Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011 Top Ten or so

A very unconventional film, by turns funny and moving, yet it is also somewhat disturbing and leaves a few questions unanswered. At the heart of it is the central theme that it’s never too late to start anew as a beginner. It is definitely a film for the more discerning movie-goer.
Much of the story is told in flashbacks to Oliver’s youth and the more recent past using readily identifiable cues to keep things sorted out. The acting is uniformly good with superb performances from Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent.
for language and some sexual content.

The beginning stages of the couple’s relationship is revealed in flashback but done so seamlessly the first few times you’re not sure what’s going on. After a while you get to recognize that the younger Dean is not wearing glasses and the younger Cindy always wears her hair long. Two things set this one apart from similar films: there is an air of authenticity about it and the excellent performances of the two protagonists. That’s a winning combination. One other thing: I haven’t been at a movie and heard so much sniffling and blowing of noses for years. Just a word of warning: there are several steamy, very explicit sex scenes that some would deem as soft-core pornography.
for strong graphic sexual content and language.

A family affair best seen in 3-D, this fairy tale about a boy who lives alone in a Paris train station is but half the story. Midway through we get to find out about one of history’s original filmmakers. Some of the old movie recreations are repetitive with the result the running time exceeds two hours, about a half hour too long in my view. Apart from that interlude there is a magical quality about the film in keeping with traditional storytelling and engaging enough to keep even the youngest movie-goer attentive throughout.
for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking.

In a series of flashbacks this biographical film covers the career of the longest serving Director of the F.B.I. including some speculative details of his private life. But that aspect of the man is not the real focus of the movie. Instead we follow his total dedication and uncompromising approach to the job, as he sees it. Production values are first rate with particular attention paid to period detail. One thing though, I’m not sure why so much of it is shot in sepia-tones which lessens the visual impact somewhat. The acting is uniformly good with Leonardo DiCaprio the best of the lot. However typical of Clint Eastwood’s productions it is overlong running in excess of two hours. If only they had spent a little more time editing out the few tedious segments and spent less time on desaturating the film of its colour.
for brief strong language (brief it is with only two instances of any vulgar words).

Things were different back in the late ‘60’s when women were paid lower wages than men for the same work. In Britian the Labour government along with the company’s union agreed with this practice. The film is about what ensued when the women finally took a stand against this injustice. An entertaining film in part because I suspect that the screen writers took some liberty with the actual facts. However, great attention to detail has gone into the costuming that lends it an air of authenticity. The acting is uniformly good with more than a few humourous moments, some of which went over my head because of the strong British accents.
for language and brief sexuality.

In the span of 24 hours we witness the inside workings of a large investment firm as some key employees discover back in 2008 what they have on their hands: what we now know as toxic assets. I can’t be sure how factual it is but it sure rings true. And you don’t have to be an investment wiz to understand what is taking place. Helping to keep things relatively clean is the chief executive officer who asks them “to speak in simple terms” so he can understand the problem. The rest of us can benefit from that as well. As usual Kevin Spacey puts in a believable performance and young star Zachary Quinto does an even better job but Jeremy Irons outshines them all. It is probably his best performance ever. And that’s saying a lot.
for coarse language.

At the risk of spoiling the pleasure of having the events unfold at their own pace just let me say that this is a clever and entertaining movie with more than a few well considered bits of dialogue and some astute observations. Good romantic comedies are hard to come by but this one is definitely for the discerning audience and not the usual “made for the masses” light-weight forgettable ones too often foisted on the public. Owen Wilson is perfectly cast as the romantic with his laid back childlike outlook on life. Also turning in excellent performances are Marion Cotillard and Adrien Brody to name but a few.
for some sexual references and smoking.

Sport teams rely upon scouts to check out players at the development level and assess their ability to move up to the big leagues. That is until a new unorthodox scouting method was developed. And that’s what the story is all about. As one movie-goer leaving the theatre was overheard to say “even as a non-sports fan I enjoyed the movie and understood most of what they were talking about”. In fact the movie is more about the force of personalities and methods used than what the players actually do on the field. Although Brad Pitt is terrific in his portrayal of Billy Beane, the rest of the supporting cast is also outstanding. Despite a running time of over two hours what with its snappy dialog, quick cuts and intriguing story line it does not seem a minute too long.
for some strong language.

Too often films about people reacting differently to tragedy quickly become maudlin resulting in the whole experience being a downer. This one is neither primarily because it is a character study and not the usual over-emotional treatment of the subject material. The paucity of the usual sickly-sentimental musical pieces attests to the emphasis being on a well-told story instead. Nicole Kidman really nails her role in this one and Aaron Eckhart handles his part beautifully. They both give convincing performances.
for mature thematic material, some drug use and language.

Carefully balancing comedy with family drama provides for a very enjoyable film experience that mirrors real life. And so we buy into it. With a well developed story line, the complexities of the situation never get muddled nor confusing. It’s nice to see George Clooney actually do some real acting for a change rather than just being himself in some mindless caper with his buddies. The man can do it. However the supporting cast are no slouches either, especially Amara Miller and Shailene Woodley. Hopefully we’ll see more of them in the future. As an added bonus we get to see the real Hawaii, not just the stunning locations such as the iconic Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head in the background but also the more mundane downtown Honolulu, surburbia and the undeveloped rural areas. You can see why it’s called “paradise”.
for language including some sexual references.

Set in Mississippi in 1962 right in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, this story of how white people viewed their black domestic help is insightful. At times it is touching, frequently funny, often inspirational. With great attention to detail the costumes, hair, makeup and sets are all bang on. The acting is uniformly good but Viola Davis excels with her performance: she steals every scene she’s in. Her role is pivotal to the storyline and she pulls it off beautifully. It’s a tad too long for my liking, coming in at just under two-and-a-half hours, but there’s a lot to be said and little that could be edited out.
for thematic material.

I don’t know if there are street-smart wise-guy lawyers like Mick in LA but there should be. It’s refreshing to see a lawyer who comes across as somebody you’d like to sit down and have a drink with. Perhaps it’s the way Matthew McConaughey plays it but it makes for an entertaining outing. The well written story plays out quickly with enough clues for solving the mystery rather than leaving the viewer totally befuddled; that’s worth the price of admission alone. The acting is uniformly very good and the characters more-or-less believable. Something you don’t see too often in movies of this sort.
for some violence, sexual content and language.

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