Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Small Bites: Tabloid, Rango, The Ides of March, Cars 2, Contagion


It is great to see documentaries receiving wider acceptance amongst mainstream audiences. Still, many are reluctant to consider documentaries as a legitimate source of entertainment. However, if there was ever a film that manages to disprove this short sighted view, it is Errol Morris’ Tabloid. Joyce McKinney is a former beauty queen who is accused of kidnapping and raping her Mormon boyfriend Kirk Anderson. McKinney is a woman who condemns the vicious media spotlight, but seems to secretly crave it. Her life story is so outlandish that not even the best script writers could have come up with. Morris playfully flashes bolds works like “handcuffs” and “loves kink” to emphasize how his own film is adding to the sensationalism of McKinney’s life. Tabloid also offers an engaging look at how the media, especially British tabloids, use manipulation to dig up information on their subjects. Although the events that made McKinney a household name took place in the 70’s, Tabloid feels perfectly at home in our current media obsessed society.


I honestly do not think that there was a 2011 film that I procrastinated more on seeing than Rango. I am not sure why, despite ample opportunity, it took so long to watch the film, but I am glad I finally got around to it. The character designs and the overall animation are fantastic. The animation in the action sequence between Rango’s posse and the moles in the desert is especially stunning. What struck me about the film was just how funny it is. While the references to the Sergio Leone western and films like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas were amusing, the character of Rango himself was the most entertaining aspect of the film. Whether he is hitting on a headless torso of doll, or trying to invent a whole idea persona, Rango is joy to watch.

Rango is part of our "The Must See List" series.

The Ides of March

Set in the cutthroat world of politics, The Ides of March is ultimately a film about the loss of innocence and how easily morals can be compromised. The ensemble cast do a great job conveying the political game of chess that is played on various levels (e.g. between political camps, at debates, with members of the press, etc). There are so many great actors in the film that occasionally it feels like there are not enough quality parts for all of them. Although George Clooney’s direction is solid the subplot between Stephen (Ryan Gosling) and Molly (Rachel Evan Wood) never feels fully realized. There is not enough depth to their relationship to justify the lengths Stephen goes to for her. This causes the film to lack the biting political punch that one would hope for. Still the performances and overall premise are strong enough to keep the film interesting.

Cars 2

The original Cars ranks at the bottom of Pixar’s canon of films for me and Cars 2 only fairs slightly better. Despite taking comedic, and I use that term loosely, aim at the spy film genre, the film’s main problem is it tries to make a bit player from the original, Mater (Larry the Cable guy), and makes him the main character. Mater is just not that interesting of a character and his dimwitted humour wears thin pretty fast. Cars 2 would have been better had the main characters been the spy duo of Miles Axel Rod (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). Also, the film feels like it is aiming towards an even younger audience than the first one. This is odd considering the blatant environmental message in the film. Young kids will not care about importance of embracing cleaner fuel and its impact on the world. The film’s only real saving grace is its spot on satire of the James Bond franchise.


When a film makes you want to wear gloves everywhere you go then you know it has done an effective job. Unlike the film Outbreak, Contagion uses the act of touching, which is something we all numerous times a day, to show how the virus is transmitted. Steven Soderbergh does a good job balancing the majority of the various storylines in the film. Only one story, Dr. Leonora Orantes’ (Marion Cotillard) arc, seems to get lost in the shuffle halfway through. The cast is wonderful all around, Jude Law and Laurence Fishburne in particular really steal the show. Law really nails the annoying blogger whose motives may be more sinister than he lets on. Fishburne is given a less flashy role, but is equally effective. He plays a doctor who is trying to do things by the book, but must also face the natural human instinct of protecting the ones he loves. By the end of the film you will not only be a little leery of bloggers, but you will also want to bathe in hand sanitizer.


  1. Nice job with these reviews. I have only seen Rango, The Ides of March and Contagion. I completely agree with your Rango review. And while I do see your complaint about the actors not getting enough to do in The Ides of March, if each character was completely developed the film would have been ridiculously long. I thought the film was already 10 minutes too long in its current form. I thought Contagion was ruined by trying to stuff too many characters into the storyline. The only characters I thought were successful were Matt Damon's and Kate Winslet's.

  2. Of the 70 or so films I've seen so far this year, The Ides of March is the only that really surprised me. It was not my favourite, but I did not expect to appreciate it as much as I did. Clooney's direction is occasionally inconsistent, but it's such a fine experience overall, very deliberate but purposefully so - and the ACTING! Tomei just slays in that small role, as do all the actors - even if Clooney is the least best of them. But, I've never cared for his acting.

  3. Great mini reviews. I'll end up renting Ides of March and Contagion, both of them I'm curious about but not enough to see on the big screen. I'm not as enamored w/ Clooney nor Gosling but I find the story of Ides intriguing. Rango was fun but I kind of forget about most of it already.

  4. I didn't like Rango as much as I wanted to. It was visually beautiful, especially the beginning, but the story failed to really grab me. I blame my lack of deep knowledge and passion for the western genre. I think that would have helped.

    Ides of March equaled to a good double-episode of West Wing. It was good but it lacked something to really stick out as one of the top movies of the year. This said the end stood out to me. It was really one of the prettiest this year.

  5. Oh and I forgot: Contagion was really well made from a science point of view but I think it was a little bit at the expanse of the film side of it. The stories didn't quite engage so much. Maybe there were too many of them. I liked how they used the "blogger" idea though, showing how rumor spreading can be just as contagious and big as a threat as the virus as such. I think there's a lot of truth in that.

  6. Not only does Rango look phenomenal (which it does. I really don't get those who say it doesn't. Trust me, I've found such people...) its humour and the way it presents its characters is brilliant. While on the whole it is, mostly, a family friendly film, it has some bite to it. The huge snake is a thrilling villain, one that can actually strike fear in the hearts of the young ones. There are tons of little bits of quirk tossed in here and there which make the level of humour a cut above the typical kiddie film.

  7. @Ryan – I agree that The Ides of March would be a much longer film had every character was fully developed. However I found Evan Wood’s Molly to be the least interesting character of all. I was far more interested in Tomei’s journalist character and would have preferred to follow her instead of Molly.

    @Andrew – It is funny how certain films catch us off guard. I thought Clooney did I decent job, he made a wise choice in not giving himself too much screen time. He was almost an afterthought for most of the film.

    @Ruth - Both The Ides of March and Contagion are not films that I would say need to be seen on the big screen. Contagion in particular should play well on the small screen. I think the fact that Rango was released so early in the year, it has been somewhat forgot by many.

    @Jessica – I definitely thing having prior knowledge of the western genre will enhance people’s overall enjoyment of Rango.

    As for Ides of March, I never really got into the West Wing, only watched a couple of episodes, but I agree it lacks that special something to truly make it memorable. While I enjoyed the film for the most part, it is not a film that I would consider one of the best of the year.

    I can see how the multiple story arcs could rub people the wrong way. Both Cotillard and Winslet get dropped halfway through the film, though Cotillard’s arc is eventually picked back up at the end. However I found that I was completely engaged throughout, I think the fact that the film covered a fairly lengthy span of time helped. Also, I agree there is a lot of truth in regards to how blogs spread lies. It is something especially prevalent in the film blogging world.

    @Edgar – I was surprised by how adult-oriented the humour was in this film. It was one of the pleasant surprises of the film to be honest. I thought Depp nailed the delivery of many of the comedic lines.


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