So one of the advantages / disadvantages of being largely immobile and housebound for the last 12 weeks is that I've had a lot of time to not only read (advantage) but also to watch a lot of television (disadvantage) and catch up on a bunch of movies that came out in 2010 and 2011 that I hadn't seen. Some have been really really good. Some have been just mediocre. But for the most part, anything that could occupy up to 2 hours of my time and distract my mind enough from the mind-numbing pain in my foot was (is) a good thing. Anyway, here's a list of movies I've seen in order of recommendation.
Ryan Gosling stars as "Driver," an unnamed stunt-car driver who does side jobs for criminals including getaway driver for a bank heist in the opening scene. Gosling's character exudes a calm coolness but other than his incredible driving ability, he doesn't particularly appear to be out of the ordinary, definitely not a violent or criminal kind (despite his part-time vocation). And the opening third or so of the movie runs kind of slow, focusing on the taciturn Driver and his growing affection for a new neighbor, played by the beautiful Carey Mulligan (who can turn any role into a charmer), and her young son. But when Mulligan's husband gets out of jail, things turn upside down and the movie starts to pick up speed. And all of a sudden -- well, I dare not reveal anything else for fear of spoiling what is just a non-stop amazing, action-packed thrill-ride of a second half that transforms Gosling's character from quiet everyman into -- something else. I'm not sure I cared for the ending, because it felt unnecessary, but otherwise this is a really great film... slow to start and not really hyped very well but pretty much every guy in my readership will enjoy it. It's definitely got a Tarantino vibe to it, not in the dialogue at all, but in the spirit of it all, underplayed by Gosling but perfectly played. Oh, and Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston and Ron Perlman are all pretty damn awesome in supporting roles.
Cancer movie. Funny cancer movie? That's sort of what Seth Rogen was selling when he tried to get this excellent movie sold to an unconvinced audience. I once watched Emma Thompson's Wit and thought - yeah that's enough, I don't need to see a movie about someone dying of cancer again. But Seth Rogen gets a free pass from me so I gave it a shot and it is funny at times and Rogen is pretty much lighthearted throughout but yes, this is a cancer movie. Keep the tissues handy. Joey Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a public radio producer in Washington state who gets diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer a couple years shy of his 30th birthday. Rogen is both his co-worker and close friend since high school (the story is based on a real-life friend of Seth's) and he's the one who looks on the bright side of the diagnosis. After Adam tells him he found on the Internet that there's about a 50/50 chance of survival, Rogen remarks that he'd have the best odds at any casino in the land. So there's that. But the film delves pretty fast and deeply into chemotherapy and the resulting sickness and the enveloping depression that affects Adam's relationships with his mother, his girlfriend, and Rogen. A nice role is given to his "just out of college" hospital therapist, played by Anna Kendrick, and they explore the issues of hopelessness and helplessness that a life-threatening illness would bring about. But in a funny way. OK, not really, but it's not like you will be crying throughout the film. Just towards the end. A lot. Not that I would admit that I cried during a movie starring Seth Rogen but did I mention that I've been suffering from a painful post-surgery "lack of recovery" for the past 12 weeks? Yeah, some of the hospital and doctor and depression stuff hit close to home. Anyway, it's absolutely worth watching regardless of whether or not you've suffered through illness. And it is funny enough. For a cancer movie.
The Next Three Days (2010)
I don't even think I heard of this movie before when it showed up on my recommendations list for "watch instantly" on Netflix but I'm glad I followed their advice. This was a really great movie. Like shockingly great. I have no idea why it didn't find any success at all. I hadn't even heard of it. So Russell Crowe stars as a mild-mannered college professor with a hot wife (Elizabeth Banks) and a young son when, in the second scene of the movie, police bust into his home and arrest his wife for murder, just after she noticed blood on her coat and was feverishly trying to wash it off as the police put her in handcuffs and drag her away. It's a shocking and greatly played scene and I'm sorry I just spoiled it but I need to get you to watch this movie and it's the second freakin' scene. Sorry. Stop reading this and go watch the movie. Because I will probably keep spoiling it. Go away. Now. OK? Anyone left who has already seen the movie will know that they fast forward three years and Banks is in prison, awaiting the results of one final appeal. Now, the movie could have gone in many different directions here, all pretty standard stuff, and it sort of does, which keeps you guessing. Can Russell Crowe prove his wife's innocence? What about the missing button? The stranger in the parking lot? (sort of a The Fugitive direction). Then there's the subplot revolving around Russell Crowe as a suddenly single father raising a young son. He meets Olivia Wilde as a young mother at the park and the story threatens to drop into some sort of drama about an affair while his wife is in prison. And of course hanging over all of this is whether or not his wife is actually innocent, which is definitely not clear throughout. But the movie throws an awesome curveball after the final appeal is denied -- Crowe decides to break his wife out of prison. All of a sudden a whole new plotline arrives a third of the way in and drives the film forward through a miraculous final third that is absolutely gripping, edge-of-your-seat devastating thriller. Just a wonderfully acted and brilliantly executed final act that stretches for well over 40 minutes in this lengthy film. Paul Haggis directed this and he's best-known for directing the Oscar-winning Crash and writing Million Dollar Baby. I hated hated hated Crash (I'm sure I've written about it on here before) and I never saw Million Dollar Baby (which made the ending of the Always Sunny episode that spoofed it anti-climactic for me) and I probably wouldn't have watched this if I knew he directed it (only his second feature since Crash, following In the Valley of Elah, which I also didn't see). And in retrospect I can see some of the "twists" in plot and unbelievable coincidences that marred Crash but he's much more restrained here and it turns into a straight-ahead thriller but one populated with really great characters and a plot that you really can't see coming, including a wonderful twist-filled ending. Just watch it. If I haven't spoiled it too much.
The American (2010)
George Clooney starring as an assassin who botches a job in Sweden in the opening scene that is never really explained and then hides out in a small Italian town waiting for the fallout to clear from that assignment while taking on a new assignment on the side, one that doesn't seem particularly difficult but turns into something else. That's pretty much all there is to the story and there are definitely some long, languishing stretches of the film in which not a whole lot happens. And probably without Clooney in the lead role and carrying the film, it doesn't work that well. But he's just so great here, as always, that what seems like a slight story really evolves into something much stronger, building to a great, fulfilling climax, and a brilliant final scene.
Hilary Swank stars as a real life working mother who puts herself through law school to try to represent her convicted killer brother and overturn his sentence. Sam Rockwell plays the brother as a rather unredeemable sort, someone who's been in trouble with the law for years and is quickly fingered when his elderly neighbor is murdered. Despite a lack of evidence, he is convicted in this small town in rural Massachusetts and Swank's character is the only one left fighting for him -- for two full decades, sacrificing her entire life including her relationship with her husband and children in a quixotic quest to prove his innocence. It's a really well-acted and amazing story (particularly since it's true) and shows the frightening side of the legal system in this country for those not financially, socially, or mentally equipped to mount their defense. And much like The Next Three Days, this movie keeps the convicted character's guilt or innocence in doubt throughout. Job well done.
The Ides of March (2011)
Clooney again. And Gosling. With Clooney directing. He stars as a governor running for president on an idealistic Obama-esque platform and the story is about the primary season, with Clooney's character staging the more populist campaign against a long-time insider senator. But Clooney has a supporting role here, as the plot focuses on a young campaign staffer played by Gosling, along with his mentor -- the campaign manager played by Philip Seymour Hoffman -- as well as Hoffman's counterpart in the other campaign, played by Paul Giamatti. Marisa Tomei has a small role as a reporter and Evan Rachel Wood has a growing role as a campaign intern, so it's a really impressive cast of all-star talent that is unfortunately wasted on the material here. Hoffman and Giamatti can act their way through any scene. And while Clooney is underused, he's always good. And I had no problem with Gosling's performance as an idealistic staffer introduced into the seedier side of politics, but the whole affair devolves into more standard base affairs instead of focusing on the promising interactions between Hoffman, Giamatti, and Gosling. It's not a bad film but not a great one. I was expecting a lot more.
It's Kind of a Funny Story (2010)
Speaking of not bad but not great... Keir Gilchrist of United States of Tara stars as a depressed teenager who checks himself into a psychiatric hospital after a failed attempt at suicide. It's based on the book by Ned Vizzini, which is supposedly laugh-out loud funny but I haven't read it and the movie is funny at times, enjoyably poking fun at life inside an adult mental ward (the teen floor is undergoing renovation, so Gilchrist is put in with the adults) while also exploring the deeper issues that some of the patients are struggling through. Zach Galifianakis (yes I spelled that right) stars as a fellow patient and steals most of the scenes he appears in, while Emma Roberts plays a fellow interred teen who strikes up an affection for Gilchrist's character in some sweet, if slightly cliched scenes. It's tough not to be cliched in a film like this, I think, but it was mostly enjoyable, if not highly recommended.
Horrible Bosses (2011)
Jason Bateman, Saturday Night Live's hilarious Jason Sudeikas (I might not have spelled that right), and Always Sunny superstar Charlie Day star as three friends who hatch a plan to off their horrible bosses, played by Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey, and a "baring a lot of skin" Jennifer Aniston. Honestly, the film was just OK. I love Bateman, Sudeikas, and Day, but Day played the straight-man here, which wasn't that effective, and the horrible bosses, who were all played over-the-top intentionally, aren't as funny on film as they must have been on paper. Aniston in particular is not successful playing a seductress -- of Charlie Day, no less -- it's just not believable and Aniston's acting "skills" do not translate at all to this character. Spacey appears to be phoning it in most of the time and while Farrell does a decent job, the "bosses" parts fall flatter than the Bateman gang side, which is amusing for the most part but not enough to carry the film. Don't get me wrong, there are funny moments -- Charlie with the car horn and the cat in the house had me laughing out loud. But yeah. I don't really recommend.
Fright Night (2011)
Colin Farrell again, in a remake of the 1980s tongue-in-cheek vampire/comedy classic, and they do a really good job with the movie, remaining faithful enough to the original but also bringing new life to the characters. And death. There aren't a ton of scares but some cool death scenes. It's not that great though. A decent way to pass the time I guess if you're temporarily crippled like me.
The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
Matt Damon stars as a guy who -- ah, I can't be bothered, the movie didn't make a whole lot of sense and even when it did it really wasn't that great. I wouldn't recommend.
Harry Potter: The Final One (2011)
This was actually really good. And I've now seen all 8 (is it 8?) Harry Potter films and probably liked them all (except for the 2nd one, I remember that not being as good) but honestly, even while watching this grand finale of the series, I wasn't at all invested in the characters and didn't remember enough about the previous films to really follow the plot. I'm sure this whole Harry Potter thing was a magical experience for those who read the books and/or got wrapped up in the stories but maybe I'm too old or not enough of a geek to really care about the franchise. They were definitely well made and enjoyable films and the final battle of this film was staged well but yeah, I'm kind of glad it's over and I don't really have any desire to watch any of them again.
So that's it for this installment. I might have watched more films but none that I can remember at the moment. I did watch about 50 hours of House Hunters International, though, but I can't imagine anyone wanting a recap of that.