Sitting in the Dark With Strangers 2011: Part Three

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film / sitting in the dark with strangers

Here’s the third part of my yearly movie reviews, parts one and two are right there. For the uninitiated, my ranking system is of course completely subjective and could shift a little depending on my mood and the length of time passed between me seeing the movie and now. Except Green Lantern. Fuck that movie. SPOILERBABIES GET A SPOILER WARNING HERE IT IS.

Rubber poster

20. Rubber (Metro Cinema)

See, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “How could he like a movie about a fucking killer tire more than Thor?” I say that’s easy. When a film is made of something I either like or at least know a fair amount about, I’m obviously going to be a little more critical of it, as I’ve got more emotionally invested in the whole enterprise. When I went into Rubber, on the other hand, the only thing I knew of it apart from the trailer was that it was directed by this guy:

Yeah. I like that music video. I must have seen it late one night on MuchMusic’s Wedge block. Ah, memories. Anyway, Rubber caught me completely off guard, and I was all the better for it. The plot, as much as there is one, is that there’s this sentient-ish car tire with the ability to explode things telekinetically roaming around the American Southwest, going about its business. There’s also a group of people roped off into an area far from the action, who have (presumably) paid for the chance to see the events unfold with what have to be amazing binoculars. This half of the film eventually devolves into a sort of Buñuelian style of social commentary, as the spectators have to deal with a lack of food and water, as well as the encroaching elements. So that was even unexpected in a movie I had no preconceived notions about going in anyway. If only for the amazingly epic and hilarious final moments of the film (at which I realized the human race in the film was absolutely doomed), along with the cool postmodernity of the story, you should see this movie. You’ll agree it’s better than dumb ol’ Thor.

Le Havre poster

19. Le Havre (Metro Cinema)

A heart-breakingly beautiful film about people on the wrong side of the tracks in the French city of Le Havre. E. never gets tired of saying this, but this film was the winner of the coveted “Palm Dog” award for best canine performance of the year. Bet you didn’t know that was a thing. This movie is great if only for bringing French singer Little Bob back into the public consciousness. Seriously, if you’re interested in a film that reaches great limits in terms of human kindness, and is shot in a really interesting style resembling a stage play, check this sucker out. It’s really great.

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop poster

18. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (Metro Cinema)

Occupying just about the same place in my heart that the White Stripes documentary captured last year, this movie is kind of a rock film as well. It takes you behind the scenes of Conan O’Brien’s stage show tour that he roped together after losing his timeslot to Jay Leno in one of the most talked about TV stories of the last year. Even though this movie showed people in my hometown acting like racist assholes (which to be fair a lot of them are), I really liked this look into the mind of an amazingly talented and driven comedy performer. Actually, when we watched this at the Metro, when that scene came on, everyone in the theatre looked around and sort of grimaced our collective shame at one another. It was awkward, but we all realized that being the distinguished art patrons we are sort of precluded us from being dicks like the guy in the movie. The concert scenes are really solid, especially once they get to Jack White’s recording studio in Nashville for a concert.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two poster

17. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (saw for free for work)

Not much comes to mind when I think about this one. It’s almost like reflecting on what you thought of the last few pages of a really good book, yeah, you liked them but they’re a part of a whole rather than an individual entity. I really liked how they handled the massive battle at Hogwarts castle in this one, as they sort of backgrounded all the really crazy shit that happens in favour of strong character beats. Other movies would have gone all out to try and get you amped up at this part, but the people who made Harry Potter realized we had a lot more emotionally invested in the characters rather than in sweet battle scenes. It was a little long, though, they could have definitely trimmed down a certain individual’s return by a few minutes. On the plus side, though, there wasn’t any camping in this one, yay! They didn’t take my advice and change who Harry ends up with though. That would have been nice, as those two characters are so wrong in my eyes. </fanboy>

Real Steel poster

16. Real Steel (saw for free for work)

For a movie that could have easily been another ridiculously terrible exercise in sub-mediocrity like the Transformers franchise, this movie about robots hitting had one another had what boxing trainers in movies always rag on about: heart. And also a kind of unexpected vicious streak. The nonchalance that Hugh Jackman’s character shows his son for most of the movie’s running time is nothing short of breathtaking. He yells at him, buys him crappy food, takes him into dangerous locales without thinking about his safety at all … what I’m trying to say here is that it’s great. For what’s basically a kids movie of the moment, Real Steel has an approach to dealing with children that reminded me of the greater films of yesteryear, when kids weren’t so mollycoddled. The subplot about how the robot might not be letting on about his own intelligence kind of went nowhere though. This movie made me believe that a robot designed for punching other robots could succeed at doing its task really well.

Midnight in Paris poster

15. Midnight in Paris

I’ll admit right now that I have not seen very many Woody Allen films. In fact, thinking off the top of my head, all I can remember seeing and enjoying were Radio Days and Manhattan Murder Mystery, the latter being a sort of pastiche of one of my favorite film series, the Thin Man movies. So I didn’t really have much love for the director going in. It was the story that really did it for me, an English literature nerd, as it’s basically “The League of Extraordinary 1920s Authors.” It’s also got a sort of time travel in it, so there’s another plus right there. It also did very little of a thing that time travel movies always do which pisses me off. There’s only one moment in the film in which the character from the future tells somebody something and then changes the course of history as a cheap joke. There’s no “Hey Steve Jobs, look at this Apple” sort of bullshit, only one specific little joke that you wouldn’t even get if you haven’t seen a specific avant-garde Spanish movie from the era. Owen Wilson’s character is instead continually awestruck by all the cool people he runs into, and that’s great. It’s what I’d be like in the same situation. See it if only for that.

Hobo with a Shotgun poster

14. Hobo With a Shotgun

There’s another amazingly great poster. The attention to detail right there is superb. The review’s basically all there in the title. If you feel you’re the sort of person who’d enjoy a movie called “Hobo With a Shotgun”, this is everything you want and more. It’s a greasy, dirty, awesome slog through the worst city in the world. The best part about it is, while some of the actors are chewing scenery and are clearly in on the joke, Rutger “Goddamn” Hauer never breaks character and winks at the screen, not once. He’s always completely on point as the eponymous Hobo, and the movie benefits greatly from it. To repeat: if you’re the sort of person who’d like to see minor Canadian television personalities get killed in increasingly ridiculous ways, this movie’s for you. And if you’re not, I don’t know if we can be friends any more. And, for bonus points, the movie ends by playing the theme song from The Raccoons of all things. When this part came on, I immediately burst out into laughter, and reflected on how much I love my country, and our sense of humor.

Hanna poster

13. Hanna (saw for free for work)

This and the #2 on my list are the movies I’d most like to revisit as soon as possible. This is such a stylish little piece of work that I’m sure I’ll like it even better the second time. The marriage between image and music in this movie is so well done that it definitely elevates it above other movies drawing from similar source material. The original soundtrack is by The Chemical Brothers, and at some points it seems like the movie is being edited towards the music track, rather than what I’ve always assumed was the norm, that the music is added later into an almost-finished film. It’s also really entertaining to see Saorise Ronan beating the crap out of goons twice her size. If they ever get around to making a Queen and Country movie/TV show in the next few years, which they really should, I think that she’d be the perfect choice for Tara Chace.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes poster

12. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I love the Planet of the Apes movies, and my favorite apart from the first one is Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the one in which we see how human society fell to an ape insurrection. So when Rise was announced, I was cautiously optimistic for it, as Conquest, while fun, had a few glaring flaws that kept it from being perfect (namely the fact that monkey butlers caught on enough to eventually become a societal problem). I was not disappointed in the slightest. Andy Serkis deserves a goddamn Oscar for this, playing not only monkey revolutionary Caesar, but also a dull-witted ape sanctuary worker. One of my favorite parts had to be the “Why Cookie Rocket?” scene, which makes me sad in retrospect that that little meme never caught on. Highly recommended for people who like monkeys, or for people who definitely just hate their fellow man and want him to be crushed by monkeys.

Captain America: The First Avenger poster

11. Captain America: The First Avenger (saw for free for work)

This movie was great fun, in a way that Green Lantern wished it was. It had a similarly difficult task set before it: make audiences care about a comic character who, let’s face it, has had his best years come and go. Where GL tried to shoehorn Ryan Reynolds’ natural douchiness into a standard Hero’s Journey bullshit mould, Captain America instead had a main character who was raring to go from the very beginning and just let him rip. Add to that a great villainous turn by Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull, and much fun was had throughout the land. I did have a few worries going in, I didn’t really like the new costume (it has since started to grow on me), and I was worried that they were going to make fun of the original wing-helmeted version. They thought of an excellent way around that, in a move that hearkened back to director Joe Johnston’s use of Hollywood artifice in The Rocketeer: the classic comic book costume was the one used on USO fund raising tours in a hilarious montage sequence. Once I realized that this adaptation was ready to pay real homage to the character’s rich history, and not just lip service, I was 100% on board. The “First Avenger” stuff kind of wore on me though, and the last few minutes of the movie were really rushed into being an ad for the Avengers film, but for the most part I really liked this one. I’ll give a tentative “Make Mine Marvel!” for this summer’s tentpole event.

And that does it for this installment in the list of movies I watched, stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion!

The Author

Matt Bowes is a self-proclaimed cultural commentator/arbiter of good taste from Edmonton, Alberta. He enjoys movies and books, and writes about them sometimes at


  1. I just saw Midnight in Paris last week and loved it. And I, unlike you, have seen almost every Woody Allen film and I think it’s one of his absolute best. Captain America definitely did not suck the way Thor (or more specifically Natalie Portman in that film) did. I haven’t seen The Green Lantern yet and I’m not sure I ever will.

    • Glad to know Allen-aficionados liked Midnight in Paris too. While I too didn’t like Natalie Portman’s character, I did like Kat Jennings in the film, which in turn led me to try watching her TV show 2 Broke Girls. That little experiment didn’t last too long 😦

      • Not only is it still on, it’s apparently a ratings success. Neilsen families must be prone to being bribed or something, I don’t know.

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