19 July 2011

2011 in review.....so far.

"Source Code" from director Duncan Jones is fantastic.

With the year more than halfway over, now seems like an apt time to revise and discuss the first 6 ½ months of 2011. I like to do this annually because while I feel an end of the year top 10 is effective, it doesn’t allow for mention of all the worthwhile movies released over such an extensive time period. At this juncture I have seen 58 films that I would categorize as product from this year (using the UK release calendar), with a fairly even distribution of good and bad throughout.

"Rango" is both bonkers and brilliant.
Instead of starting with best and worst, I’m going to go for disappointments and pleasant surprises. The first of the latter would be “Red Hill” (review link here), a Western that received limited theatrical release in the UK during the spring, and which now has landed firmly on DVD. The film appeared during last year’s London FrightFest, and has been garnering positive reviews since. Generally when it comes to low budget fare with little in the way of distribution, expectations aren’t high, but “Red Hill” is a tense, well acted and exciting genre picture, taking full advantage of its Australian backdrop. It’s unlikely to feature as a yearend top 10 candidate, but is more than worthy of a DVD rental. The documentary “TT3D: Closer to the Edge” (Review here) is very probably the most unexpected delight of the year so far. Chronicling the 2010 motorsports TT championship, the film is visually arresting, primed with excellent characters, a very human heart and some startling race footage. It also makes strong use of the 3D technology, something very few pictures have managed at all, never mind this year. Other pictures that were better than expected include Wes Craven’s “Scream 4” (best in the franchise since part 1, and debatably the year’s most entertaining slasher picture), the long delayed “The Adjustment Bureau” (proof that not every pushed back release is an indication of bilge) and David Schwimmer’s gripping pedophile drama “Trust” (also the subject of a miniscule distribution strategy).

Neve Campbell gets knifey in "Scream 4"
Now for the disappointment, and they are numerous. The chief offenders for me so far are “Battle L.A”, “Your Highness” and “Paul”, all of which toppled well below the standards set by their admittedly impressive marketing campaigns. The worst of this ignoble trio is clearly “Battle L.A” (already a strong bottom 10 of the year candidate), so more on that later. “Your Highness” turned out to be a bad film, not godforsaken, but given its cast, director and hysterical redband trailer the movie was a marked letdown. Its box-office numbers were pretty weak though, audiences clearly having smelled a stinker long before I did. The film which imagines itself as a medieval stoner comedy was painfully short on laughs, its picturesque production design the only clear redeeming quality. “Paul” was slightly better, the natural ability of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost imbuing the piece with at least slithers of giggle worthy material, but ultimately fell cleanly below the required joke to laugh ratio required to create a competent comedy. The extreme amounts of fanboy pandering didn’t help much either, at least for these sensitive eyes. Other notable nominees for the “it should have been better” award include Ron Howard’s watchable but tonally misguided “The Dilemma”, Zack Snyder’s visually awesome but otherwise flawed “Sucker Punch”, Michael Bay’s latest stab at coherence in “Transformers; Dark of the Moon”, Catherine Hardwicke’s WTF inducing reimagining of “Red Riding Hood” and the overhyped alien invasion flick “Attack the Block”. None of the aforementioned films (except “Battle L.A” and maybe “Your Highness”) are going to be worst film of the year players, but they all managed to leave some degree of sour taste in my mouth.

Zack Snyder's "Sucker Punch" boasted sex appeal and style - but very dubious storytelling.
So you ask, what really sucked? Well let’s start with “Priest”, a 3D action vehicle starring Paul Bettany. This is an example of a much delayed picture that really did blow, but thankfully it made a relatively minor dent at the box-office. The film is a barely there sort of affair; boasting a paper thin plot, derivative production design and generally poor performances. The movie is inherently uninspired from the beginning, guaranteed to leave even the most undemanding action fans dissatisfied. It’s also worth noting that beyond its climactic sequence (an admittedly well staged oasis of relief) the 3D is useless, bringing nothing extra to the picture at large. Another 3D mess that ranks amongst the year’s crappiest offerings to date is “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”, probably the weakest major blockbuster of 2011 so far. Overstretched, tedious and gratingly unimaginative, “On Stranger Tides” has subsequently grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. In many ways it’s the most offensive feature because it still managed to be hugely successful. I’m not going to dissect the movie any further (just know it’s ghastly), but this writer would appreciate it if you would boycott the DVD/Blu-Ray or at least avoid any further multiplex trips to bask in its complete stupidity. Still, “On Stranger Tides” is a masterpiece compared to “Mean Girls 2”, a DTV sequel of truly wretched proportions. An unfunny affront to its well regarded predecessor, this shambolic follow-up isn’t worth the DVD shelves it now adorns. Acted by what feels like a group of rank amateurs and directed with zero skill by Melanie Mayron (I will never forget this name), “Mean Girls 2” is clearly the worst film of 2011 so far. In honesty I can’t see anything toppling it either. Other turkeys to be bypassed are “Swinging with the Finkels” (a disgustingly bad comedy, not far behind “Mean Girls 2” in terms of awfulness), sloppy teen thriller “The Roommate” and of course the aforementioned hunk of blockbuster junk that is “Battle L.A”.

The finest of the year so far include a few Oscar types (notably “The King’s Speech” and “Black Swan”) but also some less openly celebrated (at least for now) creations. The ILM animated adventure “Rango” is a masterfully entertaining work right up there with the grandest Pixar endeavours. Certainly it’s the only major film starring Johnny Depp you need bother watching from 2011. Duncan Jones produced yet another terrific sci-fi yarn with “Source Code” and Matthew Vaughn’s “X-Men: First Class” was a truly top tier blockbuster. This weekend past the Harry Potter saga came to a strong conclusion with “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” (although I’d like to hope it won’t quite make the top 10 cut come December) and “The Fighter” was a fine boxing drama, and one I can confirm that holds up very well on secondary viewings. On that note I’ll conclude this write-up instead leaving you with a few small lists that might help inform your viewing behavior for the next few months. Enjoy!

"Your Highness" wasn't cinematic royalty.

SOME TO AVOID: “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”, “The Roommate”, “Priest”, “Battle L.A”, “Mean Girls 2” and “Swinging with the Finkels”

NOTABLE DISSAPOINTMENTS: “Your Highness”, “Paul”, “Bad Teacher”, “Green Lantern”, “Red Riding Hood”, “Sucker Punch”, “The Dilemma”, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “Attack the Block”.

SOME WORTH SEEKING OUT: “Red Hill”, “Scream 4”, “TT3D: Closer to the Edge”, “Never Let Me Go”, “Trust”, “The Adjustment Bureau”, “Arthur” and “Water for Elephants”.

THE MUST-SEE MOVIES: “Black Swan”, “The King’s Speech”, “The Fighter”, “Rango”, “Source Code”, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” and “X-Men: First Class”.

"Michael Bay improved but still sort of failed with "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"

Daniel Kelly, 2011


Anonymous said...

I was not impressed by Your Highness either, but then again I wasn’t impressed with the trailers, so it all fell into place. McBride is the biggest problem the movie has, he is forcefully dry heaving toilet humor at every chance instead of letting the movie be funny itself. I though Franco and Portman actually fit the roles well, they made the humor out of their actions not out of the constant cussing, but McBride relished in the toilet humor and it ruined a funny movie at most points. I refused to see it in theaters and rent the DVD, I couldn’t see wasting the money on it, but I broke down to watch it when I saw it streaming on HBO’s page on DISH online. I was right in never seeing the movie, even though it did have good moments in it, McBride made sure that he didn’t add to it. Even the movie nerd that I work with at DISH that watches every movie ever made didn’t like this movie, usually he is all about McBride shows.

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