“They went up there alive and came back down dead! Did you notice that? The difference, I mean: alive, dead, dead, alive, that sort of thing? It wasn’t difficult to spot. He killed them both.”—Ewan McGregor as Alex Law in Shallow Grave
|God Bless America (2012, USA)
God Bless America nails everything that is debased and wrong with American junk culture today, and then some. The movie is sort of a combination of Idiocracy, Lolita, Kickass, Network, Bonnie and Clyde, and Natural Born Killers, if that makes any sense. Never mind, it will when you watch it, which you should drop everything and do immediately. Seriously, I would have given it four stars if Bobcat Goldthwait had been able to resist giving Joel Murray some unnecessary and preachy lines. We get what Joel’s character Frank is upset about; it doesn’t need to be spelled out. Otherwise, this is black humor at its finest, and far more sophisticated than I thought it would be. More of this please!
|Man on a Ledge (2012, USA)
Man on a Ledge is a little like Tower Heist only better, a crime caper thriller with a lot of tense moments. I’m actually impressed by how well the makers managed to tell the backstory while staying focused on the man on the ledge in present time. I’m super impressed with the makeup job they did on Ed Harris, unless in real life Ed Harris is much older than I thought and also dying of cancer, in which case, Jesus, Ed, I’m sorry. Well worth a watch, this movie.
|The Artist (2011, France, Belgium)
I’m so glad I finally saw The Artist: it lives up to all the hype. It’s clever, funny, inspiring, and, like Hugo, another 2011 movie that dealt with the history of the cinema, educational (in a good way … I’m more interested now in early film than I was before). I’m familiar with jean Dujardin through his OSS 117 movies, in which he plays a buffoonish French James Bond, and I’m happy to see he’s capable of so much more. Berenice Bejo is superb too … well, hell, everyone in this movie is superb. The black & white cinematography is right up there with that of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, and I liked the bits of sound Michel Hazanavicius let slip into the movie … they come at just the right times, particularly at the end. My only disappointment? That Uggi, who played the dog, didn’t share the stage with Jean Dujardin at the Oscars!
|We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011, UK, USA)
Tilda, have you ever thought about taking a break and making a light romantic comedy with Steve Carrell? Or maybe Alan Alda, if you fancy a May/September story? Because Jesus H. Christ you have more than established your claim to the heavyweight title, lady. Damn you’re good. Frighteningly so. As to the movie itself, it’s brilliantly told, but really, what’s it for? Unless Lynne Ramsay filmed this movie to make the parents of the Columbine shooters or Jared Loughner feel better, I’m not sure what good it does, other than to give fans of Tilda Swinton another opportunity to marvel at her skill.
|John Carter (2012, USA)
This movie may not have been the box office success its makers hoped it would be, but I think DVD sales and royalties will more than pay Disney back: it carried a “very long wait” flag in my Netflix queue (and indeed it was a long wait), always an indication of popularity. The trouble with Edgar Rice Burrow’s Mars stories has always been that they are merely swashbuckling adventure tales set on another planet. There’s no science fiction, merely hocus-pocus. That certainly carries over into this movie. Lots of spectacle, little meaning, likeable but unmemorable characters, nothing you can really hang your hat on. Most of the special effects are pretty good, but the jumping scenes are irritatingly fakey, with no attention paid to the effects of momentum: Carter would have splattered against the rocks on his first landing. That, to any self-respecting sic-fi geek, will not stand.
|Hope Springs (2012, USA)
No, I didn’t watch a bootlegged DVD, my wife drug me to the theater to watch this one, which is how I think most men will experience it. Hope Springs is about a no longer intimate, long-married couple who, at the wife’s instigation, travel to Maine for a week-long counseling session with a famous marriage psychotherapist. They gradually respond to the therapy, with some cringe-worthy setbacks along the way. And that, minus some terrific acting by Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep, and Steve Carell (in a surprisingly non-comedic role), is about it. Hope Springs is like going to marriage therapy yourself: the movie is meant to be watched by couples. It’s good. But it really doesn’t have a lot to say, or at least nothing you haven’t already heard a thousand times.
|Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011, USA)
This is an enjoyable movie, if you don’t mind not knowing what the hell is going on until the very end, when Sherlock explains it all to Professor Moriarty. And I hated that, not knowing what the hell was going on. I like to be involved with my entertainment, and I couldn’t get involved with this … all I could do was passively watch. The way the storyline is set up, there’s no way the audience can fathom what sort of crime Sherlock and Watson are investigating, what sort of plot Professor M has in mind, or what brilliant move Sherlock will come up with next. On the plus side, the bromance dynamic between Holmes and Watson is engaging, it was interesting to see Noomi Rapace in an American film (they accommodate her Swedish accent by making her a Gypsy), and the visual effects are quite good.
|The Hunger Games (2012, USA)
When I read the books of the Hunger Games trilogy, I thought they might make better movies than books, and I’m pleased to see I was right, at least as far as the first of three movies goes. Suzanne Collins had a great idea (to wit: start with Shirley Jackson’s famous short story The Lottery and go from there) but she is not that great a writer; director Gary Ross, along with the scriptwriters (two seasoned pros and Ms Collins herself) and a perfectly-selected cast, made a great movie. The visuals—the grinding poverty of the people in the districts, the flamboyant and overindulged citizens of the Oz-like Capitol, the arena itself and the high tech control rooms from which the contestants are monitored and guided—are perfect, exactly as I pictured things when I read the books. The closing scene, with President Snow (Donald Sutherland) positively radiating evil, sets us up for the next installment, and I for one will be waiting in line to see it.
|Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2012, USA)
A good-hearted movie about a mother with two adult sons, all three of whom suffer from various first-world problems. Apart from being good-hearted, though, it’s not particularly funny and there aren’t any dark twists … it’s just kind of meh. Really, I’m only rating the movie as high as I am because it isn’t exploitative, by which I mean it doesn’t stereotype people for the purpose of making fun of them. It’s just a nice honest movie that doesn’t happen to be particularly interesting.
|Shallow Grave (1994, UK)
Some say this is a cult classic. I’m not sure it lives up to that, but it is a fun film, and a chance to see Ewan McGregor in one of his first roles. Three young and rather dickish Glasgow flatmates (a doctor, a journalist, and an accountant) take in a fourth who turns up dead the next morning, leaving a suitcase stuffed with money. They decide to keep the money and dispose of the body. Predictable but well-executed horrors ensue, with vicious criminals, some very surprising changes in the flatmates’ personalities, and a couple of unexpected plot twists. All in all a very good watch … far better than most ill-gotten money capers, and a surprise to me I had not heard of it before.
DVDs I Didn’t Finish Watching
|In Darkness (2011, Poland/Germany)
I didn’t have the strength to get through In Darkness, which I’m sure is a very good movie. I’ve read so many bleak holocaust stories and seen so many bleak holocaust movies that, may the gods forgive me, I just can’t bear any more—even a true story such as this, with a “happy” ending (as if what happened can in any way be called happy), where with the help of two Polish sewer workers a few Jewish families survive for months beneath the streets of Lvov after the Nazis (with plenty of enthusiastic Polish help) destroy the ghetto and kill everyone else. Sorry, can’t do it any more. Too much inhumanity, too much evil.
© 2012, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.