Rampart (2011)

Directed by: Oren Moverman (check out his other movie, The Messenger, featuring some of the same cast and similar bleakness)

Written by: Moverman and James Ellroy, who was behind one of my favourite movies of all time, L.A. Confidential

Starring: pretty much the Woody Harrelson show, as he is in EVERY scene of the movie.  Also, Ben Foster, Anne Heche, Brie Larson, Cynthia Nixon, Francis Capra, Ice Cube, Jon Bernthal, Ned Beatty, Robin Wright, Sigourney Weaver and a blink and you’ll miss him performance by Steve Buscemi.

What it’s about: one tainted police officer continues to perform his duties in a questionable matter while the LAPD is under harsh scrutiny from the public and press

B-Movie Alternate Title: The Shield: The Movie

Movie Mash Up: Dark BlueThe Messenger + oh I don’t know, Conspiracy Theory

What I liked: about half the movie.  Seriously, the first half is interesting and intriguing but it goes nowhere.  There’s no EUREKA moment (not that a film needs one), just a portrait of Harrelson’s character essentially becoming increasingly paranoid due to his own reactions.  Sort of.  I guess that’s not really what I liked.  Harrleson’s performance was quite good, always good to see Ben Foster as well, and the movie was quite gorgeous.

What I disliked: about half the movie.  The story gets bogged down in BORING somewhen around the time Ice Cube shows up, and then Harrelson just descends into paranoid madness or may have ended that way, what with the ambiguous ending and all.  I guess decide for yourself.  He just became pathetic in my view.

Would I recommend it everyone?: Not really, it’s half a good movie.  It tries to be smart but it just comes off as boring attempted intrigue.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Directed by: Lynne Ramsay (have never seen one of her films before, and it’s hard to say if I want to after watching this one)

Written by: Ramsay and Rory Kinnear, based off of Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel of the same name

Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Siobhan Fallon

What it’s about: told in a non-linear fashion, shows a mother coming to grips with the actions of her high school-aged son

B-Movie Alternate Title: Kevin: The Devil Child

Movie Mash Up: a bunch of movies I haven’t personally watched but know what they’re about, I guess.  Sorry, it’s an interesting movie, but hard to really say what it is like.

What I liked: the acting is terrific across the board, but let’s just pull Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller out and say without their performances, the movie wouldn’t be near as good.  The non-linear storytelling works, as it reveals and then pulls back, giving you questions and holding back on the answers.  Well shot, haunting.

What I disliked: well Miller was so good that I ended up hating his character, not to mention Jasper Newell as the younger Kevin.  Holy shit did I want to punch the hell out of this character.  Greatly disliked it, but that’s a compliment because good acting.  One of those movies that is good, but you never really want to watch again unless You Have Problems.  Also, sometimes I am okay with ambiguity, but I wanted answers to some of my questions in regards to Kevin.

Would I recommend it to everyone?: Nope, it’s super dark (not at all the indie slacker comedy I thought it was going to be by the title), and it deals with sensitive subject matter to some people.  It’s a hard watch, and again, nothing you should ever want to watch again.

Rating: 4 / 5

Shame (2011)

Here is another in a long line of movies that went unrecognised by the Academy Awards, and in the case of this film, it is quite obvious why it happened.  The Oscars are an American invention, and if there’s anything that is frowned upon in American movies, it is explicit sexual acts.  A man’s naked penis tends to be the butt of many “jokes”, displayed in it’s flaccid state, usually belonging to some old dude or terribly unattractive man.  When the penis is taken seriously, whoa nelly, we have ourselves an NC-17 film and that is essentially the kiss of death for it making back its money, because many theatres will not play an NC-17-rated film.  It’s okay for them to show any number of films that have disturbingly large amounts of violence, but no way do we show the WANG on multiplex screens.  ANYWAYS, moving on from the hypocrisy of American movies onto the sham that the Oscars are.

Michael Fassbender should have been nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Shame.  I’ve seen three of the performances that were nominated (not the winner, yet), and Fassbender’s performance as Brandon – a sex addict whose everyday functionality is beginning to be threatened by his compulsive addiction – was easily better than those three, no offense to George Clooney, Gary Oldman, or Brad Pitt.  Fassbender puts so much complexity and longing into his character, it nearly took my mind off of how much I – scarily – related to Brandon’s interactions with women and views on marriage/relationships.

Carey Mulligan should have been nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Brandon’s sister, Sissy.  In the case of the Best Actress nominees, I saw four of nominated performances, including the winner.  Meryl Streep should not have won for The Iron Lady, and the only performance that was close to Mulligan’s was Viola Davis’ in The Help.

I still have yet to see The Artist, so I have no idea whether or not director Michel Hazanavicius actually deserved his win, but I did see three of the other nominees.  Terrence Malick’s nomination for The Tree of Life was terrible, but Martin Scorsese and Alexander Payne deserved theirs for Hugo and The Descendants, respectively.  I hate to use the word in this review because it will come across as a pun, but it is an atrocious shame that Steve McQueen was not nominated for a Best Director Oscar.  The performances he got out of Fassbender and Mulligan were nothing short of heart-stopping.  Five minutes after finishing the film I took a deep breath and realised I had been in such a tense, taut state since the end of Shame that it surprised me.

It is not a movie that you will probably want to re-watch anytime soon after viewing it.  It is a powerful, well-written and directed movie with absolutely intoxicating performances that will linger with you for days afterwards.  It’s not a fast-paced movie at all, more languid and sexual, but well-deserving of all the accolades it has been given.

5 / 5

War Horse (2011)

Sometimes I think I’m far too snobby of a film critic, and sometimes I think the film critics that are paid to do their jobs have taken complete leave of their senses.  There’s no other way to describe it but that.  I was completely aghast at the fact that The Tree of Life received a Best Picture nomination last year (not to mention the inexplicable nomination of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), and now there’s another film that I have to add to that category.  It infuriates me no end that those two previously mentioned movies and this one, War Horse, received Best Picture nominations when the two movies that I viewed as the actual best movies of the year – Drive and Warrior – received none.  In the long run, it doesn’t matter, as greatness tends to shine and many Best Picture winners fade from memory, while movies that went without a nomination become timeless.  Fight ClubThe Big LebowskiThe Dark KnightThe Princess Bride, these are all movies that didn’t receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination, so in summation, fuck the Oscars.

Now this movie, THIS MOVIE.  Ugh.  It’s like Crash but the horse is the thing that connects everyone together and oh my goodness, it made me whimper “I don’t careeeee” numerous times.  I have no idea what happened to Steven Spielberg, but this movie was nothing like what he usually brings to the table.  It felt hollow, like it was nothing more than awards show fodder.  From the opening score I felt like turning it off because it was just screaming at me how out of touch Spielberg is with modern day film-making.

Apparently it was based off of some children’s novel of the same name, written by Michael Morpurgo and adapted for the screen by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis.  Having never read the book, I have no idea how it may differ, but reading a book tends to take a longer time than viewing a movie, building up your emotional investment in characters.  I have no idea what cuts were made, what was filmed or whatever, but at 146 minutes it had already had a bloated running time.  In that time, I developed no emotional investment in any of the characters, except maybe the horse who I just wanted to run away from these terrible people.  The horse ends up being owned/taken care of by several people, and our time with all these people is so brief that I didn’t care what was going to happen to them.

I don’t even want to waste more time talking about how much I disliked War Horse.  I didn’t like it, and while some aspects of it were well done, some acting alright, it was boring and heartless.  Recommendation to avoid.

1 / 5

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Much like the movie Munich, I sat through much of this film knowing that it was quite good, but not something that I would want to re-watch time and time again.  It’s not that the subject matter was too heavy, the pacing ponderous, or anything negative.  It was just that it was something that I personally wouldn’t benefit from viewing multiple times.  I’m not a filmmaker though, just a critic, and I would highly recommend it for someone looking to get into the industry as a near masterpiece of intrigue and the intelligence genre.

I have never read a John le Carré novel at any point in my life, but I imagine I wouldn’t enjoy it as there is just so much going on, so many characters and motivations to keep track of.  I have a hard enough time trying to figure out what the hell is going on during “Game of Thrones”.  Director Tomas Alfredson does a tremendous job with all these plot lines and characters, though with all that juggling, there’s a loss of emotional connectivity.  While George Smiley (Gary Oldman in a rightfully Oscar-nominated performance) digs up all this information, very little of it seemed to resonate with me on an emotional level, other than Ricki Tarr’s (Tom Hardy) feelings for Irina (Svetlana Khodchenkova) because that’s a real human feeling.  Everything else just seemed to be atoms, important yes, but ultimately something that we all overlook.

I highly enjoyed the film, and there are numerous great acting performances to carry the film, but ultimately it feels as though anyone could have performed in most of the roles.  Did Ciarán Hinds even have a line of dialogue in the entire film?  Mark Strong hasn’t been this watchable in a movie since Kick-Ass, and I have to fault the casting directors of other movies for that.  The man is a great actor, underrated for sure.  All in all, a solid and watchable film, but avoid multi-tasking while watching it to maximize your enjoyment of it and to figure out just what the hell is going on.

4.5 / 5

Goon (2011)

From mid-June to about late September is often the hardest time of the year for me, especially since I no longer live in Calgary where it can be Winter anytime from oh, just point out any day on the calendar, I’m sure they’ve had snow then.  Less than a month ago, the Los Angeles Kings won their first ever Stanley Cup over the New Jersey Devils, and since the Devils were my team, and the playoffs were over, my Playoff Beard had to go.  And then, there was No Hockey and I was sad.  Sure, there’s exciting hockey news with free agents and stuff, but generally I have to find other ways to get my hockey fix during the summer months.  Slap Shot is a phenomenal movie, but I don’t think I could watch that everyday.  I already saw Score! A Hockey Musical once on a sort of blind date, and that was enough for me (it wasn’t without its charms, but nothing I would ever subject myself to if the potential of making out, etc. was not there).

Needless to say, there aren’t a lot of quality hockey movies out there.  Apparently there are three or four “sequels” to Slap Shot, but they look utterly terrible and offensive to the legacy of that movie and I will not waste a minute of my time on them (unless I’m being paid).  Thankfully, every couple years someone puts out a new hockey movie, or a movie that has little hockey shout outs (thank you Kevin Smith), and I can get a bit of a fix from that.  These films generally seem to focus on the fighting aspects of hockey, which – as a hockey fan, I can tell you this – is rapidly becoming less and less integral to the game.  So yeah, Goon, clearly from the title alone, focuses on a player that excels at fighting, and little else.  It was written by co-star Jay Baruchel and Superbad‘s Evan Goldberg, and stars Seann William Scott as Doug Glatt, the titular goon.

For the most part, it’s a predictable enough sports movie.  Doug gets discovered, trains enough to get a job on a minor minor league team, then gets called up to a less minor league, and kind of makes a fool out of himself for being a one-dimensional hockey player.  Then everyone is charmed by his dim-witted manner and his ultra team player demeanor, and soon he’s a folk hero of a sort, and feared around the league for his pugilistic skills.  So feared, in fact, that everyone is chomping at the bit for Doug to face off against Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber), the reigning and soon to be retired heavyweight champ of the league.  There’s also a completely believable little romance story, with Doug hitting it off with Eva (the stunning Alison Pill), but having Circumstances get in the way.

I’ve already written more about this movie than I thought I would, and that’s a testament to how much hockey love Baruchel poured into the script.  There are little touches of hockey lore throughout that makes it obvious that it wasn’t just some Hollywood hack going “I’m gonna reboot The Mighty Ducks!”  There’s some decent hockey action, some hokey action, and one really well executed scene, when Doug faces off with Rhea for the first time, and it isn’t on the ice, but more of a Heat-type showdown.  Gave me a few chills, well directed by Michael Dowse, whose Take Me Home Tonight I truly enjoyed.

All in all, I recommend it, but if you’re not a hockey fan, you probably won’t enjoy it as much as I did.  Unless you’re sitting with someone who is trying to make you a hockey fan, then you’ll get a lot more enjoyment out of it and you should become a hockey fan too.  It’s the best sport there is, where men are Men, or something.  I was leaning towards a 3 for it, but the hockey love that was clearly put into it pushed it up a bit for me.

3.5 / 5

A Good Old Fashioned Orgy (2011)

This is another movie I watched a couple weeks back, and reviewing it here for posterity’s sake now.

Long ago, probably close to a decade now, I watched Wet Hot American Summer and was shocked that it was viewed by anyone as funny.  I think I might have been broken back then, because looking at the amazing cast that populates that movie, I have no idea how I could have not seen the humour in it.  Maybe I just missed what it was about, maybe I didn’t “get it”, I don’t know.  Looking at the poster for AGOFO I was struck by how much it reminded me of Summer and I wondered if it was going to be the same type of movie for me.

Yes and no.  The cast is populated with actors that I find altogether enjoyable in many movies that they’ve worked on, namely Jason Sudeikis and Tyler Labine, but also introduced me to a few talents that I had only heard smatterings about by this point.  The most disconcerting thing for me during the entire run of the movie was how freakishly similar Nick Kroll looks to Joshua Malina in every scene.  It was haunting me by the end.

The story is not as much of an “in-joke” as Summer seemed to be, just pretty straightforward.  Eric (Sudeikis) uses his father’s (Don Johnson) house every month to hold some ridiculous theme party and when Eric’s dad decides that he needs to sell the house, Eric needs to come up with One Last Party idea.  Along with his best friend Mike (Labine), they come up with the idea of having a good old fashioned orgy that will just be a small, intimate (literally) gathering.  At first, not everyone’s on board with it, but clearly from the film’s title, you know that it happens.

It’s an alright coming-of-age, coming to grips with the person you are story, and how immature us adults can still be.  There’s some sexy romping and decent acting throughout, but it’s nothing I’d really recommend off the top of my head.  Enjoyable, but not a laugh riot or anything.

3 / 5

The Iron Lady (2011)

I’ve gone on some pretty angry Oscar-award-winning-movie diatribes on this blog in the past (mostly about how undeserving The King’s Speech was as a Best Picture winner), but usually I can grant that some terribly average movies contain great performances.  I have dubbed this The Monster Syndrome, based on Charlize Theron’s amazing performance in an otherwise average film.  When Meryl Streep was nominated for her performance as Margaret Thatcher in this film, well a lot of us just thought it was a nomination brought on by the vast respect that everyone has for Streep’s career.  Personally, I felt that Viola Davis was going to win for her performance in The Help but nope, only Octavia Spencer (deservedly) won an Oscar for that movie.

This biopic of Thatcher is somewhat unusual and controversial in that Thatcher is still alive, and – according to this film – in the throes of dementia, prone to extended flashbacks of her past life as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.  That about sums up the entire film, and if it weren’t for Streep’s performance, it would easily be about the quality of a TV movie.  Well, Streep’s performance and the presence of some other solid British actors, most notably (for me) Anthony Head.  Giles, from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”!  He simply must be cast in more movies, there is no excuse for it (other than he has a disturbing ability to facially transform into Christopher Walken).

Would I recommend this to anyone?  No, unless you simply must watch every Best Actress Oscar-winning performance ever, then yes, fine, clearly you have to watch it.  But it’s boring, and occasionally trite, just an average film for me.

2.5 / 5

Thor (2011)

With The Avengers having recently been released, I thought it would be a great idea to look back on all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films that have been released (read: search engine optimization).  The only one that I’ve already reviewed is Captain America so feel free to go back and read that one after reading this stirring bit of literature I’m probably not going to provide you with here.

Of all the Marvel movies that have been made and were rumoured to be being made, I thought that Thor would have been the hardest sell to mainstream movie audiences.  I don’t know much about the comic book version of the character, other than he fucking bored me.  I didn’t expect the cinematic interpretation of the Norse mythology behind the character to be anything even remotely approaching interesting.  And then a funny thing happened: Kenneth Branagh was named as the director and I thought to myself that at the very least, it’s going to be high quality boredom.  I just wasn’t expecting a movie that was a fun popcorn summer blockbuster, but that’s exactly what Branagh delivered.

Of course, all the directing miracles in the world wouldn’t be able to save a Thor movie if the actor playing Thor was completely unsuited for the part (I’d use Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze from Batman & Robin as an example but fuck that, that movie had more problems than just one miscast).  Thankfully, Chris Hemsworth got the part (and doubly thankful that Triple H didn’t), and as a heterosexual male, even I had to admit that dude was ripped.  He was Thor.  He also had a weird Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You accent going on for the whole movie, which was somewhat disorienting, but whatever, he was great.

Honestly, the entire movie was pretty great all around, visually stunning, great casting, super performances and a surprising amount of fun.  I might have truly loved it if I was completely familiar with Asgaardian stories and such, but let me just give it a solid thumbs up mark.

4 / 5

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Earlier this year, I re-watched the first Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes movie to hopefully get some extra traffic due to the sequel having recently been released in theatres.  I also fully intended on seeing that sequel, but at a more convenient time and cost than the theatre (small town theatres are generally shitty if they haven’t been built in the last 10 years).  I wasn’t sure if A Game of Shadows was going to be a direct sequel or a somewhat stand-alone movie, so I wanted to refresh my memories of it and realised that it wasn’t as great a movie as I initially thought it to be.

I think Guy Ritchie has some sort of directing tic, where he absolutely must have a slo-motion scene that shows SO MUCH else that us regular-speed watchers would never catch onto.  There are so many trademark Ritchie scenes in the movie that I’m sure it could easily inspire a drinking game where alcohol poisoning is almost a certainty.  He’s almost a cerebral British Michael Bay, except not as shitty.  The usage of those filming techniques is almost a crutch at this point, and if it weren’t for the writing and acting in Ritchie’s movies, he’d pretty much be Zack Snyder.

The acting and writing are the only things that kept me involved in this movie, completely honest here.  Robert Downey, Jr. again carries the bulk of the film as the titular character, with ample screentime devoted to his Watson, Jude Law.  The best part of the movie is Jared Harris though, appearing as the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty.  A far different foil for Holmes than Mark Strong was in the first movie, much more intellectual and actually making one doubt Holmes’ James Bond-esque ability to amply prepare for everything every time everywhere.

However, much like the first movie, my interest waned and I was easily distracted from the movie.  That’s one of the few advantages a movie theatre has over home viewing, where the fact that I paid for this damn movie is the only thing keeping me watching it.  It got a bit unnecessarily convoluted and I got a bit bored and probably missed some intrinsic plot detail that was a red herring or some shit and whatever, it was an alright movie in the end, nothing more.

3 / 5