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Category: Movies

Obvious Child is 5% groundbreaking, 95% uninspired formula

Obvious ChildGillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child does one unique thing very well: It tells a story about abortion without any emotional trauma or hysterical moral wailing.

Obvious Child is the story of Donna (Jenny Slate), who gets pregnant after a drunken one-night stand and, given her complete lack of financial or emotional stability, decides to have an abortion. Predictable hijinks ensue, but more interestingly, women talk about their experiences with abortions, and none of them degenerate into tearful monologues about terrifying clinics or lifelong regret.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier – the only problem is that Captain America & The Winter Soldier are in it

Captain America Winter SoldierThe worst thing about Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that Captain America is in it.

I can’t lie: I’ve never liked the star spangled avenger. Most of that can be attributed to me being Canadian, and being fairly disinterested in a superhero wrapped in someone else’s flag. (Lest you think it’s entirely about nationalism, I have always maintained that Alpha Flight is pretty stupid.)

The first Captain America movie because it put the character in his proper context: As a piece of WWII propaganda. I don’t even mean that in a derogatory sense: It was a fun, pulpy bit of entertainment that played with the character’s origins and created a scenario where it was (almost) credible to dress a man up in a costume and send him to Germany to fight Nazis with a shield.

But while the modern Captain America narrative tends to be a “fish out of water” story, Winter Soldier takes Captain America too far out of the character’s comfort zone, and doesn’t do much with the resulting juxtaposition.

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American Hustle has style, but can’t back up its ambition

American HustleAmerican Hustle opens with a balding and pot-bellied Christian Bale performing the intricate ritual of arranging his combover. There’s some obvious symbolism in his character, Irving Rosenfeld, pretending to be someone he’s not: He’s a con man, leading desperate people on with the promise of loans that will never materialize in exchange for some very real fees. As his partner and lover, Amy Adams masquerades as an English noblewoman with ties to British banks.

But the scene, full of glue and merkins and hairspray, also hints at one of the film’s weaknesses: It is very concerned with how it looks. The film is set in the late 1970s in New Jersey and Long Island, and director David O. Russell wants to make sure you know it. This was clear from the earliest promotional posters, which showed off the clothes, hairstyles, and, in the case of the female cast members, cleavage of the era.

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Dredd aims low, gets the job done

Despite spending more than two decades of my life reading comic books, I don’t know much about Judge Dredd. I know he’s an icon, and many great British writers and artists have worked on his books, but they’ve had limited availability in North America. I read a Batmand-Dredd teamup book once, but that’s about it.

I’m not sure, after watching Dredd, if I know anything more. This is a film that seems largely removed from the source material: Outside of the concept of a paramilitary police force and a post-apocalyptic future, there’s not a lot here that say “Dredd!” beyond some occasional scenery and a few sci-fi props. This story could translate to present-day reality without losing much.

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Midnight in Paris and the terrible power of nostalgia

midnight-paris[1]For most of my life, I’ve been the biggest Woody Allen fan I know. I’ll defend his body of work until the cows come home, and sing the praises of everything from Annie Hall and Love & Death to Sweet & Lowdown and Deconstructing Harry. I adore his scripts, themes, and general philosophies, as well as his ability to get the best out of any cast, no matter how naturally talented they may be.

So it comes as a bit of a shock that I find myself annoyed by the accolades bestowed upon his latest film, Midnight in Paris, up to and including three Oscar nominations. It’s a fine film, and easily one of the best he’s made in the past ten years, but seems grossly out of place when talking about the best films of 2011.

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Carnage: The joys of watching people being horrible

If you’re the sort of person who insists on likeable characters in entertainment, Carnage might be the most unpleasant film you’ve ever seen. The characters are dishonest, hypocritical, condescending, arrogant, snide, antagonistic, and insulting. They begin the film with a mask of pleasantries covering their inner ugliness, but by the time the credits roll everyone has been exposed as a tremendous asshole.

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Meek’s Cutoff’s: The wild, stoic, wandering west

Meek's Cutoff posterMeek’s Cutoff will sneak up on you.

It’s a slow, occasionally meandering film that doesn’t offer a lot of definitive plot points for the first 45 minutes or so. A group of settlers travelling west in 1845 takes a shortcut that gets them lost. Soon, getting to their destination has taken a back seat to finding water.

Director Kelly Reichardt follows the group as they trudge solemnly through the desert, slowed by seemingly mundane tasks: replacing a broken wagon axel, camping for the night, feeding their oxen teams. They’ve been led astray by their guide, Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), who boasts of his many experiences but may have no idea where he is.

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The Debt: Heroes, lies, guilt, and Nazis

Poster for The Debt (2011)

The Debt begins by revealing one of its climactic scenes: A Nazi war criminal escapes from his Israeli captors, brutally assaulting one of them in the process. She recovers from the beating just in time to shoot him dead before he escapes into hiding forever.

The heroic scene is recounted 30 years after it happened by Rachel Singer (played by Helen Mirren in 1997, and Jessica Chastain in 1965), at the launch of a book detailing the Mossad mission to identify a suspected Nazi war criminal and return him to Israel to stand trial. But not all of the team is basking in heroic glory: One member commits suicide, suggesting that something happened on the mission that no one wants to talk about.

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Bridesmaids: Hell Is Other People

Watching people suffer is funny.

Mel Brooks, who knew a thing or two about making funny movies, said “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” Bridesmaids is about people falling into the sewer of failure and disappointment.

Despite having one of the most misleading trailers I’ve ever seen – several scenes don’t even appear in the film – Bridesmaids is just as funny as you might expect, if not more so. But there’s little that can prepare you for how staggeringly depressing it is. While it’s a movie full of slapstick and silliness, it’s also about failure, loneliness, and the feeling that everyone else is getting on with their lives while you’re still stuck in the mud. Almost no one in the movie is happy, and everyone is envying someone else’s seemingly perfect life. It also features the most depressing cupcake scene ever filmed.

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Thor: Saving Us From The Usual Superheroics

Chris Hemsworth as ThorThe Mighty Thor does not require a puny mortal origin story.

Superhero movies remain hot stuff in Hollywood, and we’re all going to have to accept it. Some of them are good, and some of them are bad, but one thing is certain: There are too many origin stories. Since studios would like to turn every superhero into a franchise, the first film in a theoretical series has to introduce and explain everything. And it all becomes rather tiring, because while the details are different, the song remains the same: Average guy (usually a nerd) lives his regular life until a life-changing event turns him into a costumed vigilante.

Spider-Man, Batman, and Iron Man have all done it with great success. Green Lantern and Captain America are going to try it later this summer. Regardless of the quality of the actual film, it often ends up feeling like two hours of setup so the second movie can get moving quickly.

But Thor isn’t an average superhero. He’s not some schmuck who suffered through a trauma or got exposed to the good kind of radiation. He’s a god. He’s been flying around and smashing people in the face with his giant hammer for thousands of years.

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