dir: Shane Carruth
What a freaky film. It’s probably the strangest film I’ve seen this year. It’s probably the strangest film I’ll see all year. There are six months to go, so, who knows?
It will be very hard to give a synopsis of this flick in a coherent way that will give a sense of what it was like to watch this movie. A few films are good, a lot of flicks are mediocre, but very few films deliberately avoid pandering to an audience by being very hard to understand and aggressively difficult to watch. This, from the same guy who made the low-key low-budget time travel flick Primer, is just such a concoction.
Most flicks, with the business model/logic behind them that generates them, go out of their way to be as easily consumable as possible. Upstream Color doesn’t seem to want to go the easy route, or to really be understood or explained in the way most flicks seem to work. At least that's what I think happened. For all I know, it makes perfect sense, and I'm way too thick to make sense of it, because I'm clearly not a genius.
It’s also aggressively edited as well, and I don’t mean in the way that a Michael Bay movie or one of the Bourne movies will be over-edited to stop you from realising how deeply stupid the plot or action of such a flick is. The purpose here seems to be to keep you unsettled, deeply unsettled.
It’s an unsettling story, but I’m not sure I’d call it a surreal or experimental one, just one for which we don’t get a lot of explanation as to what’s really going on. So much is never explained that we're left grappling with trying to piece it all together ourselves, or just pushing it aside and placing it in the "too hard, no point" basket.
dir: Jonathan Lisecki
It was either this or The Hobbit, and I didn’t really want to review The Hobbit, so, here goes.
I know this sounds like a parody of a movie, like a joke trailer within a Tropic Thunder-like satire which would inevitably star Jack Black as the giant Gayby, but Gayby is a real film, in the sense that it’s not a joke and that it has actors in it, and it runs for nearly an hour and a half, the length God always intended all films to run.
Gayby covers the babymaking misadventures of a bunch of people, but mostly those of straight Jenn (Jenn Harris) and her best friend Matt (Matthew Wilkas) who happens to be gay. The adventure they want to go on involves the creation and raising of a baby, hence the portmanteau title of Gay + Baby = Gayby. How they know the baby is going to be gay is never explained, but I’m sure it’s not really relevant.
Mostly the flick, which trades on the apparently very real phenomena of lots of gay people trading their various bits of DNA, with or without turkey basters, in order to help each other have lots and lots of babies in Brooklyn, and probably lots of other places, is about whether Jenn and Matt will stay friends. That’s really what’s at stake, because the baby is kind of the participant’s award everyone gets just for competing.
Friends since college, they overcome the natural difficulty that a gay man and any woman, hetero or otherwise, would generally encounter attempting to engender new life together; not with alcohol, not with hypnosis, but just with some self-administered hand cranking. It’s awkward, but not horribly awkward, not painfully awkward. It’s as awkward as you’d imagine it would be, and I guess there's humour in that.
dir: Gus Van Sant
Humans are by their very natures perverse creatures. We want what we don't have and forget why we wanted it so desperately once we get it.
I could go on giving you examples of the strangeness that is our legacy, as if you weren't ever aware that people were like this, but the reason why I'm even bringing this up is because this flick had a strange effect on me.
There's barely anyone on the planet that would disagree that this flick is anti-fracking propaganda. I doubt the director Van Sant or Matt Damon or Frances McDormand would be surprised by any of this. It's a position, a stance, an opinion that I basically share. The people in this flick, patiently building their straw men for the purpose of knocking them down, are saying something that I, a person who doesn't trust corporations or governments to do what's right by the people until they're forced to, basically agree with.
I don't particularly love "the environment", but I know a few people that do, and since I consider 'the environment' to be that place where I live (ie. the Earth), I lean towards not completely wrecking the place, or using the way Nature was dressed as an excuse for despoiling it.
The net effect, however, of watching a flick like this is that it makes me think, "jeez, maybe fracking isn't that bad after all."
dir: Joe Wright
There's some virtue to having modest ambitions. When confronted with the prospect of converting Leo Tolstoy's weighty tome into a movie, many have faltered, most have failed, and none have got it right. The book's way too big. It's also on too much of a pedestal for it to come out right to everyone's satisfaction.
Also, where some would obsess with verisimilitude, with period accuracy and historical detail, Joe Wright and the producers here have elected for a way to illuminate the story without having to get dragged into a genuine Russian winter. I mean, it destroyed Napoleon's army, it destroyed the Nazis, so what hope would petty film producers have?
Mother Russia, or at least the time and place of it relevant to this story set before the Revolution, is created for us on a stage. At least, all or most of the story seems to transpire within the confines of a massive old Russian theatre. It's deliberately artificial, as in, they're not trying to hide the fact that it's an inventive and elaborate pantomime. I doubt this approach was budgetary. I mean, I have no idea. Maybe it was cheaper to do it this way, but it doesn't seem likely. Setting up all these elaborate sets on a sound stage so that it looks like it's in on an actual stage is just as expensive as making it look like it's in outer space or in the White House.
The approach has a different aspect of importance, though, beyond the production. Its specific artificiality reminds us that it's artificial on a regular basis. If it doesn't allow us to submerge ourselves into an immersive experience, then it's saying something else, perhaps. The whole world's a stage, and within that stage, between the back stage and the proscenium, in the wings and under the floorboards, are the other people, in this case, the Russian peasantry, perhaps, all the people in the world that don't matter to Anna Karenina, in her singular pursuit of love and passion.
dir: Robert Zemeckis
It’s enough to put you off flying for ever. Or drinking. Or drinking while flying forever.
This is a strange flick, with strange rhythms and strange themes. It seems like it’s going to be about one thing (a tremendous plane crash), and it ends up being about something completely different (alcohol addiction). Even then, it seems like it’s going to be more about what an unrepentant arsehole the main character is, ably played as always by Denzel Washington, than any kind of redemption, and then it shifts again.
I wouldn’t say the shifts in tone and purpose confounded me or surprised me, but the truth is they didn’t leave me any the wiser about anything inside this film or out of it.
As the film begins, a grumpy middle-aged man awakes, but not before we see his naked bed partner go through her morning routine. The routine involves finishing off last night’s booze, taking a few puffs of the chronic, and bumping a few rails of cocaine.
That sort of behaviour is all well and good for rockstars, primary school teachers and televangelists, but we see with shock and horror that this chap with this morning regimen is a pilot about to fly a plane. And the guy is still drinking, even as he’s flying!
That’s not right, is it. Something goes catastrophically wrong with the plane, rendering it very much unflyable. But it’s drunken Whip Whittaker to the rescue! Even three sheets to the wind, he’s able to carry out, with some help, a sequence of moves which seem like they would cause the plane to crash even quicker, but somehow keep the plane which desperately wants to crash upright.
While all these shenanigans are going on up in the air, a redheaded heroin addict (Kelly Reilly) scores some killer stuff and bangs it against all advice, nearly offing herself. The people trying to get her from skid row to the hospital look up in time to see a commercial jet flying by upside-down 500 feet from the ground.
The whole plane crash sequence is a masterful exercise, tightly focused, horrible in its details, and totally nerve-wracking. I felt like I was on the plane, wishing with every fibre of my being for it not to crash.
The rest of the film, and there’s another hour and forty minutes of it, doesn’t really match the intensity of the dynamic first half hour. I found myself yearning nostalgically for the plane crash.
dir: David O. Russell
Do you sometimes hear about a film that a whole bunch of people seem to think is the bee’s knees, the duck’s nuts, the greatest thing since the invention of whisky, and you watch it and think nothing more than a big question mark?
Apparently, Silver Linings Playbook was one of the greatest movies of 2012, perhaps of all time. Your humble writer is in no position to confirm or deny, even after having watched it. Maybe I haven’t seen enough movies. Maybe I’ve seen too many. Whatever the cause, I’m obviously lacking something crucial.
My perplexity doesn’t diminish after having written this review, I’m as confused at the beginning as I am at the end. That’s not to say that this film isn’t modestly enjoyable, it’s just that it’s a very flawed film, and a very conventional one as well.
Mental illness is a tricky subject for movies. Invariably, in the same way they get almost everything real wrong, movies get mental illness wrong wrong wrong. The main character here is a violence-prone maniac with bipolar disorder; it’s what they used to call being manic depressive.
When we first see Pat (Bradley Cooper), he’s in a mental health facility. We don’t know why yet, so one of the first things we see to give us an idea of where this character is coming from, is his taking of, and spitting out, of some medication.
He’s a rebel, he’s a joker, he’s a wild card, he’s a dessert topping and a floor cleaner. Not for him the court-mandated taking of medication, no. Rebellion all the way, McMurphy!
dir: Wayne Blair
Obscure bits of people’s histories: It’s almost like they happened just to give filmmakers something to make movies about.
I don’t need to be told that this flick is based on a true story, or that it varies significantly from the truthful aspects of the ‘true story’. What matters to me, in this instance, isn’t verisimilitude, it’s entertainment. Australian flicks generally aren’t ever going to be able to get budgets to make something credibly ‘period-piece’ unless it just involves a bunch of people sitting indoors with doilies everywhere and archival stock footage akimbo.
When they do get a huge budget, you get unwatchable crap like Baz Luhrman’s Australia, which was a national disgrace and a true blight upon our history.
Maybe we’re better off with small budgets in that case. I’m sure this flick used its budget well. It looks nice enough, everything’s well shot and in focus, and they had enough money for the music rights to some nice golden oldies from the era. And I hope everyone got paid reasonably well, and that the catering was choice.
They could also afford the time and salary of someone from overseas who, in this case, is Chris O’Dowd, who’s very welcome, at least to me. The film’s called The Sapphires, but he’s probably the star of the film. They couldn’t call it Dave and Some Other People, well, just because. He seems to get most of the funny dialogue, he is the character with the most character, and if he overwhelms the rest of the cast somewhat, well, it's a small price to pay to spend some time in his wonderful company.
If he reminded me of anyone, it was Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, just with slightly less tobacco chewing/spitting and way less Madonna. He plays the group's manager, whose great ambition, once they hear about it, is to play some tunes and shimmy in front of American troops in Vietnam. During the war! In 1968, no less, when things were anything but pleasant for any of the people concerned.
It's seems like a strange ambition for an all girl Aboriginal pop group from the back of Burke (though they're really from some place that proves unpronounceable to anyone except the girls themselves). For them it's a ticket out of a nice (perhaps too nice) rural existence and the daily humdrum of pernicious and ever-present racism, and the boredom that comes from not performing in front of lots of hot, sweaty African-American men.
dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
I think Paul Thomas Anderson makes the weirdest Oscarbait films in the whole world. Even more so than obscure Mongolian yak herders turned filmmakers and all of France. The Master is another strange film, with a goofy ending, to add to the pile of strange films this man puts out there into the world, for our adulation and confusion.
For years leading up to its release, I kept hearing that The Master was going to be an expose on the creator of Scientology and the whole stinking cult itself. Then publicists and such backtracked those comments, fearful of incurring the wrath of the Church and its powerful devotees, you know, people like John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Will Smith. Who wants those angry, frightening people pissed off with you?
Having watched the film now, I mean, obviously, since I’m reviewing it, I am none the wiser. I mean the so-called Master of the title is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, that great pink honey glazed ham of an actor, and he’s called Lancaster Dodd. Lancaster Dodd isn’t the same as L. Ron Hubbard, is it, but there are enough consonants in common to give it some kind of commonality.
And the cult here isn’t called Scientology, it’s called The Cause. Totally different. And the chap at the centre of things is accused, at certain points, of making the shit up as he goes along, and gets very shirty with people when they question the length and breadth of his genius.
Obviously, that makes The Cause the complete polar opposite of a genuine and true religion like Scientology. And instead of urging devotees of the faith to strive to get to Clear, here, they’re striving to get to Perfect instead.
What does any of this matter? Not a hill of beans, not a cracker. Knowing anything about Hubbard and his highly profitable charade is not necessary for enjoying this film, if ‘enjoyment’ is the actual objective, which, I would argue, is far from what a person can reasonably expect. In fact, enjoying a film like this is almost an impossibility unless you’re the kind of film wanker who can easily disregard all the elements that usually make a flick something you can enjoy. Thankfully, I’ve got it in spades.
dir: David Frankel
Ye gods and little fishes, if there was one message, one singular plea this film seems to be making to us in the audience, it would be thus; like the words of the ancient Queen Elizabeth to the young Orlando in the film of the same name: "Do not wither, do not grow old".
But what choice do we have? No tablet, no serum, no surgery, nothing spares us from the entrenchment of our own awful habits and the miserly ways this film alleges we inevitably fall prey to, far beyond what age naturally and lovingly does to our physical forms.
See, that I can take. The falling apart of the body doesn’t frighten me, since I’ve been falling apart like a rusty cyborg with leprosy for, oh, simply ages now. I expect it just gets easier from here on in, and if I’m wrong, please have the decency not to tell me about it. It’s the emotional ossification, the hardening of one’s life into an unvarying repetitive routine that I find truly terrifying.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the target audience for this flick at all. AT ALL. This is clearly and completely aimed at middle-aged heterosexual married women, or older, horrified by what their husbands have become. Worst of all, the loss of the physical intimacy between herself and her husband is the cruellest blow, the last laugh, the hangman’s joke. And for this there is little comfort. Her husband is an angry robot, and, as she contemplates eternity, the last bit of which seems to take forever, she cannot think of any reasons why she should continue to endure his sexless and mechanical presence any longer.
dir: Leslye Headland
You might think that this is a bandwagon-jumping exercise, trying to capitalise on the success of Bridesmaids, but it doesn’t really feel like that, especially since so much time has passed. People have moved on. This is based on a play, written by the woman who directs here as well, so obviously it predates Bridesmaids, and it’s classy art, baby. I mean, surely all movies based on plays have class up the wazoo?
Obviously, it has plenty more in common with Bridesmaids. It has a mostly female cast, it’s meant to be a comedy, it somewhat focuses on a character who resents her female friend for getting married before her, and some foul stuff happens along the way.
The similarities pretty much end there. I had significant issues with Bridesmaids, in that I felt the characters were blah and the dynamics they were mining for alleged comedy gold were regressive and fairly sexist. But, put simplistically, I couldn’t fault it in terms of delivering what it promised: it was a comedy structured like a comedy giving the ladies what they wanted.
Bachelorette is a completely different film. It’s probably not a comedy, in that I didn’t really find that much to laugh at, but calling it a drama insults dramas everywhere. The dramatic stuff seems too jokey and the comedic stuff doesn’t really cause laughs to erupt from one’s throat. It was, at least, amusing enough, and, dare I say it, somewhat more honest.
The women here are, and this isn’t a moral judgement on my part, all awful. They’re awful in pretty standard ways, in that they’re petty, cruel and most of them are exhibiting different types of personality disorders, to put it mildly.
dir: Oliver Megaton
Taken 2: The Takening? Taken Too? Taken 2: Achin’ for the Taken?
It was begging for a title worthy of parody, but they stuck with the prosaically functional. That’s a shame. If they’d had a sense of humour about it, perhaps they could have winked at the audience and made something functional a bit more fun. It’d be the equivalent of a dentist cracking jokes as he or she cracks into your jaw with shiny metal.
As it stands, Taken 2 is just about exactly the thing you expect it to be; another go-round of Taken. There’s even a bit which Liam Neeson has to say into a phone, replicating the same scene with minor alteration from the first flick, “Your mother and I are going to be TAKEN!” just in case we forgot what the fucking title on the ticket clenched in our sweaty hands was. He should have found a way to say, instead, “Kimmie, I’m about to be taken, and your mother is going to be Taken Too!” The expression on Liam’s face as he intones the actual dialogue is something along the lines of “no amount of money justifies having to say shite like this”, when it’s meant to be a look of consternation.
Liam Neeson looks even older and crankier than he did the last time, and who can blame him. To quote Bruce Willis from Die Hard 2: Die Harder, “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?”
Very easily, it turns out, if the production company thinks there’s more money to be had going back to draw from the same well. And it’ll keep happening until the company, 20th Century Fox in this case, gives Liam Neeson permission to die.
For accuracy’s sake, they’re not just going back to the same well to draw water a second time: they’re revisiting the exact same bucketload of water to see what else they can get out of it without having to go to all the bother of bringing anything up a second time.
dir: Genndy Tartakovsky
When the school holidays ended in Melbourne a week or so ago, so too did the simultaneously exciting and terrifying prospect of having to take a child or children to the cinema in the pursuit of an hour or two of entertainment for the munchkins. It’s exciting because I love taking my kid to the cinema. It’s terrifying because most kid’s films are eye-bleedingly awful and make you wish you’d never been born, let alone them.
I’ve been lucky in the last month or so in that the films I’ve taken her along to haven’t been bad enough to make me want to shoot myself inside a cinema filled to the brim with children (not that I would there or anywhere, no need to get the Crisis Assessment Team out to pay me a visit, thanks), even if they haven’t been especially strong. I can’t expect Hayao Miyazaki or Henry Selick or Pixar to make eight films a year just to cover the school holidays for my benefit. Hotel Transylvania is good enough. It’s not good, it’s good enough. There’s a difference, but not enough of one to really matter.
It’s amusing enough, and the kids weren’t too bored, as far as I know. My kid loved it, but she’s not exactly that discerning as a viewer when it comes to stuff that’s entertaining because it’s loud, colourful and fast. This flick is constructed with no eye towards innovation (in any other area other than the programming, probably), with the sole intention of amusing kids and not boring the parents to tears.
Despite being set in a castle hotel run by Count Dracula (Adam Sandler), where the monsters of both legend and the silver screen can find sanctuary from the scourge of humans, the story is contemporary and familiar. It’s familiar enough that Massai tribesmen and Stone Age cannibal tribes discovered in the mountains of Papua New Guinea will immediately know what’s going on and where it’s going to go.
Because the concerns of the characters here are the concerns that we all share: protecting our daughters from the scum of the world.
dir: Julie Delpy
Yeah, there really aren’t enough flicks set in New York, you know. Seconds, sometimes minutes go by in cinemas across the world where people are occasionally looking at footage of cities other than New York. It’s a shocking statistic.
2 Days in New York tries to correct this terrible shortage, this famine of the soul, by gifting us with the antics of some not-very-likeable people in New York going to Central Park and the Statue of Liberty and every other cliché you can think of.
Julie Delpy, who also directs, edits, wrote the screenplay, the music, made the sandwiches and probably stood outside cinemas urging people to come inside and watch her movie, decided a sequel to her earlier flick 2 Days in Paris was mandatory, instead of optional. She stars as Marion, a French woman with a kid living in New York with her new partner Mingus (Chris Rock) and his kid.
Her intention, both in life and in this film seems to be to reinforce clichés and stereotypes about French people that even Americans who reflexively hate them without knowing any French people, never knew about. It’s one thing to do a take on the old “my in-laws are visiting and I just wish they would leave us alone and die” by adding “my in-laws are visiting and they’re awful French people” when you’re an American pandering to an American audience. I’m not exactly sure who Delpy is pandering to, since she comes off the worst perhaps out of all the awful people she depicts in this.
I’ve front-loaded this review by making it sound like it’s awful: it’s not totally awful. Chris Rock is in it, and he’s entertaining enough, though I didn’t really need to see him talking to a cardboard cut-out of Obama in a chummy way. If I wanted to see that I’d sit through and endure the presidential debates, which definitely constitute cruel and unusual punishment on the viewer. I like Julie Delpy, and have for a long time, and there are a few moments in this that I didn’t dislike her character. But her character is played fairly annoyingly, and it seems to be deliberate on her part, so I’m not sure what she’s trying to say about anything.
dir: Tim Burton
And this is what home video was invented for. You know, watching stuff on VHS or even Betamax tapes in your lounge room. No, I don’t mean porno. Well, maybe on laser disc or DVD. Definitely not Blu-Ray.
This is an artefact not just from the 60s, but from a time when we expected nothing more than to be entertained by something no matter how ludicrous it might be. Tim Burton may just be the most successful B movie director in the history of American cinema. I can't think of the last time or the first time he made something genuine, heartfelt and 'real', whatever that might be. He's happier with completely melodramatic fantasy, and who can blame him?
Johnny Depp certainly can't, which is just one of the many reasons why he's not only on board as the lead here, but also as one of the producers. I have no idea why Tim Burton and Depp thought making this would be profitable, successful or desirable to anyone else but themselves. But that's only because I know absolutely nothing about the show this is based on, other than it was a supernatural soap opera in the 1960s. Called Dark Shadows. That was probably even sillier than this.
People in the know, or with access to the tubes of the internets, probably know more than me, vastly more than me about this show. Soap operas have never really been my bag, especially ones from before my time, but it would not come as a surprise to you or me if such a flick made based on such a property would be a camp, lurid and utterly, utterly spastic showcase of all things Burtonesque and Deppish.
And, you know, it's exactly what you think it is, as trashy and camp as anything I've ever seen that doesn't have drag queens in it.
Thing is, though, I found it entertaining. I was heartily amused by it and laughed a fair bit. That's not the same as saying that it's a good movie. Oh, good gods, no. It's as pointless and empty as anything Burton does, and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense even within the context of a supernatural endeavour.
Who cares, though, when Johnny Depp, as lead character Barnabas Collins spits out archaic dialogue like "She has the most fertile birthing hips I've ever set eyes upon!" or "Aphrodite herself could not construct a more odious union!" It's funny enough. I spent most of my time just waiting for the next time he'd over-enunciate some ripe piece of verbiage.
dir: Nicholas Jarecki
With a title like that they're going to be turning away teenagers from cinemas in droves, whacking them with sticks and pepper spray-smeared tasers.
I mean, who doesn't get a little wet hearing the silky, seductive word 'arbitrage'? Say it to yourself with a sensuous lilt to your voice, like you're a phone sex worker or telemarketer. From Mumbai, south of the Melbourne where you are from, mister sir.
I like to think that this is the sequel to Pretty Woman, though they couldn't get Julia Roberts to reprise the least convincing role as a prostitute any woman has played in the history of women and movies. Thankfully, they got an actual actress to play the role this time, being Susan Sarandon. But Gere, Richard fucking Gere is the lead.
I have to admit to a certain bias here that colours my ability to appreciate such a film: I'm not much of a fan of Richard Gere, in fact, I find his squinty mole-like eyes and hammy performances gut-wrenchingly difficult to sit through. It's not fair to him, or you, dear reader, but it's more honest this way, more respectful of you. That way you can assess for yourself whether my opinion is based on what I thought of what might be a decent flick, or whether it's just that I can't stand a particular element of it, skewing my perceptions shamefully.
Richard Gere plays a titan of industry, a pillar of the community, just like in Pretty Woman. The names are different to prevent Gary Marshall from suing them, but you know he's playing the same character: A corporate raider who temporarily changed his ways because of the love of a hooker with a heart of gold, but who changed back to his regular ways once he got bored with her.
Either Julia Roberts' character has aged well to become Susan Sarandon, or she's aged badly to become Susan Sarandon's character, a society belle dame and philathropist. She's come up in the world, certainly.
As the flick starts, this superman hero akin to something out of an Ayn Rand novel is celebrating his sixtieth birthday in both the lap of luxury and within the bosom of his large family. Top of the world, ma. Everything is awesome and he is so, so loved, powerful and wonderful.
dirs: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon
You might be wondering why I'd be reviewing this latest instalment in the Madagascar franchise, since I've never reviewed any of the others. I don't know, do you ever wonder about stuff? Maybe you wonder why I review anything at all. Or maybe you're a particularly incurious person, or you came here accidentally looking for pictures of a naked Kate Middleton spanking Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively on their wedding night as in the background Henry Kissinger reads Ginsberg's Howl to Lady Gaga on a tricycle covered in Vegemite and ambergris. They're out there, somewhere. Keep looking.
If so, how disappointed are you? Instead you find yourself reading a review about a kaleidoscopically colourful 3D kid's film, with none of the edge or sleaze you're used to from every other corner of multitude of tubes on the internets.
Compounding the many disappointments of your life, only some of which I'm responsible for, you'll find that this review will follow a time-worn pattern. Edging as we are towards school holidays in my neck of the woods, it means I will be seeing stuff like this and reviewing it (in order to get some additional value out of it), because I love seeing films at the cinema, and I love seeing films at the cinema with my daughter, but she's a bit too young to appreciate the intricacies of the works of Chanwook Park and Gaspar Noè, or revival screenings of Kurosawa or Federico Fellini films
What that means is, well, here's a review of Madagascar 3, that we saw in 3D! last Sunday.
Blah blah it's not Pixar blah blah almost purely for kids blah blah silly to boot. I've seen the first flick in this series, and most of the second, and while they're nice enough, they're pretty disposable. My daughter would get her angry face on if she heard me say that, but they're fairly manic and noisy affairs, long on gags and short on meaning, really.
dir: Tony Gilroy
The lazy joke going around when The Bourne Identity first came out was that it represented an attempt to make a James Bond-like spy film without James Bond. Now the even lazier joke could be that they're making Jason Bourne films without even having Jason Bourne in them.
The Bourne Legacy is a very transparent attempt to reboot the franchise with a new lead, but only whatever next flick they make in the series will tell if that works out, because this one is all set-up with no payoff. It doesn't even have the decency to come after the Matt Damon flicks. This is set almost concurrently, as in the events depicted here occur at the same time as The Bourne Ultimatum and The Bourne Supremacy. Goddamn those were pretentious names for kick-arse action flicks. So our new hero isn't following in Bourne's fading footsteps, he's walking in parallel.
This one, perversely, doesn't have Our Hero, gruntingly played by Jeremy Renner, do anything particularly Jason Bourneish until after an hour of film has unspooled. I mean, he does a few action-man type things, like jumping from the top of a mountain to another quite casually, but what we really associate these flicks with is: shaky camerawork, bone-crunching fist and foot fights and car chases. Oh, and amnesia, I guess.
Legacy changes the formula by a lot. In this flick the premise is that every boss has another boss above them. The shadowy-powers-that-be within the American intelligence community who tried to make Bourne's life hell for three movies have shadowy powers behind them, and so on and so on in an endless sequence of Russian matrioshka dolls. When the character Matt Damon sexily plays in the other films causes ructions and vexation amongst the CIA, it causes headaches and internal bleeding to the people who created him as the perfect flat-topped killing machine, who shamefully don't want the world to find out how they've been spending their days and nights.
dir: Daryl Wein
Now, this film isn't a million miles away from the Australian flick I reviewed the other day whose name I refuse to repeat right now. Suffice to say it involves characters in their late twenties questioning what the heck they're doing with their lives, in a manner that is meant to be entertaining and edifying for us shmos in the audience.
This one does a much better job, even though it's not immediately obvious as to why. It's just as pretentious and filled to the brim with annoying characters overflowing with affectations, and it has a murky path with a dubious destination in mind, and doesn't really have a lot of substance to it.
That hardly matters because, at the very least, the main character in this instance, called Lola, surprisingly enough, is actually quite likeable even if she is something of a fuck-up, and it's actually enjoyable to spend time with her, most of the time at least.
No, I'm not playing gender favourites here, nor am I letting my growing admiration for Greta Gerwig's talent colour my vision. I think she's delightful, though I've already seen her in stuff that I've hated (Greenberg being the primary one). She has a charming manner about her, melding obsessive neuroticism with an unselfconscious manner (totally studied) that I find very engaging. I thought she was wonderful in Damsels in Distress, and Lola Versus only advances my belief that she's wonderful in films even if what she's in is fairly slight.
Lola Versus is that fairly slight flick, even as it deals with emotional drama and interpersonal conflict between a bunch of New Yorkers. Not just New Yorkers, but ones seeming to live in the Greenwich Village - East Village area. In other words, hipster douchebags. Lola and her crazy-in-love boyfriend Luke (Joel Kinnaman) are about to get married in the film's opening moments, only for Luke to pull the pin.
dir: Daniel Nettheim
The Hunter is a sombre, icy film from last year that I didn’t get a chance to see in the cinemas at the time. It’s a pity on the one hand because I’m sure the sometimes harsh Tasmanian wilderness would have looked sublime up on the big screen.
Alternately, my perplexity at the ending and the point of it all would not have been lessened by the big screen experience.
A German biotech company called Red Leaf hires a man, a manly American man (Willem Dafoe) to go out into the Tasmanian wilderness in order to find the last remaining thylacine. As in, the Tasmanian Tiger which has been long thought extinct.
It’s all hush hush, and the company treats this as if they’re planning to whack the pope (which is not a masturbation euphemism, though maybe it is). Martin, as Dafoe’s character is called, travels to the backwaters of the backwater that is Tasmania, and is unimpressed with his surroundings. It doesn’t help that the place he happens to be staying seems to be infested with hippie children and the power is out.
When he goes into town to try and find some other kind of accommodation, the locals are not helpful. In fact, they’re downright rude. The only work locally seems to be logging and serving beers at the pub. For some reason the salt-of-the-earth loggers and the surly publican assume Martin is some kind of pinko greenie who somehow, all on his own, is going to stop their livelihood dead in its tracks. It’s never, at any stage, explained how or why they think this one chap is going to stop the area’s only industry, but presumably because his task is secret, he never disabuses them of their foolish notions. Even though it would have been really, really easy whether he told the truth or lied wickedly.
dir: Nicholas Stoller
Is five years a really long time for an engagement? I've got friends who've been engaged for fourteen years. Where's their parade? Where's their movie?
And they definitely deserve one. These two people in this flick? Hmm, not so sure.
Emily Blunt, who is trying to be in everything that comes out at the moment, and Jason Segel play two people, Violet and Tom, who love each other enough to be in a relationship, but not enough to transcend the array of problems that surround them. Mostly, the flick seems to be about the sacrifices one partner has to make in order to keep the other partner happy. The 'sacrifice' isn't anal, or threesomes or cuckolding fetishes; in this day and age, it's employment. One member of the couple gets the chance for their ideal job, necessitating a move to a new town, for the job that will fulfill and empower them, and the other one is left with nothing.
It's not fair, is it? Of course, one must weigh up a lot of factors when deciding if this is the right way to go. How much do you love the person? How great (and how well recompensed) is the job they want, and the versa of the vice is, how attached are you to your town and your fulfillment through employment? How easy will it be for you to find work in the new place, or to develop new support networks and find fulfillment outside of your better or worse half's ambitions?
dir: Seth McFarlane
Seth McFarlane makes the jump to the silver screen, and the world is so much of a better place for that transition. I mean, before, if you wanted to avoid Family Guy, American Dad or The Cleveland Show, what you had to do was change the channel by expending the necessary energy to press a button on your remote. Exhausting work. In a cinema, however, there is no escape from such McFarlaneness.
A boy (who grows up to be played by Marky Mark Wahlberg with none of the Funky Bunch in sight) exhorts the heavens with a tremendous wish: that the cosmos grant him one friend to alleviate the loneliness that smothers his existence. And the cosmos, or Jesus, or Loki, for some reason, agrees to this pathetic request.
This avatar created by divine intervention takes on a strange but pleasing form, that of an ensouled teddy bear, voiced by McFarlane as well. Is this a problem for anyone? Well, there is a bit in the movie where Ted tells a bunch of people at a party that he doesn't think he really sounds that much like Peter Griffin from Family Guy.
Hilarious in-reference, definitely. Ted sounds pretty much exactly the same as Peter Griffin, with the occasional lapse into Brian the dog from the same show. Ted is CGI, which makes his sometimes reprehensible behaviour both more palatable and more strange as a juxtaposition between his cuteness and his depravity. McFarlane will never in his life be accused of being a subtle motherfucker, and his entire oeuvre is defined by two things: the semblance of politically incorrect transgression, and constant 80s references.
Ted is abundant with both, overflowing with them, and yet the flick ends up seeming, perversely, like a tamer rendering of his television exploits.
In truth, the flick is basically a oft-told contemporary story: guy in his mid-30s is nice but pretty immature and irresponsible, and the love of a good woman (Mila Kunis), or, more importantly, the threat of losing the love of that good woman, will force him to grow up and become a responsible adult. It's the same product of the concept of 'extended adolescence' that gave us such man-child classics as The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and almost every other movie that's come out in the last ten years, whether they have Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd or Jason Seagal in them or not.
dir: Barry Sonnenfeld
And the world keeps on spinning, thanks to the Men in Black who keep us safe from the decent films in the multiplex. Sorry, I meant safe from the scum of the universe. It seems like I'm saying every few reviews that such-and-such movie is unnecessary, especially when it's a prequel - sequel - new installment in a fifteen part series, and MIB3 is unnecessary, but then let's not get too hoity-toity about this whole cinema business. None of them are really that necessary, let's face it. In this cruel, brutish world they're philosophically the equivalent of whipped cream out of a can or those tiny yapping dogs idiots are sometimes shown carrying around in their handbags.
And yet I love them. Movies that is. Films in all their glory.
Whilst I'd label MIB3 even more unnecessary than most movies, it was not an entirely wasted experience. Sure, it was a waste of money, in all senses of the word, and perhaps of the time spent watching it would have been better spent punching oneself in the urethra, but I did not hate this film completely. I could almost say that I enjoyed several bits of it.
Truly. Bits. Here or there. Overall it's a ludicrous absurdity whose sole purpose is to shovel more money to the Church of Scientology through Will Smith's paycheck, but I did not hate all of it.
Also, it was only after watching it that the sheer stupidity of the plot hit me. Before that fateful moment (a picosecond after the credits commenced rolling), I sat there mostly with a leotarded grin on my face without the benefit of alcohol in my system.
The main reason I enjoyed it, I think, is simply that Jemaine Clement was in it, of Flight of the Concords fame. No, that's not really enough to justify not hating it. Um, Will Smith is as arrogant and shouty as ever? Nah, still not enough. Josh Brolin does a really good Tommy Lee Jones?
Well, I don't rightly know. Truth is, had my mood been even slightly less 'up' than it was, I would have hated this flick and every motherfucker in it with a red hot passion that would frighten a young Henry Rollins, who used to be entirely powered by hate back in his earlier days. As it was, I was able to kick back and 'enjoy' it for what it was: a big budget piece of fluff.
dir: Ridley Scott
This film doesn’t need to exist. It didn’t need to be made. But I’m glad Ridley Scott made it, and I’m glad I watched it. I guess.
I even saw it in 3D, and not only did I pay for the experience by literally paying money, but also by incurring a headache from watching it that plagued me for hours afterwards. I don’t think, when our bodies were being Intelligently Designed by some kind of benevolent Creator, that our ocular physiology was ever designed to watch films in such a way. I think 3D is probably a form of blasphemy, and that it should be declared a mortal sin by the Vatican, or NASA, or the Stonecutters.
Even with the heavy toll I paid, I do have to admit that it looked utterly splendid, and that it used the 3D effectively to give both a sense of space and of the alienness of the two main locations in the film, being the ship called the Prometheus, and structures on the surface of an inhospitable planetoid.
The very first scenes of the film, before the title, show a somewhat luminous looking humanoid chap drinking something clearly not fit for human (or otherwise) consumption. The horripilating liquid, which looks like that foul Jagermeister stuff, comes in this totally manky cup, so we can safely assume it’s not very hygienic, whatever it is.
To fill in a little more detail, this chap strips almost naked next to a great rush of water, as some kind of space ship lifts up out of the planet’s atmosphere, and drinks. Immediately, like a dose of MoviPrep, it goes straight through him, making him feel somewhat poorly. His body starts breaking down, falling apart, and then we get a microscopic view of what’s happening to the cells in his body. Oh, he’s long dead, but even the DNA, if that’s what it is, breaks apart. As the rest of him dissolves to nothing in the raging waters he’s fallen into, we see images of that DNA reknitting itself into some new form.
Wow, they can do anything with science. The next exact scene has two adventurous scientists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and some other guy, knocking some rocks down and getting into a cave on the Isle of Skye, where they weep with joy over the discovery of a particular image carved into the wall.
Do you think the two scenes are related in any way? Does this prompt curious questions in your mind? Do you think the film will seek to answer them to your satisfaction, you poor deluded fool?
dir: Larry Charles
Meh. It’s no Borat, but then again, it’s going for something else. Something very much else.
The film starts with a dedication in loving memory to recently deceased North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, long may his crazy ass fry in hell, and it’s called The Dictator, so we’re expecting an Ali G – South Park level of subtlety and historical complexity right off the bat.
Or maybe we’re not.
Sometimes, as audiences, we get not what we’d like but what we deserve. Since, like an undisciplined child, Sacha Baron Cohen’s bad behaviour not only goes unpunished or ever corrected, but is instead rewarded with money, critical acclaim and redheaded wives, he ends up giving us exactly what we might not like, but should totally expect.
The fundamental difference here is that he’s acting with other actors, and not inflicting his persona onto unsuspecting members of the public. What this shares with the other flicks is that he behaves in a similarly vulgar and boorish manner, in order to make us laugh, but the other characters, in on the act, either ignore, feign shock towards or applaud his repellent behaviour.
When he does this stuff in Borat or Bruno, the bits that should or would otherwise horrify a decent human being are why it matters to us, and where the humour comes from. Otherwise it’s pretty weak sauce.
On the other hand, a phrase I hate which I’ll never use again under threat of cutting one of my hands off once those words leave my fingers ever again, it would have been hard for Cohen to play a ‘real’ dictator, because that would either get him shot, jailed or at the head of some tinpot dictatorship for real. He is trying, after all, to wrest laughs from that profoundly unfunny subject, which is the genocidal awfulness of despots in their various horrible countries.
dirs: Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh
Act of Valor, presumably, refers to a specific act of conspicuous bravery above and beyond the usual, everyday bravery people exhibit. The heroes on display here, we would guess, commit these acts on a second-to-second basis. They live and breathe valour, as they are warriors of the highest calibre dealing out and embracing death for the protection of all good people everywhere. Well, at least of good Americans everywhere.
The only act of valour on our part is the potential willingness to hand money over for what is essentially a curious recruiting product meant to remind us of nothing else so much as USA! USA! USA!
People have shelled money out, though, a lot of money. This movie has more than made its money back already. And yet you’d not call most of what happens here a movie, per se.
It’s more like a very serious training video, one with a great deal of verisimilitude (I’m guessing, because I’ve never been a Navy SEAL myself as yet, though, you never know, there’s always time). It’s also very mindful of the aesthetics of first person shooters (computer games where the field of view is first person, and a weapon is ever present as you ‘walk’ through a three-dimensional environment), replicating the visual image continuously, to make the audience feel not like they’re there themselves, but that they’re playing the game they’re watching.
The main claim to fame of this flick is not that the footage of fire fights and such are real, but that the people performing them, or that are taking part in high altitude parachute jumps, or stealthily using mini-submarines to infiltrate locations are real Navy SEALs. These Real Navy SEALs act the way you’d expect Real Navy SEALs to act: fine in full combat gear with a weapon in their hands, but at a grunting loss when they have to get through dialogue that would make a Gascoigne cheesemaker wince with the sheer cheesiness of the dialogue.