Well, it’s high time I wrote in my blog again. I’ve been catching up on movies from the first half of 2011 and figured I should do a little recap before the serious movie season begins. Plus, I have an exciting trip to the Telluride Film Festival coming up, so a little writing preparation is in order.
The early part of 2011 brought us 3 movies with interesting sci-fi premises and good-looking romantic couplings. The Adjustment Bureau (****), directed by George Nolfi (who co-write The Bourne Ultimatum, among other films), is a preposterous, totally fun story about an American Senate hopeful (Matt Damon) who encounters a beautiful woman (Emily Blunt) but isn’t supposed to, according to the titular group of mysterious men in cool fedoras. Sort of The Matrix as a romantic adventure. Limitless (*** ½) stars Bradley Cooper as a sad-sack novelist who is given a pill that gives him access to the 90% of his brain power that we supposedly never use. Director Neil Burger uses a lot of tasty visual effects to show the magic drug at work and to show Cooper’s transformation from droopy loser to handsome man of dangerous success. And probably the best of these three, Source Code (****) directed by Duncan Jones, stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan in an inexplicable race against time to stop a bomb from blowing up Chicago.
Matthew McConaughey, somehow reminded of the fact that he’s actually a pretty good actor, stars as The Lincoln Lawyer (****), a very entertaining airplane movie of the airplane novel by Michael Connelly. McConaughey’s Mickey Haller defends a Beverly Hills playboy (Ryan Phillippe) accused of murder and gets help from his investigative partner (William H. Macy) and his ex-wife (Marisa Tomei).
Win Win (****) is Tom McCarthy’s third film, after the wonderful The Station Agent (2003) and The Visitor (2008). Paul Giamatti plays a struggling New Jersey lawyer who also coaches his local high school’s wrestling team. He encounters a troubled teen (Alex Shaffer), who just happens to be a superb wrestler, and decides that he and his wife (Amy Ryan) will take him into their home. This is a simple and wonderful story that, like McCarthy’s other movies, uses heartfelt performances to elevate it to greatness.
Joe Wright’s Hanna (** ½) stars Saoirse Ronan as a trained killing machine, educated in hiding by her father (Eric Bana) near the Arctic Circle. She soon departs to take out the CIA operative (a scenery-chewing Cate Blanchett) who is the reason Hanna and her father have been on the run. The movie might have been more memorable had Hanna been given more time to explore the relationship between her and a family of wandering vagabonds led by the luminous Olivia Williams. As it is, the action scenes, which are superb, overwhelm any human interest in the story.
Francis Lawrence’s Water for Elephants (*** ½) is the adaptation of Sara Gruen’s best-selling novel about a young Depression-era veterinary student (Robert Pattinson) who runs away with the circus after his parents are killed in a car crash. The Benzini Circus is owned by the ringmaster August (Christoph Waltz) who is married to the beautiful horse trick artist, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon). It’s an old-fashioned yarn that feels like it was made during Hollywood’s Golden Era and I mean that as a compliment. Pattinson is a bit of a snooze but Witherspoon sparkles and Waltz gives a great character-actor performance that would have got him work backing up Humphrey Bogart for countless Warner Bros. pictures.
Of superhero movies, there were many. Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern (***) brought us wise-cracking Ryan Reynolds as an ace fighter pilot recruited by the Green Lantern Corps to take up the famous ring and lantern and do battle for the fate of the universe. Or something. It’s kinda fun and I especially liked Peter Sarsgaard’s wimpy scientist character. Chris Hemsworth, who made a pretty good impression as James T. Kirk’s father in his short scene in Star Trek (2009), makes a bigger impression with his impressive physique in Kenneth Branaugh’s Thor (** ½). The scenes set in Asgard inspired my interest, but the earth-bound parts of the story with pretty Natalie Portman as an awestruck astrophysicist are decidedly dull. Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger (***) completes the prequels for next summer’s The Avengers, which will feature the Captain, Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk. Chris Evans (or as Tara Ariano calls him, Oatmeal Q. Blanderson) plays the title character, a scrawny but determined would-be soldier during WWII trying to enlist. Scientists pump him full of something or other and he becomes a costumed war bond booster (with a fun Alan Menken/David Zippel penned theme song) before getting tired of that and going off to actually fight the Nazis. Tommy Lee Jones is excellent as Cap’s commanding officer and Hugo Weaving makes everything better playing Red Skull, but the movie as a whole feels like it’s just getting ramped up before the credits roll and we’re left waiting for next summer.
And since I was forced to view both Thor and Captain America in 3D, let me once again say... I hate 3D! I find it especially bad when it’s converted after filming but even at its best, it’s a needless distraction. I saw Avatar both in 3D and the regular way and found no difference in how involved I was in the experience. Unless it’s for an amusement park ride, 3D has no place in my filmgoing life.
More to come…