Contagion (2011), and my thoughts on the Coronavirus/COVID-19

Contagion (2011), and my thoughts on the Coronavirus/COVID-19

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law. Runtime: 1h 46 min. Released: September 9, 2011.

Some spoilers follow.

During our Coronavirus pandemic, it seems like everyone is watching Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion. Last week I think this was at No. 35 on the Most Popular Movies IMDb chart and as of this writing (very early morning, March 21) it sits at No. 4 on that popular movie chart. This makes sense, because there’s no better way to make yourself more paranoid right now than watching Contagion.

The film itself is about a fast-spreading virus, the MEV-1, that escalates into a pandemic as the CDC works to find a cure. The spread of the disease is the most fascinating aspect in Contagion, originating in Hong Kong with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) and escalating quickly from there when she returns home to Minnesota.

The way the virus spreads feels realistic and it’s interesting as it’s established what the “basic reproduction number” is and how quickly it will spread. It’s engaging to watch because of Soderbergh’s apt direction and I love his aesthetic in his own cinematography, as well.

Contagion, Winslet, math
Kate Winslet in Contagion taking us through the “basic reproduction number.” (IMDb)

I’ve always found this a realistic, engaging drama/thriller. I haven’t watched this since 2015, but watching this during a pandemic, the paranoia hits differently. The mortality rate depicted in the film is 25-30 per cent, where 1 in 4 people will die from it, and according to an article on Business Insider and, I’m copying and pasting this part, “according to Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, COVID-19’s mortality rate is probably around 1%, which is still about 10 times the flu’s.”

The pandemic depicted in Contagion is obviously more aggressive, but there are some eerie parallels to our real-life. It’s also impossible to watch this film and not spot the parallels to our life and this film. Even in the film’s tagline, “Don’t talk to anyone, don’t touch anyone,” feels like our world right now with social distancing.

In the film, the disease starts in a populous place like Hong Kong (Wuhan for Coronavirus), where tourists fly home, infect people at the airport, and then infect people back home as they go about their everyday life. The other big thing is the looting of supermarkets and stores. We’re not at the “looting” stage yet, but I think that all relates back to the panic buying of toilet paper of all things, and the bulk-buying of essentials that others need, too. And I’m sure if someone in real-life suggested there were a cure like in the movie (“forsythia” in Contagion), it could get a little crazy out there with people trying to get it.

Personally, I haven’t seen any of the “looting” but I’ve seen a lot of pictures online about empty grocery store shelves and the lineups getting into COSTCO, or people fighting over toilet paper. I mean, when I went to the grocery store around March 10, there was still toilet paper but less than there usually would be. I also haven’t been outside since March 15, before my province of Ontario declared a state of emergency, so I’m not sure what my local grocery store would look like right now.

Contagion, Jude Law, hazmat
Jude Law wears a Hazmat suit going outside in Contagion. (IMDb)

As of this writing, Canada only has 1,087 cases, and I can only assume it will only get worse here. With some of what I’ve seen, especially the amount of new deaths everyday in Italy and the images of military trucks transporting coffins out of the area feels like it’s straight out of a horror movie. The aggressive way that’s spreading in Italy feels like Contagion, and the most unsettling scene in the film because of that is when a city runs out of body bags.

In our world right now, I think it’s the fear of the unknown of how long this virus will look a week from now or a month from now. When will be able to return to regular living? I go to the movie theatre once or twice a week, but how long will they be closed for? This is turning into a review of Contagion and my thoughts on the Coronavirus/COVID-19, but this is therapeutic sharing my thoughts on it, and also relating it back to Contagion, since I see the world through film.

Contagion could easily be an exaggerated docudrama. There are things here that feel “apocalyptic” that I don’t think COVID-19 will lead us into, but the fact that NHL, NBA and MLB have suspended their seasons and Las Vegas is shut down for 30 days is crazy. It feels different than anything I’ve lived through during my lifetime, especially H1N1 in 2009/2010. I was in high school then and surely did not miss any school because of it. I don’t know if the media is blowing it out of proportion – but when I see tweets of people losing their loved ones to it yet others are still out on spring break, it feels like this should really be taken seriously to “flatten the curve.”

Okay. I just have bad anxiety, depression and I can be a hypochondriac at times, so it’s just a freaky time. I’ll just talk Contagion now. I think it is at its most fascinating when it shows the spread of the disease. There’s one especially great scene when Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, is trying to find out who Paltrow’s character has come in contact with and she calls someone who is sick on a city bus and tells him to get away from people. The shot of him touching everything is just effective.

The film is interesting when it brings Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) into play, a blogger/journalist and conspiracy theorist who thinks that the virus is manufactured as a profiting scheme for drug companies, using his large platform to stir this fear.

Contagion, Damon
Matt Damon in Contagion. (IMDb)

At times this isn’t the best with creating well-rounded characters, and some feel more-so identifiable by the actor playing them than the character themselves, and this is very much the case with Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Ellis Cheever, who works for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). His development is the flattest of the ensemble. Other characters get sidelined, like Marion Cotillard as Dr. Leonora Orantes who is investigating how the disease started in Hong Kong and then totally gets sidelined for half the film for reasons that would spoil it.

Everyone plays their characters very well and the ensemble is impressive. The film is engaging throughout because it’s a fast-paced analysis of a viral outbreak, but for the human side it only shines in a couple moments. One such scene is between Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle), who is one of the players working to find a cure, and her father in a very sweet moment. I also liked Matt Damon’s character here, who is the husband of Beth Emhoff, who might as well as be Patient Zero. I think the first time I saw this film (in April 2012), the most surprising thing was Gwyneth Paltrow dying by the 8-minute mark. Once we see how aggressively this virus spreads, it isn’t that surprising, but as an audience member I felt the same way Damon’s Mitch Emhoff feels when he’s told his wife is dead because of the virus. “Right. I mean, so can I go talk to her?” he asks.

I think this is one of the best scenes in the film to show just how quickly it escalates. The fact that he loses his wife and then his stepson in a matter of 24 hours from this virus is so traumatic. There are ways his character could be fit into the story more – since he is immune, I think using his blood as a base for the cure would have given him more purpose – but the way his character plays out is believable. This is especially the case of how protective of he is of his daughter, Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron), and not letting her interact with other people because she’s the only thing he has left. There’s a heartbreaking moment near the end of the film when Mitch processes what’s happened.

The film’s ending is anti-climactic as it shows the origins of the virus in a fascinating scene, to where it all started. It’s anti-climactic in the way that the virus shows up, it gets cured, and life gets back to normal. Hopefully, that will be the case sooner than later with our Coronavirus.

Score: 75/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #10: Midnight in Paris (2011)

29 Days of Romance, Review #10: Midnight in Paris (2011)
Midnight in Paris poster
IMDb

Directed by: Woody Allen. Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard. Runtime: 1h 36 min. Released: May 20, 2011.

I have some Woody Allen films on my watchlist and I thought I’d start with Midnight in Paris because it seems the most interesting. This is only my second Woody Allen film after watching the mediocre, but well-acted Irrational Man in theatres in 2014. My expectations were higher for Midnight in Paris because it’s well-reviewed, but apparently that doesn’t matter for me when it comes to my enjoyment.

Gil (Owen Wilson), an American screenwriter obsessed with Paris and nostalgia, is on vacation with his fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her family (Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy) and is trying to write his first novel. For inspiration, he takes walks and is transported to 1920’s Paris every night at midnight.

There’s a charm and whimsy to Midnight, a lot of which is thanks to the 1920’s inspired score (there are no ‘music by’ credits on Woody Allen films for some reason, which seems weird). The concept of the film is good even if the “rules” of the time travel aren’t explained. Gil just has to go to one certain corner in Paris and hop in a car that will drive into that era. It’s not as much about the “time travel” side of it but the fact that it’s escapism to a golden age.

The film’s a love letter to the city of Paris and it’s evident Woody Allen loves the city. Owen Wilson’s performance is why I liked parts of this, but Allen inserts himself into the character a bit too much and his occasional prose would be easier to read than watch. His dialogue gives this life in the scenes of the 1920’s, which is where I found some entertainment. Tom Hiddleston as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Corey Stoll as Louis Hemingway are highlights, as is Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein. The rhinoceros bit with Adrien Brody as Salvador Dalí is hysterical. Allen captures the author personas and artists well even if half of what Hemingway went on about felt repetitive.

Midnight in Paris article
Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams in Midnight in Paris. (IMDb)

There are some obscure references to Parisian figures that I just didn’t know but are funny if you’re familiar with them. The writing in just sometimes not all that accessible because Allen just flexes how much he knows about the era and that gets to a point where it’s obnoxious, but Gil himself never feels obnoxious. Gil was the only character I cared for and even the literary figures became gimmicky after a couple nights. The best character is an amalgamation of Picasso’s lovers, Adriana (Marion Cotillard). She brings charm and strong chemistry with Wilson.

Rachel McAdams plays bitchy well but I hate her character. I’d assumed McAdams would be the love interest here and not the anchor holding Gil down. Kurt Fuller is solid as her father John. There’s a character here called Paul who is very obnoxious, and he’s only saved by Michael Sheen’s screen presence. He makes you want to listen even if his dialogue is dull. For the most part, the scenes in the present were insufferable for me. That’s the point because the present day is shown as pedestrian and unsatisfying, but still.

Wilson is the highlight for me as an average, rich guy who we live vicariously through as he goes back to the ‘20s. His passion for Paris is sweet – as this is a romance is man and woman, but also man and city – but it didn’t make me passionate about Paris. It just made me think it would be cool to revisit ancient Rome. I like nostalgia as much as the next guy, but the charm of this simplistic story turned to boredom quickly. It just left no impression on me and I don’t think strong dialogue and one good character is enough for a great film.

Score: 50/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #9: The Artist (2011)

29 Days of Romance, Review #9: The Artist (2011)
The Artist poster
IMDb

Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius. Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: November 25, 2011.

When I sat down to watch The Artist, I wasn’t sure if I’d love it based on the first scene, as our main character George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), an egomaniacal silent movie star in 1927, stands behind the screen and watches a packed theatre experience his newest film. With it being a silent film, I thought to myself, “I don’t know if this will work for me for the whole movie.” But it really did work for me as a throwback and celebration of classic Hollywood.

George meets Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and the film is about their relationship as George battles his own ego, as a silent star dealing with the future of “talkies” where he believes no one wants to hear him speak in a film and is hesitant to the change.

By 20 minutes into The Artist after I had gotten used to the silence of it, it had completely won me over. That had a lot to do with Ludovic Bource’s outstanding score (the “George Valentin” track is a favourite of mine here). I’ve been trying to focus more on score in films and this is the film for me to do that with because, of course, it’s a silent film and it’s the easiest thing to focus on. It swept me away and without such a strong score, I don’t think this film would work. It made it an experience, even if I was just watching it on a 40-inch screen.

Another scene that just hooked me was the scene where George is in his dressing room and objects around him start to have exaggerated sound but no one could hear him talk. I thought that was so effective, especially how it leads into the Kinograph Studios boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) telling him that talking pictures are the future and he’ll be left behind. Also, that one scene where Peppy is being interviewed and George’s back is towards her, as a parallel for him being the past in the silent era and her being the future for “talkies” is my favourite shot in the film and one that will stick with me.

The most impressive thing about this is how great Michel Hazanavicius’ writing is here (he also directs and co-edits the film). He tells the story so damn well with just music, maybe 15-20 inter-titles throughout and all character action. Some modern films have trouble competently telling its story with a lot of dialogue. The Artist’s story is simple enough, but it’s creative and charming. The characters also feel very real. It’s also made possible by the phenomenal physical performances.

The Artist featured1
Jean Dujardin in The Artist (IMDb).

Before the human actors, I’d also be remiss not to mention George’s scene-stealing Parson Russell Terrier, who brings a lot of comedy to the film. Jean Dujardin is charming as hell as George, smiling his way through the film, and is more than effective in the dramatic scenes, too. Bérénice Bejo is also charming as Peppy as she embraces her stardom. Her performance is still physical but her character is the one in the “talkies” so she spends a lot of the time talking where we can’t hear her. Their chemistry is what makes this shine and they’re both individually great. Bejo hasn’t done any English films yet, so if I must watch more French films to see her act, I’ll happily do it. I’ll do the same for Dujardin, too, though he appeared in The Wolf of Wall Street and The Monuments Men but has gone back to French films since then.

This is a French film that is just about as American as a film can get, celebrating the silent era of Hollywood and convincingly recreating it. It feels like it could have been made in the 20’s, because of two stars who feel like they were born in the wrong generation, especially how well they do their dances and that Fred Astaire-esque dance scene. John Goodman’s physical acting also makes him feel like he could have been an actor in the 1920’s – he plays the cigar-chomping studio head persona so well it would have been a disservice to audiences not to cast him in this role.

My only vague complaint here is that some scenes could have used some talking, especially a scene with Bill Fagerbakke (Patrick Star on Spongebob) as a police officer. I didn’t get what he was saying because I can’t read lips very well, but after looking up the meaning of this scene it works well. Still, if they talk in these moments it defeats the purpose of a silent picture and there are inter-titles at moments where you need to really understand the story.

They don’t make films like this anymore and what Hazanavicius does with this is just special and it’s made me want to seek out more silent films (maybe even watch some of the Charlie Chaplin ones I’ve always been intending to). I think that’s what he just intended to do, to make a great film that feels like Old Hollywood so you’d seek out films you may not typically watch. And surely, The Artist isn’t something I’d typically watch but I totally fell for it. It’s a refreshing (silent) film in a world that doesn’t stop talking.

Score: 90/100

Mission: Impossible reviews – Ghost Protocol (2011), Rogue Nation (2015)

Mission: Impossible reviews – Ghost Protocol (2011), Rogue Nation (2015)
Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol
IMDb

Released: December 21, 2011. Directed by: Brad Bird. Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg. Runtime: 2h 12 min.

Brad Bird directs his first-live action film with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol after doing the great film The Incredibles.

I think his sense of humour is one of the reasons this entry has so many funny moments, and another reason is Simon Pegg getting a bigger role as Benji, who’s been newly promoted to field agent. Bird’s humour is shown when Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) gets a mission to find files identifying a person of interest called “Cobalt,” from the Moscow Kremlin archives.

It’s the usual when Ethan gets the message, but the phone says it’s going to self destruct but it doesn’t, so Ethan goes back and hits it with his hand.

The plot itself is good as “Ghost Protocol” is put in place by the President that disavows the entire IMF team because Ethan and his team, including Benji and Jane Carter (Paula Patton), are implicated in the bombing at the Kremlin. Also helping them is intelligence analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and his character’s super interesting. The villain played by Michael Nyqvist is good.

The action’s thrilling, too, especially the stunt outside of the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalif. The film’s prison break at the beginning is also such a great opening.

Score: 85/100

 

Mission Impossible Rogue Nation
IMDb

Released: July 31, 2015. Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie. Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner. Runtime: 2h 11 min.

Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.

The idea of a shadow organization like the IMF is such a cool idea. It’s awesome watching Ethan try to take them down, and there are a lot of cool plot twists throughout.

Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is also a good villain, and his speaking voice is so damn cool. New character Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) has a great dynamic with Hunt, and she keeps us guessing throughout.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is just so bonkers it starts with Tom Cruise hanging off an airplane. It’s one of the best stunts but the film is very entertaining. The film’s set pieces really continue to astound, especially the car chases. One notable scene at an opera makes the opera look like a lot of fun, so that’s a mission it also accomplishes.

Score: 90/100

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Transformers 3Released: June 29, 2011. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Tyrese Gibson. Runtime: 154 min. 

A fault for me for the Transformers films is the fact that they can work as stand-alone films because Optimus Prime gives a little narration at the beginning of each film, which also introduces a new artifact where the Autobots will have to find this thing before the Decepticons do. Essentially, these films are exactly the same. But some of them are kind-of fun. This one improves on the first sequel by giving a stronger narrative, but its length is still exhausting. The Autobots, this time around, have to find the pillars that was on a spacecraft piloted by Centennial Prime that crash-landed on the moon (a creative spin for the reason the members of Apollo 11 went to the moon) in the war of Cybotron. The Autobots have to get there before the Decepticons to save the world. They harbour a powerful enough energy to cause that Chernobyl mishap, which is a kind-of creative reason to describe it, too. I like those blockbuster twists on past events to add alternative causes. 

Shia LaBeouf is back as Sam Witwicky, who gets a bit of an annoying characterization since he wants to matter again, and he flaunts his Hero’s Medal to anyone he meets. It’s a a funny difference from his reluctance to initially help in the previous film. He really wants recognition and it gets to the point of being whiny. The only one who hasn’t been too impressed by the medal was Megan Fox’s Mikayla, because now Sam has a new hottie named Carly (a meh Rosie Huntington-Whitely, a super model turned actress), who is a personal assistant to a billionaire, Dylan, portrayed by Patrick Dempsey. (He must be some sort-of entrepreneur because he collects a lot of cars.) The chemistry shared between LaBeouf and Huntington-Whitely is nothing special. Ms. H-Whitely doesn’t do much, except just look dirty and somehow manages to survive during action sequences. The ending of the finale is a bit lazy, and if it were any other movie I’d be mad at its laziness, but since it drags on so long it was welcome. Villains who still opt to help the Decepticons when they don’t really have to anymore is uninspired and it just prolongs the flick. 

In terms of ambition, some action sequences are pretty spectacular, but too long, and they’re reminiscent of several other sequences we’ve seen so far in the franchise. There a few characters who make this something fun. Tom Kenny is still very funny as Wheely, a Decepticon turned Autobot. John Malkovich shows up as Witwicky’s boss in a funny role. John Turturro is also good, but he gets outshone this time around by his sidekick Dutch, who is portrayed by a very funny Alan Tudyk. They are some redeeming aspects of an otherwise stupid film where there’s a Decepticon that reminded me of the huge worm from Men in Black 3, and where a character quotes Spock as a reason for attempting to take over the world.

Score: 50/100

X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men FirReleased: June 3, 2011. Directed by: Matthew Vaughn. Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence. Runtime: 132 min.

X-Men: First Class opens with what opened the original X-Men, but Matthew Vaughn adds his own stylish direction to it and extends the story. It introduces what motivates Erik Leshnerr (a.k.a. Magneto) and the main villain – Sebastian Shaw, portrayed by Kevin Bacon – from the get go. How Erik delves into her powers is through pain and anger, it’s shown through a heartbreaking sequence, mostly for Erik. I like it when a film gets right into the narrative. I think it compels from the opening scene – and it’s nice to see how Charles Xavier was good friends with Raven Darkholme (Mystique). 

The film then skips to 1962 after staying in 1944 for the opening fifteen minutes. The plot concerns Shaw, who is attempting to start World War 3 in 1962. Charles Xavier, and Leshnerr, team up with the CIA to stop the villains, and they recruit a few cool heroes in the process. I had only heard of Beast of the ones they recruit, but their powers are cool. I especially like Banshee’s (Caleb Landry Jones) sense of humour. Havoc (Lucas Till) is a bit of a total dick at times. The sequence where Xavier shows them how to control their powers is engaging and fun. Matthew Vaughn’s style and the excellent camerawork gives the film an extra fun layer, and engages one’s attention even more. 

I think setting this origins story in a very cool age is a smart choice, and Vaughn depicts the style of the age really well. It’s a sort-of Cold War/Cuban Missile Crisis film, and it seems to set up an imaginative way of how the Cuban Missile Crisis was started in this universe.The film’s also visually compelling. Prior to Days of Future Past, this is the franchise’s most engaging narrative thus far. It’s great to experience the chemistry shared between James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Leshnerr. Some of their clashes in opinions are heartbreaking, but necessary.

The two share a great scene together where Charles shows Erik to find out how to use his power – finding a balance between rage and serenity. What he does to show him how to do it is mesmerizing and emotionally charged. I seriously think it’s some of the strongest acting of the franchise shown in that simple scene. James McAvoy brings charm to his role, and a calm attitude; while Fassbender gives a sometimes chilling performance as Magneto. My favourite characterization for the film is for Mystique/Raven. She’s still coping with fitting in, as she has to use half of her concentration to stay beautiful all the time. It seems like a real struggle; because other mutants can hide and blend in easier than her and Hank McCoy, who has feet that are like an extra pair of hands. Nicholas Hoult (as McCoy) and Lawrence share strong scenes together. What Magneto says at one point about Mystique is thought-provoking: “How can society accept you, if you can’t accept yourself?” 

The only boring characterizations are for the CIA characters, largely Oliver Platt’s Man in Black Suit. Rose Byrne’s Moira gets decent characterization, but apparently humans are boring. I think Kevin Bacon is good as the big baddie Sebastian Shaw. He’s critical to Erik’s development. I like his power, but it’s also very lame when he can just flick someone and send them flying, because he absorbs so much energy. (He receives weird visuals at times, but weird in a good way.) At times, he is brilliant and super cool – and the introduction to his power is one of my favourite scenes. My favourite baddie in this film is Azazel – he is so cool. There’s a baddie called Riptide who is boring because I just saw him as a male Storm, and he doesn’t get an ounce of characterization. He’s dressed in a suit and he looks cool, but I don’t remember him having any dialogue other than nodding in agreement. At one point, I thought he might be an angel and Azazel a devil, and they might act those little dudes who show up on someone’s shoulder in a moral dilemma. Geddit? January Jones is awesome as Emma Frost.

One thing is certain: Matthew Vaughn handles his characters as well as Bryan Singer, and lightyears better than Brett Ratner or Gavin Hood. With the film’s great sense of humour and engaging atmosphere, Vaughn directs the franchise back to greatness – and helps re-invent it with a compelling story, too. There’s an endless amount of great sequences, even ones that aren’t primarily action-packed. This is my favourite film of the franchise and it features a great pace and a strong finish. The dazzling film has a musical score that complements the feature well, and it also has some great visual effects. At one point, the visual effects are mesmerizing discovery. They’re sometimes out-of-this world. I am just left astounded by the atmosphere Vaughn is able to create. This is how you make an origins story. 

Score: 90/100

Rio (2011)

RioRelease Date: April 15, 2011. Director: Carlos Saldanha. Stars (voices): Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx. Runtime: 96 min.

Blue Sky Studios produces decent animated movies; from the Ice Age flicks to Horton Hears a Who! to Epic. The studio is just that, though, decent. Their movies aren’t anything extraordinary usually – and that’s just the case with Rio.

As feel-good and foot-tapping as the movie is, it’s quite generic and simply forgettable. It’s a good way to pass the time, and it offers a few laughs, but I don’t remember any of them. The voicework is also fine. It’s a story about believing to fly, because Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) was taken from his natural habitat before he learned to fly. I don’t remember hearing any R. Kelly song throughout this movie, so that seems like a missed opportunity. The supporting characters are mildly amusing.

The movie goes down like a bitter pill. The movie is solid entertainment, but it hurts to know that Pixar could have made a movie just like this. They had to cancel their project, called Newt, because theirs was a similar premise with geckos — and I just can’t help but think their finished project would have been superior to this only mediocre film.

Score63/100

Red State (2011)

Red StateReleased: September 29, 2011. Directed by: Kevin Smith. Starring: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman. Runtime: 88 min.

I must give respect writer/director Kevin Smith for giving us something we haven’t seen from him before. There’s only one laugh in the entire movie. It’s a nice change of pace for him, but not a great film.

Set in Middle America, Jarod (Kyle Gallner) invites two of his best friends, Randy (Ronnie Connell) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) to have a foursome with an older woman he met through a dating site. Instead of having a good time, they fall onto the family church of Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), a religious zealot who has a much more sinister agenda.

I also respect that this is a movie I wasn’t really expecting – because it’s certainly not one’s run-of-the-mill action-horror flick. It also realistically portrays religious fantacism, in a particularly shocking way in one scene – but when Cooper simply preaches his beliefs down his family’s throats (and our throats, too, in turn) it’s the same familiar Bible quoting. I have my own religious beliefs – but I’m not one to stand on the lawn of a church during a funeral to protest homosexuality.

Things take a turn halfway through when intelligent cops actually show up (a rarity for horror flicks, no less) on a lead of the compound holding weapons that violate the National Firearms Act. These occurrences change the film’s tone from subtle horror to a bit of full-out action, and that isn’t the worst thing in the world because with that we get another intense performance from John Goodman. Viewers also get to see Michael Parks act nucking futs, and Nicholas Braun’s fear of the situation in one scene is particularly impressive.

There’s some analysis of repercussions of taking orders and not taking orders from higher powers (I’m talking about one’s boss in this case!), as well as some thoughts on terrorism. The religious fanatics are a little cuckoo and some of the occurrences are disappointing; leading me to not really care about the characters any more, but at least there’s some humanity within the religious family. It’s cool that some of the focus is taken away from the young teens who were the stars at the beginning, but surprising. But that’s what we look for in films – surprises. That’s what makes “Red State” only a decent watch. An unpleasant surprise is that this feels much more like an action film than a horror film, but it’s still not a waste of time; and one thing is certain: It makes me a bit more cautious of Craigslist, at least if there are any religious fanatics in my area.

Score63/100

Just Go With It (2011)

Just Go With ItReleased: February 11, 2011. Director: Dennis Dugan. Stars: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman. Runtime: 117 min.

One can only watch an Adam Sandler flick so many times before it gets worn out. Apparently, one could only watch “Just Go With It” twice before it gets worn out. Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston have a good chemistry that grows better as the movie goes along. They never particularly hate each other, but they have to act like it because the hoax is that they’re divorced after many years of happiness.

The hoax is grown by Sandler’s Danny Maccabee who carries a ring around with him for years. He was left at the alter by the one he loved (his real life wife, Jennifer Sandler), because of his huge nose. He’s never been able to throw the ring away because if he has it, he won’t be hurt again. He meets an extremely attractive young woman, Palmer (Brooklyn Decker), and after she finds his wedding ring in his pocket, he makes up a story about how he is just getting divorced. Of course, she wants to meet her. The successful plastic surgeon Danny enlists the help of his assistant (Jennifer Aniston) to help him out with the cause, and her kids (Bailee Madison, Griffin Gluck) get sweeped into the debacle after the kid schemes his way into a Hawaii vacation. There, Danny and Katherine (Aniston) must keep the scheme alive without falling in love in the process.

The movie is watchable, but it isn’t great after multiple viewings. First viewing, it’s okay. By the third viewing, it’s not even good background noise. It’s usually fairly funny, but only if you like predictable humour. And even for a movie like this, it’s too tedious at 117 minutes.

Half of the occurences in the film just happen because they can. Nick Swardson has an irritating German accent, just because he can. He has goofy glasses. There’s no point to it, since Swardson’s character Eddie, Danny’s best friend, wouldn’t have met Palmer prior to the vacation he schemes his way on. Swardson also isn’t very funny, here. One of the only movies he’s been funny in, in all honesty, is “The Benchwarmers.” I also don’t know why Maccabee and Katherine had to tell people they were getting divorced while shopping and preparing for the charade.

Brooklyn Decker certainly isn’t cast for her acting abilities. She’s cast because she fills out a bikini well, but couldn’t we have gotten a young actress with talent and a hot bod? Alice Eve wasn’t available? Decker’s cleavage should have gotten higher billing than Decker herself.

Bailee Madison’s okay. Griffin Gluck’s terrible. His emotionless way about him is seriously depressing. Nicole Kidman has rarely looked less attractive than here. The humour is low-brow and predictable. The only true laugh might only be a “Lord of the Rings” reference. At least after multiple viewings. Even on first viewing, it’s difficult to recommend. This is at least way better than Sandler’s other 2011 release, “Jack and Jill.” But if you’re watching this for Aniston, just watch “Horrible Bosses.”

Score50/100

The Smurfs (2011)

The SmurfsReleased: July 29, 2011. Director: Raja Gosnell. Stars: Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Jonathan Winters. Runtime: 103 min.

This is not my type of movie. I watched it because I wanted to see how bad of an animated movie many people say it is. It’s torture, in all honesty. I feel bad for all the parents who get dragged to this. Some of it’s really amusing to kids and I even got a laugh out of it at one point; but that’s it. The story’s terrible, as is the villain, Gargamel (Hank Azaria). The story is this: When the evil wizard Gargamel chases the tiny blue Smurfs out of their village, they tumble from their magical world into New York City. It’s okay how the writers show that the smurfs are in an odd land, but it isn’t even worth a giggle most of the time.

I don’t think I watched the show much as a kid; but I can tell that all the charm and magic of the original show has been squandered in the money grabbing way Hollywood turns that ’80s classic into a visually great CGI-live action mash-up. However, the movie is more annoying than charming. There’s just nothing going on. Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays do their best. It’s also cool to hear so many celebrities voicing the smurfs (Katy Perry is Smurfette, George Lopez is Grouchy, Anton Yelchin is Clumsy, etc.). But it doesn’t feel like they are the characters so many adults loved as kids, because many are just versions of the actor voicing them. At least those celebrities are more for the adults than the kids, because the kiddies won’t know half of those celebrities from Adam.

The movie just doesn’t do anything for the animation genre and it is torture for adults. It’s up there with “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” as one of the worst animated movies ever. Though, animated movies are usually pretty good, so it’s not the worst statement in the world as the movie is still getting a 38.  “The Smurfs” is just tedious. The little blue things substitute the term ‘smurfing’ for whatever word they want, so this feature becomes smurfing irritating really smurfing quickly.

Score38/100