Category Archives: 2011

Movies released in 2011.

Review: Shame

Director: Steve McQueen
Year: 2011
Score: 6.5/10

This is literally the only shot in the entire movie in which we don't see Michael Fassbender's wang (and only because the camera momentarily panned up to his face).

This is literally the only shot in the entire movie in which we don’t see Michael Fassbender’s wang (and only because the camera momentarily panned up to his face).

Engaging but aloof drama about sexual addiction from Steve McQueen, who went on to make the superior (and Oscar-winning) 12 Years a Slave. The central performances from Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan are excellent, there are some powerful moments and sequences, and the film’s refusal to reveal what exactly screwed these siblings up is refreshing. However, by the end it doesn’t feel especially insightful and I was left wondering what I’d gained by watching it (other than an appreciation for the actors and a familiarity with Fassbender’s dong). There are some very impressive long takes, the best being a 2:12 tracking shot of Fassbender’s jogging down a New York street that must have been a logistical nightmare to shoot. Big chunks of the score totally rip off Hans Zimmer’s score for The Thin Red Line; one on hand this is bad because it’s plagiarism, but on the other hand it’s good because I love The Thin Red Line and its score, and it works well here.

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Review: Puss in Boots

Director: Chris Miller
Year: 2011
Score: 6.5/10

Fun spin-off from the Shrek series. It doesn’t amount to much, but thankfully the writers pitch it as much to adults (through comedic dialogue) as to kids. Antonio Banderas is good in the title role and Zach Galifianakis is very good as Humpty Dumpty.

Review: The Iron Lady

Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Year: 2011
Score: 7.5/10

Meryl Streep won a well-deserved Oscar for the incredible performance that lies at the heart of this film. She completely inhabits the character and moves it well beyond mere imitation/impersonation and into something entirely convincing and ultimately quite moving. As a movie, though, there is a key misstep: while it is a good decision to frame the story with the ageing Thatcher suffering dementia, there is too much of a focus on her dementia-fueled interactions with her dead husband, which mostly come across as trite. Also, at times it feels like we’re getting a summarised ‘greatest hits’ version of her political career that glosses over some important moments. Despite these issues, there is much to like (in addition to the amazing Streep).

Review: Hall Pass

Directors: Peter & Bobby Farrelly
Year: 2011
Score: 5/10

Mediocre comedy with two-dimensional characters (surprising in a movie from the Farrelly brothers, I know!) and a fairly repugnant premise. I really don’t see the appeal of Jason Sudeikis. Still, there were a couple of laughs – one involving poo and a g-string was particularly memorable. The always reliable Richard Jenkins steals a couple of scenes playing against type. Also good to see Stephen Merchant and J.B. Smoove in supporting roles, though for the most part both are wasted. The post-credits sequence featuring Merchant is worth waiting for.

Review: Hugo

Director: Martin Scorsese
Year: 2011
Score: 4.5/10

Oh, Scorsese, why? Some of the visuals are interesting and I’ll admit I now know more about Georges Méliès than I did before. Beyond that, this mostly stunk. I didn’t care about the characters or the story, and it degenerated into self-indulgence (OK Marty, we get it, you love Méliès and think early cinematic history is terribly important) and – worse – tedium. The supporting characters were distractingly pointless. For some reason this was critically acclaimed.

Review: Detention

Director: Joseph Kahn
Year: 2011
Score: 9/10

Detention

Love it: a movie (starring a porn star) within a movie within a movie within Detention.

Fast, witty comedy, one of the best I’ve seen. I can imagine some people interpreting it as just another high school comedy, but for me it went beyond self-awareness to a level of meta I associate with Community (a high compliment indeed). The cast of unknowns (to me at least) does a fine job, but it’s the script and style that are the real stars. It’s such a shame this was a critical and commercial failure; nobody seems to have heard of it. Track it down and watch it!

Review: A Separation

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Year: 2011
Score: 8.5/10

Fascinating story that gives insights into the Iranian bureaucracy/legal system, and into universal experiences of family/relationship/domestic strife, in equal measure. At first it doesn’t seem that engaging, but once you’re about 20 minutes in, it grabs you and doesn’t let go until the very end of the credits.

Review: The Artist

Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Year: 2011
Score: 6/10

Quite a disappointment. The first half hour is great – I was immediately drawn in by the unique style, the clever homages to the silent film era, and the surprising sense of fun – but then it starts to drag and never really recovers. The second half commits the cardinal cinematic sin of being boring. Jean Dujardin is quite good but Bérénice Bejo is even better.

Review: Bellflower

Director: Evan Glodell
Year: 2011
Score: 6.5/10

Experimental indie film has parts that work and parts that don’t, but you have to give them points for trying. Probably the aspect I’ll remember most is the depiction of the central friendship; it felt genuine and warm. But then, of course, there are the parts that don’t work… and instead come across as self-indulgent or – worse – laughably silly.

Review: The Hangover Part II

Director: Todd Phillips
Year: 2011
Score: 4.5/10

I did laugh a few times, mostly at Zach Galifianakis and occasionally at Dr Ken Jeong. However, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Todd Phillips and his co-writers actually thought viewers would overlook the fact that they’ve recycled the premise and storyline of the original movie almost beat-for-beat. There is literally nothing new in this, and what little freshness and liveliness there was in the original is now completely gone. Followed by The Hangover Part III.

Review: The Help

Director: Tate Taylor
Year: 2011
Score: 8.5/10

Seriously, this movie is totally racist. It constantly perpetuates stereotypes about black people and fried chicken.

Seriously, this movie is totally racist. It constantly perpetuates stereotypes about black people and fried chicken.

An undeniably powerful story told in quite a straightforward, almost old-fashioned way. It’s the uniformly excellent performances from the large cast, mostly women, that truly elevate this; in particular, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain (all of whom were nominated for Oscars, with Spencer winning) are outstanding, with Emma Stone, Alison Janney and Bryce Dallas Howard close behind. The young twins who played Mae Mobley also do well, providing – together with Davis – some of the movie’s most moving moments (e.g. the lovely, and ultimately heartbreaking, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important” refrain). Period music is used well, though there’s also one new song (by Mary J. Blige) that’s quite jarring and thankfully only appears right at the end. Final thought: given the movie’s subject matter, is it at all ironic or worrying that its protagonist, its writer/director, and the author of the novel upon which it was based, are all white?

Review: This Is Not a Film

Directors: Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
Year: 2011
Score: 6.5/10

Very interesting Iranian film that isn’t a film: it’s an ‘effort’ by filmmaker Jafar Panahi and his documentarian friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb. At the time, Panahi was under house arrest, awaiting the results of his appeal against a six year jail sentence and twenty year filmmaking ban for “propaganda against the regime”. Shot over ten days (though edited together to create the appearance that it takes place over a single day), this ‘effort’ is a pseudo-documentary that allows Panahi to express himself creatively without breaching his state-imposed silence, while exploring what it means to ‘make’ rather than ‘tell’ a film. Overall, nothing much happens (which is why, ultimately, I can’t score it higher), but this is really all about context: we bring our own meaning to it through our knowledge of the circumstances in which the ‘effort’ was made (and the circumstances in which it came to us: it was apparently smuggled out of Iran on a USB stick hidden inside a cake!) and what it represents in terms of Panahi’s irrepressible creativity and the oppressive regime silencing him.

Review: Take Shelter

Director: Jeff Nichols
Year: 2011
Score: 8.5/10

Excellent exploration of mental illness draws much of its power from the performances: Michael Shannon is rivetting and Jessica Chastain strong in support. The scene at the community gathering/dinner was particularly memorable (I’m pretty sure I didn’t breathe once throughout the scene), as was the ending of course.

Review: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Directors: Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky
Year: 2011
Score: 7.5/10

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Mark John Byers prosecuting the case against Terry Hobbs. Seems like an ideal criminal justice system: just get one suspect to jot down a list of pros and cons of the guilt of another suspect.

A superior piece of advocacy documentary filmmaking. There’s nothing especially explosive about this chapter compared to its predecessors except that it brings the West Memphis Three story to a close, providing some measure of resolution. At times it comes across as little more than a conventional – or even pedestrian – TV documentary, but on reflection, considering the access, the range of footage and material presented, the events captured and regurgitated for us, and the power of the message at its core, I think it rises above that. As with the first two parts, it includes some extremely graphic crime scene footage and photos of murdered children. I found myself more upset by them this time, perhaps because I now have a child of my own. Their inclusion still feels somewhat exploitative; they’re effective in once again hammering home the horrific nature of the crimes, but somehow it feels like material that should remain private. The trilogy provides an interesting case study of how documentary, as a form, can be used to persuade; from the first and second parts we were convinced John Mark Byer probably killed the kids, and now from this third part we’re led to believe Terry Hobbs probably did so. Reflecting on that – and the fact that any future sequel could lead us to another conclusion entirely – is somewhat unsettling.

Review: Bernie

Director: Richard Linklater
Year: 2011
Score: 7.5/10

Jack Black is great in this overlooked gem from Richard Linklater. An interesting take on the Christopher Guest-style mockumentary genre, it mixes in interviews with actual residents from the small town at the centre of the story who knew the real Bernie. The songs performed by Black are permanently stuck in my head.

Review: 5 Broken Cameras

Directors: Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi
Year: 2011
Score: 7.5/10

Harrowing personal story of one man, his family and his community in the West Bank, told through footage he captured with his five cameras over five years. Fully deserving of its Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. Some aspects felt somewhat manipulative, and parts of Burnat’s story were glossed over (e.g. where some of his cameras came from; his connections to activist groups; the cause of a car accident at one point), but nonetheless it’s powerful due to the intimate nature of the footage and the sense it generates of actually being on the ground experiencing events in this troubled Palestinian town. It made me very glad to be raising a child in Australia rather than – say – the West Bank.