Hi there! Continuing my effort to get caught up, here are six more films that I saw earlier this year but, for whatever reason, had not reviewed yet.
1) Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (dir by Alison Klayman)
One of my favorite films of 2012 was this revealing documentary about the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei. Filmed over the course of two years, this film follows Ai as he uses the tools of social media to try to stand up to the oppressive Chinese government. In the film’s strongest scenes, Ai reveals how the government attempted to cover up the massive destruction of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. For his efforts to give identities to the victims of this natural disaster, Ai is beaten by the police and eventually imprisoned.
Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry is a film that should be seen by anyone who thinks that any greater good can be accomplished by sacrificing personal freedom.
2) Goon (dir by Michael Dowse)
Based on a true story, Goon tells the story of Doug Glatt (played, in a winning performance, by Seann William Scott), a Boston bouncer who joins a minor league hockey team. Eventually, he gets called up to play in Canada and faces his idol (and new rival) Ross Rhea (played by Liev Schreiber) on the ice. Along the way, he also romances a hockey groupie (Alison Pill) and befriends a burned out teammate (Marc-Andre Gondrin).
I have to thank Arleigh for suggesting that I see Goon because, otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have given this film a chance. I don’t know much about sports in general and I know even less about hockey. (Leonard is our resident hockey expert here at the Shattered Lens.) However, Goon turned out to be a truly pleasant surprise, a sports film that even someone like me can enjoy.
While the film’s plot may be predictable, director Dowse and his cast tell the story well and they all manage to strike the perfect balance between humor, melodrama, and sentimentality. Seann William Scott is usually not thought of as being a versatile actor but, on the basis of his performance here, he deserves to be reevaluated. Williams makes Doug Glatt into a truly likable thug and he and Alison Pill make for a very cute and likable couple. When you start watching Goon, you know where the journey is going to lead you but that doesn’t make the trip any less enjoyable.
3) Headhunters (dir by Morten Tyldum)
In 2012, one of the best thrillers to be released in America was this import from Norway. Roger Brown (played by Askel Hennie) is Norway’s most successful corporate headhunter. Along with having a beautiful wife, Roger also has a mistress and all the other material trappings of wealth. Despite this, Roger is insecure over only being 5’6 and he deals with his insecurity by pursuing a second, secret career as an art thief. When Roger discovers that Clas, his latest client, is having an affair with his wife, Roger breaks into Clas’s apartment and steals a valuable painting. However, it turns out that Clas is not only a trained mercenary but he’s also a psychotic killer and soon, he’s pursuing Roger.
Headhunters is a truly exciting film, one that actually keeps the audience guessing with each twist and turn. Best of all, the film features a truly memorable lead performance from Askel Hennie. Playing the type of character who, in the past, would have been played by Klaus Kinski, Henie makes his sleazy character into an odd likable and compelling hero.
4) Jeff, Who Lives At Home (dir by Jay and Mark Duplass)
Jeff (Jason Segal) is a 30 year-old unemployed stoner who lives in his mother’s basement and who spends his day obsessing on the movie Signs and talking about his belief in Destiny. One day, he gets a phone call from some one asking for “Kevin.” Jeff reacts by finally leaving his mom’s basement and searching for this mysterious Kevin. Meanwhile, Jeff’s brother (Ed Helms) is convinced that his wife (Judy Greer) is cheating on him and Jeff’s lonely mom (Susan Sarandon) spends her workday at work getting messages from a secret admirer.
Not much happens in Jeff, Who Lives At Home and the film dares you to get as annoyed with Jeff as everyone else in his family. However, when taken on its own mellow terms, this is an enjoyable and occasionally even moving film. It helps if you really like Jason Segal and seriously, who doesn’t? Susan Sarandon gives a touching performance as well and the filmmakers make excellent use of Helms’ needy persona.
5) The Philly Kid (dir by Jason Connery)
Dillon (Wes Chatham) is a college wrestler who is wrongly convicted for the murder of a police officer. After spending ten years in prison, Dillon is paroled and returns to his home in Baton Rouge. Managed by his friend Jake (a manic Devon Sawa), Dillon becomes a cage fighter and ultimately finds himself fighting for his life against corrupt promoters and a crooked cop.
The Philly Kid is a pretty uneven film. The plot will never surprise you and, halfway through the film, The Philly Kid descends into over-the-top melodrama. However, both Chatham and Sawa give good performances and, as directed by Jason Connery, the film’s many fight scenes are vivid and exciting to watch. The film was filmed in Baton Rouge and it makes good use of the Louisiana atmosphere.
The Philly Kid may ultimately just be a genre film but it’s a well-done genre film.
6) Safety Not Guaranteed (dir. by Colin Trevorrow)
Kenneth (Mark Duplass) is the type of person that we’ve all met at some point in our life. He works as a clerk in a grocery store and spends his time talking about his dead girlfriend and how secret agents are watching his every move. He also claims to have built a time machine and posts a classified ad where he asks for someone to volunteer to go back in time with him. The ad is spotted by Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), a smarmy magazine writer in Seattle who travels to Kenneth’s hometown in order to investigate (and, it’s later revealed, track down an ex-girlfriend). Accompanying the reporter is Darius (played by Aubrey Plaza), a disillusioned intern who has her own reasons for wishing that she could go back into past. Following Jeff’s orders, Darius approaches and befriends Kenneth by claiming to be interested in his ad. While the well-meaning but paranoid Kenneth trains her for their trip into past, Darius finds herself falling in love with him…
Safety Not Guaranteed is one of those low-key, sweet natured films that I simply can’t help but love. The film views it’s damaged characters with a wry compassion and it wraps up its story with one of the best endings of 2012. Aubrey Plaza is best known for being sarcastic on Parks and Recreation but, with this film, she shows that she’s capable of doing a lot more.