Paul’s DVD Reviews

“Good evening, Mr. Hunt. Thirty-six hours ago, there was a breach in our military’s communication network. Now, an emerging terror organization known as The Syndicate has control of our entire drone fleet. Their targets unknown. Your mission, should you choose to accept it… ” — Recorded voice in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, USA)

Very pleasantly surprised … this movie was three times better than I thought it’d be. I watched it with my wife, absolutely not a fan of any sort of science fiction, and she was as engaged and entertained as I was. My only quibbles are small ones: some of the CGI looked fake (I know, I know, but good CGI should look real, right?), there were way more primates in that refuge than were apparent at first, and the apes’ street savvy after they broke out was beyond belief … but hey, this was a rollicking good time, and I’m glad I finally got around to watching it.
Dolphin Tale (2011, USA)

Safe and semi-inspirational family fun, with a true story behind it all. Those are the pluses. But the story is cynically infused with manipulative feel-good overcoming-hardship family-above-all stuff, and that put me off. I don’t care whether it’s DisneyCorp or Morgan Freeman doing the pushing, I don’t want happy propaganda pushed down my throat. When I watch a movie like this, I feel used.
The Descendants (2011, USA)

Clooney, like Streep, isn’t afraid to play less than ego-flattering characters. His character here is that of an unmanned man who has to pull it together for his own children and extended family. The movie feels novelistic in that it deals with a smallish crisis in a small family and doesn’t stray too far outside the plot … I was not surprised, at the end, to learn that it is indeed based on a novel. I particularly liked the exploration into the lives of the established haole families of Hawaii, literally the descendants of the missionaries who took most of the land away from the Hawaiians … I lived there, knew some of them, and thought this movie got it about right. Clooney is fantastic, totally believable. The young actresses who play his daughters are superb, especially Amara Miller as Scottie, who nails it in a climactic emotional scene. Judy Greer appears only briefly, but she comes close to stealing the show at the end. I liked this film much more than I thought I would; I’m very happy I got around to seeing it.
The Darkest Hour (2011, USA/Russia)

Maybe not an outright Hall of Shame contender, but pretty bad. I hope the makers’ intentions weren’t wholly cynical, that they wanted to create a suspenseful alien invasion flick and not merely pick patrons’ pockets, but it’s hard to tell. Four young adults arrive in Moscow the day aliens invade earth. They survive somehow, with the aid of streetwise Russians, and the movie ends with almost every human and animal on earth dead but with a faint ray of hope in the sunset. If you saw the preview on another rental DVD, really, you’ve seen everything there is to see. The first two or three disintegrating bodies are interesting, but the multitude that follow are all the same. The aliens’ visualization of earthlings is straight out of Tron … the 1982 version. The only good thing about the movie is the set, Moscow. As a travelogue, it’s not bad.
The Guard (2011, Ireland)

The first time I saw Brendan Gleeson was in the excellent film In Bruges. I thought “this guy is great and I’d like to see more of him in movies.” By that I meant him playing different roles, not the same damn one over and over. By this point, he might as well be the Irish Andy Devine (the exception is his Harry Potter character, Mad Eye Moody). The whole idea behind The Guard, as far as I can see, was to set Brendan Gleeson up to play Brendan Gleeson yet one more time. It’s cute, but it’s getting old. And the role they gave Don Cheadle? Crap, just crap. I should probably stop writing about this movie now, before I start taking away stars.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011, USA)

I have to give the edge to the original Swedish version, but this one has its merits. The actual investigation, were Mikael and Lisbeth piece together what happened, is perhaps more suspenseful … at any rate, it kept me on the edge of my seat in spite of the fact that I knew from the book and the original movie what was going on. I was distracted by the loud scary noises in the background of the scary scenes, though, and wish they had turned the volume down during those parts … especially the sound of the floor buffer during the rape scene. If they film the second and third books with this cast, I will certainly watch the movies. But the only ones I’ll buy for my own DVD library will be the Swedish originals.
London Boulevard (2010, USA/UK)

Somebody watched RocknRolla and thought “hey, there’s plenty of moolah left in this cash cow.” London Boulevard is another in a series of “gritty” London criminal underworld flicks, spiced up with a pretty boy hero and a very unlikely subplot involving bodyguarding for a starlet who of course (of course!) falls in lust with the pretty boy. A load of bollocks if you ask me.
The Iron Lady (2011, UK)

Some critics wish this movie had focused more on the political career of Margaret Thatcher, but in my opinion it did that … there really wasn’t much at all about her married life or her role as a mother, save for a few hints that she was less than fully engaged with her children. A movie like this could and probably will be made about Ronald Reagan, filmed in flashbacks and anchored by scenes of him in his twilight years, beset by Alzheimer’s, much as Margaret Thatcher is shown here. It’s a moving film, even if you despised Thatcher’s policies, and of course Meryl Streep kills.
Blackthorn (2011, Spain/USA)

This movie made me think of McCabe & Mrs Miller, a slow and dreamy western from the 1970s, pretentious, far too stylish for its own good. I thought I loved Sam Shepard, but it turns out he’s better in small doses … having him at the center of an entire movie, slow and lugubrious, is kind of like watching a movie starring Kris Kristofferson (and not just because of the beard). Still, there is plenty to like here: it’s an interesting story, and the Bolivian scenery is gorgeous.
The Way (2010, USA/Spain)

Not sure why I ordered a movie about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage … normally anything with an implicit religious message would put me off. But I did order it, and all in all greatly enjoyed the movie. Kind of a different role for Sheen, and I liked it that his son Emilio Esevez, who wrote and directed the film, tells the story in a down to earth way, without getting gushy about the beautiful landscape or the camaraderie between pilgrims from different backgrounds. This film could easily have turned into a religious travelogue with a forced upbeat message, and that would have been a turnoff. Sheen, as the bereaved father, does change and does come to appreciate his fellow pilgrims, and he is a better man at the end, but the movie doesn’t rub your face in it.

Paul’s DVD Hall of Shame

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011, USA/UAE)

There’s not a hint of seriousness in this movie: it’s utter nonsense from beginning to end. The characters, the situations, the plot line, the technology: all impossible. It seems little more than an excuse to show Tom Cruise and the other actors in high-priced settings, surrounded by fast cars, not to mention state-sponsored publicity for the United Arab Emirates. This is commercial entertainment … in the sense that it is one long loud commercial. After watching it, I’m ready to convert to the Amish faith and go do something real and worthwhile with my life.
Take Shelter (2011, USA)

No stars because 20 minutes in I decided I didn’t want to watch any more of it. What I saw was of good quality, and I note that critics’ and viewers’ reviews are uniformly high, but I couldn’t bear the intensity of the main character’s bouts of insanity, which take the form of nightmarishly violent visions that are almost pornographic in their intensity. Two or three of these occurred early in the movie, and knowing worse was yet to come, I turned away. I’ll admit it: I don’t deal well with mental illness. I’ve had similar negative reactions to movies about down-and-out drunks. I hope Take Shelter had an uplifting ending.

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© 2012, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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