About Me

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Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Captian America, The Great American Iconoclast

When the blockbuster Captain America movie first hit theatres throughout the world in the summer of 2011, some countries released the movie not under its original title of Captain America: First Avenger but under the truncated title, First Avenger.

The underlying concern was that the name “Captain America” might negatively impact international box office numbers in some countries due to Anti-Americanism and a general distrust of American foreign policy- notwithstanding the potential brand recognition attached to an over 70 year old comic book hero.  

Paramount Pictures reportedly gave international distributors a choice: Call it Captain America: The First Avenger or truncate it to The First Avenger - but no other variations. In the end, only Russia, Ukraine and South Korea opted to shorten the movie's title.

Given the true history and nature of Captain America's character, however, no country should have had to change the movie's name: Far from being an icon of American jingoism, this superhero often has been one of his nation's most trenchant critics.

On the surface, the reasons for concern are understandable. Outside of comic-book fandom, all that most people think of when they hear the name "Captain America" (or even just look at the guy) is an over-the-top American propaganda figure. Let's face it: Cap's costume is heavily dominated by stars and stripes. It's like Betsy Ross and Edna Mode teamed up to design the outfit. Many observers simply assume that he is a creature of the Pentagon spin machine. Indeed, an informal survey of media coverage of the upcoming Captain America movie found news outlets from CNN to Fox News to the BBC stating that the superhero with the star-spangled shield was created as a propaganda tool for the U.S. war effort during the Second World War.

That is a major misconception: The first issue of Captain America was published by Timely Comics (later Marvel Comics) in December 1940, a full year before America's entry into World War II.

At that time, the American mood towards the war in Europe was largely isolationist: There were still many Americans who wanted the United States to stay out of what was then seen as a European war and none of America's business.

Of course, there were also a number of Americans who took the opposite view. One of them was FDR. Others were hawkish media figures who led a subtle push toward military involvement through movies, radio, newspapers and, yes, even comics.

In the latter case, the push was not always so subtle: The cover of the first issue of Captain America featured a splashy full-colour rendering of the red, white and blue clad superhero punching Adolf Hitler right in the face. Believe it or not, it was a controversial image back in the day.

For Captain America's creators, the legendary Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, both the character and the punch were no accident. Like many Jews in America at the time, Kirby and Simon were concerned with the news coming out of Nazi Germany. The political message behind an American superhero who was ready, willing and able to take on the Nazis was intentional. Simon said in an interview years later that, "the opponents to the war were all quite well organized. We wanted to have our say, too."

After its initial publication, the now-famous Hitler-bashing cover resulted in threats and hate mail for the authors. The underlying patriotic wartime themes of Captain America were embraced by official government propaganda only much later - after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Sales of Captain America comic books trailed off significantly after the end of the Second World War, and it eventually ceased publication. But 20 years later, the character was revived by another comic-book legend, Stan Lee, who concocted a story about Cap being frozen in suspended animation since 1945, and revived by a newly formed superhero group, The Avengers, in 1964.

In the February 1970 issue, Cap is seen wandering the streets of New York, contemplating the then-current social revolution. Thinks Cap in a classic Marvel comics thought bubble: "And in a world rife with injustice and endless war . Who is to say the rebels are wrong? But, I've never learned to play by today's new rules! I've spent a lifetime defending the flag, and the law! Perhaps I should have battled less, and questioned more!"

Later, Cap bolts out of bed and says of the establishment: "It was the same establishment that gave them a Martin Luther King, a Tolkien, a McLuhan, and a couple of brothers named Kennedy! We don't claim to be perfect . no generation is! All we can do is learn to live with each other - learn to love one another."
Not exactly gung-ho American conservatism, that. It was the kind of nuanced reflection that was a rarity in the anti-establishment era.

A little later in the 1970s, when Watergate rocked America, the Marvel Uni-verse produced its own fictional version of the scandal - and Captain America was front and center.

A subversive terrorist organization known as The Secret Empire attempted a coup d'état against the United States. The group was stopped by Captain America. Later, Cap learns that the leader of the Secret Empire was none other than the president of the United States (who, at that time, of course, was Richard Nixon). The actions of The Secret Empire and their connections with the commander-in-chief were covered up. Like Joe Simon and Jack Kirby many years before him, writer Steve Englehart openly admitted the political intentions of the story; it was definitely meant to be an allegory to Watergate.

Captain America, disillusioned by the whole affair, dumps his American red, white and blue costume, and takes on the identity of Nomad (the man without a country - get it?). It was around the same time that Cap took on The Falcon, one of the very first African American superheroes in mainstream comics, as a sidekick. Captain America was no Archie Bunker in tights.

Fast forward to the George W, Bush era, and you find that the Marvel Universe in general, and Captain America in particular, were still commenting on the times. In a story-line that mirrored the real-life Patriot Act, the fictional U.S. Government passed the "Superhuman Registration Act," requiring all persons with super powers to register with the government as "a human weapon of mass destruction." The superhumans also were required to reveal their true identities and submit to government training. The creed of the post-9/11 era was: "You are either with us or against us." Captain America was most decidedly on the "against us" side: He opposed the Act and refused to register, arguing that such legislation was an infringement of American civil liberties.

Actually, he didn't just argue. He fought. Hard. And a lot. And against his former friends and allies such as Iron Man. Captain America, the onetime "sentinel of liberty," finally went into hiding as a mall cop.
Finally, and begrudgingly, Cap did "the right thing" and surrendered, preferring instead to fight the rest of his political battles in court. But while Cap was being brought into the court house, he was shot by a sniper. Then, Sharon Carter, a SHIELD agent and Cap's former lover, also known as Agent 13, finished the job and killed Captain America.

She was, of course, under the influence of the bad guys at the time. Nonetheless, the circumstances are telling: Captain America was killed by a federal agent while defying the actions of his government in a time of war. The story behind the death of Captain America certainly did not reflect the mainstream jingoism of the post-9/11 Bush Era.

All of which to say: Anyone who understands Captain America's story should understand that the title of the movie should not have been changed - because he is the farthest thing from an icon of unthinking American sabre-rattling. Doing so serves only to fortify misconceptions surrounding a character who has wrestled, more than most real-life thinkers, with the question of what it means to be "American."

Reprinted courtesy of the The National Post
www.national post.ca

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What Are the Hidden Agendas of DVD and Blu-ray Extras?

The other day I was checking out the extras on the Rise of the Planet of the Apes Blu-ray I got for Christmas this year. One of the special features focuses on the history of the Apes franchise.

A history of the The Planet of the Apes franchise? Really?

Given how much Fox, the owners of the rights to all things Apes, seems to want to find a new audience for the reboot and given how much the Apes franchise is either or unknown to or dismissed by just about anyone under the age of 40, I was kinda surprised they even went there.

And, in fact, they kinda didn't.

In one featurette, director Rupert Wyatt, screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver as well as actor Andy Sirkus all talk in very positive terms about the original Planet of the Apes. They all  say that they are big fans of the movie. However, 99% of the focus of the featurette is on the original 1968 film. Little or no mention is made of the later films.

I found this particularly bizarre as Rise of the Planet of the Apes is, for all intents and purposes, a remake of the fourth film in the Apes series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (some say it is more a reboot of Conquest but, hey, let's split Ape hairs). The interviews imply that the writers somehow just came up with this idea of creating a back story for Planet of the Apes as a means of a rebooting the franchise. This is even more bizarre in light of the fact that Fox has had a Conquest remake/reboot in the works since almost right after the failure of the last reboot attempt, Tim Burton's 2001 "re-imagining" of the '68 film.

Also weird is that at one point Jaffa says that in one of the later films "reference" is made to an ape named Caesar who first defied his human masters and said "No". He adds that he thought it would be a great to actually see that moment on screen.

First of all: "reference"?  Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is an entire movie devoted to Caesar's story. That's slightly more than just a "reference". Secondly, the moment Jaffa refers to has already been seen in said movie; it is not something new to the franchise as Jaffa seems to be suggesting. For the record, the only "reference" to the event in question is in the previous film in the series, Escape from the Planet of the Apes.  Jaffa comments make me wonder if he has even seen these movies. Both he and all of the publicity I've seen about the movie says that Jaffa is big fan of the series.

There is more to this than just Apes fanboy nitpicking. It's like the featurette is purposely drawing attention away from connection between Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. What's the agenda here? Is just that they think most of the public at large only know the original film and not the sequels? Or do they not want to confuse potential new fans of the reboot? Or does Fox just simply  feel that getting into the whole history of the Apes franchise will "turn the kids off"?

Another example of  perplexing Blu-ray extras can be found on the Let Me In Blu-ray.  Let Me In is the "not as bad as you might expect it to be" remake of the amazing Swedish teenage vampire movie, Let The Right One In.  BTW, if you have not seen Let The Right One In, do so. It's one of the most engagingly creepy movies of all time.

Imagine Twilight directed by Ingmar Bergman.

As was the case with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the Let Me In Blu-ray extras gloss over the remake angle. In one of the featurettes on the background of the film, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) says that he loved the 2004 novel, Let The Right One In by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindquvist, since he first read it. He said that he always wanted to make a film of the novel.

Yes, it's true: the original Swedish film is also based on the same novel. However, the implication of the subsequent interviews with Reeves and the various producers of the film is that Let The Right On In is the only adaptation of the book that exists. Nowhere does anyone even bring up the original film.

As with Apes, this is kinda weird if you've seen both movies.

Let Me In is, in some scenes, a shot for shot remake of the Swedish film. The sets, costumes and cinematography are all variations on or recreations of elements of original movie. In. To be fair, there a few Americanizations here and there. Some scenes are ramped up big time, old-school Hollywood style. Overall, though, the Let Me In is a very close in mood, tone and look to Let The Right One In.

So, why then do they seem to be deliberately deceitful about the background of this film?

I know American audiences will not flock to European movies en mass, even when they involve trendy pop culture icons like vampires. Though, will it really turn off American viewers that much if they even know that the movie is in any was connected to a European film?

Sometimes the agendas of the DVD extras go another way. Take the Batman and Robin DVD...please (sorry, could not resist).

Of course, I'm talking about the 1997 movie that, in star George Clooney's words, "shut down the Batman franchise". Indeed, Batman and Robin is pretty much a universally reviled movie by both fans and non fans alike. Unlike the previous examples, the extras on this DVD are not so quite so deceptive in nature.

If fact, all of the interviews and commentary tracks on the Batman and Robin DVD are quite apologetic, often explaining where and how the problems with the film developed. Chris O' Donnell (Robin) says that the media "assault" for a movie like this can hurt a film in that it builds up false expectations. Director Joe Schumacher goes even further. He actually says, "I'm sorry" outright at one point.

So why point out that the movie that someone just bought or rented is really bad?

Well, in this case, I remember people talking about the apology on the DVD.  Let's face it, it attracted a lot of attention to a DVD of a movie that has such a bad reputation that it might never have left the Zip.ca warehouse. Perhaps they were trying to draw people to the DVD that way?

My theory is that the DVD extras can achieve two goals.

One is the DVD's are, of course, sent to critics. Often the extra content of the DVD/Blu-ray turn up in reviews. Many websites feature reviews of not just the movie but also of the special features. And, in some cases, the DVD extras have doubled as promo material appearing in electronic press kits and the like. In other words, the extras are tool in the overall publicizing of the movie in the media.

The second goal DVD/Blu-ray extras can achieve is that they can (hopefully) generate good word of mouth publicity (which even now is still often the backbone of a movie's success). So if, for example, the word gets out that Let Me In is not a completely original movie then that can impact future DVD/Blu-ray sales.

Negatively, apparently.

These are just a few examples I noticed recently.

Anybody out there ever notice the DVD/Blu-ray extras that seem to have some kind of an agenda going on?

Feel free to weigh in below

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Adventures of Tintin Bombs in The US, Gets a Sequel Anyway.

The Adventures of Tintin, the movie based on the internationally bestselling comic by the late Belgian artist and writer Hergé, produced by Peter Jackson and directed by Steven Spielberg, despite is struggles at the US box office, is getting a sequel.

The movie has grossed $63 million at the domestic box office since it opened in North America on December 21, 2011. However, that number is has been boosted considerably by box office grosses from the Canadian province of Quebec. The movie opened in Quebec December 9 and had accounted for $16 million of the $25 million in domestic grosses as of the week of December 27, 2011.  Take into account the fact that Quebec comprises a small fraction of the total population of North America and then put Tintin's domestic gross up against the $269 million the movie has made internationally to date, and it's pretty safe to say that the The Adventures of Tintin has, as many predicted it would, bombed in the US.

So, of course, the news has just been announced that the sequel,  The Adventures of Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun (or that's the rumored title anyway), is tentatively scheduled to hit theatres sometime in 2013. The second Tintin movie will be produced by Spielberg and directed by Jackson: a reversal of their roles on Tintin's original big screen outing.

All facetiousness  aside, the sequel has, of course, been ordered based on Tintin's huge international success and not the character's relatively poor showing at the US box office.

No surprises there, really.
The Tintin comics are massively popular throughout the world. In the United States, however, Tintin is, at best, an obscure character with what could generously be described as a small cult following.

Tintin is a globe-trotting Belgian boy journalist. In a typical adventure, he journeys to an exotic location and quickly becomes entangled in adventure and intrigue. Occasionally, simplistic social or political satire and commentary would figure in the stories. Americans, for instance, were sometimes portrayed as greedy and selfish people, only interested in money. Non-European races were often viewed with dated, colonial and paternalistic attitudes

Tintin has been compared to a boy scout in his values and sensibilities. His dog Snowy, a white Terrier speaks directly to the reader via thought balloons, not heard by anyone else. Captain Haddock, Tintin’s best friend, is a salty sometimes heavy drinking sea captain who was known for such catch phrases as “Blistering barnacles!” and “Thundering Typhoons!”

Titin was drawn in a style originated by Hergé known as “lingle clair” (or “clear line”). Linge clair is a style that gives comics a somewhat flat appearance. It is sometimes seen in other European, particularly French, comics but pretty much never appears in mainstream American comics.

Since the character’s debut in 1929, it is estimated that over 200 million Tintin books have been sold. The new Tintin movie spent at least two weeks as the #1 movie in no less than 9 different countries. None of that changes the fact that The Adventures of Tintin faced an uphill battle at the US box office practically from the git go.

Quite simply, Tintin is the soccer of the comic world. And, like soccer, Tintin has been unsuccessfully attempting to break into the US market for some time.

During the 1950’s, Tintin comics were moving over 250,000 copies a week in Europe alone. Towards the end of that decade, the first of several attempts to introduce Tintin to America was made. Accompanied by a large publicity campaign, newly translated and adapted versions of four of Tintin’s most popular adventures hit American bookstore shelves just in time for Christmas 1959. The Tintin titles sold only 8000 copies each over the entire Christmas season.

Why the failure? There are a few possible reasons. Tintin comics were sold as books in Europe, often bound in hardcover and sold at higher price that most comics. In the United States, the Tintin books were seen merely as just another “comic book” that, for some reason, was being sold at a much higher price. Another problem was that not long before Tintin’s first appearance in the US, comic books, particularly the gory and violent crime and horror comics that dominated US newsstands in the early 50’s, were extremely controversial. A 1954 US Senate Sub-Committee investigated comic books as a possible cause of juvenile delinquency. The whole genre still had something of a black mark on it. Finally, and perhaps more importantly, no one was really sure whether or not Tintin translated into the American idiom.

Tintin re-emerged on the American scene in 1966. A US magazine, Children’s Digest, began publishing serialized editions of Tintin adventures. The magazine appearances proved popular enough to warrant a 1969 American re-launch of the hardcover Tintin comics. By 1971, Tintin reached what would become the pinnacle of his American popularity. The books were selling a reported 1000 copies a day. Unfortunately, in 1972, Western Publishing, one of the biggest comic publishers in the US at the time, passed on new and bigger contract to publish and distribute all of the Tintin books in the US. Their argument was that fancy-pants European hardcover comics could not compete in a marketplace where the monthly adventures of such popular characters as Superman, Spider-man and Batman were going for just 20 cents a pop. The books did continue to publish in the US, but, starting in 1974 with a much smaller publisher and distribution.

In Canada, Tintin has fared somewhat better. The original French versions of Tintin have been the educational comic of choice for many a Canadian elementary school French teacher over the years. In Quebec, as recent box office number in the province confirm, Tintin has seen European levels of popularity. Montreal even had for a time its own Tintin boutique that specialized in related books, merchandise, collectibles and memorabilia.

In the US of A, the adventurous young journalist continues to struggle to find an audience to this day, the new blockbuster movie merely proving to be no exception to the rule. On the one of the internet’s biggest movie sites, www.IMDB.com, on the page promoting the Adventures of Tintin's US release, the first FAQ reads "Is this based on a book?”

The message boards on the popular movie site www.aintitcool.com are even more alarming. Comments posted under a still from the movie depicting Tintin reading a book with his trusted Terrier, Snowy, by his side read “I thought Rin Tin Tin was a German Sheppard, not some Terrier.” and “ Rin Tin Tin isn't reading ... He's watching that little boy read. ...did you even look at the picture when you wrote your headline?”. Rin Tin Tin, being a now fairly obscure canine movie star of Hollywood movies of the 20’s and 30’s and later the star of 1950’s TV series of the same name. Obscure or not, US audiences apparently make a quicker connection to the German Sheppard screen hero than they do the Belgian boy reporter.

Even some of the more informed comments are not much more encouraging, “Spielberg is trying to force Americans to love a comic they've had little exposure to.” reads one comment below the latest trailer for the film. “Sorry but why should I give a shit about this boy and his dog?” reads a slightly more extreme comment. Well, at least Spielberg and Jackson have already doubled their 130 million dollar investment in Tintin in the international markets.

One comment that was little more positive refers to the movie as “...a combination of Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean”. While Tintin predates and has seen longer lasting popularity that either of those franchises and while the comment does not suggest any familiarity with the character it is, at least, positive.

So is it just bad marketing that has robbed Tintin of his potential US fandom? Or is it the fact that Tintin is Belgian and not American? Is it that the rare portrayals of America in Tintin are usually not very complementary? Or is it simply that the whole “linge clair” look of the art and the characters is, for lack of better word, too European?

It seems clear in retrospect that Tintin's best path to US box office gold would have to have been a total overhaul and reboot of the character for American audiences: change Tintin's nationality to American, set at least part of the movie in present day America, redesign the whole look of the Tintin world, have Tintin use current tech like iPads and GPS and so forth. In other words, wreck the franchise completely and kill the movie's prospects for international success (which, in fact, has become the backbone of the film distribution industry in the 21st century). It is unlikely that the Tintin sequel will follow any of these potential directions nor stray all that far from the clear formula for international success that the first film established.

With a second and perhaps third Tintin movie in the works, the Belgian boy journalist could be poised to become an internationally (yet not domestically) successful big screen franchise. If that's the case then future Tintin movies may make incrementally larger and larger inroads onto the US pop culture landscape. If you look at the recent increased interest and awareness of the last World Cup tournament in the US, then perhaps Tintin will see a gradual rise in American popularity, ever growing yet still largely marginalized in the mainstream media. In that case, Tintin will continue to successfully carry the mantle of being the soccer of the comic book world for years to come.

Portions of this post reprinted by permission of the National Post 

Friday, January 6, 2012

My Top 10 Movies of 2011*

 *even though I didn't see everything.

Just a collage. For my actual list, see below.

Hey Everybody!

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.

Originality! Yay!

10. J.Edgar

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.

5. Hanna

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.

3. Bridesmaids
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.

1. Drive
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? 

Honourable mentions:
Blue Sunshine, Rango, Midnight in Paris, Hugo, Cedar Rapids

Dishonouarble mentions: 
The seemingly endless 3D fad.

See you next week, He Had on a Hat-ers!