Tag Archives: 2011

Top 10 Films of 2011!

It had to be done. My list of 10 favourite films of 2011. Actually, I cheated. It’s really 11 films because I didn’t feel it was right to leave one of them out, so I made them both equal 10th.

In the end, after going through all 110 films I watched from that year, I came to the conclusion that 2011 was a fairly decent year in cinema. Not necessarily a lot of extraordinary “all-time “films but a fair number of very very good ones. Also a lot of 4-star films and a couple of films higher than 4 stars that unfortunately couldn’t make the cut.

Again, this list is based on the ratings I gave when I initially reviewed the movies. It is also a list based on the films I liked the most as a casual filmgoer, rather than a list of films judged the best by some sort of objective standard.

Without further ado, here goes. (Click on the titles for the full review)

10 (tied). The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

We're in the top 10 films of the year, Snowy! Let's celebrate!
We’re in the top 10 films of the year, Snowy! Let’s celebrate!

I felt compelled to include this one in the top 10 because it’s one of the best animated films I’ve ever seen. I know cartoons can do cute and comedy, but this is the first time I found an animated film so exhilarating to watch. A bit long, of course, but a remarkable and landmark achievement in motion capture animation features.

10 (tied). Moneyball (2011)

Our movie's pretty awesome, chubby!
Our movie’s pretty awesome, chubby!

I don’t think you need to love baseball to love this film, which I found insightful, amusing and moving in a strange kind of way. It might have moved a little slow for some but the pace was just right for me. And kudos to Kerris Dorsey for stealing the show as Brad Pitt’s daughter, especially for her sweet rendition of Lenka’s “The Show.”

9. The Ides of March (2011)

Vote for me or I'll stomp your head in
Vote for me or I’ll stomp your head in

I’m a sucker for political dramas/thrillers and this was another one brilliant one that just happens to star three of the best actors in Hollywood — George Clooney, Ryan Gosling and Philip Seymore Hoffman. Far from perfect but in many ways it comes across as a more stylish version of Primary Colors, still one of my faves from the 20th century.

8. Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011)

I'm on a date with Robin Thicke's wife!
I’m on a date with Robin Thicke’s wife!

Just when you thought Tom Cruise’s career was on the rapid decline path he churns out one of the best, if not the best, action movie of 2011 with fourth instalment of the Mission Impossible franchise, in my humble opinion the best one yet. Its simplified but intelligent plot and ridiculous action sequences provided a non-stop adrenaline rush and almost had me jumping on the seats like Cruise on Oprah.

7. Warrior (2011)

Bain vs Tom Buchanan
Bain vs Tom Buchanan

Take note, Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown — this is how you do an MMA movie. Actually, by infusing the narrative with a touching storyline and characters we can root for, Warrior is by far the best MMA movie of all time, and leaped onto my top 10 list of 2011 the moment the credits started rolling.

6. Super 8 (2011)

Look, it's E.T.!
Look, it’s E.T.!

My appreciation for Super 8 has perhaps waned a little since watching it more than a year ago,  but at the time I watched it I thought it was potentially this generation’s E.T. — the nostalgia it created was as powerful as anything I had seen in years. Even without it, the film was still highly entertaining and a lot of fun. A great family film.

5. Hugo (2011)

I heard the toymaker used to be Gandhi...
I heard the toymaker used to be Gandhi…

I can’t believe there are so many family films on my list, but there’s no way I could leave Hugo off this list. This remarkable Martin Scorsese film is rich and enriching, magical and emotionally rewarding. On top of that I found it incredibly impressive from a visual perspective and it’s also one of those rare films where the 3D was not detrimental to the overall experience.

4. Midnight in Paris (2011)

I wanna hug this movie too
I wanna hug this movie too (and Rachel McAdams)

If Hugo is for cinema lovers then Midnight in Paris is for lovers of literature. I had no idea what the film was about (thanks to the spoiler-free trailers) but was blown away by the clever script and the perfect tone created by Woody Allen in what must be his best film in years. Sweet, engaging and charming, it’s the best lighthearted movie of the year.

3. Drive (2011)

Yep. I'm Ryan Gosling and I can do no wrong.
Yep. I’m Ryan Gosling and I can do no wrong.

Drive might become my favourite 2011 movie when I look back years down the track, but for now, it’s no. 3. This stylish, ultra-violent neo-noir crime drama won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me it simply has the X factor. I was captivated by this film from its brilliant start (one of the best intros ever) all the way through to its powerful conclusion. I don’t really care if the movie has an underlying message — I just thought it was awesome to watch.

2. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Stop freaking me out!
Stop freaking me out!

Based on the acclaimed novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin haunted me when I watched it and still gives me the chills whenever I think about it. As a new father, this film, which is really a “horror” more than anything else, resonated with me in a way few films do and much of that has to do with the spectacular performance of Tilda Swinton, who absolutely should have at least had an Oscar nomination. The recent tragedy at Newtown has had me thinking about the movie a lot lately, which could be why it topped Drive for the no. 2 spot.

1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Get your dirty hands off my wand, Malfoy!
Get your dirty hands off my wand, Malfoy!

That’s right. My favourite film of 2011 is Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And if you don’t like it you can bite me! What can I say? I love those monkeys. Seriously, it may be an unconventional choice, but to me this was the best film of the Apes franchise (yes, including the iconic original) and may possibly be one of the best popcorn movies of all-time and one of the most entertaining movies ever. I’ve seen it more than twice and I still think its awesomeness is unparalleled. A cool premise, mindblowing special effects and the most epic action sequences of the year — who cares how much sense it made when it’s so much fun to watch?

Well, that just about does it. With less than two days to go in the year, it looks like this 2011 list will only be one year late instead of two. I promise my 2012 list will be posted during the first half of 2013! Promise!

Honourable mentions: 50/50, X-Men: First Class, Shame, The Descendants, Crazy Stupid Love, Snowtown, Limitless, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

PS: I just realized I never reviewed the Hollywood version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on this blog. I have no idea why, but from memory I gave it 4 stars and it would have missed out anyway, though it probably would have made the honourable mentions list.

10 Worst Films of 2011

It’s a Christmas Day miracle!

Yeah, you better believe it. I have finally finished watching and reviewing all the 2011 movies (ie, movies with a 2011 release date according to IMDB) on my list and I’m ready to deliver my worst and best lists of the (last) year. Sure it’s a little late, but better late than never, right? Take that, 2011!

Anyway, it was very interesting going through all 110 movies on the list and seeing whether I still felt the same about the movies so long after I initially rated them (well, for the older ones at least). There were indeed some differences. For example, I could have sworn I gave Transformers 3 a rating much worse than the 2.5 stars it received, and from memory I thought Something Borrowed should have been worse than 2 stars. On the other hand, having seen The Adjustment again more recently I think perhaps it deserved more than a 3.5. But to keep it to first impressions I decided not to change anything.

To make it easier for myself, I highlighted all the movies with ratings more than 4.25 and less than 2. And guess what? I ended up with exactly 10 films for each! Another Christmas Day miracle!

OK, so here goes. First up, counting down my 10 worst films of 2011! Click on the title to read the full review for each film.

10. Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown (2011)

IMG_8497.CR2
You don’t wanna mess with us, punk

You know, the sequel to MMA flick Never Back Down is not actually that bad when placed in context, which is a straight-to-DVD film with low expectations. The fight scenes are OK, but its recycled plot, laughable subplots and cringeworthy dialogue were enough to propel it into my top 10 worst of the year. Just.

9. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

1223-Film-Review-Extremely-Loud-Incredibly-Close_full_600
Tom Hanks piggy backs annoying kid

This was supposed to be a triumphant tear jerker about post-9/11 American, but instead it came across as exploitative and pretentious, and probably the worst Best Picture Oscar nominee ever. The kid (Thomas Horn) deserves some kind of award for portraying the most irritating child character in recent years.

8. Your Highness (2011)

Natalie Portman's best performance ever
Natalie Portman’s best performance ever

I really wanted to like this fantasy comedy farce but it turned out to be one of the year’s biggest disappointments. Perfect example of where there was not enough script and too much improv for a bunch of stoned actors/comedians who needed to be reined in and saved from themselves.

7. Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

OMG, we're in a movie that's exactly the same as the last two!
OMG, we’re in a movie that’s exactly the same as the last two!

As long as they keep making them I’m pretty sure Paranormal Activity movies will keep landing on my worst movies list every year. This one was actually one of the better ones, which really says it all about this gimmicky franchise that has as much trouble filling up the screen time as it does producing genuine scares.

6. The Art of Getting By (2011)

Let's see who can stare at the other person longer
Let’s see who can stare at the other person longer

Probably the most pointless film of the year in which a kid tries to get by with minimal effort, meets a girl, falls for her, kind of, not really, no one cares. Whatever the message was, it didn’t come out.

5. Jack and Jill (2011)

Two Adam Sandlers laugh at an Adam Sandler movie while everyone else pouts
Two Adam Sandlers laugh at an Adam Sandler movie while everyone else pouts

Adam Sandler movies used to make me so happy, but now they just make me sad — and angry. Jack and Jill is yet another example of how far he has fallen. Not only is it terribly unfunny and mean spirited, the film takes a dump all over screen legend Al Pacino by allowing him to be involved.

4. Gnomeo and Juliet (2011)

Watching real garden gnomes would have been more exciting
Watching real garden gnomes would have been more exciting

Possibly the worst animated film of the last two decades. The last cartoon I fell asleep in was Cars, and that was because I was really tired. This one had no excuse. The dearth of laughs was terrifying and there was no originality apart from the fact that they are garden gnomes. And as nearly always, the 3D was a waste of everyone’s time.

3. The Darkest Hour (2011)

Why am I screaming?!
Why am I screaming?!

The idea was good on paper and the trailers looked promising, but invisible alien enemies turned out to be oh-so-lame…until you saw the aliens and realized that was even lamer. Despite all the running and supposed danger, for whatever reason, The Darkest Hour just had no pulse. With no characters to root for and almost zero excitement, it was indeed the darkest hour — well, 89 minutes, to be exact.

2. ATM (2011)

I think people are watching us watching them watching us
Hang on, I think people are watching us watching them watching us

Ordinarily, a film released straight to video-on-demand and DVD should not be this high up on the list, but ATM does star Alice Eve, Brian Geraghty and Josh Peck, who aren’t exactly unknowns. My problem with it is that it’s just too unbelievably stupid and nonsensical, to the point where I actually started getting annoyed and wanted the protagonists to get killed for their lack of IQ. A slasher movie where everything is so predictable is never a good thing either.

1. New Year’s Eve (2011)

Michelle Pfeiffer and Zac Efron being forced to pretend there's chemistry between them
Michelle Pfeiffer and Zac Efron being forced to pretend there’s chemistry between them

The honour of the worst film of 2011 goes to New Year’s Eve, a new low in saccharine ensemble films where a bunch of stars are forced together on the screen because of some arbitrary common theme. How they managed to make a film with 20+ Hollywood A-listers that sucked so bad is beyond me. No one is given enough screen time to do anything meaningful and nearly all the characters/story arcs are unlikable or contrived or both. It was my only reviewed film of 2011 to be rated less than a 1 star (I actually gave it a 0.5), meaning the gap between this film and the my no. 2 film is wider than the gap between no. 2 and no. 9. The only positive thing I can say about it is that at least it wasn’t in 3D. Eek.

That was depressing. Next up, my 10 favourite films of 2011!

PS: It actually wasn’t such a bad year in terms of bad movies. A lot of average and below average stuff but not many made me want to pull my hair out.

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)

red_dog

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)

The-Devils-Double-Movie-poster-freemovietag

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

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 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!

 

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!

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!