As you may well be aware, I am not able to write a full review for every movie that I see simply because there are too many movies that I’ve seen and the way I usually write reviews takes up too much time to do each justice. To fix this inconsistency though, I have written mini-reviews of movies that I usually don’t feel like writing full reviews of. What’s more, to make this worth your time, I will group them together. Without further delay…
1. Rated: Hanna (2011)
What happens when you raise your kid to be an unstoppable killing machine, a’la Jason Bourne? Well, for one, that kid kicks serious ass, but at the same time said kid will miss out on his/her childhood. That is the premise of this movie. Hanna is the unstoppable killing machine, raised by her ex-CIA father in a secluded cabin. This makes for a movie that is half action/adventure, half coming of age. This is an interesting combination, but I think what comes after this movie would have been even more interesting. Once Hanna “completes” her purpose in life, what does she do next? It’s an interesting psychological investigation, one that there is too much action in this film to cover adequately. Still, the direction, acting, and ebb-and-flow story line are a welcome relief to the rather generic action films that Hollywood routinely puts out.
Synopsis: Hanna’s mother died as a result of a set up by the CIA. Her father raises her with one purpose; revenge.
- Acting: Saoirse Ronan does a fantastic job in a very tough role as Hanna, and Eric Bana is a strong and mysterious presence as her father. Cate Blanchett plays the antagonist, and does well but is betrayed by the fact the we don’t see her very often in that kind of role. Good (23/25)
- Script/Plot: The story surges forward full bore at times, and then transcends into an indie-film-like drama at others. Fast or slow it is at least all interesting. Okay (19/25)
- Direction: Perhaps the best part of the movie is Joe Wright’s direction. He hasn’t done a full action movie before but really adds an artistic touch that gives the movie a warm feel. Good (24/25)
- Special Effects: The action scenes may echo the Bourne trilogy at times, but nonetheless Ronan does a fantastic job. Very interesting especially with the top-notch direction. Good (22/25)
The Verdict: (88/100) = B+ (Highly recommended)
- What’s Good: An original take on an action movie with a powerful performance from a rising star, invigorating direction, and a story that is as action-packed as it is thought provoking.
- What’s Bad: The premise feels familiar, and more questions are brought up than can be otherwise answered.
- Summary: Not your typical action movie, but that is a good thing.
2. Rated: Fast Five (2011)
The first Fast and Furious movie was completey original, one of the first films to showcase the popular street racing culture. Perhaps it was too influential, as every time I see a Toyota Camry or Hyundai Tiburon with a rediculous wing on the back I wonder what said motorists were thinking. Since then, we’ve seen 4 other Fast and Furious movies which were more of the same, with each one upping the anty as far as unbelievable stunts revolving fast cars. The newest installment, Fast Five, takes a slightly different approach, basically all but abandoning the original’s focus on street racing for an Italian Job-esque heist story, albeit with plenty of stupidly over-the-top stunts that make the previous movies’ stunts look tame. It is yet another example of Hollywood recylcing a story we’ve seen countless times before but making it bigger, badder, and stupider.
Synopsis: Dominic and his renegade crew need some money. So they come up with a plan to steal it from a police station! In Rio!
- Acting: Vin Diesel and Paul Walker play the same role they always play, for better or for worse. The rest of the cast is much of the same. Okay (15/25)
- Script/Plot: HOW MANY TIMES WILL HOLLYWOOD MAKE A HEIST MOVIE. Yeah, it is interesting but the rest of the script is just stupid and futile, including the attempts to make “characters”. Bad (10/25)
- Direction: Justin Lin is the director, and he did the last 3 Fast and Furious movies. He knows what he is doing. Good (22/25)
- Special Effects: Despite the excitement and good production values, the action sequences have reached the point where they completly defy the laws of physics. Good (18/25)
The Verdict: (65/100) = D (Not Recommended)
- What’s Good: Fast cars, a director that knows how to film said fast cars, and lots of fast cars doing fun things.
- What’s Bad: A generic characterless plot devoid of originality that we’ve seen so many times before, and stunts/action so over-the-top that the movie loses its redability.
- Summary: Stupid fun.
3. Rated: Horrible Bosses (2011)
Vulgar comedies are in. If The Hangover showed us anything, it’s that vulgar humor can sell if it is widely identifyable. Horrible Bosses cashes in on this trend with the widely identifyable idea that people hate their bosses. It goes even farther to suggest that this hatred might run so deep as to drive a person to commit murder. It seems like a dark subject, but Horrible Bosses handles it well, not as a black comedy, but as a ab-busting laugh fest. And how do the film makers get away with this? Stupid characters in ridiculous situations.
Synopsis: Three friends hate their bosses, and as a result they devise a plan to murder each other’s bosses.
- Acting: Charlie Day proves that he is ready for the big screen, and Jason Bateman and Jason Sudeikis are along for the ride. Also, there are some excellent cameos. Good (23/25)
- Script/Plot: Dumb at times, but is a mix between The Hangover and Throw Mamma From the Train with enough originality to make it worth seeing. Okay (18/25)
- Direction: The director does an excellent job weaving multiple story lines into a logical sequence of events. Good (22/25)
- Special Effects: The physical comedy bits are pulled off perfectly, and the production values are high. Good (21/25)
The Verdict: (84/100) = B (Recommended)
- The Good: Great actors play great characters in a lively story with enough hilarious twists to make it more than your typical comedy movie.
- The Bad: Borrows some ideas and much of its success from other movies.
- Summary: Stupid characters doing stupid things makes anything funny, even murder.
4. Rated: Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon (2011)
Michael Bay is the epitome of everything that is wrong with Hollywood. His movies are all flash, no substance. Made not for an artistic purpose, not to address a problem, not to investigate nor voice an opinion. His films are made to make money. Therefore, when I heard that Michael Bay had admitted that his last transformers movie, Revenge of the Fallen, was trash, I had hope. Hope that he would right the franchise and make a solid movie that would for once not rely on explosions as the sole entertaining factor. Even better, when Dark Side of the Moon came out, the reviews were positive. LIARS! Seeing the movie for myself, I can tell you that nothing has changed. Dark Side of the Moon is as much a black hole for intellegence as its predecessor. How can people be entertained by such trash?
Synopsis: Who cares about the last two movies, the salvation of the transformer’s race is located in a crashed ship on the moon. The battle for control of it ensues.
- Acting: Beefy does okay here, all he has to do is run and make snide remarks. The rest of the actors (even veteran ones!) are obviously doing it for the paycheck, and it shows. Horrible (8/25)
- Script/Plot: The worse part is not that the plot makes absolutely no sense. Or that the movie just seems like an excuse to see things blow up. The worst part is that there is no attempt at all to make it coherent. Painful (3/25)
- Direction: Michael Bay has too much going on to handle it adequately. The scenes are cut haphazardly and the result is inconsistancies running rampant. Horrible (9/25)
- Special Effects: The shear number and level of detail of the special effects are amazing. As such it is quite overwhelming. Good (23/25)
The Verdict: (43/100) = F (Run Away…Far Away!)
- What’s Good: Lots of explosions and excellent special effects to keep your eyes occupied and your brain off.
- What’s Bad: Everything else, and it’s really bad.
- Summary: Michael Bay ‘splosion!!!
5. Rated: Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
Dreamworks Animation seems to be on a roll. With the original Kung Fu Panda being well received and How to Train Your Dragon getting even better reviews, Dreamworks Animation seemed like it just might be able to compete with the almighty Pixar. But then, there is the problem with sequels. Dreamworks Animation’s first real hit, Shrek spawned three, none of which were as good nor as enjoyable as the original. So what about Kung Fu Panda 2? Well, it works. The original film had pleanty of interesting characters, lots of heart, and a setting with lots more to explore. That is the difference between this sequel and all the Shrek sequels. It feels new, interesting, and vibrant in a natural way. The Shrek sequels felt like they were streching to create new adventures and situations for the characters.
Synopsis: Po must fight an evil villain who is conquering China, and in the process finds out about his past and where he really came from.
- Acting: Jack Black is still the perfect voice for Po. He has enough excitement and emotion to make the character really come alive. Everyone else does well too. Good (23/25)
- Script/Plot: There is a lot of action, and for the most part this is balanced out with pleanty of “fill in” about Po’s past and the struggles of his people. Perhaps not as original as the first film though. Okay (19/25)
- Direction: Everything is handled really well, this film seems more edgier and artistic than the first. Good (22/25)
- Special Effects: The animation is top notch and I just cannot get over how beautifully colored the scenes are. Good (24/25)
The Verdict: (88/100) = B+ (Highly Recommended)
- What’s Good: It builds on the brilliant artistry, characters, and action-packed but meaningful and heartfelt plot of the original.
- What’s Bad: The story is rather simplistic and straightforward.
- Summary: Unlike Pixar, Dreamworks succeed with its latest sequel.
6. Rated: Contagion (2011)
It seems like once a decade we get a big-budget film about a killer virus/disease decimating the human population. We had 1971’s Andromedia Strain, 1980’s Virus, 1995’s Outbreak, 2002’s 28 Days Later, and now, 2011’s Contagion. While each has its own unique way to tell its story, it can be said that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Said ailment infects vast amounts of people, hero(s) try to create a cure to save human race. Contagion is no different, but that does not mean that it is not worth seeing. Perhaps not as original as Andromedia Strain, as action-packed as Outbreak, or as thrilling as 28 Days Later, Contagion nevertheless has some originality to call its own. First, the film is directed by Steven Soderberg of Ocean’s 11/12/13 fame, so we get a veteran director with a very unique style. We also get a handful of veteran actors and a multi-faceted story line in which characters that are effected by the outbreak in different ways get to tell their story. So therefore, even if it feels like you’ve seen this before, at least Contagion is able to present its story in a new and updated way.
Synopsis: The film follows a cast of characters as they deal with a new killer disease and work together to find a cure before it is too late.
- Acting: Matt Damon, Gweneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Lawrence Fishburne, Jude Law, and Marion Cotillard all give good performances, but they have to share screen time with eachother which is distracting. Good (20/25)
- Script/Plot: It feels like a Roland Emmerich movie with seemingly unconnected storylines going at the same time. Also, the premise is not that original. Okay (17/25)
- Direction: Soderberg knows how to create a mood, and even if he’s never done such a somber picture before, he is successful. Good (20/25)
- Special Effects: Everything looks good and fits the mood created by the director well. Good (21/25)
The Verdict: (78/100) = C+ (Average)
- What’s Good: A solid cast filled with A-list actors, and a veteran director at the helm create a thrilling experience for the viewer.
- What’s Bad: The intersecting story lines means that the characters are fighting for screen time and as a result none of them are that well developed, this is a story we’ve seen before.
- Summary: Soderberg tries something new, to mixed success.
7. Rated: The Debt (2011)
The Debt is one of the most innovative movies in terms of storytelling that I have seen in some time. At the most basic level it is a cold-war thriller, with tensions high at all times as it follows the secret mission of a covert team, not unlike Munich. At the basic level. As the story unfolds though, the audience is greeted with a curious weaving of storylines taking place with the same characters but decades apart. With this unique back-and-forth story, the film makers are able to give the audience both the cause and effect at the same time. This is not one of those films where the old guys reminesce about their past, and then the movie goes back in time to show what happened. In this movie, both the events occuring in the past and “present” are equally important (present is in parentheses because the later time period is really the 1990’s). Most interestingly, as what happens in the past unfolds, the “present-day” situation unfolds as well. This leads to a very twisted ending, where literally the past and present collide in a battle to the death.
Synopsis: The film changes between the perspectives of a team of covert operatives while undertaking their most challenging mission yet, and the future years later when they are venerated as heroes.
- Acting: The cast does well (Featuring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, and Tom Wilkinson), with consistencey between both the past and future selves. Its unfortunate however that they could not be made to look like eachother more. Good (23/25)
- Script/Plot: This is a heavy movie, confusing at first, but entertaining on an intellectual level and driven by suspense. The method of storytelling is not for everyone, and it has its downsides. If you want action look elsewhere, and I will admit that the ending is not as impactful as it could have been. Okay (18/25)
- Direction: Director John Madden pulls it off. Masterfully maintaining the thril the entire film despite the back-and-forth story. Good (23/25)
- Special Effects: The difference in the way the film looks between the past and future is brilliant in both its realism and as a way for the audience to keep things seperate. Good (22/25)
The Verdict: (86/100) = B (Recommended)
- What’s Good: The cast is consistent enough to pull off the unconventional storyline and create a very thrilling movie.
- What’s Bad: In all fairness it is a complicated plot, and while the message is important, the way the film ends leaves something to be desired.
- Summary: An innovative spy thriller that is more than meets the eye.
8. Rated: The Hangover Part II (2011)
Can you pinpoint the time at which Hollywood’s greed to make more money gets out of control? When the movie comes out on DVD only a month after it left the theater in order to coincide with some national gift-giving holiday? When the movie sports its own collection of plush representations of its characters or other similar memorabilia for sale? Or how about when they make a sequel that almost copies the original in premise but is only really succesful when it riffs off of things that happened in the last film? If you answered all of the above but most of all the last thing, then you and I are on the same page. The Hangover Part II is just like Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Weekend at Bernie’s 2, or even any Saw sequel. These films exist to make money and water down the stock of the original film. Sure, The Hangover is still a great movie, but with a sequel, said greatness is diminished.
Synopsis: The same kind of thing happens in this movie that happend in the last one except this one takes place in Bankok.
- Acting: All the actors are back to their same roles. Its not like they’re bad at what they do. Good (22/25)
- Script/Plot: A rehash of the first film with a watered down plot. Also, the best parts are things that connect to the previous film. What does that say? Horrible (8/25)
- Direction: Its the same director. But nothing seems as original, as crisp. Also, why did he agree to do this? Okay (16/25)
- Special Effects: The setting is right, and everything looks convincing. But as a repeat it loses its edginess. Okay (17/25)
The Verdict: (63/100) = D (Not Recommended)
- What’s Good: At times it is still a little funny, and the actor are consistent with their performances.
- What’s Bad: A repeat story and dumbed down plot without the sense of mystery that the original had.
- Summary: If you know what is going to happen, why spend the time watching?
9. Rated: Priest (2011)
The vast quantity of vampire movies (and zombie movies) to have come out of Hollywood recently almost necessitates the need to have some sort of sub-category system set up. As such, I would put Priest in the sci-fi vampire sub genre even though it is difficult to tell what this movie actually is or is trying to be. At times it seems like a post-apocalyptic cowboy western, at other times a religious action movie. But don’t worry, if I’m making the movie sound complicated, it isn’t. In fact, it is dissapointingly simplistic. Don’t get me wrong, this movie has some potential, but it is not concerned with developing ideas or characters. No, Priest is looking for cheap thrills. The same ones we’ve seen coutless times before.
Synopsis: In a future world made desolate by a war between men and vampires, a group of priests exists to fight these vampires and save mankind.
- Acting: The acting is pretty bad. Nothing is believable and the lines are delivered with cringeworthy effort. Horrible (7/25)
- Script/Plot: Despite the cliche-ridden attempts to frighten you, and the ho-hum action sequences, this movie is a bore. Horrible (5/25)
- Direction: The director is better known for his special effects work than his directing abilities. What does that say? Bad (11/25)
- Special Effects: Despite the above director, this movie doesn’t even look that great. Okay (16/25)
The Verdict: (39/100) = F (Avoid)
- What’s Good: It has some good ideas, and a little bit of originality. A little bit.
- What’s Bad: There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen done better somewhere else. Anywhere else…
- Summary: Tries to cash in on the vampire craze, but fails miserably.
10. Rated: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)
On paper, Guy Ritchie seemed like the perfect director for the original Sherlock Holmes franchise. His movies are known for powerful characters, hard-knuckle gritty action, and plotting, witty stories; all qualities that would seem like a good fit for a Sherlock Holmes movie. Unfortunately, the original film lost its focus. Instead of a gritty detective story with an investigative plot, the original film was an all-out action movie with a story that tried to seem smart but ended up being rather dumb. The titular character ended up being too hip, and rather than turning up clues to progress the story, he simply bumbled onward. Fortunately, the sequel makes an attempt to rectify these mistakes. Sure, most of the problems with the first film are still around, but at least this time the plot is believable. Not to mention that at times the movie feels like a real detective movie. At times. At other times it is still the same brash, stupid, over-the-top attempt to trick the audience into thinking they are watching a smart film.
Synopsis: Mr. Watson reluctantly joins Sherlock Holmes as they investigate the shady dealings of a brilliant adversary.
- Acting: The actor playing Sherlock Holmes is good, it is a matter of opinion if you think that the character of Sherlock Holmes is any good. Jude Law and Jared Harris are good. Noomi Rapace doesn’t have that much to do. Good (22/25)
- Script/Plot: More believable than the last one, feeling more investigatory at times, but over-the-top and obnoxious at others. Okay (16/25)
- Direction: Guy Ritchie gets carried away again with the action. Okay (18/25)
- Special Effects: Spectacular, but again, should they be? Good (22/25)
Verdict: (78/100) = C+ (Average)
- The Good: Robert Downey Jr. is enjoyable to watch, the plot is more smart than dumb, and Guy Ritchie knows how to make thrilling action scenes.
- The Bad: Too obnoxous, over-the-top, and silly to be taken seriously. A shame.
- Summary: Despite its attempts to convince you otherwise, not exactly the smartest movie out there.
For more mini reviews, see: Rated: Ten Mini Reviews of 2010 Movies
My previous review: Rated: The Twilight Saga – Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (2011)
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