Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Top 10 Worst Films of 2011

Yesterday evening, I posted a list of what I believe to be the top 25 best films of 2011; now it’s time to look at the opposite end of the spectrum. Listed below are the ten films I believe to be the worst of the worst of 2011 – yes, these are the cinema releases that most made me want to vomit and gag and peel the flesh from my face. While 2011 certainly offered us some enchanting, intelligent and inspiring pieces of cinema, it unfortunately also produced a wide array of calamitous clunkers that numbed the mind and churned the stomach. Some had cross-dressing, some had fart gags, some had nose-picking and one had a human centipede. So, let’s brace ourselves and take a look back at the top ten worst films of 2011 – be smug, happy and bright-eyed if you’ve managed to avoid any of these.

10. “Apollo 18”

On a scale of “Plan 9 from Outer Space” to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Apollo 18” probably sits at about the same level as that “Lost in Space” film starring Joey from “Friends.” It’s a science-fiction film set on the moon – this immediately brings to mind Duncan Jones’ masterful sci-fi thriller “Moon,” a comparison which is never going to work in “Apollo 18”’s favour. Unlike “Moon,” however, “Apollo 18” is a horror film and is presented to us as found footage, a la “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity,” though to even less convincing effect. Its footage is of a supposed Apollo 18 mission to the moon that NASA launched in 1974. The mission goes horribly wrong when the astronauts land on the moon’s surface and discover that there are vicious little crab-like creatures lurking about outside their craft. On paper, this may sound like a perfectly interesting premise, but I assure you that in practice, “Apollo 18” is anything but interesting. It is in fact a dull, boring and tedious piece of space horror that takes what seems like forever to get going and feels overlong even at a length of 90 minutes. Zero gravity? More like zero effort.

9. “Sucker Punch”

Unlike the rest of the films on this list, all of which I watched knowing damn well they’d be utterly terrible, I walked into “Sucker Punch” expecting a genuinely decent movie. I took the film’s overwhelmingly negative reviews with a pinch of salt and walked into the film with the general idea that I was about to experience a supremely awesome time at the cinema. Instead, “Sucker Punch” turned out to be something entirely different:  a mind-numbing disaster of a film that discarded narrative coherency in favour of lovely visuals. The film is a fantasy actioner co-written and directed by Zack “300” Snyder. It stars Emily Browning as Babydoll, a young lady who is placed inside a mental asylum by her sadistic rapist of a stepfather. For some strange reason, the asylum swiftly transforms into a brothel where Babydoll must dance for perverted male clients. Even stranger, every time Babydoll starts dancing she is transported to a fantasy world where she, along with the asylum/brothel’s inmates/dancers, must battle supernatural creatures. Umm, yeah. Like Snyder’s previous efforts (most of which I genuinely liked), “Sucker Punch” has plenty of visual magnificence, but it’s in every other area that the film suffers. Sure, it’s an ambitious and original effort, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s an arse-numbing, headache-inducing 110 minutes of unrelenting tedium that succeeds in being entertaining only in brief, unsatisfying spurts – I expect more from a film involving zombie Nazis, gun-toting cyborgs and fire-breathing dragons.

8. “Abduction”

If anyone out there is unsure as to whether or not Taylor Lautner is nothing more than a glorified porn actor, then “Abduction” will settle your mind: yes, he is. Directed by the once-talented John Singleton, “Abduction” saw Lautner in his first proper leading role, and it’s almost hilarious – actually, it is very hilarious – just how much he managed to screw it up. Lautner stars as Nathan Harper, a hunky teen who, after seeing a picture of himself on a missing person’s website, discovers that his parents are not in fact his parents. Soon after this shocking discovery that was revealed in the trailers, Nathan’s parents are murdered by assassins, forcing Nathan to go on the run with pointless love interest Karen (played by Lily Collins), all the while trying to figure out his true identity. With sloppy direction, laughable dialogue and a cardboard cut-out of a leading man, “Abduction” is a half-assed and ham-fisted excuse for an action picture; I’d say it’s taking a few too many pages from the “Bourne” trilogy’s book, but I honestly don’t think this film can read.

7. “New Year’s Eve”

Perhaps the most shocking thing about “New Year’s Eve” is that it attracted the interest of three highly respected Oscar-winning actors (Hilary Swank, Halle Berry and Robert De Niro); it’s also of note that it attracted the interest of a few Teen Choice Award-winners and -nominees (Ashton Kutcher and Zac Efron, among others), though that is significantly less shocking. The film is essentially a semi-sequel to the tedious 2010 rom-com ensemble piece “Valentine’s Day;” it has the same director (Garry Marshall), the same writer (Katherine Fugate), the same general premise and some of the same actors (though all playing slightly different characters). It takes place on (duh) New Year’s Eve and follows a convoluted band of ridiculously good-looking New York couples and singletons as they experience drama, romance and other deeply uninteresting trials and tribulations. Meanwhile, the whole world waits impatiently for the drop of the big ball in Times Square that will mark the very beginning of 2012. Sounds positively riveting, does it not? Blandly written and ceaselessly dull, the sickeningly syrupy “New Year’s Eve” is a two-hour endurance test featuring unfunny comedy, undramatic drama and unbearable characters; some of the more respectable A-listers do appear to put some effort into their roles, but it’s a struggle to shake the feeling that they’re just picking up a quick paycheck.

6. “Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son”

Adding to the ever-growing list of “sequels nobody asked for” was the third instalment of the much-derided “Big Momma” franchise – yes, somehow we’ve let it get this far. This insipid threequel sees a desperate Martin Lawrence dressing up as a big fat old lady again, a joke that grew wearisome halfway through the first movie. This time, Malcolm Turner the cross-dressing cop must go into hiding at an all-girls performing arts school along with his teenage stepson, Trent (played by Brandon T. Jackson), after Trent witnesses a murder; Malcolm (or Big Momma) gets a job as the house mother, while Trent (or Charmaine) becomes a student of the school. So, we’re inevitably presented with a wide array of unfunny fat jokes, unfunny awkward situations, unfunny Martin Lawrence and, for some inexplicable reason, a random musical number. And it’s all ever so chucklesome because this time there’s not only one Big Momma, but two Big Mommas! Ha ha! Oh lawdy lawd. Surprisingly though, “Big Momma 3” wasn’t the worst cross-dressing comedy of 2011; we shall come to that winner/loser soon.

5. “Something Borrowed”

It’s almost unbelievable how unmemorable of a film “Something Borrowed” really is. In fact, it’s a film so unmemorable that when I looked at the “worst films of 2011” notes I’ve been jotting down since the summer, I saw the film’s title and actually had to google the film to remember what the hell it was – even after remembering that I’d watched and reviewed the film, my memory of it was still astonishingly vague. Anyway, “Something Borrowed” is a romantic comedy – I remember that much. As Wikipedia reminds me, it was based on Emily Giffin’s “chick lit” novel of the same name and starred Ginnifer Goodwin as Rachel, a single thirtysomething attorney who sleeps with her best friend’s fiancé. This starts an intricate web of lies and deceit as these pair of deeply immoral, horny douchebags continue sleeping together behind the best friend’s back. Look, I hardly even remember watching this useless piece of shit, let alone reviewing the damn thing, but what I do remember is being freakishly uninterested in every single plot point and character it contained, so much so that it appears I have turned the film into a repressed memory – put that on your poster, Warner Bros.

4. “The Roommate”

One film I do remember sitting through, however, is “The Roommate,” which easily takes the gong for the single most boring film of 2011. This is a fact that is made all the more surprising when one remembers that “The Roommate” was intended to be a thriller – y’know, a film that’s meant to thrill. Instead, “The Roommate” is more likely to bore you to tears than get your heart racing as it intended – indeed, your heart may very well keel over halfway through this uninspired load of old tosh. The film, which is directed by hilariously named filmmaker Christian Christiansen, stars Minka Kelly as Sara Matthews, a girl who has just started her freshman year at college. Her roommate is Rebecca (played by Leighton Meester), who soon turns out to be a crazy psycho-bitch who quickly develops an unhealthy obsession with the unsuspecting Sara. Essentially a cheap knock-off of the far superior “Single White Female,” this drab and coma-inducing stalker-thriller arouses one’s interest only in a scene where a sweet little pussycat is placed inside a tumble dryer – it surely aroused interest from the RSPCA too.

3. “Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World”

It is positively mortifying that writer-director Robert Rodriguez decided to film “Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World” instead of going ahead with the hotly anticipated sequel to his untouchable neo-noir masterpiece, “Sin City;” why Rodriguez believes the world needed another instalment in the “Spy Kids” franchise I don’t know, but what I do know is this: I want “Sin City 2,” and I want it here, and I want it now. Nevertheless, filming “Spy Kids 4” is exactly what Rodriguez did, and the result is arguably the worst film of the American filmmaker’s hit-or-miss career – yes, it’s right down there with kid-friendly 3D train wreck “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl.” Essentially acting as an unwanted reboot of the “Spy Kids” franchise, “All the Time in the World” (which was released in 4D, aka smell-o-vision) replaced series regulars Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega with Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook, two annoying youngsters who, in the film, discover that their mother (played by Jessica Alba) is a spy. With the help of their robot dog (voiced by Ricky Gervais), these personality-free whippersnappers go up against the villainous Time Keeper, a masked maniac who plans on stealing the world’s time (don’t ask me to explain because I really don’t know). Chock-a-block with an unbearable amount of time-related puns and disturbingly unfunny jokes (most of which involve boogers and poop), “Spy Kids 4” was every bit as dumb as “Spy Kids 3D” and every bit as stale as its 4D gimmick – seriously, Rodriguez, you are better than this.

2. “The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)”

Director Tom Six promised moviegoers the world over that no one would walk out of the sequel to his cult horror hit “The Human Centipede” complaining that Six hadn’t gone far enough with the violence. Well, Six achieved this: “The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)” is every bit as depraved and grisly as the Dutch filmmaker proudly promised it would be. The only problem is that Six seemed to have either completely forgotten or completely ignored every other aspect that goes into making a movie; making sure it’s watchable, for example. This gore-tastic torture-porn sequel saw Laurence R. Harvey starring as Martin, an obsessive fan of the original “The Human Centipede.” Martin, who doesn’t utter a single word throughout the entire film, bravely and stupidly aspires to recreate the medical experiments depicted in his favourite film, but this time with twelve victims sewn ass-to-mouth instead of three. Oh, did I say sewn? Sorry, I meant stapled. Smothered in blood, poop and sick (although mercifully filmed in black-and-white), this revolting showcase of pitiful desperation is as pathetic and incompetent as they come. Y’know, someone really should staple Tom Six’s lips to his own asshole – maybe that will appease the self-adoring moron.

1. “Jack and Jill”

And in the number one spot is hack director Dennis Dugan’s mind-numbing 90-minute Dunkin’ Donuts commercial starring Adam Sandler as (get this, right) his own sister. Yes, running on a grand total of two jokes (the other being that the sister is very annoying), the endlessly excruciating and mind-bogglingly beastly “Jack and Jill” is already worn-out before it reaches the ten minute mark – still, it powers through, bafflingly hitting lower and lower lows, eventually ending with Al Pacino dancing and singing about how much he loves Dunkin’ Donuts (I am not fucking kidding). The story, loose as the film’s screw, has Sandler playing Jack, an ad executive whose obnoxious twin sister, Jill (Sandler in drag), stays over for Thanksgiving and never leaves. Cue a lazy display of dreadfully unfunny jokes revolving around Jill’s social idiocy and cultural ignorance, which stretches from accidentally crushing a Shetland pony’s legs to loudly yelling into her phone in a movie theatre (ha ha, she so grating). Witless, plotless, monotonous and mindless, “Jack and Jill” is a film so bad that one suspects Sandler is attempting career suicide – and if he’s not, then God help his sanity.

Endnote: The rules for films eligible for inclusion on this list are exactly the same as stated in the Best of 2011 list.

The Darkest Hour

You may remember an American film that was released towards the end of 2010 called “Skyline.” It was a science-fiction thriller centred on a small band of sexy teens who discover to their horror that a full-scale alien invasion is occurring right outside their Los Angeles apartment building. It was directed by second-time filmmakers the Brothers Strause and produced with a relatively small budget of $10-20 million. It was also a positively dreadful film filled with wooden acting, crappy dialogue, insipid characters and unsatisfying thrills, but the film’s single saving grace was its use of special effects, which, given the limited budget, were rather impressive.

Why am I talking about “Skyline” at the end of 2011? Well, newly released film “The Darkest Hour” is very similar to “Skyline.” Like “Skyline,” it is also a science-fiction thriller about an alien invasion, although produced with a slightly bigger budget of $40 million. And it too is filled with wooden acting, crappy dialogue, insipid characters and unsatisfying thrills. Unlike “Skyline,” however, “The Darkest Hour” does not have nifty special effects to save its skin, and this is because the aliens in this film are fucking invisible.

Now, that’s not to say that the film doesn’t contain some special effects; this is, after all, a Hollywood alien invasion flick. The aliens themselves, while invisible for the most part, do on occasion visually manifest themselves as floating, glowing, CGI pinwheels – how intimidating. And the aliens also use golden, shining, CGI whips to lasso themselves a human being or two, who are swiftly reduced to piles of ashes – a la Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” remake – upon physical contact with the transparent extra-terrestrials. That last part may sound rather cool, maybe even awesome, and it is to begin with, but it’s a gimmick that grows very wearisome after the first five or fifteen times it’s used in the film.

Being hunted by these invaders from outer space are the residents of Moscow, as well as two American men, a young American lady, a young Australian lady and a Swedish prick. The two American men are Sean (Emile Hirsch, “Into the Wild”) and Ben (Max Minghella, “The Social Network”), two best buddies who travel to Moscow for a business deal that goes a little awry. The American lady and Australian lady are holidaying BFFs Natalie (Olivia Thirlby, “Juno”) and Anne (Rachael Taylor, “Transformers”), respectively. And the Swedish prick is Skyler (Joel Kinnaman, “Easy Money”), who is Swedish and is a prick.

These five characters are all drinking and laughing in a Moscow night club when suddenly the building's power cuts out. They, along with everyone else in the club, swiftly venture to the street outside. What they see is puzzling: there are ominous balls of light descending from the night sky above. A Russian police officer stupidly approaches one of the lights that has fallen to the ground, reaches his baton out and is turned into a pile of ashes. Good going, Russian police force.

Sean, Ben, Natalie, Anne and Skyler quickly discover that the mysterious lights are in fact energy-feeding aliens who have come to Earth with the intention of draining our power supply. Together, after evading a full-blown massacre, they decide to hide in a supply room for four whole days. Fed up of having to eat out of cans and piss into buckets, they finally come out to find the streets of Moscow almost entirely deserted, save for the invisible aliens; these images recall Danny Boyle’s zombie horror “28 Days Later" – well, if it were a pile of shit and filled with invisible aliens. Our five protagonists also discover that the aliens cannot see through glass (erm, what?) and cause electrical objects to suddenly switch on when close to them – our protagonists must use this information to evade the intergalactic beings as they attempt to find the Russian military submarine rumoured to contain survivors.

There are, at the very least, three major problems with “The Darkest Hour.” The first is that the script, written by first-time screenwriter Jon Spaihts, is not only utterly terrible but also wreaks of the sort of self-satisfied smugness that would fit very nicely into a typical Aaron Sorkin script. Spaihts clearly strives for sharp, crafty, quick-witted dialogue, particularly in the first twenty minutes or so, but finds himself falling flat on his self-important face every single time a character opens their mouth – with such little wit and grasp of character, this guy is more Aaron Suckin’ than Aaron Sorkin.

The second major problem is that there is not one character in the entire film whom we are given a single reason to care about. This is a common problem that constantly damages films of this sort; the protagonists are scared and are in serious peril, yet we, as viewers, are left with the ability to feel nothing but indifference towards their fate. In fact, there is only one character out of the five protagonists in “The Darkest Hour” who is given a clear and distinctive personality, and this is the one who is so clearly going to die at some point that he may as well have a blue-and-red bullseye tattooed on his forehead.

The third major problem is the film’s severe lack of imagination, although I’m sure Mr Spaihts believes he has completely rejuvenated the entire alien invasion subgenre all on his own. Yes, the film is set in Moscow as opposed to a big American city filled with towering skyscrapers and yellow cabs. Yes, the aliens can only be detected when they venture near electrical equipment. Yes, the aliens are almost completely invisible. And yes, they are physically incapable of seeing through a double-glazed window. But that’s all there is to say about “The Darkest Hour;” everything else is run-of-the-mill alien invasion schlock we saw occur in “Independence Day,” “Battle: Los Angeles,” “Vanishing on 7th Street” and bloody “Skyline” – outside of a few silly gimmicks, there is nothing new on display here.

I do believe that the film’s director, Chris Gorak, has talent. Gorak made his directorial debut in 2006 with a very intense and gripping doomsday thriller called “Right at Your Door.” What has happened with “The Darkest Hour,” his second film, is probably just an unfortunate case of a clunky script – if so, I trust he shall pick his future projects much more wisely, in particular avoiding those that include invisible fucking aliens.


Friday, 30 December 2011

The Top 25 Best Films of 2011

I believe 2011 has been a fine year for cinema – one could argue it hasn’t been a truly great year for the medium, but it has at the very least been perfectly adequate. It has been a year filled with surprises – some good, some bad; same as every year, I suppose. It has been an excellent year for animation, though oddly not for Pixar – hand-drawn or computer-generated, most animations released this year were smart, imaginative and beautiful. It has been a decent year for big-budget studio blockbusters, some of which had working brains and beating hearts, meaning that many (not all) of Hollywood’s box office takings have been well deserved. It has been a tremendous year for indie dramas and comedies – many smaller films produced with miniscule budgets and shown in limited screenings have been met with wide publicity and recognition amongst casual moviegoers.

It has been a year of memorable stories: we have had a struggling writer time-travelling to 1920s Paris, a silent movie star fading into obscurity, a mysterious extra-terrestrial wreaking havoc in a small Ohio town, a bunch of apes revolting against mankind, a construction worker suffering from apocalyptic visions, a boy wizard battling to the death against his evil archnemesis, and thirteen assassins bravely embarking on a suicide mission to stop a murderous psychopath. In 2010, there was one film I 100% believed to be a masterpiece; in 2011, there are three. So, let’s take a look at my top 25 best films of 2011, a perfectly adequate year for the world of film.

25. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was the second best prequel of 2011; we shall come to the number one prequel soon. As the slightly dodgy title suggests, it is a prequel to the 1968 sci-fi masterpiece “Planet of the Apes,” which starred Charlton Heston alongside some damn dirty apes. This prequel stars James Franco as Will, a scientist, and Andy Serkis as Caesar, a damn dirty ape. Caesar is the son of a lady ape who had experimental drugs tested on her in an attempt to increase her intelligence. When the experiment goes horribly wrong, Will secretly takes baby Caesar home with him and winds up keeping the little chimp indefinitely. Five years later, and Caesar’s intelligence is increasing rapidly. And when he ends up getting thrown into an ape facility after attacking Will’s douchebag neighbour, Caesar begins to plan a revolution against the human population alongside his fellow inmates. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a strangely powerful film, in that it makes us root for a bunch of banana-craving primates who wish to take over the world. This may also be thanks to the awe-inspiring motion-captured performance of Serkis as the ape who, in the film’s second half, becomes the film’s protagonist. It’s both an engrossing drama and an invigorating blockbuster, and generally just a goddamn awesome movie.

24. “Arrietty”

Studio Ghibli is essentially the Japanese Pixar – over the years, they’ve given us such animated classics as “Princess Mononoke,” “My Neighbour Totoro” and “Spirited Away.” And while their latest film, “Arrietty,” isn’t quite the masterpiece that these three films undoubtedly are, it’s nonetheless a fun, imaginative and colourful piece of old-fashioned animation and fairy-tale storytelling. Based on Mary Norton’s classic book “The Borrowers,” the film is a fantasy adventure revolving around tiny people called Borrowers. They live under our floorboards in hiding from us, stealing – sorry, borrowing – our possessions for their everyday needs. But one day, young Borrower Arrietty (voiced by Saoirse Ronan) is discovered by a human boy, starting an unlikely friendship and arousing suspicion from the snoopy housemaid, which puts Arrietty’s family in serious danger. Under the gentle direction of Hiromasa Yonebayashi, “Arrietty” is a gorgeously animated family film that is absolutely riveting from start to finish, armed with a heart, soul and brain – it also managed to be visually magnificent without the aid of pesky 3D.

23. “The Help”

“The Help” deals with a subject we’ve seen in countless films before: the treatment of African Americans by racist white folks during the Civil Rights era. What’s different about “The Help,” however, is that it handles this subject in a comedic manner. Based on Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 book of the same name, it tells the story of Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (played by Emma Stone), a young aspiring journalist living in the supposedly idyllic town of Jackson, Mississippi. There, she witnesses black maids being mistreated by the rich white families they serve, which gives Skeeter an idea: writing a book from the perspective of “the help;” but the maids are too scared to speak up about the problems they face. Against all odds, “The Help” is a major success; it faultlessly juggles tear-jerking drama, rib-tickling comedy and a tricky subject matter, all the while presenting striking characters who amuse and devastate. It also features two powerhouse acting performances, one from Viola Davis, the other from Octavia Spencer, both of whom play tortured maids – expect an Oscar or two to be handed out here.

22. “Attack the Block”

“Attack the Block” was radio host Joe Cornish’s first attempt at being a big fancy movie director – turns out he’s not just funny and witty and ever so charming, but he’s also got some well proper directing skills too. The film, which Cornish also wrote, is a science-fiction comedy-horror-thriller set mostly in an East London tower block. Its protagonists are a gang of hooded youths who find themselves at the centre of what they believe to be an alien invasion. Together, along with the help of a local drug dealer and a nurse they mugged earlier that night, they must heroically defend their homely tower block from an unstoppable gang of vicious, bloodthirsty extra-terrestrials who fall down from the stars. Jam-packed with plenty of style and a boatload of laughs, “Attack the Block” is a funny, scary and thrilling British genre flick featuring marvellous special effects and some very original and interesting aliens – seriously, they’re, like, blacker than black and have got glow-in-the-dark fangs and can climb up the sides of buildings. They’re well scary too, bro.

21. “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn”

“Tintin” creator and author Hergé famously stated that Steven Spielberg was the one and only director capable of bringing his beloved character to the big screen. Well, Spielberg took on that challenge and proved that Hergé may very well have been entirely correct: Spielberg’s “Tintin” adaptation was absolutely phenomenal. Filmed using very impressive motion capture and presented in eye-popping 3D, “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” saw the intrepid journalist, along with his loyal dog Snowy, going on an adventure to discover, as the title suggests, the secret of the Unicorn. On this thrilling journey, Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) is kidnapped, held in a cage, meets drunkard Captain Haddock (voiced by Andy Serkis) and crashes a plane into the middle of a desert – and that’s only the first half of the film. Presenting us with mouth-watering visuals, witty writing and nonstop action, “The Secret of the Unicorn” is an invigorating piece of blockbuster entertainment that more than lives up to its classic source material; it’s also one of the few motion-captured films to convince me that the medium really could go places.

20. “Arthur Christmas”

“Arthur Christmas” is the owner of two trophies: one for being the first Christmas film of 2011 (in the UK, at least; in the US, that position belongs to “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas”) and another for being the best animated film of the year (though that’s a tough call). Acting as a collaboration between Sony Animation and Aardman Animation, this computer-animated festive flick saw James McAvoy voicing the eponymous Arthur, the youngest son of Santa Claus. Following another supposedly successful Christmas Eve, Arthur discovers to his horror that one of the presents fell of a conveyer belt in the North Pole and thus went undelivered – this means somewhere in the world a child will wake up without a present from Santa. Unable to persuade his brother or father to fly back to England to deliver the present to its rightful owner, Arthur is forced to go on an adventure with grumpy Grand-Santa (voiced by Bill Nighy) to hand one last present to one special little girl – but will he make it to England before the sun rises on Christmas morning? Funny, sweet, whimsical and exciting, this visually extravagant and endlessly imaginative family film proved to be one of the best Christmas films of recent years; if you can believe it, it’s even better than “Christmas with the Kranks.”

19. “13 Assassins”

“13 Assassins” is the best samurai film since that Tom Cruise movie where he had a beard – actually, it may very well be even better than that film. Directed by controversial filmmaker Takashi Miike, “13 Assassins” is a Japanese epic about, well, 13 assassins. These assassins have assembled together in 1840s Japan to execute the malicious Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu, son of the former Shogun and brother of the current Shogun – with this status, no one can touch him. But the thirteen assassins are on a quest to chop the raping, murdering Naritsugu to bits with their sharpened swords of shining steel, and thus restore peace and order to Japan – but Naritsugu won’t come easy, and he has quite an army of loyal guards defending him. Armed with an unquestionably despicable villain and an endlessly riveting storyline, “13 Assassins” is a thrilling, electrifying and gripping piece of action and drama. It starts with a slow burn, building up characters and tension, and then explodes into a no-holds-barred action spectacle of blood-stained mayhem involving bodily dismemberment and the burning of CGI cows – it’s like the opening scene of “Mars Attacks,” but, like, all serious and stuff.

18. “Melancholia”

Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” is a film of two halves. The first half shows the lavish and luxurious wedding reception of Justine (played by Kirsten Dunst) and fiancé Michael (played by Alexander Skarsgård) at a fancy mansion; the mood at the reception gradually becomes less and less enthusiastic as the night goes on, eventually taking a turn for complete and utter disaster. The second half takes place at the same mansion, where a clinically depressed Justine stays with her sister, Claire (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg), and Claire’s husband, John (played by Kiefer Sutherland), as she recovers. This all happens as a planet named Melancholia is predicted to collide with the Earth and destroy all life on our pathetic little planet. As its title proudly suggests, “Melancholia” is a gloomy experience, although what do you expect from a Lars von Trier movie about the end of the world? It’s a captivating, albeit rather depressing, apocalyptic drama that gloriously displays Trier’s unique yet undeniable talents as a director. Dunst also gives a remarkably enchanting performance as a clinically depressed spoiled brat in what is undoubtedly the best performance of her career so far – yes, even better than her performances in the “Spider-Man” trilogy.

17. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

I’m sure you, dear reader, shall be as shocked as I was when I learned that English actor/chameleon Gary Oldman has never won, nor been nominated for, an Oscar. I know, it’s positively scandalous! But all that may change with “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” in which Oldman gives the subtlest of subtle performances as George Smiley, the tight-lipped spy hunter from John le Carré’s bestselling “Karla” trilogy. Smiley, having just been forced to retire following a major screw-up by somebody else, is asked to return to British Intelligence and sniff out a possible mole that may be leaking information to the villainous Russians. Smiley gets to sniffing, visiting old friends and stealing private documents as he chases down a sneaky, conniving rat who may very well turn out be one of his old buddies. Oldman’s captivating performance, along with Tomas Alfredson’s ice-cold direction, makes “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” a triumph of a Cold War spy drama with a mystery that engrosses from the opening scene right up to the end credits – but who’s the mole? Well, wait and see the movie, Mr(s) Impatient.

16. “Take Shelter”

“Take Shelter” makes its viewers question whether or not its protagonist is entirely sane. This protagonist is Curtis LaForche (played by Michael Shannon), a construction worker living contentedly with his wife and daughter in a small Ohio town. Curtis has been suffering from strange visions of storms lately, sometimes in his dreams, sometimes when he’s walking about during the day. Curtis becomes worried that they might be symptoms of schizophrenia, but something much more troubling comes to mind: what if they’re a warning of a coming apocalypse? Showcasing a subtle but dedicated performance from Shannon as a man who may or may not be losing his mind, as well as a poignant performance from co-star Jessica Chastain as his suffering wife, Jeff Nichols’ atypical disaster movie makes for overwhelmingly emotional and gripping viewing as we try to figure out whether or not our protagonist is a total nutcase.

15. “Warrior”

Gavin O’Connor’s “Warrior” features three powerhouse performances from Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte; they’re some of the most heart-breaking and effective displays of acting I’ve seen in recent years. “Warrior” is a sports drama that gives us a peek into the violent world of Mixed Martial Arts. It tells the story of two estranged brothers (Hardy and Edgerton) who separately decide to enter a Mixed Martial Arts tournament at the same time, their recovering alcoholic of a father (Nolte) training Hardy’s character. The film acts as a mash-up between hard-hitting family drama and a movie about competitive sports, much like “The Fighter” did last year, though to lesser effect. And while its plot no doubt contains an inescapably formulaic and predictable ending, “Warrior” is an astonishingly powerful and engaging drama that holds the title of the one and only film of 2011 to make me cry – I’m not even ashamed to admit it managed to make me burst into tears a grand total of three times. They’re brothers, goddammit! It’s beautiful!

14. “Submarine”

Richard Ayoade, who may recognise as super-nerd Moss from “The IT Crowd,” made his directorial debut this year with the funny and touching indie comedy-drama “Submarine.”  The film follows the everyday life of 15-year-old Welsh boy Oliver Tate (played by Craig Roberts), who lives in 1986 Swansea. Oliver has fallen in love with fellow classmate Jordana (played by Yasmin Paige), a straight-talking trouble-maker with whom Oliver intends to lose his virginity. Meanwhile, Oliver suspects that his parents’ sex life is going downhill, worsened by the presence of his mother’s kooky ex-boyfriend, a new age guru with a mullet, who has just moved in next door; the nosy Oliver is determined to sort out the situation all by himself. Made with a low budget and an inspired directorial vision, “Submarine” is an effectively quirky coming-of-age tale in the vein of American filmmaker Wes Anderson; it’s a very creative and very promising directorial debut from Ayoade, who will hopefully soon be rid of the title “Moss from “The IT Crowd”.”

13. “Super 8”

It’s never been much of a secret that J. J. Abrams, a very talented movie-maker, is a hardcore fan of Steven Spielberg, but it wasn’t until Abrams’ third feature film, the wonderful “Super 8,” that he fully embraced his love of the man – imagine his delight when Spielberg stepped on board the project as a producer. Like some of Spielberg’s most beloved feature films, “Super 8” is a small-town science-fiction flick. It is set in the fictional Ohio town of Lillian, where a horrible train crash sets in motion a bizarre series of events: local dogs go missing, people disappear and household items are seemingly being stolen. The locals are baffled; but maybe the answer to the mystery lies within footage of the train crash captured by chance by a group of young aspiring filmmakers. “Super 8” is a magical film. It is a film made with passion and a rare inspired vision. It is exciting, moving and entirely fascinating for its whole length. It works not only as a tribute to a legendary filmmaker but also as a god damn awesome piece of sci-fi movie-making. I’d say it’s “super great,” but that would be cheap of me – it is, in fact, E.T.-riffic.

12. “X-Men: First Class”

After the dire “X-Men: The Last Stand” and the mind-numbing “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” British director Matthew Vaughn brought the cash-guzzling “X-Men” franchise back to more-than-fine form with this first class prequel starring James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Set in the groovy ‘60s against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis, “First Class” saw the beginnings of the original X-Men, a team of super-powered mutants lead by mind-reader Charles Xavier (aka Professor X) and metal-manipulator Erik Lensherr (aka Magneto). In their first adventure, the X-Men are up against the villainous Sebastian Shaw (played by Kevin Bacon), aspiring world dominator and killer of Magneto’s mummy. While there are admittedly some clumsy continuity errors when tying itself up to the previous films, “First Class” is nonetheless an enthralling and exhilarating piece of superhero entertainment that packs in just as much drama and emotion as action and special effects. It’s not only first class, it’s X-cellent. Sorry.

11. “Bridesmaids”

Easily seizing the title of the funniest film of 2011, “Bridesmaids” is a side-splitting and foul-mouthed comedy revolving around the trials and tribulations of being a maid of honour. Thirtysomething Annie (played by Kristen Wiig) is single, works in a jewellery store and is in a sexual relationship with a self-absorbed prick. Much to her horror, Annie’s best friend, Lillian (played by Maya Rudolph), gets engaged and asks Annie to be her maid of honour. What follows is an increasingly disastrous series of events involving food poisoning, drunken disorderliness and public freak-outs as the plans for the big day itself are carefully assembled by a misfit team of bridesmaids. Director Paul Fieg’s very R-rated comedy is a no-holds-barred big ball of hilariousness that stands tall with such recent adult comedies as “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin;” it’s also absolutely essential viewing for anyone wishing to watch Melissa McCarthy taking a dump in a sink – I’m sure there are plenty of you out there.

10. “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

So, let’s talk about Kevin: “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a drama, a thriller and a horror; it is an emotional, intense and terrifying piece of arthouse cinema. It is directed and co-written by Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay; it is her third film and her first to be set outside of Scotland. Based on Lionel Shriver’s celebrated novel of the same name, it stars Tilda Swinton as Eva Khatchadourian, an American wife and mother. Her eldest son, Kevin, has done something horrific; I don’t think I’ll tell of the specifics of his actions. Eva now unfairly has to deal with the consequences and backlash of what Kevin has done; we also flashback to when Kevin was born, as he grew up and as Eva began to suspect there was something very wrong with her firstborn. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is dark and disturbing, and deliberately so. It features a powerful performance from Swinton as an exhausted and tortured mother; Ezra Miller is magnificently menacing as troubled teenager Kevin. Ramsay’s third film is an all-consuming, stylishly directed and tremendously well-acted domestic drama certainly worthy of being talked about – it is also the best form of cinematic birth control since Richard Donner’s “The Omen.”

9. “Tyrannosaur”

As one would expect from any British kitchen sink drama, “Tyrannosaur” is dark, depressing and unflinchingly violent – it may also hold the record for most utterances of the dreaded C word in a 2011 film. It stars enormously talented Scottish actor Peter Mullan as Joseph, a short-tempered drunken brute who, in the opening scene, we watch kick his own dog to death – well, that’s one way to grab an audience’s attention. Eager to change his abusive ways, Joseph seeks comfort in a seemingly happy and contented local Christian lady (Olivia Colman), whose dark and devastating secret threatens to respark Joseph’s anger and brutality. The overwhelmingly grim and relentlessly disturbing “Tyrannosaur” (which unfortunately contains not a single dinosaur) was English actor Paddy Considine’s directorial debut; it turns out Considine is as talented a director as he is an actor, if not more so. Showcasing two standout performances in the form of Mullan and, more surprisingly, comedy actress Colman, this harrowing, bleak and heart-breaking Brit-flick absorbs from beginning to end and haunts long after the end credits have finished rolling. I think it’s fair to say, though, that it’s most definitely not everyone’s cup of tea – especially dog people.

8. “Hugo”

Martin Scorsese’s passionate tribute to the old days of silent cinema was not only his first film to be released in 3D, but also his first proper all-out family flick – yes, apparently “Goodfellas” isn’t considered fun for all the family. Ah well. “Hugo,” based on Brian Selznick‘s bestselling children’s novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” told the story of an orphan boy who lives between the walls of a Paris railway station in the early 1920s. Young Hugo spends his days spying on passengers, stealing food, running away from the station inspector and fixing a rusty automaton that may have the ability to write; but what does the station’s toy shop owner know about the broken automaton? Magical, whimsical and utterly enchanting, Scorsese’s family-film debut just goes to show how versatile a filmmaker he really is – see, people, he doesn’t just do sweary, gritty gangster flicks with Robert De Niro; he does sweet and innocent family flicks too.

7. “The Skin I Live In”

Probably the most disturbing film of 2011, writer-director Pedro Almodóvar’s dark and deranged Spanish film “The Skin I Live In” is part drama and part body-horror. Based on the novel “Tarantula” by Thierry Jonquet, it stars Antonio Banderas as Robert Ledgard, a successful surgeon obsessed with creating an impenetrable synthetic skin. Within his home he has a captive, a strange lady on whom he is surgically experimenting. He keeps her in a locked room and tries out his synthetic skins on her, essentially using her as a human guinea pig; but something is going on between these two that is much more sinister and hair-raising than one might expect, revealed through several flashbacks that unmask a horrifying, mortifying secret – it’ll make you puke, in a good way.

6. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2”

Part two of the epic conclusion to the beloved “Harry Potter” film saga proved not only to be a more than satisfying end to the series, but also the very best of the lot (well, at least according to me). “Deathly Hallows – Part 2,” which was released in 3D, continued young wizards Harry, Ron and Hermione’s noble quest to destroy all the remaining parts of the callous Lord Voldemort’s evil soul. This leads them to the familiar setting of Hogwarts School, which they must heroically defend alongside their classmates and teachers from the enormous army of Death Eaters that Lord Voldemort has assembled; but who will be getting out of this battle alive – The Boy Who Lived or He Who Must Not Be Named? Fast, furious and tremendously exciting, “Deathly Hallows – Part 2” was one of the most epically epic films of 2011, packing in spectacular action, blockbuster thrills and hard-hitting drama worthy of shedding a few tears over – I’m not crying, I just poked myself in the eye with my 3D glasses.

5. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” instantly grabs its audience with an eye-popping hallucinogenic nightmare of an opening titles sequence and refuses to let go. This was Fincher’s redo of Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 Swedish film of the same name, both films based on Stieg Larsson’s bestselling novel, which was published as “Men Who Hate Women” in Sweden. It stars Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist, a recently disgraced investigative journalist who is contacted by Henrik Vanger (played by Christopher Plummer), an elderly millionaire who wishes for Mikael to solve the 40-year-old disappearance of his beloved niece, Harriet. Mikael gets to investigating and soon learns of Lisbeth Salander (played by Rooney Mara), the troubled and tortured computer hacker who performed a background check on Mikael for Henrik. Adamant to not have his name disgraced again, Mikael requests the aid of Lisbeth’s research skills; soon enough, the two are working together and find themselves on the hunt for a killer of women. Bettering the original film and beautifully translating the world-renowned novel onto the big screen, the brutally violent “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a haunting and hypnotic experience that showcases a career-best performance from Craig and a breathtaking performance from up-and-comer Mara that is impossible to take one’s eyes off of.

4. “Drive”

Essentially “The Transporter” with a brain, a heart and a sexy Ryan Gosling, “Drive” is Nicolas Winding Refn’s noirish tale of a nameless stunt driver who finds himself in the bad books of some violent gangsters. At night, The Driver works as a getaway driver for crooks and thieves; he’s very good at his job and very strict about his routine. But one day, a job goes outrageously wrong, leaving him with a boatload of cash belonging to an unscrupulous mobster who’ll do anything to get his money back. Featuring commanding performances from Gosling as the tight-lipped hero and Albert Brooks as the brutal baddie, “Drive” is an immensely absorbing and effortlessly cool American crime-drama, aided by Refn’s fearlessly stylish direction and an ‘80s soundtrack that sounds like it was hand-crafted by The Lord himself – Jesus is into synthesiser beats, apparently.

3. “A Separation”

Here’s a film only the nerdiest of film nerds will have heard about. Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, “A Separation” is an Iranian domestic drama about a potentially broken middle-class family. It stars Leila Hatami and Peyman Maadi as Simin and Nader, respectively. Simin and Nader have been married for fourteen years, have an eleven-year-old daughter named Termeh (played by Sarina Farhadi) and wish to have a divorce. This is because Simin wants to flee from Iran and live in Europe with her husband and daughter while Naader is adamant that he stay in Iran to take care of his elderly father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. The husband and wife unofficially separate, meaning someone must take care of Nader’s father while Nader is at work; Nader decides to hire the deeply religious and five-months-pregnant Razieh (played by Sareh Bayat), which sets in motion a disastrous, dramatic and morally complex chain of events. Exploring several intriguing themes such as religion, deception, responsibility and family, “A Separation” is one of the most effortlessly compelling dramas I’ve seen in yonks; its beautifully written script, intimate on-screen performances and stunningly realistic characters also help to make it tremendously accessible for “mainstream audiences” – yes, I mean you, you gormless clowns. I jest, I jest.

2. “The Tree of Life”

It’s difficult to describe the experience that is “The Tree of Life;” it’s such an original, ambitious and deliberately unique piece of filmmaking that one feels a few brief words of description wouldn’t do the film justice. Nonetheless, in an attempt to sum it up, I’d have to say it’s beautiful, mesmerising, uncompromisingly epic in scale, utterly stunning, often jaw-dropping, sometimes whimsical, sometimes haunting and never-endingly breath-taking; that sold you on it? Essentially, it’s a combination of a David Attenborough nature documentary and a family drama; one second it’s taking us through the origins of the universe and the next we’re watching Brad Pitt showing his son how to fight.  There’s hardly any dialogue, much of the film’s sound consisting of wonderful orchestral music including a score by Alexandre Desplat. The film is mostly a visual experience, the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki a spectacular feast for the eyes to behold. While some may find the film pretentious, tedious and boring (it actually got booed by many critics at its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival), I myself found it beautiful, enriching and absolutely fascinating. So, there!

1. “The Artist”

Relentlessly entertaining and practically faultless, “The Artist” is the sort of film that reminds us why we love going to the movies. Writer-director Michael Hazanavicius’ film is one that is about movies. It is a film about the death of silent film and the rise of the “talkies” in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s. The film, rather notably, is itself a silent film – it is presented in stunning black-and-white and its audio is muted; well, for the most part. Its story is a beautiful one; it tells of a man’s catastrophic fall from grace as a result of his pride-fuelled stubbornness. This man is George Valentin (played magnificently by Jean Dujardin), a dashingly handsome and widely beloved Hollywood star of the silent era. Cocky and proud, George confidently laughs in the face of the oncoming talky movement and refuses to participate in the medium; unfortunately, this ends up costing him his career, resulting in his name becoming more and more obscure as the talkies take over theatres everywhere. Meanwhile, a no-name extra (played by the exquisite Bérénice Bejo) with whom George was once infatuated is rapidly becoming a major star of the talky movement, and has taken notice of George’s slip into depression and desperation. Rarely does a film capture as much of a sense of joy and wonder as “The Artist” does; Hazanavicius’ film is an absolute pleasure to watch and a joy to become absorbed in. It is a wonderfully acted, utterly enchanting and insanely charming piece of cinema that is passionate, riveting and, perhaps most importantly of all, accessible. I’d say expect the Academy overlords to make a big noise over this silent film; it more than deserves it.

Endnote: The general rule for films eligible for inclusion on this list is this: any film eligible for consideration by the 84th Academy Awards – so, any of these 265 films – is 100% eligible for inclusion on this list. The eligibility for inclusion on this list of a film released in either the UK or the US in the year of 2011 that, for whatever reason, was not eligible for consideration by the 84th Academy Awards shall be decided by me. For example, I’ve decided not to include the wonderful “The King’s Speech” (which was released in the UK in January 2011) as it was more the talk of last year than this year (it won the big Oscar, remember). And hey, this is my blog, I can do whatever the hell I want.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I had decidedly mixed feelings about Guy Ritchie’s 2009 adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic series of novels featuring a certain master detective called Sherlock Holmes. On the one hand, I found the film to be a mostly enjoyable romp featuring a fun and charismatic central performance from Robert Downey, Jr., yet on the other I was frequently rolling my eyes at Ritchie’s bullet-time visuals and found myself disinterested in the plot far too often. Its sequel, “A Game of Shadows” is a different story; this time the plot is fully engaging from start to finish, contains nary a dull moment, and the bullet-time visuals, while still utilised a little too often, are slightly less grating.

“A Game of Shadows” sees Downey, Jr. proudly returning as the definitive detective of British literature, once again playing Holmes with a knowing eccentricity as he captures crooks, hunts for clues and throws an innocent lady off a moving train – it’s to save her life, I assure you. Jude Law also returns as Dr. Watson, Holmes’ straight-faced partner in mystery-solving and criminal-catching. However, Holmes and Watson’s long-lasting partnership is under threat, as Watson is due to be married to the beautiful Mary (Kelly Reilly, “Eden Lake”) – ever the selfish type, Holmes does not like this one little bit.

Together, Holmes and Watson must face their ultimate foe: Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris, “Mad Men”), a cold and callous lover of chess and killer of innocents. Using his yet-unchallenged skills of detection, Holmes discovers that Moriarty is up to some dodgy business involving assassination attempts and acts of terrorism; it soon transpires that Moriarty has evil plans to spark war in Europe, meaning Holmes and Watson must work together to prevent the collapse of western civilisation. “No pressure,” comments Holmes. Indeed.

“A Game of Shadows” is much bigger in scope than its predecessor; I suspect this was a very deliberate ploy by Ritchie and his writers to make the film feel more epic and grand like all sequels must be, although I must say it’s a ploy that works wholly in the film’s favour. While the first “Sherlock Holmes” was based entirely in the gorgeous setting of Victorian London, “A Game of Shadows” takes us on an adventure to France, Germany and finally snowy Switzerland for the nail-biting climax. What with all this casual continent-hopping, one almost feels as if the film is yet another “Bond” movie, albeit set in the late 19th century and featuring homoerotic undertones – also, I’m sure Professor James Moriarty would prove himself to be a worthy adversary of 007.

Indeed, Moriarty is a magnificent villain, much stronger than the villainous Lord Blackwood from the previous film, that’s for sure. As with every appearance the character has made in print, TV and film, Moriarty is shown here to be Holmes’ equal; the two are intelligent, cunning and deep-thinking men who treat each other with a whole heap of mutual respect – they battle not with fists but with words, and also chess pieces. Harris plays Moriraty with a shark-eyed, stone-faced, cold-hearted menace that chills one to the bone, yet captivates entirely; he’s a wonderful actor and fits the role perfectly.

Downey, Jr.’s scenery-chewing performance is just as charming and appealing as it was in the previous film; he’s given Holmes an effectively unique personality, and makes “A Game of Shadows” very much his film and no one else’s. Saying that, Law makes for a splendid sidekick, this time given much more work to do, with Watson actually getting his hands dirty during the film’s wide assortment of action set-pieces. The constant banter between Holmes and Watson is also very entertaining, written with a high level of wit and humour; they’re an amusing pair and also have a very convincing “bromance” going on between them.

I mentioned the action set-pieces there; the film has a fair collection of them scattered throughout its 120-minute length, which may work only to annoy purist fans of Conan Doyle’s work. However, for those aware of the fact that Ritchie’s films are reinterpretations of the original books rather than authentic adaptations, these very cool and unashamedly stylish slices of over-the-top action are rather fun to behold. The most enjoyable set-piece is perhaps the one that takes place on a train during Watson’s honeymoon – at one point, Holmes and Watson end up lying on the floor of a carriage as bullets fly overhead, all while Holmes is dressed in women’s clothing, his face smothered with mascara and lipstick as he chews away on his trusty pipe. Brilliant.

“A Game of Shadows” is a substantially better film than its middling predecessor; it features a better villain, a better storyline and better set-pieces. It’s more exciting, more thrilling, more engaging and thus a more satisfying movie-going experience. And while it may very much piss off Conan Doyle purists, it works perfectly fine on its own terms as a big, silly, overblown pantomime – take notes, "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise.


Thursday, 22 December 2011

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

I’d say “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” is the best of the series so far; don’t get your hopes up, though, suffering parents – it’s still a load of old poppycock. I should make it clear that by “best” I mean “most bearable,” as in “least likely to make you want to stick a screwdriver in your ear canal” – I suppose this is the most you could possibly hope for out of a family-friendly film franchise about all singing, all dancing, computer-generated chipmunks. Now, I’m not saying you won’t ever have the desire to take a little stab or two at your poor, suffering eardrums whilst enduring “Chipwrecked” (you very well could and probably will), I’m just saying the desire to self-mutilate may not crop up quite as much as you may anticipate – maybe only every ten or fifteen minutes will you be eyeing your trusty screwdriver.

This second squeakquel sees the all singing, all dancing CGI critters becoming hopelessly and helplessly stranded on a remote tropical island – well, that’s a pretty good start. This is following an unfortunate paragliding incident on the grand cruise ship that was supposed to take the chipmunks and chipettes to the International Music Awards. Instead, they’re starving to death and slowly losing their tiny little minds on an uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere, yet still they sing their crushable little lungs out – hooray!

Meanwhile, the chipmunks’ human owner/companion/whatever Dave (Jason Lee, “My Name is Earl”) has, unbeknownst to the chipmunks, become stranded on the other side of the same island after attempting to find his furry friends. Joining him on his search for the “chipwrecked” chipmunks is the previously villainous Ian (David Cross, “Megamind”), who spends the entire movie dressed in a pelican costume – looks like someone managed to majorly piss off the writers, eh, Cross?

What this rather unimaginative plot means is that the chipmunks spend much of the film on their own, i.e. clunky human-chipmunk interaction is kept to a minimum; this is a merciful plus. You see, it’s the scenes featuring the chipmunks and the chipmunks alone that are the most bearable; you’d think it’d be the opposite, but badly written dialogue means that any and all scenes featuring living, breathing human beings are irritatingly unnatural – with computer-animated rodents, this is not so much of a problem. Plus, poor Jason Lee and David Cross, two very talented comedic actors, are little more than pictures of disinterest and embarrassment by this point – they no longer give a squeak, I suppose you could say.

In all honesty, I don’t really mind the chipmunk characters; they’re amusing enough and the original three at least have notable personalities. We have high-spirited leader Alvin (voiced by Justin Long), bespectacled brainbox Simon (voiced by Matthew Gray Gubler) and chubby doofus Theodore (voiced by Jesse McCartney). We also have the Chipettes, the three female chipmunks introduced in 2009’s “squeakquel.” These are high-spirited leader Brittany (voiced by Christina Applegate), bespectacled brainbox Jeanette (voiced by Anna Faris) and chubby doofus Eleanor (voiced by Amy Poehler) – they’re essentially what the original chipmunks would look like if they were to each undergo a sex change.

None of the uselessly A-list voice-actors do any of the singing, of course; that’s left to the professionals. The singing is near-constant, providing pointless musical interludes as the chipmunks belt out all the current, soon-to-be-forgotten pop tunes in their squeaky little voices, sometimes in acapella, sometimes with the support of the original music. We have everything from Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” as well as a tremendously witty reworking of a Willow Smith song: “Whip My Tail Back and Forth.” The soundtrack shall sell well, I assume, and drive parents up the friggin’ wall.

As well as a barrage of pop tunes, we have a never-ending slew of pop culture references. There’s a nudge to Robert Zemeckis’ “Cast Away:” Zoe (Jenny Slate), a crazy castaway whom the chipmunks encounter, has several friends in the form of footballs with faces painted on. There’s a nudge to William Golding’s classic book “Lord of the Flies:” Simon uses the lens of his glasses to light a fire (though I suspect this will go over the heads of many). And then there’s a very outdated nudge to Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy: at one point, Eleanor, while holding a mango she finds, cries out, “My preciousss” in the unmistakable style of Gollum. Now that’s comedy!

Speaking of comedy, this film has none, or at least none in the funny section. It lazily strives for funniness and never quite manages to reach it, resulting in a wholly laughless affair that suffers from the belief that the sight and sound of singing, dancing, squeaky-voiced chipmunks is enough to entertain and distract an audience for 80 minutes; I assure you, dear filmmakers, it most certainly is not, especially when we’ve already endured it two times before.

Look, if you, for whatever reason, found any enjoyment in either of this film’s predecessors, then you may once again find enjoyment in “Chipwrecked.” For those of you who didn’t, I’d advise you to avoid “Chipwrecked” as if it were a rabies-infected chipmunk. As predicted by most, it’s clinically hollow-minded, painstakingly unfunny and a laborious chore to sit through. Most people over the age of five shall gain absolutely nothing from it; those under the age of five (i.e. stupid kids) will have a whale of a time.


Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Jack and Jill

Two years ago, Adam Sandler starred in writer-director Judd Apatow’s rib-tickling comedy-drama “Funny People.” In “Funny People,” Sandler played a successful fortysomething comedian who had sold himself out to the Hollywood system and was now starring in hopelessly dumb, schlocky comedies; for example, one film that was briefly shown had Sandler’s character playing a hideous man-baby (a baby boy with the head of a fully-grown male). Obviously, this was intended by Apatow to be a mockery of the idiotic, big-budget studio comedies Hollywood is known to churn out nowadays; it was a sharp, albeit simple, piece of satire heightened by the involvement of Sandler, who in the real world had also latched onto crappy comedies of this sort.

However, it seems Sandler is determined to become a parody of himself not only on the big screen but also in real life. You see, his latest movie, “Jack and Jill,” is a film so bad, so stupid and so utterly insulting that it’s almost as if one of the fake movies from “Funny People” burst out from the screen, landed in the real world and somehow managed to gain a wide theatrical release for mass public consumption; the fact that this is not the case – i.e. a crew of professional filmmakers actually made this film – is absolutely horrifying.

“Jack and Jill” is yet another movie – scratch that, product – from Sandler’s very own production company, Happy Madison Productions. It also marks the seventh collaboration between Sandler and his usual director, Dennis Dugan, who together have given us such unforgettable comedy classics as “Grown Ups,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” and “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.” If that’s not an indication to avoid this film at all costs, I don’t know what is.

Their latest film, another comedy, contains one joke; this joke is that Adam Sandler is playing his own sister. Actually, hold the phone, the film has two jokes: Adam Sandler is playing his own sister, and the sister is very annoying. These two jokes, thin as they may be, are stretched out way beyond their limitations to 90 painful minutes of mind-numbing “comedy,” much more than the two to three minutes they deserve on a bad episode of Saturday Night Live – indeed, Sandler’s old SNL buddies all get their own cameos in the film, including David Spade, who plays a much more convincing woman in the film than Sandler.

The plot, if you can call it that, is as follows. Jack (Sandler) has a twin sister named Jill (Sandler in a dress and wig and putting on a lady voice, LOL). Jill flies all the way to Jack’s ridiculously fancy house for Thanksgiving. Jack doesn’t like Jill. Jill is very annoying. Jill does stupid things that annoy Jack. Jill stays at Jack’s house longer than she intended on.  Jack becomes mad. Jill accidentally becomes romantically involved with Al Pacino (yes, Al Pacino from “The Godfather”), with whom Jack wishes to do a business deal. Jack decides to keep them together until the deal is done, but Jill, for some strange reason, doesn’t want to go out with Al Pacino. Jack becomes mad. Jill continues to be annoying. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Throughout these 90 minutes of pitiless torture, we watch as Jack becomes increasingly frustrated with Jill’s behaviour, which stretches from social idiocy (talking on her mobile phone in a movie theatre) to cultural ignorance (adamant that “It’s a Wonderful Life” is not called “It’s a Wonderful Life”). This concept has worked in films before – for instance, there’s the hysterical 1991 Frank Oz-directed comedy “What About Bob?” in which an egotistical psychiatrist is driven mad by the actions of one of his patients, a lovable, accident-prone and incessantly intrusive goof who is a very entertaining and genuinely hilarious character.

This is opposed to “Jack and Jill,” throughout which we, as an audience, are as frustrated by Jill’s behaviour as Jack is; the character of Jill is not likable, funny or entertaining, instead obnoxious as hell, tediously unfunny and absolutely insufferable to watch. We are not entertained by Jill; we are irritated by her, and every second she spends on-screen is a second we feel we could spend doing something much more productive – clubbing baby seals, for example.

The film also manages to be incredibly insulting to its audience. For starters, the comedy on display is deplorable bottom-of-the-barrel kind of stuff, chock-a-block with witless, brain-dead humour that probably wouldn’t even appeal to your average three-year-old. For example, we have an old Mexican lady getting thwacked in the face (which occurs twice in the same scene), a Shetland pony having its legs crushed under the weight of Jill (which doesn’t make much sense, as Jill really isn’t very fat, but hey, who cares?), Jack’s gardener being a Mexican who constantly jokes about being Mexican (LOL, he’s Mexican), and the always-reliable sound of characters passing gas (I counted this occurring 11 times throughout the film). If I were an Adam Sandler fan, I’m sure I’d feel insulted that Sandler felt this was what I wanted out of a comedy; even as a non-fan, I still felt insulted.

And then there’s the amusingly unsubtle product placement that constantly pops up on-screen, with the film starting and ending with two full-length commercials (one for Pepto-Bismol, the other for Dunkin’ Donuts). This is because the character of Jack rather conveniently works as an advertising executive, and part of the plot of the film is that he wants Al Pacino to do a commercial for Dunkin’ Donuts (because “Dunk-A-Chino,” one of the company’s new products, sounds like “Al Pacino”). Also, if you go and see this “film” (though I don’t know why you would) look out for the scene in which Jack and Jill go to the cinema together and point their snacks in such a direction that the Coca Cola logos printed on the packaging are in the perfect position for the camera to see; you shouldn’t really miss it, as director Dennis Dugan makes sure you don’t.

I’m hesitant to even call “Jack and Jill” a film; I see it more as a 90-minute Dunkin’ Donuts commercial consisting entirely of a series of unfunny comedic events revolving around exasperating recurring characters bereft of any sense of personality or motivation. Nonetheless, it has received a theatrical release and will no doubt earn a hefty sum of money, undeserved as every penny it earns may be. As a reviewer, all I can do is warn you not to see the film, which, at this point at least, stands as the worst and laziest film of 2011; I’d also like to point out that I found it more unbearable than “The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence).” Anyway, I have to go as I’m off to get myself some Dunkin’ Donuts and a swig of Coca Cola, or, perhaps more appropriately, some Pepto-Bismol.