December 31, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin - 2011

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, & Joe Cornish
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost

Based on the Belgian comic series, this film brings the classic character of Tintin (Bell), a young journalist/explorer, as he investigates the mysterious disappearance of the Unicorn, a three-masted sailing ship, along with the descendant of its captain, Archibald Haddock (Serkis).

This was a perfect movie for Spielberg to be involved with. Why? Because it's pretty much a motion capture CGI version of Indiana Jones, but with a younger journalist as opposed to the American archaeologist. I'm even willing to overlook the fact that the characters are mysteriously British when they should be Belgian, since it seems like we've finally figured out how to make humans look good in mocap. Thomson and Thompson, two Interpol agents, also have an odd, brief subplot involving a pickpocket that's a bit unrelated to the rest of the film, but I guess you have to introduce them somehow. Oh, and the 3D was utter perfection. A

War Horse - 2011

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Richard Curtis & Lee Hall
Starring: A bunch of humans who don't really matter

War Horse tells the tale of Joey, a colt-turned-plough horse that is forced into service when the British enter the Great War.

Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest living directors, with nearly forty years of one stellar film after another. Unfortunately, this one's a bit of a misstep in my book. Despite being a film version of a renowned play (in turn adapted from a book), I'm going to go out on a limb and say the true skill of the play was in the unique way that human performers portray the horses. My main issue with this film is the use of an animal as the protagonist. Sure, (mostly) children's films use animals as protagonists all the time, but there's one key difference: communication. The horse in this film, naturally, doesn't utter a single word, because this isn't that kind of movie. After getting to know the family who raises the horse in the first hour, we get treated to a revolving door of three separate sets of human characters (and not enough time to get attached to any of them). Maybe I'm alone, but I can't really get into a story when the main character can't tell me anything or show emotion. However, it's still shot beautifully, and maybe sometimes you don't need an Oscar-worthy performance to make a good film. B

December 22, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - 2011

Director: David Fincher
Writer: Steve Zaillian
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgard

Thanks to a combination of talents of all involved from the director to the score writers, the film may be even better than its Swedish counterpart. A+

The visual aspect is significantly better on the big screen, but it's still one of the best cover songs I've ever heard.

Beginners - 2011

Director: Mike Mills
Writer: Mike Mills
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent

Told through a series of flashbacks, Beginners is the story of Oliver (McGregor), a man in his late 30s struggling to have a fulfilling relationship with a French actress (Laurent) while coming to terms with the death of his recently out father Hal (Plummer).

If I were asked to make a movie about the entirety of human experience, it would be this. The film manages to be simultaneously beautiful and depressing throughout, and the quirky humor and unconventionality balances the low points well. Plummer gives an especially great performance, playing the false strength of a terminal cancer patient to great effect. Few films manage to be as incredible and low-key as this one, and they should be savored. A+

December 19, 2011

My Week with Marilyn - 2011

Director: Simon Curtis
Writer: Adrian Hodges
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones

Saying that the shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl didn't go well would be an understatement. Tempers flared and personalities clash, especially between director/male lead Sir Laurence Olivier (Branagh) and female lead Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). It didn't help matters when Monroe's husband Arthur Miller left town and she had a fling with third assistant director Colin Clark (Redmayne).

Confession: I had never seen an entire Marilyn Monroe film before My Week with Marilyn came out. Thus, I felt this review would be inadequate if I did not watch the "source material," as it were, afterwards. Now that we've got that out of the way...this film was absolutely incredible. Michelle Williams is just as great as she was in Blue Valentine last year, if not better. Not only does she look the part, but she also brings out the dichotomy of the dark, tortured soul versus the childlike/"innocent"-yet-sexy that Monroe did so well. She also sings Branagh is unsurprisingly perfect as Shakespearean actor/director Olivier; I think they both deserve awards purely for running around so long with that monocle. The one bad thing about this movie, sadly is...Emma Watson. Not that her performance is bad, by any means, but the role. She plays a wardrobe girl and the initial object of Colin's affection; you could cut all her scenes out and the movie would suffer nothing. Shame on Hodges for leaving her in. Oh, and it's a bit unsettling to see Howard Stark and Arnim Zola working hand in hand, but if you're not some comic book geek, that shouldn't be too off-putting. A

Young Adult - 2011

Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Diablo Cody
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson

Young adult fiction writer Mavis Gary (Theron) leaves her swanky Minneapolis apartment for a brief return to the small town in which she grew up in an attempt to steal her old high school flame Buddy Slade (Wilson) from his "unhappy" life as a new father. 

Quick sidenote: The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the nominating body for the Golden Globes, often comes under fire for "mis"-categorizing certain films in an attempt to recognize movies that might not get one otherwise. This is about to become very important.

Jason Reitman, son of legendary filmmaker Ivan Reitman (and brother of YouTube film critic Catherine Reitman), has made three incredible films so far, and Young Adult makes four. This should come as no surprise to anyone. However, this is his reunion with Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody, who (despite an Oscar win) many rail against because of her unique dialogue choices in her first two scripts. These critics have finally been silenced, as Young Adult contains none of this stylized dialogue. In addition, Theron's character seems significantly modeled after Cody herself (a small-town Minnesota girl who moved to the big city and became famous), and when the writer's soul is as apparent as it is here, it makes for a very high quality product. That said, don't let certain award nominations and marketing make you think this is a comedy. Sure, there's jokes around a few corners of the script, but it's ultimately a film about an emotionally damaged woman who values the halcyon days of yore far too much, unable to relate to others. Theron is unparalleled, however, in the emotional depth that the role requires. She's clearly come quite a long way from Children of the Corn III. Patton Oswalt (voice of Remy in Ratatouille and star of the criminally underseen Big Fan) does an even more tremendous job, portraying a high school classmate with a horrifyingly tragic past. This is one of those films we need more of, so please go see it theatrically. A

December 17, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - 2011

Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers: Kieran & Michele Mulroney
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Rachel McAdams

December 15, 2011

The Sitter - 2011

Director: David Gordon Green
Writers: Brian Gatewood & Alessandro Tanaka
Starring: Jonah Hill, Ari Graynor, Max Records, Sam Rockwell, JB Smoove

December 3, 2011

J. Edgar - 2011

Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Dustin Lance Black
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench, Naomi Watts

The Muppets - 2011

Director: James Bobin
Writes: Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, & Rashida Jones