“You’re a dinosaur, Date Rape. You’re a classic racist, a bigot, a sexist, a womanizer, a chauvinist, a misanthrope, homophobic clearly, or maybe you don’t like yourself.” — Brie Larsen as Helen in Rampart
|Young Adult (2011, USA)
That Charlize Theron, what an actor. Her character here, a writer of young adult fiction named Mavis, is not as frightening as her character Alleen in Monster, but you will not like her, no, not one little bit—and yet you’ll care. As one critic wrote, this is an engaging feel-bad movie. It’s sort of like Cedar Rapids, if the Ed Helms character were an obsessive alcoholic stalker. Young Adult is strictly for the adults. I almost gave it four stars. Did I mention how good Charlize Theron is?
|Oldboy (2003, Korea)
Like other Korean movies I’ve seen, this one is intense, disturbing, and brilliant. Oldboy is a revenge movie, but also a mystery. The central character is inexplicably imprisoned for 15 years, then just as inexplicably released and given a vague push toward finding out who locked him up. He—and you, the viewer—solve the mystery together. At its heart is a simple story, gritty and real. Some of the scenes will stay with you for a long time (I, for one, will from this point forward make certain my octopus is thoroughly dead before I eat it). The director, Chan Wook Park, will remind American viewers of Tarentino, Stone, and Hitchcock. I’m terribly impressed, and will be seeking out more movies from this director.
|Tucker and Dale vrs. Evil (2011, Canada/USA)
You can’t really say there’s anything new here—they’ve been making spoofs of horror films for years now, from the Scream franchise to Shaun of the Dead—but at least this one feels fresh, and the two hillbilly characters are engagingly nice. The action rests on a series of misunderstandings: college kids camping in the woods think they’re being killed off one by one by a pair of crazed Calebs; the hillbillies can’t understand why the college kids are killing themselves. Lots of visual jokes and gore; every time you see a potential weapon you can rest assured it will soon be used; generally lots of fun to watch.
|J. Edgar (2011, USA)
When I was in my 20s and 30s J. Edgar Hoover was already an old man, universally regarded as a mean-spirited reactionary who clung to power by blackmailing anyone who might be a threat. I was interested enough to watch a movie about him, but I can’t imagine young viewers, most of whom were born decades after Hoover died, giving two shits about it. Sure, we all watched Oliver Stone’s Nixon, but Nixon was an epic figure. Hoover was, in Charles Lindbergh’s words, a “fussy little man.” And was he really gay, as director Eastwood says he was? Those were never more than rumors, and while some of Hoover’s contemporaries say he might have been, others say he definitely wasn’t. I thought that part of the movie unfounded and therefore unfair—but more to the point, I thought the overall experience dull and uninteresting.
|Melancholia (2011, Denmark)
I must have been in just the right mood for Melancholia. The opening sequence, a series of still and slow-motion montages, was too artsy-fartsy for my tastes and normally would have driven me away. In section one, Justine, the bride’s depression and mental illness is exasperating and alien, just like actual depression and mental illness, and that too normally would have driven me away. But I sensed something coming and hung around, and in section two, Claire, Lars von Trier delivers. Holy shit, does he deliver. If you can sit still for the first hour, this film will pay you back. I promise. No wonder so many heavy-hitters agreed to act in this movie—they too must have seen its promise.
|We Bought a Zoo (2011, USA)
Wholesome family entertainment, and I mean that in a good way—something everyone can watch together, loosely based on a true story, uplifting and positive. The little girl is perhaps too self-consciously Shirley Temple-like; the teenaged son perhaps a little too self-involved; the widowed father perhaps too perfect; the animals curiously shit-free—but never mind, it’s a good story, sentimental but not overly gooey; there’s an edge to the sweetness, reminiscent of TV’s Home Improvement.
|Safe House (2012, USA/South Africa)
Watching Safe House, an espionage action thriller with a killer cast, I kept experiencing moments of déjà vu. But how could that be? It only came out this year. Then it hit me: Safe House is a copycat movie incorporating bits of this and that from basically every espionage action thriller filmed in the last ten years. Apart from some interesting location shots in Capetown, South Africa, there’s nothing new here. Why, it’s almost as if the entire project is nothing more than an effort to cash in on the popularity of espionage action thrillers like the Bourne Identity franchise. A disappointment overall, in spite of the great cast.
|Some Guy Who Kills People (2011, USA)
I thought this would be something on the order of Hobo with a Shotgun: gore & mayhem delivered with a smirk. It turned out to be more like Machete: Gore Lite™ served up with good acting, smiles instead of smirks, and an engaging story. I’m rating it 3.5 stars because it was so much better than expected. I waited a long time for this movie to become available through Netflix, and I suspect you’ve been waiting too, so I won’t spoil it for you. Will it ruin anything if I quote my favorite line? I hope not, because I’m going to: “I’ll have the goat curry and a side of ribs.” And pretty much everything the sheriff says is a zinger too. Well worth watching.
|Rampart (2011, USA)
Deadly serious story about a dirty cop in LA, circa 1999, a brutal racist who’s been getting away with being an on-the-take rogue for years but who is suddenly in the spotlight after a citizen films him beating a man nearly to death (the story is set against the backdrop of the real-life LAPD Rampart Division scandal of the same time). The department, under siege, wants to sacrifice him to deflect public attention from their other troubles; he’s trying to defend himself using the squadroom lawyer tricks that always worked for him in the past—but the tricks don’t work any more and he doesn’t understand what’s going on. Meanwhile his personal life has gone down the tubes and his boozing and pill-popping have gone out of control. And things go from bad to worse, and that’s pretty much where the movie ends. Talk about a grim slice of life. Why is it such a memorable movie? Because Woody Harrelson plays the cop, and he’s magnificent in the role. There is absolutely nothing showy or Hollywoodish about this drama, written by James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential). Hella sad, intense, involving, unforgettable. This sort of thing gives me hope for the future of American movies.
|Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2012, USA)
Looking at the professional critics’ reviews, I have to scratch my head: I thought this adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel was about as good as it can get for a movie, and if they do as good a job on David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, due to release this October, I’ll be in heaven. As with Cloud Atlas, I think viewers’ appreciation for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close will be enhanced if they have read the book, but I also think this movie is strong enough to stand on its own, so long as viewers aren’t in a Hollywood blockbuster frame of mind. It is different, subtle, much more concerned with character and growth than it is with the story’s backdrop, the still-shocking details of the 9//11 terror attacks. Every actor&mdsah;whether main character or supporting player—is marvelous. What the hell do you want, critics? This is a damn fine movie.
DVDs I Didn’t Finish Watching
© 2012, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.