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5 stars

The Giver

The Giver

What you're giving me is the desire for this flick to
be erased from my memory

dir: Phillip Noyce

2014

By all the gods above and below, this is the dreariest flick I’ve seen in a long time.

I know enough about the book The Giver to know that since the 1990s the book has been on the reading list for high school students, probably causing them collectively to groan whenever they see the advertising because it stinks of homework. Same way the rest of us feel whenever Shakespeare or Anne Frank’s Diary is mentioned.

But honestly, how did this book get such traction in the American consciousness? I haven’t read the book so maybe it’s a masterpiece of dystopian allegory or didactic science fiction, but based on what’s ended up on the screen it’s a trite, dreary and fundamentally unbelievable story with a simple-minded resolution that not even a kid would buy.

And yet a lot of people have read it, and a lot of people saw the film. I remain categorically unimpressed.

It even has The Dude, and even that doesn’t work. Shameful, shameful work.

The world of The Giver is one we’ve seen many a time before. It’s a bland gated community without too many dark skinned people, and everyone is blandly handsome and polite. Plus, they’re all in black and white. In other words, it’s not just that the images we are seeing are in black and white, we’re informed, by how it changes, that the denizens of this community also see everything only in black and white, like dogs.

Rating:

Chef

Chef

And remember, always tip your wait staff and
other service industry types so that they don't
spit in your food too often

dir: Jon Favreau

2014

With some flicks, when there’s a clod/visionary at the centre of them who seems to have performed every job on the film (star/direct/produce/screenplay/edit) I often joke that they did the catering, too. In this, Jon Favreau’s tribute to Jon Favreau, it’s more than likely that he did the food as well.

There are people in this life who must feel very lucky to have gotten where they have. Other people work and strive damn hard and get nowhere for decades. For others, it just seems to fall in their lap. There’s no point getting angry about it: no-one except the delusional should expect a random and chaotic universe to allocate outcomes to people based on merit. It only happens in fantasy stories. Still, when that success comes to you, it’d be nice if you could acknowledge that you’ve risen to a station you otherwise don’t deserve.

On some level, it’s hard not to feel like Jon Favreau’s career as the director of some pretty big budget films is some kind of cosmic fluke. A man who has shown little ability as an actor or as a comedian ends up directing two of Marvel’s biggest recent movies? How? Why? Who does he have photos of in compromising positions that haven’t been leaked to the internets yet?

Rating:

Mr Peabody and Sherman

Mr Peabody and Sherman

Wow, she really, really loved her cake. I wonder if she had
a single other definable trait

dir: Rob Minkoff

Everything you even vaguely remember, and don't even remember that fondly, is going to come back and be made into a movie, probably an animated movie.
Bringing every vaguely shitty thing lurking in the back of your memory back to the forefront is done, primarily, I think, because the stuff is so, so good.

I mean, who doesn't have fond memories of, uh, this annoying boy and his pedantic, pretentious dog?

Perhaps I should have phrased that differently: was anyone wanting this to come back?

I swear, Your Honour, the only reason I saw this is because my daughter asked if we could see it. I thought it would slip through to the keeper this time, as in, it would be one of the kid's flicks I didn't have to pony up and see in the cinemas during the school term / Easter break. At least I didn't have to see it in three dimensions, two being more than enough for this historical extravaganza.

If any part of me wanted to see this, or wanted my daughter to see this, it was that wheezy, whiny part of me that makes excuses for caving in on issues, no matter how important or negligible. Someone mugs me on the train and takes my phone? "Well, it was a shitty phone anyway, and now I can get a new one!"

Fired from my job? "Opportunity to study or spend more time with the family!"

Unjustly convicted of murder? "I can catch up on my reading!"

Sure, I can find a silver lining to every cloud. It's what I do.

Rating:

The Smurfs 2

The Smurfs 2

You will die a terrible, terrible death. Oh, I'm sorry, that was
the characters from the last film. You, on the other hand,
all of you, I hope will die a terrible, terrible death

dir: Raja Gosnell

You make sacrifices for the people you love. It’s what decent people do, whether human or smurf. So when you go see a movie called The Smurfs 2, because your daughter has asked you to, you console yourself with the fact that you’re taking one for the team.

Something like this... how do you review it? What purpose would such a review serve? Would it just be a collection of words, in sequences that make some kind of sense, that merely takes up space? Can the world do without it?

These are valid questions, but, let's be honest with each other: If the millions of people posting their thoughts, opinions, idiocies and brilliances to the tubes of the internets evaluated everything they were about to post to the net for importance or universal value, virtually none of us would be sharing ourselves in this fashion, and this internet thing would have died out a long time ago, to be retro replaced with smoke signals, snail-mailed messages etched in vinyl and tin cans, requisite lengths of twine, taking its place.

I know, I know, the world would spontaneously become a utopia anew. This current world, however, is the one we work with; the internet demands words the way Old Testament gods required sacrifices, and I have a compulsion that compels me to write even about the most banal movies you could possibly imagine.

Rating:

The Lone Ranger

Lone Ranger

The dead bird is the smartest one out of the three of them

dir: Gore Verbinski

I was told to expect a disaster. We were assured it would be the absolute bomb – total dog of the year.

I wasn’t told that it was episode 5 of Pirates of the Caribbean, because ultimately that’s what this flick comes across as. With Trains!

Johnny Depp simply plays a more boring yet still over-the-top character than he does in the Pirates franchise, and the strongest similarity is that just like most of the character's actions in those nautically and intellectually wet movies, his character's actions here don't make a hell of a lot of sense most of the time either, but they’re meant to be entertaining. Meant is the operative word.

This possibly was meant to be like an origin story for a new Lone Ranger franchise, which strikes me completely as the triumph of wishful thinking over intelligence, but the horrible pre-release press and the dismal box office performance should have staked this idea before it had a chance to flourish.

This isn't a complete disaster, though, as irritating as Depp's Tonto might be, and as ill-considered as the idea was, honestly, there’s nothing wrong with resurrecting the squarest American hero of all time. The Lone Ranger may be a complete unknown to people under thirty, but who’s to say it was the wrong time for a comeback?

Rating:

Syrup

Syrup

He has a very punchable face, that's for sure,
and they both look very happy to be here

dir: Aram Rappaport

Syrup is an edgy, in-your-face satire of corporate madness and the dark side of the Force that is Marketing;

or

Syrup is a hilarious send-up of the American Dream and its malcontents: the people sucked in, chewed up and spat out by its machinations, which is pretty much everyone in the Western world;

or

Syrup is a limp approximation of what would happen if a bunch of uni students got stoned, drank a heap of energy drinks and then came up with a script based on their half-baked knee-jerk thoughts mocking Big Business and the Earth's mindless slovenly drones who do nothing but consume consume consume;

or

Syrup is the greatest film ever about anything.

The movie could be any of those, or none of those. What it would ultimately 'be', even if it was just, like, my opinion, man, is what I spun it to be. Apparently, the movie Syrup, based on the book Syrup, by Max Barry, is the first flick ever to posit the idea that creating desire in consumers, which is the pure purpose of marketers everywhere, is a bad thing.

Rating:

The Croods

The Croods

It's a Cowardly, Smelly Old World

dir: Kirk DeMicco & Chris Sanders

It's about time Nicolas Cage brought his particular brand of crazy to the 3D animated realm. He's so perfectly suited to playing a Neanderthal that I'm surprised it's never happened before.

He's not the main character here, I think, in The Croods, but it's pretty much him blathering on all the time. It's very possible the producers of this film shut Nicolas Cage in a room with a mound of coke and just recorded everything he said over a two day period. And they built a film around that. For the kids, of course.

The main character, I guess, is Eep, voiced by Emma Stone. She is the Neanderthal daughter of Cage's character, artfully named Grug. They have a whole family of Neanderthals around them, to provide the laughs and the jolly japery. And, even if you know nothing about this movie, you could probably guess that there is a grandma character, possibly voiced either by Betty White or Cloris Leachman. Cloris must have won the toss.

And there's a feral baby character, but it's not like it matters. The once-great distinction between Pixar, before their selling-out to Disney, and the rest of the animation studios was that Pixar seemed like it was telling stories because it wanted to tell particular stories, not because of the marketing opportunities or covering all the possible audience demographics.

Rating:

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Four score and seven slayings ago, I kicked serious some
serious ass for the Lord

dir: Timur Bekmambetov

And yeah, no-one’s thoroughly sick of vampires yet, not one little bit...

Abraham Lincoln kills vampires. That’s all you need to know, because that’s the entirety of the premise as far as people were meant to care.

Pretty much all you need to read. You could stop here. Walk outside, if it’s nice out. Breath in deeply, enjoy the sunshine/night/hail/plague. Go on, get out of here.

Wait, WAIT! Come back, please, I was just kidding. I swear I’ll try to be more amusing / illuminating than this movie was.

The masses were meant to care all the way into the cinema. I can’t see how they could have cared, really, but maybe there’s a greater pool of history buffs out there that I didn’t know about.

The statesman of American history who kept the nation from tearing itself apart and freed the slaves also killed vampires in his spare time, and actually went into the Civil War with the intention of throwing off the shackles of the shadow aristocracy trying to rule from the shadows by taking away their food supply, being African-American slaves.

Rating:

The Turin Horse (A Torinoi Lo)

The Turin Horse

Depression in cinematic form. Enjoy, you lucky so-and-sos!

dir: Bela Tarr

Sometimes you watch a film knowing you’re not going to enjoy it. It’s with the foreknowledge that the reason for watching the film is not the pursuit of entertainment or escapism; it’s with the expectation that the experience is going to be a difficult one with no promise of redemption or eventual meaning.

What compelled me to watch this film, The Turin Horse, and review it, for you, the utterly nonplussed reader?

Curiousity, dear reader, nothing but curiosity.

I have heard of Hungarian director Bela Tarr, but never seen one of his films before. They are famous, or notorious, for being extremely long, consisting of very long, uncut scenes of people not doing very much. His most famous film, Satantango, is over seven hours long. He’s the quintessential director of the kinds of films people who never watch arthouse films think arthouse films are all like.

As such, The Turin Horse is practically the epitome of a parody of European arthouse films: it’s in black and white, the tone is overwhelming in its sombre dourness, there are peasants in peasanty clothing doing peasant things, the soundtrack is a repetitive, depressing four tone dirge, and what dialogue we hear (or read, since it’s subtitled, unless you’re Hungarian) is either trivial, makes no sense or is pretentious drivel and the point of it all is almost a complete mystery even to the most attentive and hopeful of viewers.

Rating:

The Expendables 2

Expendables 2

Expendables 2: Each actor being even more expendable
than the last

dir: Simon West

Yeah, well, it’s not like I was expecting Gone With the Wind

The first flick in what appears to be this ongoing series worked for me mostly as a palette cleanser, but also because I watched it on opening day with a good buddy also steeped in the lore of 80s action movies. Plus we were drunk, which helps anything and everything.

This I watched alone, and bemused, though not pre-emptively. I went into it hoping, like I always do, for something magical.

What I got was a tired old bunch of men who aren’t really that old trading on glories so faded I barely remember what I liked about them in the first place. Look, time and age makes fools of us all, but the main attraction is meant to be "washed up action movie stars kicking ass one last time" one more time. A Once More Unto the Breach, you ancient bastards, or we’ll fill up the wall with our retirees type of deal. And it’s not really that appealing.

Rating:

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