Looks like this will be a recurring feature after all! Here are the films I saw for the first time during the month of April, along with mini-reviews and ratings.
Horrible Bosses (Seth Gordon, 2011)
There are a few fairly funny lines in this one, but the real reason it (barely) succeeds is the cast. They have fun with their characters and find the right tone for the material – Kevin Spacey in particular is spot-on as one of the bosses. I have some pretty big problems with the plot, which is contrived in a non-funny way and feature more logic gaps than what’s easy to swallow. Overall, I guess the movie was okay, but I don’t see myself ever revisiting it.
Pleasantville (Gary Ross, 1998)
It’s always a delight when a movie grows as it goes along and becomes something richer than you expected. I had figured this one would be merely a fun-poking of old 50s sitcoms, and it looked that way at first. But then it changes and evolves, finding nuances in unexpected places and bringing up thoughts and ideas I though would be left unexplored. And what a stunning blend of black & white and color! Wonderful stuff. I wish I had seen this one before I made my Top 10 of 1998 list. It would have made the cut for sure.
We Bought a Zoo (Cameron Crowe, 2011)
Very formulaic for sure, with few surprises to behold to anyone who has seen this kind of drama-comedy before. But it’s sweet, it’s charming, it offers a surprisingly high amount of laughs, and the cast all put in solid efforts – from Matt Damon and Thomas Haden Church to Angus Macfadyen and Elle Fanning. We Bought a Zoo might not be Cameron Crowe’s most daring work, but it has a lot of heart.
Hysteria (Tanya Wexler, 2011)
Neither as interesting nor as sexy as you’d think a film about the invention of the vibrator might be, but as a period flick rom-com, it works well enough. I’m mostly just happy to see Maggie Gyllenhaal again, as I reckon it’s been way too long since I last saw something of hers. She pulls off a pretty good English accent here. Hidden depths!
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Peter R. Hunt, 1969)
One of my favorite Bond films so far. The action is good, the story flows nicely, it’s funny, the villains are effective, and the ending is teriffic. More importantly, it manages to humanize James Bond and make me care about what happens to him, not entirely unlike what the 2006 Casino Royale did. Unsurprisingly, that one’s also among my favorites of the series. Read my full review here.
The Samaritan (David Weaver, 2012)
Crime thriller with elements of con movies, as a man is released from prison after 25 years and finds himself pulled back to the wrong side of the law. The story has some nice twists and turns to it, and the cast is a cool one – I was immediately fascinated by Ruth Negga, an actress I hadn’t seen before, and Tom Wilkinson makes for a fun antagonist. What hurts this film is the rushed pacing. I could easily have done with another 20-30 minutes to better establish the relationships between the characters and the boilings of the plot. Still, what’s there makes for a fun watch.
Bad Ass (Craig Moss, 2012)
Yes, Danny Trejo is indeed badass. Unfortunately, there just isn’t a whole lot for his character to do in this film. He has a few cool lines and fight scenes, but it’s far from enough. This is also a case of a missed opportunity, as the whole “unlikely hero becomes an internet sensation” thing is hardly explored at all. Quite disappointing.
Contraband (Baltasar Kormákur, 2012)
Dime-a-dozen heist/smuggling thriller, with nary an original idea in sight and a distinct lack of actual suspense and thrills. I enjoyed Giovanni Ribisi‘s bad-guy character, but apart from that, this one is unremarkable.
The Darkest Hour (Chris Gorak, 2011)
Oh, Olivia Thirlby and Emile Hirsch, you both deserve so much better than this. I wanted to like this alien invasion flick, as it does some fun things with the way the characters try to survive while being pursued by the invaders. But this is an effects-filled movie where the effects look cheap, and the characters are wafer-thin and far below the cast’s capabilities. There is some effort here to create something entertaining, but the hurdles prove too big to overcome.
The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)
Not as interesting thematically as some other Hitchcock films I’ve seen, and I could probably nitpick story-wise about some stupid actions and decisions made by the characters. The horror elements are teriffic however, and the interactions between Melanie, Mitch, Annie and Lydia are fascinating in their own way. The scene where Tippy Hedren waits at the playground is one I’ll never forget, I reckon.
Funny Games (Michael Haneke, 1997)
An effective critique of how violence has permeated entertainment. In terms of hitting all the right buttons and evoking all the right emotions, Funny Games succeeds. Haneke makes his point a bit too obvious at times though. You might argue that this is a necessity, but I’m not fully convinced. Did I “like” the film? To this I ask: How could anyone “like” it? Giving this one a numerical rating feels borderline irrelevant, but I’ll stick to protocol.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Guy Ritchie, 2011)
I was pleasantly surprised to find this one more or less retain the same level of quality as Ritchie’s first Sherlock Holmes movie. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law still have mad chemistry, Stephen Fry earns plenty of laughs in his supporting role, and the climax trumps anything seen in either of the two films. I’m a bit disappointed that they couldn’t find more for Noomi Rapace to do, though. Her character was unnecessary.
Haywire (Stephen Soderbergh, 2011)
Pretty decent action film here. The fight and chase scenes are particularly good, and MMA fighter Gina Carano in the lead deserves a lot of the credit. She has the potential to become a great action heroine. She certainly has the physical prowess required. Whether the charisma and acting skills are there to sustain her in the long run remains to be seen. This movie didn’t offer any indication of it.
The Answer Man (John Hindman, 2009)
A not very good romcom, which relies on implausibilities and people acting irrationally to an annoying degree. The cast is what lured me in, but Jeff Daniels can’t overcome the poor script, and Olivia Thirlby and Kat Dennings are both underutilized. Annother issue is that the subplot with Lou Taylor Pucci is really boring. I’ll admit that the film was somewhat funny on occasions, but not nearly enough for me to recommend it to anyone.
The Housemaid (Sang-soo Im, 2010)
A simple premise – wealthy husband starts an affair with the new maid – but the story is a rich one. It effectively conveys the motivations and repercussions of everything that happens, all through its well-written characters. At times a reflection on motherhood through more than one viewpoint, at others a critique of the spoiled and entitled nature of the rich. I enjoyed this one a lot.
Thor (Kenneth Branagh, 2011)
While it mostly lacked the compelling characters of Iron Man, this still ranks as one of my favorite pre-Avengers films. I could have done without all the Dutch angles everywhere, and there were too many times during the action scenes when logic got tossed aside to make room for movie conventions. Apart from that, this was a fun film. I enjoyed the disconnect between the people of Earth and the boisterious nature of the Asgardians, and Tom Hiddleston‘s Loki is up there with Doc Ock and Magneto as one of the more interesting Marvel movie antagonists. Oh, and Kat Dennings makes for great comic relief (“What’s Myeh-myeh?”). I was more interested in the Avengers movie after seeing this one than I was before, so mission accomplished.
Millions (Danny Boyle, 2004)
Boyle shows off his versatility as a director by crafting a sweet and affecting family movie, while still retaining his usual style. The story – about a boy who finds a bag full of money – is a good one. Wise, and only occasionally too sugary. Most of it is a clever view of the world through the eyes of a child. Good acting and a solid script goes a long way. Add Danny Boyle to the mix, and you have a keeper.
Arthur (Jason Winer, 2011)
I generally like Russell Brand. He has charisma to spare and has been put to good use in certain films. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t work in this one. When he’s irresponsible, he’s more annoying than funny, and when the story calls for the character to go through some kind of redemption, he’s not convincing. The supporting actresses (Greta Gerwig, Helen Mirren, and Jennifer Garner) do fine jobs, but it’s not nearly enough. The movie just isn’t very funny. Shame, because I actually liked the trailer.
A Royal Affair (Nikolaj Arcel, 2012)
A Danish period piece with a subject matter you might be able to deduce from its title. The story doesn’t offer much in terms of surprises or creativity, and the film takes some time before the characters really start to click – which I blame less on the actors than on other factors. The early goings are a bit dull, to be frank. That said, A Royal Affair does grow as it progresses, the characters come to life, and there’s some interesting questions being raised about just who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s not as black and white as it might seem at first. Overall, this is certainly a watchable film, though I wouldn’t call it a must-see.
The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012)
Highly entertaining, and better than the individual films that lead up to it. The meeting of the superheroes really feels like a big deal, the action is sweet and carries a lot of impact, and Hulk steals the show with some of the film’s greatest moments. Is it a flawless masterpiece, though? No. The plot as such really isn’t anything special. This isn’t a huge detriment to this kind of movie, but considering that there have been five films’ worth of build-up, it would have been cool to have something a bit more epic in scope. Another issue is that Black Widow and Hawkeye feel kind of superfluous. These things don’t hurt the film as such, but it does prevent it from reaching The Dark Knight levels of greatness. It’s still well worth your time and money, though.
Chronicle (Josh Trank, 2012)
An interesting look at one way supervillains may become what they are. The first half or so when the kids experiment with their new-found powers is a lot of fun – though the plot does take a bit too long to get moving. Once it does, the film becomes surprisingly engaging on a human level. The action-fest towards the end doesn’t really work for me though, and the film closes on a bit of a low mark as a result. Still, I had a lot of fun watching this one. I’d call it one of the better found footage films I’ve seen.