Now let’s dig into my list of the Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2011!
10. The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret: Series One – As a huge fan of Arrested Development, this six-episode IFC series that reunited Will Arnett (Gob Bluth) and David Cross (Tobias Funke) was something of a disappointment. More agonizingly awkward than actually funny, it’s on this list because that fact that this weird, short little series exists at all on DVD is one of the reasons that I love this format! I had missed this series when it aired on IFC, so I was so pleased that it was released on DVD. The show isn’t without merit, but it’s nowhere near the genius of the late, great (and now possible resurrected!) Arrested Development.
9. Marvel’s super-hero movie blu-rays: Thor, Captain America: The First Adventure, and X-Men: First Class – I praised these three Marvel super-hero movies in my list of the Top 10 Movies of 2011, and I was equally taken by their blu-ray releases. Not only do all three films look absolutely gorgeous on blu-ray, but all three are accompanied by some fairly in-depth featurettes exploring all aspects of the films’ production. None of these are super-elaborate special editions, and I do wish that, for all of these films, the featurettes had been edited together into one longer, comprehensive making-of documentary. But these are very, very solid releases, with a lot for fans of these films to dig into. Extra props for the wonderful “Marvel One-Shot” shorts included on the Thor and Captain America discs, that further connect the Marvel films leading up to The Avengers.
8. Louie: Season 1 – I’d been reading about this show for a while, and having now finally watched the season one set I can say that this show deserves all the praise it’s been getting, and more. In it’s structure, the show resembles Seinfeld: clips of Louie C. K. performing stand-up are intercut with vignettes of his life. But in other respects the show is the exact opposite of Seinfeld. Whereas on Seinfeld all of the story-lines would wind up beautifully dovetailing by the end, on Louie the individual scenes on the show often have little or nothing to do with one another. We’ll watch a seven-minute sequence of Louie and his buddies playing poker, and then after some more stand-up we’ll shift to an entirely different scene … [continued]
Welcome back to the conclusion of my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011! Click here for part one. (And click here for my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2011: part one, part two, and part three.)
5. Moon Knight – I really enjoyed Brian Michael Bendis’ years-long run on Daredevil with Alex Maleev, and their relaunch of Moon Knight has been pretty terrific so far. I love the new conceit that the slightly unhinged Marc Spector is now hearing the voices of Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine in his head. The result is some great comedy as the three super-heroes banter back and forth in Moon Knight’s head. (Comic banter is a Bendis specialty!) Seeing Echo back in a lead role is just icing on the cake. I never thought Moon Knight could be at all interesting, but I guess the character was just the right sort of tabula rasa for an exciting reinvention. I hope this is the start of a long run for Mr. Bendis and Mr. Maleev on the character.
4. RASL – I wish Jeff Smith’s sci-fi opus would come out a little more frequently, but I can’t really fault creator/writer/artist/self-publisher Smith, seeing as how he’s pretty much doing everything himself on this comic. It’s just that the series is so good! I want more!! This adventure/love story is just grounded enough in real scientific theories to anchor all of the fun flights of fancy involving parallel universes, lizard-men, and weird-looking little girls. Jeff Smith’s art is perfection — with a cartoony stylization that is endearing, but also an extraordinary amount of detail to give all of the settings and characters a distinct, “real world” feel. It feels like things are really starting to come together with the story, which is very exciting. The wait between issues is BRUTAL!! If you’re a comic book fan but you’re not reading this self-published gem, do yourself a favor and remedy that immediately.
3. Criminal: The Last of the Innocent – The work that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips do together just keeps getting better and better and better. I love all of their projects, but the crime-comic Criminal has always been my favorite, and The Last of the Innocent might be the very best installment since the first story-line, “Coward.” In this dark tale, we meet young man Riley Richards, who is married to a beautiful, wealthy woman. But he’s tremendously unhappy, and when he returns home and reconnects with his old goof-ball friend and the blonde girl-next-door he used to have a crush on, he realizes that he just might have chosen the wrong girl. … [continued]
15. John Byrne’s Next Men – When Mr. Byrne’s Next Men series was originally released back in the 90′s, it was one of my very favorite comic book series. Mr. Byrne’s illustration skills were at their peak, and the story was just “mature audiences” enough to peak my teenaged interest. I was also very, very taken by the fiendishly clever circular narrative. I was disappointed when the series ended, particularly since it was only supposed to have gone on hiatus for a few months, BUT I thought that, if it had to end, Mr. Byrne had wrapped things up beautifully. I never imagined the series would ever return to the comic book stands, but lo and behold, IDW brought the series back for a nine issue run this year. There were moments when the relaunch approached the greatness I had remembered (I enjoyed the twisted revelations about Bethany in issue 4), but for the most part, I wasn’t quite sure the point of this new story. It sort of muddled the perfect ending of the series, without really enhancing what had gone before. Ultimately, I didn’t quite understand the new time-travel machinations, and so was left a bit underwhelmed. Still, new issues of John Byrne’s Next Men!! How cool is that??
14. Ultimate Spider-Man – I hated the whole Death of Peter Parker story-line, but I am very much enjoying the initial issues with the new Spidey. The focus on this young kid and his classmates reminds me very much — without being derivative — of what attracted me so much to this series when it began, over a decade ago (wow). Ultimate Spidey has been one of the most consistently enjoyable comic book series I have followed ever since it began. Attentive readers will note it has slipped down in the rankings of my end-of-the-year list in the past few years, but it’s still on here as one of the stronger serialized super-hero comic books out there. And god bless Mr. Bendis and his various artistic collaborators (including the very, very talented Sara Pichelli) for their consistency in getting this book out on a regular basis, month after month, year after year!
13. Kick Ass 2 – Mark Millar and John Romita’s sequel is just as gloriously profane and juvenile as the original. Taking the concept of “escalation” (an idea explored in many comic books and also in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight film) to the extreme, the … [continued]
Click here for part one of my Top 15 Movies of 2011 list, numbers fifteen through eleven, and here for part two, featuring numbers ten through six. Buckle up, now, as it’s time for the home stretch, the best of the best (at least in my humble opinion) of 2011!
5. Young Adult – Juno writer and director Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman re-team for a deliciously dark comedy about a twisted, pretty-much irredeemably terrible young woman named Mavis Gary (a magnificent Charlize Theron) who returns to the small hometown she left years before, in an attempt to win back her old jock boyfriend (Patrick Wilson). He’s married with a young baby, but so what? During her week back in town, Mavis bumps into another high school classmate, the nerdy, disabled Matt (Patton Oswalt). The two strike up a weird sort-of friendship, and the way the arc of that pairing avoids any of the typical movie cliche ways that those sorts of relationships usually unfold on-screen is only one way in which this movie is unremittingly awesome. The running gag about the way Mavis wakes up each morning, the terrific chemistry between Ms. Theron and Mr. Oswalt, and that pitch-perfect ending are just a few others. A phenomenal film. (Click here for my full review.)
4. The Adventures of Tintin — Should anyone be surprised that the team-up of cinematic titans Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson produced gold? This deliriously joyful, madcap adventure is non-stop pulpy fun from start-to-finish. The film just zips on by, one incredible sequence after another, with Mr. Spielberg showing us once again how he is an absolute master at staging an action scene and assembling a crowd-pleasing adventure film. The animation is gorgeous, the voice-work is impeccable (highlighted by another brilliant performance by the great Andy Serkis — I also praised his work in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, when I wrote about that film earlier on this list), and when the closing credits ran I couldn’t believe the film was over already. This one is going to get a lot of play in my household in the coming years, of that I have no doubt. I can’t wait for the sequel, in which Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Jackson will apparently switch roles (so that Mr. Spielberg will produce the film and Mr. Jackson will direct). (Click here for my full review.)
3. Bridesmaids — Kirsten Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo, working with brilliant comedy director Paul Feig (creator of Freaks of Geeks), producer Judd Apatow, and a tremendous cast of women, hit every note exactly perfectly in this comedic home-run. The film is … [continued]
Yes, this year my Top 10 Movies of 2011 list is a Top 15 list! Click here for part one of my list, numbers fifteen through eleven. And now, onward!
10. The Guard — I just saw this film last week. It was the last addition to my list! Brendan Gleeson is riveting as a small-time Irish policeman — brash, set-in-his-ways, and someone who delights in nothing more than taking the piss out of anyone he meets — who finds himself forced to work with an American FBI agent, played by Don Cheadle, investigating drug-runners. The film is laugh-out-loud hilarious, and also dramatic and intense. It looks like it was made on a tiny budget, but I was totally taken by this fiercely original piece of work, and Mr. Gleeson’s role is without question one of the best written and acted of the year. I’ll have a full review coming soon.
9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes – I’m a hard-core Planet of the Apes fanatic, so I didn’t need any convincing to check out this newest attempt to reinvent the franchise. But I was stunned by how high-quality the finished film actually was. It was perfectly designed to appeal to the long-time Apes fans and the Apes newbies equally. Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance as the young ape Caesar, the center of the story, is extraordinary, aided and abetted by some phenomenal, top-of-the-line CGI work. The action at the end of the movie is a whole heck of a lot of end-of-the-world fun, but I was long-before sold on the film by Mr. Serkis’ powerful work. Rise of the Planet of the Apes works perfectly as a stand-alone film, but I certainly hope that we’ll get to see further sequels set in this world. (Click here for my full review.)
8. Super 8 – J. J. Abrams’ homage to classic Steven Spielberg films that he directed and produced for Amblin Entertainment, throughout the eighties, cut right to the core of my movie-loving heart. The film captures the coming-of-age, kids on an adventure feeling of E.T., The Goonies, and Stand By Me in a powerful way, creating a film that feels deeply nostalgic and also timeless. The ensemble of kids are phenomenal, well-directed by Mr. Abrams, and I loved the film’s gradual build-up of mystery and suspense. And visually it is stunning, with top-notch visual effects work, costumes, sets, props, etc., that truly capture the period setting. This would be in my top five this year if only the monster story-line part of the film made a bit more sense. (For more details on what I mean by that last comment, click here for my full … [continued]
So last year I really struggled to come up with my Top 10 Movies list. I had a hard time finding ten films that I felt were really GREAT. What a difference a year makes! This year there were so many films that I loved that I wanted to include on my list that, for the first time, I decided to expand my Top 10 list to a Top 15 List! AND I cheated even more and made my number 15 a three-way-tie!
I thought 2011 was a really terrific year for movies, and there were a lot of great films that didn’t make it onto this list. I really enjoyed Moneyball, 50/50, The Ides of March, Like Crazy, The Descendants, 30 Minutes or Less, Your Highness, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, The Rum Diary, The Muppets, Midnight in Paris, and Our Idiot Brother, but they didn’t make the cut in this strong year. (Follow the links to read my reviews of those films.) But, wow, those films could have been on my Top 10 list and that would have been a really strong Top 10 list, one that would have held up quite well in comparison to my previous years’ Top 10 lists! That’s how good a year this was.
I saw a lot of films in 2011, and particularly in the last month I’ve crammed in a lot of movie-watching, trying to catch up on all the 2011 films I wanted to see. There are a lot of films that I saw in the last few weeks that I didn’t think warranted inclusion on this list, but about which I’ll be writing reviews on this site in the coming weeks. These include My Idiot Brother, The Help, Tree of Life, Horrible Bosses, and more. So you can look for those reviews soon.
As I always do, before I dive into my lists I want to mention the films I wanted to see, but never got to: A Dangerous Method, Shame, The Debt, Drive, Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, Larry Crowne, Beginners, The Trip. So if you loved one of those films and want to know why they’re not included on my list — well, now you know. Hopefully I’ll get to track down some/all of those films in the near future. (They’re all on my Netflix queue, so all I need is time!)
15. Marvel’s Summer Movies: Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and X-Men: First Class — I do love me a good super-hero movie, and this summer mighty Marvel gave us three of ‘em, each one a really terrific, fun … [continued]
Let’s get this clear from the outset: I haven’t read Stieg Larsson’s original novel, nor have I see the Swedish film adaptation. What put the American film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on my radar wasn’t any connection with the source material, but rather my great love for the films of director David Fincher. (Click here for my review of The Social Network, here for my review of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, here for my review of the Director’s Cut of Zodiac, here for my review of Fight Club, and here for my review of Se7en.) So I’ll be judging this film purely on it’s own merits.
Do I really need to summarize the story for anyone? Even I, who had never read a word of Mr. Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, was quite well-acquainted with the basic story going in. Well, OK, let’s keep it brief: disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) gets hired by wealthy, elderly Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the death of his young niece, Harriet, thirty years earlier. Eventually Mikael’s path crosses with Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) a young, brilliant but extremely maladjusted computer hacker and investigator, and the two wind up working together to solve the decades-old mystery.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is an extremely weird movie. There are elements of true genius at work, but also aspects of the film that I felt were not entirely successful.
The most notable aspect of the film is Rooney Mara’s fierce interpretation of Lisbeth. Ms. Mara dramatically transformed her physical appearance in order to create this character, but that’s just the beginning of the way in which she sunk into the role. Ms. Mara’s Lisbeth is a haunted, withdrawn, almost alien creature. The way she looks, the way she talks, the way she interacts with other people is distinctly abnormal. There’s a humanity there, but it’s buried deep down underneath the fortress that Lisbeth has constructed around herself. She is an abused and lonely young woman, but she’s also a superhero with extraordinary cunning, mastery of technology, and great physical strength. There are times when Lisbeth is extraordinarily sympathetic, and times when she’s extremely difficult to like. There are times when her thoughts and emotions are writ large on her face, and times when it’s almost impossible to determine what’s going on in her head. Ms. Mara’s work as Lisbeth is the center of the film, and by far the most interesting aspect of the whole proceedings. It’s a staggering performance, and one that stayed with me long after having seen the film.
The bulk of the movie — the middle two hours … [continued]
Well, I was already a big, big fan of star Jean Dujardin and director Michael Hazanavicius from their two OSS:117 French-language James Bond parody films, Cairo Nest of Spies (click here for my review) and Lost in Rio (click here for my review). Now, after seeing the two men’s jump into “serious” movie-making with the beautiful, heartfelt film The Artist, my opinion of those two artists has only grown.
In The Artist, Mr. Dujardin stars as George Valentin, a super-star of the silent film era. At the premiere of one of his films, a young woman, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), accidentally bumps into him and the two are photographed together. This is Peppy’s first blush with stardom, and that brief bit of exposure helps land her a bit part as an extra in a film, and from there her career begins to skyrocket. Mr. Valentin’s career, unfortunately, is on the opposite trajectory, as the advent of movies with sound (“talkies”) dooms a silent-film stars like himself. The film follows several years in the lives of Mr. Valentin and Ms. Miller, and the way that the two characters keep bouncing back into one another’s orbit.
The Artist isn’t just a film about the silent film era. It is, itself, a silent film. The film begins by throwing us right into what is, after a few fun-filled minutes, revealed to be Mr. Valentin’s latest silent film, A Russian Affair. But even after that film-within-a-film ends, The Artist continues to be, with just a few (very, very cleverly-used exceptions), a silent film. There is no dialogue and there are no sound effects, just a rousing, gorgeous score by Ludovic Bource (who just a few days ago won a Golden Globe for his score for this film). One might imagine that a full-length silent film, in today’s era, might stretch an audience’s patience. But I did not find that to be at all the case. The film is beautiful, emotional, and very, very funny, and I found myself completely swept along in the story.
Enormous credit for that, of course, goes to the lead actors. Mr. Dujardin is an incredibly skilled performer. He’s incredibly handsome, and his movie-star good-looks serve him well in this role as an enormous movie-star. His comic skills were on fine display in the OSS:117 films, and are well-utilized here. Mr. Dujardin has an infectious smile, and when he unleashes it it’s clear why his character was such a big star in the silent era, and of course it also draws in the modern audience watching from their seats in the theatre. But I was also quite taken by how well Mr. Dujardin sells the dramatic … [continued]
I was absolutely taken with the 1979 BBC miniseries adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, starring Sir Alec Guiness, which I watched just a few weeks ago. It was terrific preparation for the equally wonderful feature film adaptation of John le Carré’s spy novel, starring Gary Oldman and a phenomenally robust ensemble.
The film, directed by Tomas Alfredson (who also directed the fantastic, creepy Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In) is a delightfully taut, twisty tale of spies and spy-masters. I was stunned by how much of the story from the six-hour miniseries made it into the two-hour film. The script by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan is stuffed full to overflowing with plot and incident, but the film never feels rushed. In fact, under Mr. Alfredson’s steady hand, the story unfolds at a carefully measured pace. As in the mini-series, the scope of the story builds gradually, as scene after scene of conversation (often between men who we, the audience, don’t quite know who they are, talking about things that we’re not sure we quite understand) accumulates and comprehension gradually dawns on the audience as it does on George Smiley himself.
This is a spy story, but it is not an action film. It is very much a drama, and a drama in which the tension is drawn not from gunplay or chase-sequences, but from quiet conversations in dark rooms. I’ve read many rave reviews of this film in which the reviewers commented that the film was good on first viewing, but GREAT on second viewing, at which time you could really understand who everything was and what was going on. I certainly was glad to have watched the mini-series before seeing the film, as that enabled me to follow the story without any confusion right from the beginning. (It also gave me the delight of seeing characters and scenes from the mini-series reprised and reinterpreted by these new performers.) I certainly don’t think one has to have seen the mini-series, nor have any prior knowledge of the film or the story, to be able to really enjoy this film. But it helps! This is a movie that is built for repeat viewings. The film (like the mini-series before it) does not spoon-feed the audience any information. There’s little-to-no exposition to spell-out who people are or what their relationships are to one another. You need to figure those things out for yourself. In this way, the film draws in the audience, and puts you, in a way, into George Smiley’s investigative shoes. As in the mini-series, I found this for-the-attentive-viewer style of story-telling to be tremendously compelling.
Smiley, so memorably portrayed by Sir Alec Guinness … [continued]
At this point in Woody Allen’s amazing career (and whether you love or loathe the filmmaker himself, you must acknowedge that the man’s writing and directing a film a year for the last forty-some odd years is an amazing achievement) I think that my level of enjoyment of his new films rests largely on which side of the familiar I feel his new films land.
Many critics object to the been-there, done-that feel that they get from Woody’s films these days. And I certainly feel that way myself, sometimes. But, on the other hand, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a great artist continuing to explore certain themes or ideas throughout his work. Painters do that, as do musicians, so why not filmmakers?
Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, opens to a gorgeous montage of images of Paris, set to a piece of jazz music. This is a device that Mr. Allen has used before in his films, most notably in the opening to Manhattan (click here for my review of that seminal film), in which we’re presented with a montage of images of New York City, set to a wonderful piece of music by George Gershwin. Watching the opening of Midnight in Paris, one might sigh and say, “been-there, done-that, this is just the same as the opening of Manhattan.” But, despite the similarity, I still loved this device as a way to open the film. It felt like a stylistic echo of Mr. Allen’s previous work in a way that was like spoons fitting comfortably together in a drawer, rather than repetition done by an artist out of ideas. (It helps that the images of Paris in the opening to Midnight in Paris are so beautiful, and the jazz music so wonderful.)
On the other hand, when we’re presented with scenes, in the early part of the film, in which we meet Gil (Owen Wilson)’s shrewish wife Inez (Rachel McAdams) who is hassling him about his pursuit of “artistic integrity” and who thinks he should just relax and take the easy pay-check (that his Hollywood screenwriting job affords), or when the two argue about Paul (Michael Sheen), with whom Inez is enchanted but who Paul dismisses as an airhead intellectual, I felt that we were on the BAD side of the familiar.
I’ve seen those character types, and those arguments, time and time again in Woody Allen’s films, and I was disappointed to see those same “talking points” returned to here. These character dynamics were interesting to me in Woody’s films from thirty years ago, but now, to me, they feel played out. I would have rather seen Mr. Allen push himself a little … [continued]
Let’s kick the day off with a wonderful analysis on AICN about Why Star Trek II Works So Well. The piece is a wonderful love-letter to Star Trek II (which happens to be one of my very favorite films of all time), and it’s a very thoughtful analysis of why the film is so ridiculously awesome, even thirty years later. (THIRTY years! That’s crazy, right??)
Speaking of Star Trek, I’m starting to get excited about the high-def upgrade of Next Gen for blu-ray. This before/after comparison video is pretty staggering. (Follow the site’s advice and expand the video to full screen, so you can get the full effect.) If Farpoint looks that good, I can’t wait for the later seasons. (And Deep Space Nine!!!)
Did you know there was an alternative, rejected main song for Quantum of Solace? And it was sung by Shirley Bassey?? Give this a listen:
That is a fun case of cinematic might-have-been. ”Where is the solace that I crave?” That makes me laugh and laugh.
I love movie posters. I have quite a few hanging in my home! So I really enjoyed this look at the top ten movie posters of 2011.
Speaking of cinematic might-have beens… I enjoyed the first six-episode season of The Walking Dead, but for some reason all of the season two episodes are still sitting unwatched in my DVR. Maybe show-runner Frank Darabont’s outster the news of all the apparent behind-the-scenes turmoil has cooled my interest. This detailed letter from Mr. Darabont to AICN reveals a major story that Mr. Darabont was planning that will now never come to be, and it’s a damn shame.
Is there a possibility that there might actually be a Party Down movie??? I highly doubt it, but man would that be great. Click here for my reviews of season one and season two of this brilliant, tragically cancelled-before-its-time TV show.… [continued]
I really loved Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes film from two years ago, and so I was thrilled that they went into production on a sequel so quickly. (That the first film ended with such a delicious promise of further adventures didn’t hurt, of course!)
But, unfortunately, the follow-up installment, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, left me rather cold.
To be honest, I’m having a bit of trouble putting my finger on what exactly went awry. I still love Robert Downey Jr.’s manic interpretation of Holmes, and I thought Mad Men’s Jared Harris was terrific as Professor Moriarty. There are some big laughs in the film, and also some terrific sequences of action/adventure. The chase through the forzen woods, in which Holmes & co. are barraged by artillery fire, is pretty thrilling (much more effective in its entirety than it was in the film’s trailer, in which I thought those slo-mo shots looked pretty silly). And Holmes and Moriarty’s final confrontation — a chess game that moves into an intense battle of wills, all inside their heads — is genius, and probably the reason-for-being for the entire film.
So why did the whole thing leave me feeling somewhat empty?
Well, let’s start with Professor Moriarty. We’re told, over and over again, that the genius professor is an evil mastermind, and a mental match for Holmes. But except for one moment in the middle of the film, in which Holmes admits that “I made a mistake” and finds himself unable to stop an assassination, we don’t really see Moriarty as a genius mastermind until that final confrontation at the very end of the movie. I wanted a sense of urgency throughout this film. I wanted to feel, over and over again, that Moriarty was two steps ahead of Holmes. But I never felt that way at all. In fact, Moriarty makes a big mistake early in the film in which Holmes is able to rescue Noomi Rapace’s gypsy character, Madam Simza, from death. So right away we see that Moriarty isn’t infallible and, of course, Simza ultimately proves key in helping Holmes unravel Moriarty’s plans.
It’s not until that final battle-of-wills-to-the-death between Holmes and Moriarty that we’re really given a sense of Moriarty’s genius. I understand that the filmmakers wanted to save that mental duel for the film’s climax, but the result is that everything that comes before feels somewhat underwheming to me. This is a story-telling problem that, in my opinion, the filmmakers weren’t able to solve.
The result, as I noted before, is a film that I found to be rather lacking in intensity. Take the opening scene. (SPOILERS ahead now, my friends, so beware.) I was … [continued]
In a season of generally serious movie-fare, Young Adult is a blazingly funny film that still carries some serious dramatic heft. It’s an absolute knockout of a film from screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman (who previously collaborated on the great 2007 film Juno).
Charlize Theron plays Mavis. She was clearly the queen bee of her high school, though her life these days seems to be anything but great. She’s divorced, living alone in the city, and the line of high school-set young adult novels that she’s been ghost-writing has been cancelled. When she receives an e-mail notification that her old high school flame, Buddy, has become a father, Mavis decides to head back to her small home-town of Mercury to win back her old beau (his wife and child be damned).
Ms. Theron has never been better, in my opinion, than she is as Mavis. Mavis is still gorgeous on the outside, but Ms. Theron (guided by Ms. Cody’s take-no-prisoners script) is fearless in showing us how absolutely twisted and broken she is on the inside. Mavis is a terrible, terrible person, and of course for the whole film you’re rooting at her to fail in breaking up Buddy’s family. But at the same time, Ms. Theron is able to create a character who doesn’t totally turn off the audience. She’s so hysterical in her bad behavior that she’s completely compelling as the lead character in the film.
The comedian Patton Oswalt is equally terrific as Matt Freehauf, a high school classmate who Mavis bumps into at a bar when she first returns to Mercury. Matt was (and still is) a geek, and to say that he and Mavis travelled in different circles in high school is to put it mildly. And yet, the two strike up a weird sort of friendship during the week that Mavis is in town. There are a few times when the film hits the “geek” aspect of Matt’s personality a bit too hard (there are plenty of lonely geeky guys out there, I’m sure, who don’t still play with action figures), but for the most part I found Matt to be nearly as interesting a personality as Mavis. Most of that is due to Mr. Oswalt’s energy and charisma. Matt is a depressed, lonely guy, someone who contains a lot of pain and sadness inside, and yet even as Matt says he hates his life, Mr. Oswalt gives him an almost childlike joie do vivre that I found tremendously entertaining. Physically and personality-wise, the pairing of Mavis and Matt (and Ms. Theron and Mr. Oswalt) is an inspired study in contrasts, and yet the two are both so similar in their loneliness. … [continued]
I’m very excited for the new film adaptation, starring Gary Oldman, of John le Carré’s 1974 spy novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. (I haven’t seen the film yet, but really hope to get to it soon.) But the release of this new film adaptation spurred me to at last track down something that had been on my “to-watch” list for years: the BBC’s 1979 six-part television adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy starring none other than Sir Alec Guinness in the lead role as George Smiley.
(I wrote six parts because that was how the show was presented in the DVD that I have. I am aware that the show was aired in seven parts on the BBC, and re-edited into six parts for the American release back in 1980. I actually didn’t know that until reading up on the mini-series after I’d watched it and, while watching it, I didn’t notice anything that would have lead me to suspect that the series had been re-edited. Nothing seemed to be truncated, and the end-points of each of the six episodes felt natural to me. In hindsight, the film-purist part of me wishes I’d seen the original British seven-part version, but the six-part American version certainly worked for me so I have no complaints.)
George Smiley is a getting-on-in-years British intelligence expert who was forced out of the British secret intelligence service (which all the characters refer to as “the circus”) following a power-play in which his mentor, the head of the agency who was known as Control, was pushed out. But Smiley is brought back into the game when a government official becomes aware of the existence of a possible mole deep within the Circus. It turns out that Control had been aware of the existence of the mole, and had narrowed down the possibilities to five suspects, nicknamed “tinker,” “tailor,” “soldier,” “poorman,” and “beggarman” (from the words of a British children’s rhyme). Smiley is given the near-impossible task of spying on the spy-masters. He must infiltrate the circus and uncover the identity of the mole, all under the noses of the current head officers of the circus, any of whom could be the mole.
I absolutely adored this mini-series, but it’s not for the casual viewer. One has to pay very close attention to the story to suss out who everyone is and what exactly is happening. Although it’s very languidly paced, the mini-series doesn’t stop to hold the viewer’s hand to explain who the different characters are, or what the heck they’re talking about. All of the information you need to understand the story is there, but the viewer has to do a lot of the work to … [continued]
When I first saw the trailer for War Horse, I dismissed it almost immediately. Something about the swelling music and the dramatic shots edited together rubbed me the wrong way, as if the trailer was screaming for us to understand that THIS IS A SERIOUS (read: Oscar-bait) FILM!! Equally unappealing to me was that, on the other hand, what appeared to be a story about the adventures of a miraculous horse seemed to be to be incredibly silly and childish. If the words “a Steven Spielberg film” hadn’t been in there, I would have immediately resolved not to see the film.
But there’s just no way that I can miss seeing a new film by Steven Spielberg on the big screen, and I’m glad that I didn’t write this film off because War Horse, while not a masterpiece, is a very solid film and a much different type of story than I was expecting.
The weakest part of the film is the first thirty minutes or so. That’s the part of the film that is most like what I feared the movie would be. A boy forms a miraculous bond with a beautiful horse, and then that amazing horse plows the field that everyone declared was impossible to plow. Now, I’m no farmer, but the film presents us with two pieces of information that every character accepts as fact: that, a) the horse Joey is far too small to be a plow horse of any kind, and that b) the rocky field is considered to be un-plowable by even the biggest, best plow-horse. So, of course, Joey is able to plow the field, which brings us right into fantasy-land. I was worried.
But then World War I breaks out, and the boy, Albert, loses his horse to a young man going off to war, and the film really begins. I was worried that War Horse was going to be the adventures of this amazing horse at war. Luckily, though, with one small exception (the scene in which it seems that Joey volunteers to pull the heavy artillery, in order to spare another, injured horse), the film is not about the heroic actions of an anthropomorphized heroic horse. Rather, Joey is the vehicle for telling a series of different vignettes about World War I. As Joey passes from owner to owner, and the war progresses, we meet various different characters on all sides of the conflict (British, French, and German) and so are presented with stories covering a wide range of the spectrum of experiences … [continued]
Steven Spielberg has only directed one film since Munich (click here for my review) in 2005, and that was the tragically disappointing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008 (which I prefer to pretend never happened). That’s a long dry spell for one of the masters of modern cinema. Luckily for us all, Mr. Spielberg burst back onto cinema screens in a big way, late last month, with the release of not one, but TWO new films, released just three days apart from one another: The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse. I saw them both during a terrifically fun late-night double-feature. I’ll be back here soon with my thoughts on War Horse — for now, let’s dive into The Adventures of Tintin.
The film is, of course, based on the long-running French-language comic-book series written and illustrated by the Belgian artist Hergé. It draws upon material from several of the Tintin books, including The Secret of the Unicorn (which was, at one point, the sub-title for this film — I’m not certain when that was dropped), The Crab with the Golden Claws, and Red Rackham’s Treasure. Tintin, Boy Reporter, purchases a model of a three-masted sailing ship, The Unicorn, at an outdoor market and immediately finds himself embroiled in a globe-trotting adventure involving various parties’ search for the wreck of the actual ship The Unicorn, which is rumored to contain an enormous treasure.
The film is magnificent, a viscerally entertaining romp all the way through. When the film ended and the lights went up, I couldn’t believe it was over — the time had passed so quickly. I’ve heard people comparing The Adventures of Tintin in tone to Raiders of the Lost Ark. While Tintin doesn’t equal that masterpiece, there certainly are similarities in terms of the film’s pulp-inspired adventurous spirit, and the rapid pace in which we (and the hero character) are thrown from one exciting action-sequence into the next.
Actually, what the Adventures of Tintin reminds me of, even more than Raiders, is the prologue to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, depicting one of young Indy (played by River Phoenix)’s adventures. Not only is our protagonist a fairly young boy who is surprisingly tough and clever for his age, but there’s a delicate balance between intense action that features peril for our hero and an almost slapstick comedic sensibility.
That’s a tough balance to find, but with Steven Spielberg’s hand at the helm (not to mention producer Peter Jackson’s), it’s a balance that The Adventures of Tintin makes look effortless. There are so many thrilling sequences that stick out in my mind, from the film. There are the … [continued]