Movie reviews: Superman, Ed Helms, and Pretentious Arthouse Awesomeness

Incendies – Directed by Denis Villeneuve

This was one of the most disturbing movies that came out in 2010. It was also one of the very best.

It’s the story of twins that have recently lost their mother. An unusual will reading leads them to believe that there’s a lot more to their history than they previously knew, and the rest of the film cuts between their mother’s journey, as well as their mission to rediscover their past. It sounds pretty straightforward. And to some extent, it is a simple familial melodrama. But it’s also a story about war. And horror. And culture And family. And forgiveness.

This is a devastating movie. Both from a technical standpoint, and from an emotional one. Villeneuve has crafted a gorgeous looking film, and while I was horrified by the events that were happening on-screen, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the imagery. This was one of the best looking movies I’ve seen in a while, but ultimately the cinematography is overshadowed by the story itself. I won’t get go into the plot any more than I already have, as the story is best experienced, not told. As I said, it’s extremely disturbing in tone, if not content, but that shouldn’t stop you from experiencing one of the most emotionally powerful films of 2010. If the movie has a flaw, it’s that it’s secrets are quite easily discovered. There are just too many coincidences to really give this full marks as a thriller, but as a drama its first rate. It’s my pick for best foreign language film at the Oscars this Sunday, which considering my luck at picking these things, means the award will go to How To Train Your Dragon

Rating: A

All-Star Superman – Directed by Sam Liu

Today is a sad day for comic book fans, as Dwayne McDuffie, one of the writers of this direct to DVD animated feature, has died. He had an extremely varied and influential career in both the comic, and animation worlds, and he’ll be missed.

If you read a lot of the reviews for All-Star Superman, you’ll see that it’s being called one of the best films DC Animation has put out so far. Unfortunately, that’s not even remotely true, and while this isn’t the worst film they’ve done, it’s not nearly as good as it could have been, and is ultimately disappointing as a result.

The problem here, is also the reason to do this movie in the first place: The source material. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman is considered by a lot of people to be one of the very best superhero comics of the past decade. I’m not sure I would go that far, but I do think that it’s a thoroughly unique breath of fresh air in the increasingly fetid world of superhero books, and that it’s an extremely entertaining love letter to the silver age of both Superman, and superhero comics. That’s what it is. I wouldn’t change anything about it. What it’s not, is a well-told, comprehensively plotted and planned story. Apologies to all of you who love the book, but it’s just not. As single, self-contained issues, the book rocked. But as a 12 part novel, it’s a bit of a mess. And that’s ok. It works. And it’s part of what makes Grant Morrison, Grant Morrison. But a film isn’t separated into 12 parts. It’s just one part. And if you’re attempting to tell an accessible narrative for a wide audience, that part needs to have a  beginning, middle, and end, that all serve the story. This movie is just end. One really, really, long end.

I understand the problem. If you change the source material too much, the fans go crazy. And if you don’t, you have the risk of making a poor films. And in this case director Sam Liu decided to go with the latter option, which is a shame since there are several scenes in this film that will drop your jaw. There’s some really amazing work here, which duplicates the book perfectly. Which is of course, the problem. At least 25% of the movie doesn’t serve the bigger story, and that should have been cut.  The main villain doesn’t even get named until the last 10 minutes of the movie, not to mention the fact that we weren’t even told that there was a main villain before that. That’s forgivable if you’re Grant Morrison, who has made a wonderful career out of poor plots and amazing ideas. But it’s not forgivable if you’re trying to make a coherent film.

Rating: C-

Cedar Rapids – Directed by Miguel Arteta

Miguel Arteta has been making quiet, funny, movies for a while now, so it should be no surprise that Cedar Rapids is more of the same. I don’t mean that to sound like a bad thing. Cedar Rapids is a quiet, entertaining, and funny movie. It’s being billed as The Hangover-lite, but that’s just marketing. It’s it’s really more along the lines of something like Up In The Air, but with more dick jokes. It’s a small, mid-life crisis story, but one that’s incredibly important to the people involved. Kudos go to the great ensemble cast, with special mention to Anne Heche, who should (but won’t) get a best supporting actress nomination for her small, but effective role here. If there’s a flaw here, it’s that the script careens a little too easily from the serious to the absurd.

Rating: B+

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