I don’t always have time to write a full review for every movie that I watch. So now it’s catch-up time. Below are mini-reviews for seven films that I’ve seen in 2011.
“Restrepo” is the excellent Oscar-nominated documentary that follows a group of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s most dangerous valley as they battle the Taliban. There might be better war movies, but this emotional film captures real life of real soldiers. It’s an intimate portrait of fighters in modern war. It was directed by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger. Rating 3.5 our of 4 stars, 2010, Rated R, 93 minutes, Documentary, War.
“Cedar Rapids” looked unappealing to me in its trailers. But I was pleasantly surprised by this unassuming film. An insurance agent attends an industry convention held at a cheesy hotel in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Shenanigans ensue. Directed by Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl,” “Youth In Revolt,”) the movie’s ensemble cast includes Ed Helms of “Hangover” fame along with John C. Reilly, Anne Heche and Isiah Whitlock Jr. The ending is extremely contrived and abrupt, but everything else leading up to that point was well-acted, well-written and funny. I laughed out loud many times during the showing, as did the rest of the audience. Good stuff, based on the absurdity of everyday real life. Rating 3 out of 4 stars, 2011, Rated R, 87 minutes, Comedy.
“The Illusionist” is the classically animated (and Oscar-nominated) film from french director Sylvain Chomet who also directed the amazing “The Triplets of Belleville.” The movie’s animation and music are indeed lovely, but I was not as captivated by “The Illusionist” as I was by Chomet’s older film. The story is about an aging illusionist whose shows are playing to ever-smaller crowds, and what happens when he meets a young fan. Rating 2 and 1/2 out of 4 stars, 2010, Rated PG, 80 minutes, Animation, Comedy, Drama.
“Barney’s Version” offers some good acting in a movie based on the novel of the same name. The film plays much like a novel–a very long one–which chronicles the life of one Barney Panofsky. I enjoy Paul Giamatti as an actor, but I didn’t buy him as leading man Barney. Because of that, I never got interested in anything that happened with his character. The movie was nominated for a best makeup Oscar. (The characters age throughout the film.) Rating 2 out of 4 stars, 2010, Rated R, 134 minutes, Drama.
“Sanctum” is a bit of a b-movie, complete with a fairly predictable plot and cheesy dialogue. But it all made no matter to me; I enjoyed the journey of a bunch of cave explorers fighting to survive their way out of a disastrous underground dilemma. I’m not a fan of the 3-D trend (fad?), but in this case, Australian director Alister Grierson made wise use of the 3-D technology. What “Sanctum” has that many other films lack is a sense of fun. Rating 2 out of 4 stars, 2011, Rated R, 108 minutes, Action, Adventure, Drama.
“Unknown,” despite its silly implausible ideas, is directed with a lot of verve by Jaume Collet-Serra (“Orphan”). It stars Liam Neeson as a smart tough guy, a doctor, whose identity (and life) have been assumed by some strangers. Now he wants them back. The film looks stylish; it’s suspenseful; and it kept my attention. In the end though, “Unknown” takes itself a bit too seriously. So plan to roll your eyes few times before the finale. Rating 2 out of 4 stars, 2011, Rated PG-13, 113 minutes, Action, Drama, Mystery.
“The Adjustment Bureau” isn’t as bad as I’m going to describe. I enjoyed many aspects of the film. But the filmmakers committed a couple fatal flaws which threw the movie off track in my mind. Directed by George Nolfi and based on a Philip K. Dick short story, the movie is part love story and part sci-fi thriller. Oddly enough, the love story works well, with nice chemistry and dialogue between Matt Damon’s and Emily Blunt’s characters. It’s the Adjustment Bureau itself (a mysterious group of men in hats who, well, control everyone’s fate) that comes off as bumbling, implausible and boring. The all-male Adjustment Bureau actors didn’t seem to know if they were supposed to play their roles comically or straight; Terence Stamp, whom I love, looked like a fish out of water. What could have been thrilling was simply silly. Rating 2 out of 4 stars, 2011, Rated PG-13, 106 minutes, Romance, Sci-Fi, Thriller.