Tag: 2011

Movie Review: Pariah (2011)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

Knowing internally who she is and what she wants, 17-year-old Alike aka Lee (Adepero Oduye) feels comfortable dressing in masculine clothing at her high school and openly looking for a girlfriend as her friend Laura (Pernell Walker) drags her to a lesbian strip club, but knows to hide her homosexuality from her overprotective religious mother (Kim Wayans) and clueless father (Charles Parnell). She thinks she may have found the perfect partner in new friend Bina (Aasha Davis), but Lee’s own romantic inexperience leads to misplaced feelings.

It seemed I spent a good chunk of 2011 hearing about how phenomenal Pariah is, but its distribution took its sweet time reaching Boston. Turns out all of the hype was exactly correct, and this would have made my Favorites of 2011 List for sure. Newcomer Dee Rees weaves together a story of acute emotion that feels altogether fresh in its style and outlook and familiar in its coming-of-age trappings. Here is a film that so perfectly captures the general agony and ecstasy of being a teenage girl, it is both a joy and sorrow to watch. The script is smart and realistic, never slipping into overwrought melodrama or knee-slapper comedy but maintaining subtle elements of both, working in the thrill of first love, the disappointments of friendship, and the disillusionment with parental guidance that affects so many kids. Rees’ camera is up-close and personal, creating an intimate atmosphere with darkened domestic spaces and soft-glow lighting.

This is in many ways an “actor’s movie”, and my does the cast deliver. Adepero Oduye is absolutely fantastic in the lead role, exuding an eagerness and charismatic likability that I immediately latched on to. Here is a woman who should win every award (well, I would say that about the whole movie, really). She even makes readings of teen angst poetry less mockable than I would expect, a tricky feat in my book. I also loved everyone in the supporting cast, from Pernell Walker’s tough-talking but soft-hearted portrayal of Laura to Kim Wayans’ hard-edged mother misguided by religious principle. The Christian angle isn’t overplayed, but does make up a key point. Lee’s mother isn’t some sermonizing religious zealot, but she quietly and emphatically believes what she believes, and doesn’t allow anything to change that. It’s scary how true that is for so many people, but I didn’t feel Rees was being judgmental. She’s showing things the way they are.

Lee’s character embodies the title in several ways as a black lesbian who doesn’t fit in comfortably at school, in her tight-lipped Christian family, or even in her local gay community. Pariah is committed to portraying multidimensional characters and non-stereotypical glimpses into multiple lifestyles and experiences, and I absolutely loved it for that. Walking out of the theater all I could think was, “Damn. What a good movie.”


Pair This Movie With: For a more satirical, comedic look at teenage homosexuality in a religious setting, I am a fan of But I’m a Cheerleader.

Further Reading:
A much more insightful review can be found at Cannonball by my friend IRL Harry Waksberg.

Catching Up With 2011 Double Feature: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and A Dangerous Method

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

These were two of the films I felt I should see before I made my Favorites of 2011 list, though neither made it. It was more of a just in case thing. Both come from directors whom I admire (though I’ve only seen one of Alfredson’s other films so far) and both feature impressive, super-white casts of people with primarily British accents. So: A good pairing! Unfortunately we went on a weekend, which meant we were reminded that no one in the world knows how to behave like a human being. Like, maybe no one has ever gone to a movie before? Nobody ever taught these people how to handle it? It’s too bad, really, when everyone sucks but me.

Based on the famed John le Carré novel that I haven’t read (as usual), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy centers on George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a high-ranking member of the British secret service who is forced into retirement. He is convinced by a government official to privately investigate a potential mole, researching the close-lipped inner circle of the service and their agents’ actions in the Soviet Union. Of course, the closer he gets, the more intricate and threatening the conspiracy becomes.

Taking a very quiet, gradual approach in its storytelling and preferring to ambiguously imply rather than tell, Tinker Tailor is certainly different than the high-octane thrillers I tend to associate with the spy genre. It takes its time (it really takes its time) to establish characters and their relationships, and rarely wears its emotions on its sleeve, much like Smiley himself. The story itself is too sparse, I think, with not enough time spent on the potential moles for me to care which one it was. Plus Cold War movies set in the 70s or 80s are always sort of hard to take completely seriously, since I know the USSR is secretly unraveling.

The strong cast and thoughtful cinematography make up for my reservations with the script, though. Oldman is able to communicate so much through a look or terse comment, while supporters Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Svetlana Khodchenkova, and Mark Strong offer intriguing performances themselves. Of course I was most excited to see the adorable Benedict Cumberbatch out of his Sherlock role, with an indie band blonde haircut and very sharp blue tie he was looking good. He was also probably the most emotional of the characters, and there is one moment in particular that had me tearing up a bit.


I feel like the past year has been a time of finally realizing that David Cronenberg is one the coolest directors, as I caught up with a lot of his 80s offerings. I know he flipped some switch and turned away from his crazy body horror-type stuff for more realistic, Viggo Mortensen-based films in the past decade, and that’s ok too, just a little less exciting. Based on a play that was based on a book, A Dangerous Method seeks to highlight the relationship between psychoanalyst pioneers Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Mortensen) through their connections with a brilliant but troubled young woman, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). As Jung helps her to better understand her sexual masochism, he finds his own beliefs (based on Freud’s work) shifting, causing a rift in their intellectual partnership.

With a trio of fantastic performances and truly interesting subject matter, A Dangerous Method should have been more easy to like. I enjoyed the stimulating conversations and sexy encounters, but the haphazard pacing (so many years would pass without much warning) and lack of driving force, it’s not as engrossing as it could be. I think it should have been either wholly about Jung’s relationship with Sabina or with Freud, not both. Still, it’s worth a watch for Fassbender’s sad eyes and Knightley’s truly impressive characterization. Normally I hate her performances but here I think she was quite strong. Also Mortensen’s attempt at an Austrian accent is kind of funny, it’s mostly just British. At least Fassbender knew he couldn’t do it and stayed English.

Beautiful costumes, lovely settings, sado-masochism, and high-falutin’ psychological discussions: A Dangerous Method has many things to like, but it doesn’t all fit together seamlessly. And it kind of felt like anyone could have directed it- I wanted that Cronenberg grittiness. I really want to learn more about Sabina Spielrein though. Sadly it seems like there aren’t many good biographies in print? I’m checking out my new school’s library when I get a chance.


Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

Seen: In 3D at the AMC/Loews at Boston Common.

Every name attached to this movie is impressive, so despite my aversion to motion-capture animation it wasn’t hard to convince me to see The Adventures of Tintin. I never read the comics but knew of them from friends who’d studied them in French language classes. Spielberg’s version throws us into the action almost immediately and rarely lets up as famed boy reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) uncovers a mystery surrounding a model ship and a family curse. He teams up with an alcoholic sea captain (Andy Serkis) on an international treasure hunt, trying to stay a few steps ahead of generally evil dude Rackham (Daniel Craig).

Seemingly hellbent on taking the phrase “action-packed” literally, Tintin is a breathless adventure tale whose phenomenal action setpieces and chase scenes were enough to distract me from some of the problems I have with the motion-capture style. The script is sharp and funny, even if the story is all over the place. The characters are set up quickly and no one needs very much development- although Captain Haddock gets a little plot-convenient baggage-, and for the most part that works fine since this is a family-friendly action movie that seeks to introduce a foreign-language comic published over fifty years ago. It shouldn’t be too heavy. This simplification did keep me from having strong affection for the characters, though (or maybe that’s how it always is in the books, I wouldn’t know).

Mostly I was trying to figure out Tintin’s age. He’s a “boy” reporter who looks to be about 14-15, rents his own apartment, doesn’t seem to have any parental/guardian figures about, and OWNS a GUN. I mean I know it’s the 30’s or whenever but jeez. Also why aren’t there any women in this movie? Like, at all. And no the opera singer and landlady don’t count, they each get about 5 minutes of screen time. I kept expecting some cute tween girl reporter to show up as a sassy rival/love interest.

ANYWAY. That one-shot chase scene through Bagghar was the main thing that everyone kept harping on, and my goodness they were right. My mouth kept going more and more agape as it progressed, I mean it was just so beautiful. So perfectly shot and paced. So exciting! I don’t like motion capture primarily because of the uncanny plasticine look to all the figures and the strange blend of hyper-realism with exaggerated features. Everyone in Tintin would have very natural clothing and movements, but then like a huge nose that totally didn’t fit the rest of their face. And everyone’s hands were too big, it looked clunky. But for the intricate action scenes like that chase, and the seaplane escape, and the huge pirate ship battle, I’ll pipe down.

And obviously the cast is excellent, duhhh. Andy Serkis is maybe the best part.


Pair This Movie With: Obviously anything Indiana Jones-y, but also you could play Uncharted 3.

Top Five: Favorite Movies of 2011

I kind of hate that so many Best-of lists seem to come out in December. Personally I’ve never seen everything I’ve wanted to see*, either due to late theater release dates or lack of availability in my area or just plain missed opportunities, until at least a month into the next year. So there’s no shame in waiting for January to publish- it’s not a race, guys! We’re all in it together!

Anyway. Here are my favorites of the year, alphabetical order. Top 5 and then 5 Honorable Mentions so it’s basically a Top 10! Also a few extra special mentions at the bottom.

Attack the Block

Dang this movie has everything: aliens, a killer soundtrack, action, potheads, Nick Frost, badass teenagers, British urban slang. Believe! Frequent Edgar Wright-collaborator Joe Cornish’s debut is an all-out fun inner-city alien takeover adventure. I loved the tenement location, funny dialogue, fast-paced story, and undercurrent of class commentary all wrapped up in a goddamn good time. The action sequences are really well shot, and those gorilla wolf motherfuckers are pretty awesome looking.

Ok I know this is a silly choice but I had to get some Astron-6 on here and I would sooner watch Manborg again than Father’s Day. This send-up of 80’s sci-fi screened at Toronto After Dark, my main festival this year, and I all-out loved it. It’s cheesy but surprisingly smart, working in as many references as it does original ideas. It’s a perfect combination of nostalgic homage and on-target parody, and its stop-motion monsters and complicated low-res CG backdrops work against its extremely small budget.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
Photographed beautifully and edited to perfection, this is one of the most engaging films I’ve seen this year. Elizabeth Olson is truly excellent in the lead role, a young woman torn between two existences and confusing her memories with present-day. The style of the film so involves the viewer in her perspective, creating a truly personal story that managed to scare the shit out of me. And as for John Hawkes: Give this man an Oscar, already. Another awesome thing is that I met Cinema Enthusiast in real life at this movie, which was one of the best things!

Take Shelter

This movie. THIS MOVIE. Jeff Nichols’ sophomore feature is as terrifying in its portrayal of mental illness as it is in its suggestion of nature rebelling against mankind. Michael Shannon is intense and magnetic as ever in the lead role, and Jessica Chastain gives a solid supporting performance as his increasingly worried wife. The apocalyptic imagery is inventive and oddly beautiful, and the ending left me somewhat stunned (in the best way). I have continued to be terrified of bird formations and heavy storm clouds ever since, so it certainly stuck with me.

The Artist
This was probably my most anticipated film of 2011 so it was slightly agonizing to wait almost the entire year for it. Luckily it proved to meet my high expectations with its beautiful visuals, energetic cast, and beautiful use of silent film as a medium. I loved the 1920s/30s setting and reverence to old Hollywood. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo shine equally in their roles, with excellent appearances from John Goodman, Missi Pyle, and James Cromwell. The fact that it constantly reminded me of my favorite movie ever Singin’ in the Rain keeps it in high favor.

Honorable Mentions:
Jane Eyre
The Innkeepers
The Skin I Live In

Weirdest Movie: Probably Kaboom. Though The Catechism Cataclysm and Father’s Day are most definitely up there too.

Worst Movie: Ugh. Gonna go with Cars 2. But X-Men: First Class and Vs are down there too.

Some Numbers: 315 total movies seen. 208 new-to-me movies. 100 seen in a theater. 51 movies from 2011 (that number’s a little mushy since some films straddle the 2010/2011 line depending on festival/official/US release, etc). The first movie I watched was Apocalypse Now and the last was Ghost in the Shell.

I want Rubber to count for 2011, but I don’t think it actually does. It had a weird release situation, and I know I saw it on a few Best of 2010 lists. Anyway my point is Rubber is fantastic and maybe is my favorite 2010/2011 hybrid movie!

So. What movies did you love in 2011?

*Unfortunately I still haven’t, but I have no idea when We Need to Talk About Kevin is coming out here and I have a feeling Shame, Meek’s Cutoff, and Certified Copy wouldn’t have made it into my top 10 anyway, though I still look forward to seeing them.

Movie Review: The Artist (2011)

Seen: At the Multiplex Cinemas in Edgewater, NJ with my friend Nicole! She’s the best!

Hello, number one film I’ve been excited about in 2011! And it took FOREVER to come out it seems! Calling back to silent films of yesteryear and taking advantage of Jean Dujardin’s amazing facial expressions, The Artist centers on silent star George Valentin (Dujardin) at the dawn of the sound era in film. He refuses to make talkies and sees his career and personal life fall to ruins while beautiful new starlet Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) becomes a talking sensation.

With reverential attention to 1920s/30s Hollywood, writer/director Michael Hazanavicius has created a film that both re-creates the atmosphere of classic silent film and updates it with self-referential flair. I loved the oddly surreal moments that incorporated sound, terrifying Valentin in his sleep as the uncanniness of it sets in. The music is lovely, including several recognizable tunes, and the 1.33:1 aspect ratio brings an unexpected element of legitimacy. And the costumes! Oh, the costumes! Everything is fringey and sparkly and furry and everyone’s hair is perfectly coiffed!

It’s no secret I think Jean Dujardin is inescapably watchable, he just radiates charisma and can make me laugh with a look or eyebrow raise. He’s perfect in the showy silent film star way but is just as convincing as the story becomes more serious and the role requires more subtlety. And the beautiful Bejo is an expert at the flirty-eye cute flapper thing, and also the most sympathetic in the story. The best thing is they can both dance! That’s like my favorite secret talent for someone to have. As the credits rolled I was instantly working on a pitch for a good-time Fred and Ginger-y musical for them both to star. And fine, it can include the dog. He was pretty spry. (And played by multiple dogs, I KNOW.) Maybe then it’ll be like a Thin Man musical, solving mysteries while tap dancing? YES.

Appearances from recognizable American actors like John Goodman, James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell, Beth Grant, and Missi Pyle were welcome additions but a little off-putting at first since I kept thinking of this as a French production. But as I thought about it I realized it lends the film a more “American” air, which is appropriate considering the setting.

The Artist has the right combination of laughs and gravitas for an all-around great movie, and the silent film angle works as a fitting tribute to a specific period in film. It’s not always accurate (I know Raquelle pointed out that the language wasn’t always era-appropriate), but it works in bringing some of the aesthetic and techniques of silent film into present-day. And of course, I always love movies about movies, so it’s an easy sell.


Pair This Movie With: So many things reminded me of Singin’ in the Rain, I think that’d be an excellent double feature. Then triple it up with Sunset Blvd. and my, are you in for an awesome day!