January 8, 2012

2011 at the Movies: Surprises and Disappointments

Every year has them. No matter how you look at it, they are going to happen. If you are into movies at all and see any number of them, there are bound to be times when you walk out shaking your head in disbelief at what you just saw and just as many times where you come out blown away by what you just saw. Isn't it fun coming out with your expectations exceeded? I know I love that. Anyway, here are some movies that landed in the surprise/disappointment category for the year.

Let's start on the bad end of the scale, and these are in alphabetical order:

Cars 2. Now, I was never all that big a fan of the first, but it looked great and had a breezy feel to it. Well, the second one is here and it is not fun at all. Sure, the animation is absolutely gorgeous, but the story is lame. It is a thin Bond riff that puts Mater at the center of a story that essentially tells you to be who you are regardless of who it hurts. I've seen worse, but I expect more from Pixar.

The Descendants. Not a bad movie, but I expect more from George Clooney and Alexander Payne, particularly Payne. This movie plays on the emotions, chooses not to play the traditional way, instead rely on the character as plot device. If you've seen it (or even just the trailer) you know who I am talking about. It is annoying and makes the whole thing feel unnatural.

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night. On paper this looks like a winning concept (even if it was already explored on Angel). A hard boiled detective dealing with an underworld of supernatural beasties that could border on noir. Sounds like a winner. The problem is the execution is awful and the project is just dreadfully boring. Another reason I wanted t like this is that it is from the same guy who created Cemetery Man (which stands as one of the best zombie movies ever). This probably would have been better as a TV series.

Green Lantern. I had hopes for this one. Even though I was not high on Ryan Reynolds casting, I still thought there was a lot of potential. Sadly, the film feels like two incomplete movies that were shuffled together in the hopes no one would notice. There is no real sense of wonder or excitement, it is all matter of fact and dealt with too quickly, just watch the final battle. Quite the disappointment.

Hangover Part 2. I saw an image making fun of this movie, it was an interview shot that asked what the writing process was like, the bottom said CTRL-C. That about sums it up. This really is the same movie over again, only this time the humor and substance has been sucked out. It is a boring movie that has few laughs and is more annoying than anything. You would be better off rewatching the first.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The first Pirates movie was great, the sequels were good, but less so. This fourth movie seems the franchise on auto-pirate. It is a little boring, a little dull, a little annoying, and for such an epic tale as searching for the Fountain of Youth, it feels awfully constricted. While I have certainly seen worse, and this does have a couple of decent scenes, you would be better served revisiting The Black Pearl.

On the other side of the coin, 2011 had some surprises as well, there were a few more on this side, also in alphabetical order:

Attack the Block. When this played SXSW it had enormous positive buzz around it. It deserved it. This mash of horror and science fiction, with some comedic touches is an utter blast. This movie has elements of other familiar films but rather than rely n familiarity, director Joe Cornish whips them into something that feels fresh and unique. This movie is an adrenalin blast that deserves to be seen and savored.

Bridesmaids. This has been called Hangover for women, and that is partially accurate. What you have here is a surprisingly funny, surprisingly touching movie. It is raunch with heart and helps show just how funny Kristen Wiig can be. I am not exactly a fan of all her SNL characters, but nobody can be funny the way she can. This is a surprisingly strong comedy and also has a great supporting turn from Melissa McCarthy.

Drive Angry. This movie is a blast. Anyone who likes the resurgence of grindhouse style cinema should check this out. Drive Angry is brash, loud, trashy fun with blood, gun fights, car chases, and gratuitous nudity. This is a fun movie that needs to be experienced. I remember looking forward to it but not expecting much, I walked out with a big grin in my face. Nicolas Cage and Amber Heard a fun duo.

The Green Hornet. I may be in the minority here, but I was very pleasantly surprised with this one. Seth Rogen as a masked hero? Who would have thunk it? It has a great blend of superhero elements from the likes of Batman and Superman, some stylish action sequences, an interesting villain, and a great sense of fun. It is far from perfect, but it gets a lot more right than not.

Like Crazy. Here is a movie that caught me off guard. It is a romantic film and these days it seems nearly impossible to get it right, save a few rare occasions. This one features a mostly improvised screenplay and good chemistry between the leads. It is a movie that shows a relationship begin and grow and the effects that time and space can have on it, turning it into something else entirely.

The Rite. Every exorcism movie seems to want to be The Exorcist. Lofty expectations, hard to reach. Well, this one has proved to be pretty dang good, surprisingly so. It has a certain amount of theatrical thrashings, but it also does not appear to mock or belittle faith. Instead it brings a certain intelligence and genuine skepticism that won me over. Plus, Anthony Hopkins appears to be having a good deal fun.

Winnie the Pooh. I am actually still surprised I went to see this, but I am glad I did. It is a delightful movie for kids. It employs the classic style of the old Disney adaptations, makes no attempt to modernize the character, and does not have a cynical bone in its body. It is just a really sweet film that is sure to win over young and old alike.

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