Films watched: January & February mini reviews

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKNow that we’ve arrived to the end of February, I thought it was as good time as any to share some of my thoughts on the films I’ve seen and haven’t had a chance to review since the turn of the year.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012)

An emotional drama with a touch of comedy punctuated by a very strong cast. Silver Linings offers just enough to think about and some to laugh at. A bit less transcendental than the awards season have made it out to be, but powerful enough to merit some recognition.

Highlight: the performance by Jennifer Lawrence + the return to form of Robert De Niro

Downside: it has its share of cliches and some sequences feel forced.

Rating: 4/5 (very good)

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (2012)

We are all a group of misfit toys.
It is Charlie’s first year in High School. For him, it is an opportunity to overcome childhood trauma and make some friends. For the people he bonds with, it is the end of the difficult road right before heading to college. With surprisingly strong performances by the young cast, Perks is a heartwarming story about friendship and finding our own self-worth. Watching 90 minutes of this is much more inspiring than the forced cheesiness that is an entire season of Glee.

Highlight: Ezra Miller’s funny performance as Patrick + the love story between Charlie and Sam

Downside: the dialogue can sometimes be a bit too mature for high school kids

Rating: 4/ 5 (very good)

The Women

THE WOMEN (2008)

An extremely self-conscious tale about women and the struggles they must cope with in a man’s world.
Though funny at times, it mostly felt forced and uninspiring. Some of these women we’re supposed to empathize with aren’t even all that likeable.

Highlight: Eva Mendes playing the bombshell mistress of a married man.

Downside: too long and mostly uninspiring

Rating: 2/5 (below average)

The Good Doctor

THE GOOD DOCTOR (2011)

After falling asleep the first time I tried watching it (which hardly ever happens to me), I sadly decided to give The Good Doctor another shot.
Generally, I’m forgiving of films without pace if they offer something substantial in return. In this case, it is hard to find anything redeeming in this inconsequential film aside from the somewhat intriguing performance by Orlando Bloom.

It is one of those films that tries so hard to say something relevant but, at the end, fails in offering anything remotely thought-provoking.

Highlight: glimpses of great acting, probably the best out of Orlando Bloom so far in his career.

Downside: it tries too hard and ends up being completely inconsequential and boring.

Rating: 1.5/5 (bad)

The Impossible

THE IMPOSSIBLE (2012)

Very strong performances put this surprisingly lackluster film above most disaster dramas.
The film starts out very strong with one of the most harrowing sequences I’ve seen in recent years, turning the huge tsunami of 2004 into a personal event that caused unimaginable human and material loss.

After the first act, the film starts to feel a bit procedural and predictable. There are very emotional moments along the way, but most of them come as much needed relief to a somewhat dull tale of survival that doesn’t quite capture the devastation caused by the tsunami.

Highlight: strong performances by the leads

Downside: somewhat lackluster and inexplicably apathetic to the local culture

Rating: 3/5 (above average)

videodrome12

VIDEODROME (1983)

Inspired by the glowing remarks of fellow blogger Chris at MoviesandSongs365 I finally checked out the cult film Videodrome about a month ago.

When it comes to films that attempt to capture the cultural shifts caused by the desintetizing effect of television and sensationalist media, Videodrome is just a bit overcomplicated and strange to match the effectiveness of another classic: Network.
While both films represent an indictment of sorts against the massification of inmorality through media, Network is a far more direct and memorable affair that doesn’t try to be different and outrageous to leave a mark on the viewer.
Network is also superior in that it precedes Videodrome and does so in a much more stylish and structured manner.

Highlight: interesting sequences and concept

Downside: self-conscious attempt to be out of the norm and downright strange

Rating: 2.5/ 5 (average)

The Bourne Legacy

THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012)

Apart from a couple of memorable action-packed scenes, The Bourne Legacy fails to be as exciting as any of its predecessors.
To begin with, Jeremy Renner does not quite hit the mark on an emotional level like Matt Damon was able to. His journey, though blanketed by some personal struggles, is simply not as well coreographed as any of the films of the celebrated trilogy.
In addition, the Bourne Legacy is a lot more stylish but, at the same time, far more stale than its predecessors.

Highlights: very strong first act

Downside: lackluster when compared to predecessors

Rating: 2.5/5 (average)

Sinister

SINISTER (2012)

From the makers of some of the scariest sequences in film for 2011’s Insidious, Sinister is nearly as creepy and scary, but also as void of substance and dissappointing in its resolution.
Sinister also resorts to the kinds of common places that most horror films seem to resort to nowadays. There are the scary-looking children, the house full of sounds and creeks, as well as the relunctant family member who refuses to see what is going on before it’s too late.
Unlike most other films of the type, Sinister does count with a solid cast led by Ethan Hawke and a very good team of sound effect engineers that make the film scarier than it really is.

Highlight: excellent sound effects and music

Downside: lots of cliches, predictable ending and uninspiring resolution

Rating: 2.5/5 (average)

Flight

FLIGHT (2012)

In the long repertoire of films starring Denzel Washington, Flight will be remembered as one of his finer films and better efforts as an actor.
Even though I don’t find his performance in Flight quite to the level of his role in Training Day (for which he won an Oscar), it is still a very accomplished one. In less than two hours of running time, Denzel goes through several stages of substance abuse, offering several dimensions to his character. He’s the aggressive and selfish drunk, the lonely man and the repenting father and husband who can’t seem to accept his illness.
The film does tend to overstate its own importance and quality, which leads me to think the script could have used a bit more editing. Nonetheless, Flight is a worthwhile and entertaining experience that could potentially inspire a few people to accept their addictions and seek treatment.

Highlight: Denzel Washington’s performance

Downside: a script with its share of cliches and cheesy moments

Rating: 3.5/5 (good)

Take This Waltz

TAKE THIS WALTZ (2011)

One of those films that tries very hard to be trascendental or touching in a minimalistic sort of way, only to fail rather miserably to create one long, unmemorable and boring film.

Highlight: Michelle Williams is near perfect in these types of understated roles

Downside: self-conscious bore. A hipster extravaganza

Rating: 2/5 (below average)

JFK

JFK (1991)

One of Oliver Stone’s most famous films, JFK is an endlessly fascinating look at the investigation, or lack thereof, that followed the eternally mysterious assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Despite offering a plethora of remarkable details and a endless amount of controversial evidence that points away from the initial conclusions, JFK tends to get lost in the immensity of the case and in the vastness of the ploy against the President.

Highlight: a fascinating look at one of history’s most famous murders.

Downside: overcomplicated and unfocused

Rating: 3.5/5 (good)

Badlands

BADLANDS (1973)

A celebrated early work by the reclusive Terrence Malick. Martin Sheen stars as a garbage man in the American South named Kit whose unremarkable life turns around when he meets Holly (played by Sissy Spacek). Their relationship quickly develops, almost by accident and circumstance, into a murderous cross-state rampage that grows in its isolation and status as they continue avoiding the law.
There are many levels as to how to interpret the film which is certainly a good reason as to why it has been appreciated by many critics.
I, however, found it a lot less transcendental and memorable than Malick’s latest directorial effort: The Tree of Life.Though both films are stylistically and conceptually different, there is no question they both share an interest on exploring their characters psyche, and posing interesting questions about humanity, chance and faith.

Highlight: lends itself to multiple interpretations. Nicely constructed and beautifully shot.

Downside: some odd sequences. Intranscendental overall

Rating: 3/5 (above average)

Hotel Transylvania

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA (2012)

One of the most enjoyable animated films I have seen in recent years. It is everything and more of what I expected from the creator of Dexter’s Lab but as a far more loose, fun, and downright insane feature length piece.
Sure, the central story is a bit predictable and unoriginal, but the environment and characters that surround it make it a very worthwhile experience.

Highlight: remarkable ensemble of characters. A lot of original animation and some pretty funny moments.

Downside: the typical musical number at the end + unoriginal central story

Rating: 3.5/5 (good)

The Imposter

THE IMPOSTER (2012)

When it comes to documentaries, failure and success is largely based upon the strength of the story they focus on. In the case of The Imposter, it is one incredibly odd, unique and surprisingly creepy tale of a French man who pretends to be a young teenager from Texas who has been missing for nearly four years.

The story is slowly presented to us, unraveling layer by layer, revealing its share of twists through a mixture of interviews, actual footage and dramatizations of real events that are constructed in a very conscious way to build suspense and anticipation.

Highlight: a very interesting story. Cleverly constructed documentary

Downside: I wish the film had dug a little deeper onto the lives of the lost kid and the impostor who tried to take his place

Rating: 4/5 (very good)

Night

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

Considering the context, Night of the Living Dead is a triumph with very few equals. Made with a shoestring budget, inexperienced actors and an unknown director, the film pushes the boundaries in its understated criticism of American society, commenting on racism, the prevailing culture of consumerism and social paralysis in 20th century America.
Of course, the film is famously known for the introduction of the zombie, an early incarnation of which was used more as a metaphor than as the violent and apocalyptic agent of recent horror films.

Highlight: pioneering work that holds up well enough despite its age and limited budget

Downside: there is little to criticize that wasn’t a direct consequence of a very limiting budget and an inexperienced group of actors

Rating: 3.5/5 (good)

Ruby Sparks

RUBY SPARKS (2012)

Despite sharing a bit too many similarities with other films in which writers give life to their creations, there is a touch of creepy inevitability and romance that makes it a fascinating and entertaining watch.
Paul Dano plays to all of his strengths as a socially awkward, hopeless romantic with a lurking obsession for control that stems from loneliness and a sense of alienation. His talents as a writer breathe life into this cute innocent girl who transforms, slowly but confidently, into a self-asserting woman who challenges his loving creator.

The last act is both creepy, tragic and hopeful. Close to being the most surprising film of the year.

Highlight: very strong performances, interesting story and memorable scenes

Downside: a bit too long, and a few common places

Rating: 4/5 (very good)

leap_year02

LEAP YEAR (2010)

Aside from the picturesque locations in which the film was shot, Leap Year is a rather dull romantic comedy with very few laughs and not that credible of a romance.

There is a lot of cuteness and lovability packed within this film, but it’s just too airy, too dream-like, too inconsequential and void of real issues to be memorable in any way.

Rating: 2/5 (below average)

KillerJoe_2010.12.07_Day19of28_MG_6178.jpg

KILLER JOE (2012)

Joe is a cop, though we never see him in action, and on the side, a killer for hire. He agrees to dispose of anyone for the right price, no bullshit. Always impeccably composed, well-dressed and well-mannered, Joe exudes the kind of cold-blooded exactitude that Ryan Goslin pulled off in his brilliant performance in the stylish Drive.

Joe is played by Mathew McCounaughey, who after many years floating about without a single worthy performance, finally gets serious about his career. It is simply his best role yet, playing to all of his strengths as the irresistible man’s man and the restrained intelligent killer who anticipates everyone’s actions.

The end of the film is simply electrifying, one of the best scenes of the year. Fried chicken had never been so important to cinema.

Highlight: the endlessly cool Joe. Pretty funny all around and with its share of unpredictable twists and turns.

Downside: I’m not sure I bought into the dynamic between Joe and the less than legal courting of an underage girl. Neither did I understand the motivations behind the girl’s actions.

Rating: 4/5 (very good)

Part 3_4 Marathon

Upcoming full reviews:

Side Effects (2012)
Lincoln (2012)
Rear Window (1954) & Vertigo (1958) – part of The Blog of Big Ideas’ Alfred Hitchcock’s marathon
The Master (2012)

Best Films Watched since Jan. 1st:

♦ Candidates to the Blog of Big Ideas Top 250 Films Ever ♦

1. Vertigo (4.5/5)

2. Strangers on a Train (4.5/5)

3. Rear Window (4.5/5)

4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (4/5)

Other very good films:

5. Killer Joe (4/5)

6. North by Northwest (4/5)

7. Ruby Sparks (4/5)

8. Silver Linings Playbook (4/5)

– Niels

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7 thoughts on “Films watched: January & February mini reviews

  1. I really liked Silver Linings and it’s great it got so much recognition in award season, being a comedy more or less (and a romantic one).
    The Perks is one of my favourite movies from 2012, and as a high school student myself I can assure you that the dialogue is not too mature.
    My opinion on Badlands pretty much resembles yours – The Tree of Life is just another league in my opinion.
    And finally, you make me want to watch Ruby Sparks!

  2. So glad you loved Ruby Sparks, Perks & Silver Linings. They are on my top 10 films in 2012. I actually enjoyed Flight, quite moving though predictable to me. Agree with you on Take This Waltz & Bourne Legacy. Overall, quite enjoyable months for you, I’d say

  3. Very cool mini reviews, Niels! I have to go back and re-read some of these again. I like that you have a mix of new and older films. There are so many I haven’t seen yet but will have to. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER and THE IMPOSTER sound very good, been hearing positive reviews all around of those two. Leap Year does sound dull even though I think Matthew Goode is sooo hunky 😉 As for Flight, I’d only seen it because of Denzel.

  4. Of the movies I’ve seen on this list, I can’t believe we’re actually in agreement on some. I saw The Women when it was first released on DVD and I was sorely disappointed. As a matter of fact, I wanted my rental money back, it was that painful to sit through. Stellar cast, but weak storyline and forced emotional peaks. I would give it a 1.

    The Bourne Legacy: in all fairness I did miss the beginning, so I chalked that up to my lack of an emotional connection (and slight confusion). I agree the action scenes were great. I need to watch it again.

    Where we differ. Leap Year: One of my favorite “chick flicks.” I think I dig the fact that the guy isn’t your typical knight in shining armor or image of perfection. He’s crass and proud of it. Funny, I don’t get “dreamlike” at all when I watch it. Beautiful locations yes, but I would say nightmare like situations and weather. As a matter of fact I would describe leap year as awkward.

    Movies I can’t wait to see: Silver Linings Playbook, The Flight, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, & Sinister

  5. Bourne Legacy may look more polished, but I loved the rawness of the previous Bourne films. Gave them more credibility. Which given their stories, is something.

    Sinister, share your thoughts, but I think I was a bit harsher on the film. There were some creepy moments – the recorded home videos were fairly chilling. But it still relied a bit too heavily on the ol’ horror film staples, as you’ve pointed out.

    Flight hasn’t got any right to be as good as it is, had it not been for Denzel’s performance and the few moments where John Goodman turns up. Pacing is off and, like you said, it’s far too self important. But Denzel sells the film.

    As for Killer Joe – a film I could never watch again, but one I thought was very, very good. Honestly think I was squirming in my seat throughout most of it. The final scene had me in fits of hysterics as well as more squirming.

  6. Nice batch of mini-reviews, Niels! I see that we had similar marks for Silver Linings Playbook, Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Imposter, Flight and Killer Joe. All really enjoyable films, though none are perfect. I’m also with you on Videodrome — I wanted to love that one, but I had a really hard time connecting with it at all. I may need to give it another watch someday.

    As for Take This Waltz, I loved that film. I felt it was incredibly personal, and an accurate portrayal of the feelings it brought up. I can see how it would rub some people the wrong way though.

    Here’s to a great March!

  7. Sorry my Videodrome suggestion didn’t work out for you, I think it’s a masterpiece. Cronenberg is definitely not for everyone, and I don’t love all his work. We already talked about you prefer the approach of Network. Fair enough.

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