe who is rescued and taken in by a super lone assassin played by Jean Reno.  It’s kind of got cult classic status now and is a personal favourite of mine.

But let’s face it, even though it will get the fanboys all hot under the collar, the idea of a grown up Natalie Portman who has fulfilled her dream of becoming an assassin was always going to suck and piss all over the legacy of the original film.

And so I’m glad they didn’t go down that route.  Instead, Columbiana as a similar premise, except with Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Star Trek, The Losers) in the lead role as a little girl who is determined to become an assassin after her family is wiped out by drug lords in Columbia and she escapes to America to live with her uncle.  Fast forward a few years and Saldana has become the real deal — a super svelte, sexy, kick-ass assassin who is intent on tracking down and annihilating all those involved in her family’s demise.

As an action film, Columbiana does produce some thrills and clever ideas.  Saldana looks the part and, because the film is co-produced and co-written by Luc Besson (the man behind The Professional), the style is slick and has that unique “Besson feel” to it — I’m thinking classics like The Fifth Element, Nikita, Taken, Taxi — all films he has been involved with in some capacity).  The gun fights, hand-to-hand combat and in especially the chase scenes are all done extremely well.

That said, when all said and done, Columbiana will likely go down as one of the more forgettable Besson-related films.  There’s just nothing in this film that feels fresh or special, and the storytelling by director Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3 — and said to be at the helm of the much anticipated Taken 2) leaves a lot to be desired.  It was choppy and uneven and simply not engaging.  I actually got a bit bored during the slower scenes.

But I will say that I found the action-packed scenes of Columbiana enjoyable when I was watching it.  As a Zoe Saldana vehicle and popcorn movie, it delivers, but don’t go in expecting a whole lot more.

2.75 stars out of 5