Although I had never heard any of Jay Reatard’s music before seeing Better than Something, his death very early in 2010 still affected me as a music lover. An artist passing away at an early age is always tragic, and the loss one feels often stems from the knowledge that no more art will ever be created by that person. Jay Reatard finally showed up on my radar with the release of what would be his final album, Watch Me Fall, but only upon viewing Better than Something can I now say I am a fan of Jay Reatard, causing the loss to be even more deeply felt.
Strangely enough, the documentary never mentions the specifics of Reatard’s untimely death, which at first seems to be an odd oversight, but I believe filmmakers Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz were smart to exclude this information as it might have belittled the focus of the film, which is Jay Reatard himself (born Jimmy Lee Lindsey Jr.), alive and “well,” telling his story in his own words. A good majority of the movie consists of footage culled from a number of days in 2009 where the filmmakers simply followed Jay Reatard around his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, let the camera roll, and listened to him talk. Among other things, he recalls his early years growing up in the more poverty-stricken areas of Memphis where he started making his own home recordings beginning at the age of 14 with nothing more than a four-track analog recorder, a guitar, his voice, and some buckets to beat on. Interspersed with these recollections are captivating stories about some of the bleaker aspects of living in such neglected neighborhoods, including a disturbing account of one night where a teenaged Reatard and his sister could clearly hear crack addicts raping a woman through the paper-thin walls of the two-family house they were staying in at the time. Some of these darker moments went on to influence songs in Reatard’s staggeringly expansive canon.
If anything, Jay Reatard was a restless artist, as evidenced by the prolific amount of music he put out each year. He scoffed at the traditional practice of waiting a few years to put out another full-length album, and instead viewed music as a more immediate medium that had to be captured the very moment inspiration hit, which resulted in a wide array of releases from limited 7-inch records, to cassette tapes, to CDs, all recorded by Reatard himself, or with the numerous other bands he fronted. This never-ending creative output clearly takes its toll on Reatard and the moments where he talks extensively about becoming more and more exhausted with each passing day to the point that he’s afraid he’ll burn out before the age of 30 are especially foreboding considering he died mere months ahead of reaching that milestone. The rare performance footage included in the film provides evidence of Reatard’s tireless energy on-stage, plowing through his songs with nary a pause and often winding up down on the floor, screaming his head off. There’s no question that Jay Reatard never held back, and he rarely took a break, which proved exhilarating to those who couldn’t get enough of his music and got the opportunity to see him live, but ultimately wore him out in both body and mind.
Better than Something may disappoint those looking for discussion of Reatard’s music since the friends and former band mates interviewed, including members of the influential Memphis garage rock outfit Oblivians, mostly reminisce about their time with Jay and discuss the influence he had on their lives. Despite a lack of focus on the music itself, Jay Reatard alone proves an interesting enough subject to hold the audience’s attention. Listening to him humorously philosophize, ruminate on life and death, and seriously consider the possibility that what he’s doing is slowly killing him while also acknowledging that he can’t stop because it’s the only thing he knows how to do, proves enough to recommend the movie. It’s a captivating portrait of an indefatigable artist living fast before dying young.
The documentary’s ability to expose viewers to something they never even knew had existed is what lies at the heart of my love for the form. Before seeing SpokAnarchy!, I would have probably questioned anybody’s insistence that there had ever been a thriving local punk scene in Spokane, Washington. All previous knowledge of the Eastern Washington city led me to believe that it was a cultural wasteland. What I once believed my hometown of Salem, Oregon was to Portland, I imagined Spokane was to Seattle. But much like Salem, Oregon, whose artistic credibility is shouldered by a small contingent of people far more ambitious than I, Spokane once proved that a collective of creative individuals could make relevant a city considered to be a cultural black hole, even if knowledge of that relevance never traveled far outside the city limits.
The movement depicted in SpokAnarchy! is not your stereotypical punk scene as far as music and fashion is concerned, but more an overall insurgence of creative energy that thumbed its nose at the status quo. Along with more “conventional” punk, the documentary includes live footage of acts that lean more towards performance art, and there is also a considerable amount of attention paid to the rise of zine publishing at the time. All of this is presented in predictable rock-doc fashion, featuring interviews from the major participants intercut with rare performance footage. The formula is nothing new, but what sets apart good documentaries of this kind from bad ones are how interesting the stories are and how good the music is. SpokAnarchy! is successful because the tales told are extremely enjoyable to listen to and the music was good enough to have caused me to purchase the SpokAnarchy! soundtrack on vinyl from a local record store. I’ve now listened to it a number of times… often on repeat.
There has been a lot of negative talk about John Carter’s advertising campaign, and rightfully so. None of the trailers sold the movie as a sweeping sci-fi fantasy epic, but more as a… hmmm… come to think of it, I don’t know what the hell the movie was being sold as. Even more perplexing was the final title choice: John Carter. I can just picture common moviegoers on a date night strolling up to the local multiplex and scanning the marquee for their pick of the night. A title like John Carter just screams for attention, doesn’t it!?
Due to the questionable absence of the word “Mars” in much of the film’s advertising, I wouldn’t be surprised if many audience members were ignorant to the fact that most of the story takes place on the red planet. The movie actually does add the more enticing surname “of Mars” to John Carter in the title card that closes the picture, but not having these two words attached to the title the entire time doesn’t make much sense. Considering the source material’s pulp status, I think an even more fitting title would have been John Carter and A Princess of Mars, which hits on many selling points since it includes the hero’s name, pays tribute to the title of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s original novel, lets the audience know immediately that freaking Mars is involved, and, through its wording, also brings to mind such other adventure serials like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
This is all a moot point when it comes down to what’s really important: the overall quality of the movie. Especially for already-established fans of Burroughs’s John Carter adventures, the marketing doesn’t really matter too much. They just want to see their beloved sci-fi story done right. Although I am not (yet) one of the many Burroughs believers, having never read anything by the celebrated author, I think it speaks to the overall effectiveness of John Carter that I want to run out and buy my own beat-up, dime store copy of A Princess of Mars.
I was pleasantly surprised to find John Carter engaging, often glorious, and highly imaginative. This is the first time in a long time I’ve actually been sucked into a sci-fi fantasy world and found myself thoroughly engrossed throughout. Of course, the original Star Wars trilogy is (arguably) the finest film example of the genre’s ability to captivate the audience’s imagination. Although John Carter doesn’t come close to the power of the initial Star Wars saga, it easily surpasses previous attempts at launching big screen adaptations of beloved properties, such as The Golden Compass and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
With John Carter, director Andrew Stanton (Wall E, Finding Nemo) brings the imagination and exceptional gift for storytelling he displayed on his previous Pixar titles and makes a confident transition to the world of live-action, though I use that term loosely considering how much (impressive) computer animation is on display here. As with Stanton’s other directorial efforts, I found myself lost in the world(s) he and his team have created in John Carter, marveling at the often-stunning cinematography and all the otherworldly sights that fill the screen.
I realize I have yet to mention anything specific about the plot. This is one area where I think the movie might lose some of its viewers.
The story is no more complicated than any other of its kind, but the movie is so frontloaded with exposition that some members of the audience might tune out early. There are a lot of alien names thrown around that might prove daunting to remember, but if somebody can readily identify what a Jedi is, it probably doesn’t take too much more brainpower to puzzle out the meaning of Jeddak (the Martian equivalent of Emperor or King, by the way). The names are repeated enough throughout the film’s run time that, if you’re paying attention, you’ll be able to easily file away Tars Tarkas, Woola, and other foreign characters into your cranial cabinet. And when it comes right down to it, the plot is rather simple: John Carter is a former Confederate captain who happens across a strange amulet that transports him to Mars (or Barsoom as it’s called by the natives) where he finds himself suddenly capable of leaping across unbelievable distances due to the difference in gravity. Soon, he is caught up in the middle of yet another Civil War, this time between the human-looking “red men” of two prominent cities, Helium and Zodanga. Meanwhile, the green men of Thark, led by Jeddak Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), stand by to see who comes out the victor, with the hopes of using Carter’s superhuman abilities to their advantage.
After having experienced a terrible tragedy back on Earth, which is revealed in a brilliant sequence of cross-cutting with a furious battle on Barsoom, John Carter had severed any and all emotional ties, making it difficult for him to align himself with any one cause. However, when he becomes smitten with Princess Dejah Thoris of Helium, remaining neutral suddenly seems far more difficult, especially when he learns that power-hungry Sab Than (Dominic West) of Zodanga will only stop his assault on Helium if the princess agrees to marry him. And John Carter isn’t going to let such a stunning woman slip by so easily. Further aggravating Carter’s quest for the lovely Dejah’s hand are the God-like Therns who, not unlike the Gods of Greek mythology, seem to enjoy fooling around with the fates of the mortals just for the heck of it and have found the perfect puppet in Sab Than, whose brutish tendencies prove beneficial to their goal of doing away with the problematic presence of the headstrong princess and watching Helium fall.
See? Not too hard to understand… right? As I mentioned before: If you’re paying attention, you’ll be just fine. But I fear many will find the entire thing too convoluted. And to be fair, the ways in which all this new information is presented only adds to the potential for frustration.
Another area where the filmslightly falters is in the handling of Taylor Kitsch as John Carter. Kitsch looks the part, and plays it relatively well, but his comically gruff voice and ever-furrowed brow often come across as corny (dare I say, kitschy). However, when you take into account the regard of Burroughs’s series as early examples of pseudo-pulp fiction, a hero that displays a certain degree of exaggerated masculinity seems to be par for the course. The problem is that everything else is handled with a considerable amount of seriousness, making the character of John Carter appear campy in comparison.
On the other hand, Dejah Thoris, as played by Lynn Collins, is a captivating heroine. She is extremely gorgeous, with mesmerizing blue eyes and impressive skills with a sword. Everything she says sounds as if it is of the utmost importance, adding a great sense of weight and urgency to a story that sometimes leans languid.
Granted, the film is far from perfect. But with The Phantom Menace back in theaters, John Carter proves a better example of how well the genre can be executed. Although I’m afraid the movie’s marketing hasn’t given it much of a fighting chance, here’s hoping audiences still give it a shot. I would really like to take another cinematic trip to Barsoom. It would be a shame if this was my first and last excursion.
INT. TOYOTA PRIUS – NIGHT
FATHER and SON are driving home after a showing of Project X.
FATHER: Holy shit, that was crazy, huh?
SON (indifferently): Yeah. Crazy.
FATHER: I mean, Jesus Christ that looked like one hell of a time! All that dancing and reckless behavior… and the women! There sure was a lot of hot pussy there, huh son?
SON (shooting FATHER a look of concern): Dad, those weren’t women. They were girls. Like late teens, early twenties. You sound like a creep right now.
FATHER: What, you’re gonna’ deny your dad the pleasure of ogling some ripe young titties? Don’t tell me you didn’t like it.
SON: No, Dad. It was nice. There were indeed some good-looking girls there, and a lot of them were undeniably topless.
FATHER: “Nice?” It was “nice?” And the girls were “good-looking?” For Christ sake, son, they were hot! More than just nice!
SON (quietly): Yeah, okay Dad.
FATHER: What, am I embarrassing you?
SON: No, it’s fine.
FATHER: You didn’t enjoy the movie?
SON: I enjoyed it okay. Just… not as much as you, apparently.
FATHER: I don’t understand. What was there not to enjoy? That shit was—
SON: Crazy, I know. But, c’mon, Dad. That’s all it was. Just a party that got crazier and crazier with each passing moment. There wasn’t any plot to speak of at all. A bunch of unpopular, privileged, entitled white kids wanted to throw a legendary party in order to increase their popularity and get their “dicks wet,” as one of them put it so eloquently, and they accomplished their goal for the most part.
FATHER: Well, yeah, but it was fun seeing how insane that party kept getting.
SON: A little, yeah. But isn’t it kind of sad that that’s the movie’s only selling point? “Come see how crazy these teenagers get?” That’s the same kind of promotion Girls Gone Wild profits from.
FATHER: These girls did indeed go wild.
SON (sighs): Yeah, I get it Dad. You liked the girls. But if all I wanted to see were nice tits being flashed around, I could just go online instead of paying upwards of ten dollars.
FATHER: Hey, you didn’t have to pay a dime.
SON: I know. And thanks for treating me, Dad. I appreciate it. But you know what I’m saying.
FATHER: I had a good time.
SON: I know. And like I said, I kind of enjoyed myself too, but the longer it went on, the more I just started hating those fucking teenagers.
FATHER: You’re a teenager.
SON: But I’m not like any of those pieces of shit. I mean, they’re at somebody else’s house and they just start destroying the place: hanging off the chandeliers, throwing things through the bay windows, lighting stuff on fire. It actually turned into a riot.
FATHER: Fight for your right to party, though, right?
SON: No, Dad! Not like that! They were all so irresponsible. Fucking idiots! And so selfish. I mean, I found myself sympathizing with the neighbor across the street whose newborn baby couldn’t get to sleep because of all those privileged punks partying so loudly.
FATHER: What? That guy sucked! He called the cops on them!
SON: Yeah, and rightfully so! They were destroying the main character, Thomas’s house. Or his parents’ house rather. And Thomas just let it happen.
FATHER: He tried to stop some of it.
SON: At first, yeah, but he didn’t try very hard. He was too fucking concerned with how popular this party was gonna’ make him at school. And wanting to please that stupid, stereotypical friend of his, Costa.
FATHER: Costa was funny.
SON: No. He wasn’t, Dad. He was just one of those horny, sidekick best friends we’ve seen a million times before who can’t ever talk about anything else except getting laid. He was tiresome and trite. And the other friend, JB? He had even less going for him. All he was there for was to fill the role of the fat friend. Like they took the character of Seth from Superbad and split him up into two different, far less funny, far less interesting characters.
FATHER: It’s just a movie, son.
SON: But, Dad… it’s a problem. I mean, this is Hollywood’s perception of modern-day teenagers? Entitled pricks who don’t think twice about any real-life consequences? They’re just looking for a good time, and fuck anybody and everybody who gets in their way.
FATHER: It’s liberating.
SON: No, Dad. It’s stupid. And, yeah, maybe it’s a little realistic, but not all teenagers are like that. I mean, I would never pull the shit Thomas and his friends pulled. I have too much respect for you and Mom to let hundreds to thousands of inconsiderate assholes trash everything you guys have worked your entire lives for.
FATHER: Well, thank you, son. I appreciate that. But I think you’re taking the movie a little too seriously. After all, there was a moment when they threw a midget into the oven and he came out all hot and bothered and started punching everybody in the nuts.
SON: That was terrible.
FATHER: Terribly funny!
SON (stares condescendingly at FATHER): Really, Dad? Midgets?
FATHER: Not just midgets, son. Angry midgets.
If you’ve seen the trailers for This Means War, there’s really not much need to see the movie. You probably won’t get a whole lot more enjoyment out of it than what the trailer had to offer. Yes, it’s enjoyable enough to sustain your attention for just under two hours, but whatever pleasure you might feel will be fleeting and should completely disappear immediately upon leaving the theater.
The idea behind the movie sounds fun, but when actually drawn out to fill a feature-length run time, it grows tiresome. If it weren’t for the presence of its charming leads, much of the potential for fun would be diminished. Best friends Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) are two CIA operatives who fall for the same woman, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), boss at a consumer products testing company (now there’s a job you don’t see depicted on-screen every day). Instead of one of the two friends bowing out gracefully, they decide to both continue to date her and ultimately let her choose. Of course, they can’t make it easy on each other, so each agent assembles a team in order to spy on one another through gross misappropriation of high-level government security. When one of his team members questions the legality of the operation, FDR brushes it off by simply responding, “Patriot Act.”
Yes, it’s that kind of humor: simple, predictable, sitcom-like. Given the premise, this should come as no surprise. It is indeed a drawn-out situation comedy with some action and a touch of romance thrown in to the mix. And I do mean a touch. None of it is all too romantic. Director McG is so wrapped up in the spy versus spy one-upmanship between Hardy and Pine that the romance falls by the wayside… along with any semblance of a cohesive story.
Often, the movie feels as if it was just tossed together haphazardly. This is especially apparent in the handling of the feature’s outside antagonist, an evil German terrorist named Heinrich (Til Schweiger, so memorable as Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz in Inglourious Basterds), who isn’t given enough screen time to prove any sort of threat and whose entire presence in the story comes across as more of an afterthought.
Despite these obvious and (concerning McG’s track record as a motion picture director) wholly expected shortcomings, as I mentioned before, the movie is enjoyable, if only on a superficial level. Again, much of the fun to be had results from the lead performances. All three are entertaining to watch together, even if the chemistry doesn’t always come across as electric. After already proving to be one of the best actors working today, Tom Hardy is especially impressive as Tuck, doing the best job out of the three leads to sculpt a believable character from the shapeless slab of clay that serves as the script. Hardy makes Tuck complex, achieving a believable balance of outer strength and inner weakness that transcends the film’s frivolity. He is also pretty darn funny.
If your plan is to go see This Means War because it looks fun and it will give you the chance to watch the exploits of three pretty people for two hours, you probably won’t be disappointed… in the moment at least. Just be forewarned: You might leave the theater wondering what else you could have spent your hard-earned money on.
Oh slap, ma boy Denzel’s back with another thriller for the ages. Yeah, check ‘im out doing his thang, bein’ all crazy intense, like he on the verge of snappin’ at any moment, but still playin’ it cool and kinda’ sympathetic-like. Guy’s got mad charisma, knowhamsayin’? But he scary too.
Dis time round his name’s Tobin Frost (pretty sick, right?) and he’s one of dem CIA agents gone rogue, like he all Bourne and shit. Ma man gets caught and put in a CIA safe house under the watch of a young agent go by Matt Weston. They got Ryan Reynolds playin’ this Weston guy who know all bout Tobin. Been studying him for a long time. Anyways, Weston thinks he’s got ma boy on lock, but then the safe house is mad compromised when motherfuckers be comin’ in all guns blazing, killing fools left and right, causin’ lil’ boy Reynolds nearly shit his drawers.
These fuckers wanna straight up murder ma main man, but Weston gets him outta there lickety-split. Now dey both on the run, gettin’ in car chases and shootouts, shit exploding e’erywhere, fools gettin’ their faces punched, camera bein’ all shaky, zoomin’ in and out all Tony Scott-like.
E’ery once in a while Weston be talkin’ ta two commanding officers (Brendan “yo, he da shit” Gleeson and Vera “oh, damn girl” Farmiga) who always be holding phones to dey ears or standin’ round in one of dem rooms with all the computer screens, leanin’ over a big-ass table so dey can talk inta one a dem big-ass speakers. Oh, you gots to know at least one of them fools be all evil and shit. You wear a suit, you talk on da phone the whole time, and you ain’t gettin’ inta any fistfights? Face it, YOU EVIL, SON!
But wait… why e’erybody wanna’ see ma boy Denzel all dead? Shoot, he gots to have somethin’ in his possession dem suit and tie wearin’ motherfuckers don’ wan’ nobody to know about, right? And dat young’un Weston maybe spend nuf time wit da man he eventually start thinkin’ diff’rent bout some things.
You best believe Safe House be a thriller like no other, ya heard?
Chronicle proves there’s still fresh blood oozing out of the gaping wound that is the “found footage” movie genre, that bastard child of a moviemaking style that suggests one (or more) of the characters in the story filmed the events that happened… as they happened. Although Ruggero Deodato’s infamous Cannibal Holocaust is often credited as being the first example of the form, The Blair Witch Project is widely recognized as the movie that bears responsibility for the brand. And for more than a decade now, we’ve been forced to feed upon the fruit that grew from Blair Witch’s tree, however ripe (Cloverfield, REC) or rancid (Apollo 18, The Devil Inside) the product proved to be.
Being a fan of elegantly composed shots and steady camera work (almost unheard of in this day and age), I for one can’t wait to see the “found footage” genre die already. But if new and exciting spins on the style, as Chronicle proves to be, keep on popping up every few years, I’ll probably be waiting for a long time to come.
Why do human beings have to be so damn clever?
If nothing else, Chronicle is very clever. For anybody unaware, the idea behind the movie is that three teenage boys encounter something extraordinary that has crashed into the surface of the earth. Naturally, they travel down into the hole of mystery, camera in tow, to see what they can see. Whatever it is, it’s pointy, and it’s glowing, reminiscent of the Kryptonian capsule baby Kal-El was placed into when he was shipped off to Earth, where he later became Superman. To the boys’ surprise, soon after encountering the otherworldly object, they discover that they have acquired superhuman abilities. Since one of the boys, Andrew (Dane DeHaan), had recently purchased a video camera for the purpose of “recording everything” (a way, one assumes, for him to perhaps, in some way, detach himself from his day-to-day life, where his mom is lying on her deathbed, his father is an abusive alcoholic, and he is constantly bullied at school) it’s easy for the three characters to capture (or, chronicle) their newfound talents on tape.
Presenting a first-hand recorded account of emerging superhuman skills is a pretty inspired idea, and timely at that, considering the surplus of superheroes the cinema has seen in the past decade. But if all Chronicle had going for it was a clever conceit, it would be hard to recommend. The real reason to see the movie is the three main characters, all of whom I actually came to care very much about within the film’s appropriately scant 83 minutes. Steve (Michael B. Jordan), Matt (Alex Russell), and Andrew all come across as real personalities rather than simple caricatures, and the joy they exude throughout the first half of the movie is infectious as they practice their powers, fine-tune them, and use them to play pranks on each other and unsuspecting citizens. The scene where they discover that they can fly is especially wonderful to behold.
But with a character like Andrew, who’s been beaten down by life for so long, it’s no surprise when he finally starts to use his talents to fight back against his oppressors, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong. And because we have come to care, the results are especially tragic.
Unfortunately, director Josh Trank takes liberties with the “found footage” format that become absurdly excessive, especially in the climactic battle over downtown Seattle-by-way-of-South-Africa, where any and all forms of recording equipment are incorporated to capture the action, whether they be building security cameras, tourist iPhones, or the cameras attached to the dashboards of police cars. However, one ingenious invention almost makes up for this. Throughout the story, Andrew hones his telekinetic powers during the wee hours of the night as he lies in bed, using his mind to make his camera float free and steady about the air. Later on, this trick allows the movie to break free from the hand-held, shaky cam restraints most “found footage” features are confined to, if only for brief moments of time.
The final scenes also become extremely melodramatic with Andrew crying out in fits of rage as he causes mass destruction and Matt constantly yelling for him to stop. By the end of the movie, you’ll be sick of hearing the three friends’ names since they’re repeated ad nauseum, but the characters behind those names will stick with you.
You will remember them, and you will be affected by their story.
Flooding with Love for the Kid (2010, Zachary Oberzan)
It’s somewhat sad to admit that I have yet to see Sylvester Stallone’s First Blood, but I’m particularly glad that was the case going in to Zachary Oberzan’s one-man adaptation of David Morrell’s original novel. Although I knew the cliff notes version of the story of John Rambo and the image of Stallone as the rampaging Vietnam vet has achieved iconic status, I was able to approach this interpretation with a semi-clean slate.
Even without having seen Stallone’s First Blood, I know it draws a clear line between protagonist and antagonist, with Rambo as the wronged man and small-town Sheriff Teasle as the man doing most of the wronging. But Oberzan’s adaptation aligns itself more closely with the original source material, as David Morrell’s novel makes it difficult to determine who exactly shoulders the blame for the bloodshed that befalls the landscape surrounding a rural Kentucky town. Sure, Teasle is the initial instigator, but Rambo, or “the kid” as Teasle calls him, loses a good deal of the audience’s sympathy due to the unbiased brutality of his retribution. Oberzan’s performances capture this ambivalence, causing us to care as much about Teasle as we do for Rambo, if not even more so. By the time the story started coming to a close, I was surprised to find that a significant amount of my sympathies had shifted from one character to the other.
But the main draw of Flooding with Love for the Kid isn’t how faithful an adaptation it may or may not be. The real wonder of Oberzan’s opus lies in its unbridled creativity. Oberzan advertises during the closing credits that he made the movie on a budget of less than $100 ($95.51 to be exact). All of the action is confined to his Upper East Side studio apartment with locations such as his bathtub substituting for a Vietnamese prison cell, his tiny closet as a bat-shit stained cave, and his loft bed as a cliff overlooking a vast wilderness. Additionally, Oberzan plays every single role himself, adopting sometimes corny accents and outfits to set each individual character apart while incorporating cheap superimposition aftereffects in order to display multiple versions of himself on-screen at the same time. Although Oberzan plays it all fairly straightforward for the most part, he also acknowledges the conceit’s potential for absurdity, as evidenced by the few shots where he portrays a pack of tracking dogs, down on all fours, barking incessantly.
The consummate creativity on display throughout is very impressive and somewhat enviable, reminding us of the time in our lives when all we needed to entertain ourselves was our imagination and whatever household items we found lying around; when a paper cup was also a megaphone, a fan a helicopter rotor, and a couple of strategically placed house plants instantly served as an entire forest.
Although Oberzan’s enthusiasm is immediately endearing, I originally questioned whether or not my interest could be held in such a way for the movie’s 107 minute run time. It’s a testament to Oberzan’s talents as a performer and his seemingly endless ingenuity that, to my surprise, I found my interest waxed as the movie progressed where before I thought it would only wane.
I can’t guarantee a similar experience for every viewer as some would probably dismiss Flooding with Love for the Kid as an amateur experiment not too far removed from many fan-boy videos crudely shot at home and uploaded onto YouTube. But rarely have I come across anything on YouTube as inventive and absorbing as this.
Flooding with Love for the Kid can only be seen on one of Oberzan’s tour stops, or purchased on DVD at his website, where you can also view a trailer (of sorts) in order to get a better idea of whether or not this is something you can endure. To be fair, though, the “trailer” sells the movie short, making it appear to be more of a novelty rather than an engaging example of highly imaginative storytelling.
The audience doesn’t have to wait very long for Man to find a ledge to be on. Man (Sam Worthington, here choosing to go with a where-the-hell-are-you-from-exactly? accent) first emerges onto a busy New York City block, sees a hotel, looks up, then sees a ledge. He goes into the hotel, orders an expensive lobster “last meal,” scribbles a possible suicide note, and then crawls out the window to fulfill his destiny.
Man no longer is simply Man. He is now Man on a Ledge.
Turns out Man on a Ledge used to be Man in a Prison, an ex-cop who had been locked up for allegedly stealing an extremely expensive diamond from Very Rich Man (Ed Harris, in full-on scumbag mode), a crime for which Man on a Ledge has always maintained his innocence.
While in prison, Man on a Ledge’s ex-partner (Anthony Mackie) comes to pay a visit and shares the unfortunate news that Father to Man on a Ledge is very sick and knocking at Death’s door. Man on a Ledge is granted the opportunity to go to his father’s funeral, which is suspiciously attended by nobody else but Brother to Man on a Ledge (Jaime Bell, with a considerably more American accent) and Girlfriend of Brother to Man on a Ledge (Genesis Rodriguez). Immediately after the burial, Man on a Ledge gets into a heated argument with his brother. When the prison guard on babysitting duty tries to intervene, Man on a Ledge manages to grab the guard’s gun and escape after emerging victorious in a routine car chase.
Soon thereafter, he steps onto a ledge.
For reasons unknown to anybody but him, Man on a Ledge only wants to speak with one person: Woman in Disgrace (Elizabeth Banks), a negotiator who is haunted by her last attempt at talking somebody down, which resulted in the suicide of a rookie cop.
But why her? And why that particular ledge? And why that particular accent?
All of these questions, save for the last, are eventually solved, however uninteresting the answers prove to be. The trailers for Man on a Ledge made us curious as to why exactly a man was on a ledge, but sadly the truth is far less exciting than many other possibilities we might have already conjured up in our minds. In fact, the story is a by the book suspense that, although moderately entertaining, has nothing very original to offer. When multiplexes are still showcasing the likes of Man Climbing the Tallest Building in the World without Any Form of Physical Support System, as featured in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, a plain old Man on a Ledge pales in comparison.
10. I Saw the Devil (dir. Kim Jee-woon)
A gruesome game of cat-and-mouse: When sick, sadistic serial killer Kyung-chul (Oldboy star Choi Min-sik, again giving a phenomenal performance) murders the wife of secret agent Kim Soo-hyeon, Soo-hyeon vows he will stop at nothing to punish Kyung-chul… over and over and over again. The catch-and-release style of vengeance Soo-hyeon employs proved to be overkill for some viewers, but I found the character’s relentless form of punishment to be captivating as each successive act of violent retribution causes Soo-hyeon to come closer and closer to the edge of madness, before falling over entirely. The character begins the movie as a sympathetic man who has suffered an incredible loss, but the audience’s compassion can only be carried so far in the face of such inhumanity. By the end, it’s hard to distinguish much of a difference between Kyung-chul and Soo-hyeon, and the devastating final shot suggests that even Soo-hyeon deplores what he has become. The film is riveting and merciless, containing at least one particular sequence of beautifully chaotic bloodletting that begs to be rewound and played back… over and over and over again.
9. Shame (dir. Steve McQueen)
About a half hour into Shame, I was prepared to walk out after the closing credits full of disappointment. It just seemed so self-indulgent, teetering on the edge of indie film parody. The scene that almost ruined it for me is an excruciatingly long sequence where Carey Mulligan’s character, Sissy (sister to Michael Fassbender’s Brandon Sullivan), performs an excruciatingly slow and mediocre rendition of “New York, New York,” originally made famous by Frank Sinatra. During the scene, the camera cuts back and forth between a close-up of Sissy singing to a close-up of Brandon tearing up in reaction to his sister’s performance (or is he perhaps wallowing in self-pity?), until finally culminating in a solitary tear escaping from his glassy eyes. Yes, the sequence is as laughable as it sounds and there are a few more scenes just as eye-roll inducing. But then again, the entire plot of Shame might be hard to swallow. I mean, how much sympathy can an audience have for somebody as handsome and well-off as Brandon Sullivan, who suffers from (Gasp! Oh my no! Say it isn’t so!) sex addiction? Due to Michael Fassbender’s extraordinary performance, it turns out we can sympathize greatly. Add to that director Steve McQueen’s handling of the addiction, never glorifying or eroticizing it, but always presenting it as something Brandon truly suffers from, affecting any chance of him ever having a healthy, loving relationship with anybody, let alone his sister, who is aching for affection. Yes, the movie is melodramatic, but Fassbender’s central performance is so convincing, I eventually began to forgive the melodrama in spite of myself. Shame proves an exceptional example of an actor’s talents elevating an average story to above average status. It’s the best performance of the year, and it’s truly a shame (…) that the “Academy” didn’t recognize it.
8. Warrior (dir. Gavin O’Connor)
Speaking of going unrecognized, where the hell was the theater audience for this movie? I just don’t understand why Warrior did such underwhelming business at the cinema. Granted, the story is very cookie cutter, but its predictability is often comforting and the overall execution is very professional. Not to mention the performances, especially those of Nick Nolte as the “sins of the father” father and Tom Hardy as one of the two emotionally damaged sons. Nolte was recognized by the “Academy” for his work here, but Hardy is the true standout, with a performance so genuine and understated it’s sometimes hard to notice that he does stand out. In my opinion, it’s the best supporting performance of the year. For more, read my full review.
7. The Artist (dir. Michel Hazanavicius)
As a fan of silent cinema, and especially the works of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, I was absolutely excited to find out that somebody had made a black-and-white silent film in this day and age. Who would have ever thought that a silent movie in today’s noise-saturated world could be as popular or openly accepted as The Artist has become? It doesn’t hurt matters that the movie is undeniably charming and the two leads are so darn expressive and likeable. Like most great silent movies, the story is extremely uncomplicated, focusing more on the characters onscreen and their interactions with one another. The Artist knows what makes for a good silent movie. Even though some may initially write it off as a one-time novelty, when all is said and done the movie might eventually be considered worthy enough to be mentioned in the same breath as classic predecessors such as The General or City Lights. It’s certainly almost as charming and entertaining as those two examples. If anything, I love that The Artist is exposing such a wide audience to silent cinema. It makes me smile to think that the first silent movie many audience members will see was made in 2011.
6. Hugo (dir. Martin Scorsese)
This is perhaps the best example of all-around classic filmmaking produced in 2011. True, that perhaps comes as no great surprise since Scorsese is a master of the medium, but for “a kid’s movie,” it’s all the more exceptional. But this isn’t a kid’s movie. It’s a movie lover’s movie. And it’s wonderful. For more, read my full review.
5. Winnie the Pooh (dir. Steven J. Anderson and Don Hall)
Although I don’t think 2011 was an exceptional year for movies, it was an exceptional year for nostalgia. The Artist and Hugo exhibited nostalgia for the history of cinema. Midnight in Paris was driven by nostalgia, and with Winnie the Pooh and The Muppets, many audience members were treated to new stories involving beloved childhood characters. I don’t hide the fact that I adore Winnie the Pooh. The characters of the Hundred Acre Wood will always occupy a warm place in my heart. Thankfully, that soft spot wasn’t compromised by this newest big screen adventure. If anything, my warm feelings were only reaffirmed. Despite what the “Academy” nominations might suggest, Winnie the Pooh was the best animated movie of 2011 and like the bear with very little brain’s previous animated adventures, I’m sure this newest entry will be cherished by audiences for a very long time. For more, read my full review.
4. The Woman (dir. Lucky McKee)
There really isn’t much more I can think to say about The Woman that wasn’t already said in my original review. It is by far the best horror movie of 2011, boasting some seriously sinister satire and one of the most bat-shit insane climaxes I’ve seen in a long while. For more, read my full review.
3. The Muppets (dir. James Bobin)
No other movie made me smile as much in 2011 as The Muppets did. The film is cinematic Zoloft. For more, read my full review.
2. Moneyball (dir. Bennett Miller)
It kind of caught me off guard how much I liked Moneyball. Honestly, I find baseball to be extremely boring. I get why so many people like it. I understand the potential for suspense the sport possesses, but it just has never interested me. For a “baseball movie,” there really isn’t that much baseball playing to speak of in Moneyball. Instead, the movie focuses on the statistics and behind-the-scene managerial aspects of the game, which sounds even more boring than the game itself. But when a movie is this well-acted and especially this well-written (courtesy of Steven Zaillian and dialogue extraordinaire Aaron Sorkin), it’s hard for it to be dull, despite the subject matter. And Moneyball is anything but dull. All anybody really does in the movie is talk to one another, but it’s absolutely riveting. Brad Pitt gives the year’s second best performance behind Michael Fassbender in Shame while Jonah Hill (yes, Jonah Hill!) gives the second best supporting male performance after Tom Hardy in Warrior. Add to that the beautifully minimalistic film score, Bennett Miller’s supremely competent direction, and perhaps the most perfect ending sequence of 2011.
1. Drive (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
In my mind, there really wasn’t much competition for the best movie of the year. Yes, there were a number of very good movies, but that’s true for every year. 2011 was short, however, on movies people could really argue about; movies that inspired both love and hatred in the hearts of audience members. I’ve heard many people who admit to absolutely loathing this movie, and just as many who adore it. I, of course, fall in the latter camp, and many of the reasons why I love it are the same exact reasons why so many hate it. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m often skeptical of works of art that are universally celebrated. Some of my favorite films are heavily divisive, and Drive fits that description quite adequately. For more, read my full review.
PLEASE NOTE: The above Drive poster was designed by James White. Information on how to get your hands on one of those beauties can be found here.
This report reflects all the movies I watched of those released in the US during 2011 only:
The Dilemma…………D……….Dull and entirely humorless
The Green Hornet…….B-………A fun time, though forgettable
The Rite………………..C-………See full review
Just Go With It………..D+………See full review
Unknown……………..C………..See full review
Drive Angry………….B-………….See full review
Hall Pass…………….C-………….A couple of laughs, but falls flat
Bureau……………….C+…………See full review
I Saw the Devil……….A-………….Riveting and merciless
Rango………………..B……………..See full review
Jane Eyre……………B……………..See full review
Limitless…………….C………………See full review
Rubber………………C+……………Unique, but frustratingly tedious
Insidious……………..C+……………Beautifully shot, too few scares
Source Code…………B………………See full review
Hanna…………………B………………See full review
Your Highness………B-…………….Absurdly humorous, but very dumb
Scream 4…………….C+…………….Admirable attempt, but why?
Elephants…………….B-………………See full review
Fast Five………………B………………..See full review
The Beaver……………B+……………..See full review
Thor……………………C+……………..See full review
Bridesmaids………….A-…………….Likeable characters and very funny
Priest…………………..D…………………See full review
Paris……………………B+………………See full review
Part II…………………..C-………………See full review
The Tree of Life……….A-………………See full review
Beginners……………..B………………Sweet, deep moments of insight
First Class……………..C+…………….See full review
Super 8………………..C+……………Better without the alien
Can’t Stop……………..B……………..Funny and unflinching
Dark of the Moon……..C………………See full review
Larry Crowne………….C……………….Charmingly innocent, but pointless
Horrible Bosses………C………………See full review
The Ward………………D………………See full review
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Part 2……………………B+……………..See full review
Winnie the Pooh……….A-……………….See full review
The First Avenger………B+……………..See full review
Friends with Benefits…..C-………………Good chemistry, bad writing
Attack the Block………..B+……………..See full review
Crazy, Stupid, Love……B……………….Very enjoyable, nice ensemble
The Change-Up………..D……………….See full review
Rise of the Planet
of the Apes………………B……………….Amazing CGI
30 Minutes or Less…….C-……………..See full review
The Last Circus………..C+…………….Very original, but unfocused
Colombiana……………C………………Little substance, decent action
Our Idiot Brother………..B……………….See full review
Burke & Hare…………..C……………….Good effort, but rather dull
Contagion……………….B…………………See full review
Warrior…………………..A-………………..See full review
3………………………….B+…………….Unlike any other romance
Drive……………………..A………………….See full review
Abduction……………….D…………………Bad acting, boring action
Moneyball……………….A……….Exceptional writing and storytelling
50/50……………………..B+…………Very funny, heartfelt and affecting
Take Shelter…………….B…………………..Engagingly ominous
Tucker & Dale
vs. Evil……………………B……..Funny and original, though one-note
The Ides of March………B………….Gets by on searing performances
Real Steel………………..B-…………………See full review
The Big Year…………….B-………………….See full review
The Thing………………..D……………………See full review
The Woman……………..A…………………….See full review
May Marlene……………..B…………Phenomenal central performance
Activity 3………………….B-…………………….See full review
Like Crazy……………….B…….A realistic romance, slightly forgettable
The Rum Diary………….C+…………………..Witty writing, weak third act
Melancholia………………B+………….Haunting, fantastic performance
The Descendants………..B……………Well done, nothing outstanding
Arthur Christmas…………B-……………A very nice Christmas movie
Hugo………………………A-……………………See full review
The Muppets……………..A-……………………See full review
Shame……………………A-…………..Central performance makes it
Mission Impossible -
Ghost Protocol…………..B+…Exceptional action, breathtaking in IMAX
The Girl with the
Dragon Tattoo……………B……………………See full review
of Tintin……………………B+………………….Very fun and action-packed
A Dangerous Method……B…………….Well-made, not very affecting
The Artist………………….A-……….Grin-inducing, undeniably charming
GPA = 2.7 (or a B- average)