Monday, 16 January 2012

Films watched in 2011 (Part Three)

No Strings Attached (dir. Ivan Reitman, 2011)
A bonk buddy film in which the platonic friends with benefits fall for each other – oh, how original. It’s meant to be different because it’s the girl who shows indifference, but she changes in the end, as we knew from the beginning.

The Oxford Murders (dir. Alex de la Iglesia, 2008)
The billing of Elijah Wood and John Hurt led me to expect more than a Dan Brown does Midsomer Murders type of affair, sadly erroneously as it turns out. That’s actually unfair to Midsomer Murders, which is at least entertaining.

P.S., I Love You (dir. Richard La Gravenese, 2007)
Yes, Hilary is still wank but Gerard Butler does sexy Celtic goofball pretty well (as a Scotsman he plays Irish well enough that most Americans won’t know the difference). The only surprise is that he’s meant to be the dead one sending messages from beyond the grave, while she is the one acting like she’s in the wooden box. On the movie-review site, Rotten Tomatoes, this was liked by 82% of audiences as opposed to only 11% of top critics. That tells you all you need to know about the target market.

Portrait of a Lady (dir. Jane Campion, 1996)
Nicole Kidman has become very hit and miss – here she is very miss, but she still looks good as does everything else – and therein lies the problem. The slavish adherence to Henry James’ classic lacks any nuance.

Rage (dir. Sally Potter, 2009)
Disappointingly forgettable despite an excellent cast (Judi Dench; Eddie Izzard; Lily Cole; Jude Law; Dianne Weist; Steve Buscemi; David Oyelowo) and great premise – an exposé of the fashion industry caught on candid (cellphone) camera. It might have made a decent experimental theatre piece or even installation artwork, but doesn’t capture enough interest on screen.

The Road to Guantanamo (dir Mat Whitecross and Michael Winterbottom, 2006)
A topical reconstruction of events that led to three British citizens being held at Guantanamo Bay. I don’t agree that denying human rights legislation to detain potential terrorists in the war against terror is acceptable. Neither do I believe these guys are entirely innocent or truthful – if you are going to a friend’s wedding in Pakistan, why would you pop into Afghanistan as the borders are closing for three weeks instead? This and many other questions remain unanswered, as reasons and motives remain buried beneath too much sound and fury – more drama than documentary.

Sanctum (dir. Alister Grierson, 2011)
Australian cave-diving drama with pitiful dialogue and acting, and clearly signposted undercurrents of father/ son tension – supposedly better in 3D; yet another example of technology swamping all other cinematic considerations.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World (dir. Edgar Wright, 2010)
An intelligent and amusing way of melding the virtual with the visual in an oddly appealing teen romance portrayed as an X-box game.

Sex and the City (dir. Michael Patrick King, 2008)
Before having seen this film I didn’t know what all the fuss was about. Apart from daring to suggest that women over 30 should be allowed out in public (and on celluloid), I still don’t.

A Single Man (dir. Tom Ford, 2009)
Colin Firth plays slightly against type in a serious role about an English professor struggling to cope with his partner’s death in early 1960s America – an alien in LA before it really came out. So good it hurts.

The Social Network (dir. David Fincher, 2010)
Facebook is not the devil’s work – it is a pathetic attempt by selfish whining nerds to be taken seriously. A good script and solid performances prove we should communicate off-line more.

Source Code (dir. Duncan Jones, 2011)
A modern Minority Report – you get to go back in time (over and over again) until you can change the course of history, but only if you’re prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice – and if you’re not, the American government will make you make it.

State and Main (dir. David Mamet, 2000)
Funny, clever, self-reverential film about making a film. An amusing script and intelligent acting, but possibly too in on its own jokes to be great.

Submarine (dir. Richard Ayoade, 2010)
Gorgeously geeky low-budget Welsh festival film in which 15-year-old Oliver Tate imagines himself as a hero in a film about his life, dealing with angst issues common to teenagers everywhere (and especially in Swansea).

Tamara Drew (dir. Stephen Frears, 2010)
A film based on a comic based on a book should by rights be a huge incoherent mess, but it works brilliantly due to sensitive directing and a stellar cast – Gemma Arterton; Roger Allam; Dominic Cooper; Tamsin Greig.

Too Big to Fail (dir. Curtis Hanson, 2011)
Excellent – great acting, snappy dialogue and a huge issue: focussing on the Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy and the subsequent global financial meltdown. It is delivered with intelligence and dignity, bravely putting forward both sides of the argument.

The Tourist (dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2010)
Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rufus Sewell, espionage plot, Venice setting, canal chases..., what’s not to like? Two words: Angelia Jolie – it seems she can ruin just about anything.

The Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malick, 2011)
Pretentious, art-house, drug-addled, irritating nonsense – Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are wasting their time, and mine.

The Trip (dir. Michael Winterbottom, 2011)
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play sort of themselves in a semi-scripted not-quite road trip as they travel the North of England in the bleak (but beautiful) mid-winter, dining at restaurants and ‘critiquing’ the food – ‘the tomato soup was tomatoey. And soupy.’ – while arguing over who does the best Michael Caine impression. What could be better? Not a lot. This homesick-inducing film would have to be my favourite of the year.

True Grit (dir. Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, 2010)
Oscar-nominated Western revenge action quest – I haven’t seen the John Wayne original, but the friend I saw it with says he has and it’s just as good in a slightly different way.

Up in the Air (dir. Jason Reitman, 2009)
Slick and diverting, likeable without being too demanding, and ultimately positive without being saccharine – and that’s just George Clooney. One great line of many: “We’re two people who get turned on by elite status. I think cheap is our starting point.” This fine example of the friends with benefits theme is anything but cheap, arguing in a roundabout fashion that everybody needs somebody to love.

Wendy and Lucy (dir. Kelly Reichardt, 2008)
A vagrant girl forms few attachments as strong as the one with her dog. It’s slow, gentle, slightly haunting and quiet, and you know you will cry.

Winter’s Bone (dir. Debra Granik, 2010)
Girl attempts to track down her druggie dad in a grim landscape, while playing the tough oldest sister with family responsibility. Jennifer Lawrence was rightfully nominated for an Oscar for her gutsy performance, and deserved it more than Natalie Portman. The film was also nominated for Motion Picture of the Year, but didn’t stand a chance against The King’s Speech.

Zombieland (dir. Ruben Fleischer, 2009)
Zombie apocalypse comedy with Jessie Eisenberg (before he did The Social Network) as a shy student trying to get home in a weird and not-so-wonderful world. He teams up with veteran Woody Harrelson as a vengeful redneck zombie slayer in a series of stock scenes (deserted supermarket; plush mansion; funfair rides and shooting arcades) reinvented with inspirational nonsense. Banjos can be deadly.

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