Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Bearded Bullet's 2012 Film Rankings (Updated)

Hello, my friendly Internet!  I thought I'd try something new this year.  Rather than wait till the end of the year to rank all the films I've seen (which I did for 2008-2010), or even to simply make a top-ten list, I am going to keep a running list of all the films I've seen that are released within 2012.  The number after the title is the amount of times I've seen said film.  I'll continually update the list and rankings.  Theoretically, by the end of the year I should already have a top-ten list compiled.  To quote the late, great Heath Ledger..."And here...we...go."

1.  Cloud Atlas (4)
2.  The Dark Knight Rises (7)
3.  Silver Linings Playbook (1)
4.  Skyfall (5)
5.  End of Watch (2)
6.  Zero Dark Thirty (3)
7.  The Avengers (11)
8.  Argo (2)
9.  Django Unchained (3)
10.Wreck-It Ralph (2)
11.The Cabin in the Woods (3)
12.The Hobbit (5)
13.The Raid: Redemption (1)
14.Looper (3)
15.Prometheus (4)
16.Dredd (1)
17.Lincoln (1)
18.Ted (4)
19.The Grey (3)
20.Lawless (3)
21.Flight (1)
22.The Hunger Games (4)
23.Life of Pi (1)
24.The Expendables 2 (2)
25.Magic Mike (1)
26.21 Jump Street (2)
27.John Carter (3)
28.Act of Valor (3)
29.Chronicle (3)
30.Taken 2 (2)
31.Haywire (1)
32.Jack Reacher (1)
33.Solomon Kane (1)
34.This Means War (1)
35.Seven Psychopaths (1)
36.The Bourne Legacy (1)
37.People Like Us (1)
38.Men in Black III (1)
39.Pitch Perfect (1)
40.ParaNorman (1)
41.The Amazing Spider-Man (1)
42.The Campaign (1)
43.The Five-Year Engagement (1)
44.The Man with the Iron Fists (1)
45.Resident Evil: Retribution (1)
46.Battleship (1)
47.Killing Them Softly (1)
48.Paranormal Activity 4 (1)
49.Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (1)
50.Wrath of the Titans (1)
51.Snow White and the Huntsman (1)
52.Brave (1)
53.Wanderlust (1)
54.Silent House (1)
55.Man on a Ledge (1)
56.Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (1)
57.Safe House (3)
58.Contraband (1)
59.The Master (1)
60.Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (1)
61.Red Dawn (1)
62.The Woman in Black (1)
63.Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (1)
64.American Reunion (1)
65.Lockout (2)
66.Savages (1)
67.Dark Shadows (1)
68.The Lorax (1)
69.Underworld: Awakening (1)
70.Red Tails (1)
71.The Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn: Part 2 (1)
72.Anna Karenina (1)

The Bearded Bullet.

The Iron Lady Review

Sup Internet!  This'll be a short and sweet review...because I didn't like The Iron Lady all that much.

The Iron Lady is a biopic of sorts about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  Much like last year's other big biopic, J. Edgar, Iron Lady bounces between time periods to take us through the title character's life.  The main part of the story takes places in a more modern time, with an aged Thatcher dealing with her deceased husband's (played quite fantastically by Jim Broadbent) belongings and the onset of what probably is Alzheimer's.  She isn't the woman she once was, and we are taken through her life in myriad flashbacks.

I found the most compelling part of the story was the time we spent with a young Thatcher who is just getting into politics and starting a family.  The story as a whole is a mixed bag, bouncing from hallucinating-elderly Thatcher, to her younger self during key events throughout her reign as PM.  The main thrust of the narrative was to showcase that Margaret was a tooth-and-nails-fighting-politician, who did "battle every single day of [her] life."  She fought in her early years in college.  She fought to get a seat in the House of Commons.  She fought to become leader of her party.  She fought to become prime minister.  She fought to retake the Falkland Islands.  We get it.  She fought every day of her life.  I understand the need to focus on a connective through-line to highlight her political career, but it was done so at the loss of learning about her personal life.

The biggest missed opportunity in The Iron Lady is with respect to Thatcher's personal life.  Not that these films are directly comparable, but in 2010's The King's Speech, the King's personal life was dealt with quite nicely, as his wife was made into an actual character that directly affected the narrative.  Jim Broadbent is quite frankly wasted.  He is a fantastic actor and deserved more screen time.  I understand that this is a film about Margaret Thatcher, but its safe to assume that her family played a large role in her life.  She has two children that we don't really even see in any of the flash-back scenes.  And even then we don't get a real sense of how they affected her life and vice versa.  An argument could be made that Thatcher is a strong, independent woman (who, in one scene, points out that she made it alone for the first twenty-four years of her life) and this is reflected in the absence of her family for a large portion of the film.  I still would've liked to see what kind of impact her husband and children had on her.

The Iron Lady's biggest strength is its cast.  Specifically Meryl Streep.  She is on a whole 'nother planet in this film.  Within seconds you forget that you're watching Streep and think you're watching footage of Margaret Thatcher herself.  Its truly spellbinding to just watch Streep's Thatcher talk.  Her accent is incredible and captures the screen with her presence.  Even when she's playing the elderly Thatcher she's fantastic to watch.

The Iron Lady as a whole didn't really work all that well for me.  Much like J. Edgar, you watch this movie more for the performance than for the actual substance.  In that regard, TIL is fantastic.  Streep's acting ability is in full force and is mesmerizing to behold.  The rest of the film just didn't quite jell for me.  Sometimes there's just too much content in a lifetime to confine to one film.

The Iron Lady is a showcase for Meryl Streep's acting chops...but not much else.

Bullet is out.

The Artist Review

Well hello, Internet!  The Artist recently won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical.  At the time of this writing its also up for ten Academy Awards, including best picture.  And I think it fully deserves that honor.  I must point out that I have already made my Top Ten list, but I may have to go back and edit it.  I enjoyed The Artist that much.  It may not be my favorite film of last year, but its definitely one of the best.

The Artist is a black and white silent film set in the 1920s.  The story follows George Valentin (played brilliantly by French actor Jean Dujardin), a well-known and celebrated silent-film actor who meets a younger dancer, Peppy Miller.  Peppy shares a scene with George in one of his films, leading to strife in both his personal and professional life.  "Talkies" are on the verge of becoming huge in Hollywood, and George's agent/producer, played by the great John Goodman, decides that Peppy will be the new face of their studio and be the new star of all of their talkies.  This puts George out of a job and into a spiral of self-destruction not helped by the Great Depression.

The story is absolutely fantastic and quite a joy to watch unfold.  Without dialogue.  There are title cards used at times of important dialogue but the rest of the time its up to us to follow the plot through emotion and gesture.  Its quite refreshing in today's cinema landscape of fast-talking and visual overload to just sit back and let the performances truly shine.  And shine they do.

Jean Dujardin is beyond fantastic as George.  He wears his emotions on his sleeve - something very much needed in a film of this type.  Berenice Bejo is a joy to watch as well; at first you notice her beauty, then you notice her acting skill, both within the context of her character in the film and the actress herself.  She is incredibly believable as a newcomer-turned-starlet over just a few films.  The rest of the cast is fantastic as well - John Goodman is always great to watch and James Cromwell makes a great turn as George's chauffeur and helper.  Again, their acting is on stage (no pun intended) and showcased with great effect.

Being a silent film there is virtually no spoken dialogue.  There is only one small instance of audible dialogue and its handled brilliantly.  There is also only one instance of sound of any kind (sans music) and again, that particular scene is truly fantastic.  That brings me to the music.  The score complements the film perfectly and helps us to feel what the characters are feeling or experiencing much more than most modern scores.  I may love the scores to Tron: Legacy or The Lord of the Rings, but neither of those capture the heart and emotion of that of The Artists'.

While I absolutely loved The Artist its not my typical film choice, and the same can be said for plenty of you as well.  I know several individuals who have absolutely no desire to see it whatsoever, mainly for the lack of color and audible dialogue.  I'm willing to give anything a chance.  And I'm very glad I did.

The Artist is a true masterpiece of cinema and an extreme joy to experience.

The Bearded Bullet is off to re-write his Top Ten list...

Haywire Review

What up Internet?  Last week I saw Steven Soderbergh's latest film, Haywire.  I'm a fan of Soderbergh's films; there isn't really a bad one in the bunch.  And that includes this fantastic mercenary/spy action-thriller.  Much ado was made about the story revolving around Haywire's lead, MMA fighter Gina Carano.  Soderbergh saw her fighting (while channel surfing) and decided to write a film around her.  And Haywire plays to her strengths with great effect.

Its no secret that Carano is no actor.  This is quite evident in her performance throughout the film.  She isn't necessarily bad (trust me, I've seen plenty of worse performances - see Beastly and you'll know what I mean) - she isn't necessarily great either.  Her delivering of dialogue is stiff and stilted; she shows virtually no emotions outside of "I'm angry and I'm gonna kick your ass."  Its also no secret that Soderbergh edited and altered her voice in post production.  He wanted to create a voice for the character of Mallory Cane that wasn't Carano's.  He apparently took lines and even singular words from multiple takes and mashed it together to form her audible dialogue.  I admit to being able to detect something was up with her voice during the film; it felt very ADR-heavy.  And this was before I knew about the voice alteration.  Some of this may factor into her stilted performance, but she did give these lines, after all.

And that's my main complaint with Haywire.  I absolutely loved everything else about it.  The story is simple enough yet has plenty of twists and shockers peppered throughout.  Mallory was set-up and betrayed by her employer and is on the run from hired killers.  The action bounces from Spain to England to here in the States.

The real star of the film is the action.  As I mentioned before, Soderbergh plays very well to Carano's strengths - kicking tons of ass.  The first scene of the film sees her attacked by Channing Tatum, only to have her utterly demolish him in a small-town diner.  There are plenty of these amazing moments spread out over the course of the film.  There is one particular chase scene that is just as good as anything seen in any of the Bourne or Bond films.

The action is visceral.  Raw.  Believable.  Evident throughout most of the film is the 1970s-style poppy soundtrack (also used in the Ocean's films and in The Informant!) that feels at times out of place for the world we're invited into.  This music is completely gone from all fistfights.  So is most of the audio.  Noises are toned down to accentuate the connecting punches, kicks, and environmental combat.  The punches in Haywire sound and look incredibly real.  As a matter of fact, most of the actors did their own stunts, including Carano and Michael Fassbender - who get into an INSANE hotel-room brawl.  Their choosing to do their own stunt-work made these intense brawls more believable than most films - and also meant that there weren't an overload of tight shots or quick-cut-editing.  The Bourne trilogy is known for kinetic, fast-cutting fight scenes.  Soderbergh keeps the camera back with wide shots, allowing us to appreciate the fight choreography in all its glory.

I must mention quickly that I loved pretty much everyone in this film.  Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton, Ewen McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, and Michael Angarano were all great to watch.  For me, Fassbender can do no wrong.  Seeing him in this film, in the role he inhabits, I can most definitely see him stepping into the shoes of James Bond some day.  Ewen is always a joy to watch, even if he does have a terrible haircut.

I quite enjoyed Haywire.  Its a gritty, heavy-hitting action/spy/revenge action film with superb directing from Soderbergh.  Its got a light, airy quality to it at times which is rarely seen in films of these types.  His use of digital over film is quite evident; Haywire has a very vivid, clean, crisp look to it.  Its almost in contrast to the dirty, brutal fighting exhibited by Carano.  I hope that she has a good future in action films; I feel that we need more strong female leads (for action films) in Hollywood, that don't involve the Resident Evil or Underworld franchises.

Haywire is an entertaining, very well-made action thriller.

Bullet is out.

The Grey Review

Greetings and salutations, Internet!  I recently had the privilege of seeing Joe Carnahan's (The A-Team, Smokin' Aces) The Grey.  I say "privilege" because I feel like The Grey is one of those films that you may be excited for but you are truly blown away when you actually get to sit down and watch it.  This may sound like high praise but I assure you that The Grey is very good.  If it had come out at the end of last year it would've made my Top Ten list.  Maybe even top five.

The Grey's plot is quite simple.  Liam Neeson's Ottway is a contract-killer of wolves in Alaska (he protects outdoor workers from predator wolves).  He and a group of rough and tumble cold-weather laborers are on a flight to Anchorage when their plane crashes in the middle of nowhere.  Ottway and a handful of survivors band together to survive the cold...then the wolves show up.  The Grey is a mix of the concepts of man vs. nature and man vs. beast.  The fact that these men are left with little to survive on, in a frigid landscape, is enough for one film.  The Grey adds in man-hunting, predatorial, vicious, wolves.  Ottway's knowledge of the predatory animal does come in handy, but not much can protect the survivors (who have no real weapons).  I don't want to spoil anything; one of my favorite aspects of the films is that you truly do not know what will happen next.

The performances are absolutely fantastic.  Liam Neeson is one of my favorite working actors; he just seems to disappear into any role he is given.  One of Batman's most powerful villains?  No problem.  Badass government agent whose daughter is kidnapped by European sex-slavers?  Check.  Uh, Qui-Gon Jinn?  Hell to the yeah.  He's fantastic to watch in The Grey.  His character is complex and one that we can all sympathize with.  He's calm, cool, and collected for the vast majority of the film.  He appears to always be in control of their situation even when he admits to being scared out of his mind.  The rest of cast is great as well, even if you can't really tell who they are because of their facial hair/heavy winter clothing.

The Grey is just so damn good.  It really is.  There isn't much I would change - but the ending will be a dividing force amongst filmgoers.  I personally thought the ending fit perfectly within the context of the film.  Just make sure to stay after the credits for one last haunting image that spells out everything quite well.

I feel that I would be remiss to not mention the fact that this film is very rated R.  I don't pay much attention to MPAA ratings these days, but the gore and violence in this film surprised me quite a bit.  I was not prepared for full-on human mutilation.  I'm not offended by it at all; I just wasn't anticipating it.  At times I felt like I was watching a horror film set in the Alaskan wilderness.  Think The Thing, but with wolves instead of aliens.  There were more than a few times that I jumped in my seat because of an attacking wolf.

I cannot recommend The Grey highly enough.  Its a fantastic, excellently-crafted, well-shot, gripping, enthralling action-survival film.  Because of the tense nature of their situation and the gore it definitely isn't for everyone.  But if you're a fan of Liam Neeson, so see it.  If you're a fan of survialist films, go see it.  If you like excellent films, go see it.  Just go see this film.

The Grey is an excellent, thrilling, survival film.  And a great start to 2012.

Bullet is out.

Man On A Ledge Review

What what Internet?  I'm just going to come right out and say that I really enjoyed Man on a Ledge.  For me, the trailer was pretty looked like a generic thriller with some pretty cheesy editing and dialogue.  I'm a fan of Sam Worthington and I really don't think he gets enough recognition for his work.  Now I know what you're all going to say - yes, his choice of roles maybe hasn't been the best for showcasing his talent (his best role is probably his voice-work in Call of Duty: Black Ops), but I still like the guy a lot.  He brings a certain charisma to his performances that is appealing to watch.

Man on a Ledge is a well-made, fairly competent heist thriller that takes several interesting and cool turns as it plays out.  I don't want to get too spoilery (as with most thrillers, having the twists and turns spoiled ruins the whole experience), but the plot follows Worthington's Nick Cassidy, recently escaped from prison, who is threatening to jump off of a New York hotel while his brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and his girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) attempt to steal a diamond from wealthy businessman David Englander (Ed Harris) who accused Nick of stealing it over two years prior.  Nick went to jail with a twenty-five-year sentence for a crime that he didn't commit.  This adds a twist to the more traditional robbery/heist films from recent memory.  Take last year's Tower Heist and make it a bit more dramatic, with more players and you'll get MoaL.

I quite enjoyed the performances in Ledge.  I already talked about Sam, but co-star Elizabeth Banks was great as well (love her in 30 Rock and Scrubs), as were Titus Welliver (Lost's The Man in Black) and Anthony Mackie.  Mackie's been popping up lately in more films - and I'm digging it.  He's fantastic in The Hurt Locker, The Adjustment Bureau, and even in Real Steel.  Ed Harris is great as always...but man does he look old.  Its not fun seeing actors looking maybe not-so-badass any more.  Even going back just a few years to films like A History of Violence, Gone Baby Gone, and Appaloosa, he's changed quite a bit. Luckily that doesn't effect his panache for being a slimy bad guy.

I really enjoyed Man on a Ledge.  Its a well-made, gripping heist thriller...with a man on a ledge.  I'm not a fan of heights so I was on edge for most of this film.  The thrilling nature of seeing Worthington literally on a ledge was mirrored with the heist aspect; a different kind of thrill.  I'd recommend this film to almost anyone; there really isn't much wrong it and yet there isn't anything that launches it into the stratosphere of films like Gone Baby Gone or The Town.  If you suspend your ability to call out minor plot holes or contrivances (hotel windows aren't supposed to open...) I think you'll have a fun time at the theater.

Man on a Ledge is pretty entertaining.

The Bearded Bullet is going to stay away from heights for a while..

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Underworld: Awakening Review

Hello Internet!  I'd like to preface this review by saying that of the three previous Underworld films, I had only seen the third, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.  And I didn't really like it.  It was actually at the very bottom of my film rankings of 63rd place.  Needless to say I didn't have very high expectations for the film.  The second trailer started to get me excited for it.  Then I saw the film.  And I enjoyed it way more than I had anticipated.

The whole film just clicked for me.  Its nothing too spectacular.  Its not terrible either.  Its a perfectly serviceable action/horror film that I found highly entertaining.  The narrative itself is quite small in scope and only spans two days' time.  While there isn't anything inherently bad with that choice, I couldn't help but want a larger quest or mission to play out.  The last Resident Evil film (its fairly easy to compare these two Screen Gems' franchises) has the type of scale that I was hoping for.  The story is interesting enough, if not fairly predictable, and kept me engaged throughout the fast-paced eighty-eight-minute run time.  I honestly could've watched another half-hour or so and been perfectly happy.

The action is fairly well-done, as are the visual effects.  I quite enjoyed the blend of digital/practical effects for the lycans.  Having not seen the previous films, I also was fascinated by the futuristic werewolf/vampire-killing technology employed throughout the film.  I would've never thought of a silver-dust-filled grenade that upon inhaling, would cause the lycans to burn from within.  All three of the major action set-pieces were highly entertaining, with the final battle being the most fun to watch.

Kate Beckinsale is great at kicking tons of lycan ass.  The rest of the supporting cast does a decent job with the material.  I felt that relative new-comer India Eisley did a great job of holding her own against older, more seasoned veteran actors.  And she kicked a bunch of lycan ass, too.  And it was awesome.

As you can tell I quite enjoyed Underworld.  I tried to turn my brain off while I was watching it and I very much think that helped quite a bit.  When I start to question the logic of the film (where does Selene keep her ammo magazines?  If she doesn't carry extra ammo, why the hell not?  Why doesn't she keep a sweet sword with her at all times?) I start to realize the many cracks and flaws in this fourth Underworld movie.  And I don't really want to.  Will it make my top-ten when the year is up?  Most definitely not.  But that doesn't mean it isn't entertaining.

Underworld: Awakening is a perfectly fine, entertaining, action film.

The Bearded Bullet is off to watch the first two Underworld movies...

Red Tails Review

What up Internet?  After decades of toil, George Lucas (executive producer) finally brings us his passion project, Red Tails.  The film follows the valiant Tuskegee Airmen and some of their trials and tribulations during the Italian campaign of World War Two.  Still steeped in the intolerant and racist 1940s, the brave pilots had to fight not only the air but on the ground, on a day-to-day basis.  Originally confined to "simple" recon missions the Red Tails (named for the red paint on the tails of their planes) eventually are allowed bomber-protection missions and prove quite successful and gain notoriety.  This all sounds like it would make a compelling narrative...but alas, Red Tails just falls short of the target.

The narrative just didn't work for me.  The aerial combat is a sight to behold; stellar visual effects and stunning camerawork make compelling action sequences.  When the drama lands and dialogue takes center stage...yowza.  Some of the dialogue is compelling and interesting.  The rest of the time I couldn't tell if I was supposed to laugh or be offended (although there are very few actual racial slurs throughout the film).  The dialogue between the Red Tails was borderline camp at times.  Don't get me wrong, I felt the plight of the Tails; not being allowed in Officer's Clubs, being given second-rate missions.  Its just wasn't entertaining.  There is an entire plot thread introduced in the second act that exists SOLELY to give the film a happy ending.  There really isn't a need for it as not much time is devoted to it.  Exactly two scenes, probably totaling five minutes of screen time, was devoted to this plot thread.  Then it comes back at the very final moments of the film to give us a reason to cheer.  At that point Terrance Howard was delivering a speech to his pilots...and would've been a great note to end on.  Most of the plot beats are already-over-used tropes in most military films (bad guy that starts out kicking butt gets his due in the end, cavalier pilot who doesn't follow orders, soldier falls in love with native and bad stuff happens...)

For the most part the acting was not atrocious.  Cuba Gooding Jr. was either miscast or just can't act any more.  Denzel Washington should've been all over this movie.  Perhaps he would've classed up the joint.  I enjoy Terrance Howard and his performance in Red Tails is fine.  The rest of the supporting cast is a mixed bag.  Again, I'm sure if the material these men had to work with was better written they might've been able to do more with it.

As I mentioned before the real star of the film are the visual effects and aerial combat scenes.  Frankly I wanted to see more of them.  And its hard to NOT get a Star Wars vibe during the action.  In fact, many of the sound effects for the fighters sounded eerily like TIE Fighters.  If anything, Lucas has mastered the art of space/aerial combat in a way few others could portray.

At the end of the day Red Tails is alright.  There isn't anything truly spectacular that makes it stand out from the crowd.  Recasting Cuba and a stronger script could've helped to elevate the film to a whole new level.  Instead it flounders on the runway and never truly gets off the ground.

Red Tails is a saddeningly mediocre war film.

The Bullet is out.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Bearded Bullet's Top 10 of 2011

Hello Internet and goodbye 2011!  You were an interesting year...plenty of surprisingly awesome movies (Attack the Block, Hanna) and some that, well, didn't necessarily get the job done (Cowboys & Aliens, Battle: LA). 2011 was an interesting year in that there were dozens of films that I enjoyed quite a bit.  When I sat down to make my top ten I started with closer to twenty and pared it down from there.  I saw a total of 72 films that were released in 2011.  And these are my absolute favorites.

A quick note before I get to my list:  This is a "favorite" list and not a "best" list.  There were fantastic films that I left off the list that may be "better" then some of my entries.  Films like War Horse, The Tree of Life, and The Descendants are three that come to mind.  These ten films are the ones that I enjoyed the most or had the best time viewing.  There are also several films that I have not yet seen that I wanted to: Shame, Carnage, The Artist, The Devil's Double, Beginners, The Iron Lady to name a few.  Perhaps I'll edit my list after I've seen them.  With all that out of the we go!

10.  Hugo - To be honest I went into this film not all that excited.  I'm a fan of Scorsese's films and the idea of him adapting a children's book didn't get me all that excited.  The trailer came out and I still wasn't all that sold.  Then I saw Hugo.  And my mind was irrevocably changed.  I love every aspect of this film.  The setting, story, characters, music, visual effects, cinematography; everything just worked.  The story of Hugo Cabret is compelling; the mystery surrounding the automaton discovered by his father (Jude Law) was intriguing and a storyline that I became emotionally engaged in.  The film evolves into a love-letter from Scorsese to the first filmmakers in history...all while Martin himself pushes technology and film-making forward through the fantastic used of 3D.  Hugo features the best use of 3D that I've ever seen - its used to enhance the experience and immerse the audience in  1930s Paris.  To say that Hugo is magical is an understatement.

9.  Immortals - This selection may earn me a bit of backlash.  To see my thoughts in their entirety you can read my full review.  I saw Immortals in theaters many times this year, both in 2D and 3D.  Every year I find a good action movie and latch onto it.  Last year it was Tron: Legacy.  This year it was Immortals.  Its a relatively "dumb" action movie that more than delivers on the action.  I think Henry Cavill is great as Theseus and has a bright future as an action star (he's playing Superman in 2013's Man of Steel).  I could talk at length about the incredible action sequences and amazing set-pieces.  With a stronger narrative Immortals could've risen higher on my list.

8.  Captain America - Going into this summer Cap was one of my most anticipated films.  And it turned out being one of my favorites.  Going up against Thor and X-Men First Class is no small task, and Cap came out on top, for me.  I'm in love with history, specifically World War Two.  The setting and tone of Cap is incredible.  The story is fantastic; Steve Roger's arc is fun to watch and is the wholesome hero of his era.  Hugo Weaving's Red Skull is a fantastic villain and a pure joy to watch.  His reveal to Steve about what he really is is one of my favorite moments of the year.  Steve and Peggy's romance just felt real.  It felt natural.  Its certainly more believable than Thor and Jane Foster's.  Captain America is an excellently-made old-fashioned action film with real heart and character.

7.  50/50 -  There is so much to like about this film.  Fantastic performances, a compelling and engaging narrative and visceral emotion.  I'm a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and an even bigger fan of Seth Rogen.  Both are quite likable and great in their roles as best friends.  50/50 seems like a fairly accurate depiction of how a twenty-something would deal with the revelation that they have cancer.  Levitt puts in an intensely believable performance that brings us along with him through the journey of discovery, coping, and treatment.  I could relate to the emotions he was feeling and how he dealt with his relationship to his newbie therapist, played wonderfully by Anna Kendrick.  Rogen brings the funny throughout the film, and not in the usual manner.  It all feels natural for the situation(s) these characters find themselves.  I cried few times in 2011 in the theater and this film has one of those moments.  50/50 is one of the most heartfelt dramadies of the year.

6.  Moneyball - Brad Pitt is near the top of list of my favorite working actors.  And in Moneyball he puts forth one of his best performances to date, if not the best.  Pitt's Billy Beane is a complicated, layered man with a past he isn't too proud of.  I never read the book nor am familiar with the real-life events surrounding the film's narrative.  As a film it is quite fantastic.  Jonah Hill puts in a career-best performance as well, as Beane's right-hand man.  The narrative is compelling; you can't help but route for the underdog Oakland A's and Beane and Brand's new method of player recruitment.  This film screams the concept of the underdog.  The defeated A's are rebuilt using under-valued players that fight against all odds to prove their formula can work.  Moneyball is quiet, compelling, and entertaining.

5.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - You can find the majority of my thoughts in my review.  I absolutely loved this film and what it brought to the table in terms of changes to the source material.  David Fincher is a perfectionist and master craftsman.  And that comes through brilliantly with Dragon Tattoo.  You can tell that every shot, every angle was meticulously planned out and executed to a T.  Tattoo comes with some flaws, but at the end of the day its a supremely entertaining thriller that has some lasting, haunting imagery.

4.  Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol - Again, you can find my complete thoughts in my review.  GP is the quintessential action film.  I wouldn't change a thing about this film..except for a more memorable villain.  That said, Protocol is one helluva thrillride across the planet with a bevy of memorable action set-pieces that I still think about to this day.  The section in and around the Burj Khalifa hotel still boggles my mind and stands as the highlight of the action-film-scene of 2011.  Considering this is his live-action debut, Brad Bird has promising action-film career ahead of him.

3. Warrior - This film is absolutely fan-friggin-tastic.  There is so much that I love about Warrior.  The characters are interesting and compelling; Nick Nolte, Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Jennifer Morrison put in great performances all-around.  You feel for Nolte, a former drunkard who destroyed his family with his addiction.  When his son, Tommy (Hardy) comes back into his life you see that Nolte has changed, yet has done irreversible damage to their much that Tommy wants virtually nothing to do with his father.  Edgerton and Morrison's plight is one that we are all too familiar with and can sympathize with more so than most protagonists.  The two brothers start training for an MMA fight of the century; a single-elimination, two-night tournament for a prize of five million dollars.  Each brother is fighting for their own reasons; the revelation about who Tommy is and why he's fighting is fascinating and quite intriguing.  The parallel between Captain Ahab and his obsession with the white whale (the audio book Nolte continually listens to) and Nolte's own white whale (Tommy) is one of my favorite aspects of the film; Tommy comes in and out of his father's life and when they finally come together as a team (for the Atlantic City tournament) Tommy's whale drives his father to self-destruction over their failed relationship.  The outcome may not be all that surprising, but the journey is incredible.  The actual fights are well-choreographed and feel very real.  I was on the edge of my seat more than once during these amazing brawls.  I didn't think I could like a film like this more than 2010's The Fighter...but I think I do.

2.  The Ides of March - 2011 had quite a few great thrillers.  Ides was one of the finest.  George Clooney continues his directorial (and actorial) domination.  I can't speak highly enough about this film.  The stand-out is the cast: Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood.  All put in strong, believable performances.  Gosling is mesmerizing as Clooney's Governor Mike Morris' right-hand man.  The plot is laden with political intrigue and back-door-dealing and is fascinating to watch.  One wrong step or meeting can lead to (political) suicide.  Clooney's Morris is strong, imposing, yet warm and likable at the same time.  You want to vote for the man the first time you meet him.  Then you want to toss him out to sea by the end.  To me this feels like an accurate depiction of how real-life politics operates.  Hand-shaking and smiling on the outside, while campaigning, with career-ending secrets and mistakes lurking in the background.  The Ides of March is a compelling and highly entertaining political thriller.  A must-see.

1.  Drive - Full review here.  For me there was little debate over what was my favorite film of 2011.  I knew very little about Drive going into it.  And that was a good thing.  I was blown away by every facet of this well-crafted action-thriller-drama.  Drive combines the best of those genres into an amalgamation of brilliance.  Drive has some of the most brutal, visceral action scenes I've ever seen.   Yet it also features some of the most interesting character-work in recent memory.  To juxtapose the extreme violence are calm, quiet moments between Ryan Gosling's Driver and Carey Mulligan's Irene.  Intense silence.  Yet so much is said during those moments of intense silence.  Arguably more is said during those scenes then when the characters actually speak to one another.  Drive's soundtrack is one of the most memorable I've ever heard.  I listen to it on an almost-daily basis.  I can count on one hand the number of soundtracks/scores that I can listen to and pinpoint where exactly in the film they lie.  Songs like "Nightcall," "Under Your Spell," and "A Real Hero" perfectly compliment what's transpiring on screen.  All of these words cannot accurately express how I feel about this film.  Its very, very early to determine, but I have a feeling Drive will end up in my all-time favorite list, up there with Saving Private Ryan, The Dark Knight and many, many other fantastic films.

And there you have it.  2011 was a pretty great year for good films.  Here's to hoping that 2012 can live up to it!

The Bearded Bullet is off to wait for the Drive bluray...

Contraband Review

Greetings Internet!

This will be a quick last few have been quite long-winded.  I enjoyed Contraband quite a bit.  And it has no business being as entertaining as it actually turned out to be.

I'm a fan of Mark Wahlberg and most of his work.  I found him quite enjoyable in Contraband.  There are myriad examples of the now-classic Wahlberg Stare (just coined by me, thank you!) that just screams "I'm gonna beat the shit out of someone."  He has some great moments of pure brutality that I absolutely loved.  While the film doesn't get too graphic or violent, Mark's anger comes through quite strong.  I feel that Giovanni Ribisi is an under-appreciated actor in Hollywood.  He seems to make himself indistinguishable in each of roles.  Its hard to imagine this same man playing a drunk-out-of-his-mind Nazi journalist in The Rum Diary, or a young medic on the shores of Normandy in Saving Private Ryan.  He's great as a slimy, skeezy villain here in Contraband.  I loved to hate him.  The same goes for Ben Foster.  I love him in pretty much everything he's been in.  He's fantastic in 3:10 to Yuma and quite good in The Mechanic.  He always brings a quiet calm with intensity bubbling beneath.

The narrative is fairly compelling yet has its fair share of plot holes and missteps in logic.  I don't want to get into spoilers but there is one specific scene involving Foster and Kate Beckinsale that should've played out much differently.  I enjoyed the drug-running aspects of the film; its a touch of the Ocean's trilogy mixed with the world of drugs.

At the end of the day there isn't anything truly spectacular about Contraband, yet nothing that screamed at me as being terrible.  Its a decent action/thriller.  And January seems to be home to films of this type.  And I'm okay with that.  Not every film will be on the level of Drive or even Taken.  In this post-awards season Contraband is a cheap, yet enjoyable thrill.

Contraband is a perfectly adequate action-thriller.

Bearded Bullet is out.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Review

Greetings and salutations, Internet!

I finally had the opportunity to see Tomas Alfredson's (Let the Right One In) Tinker Tailor Solider Spy.  I have not read the book, so I went into this film with fresh eyes.  Well, not exactly.  With full disclosure I had been spoiled, and knew who the spy was.  This information didn't really have an effect on whether or not I enjoyed the film; there were other qualities that lent more to my enjoyment of the film.

TTSS is a hard-boiled spy "thriller."  I put thriller is quotes because it isn't all that thrilling.  It is rather a slow-paced character drama...that doesn't let you know too much about the characters themselves.  To get to the heart of the matter, that was my biggest gripe with the film.  Alfredson keeps the audience at arm's length with regards to these character's back-stories and who they really are.  We get little more than a name and perhaps their status within the "circus."  The big reveal as to who the spy is is teased several times throughout the film, yet didn't produce a big reaction from me when the reveal finally came.  And that is because not much time is spent with the suspects; again, we know only their names (and that is fairly hard remember in its own right) and spend barely minutes with each of them.  I can't help but feel that more set-up was required to make the emotional impact of the reveal stronger and more effective.

My other main gripe is the pacing of the film; the beginning thirty minutes or so drag quite a bit.  Only when Tom Hardy's character makes a certain phone call does the main thrust of the plot really take off.  And even then the story moves at a snail's pace.  Not to say that that's inherently a negative.  An action film this is not - there are no high-tension shoot-outs, no James Bond-ing.

That said I quite enjoyed TTSS.  The cast is insanely packed with high-caliber talent: Mark Strong, Gary Oldman (putting in an Oscar-worthy performance), Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch (recently cast as the villain in Star Trek 2), Colin Firth, John Hurt and Stephen Graham.  There isn't a single poor performance in the entire piece.  Again, I wish we could've spent more time with each individual character; perhaps just a small scene giving us a little more back story about who these people are and where their motivations lie.

What I appreciated the most about Tinker was that nothing was dumbed down at all.  The films picks up using language that may confuse audiences: "Control" refers to John Hurt as head of the intelligence agency, "The Circus" refers to the agency itself.  Names are thrown around without context or explanation.  You just have to sit back and let the narrative play out, allowing us to piece together the puzzle along with Oldman.  Confusion can easily set in and at times I really didn't know why characters were doing what they were doing, but by the end all of it made sense, even if I didn't really enjoy how it all played out.

Tinker Tailor is a very "cold" film.  It felt very clinical in its presentation of facts and the characters.  I got the same feeling from 2011's Contagion - the characters are kept purposely out of reach of the audience so we don't get all that attached.  I feel that TTSS could've easily been twenty-to-thirty minutes longer and been perfectly fine.  Story-lines involving the main suspects could've been added, and allowed for a more impactful reveal of the Russian spy.  If you enjoy spy thrillers, or just well-acted period-pieces I recommend Tinker Tailor Solider Spy highly.  If you are easily confused or bored then perhaps this isn't the film for you.

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is an enjoyable thriller..that may underwhelm you by the end.

The Bearded Bullet is...going to try to remember the names of the main characters...

The Bearded Bullet's Most Anticipated Films of 2012 (and Ones You Should Pay Attention To)

Sup Internet?  Alas a new year is upon us.  It feels like yesterday that I was writing my thoughts on the upcoming films of 2011.  I haven't quite yet seen all of the films from this year that I want to, so my best-of lists will come at a later time.  With 2012 already here I thought it prudent to begin looking toward the potential awesomeness that this year's films could bring.  I'll give a rough list of what I'm looking forward to, followed up with my five most anticipated and why I'm excited for them.

Haywire - 20 Jan
Redtails - 20 Jan
Safe House - 20 Feb
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance - 17 Feb
Act of Valor - 24 Feb
The Lorax - 2 March
John Carter - 9 March
The Hunger Games - 23 March
The Raid - 23 March
Wrath of the Titans - 30 March
Cabin in the Woods - 13 April
Rock of Ages - 1 June
Snow White and the Huntsmen - 1 June
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - 22 June
Brave - 22 June
GI Joe: Retaliation - 29 June
Magic Mike - 29 June
The Amazing Spider-Man - 3 July
The Bourne Legacy - 3 Aug
Total Recall - 3 Aug
Expendables 2 - 17 Aug
The Wettest County - 31 Aug
Gangster Squad - 9 Oct
Gravity - 21 Nov
World War Z - 21 Dec

5. Django Unchained (Christmas Day).  I'm a fan of Tarantino.  I love all of his films, including those he wrote/acted in but didn't direct.  Django Unchained, described as a "Southern," not a Western, boasts an insane cast, including: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christoph Waltz, Kurt Russell, Jamie Foxx, and Don Johnson.  Foxx plays a runaway slave fighting to get his wife back.  Its rare that Leo plays the villain role so I'm definitely excited.

4. Skyfall ( 9 Nov)  Casino Royale is my favorite James Bond film and one of my all-time favorite films.  After the disappointment that was Quantum of Solace (hurt badly by the writers strike of 2008) I was very much looking forward to the next film in the franchise.  Financial problems at MGM prevented production from beginning for years and now its finally shooting as we speak.  Sam Mendez is behind the lens with a stellar cast including: Craig and Judi Dench (reprising their roles) with the talented Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem beefing up the talent quotient.  Very few details have been revealed, but at the very least we know that something from M's past has come back to threaten MI6 and Bond is sent to stop the threat, testing his loyalty to her.  Mendez is a fantastic director and his assembled cast is quite stellar.

3. The Avengers (4 May)  This is the ultimate fan-boy dream; seeing Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow teaming up to take on Loki, who is hell-bent on enslaving the human population.  The journey to this film has been long and arduous.  Never before has anything of this scope been attempted in cinema; five lead-in films established these characters and built them into one connected Marvel world.  Countless theories have been thrown out regarding who the rest of the villains are and the story as a whole.  Director Joss Whedon (who else could work with this excellent ensemble cast...well, besides JJ Abrams) is more than capable behind the camera, and from what we've seen so far in the trailer(s) and spy footage, The Avengers looks to be a bombastic action film that unites our favorite heroes into one kick-ass team.

2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (14 Dec) - The Lord of the Rings trilogy dominated box offices and the world in general in the first half of the previous decade.  Again, after years of development hell (with MGM once again behind the majority of filming issues), and Guillermo del Toro leaving the project, Peter Jackson is finally delivering the first part of a duo of films based upon The Hobbit.  The first trailer that was released gave me goosebumps; its odd to feel nostalgic about something that isn't yet a decade old but I still felt all of those types of emotions bubbling up.  It looks as though Jackson has re-captured the look and feel of Middle Earth and will hopefully deliver two fantastic lead-ins to his previous trilogy.

1. The Dark Knight Rises (20 July) - Do I really need to go into detail about this one?  The Dark Knight is my second all-time favorite film and to me, is a real masterpiece of cinema.  TDKR has been under scrutiny for years now; more spy photos and videos came out of its production than I've ever seen.  And we still don't know all that much.  Tom Hardy's Bane looks imposing and ominous (even if you can't hear everything he's saying) and Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle/Catwoman looks devious and a threat to Bruce's wealth and estate.  The marketing for the film is focusing heavily on Bane and the fact that this is the close of Nolan's trilogy.  All of this leads me to believe that Bane will end either Bruce or Batman to close out the series.  My anticipation is beyond measure; I and two friends drove to Pittsburgh in August to be extras in the Heinz Field scene (a large portion of the first trailer) and I more recently traveled farther than usual to see the TDKR "prologue" in 70mm Imax that was attached to Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.  You can read my thoughts on the prologue here.  I plan on camping out over-night to get the first spot in line.  Crazy?  Maybe.  Awesome?  Most definitely.

Bullet out.