2011 Reviews

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (***) is a solid thriller starring Matt Damon & Emily Blunt, who have terrific chemistry.  The plot is too complicated to bother describing here (plus, does anyone read these anyway???) but I'd say it feels like a cross between The Matrix and The Fugitive.  Not as good as those, but it's fun & involves the brain.

 

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN  (***) is a great flick.  Many are comparing it to Indiana Jones, and I'd say that's pretty spot-on, but just the animated version & more geared towards kids.  It's a little ridiculous sometimes, but it's quite fun and the animation is great.

 

ALBERT NOBBS (**1/2) stars Glenn Close as a woman who pretends to be a man to get work as a butler at a hotel and fit in, as a closeted lesbian, into an uptight 1800's Ireland.  She does divine work, and Janet McTeer is stellar as another cross-dressing lesbian whom Albert looks up to, but the movie is ultimately kind of boring.

 

THE ARTIST (***1/2) will likely win Best Picture, and I'd be totally happy with that.  It's a black & while silent film about a silent film star (the charismatic Jean Dujardin) who's fame is waning as "talkies" are waxing, and his romantic chemistry with an auspicious woman (the luminous Berenice Bejo) who stumbles onto the scene and is meanwhile shot to stardom.  But it's an ultimately upbeat and hopeful film, that pays glorious homage to all things Old Hollywood.  Go see it!!!

 

ATTACK THE BLOCK (***) is being described as Shaun of the Dead with blacks in a ghetto.  But it's not nearly as hilarious & creative.  It's more straightforward, less campy; and, oh, it's aliens not zombies.  It's not great, but it's solid entertainment.

 

In BEGINNERS (***1/2), Christopher Plummer comes out to his son (Ewan McGregor) at age 75, just after the death of his wife (Ewan's mom).  This tender, stylish & rich character study is about them each beginning on new romantic paths--with Plummer exploring men and commitment-phobe McGregor challenging himself to commit to a new woman (the divine & French Melanie Laurent from Inglourious Basterds).  The performances are marvelous.

 

A BETTER LIFE (**1/2) is about an illegal Mexican immigrant (Oscar nominee Demian Bichir) living in L.A. and working hard to help him & his son live a better life.  And then, of course, conflicts ensue...  It's well-acted and moderately affecting, but fairly typical and tedious for this viewer.

 

BRIDESMAIDS (***1/2) stars Kristen Wiig as a 30-something coming to terms with her perpetual singlehood while her best friend (the marvelous Maya Rudolph) gets married.  Wiig, who wrote it too, is a comic genius.

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (***) is far better than I expected.  I kind of want to give it ***1/2.  Maybe I should.  Oh whatever, who cares, either way: it's a solid, engaging, rich & fun superhero movie that is not nearly as dumb or cliched as it could have been.

 

CARNAGE (**) is based on the overrated but crisply entertaining play God of Carnage  (on broadway in 2009 with Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden in a wonderful Tony-winning performance), and pales in comparison.  Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet replace Daniels and Davis as an upper-class Manhattan couple who visit the Brooklyn apartment of another couple (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster replacing Gandolfini and Harden) after the former's son hit the face of the latter's son with a stick in a playground fight.  While these new four actors are overall at least as strong as the play's actors, they don't do the script service in nearly the way the others did on stage.  Reilly seems to be the only one who understands that it is primarily a comedy and requires some levity; Foster in particular muscles her way through it with such tension that you simply stop caring early on.  What was delightfully ironic (that the parents of these wrastling kids get into their own all-out scoff) on stage just feels trite on film, and quite annoying actually.

 

CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS (**)?  More like Cave of Forgettable Filmmaking.  The ever-crazy German documentarian Werner Herzog delves into a cave with the oldest drawings ever or something like that... I was bored, you probably will be too.

 

CEDAR RAPIDS (***) stars Ed Helms (The Office, The Hangover) as an Iowan insurance salesman who must fly on a plane for the first time to the [relatively] *big* city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa for a convention, with the daunting task of winning an award in order to keep the company he works for afloat.  It's not brilliant, but it's smart fun.  Helms is terrific, and John C. Reilly & Anne Heche deliver crisp supporting turns.

 

CONTAGION (***) is one of these ensemble movies with tons of sprawled-out characters who all randomly connect somehow, this time with regards to a global disease epidemic.  It's fascinating and often enthralling, but ultimately we aren't brought in deeply enough into any of the characters to care as much as we could, and the acting & dialogue are at times soft & awkward.  It's a good movie, but not a great movie.

 

CORIOLANUS (***) - Ralph Fiennes directed & stars in this modernization (in setting, not language) of the Shakespeare "problem-play".  It features fantastic acting and is super interesting & creative in its ideas of how to modernize (ie, the "messengers" are news-anchors on TV).  I'd likely give it ***1/2 if I were able to follow the language better, but I struggled to follow it enough that the story didn't reach me enough to rate it that highly.

 

CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE. (***1/2) stars Steve Carell as a sad-sack who seeks ladies-man guidance from the suave Ryan Gosling after his wife (Julianne Moore) divorces him.  It's fun on the broad level you expect it to be, but also touching and crafty.  Bravo.

 

A DANGEROUS METHOD (**) chronicles a strange psycho-sexual triangle between Carl Jung (the subtly simmering Michael Fassbender), Sigmund Freud (the bold & nuanced Viggo Mortensen), and a sexually & psychologically troubled patient (the overboard & annoying Keira Knightly).  Way too many long & slow narrated letters are sent and read, and the story has not nearly enough momentum or variety to merit keeping me awake; thus I have little more to report on what I sort of saw.

 

In THE DEBT (***1/2), Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, & Ciaran Hinds try to tie up loose ends 30 years after their mission to kidnap a Nazi doctor in Berlin went slightly awry.  It's not perfect, but it's quite riveting.  Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, & Sam Worthington do wonderful work as their respective younger selves.  (Chastain in particular is the truly luminous new talent of 2011.)

 

THE DESCENDANTS (***) is only writer/director Alexander Payne's fourth movie (after Election, About Schmidt, and Sideways), and for my tastes, he keeps getting better, but continues to make films that are tonally odd in a way that stilt them and keep them from sweeping me off of my feet quite as much as I wish they did.  But despite the frayed edges, this story of a man (George Clooney) coping with fatherhood as he learns, while his wife is in a coma, that she had been having an affair, engrosses.  And newcomer Shailene Woodley wows as the elder (17 year-old) daughter.

 

DRIVE (****).  Ryan Gosling stars as a car mechanic who also drives for movie stunts and the occasional heist.  He gets wrapped up with some hoodlums, and Pulp Fiction-like events ensue.  But it's an opus--it somehow makes conflict & human trauma beautifully relatable & theatrical at once.  It's far and away the most hypnotic and enthralling movie of the year, and for its stylistic ingenuity and boldness, my favorite.

 

EVERYTHING MUST GO (**1/2) is only worth it if you really want to see Will Ferrell do a fine turn in a dramatic role.  The story of a man having a yard sale of all of his stuff on his front lawn after he loses his job & his wife kicks him out of the house, it is a bit contrived and off-tune.  But there are some great elements, and Ferrell does really nice work.

 

EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE (***) is not incredibly close to the novel it is based on, which was hard for me as a viewer, to let go of so many of the elements of the book that simply could not be included, as it is my favorite book.  However, I think they did an impressive job at making a mostly functional and satisfying film out a flat-out unfilmable novel.  It's very hard for me to judge this movie because I primarily enjoyed it as a vehicle through which to remember the power of the phenomenal literature.  It's oversentimental and so won't be up everyone's alley, but it's a deeply affecting story that's worth seeing if you think it might be up yours.

 

In 50/50 (***1/2), Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a 50/50 chance of surviving cancer.  He & Seth Rogen (as his wise-cracking best friend) and Anna Kendrick (as his awkward therapist) will make you laugh & cry interchangeably in this movie that balances the drama & the comedy of traumatic life experiences phenomenally well.  Just as close to a 4-star movie as Drive, it is tied with the latter for my fave of the year at the moment.

 

THE FUTURE (***1/2) - Writer/director Miranda July follows up her quirky feature Me and You and Everyone We Know with this equally quirky relationship dramedy starring her and the wonderful Hamish Linklater (whom I have never seen before).  If you're down for a little strange, but a lot of off-kilter inspiration, go see it.

 

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (****).  When I saw the enthralling Swedish version last year, I said to myself, "why on Earth do we need to have an American one--this one is SO good!"  But then I reminded myself that it was David Fincher directing and got excited about the mash-up of this story and his touch.  And boy, was the mash-up worth it.  This is one of the best and meatiest mystery thrillers made in a long time.

 

THE GUARD (***) stars the delightful & very Irish Brendan Gleeson as a very Irish cop in a very Irish part of Ireland, teaming up with the very American and wonderfully responsive straight-man Don Cheadle to track down a drug-trafficking & murderous clan of bad guys.  Not amazing, but a uniquely fun time.

 

THE HANGOVER PART II (***) is a sub-par carbon copy of the original, but it is a lot more fun & hilarious than the piss poor reviews are giving it credit for!!  Go, leave your critic at the door, be forgiving, & have a ball.

 

HANNA (***1/2).  Watch the trailer--if it looks like your cup of tea, SEE IT!  It's smart, creative, & outright chilling.

 

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS--PART TWO (***1/2) is one of the best of the series.  These Potter flicks have really ended on a high note.  I wonder if this one might even make a run for a best picture nomination, as recognition for them all...  Hmm.

 

THE HELP (***) is precious.  It's nothing to go swinging through the rafters about, but it's a precious story (about a white girl in the south putting together a book featuring true stories from the perspective of colored maids) that's movingly told.

 

HORRIBLE BOSSES (***).  Hilarity and hi-jinks ensue when the blue-collar Jason Bateman, Jason Sudekis, and Charlie Day plot to murder their terrible, terrible, shall we say horrible, bosses.  Great fun.

 

HUGO (***) is a magically filmed fable that is ultimately a campaign for film-restoration and Old Hollywood (what a nice companion for The Artist), but it doesn't clip along with enough magically-good story-telling or bristlingly fine acting to make it pop the way that it could.  But director Scorsese creates quite a world, and it's worth watching on the big screen.

 

THE IDES OF MARCH (***1/2) stars Ryan Gosling as an assistant campaign manager (to Philip Seymour Hoffman) for a governor's (George Clooney) presidential run, who is faced with a moral dilemma when he learns things about Clooney that he wished weren't true.  It's a fascinating story, and you can tell that it's adapted from a successful play because the conflicts are so human and theatrically important.  Great flick.

 

THE IRON LADY (***) isn't a great film.  But it's absolutely a decent enough film to sustain itself in support of Meryl Streep's PHENOMENAL work as Margaret Thatcher.  She is quite simply extraordinary, which is expected but still shockingly impressive.  Go to see her work--it's every bit as good as you'd hope.

 

J. EDGAR (**) is par for the Clint Eastwood course--i.e., it blows.  Ok fine, his work is usually OK, and this is WEAK.  It's 2 hours and 17 minutes of blah blah blah conversations and underwhelming melodrama.  Where it interests most is in the complicated relationship with his lifelong friend with Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), but the *heart-wrenching drama* they share is so stilted and stiffly handled that it doesn't pop the way you'd like it to.  And SO MUCH of the film is spent watching Leo & Armie act through layers upon layers of old-man makeup that never stops seeming creepy.  It may be well-done makeup, I don't know; but you never get over the fact that it's two 25-35 year old movie stars under those faces, so the movie never breaks free of feeling forced and inhuman.

 

LIKE CRAZY (***) is worth it if you're a sucker for romance, especially the isn't-it-so-sad-and-real-that-it's-so-hard-for-them-to-make-this-work flavor of romance.  Young adults Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones do wonderful work, but the film really needed an actual screenwriter (apparently the dialogue was largely improvised) in order have a richer impact--it was well laid out but never fully infiltrated my soul.

 

MARGIN CALL (***1/2) is a taut and fascinating Wall Street drama/thriller starring a wonderful array of talented actors: Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci, and some other people who's names we'll all know better soon.  Oh, and Demi Moore's in it too, but her face has suffered too much surgery for it to express anything in the range of "talented".  Definitely check this movie out--it's engrossing as hell & effective.

 

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (***1/2): A star is born with Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of the now-infamous Olsen twins--she has double the screen presence of her sisters combined in this harrowing story of a girl's search for her sense-of-self as she takes up with her sister & brother-in-law after escaping a cult.

 

MELANCHOLIA (***1/2) is one of crazy Danish auter Lars Von Trier's better efforts in years, featuring Kirsten Dunst (in her best work yet, by far) battle the threat of marriage on her wedding night as she sees visions of a foreign planet named Melancholia wheel its way towards Earth.  Charlotte Gainsbourg is particularly phenomenal as her sister who, in Act 2 of the two-acter, becomes possessed by fear of this looming interplanetary threat.  Keifer Sutherland also does fine work as Gainsbourg's pragmatic husband.

 

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (***1/2) is top-shelf Woody Allen.  It's not perfect, and Owen Wilson is still Owen Wilson.  But it's top-shelf Owen Wilson (which doesn't say much, but I'll say he's rather good), and the story is wonderfully inventive & smile-inducing.  It's about a writer in Paris with his fiancee who winds up traveling to 1920's Paris every night at midnight, and picking the brains of the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.  Delightful flick.

 

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL (***1/2) is the best Mission: Impossible since the first one, although it still falls short of the first one because I wish it had more double-crossing and surprises & twists & turns regarding who's on who's side and what's what, etc.  It was more raw suspense, but that suspense was VERY satisfying, and certainly quite taut without having to rely on mindless action non-stop.  There were many action sequences, but they always felt smart.  It was a grand old time, and quite funny.

 

MONEYBALL (***1/2) is adapted from a very anti-narrative, info-heavy book about how to maximize your bang for your buck with the building of a roster of baseball players for a pro team.  But this film makes a remarkably entertaining (& mostly true) story out of the characters involved in the book.  Go & enjoy.

 

THE MUPPETS (***1/2) is flat-out delightful.  Jason Segel and Amy Adams shine as they and Segel's brother (a muppet named Walter--ha!) get the Muppet gang together again at last to put together a fundraising variety act in order to raise enough money to keep oil tycoon Chris Cooper from tearing down the Muppet theater and drilling for oil that is strangely below the theater.  Boy is it a joy of a journey to watch.

 

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (**1/2) stars Michelle Williams in a wonderful performance as Marilyn Monroe.  But sadly, the movie itself pales in comparison to her work.  Kenneth Branagh does fine work at Laurence Olivier.

 

OUR IDIOT BROTHER (***) stars Paul Rudd as the dim but lovable title character, and Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks, and Zooey Deschanel as his supportive but frustrated sisters.  It's not outright brilliant or anything, but it's a fairly-well-written and well-acted fun time.

 

PAUL (**1/2) is written by & stars Simon Pegg & Nick Frost (who brought us Shaun of the Dead and Hott Fuzz) as Comic-Con nerds on an RV roadtrip around the US's southwest when they stumble upon an alien named Paul and wind up helping him to safety.  It doesn't send-up the alien movie genre the way that Shaun  & Fuzz parodied their respective genres, but it was fun enough and features a terrific supporting cast.

 

PINA (***1/2) is a stunning utilization of 3D - putting you smack dab in the middle of the dances featured in this breathtaking documentary about Pina Bausch's work.

 

RAMPART (***) - Woody Harrelson stars as a tormented and rageful cop.  He delivers a deeply investigated and fierce performance, the supporting cast shines, and the direction is at times enthralling.  Ultimately it was just a bit tedious and been-here-seen-this, but it's a good flick.

 

SCREAM 4 (***) is better than Scream 3, but not as good at Scream or Scream 2.  I was in less suspense perhaps because I've come to expect the startles, but it was a rather inventive plot and an enjoyable flick.

 

A SEPARATION (***1/2) is a depressing Iranian film with a faimly-drama plot that is too complicated to get into here.  But it's one of those movies where the conflicts are SO huge, and each character's opposing perspective makes such sense, that all you can do is ache for the sadness of the world's endless stream of unfixable problems.

 

SHAME (***1/2).  Michael Fassbender is enthralling in this atmospheric & hypnotic story of a New York City sex-addict.

 

THE SKIN I LIVE IN (***1/2) might be my favorite Pedro Almodovar film (though, full disclosure, I'm not a big Almodovar nut).  Antonio Banderas plays a private & secretive skin surgeon who runs experiments on people that skirt dangerously with the line of what is ethically ok, perhaps crossing it egregiously?  It's an intriguing drama/mystery that unfolds deliciously well.

 

SOURCE CODE (***1/2) is a mind-bendy beat-the-clock thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal.  It's short, enthralling, and a lot better than it sounds like it'd be based on its title & star.

 

SUBMARINE (***1/2) is the best movie I've seen all year.  It's like a British Rushmore but even more indie and, dare I say, deeper.  Check out the trailer ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-WCCdkVDr4 ), and if it's at all for you, GO GO GO!!!!  Terrific film.

 

SUPER 8 (***1/2) is like a Spielbergian Goonies.  It's fun, touching, and quite suspenseful.  I'm too tired to write more.  Go.

 

TAKE SHELTER (***1/2) features some of the best work I've seen from the brooding & magnetic Michael Shannon, who stars as an Ohioan construction worker who is suffering harrowing nightmares & hallucinations that seem to be warnings of an apocalyptic storm that is to come.  But do these premonitions hold water, or are they merely adding headache to the lives of his wife & deaf young daughter to no avail?  It's an enthralling character study.

 

THOR (**) was boring; I was bored.  It didn't help that I was too sleep deprived from school to stay awake during the first 15 minutes, when they give the whole origin backstory for Thor & his people, leaving me deliciously bewildered for the entirety of the rest of the movie.  But still, it was... meh.

 

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (***1/2), as much as I loved it, might be the most confusing movie I've ever seen (at least if you only consider linear movies that aren't in the David Lynch ballpark).  Gary Oldman is divine as George Smiley, a spy who is hired by the British government to uncover who the Russian mole is at the top of the British Intelligence organization.  It's got a lot of talk and not a ton of suspense, but it's wonderfully acted and shot.  And while it's VERY hard to follow moment-to-moment, because of the high volume of characters and jargon, it certainly has you leaning forward as opposed to back--you are always trying to keep up and untwist this twisty story, and that action is satisfying to engage in.

 

TOWER HEIST (***), in which Ben Stiller (as a fired hotel manager) and Eddie Murphy (as his enlisted con-man) lead a mis-fit crew of knuckleheads in a plot to steal millions of dollars from a rich hotel tenant (Alan Alda) who lost all their money swindling on Wall Street, is a dependably fun time.

 

THE TREE OF LIFE (***1/2) is director Terrence Malick's latest labor of love.  Watch this trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXRYA1dxP_0 .  See the GORGEOUS camera shots and hear the beautiful, soul-swelling music?  Enjoy the fragmented, whispered, syruppy narration?  Well then you may just LOVE this movie, because it is 2 hours and 20 minutes of exactly that.  Unlike Malick's perfect 1998 war film The Thin Red Line, Tree doesn't have enough meat to its story on which to tack this tapestretic (to coin a term; consider it MONOPOLIZED! ;) fat without tiring the audience a bit.  The music-video quality loses steam over time, and doesn't nail the audience as deeply as it would with more substance behind it.  But I can't give it less than three and a half stars when what I watched was as singular &, again, GORGEOUS as it was.  Give it a try if you're intrigued.

 

THE TRIP (***1/2) - British comedian Steve Coogan and British impressionist Rob Brydon go on a food-tasting road trip through rural England, and we enjoy their dinner-table banter over & over again.  It's like My Dinner with Andre, but way less boring & way more funny.  And poignant at the end.  It's truly a joy, and worth going to see.

 

WAR HORSE (***) is a typical Spielberg drama: it's entire action is to tug at your heart strings, and sometimes it does, but the transparency of that action undermines the whole thing.  That said, it's a moderately successful epic with some great scenes.

 

WARRIOR (***1/2) is only a hair less fantastic than last year's The Fighter.  Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy marvel as estranged brothers who wind up competing in the same mixed martial arts tournament, and who each have desperate needs for the prize money.  And Nick Nolte flashes it up as their recovering alcoholic father who seeks forgiveness.  It's quite simply a very well told, deeply affecting story.

 

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (***1/2) is a mostly enthralling film about a angst-ridden mother (the amazing and endlessly watchable Tilda Swinton, in a to-be-Dickie-Award-winning performance) of a boy who commits a Columbine-like murder of multiple peers at his high school.  It's not for everyone, but very very good.

 

WIN WIN (***) stars Paul Giamatti as a small-town lawyer who takes a messed-up teen under his wings & onto the high school wrestling team he coaches in order to save the kid from his downward-spiraling home life.  It takes its time before it finds reliably stable footing, but it certainly achieves it and is ultimately moving as well as entertaining.

 

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (***1/2) is one of the most well-told superhero stories I've seen!!  I mean, it's no Christopher-Nolan-does-Batman, but it's pretty friggin kickass.  Very well done.  Give it a wing if you at all like superhero movies!  I only sort of do, and I quite dug this.

 

YOUNG ADULT (***) stars Charlize Theron as a YA author who is herself struggling to move on to full-fledged adulthood as she harbors on her high school flame.  Despite said flame's happy marriage & recent child, she visits her hometown in order to attempt to win him back.  It's pretty funny, and is satisfyingly more than skin-deep; and Theron paints a hysterical and fully three-dimension character.  Patton Oswalt also shines as the still-crippled victim of a high school hate crime who she stumbles upon and slowly builds a delightfully candid, and ultimately heart-wrenching, friendship with.

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