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Your Highness had my girl Nat in it, but even her in full British accent, butt-kicking mode couldn’t rescue this from being a bit of a disappointment for me. Conan the Barbarian was something I was curious about being a fan of the original Arnold movie. The first 20mins give you a lot of hope that this would be a fun movie. In the end, this film suffers from being more Krull than Conan. Red Riding Hood had all the elements; atmosphere, Gary Oldman, but ended up forgettable. Just Go With It is Sandler as his most predictable. He really needs to try and stretch himself, he looks to be falling into a rut after having stretched himself with Funny People. Cars 2 was a huge disappointment for me. Any other studio and this is a great fun movie, but we expect more from Pixar. The Mechanic is another Statham B-movie waste of time. Season of the Witch had my man Nic Cage, but the lackadaisical production values really hurt this one. The Roomate is nothing more than Single White Female dumbed down. Arthur had potential, Brand was perfect casting, but too much reliance on the original story and a detached performance from Greta Gerwig sank this movie. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World had its moments, but felt like a pale shadow to the original trilogy of movies.
There you have it, the 10 films that disappointed me the most this year. All in all, a good year at the theater and home viewing.
First up, Cowboys & Aliens. This was a highly anticipated film by me. It wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t as good as I hoped. Bridesmaids I know is getting a lot of love and I enjoyed it, but something about Kristen Wiig’s character just really bugged me. The Change-Up was a rehashed body changing comedy that had moments of fun, but felt all too familiar and stale. Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached both mined the same territory; good looking people unlucky in love deciding to be friends who sleep together. Though the casts were good, the movies only mildly entertained. Hall Pass and Horrible Bosses both had the potential to really be funny and in parts were, but both failed to live up to the potential of the premises. 30 Minutes or Less was fun to watch, but felt rushed. Green Lantern was a missed opportunity, what it really did best was show how cool a sequel set in Oa could be. Bad Teacher continued the string of R-rated comedies this year. Though it did well at the box office, IMO it was not consistently funny. Battle Los Angeles took the alien invasion story to the urban streets, which was welcomed. But borrowing from an ID4 plot element ended up tarnishing this for me. Priest was another Paul Bettany action film that looked good, but underwhelmed (when did he become the go-to British religious action star?). The animated Gnomeo & Juliet has a great soundtrack and the spin on the Romeo & Juliet storyline was fun, in the end though, not something I see myself watching again. Jumping the Broom had some good actors in it, but in the end the sentiment was laid on a bit too thick and unnatural. The most frustrating movie in this list is The Green Hornet. They got everything right about this film except for one thing; Seth Rogen playing Britt Reid/Green Hornet. He relies too much on his usual carefree/bum-there-well persona that it ends up making what would have been rated an 8 by me rated down to a 6.
There you have it, the 15 films that didn’t get a total thumbs down from me, but will not see subsequent viewings. The final list that will come out is my 10 worse films I saw in 2011.
This list contains more sequels than my top 15 list. The Twililght Saga: Breaking Dawn, The Hangover Pt 2, Scream 4, PoTC: On Stranger Tides, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon made it on to this list (and were enjoyed by me in that order). All of these were strong sequels, with Breaking Dawn, IMO, being the best. Stewart shows some real acting chops in this one. Hangover pt 2 was more of the same, not as fun as the first, but still a riot. Scream 4 was surprisingly good and offered a fresh perspective. Stranger Tides was more of a Jack show and I for one enjoyed that. Dark of the Moon, for me, was a step down from the previous Transformer movies. Say what you will about Megan Fox, her and Lebouf had great chemistry and that was sorely missed this time out. Beyond the sequels, this list contains another eclectic mix of movie genres. Immortals was a great showcase for the new Superman, Henry Cavill. Limitless would have scored an 8 had it not coped out in the end, but still was very entertaining. Source Code was a fun concept with two highly likeable leads. Adjustment Bureau, a Philip K. Dick adaptation also had a fun concept and likeable leads. Unknown continued Liam Neeson’s string of elder statesmen action genre. “Pats” broke away from the Twilight movies and gave a very good performance in Water for Elephants. Paul was a fun ride. It was another that teetered on an 8 but it’s continual religion bashing soured it some for me. Lincoln Lawyer showcased Matthew McConaughey’s talents (would love for him to be my lawyer). Drive Angry, was an absolute crazy wacky wild spin of a movie. By far, Nic Cage’s best movie of the year. And finally, Justin Bieber: Never say Never, say what you will, the kid does have genuine musical talent. This documentary was very well done.
So there you have it, the 15 honorable mentions of the year. Below are the movies listed in order of enjoyment. Next up my “Rental only 15”. These were not the worse films of the year, but are films I recommend as a rental only.
Welcome back Cap'n Jack
I am a fan of the Pirates movies. Since 2003, I have enjoyed watching Capt. Jack and Co. stumble their way through adventures. Like many, I thought the last two sequels had a bit of bloat, none the less, they still entertained me immensely, thus I looked forward with fondness to sitting in a theater again to watch a Pirates adventure. I put on my Capt. Jack jersey, as I have for the last two films, and headed off to have fun.
Stranger Tides finds our good friend Capt. Jack continuing his quest for the Fountain of Youth that he set sail for at the end of At World's End. This time, there are two Jacks at the beginning. There seems to be someone going about England rounding up a crew under the guise of Capt. Jack. It isn't long before we learn who said impostor is, thus the quest ensues.
What I enjoyed most about the film was the return in Capt. Jack as a formidable Pirate. We had lost a little of that in the last two films, but here, Jack is in fine form verbally and physically. Depp pretty much wears Capt. Jack as a second skin and continues to throw layers on him. Rush is once again back as Capt. Barbossa, though this time, more of a "company man" in the beginning. Penelope Cruz is a fine addition as Black Beards daughter Angelica. Then you have Black Beard himself, Ian McShane, who turns in a wonderfully vile performance.
We get some zombies and mermaids this go around and enough action to keep you entertained. I thought Hans Zimmer's soundtrack was the best since the first film, it was continually rousing and fun throughout the film. And I think that is the best thing I can say about the film. It was a rousing fun time, exactly what I expected and like out of my Pirates movies. Yo ho, drink up and enjoy.
Enough gravitas to make it a good film
Thor was a risk to bring to the summer multiplexes. Lets face it, there is a lot to cram into a 2hr film, especially one that is built for the summer crowd. But Branagh is able to mix equal parts Asgard gravitas and earth levity to make a film that is thoroughly enjoyable.
Most of the praise should go to Chris Hemsworth who wields the hammer with all the confidence in the world. He was one of the few actors that was in both "rhelms" and he was able to give Thor the right amount gravitas and levity when it was required. Sir Anthony Hopkins is the perfect Oden. Tom Hiddleston has garnered considerable attention for Loki, and I agree he is good. But the supporting actor/character I was most surprised by was Natalie Portman's Jan Foster. This is probably the first role I have seen her in where I got the sense she was totally at ease and having a blast. I expected her to just kind of walk through this film, but she brought as much to this as she did in Black Swan. Totally different role and character and totally different chops needed, but none the less she takes a possible throw away character and gave her some life.
The film does a lot of jumping from earth, back to Asgard, back to earth, back to Asgard, etc. So the pacing is an important thing. For the most part I thought the pacing was handled well, though I thought the final act did feel a bit rushed. The 2nd act suffers from the origin dead zone that is inherent with these films. But again, Branagh shows why he was the perfect director for this film.
I did not see this in 3D. Mainly because it is a post-production 3D converted film. So I can't attest to how good the 3D is. The effects are good, the sound design is perfect, with the sound of the hammer being a major highlight. When Thor wields it with all his might, you feel it.
Very good performances and capable directing make this a fun movie to watch. Be sure to stay around until the very end of the credits as we are given a peek at what looks like the villain in The Avengers.
Fast Five (2011)
Just keeps getting better
You know, it is hard to sustain a franchise today through 3 movies, much less 5. But with the FF franchise, not only have the last two films regained the momentum, they have gotten better! The latest entry, FastFive, is unquestionably the best of the franchise to date.
FastFive takes the franchise beyond the fast cars and lovely girls genre and has turned itself into a bone-fide action/adventure franchise. There are enough of the fast cars and women elements, but the focus is now on character and story. A far cry from the humble beginnings of the series.
We get re-introduced to many friends from the past films and along with that, we get Dewayne Johnson, who comes into the film and chews up the scenery. He and Vin Diesel's confrontation is an action fans dream. And we are not let down.
The story follows Dom and Co. directly after he has been sprung from the prison bus that was taking him to jail. We get caught up with where everyone is and are introduced to Johnson's FBI agent character. From there we are with the gang as they come to the realization that only through a big score can they truly get free of their pursuer and get to a country with no extradition. So they call up some old friends who come in and from minute one, the film switches to another gear and never lets up. Oh by the way, a long with the gang being pursued by the FBI, they have run afoul of the local drug cartel leader. Their plan to escape with loads of cash has Dom and Co. scheming to relief the cartel of their millions through a daring heist. The scenes of the whole gang together remind me of the first film in that there was a sense of family. That was lacking in the last 3 entries and it was a welcome return to see everyone together.
The action is the best of the series yet with the vault through the streets being the highlight of the final act. Rio was a great place to take the series.
Performances are all solid here, Diesel and Walker actually showing some depth to the characters they are all but totally in command of here. Everyone here is just great, the camaraderie is easy to see and feel and you are literally having fun with seeing the gang back together.
By all means, see this in the theater. I did not see the IMAX version, so can't attest to how good it looks there. But by all means, get out and see this. Make sure to stay through the initial credits, there is a MAJOR hint at what Fast Six has in store for us.
Not a total disaster, but not anything to run out and see either.
The latest 80's remake comes to us in the form of "Arthur". Russell Brand is set loose in his first full-on starring vehicle. With ole Russell, you either like him or not. He works best in sparingly and his first lead film will test your tolerance of his shtick.
There a several changes in the story, but the overall plot remains the same; rich, spoiled and lacking any kind of direction man is given an ultimatum; marry a woman hand-picked or loose said fortune.
I will give the creators credit in that they updated the film to play directly to a modern audience. It doesn't follow the exact same blueprint as the 1981 film, it plays mostly to Brand's strengths and that does go a long way in enjoying the film.
Helen Mirren takes the place of Sir John as Hobson, now, a life-long nanny rather than servant. She is good, as expected. Louis Guzman is funny as Brand's chauffeur Bitterman. He and Brand make a fun physical couple given their very distinct height and body type differences. Jennifer Garner is equal parts gorgeous and scary as Arthur's betrothed Susan. Nick Noelte pretty much plays a hyped of characterization of his usual tough-guy persona as Susan's dad. Finally there is Greta Gerwig as Naomi, the object of Arthur's affection. There are times that Greta is absolutely perfect, then times she falls flat. Not sure if it was just how she was playing Naomi or what, but I found her at times to be very amateur in her delivery. Not anything that torpedoes the movie, but I don't know, just something didn't quit click there all the time with her performance.
The dialog in the film is pretty good, I would say even on par or better than the original. Again, much of it plays to Brand's style and if you like him, you will love the banter he engages.
The one place that this film does fall short on compared to the original is the score and soundtrack music. There is really no definable theme to the score, they do throw pieces of the original's in here and there, but nothing discernible or as memorably as the original movie's score. As for the soundtrack, definitely nothing to compare to the title theme of the original, in fact, I can't even remember the songs that did play.
This is lite stuff, nothing to rush out and see, perhaps a matinée at best and then just expect to have a little fun. If you are on the fence, stay there and wait for it to make it on disk and give it a rental.
Red Riding Hood (2011)
Not horrible, but seems all too familiar
There are some great mood moments in Red Riding Hood. At times the film seems like it may break out from the teen soap opera dialog and performances, to become something more. But all too often, the film plays things close to the Twilight formula that Hardwicke is all too familiar with.
This film is going to work best with girls 12 to 16, and yes, into the world of Twilight. There are matching swooping scenes and boy/girl yearning that is all too familiar to fans of the Twilight Saga series. This is not a bad thing and not something I say to knock the film. But it is definitely going for the same crowd that make up the Twilight scene.
Performances here are not horrible, but many times the dialog and performances remind you of a teen soap opera. There are veterans like Billy Burke and Gary Oldman that are present to keep things from going too far into the melodrama. But even their presence isn't able to keep the proceedings from going over the top with the drama. Speaking of Burke and Oldman, they were pretty much the saving grace for the film with me. I am definitely not in the target demographic for the film, so I had to find my happy places where I could. It wasn't too hard, but it isn't something you will find many guys pining to see. Only when dragged by the girl friends mostly.
A village is terrorized by a wolf through the course of many years. There are many years between the town being terrorized, but the wolf looms large over their lives. There is a teenage three-way romance with Red being attracted to the local young woodsman apprentice, while being promised in marriage to the local "rich kid". The wolf comes back and kills Red's sister. Enter the mighty wolf hunter, Gary Oldman. He and his band of protectors put the town under lock down and start to find, within the residence of the town, who the wolf is by day. Of course our Red plays a major roll in the proceedings, as do her suitors. Can they find who the wolf is before they kill again? Will Goldman loose his patience and mind before he is able to find the wolf?
All in all, harmless, but forgettable. I would definitely not pay evening show prices to see, keep this as a discounted matinée at the most.
Sucker Punch (2011)
There is no middle ground here....
You are either going to love this film or hate it. There will be no middle ground with it. I absolutely loved it.
The story is simple; a young girl, Babydoll, is sent to a sanitarium by her uncle to keep her locked away. See, Babydoll and her sister were to inherit their mother's estate. But their uncle ceases control after Babydoll tragically kills her sister trying to defend them from her uncle. Baby doll creates a world within the sanitarium, a bordello, which she and the other girls live. Within that world she has another place she can go, a world for fighting. Each time she goes to the world, the backdrop is different; ancient China, WWII, Medieval and other worldly. Through these worlds, Babydoll and Co. fight their way to freedom.
Warning right up front, the film is chocked full of symbolism. The more you catch, the further into the film you will be. The imagery is absolutely fantastic. Another thing to get out of the way right off, yes, the girls are great looking. But all honesty, you get over that within a few minutes. There is so much going on, you get sucked into the story and their plight so hard, you forget about how they are dressed. For those critics who have spent time admonishing the seeming fetish fantasy overload, totally missed the point. I will let you experience the film and figure out for yourself what the outfits symbolize.
Scott Glenn enters the story at the beginning of each fight. He is there to instruct the girls and impart wisdom. Again, his presence is there for a reason, it is up to you to figure out the intent of his presence. Glenn is fantastic and is far more important to the film than I thought he would be. The continual symbolism makes this film fun because each person can bring something away that others might not have. Snyder obviously has his intentions, but ultimately he gives you just enough so that you can create the world a long with Babydoll.
All of the cast is great, not one person can you say doesn't bring their A-game to the proceedings. Emily Browning shoulders the lion share of time on screen and she is up to the task. Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, and Carla Gugino are wonderful. It is a shame many will dismiss their characters because of the clothes and setting. I can't for the life of me understand the criticism I have read from reviewers who say the film lacks soul. These ladies, to each one, bring you into the story and make you care beyond the guns and mayhem.
There is a lot of music that accompanies each scene. A mix of score and soundtrack music really sets the scenes. Snyder does an excellent job picking songs which have lyrical content in step with the scene, many times serving as the narrator.
I can't say enough good things about this film. It was right in my wheel house. It hit all the right beats and surpassed my expectations, which were raised through the trailers. It will not be for everyone, it will be a film that divides friends. That is the best kind of film that can create reactions on both sides. The worse thing that can be said about a film that it elicits no kind of reaction, this is not that kind of film.
Shutter Island (2010)
I am one who is hot/cold when it comes to Martin Scorsese. More times than not I am on the cold side. However, with Shutter Island, for me, this is one of Scorsese's best ever. Decaprio was in two of the best films that were put out this year. Inception, and this early year gem. Decaprio is absolutely brilliant, as is everyone in this film.
The fun of this film is trying to figure it out as it goes. You think it is going one way and then you are not sure and you start thinking it is going another.The island itself becomes a character in the film. It is almost like it comes alive.
I really don't want to give away too much of the story. Read the synopsis, but stay away from spoiler filled discussions and/or reviews. The less you know about the film, the better. My best piece of advice; don't try too hard to figure the film out. It is really easy to start trying to guess what is going to happen next. You are going to have an inclination of what is going on, but don't try and start guessing what is around the next corner. The fun of Shutter Island is figuring it out on the way to an ending that you may or may not have figured out. Either way, a highly enjoyable thriller.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Appreciation depended on Cerra
This was the year that we saw several little known comics made into films. Kick-Ass was the first out of the gate and in my opinion, the best. We were then given this film, Scott Pilgrim, directed by Edgar Wright. The biggest difference between the two films is your enjoyment of Scott Pilgrim is far more dependent on your tolerance/enjoyment of several elements.
Firstly, you must be a fan of Michael Cerra. With Scott Pilgrim he continues the same shtick that he has presented in pretty much all of his roles to date. I personally have grown tired of that shtick. He doesn't ruin the film for me, but my weariness of his seemingly limited range kept me from fully appreciating the film.
Second, you need to have a frame of reference when it comes to video games. The film, as is the comic, resides in the world of video game reference. I personally enjoyed the continual video game style of story presentation, however this is not going to be something the general movie audience will appreciate.
Third, you need to be a fan of Edgar Wright's direction and story telling skills. Personally, I love Wright's direction and story telling skills. Were this film directed by anyone else, I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much as I did. Wright's quick cuts that he is known for do overstay their welcome as the film is done almost entirely through quick cuts and that can be jarring.
My biggest issue with the film is Cerra. He is still playing the same character that he has played in previous films. Why that is a problem here is that compared to Ramona's previous ex-boyfriends, you have to scratch your head as to what there is about Cerra's Pilgrim that would attract her to him. This believability is a very high hurdle to get past, especially if you are not a Cerra fan. I don't hate the guy, I just think this film would have been better served with a lead who actually looked the part. What hurts the casting of Cerra in the lead role is he pales in comparison to Ramona's, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, ex-boyfriends. The boyfriends, played by Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, etc, look like they would be someone Ramona would go after. Cerra's Pilgrim has nothing in comparison to offer. Ultimately, I found myself not pulling for Cerra and Winstead to get together, rather, for Cerra and his dumped girlfriend, Knives Chau played by Ellen Wong, to stay together. This is a major issue with the story as we are supposed to be pulling for Scott and Ramona to be together.
All of the supporting characters are wonderfully brought to life. It is the supporting characters, action and Edgar Wrights direction that ultimately pull this up to a 7 for me. It is Cerra's casting that reduces this film's rating. Again, I don't want to come off as a Cerra hater, I just think his continued reliance on the same mannerisms, voice inflection and his overall physical inadequacies, make his Scott Pilgrim not reflective of the Pilgrim from the comic. Or for that matter, a hero lead that is believable.
One of the best from 2010
I held off placing a review of this film out here, mainly because I was lazy. But also because I wanted this film to fully sink into my consciousness. This is one of the few films that I can honestly say saw major rotation in my Blu-ray player. It is one of the gems from 2010.
Many comics are getting the film treatment nowadays. Few however see the transition done this well. Vaughn has taken the comic created by Mark Millar and turned it into a live-action treat.
Young Dave Lizewski, as played by the fantastic Aaron Johnson, just wants to make a difference. He has no super powers, no training to speak of, he just has a costume and a desire to do good. Johnson juggles the character of Lizewski/Kick-ass beautifully. From his dead-on American accent (those that don't know, he is English) to the wholehearted earnest desire to do right, Aaron Johnson has announced himself to the movie audience in a grand way. The film follows Lizewski as he sets about battling wrong in his town, while dealing with the same issues other teens are going through. It is this balance that makes the film fun to watch as you see him stumble through both his desire to right wrong, as well as capture the heart of a girl at school whom he has fallen for. The film follows Lizewski through all the par-ells that being a teen encompasses, with the added wrinkle of trying to be a "hero".
As good as Vaughn's direction is and Johnson's take on Kick-ass, this film is taken to new heights by the team of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hitgirl (Chloe Moretz). Cage and Moretz father/daughter relationship is what makes this film work. Cage goes from playing an eerily mousy father to channeling Adam West when he dons the cape and cowl of Big Daddy. Chloe Moretz, what more can I say that hasn't already been said. She, like Johnson, announces herself to the movie audience with one of the best introductory characters in the last decade. Big Daddy and Hit Girl have a very unorthodox relationship, one that is built on the father raising his daughter to fear nothing and give no quarter to those that would do harm. Her violence is equal parts unsettling and invigorating to watch. You will shake your head as you take joy in watching her in action, yet coming to terms that this is a pre-teen committing major acts of violence.
Mark Strong provides a wonderful screen villain for our heroes to battle. He seems to be making a niche in portraying villains, all different. His Frank D'Amico is dangerous, but is able to do this without resorting to camp that many actors go to when portraying comic villains. The person who goes a long way in stepping outside of previous roles is Christopher Mintz-Plasse. He plays Chris D'Amico / Red Mist, the son of Strong's Frank D'Amico, and pseudo partner to our heroes, far and away from the McLov'n characterization that he is most identified with. He goes a long way in putting that character behind him with this role.
This film was heavily marketed, but in the end did not do extremely well in theaters. I think many people who are not familiar with the comic and not informed of the film itself but only knew it from the trailers saw this as a comedy, when in all honesty the comedy comes organically from the situations that our characters find themselves in. It is not played for chuckles, it is played dead on serious. I think maybe some saw this as a comedy and shied away from it.It is a film which contains many elements that are hard for a general audience to accept and appreciate. The biggest being the violence. To Vaughn's credit, he did not pull back on the violence of the comic. A sequel was green-lit before the film hit theaters, I hope the box-office does not keep them from moving forward as it would be a shame not to see these characters mature in further adventures.
Not bad at all
I really had no expectations going into this film. I had seen enough of the trailers to be intrigued, but really didn't know what we would get. I have to say this was one of the surprises of 2010 for me.
This film, as I understand, is one of several films that are intended to be created under the Night Chronicles banner. These are films which M. Night has created the initial story and will produce, but the script and directing will be done by others. If this first film is any indication of what to expect, sign me up.
We are given exposition throughout the movie via voice-over by a security guard who witnessed the events that are unfolding in front of us. The story is simple; five people enter an elevator and end up being stuck. During the course of their time in the elevator, each is summarily killed by one of the five in the elevator. All the while, this is unfolding on camera as security guards and the detectives called to the scene watch.
The usual morality play that M.Night is known for unfolds in front of us. The film moves along at a very nice pace, clocking in at 80 minutes, the film never labors too long.
A compact setting with a story that unfolds neatly, I found myself entertained and in the end, enjoyed this first entry in the Night Chronicles. I look forward to more.