- The Troll Hunter (2010), Andre Ovredal – Ah, ye olde found footage trick aye. This wisely keeps the ‘shaky cam’ to a minimum and focuses on being a mockumentary. It’s a good one as well, with the fantastic character of Hans, the titular hunter at its core. This is pretty light, and does lag at times. But it is fun and the performances are good, which makes it quality lazy weekend afternoon viewing fare.
- Puss in Boots (2011), Chris Miller – This Dreamworks animation combines some great Western elements with fairytale mythology, all driven by a very cool protagonist. Somehow despite only going for 90 minutes, the film feels far too long. But there is plenty for all to enjoy, especially seeing as it wisely dispenses with the later Shrek films’ annoying obsession with pop culture references
- Larry Crowne (2011), Tom Hanks – Had very low expectations, and a hammy tepid start backed this up. But then the introduction of the character of Tahlia, an inspired performance by Gugu Mbath-Raw, is a real shot of life for this film. Hip visual style of text messages appearing onscreen actually looks cool, rather than tryhard. This is a charmer of a film that unearths a new star (for me at least) and reminds you how good Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks can be with the right material.
- Alice in Wonderland (2010), Tim Burton – This copped a bit of a panning as people tired of the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp double team. Lewis Carrol’s book is a very strange one, in reality a piece of rambling nonsense. This is a good fantasy film which chooses to reimagine Alice as older than in the book. Canberra’s own Mia Wasikowska is fantastic in the main role and Helena Bonham Carter and Matt Lucas also deliver really good turns.
- Mad Bastards (2010), Brendan Fletcher – A bleak look at indigenous Australian life and the respect inherent in it. It’s lent a delightful, atmospheric air from the Pigram Brothers soundtrack. Central performance by Dean Daley-Jones as TJ, a man battling his many demons is very strong. The best bit is the actors sharing their real stories at the end of the film.
- Alias Season 3 (2003), J.J. Abrams – This is the weakest series yet, with The Covenant nowhere near as menacing as The Alliance when it comes to super villainous adversarial organisations. Melisa George’s sheer inability to settle upon an accent for the entire season is annoying, as is the series lingering for way to long on one plot point concerning her character. Having said all that, the character of Jack Bristow played by Victor Garber deepens and evolves brilliantly this season. And me and my girlfriend sat down and knocked it over in about three days, so it’s clearly addictive.
- Snowtown (2011), Justin Kurzell – A really washed out palette is used to portray lower class suburbia. I find it hard to use words to describe this film which is almost unwatchably brutal at some points. Whether it was ‘good’, ‘great’, ‘enjoyable’ or what. This was the most harrowing film I have ever watched bar none. I felt physically repulsed by it multiple times, and have never had that experience before. Daniel Henshall gives a fucking insanely good performance. This is a visceral, dirty film which makes you feel terrible to be part of the human race. If you can handle it, watch it. But there will be plenty who cannot.
- The Adventures of Tintin (2011), Steven Spielberg – All kinds of awesome. Grand adventure on a Spielbergian scale. The mo-cap process has ensured a wonderful looking cartoon world. Some wonderful, old school filmmaking especially some of the beguiling match shot editing. And by far the best opening credits sequence of the year.
- Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol (2011), Brad Bird – This is a big, dumb action movie, but a good one. Well acted, well shot and enough big budget ‘holy shit!’ moments to fill this kind of piece. Morgan Spurlock’s latest is clearly affecting me though, because again I found the product placement here extreme.
- Alias Season 4 (2005), J.J. Abrams – More of the same really. More silliness, more Indiana Jones meets James Bond, more lengthy DVD sessions with the girlfriend. The show is a lot of fun despite the silliness. But I can’t help but feel this series is just biding its time a little for the final series. However the early episodes especially impress, playing like one off thrillers with strong self-contained narratives.
- Duel (1971), Steven Spielberg – Spielberg’s first feature, and already you can see the assuredness of his direction. The film is mostly shot from inside the one car, and it says a lot for Spielberg’s skill that it always engages visually despite this, especially when using some of the extended first person shots. Despite some wooden acting, this is a taut thriller with effective characterisation, and above all some great psychological tension.
- The Muppets (2011), James Bobin – I liked, rather than loved this. It sort of gets by on the quality & spirit of the pre-existing characters. You have to applaud the originality crafted by Segel et al, it is just a shame that it doesn’t all work. The film is far too self-aware and self-referential and the Chris Cooper character is a major misstep in tone. The inevitable ending is full of charm and joy though, which gives hope for another outing from this franchise.
- The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), Steven Spielberg – Not as good as the first, but actually quite a different film. This is a King Kongesque monster flick. A definite ‘vicious monsters on the loose’ vibe to it. An amazing cast including the returning Goldblum and Attenborough, along with new cast members Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite and even a young Vince Vaughan don’t hurt. And if you are a dinosaur nerd like me, the fact they bring in new species like the stegosaurus, make this pretty much an automatic tick.
Not Worth Watching:
- The Fast and the Furious 5 (2011), Justin Lin – Paul Walker and Vin Diesel are two of the less charismatic dudes to ever appear onscreen. They’re made to look all the worse because Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is one of the more charismatic. For the most part this is a stupid, loud film but also at times slickly and excitingly shot with some cool old school stunt work. Ultimately though, there is too much Walker and Diesel trying to act, and not enough of The Rock, or car chases.
- United (2011), James Strong – This often feels like a middling BBC TV drama and the initial exposition is very clumsy. That said David Tennant is very very good and the film does not shy away from portraying national heroes (Bobby Charlton) in an unheroic light. It is less tame after the huge tragedy that the film revolves around, but unfortunately the film is just not that great an experience.
- Bad Teacher (2011), Jake Kasdan – More like bad movie.
- Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), Michael Bay – Hated the first 2. Hijacks historical footage such as assassination of JFK, and veers into the offensive with its treatment of Chernobyl. Absolutely no one in this gives a halfway decent performance. Why the fuck is John Malkovich slumming it in this? Fights which should look visually stunning are incomprehensible. These films have no redeeming qualities, and this one is borderline unwatchable.
- The Smurfs (2011), Raja Gosnell – Nostalgia piece for me, I used to watch the original cartoon before school. The voicework has none of the charm of the original, and the film creates no sense of wonder which is essentially a given in an animated film. Joyless, with obscene product placement, a wasted Hank Azaria and some troubling attitudes toward women. The delightful performance from Jayma Mays is the only thing in the entire film with any charm.
- Mr Popper’s Penguin’s (2011), Mark Waters – Jim Carrey is far too talented to be in films like this. Pippi, his tongue twisting secretary is one of the more annoying characters in cinema history. Far too many poo and ball in groin jokes mar what could have worked if they hadn’t bothered with the crassness cause it’s actually quite sweet in a lot of other aspects. Why is it in ‘family’ films that we are always meant to be cheering for the divorcee parents to get back together, even if one has moved on?
- Black Swan (2010), Darren Aronofsky – Early on Aronofsky over-directs, clearly straining to put the viewer into psychological thriller territory and the whole thing feels forced aesthetically. The focus should have been on Portman’s character chasing her dreams and the lengths she was willing to go to achieve them. The strongest plot point, Portman needing to encompass the black & the white swan, is undermined by the underdevelopment of Kunis’ character in order to incorporate too many stock horror elements that detract from the film. The best performance actually comes from Vincent Cassel but overall I just found this a bit unfocused & annoying.
- Superman Returns (2006), Bryan Singer – This is so poor. How a film this rubbish and boring could be made about our blue and red clad hero from Krypton befuddles me. The narrative is underdrawn and incomprehensible. There is zero excitement to be found, Brandon Routh doesn’t deliver much as Superman while Kate Bosworth is probably the worst Lois Lane ever. The attempts at visual stylistics either come off as bad CGI, or just looking like things other films did a whole lot better 10 years earlier.
If you only have time to watch one The Adventures of Tintin
Avoid at all costs Superman Returns