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Monthly Report: April 2012

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.
3/5

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.
5/5

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.
4/5

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Posted by on 30 April, 2012 in Monthly Report

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1997

Here we go with another list of my favorite films of a given year. This time we’re in 1997. The year when we found out that the Terminator movies weren’t accurate predictions of the future as Skynet didn’t take over on August 29. The year when “MMMBop” reigned supreme on the pop charts. The year when James Cameron released a little film that would go on to obliterate the cash registers at the box office. The year when Lady Di met an unfortunate end. And, of course, plenty of good movies.

As usual, this list only counts movies with a stated release year of 1997 according to IMDB.

Honorable mentions: Boogie Nights, The Fifth Element, Life is Beautiful, Suicide Kings, Titanic

10 – CUBE (Vincenzo Natali)

“No more talking. No more guessing. Don’t even think about nothing that’s not right in front of you. That’s the real challenge. You’ve got to save yourselves from yourselves.”

A group of people wake up in a maze consisting of cube-shaped rooms. Some of the rooms contain deadly traps. There. That’s an effective two-sentence summary of Cube’s premise. While there are scenes of gruesome deaths, the focus lies primarily on the characters and how they cope with each other as they try to figure out where they are, why they’re there, and how they can get out. With claustrophic tension to spare, this Canadian thriller is not one to miss.

9 – PERFECT BLUE (Satoshi Kon)

“You bad girl! You have to follow the script!”

Perfect Blue is a must-see for anyone who liked Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan as they deal with similar themes: uncertainty of what’s real, pressure to succeed, and the psychological effects of sex. Here we follow a young famous pop artist who decides to switch gears and become an actress, only to find herself stalked by an all-seeing obsessed fan who thinks her a traitor. At only 80 minutes, Perfect Blue is a very condensed psychological thriller that packs a heavy punch.

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Posted by on 19 April, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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The Films I Watched In 2011 Awards

As the year is approaching its end, it’s customary for bloggers and critics alike to do a top ten list of the best movies of the year. I won’t be doing that, because I haven’t seen nearly enough films of 2011 yet. A list like that from me is still a good half year away from meaning anything. So rather than reflecting strictly on the films released this year, I’d like to reflect on all the films I saw this year.

Thus, I present A Swede Talks Movies’ The Films I Watched In 2011 Awards! Or ASTMTFIWI2K11A, if you’re into the whole brevity thing. A bunch of random categories will be conjured for whatever films I feel like singling out for one reason or another.

This year I watched 229 movies I hadn’t seen before, from 19 different countries with release dates spanning from 1925 to 2011. A lot of it is from recent years, but I did check out a couple of older “you haven’t seen that one!?” flicks too. I saw my first ever films from Belgium, Brazil, Greece and Russia (Ben X, City of God, Dogtooth and Night Watch, respectively). I saw my first ever Charlie Chaplin movie (The Gold Rush) and got my first glimpse of Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark. I watched highly regarded classics like Casablanca, The French Connection and the Alfred Hitchcock films Vertigo and Rear Window, as well as newer stuff like the brunt of the Best Picture Oscar nominees from the last ceremony. I saw great films like Man on Wire and A Single Man, and I saw crap like Season of the Witch.

For these awards, I’m only counting films I saw for the first time in 2011. Rewatches need not apply.

And now, on with the show!

Most Eyebrow-Raising “And Introducing” Credit Award
Winner: Kate Winslet – Heavenly Creatures

It kind of feels like Kate Winslet has been around forever, always turning in great performances. And yet there she was in Peter Jackson‘s teen murder drama Heavenly Creatures, her arrival on the big screen loudly heralded in the opening credits. As for the performance itself? A bit rough around the edges perhaps, but full of energy and enthusiasm.

Best Use Of A Urinating Baby Award
Winner: Hard-Boiled

Hard-Boiled was pretty kick-ass all around and could have gotten a shout-out for plenty of different things. But that baby putting out a fire by wetting himself really stood out. Patently ridiculous, but so good.

“What’s The Big Deal?” Award for A Beloved Film That Left Me Underwhelmed
Winner: Carrie
Runner-up: Withnail & I

While I did like Withnail & I less than Carrie, that one seems to be more of a cult classic than anything. Carrie has more wide-spread acclaim, which made it all the more disappointing to me. I’ve had more fun discussing the film with people afterwards than I had watching it.

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Posted by on 27 December, 2011 in Year End Awards

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2003

Would it be unfair of me to say that 2003 sucked movie-wise? Yes, of course it would. Not even going into how I’ve only seen a small percentage of all films released all over the world during the year, just looking at what I have seen tells me that there were plenty of good movies out there and no disproportionately large number of stinkers. I’m sure the average 2003 movie I’ve seen isn’t much worse than the average of most other years.

But this list is still… weak? No, not weak. These are all very good films. That might be the problem, though. Most of these are indeed very good. It’s just that there are few truly great ones on here. Movies I love. Compared to most other years from the decade, 2003 was a bit lacking at the upper section. Some of these films would have a hard time finding spots on previous top 10 lists I’ve made.

It’s all good, though. I’ll gladly take more years like 2003 as long as I get one film as good as what’s at #1 here.

As usual, to avoid international confusion, I go by years listed on IMDB to determine what is and isn’t “a 2003 movie”.

10 – AMERICAN SPLENDOR (Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini)

“Why does everything in my life have to be such a complicated disaster?”

Two things are key if you want to make a good biopic. 1: Find an interesting character to make a film about. 2: Find the right actor for said character. American Splendor accomplishes these two steps with gusto. Paul Giamatti plays Harvey Pekar, notorious underground comic book writer. A complicated character with plenty of odd quirks and a vitriolic personality, Giamatti nevertheless finds the human being within and offers a nuanced and believable performance. A lot of the film’s success is due to the actor. Without him, the movie might have been just as interesting, but probably not as good.

9 – MATCHSTICK MEN (Ridley Scott)

“She said you were a bad guy. You don’t seem like a bad guy.”

Of course Roy (Nicolas Cage) doesn’t seem like a bad guy. He’s a conman. It’s his job to appear trustworthy. And he’s doing good for himself, despite having to combat his OCD and other mental hang-ups. But then his daughter (Alison Lohman) whom he has never met before enters his life, and things get complicated. Matchstick Men tells an entertaining story with twists and turns a-plenty and features one of Cage’s better performances of the decade. Also: Pygmies!

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Posted by on 20 December, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2004

Where my 2006 list featured lots of comedies and my 2005 one had a disproportionately high number of documentaries, this one doesn’t really feature any remarkable trends. Indeed, as great as all the films on this list are, perhaps the most noteworthy thing about these ten is what a homogeneous collection it is. All of them are fictional movies, and they could all be said to be American (though three are by directors from other countries, and a fourth takes place solely in Europe). As I’ve said before, I make no concious effort to either infuse or stamp out variety in these lists of mine. It just so happens that my favorite films of 2004 just happen to be these ones. And there is at least genre diversity within the specific subgroup here, with drama, comedy, action, animation and romance all getting their time in the spotlight.

As usual, this is 2004 strictly as listed on IMDB (which is the reason why there can be two Best Picture Oscar winners on here). And it’s merely a list of my favorite films, and nothing more than that.

10 – THE INCREDIBLES (Brad Bird)

” ‘Greater good’? I am your wife! I’m the greatest good you are ever gonna get!”

This is my favorite Pixar film, and a large part of it is due to its relatable characters. Sure, the family of superheroes all have their superpowers, but their problems are all human and recognizable, from Mr. Incredible’s longing for his old glory days in the spotlight to his shy daughter Violet’s feelings of inadequacy. Having a bunch of cool action sequences helps too, of course.

9 – CRASH (Paul Haggis)

“That’s good. A little anger. It’s a bit late, but it’s nice to see.”

Some love it, some hate it. I’m among the former. Crash‘s strength doesn’t lie in what it has to say about racism (someone in my Twitter feed once suggested that’s it’s actually less about that than about grace). Rather, what I appreciate in this film is the power of its individual scenes, helped along by strong performances by Michael Peña, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton and others.

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Posted by on 6 December, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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Review: Contagion (2011)

With Contagion, director Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns have crafted a viral outbreak movie that differs from the norm. This one has a very realistic feel to it as it examines the way a fatal pandemic begins, how it spreads, who tries to stop it and how. We also get a look at the effect it has on people, as well as that of the efforts to contain it. The film has similarities in its matter-of-fact tone and multi-character structure to Soderbergh’s 2000 drug trade film Traffic, but Contagion places less focus on the characters and more on the core subject. The virus is always the center of attention.

It comes from Chicago. Or Hong Kong. Or somewhere else. Nobody knows at first. What’s initially thought of as just a fluke occurrence or two soon manifests itself as a highly contagious disease. People who contract it get a nasty cough and might die within a day or two. The mortality rate is estimated at one in four, but that might be incorrect. Through carefully zoomed-in shots, we become aware of the way it spreads before the characters explain it explicitly. A handshake. There’s the virus. A credit card being handed to a cashier. The virus is there too. And in a world where jet planes fly halfway across the planet in a day, we know contagions spread easily.

As said, there are plenty of characters in this movie. Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the first one we see as she sits in a hotel lobby coughing. She might well be Patient Zero. Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spearheads the work to contain the virus. He might find himself biting off more than he can chew. Working with him is the driven Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet) who’s sent to Minnesota to investigate one cluster of the disease. Dr. Orantes (Marion Cotillard) of the World Health Organization, meanwhile, is sent to Hong Kong for similar reasons. Scientists, most notably Sussman and Hextall (Elliott Gould and Jennifer Ehle) work tirelessly to come up with a vaccine. Inserting himself into the mix is freelance journalist Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), spreading conspiracy theories and sowing dissent online. There are reasons for his actions. While all this is going on, family man Mitch (Soderbergh-veteran Matt Damon) loses his wife and one of his children to the virus but is given little time to grief as his older daughter (Anna-Jacoby Heron) still needs to be kept safe from the contagion. Mitch himself appears to be immune, but others in the cast will contract the virus.

The realistic tone of Contagion occasionally reminded me of Paul Greengrass‘ 9/11 drama United 93. Particularly in the early goings where nobody is really sure what’s going on, the same sense of helpless dread is present, if not to the same degree of effectiveness (the first act of Contagion moves a bit slow and is bogged down somewhat by technical jargon). But once the ball really gets rolling, the film’s strive for realism becomes it’s greatest asset. Why? Because it’s different and fresh. There’s no immediate breakdown of human civilization, no sensational miracles and no evil army sent out to reinforce quarantines by any means necessary. The aim is to paint a picture of what a large-scale outbreak could be like if it happened in real life, and the film certainly feels believable.

The movie jumps back and forth between all its characters and their story arcs (which rarely intersect directly). At times the film gets too crowded, leaving some people on the sideline for a bit too long. Most egregious is the case of Cotillard’s character, who very much disappears during the film’s second half and had me going “Huh? Oh, right, she’s still here” when she suddenly popped up again. Her story could have used another scene or two both to keep it in the viewers’ mind and to flesh it out more. It’s easy enough to infer what happens as it is, but the emotional weight is diminished when we don’t get to see it. But in a way, this works to hammer home the point that the film is about the virus, not the people. All story threads are resolved in the end, but the aftermath for many characters is left ambiguous.

While Contagion isn’t a perfect film, the good far outweighs the bad. It engagingly shows many different aspects of the outbreak in its effect in personal (Mitch and Beth), professional (the doctors) and social (Alan) spheres. The actors all deliver good to great performances, with Winslet and Law leaving the strongest impressions on me. It’s shot beautifully and has an oddly fitting score. Is it Soderbergh’s best film ever? No, but it puts in a very admirable effort. It’s more ambitious than your standard Hollywood flick (the star-studded cast and the marketing gives off that vibe) and its stark tone which might turn some people off. For those willing to immerse themselves in its narrative, a feast is waiting.

Score: 4/5

 
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Posted by on 3 November, 2011 in Reviews

 

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