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Category Archives: 2011 movies

Ten Word or Less Review: Swords?  Check.  Sandles?  Check.  Screenplay?  Oops.

Conan the Barbarian (2011) – It took 27 years to get a Conan movie to the screen.  Say that out loud.  27 years.  Reagan was just entering his second term as President when Conan the Destroyer bombed.  After Ahnuld’s disastrous sequel to Conan the Barbarian, the rights to the franchise bounced from one group to the next.  Everyone from The Wachowski’s to Brett Ratner tried to get another movie up and running.  What did 27 years of false starts and dead ends get Robert E Howard fans?  A totally forgettable action movie that leaves your head 5 minutes after its over.  New Conan Jason Mamoa would have made a great Conan, he has the insane pecs the part demands and even has some personality, but he’s saddled to a movie no one could ever give a fart about.  It starts well enough, battle scene C-section birth scene!, but before long everything has turned generic and paint by numbers.  Hack director Marcus Nispel (Pathfinder) should have been a sign to all that nothing special was going to happen here.  You couldn’t provoke the guy to do something exciting or invigorating if you put a knife to his mothers throat and threatened to do her in while he watched.

Immortals (2011) – It’s pretty much the same thing as those goofy, bombastic Titans movies, except director Tarsem Singh is a meticulous stylist who channels his opulent visions onto the screen in a whirlwind of dazzling, but soulless, grandeur.  He also embraces the feared R-rating that keeps the coveted 14-17 year old, blood thirsty boy out of the theater.  Billions of pixels of CGI blood fly across the screen with such enthusiasm it’s practically fetishistic.  But all the labor is spent on the look and there’s never a thing to engage anyone on an emotional or story level.  It has something to do with a magical bow and arrow that Mickey Rourke keeps mumbling about.  Newcomer Henry Clavill has the chiseled,  square jawed look and physicality of a leading man and he may make a fine Superman come next summer, but no one could stand up to the overpoweringly inane cliches Immortals works itself into.  Battle scenes, wise mentors, rousing speeches to armies, revenge for a dead parent, blah, blah, blah.  You’ve seen it all before.  Except maybe the scene involving crushed testicles.  You don’t see that behind every curtain.  Thank God.  Those who thought it looked like 300 Part 2 are pretty much on the nose.  If that movie got your jollies rocking then Immortals will work as a similarly flavored follow up.  If you thought 300 was goofy, ab obsessed, macho movie whackery, then prepare for another heaping dose of slow motion spears flying through peoples guts.

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Tyrannosaur (2011) – When Joseph (Peter Mullen) walks out of a bar in the first scene of this grim as rust British drama, he’s in a state of uncontrollable rage.  We aren’t privy to what’s set him off but in his rancor he kicks his pooch so hard he kills it.  Most people will probably walk away from the movie at that point.  Who’d want to watch a movie about a bastard who kills his helpless dog?  Those who manage to stay will find a rewarding and uncompromising drama about alcoholism, anguish and desperation.  Tyrannosaur doesn’t believe in easy redemption or tacky uplift.  All of its characters, especially the men, seem Hell bent on destruction of the self or those around them.  When Joseph haphazardly befriends a good natured catholic worker her life turns out to be just twisted and sick as his, if not more so.  Married to a guilt ridden, sexually abusive shit who can’t control his vile impulses, Tyrannosaur just keeps going further down the emotional abyss.  These two people clearly need something, possibly each other, but they’re so damaged one is left to wonder if any kind of salvation lies at story’s end.  I won’t spoil that part but if this summers tide of emotionally tepid dreck has left you feeling void, this should be a admirable but bleak change of pace.

Goon (2012) – The protagonist of Tyrannosaur lashes out in violent fits and is immediately horrified at his contemptible actions.  Goon goes the opposite direction.  Its protagonist proudly knocks peoples teeth out while crowds cheer and celebrate at the subsequent blood splatter that flies across the ice.  Goon is a hockey movie, strike one, starring the forever untalented Sean William Scott as a witless bouncer, strike two, who becomes an hockey enforcer, AKA a goon, who excels at knocking the crap out of people on the ice, strike three.  Maybe my sports metaphors are all wrong but it would be difficult to imagine a movie so fundamentally rooted in things I don’t want to watch.  And FYI, I don’t hate hockey because it’s barbaric, I hate hockey because it chooses to be barbaric and Goon is a movie which gleefully embraces and loves the near criminal side of this celebrated Canadian past time.

The real corker is that Goon is not a poorly made movie.  It actually displays effort and skill behind the lens, understands themes and how to express them, sometimes deftly, and tries in its own weird way to be offbeat and charming.  It’s efforts though are wasted on unappealing subject matter and characters whom I’ll never want to dwell on after writing this.  Liev Schrieber is really the only presence who warrants much attention.  His aging hockey enforcer, grinding his way through his final moments in the sport, has so much more potential as a leading character we keep hoping the movie would be about him.  Alas he appears in what amounts to a protracted cameo.

Goon is a strange movie in that it champions and encourages the worst parts of a professional sport.  It’s completely oblivious to itself in this way.  Maybe next time the makers of this movie can delve into the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal and find the winning, uplift at the heart of that tale.  Or maybe show the world how misunderstood and unrightly maligned HGH users are.  ABC Family presents The Barry Bonds Story.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dv4uxkAXSXg%5D
Ten Word or Less Review: Lend me your ears.  This movie is cool.

Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is one of the later, lesser admired works of the English languages’ greatest wordsmith.  That means high school kids don’t have to read it during English 101.  It’s believed to come a few years after the great tragedies of Macbeth, King Lear and Othello.  So it shouldn’t be too hard to give the guy a break if this is seen as a less titanic work.  Masters can make one masterpiece after another but sometimes a minor but admirable work falls through the cracks.  This brings us back around to Coriolanus, which is a uniformly intriguing story but not quite the classic when compared to its more known tragedy kin.  It’s a fascinating character study that defies easy explanations and as performed and directed by Ralph Fiennes, is turned into an astute political piece with moments of high drama, bloody action and gripping visuals.

The center of this story is Caius Martius Coriolanus, a Roman general who thrives on war and combat, despises the commoners and loathes blind, false admiration.  Caius, though a famed warrior, has gained the ire of many Romans due to hoarding grain during war for use by the military.  With Caius Martius as their General, Roman soldiers defeat the Volsicans on their own ground and Caius thwarts his personal nemesis, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), in hand to hand combat, though he fails to kill him.  With war at an end the adoration shy, peasant loathing Caius is coerced into joining the senate, but as his fierce dislike of the general populous becomes abundantly clear, Caius gradually loses favor with too many and eventually finds himself banished from Rome.  He seeks out the defeated Tullus and his Volsican army begging for one of two things, kill him or appoint him their general and help him lead an assault on Rome to destroy it.  This is fine dramatic fodder indeed.

Coriolanus is classified as a tragedy but it is difficult to lend sympathy towards its lead or get an exact feel for where the tragedy lies.  The story doesn’t come equipped with great dramatic deaths of major characters who pontificate their universal insignificance as their light fades.  Coriolanus himself is a stoic and tight lipped fellow.  None the less our lead remains a great piece of dramatic ambiguity and Fiennes instills him with a fierce, unforgiving righteousness.  He is a force that will not bend to temperamental whims or fluttering opinions and thus he becomes a man with no place in society absent of direct, bloody conflict.  Lacking the sneering villainy of removed cousins such as Richard III, the character remains a guarded and enigmatic presence who commands our attention and respect, even if we generally find him a prickly sort not meant for mass appeal.  Fiennes the filmmaker recruits Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain and Vanessa Redgrave to the cause with great success.  Redgrave, as Caius’ mother, nearly walks on to the imaginary stage and struts off with the whole story.

A long time pet project of Fiennes, he and screenwriter John Logan take Shakespeare’s work and transport it to a European world of today.  Fiennes creates a world well recognizable to any regular news watcher.  Citizens revolt and march on governments, riots ensue, wars are fought, the news covers it all in graphic, minute by minute detail.  The story may be 400 years old but the themes running through it are universal.  It’s like watching the meltdown in Greece with great actors and good cinematography.  Fiennes the first time director has a keen eye for action and shot composition, building a gritty looking movie around a story he clearly feels compelled to tell with great vigor.  He works overtime to be far removed form any perception of stogginess that the Shakespeare name may conjure up in the minds of potential viewers.  While he may not quite channel the experienced finesse or action beats of Ridley Scott, or the visual audacity of Julie Taymor, Fiennes knows how to shoot a movie with a clear, distinct eye which holds our attention from beginning to end.

I know it’s Shakespeare and I know what that means to many, but Coriolanus  is enough of a visceral experience to reel in some of the more difficult viewers out there.  It’s bold and compelling and whether the Shakespeare name evokes dreaded memories of English classes so long ago should not matter.  If you start with it you will find yourself compelled to see it through.  When Fiennes stares into the camera with with his blood-streaked face you should feel well and good that you are in the middle of something worth seeing to the end.  And no, there won’t be a quiz about themes and meaning when the credits role.


[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyNA62FrKCE%5D
Ten Word or Less Review – Someone save Mel.  He’s too interesting a performer to destroy.

Mel Gibson being insane or not, The Beaver never had a chance with audiences.  It’s a movie with an odd, off-center concept starring an aging actor with a propensity for losing his shit on camera and degrading religions and minorities when recording devices are within earshot.  I have no idea why Mel Gibson picks up the phone and doesn’t assume the conversation isn’t being steamed straight to TMZ.  And the movie is titled The Beaver.  The ‘Huh huh’ crowd still sniggering to itself.  It’s a shame because The Beaver is a nearly top-notch drama about psychological despair and depression, with a stuffed animal for a lead character.  Gibson’s performance is a highlight in a career peppered with award worthy work.  It’s a damn shame to see his barbaric temperament and hate laden rants derail the fact that the one time mega-star is still an awesome screen presence.

Gibson plays Walter, a man at the end of depressions ravages.  So complete is his despondency he is about to end his life.  His wife (Jodie Foster) has lost hope and thrown him out of the house.  His older son (Anton Yelchin) despises him for his weaknesses, cataloging them in an attempt to avoid them.  His younger son doesn’t know what’s wrong with Daddy.  The toy company he owns is spiraling towards bankruptcy.  On his way home from picking up a liver killing sized purchase of alcohol he finds a beaver puppet in the dumpster and plucks it out.  That night while trying to snuff himself out he dons the puppet in a drunken fit.  Right before plunging head first off the balcony toward sweet oblivion, the puppet speaks to him.  Waking up the next morning Walter finds two personalities living in his head.  There’s the despondent, wrecked, hopelessly craven middle aged washout seeking suicide.  There is also the Beaver, a no-nonsense personality who acts as the voice Walter no longer has the ability to speak with on his own.  The Beaver slaps Walter around, picks him up, dusts him off and before Walter knows it, he’s using this furry appendage as an ambassador for life repair.  But touchy questions remain such as, with Beaver speaking more and more for Walter, where is Walter’s real personality?  Is he going to return?  If so, when

Directed by Jodie Foster, The Beaver was sold as a quirky melodrama about a sad man solving his problems with a funny puppet.  And it is that, to a point.  The Beaver is more compelling than expected, fully embracing it’s peculiar story by not shying away from harder moments.  Really making the movie though is Gibson.  The 56 year old actor still has all the smoldering vigor and flare as a performer that helped define him, solidifying the crazy bastard as an iconic movie star.  Which if you stress your brain, or consult IMDB, you will realize was not that long ago.  Walter is a complete portrait of a man lost in a hopeless spiral from which he can’t escape.  His transformation into the Beaver could easily have turned into over complicated gimmicks and ticks, but Gibson simply changes his voice a notch to find the character.  Sounding eerily like Ray Winstone, The Beaver smacks of confidence and wisdom, channeling Walter’s lost insight and perception into a winning personality.  But as success and family life begin to right themselves, Walter slips further and further away, leaving his family to talk to an increasingly pushy puppet.

The Beaver is a strong effort by everyone involved but it has some shortcomings.  Walter is introduced to the audience at the end of his rope and we aren’t given much in the way of a reason as to why he’s so despondent.  He has a great wife, loving family, great job, so the audience is left to grab at straws as to why Walter isn’t happy.  Beaver articulates as much but something never quite lines up.  Helping overcome the lack of convincing setup is a cast who completely gels with Gibson.  Anton Yelchin (Like Crazy, Star Trek) notches another great supporting role as Walter’s smart, ambitious and misguided son.  A student who writes other kids papers for money he’s remarkably overconfident in himself.  Jodie Foster pretty much delegates herself to concerned wife but she does it well enough.  Jennifer Lawrence gets a nice supporting role as Yelchin’s cheerleader classmate, the kind she’ll never touch again thanks to Hunger Games.  The movie does right by its supporting stories and characters, not making them feel superfluous or phoned in.

The Beaver will eventually shock viewers with the unorthodox places it wonders into towards its final act.  There is worthy uplift and justified resolution to be found but at a cost I seriously doubt any viewer would see coming.  In an age where movies frequently take a soft left The Beaver takes a hard right and slams its audience around just enough to jar, but not throw out of the car.  When it’s over the viewer is left to wonder what kind of career the supremely talented Gibson has left as a performer.  Perhaps if he could go just a few years without threatening to kill a girlfriend on the phone, degrade the Jewish nation or otherwise seem like a disgusting human being, we might get to find out.  He’s  a man riddled with paranoia, demons and unabashed intolerance, and all of that wretched baggage has made him an unapologetically riveting actor.  I don’t know if it’s wise to applaud this  twisted actor, but boring is something I don’t think he’s any longer capable of being.

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xvU4uHwQEg&feature=fvst]
Ten Word or Less Review: The woeful romances of white people.

Love is an exemplary thing when the hardships of life don’t get in the way to muck up two peoples state of bliss.  Such is the story running through Like Crazy, a authentic feeling exploration of two people who seemed destined to be bound together for the rest of their lives, but can’t iron out the logistics of life to make it happen.  Maybe they should have called UPS for help.

Anna and Jacob are two college students edging toward graduation.  Anna (Felicity Jones) is small and gorgeous and a poet at heart.  She wants to have a career in writing and woos Jacob on their first date with her longing glances and prose.  Jacob (Anton Yelchin) is a design student with his sights set on making high quality furniture in a business all his own.  The two make the kind of perfect couple which in real life would drive many to a sickening state of envy.  She teaches him about whiskey.  He makes her a chair.  He’s smitten.  She swoons.  Love is heavy in the air, Paul Simon sings, everything should be hunky dory.  But there’s a rub.  Anna is British and as graduation looms her government mandated return to England threatens to put their relationship on hold for months.  Throwing caution to the wind she overstays her visa and creates an issue which will come to cripple their relationship in ways they never thought possible.  Love can conquer many things but it has a hard time standing up to cold, dispassionate bureaucracy.

Like Crazy’s look into contemporary romance among well intentioned, well educated but inexperienced lovers works as insightful, genuine character drama.  Anna and Jacob are believable, very charismatic and intelligent individuals but they are not unselfish or perfect.  The two are understandably drawn together but despite the clear attraction and bond, neither can help but muddy the waters when separated from the other.  With he in America and she in England, and that nasty, inflexible visa issue separating them, their relationship ebbs and flows as both give into dalliances with others.  He falls into a relationship with a coworker (Jennifer Lawrence), she gets involved with a handsome neighbor (Charlie Bewley).  Their relationship keeps straining under the weight of life and distance and neither of them can quite make the sacrifices necessary to make things work out for themselves.  Jacob doesn’t want to move to England.  Anna can’t move to America.  Why Jacob can’t make chairs in England is kind of glossed over.  These elements of selfishness and impatience between the two paint a more believable and complete portrait of love when we are not quite adults.  Grown up yes, but still riddled with need and not as selfless as we like to think we are.

Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin make an eloquent onscreen duo, forming a tightly bound and touching chemistry together.  They, and the movie itself to some extent, echo the relationship of Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in the Before Sunrise/Sunset films.  Much of the work here was improvised by the both of them, along with director/writer Drake Doremus, and they show insightful instincts as performers.  Despite the inability of either of them to remain true enough to their cause, they understand what they’re losing by their actions.  At its end when the hurdles have finally been cleared away for the two of them to be together, too much time and life has passed.  They’re bureaucratic problems are swept away to at last allow them to wind up in each others arms but once in the others embrace they have nothing to hang onto but a memory of what they briefly once had.  Loves fleeting greatness hangs heavy.

Like Crazy will vex fans of typical movie romances.  Cliches which make the genre stupid and insufferable like tearful rain soaked confessions, icky pop tunes, rushing off through the city to catch someone before they get on a plane and confessing love in front of a large group of people who suddenly care are all thankfully nowhere to be found.  Like Crazy avoids the dishonest shams so often wrapped up in stories like this, instead wanting to examine a great love not meant to be and how it got that way.


[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ar_-v7dEEoo]

Ten Word or Less Review: American Psycho

Artifice and superficiality are warping characteristics much too rampant in popular culture.  These traits when left unchecked create people like Young Adult’s Mavis Gary, someone who craves the attention of others even as her own achievements which would warrant said attention are fading, maybe even not being there to begin with.  Mavis wants to be admired by the people she’s left behind, she feels she’s entitled to it, and she has no qualms about spinning a stream of lies which are visibly suspicious to many.  Incapable of admitting any truth to herself, Mavis represents the type of life that happens when all the wrong personal choices are made and never pointed out.  In short, Mavis is an extreme case of suspended adolescence and what happens when you don’t grow up.

A small time writer of teen lit, Mavis is in her mid 30’s, a raging alcoholic and in a state of denial so deep, what she sees as a fulfilling existence free of the so-called traps, family, house, normal job, etc., is little more than a house of warped mirrors constantly reflecting her shameful inadequacies as a human.  Stuck in a place where she is no longer able to see the truth in anything about herself, Mavis receives an e-mail from old boyfriend.  Buddy (Patrick Wilson) announcing the birth of his daughter sets Mavis off on a strange mental obsession.  Flooded with a sense of misplaced nostalgia for a time when she thought more of herself, Mavis heads back to her hometown in a bizarre attempt to steal Buddy away from his life, which she sees as his prison.  She runs into family and friends with whom contact is awkward and frequently misleading, but she strikes up a re pore with Matt, played by the excellent Patton Oswalt, an emotionally pained and physically crippled nerd with no life, but who none-the-less sees right to the core of Mavis with few obstructions.  Mavis plots to take back what she sees as the life which should have been hers, all the time spinning selfagrandizing lies which only reveal the depths of her alcohol and ego fueled delusion.

Charlize Theron has taken a career path which defied most expectations.  Being widely regarded as one of the world’s super gorgeous, she’s gradually avoided the kind of romantic claptrap and action movie garbage which she was too often apart of early in her career.  Theron has instead chosen to take the high road when it’s available, forsaking the inane and instead reaching for the interesting.  Mavis is a twist on the image of glamour Theron herself personifies.  She equates the adoration of others and non-conformity in general with success, even though she has little to brag about.  She’s a character lost in vanity and a pathetic struggle to prove to everyone that they wasted their life, not vice versa.  Mavis is a sharp image of people who lead their lives by narcissistic tendencies and selfish impulses.  The message is crystal clear, Young Adult skewers in an odd direction in its final moments.

Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, who worked together on Juno, work to form a movie which straddles the dramedy line with acute precariousness.  Young Adult exist in that place of awkward observation where neither laughs or tears are appropriate.  Mavis prods people in uncomfortable ways in which she’s keenly aware of what she’s doing but painfully oblivious of the effects her actions have.  Young Adult flirts with bringing about sympathy and change for our lead character but instead focuses on Mavis’ awkward delusions and doesn’t mind putting the audience off with uncomfortable situations and conclusions.  You may hope Mavis grows to become something else, but Young Adult doesn’t look to that possibility as a forgone conclusion.  In the case of Young Adult’s characters, the blind wind up leading the blind and only in a circle do they go.

There is worthy observation at the heart of Young Adult but it’s written into the life of a person it may be painful to experience that observation with.  Mavis is not the heroine who learns great lessons and overcomes great obstacles to her or others betterment.  Like the character she writes about in her woeful sounding series of high school lit, she’s hopelessly self absorbed, incapable of empathy and desperate for something she simply isn’t wise or mature enough to define.

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBmnkk0QW3Q]

Ten Word or Less Review – The director of Godzilla does Shakespeare.

Destroyer of the world!  Wrecker of the Earth!  The man who never saw a national monument he didn’t want to topple over in an orgy of CGI carnage!  Roland Emmerich is back!  And this time he’s bringing you Shakespeare!  Hamlet vs Aliens?  No.  The man who brought you city obliterating spaceships, the storm that froze our planet, the Earth’s crust that fell apart and a shitty Godzilla movie now feels obliged to spin an epic yarn about how politics and social decourum conspired to create Shakespeare, the world’s biggest literary fraud.  Anonymous tackles the less than substantiated claim that Shakespeare’s plays were in fact written by the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans), here portrayed as a talented and tortured playwright caught in an age when to be such a thing was seen as pure sin.  In a certian light Emmerich seems like the right man for the job.  This is a dunderheaded conceit and Emmerich specializes in dunderheaded movies.  But he’s also monotonous, tone deaf and rarely any good with actors.  Most of these qualities eventually drag Anonymous into the muck from which it was spawned.

Anonymous begins by having renowned Shakespeare actor Derek Jacobi take the stage and begin to make the case for looking at Shakespeare with a crooked gaze.  He had an average education.  No examples of his handwriting exist.  But whatever thin possibilities this conspiracy hopes to exploit are gradually fallen to pieces in a plot rampant with silly twists, rampant incest, then eventually Emmerich’s favorite thing, explosions.  Anonymous quickly establishes that de Vere is a supremely talented artists who toils away in privacy, pumping out masterpieces in secret the way someone today fires off an e-mail to their mother.  With no outlet for his work he recruits playright Ben Johnson to act as his surrogate author.  Johnson hesitates to rise to the task and it’s here that the lecherous Shakespeare seizes his opportunity for financial gain and critical respect.  The film bounces back and forth between older Edward the tortured writer and a young Edward, wooer of Queen Elizabeth (Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave).  Their relationship is actually the emotional crux of the story.

Anonymous’ screenplay grasp at any straw it can to support its hairbrained theory.  Shakespeare himself is only a minor character portrayed as a morally abscent, opportunistic buffoon incapable of writing his own name, yet we’re supposed to believe he could keep this monumental secret until the day he died.  This is just one of many of Anonymous’ logic impaired claims.  As Edward de vere, Rhys Ifans nearly holds the story together as the repressed and spiritually sunken Earl.  His performance is full formed and totally convincing, free of any winking or coyness.  If there’s a joke a foot he’s not in on it.  But Emmerich’s tactless storytelling, and an over reaching and negligently researched screenplay, overpower him and his follow diligent co-stars.  The story deteriorates scene by scene into a balderdash costume drama.  Maybe that’s what Emmerich intended all along, but that’s giving him too much credit for guile.  No Emmerich film as ever felt the least bit cunning or intentionally deceptive.  It seems a confident assumption that he really was taking this seriously and if so he really should stick to destroying worlds with computer graphics.

If Emmerich’s entertainments have always kept you glued down, and you really don’t care how ridiculous this whole thing comes across, then perhaps his movie will prove a good lark for weekend viewing.  It has lurid drama and high court shenanigans at every turn.  Sex, deception and murder lurk behind all its corners.  But most likely the only thing breaking through yonder window will be exasperation followed by boredom.

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzcVvTHZlQo]
Real Steel – Shawn Levy, a supremely untalented director with way too much success under his belt, got really drunk one night and had himself his own little Sly Stallone film festival.  Buzzing on overpriced hooch with his friends and lackeys, everyone feigning enjoyment to some degree, Shawn was hit with what he immediately believed to be an idea of epic magnitude.  As Stallone’s crap opus Over the Top reached its dramatic apex, Mr. Levy thought to his overindulged self, ‘The only thing which could make this astonishing movie about arm wrestling any better would be robots!’  And thus we have the blisteringly stupid movie Real Steel to live with and tolerate for the rest of civilization.  A true to form Stallone 80’s tribute piece replete and abound with boxing robots.

Real Steel is quite comfortable in its own goofy, metallic skin.  It’s the story of a deadbeat, dickhead father (Hugh Jackman) bonding with the aggressively annoying son (Dakota Goyo) he abandoned so many years ago to pursue a skyrocketing career in robot boxing.  Steel envisions a future where actual boxing is even less revered than it is today and has been totally supplanted by large fighting robots who are cheered and rooted for by white trash rednecks.  Running with such a colossal pile of crap the filmmakers and cast just dive in and assume this asinine concept is going to fly.  I have to give them credit.  Real Steel is like watching the middle school talent show where the poor dork kid with no talent for anything fearlessly seizes the stage and proceeds to humiliate himself, blissful and without any sense of awareness that he’s humiliating himself.  It just plows ahead with its hair brained idea like nothing is wrong at all, but you know in the back of your mind something really awful is going down and it might be wise, even tasteful, to look away, but you don’t.  You sit there and let the confounding nature of it all just sink in.  You feel bad for yourself.  You feel bad for the poor people who got sucked into participating.  You feel like a chump for spending actual money to experience it.

Steel is an amazingly corny experience and if a mouthful of the Green Giant Whole Kernel makes your taste buds happy, feel free to ignore my observations.  But if you watched the preview I did and were struck like a Mac truck by everyone’s favorite, profane three letter shorthand, ‘WTF?’ then Real Steel lives up to every justified assumption you made about it.  It’s a schtickish, ridiculous exercise in sport movie cliche built up and assembled for a Transformer loving audience.  You’ve been warned.

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zH7KZD5vGBY]

Cowboys & Aliens – A rule from this point forward.  All movies in which the title consist solely of Genre Staple A vs./and Genre Staple B should be avoided at all cost.  It’s always a bankrupt washout of movie garbage.  Alien vs Predator?  Shit.  Freddy vs Jason?  Of course it was shit.  Anyone remember Ecks vs. Sever?  Didn’t think so.  I didn’t even like it when Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein.  And this time it’s no different.  As awash with creativity as the title implies, Cowboys & Aliens consist of some cowboys (Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford) and some aliens and the cowboys shoot the aliens and the aliens maul and kill the cowboys and that’s about it.  There are some motives and some plot but you won’t care.  Slash the budget and eject the shockingly major league talent and you’ve got a story and a screenplay perfect for your typical Sunday night SyFy Channel piece of shit.  The story is boring, routine and such a forgone conclusion it may make those of you with achy joints reach for the Advil.  A piss poor excuse for a tent pole action movie experience if there ever was one.  Jon Favreau once again shows he is a director of limited scope and ambition but a Hell of a conversationalist he must be.  How he got the notoriously picky and prickly Ford to join his ranks for this must have required such an epic spinning of dialogue that somewhere in the afterlife Homer himself wept and envied Favreau’s abilities to talk shit.  That or he just wrote Ford a great big fucking check.  Probably the later but it doesn’t matter.  This is a movie no one could love and I doubt anyone will be remembering for very long.

 

 

2011 has been a largely unspectacular year for movies.  There have been a lot of fine movies but everything seemed to hover around the very good or mostly just good range.  I didn’t see everything I meant to or ultimately will but I feel the eleven movies pictured above represent the best of the year I can put together with what I have to work with.  Everything else is listed below.  What I didn’t catch yet but meant to is at the bottom.

Very good, fun to be had, almost something special: MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, TREE OF LIFE, POINT BLANK, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, WAR HORSE, SOURCE CODE. FRIGHT NIGHT, M:I – GHOST PROTOCOL, CEDAR RAPIDS, DRIVE ANGRY, TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL, HANNA, RANGO, INSIDE JOB, CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP, MARGIN CALL, THE COMPANY MEN, BRIDESMAIDS, EVERYTHING MUST GO

Not bad, okay, good but didn’t go for it: IDES OF MARCH, TIN TIN, THE ARTIST, DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, CONTAGION, THE MUPPET, ATTACK THE BLOCK, THE LINCOLN LAWYER, KUNG FU PANDA 2, CAPTAIN AMERICA, THOR, WIN WIN

Missed the mark by too much: THE LAST CIRCUS, MONEYBALL, SUPER 8, HUGO, TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON, THE MECHANIC, HORRIBLE BOSSES, CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE, THE CONSPIRATOR, SUPER, MEEKS CUTOFF, PAUL

Stunk up the joint: SCREAM 4, RED STATE, GREEN LANTERN, THE THING, BATTLE: L.A., YOUR HIGHNESS, SUCKER PUNCH, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN

Couldn’t finish the damn thing: MELANCHOLIA

Meant to see and may yet eventually: A DANGEROUS METHOD, YOUNG ADULT, COWBOYS & ALIENS, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, J. EDGAR, MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, THE HELP, A SEPARATION, ANONYMOUS

 

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62nelnMXW3M]

 

Ten Word or Less Review: In a lonely place.

The secretive, central character of Shame is Brandon.  Brandon’s apartment is a lot like Brandon.  It’s white and clean and uncluttered with mess.  He owns some books and records but has no art on the walls.  It reflects very little outward personality and though small, it demonstrates some level of personal success on his part.  A well kept apartment on a high floor of a Manhattan complex surely cost a fortune no matter how tiny.  But right below the surface of this pristine exterior lies something rotten.  Brandon, and by extension his living space, is hiding something from everyone.

Michael Fassbender plays Brandon and his secret is that he is a sex addict.  We watch during Shame’s opening moments as Brandon indulges in sexual activity at every possible moment.  Be it with prostitutes, willing strangers up for a one night stand or indulging in a constant stream of porn at both home and work, Brandon is a functioning addict of a very high order.  Getting off is the driving force behind his whole existence, but there is nothing like joy or love in what Brandon does.  Like an alcoholic who drinks but no longer derives pleasure from it, Brandon’s behavior is simply compulsive and mechanical.  His system of living gets an abrupt and unwanted disruption when his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) begins to stay with him.  She’s an agent of the untidy, physical and emotional, and she throws his patterns disturbingly out of whack.  Because of her arrival, as well as other extenuating circumstances, Brandon slowly loses his grip on his perverted existence.  His neatly kept facade begins to break down and the extent of his self destructive behavior begins to be revealed.

Shame marks another notable achievement for Fassbender.  He almost single handedly returned credibility to the X-Men franchise and now stripped of budget and gloss, Fassbender shows that he’s not going to run away from unflattering material, or abundant nudity, in the face of growing success.  His Brandon is a pathological recluse.  He’s a seemingly well adjusted but distant man with no genuine interest in anything.  Though he’s well liked at work and easily obtains sex from females, he wants no meaningful relationship with anyone, not even his sister.  Like the worst kind of junkies Brandon will sacrifice meaningful relationships to keep up his habit.  His addiction defines him and anything which disrupts it drives him to some level of emotional disturbance.  When he develops an actual connection with a co-worker followed up with genuine, not compulsive, attraction, he can’t perform.  Later, when thrown into a state of embarrassment because of Sissy, Brandon tries to de-porn his apartment and the extent of his addiction is given a full frontal view.  Behind every closet door, inside every drawer, in every antiseptic nook and cranny of his living space is hard core pornography.  His apartment turns out to be no more than a giant porn bomb.  From here he begins a destructive spiral that he leads him to dark corners and dangerous behavior.

On the flip side of Fassbender’s Brandon is Mulligan’s Sissy, all reckless energy and irresponsibility.  Shame is one of young Mulligan’s best achievements yet in a brief career that deepens with each film.  Sissy’s very nature drives Brandon slightly insane.  Mulligan has just a handful of scenes but she achieves so much with just a little we can easily understand how her life of unbottled emotion terrifies Brandon.  An extended sequence where Sissy singing a disquieting version of “New York, New York” is the kind of scene people will play at retrospectives of her work 30 or 40 years from now.

Shame is filmed with a calm, calculated eye by Irish director Steve McQueen.  The movie looks and feels scrubbed of imperfections and sanitized of anything foul.  McQueen constructs his movie out of long, unbroken takes which give it a calm and observed feeling.  Though we’re watching a story about a man whose obsessed with sex, there is nothing erotic about anything.  It would be easy to label it all as distant, art house pretension on his behalf but it works well for this story of an addicted man and his repressed nature.

Shame does turn a bit too blatantly art housey as it winds down.  It seems like innumerable art house films must embrace certain cliches as Shame does.  There are no deal breaking snafus but Shame’s last 10 minutes could be culled form any number of other unsettling films about disturbed people.  The ending may leave well versed viewers of independent cinema with a feeling of deja vu but as Shame has so much to recommend in terms of performance and execution, it’s easy to forgive its conventional final moments.