film reviews

One of my 52 challenges was to watch all of the top 20 films of 2010 as listed by Empire magazine. I managed it, although in some cases I am not quite sure what they (or I) did to deserve it.
I think that although the main challenge is done, I'll keep popping updates in here, just because I have started and therefore I'll finish. I'm not a big film buff, so I can't promise Kermode comments!

A Prophet
I saved these last two til the end, not because I wanted to save the best until last but because I kept putting them off. I knew there were grim scenes 'of an adult nature' in both of them which I always struggle with.
A Prophet is a properly grim story of a petty criminal who has to find a way to survive in a French prison. He has to sink or swim and  I made the correct assumption that whichever he chose wouldn't make pleasant viewing.
I didn't hate this film, in fact I'm sure it deserves good reviews and the lead actor certainly did a good job. I just wouldn't choose to watch it once, and definitely not again.

I kept putting this one off...
My husband summed it up by saying that this film was made to justify the existence of all of those really nasty names for people that the americans have made up and we all find a bit distasteful. This film has one of all of them in it. And they earn their names.
The charters are all well portrayed and observed and the fact that I find it painful viewing is probably just as much a reflection on my sheltered life than anything else.
I'm going to America next year and I am slightly more scared about it as a result of watching this film.

How to Train Your Dragon
Oh, I loved this. It could be because it's Christmas and I'm feeling festive and in the mood to curl up with an afternoon film, but I'm not sure you could NOT like this film.
It's a great concept and almost reminded my of Asterix in lots of places. The animation is lovely, the characters are great, and I want a dragon of my own. The End.

Bad Lieutenant
This one really reminded me of Lebanon, the film that follows the tank crew on a mission. It is tremendously claustrophobic and you can feel how trapped the main character feels in his life. Having been injured in the course of duty, the story is about a cop who has to find a way to cope with his job while in constant pain and battling an ever degrading drug addiction. It makes extremely uncomfortable viewing in places, not because of the content but because Nicholas Cage manages to portray the discomfort and frustration of living with pain probably too well. I've never really rated him that highly, but he certainly did something effective here.
I also wondered aloud throughout this, whether films get better if you can't predict their ending. I could only see this one going in one direction (which it didn't, and I was pretty sure it wouldn't) and I wonder if that is one of the things that puts it in the 'best of' lists.
It isn't a happy one, but I did enjoy it.

The Kids are Alright
I had read mixed reviews of this when it first came out, which I guess was because of the subject matter that the film addresses. Two children born to a lesbian couple via donor conception find their genetic father and his introduction to their otherwise happy family turns things upside down.
I can see how the plot makes it interesting and there were a few nice moments in the filming, but I think this film fell a bit short of being a success. Maybe it's because I like happy endings, but I don't like films that end with a slightly raggedy plot, and a forced effort at happy ending after a systematic dismantling of the foundations of family and identity....
Not bad exactly, just not brilliantly done.

Valhalla Rising
The best thing about this, by a very very long way, is the Scottish scenery. And that's including the millions of flies that are constantly buzzing around in front of the camera.
The rest? What a shocker... No script, no plot, no sense, no need to watch it. Save yourselves.

The Secret in their Eyes
I am reading a lot of subtitles at the moment. The Killing (1 and 2), re-watching the Dragon Tattoos and now this (in Spanish, set in Argentina). I am starting to wonder why I don't ONLY watch things with subtitles.
They are good, aren't they?
This one has a great tone all the way through. Although the plot is based on something pretty horrific, it was also laugh out loud funny in several places because of the great characterisation. The support roles in particular are wonderful and perfect for giving extra weight to the darker moments.
I guessed where it was going earlyish but to give it credit, I didn't care and still wanted to watch it all. A great one.

A Single Man
Hmmm, what to say about this one... I didn't dislike it, I'm just not quite sure that I liked it. I'm was not altogether convinced by the characters or their relationships, although I can't put my finger on why, exactly. And I am very bothered that we never find out what happened to the missing fox terrier. I know it is probably representative of grief being a fractured, never ending and painful process, but as a viewer I like completeness.
It was very scenic and did focus on the relationships sufficiently well that I wasn't distracted by the era, to the extent that I am now trying to remember how many years post-war it actually was. Not many, I think. Colin Firth is also as good as you would expect and even cracks that smile every now and again. I'm just not sure it was the best. I expect a lot of Oscars will disagree with me...

Exit Through the Gift Shop
It's great to be able to say, for the first time in a while, that this is the sort of film I do watch, will watch and am just a bit late in watching. I was starting to think that all of the films I spend my time in front of are on the 'dodgy at best' top ten rather than the 'watch and be edified' top ten.
So I can safely start with a phew!
This is a remarkable film, even more so if it truly made by Banksy. What a strange culture street art has created. If the footage is to be believed as being representative, artists ply their trade pretty much in broad daylight with little more than a stern talking to if they get caught. They work globally and the good ones (or profilic ones) get almost cult status.
I know of Banksy in the way most people have heard of him and have some respect for the style and messages in his work. In this film he is pointing a bit of a finger at those who hang onto his coat-tails, which is funny and a bit cringeworthy at the same time. The numpty who steals the show is a shocker.
Definitely one of the best on the list.

Winter's Bone
It's becoming a recurring theme, but this is another I wouldn't have watched in the normal run of things. I'm learning that I have a very narrow view of the film world.
This is the story of the efforts of a girl to find her dad, an absentee father who has put up their house and land as security against his bail. If she can't find him and make him attend court she will have to move out with her two younger siblings and unwell mother.
In all, I felt a bit like I read this film, rarther than watched it. The pace is extremely measured throughout with even the harsher scenes meted out to metronomic tone. It all makes it feel that what the poor girl is going through is not exceptional in any way but perfectly normal in the world she lives in. No pace or adrenaline needed, just deal with it and plod on.
In that sense it is a success and would recommend it for the experience. The scene setting and characterisation is great and there is a real sense of suspense in how it was going to end up, and whether the family would come to any harm (and from where). But I'm glad I watched in in an afternoon rather than evening, and could clear my head a bit before I went to bed. It's not exactly cheerful.

It was at this point that I started to doubt the sanity of the Empire reviewers. All the way through watching this I kept thinking 'snakes on a plane'. With a sinking feeling. 
So much so that I had to look up the Empire review to see what on earth made them think this slightly stilted, a bit oddly paced, on-the-edge-of-silly-aliens film did right, to deserve a place in the top 20 of the year. I'm now very glad that I did.
It turns out that this film was written, produced, scripted and CGI'd by one man, even more impressively, on one camera. There are only two professional actors and all of the locations are 'found' rather than commissioned. Suddenly, the fact that this film exists at all warrants it a place in the top 20.
It doesn't make it a brilliant film but it is only a *bit* silly and a *bit* stilted. For the resources involved it is very much better than it could have been and one thing I would never have accused it of is amateur.
I think this film is one of the reasons I wanted to watch the top 20 - I have definitely learned something and would never have stumbled across it otherwise.

Toy Story 3
Aaaaah - Woody, Buzz and the guys are back... what's not to like?
It has great goodies and baddies, it made me laugh and cry, it's got Tom Hanks in it and we cracked open some easter eggs for the occasion. I don't think it was ever going to be a duff film. My only (tiny) criticism is that it definitely stretched the 'Andy's toys' plot-line as far as it could possibly go and I am pleased they closed it down at the end. In a good, disney-ish way of course.
Postscript - today I saw a little boy with a Woody toy with his own name under Woody's boot (Will). Made me smile :-)

Four Lions
This film was a bit of a mystery. I had never really heard of it and the box it comes in has nothing at all on it other than pictures. No summary, no reviews, no ratings, no nothing. I have tried to resist googling the films on the Empire 2010 list to avoid getting inundated by opinions.
I can only assume the film producers quite like this, judging by the blankness of the box, so I'll try not to give too much away. I think I can, however, safely say that this is a very English film albeit from a particular cultural viewpoint. It is has some great moments of humour and some fantastic comic characters. It is very clearly not a comedy by genre though, and I had several moments of proper disbelief when it wandered, with apparent ease, into some really high impact scenes.
It is quite a serious film in hindsight. You may have noticed that I went to the Islamic Centre at UEA recently which was scarily timely. It's fair to say that I have learnt a lot.

Kick Ass
Well, it does.
While this film does sometimes stray a bit too far into parodying other films, it is also a great film in its own right. I think it definitely needs watching again as there is lots that I didn't catch or that I missed while munching mini eggs.
The violence in it is very memorable, in fact it surprised me on a number of occasions. Thinking about it now, that is probably because it swings from having roots in Scott Pilgrim and Nacho Libre (kind of)  and makes you think it is child friendly, then swings to Tarantino style fight scenes with no change of pace. It is a great film - I'd recommend.

It is safe to say that this wouldn't be my normal choice. I tend to avoid the really gritty war films for no other sensible reason than I find them very bleak. When I find time to watch a film it's usually because I want to wind down, not remind myself how many grim situations we have got ourselves into.
That said, I think this is a very effective and measured film. It is shot almost entirely from the viewpoint of a tank crew, completely enclosed inside their dirty, greasy and hot tank. The waiting around, discomfort and tensions are very apparent. In fact I think I they have got even more amplified with hindsight than they were when I was watching the film.
There are a few odd bits and the plot is stretched a bit too far in some directions, but I would say I agree with all of the good reviews that it gets. I admire the filmmakers for doing a good job as well as the tank crews who do this for real.

The Social Network
Ha ha, take THAT the Winkelvi!
What a great film. I properly laughed out loud several times, really got on the side of the good guys, disliked the bad guys and got to the end wanting to watch it again to spot the subtleties that I'm sure I missed. That's got to make it a good one, I reckon.
I suspect that the truth behind the story is both simpler at the outset and more grubby towards the end. The speed with which things like Facebook get started must leaving gaping holes in company planning, in fact Eduardo blogged after seeing the film that he thought the biggest story was that of entrepreneurship. Easy to say with a rumoured 5% of  25 billion dollar company in your back pocket.
I'd say the best story (and the one we debated afterwards) was how an introvert geek got such a precise grasp on social interactions. With superb one-liners.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Great film, although we did have to stop it halfway through because we wanted to look up the title of another film which it kind of reminded us of (I won the google race with Napoleon Dynamite). I think the lead actor was great and I loved the fight scenes, his flat mate and the one liners from the drummer in his band. T liked the references to the game.
Glad it was on the list.

Up in the air
This is a great film - so much so I can just about forgive it for having a mighty unsatisfactory ending (warning, plot spoiler ahead...). When oh when does George Clooney not get the girl? I can suspend my disbelief with the best of them, but this stretches plot integrity a bit far, n'est pas?
Right up until that point, I was very happy to be watching George and thought the role, the plot and the scene setting were all very sharp. I know it had to happen that way, to illustrate how insubstantial the life of the travelling rep is. But I left realism behind when I put the DVD in the player so I'd have liked George to finish up with a private jet made for two. Or something.
Still good though - don't let me put you off :-)

Shutter Island
Gah... I think this was always doomed because it had Leo in it. I'm sorry, but he will forever more be associated with sinking ships.
Rain rain rain rain rain rain rain. Chuck in mad people, derelict buuildings, mausoleums, isolation... And then finish on an appalling plot twist that raises more plot inadaquacies than answers. And without being good enough to make you want to watch the film again to see what you notice when you know what you know now, like Sixth Sense. More in a way that makes you wonder how you have kept going this far.
I can see why you might, but I wouldn't bother.

Quite genuinely, I was expecting to have no idea at all what went on in this film. I have read reviews in which people were convinced it would take three more viewings before they could begin to understand it. And even then it would be guesswork because the themes are so 'deep' and the plot so complex.
Maybe it's because I was expecting it to be hard work which forced me to pay a bit more attention than normal but, unless I am missing something fundamental, it wasn't that complicated, was it?  Each dream had someone conveniently left behind so you knew what was going on, and each of them kept recapping the plot so you couldn't get too lost along the way.
Even better, Leo wasn't too annoying, although that might be because the girl was even more annoying. Not sure what she added to the film at all...
It's OK, but I'm glad it didn't win oscars.