Archive for December, 2011

FILMS OF THE YEAR

Posted: December 31, 2011 in movie reviews

Here they are, some with comments. All films here, with the exception of THE IRON LADY, have reviews somewhere on this site. Use the handy SEARCH feature!

CJ’s Movies of the Year

Top Ten:

Snowtown (Best Film of the Year) (Best Australian Film of the Year)

The only film where, at the end, I sat back and thought – I’m in the presence of astonishing, brilliant, revolutionary filmmaking.

Contagion (Best American Film of the Year)

So real, so scary, so perfectly made.

Red Dog

The most moving film of the year, along with the most fun. 

Drive

Original and stylish, with the most intriguing sensibility of the year.

The Muppets

Jim Henson would be proud. SO funny, and so true to the real nature of the muppets.

Bill Cunningham New York (Best Documentary Film of the Year)

Attack the Block (Best British Film of the Year)

In a Better World (Best Foreign Language Film of the Year)

Hanna

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Honourable Mentions:

Julia’s Eyes (Best Spanish Film of the Year)

Source Code

Perfect “Twilight Zone” style.

Limitless

Bradley Cooper proves to be a real leading man.

Wasted on the Young

The Trip

An absolute laugh riot.

The Worst, or most disappointing,  Films of 2011:

Jack and Jill

Awful. Awful awful awful.

Bad Teacher

They marketed this as a comedy. It wasn’t.

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest

Very boring. I hope Fincher combines Two and Three into one film.

Unknown

The Tree of Life

Water for Elephants

Arthur

The Iron Lady

Maybe my gripe here is with the marketing department. They implied I was going to see a film about a political career – not a film about an old lady with dementia stumbling around her apartment.


The Adventures of Tintin ***1/2

During the end credits of Steven Spielberg’s wild, motion-capture fantasia based on three of the Tintin adventure books (The Secret of the Unicorn, Red Rackham’s Treasure and The Crab With the Golden Claws) comes this jaw-dropping one: “Second Unit Director: Peter Jackson.” Yes, that Peter Jackson. Not quite running the catering unit, but still, not a job he would typically take. But this is no ordinary collaboration. The Adventures of Tintin is resolutely the first of two (perhaps more) Tintin films, with Jackson co-producing this one and slated to direct the next, and Spielberg swapping over to co-produce that one. It’s all very “insider” and I’m sure the two of them are having a hell of a lot of fun – which is what the movie is.

If, like me and countless millions, Tintin kind of was your childhood, then this film will no doubt have already created a kind of panic within you: what if they screw it up? They haven’t, so don’t worry, but, frankly, maybe it’s simply impossible for it to release that eight-year-old’s sense of thrilling wonder, because maybe nothing can live up to that sort of elation.

Will today’s eight year olds love the movie, if they haven’t gorged themselves on the books? Hard to say. It’s practically impossible for me to write about the film without comparing it to the books, and with the entire Tintin universe. When I try and look at it objectively, I realise the characters are pretty eccentric: a sort of manboy who lives alone in an apartment with a dog for a best friend; two completely incompetent cops (who actually work for Scotland Yard – strange standards) and, of course, a grumpy, alcoholic shambles of a sea captain. Plus that dog. Will today’s kids respond to this motley crew with the passionate love that I always have?

Well, if not, at least they’ve got plenty of action to enjoy, and the action in this movie is absolutely brilliant. There are at least three extended, stunning action set pieces that feel like classic, madcap Spielberg – Raiders of the Lost Ark era. They’re loads of fun, and the 3D is well used.

The motion capture acting is excellent, with Jamie Bell doing a credible Tintin and the master of the medium, Andy Serkis, doing an excellent Haddock (although he doesn’t look exactly as I wanted him to – he looked a little too human for my taste). Unfortunately the comic duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are wasted as Thompson and Thomson, but this was basically inevitable: why employ two intriguing comedians to play two people who are, in look, tone, style, personality and verbal nuance, essentially interchangeable?

The Secret of the Unicorn and the others were not my favourites of the series (they weren’t my least favourites either) but it’s clear why they were chosen: Tintin meets Haddock here, really kicking the series proper off (the few books pre-Haddock always seemed a little lonely to me, a little empty). At the end it is made very clear that these two are off to have another adventure. My vote would be for Flight 714. Now that could make for a perfect Tintin movie.

J. EDGAR *** (out of five)

Clint Eastwood’s new film J. Edgar is another in a long line of attempts to capture some of the insanity that was J. Edgar Hoover. The best before this one was The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, from 1977, directed by the irascible Larry Cohen and starring Broderick Crawford as Hoover. What made that film so fun was its salaciousness: claiming to be based on the secret files of J. Edgar Hoover that “escaped the shredder” upon his death, the film implicates Hoover in the assassinations of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy, amongst a cavalcade of other misuses of his long-held office. J. Edgar Hoover was not a pretty man, and that film did not paint a pretty picture of him.

The new film, surprisingly, goes in a different direction, and I guess it’s a direction that I wasn’t so fond of traveling. It feels like, along the way of researching Hoover and trying to figure out what made him tick, Eastwood and his titular star Leonardo DiCaprio decided that the man had a soul. Like Oliver Stone’s weirdly polite W, J. Edgar seems to bend over backwards to find nice things to say about someone whom the world has generally agreed was a despicable person.

Like all of Eastwood’s period pictures, it’s extremely handsome in its production design, proceeds at a stately pace, and features an unbelievably authentic-feeling supporting cast: wherever Eastwood finds his “unknowns”, they always seem to have absolutely stepped out of the era in which his movies are set. The age makeup is fantastic on DiCaprio. But on Naomi Watts, as his career secretary Helen, and Armie Hammer, as his career right-hand man and lover… well, that’s a different story. Watts’ makeup, when she’s meant to be her oldest, simply doesn’t look real. Hammer’s is a step up from that. The first time we see his character Clyde Tolson at his eldest is a shock: his age makeup is so extreme that it’s a little laughable. Clyde has had a stroke, and I guess, historically, he aged a lot more – and a lot worse – than Hoover. Even if Hammer’s makeup is slavishly true to this, it doesn’t help the movie: every time he’s onscreen as his eldest self, he looks silly.

 

 

 

 

 

This is a shame because Hammer, and Clyde, are the most interesting thing about the movie. Why anyone could be in love with Hoover is anyone’s guess, and the movie disappointingly doesn’t attempt to examine that question in the slightest, but at least it recognizes Clyde Tolson’s existence, and his place in Hoover’s life. Indeed, unlike the 1977 film, which was an Oliver Stoneish exposé of political office, J. Edgar is a love story. The fact that one of the lovers is someone you wouldn’t want at your dinner table means that the film is handsome, well crafted, well acted, but, ultimately, not nearly as involving as it might have been. Frankly, I really wish Eastwood had put the boot in – but I guess that’s just not his style.

The Muppets **** (out of five)

The new muppet movie, written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, is a total delight. Any fears that the muppets may have been unwisely thrust into something that is outside of their inherent character can be safely allayed. This muppet movie is so true to the spirit of the original Muppet Show, and at least the first three movies, that it really feels as if Jim Henson were still alive: you really get the sense that this is a movie he might have made. It is also absolutely in keeping with the muppet universe: it is not any sort of re-boot or reimagining: it completely continues the arc that began with the very first muppet show. In every regard, with the exception of some different muppeteers (Jim Henson, who played Kermit, is dead, and Frank Oz, for whatever reasons, declined to perform Miss Piggy) this is a deliriously faithful continuation of the muppet world.

The concerns stemmed not just from Jim Henson’s death but also from his late-in-life decision to sell his creations to Disney. Legitimately, people were afraid that the characters of the muppets could have been corrupted. With a big high-five to everyone who has ever loved the muppets, I can state uncategorically that this is not the case. Segel and Stoller obviously love the muppets and they’ve made a pure muppet movie.

The casting is perfect. As the two main humans, Segel and Amy Adams are as close to muppets as humans can be (and, to this man at least, Adams is as cute as any muppet – even the dancing chicken). Chris Cooper plays the Bad Guy as a perfect muppet Bad Guy.  The songs, by Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords, are perfect: funny, funny, funny, but also spectacularly thought out and arranged. I can not only hum them, I can sing them.

For those of us for whom the first film is some sort of milestone, there are huge rewards. The plot allows, completely muppet-logically, for a re-creation of the famous television show Opening Number as well as a tearfully joyous new version of The Rainbow Connection. All of your favourite muppets are there (yes, Swedish Chef, yes chickens, yes the big ones, yes Scooter and Gonzo and Waldorf and Statler and Tweeter and Crazy Harry and Sweetums and Sam Eagle and Link Hogthrob and The Newsman and the rats) – look, they’re all there, as though Segel and Stoller, every step of the way, had our best interests at heart. They obviously did. They obviously made the muppet movie they wanted to see, and that’s the one we wanted to see too.

It is also hysterically funny. There is so much off-beat (but always muppet-style) humour, gags that you simply can’t see coming but which are seriously laugh-out-loud funny. The first half hour, in particular, is a riot. The screening audience I shared it with was in huge, hearty high-spirited laughter throughout the film. It also has the tremendous heart of the series, the original movies… the muppets themselves.

Why isn’t this a five-star film? Well, there are one or two slow spots. Chris Cooper’s villain, although well played, is almost unnecessary, and his subplot lacks energy. And maybe it could have had more music, or the plot could have taken one or two more surprising turns. Maybe they could have figured out a way to make Miss Piggy a little more dynamic. Animal’s journey doesn’t really pay off. And, really, Raging Bull is a five-star film, and The Muppets isn’t Raging Bull.

 

But it’s great. I don’t know how a kid who didn’t grow up on the muppets might relate to it (it’s similar to The Adventures of Tintin in that way) but for anyone my age, who loved the muppets – you’re going to love this movie. A sort of triumph.

A Very British Christmas

Posted: December 6, 2011 in movie reviews

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS ***

I’m not a fan of CGI kids’ movies, but ARTHUR CHRISTMAS – a big-budget, British entry into the genre – is really quite funny and enjoyable, and I can recommend it. I laughed out loud on many occasions – something I can’t say about Rango or any of the Shreks.

The premise is that Santa Claus is a job, and that people get promoted to it. The process of distributing presents to kids around the world is highly corporatized. The North Pole is, essentially, Amazon, without any costs to the consumer.

It’s fun. For us adults, there are references galore: The Thunderbirds, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind are all there. Beyond that, how about this: Jim Broadbent, playing Walter, who currently serves as Santa Claus, is married to a woman named “Margaret” – a definite in-joke about the fact that Jim Broadbent is playing Dennis Thatcher in the upcoming biopic The Iron Lady.

There are things you just wouldn’t see in a Pixar or Disney movie. For example, one of the main elves has an eyebrow piercing, uncommented on. Even more than that: two of the boy elves kiss… each other. It’s progressive.

Not being a father, I’m not sure about one central question: does the film diminish, or add to, the mythology of Santa Claus? Would a kid who believes in Santa Claus come out of it excited or massively disillusioned? It certainly doesn’t pretend that Santa Claus is “real”. But then… does any kid believe that Santa Claus is real any more? I literally don’t know.

Like all CGI films, there is a law of diminishing returns. The set-up of the world and the characters is terrific, but once the plot kicks in – a kid missed out on a present and young “Arthur” and an older, retired Claus must deliver it – things become a little boring. Who cares? It’s not an involving story.

There’s a lot to like, however. The voice acting is way above average. The characters are very enjoyable (with, unfortunately, the exception of “Arthur” himself – why are the “leads” in CGI movies always the least interesting?) The reindeers are beautiful. And there are some devastatingly funny lines: at one point, commenting on how things change, the previous Santa tells Arthur “they used to say it was impossible to teach women to read.” I doubt you’d hear that in a Pixar film, let alone a Disney.

The film has been constructed to be enjoyed in 3D. I saw the 2D version, and I regret it. It’s obviously been well designed for the third element. All of the human characters have long, pointy, red noses. Beyond the obvious (and witty) reference to Rudolph, they turn towards the “camera” quite a lot. I can imagine kids would find these moments great fun in 3D. Indeed, I can imagine kids would find the whole film great fun. Recommended.


Beggaring Belief

Posted: December 5, 2011 in movie reviews

JACK AND JILL *

I guess, as a film commentator, occasionally you have to take one for the team. I just took one for the team. JACK AND JILL is so inept that it is literally difficult to sit through. Time seems to expand when you’re seeing bad art. I could easily sit in the sun for two hours and do nothing. But to sit through this… words can barely describe how awful this film is. But here goes.

For a start, let’s establish the basic plot, very, very quickly. Adam Sandler plays Jack, an ad man. He also plays Jack’s sister Jill, who has come to stay. Jack needs to get Al Pacino to be in a commercial. Al Pacino falls – sexually – for Jill. So Jack has to get Jill to screw Al Pacino.

Yep, that’s the premise. And guess who plays Al Pacino? Al Pacino.

How much did they pay Pacino to do this? Four million dollars? Ten million? Who knows. But let’s be very clear straight up: this is not Pacino’s Being John Malkovich. This is not Pacino being wryly self-aware and self-mocking, like Ben Stiller, Kate Winslet, Daniel Radcliffe and every other major star that appeared in Extras. This is Al Pacino, as Al Pacino, with no irony (and no laughs, but we’ll get to that later) falling in lust with Adam Sandler in drag.

Again I have to ask (or cry out to the heavens): how much money did they pay Al Pacino to do this? It can’t possibly be that Pacino responded to the script, because the script is atrocious. Indeed, for the Al Pacino scenes (and there are many: this is no cameo; Al Pacino is the second most important character in the film, after Jill) it doesn’t seem like there was a script. Al Pacino seems to be improvising his lines – very, very badly – in every scene that he’s in. It’s almost like he was drunk. It’s literally like Al Pacino got paid ten million dollars and turned up drunk every day so that he could pretend to be in lust with Adam Sandler in drag.

Let’s talk about this. Adam Sandler in drag. It is abysmal. Remember Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie? Good drag. You always knew it was Dustin Hoffman, but… you believed in Tootsie too. Now take that memory and turn in one hundred and eighty degrees. Adam Sandler in drag is just Adam Sandler in a dress and a wig. Oh, he does his attempt at a falsetto – and that’s it. There is no attempt – or, at least, achievement – to make Jill seem real. When Eddie Murphy plays women you believe them, to a degree. Even Martin Lawrence in Big Momma’s House “creates” a female character. Not here. Jill is just Jack in drag. And they’re both Adam Sandler. And he’s not lifting a finger.

I can’t recall seeing a lazier movie. Even the edits are terrible. I’m not talking about the editing. I’m talking about the actual edits, the actual cuts. They’re jarring and weird – like the film was made on video without a timecode. They have that clicky noise that amateur filmmakers use iMovie to erase. And let’s not get started on the “cinematography”. It feels like every single shot is just a mid of the characters in the scene (inevitably, Adam Sandler, often Al Pacino, and occasionally Katie Holmes as Jack’s wife. Why did the actress married to the richest actor in the world agree to do this thankless, awful, despicable, pathetic role? Why did anyone agree to be in it? Why was it made? How much did they pay Al Pacino?) The camera doesn’t move, the camera doesn’t… oh, forget it. No-one has ever gone to see an Adam Sandler movie for the mise-en-scene.

The reason people go to an Adam Sandler movie is to laugh. Well, there are no laughs in this movie. I’m not kidding. I did not see a critic’s preview. I saw JACK AND JILL with a general audience on a Saturday afternoon. As I always do as I see a film with a real audience, I clocked the amount of people there. I reckon I saw the film with about one hundred people.

There was not a single laugh from the audience throughout the entire film.

I could go on. Should I? Okay.

There is weird sentimental music like we’re meant to care. Like we’re meant to care about Jill and Al Pacino’s relationship. Like it’s a ROM COM between Al Pacino and Adam Sandler in a dress. Which it is. The music is terrible.

A terribly racist sub-plot enjoins us to laugh at Mexicans. Everyone’s name is Juan! Hysterical. There are not just fart jokes, there are not just poo jokes, there are “Sally pooed herself jokes.” Except they’re not jokes. Jokes are funny. Nothing in this movie is funny.

Al Pacino, who has kind of dedicated himself to his love of understanding and portraying Richard III, allows himself to be shot taking a phone call while he is onstage, in front of an audience, playing Richard III. Yes, maybe this is a joke (except it can’t be, because jokes are funny, and this scene isn’t funny). Okay. Whatever. But Pacino is not even speaking the text of Richard III. It’s literally like the producers were worried that Richard III was under copyright so they’ve made up – terribly – some faux Shakespeare to “sound” like Richard III. How much did they pay Al Pacino?

About halfway through, all the main characters go on a cruise ship (with massive product placement – maybe the whole film was funded by the cruise line). Guess what? While they’re on the “high seas”… the boat isn’t moving! It’s unbelievably obvious they’re in dock. Unbelievably obvious. As in, they can’t have ever expected us to believe this. Can they?

I cannot go on. I’m sure everyone involved in this fiasco – including Al Pacino – know it’s terrible. Sometimes bad movies just get made. But wow, this is a doozy.

Even the kids are terrible. The ones playing Jack’s kids. They’re terrible. Atrocious. Not only can’t they act, there’s nothing about them that’s appealing. You want to kick them in the head.

This film is an abomination. You might just want to see it, to understand just how bad a released feature film can be.

Watch this instead:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=3npY7MTcl7E

ATTACK THE BLOCK ****

There seems to be a new blooming of directors who grew up loving the films of Steven Spielberg and his early acolytes, and who are now making films “in the way that Steven might have”, while, perhaps, giving them a spin into the twenty-first century. JJ Abrams’ Super 8 was completely styled from the Spielberg playbook, whereas Joe Cornish’s debut feature, Attack The Block, while not so slavishly Spielbergian as that other film, could never, ever have emerged from a first-time director had Spielberg not existed. The film is so directorially confident, so assured of its tone, pace, framing and action, that it essentially wears its influences on its sleeve as badges of honour. Little wonder that Cornish has now co-written The Adventures of Tintin for Spielberg (along with co-writer Edgar Wright); the moment Spielberg saw Attack the Block, he must have instantly known he had another worthy addition to his creative stable.

Which is not to say Attack the Block is not also, in many ways, extremely original. It’s an alien invasion film where we follow a small band of human resistors against the alien foe: in this case, those resistors are a group of young Council Block residents in London on New Year’s Eve. Here’s the rub: they’re actually young – like fourteen – and, in the first scene of the movie, we see them mugging a young woman, and being pretty damn threatening about it.

The fact that this band of thieves could, ultimately, take us on a ride that is completely The Goonies and not a jot Nil By Mouth is the film’s Ace in the Hole. Just because we’re in Council Block land, we’re not in Harry Brown. These kids are wisecrackers, and the film is an outright action comedy. The fact that Cornish has set it in a milieu that is normally portrayed on film as depressing to the point of grotesquery is his little stroke of genius. Fighting aliens, with these ethnically diverse, street-smart, slang-slinging little criminals, is all the more fun for fighting them in a grim cement wasteland at night. The Block in question becomes a fantastic funhouse of a battlefield: its corridors, elevators, stairwells and, perhaps most brilliantly, its disabled-persons access ramps (!) provide plenty of staging area for extremely witty and well-shot action sequences. Indeed, I had kind of given up on action movies, but the action here is different… it’s fun.

The cast of almost entire unknowns and first-timers (Nick Frost being the exception, in a fun, relatively small role) are uniformly terrific. In particular, as Moses, the leader of the gang, previously unknown John Boyega literally gives a star-making performance: since we know that Steven Spielberg has seen this film, it means he’s seen Boyega, and Boyega is good. He’s got an action man’s presence, and I can imagine happening to him what happened to Jason Statham post Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (and if he can master an American accent, maybe even more). Since he’s only about sixteen, his world right now must be one massive oyster, ripe for shucking.

Funny and energetic, Attack the Block is great fun. Not scary, not interested in making you worry about the lives of those in Council Blocks, not too concerned with how or why the aliens are here. Just fun. Really, really good fun.