dir: Ang Lee
A lot of what I’m going to say about this beautiful movie is going to sound churlish, ungrateful and unfair. So be it. Someone has to do it. So much of the rest of the world is tripping over itself saying what a wondrous movie this is, that I can’t help but be a little contrary.
But until that time when I let rip with both barrels, let me lull you into a false sense of security by praising this film’s many virtues.
No, Life of Pi is not about pies, or about the mathematical constant of π. The diameter or circumference of no circles was calculated during the making of this movie. It’s about a guy whose nickname is Pi (Irrfhan Khan) who survived a harrowing experience and lived to tell the story to a writer (Rafe Spall). Lucky for the writer, eh, because he would have been stuffed otherwise, and we would have been none the wiser or entertained.
No, don’t go thinking this flick has anything to do with a true story of any description. Almost every implausible movie that gets made, from Zero Dark Thirty to Titanic to Transformers, practically has an opening title assuring us that what we are about to watch is based on true events. That’s not what Life of Pi is aiming for. It aims to tell an amazing, unbelievable story in the most visually stunning manner possible.
And, oh, is it stunning. Seen in 3D, using the full capabilities of this ‘new’ old technique in the cinema is the quintessential cinematic experience. It’s the most impressive and immersive use of 3D I’ve seen thus far, and it doesn’t just add an aesthetic sheen to the visuals: it makes the visuals visceral and encompassing in a way other films don’t.
When Pi is telling the story, he’s an older man, but the story he’s telling is about his younger self (Suraj Sharma), growing up in Pondicherry, at the time a region of India controlled somehow by the French. I say ‘somehow’ because while I don’t dispute that the French controlled this place up until the 50s, it just doesn’t seem like something those brave and noble Gauls would do.
I mean, I can’t imagine the French ever trying to rule some colonial place and having it explode in their and everyone else’s faces, can you? Maybe the Americans came along and politely asked them to leave?
dir: Peter Hedges
I’m all for whimsy. No, scratch that, the word alone gives me a piercing headache. What I should have said is that I’m not completely averse to sweetness in movies, because, hell, life’s way too short to just watch movies where people’s heads get routinely blown off by so-called heroes, or where a demented surgeon captures some poor folk and sows them, one to the other, in an unholy form of intelligent yet malevolent design.
The sweetness I can tolerate, not wanting to get diabetes, has to be well delivered. Too much and it drowns the viewer in treacle and regret. Too little and there’s no flavour in an otherwise unpalatable affair.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green tries to be some modern kind of fable, generously brought to us by the Disney Corporation, offering us a little sweetness within a tortured tale about a couple who desperately yearn to be parents. What it ends up being is an argument as to why some people should never be allowed to become parents, and probably a healthy argument for abortion as well.
How the hell did Joel Edgerton end up in this? Jennifer Garner, she of the perpetually sucked-in cheeks, was probably genetically created in a lab for roles like this. Her “I just escaped from a concentration camp, and I feel Fabulous!” looks and her warped-through-unnecessary-surgery face is what Disney’s Labs have been working to perfect for close to a century, thanks very much Uncle Walt. But Joel? Australia’s Own Joel Edgerton? I guess he’ll take anything.
Who am I kidding, who wouldn’t? He probably made even for this mawkish piece of tripe what it would take me over a decade to earn. Although, soulless as my work is, at least I didn’t have to emote next to Garner or mumble through terrible All American clichés with a fairly dodgy American accent.
These two chumps play the central married couple, living in an American town torn forth from a Norman Rockwell painting, all autumn leaves and idyllic hues. This place, called Stanleyville, has one source of income, being a pencil factory. This pencil factory dominates everything, including the majority of the conversations had by people in the film.
A pencil factory? As a symbol of America’s decline in blue collar jobs through the offshoring of manufacturing jobs to Mexico and China, couldn’t they have found an example slightly more pathetic and anachronistic? Maybe a whalebone corset factory, or a maker of cassette Walkmans? What else would inspire as much feeling as a goddamn pencil factory? Pencil Factory? Are you fucking kidding me? It was almost as if the film had been made with money from an actual pencil factory, wanting to inspire and guilt people into casting aside their smartphones and Ipads in order to take up the trusty wooden and graphite tool of yesteryear.
dir: Rupert Davies
So soon? Another new version within weeks of the last new version? Didn’t the pointless Mirror Mirror just breathe its first and last gasps in May, and now there’s Snow White and the Huntsman?
One studio hears that another studio is bringing out a new version of Snow White. They must think, “Damn, why didn’t we think of that first?” And then they think the idea, because it was had by someone else, will be a good and profitable idea, and so they need to do some spoilage work in order to dull the other’s profits.
Perhaps. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, like when two studios simultaneously have the same idea about a giant meteor threatening the earth (Armageddon and Deep Impact), or urban volcanos (Volcano and Dante’s Peak), magicians (The Illusionist and The Prestige) or animated insects partying hearty (Antz and A Bug’s Life), and the films come out at roughly the same time. It’s we, the audience, who benefits from this extravagant competition, surely, from this niggling desire not to let the other studio get away with anything, with the slip of an idea.
Whenever this happens, you invariably feel compelled to say which one ‘won’, as if it matters. From their perspective, from the studio perspective, the one that makes more moolah is the winner. From our perspective it tends to be the one we hate least.
I did hate Mirror Mirror, to be honest, despite the sumptuous beauty of its visuals, but that never predisposed me to liking this flick either. I expected it to be bad, and when I heard Kristen Stewart was in it as the titular princess, I was certain it would exemplify a Twilight level of awfulness. Also, from the title, I thought she would be fighting some huntsman spider, and, considering how sickly she always looks, I assumed the spider would win.
Shouldn’t laugh. I’m terrified of huntsman spiders. Maybe her battle would be one rich in psychological depth and nutty goodness?
In case anyone doesn’t know, those Twilight movies are utterly shite movies. There’s no doubt or argument. This Snow White is nowhere near that awful, in fact it actually gets a lot of stuff right, at least as far as I’m concerned. It surprised me how much it got right.
There's no real point going further into the multitude of reasons why I thought this couldn't, wouldn't or shouldn't work, because they're all so obvious and time consuming. I mean, Kristen Stewart is a gigantic red flag about the potential crapness of a flick; a red flag so large and broad it could be wielded with difficulty by that giant Jesus statue that overlooks Rio De Janeiro with that disappointed look on his gargantuan face.
dir: Tarsem Singh
If The Dictator inspired profound feelings of ‘meh’ in me, this film left me with the profound feeling of ‘yeurgh’.
Sometimes you get exactly the crap you expect you’re going to get, as with eating at KFC, or the “Dirty Bird”, as a good friend of mine calls it, when you already have plenty of experience backing up your expectations. When you buy dirty bird, you expect dirty bird, and dirty bird is what you get.
That’s not entirely true, gentle reader. I’m telling one of those things I’m told humans call a “lie”. Yes, a little white lie. In truth, even when I have the dirty bird in my grubby little hands, the grease running down my fingers, eventually to be coursing through my veins, I still expect it to be great. No matter how many times I’ve been betrayed, I still think “Maybe this time, it’ll be different.”
I did have completely unrealistic expectations regarding this film, and, as per usual, I have no idea why. And again as per usual, it hardly matters to the film makers or the rest of the world, because what I want doesn’t knock the world’s axis out of joint or pull the sun from the sky.
Nothing from the advertising for it, or the reviews, or the presence of Julia Roberts should have made me think I was getting anything other than dirty bird.
But still, but still… the human capacity for self-delusional is almost infinite, and I’m one of its most skilled practitioners.
I thought (again, I don’t know why I had this impression) there was going to be something radically new in the retelling of the story of Snow White. I don’t have any particular fixation on these fairy tales, although I have been reading a lot of them over the last five years to my daughter, and as such they play an important role in teaching her about what people used to think the status of women used to be in society: as subhumans with little of value other than beauty and, more importantly, their virginity intact so they could be traded to other families for money, property or cows.
Pretty much exactly where we are these days, except with worse shoes.
It’s a story that’s been told so often, and to great effect, I guess, that it’s more than a widely-known fairy tale, it’s an iconic story. Obviously, having been exposed to it this often, and having seen so many goddamn versions of it, I’m interested in (or desperate for) alternatives, reinterpretations, distortions, eviscerations that tell the same stories in radically different ways.
dir: Josh Trank
With great power comes great responsibility, as well as a great opportunity to get back at everyone who ever did us wrong, right?
Chronicle is a pretty keen take on the superhero genre, told through the non-narrative construct of handheld camera / found footage telling us the story. For that to work, it means that the person filming, at least initially, has to have some reason other than what’s about to happen for filming themselves. At least in theory.
That person is Andrew (Dane DeHaan), a pale and isolated jerk in high school, as are all Andrews, really. Has he got a decent reason for being a loner jerk who films himself with a camera? Well, maybe. The first instance we see worthy of immortalisation, which opens the flick, is him filming himself and his bedroom door, because his violent drunken jerk of a father (Michael Kelly) is threatening him through that door.
We also find out that Andrew’s mother is dying, very slowly, so things aren’t going that well for any of them. And at school, naturally, the other teenage scum sense his vulnerability, and bully the heck out of him. He does have, at least, a cousin who’s on friendly terms with him, which makes him seem like the only person in the world who gives a damn. Matt (Alex Russell) seems like a kid too tall and popular to give a damn about a scrawny skeleton like Andrew, but care he does, all the same. Inexplicably.
Perhaps in efforts to decrease his own burden, Matt insists that Andrew come to a rave with him, so he can get out there and alienate a whole new bunch of people. At that rave, which seems oh so 1990s, Matt, Andrew and another student called Steve (Michael B. Jordan) find some strange rock / crystalline thing down a hole which changes them profoundly.
No, it’s not a metaphor for hot guy-on-guy sex. Wait, maybe it is.
dir: Martin Scorsese
With delight, I watched this, with great delight in my heart.
If you’re reading this review, you know that I watch a lot of films, and a lot of them I even review. Those reviews, you would know, are to my benefit and to your detriment as a reader. I’m sorry about that. Really, I am. I wish I were a better reviewer; someone who could encapsulate succinctly and with wit what is great and what is less great about certain movies in this artistic medium I prize the most, after literature, puppetry and the accordion, of course. And I wish I could say it all without having to resort to the boring bullshit a billion other (paid) bunglers routinely trot out to justify their verbosity.
No, honestly, I wish I were a better reviewer, so that I could credibly explain why I loved Hugo so much, so that you, too, could feel the joy that I felt, and get a glimpse of how it felt to watch it. Yes, even cynical old me feels joy whilst watching a film, very rarely, but it happens. Aiming that high dooms any enterprise to failure, no doubt, but it should be perfectly obvious that failing at something doesn’t stop me from doing it. Au contraire, to get into the vernacular of it, au contraire, mes amis.
Hugo is based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, and it should come as no surprise that this film is about a boy called Hugo who lives in the Gare Montparnasse train station, in the 1930s. He doesn’t just hang out there, dodging the dogged and limping local constable (Sacha Baron Cohen), and trying to eke out a meagre existence by stealing: he literally lives within the walls and towers of the train station, keeping the clocks running on time.
dir: Miranda July
Do you ever wonder if you’re really as intelligent as you think/hope you are?
I mean, no-one really thinks they’re as dumb as they actually are, hence the essence of dumbness, but, for me, watching a flick like this, called The Future, it makes me think I’m nowhere near as bright as I think I am.
Miranda July is a performance artist, writer, director and probably cobbler in her spare time as well. Film is just another installation / exhibition to her, perhaps. I watched her first film Me, You and Everyone We Know, and enjoyed it as much as these kinds of flicks can be enjoyed. And I read her collection of short stories called No-one Belongs Here More Than You.
None of this has given me a window into her thinking, apart from knowing she’s a very odd person. And that’s cool. I’ve been watching a lot of formulaic Hollywood pap lately, and it’s good to have a cleanse now and then. This flick The Future couldn’t be more different from formulaic pap.
By the same token, that doesn’t mean I entirely get it, or that I enjoyed it that much.
The Future doesn’t seem so much to be about the future itself, but about paralysis in the present in contemplation of the ineffable ‘future’. As in, our protagonists, Sophie (Miranda July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater), do some weird shit because of the ever-looming ‘future’. The future is embodied by a wounded cat they have picked up and taken to an animal shelter, with a damaged leg that needs a month to heal before they can bring him home. The cat patiently waits for them, and they re-examine their lives in respect to this oncoming responsibility.
Of course, since this involves Miranda July, the film plays out in ways which only David Lynch, or possibly schizophrenics could predict, or figure out. She is obsessed with recording videos of herself dancing, but whenever she’s supposed to start dancing, she gets distracted by whatever is in the room, or by her bangs, or by anything, really. She freezes. The looming prospect of The Future, in case it wasn’t obvious, causes her, at least momentarily, to be trapped within the ‘to be or not to be’ dilemma made famous by some Danish prince in a play a while back.
dir: Rob Marshall
When Elizabeth Taylor was paid $1,000,000 to star in Cleopatra back in ’64, it was considered both a record and a travesty. When man mountain Marlon Brando was paid $3.7 million and a percentage of profits for a few minutes of screen time in Superman, it was considered a fiasco and a symbol of how the days of Hollywood were numbered, seeing as it was starting to resemble the last days of Rome.
In the present day, Johnny Depp gets paid $55 million dollars to appear in another Pirates of the Caribbean flick, and it’s no big deal. Business as usual. Whatever.
And why? Well, surely it’s because these are the most beloved flicks of all time, and Depp, for playing the character of Captain Jack Sparrow, deserves every bloody well-earned penny? Surely?
Isn’t it a bit obscene, though? I don’t want to come across all ‘Workers Unite!’ and like some retrograde commie-pinko wanker, but is there really anything in this world that justifies getting paid that much? For that amount of money you’d think he was getting paid to sexually service, to the point of guaranteed happy ending, every person who steps into the theatre, anywhere in the world, any way they want.
The only calculation that justifies paying anyone that unholy amount of cash is the fairly basic economic one of ROI (Return on Investment). In the wash up, when it’s shown that it cost $55 million to keep Depp on board, $200 mil or so to make the goddamn flick, and it made over 1 billion dollars at the box office, you’ve achieved the pinnacle of capitalism at its finest. If they’d paid Depp some LeBron James – David Beckham style payday of $400 million for a few month’s work, Disney would still be way, way ahead in the scheme of things, and laughing all the way to the organ bank.
It’s fascinating. At least, these issues or questions are fascinating to me. Probably not to you, or to any other sane person with time to be apportioned and enjoyed in the most productive manner possible. At the very least, it’s more interesting thinking about these issues than it is thinking about this flick.
I have watched this flick, that’s true. Watching a flick usually means I feel entitled and qualified to review it thenceforth, having paid the due required. Again, that’s debateable. But I can’t really tell you much about it. There’s not much there there.
Oh, there’s certainly a lot of colour, movement, actors, special effects, rum drinking, music and ye olde ships and cannon-fire. Oh, and there’s lots of Captain Jack flouncing about. And there’s a plot, I guess.
dir: David Yates
2010 & 2011
I’m going to review both of them together. I don’t think it really matters either way. They don’t work separately, and together they’re just a big old mess of convenient moments, slavish fan service and muggle muddling.
This will not be a good review. This will provide none of the fulfillment that you're looking for. The only thing worse than reading this review would be sitting down and watching both films back to back.
But they are, in their various parts and pieces, the culmination of a bunch of books and the films they were translated into, and an endpoint in a long-running series, and, at least the second part, is the third highest grossing film of all time, at least for another week or so.
And thus it deserves our special attention. It’s impossible to discuss anything that happens in these films without spoiling the events of the previous ones as well, so there’s virtually no point in issuing a spoiler warning. How else could you talk about the seventh (and eighth) instalments in a series?
There are a bunch of admissions I feel compelled to make before launching into all of this that would inform a reader as to where I’m coming from. I’ve never read the books, though I look forward to doing so when my daughter’s old enough, and we can do so together. I have no snobbish opposition towards the books, their fans, or their popularity. I don’t think their adaptation into film form has resulted in particularly great films (except for Order of the Phoenix), but, having seen all of them now, I’ve come to respect the universe J.K. Rowling created and that so many adore.
That being said, my biggest problem with all of the flicks has always been the terribly haphazard plotting, the incredible overuse of multiple deus ex machinas, and the exposition dumping that never felt organic or anything less than strained. In most cases I think the directors did their best (except with the first two, since Chris Columbus is a terribly mediocre director) adapting source material too copious in quantity and broad in scope to do justice in the time allotted. They did their best. And Yates probably did his best here, though there are a few moments that could have been stronger.
dir: Catherine Hardwicke
So, chicks dig this stuff, huh? Tame mixtures of the supernatural and the melodramatic, and the direct competition of two hunky lunkheads wanting to kill each other over you, and that’s the ticket for fiddly remembrances in the bath?
Surely women have higher standards than that? Surely it takes more to satisfy them than that?
I’m going to quote famous dead film critic Pauline Kael for a second, but not in a filmic capacity. She once expressed surprise and shock that Nixon won re-election, because she didn’t know a single person who voted for him. Of course, this quote has been used more to show how self-selecting her circle of acquaintances was, rather than the validity of her knowing what a likely political outcome would be.
In that spirit of same insular cluelessness, I don’t know a single girl or woman who likes this kind of supernatural – romantic bullshit, whether it’s explicitly Twilight or not, or ersatz Twilight like this movie. Not a one. Sure, most of the women I’ve ever known are too intelligent for this bullshit, but can I really use them as my sample size for judging the population of women?
Surely not, since someone has to buy those mentally defective celeb magazines, and those products promising eternal youth, eternal desirability and bras more torture device than structural support. And it’s not me.
To capitalise on the perceived Twi market of Twi-teens and Twi-moms and Twi-handbaggers, they’ve recrafted the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale to allow for the insertion of both an anti-religious / fascist theme as well as having two doofuses with contemporary hairstyles to fight over our little lady who’s trembling on the cusp of womanhood.
dir: Dominic Sena
There used to be, in my arsenal of movie reviewing weapons, a basic metric for assessing generally the likely worth or shiteness of a flick Nicolas Cage was in. This basic metric came down to this: The shittier the hairpiece or wig, the shittier the performance and the crappier the overall film.
Of course, past a certain age, every flick Cage was in ‘required’ the usage of skilled hairpiece technicians, teams of them, working around the clock, and separating Cage’s crappier performances from his decent performances proved a mission impossible in its scope and objective.
As such, his every flick has a hairpiece now, and most, if not all, are terrible in new ways previously unimagined by the hackiest of Hollywood hacks.
And yet, and yet, he still occasionally puts in semi-decent (but still completely lunatic) performances in semi-decent (but ludicrous) flicks. I’m not thinking of Adaptation, the Kaufman / Spike Jonz flick, which was a class act all around, but of more recent fare like the very strange Bad Lieutenant remake.
Of course, for each Bad Lieutenant, considering how prolific the guy is, there’s dozens of Ghost Riders, National Treasures, Sorceror’s Apprentices and every other permutation and combination of wretchedness and villainy you can sorrowfully imagine.
Season of the Witch is a very strange film, only in that despite being set in ye olden times, and having, as its premise, Cage playing a world-weary Crusader tired of slaughtering innocents and infidels alike for Mother Church, and witches and demons and stuff, it’s a fairly mundane flick. It’s strange that Nicolas Cage is in it, I mean.
dir: Gaspar Noè
What a crazy, fucked-up film.
Preparing yourself for a Gaspar Noè film is not something that is genuinely possible. Having seen others of his flicks, none of which I will ever see again, I was determined to not see this flick ever as well. Since I’m reviewing it, well, that means something changed in my thinking, and I’m glad, to an extent, that it happened. Not too proud to admit when I’m wrong.
A friend of a friend who works in the film industry told me she saw the flick at a festival, and that it was quite an amazing experience. Though I knew nothing about her before that day, her thoughts, conveyed to me over a long and boozy conversation on a Saturday afternoon at a local pub, regarding flicks in general (that she’d worked on in New Zealand, being those flicks involving children wandering into a Witch-filled wardrobe and a Jesus-substitute lion called Aslan) and this flick itself intrigued me. They intrigued me to the point where my absolute determination to never again be violated by a Gaspar Noè flick wavered, and over time led to a confident ‘maybe?’
And in the end I caved. I’m not entirely happy with the experience, because, as I should have expected, there are certain sights and sounds in this amazing flick that I wish I’d never seen and experienced, and which alcohol will now have to delete for me (in its usual sporadic and haphazard manner). But overall I think, I hope, the experience was a compelling and affecting one, and thus worthwhile.
Make no mistake: it is a stunning, tedious, amazing, excruciating film. The sounds and visuals are calculated and amped up deliberately to arouse and bludgeon the senses of the viewer. Even the opening credits transport the viewer to a bad place even after only four or so minutes of strobing neon staccato and mania.
And then the drug-addled flick begins. We see everything, almost everything, from the perspective of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), and what isn’t from his perspective directly, is with the camera filming him from behind (in third person perspective, so to speak) , so that he is always either viewing things directly or seeing himself. He is a drug-using drug dealer in Tokyo, who spends the first half hour of this long-arsed flick out of his mind on drugs. We see his very trippy hallucinations, and the droning thoughts in his empty head. He lives with his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), who cares so very much about him.
dir: Tim Burton
It’s not as shit as I thought it would be.
Wouldn’t it be grand if, by some cosmic fuckup that altered the nature of reality, that I somehow became a respected and admired film critic, even in this day and age where the most effective reviews are written by impassioned cretins in textspeak, and that, as a powerful reviewer whose opinion mattered to the world, marketers used my important words to promote their movies?
Imagine posters for big budget movies, with the so-called pull quote being mine, and plainly stating “It’s not as shit as you’d think.”
That’d pack in the multiplexes, no doubt, upon the strength of my judgement alone. And so people could give up the terrible burden of having to judge for themselves whether they should squander the little time they have left on this planet watching or not watching a flick I recommended or eviscerated.
Such a circumstance, however desirable and generally awesome for humanity, is not likely to ever happen, though you can keep your fingers crossed if you’d like. Pray to Buddha, Spongebob, Jeebus or L. Ron Hubbard if you like: whoever floats your spiritual and aesthetic boat. Whatever form of spiritual release you choose, it’s going to feel a tiny bit more meaningful, and derive for you a tiny amount more catharsis than sending me an email telling me how little I know about anything, and how terrible my reviews are, being ultimately worse than ten Hitlers, give or take a Hitler here or there.
That’s an argument for another day, since the number of deranged nationalistic Russian lunatics complaining in emails today about something I wrote six years ago about Night Watch, or the harpies screaming about the sexism of referring to the breasts of an actress in a review, is ultimately pretty small. But they, like you, should be able to console yourself with the fact that I am under no illusions as to the quality or importance of anything I have ever written or will ever write in my life.
dir: Mike Newell
For me there’s an element of watching your kid performing onstage during the Christmas pageant or something similar, in terms of watching this flick. I mean it in the sense that I’m going to be more forgiving in my expectations, and that I’m actively going to like something that others will grind their teeth through.
My fandom for the whole Prince of Persia enterprise goes far back enough that I was but knee-high to a grasshopper; an ancient Persian grasshopper on some grass stalks in the ye old deserts of another time and age.
Yes, I’m talking about the computer games, the many games that have come out with a highly limber and acrobatic protagonist who leaps about defying gravity and fighting bad guys with his scimitar. I’ve played all of them, from the Apple IIe version, through to the Commodore 64 version, and the three million or so versions on PC. I even played the last one, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, which proved, to me at least, that I’ll practically buy anything with those fated words scrawled across the cover in fancy script. If they bring out a desert topping and floor cleaner called Prince of Persia, I’ll probably end up buying that too.
I wasn’t too ecstatic when I heard they were going to make a film version, because I thought the likelihood would be that it would suck. That’s not just because of the longstanding prejudice against game adaptations, which claims that they always suck. But, let’s face it, most flicks suck, so the likelihood would be high regardless of where it originated from.
So while I was happy for Jordan Mechner to get a hefty payday (the original creator of the ‘property’, as they call it), I didn’t think I’d have even moderate expectations going in. In reality, I love the setting and the character so much (regardless of its half dozen incarnations) that I was always going to be too eager.
Naturally, even if I try to apologise for it through gritted teeth, or try to convince you that my kids singing a terrible Christmas carol aren’t tone deaf, you’re going to see through it. So I’ll be honest about it: it’s not a good flick.
dir: Nicolas Winding Refn
The dastardly Danish director of the Pusher trilogy and Bronson hits back at your tame and bourgeois sensibilities with the longest heavy metal film clip to a non-existent song that you’re never going to sit through. Ever.
Good goddamn is this a pointless, but nicely shot and atmospheric, film. And like a pointless and nicely shot film clip, when it only goes for three or four minutes, and has decent music, it can capture and maintain your interest. When it goes for 90 minutes, its impossible to feel like it wasn’t a colossal waste of your time.
One Eye (Mad Mikkelsen) is a one-eyed chap who kills anyone who gets close enough to him. Some bearded, dirty Viking types keep him captive, and occasionally let him out of a cage in order to have him fight and kill other guys in pointless contests out of which he always emerges bloody and victorious.
He eventually escapes by killing everyone except a boy who wasn’t too horrible to him. He hooks up with some Christians who want to go to the Holy Land.
They end up in the Americas. Almost everyone dies. The film ends.
That’s it, that’s everything. It takes 90 excruciating minutes to tell a tale that probably could have been told in a text message. One Eye doesn’t speak once, and in every scene in which he’s not killing people, he stands there mute.
Occasionally, as in a bad film clip, the screen goes all red, and One Eye gets some presentiment of the future, of something that’s going to happen. It’s usually accompanied by a screeching sound so off-putting that it’s meant to compound the fact that the flick is deliberately trying to be annoying. It works, too well.
dir: Scott Stewart
Legion is, and this probably is not going to surprise any of you, a deeply stupid goddamn flick. There’s never been a flick with angels in it that has ever worked worth a damn except for two profound exceptions: It’s a Wonderful Life, and Wings of Desire.
But those are dramas, albeit romantic ones, with a bit of darkness in them.
This angel-filled fiasco belongs to the sub-genre of fantasy films whereby angels, either enacting or contradicting the will of God, decide to either eliminate humanity or at least battle it out on our planet’s surface.
If you’re of a certain age, and inclination, like me you might remember such 90s movies as The Prophecy trilogy, which had Christopher Walken trying to kill us all while playing the Archangel Gabriel (I don’t think he knew the cameras were on). If you’re even older, you might be boring enough, like me, to have read Milton’s Paradise Lost, and have heard it badly quoted a million times by pretentious shmucks in movies for the last 100 years.
And if you’ve ever been a godbotherer, or been bothered by godbotherers, you might know that the secret surprise at the end of the Bible is that we’re all going to die only after the torments of the time of tribulation, except for a select few bunch of goodie-two-shoeses.
So the idea of angels raining down fire and destruction upon us is nothing new. What this here film manages to do is render all of that crap in the most incompetent fashion imaginable.
dir: Louis Leterrier
Did Clash of the Titans need to be remade? In 3D no less?
Of course it did, you anti-capitalistic naysayers. Everything should be remade in 3D. Weekend at Bernie’s 3D. Driving Miss Daisy 3D. Deep Throat 3D.
That last one could have your eye out if you’re not careful.
It’s profitable, isn’t it? And, as the drug, prostitution and pornography industries have always taught us: If something’s profitable, of course you should be doing it.
Most reviewers keep referring to the original flick as being not very good in the first place, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything. The story’s based on Greek mythology from three millennia ago, so blaming Harry Hamlin or Ray Harryhausen seems a bit much. For all the blather regarding Joseph Campbell, the heroic journey and the fundamentals of epic story telling, the tale of Perseus slaying the Gorgon Medusa and saving Andromeda from a monster while riding a winged horse is pretty cheesy crap regardless of how big the budget or whether you’ve got Sir Ian McKellen or Fabio in a lead role.
Despite the fact that I was, as a child, tragically afflicted with the nerd gene that made me obsess over mythology, the occult, and all fantasy kinds of crap, the flick this allegedly repurposes for the 2010s was never one that I had an opinion on, one way or another. I remember scenes of Sir Larry Olivier swanning about like he owned the place just because his name was Zeus, but I more recall the perpetual expression on his face as if he was smelling a particularly unpleasant fart.
dir: Spike Jonze
Where the Wild Things Are is a beautiful film. It’s touching and sweet, scary but deeply felt, but I don’t really think it’s for children. I don’t even think most kids under the age of ten would really get that the Maurice Sendak book, of twenty or so pages, really connects with this film apart from the similarity in the merchandising. Sure, the imagery is the same, but the story has been greatly transformed by Spike Jonze, David Eggers and the forests and beaches of Victoria.
I have happily read the book to my daughter a stack of times, and so I know how profoundly expanded the story is in the movie. As to whether it’s true in spirit and intent to the book, you’d have to ask noted and thoroughly aged curmudgeon Maurice Sendak, who’s still alive, who wrote and drew the book nearly fifty years ago, and who I’m sure is happy to collect cheques for the film rights. I suspect deep down Sendak would hate this film if he ever sat through it, that’s just my gut instinct.
My instincts are often wrong, I have to admit. What I don’t think I’m wrong about is that this really couldn’t connect with kids for fairly serious and pervasive reasons, self-same reasons that would make it appeal perhaps to their elders.
There’s something simultaneously intellectual, inspired and childish about Spike Jonze and the flicks he’s been responsible for. He has tremendous control of the visual medium that he earns his crust from, but he’s more than happy to aim those skills at the ‘kid’ inside adults rather than the kid in kids.
My only real evidence for this is that his rendering of Where The Wild Things Are is completely lacking in treacle or schmaltzy saccharine, but is not averse to being incredibly twee and cutesy, and so goddamn hip that it hurts. But even more than that, the flick is suffused with such keen melancholy, and such a golden, halcyon longing for the freedom and joy of childhood that of course it would have to look strange to the kiddies.
dir: Paul McGuigan
I love Hong Kong, I really do. That doesn’t mean I’m going to like any film just because it’s set there. But I really do love the place, visually speaking at least. It’s not because I have any personal experience of the place, or because of my heritage, or because of any deep-seeded identification I have with the former British colony. I just like it, is all, and have watched around a thousand flicks set there.
This film Push has a lot of great cityscape footage of Hong Kong, truly it does. It mixes the high art cityscape stuff with postcard shots and, most importantly for me, the shots revealing the commonplace squalor of some areas, with the hustle and bustle of places like Mongkok, Wanchai, Kowloon Bay and all the rest, whether tourist destinations or not, whether ‘pretty’, grungy or not.
Beautiful, beautiful images of a real city that looks almost like what Ridley Scott was going for with Blade Runner, except that it’s real, and it’s a place even more thriving, alive, chintzy and garish than you can imagine, with the quicksilver of commerce, greed and violence running through the city’s veins, in the abstract perhaps more than in fact. All of this I could see and think about as I watched this amazing city depicted in this film.
As I watched and enjoyed all these images and locations, the problem for me was that there were often these people’s heads and bodies popping up and blocking my view of the scenery. They would also talk quite often, and there’d be this annoying music playing which would also distract me from what I was looking at. I didn’t like that at all.
dir: David Fincher
David Fincher almost gets a lifetime pass from me for Fight Club. It’s a film so goddamn good that it elevates him into the lofty heights of directors whom I’ll defend even if they make twenty shitty films compared to their one or two masterpieces. Brad Pitt has no such pass from me, lifetime or otherwise. I have such a deep antipathy for his brand of actoring that he is usually the weakest link (for me) even in the strongest of films.
This flick, right off the bat, I enjoyed, very much so, despite the fact that there is less going on here than meets the eye. The premise sounds like it’s high concept enough, but it’s used more for its ironic sense than anything else. A F. Scott Fitzgerald short story is the origin of the film’s screenplay, but it has been fleshed out and elaborated upon in order to make it a serious, prestige Oscarbait contender, instead of the Twilight Zone half-hour that it probably warranted instead.
In the early part of the 20th Century, a clockmaker grieves over the death of his son in the Great War. He constructs a clock for a train station that runs backwards instead of forwards, with the (poetic, not literal) hope that such a clock going backwards would reverse time and resurrect the many sons who died needlessly, bringing them home to their devastated families.
It is, without doubt, the most touching moment of the movie. It occurs in the first few minutes, and, truth be told, the flick never matches or exceeds those moments from there onwards. It does, however, remain interesting.
dir: Marcus Nispel
Honestly, I’m capable of being objective. I can be. Seriously.
I know you don’t believe me, but at the very least you might accept that I think it’s true.
It’s important to have perspective on various issues, be it elements of one’s own life, or the world in general. It’s especially handy when you’re trying to sift through the detritus of modern life as represented by pop culture and the world of sub-par art known as The Movies.
Having said that, let me now say this regarding the original film Conan the Barbarian that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and came out in 1982: It’s one of the single greatest movies of all time. It decapitates Citizen Kane, dismembers Lawrence of Arabia and rips the bloody, pulsing tongue out of Bridge Over the River Kwai.
It’s not only a great film, it’s one of the greatest achievement our species has ever been responsible for, up there with the pyramids, landing on the moon, and g strings.
You might laugh, or giggle a girlish titter and think, “Oh ho ho, how fucking funny. He must mean it ironically, or that it’s a camp classic, or he’s saying it as a set up for some punchline. I won’t get fooled again by his shenanigans.”
Well, you’d be wrong if that’s what you thought. And I don’t like saying stuff like that to you, the blessed and admired reader. I like keeping you onside, amused, well-disposed. Agreeable, even. The reason being, when I eventually ask for help smuggling out funds from Nigeria, I hope the request won’t fall on the deafest of ears.
No, I’m deadly serious: Conan the Barbarian is truly a great flick. Great music by Basil Polidouris, great physical presence in the lead role, great villain, great action, great dialogue, great witch fucking, great orgy scene mixed with cannibalism, great atmosphere, great everything. I can’t stress that enough: I’m serious. I’ve been around long enough, and been on the tubes of the internets long enough to know how meaningless saying all of this shit ultimately is, because it’s ridiculous to assert to other people that some subjective experience of yours should be a universally superb experience for everyone else.
All I can really say, objectively, so that it can mean anything to anyone else, is that it’s absolutely one of my favourite flicks of all time. There, I took three hundred and sixty five words to say that simple phrase. It’s positively succinct, for me.
So what would I expect, or demand, from a new film, released this year, called Conan the Barbarian?
dir: Zack Snyder
A lot of people get their panties in a bunch because of the descriptor usually applied to Zack Snyder, either by reviewers or the marketing people marketing his movies: “From the mind of visionary director Zack Snyder…” goes the line on the poster.
They (the collective ‘they’) got sick of always applying the term to Tim Burton, so now they have someone else to pin it to like a badge of dishonour.
I think it’s an adjective that’s appropriate. At least as far as it applies to lots and lots and lots of visionary visuals, he’s got them pouring out from every diseased orifice.
Directors, or at least the cinematographers and programmers the studios hire, are all about the visuals. Getting the look right is their main task, you’d think, it being an entirely visual medium. If he was producing radio plays I’d say he was a failure, but that’s just my opinion.
What Snyder clearly isn’t about, is writing or that pesky acting stuff. I’m sure he’s capable of possibly getting decent performances from humans, but he seems to do much better with computer generated graphics instead. So I guess it’s unfortunate that there are so many people standing around messing up his effects shots in Sucker Punch.
Sucker Punch is a very strange and pointless flick. It’s not strange that Snyder could get it made, since his stock seems strangely to keep rising for reasons not immediately obvious. Sure, a lot of people wanked openly over 300 in every sense of the word, but he’s not exactly an unalloyed success as a director. Mostly, people have him rightly pegged as a director more focussed on flashy visuals more so than rudimentary storytelling.
dir: David Yates
Another year, another Potter flick. The difference is, now, after having enjoyed Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix so much, I thought I actually cared about future Potter flicks.
And then the Half-Blood Prince came along, and reminded me why I never really liked these tales of whimsy and magic in the first place.
That’s a bit harsh. Initially, going into it, I was pretty excited. I also thought, and still think, that this entry looks phenomenal as well. Hogwarts never looked so vast, so foreboding, so much more like a place that is no longer a sanctuary to these budding sorcerers.
Of course the ‘kids’ are getting older. Harry, Ron and Hermione are becoming awfully, um, grown-up physically, at least, if not emotionally mature. The story reflects and spends an inordinate amount of time fixating and developing these developments, as if the fact that they’re all acting like horny teenagers is supposed to be some kind of revelation.
Of course, this being a very successful franchise, they’re not going to turn it into an episode of the frightening school-age British series Skins, which has kids shagging, doing drugs and carrying on like teenagers having been acting since the dawn of cask wine.
Needless to say, no decent person expects to see that kind of stuff happening within the hallowed walls of Hogwarts. But they’re perfectly entitled to expect to see it in the inevitable porno versions that tend to ensue.
dir: Shane Abbess
It’s one thing to admire the scrappy, underdog determination it takes for someone with no track record as a filmmaker to pull together the financing for a flick and then film it, their way, making up for the paucity of their resources with innovation, creative thinking and inspired finagling and wangling.
That’s admirable. But it’s another thing entirely to actually enjoy the end product of such a scenario.
So I admire the best efforts of the people involved with this, but that didn’t make it any less painful to sit through.
Gabriel is an excruciatingly bad fantasy film within the subgenre of fantasy which has angels and demons as protagonists. There was a trilogy of low budget movies a while ago called The Prophecy with ascending numerals, no less, and they essentially told the same story.
One of the big differences is that those flicks had Christopher Walken in all three of them. Sure, they were crap films, but you can never underestimate the appeal of that lunatic in any film.
dir: Zack Snyder
It’s almost unbelievable to me that this flick has eventuated, has been realised and ended up on the big screen. I don’t say that as a fan of the graphic novel that spawned this monstrosity, but as someone simply who’s read the story and thought it could never work as an audience-pleasing, seat-filling, multiplex product. Watching Watchmen hasn’t convinced me otherwise.
The story, well, let’s just say I can’t imagine it ever connecting with the kinds of audiences who go to the cinema to watch a flick chock full of super heroes. People, the vast majority of people who go to the cinema to watch a flick based on a comic book are expecting and wanting something along the lines of Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, stuff with Man in the title. Maybe Dark Knight’s incredible success has broken down some barriers and prepared people for more ‘serious’ and ‘complicated’ stories, but I don’t think it’s going to do much for people’s appreciation of Watchmen.
It is a complicated book, with a very convoluted plot and difficult ending, and worst of all from the perspective of PR people and the ugly trolls who work in marketing, it’s supposed to be a complete deconstruction not only of the whole comics genre, but of the characters who strap on the masks and fight crime for reasons that seem to have little to do with seeking justice. But you can’t sell something like that to audiences who want to watch good guys fight bad guys and triumph in the end.
In other words, you can’t sell what Watchmen stands for to audiences without hiding what Watchmen is. That it has gotten this far is amazing enough, in and of itself.