|Just a collage. For my actual list, see below.|
Welcome to "He Had on a Hat", 2012 version. We're in for another year of interesting, arcane, goofy and possibly (though probably not) insightful blog posts by the guy that writes this thing every week.
I'm starting off the New Year with two tried and true blog post conventions: the Top 10 List and The Year End Wrap Up.
D: Clint Eastwood
J.Edgar is shot in wonderfully muted colours that give the film that distinctively nostalgic look of faded photographs, newsreel footage and even memories.
J. Edgar is a biopic of unusual depth. One of the many dimensions of legendary yet reportedly a bit looney tunes FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover's personality explored in tin the film is the man's penchant for self aggrandizement. In particular, Hoover is called to task by his superiors regarding his "appearances" in radio programs and comic books. Given the era in which the the media appearances occurred, it place them, of course, right smack dab in the middle of Clint Eastwood's childhood years. All great auteurs revisit their childhoods via their films in one way or another.
And that's the interesting crux of J.Edgar. The film may have an aura of glowy retro nostalgia but its insights into the past are much more grounded in an emotional reality. The film suggests, among other things, that Hoover was something of a paranoiac. It also suggests that the man's alleged homosexuality was so heavily closeted that even he himself did not even understand his own sexual orientation.
J.Edgar's mother, whom Hoover continued to live with even while running what would become the most powerful law enforcement agency in the USA, is wonderfully played by Dame Judi Dench. Despite the excellent performance, the film does her character no favours. As is often the case with these historical biopics (especially in the case of ones directed by the more maverick auteurs like Eastwood and Oliver Stone), Hoover's conflicts and demons are all about mommy issues; everything is always the mother's fault. If that is true, then I guess the same can be said of the all the great films directors like Eastwood create.
9. X Men: First Class
D: Matthew Vaughn
Who knew a Mad Men/X-Men crossover would work so well?
Casting Mad Men cast member January Jones as a young Emma Frost really helped the cross over come together. Though there needed to be scenes of Xavier and Magneto knocking back scotch and making sexist comments throughout there mission to really seal the deal.
I can't wait till all of the documents surrounding the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis are declassified so that we can learn what role mutants actually did have in the events that brought the world closer than it has ever been to nuclear annihilation.
8. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
D: Rupert Wyatt
"Ape Shall Not Remake Ape"
-The Lawgiver after seeing Tim Burton's 2001 attempt at a Planet of the Apes reboot.
I was super skeptical than anyone could ever make the The Planet of the Apes franchise come to life again. Social commentary oriented SF movies with dark, depressing endings went out the day Star Wars opened in 1977. I never thought that a franchise so downbeat would ever play in the 3D blockbuster land of today's cinema marketplace.
Yet it did. Big time.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was both a commercial and critical success, plus a really good movie to boot.
Andy Serkis, the great actor who plays (via CGI motion capture tech) the Ape rebel leader Caesar, has, I must say, ended up in the weirdest bit of type casting in the history of cinema.
Despite the best efforts of the Blu-ray special features to tell you otherwise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is not just a reboot of the franchise but also actually a remake of the 4th (and some would say best) movie in the Planet of the Apes series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. Seriously. Go rent/stream/download Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and you'll see what I mean.
7. The Way Back
D: Peter Weir
Peter Weir is da man.
This Australian director has managed, under the radar in many cases, to make some of the most consistently solid movies of the last 35 years: Picnic at Hanging Rock, Gallipoli, The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness, Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Even his offbeat misfires like Mosquito Coast, Green Card and Fearless are fascinating movies.
In his first feature film in eight years, Weir has added to the former and not the latter category.
The Way Back follows the apparently true story of three men who escaped from a Siberian gulag in the USSR in 1941. Not only did the men evade capture but they ended up traveling, on foot, all the way from Siberia to India. Needless to say, the cinematography and the scenery in The Way Back is amazing as are the performances by Jim Sturges, Ed Harris, Colin Farell and Saoirse Ronan. Of course, the sum of the film's great parts are all pulled together through Weir's impeccable direction. The epic journey movie has rarely been so well realized.
Though, I do have to admit that I was disappointed that neither Sherman, Mr.Peabody nor the eponymous machine appeared in The Way Back.
6. Red State
D: Kevin Smith
I am super up and down on the films of Kevin Smith; some are brilliant, others are, well, very Kevin Smith.
I approached this film with a fair amount of trepidation. As it turns out, Red State is quite possibly Smith's best film. It's also his biggest departure as a director.
I was not expecting a sick yet quirky action movie with socially satirical overtones. Additionally, knowing nothing about the film going in, nor did I see just about anything that happens coming. I highly recommend watching this film if you know very little about it. If you do, well, I'm sure it's still good then too.
One note to Kevin Smith: stay off the Blu-ray extras, k? Your egomaniacal hard sell rants just about undid all the goodwill you built up with such an intense, compelling and satisfying movie.
D: Joe Wright
Oh, man if I have to see 17 year old Irish actress Saoirse Ronan play yet another ass-kicking action hero in another Hollywood action blockbuster....geez, guys, come up with something new already.
Like Red State, Hanna was unexpectedly good. It has both excitement and emotional depth to spare. It's basically a majorly ramped-up dysfunctional family drama with archetypical fairly tale overtones thrown in for good measure...geez, guys, come up with something new already.
When you've got a movie featuring hero who can take on Galadriel and The Hulk both physically and emotionally, then you know you are definitely not dealing with your standard movie fare.
4. Another Earth
D: Mike Cahill
Anybody who has been casually going to movies over the last 30 years may not realize this but you can actually make good science fiction movies that don't involve laser battles and giant bugs eating people.
Another Earth is a very low budget film (much of it was shot in the director's mom's house!) that really demonstrates how character and basic human emotions can drive a good SF movie. In a plot line similar to Lars von Triers' Melancholia (which I have not yet seen), Another Earth follows the story of how the appearance of, literally, another Earth in the sky impacts the lives plain old regular folks living out their daily lives on Earth. It reminded me a lot of another low budget indie SF movie, Moon. Moon also showed how a really good premise very simply executed can get you long way in science fiction cinema. It can often take you much further than laser battles and giant bugs eating people can, that's for sure.
D: Paul Feig
K. Let's get this outta the way now. I do not like gross-out bathroom humour at all. It's not that I object to it or anything like that. Quite honestly, I have just never ever gotten what's funny about bodily functions. It leaves me cold is all. So, if I had been directing Bridesmaids, the famous "poo" scene that I've heard so many people rave about, would have been left on the cutting room floor, where, IMO, it belongs.
That being said, Bridesmaids is a rare new comedy film that not only did I like but that stayed with me with long after I watched it. The humour is smart and, with one or two obvious exceptions, pretty subtle.
It's great to see Kristen Wiig finally break that weirdo-looking and weirdo-acting character typecasting that has dogged her for -what now?- six seasons on SNL. To be fair, one of Wiig's strengths as a performer is playing quirky. SNL, though, often ramps up the quirk to the point where it obscures her real talent. That talent being Wiig's ability to play offbeat characters that are actually real people and not merely caricatures of general weirdness. In Bridesmaids, Wiig hits just the right balance between quirk and truth and thus is able to carry the entire film nicely.
A Facebook friend of mine once wrote "Why can't Judd Apatow do for average looking women what he's done for average looking men?".
I think that just happened.
2. The Artist
D: Michel Hazanavicius
It was a refreshing change to be one of the youngest people in theatre instead of the oldest, which has become de riguer to my film going experience of late. The Artist may be a film that plays only to the older cineaste crowd. My gut instinct, though, is that the movie is a bit more universal than elitist in its appeal.
There is a lot more to The Artist than just it's silent film gimmick. Director Michel Hazanavicius nails the now over 100 year old silent movie genre and, like many great silent films, it is compelling to watch despite (or perhaps even because of) its format.
It's a super freaky experience to watch a seemingly authentic silent movie and then suddenly see the faces of current contemporary actors. John Goodman is particularly good at playing the style of the film while still creating a grounded and nuanced performance.
The Artist walks a particularly fine line between imitation, parody and actually being its own film on its own terms . Jean Dujardin's dog sidekick is one of the film's biggest risks in that regard. Somehow, though, the happy little dog fits almost seamlessly into the rest of the picture.
D: Nicolas Winding Refn
Drive is probably the most conventional film that maverick Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn has made to date. Actually, it ain't that conventional a movie but next to Winding Refn's previous films like the acid trip Viking epic Valhalla Rising and the smaller more intimately violent full frontal male nudity epic of Bronson...well, you get the picture.
Sure Drive may appear to be a standard Hollywood/indie action thriller on the surface. A stunt driver for movies moonlights as wheel man for any job that pays well enough but then soon gets himself caught in a web of mafia intrigue and betrayal.
But, as the woman who filed a lawsuit against Drive's distributors for falsely advertising the film as a "Fast and the Furious" type action movie will tell you, appearances can be deceiving.
Ryan Gosling continues his rise towards becoming that "that guy who is in everything now." Gosling's characters all have that fascinating combination of being emotionally withdrawn and almost expressionless while hiding a deep and complex inner rage.
Plus who knew Albert Brooks could be such a bad ass?
Drive has that rare ability to aloof and in-your-face at the same time.
I am quite serious when I say that I simply cannot wait to see what Nicolas Winding Refn and Gosling (in the lead role) will do to the upcoming remake of the 70's disco sci-fi classic Logan's Run.
Is there a way I can just buy those tickets now?
Blue Sunshine, Rango, Midnight in Paris, Hugo, Cedar Rapids
The seemingly endless 3D fad.
See you next week, He Had on a Hat-ers!