Films viewed in 2011

Posts Tagged ‘mystery’

492. Shadow of a Doubt

In Thriller on May 28, 2012 at 4:40 PM

Dir. Alfred Hitchcock

A young woman discovers her visiting “Uncle Charlie” may not be the man he seems to be.


Often cited as the favourite of his own films, Aflred Hitchock’s Shadow of a Doubt is a deliciously suspenseful slice of domestic thrills.  Joseph Cotton plays the shady uncle who brings just right balance of intrigue and terror with his menacing portrayal of a killer that’s a little too close to home. Without the same visual flourish as some of his more famous work, the story manages to grab the viewer all the same and pull you in before nearly pushing you off the train. Hitchcock may have stronger films, but aside from some quaint plot points, this one holds up nicely.



481. Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows

In Action on February 14, 2012 at 11:22 AM

Dir. Guy Ritchie

Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson join forces to outwit and bring down their fiercest adversary, Professor Moriarty.


The budding Sherlock Holmes franchise is more buddy cop movie formula than one might expect from a bona fide literary icon, but even the mindless action is pretty fun. Robert Downey Jr. still seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself with his signature dry wit and emerging prowess as a one-man-army, while Jude Law suffers slightly from either lost puppy or nagging wife syndrome. He’s upstaged by Jared Hess as the arch-nemesis of our hero, in a storyline that feels rushed considering the long-arc of their relationship. Worst off, however, is poor Rachel McAdams who gets what can only be described as a call-back roll before being unceremoniously ousted from the scene, much like her fumbling career.


477. Doubt

In Drama on February 7, 2012 at 3:38 PM

Dir. John Patrick Shanley

A popular priest’s ambiguous relationship with a troubled 12 year old black student is questioned by the school’s principal.


Forgive me, John Patrick Shanley, but I was skeptical that a playwright adapting his own material for the screen as both writer and director would do much to elevate the material. I was wrong. Doubt is certainly not an indulgence of style, but it also never feels restricted by the limitations of its confined Catholic school setting. Casting Philip Seymour Hoffman as yet another (alleged) creep felt almost lazy, but he nuances his performance with a fierce pride and progressive liberalism that forces us to rethink our prejudices. Meryl Streep is equally infuriating as we alternate between admiring and abhorring her rigid good intentions. Amy Adams rounds out the triumphant acting triumvirate with a malleable naïveté only her doe eyes could make believable.

423. The Adventures of TinTin

In Animation on December 22, 2011 at 2:52 PM

Dir. Steven Spielberg

Tintin and Captain Haddock set off on a treasure hunt for a sunken ship commanded by Haddock’s ancestor.


The Adventures of TinTin: Secret of the Unicorn cleverly transitions our relationship from the classically drawn TinTin to the new motion capture version in the first scene. The approach to not use live action, however, doesn’t fully seem to benefit the film until the last half when the adventure takes on a much larger scale. Steven Spielberg brings just the right energy, innocence and intelligence to the hero without having the film feel like it’s made for kids. The “single take” climactic action sequence through Bagghar is as exciting as anything ever committed to screen. The clues and detective story seem secondary to the spectacle, but the excitement and animation are first-rate.

419. The Pledge

In Crime on December 21, 2011 at 9:25 AM

Dir. Sean Penn

A retiring police chief pledges to catch the killer of a young child.


Throwing a detective into a tough case on the eve of his retirement has been the premise for many films. What makes director Sean Penn’s film The Pledge different is how well Jack Nicholson embodies the struggle trying to solve a final murder, and more importantly his personal unraveling as the clues don’t add up to an obvious conclusion. The first scene foreshadows how bad things will get, which hits the bullseye of giving the audience what they want but not the protagonist what he needs. Supporting performances by Patricia Clarkson, Benicio Del Toro and Robin Wright Penn also anchor the films appeal for adult audiences who care about seeing good people try and do the right thing.


364. Devil

In Horror on November 1, 2011 at 4:53 PM

Dir. John Erick Dowdle

A group of people are trapped in an elevator and the Devil is mysteriously amongst them.


There are moments when Devil is close to working, but some of the worst acting this side of an M. Night Shyamalan movie prevents any effect from taking root. Speak of the devil, Shyamalan produced and conceived this low-budget feeling horror entry by John Erick Dowdle, that needlessly tacks on a fruitless detective story even though the title tells us we’re in for a super-natural solution. The approach in a subtler film might have paid dividends, but all it does here is give us reprieve from the confines of a haunted elevator. Which, after the first fairly impressive establishing shots, only goes down.

353. Stay

In Thriller on October 26, 2011 at 3:25 PM

Dir. Marc Forster

A psychiatrist attempts to prevent one of his patients from committing suicide while trying to maintain his own grip on reality.


I can’t think of a working director with a more eclectic filmography than Marc Foster. Stay is a trippy, psychological thriller that has a lot of fun visually connecting the lives of Ewan McGreggor and Ryan Gosling’s characters, to the point where the film becomes an exercise in style over substance. Inventive cinematography is undermined by a convoluted story that tries so hard to keep the audience guessing, we end up losing interest. I won’t fault Foster for exploring all sorts of different genres and looks with his films, but maintaining few constants (like sustaining emotional engagement) is still essential.

338. Lone Star

In Crime on October 19, 2011 at 8:58 AM

Dir. John Sayles

When the skeleton of his murdered predecessor is found, Sheriff Sam Deeds unearths many other long-buried secrets in his Texas border town.


Dead men tell no tales, but what about their sons? John Sayles flips the standard revenge story upside down in the Deep South, making a son the unlikely detective looking to refute the heroic tales of his deceased and legendary father.  Elegantly paced and smartly written, the story weaves several side characters into a larger web of tainted histories and misrepresentations. Sayle’s visual technique of seamlessly panning the camera from one era into the next also helps sustain our emotional connection throughout, and illustrate how the small town may have transformed over the years, but hasn’t really changed.

328. Scream 4

In Horror on October 13, 2011 at 11:12 AM

Dir. Wes Craven

Ten years have passed, and Sidney Prescott, who has put herself back together thanks in part to her writing, is visited by the Ghostface Killer.


Wes Craven’s return to the Scream franchise 10 years later is framed as a reboot, which really means cash-grab by the old guard. The idea of a “new decade, new rules” sounds nice on the poster, but doesn’t mean much in practice. The multiple false start openings get things rolling up front with dizzying layers of self-awareness, but the film quickly settles right back into formula. The story re-discovers some momentum near the end and the false third act, but just doesn’t end with nearly enough bravery from the filmmaker. I guess it’s hard to kill the thing you love, even when killing is the name of the game.

320. Wrecked

In Canadian on October 7, 2011 at 1:54 PM

Dir. Michael Greenspan

A man trapped in a car wreck at the bottom of a ravine must overcome incredible odds to survive.


Ryan Reynolds was presumably too Buried with superhero offers to make another entrapment film on his home turf, leaving Oscar-winner Adrien Brody to the task. But no one’s complaining. Even with only a handful of lines in the first hour, Brody convincingly emotes the challenges of trying to remember who he is, how he got there, and how to escape in Michael Greenspan’s first-feature. The visual style is less energetic than 127 hours or Buried, but allows us to absorb the excellent make-up and set pieces. The film just ironically loses some momentum when he gets out of the car halfway through and crawls his way to a circular resolution. But with Brody starring in two Canadian indie features in two years, it seems Hollywood North is turning a corner.