12 Months of Movies 2010: G-I

Gasland to Iron Man 2!

Gasland

One man’s documentary about saving his backyard, Gasland is the story of Big Gas poisoning American citizens and denying it despite some pretty compelling evidence. Collateral damage is to be ignored and swept under the carpet, because the people you hurt – they’ve got cancer or are dead or whatever, so who cares?

A compelling study of something that may yet bear fruit, Gasland is good but also frustratingly amateurish by design. The handheld camera work is less than professional and the quality of the stock suffers as well. The message is there but the execution is off. I realise that this lends the project an air of authenticity, but the “lack of polish” approach to film making that has sprung up in recent years is one that I can emphatically do without.

I saw Gasland at the Sydney Film Festival, where it was paired with a Scottish short film called The Shutdown. The recollections of writer Alan Bissett were vivid. He described night in his oil town as “just like Blade Runner”. I knew exactly what he was talking about. Nothing but a monologue and scenery, The Shutdown was a more than perfect companion.

Get Him To The Greek

I loved Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It was one of the better romantic comedies. I won’t say that this was because it was written by a man or geared towards men – romantic comedies aren’t a huge matter of gender, but rather of cynicism on the part of crew members of all stripes. Forgetting Sarah Marshall was honest and raunchy and featured male nudity, which of course upset a lot of people.

Get Him To The Greek is a spin off of Russell Brand’s memorable character from that movie, presented by the same director, who has taken the writing reigns from Jason Segel. No one thought that there would be a problem with giving a really funny supporting character his own film, but there is: he has to be everywhere in the movie, and this either waters him down or makes him exhausting. I have never liked films that rely on drug abuse for laughs, and this isn’t that different.

Don’t get me wrong, Get Him To The Greek is not without its moments, but it’s another one of those “sometimes funny but not very good” films. Weak story and situations hinder rather than help a comedy that actually gets most of its laugh from P. Diddy, of all people.

The Ghost Writer

Roman Polanski!

If you put aside the whole cult of personality that this film has earned by virtue of having an exiled rapist as its director, you’re left with a film best described as “grey”. Ewan McGregor investigates the case of former Prime Minister James Bond’s mysteriously dead ghost writer, and is in danger of becoming an ironic ghost writer himself.

A good cast spearheaded by ice queen Olivia Williams and inexplicably featuring Kim Cattrall in British mode can’t keep a movie so deliberately grey afloat. Thrills are few and far between and the ending is a godawful insult.

The Girl Who Played With Fire

For more background, see the following entry.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is a better film than The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, at least in my eyes because, while it too cuts out vast swathes of the book that it adapts, it has more of an eye for what could afford to be cut out. Basically entire subplots and characters are removed in all but the barest detail, but this is fine because it allows more time to focus on both Blomkvist and Salander. Certain incredible elements of the book are rendered even more unlikely by the harsh gaze of the camera because the entire thing has to be seen by the audience, but somehow the whole project works. The fact that the movie is not packed with stifling rape scenes or endless Swedish winter also helps to raise it above its predecessor.

Disbelief is suspended easily enough, and the whole thing ends on a cliffhanger that suggests that a lot more interesting movies and books could have been wrung from this franchise had Larsson not died.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

There seem now to be two distinct schools of thought: those that say Lisbeth Salander is the perfect avenging angel and author Stieg Larsson left us too soon, and those that loudly deride Larsson’s work as clunky, overblown, misogynistic and, worse, boring. Let us ignore the third school, which says of the movies, “if I wanted to read, I’d get a book” and, of the books, “whoops, I’m functionally illiterate”.

It’s possible to be indifferent through lack of exposure to the material, but if you happen upon everyone’s favourite possibly autistic vengeance powered hacker demon goddess, you’ll likely have an opinion. I don’t think The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a particularly good movie. It leaves out too much of the book and certain elements make no sense. It’s also pretty long and seems very superficial. Everyone I know who saw it without reading the book liked it a lot – except, of course, for those (two) who hated it.

Picturesque but not particularly interesting with some bizarre changes from the source material, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is an okay film adaptation of a much more interesting book.

Greenberg

Yet another love/hate proposition: the one-two punch of Noah Baumbach and Ben Stiller. Stiller made two movies in 2010: Greenberg and Little Fockers. Now, I haven’t seen Little Fockers (and will go to my grave not having done so), but I’m willing to bet that only half of Stiller’s output for the year was any good.

Greenberg is that movie, but it’s not for everyone. Ben Stiller plays a largely directionless and extremely depressed man who house sits for his more successful brother. He hangs out with his brother’s assistant, Greta Gerwig, and they hang out extremely awkwardly. It’s a subtle movie, and I saw it on a Sunday morning in a tiny cinema with only eight other people. It’s a “portrait of a life” film that never feels leaden, no matter how slow or sad it is. Baumbach has created a very “deliberate” film: everything is measured, and when, at the end, someone tries to kick Greenberg into a different gear, it’s so unnatural that he has no choice but to reject their plans and carry on as he was. One of 2010’s best offerings.

Green Zone

The current Hollywood wisdom is “no one wants to see a film about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan”. This is not necessarily reflective of the quality of these films, because some have been very good. Unfortunately, Green Zone is not one of them. Documentary and American patriotism-cred director Paul Greengrass thrusts Matt Damon into a situation that most intelligent people are familiar with. An unchallenged audience counters with “tell us something we don’t know”.

Do you know what the moral of Green Zone is? That there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That is the entire movie. There is no real thrill to the investigation. There are a lot of stories that the audience go along with despite knowing the outcomes, but that’s because they’re told in an exciting or comforting way. Green Zone is so cookie cutter that its familiarity breeds nothing but contempt. Throw in Brendan Gleason with an American accent and you’ve lost me entirely.

Harry Brown

“Britain’s answer to Gran Torino!” Yes, yes it is, if Clint Eastwood learned nothing and was horrible and the message was that life is a series of cruel oppressions soluble only by the application of lead to peoples’ faces at high speed. After his neighbour (and only friend) dies, Michael Caine sees the British constabulary as impotent and decides to take the law into his own hands. A lot of chavs die and we’re supposed to applaud. Unlike your typical action movie, which exists in a vacuum, the pretensions of reality about Harry Brown add a particular glory to all of Harry’s actions.

We are supposed to believe that vigilante justice is the most pure form of justice. We’re not supposed to be sickened by it, but I was. This movie is shot entirely in shades of black, grey and brown. No light escapes this film. At the time of its release, one critic who hated Harry Brown interestingly juxtaposed the film with Fish Tank: Fish Tank was depressing in many places, but it was bright and sunny, and the people had hope. Harry Brown would have gone to their estate and shot the lot of them dead.

Loathsome cinema.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows (Part 1)

We’re almost there. Next July, however long this journey has been, it’s finally going to be over. The Harry Potter film series has been a mixed bag. There’s no point trying to compare them to the books because the films definitely come down on the losing side.

Still, with David Yates helming the last three books (and four films) in the series, we’ve attained a certain consistency. Sadly, The Deathly Hallows is kinda dull because it’s only half of the story – and it’s the less interesting half.  If you want to see Harry, Ron and Hermione fighting and camping and, most strangely, dancing to Nick Cave, this is the movie for you. Don’t get me wrong, when something is actually happening – like the flight to the Burrow or the infiltration of the Ministry of Magic – the film is legitimately exciting. Still, there is an awful lot of bloat to this film. I would never describe any of the Harry Potter cinematic oeuvre as “essential cinema” (except maybe Azkaban), but this is potentially the least impressive effort since the days of Columbus.

The Hedgehog

The poster for this movie reads “Freely inspired by the novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog”. What does this mean?! It’s a pretty much direct adaptation, almost scene for scene, from the novel! The Hedgehog has a very nice feel to it. It’s about two socially maladjusted people who come to understand themselves better through one another and their new, incredibly rich, Japanese neighbour.

The sad thing about The Hedgehog is that its ending is terrible. It’s beautifully written in the book, but still stupid and awful. Yes, our existences are arbitrary, but that doesn’t mean we should let arbitrariness harsh our mellow. I will probably never watch or read this again. It made my mother very angry. All of the good work and warm feelings are undone by an idiotic final five minutes.

How To Train Your Dragon

“Gonna train your dragon/gonna train it good/train him for the winter time/to light firewood”

How To Train Your Dragon is one of the better computer animated films of 2010, which is surprisingly a fairly strong field. While more “grown up” films focus on romantic relationships, films like How To Train Your Dragon and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs focus instead on parent/child relationships  – or, most accurately, father/son relationships. This makes it a lot easier for me to identify with them, because I have a father.

In summary, How To Train Your Dragon is my Blue Valentine. Wait, that’s not entirely accurate. Anyway, How To Train Your Dragon is a fun movie with a good heart and an inexplicable cast. All of the adult vikings are Scottish, and all of their children vikings are American or Canadian. The movie does not attempt to make sense of this: your father is Gerard Butler, respected Canuck Jay Baruchel, and that’s the way you’re going to like it! So yes, the feeling of flight, the promotion of the message “perhaps diplomacy is better than killing everything” (a message a lot of conservatives find repugnant, by the way) and the suggestion that each son does not have to do the same thing as all the others to get their father to love them make this a grand old animated film.

The Hurt Locker

I would have very little to say about The Hurt Locker if it hadn’t won all of the awards it had done. I would have simply dismissed it as another movie and gone on my merry way. But … The Hurt Locker won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and therefore it must be torn down. Yes, Jeremy Renner is a good actor. No, this is not a particularly outstanding movie that tells it like it is, it’s a dramatic tale of an irresponsible guy. I am fine with a movie showing that war is hell, but the idea that an IED disposal unit is run by a guy who doesn’t follow orders and just goes off on his own and does whatever means that not only should we not approve of the war effort but that we’re also screwed.

An ineffective character portrait by virtue of its sheer incredibility, The Hurt Locker deserved none of the accolades that were heaped upon it. The whole “husband versus wife/woman director/I am Woman” narrative was great for the Academy, but why do trail blazing awards always have to be given to such comparatively bad movies? The Hurt Locker is the worst Best Picture winner since Crash – but, to be fair, nothing is as bad as Crash.

I Am Love

Cold and distant ice queen Tilda Swinton is melted by the magic of prawns. Guadagnino’s return to the melodramatic form is the best I’ve seen since Haynes’ Far From Heaven. Swinton truly is a force of nature and she carries the weight of this film on her shoulders. Despite the fact that we’re witnessing the implosion of a Milanese textile family, the intensely personal presentation of every sensation Swinton experiences – after she finally learns to feel again – means that there is absolutely no problem being entranced by the beauty that is projected on the screen.

The climactic scenes initially may seem a bit much, arbitrary and out there, but the realisation that they are true to form and that they allow the set up for the crescendo of one of the greatest final sequences of 2010 makes it all worthwhile. A treasure, but one that some audiences gave up on all too soon.

Inception

BARM BARM

Would that I could leave it there! Inception is one of my favourites of 2010, and the only movie I saw three times at the cinema. Thing is, I liked it more each time.

For instance, the first time I totally missed the significance of the spinning top totem, because I’m an idiot.

That said, Inception is not a difficult movie. It does not need a lot of “unpacking”. Everything in the film is explained as it goes along and a confused audience is simply an audience that isn’t paying attention.

A masterful heist, a cool idea and great acting add up to making Inception an easy highlight of 2010, and suggests that if the audience’s hand is held then the elusive “common man” is willing to sit through a “high concept” film.

Iron Man 2

Sometimes I retcon movies in my own mind. When I was watching the original Iron Man, I didn’t think it was that great. I got really excited by the post-credits scene, but apart from that it wasn’t a particularly interesting movie to me. In my mind, it grew to some monolithic example of comic book films done right. Well.

Iron Man 2 disabuses us all of this notion, coming as it does with Tony Stark forgetting all of the valuable life lessons he learned in the first film so that he can be rich mega jerk and obnoxiously fight Don Cheadle to the incredibly obvious choice of Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock”.

Mickey Rourke, fresh off his success in The Wrestler, makes a great go of it as an old fashioned Russki who wants his bord, and Sam Rockwell is great as Stark’s less competent business rival.

It’s an okay movie, but it squanders Gwyneth Paltrow (who is actually a good actress!) and ScarJo is only so much pointless bloat, as is most of the set up related to her storyline.

Another unimpressive Marvel film which could have done with some streamlining. But expanded franchises will be the death of us all.

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One Response to 12 Months of Movies 2010: G-I

  1. Wavatar Mark says:

    Of the movies I’ve seen (about 10 of the above), I agree with all your comments except the Millenium stuff. I liked the first film much more than both of the sequels, though I think they’re all pretty good. The thing I really enjoyed about the first film was the way Salander and Blomkvist interacted with each other, and I think a big part of the reason I didn’t care as much for the sequels was that those two characters were separated for pretty much the entire time. I also like that the first movie had a stand-alone mystery. The prospect of delving into Salander’s past and how her father is an evil criminal (or whatever) and the ridiculousness with which that is carried out doesn’t really interest me that much…

    One other comment: I agree totally on The Hurt Locker, though I do think the film has some wonderfully tense action sequences (the opening sequence is awesome, as is the sniper sequence).

    Also, a question: Did you see How To Train Your Dragon in 3D? I didn’t, and I’m told that I missed something…

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