Bellflower (Evan Glodell, 2011)
The focal properties of Evan Glodell's self-made camera as seen in Bellflower seem to work not along lines of length, clarity and fuzziness instead defined along the horizontal axis of the 2D screen. The yellow-toned haze makes for a fitting mirage feel, given the characters' fixation on a Mad Max-like post-apocalyptic future of oily conflagrations in scorched-earth deserts. Having seen George Miller's films as kids, Woodrow (Glodell) and Aiden hope to make the ultimate death machine on four wheels, complete with a whiskey fountain in the glove compartment, because what is the point of life after The End if you can't get loaded? Yet the film doesn't present, or at least does not ultimately present, Woodrow's childish obsession as some charming quirk despite his initial "indie" feel as a socially awkward but adorable dork. Eventually, however, Glodell upends the macho posturing as Woodrow slowly spirals off his axis.
Impressively technical given its paltry $17,000 budget, Bellflower manages to tell its story primarily through images, sinking further and further into Woodrow's demented point of view as his boyish imagination carries through to its logically violent endpoint. Unfortunately, the visual storytelling is undercut by any and all dialogue, which is typically delivered in the manner of the poor kid who has to be the narrator for a school play. Furthermore, its lugubrious movement becomes less a hypnotic tour through a stunted, aggressive man's psyche than a mere slog, the flights of hyperviolent fantasy not revealing so much as absurd. Glodell's film aligns along several parallels with Nicholas Winding Refn's superb Drive: both deal with spaced-out car fixations, both feature psychopathic protagonists waiting to be unleashed, both sport throbbing electronic scores (though Cliff Martinez leaves the work here in the dust), and both offer their makers the chance to strut their stuff. It's a testament to Glodell's almost innate skill that at times he can be as visually exciting as a proven stylist working with his biggest budget yet. Nevertheless, Bellflower's descent into grim fantasy bears out all the isolated flaws of Drive and blows them up, and for all the film's impressive elements, its most lasting impression was the hope that Glodell gets offered something better off the strength of it.
Happy Feet Two (George Miller, 2011)
At once incoherently overloaded and desperately spare, the sequel to 2006's unexpected delight Happy Feet is a joyless slog. The animation is still bright and cheerful, though the penguins themselves just look awkward. The plot doesn't congeal for nearly a full hour, and by then the musical numbers have proven so irritating that even the suspense of whether an entire colony of penguins might perish fails to generate any narrative oomph. The subplot involving an existentially independent krill and his fretful buddy (Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) is amusing, and the frequent scale changes that shrink and expand the frame to show their location in the grand scheme of things allows Miller to play with the possibilities of animation. But the whole thing is so inert and uninspiring that the candy-coated whimsy never takes hold as it did in the first film. George Miller is one of the few directors capable of consistently making sequels that top his first franchise entries (see both Mad Max sequels and Babe: Pig in the City), but at last he finally makes a follow-up that adheres to the usual level of sequel quality.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (Eli Craig, 2011)
From the moment Craig's camera moves away from the clean and nervous undergrads to the hillbillies they perceive as hick killers, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil routinely subverts the typical horror conventions, making for a sort of Grendel to hillbilly-killer movies' Beowulf. Alan Tudyk and Taylor Labine are fantastic as the dim but good-natured hicks who find themselves misunderstood as monsters by those who always saw them as such. Their constant bewilderment at the gruesome carnage that unfolds around them through horrible accidents is hysterical, and Craig displays a talent for staging gory yet uproarious deaths that recall Edgar Wright's gifts for comic bloodbaths. But even amid all the ludicrous deaths is a more organic, character-driven comedy that makes full use of Tudyk, Labine and Katrina Bowden, who gets the chance to show that her funniness on 30 Rock isn't merely the result of Tina Fey's writing.