Saturday, January 7, 2012

Three 2011 movies

I got around to seeing three 2011 movies as the year was coming to a close. I saw the first of these in theaters and the last two on Blu-ray. I have now seen 11 movies released in 2011.

The Muppets
The final movie I saw in theaters in 2011 was The Muppets. It was an interesting experience as I watched at the Movie Tavern, which combines a cinema with a restaurant! Although at first I was skeptical of a system in which viewers are served food at their seats and eat during the movie it turned out to work better than I thought as distractions were kept to a minimum and it was quieter than I expected. That said, I don't think dinner during a movie would work for every film. The Muppets is a good choice for this sort of thing, The Tree of Life not so much!
Getting to the actual movie, The Muppets is a return to form for the series. The last theatrically released Muppet movie was 1999's Muppets from Space which received a tepid response from critics and film goers alike. Aside from a few mediocre TV Specials and being featured in the occasional commercial we haven't heard much from the Muppets in the past ten years. It is great that The Muppets is enjoying critical and financial success as I have always loved the Muppets. However, this isn't the best Muppet movie and I wouldn't even put it in my top three. It's still a good Muppet movie as its funny, has catchy songs, and can be enjoyed by all ages. I think there was a little too much emphasis on the human characters played by Jason Segal and Amy Adams. The song by Amy Adams in the restaurant felt like filler. The human characters usually complement the Muppets but it often felt like they were main characters and not the Muppets. To be fair this was partially because of their connection to the newest Muppet, Walter, who has an different type of back-story for a Muppet. But the bottom line is that this is a fun family movie and a good Muppet movie. I just wish Rowlf and Rizzo had more screen time!

X-Men: First Class (2011)
It has been years since I've seen the X-Men movies. I really liked the first two, enjoyed the third, and could have done without the Wolverine movie. I skipped this one when it was in theaters since I didn't have much hope for the series at this point and hoped Marvel Studios would eventually be able to make their own X-Men movie. But after hearing good things I decided to give this one a shot and am glad I did. X-Men: First Class takes place in the early 1960s and documents the formation of the first group of X-Men under the guidance of Professor Charles Xavier, better known as Prof. X. The movie is part prequel and part reboot as it seems to take place in the past of the previous movies but also stands on its own. For example, I liked how the opening was the film was an extended scene of the first film's opener. Some of the continuity may not be perfect, but that is probably because when the first three films were made they didn't think about doing prequels. I was impressed with the acting of the two leads: Michael Fassbender as Magneto and James McAvoy as Prof. X. The two did a good job of portraying characters who are friends, but have beliefs which will eventually drive them apart. Kevin Bacon put in a nice performance as the film's main villain, Sebastian Shaw. The 60s era was a good fit for the setting and there was a James Bond type feel at times. I need to re-watch the others before I rank all the X-Men movies, but this one was surprisingly good and I think fans will be pleased. I'm glad that the producers learned from the mistakes of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and made a damn fine X-Men flick!

Super 8 (2011)
I remember seeing Iron Man 2 in theaters and being surprised with the Super 8 teaser. It looked interesting but so little was revealed at the time that it was impossible to make anything of it, especially with the rumors it was a Cloverfield prequel (I still haven't seen that movie). When the full trailer for Super 8 came out I thought looked great, although I was disappointed when I discovered that the music from the trailer was not the film's soundtrack but taken from James Horner's score for Cocoon (1985). I know that this happens all the time with trailers (Robocop trailer is a classic example) but that music fit so well it sounded like it was made for the trailer and not 25 years old!
The director of this movie is J.J.Abrams who also directed Star Trek (2009) which I liked but didn't love.
Super 8 garnered a lot of comparisons to the early work of Steven Spielberg. Part of this is simply because Super 8 takes place in 1979 and not the present. While I think Spielberg's films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind or E.T. certainly influenced Super 8, its still its own entity and not a pastiche of those films. The characters are the primary concern here to which the sci-fi plot plays second fiddle. Like in Jaws we don't get a good look at our creature until the end of the film which works well.
If a movie has bad child actors I usually give it a pass since this are kids with limited acting experience. On the other hand when I young actors give good performance I think they should be praised even more than usually, as is the case here. Pretty much all of the kids were solid with realistic portrayals, especially the leads Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning (who looks kinda like a young Drew Barrymore, which may have been an intentional nod to E.T.). This is clearly the strongest part of the film as sometimes I actually wished there wasn't a monster out there because the story with our human characters was so interesting! Once we get into the alien part of the story there are more questions than answers. I know that this was done on purpose there is supposed to be an air of mystery around the situation but it goes a bit too far at times. I guess the dogs left town because they sensed an alien threat near them? Or did something in the crash cause them to leave? Why did the alien hang the people up in the hole near the end? I guess I am nitpicking here as it didn't really harm my enjoyment of the film. There is a subplot about Charles liking Alice that is never really explored outside of two short scenes and then forgotten about for the rest of the movie. I wonder if this was originally supposed to be a bigger part of the story or if it was simply added later for more tension. Either way I would have liked to have seen this developed further.
I did love being able to see the zombie movie during the end credits. The zombie movie actually reminded me of Weasels Rip My Flesh, a terrible low budget horror movie also made by kids and filmed on Super 8. Heck, it even was made in 1979, the same year Super 8 takes place! Now I doubt Abrams has seen that movie and the similarities are probably only a coincidence, but who knows!
Despite its flaws I quite liked Super 8 and hope that we get more intelligent character-based family movies like it instead of crap like the Transformers movies.

My next post will be a run-down of all the 2011 movies I have seen. I have already written about all of them in this blog (click on the 2011 tag at the end of this post to see all the reviews) so I'll simply be posting a title, a few final thoughts, and a score.

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