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7 stars

The Lights

The Lights

So, when was the last time you ever heard someone saying that
going into the lights would be a good idea? Everyone knows by
now not to go into the lights. And yet...

dir: Christopher Krupka

2015

It’s amazing what you can do with no budget, a bunch of people, a couple of cheap cameras and some terrifying sound design.

The Lights is an Australian horror flick that is unpolished, messy and very clunky in some ways, and it’s definitely an exponent of the found footage horror genre, which are a sequence of words alone that could make people flee to the hills, but in some quite powerful ways it succeeds in what it sets out to do.

There’s no doubt that it could have benefited from some more money, maybe a little more time on the script. But there is no doubting that even if The Lights uses a bunch of familiar elements in familiar ways, it still manages to do exactly what it sets out to do: unsettle, confuse and terrify.

A lot of horror flicks use the found footage conceit, yet the way it’s used in The Lights is somewhat confusing. Someone, someone who we hear ask questions of some of the participants / survivors, is filming whatever’s going on (with a few scenes of other footage thrown in from phones and other cameras as well) giving it the feel of a ramshackle documentary spliced with found footage. But whoever the unseen person filming is, despite the fact that we know it’s not one of the main four characters, there’s no real explanation as to who they are and why they’re filming.

Rating:

Sicario

Sicario

She looks like she could shoot you unless you give her a cookie.
For your own safety, just give her a cookie

dir: Denis Villeneuve

2015

Well that was… harrowing.

If you haven’t already seen it, and don’t know what it means, the word ‘sicario’ basically means ‘assassin’, as in, someone who kills people for money.

I can’t claim any particular knowledge of Spanish that let me know this previously, but I did already know the term, mostly because of a weird Colombian film by Barbet Schroeder from ages ago called Our Lady of Assassins, or, as I knew it when I saw it, La Virgen de los Sicarios.

Why do I recall something like this from 15 years ago? Well, I had the movie poster on my wall. Back then when paper still existed, you’d pick up all the free posters from places like Cinema Nova that you could because they provided cheap and slickly well produced camouflage, perfect for hiding the damaged walls in rental properties from nosy property managers.

It’s something I’ve never forgotten, not because it was a good film, but because how could I forget such a concept? Teenage assassins wearing protective amulets of the Virgin Mary, praying to her to help them in their assassinations? It’s beyond absurd, it’s child-like and monstrous at the same time. Imagine the cognitive dissonance caused by trying to reconcile the concept that Jesus’s mother wants you to shoot some guy in the face, and will protect you until you do so.

Rating:

Everest

Everest

The feeling that you had, gazing upon the mountain with awe and holy
terror, that you shouldn't have dared to try to climb it? That's the one you
should have gone with, peeps, definitely.

dir: Baltasar Kormakur

2015

“Because it’s there” is a terrible reason to do anything.

I would argue that it’s the dumbest reason to do anything in this world, in this life, let alone climb the world’s tallest mountain.

If someone asks you why you’re climbing Mount Everest, I would argue that you need a much better response than that. Perversely, it’s inadequate for me because plenty of people have already climbed the bloody thing, and, it’s killed so, so many people in the attempt.

I am obviously not the kind of person to whom this kind of stuff appeals. To me, and I don’t want to seem unkind to the families of people who lost their lives climbing this mountain or any other mountain, it seems both the height of arrogance and the nadir of stupidity to deliberately put yourself in a horribly dangerous situation for no actual need or benefit. At this stage, climbing to the top of Mount Everest’s only purpose is so that you can say to people “I climbed Mount Everest”.

Even then, I don’t really see the benefit of it. Unless it somehow results in the perfect formulation in bars and clubs of “Hey. I climbed Mount Everest” always leading to “Well, I guess I absolutely have to fuck you, then” it really doesn’t mean that much to me.

Rating:

Ant-Man

Ant-Man

I can't tell you how much I love this poster. It's like the
greatest poster ever

dir: Peyton Reed

2015

You know what? It’s not so bad.

In fact, considering these hyperinflationary times, where each new Marvel product comes out with even more characters whose backstories we don’t care about and even more fights / explosions with robots / aliens we care even less about, this flick almost comes as something of a relief.

What amazing power does this latest superhero have?

He can shrink down to the size of an ant.

An Ant! Isn’t that almost… cute?

Since he’s not just another superspy / immortal god / indestructible green / blue / robot suited dingus, there isn’t the same kind of same same same story told. Not to imply that much of a story is told (it’s still built upon a house of clichés, but they’re different clichés this time!), but it makes something of a change from the endless parade of superpowered galloots that are polluting our movie and television screens currently.

He’s not a vigilante wanting to avenge his dead parents/wife/child; he hasn’t been bit by a radioactive anything; he’s not an alien with superpowers just because his adoptive planet has a yellow sun: he’s just a dude, and he can get real small when he wants to.

Rating:

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Rogue Nation

The impossible mission is finding things that Tom Cruise hasn't already
dangled himself off of yet.

dir: Christopher McQuarrie

2015

There is not ever too much Tom Cruise in a Tom Cruise movie, according to Tom Cruise. It’s unlikely that, when he’s the one producing a movie that he’s the star of, you can ever say to him “Maybe, you know, you don’t need to be in every single shot?”

The makers of these movies have decided the problem with the other Mission: Impossible movies is that there wasn’t enough screentime for Tom Cruise in them. I know what you’re thinking: too much Cruise is barely enough, but there are ways and means of improving things, definitely.

There might have been a point where the Mission: Impossible story was considered to be one about an elite team of spies with elite skills who work together to save the world / beat the bad guys / make a nice sandwich, but somewhere along the way it became all about Cruise all the time.

I’m not going to feign confusion or lie to you: this isn’t the flick where it all falls apart. That ship sailed a long time ago. The team long ago stopped being a team and just became a group of other people who hang around so Ethan Hunt has someone to talk to while he does his amazing thang, whatever it is. They’ve always been the support personnel: the janitors, the a/v people, the guys doing the soundcheck, the girls delivering tea and cakes on a trolley.

Rating:

Minions

Minions

Yes, they are stupid, adorably stupid, like all the best movie characters

dir: Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda

2015

Minions. Small yellow idiots. Minions.

They have their own film now. The makers of Despicable Me thought there was too much of talking humans in those flicks, too much Steve Carrell using a Russian accent. So they felt the need to give us the origin story of these allegedly lovable yellow idiots.

Make no mistake, they are complete idiots. They are also, strangely enough, immortal beings, the movie posits, that have been alive since the dawn of life on this hellish planet. And through the ages they have latched onto whichever is the biggest and baddest predator they can find.

It may seem like evolution has dictated that they have a symbiotic relationship with nature’s greatest ‘villains’, but their innocent, mindless actions usually end up killing the thing they love. Maybe evolution doesn’t really come into it, since they don’t die, they don’t change; they just keep accidentally doing what they do best.

Maybe that is Nature at work: maybe some of these predators, be they Tyrannosaurus Rexes or Napoleon, need to be put down in order to restore balance to an ecosystem, be it during the Jurassic era or 18th Century Europe. They don’t want to kill their master, but they do it anyway. Maybe they are divine yellow Furies, sent by the gods to punish egomaniacs for their hubris, for their temerity, for daring to think themselves the equals of the gods.

Rating:

The Age of Adaline

Age of Adaline

In The Age of Adaline, the Avengers attempt to save the world from a
quiet immortal woman living in San Francisco looking after a succession of
dogs. The Avengers lose because she's just so charming, with her
1920s levelheadedness and snappy dress sense.

dir: Lee Toland Krieger

2015

Fantasy? Romance? Fantasy romance?

Whatever perfect combination of both those concepts you could wish for.

What is this film about? Well, it’s…

Hard to say. It’s about immortality and love, and hiding, and time.

That there is a strange element to the story is a given, since it’s about a woman who’s over a hundred years old but who doesn’t look a day over 25. What it’s ultimately saying about life and love, well, I have no idea, because I wasn’t able to figure it out whilst watching it.

I’ve thought about it some more since then. Still nothing.

Adaline (Blake Lively) looks like a young woman living in San Francisco. Upon travelling to her place of work she reminisces about her youth while watching archival footage of San Fran 100 years ago. If her faraway expression wasn’t enough, a serious, sober voiceover starts telling us stuff as if we, and not Adaline, are watching a documentary.

This is not a documentary, in case I haven’t yet made it painfully obvious. Adaline floats through most of the movie, elegant and detached from all around her. Why?

Well, people would get freaked out since she doesn’t age. And she doesn’t want a visit from the FBI/Gestapo again, where they once grabbed her, presumably for the purposes of experimentation, and yet they did it so incompetently that she was able to get away.

Rating:

Ex Machina

There's appropriate touching, there's inappropriate touching,
and then there's "This touching is an abomination unto the Lord".

dir: Alex Garland

2015

It’s funny that I’ve gotten to watch two films with pretty much the same premise within less than a week of each other (or their release), and yet they take the same basic story (artificial intelligence) and go in two completely oppositional directions.

Both have flaws, but they’re interesting, to me at least. The other flick I’m talking about is Chappie, but I’m not going to spend this review talking about a different flick. Even if there’s far more bizarre stuff to talk about with the other flick.

This flick takes a cool, calm approach to its subject matter. It’s basically a three-hander, well, maybe four, confined to one location (an incredible looking place in Norway, part carved out of the earth, part high tech glacier?), with muted themes and even more muted action (before the ending). Mostly, it’s a film where a guy called Caleb (Domhnall Gleason) chats with his boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac) and someone else called Ava (Alicia Vikander).

Someone else… someone else. This someone else is not as others might be. She possesses a very expressive face for something that is basically just a very complicated iPhone. And boobs too. Why would you put boobs on a robot?

Well, apparently there are very good reasons. Boobs can be a lot of things to a lot of people. They can also be a great diversion or an even better distraction.

Rating:

Top Five

Top Five

Let's walk around for a while and who knows what might happen

dir: Chris Rock

2014

Oh, how hard it must be, to be rich and successful! Doesn’t your heart go out to the struggling celebs, whose lives are irretrievably destroyed by the wealth and the constant temptations of the flesh that most of us will never know of, let alone imagine?

I know mine does. Each morning and before I lay me down to sleep on my bed of nails, as I dutifully put on my hairshirt, I pray to the sweet Lord above and below that He look after all those successful comedians who are struggling to be taken seriously as dramatic actors. Then I wipe a tear away and sleep the sleep of the wicked.

Chris Rock directs and stars in a film where he seems to be playing a thinly veiled variation on Chris Rock. Well, maybe that’s not entirely accurate. At least he calls his character “Andre Allen”. And this “Andre Allen” character is way more famous than Chris Rock is. This Andre Allen is like Brad Pitt – Katy Perry – Angela Lansbury famous, being mobbed on the streets and being driven everywhere in limos.

There are key differences, though. The character he plays here is in recovery, is afraid of comedy, and desperately seeks the approval of some film critic called James who hates his work with an unholy passion. I wonder if circumstances will present him with an opportunity to get back at his nemesis?

Rating:

Faults

Faults

The Leader is good, The Leader is great, we surrender
our will as of this date!

dir: Riley Stearns

2014

There are probably a bunch of faults in Faults. You wouldn’t really put those faults down to the budget, because this flick has none. I have rarely if ever seen a movie with recognisable actors in it with as much of a budget absence as this.

Let me put it this way, in my pockets I have more money than was perhaps spent on any aspect of the making of or distribution of this movie.

It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Constraints often force film makers to come up with intriguing solutions. It’s just that the budget is so, so tiny that you have to figure the makers made it out of a deep love of the subject matter.

Or they just really, really love cults.

I’ve never been, even as a child, prone at all to the temptations of subsuming myself into any group’s loving embrace, whether it be religious, philosophical, political or otherwise. I just don’t have that belonging feeling. I’m sure the people that do get sucked into these entities probably believed likewise about themselves. I’m sure there’s a few Scientologists who still think they made the right decision to sign on for a billion years of service, and that their decision made perfect sense at the time and even to this day.

Rating:

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