Monday, December 20, 2010

A New Year Doth Beckon... But 2010's Films Ain't Done Yet

2010 is coming to a close. In less than two weeks we'll be smack dab in 2011, with a whole new release list of films to watch. January isn't known for it's great film releases; In fact, it would probably be safe to say that Hollywood tends to save its weaker films for this time, since they figure they won't have an impact come next award season. Then again, there's always something to watch, even if the ones I'm truly interested in (The Mechanic, maybe something else) are far outnumbered by ones I'll only see if I have to (Green Hornet, Season of the Witch, The Company Men). At worst, I can always go revisit 2010 for any films I missed (odds of seeing Blue Valentine when it releases on December 31'st are slim) but I'm truly excited to enter the new year with the same goal: to see and review these films for you my readers. So since I'm running out of time in 2010, I decided to quick review a couple of films I didn't see in the theaters this year but kind of wish I had: the comedy The Other Guys and the indie drama Winter's Bone.

 For me, this was an easy choice. I missed the theatrical run of The Other Guys because, while I WANTED to see the film, there kept springing up films that I wanted to see MORE. Some were good, some were bad, but either way this comedy directed by Adam McKay (The man who brought you Anchorman) ran under my radar without comment. Despite being told on multiple occasions that it was a good film, I simply never got around to it. Despite this, I still remembered several jokes from the trailer while watching it, and I STILL enjoyed every moment.

You smell that? Someone had the bean burrito...
The Other Guys stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as New York City police detectives Gamble and Holtz. After the city's two most decorated and reckless cops (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) are killed in the line of duty in tragic and hilariously stupid fashion, Holtz decides that he wants to be the new top cop in town, dragging his partner Gamble, a transfer from police accounting, along for the ride.

Holtz and Gamble don't exac... OOH, spider solitaire!
The film would be for naught if they didn't have the right cast delivering the funny. Ferrell is a blend of conservative nerd with a spot of renegade as Gamble, a man who got into police accounting because it was a safe way to serve his country while somehow being quite successful with the ladies, especially his ultra-hot wife (Eva Mendes). Wahlberg plays Holtz as a cop trying to earn his redemption from an incident earlier in his career that had him accidentally shoot Yankees star Derek Jeter. Holtz learned a number of odd things growing up (ballet, for instance) for the expressed purpose of teasing and bullying the kids who actually studied those things. He's also fierce in his attempts to prove himself, to the point where he goes into almost pointless rages because he doesn't have a suitable outlet for his frustration. Steve Coogan plays one of the film's antagonists, a corporate big-wig whose Ponzi scheme is the focal point of the story, and is being hunted by the film's other antagonist, a security contractor played by Ray Stevenson. Michael Keaton makes a random appearance as Gamble and Holtz's police Captain, who does work on the side at Bed Bath and Beyond. All these actors have great lines and never miss a beat, and the film's humor is much better for having them than it would be otherwise.

Here Coogan attempts to deflect bullets with his teeth, with hilarious consequences
 The great thing about The Other Guys is that you can pretty much take it out and watch it anytime you want. Whether you want to be in a good mood or already are, this film never drops the ball and delivers an entertaining experience with its viewing. Of course, if you could do with less of Marky Mark, Anchorman is probably still the penultimate film for Ferrell and director McKay, and with even better dialogue and a better supporting cast. But The Other Guys gives a rare opportunity to see Wahlberg in a comedic role, and he does so well with it you wish he would do more. Then again, when The Fighter is as good as it is, you can understand why he might stick with more dramatic roles. Either way, The Other Guys is one film you should see if you want to laugh.

From The Other Guys to the other film, Winter's Bone was a film whose existence I had knowledge of before I decided to watch it, but mainly as an icon on my local Redbox machine. I think I remotely remember the film's theatrical release in June only because of the mention of co-star Garret Dillahunt, who I loved on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Then actress Jennifer Lawrence goes and gets a nomination for best actress at this year's Golden Globes, and suddenly Winter's Bone goes from an indie hit and critics' darling to a must-see film with upset potential at the upcoming award shows. I had to see what all the praise was about..

Just realized her film is stuck in a dual review
Winter's Bone stars Lawrence as Ree Dolly, seventeen years old and already thrust into a large amount of responsibility with a sick and mentally disabled mother and two younger siblings to care for in their impoverished Missouri Ozarks shack. Her father, a long-time cooker of crystal meth, had been arrested by the local law but now has disappeared, and had put the house up for his bail. Soon, Ree must find her father and bring him back so that her family will not lose what little home they have left.

Remember, pull this trigger when you see Gianni pop around...
To get to the point, all the praise for Jennifer Lawrence is completely justified. An amazing actress, Lawrence shows amazing range for someone young. Ree practically runs the film by herself, between caring for her two siblings and fearlessly facing her extended family, who may or may not know what happened to her father. In all this Lawrence is truly a fearless performer, mastering the screen and we are unable to take our eyes off her as she undertakes this potentially dangerous journey. When she's not running the show, co-star John Hawkes is equally as compelling as Ree's uncle Teardrop, a drug addict who takes up the reigns at times on the hunt for his brother. He's amazing in the role, and if it wasn't for Lawrence he would probably be the one everybody remembers from this film. It's certainly a huge leap from the last role most people remember him from, that of the Other Lennon in the final season of Lost. I was hoping for more screen time for Dillahunt, as he does a good job but ultimately has a small role as the local sheriff that gets slightly bigger towards the end of the film. And characters played by Lauren Sweetser, Dale Dickey, and Shelley Waggoner do a great job as neighbors with their own motivations to help or hinder the search for Ree's father. Director Debra Granik did a great job putting this cast together, and the Cambridge, MA native also did a good job recruiting locally for talent, as the regular folks who appear in the film are all solid performers. Nobody slacked off in making this film, and that's half the reason that it's as good as it is.

Just in case this film wasn't dark enough, here's a graveyard scene
The film follows themes of family ties, both close and distant. Almost every major character, and many of the minor characters, are related in some way to Ree and her family, which makes their unwillingness to help her more tragic. Other themes include self-sufficiency, the power and speed of gossip, and rural poverty, all of which are well-covered over the course of the film, and the dark themes are enhanced by what seems like an endless overcast, the skies constantly gray and dark. Throughout her journey, Ree is confronted with obstacle after obstacle, each more impassable than the last. Yet it's her strength and determination that lets her overcome these problems en route to her final goal.

An audition for Secretariat fortunately didn't work out
I really liked Winter's Bone, though I wish I could say I loved it. I didn't have any problem with the film, per se. I loved Jennifer Lawrence in the lead and could rarely take my eyes from the screen for the entire film's 100-minute run. I just felt that the film didn't live up to it's Sundance-winning pedigree, and especially that the film left a lot out that might have enhanced the story at parts. Still, it does paint a harrowing picture of everyday life in the Ozarks region, when there's often little chance of opportunity to change your fortunes, when you often are forced not by people but by circumstances to do things you never thought you'd do before. That alone would be enough to recommend this film, but the strong performances put the cap on top, and I definitely recommend this title to anyone with a pulse. It's certainly more important to see this film than the overrated Social Network, and the fact that more people have seen the latter is a terrible shame.

So what's next for The Latest Issue? We'll be busy wrapping up 2010 soon, with The King's Speech, Tron Legacy, True Grit, Somewhere and The Tempest getting reviewed or making their debuts soon, and of course my Worst Films of 2010 compilation. Can't wait to share all those with you soon!


Sam said...

What can you possibly have against "Green Hornet"???? It looks, quite frankly, like the single greatest movie ever made.

Sam said...

(hint: that may not exactly have been Sam!)

Gianni said...

For me, Seth Rogan is kind of like the new Jack Black: Good in small doses, but completely misused as a leading man. Frankly, if he wasn't in this movie, I'd probably be more interested in it.