You are here

7 stars

Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive

Only watchers left awake will be the ones predisposed to liking Tilda,
Jarmusch, Loki and / or old guitars

dir: Jim Jarmusch

2013

It’s a film about vampires, and that’s enough to send up red flags. There have been exactly 14,798 vampire movies made in the last 10 years alone. The world needs no more. No more, never again, never.

It’s a Jim Jarmusch film about vampires, though. That sends up a sequence of red flags in itself. The idiosyncratic director has never bothered making movies that sit well with mainstream audiences, and this is even more eclectic that what he usually manages.

This is where the stream of caveats begins: an audience member being able to enjoy a film like this is going to depend entirely on whether they can watch films about characters who don’t really do that much for two hours. It’s a strange little duck that gets excited about such a prospect.

Calling Jim Jarmusch’s film’s slow kinda misses the point. They’re frustrating until you understand that the tension generated in scenes that aren’t speeding towards the next point on a plot line is your doing, not the film’s, and misses the whole bloody point of him making films in the first place.

What destination, impatient person? Who promised you a speedy cab ride along a sequence of highs and lows, before some pat denouement and closure is achieved for everybody concerned? You bought a ticket to the tea cup ride and are angry that it’s not the rollercoaster?

Rating:

Edge of Tomorrow

Emily Blunt - Edge of Tomorrow

It's secretly your film, Emily, they just haven't
told Tom yet.

dir: Doug Liman

Who doesn't want to see Tom Cruise die violent deaths again and again and again? I defy anyone to say otherwise.

Well, this movie seems to have been constructed to serve the interests of both groups of Tom Cruise aficionados: those who actually like him (and what a strange bunch of people they must be), and the far more numerous group of people who behold him and his actions with contempt and fear. As the most prominent member of that church-level scam/cult Scientology, and for his many bizarre actions, he has rightly earned himself a special place in our hearts.

It's so special, in fact, that the prospect of watching him die numerous times becomes an enticement rather than an obstacle.

The premise, taken from a delightfully-titled Japanese manga called All You Need is Kill!, which I wish they'd kept as the title, has been seen in a number of formats and places since Groundhog Day, but that's the one everyone keeps bringing up, as if it's not a lazy grab. Saying "It's Groundhog Day with mech suits and aliens!" isn't creative, inventive or funny, it's just an example of how the path of least resistance to an easy idea is a testament to the fact that you shouldn't be bothering, at all.

Rating:

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Days of Future Past

So many people. Next time give them all something to do

dir: Bryan Singer

2014

Time travel is tricky. I guess it comes down to what your intentions are. I'm not talking about the intentions, good in nature, that the road to hell is paved with. I mean the story-telling purpose, or the creative purpose, or the "let's-make-shitloads-of-money" impulse.

After watching Days of Future Past, it occurs to me that the purpose of this movie, and the desire it represents to change the past in order to alter the present (or future), is really about one thing: Bryan Singer's desire to rewrite history so that X-Men III: The Last Stand never happened.

For some people, including me, it's a perplexing but still appreciable impulse. That third X-Men film, not directed by Singer, was pretty shithouse. It wasn't shithouse because Bryan Singer didn't direct it. It was shithouse because Brett Rattner, who's a barely mediocre director, directed it. Even though it was, as I said, pretty shithouse, it's perversely the most successful of all the X-Men related flicks. So it would seem strange that the studio would give the keys to the franchise to Singer again in order to undo what they themselves allowed to happen in the past.

Let's talk about that for a moment: every time another superhero flick comes out it's an opportunity to express how utterly sick of superhero flicks "we" all are. But we keep watching them, I keep watching them, so why would the gods/clods of the movie studios stop?

Rating:

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The perfect place for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and planning
invasions of Poland

dir: Wes Anderson

Another fussy diorama for our delectation…

By now you know if you like Wes Anderson films or not. He’s made enough of them that it is virtually impossible for you to have watched them and still think that there is any possibility that they could vary or be different from what you think they could be like.

This is exactly like every film he makes. In case I haven’t been explicit enough. So, if you like the other entries in his oeuvre, from The Royal Tenenbaums onwards, there’s a good chance you might ‘like’ The Grand Budapest Hotel as well. I’m aware that Royal Tenenbaums wasn’t his first flick, that being Bottle Rocket, but his fussy aesthetic wasn’t established until his second flick, so there.

Alternatively, even if you’ve liked his previous films up to the last one, being Moonrise Kingdom, you could be sick of his fussy aesthetic, the familiarity of the same actors that he tends to use and their often affectless delivery, the way everything tends to be put together in the same way and filmed in the same way, you might have reached your limit.

In other words, telling you "it's just like his other ones" is both warning and further warning, for both haters and aficionados alike.

Rating:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

America. As American as apple pie cooling on a window sill,
skinned knees and spelling bees, entrenched racism and
unaffordable health care.

dirs: Anthony and Joe Russo

Finally. A decent action movie based on a comic book. Wonders will never cease.

Sorry. Forgot to use the sarcasm html tags around the intro. Yes, we’re all sick of superhero movies. We still look forward to the entertaining ones, the ones that will make it easier to grit our teeth through the shittier ones.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not completely terrible. It’s definitely better than that last Thor flick, and it’s probably better than the first Captain America flick. It works as an action flick, and it works, for Marvel’s purposes, as an extension of their franchise, pushing the overall story in some kind of direction, which is good.

It’s also the only one of this recent crop of the Marvel renaissance that has anything to say about the actual contemporary world we live in, with its all pervasive surveillance and drone/targeted killings and such. Okay, so it doesn’t say anything useful about these issues, like the fact that you can’t send a text or have a conversation on the phone without Google, various governments and Obama knowing about it, and what should be done about it, but at least it reminds us of stuff we are perfectly well aware of.

Rating:

The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie

Pretty soon, everything will be made of Lego. Even Lego.

dir: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

It's time. Time to go to the cinemas again. Time to embrace the magic of the silver screen.

Time to laugh at movies made entirely of Lego.

Is it too much to ask, is it a bridge too far? I was always going to eventually see this, because there was that law passed by the United Nations that everyone with a kid under ten had to take their kids to see this or they'd be shot into the centre of the sun, but this is school holidays time, and I have a child under ten. So it became obligatory to do it now now NOW!

I am, and this is going to sound quite perverse, considering how all-pervasive and ubiquitous the stuff is, not that big a fan of Lego. They didn't play much of a part in the theatrical off-off Broadway version of my childhood, and I've never really cared for them. When you've got kids, of course, or have to get presents for other friend's kids and such, well of course you're going to be buying them all the time, but I do it without really appreciating it, and I don't have that obsessive desire to encapsulate, build and control a 'world' that I think you have to have for Lego to be like crystal meth cravings.

It's not in me. I've got plenty of other geek obsessions to obsess over, don't need any other addictions, thankyouverymuch for asking.

Rating:

August: Osage County

August: Osage County

The only way to stop her is to kill her. But then you become the new her.

dir: John Wells

Some families… some families are so toxic that they shouldn’t exist.

Some characters are so toxic that they’ll either make you cringe in horror, or you’ll feel compelled to give them awards, to make them stay away.

Perhaps that is, in part, the theory here, with August: Osage County. Rarely have I seen an ensemble cast in such desperate need of awards, all of them swinging for the bleachers, as an American abusing a sports metaphor would aver. Almost every single one of them gets their special scene that should have For Your Consideration underneath them as they’re intoning their cumbersome, purple dialogue.

It's overstuffed with good actors, and they all want their chance, but perhaps there's too many of them, and too many of those awards-grubbing scenes for this to be anything but an actor's showcase.

Still, it's no surprise that Meryl Streep was nominated, playing the monstrous matriarch of this toxic clan. So, sure, she 'acts' the most, flexing her acting muscles in every single scene, but that's what you hire Meryl to do. At this stage of her career, it's almost impossible for her to not receive Oscars just for showing up. If she went to the opening of a carwash and cut the ribbon, she'd probably earn herself an Oscar or a BAFTA or a Gold Logie just for saying, "It is an honour to be here."

Rating:

Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives

Not even God will forgive you for being so devilishly handsome

dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

Holy Shit! What the hell was that all about?

What a strange, pointless film.

Well, maybe it’s not pointless, in that its point is to be a very lurid kind of film, very similar to other kinds of lurid, nasty films that this same prick of a director has made in the past. Refn has made, to date, films as stylised, nasty, pointless and quease-inducing as the Pusher trilogy, Bronson, Valhalla Rising and Drive
.

All nasty, all distinctive (in that they look like the work of a few other directors, rather than most other directors), but hard to really pin down, or, in my case, like. Drive, his last one, was beloved by a lot of people who have the singular distinction and blessing of not being me. I really couldn't see what the fuss was all about. I will agree that a non-verbal Ryan Gosling could be a good thing if you didn't like the Canadian way he talked, but I like Gosling as much when he's talking as when he's not.

I knew that Only God Forgives would be something of a trawl, a low-life transgressive foray into the dark underbelly of Refn's brain, and I expected to hate it, hearing how pointlessly lurid and violent it was.

Rating:

The Book Thief

The Book Thief

Keep an eye on the silverware as well, with this one.

dir: Brian Percival

2013

Homework. Some books feel like homework. Some movies feel like homework.

Now, please don’t start interpreting this as veiled or unveiled anti-Semitism: I am not going to launch into Holocaust-denying or Climate Change-denying or arguing that there's empathy fatigue because of the sheer quantity of books and movies about World War II and the Nazis and the Final Solution. It's great, wonderful, we need more of them, surely.

It's just that, well, since high school, where we had to study books like The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie and had to be taken along as a class to see Schindler's List, I just automatically associate World War II - Weren't Those Nazis Total Bastards? narratives to be somewhat obligatory and something tedious. I feel like I'm watching it or reading about it because I have to write a 500 word essay about it to be handed in first thing first period.

But of course, writing a review about it is a completely different prospect! I initially read the book years ago, thinking I would hate it, actively hating it when I started, but I was won over as it went on. There was something about how it was calculatedly put together, and the clumsiness of the narrator as Death, or Death as the narrator, I guess more appropriately, that brought my hackles up. The hackles came down over time as Liesel and her story moved me in appreciable ways.

Rating:

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

So adorably edible, for those of you who like
seafood / primates

dirs: Cody Cameron, Kris Pearn

There I was, basking in the glory that was the presents, breakfast-in-bed, happy birthday birthdayness of my actual birthday on Saturday, when my daughter loudly and joyfully asserted that since it was my birthday, we should do what I wanted on this hallowed day.

And if that meant I wanted to watch a movie, then, by gum we were going to watch a movie. And if that movie happened to be Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, then that was the best birthday present that I could possibly want.

How did this happen? Maybe I was hungover and very suggestible, or, like most parents, I gave in to forestall having to see that look of manufactured yet still heartbreaking disappointment on a child’s face. Whatever it was, somehow I agreed to go to the cinemas to see an advanced screening of this movie.

This movie? On my birthday I should have had the gods-given right to insist that everyone watch the most spine-crackingly boring movie I could find (as long as it was no more than PG-rated). I should have made them sit through 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the even more boring Russian version of Solaris. I should have had the dictator-like right to make my family sit through all 8 hours of Bela Tarr’s Satantango without being arrested for domestic abuse.

Instead, we watched a flick where food comes to life, and it’s meant to be a good thing.

Rating:

The Way Way Back

The Way Way Back

Would you buy a used Coming-Of-Age story
from this man?

dir: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

Coming of age stories… what would cinema be without them? It’d all be giant robots and zombies and werewolves and cars smashing all over the place, hopefully all in the same movie.

Their virtue is that they’re meant to be universally relatable, both to troubled teens and their dull, enervated parents who very faintly remember what it was like to be a troubled teen. It’s a way of reliving highly charged times, and vicariously, in some cases, getting it right this time around.

The Way Way Back, it’s pretty obvious, was initially written to be set in the 1980s. It had to have been considering the sheer abundance of 80s references and marginalia. However, someone must have decided that you could just set it contemporarily, not have people wandering around with iPhones and tight pants slightly drooping down at the crotch, and you could have the best of both worlds, as dubious a concept as that might be.

The lead character is Duncan (Liam James), a shrinking violet if ever a violet shrunk. He has good cause. His parents have divorced recently, which is bad enough, but her new partner, Trent (Steve Carrell) is the classic kind of arsehole these stories invariably require. Everyone needs obstacles to overcome, and quite often those obstacles are the people that treat you like shit.

Rating:

Elysium

Elysium

Kill kill kill kill kill the Poor. Eat eat eat eat eat the Rich!

dir: Neill Blomkamp

2013

Before I watched this movie, I'd heard that it was a thinly-veiled attack on the kinds of people who think the unwashed, unhealthy, unwealthy masses should be desperately scrambling after medical treatment like a bunch of low blood sugar office workers fighting to the death over the last donut. Those people, I guess, think health care should be no more a common right than everyone having the right to gold-plated flying unicorns.

These people, I believe, are called conservatives. They're trying to do the 'right' thing by conserving the precious and scarce amount of health care that's out there, because, let's face it, poor people don't deserve health care, they'd just end up wasting resources by living longer, moochier lives.

So when I heard these claims about a flick I hadn't seen, I thought it was the usual outrage bullshit propaganda these 'types' of people invariably come up with, along with blaming everything on Communists, Jews, Gays and Lesbians, Single Mothers, Dark Skinned People, or combinations thereof. You know the types of people I'm talking about: they're called idiots.

Rating:

Lovelace

Lovelace

And I thought this flick was going to be about Ada Lovelace, the
world's first computer programmer!

dir: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

I think everyone deserves a biopic made about their lives. Maybe not everyone deserves to have Amanda Seyfried play them in their movie, in both senses of the word "deserves", but surely this will one day come to pass.

As for who should play me in the inevitable biopic of My Life, which should be called Drowning in Awesomeness, I'll leave that to the learned reader to decide. Perhaps bloviating windbag Kevin Smith? Or Comic-Book Guy from The Simpsons? Mark Ruffalo after a serious car accident? Philip Seymour Hoffman? Ron Perlman? Tom Waits lesser known cousin Guido?

So many choices. During Linda Lovelace's life, she being the subject of this startling and depressing biopic, if you'd shown her a picture of Amanda Seyfried, and told her that one day she would be playing Linda in the story of her life, she probably would have been flattered. Flattered and confused, as I am, a little bit.

Rating:

World War Z

World War Z

The queues for Luna Park rides are getting worse and worse

dir: Marc Forster

I wonder if there is anyone on the planet not sick of zombies as yet.

We, and I’m speaking on behalf of all of cinema-going humanity here, are even more sick of zombies than we are of vampires. I am so sick of vampires and zombies that I generally avoid new movies with them even if people I really like are in them, and I hear that they’re good films. I’m sick of them all, and I can’t be summoning the energy and time to watch them and review them, I just can't do it.

Except for this one. Come on, I was curious.

I have read the book this is based on (another reason for my undead care-factor fatigue), but the film has about as much to do with the book as any other flick about zombies has to do with the book: they’ve both got zombies in them, and that’s about it.

Out of the dry reportage of the novel comes a story with an allegedly relatable hero (Brad Pitt, as if any mere mortal men can relate to him) and a story at a scale we can grasp despite it being about a global epidemic of flesh-chomping. It’s the right approach, I guess. They also have to make it even more relatable by making the main guy motivated to find a solution to the zombie apocalypse by his having a redheaded wife and redheaded children: so if he doesn’t find a ‘cure’ or whatever, not only will everyone die, but some redheads too!

Rating:

Kick-Ass 2

Kick-Ass 2

They kick no ass at all, but they do kill a lot of people

dir: Jeff Wadlow

I know, I know, whenever you hear “It’s better than the first one!” regarding a sequel to an ordinary movie, the immediate response is "well, that's not saying much."

In some ways, though, ways that probably don't matter that much, Kick-Ass 2 is probably a better, or at least less repugnant movie that the first one, though not from want of trying.

The Kick-Ass stories falls into a sub-genre of hero flicks which are about regular people with no discernable skills or abilities wanting to be crimefighters. Also, of regular scumbags who want to be supervillains despite having nothing that makes them particularly super or villainous.

Kick-Ass himself is defined by a look, being a green-and-yellow wetsuit, the wielding of two batons, and no actual abilities. But he has the desire, the will to do good for the city, and he has inspired others to do the same.

Rating:

Man of Steel

Man of Steel

He almost looks like a real person

dir: Zack Snyder

Zack Snyder was given an incredible reward when they chose to make him the director of a Superman film. This is very strange, to me, a very strange turn of events.

Snyder’s last film was called Sucker Punch. What was Sucker Punch , I hear you ask, since you blocked it out of your memory or didn’t see it and it doesn’t seem like a real film that was released in this, the apparently real world?

Sucker Punch was an incredibly bad movie, a movie so bad it assaulted the very nature of the word ‘movie’. 'Movie' almost became a derogatory word for a degenerate and pointless form of entertainment previously adored by the masses and now shunned for the horrid waste of time and money that it became post-Sucker Punch for all eternity.

The actual shitty movie itself seemed like it was the fevered dream of an idiot on acid and meth simultaneously, furiously and pointlessly masturbating as he watched a whole bunch of fetish material (Aerosmith’s Janie’s Got a Gun film clip, nubile females in Japanese schoolgirl uniforms fighting Nazi robots and samurais and dragons and lobotomies), who then somehow translated this dirty weekend of cable watching and jerking off of his into a movie, an actual movie, that people paid for and such. Not just to make, but to watch!

And like an idiot, I was one of those people!

Rating:

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

The less-than-Great Gatsby: at least the flick has pretty people in it

dir: Baz Luhrmann

Instincts came to the fore, hackles rose up unbidden just thinking about it. Issues filled my head with noise. No porter had to carry my baggage into this cinematic experience because I was happy to do so myself, choosing without a gun to my head, to voluntarily watch another Baz Luhrmann film.

Yet it seduced me all the same. For about an hour. Then it discarded me, ashamed and disillusioned, by the side of the road, well before it ended. Really, looking back, I should have known this would happen. It couldn’t have gone any other way.

After the crime against humanity that was Australia (not the formation of the country, but the execrable movie Luhrmann birthed in unholy fashion upon a suspecting world), I really didn’t think Baz had anything left to say that I wanted to hear. The prospect of seeing his version of the alleged Greatest of the Great American Novels brought to the screen was too tantalising a trainwreck to pass on, all the same.

Rating:

Trance

Trance

This is not a glitch. It's really meant to look like this

dir: Danny Boyle

Trance. Trance. Trance. Trance isn’t the film you might think it is.

It's definitely nothing to do with trance music, in case you were worried.

It’s probably more accurate for me to say that it wasn’t the flick I thought it was.

I went into this expecting one thing, and I got a whole heap of others thrown at me, though I walked into it remembering one or two things about Danny Boyle.

He may have won Oscars, and directed the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics, but you have to remember that this is the same game who made Shallow Grave and Trainspotting.

Yes, you can argue about A Life Less Ordinary almost destroying the cinematic medium for all time, erasing the good films out there from the last century, but he remains a director who enjoys a good shock.

Trance is a fairly low-budget (looking) but stylish movie about something fairly high-concept: human memory, and how malleable it might be.

Rating:

Hello, I Must Be Going

Hello I Must Be Going

These posters explain nothing about what these films are about

dir: Todd Louiso

Hello, I must be going.
I cannot stay,
I came to say
I must be going.
I'm glad I came
but just the same
I must be going.

You have to imagine Groucho Marx singing it, of course, for the full effect, but that’s where the title of this lovely little movie comes from.

I’m not going to pretend I understand what it means in the context of the movie, its deeper significance and whatnot, but I’ll smile and nod my head if you have an explanation.

Hello, I Must Be Going. is a very quiet, very low-key movie, the kind of movie I really enjoy watching and reviewing, especially after seeing some bloated big budget 3D monstrosity in the Cineplex, gorging both visually, on fake buttered popcorn and my own bile. The central performance is by Melanie Lynskey, a name most people don’t recognise, but when you see her, you go “oh yeah, her. Yeah, she’s pretty good at stuff.”

She’s been working for ages, ever since Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures: that tribute to teenage girls lezzing out and killing people who try to keep them apart. She might not have reached the heights like her co-star Kate Winslet, but she’s been putting in solid work for decades.

This is one of the only times where she’s played the main role in one of her films that I can think of. She’s usually a supporting character, which she’s fine at, but now it’s her time to shine.

Rating:

Ginger and Rosa

Ginger and Rosa

The key is: don't turn out like Linsday Lohan or
Kristen Stewart, girls

dir: Sally Porter

I have loved Sally Potter for a long time, all because of Orlando, from so long ago that it barely warrants repeating.

No, that's not a prelude to me spending most of this review talking about a different film, something I often do. Most of her other films since then haven't really impacted upon me to any level similar to what I got from Orlando, a level of connection that haunts me to this day.

Ginger and Rosa is no different, in that it didn't really dazzle me or resonate deeply with me, but it's still a decent film. It's very modest in its scope, somewhat lacking in ambition, but that gives it plenty of opportunity to focus entirely upon one character almost to the exclusion of all others. It's also another opportunity for Elle Fanning to show what an accomplished actress she is at such a young age.

Two mothers give birth in a London delivery room. They clasp hands without knowing the other, needing the comfort of someone else going through something transformative. They forge a link, and their born daughters are linked too, closer than sisters and bonded beyond reason. Yeah, they're the one's in the title.

Rating:

Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths

I assure you there are more than seven psychopaths
involved with this movie

dir: Martin McDonagh

When I write reviews about movies, I find it slightly pointless to include info that’s readily available on the tubes of the internets. There’s no point replicating the services that Wikipedia or IMDb provide, so I don’t bother including a lot of “actually, you may be interested to know that while this film was being made, the director was sleeping with the sister of the lead actor, who in turn was snorting the cremation ashes of Charlie Chaplin off the lower back of Rita Hayworth’s great-great-grand niece” type stuff.

It would be pointless, I think you’d agree. My personal take on these movies is the only thing I have to contribute in this world, and it’s not the perspective of an insider or an expert, just a shmuck fanboy. You can guess what that’s worth.

What I’m getting at is this: I could easily look up what the actual circumstances of the writing and production of this flick were. I could find out from the horses or whorses’ mouths almost instantly. And I could include that here. But what would be the point of that? Such knowledge wasn’t with me at the time when I was watching this deliriously insane flick, so it didn’t inform my enjoyment of it. So what would the point of talking about the ‘truth’ be?

Instead, I’ll relate what I was thinking about when I was watching it instead.

Rating:

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

Fear the flag, sure, but fear the redhead more

dir: Kathryn Bigelow

Torture is awesome! Who knew?!?

Obviously it’s not as wonderful to the people it happens to, but, for the rest of us, it works beautifully. It’s effective. It’s necessary. It’s entertaining. It’s awesome.

Zero Dark Thirty is less about the hunting down of Bin Laden like the dog that he was, than it is about how one woman’s, and the CIA’s, determination to do anything including torture to get him (and her capacity for overacting) are the only reasons they ever found the fucker.

First, we have to endure a lengthy justification for the torture, in the form of audio recordings of soon-to-be victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Talk about moral blackmail. The film is practically daring you to disagree that any actions taken by the US and its allies after that dread day were so utterly justifiable that you deserve to be shot out of a cannon if you think otherwise.

We meet Maya (Jessica Chastain) as she watches a torture session, with rough justice being meted out by some other CIA guy (Australia’s Own Jason Clarke). He’s really good at his work, but he doesn’t love doing it. We get the clear impression that he’s not a sadist, that he doesn’t “like” what he’s doing, but he sees the sadly necessary utility of it. Poor diddums.

Rating:

Lincoln

Lincoln

Come, sit on my knee, and tell me what you wish for Christmas,
as long as it is not an end to my interminable anecdotes

dir: Steven Spielberg

You know, I never thought Spielberg had the balls to do something like this, but he did, and audiences never really punished him for it. He’s taken the most iconic, the most universally admired US President (except in the South, perhaps) and depicted him as a crushing, tedious bore, and people are applauding him for it, and lavishing Daniel Day-Lewis with unending praise and statuettes.

Good for them, I guess. The thing is, I don’t even think it was subtle at all. He actively has characters respond with exasperation whenever Lincoln spins another yarn, while every other person sighs and maintains their steeliest “have to look enraptured for the boss” facial expression. People are active, working, doing stuff, usually arguing before he mutters some kind of non sequitur “It wasn’t like this back when I was splitting rails on the Tallahatchie trail”. Then everyone freezes, and we get the feeling that inwardly, they’re dying a little, and fighting the urge to run and hide in a dark, close place, or cry.

“Please, oh please let it be a short anecdote. Please don’t let this story go on so long that I chew my own leg off to escape. Please let his tongue have a stroke, even if he is the single Greatest Statesman and Raconteur the world has ever known.”

Rating:

ParaNorman

ParaNorman

This is blatant false advertising - Norman never gets
para, not once

dir: Sam Fell and Chris Butler

Mistakes, grand follies, profound errors of judgement… I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. That should be patently obvious to you by now. Most of them I deeply regret, some of them I don’t, but it’s safe to say that mistakes and bad decisions seem to define parts of my life far better than any decent choices I’ve ever made.

What am I nattering on about? Well, let’s just say that since I became a parent, all my bad decisions tend to revolve around parenting. The propensity for making mistakes, if you’re going to survive for any length of time in this life, has to be counterbalanced by having some capacity to learn from those mistakes, and to not repeat them throughout the generations.

That is one of my only virtues, in that hopefully I don’t make the same mistakes too often before learning “Fire? Hot!!!” after burning some fingers fourteen, fifteen times.

The mistake I made in relation to this movie is that when your five-year-old daughter says to you, after watching the trailer for ParaNorman in front of Rise of the Guardians, “Daddy, I really want to see ParaNorman!”, you exercise good judgement and say, “Darling-heart, apple of my eye, daughter and only heir, you’re too young for that movie, maybe when you’re a bit older.” You don’t think about it for a few seconds, belch out some popcorn, and then mutter “Sure.”

Rating:

Celeste & Jesse Forever

I guess you could call it a romantic comedy, but then how
many rom-coms start where the relationship is already
over?

dir: Lee Toland Krieger

We get to see the entire span of Celeste and Jesse’s relationship and marriage in montage over the opening credits, and by the time actors are saying dialogue, we’re shocked when a friend of the central couple, Beth (Ari Graynor) screams at them for still acting like a goofy married couple when they’ve been separated for the last six months.

It’s a shock to them, and it’s a shock to us, because, well, what were we expecting? They lulled us into a false sense of security, by representing their relationship one way, and then cruelly telling us it’s the opposite.

What are we supposed to think? What kind of romance occurs after the break-up? The messy kind. Celeste and Jesse Forever is really about two people who love each other and for whom being in a committed relationship doesn’t really work anymore, can’t work, no matter how many moments they individually and together get where they think maybe they should.

Real life intrudes, it always intrudes. The days where one of them thinks they should get back together is the day the other finds someone completely new out there in the world, and the possibility of having something with someone else sparks briefly. The next day, one of them thinks they’re never going to have it as great as they did with Celeste or Jesse, and this regret causes them to undermine what they have, with the hope that maybe they can go back.

Rating:

Sound of My Voice

Sound of My Voice

I know everything that's wrong with your life, and for only
$299.99, I will help you find out what it is

dir: Zal Batmanglij

Listen to the soothing sound of my sinuous voice, and I’ll release you from all your troubles, bring you to a new holy place of pure salvation, where bliss reigns supreme and all your mistakes are washed clean… all I need is for you to listen to my voice, obey my every command, and give me all your credit card numbers…

This film is a complete out-of-nowhere thing for me, a flick I knew nothing about prior to watching. It has a tiny budget, and consists mostly of footage shot in the confines of some LA basement.

It’s really well done, for what it is, and what it is, is a story about two people who infiltrate a cult, with the intention of exposing it to the world, or at least to the other freaks in LA. Peter (Christopher Denham) is the driving force behind this, wanting to go all the way to be a journalist, perpetrating some serious undercover journalism with these people. He’s even gone to all the trouble to learn their very jive-turkey secret handshake from the 70s, which takes about fifteen minutes to do properly.

Rating:

Sleepwalk With Me

Sleepwalk With Me

Nothing a good night's sleep couldn't fix

dir: Mike Birbiglia

We’ve all got to start somewhere.

This is a curious movie, in that it’s directed by a chap who’s playing himself (under a pseudonym), essentially in a re-enactment of his own life, surrounded by actors. Mike becomes Matt, Birbiglia becomes Pandamiglio, in a pointless charade that’s never intended to shade the truth, or ‘truth’, as the case may be, that This is His Life!

Birbiglia has been dining out on this story for years, and has managed to transform it into the substance of his stand-up (he’s a comedian, in case you didn’t know), a one-man stage show, a book and now a film. I’ve been hearing this story for years, as he’s honed it down to its sharpest edge, from watching Matt doing his routine, hearing it on my iPod and through multiple podcasts essentially saying the same words verbatim. I never tire of the story.

Most of all, I’ve heard excerpts of the story on podcasts from This American Life, probably my favourite of the twenty or so podcasts I listen to with religious, if not disturbing, regularity. It’s a podcast that is the new media version of the radio program from Chicago Public Radio produced by Ira Glass (who of course gets a cameo in this film, as a photographer at Mike–Matt’s sister’s wedding). So it comes as no surprise that they, being WBEZ Chicago and IFC, chipped money in to let Mike transform his multi-format extravaganza into a movie.

Rating:

Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect

You're all winners, except for those of you who aren't

dir: Jason Moore

I like pleasant surprises. Well, duh. What person out of the 7 billion who grace this planet with their presence doesn’t?

It’s the unpleasant surprises we are not partial to. The lump in a bodily location where lumpiness should just not be. The realisation, post bending-over, that one’s pants have achieved a new configuration, including a vast gap where seams should reign supreme. Waking up to find someone, at this happy time of the year, actually dressed as Santa Claus, breathing heavily, in your bedroom, going through your stuff, stinking strongly of meth.

All unpleasant, all unwanted, all unappreciated. Pleasant surprises are far rarer, but much more enjoyable. I enjoyed Pitch Perfect despite the fact that I absolutely should hate a movie like this, any movie like this. After all, it features singing, and is as much a product of the current pop cultural obsession with Glee, American Idol and shit of that ilk.

It’s also so twee-ly American, it’s set in college, it’s structured like a sports film, and it has montages galore.

So how could I like this? How could I have enjoyed a single second of this entire farcical deal? Well, I don’t have to explain myself to you. I just enjoyed it. That’s it. End of story.

Rating:

Skyfall

Skyfall

Bloody typical, always lying down on the job

dir: Sam Mendes

It’s a decent enough film, it’s just that I’m not sure how much of a Bond film it is, and that’s something I’m ambivalent about.

The tone of the flick is also fairly grim, fairly dour. It even spends a fair amount of time on the northern highlands of Scotland, which is the grimmest, dourest place on the planet.

After fifty years of these movies, I guess they needed to do something substantially different, radically different despite the window dressing. Skyfall is steeped in Bond lore, and far more grounded than the usual Bond film. When I say ‘grounded’, I don’t mean realistic, or that it’s being punished for breaking curfew. What I mean is that excluding the high energy pre-credits introduction, the rest of the flick mostly avoids the elaborate stunts and absurd gadgetry-inspired last minute escapes that James Bond is renowned for. Mostly, it shows our ‘damaged’ protagonist plodding through the plot up until the strangest ending a Bond film has ever had.

It’s the first time I can think of where Bond doesn’t save the world, and doesn’t really win, in the end, if you consider what his objective is, which I won’t spoil unnecessarily, and I guess that’s refreshing too.

Rating:

Natural Selection

Natural Selection

You can pick your family, but you can't pick your genes

dir: Robbie Pickering

Every now and then you need a quiet, chilled-out flick as a bit of a palette cleanser. A bit of cooling pickled ginger after the burning momentary wasteland of wasabi. A nice, clean beer after a nasty shot of rotgut whisky served in a dirty glass. Most of the last twenty or so films I’ve watched have been pretty intense, so something light and breezy is surely desirable.

Natural Selection is one of those flicks I knew practically nothing about before watching it, other than it was a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival some time or another. Something being a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival doesn’t usually make me want to watch something especially much, in fact it’s more likely to make me recoil in horror and contemplate watching another Michael Bay film instead.

But it was liked by a few people who I take seriously, and so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

It’s an odd bird of a flick, but nonetheless it’s an enjoyable one about a woman going on a very modest journey of reflection and self-discovery. Thankfully, this doesn’t involve Julia Roberts or Tuscany or getting a vibrator for the first time.

Rating:

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - 7 stars