Over the Christmas Break, when I was travelling to and from my OS' family in Cincinnati, I ended up catching up on a lot of movies that otherwise I probably wouldn't have seen for one reason or another. And for the most part... I was actually pretty suprised. Even the ones that weren't great were actually still in the least fairly good.
Saw a good mix, and here are some brief reviews of what I ended up seeing.
A movie by the guys who made 'Taken', which is about the daughter of a Colombian druglord who becomes a hitwoman and vigilante after her parents are murdered.
It was OK, not stellar but alright. There were several good action set pieces, but the characterisation of everyone except the cop looking for the main character and her mentor came off as being a bit flat.
It was interesting that they actually seemed to use the same logic as 'Hanna', albeit in a different way. For example, in 'Hanna' they justified how a kinda of small young woman was able to beat up larger men through the genetic engineering thing, whereas here they had a similar problem, in that they couldn't have the lead woman (who appeared to be made of pipecleaners) do the same thing without it looking a little silly. So her action scenes consist mainly of her hiding and then ambushing people with machineguns except one hand to hand fight, which she gets her ass kicked.
- Adventure Time
Was awesome, it was the one where Marceline implicitly is crushing on PB.
- Green Lantern
This was the actual first time I've seen this, having put off watching it because of all of the bad press that it got, and I have to say that I was pleasantly suprised (even if it was editted contentwise for the flight).
The special effects were solid, the supporting cast was believable (even the female lead didn't appear to be as bad as some said) and the character arc of Hal from being kind of a dick to being something of a legitimate superhero actually seemed kind of believable.
The little details from the comics I thought were interesting, despite changing her role from the one she has the comic, it appears that their version of Amanda Waller has the same backstory for example. Hal's nephew having a Superman party raised a lot of questions though, like "Does Superman exist in this version of the DCU? If so, apparently people don't know he's an alien, because Abin Sur is referred to as being a First Contact scenario by Waller and Co.".
Mark Strong as Sinestro was awesome, as always, and is (admittedly) a lot more compelling than Ryan Reynold's Hal Jordan, creating the experienced hero to the inexperienced rookie relationship that actually worked really well.
Just a shame that it's unlikely that they'll be making a sequel.
Parallax was actually well done, better than the one they have in the comics I thought personally. And Hector Hammond was an interesting choice of villain, and well performed by his actor.
This movie is about a struggling writer who is given a mysterious pill by his drug dealing ex-brother-in-law, which suddenly makes him smarter. Realising that having perfect recall of all of his memories, being able to think faster and make tons of money really fast is awesome, he starts increasing the dose, which leads to... side effects.
This was actually a really damn good movie, Bradley Cooper does a really good job in the main role, and Robert De Niro is on form as one of his best performances in years.
The writing is really good, emphasising the ways that the drug has effected Cooper's character in good and bad ways, and the camera work to show the more trippy sideeffects of the drug are well done as well.
One thing that I thought was interesting, was that although Cooper's character was shown to be a whole lot more efficient and clever, that didn't exactly improve his judgement. For example, when using his new powers to make a mint on the stock market, he decides that he's making money too slowly (ie he thinks that going from nothing to millions of dollars in three days is "too slow") he goes and borrows $10,000 from a Russian loan shark to get more money faster.
Definately an interesting movie, and one of the better science fiction movies from the last year. It does have a couple of daft moments, such as when the aforementioned drug dealer describes the drug as "enabling people to use 100% of their brain!" (this has been discredited in real life, if you were to use all of your brain at once you'd have a seizure) but that can be explained by him describing it in terms he understands or something.
- Hell on Wheels
A new show (to me) by the creators of the Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, a simplified description of the plot would be that in post-Civil War America, a former Confederate soldier is out to get revenge on the men who murdered his wife, while following the new Union Pacific Railroad as a foreman for the construction teams.
This is a show that, for better or worse, seems to have taken a lot of its cues from Deadwood. For example, Colm Meaney (of Star Trek: the Next Generation, Star Trek: DS9 and ConAir fame) plays the owner of the Union Pacific, a real historical guy called Durante, as a slightly more highclass version of Al Swearengen and is prone to monologuing to no one about how history will see his actions.
The setting, the titular moving rail camp of Hell on Wheels, is well depicted, and the pilot does a good job of establishing all of the characters that'll be appearing in the show latter on.
I initially thought that they might be going the main protagonist, Cullen Bohannon, was going to be of the stoic, Jonah Hexish persuasion, but I was pleasantly suprised that he was shown to have a lot more depth than I expected even within the first episode.
Interesting show, I recommend it.
And when I arrived in the US,
- Criminal Minds
It was a show that I'd already seen, but it was okay. It still amuses me how much scorn the characters in show have for forensic investigators who take it upon themselves to be the lead investigators in crimes (a jab at the CSI franchise, or possibly the very tonally similar Bones), when the lead characters in Criminal Minds are PSYCHOLOGISTS first, FBI second, and apparently as profilers are psychics who can take over an investigation whenever it suits them.
Don't take me wrong, it's a good show (more so when Joe Mantagna joined the cast, because he's awesome) but their approach to their work is more than a little silly. The fact that profiling has been shown to be... not as effective as people thought in reality (eg that case where a man found a bomb and managed to rescue everyone, only for the profilers to decide the he was the most likely suspect and treat him as such, despite the real potential bomber being found some time later). Admittedly they do reference that case, but they don't really back down from the fact that they're policemen who act like they're Las Vegas stage magicians.
- Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Overall I thought that it was a good movie, it picked up or tied off any loose threads from the previous film, the writing all around was good and the performances were all around very good too, with RDJ, Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Stephen Fry, the guys playing Moriarty and Moran, and the woman playing Watson's wife all being on top form.
I was somewhat amused that the overall plot, ie Moriarty acquiring advanced weaponry while at the same time exploiting the heightened political tension in Europe in order to prematurely start the First World War in such a way that he'd profit from it, was basically the same as the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen adaption. Albeit much better handled here, as Moriarty is actually written as being really, really clever here, and unlike in LXG didn't deliberately create the team that would go on to destroy him.
In all an intelligent, fun, and fast paced movie, and although I'd argue that the use of slow motion was kind of over used, it did lead to some good set pieces, such as the forest escape and the final battle with Moriarty.
My opinion? Go and see it, definitely one of the better movies of 2011, and it's not 100% required to have seen the first film, as the plot is mostly explained within the confines of the second film itself. Though some characters, like Irene Adler, and some of the people at Holmes' funeral might be hard to get if you haven't seen the first movie (the boat captain from the first movie is there, for example, and some urchins who are implicitly representatives of the Baker Street Irregulars).
This one I covered mostly in my review of the year, but I'll briefly summarise. A mo-cap film of based on the famous Belgian comicbook, it condenses some of the stories into one narrative while keeping a lot references in there to keep it interesting to fans.
The story was engaging, the relationships between the characters were good, and held some of the better action scenes of the year as well. Definately worth seeing, and the computer generated animation is nowhere near as disturbing as you'd initially think.
- Puss in Boots
And now I come to the last movie I saw whilst in the US, the Shrek spin-off starring Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, two of mt favourite Spanish people. But, considering the rapid drop in quality in the main Shrek movies after the first sequel, is this one actually any good? ...Suprisingly, yes.
Arguably a prequel to the main franchise, the plot revolves around fluffy outlaw Puss (in Boots) getting involved in a heist involving the magic beans from Jack in the Beanstalk. Now admittedly this sounds like a pretty weak premise, but rather than going for the "general parody and pop culture reference" route of the Shrek movies, PiB instead goes more for an action adventure movie direction, like Pirates of the Carribbean and the Mask of Zorro. This is probably due to who was starring in the film to be honest, though.
A fun movie, definately worth at least one watch, if only (like me) you're something of a catperson.
- Another Earth
This one kind of came up under the radar for me. I had heard of it, though it seemed to be something of a paradox, in that it was an indy film (very much so), but at the same time it was a science fiction movie being distributed by some of the big name studios.
Plot? A 17 year old girl has received a letter telling her that she's been admitted to MIT on the very same day when an exact duplicate of the planet Earth appears in the sky. Whilst distracted by trying to look at the Earth and loads of booze, the girl promptly plows her car into another one, killing a famous composer's pregnant wife, his son and giving the guy braindamage.
Four years later, she's released from prison, intent on punishing herself for what she did, so she gets a janitorial job in a highschool and slowly begins moving in on the composer's life. But despite all expectations, she and the composer end up growing closer and she begins to find peace, even though that fact that she keeps chickening out of telling the composer who exactly she is is getting her alive inside.
Heck of a dark movie in places, but at the same time it raises some interesting questions about reality and the nature of who you are and your destiny too.
And when I got home,
- The Skin I Live In
The basic plot so far: Antonio Banderas plays an expert plastic surgeon, Robert Ledgard, who specialises in face transplants, and in his spare time he has created an artificial skin that his resistant to burns and insect bites as both a memorial of his wife (who burned to death in a car crash) and as a means of fighting malaria (the skin's smell repells mosquitos).
However, it seems that he has a woman locked in a room in his house that he tests the skin on. Just who she is and what she's doing there isn't explained, but the relationship between her, the doctor and the doctor's servant, Marilia, seem to be deliberately giving off Frankenstein, Frankenstein's Monster and Igor vibes.
Things are going okay for the trio, at least not openly horrific, but when the maid's son comes to the house to lie low and get plastic surgery following a massively botched jewellery heist, things begin to rapidly slide downhill.
This is the basic set up of the first hour of the movie, with the explanation as to what the heck was going taking up the second half of the film. And despite the thoroughly bizarre nature of the twist, it does actually make sense with the information provided in the first half. Some level of logical sense anyways.
Very well made, with a couple of really weird twists in, this is definately worth a watch.