Playing Catch-up: The Home Stretch

After unceremoniously plopping myself down in a theater seat to suffer through yet another handful of 2011’s hopefuls, I found it necessary to return once more with my thoughts on some titles I’d missed upon their initial release. While a mixed bag all the same, a majority of what I watched was actually enjoyable, therefore my second go with this little experiment proved to be much more successful.

Beginners (dir. Mike Mills)

“Cutesy” as it certainly and very often is, Mike Mills’ Beginners ability to deftly (if very subtly) address the existential crises we can find ourselves grappling with as constantly changing individuals ensure that the film remains touching as can be. While its self-indulgent, almost hip sense of style can prove to be alienating at times, an extraordinarily endearing cast of characters and the overbearing sweetness of it all pair wonderfully with Beginners‘ easily discernible underlying themes, even as some aspects of the narrative feel clumsily implemented or undercooked.

Road to Nowhere (dir. Monte Hellman)

Functioning wonderfully as both a competent neo-noir and a multifaceted psychological drama that challenges as well as entertains, veteran auteur Monte Hellman’s latest is a diamond in the rough compared to heaping pile of 2011’s hopefuls. While the term “multifaceted” can often translate to “overstuffed,” Road to Nowhere‘s oft complex narrative structuring rarely ceases to entertain despite a penchant for self-indulgence and a tendency to altogether bewilder. If you want to stray from the beaten path, I highly suggest you give this off-the-grid gem a go, providing you’re willing to give it your undivided attention.

Captain America: The First Avenger (dir. Joe Johnston)

Bursting onto the scene just as I was about to recover from an adaptation overdose, Captain America stands tall as the most uninteresting pick of the litter as era-appropriate cheese galore and bland, uninspired action set pieces pave the way to mediocrity. To give credit where credit’s due, the performances are serviceable enough, adding enough general appeal to this overlong atrocity to at least stir me from my intermittent slumber. Regardless of what others might think, Thor easily surpasses this as the better Avengers-based effort of 2011, which isn’t saying much for either but can be construed as a compliment nonetheless.

Friends with Benefits (dir. Will Gluck)

I almost feel insulted to have witnessed the release of two identical, mostly uninspired romantic comedies in the same calendar year. Yes, I brought this upon myself, wholeheartedly even, however Will Gluck’s glaringly spiritual successor to Ivan Reitman’s No Strings Attached tries desperately to but literally can’t save itself from how painfully grating and predictable it is. Throw bustling locales at me all you want, but don’t expect me to not criticize your film’s choppy, inconsistent and mostly distracting editing techniques that a sometimes effective yet presumably vulgar sense of humor doesn’t rectify. If you’re looking for some dumb fun, unnecessary insight into the lives of our likable leads and a soundtrack that could make even the hearing impaired cry, look no further than Friends with Benefits, but please heed my warning and realize that the film is only half of that. I’ll let you decide which half that is.

Attack the Block (dir. Joe Cornish)

Joe Cornish’s adrenaline-fueled, low-budget alien invasion romp through the projects of a London suburb is alternately impressive and peculiarly underwhelming. Although it does the most with a meager amount of funds, Attack the Block, to me at least, is nothing more than what you’d expect it to be roughly ten minutes into the proceedings. It’s fun for what it is and stylish to boot, notwithstanding the mostly unintelligible dialogue that endlessly spews from the mouths of its cast of amateurs. Best of the year contender it isn’t, but for what Mr. Cornish’s modest genre flick lacks it makes up for by way of humor, a gleeful abundance of violence and a slick sense of style.


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