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6 stars

Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell

They really did think they were going to get sweaty nerds in a lather with this flick

dir: Rupert Sanders

2017

Well. That was something.

Yes, this is the part where I talk about something other than the film I’m pretending to review. I have seen the Japanese animated movie at least a thousand times, and I had the soundtrack, or at least songs from it on various music-playing devices for ages and heard those crazy Japanese wailing banshee songs at least 10,000 times. The (original) movie is in my DNA. Hearing that they were going to make a new version of it, I thought, rightly “so what?”

My relationship with the original, whatever it might be, can’t really be changed or tainted or in any way damaged or even really improved by something that comes out twenty years later, can it? Is this like what happened with the Indiana Jones flicks, where the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls made me hate myself for liking the first three movies, and childhoods were destroyed etc etc?

Rating:

Rogue One

Rogue One

I don't know why, but seeing the addendum "a Star Wars story" makes
me want to claw my eyes out for some reason.

dir: Gareth Edwards

2017

Yeah, so, Star Wars movies: for or against?

They always make a billion dollars, they’re as familiar as cheesecake with a similar level of consistency and taste, and they’re completely and utterly unnecessary.

And yet…

I ask myself what need there is (other than the financial) in this world for more Star Wars movies, especially since there seems to be no intention or interest in telling any ‘new’ stories, just in telling the previous ones again and again. The Force Awakens was maligned by some for being a retread of A New Hope, but what would you even say about this one here, Rogue One, replete with its fixation on daddy issues, ending, as it does, exactly at the point where A New Hope, or Star Wars, as we used to know it as, begins?

It’s less of a new construction, and more of an annex or extension on an existing McMansion that’s already plenty monstrously big okay thanks for asking bye.

It was, somewhat dishonestly, touted as a substantially different kind or type of Star Wars film, since it didn’t have any Jedi or Skywalkers in it and had a very different emphasis, being predominately more of a war movie, or at least as much of a war movie than usual.

Rating:

The Lobster

The Lobster

Consider The Lobster. Now maybe consider something else.

dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

2016

These movies from this Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, like Dogtooth, Alps and now The Lobster – I question whether they are movies to be enjoyed, or movies to be endured / survived.

They’re definitely strange, that’s for sure. Being able to say “there’s nothing else out there quite like it” can be used as much as a compliment as it can as a complaint.

I have watched too many movies in my life, and too much television, and what that means is that, just like everyone else, I can sometimes be energised by watching something completely out of left field, but I can just as equally be left confused and bemused by something so fundamentally odd that my mind can’t quite latch on to it.

I like to think that I kinda ‘got’ what was going on with Dogtooth – a strange flick where a very strange set of Greek parents bring up their kids in absolute isolation, warping their sense of language, sex, the world, everything – but having watched The Lobster, it’s more than likely that I was completely wrong about that flick. As for this flick, well, I have no idea.

Rating:

Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar!

I think a better title might have been "A Tale of Two Tildas"

dir: Coen Brothers

2016

Eh. I didn’t really get it.

This is fairly minor Coen Brothers as far as I’m concerned. Yes, I get that the Coens love the Golden Age of Hollywood. Yep, okay, got it. In case I’d never noticed before, most of the Coen Brothers’ movies are about movies. Some of their greatest work or funniest sequences have harkened back to times of yore and movies of days gone by.

But, yeah, it’s not a matter of just doing a homage/reference, or enjoying a homage/reference. The whole point of this flick is that there doesn’t really seem to be a point, other than Hollywood continuing to do what Hollywood does is probably a good thing(?)

It's the feeling I had, when Hail, Caesar! ended, that I also had at the end of Burn After Reading, a flick I genuinely, actively disliked before it ended, and downright hated once the ending basically stated outright "We have no idea what the point was, either". Endings like that are such a shoulder shrug of a statement that I can't help but feel insulted.

There's some kernel of an idea, several ideas, even. There are some keen or even endearing performances. There's an almost structure, one almost kinda similar to a detective trying to navigate a corrupt world and solve a mystery.

Rating:

The Witch

The Witch

I never really enjoyed eating goat, have to be honest, and that's not
going to change any time soon, okay Satan?

dir: Robert Eggers

2016

I fell like I should be calling this ‘The VVitch’ instead, because that’s what it said on all the posters, which I couldn’t work out. Then the lightbulb I keep in a tinfoil hat on my head went bright, and I realised, a few minutes in, that the ‘V V’ is because this movie is set in the time of the Puritan Pilgrims of the 1600s, who were fleeing persecution / going somewhere new in order to dole out more persecution to each other.

It was the time before Ws, when V V stood for Double U. And when they used f in place of s. And everyone was cool with slavery, and Native Americans didn’t have souls so could be killed with impunity. Good times.

Confusing, frightening times. A time of great terror in the face of the unknown in the New World, a place where Puritans thought they were going to come to create a stoic, humourless, sexless Paradise on Earth, and instead they found the place just like everywhere else, just with better views and more squalor.

As this deeply unsettling film starts, a man with a thick Yorkshire accent, and his family, are being expelled from a Puritan plantation, because the lead chap’s religious views slightly contradict the party line of the other Puritans. Or it could be a conflict over those goofy hats with the buckles on them: he’s against them, they’re for them.

Rating:

Anomalisa

Anomalisa

Is there a word for a type of mental condition where you see movies and think
that every character in them is played by a puppet and that they all have
the same voice?

dir: Charlie Kaufman

2015

Anomalisa is a pretty depressing film, at least I found it depressing. It’s possible that I found it depressing because it seems to be about depression, or at least the main character seems to be suffering from it.

It’s also… an odd film to describe, and it sounds far more amusing to describe than it ends up being. Being from the mind of Charlie Kaufman, he who came up with the screenplays for such out there and phenomenal stuff as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you are right to expect that there’s some strange artistry going on. And there is.

To say that the story is entirely told with puppets again makes this sound comical, but in reality this is stop motion animation with some very expressive and articulated puppets. It’s also in the service of a story mostly set in or around a drab hotel room.

Rating:

Suffragette

Suffragette

How could they not succeed in their efforts when they have access to
such resolute, steadfast facial expressions?

dir: Sarah Gavron

2015

There is a problem inherent in this movie, at least from my perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan both of women voting and of the people who fought for and earned the right (that should have been theirs from the start) to vote in Britain’s stupid, stupid elections.

Wait, why ‘stupid’? Well, tell me what point there is to enfranchising more than half the population of the United Kingdom when the House of Lords, the most transparently undemocratic institution since Robert Mugabe came to power as the ‘democratically’ elected dictator of Zimbabwe that’s only been around and certainly unreformed since, oh, about 1350, still bloody well exists.

It’s like Russian women having the right to vote: you have a dictator for life in the form of Vladimir Putin – who cares if you have the right to vote?

Well, whether it actually means anything, or whether it’s a smokescreen established to hide the fact that we vote for one of two sock puppets operated by the same person (you may have heard of that person, they’re known as The Man), the fact is that at the dawn of the previous century, the sisters in Britain had decided that they no longer wanted to politely ask to be allowed to vote.

Out the window went the cucumber sandwiches and the parasols, and in came blowing shit up, smashing windows, being tortured by the cops and doing what militant actions they could intended to force the government to capitulate.

Rating:

San Andreas

San Andreas

With his massive muscular boobs and her brains, of course they'll save
their daughter, or at least they'll take the rest of the town down with them

dir: Brad Peyton

2015

Every year has to have a big disaster flick where chunks of America, if not the whole world, and let’s face it, to Americans America is the whole world, are destroyed.

Some years it’s tornadoes, other years it’s meteors or comets, or aliens, or tsunamis.

This year it’s earthquakes.

I would tentatively ask why this yearning, insatiable desire is imagined to always exist in the broader audience, but then most of the people who went to see this flick were living far from the gentle land of roaming buffalos and stripper poles gleaming from sea to shining sea.

Yep, non-Americans pay to watch Americans dying in great numbers.

That sounds awful to me, but hey, I’m just a guy watching a disaster movie.

The standard template of disaster flicks is still the defense of the family. It’s never (anymore) trying to prevent the disaster from happening, or stopping a catastrophic situation from getting worse. That horse has bolted. You could make some argument about the Sep 11 attacks, but I’m not going to make it. I think it’s true, but it’s an argument I don’t want to have.

The only reason to watch a flick like this is to watch CGI depictions of mass destruction in awe-inspiring “Oh FUCK!” ways. The people, man, the people suck.

Rating:

Jurassic World

Jurassic World

Grab your partner by the claw, heel and toe, heel and toe, slide.

dir: Colin Trevorrow

2015

Look, I realise that a flick this big hardly requires a review. It’s like reviewing the moon, or an ocean, or nitrogen. Jurassic World is one of the biggest movies ever, with billions of dollars earned thus far.

In that case, why not? Why not? Surely it means everyone and their dog’s fleas saw the flick, and so it’ll be common parlance / water cooler fodder for months and years to come?

Or will it be forgotten just as swiftly as last week’s outrages / blockbusters / fish and chips?

Some of that contemporary mentality, of instant gratification and immediate dissatisfaction, is part of the fabric of the flick. This, the fourth in the series, is the first sequel to really mirror the events of the first film. The first direct sequel, in that the second and third flicks could effectively not exist at all and it would impact not one whit.

Quite often, with science fiction flicks, the point or moral of the story is that people shouldn’t play God, and that they never learn from other people’s mistakes or their own. This amnesia and hubris underlines almost every cautionary sci-fi tale of the last 100 years. What makes Jurassic World additionally galling is that you have people fully aware of what disaster occurred in the first place, who go ahead anyway and replicate the circumstances of the first flick just on a grander scale.

Rating:

Terminator Genisys

Terminator Genisys

It's all from the future, but just like the past, but there's more
of it, so it's comforting? Audiences, rejoice!

dir: Alan Taylor

2015

We don’t need another hero. We don’t need to know the way home. All we want is life beyond Endless Sequels, Reboots and Thunderdome.

We probably don’t need more Terminator movies either, truth be told. It is not shameful to admit when you’ve had enough of something. It’s considered appropriate to leave at least a little bit of food on your plate when fine dining in the homes of the high and mighty, to show a modicum of self-restraint and forbearance, or at least that’s what it says in my copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette guide, which I always scrupulously follow to the letter in this as in all things.

So it’s okay if, as a nation, as a species, we say politely but firmly “No, but thank you” when more Terminator is offered to us. Audiences didn’t thrill to this at the box office, because I’m not sure that anyone understood the idea that there was any more story to tell.

Thus far, including this one, there have been five Terminator movies. Also, two seasons of a television series relating the adventures of Sarah and John Connor, with no Austrian cyborgs in sight. You could argue, from a nostalgic perspective, that since the idea and the image of the Terminator itself is so engrained in pop culture, that saying “no” is churlish because it’s so well known.

Rating:

Fast & Furious 7

Fast & Furious 7

Based on this pic I would have thought the movie was about Oaks Day at
Flemington Races. Ladies get drunk half price!

dir: James Wan

2015

Look, I was all prepared to rip the shit out of this flick as if it were any of the other Fast & Furious flicks, all of which are terrible, all of which deserve derision, but the simple fact is I couldn’t do it: I simply couldn’t completely hate this flick.

It’s shameful to admit that the elegiac tone unintentionally and intentionally smeared all over the flick because of the death of one of its leads, being Paul Walker, makes it hard to run it down completely. It means I am not as capable of the objectivity and clinical distance one demands of a film reviewer or a neurologist, either/or. You feel like a bit of a prick putting the boot in on a man’s last endeavour.

And I didn’t even particularly like Paul Walker, in this franchise or pretty much anything else he did in life. But still. It’s sad. He had a daughter, after all, and his death was horrible, just horrible. I won’t go into the details, suffice to say it’s a horrible way for a young, attractive man to die. And it most certainly was not his fault.

In movies I mostly found him a blank presence, a kind of bland stand-in for some other actor that they couldn’t afford. He was perfectly fine when he wasn’t talking, but the moment he started speaking the illusion would fall apart.

With his mouth closed he was like a young, dangerous Paul Newman. Talking, he was Pauly Shore.

Rating:

Woman in Gold

Woman in Gold

Some things are worth fighting for, especially when they're
worth hundreds of millions of dollars

dir: Simon Curtis

2015

This is not a colour afflicted sequel to either The Woman in Black horror flicks or The Woman in White, the classic Wilkie Collins pot boiler. Or The Woman in Red, the classic 80s flick with Gene Wilder and Kelly Le Brock. Rawr! The sexual chemistry just burned up the screen, it did.

It’s something far more laden with importance and weighty significance. It’s based on a true story, in some ways an incredibly true story, and its very title is an affront and a lingering insult to the people affected/afflicted by the Nazis.

Austria. Vienna. In some ways this flick and a lot of ink spilled in the last half century have argued about the complicated relationship people have with that great nation and city. It spawned great art and architecture. It spawned a dictator too, who tried to consume all of Europe with his Jew-hating madness, which in turn consumed much of the rest of the world, too.

Unfortunately for me, and for one of the protagonists here, one can’t look at the clean lines and fascist architecture of the place even now without seeing the horror of back then. This flick, more than anything else, is about trying to make right something that under no circumstances can be made right.

Rating:

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Uplifting! Uproarious! Superannuated! Now I need a lie down.

dir: John Madden

2015

Why wouldn’t you?

Why wouldn’t you make a sequel to such a successful movie? I mean, every white middle class Anglo-Saxon over the age of 65 in Britain and Australia was obligated by law to go and see the first one or risk having their Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and pensioner cards ripped up in front of them, so why not?

Well, call me the querulous voice of pedantic temperance: this flick really has no reason to exist, like most sequels. Was there anything desperately necessary for the makers or the characters to do or say?

No, not really. But many of these actors, being national treasures, deserve every opportunity to continue sitting there in front of a camera complaining about the pain in their hips or knees. And I begrudge them nothing. As long as someone gets them a nice cup of tea and puts a blanket over their knees.

With many of these elders, I could literally sit there watching them talk about tea or textile content percentages and consider it time well spent. They’ve earned it. Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith are Dames, for crying out loud. That’s not an exaggeration or a term of endearment. They’re literally Dames! As in knighted by the goddamn queen. If anyone deserves to coast along and not do much and still be thought of as wonderful, it’s them.

So, yeah, I’m always glad to spend time with them. Many of the other people in this film? Meh…

Rating:

Chappie

Chappie

This little tyke is just learning his ABCs, but can also
rip your bloody arms off! Auntie Jack would be so proud

dir: Neill Blomkamp

2015

I mentioned in a recent review that, fortuitously or not, the week I saw this was a week in which a couple of other AI-related movies came out, and that this was a significantly different version from the other.

How different? Well, if you’re a fan of South African hip hop outfit Die Antwoord, (let’s face it, why would anyone be?), you can delight yourself by watching a flick where they mostly star mostly playing themselves using their stage names, and oh yeah there also happens to be a robot hanging around with them too.

The Johannesburg police have been replaced with robots, or at least supplemented with them. One of the engineers working on the goofy robots gets this idea that he wants to create a cop robot that has self-awareness. How does he achieve this? Um, somehow.

A defective robot is his guinea pig, into which he inserts a magical program that will, all other things being equal, let him appreciate art and maybe write poetry one day.

The defective robot itself has only a short time frame in which to experience all that life can provide. The creator, whom Chappie refers to as ‘Creator’, didn’t do this deliberately as a control or anything, or to be cruel. It’s just that, you know, like the benevolent and all powerful yet insecure deity of the Old Testament that ‘created’ us with a use-by date, it’s a feature, not a deliberate bug.

Rating:

Welcome to Me

Welcome to Me

This image doesn't convey at all just how weird this flick is and just
how awful she can be. Hiding your awfulness behind sunglasses is
an old, old trick

dir: Shira Piven

2014

Well. That happened.

This is one of those flicks where you can safely say if Kristen Wiig wasn’t in it, the flick would never have been made. And had it never been made, would the world have been any better or worse off?

Welcome to Me is a mildly interesting flick, but not an entirely satisfying one. It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying version of this same story, because I’m not sure such a thing would really be possible.

It has, at its core, a main character who is transcendentally kind of awful. Alice Kleig (Kristen Wiig) maybe doesn’t mean to be, but she is struggling with, at the very least, borderline personality disorder, according to her long-suffering therapist (Tim Robbins).

She has one friend, Gina (Linda Cardellini), a gay ex-husband (Alan Tudyk) who inexplicably still dotes on her, and a completely distorted sense of the world and her place in it.

We know right off the bat that her own personal psychiatric history shapes the majority of her interactions with the world, or at least her sense of it, but we are also giving the clear impression that television is responsible as well.

Rating:

What We Do In the Shadows

What We Do In the Shadows

A proud alternative family, like the Addams family, just less interesting

dirs: Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi

2014

From the very start, as the logo for the New Zealand Documentary Board makes its scratched and dusty way onto the screen, we know we’re in for a real low rent experience.

Well, it would have to be. At this stage of the game, a film about vampires has to be doing something extraordinary in order to be worthy of our interest. Surely we had reached vampire saturation even before the Twilight movies drove a poorly acted stake through the genre?

Well, instead of an extraordinary take on the genre, what we have here is an extremely ordinary take on the genre.

Not typified solely by its low budget, which perhaps enhances rather than detracts from the experience, at least in theory, What We Do In the Shadows depicts these creatures of the night as the complete antithesis of the charismatic and highly fuckable vampires that we’re more used to.

These vampires live in a filthy sharehouse, they speak in heavy Transylvanian by way of Kiwi accents, and they live in that renowned haven of the undead, Wellington, New Zealand.

Rating:

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman

Now that's not something you see every day, at least, not on
a day you get to survive

dir: Matthew Vaughn

2015

Damn, I’m getting old.

There was a time when something like this would have been like sweet, sweet crack to me. I would have embraced its charms and indulged its weaknesses in the pursuit of an action high otherwise rarely approached.

But for some reason, many reasons, while I enjoyed parts of this James Bond update, I couldn’t help but feel that it was, to use the technical film school term, pretty fucking dreadful.

The Bond template is not a rarely used one, in fact, there are probably thousands of films bouncing around in your memory that used the formula. In its purest form, though, it’s still fairly generic. The difference here is that it’s paired with the adolescent wish fulfilment only Mark Millar can come up with. It also produces a vision of Britishness so arch and so unbelievable that it amazes me that the director is a Brit and that Millar, who originally wrote the shitty comic this is based on, is a Scot.

They conjure a vision of Britain less grounded in reality and less believable than the Harry Potter films.

Rating:

St Vincent

St Vincent

I can't believe they didn't use a single song from the actual
St Vincent (Annie Clark) in this flick. Totally wasted opportunity.

dir: Theodore Melfi

2014

Old grumpy curmudgeons becoming less so (grumpy and curmudgeonly, not the old bit, since there’s no cure for that) over the course of a flick is a genre in and of itself. There’s this inherent belief, ably supported by movies, that even the most misanthropic dullard can be brought out of themselves by the attention and love of a much younger person.

It’s a template as old as movies themselves. The first movie ever was a home movie of a crotchety Thomas Edison screaming at people to get off his lawn at Menlo Park, until some filthy urchin teaches him to love again.

And that was 100 years ago. There have been exactly 10,000 versions of this theme in the interim. They do it in every country, in every language. I’ve probably seen five versions of this in the last month alone.

When it’s done well, it’s as good as Pixar’s Up, or About A Boy, that one with Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult, a film I still have a lot of time for. When it’s bad, it’s creepy, or unearned, or just generally uncomfortable. Like As Good As It Gets, 90 per cent of Clint Eastwood’s recent movies, or many, many, many other versions of the theme.

Because it’s such a formula, it doesn’t really hold any surprises for us. What it does hold is ample opportunities for actors of a certain age to desperately grasp one last time for that Oscar that’s eluded them thus far.

Rating:

The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything

You never know where your life is going to end up, or when
your horn dog of a husband is going to leave you for a redhead

dir: James Marsh

2014

I personally think it was brave of the people involved to dare attempt this. Making a biopic about Professor Stephen Hawking is a very daunting proposition.

For most of his adult life he’s been ravaged physically by a degenerative motor neuron disease. His achievements advancing our various understandings of the nature of the universe are staggering. He’s certainly one of the most brilliant minds to ever appear on this planet, in human history at least. There was this amazing hedgehog once…

As I kept that frame in mind, that this was about the Professor, it meant that I found the flick itself quite disappointing. It wasn’t until I realised what must have been quite obvious to other viewers, as it was obvious to my partner, who enjoyed the film far more than I did: it’s not about the Prof. It’s about his wife Jane.

Viewed from that perspective, that it’s a biopic about Stephen Hawking’s wife instead, it starts to make far more sense. It doesn’t make it that much more enjoyable for me, or a better flick, in my opinion, but its shortcomings transform from bugs to features instead.

And yet when you find out that the words “based on the autobiography by Jane Hawking” don’t actually mean that the screenplay matches the events in the memoir, you wonder whether you should just accept that it’s a touching drama about a woman whose husband might have been famous for something and has special health care needs.

Rating:

Into the Woods

Into the Woods

You'd think with all the money and Oscars she's received, someone,
anyone could have shouted Meryl some conditioner

dir: Rob Marshall

2014

Musicals may be comparatively rare at the cinemas these days, but it does not mean the world needs more musicals.

On the contrary, if it spawns new ones, they need to be of the utmost quality to justify their existence, toiled over by the finest craftsmen and women that Hollywood can find for a few bucks and a sandwich.

Apparently, Stephen Sondheim is a great writer of songs and musicals. Apparently, Into the Woods is one of his most beloved musicals. Quite rightly, Rob Marshall is not one of the most beloved of directors of cinema versions of musicals. Chicago might have won a few Oscars, but when was the last time you or anyone you know voluntarily watched Chicago of your own free will?

Do you even remember it? He also did Memoirs of a Geisha, which was a shining and absolute true waste of everyone’s time and talent.

So if Sondheim is great, and Marshall is less than great, what could they possibly come up with?

Another forgotten recentish movie musical was Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which was also based on Sondheim’s stuff. Did you or anyone you know watch it, perhaps at gunpoint, or, more aptly, at the point of a straight razor?

Rating:

Fury

Fury

He looks a bit sad, doesn't he? Do you think he might cry?

dir: David Ayer

2014

Fury. Pure, unalloyed Fury.

That’s what I felt after paying good money (I received free tickets) to see this flick. Actually, it’s not a feeling I had afterwards, it’s a feeling I felt while watching it, which tempered to relief when it ended.

And the thing is, it’s not because it’s a particularly bad film. I am not sure whether, objectively speaking, it’s a good or bad film. I can’t say I’m sure either way objectively speaking about any of the flicks I see and review. I’m at slightly more of a loss than usual with this one.

See, there are these scenes of great ugliness that horrified me or made me uncomfortable, but if that was the intention, surely it’s not a failing of the film? It’s a failing of mine if it repulsed me in the sense that it made me dislike the film even if it strove for and achieved what it set out to achieve.

As I said, it confuses me somewhat. Fury is not in the grand tradition of American war movies that posit the hallowed idea of War is Hell, but We Were Righteous and Awesome and We Won. I don’t think I saw a single rah rah American flag floating in a slow motion breeze. There wasn’t a plaintive trumpet playing a variation on the Last Post throughout the soundtrack. There wasn’t any nobility, patriotism or any “tell my wife I love her”, or “I am glad I am dying for my country” type bullshit.

Rating:

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sin City A Dame to Kill For

This is the dame, apparently, who people want to kill for,
and honestly, who can blame them?

dirs: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller

2014

I’m not always glad when I hear something is going to have a sequel. I was kind of glad this time, because Robert Rodriguez returning to the well for Sin City sounded like a good idea. He got the idea right the first time, why wouldn’t it work again?

There were more stories with many of these characters to tell from the Sin City comics, and, as they were already a distillation, a potent cordial of noir clichés and tropes, surely there would have been rich rewards with another hyper-violent and lurid adaptation?

This is an instance where the first few minutes of a flick dashed whatever hopes I may have had that something good would happen, only to be gradually won back over the course of the movie, and then convinced it wasn’t worth it by movie’s end.

It’s never a good idea to have high hopes when it comes to something from Robert Rodriguez. It’s important (for me) to remember that he is a cheesy hack and always has been, from his first movies to his latest. Sometimes his cheesy hackiness serves the material perfectly. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve enjoyed several of his flicks. I have also hated several of his flicks, because they’re cheap, nasty, and sometimes amateurish out of hastiness/laziness rather than anything else.

Rating:

The Signal

The Signal

dir: William Eubank

2014

A lot of films have too much money and not enough ideas.

A lot of films have too many ideas, and not enough money.

Some films have no ideas, and no money.

The Signal is some combination of these positions. Call it a super-position if you like.

I am amazed that this flick got made and was released upon an unsuspecting, unwilling and uninterested public. Amazed. It’s so almost accomplished and so horribly amateurish at the same time. Either one of those should have damned it to not-even-illegally-downloading-it hell.

That anyone thought this could be made and shown to people, to humans, and not have them fall into dissolving pools of frustration is a testament to the optimism of humanity. This is, as far as I can tell, William Eubank’s feature debut, and it’s as if he wants people to grunt “Meh, smells like M. Night Shyamalan-type crap to me”.

Rating:

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro

Amazing Spider-Man 2

Someone's been doing their yoga poses, haven't they?

dir: Marc Webb

2014

What's most amazing about this movie is that it's not really that amazing at all. Also, it's amazing that the makers will never learn from their past mistakes.

If there was one almost universal criticism from the 3rd Spidey flick, it was that having so many villains in it didn't improve a goddamn thing. Three villains is two too many for most people. Two is still too many. Well, maybe the third even had five villains, if you count domestic abuser Spidey himself and Aunt May with her guilt inducing speeches.

This sequel to the reboot continues with Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, which is another mistake continued on and replicated. He was aggravating in the first one, and, forgive my language, there are multiple scenes where he is an absolute spastic in this one, for no reason other than he thinks it's amusing or compelling.

The evidence I submit to the court is a scene where Peter is meant to be having a deep and meaningful conversation with his oldest alleged friend Harry Osborn (Dale DeHaan), whose father has just passed away. They're having a chat along what's either the East River or the Hudson, I think. Not content with just actually talking, Garfield starts jumping about, climbing over the barrier and basically doing a whole bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with what they're talking about or what the scene needs.

Rating:

Transcendence

Transcendence

We all know it's only a matter of time. You know in the end
the machines will win

dir: Wally Pfister

2014

Transcend… from what to what, you might ask? Transcendence is an interesting story mired by a world in which the impact of advanced technology is not as unbelievable as the actions of many of the silly, silly characters to be found abounding in this script. For there to be a popcorn friendly story, a lot of the super-smart people on display have to do a lot of dumb things, and that never bodes well for a high concept sci-fi story.

Personally, the premise (uploading Johnny Depp into the internet) is intriguing. The idea of uploading human consciousness into some kind of machine has been around for a while (predating William Gibson’s cyberpunk stuff from the 1980s), but recent advances in actual technology have to up the ante when it comes to what people dream up in science fiction. So it’s not just about a person’s consciousness uploaded: it’s about quantum computing, nanotechnology, technological singularities and artificial intelligence as well. And whatever other kitchen sinks the screenwriters cribbed from old copies of Wired magazines.

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Rio 2

Rio 2

People who write lines like the above will be the first up against the
wall come the revolution

dir: Carlos Saldanha

2014

Rio… Brazil… So timely, you’d think, what, with all that World Cup stuff going on. Instead of punishing your kids by making them sit through this, why not wake them up in the middle of the night and compel them to watch Paraguay play Burkina Faso at 3am, and see their delight when it’s a nil all draw after 90 minutes of play?

That’s pretty much the closest parallel that I can come up with in regards to watching this flick. Of course, trying to get my kid to watch soccer would be virtually impossible, and would be an even greater torment for me. Wait, the parallels are multiplying!

Rio 2 is the sequel to, um, some other animated flick whose name escapes me, and is a film uniquely suited to existing solely as a sequel.

The reality is that it's not actually a sequel to Rio. It's a remake of a previous sequel, being Meet the Parents.

Blu (Ben Stiller Junior, also known as Jesse Eisenberg) is an allegedly rare blue macaw from the jungles of the Amazon. He is forced, by circumstance, to spend time with his hardass father-in-law (Robert DeNiro surrogate Andy Garcia), who utterly hates him for most of the film, and the plot contrives to have Blu embarass himself continuously in the old man's eyes until the very end, where Blu can do one thing to redeem himself in the eyes of his father-in-law, his wife Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and random strangers.

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The Monuments Men

Monuments Men

Monumental men doing manly stuff that's less than monumental

dir: George Clooney

Is a work of art worth as much or more than a human life?

It's not just the central question of this film, asked out loud literally, multiple times, in case we didn't get the point. It's an important question in anyone's life.

It's also not a question Clooney should be getting the audience to ask themselves as they watch one of his movies.

"Sure, films can be works of art, but no-one should have to take a bullet for a film by George Clooney".

The film, The Monuments Men, asks and answers the question several times, with a different answer at the beginning versus at the end, but it's not entirely convincing.

It's convincing as a film, since there are people in it, and the story has an intriguing premise, is a true story, and has a whole bunch of other reasons to recommend it. It will bore the pants off of people who aren't interested in the subject matter or who were hoping for Saving Private Ryan II. It transpires during World War II, but it is not a war movie in the usual sense of the genre, though it uses all of the tropes from All Quiet on the Western Front through to M*A*S*H, and many cliches in between.

It's not a great film, but it's not a completely horrible one either. It looks at the war from another perspective beyond the immense human toll, which, surely, we needed, but in a way rarely considered.

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American Hustle

American Hustle

Look at them, begging for Oscars. You can see the abject neediness in
their eyes. Just say no, Academy, please.

dir: David O’Russell

American Hustle is one of those big, blousy American movies with American in the title, which virtually guaranteed that it was going to get lots of attention at the Oscars. And, unsurprisingly, it’s got a stack of nominations, most of which I hope it doesn’t get, even though I liked it well enough at the time by the end.

It’s not a flick that gets better the more you think about it, though. The more I’ve thought about it afterwards, the thinner and flimsier it seems, but the bits I found entertaining are still strong.

Problem is, those bits were few and far between.

Two con artists (Christian Bale, Amy Adams) who get busted by the FBI are dragooned into running a scam in order to catch other corrupt people. Some element of this might have actually happened, in this world’s history.

I have no confidence that the real story is anything like what’s depicted here, not that I care. It’s not an important history lesson dressed up in 70s nylon and polyester with the necessary narrative and thematic shortcuts you’d expect from an Important Hollywood Movie. It’s an actor’s showcase, but not in a good way.

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Riddick

Riddick

Dark, darker than the darkest dark chocolate

dir: David Twohy

You get these strange moments in the world of cinema where, because of your familiarity with its ins and outs, you get the stupid impression that nothing will ever surprise you again. It’s the height of foolishness.

The movie industry is always surprising me. How it continues to exist in this age, the sheer abundance of films it keeps pumping out to ever decreasing profits; it staggers me that it’s still going. Most of all, some of the movies they make thinking there’s an audience for them surprises the hell out of me.

That they, in their infinite wisdom, have made a third Riddick movie, imagining as they have, or at least hoping desperately that the multitudes are clamouring to see this character again, for me is on a par with a studio thinking the world wants to see a Jar Jar Binks movie. Or that the world needs, desperately craves a Turner & Hooch follow-up, or that Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger should make a sequel to Twins. Call it Triplets! Get Mel Gibson to play the middle one! Everyone from your maiden aunt to dribbling infants will kill to see that!

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Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World

I know it looks like another Star Wars films, but it isn't, not by much

dir: Alan Taylor

Yeah, you think you’re Thor: I can hardly walk, because I just watched The Dark World.

And here I thought it would be a screening of childhood favourite The Dark Crystal. Thor fights a giant Crystal and loses!

No I didn’t, I’m being a jerk. My beloved partner and I went to the flicks to celebrate the anniversary of the day of her birth. What better way to celebrate such a golden day than let her watch many scenes of Australia’s Own Chris Hemsworth showing off that incredibly chiselled physique? Those granite abs, that geography of musculature and those planes and angles of flesh she’s hopefully not going to be able to touch in real life with anything other than her eyeballs?

It was a golden day for all concerned. Maybe not Hemsworth, since he was probably busy all day long oiling up those quivering muscles, but I’m sure he’s doing all right.

This is his flick, yeah? The next instalment out of the Marvel Machine that is no longer content with just taking the hardly-earned money out of teenage losers’ pockets and middle-aged shut-ins’ bank accounts with comics has Thor! taking centre stage again after that grand occasion of The Avengers getting together last year.

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