Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Six 2010 Mini-Reviews

The Social Network

The Social Network is a brilliantly-made film. With Aaron Sorkin writing, you know the dialogue is going to be superb, and it was. The acting was uniformly good, the direction and editing excellent. All good. And yet... I think what bothered me was the coldness of the film. I just never got into it emotionally. None of the characters drew me in and made me care. Perhaps that was the desired reaction; after all, it was, as Walter mentions below, exposing a shallow and immature piece of the Facebook generation. Still, the film failed to draw me in. I enjoy watching a well-made intelligent film, but for me to love a film it has to draw me in (or at least WOW me). The Social Network (like a number of the Coen brothers films - see below) left me too cold. Certainly worth a minimum of ***+ and I could be talked into giving it ****. But it’s not likely to make my top ten films of 2010.


Eastwood’s latest film is not his best. In almost every way it is inferior to The Social Network, for example. Nevertheless, unlike The Social Network, I was drawn to the characters and to their individual journeys with death. The film’s story as a whole did not impress me, but these three journeys did, and that allowed me to enjoy Hereafter at a deeper level than The Social Network. ***+

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

This is a well-made entry in the HP series, but I find it impossible to provide a lengthy review without seeing how it ends. Many people will no doubt be disappointed by the fact that Hogwarts is not part of this film. I am not among them. I rather enjoyed the dark outdoor adventure feel of the film. So for now I’ll give Deathly Hallows 1 ***+ and I will discuss it further in the summer.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This was one of my favourite books in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series. After the first two Narnia films, which profoundly disappointed me (see previous reviews), I went in with low expectations. Good thing I did, because this was yet another disappointment and the 3D only made it worse (I know I predicted 3D was a passing fad, but the studios didn’t get my memo).

Dawn Treader begins all wrong, with a fight against slave traders that continues the trend of making the Narnia films adventurous battle films. There is no fighting at all in the book, but the filmmakers had to throw in a sword-fighting sequence in which children once again become murderous warriors. I have expounded on this at greater length elsewhere and will leave it at that until February or so (or come hear Walter and me debate the film’s merits at the Wild Goose Festival in June), except to mention how much I hated the way Reepicheep is portrayed as a dangerous vicious warrior. Suffice to say, I began the film in a bad mood and only a great adaptation of the book from that point on could have saved the film for me. Unfortunately, it was but a decent adaptation. There were moments I enjoyed very much but on the whole I found the film’s technical merits wanting. Georgie Henley as Lucy acquitted herself very well, and Will Poulter as Eustace did the best with his role. Some of the cinematography was very good but, perhaps due to the 3D, I was far from impressed. It should have been a strikingly gorgeous film, but there were only brief glimpses of that. Still, I enjoyed Dawn Treader more than the previous two films and am going to give it a generous ***.

True Grit

I have enjoyed every film the Coen brothers have made. When I saw that True Grit was getting excellent reviews, my expectations soared (ALWAYS a mistake). It didn’t help that the original True Grit (1969) is one of my 100 favourite films of all-time.

True Grit (Coen version) certainly deserves the good reviews. It is a very well-made film. The acting by all involved was virtually faultless. Hailee Steinfeld made an excellent Mattie Ross and Matt Damon was a major leap up from Glen Campbell (whose singing, however, I missed very much). I thought Rooster Cogburn was one of John Wayne’s best roles, so Jeff Bridges had a lot to live up to. Fortunately, he is one of the best out there and he did a splendid job. The cinematography was top-notch, the dialogue was as sharp as one could hope for and the directing as good as one would expect from the Coen brothers. In other words, this was a brilliant old-fashioned western, in almost every way superior to the 1969 version of the film.

So why didn’t I love it? I can only think that it was the Coen brothers themselves who created my disappointment. When I think Coen brothers, I think quirkiness. So I expected not just a smart, sassy version of True Grit (which I got) but also a quirky version of True Grit, which I didn’t get. So I was left wanting more. In the end, my gut liked the original inferior version better. Still, True Grit 2010 gets a solid ***+.

On a side note (inappropriate for a mini-review), I do think the ending of the film was an important counter to what could have been a simple revenge tale. I am interested in how others saw that.

Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky is one of my favourite directors. Two of his films (Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain) are in my top 100 films of all-time. Black Swan will not make that list, but this is not because it wasn’t a work of great cinematic art. Black Swan is another typically dark and typically brilliant Aronofsky film. The acting is flawless (this is Portman’s best performance), and the writing, direction, cinematography, etc. are all excellent. This sounds like a solid **** film with an accompanying position in my top ten films of 2010. But the story of Black Swan just didn’t quite work for me. More specifically, I found much of it predictable. For a dark psychological thriller to work for me, it has to offer surprising twists and turns. While brilliantly told in its own way, and offering a daydream-world that leaves us always uncertain about what is really happening, Black Swan did not really surprise me and I had a pretty good idea of what was really happening and how it would end (as I had in The Sixth Sense, for example). So, I’m only going to give Black Swan a very solid ***+. It may still get into my top ten of 2010, but it’s doubtful. If you like psychological thrillers, don’t miss this one.


  1. Looks like we have very similar views on The Social Network. I agree with the critique on the film's coldness, but that seems inevitable given the plot. Still, it looks like we give this one two mugs up, and I think for me it is likely to make it onto my top ten list - though I would also give it only ***+.

    Most of the others I haven't seen except Dawntreader. I'd match your watchable *** and was also glad to come into it with very low expectations. Also, having enjoyed the 3D experience on Avatar, it has become clear that in average circumstances 3D is nothing but an annoying distraction. Please may it die out soon.

    Hoping to see Black Swan and True Grit soon.

  2. Just saw True Grit two days ago, wondered your take on it. I thought it was really well-made. I was struck by the cinematography and choice of colors. I felt that I was immediately in a 'story-tale' land rather than in real life, which I think is Coen brothers' gift. The overabundant fog, stage lighting, etc on the courtroom scene is a prime example of this. It felt colorful and beautiful, but not real. So I quickly tried to get into 'storytale' mode rather than 'real story' and therefore watch it for entertainment rather than holding it to accuracy standards.

    Storyline and plot were pretty thin and slightly disappointing, and I thought although dialogue was witty it was stilted, although I hear that is standard for westerns, with which I'm not very familiar.

    I definitely enjoyed the character of Mattie Ross, she certainly made the film.

    I was reminded of Coen brothers work when quirky random characters came to the scene like Forester, which in the style reminded me of Oh Brother Where Art Thou. However, I was left slightly disappointed because I loved the quirky characters so much but they seemed unnecessary to the story and generally unconnected. Fit the 'storytale' feel, but sad they couldn't leave one thin line of connectivity from the character to the main story.

    I do wonder if the storytale-feel attempt could have been encouraged/a particular choice so as to deal with the abundant point-blank deaths as palatable rather than the gross evil that they are, as you were unable to connect emotionally or real-life closely with the characters due to the thin mask of colorful storytale land.

    I never saw the original so can make no comments of comparison there.

    Although I don't recall the full details of the ending (you'll remember my stellar memory capacities), I'm not sure I follow your line on it being a counter to a simple revenge tale. Is it because it showed that the relationship was potentially more valuable than the quest and the quest's result...and that is what lingered and still drove connection?

    If your maximum stars are 4, I'm surprised to read with your comments that you could still be persuaded to move from 3+ to 4, but then again I do recall you as a fairly generous reviewer.

    I did enjoy the film, once I determined to view it in storytale land, but as a harsher critic, I would give it 3* as I felt plot was weak, dialogue stilted, and colors and random characters showed a clumsiness with artistic or directional choices.

  3. Saw True Grit last night and I think I liked it about as much as you did (***1/2). I think I see your point about the ending if you mean the long term effect of the hardening and revenge-seeking style of Mattie. But, if you want a really good take on this movie, check out http://www.slate.com/id/2283236/