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The Best and Worst Films of 2011… And a Few Honorable Mentions

by Steve Habrat

Another year has come to a close and I know I will fondly remember 2011 as the year nostalgia ran rampant through cinema. We couldn’t get enough of the retro throwbacks that Hollywood dumped onto us! It touched horror (Insidious), superheroes (Captain America: The First Avenger), dramas (The Artist), thrillers (Drive), and even more than that. Many proclaimed that the year was lacking strong, well-made films that will live on but I have to disagree with those statements. I found 2011 to be a very good year for film with a number of wonderful films flickering across the silver screen. I will admit that, yes, the awards season was a bit dry with the usual awards tailored releases but one could make the argument that they were spread throughout the year. Hell, Spetember, which is usually the dumping ground for crappy movies, saw several great releases. So, my loyal readers, here is my picks for the 10 Best Films of 2011. I will follow the best with the honorable mentions and the 5 Worst Films of 2011.

 The Best:

10.) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This Cold War thriller about a group of spies at the upper levels of British Intelligence trying to locate a Soviet mole that has apparently been walking among them for years is tense, paranoid, dry, and quietly threatening. With a discreet but brilliant performance from Gary Oldman and a slew of supporting acts not far behind (Toby Jones, Colin Firth, and Tom Hardy all give it 110%), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy becomes a film not about the mole but about the casualties of the Cold War. The casualties are the egos, careers, and lives of the men and women battling this war where accusations are fired instead of bullets. I remained on the fence about including this film in my Best of 2011 list but as the days pass, I find myself being squeezed tighter and tighter by its frosty grip.

9.) The Help

You know that chick flick that wasn’t Bridesmaids or Crazy Stupid Love (both awesome movies, by the way) that your girlfriend really wanted to see but you groused about going to? Yeah, The Help. It was really, really good and you missed out. The Help was a dazzling and patient film that was a cry for female camaraderie while never isolating the male viewer. It was a film about speaking your mind while opening up and listening to those around us. It was a film about unlikely friendships and cathartic confiding in one another. It was also a really great drama with moments of howling hilarity and stinging heartbreak. So yeah, that film you refused to see because it was just a “chick flick”? Yeah, you might want to see it because it happens to be a whole lot more than just for “chicks”. See it also for the show stopping performances from Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis.

8.) Moneyball

Moneyball is to baseball what The Social Network was to Facebook. Featuring a crackling script by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin and top notch performances from Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane and Jonah Hill as the number crunching Peter Brand, Moneyball is consistently engrossing. If you can’t get enough of the babble about how to properly recruit a player, you’ll be thrilled to watch a film about a man on a search to make concise and solid decisions yet has failed to make the best ones in his own life. Pitt throws himself into Beane and for the first time in quite a while, disappears completely in the skin of his character. Hill breaks from his funnyman typecast and delivers a brainy performance that will open up more doors for him in the future. Even if you are the furthest thing from a baseball fan, you will find yourself hanging on every word and every frame of Moneyball.

7.) War Horse

Steven Spielberg’s majestic and epic interpretation of Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book is a touching and traditional opus. The film is pure Spielberg, a feel good blockbuster that leaps across Europe spying on the regal horse Joey and the several lives that he touches as he navigates through war torn landscapes. The film is complimented with an extraordinary score from John Williams that will become just as iconic as his scores for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Jaws. Whether you are jolted by the intense WWI battle sequences, marveling at the jaw-dropping cinematography, or still reeling from the barbed wire sequence, everyone can agree that War Horse is a cinematic triumph for, yes, all ages.

6.) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Director David Fincher’s frigid crime thriller that follows a disgraced liberal journalist and a punk rock hacker is a mature thrill ride that will leave you the viewer scarred. Refusing to pull any punches, Fincher’s take on Stieg Larsson’s source material is fully realized, confident, and just as unpredictable as its heroine Lisbeth Salander. Mara transforms herself into the troubled and prickly hacker while also making her extremely charismatic. Daniel Craig has fun as a man trying to repair what is left of both his dignity and his career. Just as graphic as you’ve heard (there is not one, but two squirm-inducing rape sequences), intense, and featuring the coolest opening credit sequence of any movie in 2011, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo leaves you pinned to your seat. You will also never listen to Enya’s “Sail Away” the same way ever again.

5.) The Artist

The nostalgia of 2011 hit its peak with the silent French film The Artist, a vivacious film about a silent film actor facing the death of the silent film. The Artist proved that we do not need loud action sequences, explosions, or words, for that matter, to be deeply affected by a motion picture. It also stands as a tribute to artists themselves, who stand by the medium that they contribute to. The Artist thrilled us with haunting images, on point slapstick, and gooey gobs of cuteness. Good luck getting the performances from Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo out of your head. You’ll also eat up all the affection that director Michel Hazanavicius bestows on every single frame. You’ll find yourself longing for a musical sequel and to relive the chemistry between the two leads. Trust me.

4.) The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick’s cosmic symphony of creation and evolution is so resplendently beautiful, it will practically drive you crazy. You’ll never forget the vivid swirls of the creation of the universe sequence or the crystal clear wonder in 1950’s suburbia. While the film is truly a work of art to gaze at, the film is made even stronger by the performances at the heart of it. Brad Pitt as a stern and cynical father who possesses an explosive temper will strike child-like fear into the viewer and Jessica Chastain as a naive and awe-struck housewife is graceful and inviting. The real beauty of The Tree of Life is in what you take away from the film. To me, Malick seems to simply be reminding us that life will throw some emotional curves at us, but don’t ever forget to stop and take in the glory around us.

3.) The Descendants

Paradise is not all its cracked up to be in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants. George Clooney gives the best performance of his career as Matt King, a man whose wife is comatose from a boating accident and while she is in the hospital, he learns she was having an affair. Doleful and sporadically hilarious, The Descendants moved me beyond words and at times, is almost unwatchable due to the mental and emotional beatings that King takes. While Clooney steals the show, his troublemaker teenage daughter Alexandra, played by Shailene Woodley, is the life vest keeping King’s head above water. You’ll feel every blow that life dishes out to King but that is what makes The Descendants so emotionally raw, real, and just plain great.

2.) Drive

Nicholas Winding Refn’s rough and tough thriller Drive has been wrongfully overlooked this awards season. It’s an unabashedly cool art house thrill ride that is one part homage to the 1980’s and one part existential tribute to Alejandro Jodorowsky. Featuring moments of angelic tranquility and fits of nerve frying rage and unflinching gore, Drive dared to be different and all the more power to it. Featuring the one-two punch of Ryan Gosling’s loner, nameless Driver and the erratic brutality of Albert Brooks’ gangster Bernie Rose, Drive isn’t simply all muscle with nothing under the hood. The film boasts the coolest soundtrack of the year, features moments that are instant classics (the head stomping scene, the opening car chase), and is the epitome of badass, all while taking you for a ride you’ll never soon forget.

1.)  Hugo

There is a scene in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo where our child protagonists Hugo and Isabelle take a trip to the movies. Scorsese’s camera captures their wonderment, their gasping thrills, and their imaginations running wild all while they have smiles plastered across their faces. They are watching their dreams of adventure play out on a larger-than-life screen and they haven’t a care in the world. This is why I go to the movies. For two hours, I get to forget the outside world and I get to step into another, one where my dreams come alive and my imagination is at play. While Scorsese’s ultimate message is the call for film preservation, one I can stand behind, Hugo is alive with the love of cinema. If you are willing to immerse yourself in its glorious 3D universe that Scorsese meticulously creates, you will want to remain in the world along with Hugo and thrill as he darts around the 1930s train station that he calls home. A film that is tailored for film fans and film students a bit more than the casual moviegoer, Hugo is a love letter delicately written and magnificently composed by a living legend.  Hugo is why I go to the movies.

Honorable Mentions:

–       Crazy Stupid Love is a return to form for the romantic comedy genre.

–        Midnight in Paris is a return to form for Woody Allen and is unapologetically charming.

–       Thor, Captain American: The First Avenger, and X-Men: First Class were all stellar comic book offerings from Marvel Studios.

–       Super 8 was a super cool retro action/science fiction film that fans of 1980s Spielberg gushed over. Myself included.

–       The Adventures of Tintin was a rollicking nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark and stood as the best animated film of the year.

–       Rango was quirky tribute to Chinatown, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Sergio Leone.

–       Insidious was a flawed but fun haunted house freak out.

–       Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was the best and most nerve-racking action film of the year.

–       50/50 was at once hilarious and heartfelt. Be prepared to wipe away a few tears.

 

The Worst:

2011 also had its fair share of cinematic duds and man, were they disappointing. For my Worst Films of 2011, I chose not to go for the easy choices (Bucky Larson, Jack & Jill) and go for the films that had potentially but fell short of their expectations. These were the ones that hurt bad and were an immense challenge to sit through. These are the films you should have stayed far away from in 2011.

5.) Cowboys & Aliens

Not a downright awful movie but given the talent surrounding this science fiction/western mash up, it should have been a hell of a lot better and much more fun. Flat and one note, this clunker threw one lifeless action sequence after another at us, never once getting an “Ooooooh” or an “Ahhhhh” from its viewer. The aliens were also pretty lame looking too. Daniel Craig tries his hardest but he can’t save this one. Heck, not even a naked Olivia Wilde had the magic!

4.) Green Lantern

The only superhero outing from DC Comics this summer turned out to be a candy colored nightmare of trippy special effects and a cluttered script. Ryan Reynolds as the cosmic cop was also a pretty horrible choice on the part of the filmmakers. It didn’t help that Warner Brothers tried to make this the successor to the mega successful Batman franchise and they ended up marketing the film to death. Weird and with more shifts in tone than you could shake a green ring at, Green Lantern was headache inducing and laughable, with enough plot holes to fuel a dozen terrible blockbusters. If you don’t believe me, just watch the massive climax of this thing. You won’t believe your eyes.

3.) Breaking Dawn Pt. 1

America, don’t you feel the slightest bit of shame that this passes for pop culture in our country? The Twilight Saga struck again in 2011 and left countless girls and grown women (You all should know better) swooning over Taylor Lautner and Robert Pattinson yet again. With nothing resembling a plot, Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 existed for simply one reason: To cheat young girls and grown women out of ten bucks. And sadly, they flocked right to Lautner’s abs like moths to a light bulb. If you are not a part of the hysterical hype, you will want to bash your head against the wall while you watch this.

2.) The Hangover Part II

Before all the girls were robbed blind while hyperventilating over the sight of Lautner’s abs, bros everywhere were robbed blind while howling over the painfully unfunny jokes by Zach Galifinakis and his brutish wolf-pack. An unnecessary sequel that did nothing to elaborate on the mostly unfunny first installment, The Hangover Part II was offensive in almost every possible way. If you missed this while it was in theaters, don’t fret and certainly don’t go seeking it out. It seemed like near the end of its theatrical run, the film lost steam as many people started realizing that this was a flat out horrendous movie. Maybe there is a God. Seriously, folks, this is an ugly, ugly movie that should have never seen the light of day.

1.)  Battle: Los Angeles

Bad doesn’t even scratch the surface of the vociferous, stupid, and aggravating Battle: Los Angeles. You couldn’t tell if this abomination was supposed to be the most expensive commercial for the Marines ever made or the unholy brainchild of a kid who watched District 9 too many times and was obsessed with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Whether you’re cringing over the eye-rolling dialogue, trying to decipher just what the hell is going on in the non-stop gun fights, or trying not burst out laughing when the film goes for the dramatic territory, one thing is for sure, Battle: Los Angeles was the worst thing Hollywood dumped on audiences in 2011! Avoid it like a plague.

The Muppets (2011)

by Steve Habrat

I’m going to remember 2011 as the year that retro dominated at the movies. We have seen multiple releases throughout the year that have embraced a throwback aesthetic, ones that were evocative and nostalgic. They were all quite good too. We’ve had the candy-colored madcap The Green Hornet, 80’s horror nod Insidious, the Goonies/E.T. mash up Super 8, the dreamy pulp and Raider’s of the Lost Ark tribute Captain America, the ultra violent 80’s crime/actioner Drive, the arty silent film wonder The Artist, and we will soon see another Raider’s valentine when The Adventures of Tintin hits theaters. Many have been direct nods to the heyday of special effects and when escapism really dominated. In the late 70’s, Jim Henson’s Muppets took over television and went on to rally a group of loyal fans that have supported them through the years. After a long hiatus and being largely forgotten by pop culture, gargantuan funny guy Jason Segel, who is also said to be a huge fan of the felt critters, penned a fresh new screenplay along with Nicholas Stoller, wrangled director James Bobin and together they have delivered a winning piece of family entertainment that attempts to rally a new generation of fans while also making the adults who so enthusiastically watched their sketch-comedy mischief way back when inebriated with nostalgia of their youth. The Muppets is retro without being retro. It’s hilariously self-aware and willing to crack jokes on their absence. This world isn’t meant for the optimistic band of creatures ranging from the ringleader Kermit the Frog all the way to Sam the Eagle. And trust me, every Muppet you can think of pops up at least once. The movie almost isn’t big enough to contain them all. The best part of all of this is that The Muppets keeps things unadorned, making it even easier to love them.

The Muppets kicks off with the knee-slapping introduction of their newest member, Walter, a happy-go-lucky little puppet that is best buddies with his human brother Gary. The young Gary and Walter live in the perfect community of Smalltown, USA, and they both sit in their matching stripped pajamas and grin over The Muppet Show. Walter becomes a massive fan of Kermit and company, and as life gets tougher for the little Walter, he finds comfort in The Muppet Show. The film speeds forward to present day where the adult Gary (Played by Jason Segel) and Walter still live in Smalltown and are now shacking up together. They are still best buds and still do everything together, even hilarious musical numbers. We also learn that Gary is dating Mary (Played by Amy Adams) and they have been together for ten years. Gary plans a trip to Los Angles in celebration of their anniversary and he invites Walter to tag along to see the Muppet Theater. Mary is less than enthused but she understands how important Walter is to Gary and Gary to Walter. Once they arrive to Los Angles, Walter discovers that the world has left the Muppets behind and moved on. Their theater and studio lie in ruin and there is a plot by an evil oilman named Tex Richman (Played by Chris Cooper) to destroy what is left of their studios in an attempt to drill for oil. Horrified, Walter pleas with Gary and Mary to help him reunite the Muppet gang and help save the Muppet Theater.

It’s easy for us to wave off The Muppets and call it square. It features quirky puppets rather than fancy CGI creatures and, yes, it does seem a bit dated. It’s also heavy with musical numbers, which is also the furthest thing from hip. Yet that is what makes this film so irresistible. It’s simple and old fashioned, with a whole slew of cameos from big Hollywood names. Get ready to double over when Modern Family’s Rico Rodriguez shows up and inquisitively asks Kermit if he’s one of the Ninja Turtles. Wait until you see Kermit’s reaction. Oh, and Neil Patrick Harris turns up too to deliver a real zinger. Truth be told, I’ve always been intrigued by the Muppets and how they convey so much emotion. When Kermit is sad, we can see it in his plastic peepers. It does fill you with a sense of wonder. It helps that the puppet work is punctilious and detailed. And yet this film is content with being square and a bit dated. In fact it is delighted by the very implication of it. It gives it fuel to crack joke after joke and believe me, the jokes come fast and furious. It’s a nice balance to Pixar’s films and the bizarre offerings like Alvin and the Chipmunks, where real actors interact with annoying CGI animals (Hollywood is forcing the annoying Chipmunks on audiences AGAIN! They showed the trailer before this film. I guess with every good thing, there has to be a bad.). With The Muppets, at least there is something palpable for the actors to work with.

The actors here all do a fine job playing old fashioned. Segel brings a gee-whiz energy with him and he really seems to be genuinely in awe at what is going on around him. It helps that he has a heart for this sort of thing. Adams steals the shows as Mary, as she just radiates girl-next-door charm. She looks like she stepped out of the 1950’s. Parks and Recreation’s Rashida Jones turns up as a straight-shooting television executive named Veronica who, in the words of Fozzie Bear, could shoot “a little more curvy”. Cooper’s oilman Tex Richman also provides some big laughs, especially his love of maniacal laughter. He also steals the show with a musical number so bold, I didn’t laugh until after it ended and I could register what had just happened.

The Muppets does have a handful of flaws that knocks it down a letter grade. The director handles some of that cameos carelessly, some are so brief; blink and you may miss them. There are some that shine (Emily Blunt turns up in a nod to The Devil Wears Prada) and some that should have been developed better (Sarah Silverman’s wasted potential as a diner hostess). Some of the Muppets themselves could have used a bit more screen time, but the film desperately tries to fit every single one of them into the film that it is almost overload. I was left wishing for more of daredevil Gonzo and Sam the Eagle. Walter ends up getting lost in the shuffle for about a half hour and it’s a shame because you really do fall in love with him. Every once and a while, it feels slightly unfocused, like a bunch of kids in a candy store.

Despite some minor hiccups, this is one of the best family films of the year. One that is not like Chinese water torture for adults and delivers slapstick laughs for children. I applaud Segel for making retro old-fashioned feel new again and I would gladly go back to the theater to experience all of this again. The film succeeds as a musical, with several numbers that really pop, the best one being shared by Mary and Miss Piggy. The Muppets finds itself on the retro list of 2011, one of the films where everything just clicks and it takes you back. Two of the people I saw it with were fans of the show when it was on and it left them beaming. My generation missed Kermit and Miss Piggy, but it still had me in a good mood after we left the theater. This film isn’t rocket science, but then again, it doesn’t need to be. It left me feeling all warm and felty inside. Who can argue with that?!

Grade: B+

The Shining (1980)

by Steve Habrat

You never forget seeing The Shining for the first time. You never shake the images of a pair of young girls coaxing Danny to “come play” with them. Or how about Jack crashing a ghost party and plotting with a dead waiter on how to dispose of his shining son? One of my favorites is the looping shot of a sea of blood pouring out of an elevator door that slowly opens. The walls and halls will run red with blood, murder, insanity, and terror. And “Heeeerrrreeees JOHNNY”? In many ways, The Shining is the definitive haunted house film, one that Stephen King criticized for not following his famed story line for line. Under the obsessive and perfectionist direction of one of the greatest directors to ever make films, Stanley Kubrick constructs and delivers a labyrinth of bone-rattling images and a slow burn narrative that will stay with you even if it does not follow the horror author’s epic tale. It will freeze your blood.

The greatness of The Shining is often overshadowed by the iconic performance from Jack Nicholson, who checks in to the Overlook Hotel as Jack Torrence, who on the surface appears to be a content family man, a teacher and writer who is exhaustively searching for inspiration on a new project. He applies to be the caretaker for the said hotel, tickled by the idea of complete seclusion. Churning below the surface is a raging alcoholic who has hurt his young song Danny (Played by Danny Lloyd) in the past after a night of heavy drinking. Jack’s loyal, cooing wife Wendy (Played by Shelley Duvall) also accompanies Jack to the hotel, rendered breathless by the natural beauty of the structure, which is also said to be built on an Indian burial ground. In the job interview, Jack is informed that there have been ghostly encounters in the lush hotel and a few years previous, another caretaker seemed to snap from cabin fever and went on a killing rampage, chopping up his two young daughters and his wife, then proceeding to stick a shotgun in his mouth and blow his own head off. Jack waves off the story, but soon after arriving, Danny has a telepathic conversation with the head chef of the Overlook, Dick Hallorann (Played by Scatman Crothers). Dick explains to Danny the significance of this gift, called “shining” and explains to him that he is also sensitive to the paranormal. As the family stays the harsh winter in the hotel, Jack begins to slowly loose his grip on reality and he begins to embrace the anger that lurks inside of him. The ghostly apparitions also start making themselves known, terrorizing Danny at every turn. As the winter storm howls outside, Wendy begins devising a plan to get Danny and herself to safety, away from dangerous Jack who seems to want to join insidious ghosts who reside at the Overlook.

When watching a film by Kubrick, it’s easy to recognize that Kubrick himself is in complete control of what we are seeing. Every shot has been labored over and has been methodically illustrated, seeing only what we are meant to see, and it signifies something, sometimes that thing is only known by Kubrick himself. Sometimes the shot seems to be a psychological photograph; sometimes it’s dabbling with the surreal. Whatever the shot is, it is always orderly. There never seems to be input from any other individual. It’s strictly Kubrick’s mind at play. The surreal order is creepy in itself, suggesting normalcy, but it’s the ghostly visions that pack the icy punch. They are the grotesque, unseen side to order. Take the scene in room 237, where a nude woman emerges from the bathtub and embraces Jack. The bathroom posses a clean, grounded look, only strange because of it’s uncanny color scheme. She waltzes toward him and kisses the deranged Jack. When he glances at the mirror, he sees the beautiful woman is actually a rotting corpse of an old woman cackling at Jack’s horror. Kubrick suggests here and throughout The Shining that normalcy is always mirrored by unpredictable horror. There are two sides to everything. What we perceive as common and what stares back unseen.

What we are really here for is the terror, and yes, we could deconstruct Kubrick’s nightmare all day, debating what everything means. The film will cause a few sleepless nights the way Kubrick springs terrifying visions on the viewer. Sometimes, he only shows us a terrified face, eyes bulging, rolling back in the head, accompanied by blasting rattles and shrieking musical blasts. It’s jump scares without being cheap. We don’t expect it, but Kubrick isn’t interested in simply startling us. While watching a documentary on the making of the recent horror film Insidious, James Wan discusses his use of jump scares in his film, arguing that while the film is heavily reliant on this technique to frighten, the way he applies it is always followed through. There is no gotcha moment or hollow spook. A ghostly visit, a strange specter, or any other apparition that creeps us out always accompanies the blast of music. There is never the fake scare where someone’s boyfriend jumps from behind a corner, doorway, etc. Part of me thinks he lifted this technique from Kubrick, who always blindsides us with an unnerving image. Two little girls block Danny from riding his big wheel through the twisting halls of the Overlook. There is a sudden flash of the girls dead in the same hallway with blood splattered all over the walls. You can’t argue that Kubrick surprised and then followed through.

The Shining is also bloodcurdling because of Nicholson’s ranting, flailing performance. He’s all unhinged grins and bogus reassurance that he doesn’t want to hurt Wendy; he just wants to bash her brains in! Talk about making every hair on your body stand at attention. He lumbers through the hallways, dragging an axe and hacking at doors to locate and chop up Wendy. Danny, in a trance-like state wields a knife and writes REDRUM on doorways. The fright comes from every angle as Wendy desperately attempts to hold everything together. Pretend everything is normal! But how can you when your son croaks, “REDRUM” and shows you a glimmering blade? The film climaxes in an iced over chase through a fogged hedge maze that, once again, mirrors the characters journey through the Overlook structure. It’s a maze of panic, madness, and bereavement.

The Shining makes exquisite use of its secluded location, promising no way out for the characters that inhabit it. The twist ending also promises to give the viewer the willies while turning the wheels of the brain. It’s an obsessive nightmare that is perfect to watch on Halloween. It has it all: deranged killers, ghosts, ghouls, corpses, and more. It’s Kubrick’s funhouse after all, and boy can he construct a house of horrors. He proved that he could do every genre and do it professionally and with confident expertise. A classic of the genre, massively influential, and a must-see for Nicholson’s performance, The Shining is a true, visionary work of art. It stands as a psychological puzzle that may never be solved and that is rewarding on multiple viewings. It reveals more and more each time you sit through it. That is filmmaking at its finest. Ranking as one of the scariest movies I have ever seen, The Shining is as warped and chic as horror gets. Grade: A+

Bridesmaids (2011)

by Steve Habrat

For those of you out there who were convinced that Judd Apatow was nothing but a sexist who made movies simply for immature males and about male tribulations have an argument no longer. Mr. Apatow and director Paul Feig have officially made a movie for females that tackle arduous female relationships with each other and themselves. To all the men out there who are writing Bridesmaids off as a “chick flick” need to suck it up and take the trip to pick up the Blu-ray because I guarantee you are going to laugh your ass off. Bridesmaids leaves the recent string of “bromance” films in its comedic dust and can proudly call itself one of the funniest movies since The 40 Year-Old Virgin. Much of its success lies on the slim shoulders of the comedienne in the center of all the pandemonium and that little lady is SNL alum Kristen Wiig. Wiig co-wrote the script with her pal Annie Mumolo and it is drenched in wicked shrewdness along with many other bodily fluids. Wiig also happens to prove to the suits out there that she can indeed carry a film and does not have to settle for the occasional cameo or background character. Her performance here is strikingly similar to what we saw from Steve Carell in The 40 Year-Old Virgin.

If one were to quickly glance at the title of this film and have no clue what the film is about, many would assume that it’s some new Kate Hudson bomb that follows her shallow quest to pull Matthew McConaughey for the fifth time. A disposable romantic comedy that presumes Hudson breaking a heel and falling down is comedic brilliance. The type of film that will last for about a month at the theater and then quickly make it’s way to DVD. It’s refreshing to see Wiig, who up until this film had not snagged herself a starring vehicle, a woman with pitch-perfect comedic timing step up to the plate to play Annie, a woman who has seemingly hit rock bottom. She is a victim of the recession as her bakery she started has been reduced to a boarded up graffiti wall. We also learn that her boyfriend picked up and ditched her after her bakery closed down. She spends her nights with a wealthy playboy (Played by a never better John Hamm) and spends her days paling around with her best friend Lillian (Played by another SNL alum and real life BFF Maya Rudolph). Annie complains to Lillian about her problems and figures she will always have a shoulder to lean on with her. That is until Lillian drops the bomb on Annie and proclaims that she is getting married. At the engagement party, Annie is introduced to the wildly colorful bridal party. She meets innocent Becca (Played by The Office’s Ellie Kemper), bored-housewife-with-a dark-side Rita (Played by Reno 911’s Wendi McLendon-Covey), the uber-confidant Megan (Played by scene-stealing Melissa McCarthy), and the wealthy and malicious Helen (played by Insidious star Rose Byrne). Annie finds herself pitted against Helen in the quest for maid of honor and hilariously self-destructs from the battle.

Wiig manages to play Annie not as a desperate-for-love caricature but as a wounded and vulnerable heroine. We root for her to, yes, find love but also to hold on to her best friend even as Annie and Lillian grow further and further apart. The universe has come crashing down on this poor soul and she is more desperate than ever to find a friend she can actually trust and does not come equipped with ulterior motives. Wiig also does the seemingly impossible task of making a horrific breakdown uproariously hilarious. There are scenes in this movie that will leave you howling with laughter and scenes that will have you wishing Annie was a real flesh-and-blood human you could give a big sympathetic hug and reassure her that everything will be okay.

It is an absolute thrill to watch Wiig and Mumolo lob a rowdily unpredictable comedic sequence that begins subtle and erupts into full on chaos at the audience. A bridal gown fitting that ends with food poisoning will bring you to your knees with laughter and shrieking “Oh, my God!” and a prescription drugs and scotch fueled meltdown on a plane to Vegas tops anything that was found in the incredibly overrated Hangover in terms of shock comedy. Wiig’s physical comedy comes to a head as she suffers a nervous breakdown during a shower in Helen’s mansion and battles Helen’s excessive wealth and her ability to purchase friends by throwing down with a giant cookie. Wait until you see it. It should join the ranks as one of the funniest scenes in the history of comedy.

When you’re not recovering from the countless belly laughs (trust me, there are PLENTY!), there is a scene of hushed, sincere emotion that will leave you speechless. Ones that left the entire packed theater silent in the particular showing I attended way back in May. You could actually feel the heartbreak hovering in the room and it became almost painful to sit and watch. One scene finds Annie confronted by the chunky Megan that is the definition of powerful and uplifting. Or a scene that shows Annie telling her mother that things have gone from bad to worse that will tug your heartstrings until they snap. It will warm your heart when Annie begins to find love with a sensitive Irish cop Rhodes, played by the charismatic Chris O’Dowd. The film is a testament to what great script writing and great direction can do for a film.

The ladies of Bridesmaids manage to prove that they can party just as hard as the boys and leave the Wolfpack looking like a bunch of cubs. They are real, honest, and hugely likeable even when they are reduced to hot messes. The performances here are what make the film seem effortless and strangely protracted. Like all Apatow films, it drags on about twenty minutes too long, but you’ll be willing to overlook it mostly because it blindsides you with overwhelming emotion. From the male perspective, it was nice to sit on the sidelines this time around and let the film just wash over me. It’s going to dispatch women from the theater to debate about the mechanics of their relationships just as Apatow’s “bromance” films struck chords with men. Already a strong contender for the best comedy of the year, Bridesmaids needs to party it’s way to the top of your must-see list. Grade: B+

Bridesmaids is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

by Steve Habrat

While watching Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, the new horror film from writer/producer Guillermo del Toro and director Troy Nixey, one would swear that the film had some creative input from Goth director Tim Burton. The film relies heavily on its gothic atmosphere and gloomy landscapes to carry what is otherwise a painfully dull horror movie with an utterly monotonous storyline. The film, which was the penned by del Toro and Matthew Robbins, is a repetitive bore that keeps the same formula up for an hour and forty minutes. It’s frustrating, really, because del Toro is much better than this and capable of whipping up some truly original material. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, however, just keeps looping jittery attacks on a peculiar little girl by an army of whispering, hunchback critters that resemble a pack of demonic meerkats. If I were the girl’s father in the movie, I would have had enough of her blubbering and called in the exterminator just to get some peace.

Most horror films that are produced by Hollywood these days have stellar build-ups with a crash-and-burn payoff that nearly sends the whole project up in a fireball. Take a look at the excellent haunted house flick Insidious for example. It was a great horror film that was marred by a quivering, out of place ending. Another prime example is 2008’s The Strangers, which was consistently intimidating all to add up to the biggest “What the fuck?!” ending I had seen in quite some time. It copped out and played things safe. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark does the exact opposite. It has one of the most tedious build-ups that ends in a fifteen minute finale that had me sitting on the edge of my seat and yelling “Oh, shit!”

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is totally devoid of any real scares. The film follows a young girl Sally (Played by Bailee Madison), who is sent by her dingbat mother to live with her workaholic father Alex (Played by Guy Pearce, who for the first time in his career is overacting). Alex is an architect, who is attempting to revitalize his career by fixing up the Blackwood Manor. He is staying there with his girlfriend Kim (Played by a surprisingly good Katie Holmes), who is also aiding in the restoration. Shortly after moving in, Sally discovers a hidden basement while exploring the Shining-esque garden in the backyard. Soon, she starts hearing voices from the basement, which beg to be set free and become friends with her. Unknowingly, she unleashes a dormant army of bloodthirsty pint-sized critters who hate light and scamper the house in search of a life to take. Are you quivering in terror yet?

Director Nixey has a gifted cinematic eye. He gives the whole project a gothic gloss that suits the storyline of the film and actually gives it brief hints of life. I’m sure that Tim Burton is currently out there somewhere just gushing over this film. The major problem here is that the creatures that lurk in Blackwood Manor are about as scary as my puppy. They bang around in the air vents and steal screwdrivers, razors, and more. In one brief, uncanny moment, they attack one of the workers at Blackwood Manor and reduce him to a staggering, bloody mess. I should point out that this is only one of two scenes that actually deliver on the R-rating the film posses. The rest of the time, they shred Kim’s clothing and knock over lamps. They bicker with one another in their hissing voices and beg Sally to “come play with us.” It’s absurd and unintentionally funny at some points. Nixey and del Toro are so anxious to show off the little pests and they constantly give us a good look at them rather than keeping them in their preferred dark. This adds to the disappointment because del Toro can dream up some creatures that surpass anything our imagination can conjure up on it’s own.

Another aspect of this disappointment that surprises me is Pearce, who is a truly gifted actor, does such a poor job here. He must have been bored between projects and playing darts with the stack of scripts he received. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark must have been the bull’s eye. This movie made me want to go home and watch The Proposition, Memento, and The King’s Speech all in a row so I could be reminded how incredible his talent is. Holmes gives a sufficient performance, especially in the final moments of the film. I’ve always found her to be a mediocre talent but she actually takes this one seriously. Bailee Madison, the child star, seems robotic and clearly being coached by the muted director. She delivers her lines in a stiff tone and seems to have only gotten the job because she can scream until your eardrums pop.

If you are a fan of del Toro and want to see everything he touches, I’d say see this film. You won’t be left a changed individual and you will probably be left wishing for greatness like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. Otherwise, this is a half-baked horror movie that drags on entirely too long. It won’t leave you pulling the covers over your head at night or sleeping with a nightlight on. The film could have benefitted from a scarier monster at the heart of it and maybe some more emotional depth. It’s a missed opportunity that left me wishing I had stayed at home and watched Insidious again. Is it too much to ask for more than one good horror movie a year? Grade: C-

Haunted House Flicks… GO!