dir: Shane Black
Third-parters are almost never good. They never work out well, whether in comparison to the first two instalments, or compared to any other decent films in general. Aliens III? Matrix: Revolutions? Superman III? Can you think of a third parter at least as good as what came before it? The only one I can think of is Return of the King, which many callous people think of as being The Kiwi Flick with Three Hours of Endings. But I don't, since if one happy ending is a good thing, then lots of happy endings has got to be even more super amazing.
You could argue that the difference is when the third part of a film trilogy is an organic part of the story, rather than a second sequel, whose purpose is just to capitalise on diminishing returns. Where Dark Knight Rises fits into this I couldn't tell you. Where some would argue 'necessity', others would argue 'doesn't say anything it hasn't already said twice before'. So whether it's Shrek the Third or Jaws III or Robocop III, or Spider-Man III, we're generally programmed to expect much more of 'more of the same' -ness to predominate, as well as a certain tiredness to the premise and mistakes particular to thirds that just have to be made.
I would argue that Iron Man III is the best of the three Iron Man movies. I know it doesn't seem likely, but it gets everything right both inside and outside the context of 'super hero flick' that I could hope for. It was so hellishly entertaining, so clever in many of its aspects, and thoroughly satisfying on any comic-book level I could have desired that it really is quite surprising. A pleasant surprise, not a surprise like finding a nipple growing out of your elbow.
The other argument I generally make about third instalments is that they end up repeating the events of the first flick, just in a louder and more repetitive fashion. It goes beyond callbacks and references for the geeks. Basically, the screenwriting template for 3s is 'pretty much mirror the events of the first flick, but add stacks more villains'. That's not a formula for quality. It's a formula for printing money and sadness.
dir: Bart Layton
At their worst, documentaries cover something that happened in the most turgid, lifeless manner possible, sending the facts even further out of reach and serving the self-interests of people trying to impose their horrible view of humanity all over the rest of us.
At their best, they illuminate the confusion that confronts all of us in the face of not what happened at particular points in time, but why. It’s not the sole purpose of documentaries to answer questions, or to say “This, then this, then this”. Sometimes they succeed best when they still leave us wondering “what the hell were these people thinking?”
The Imposter is a documentary about something that really happened, in which most of the facts are not in dispute. Let’s say 99% of the facts are not disputed. With the family involved, and the imposter of the title, none of them are denying that any of this happened. What none of them can genuinely answer is the “why” of it all, and that doesn’t detract from the experience in the slightest.
A boy goes missing in Texas, in the 1990s. A ‘boy’ in Spain is found by police, who claims, eventually, to be the missing Texan boy, Nicholas Barclay.
How bizarre, eh? We’re not under any confusion as to whether this chap was actually Nicholas Barclay. I mean, the documentary is called The Imposter. Also, this guy, who talks directly to the camera, has a strong French accent. He has brown eyes, whereas Nicholas has blue eyes. This guy’s also clearly an adult.
There are actors in this, in small recreated bits, but mostly we see the family of Nicholas Barclay, his sister and mother, the FBI agent who become involved, and, in the main, pseudo-Nicholas Barclay with his oily French non-charm, admitting what an unrepentant scumbag he was from the beginning to the end of this saga.
dir: Ron Fricke
How do you even review something like this? It ends up saying more about the reviewer than the movie reviewed.
Samsara isn't a sequel to Baraka, the amazing, awe-inspiring 'documentary' from the 1990s that I've watched a billion times and whose soundtrack I've listened to even more. It's a continuation of Baraka, same director, same incredible 70mm film footage, same globe-trotting footage and same blissful lack of narration.
While I've seen Baraka so many times that it's become like the wallpaper of my skull, it exists in a pre-review time, before I was ever presumptuous enough to start thinking critically about films, about film as a medium, and, even worse, before I had the gall to start writing about them.
Samsara supplies me with a curious opportunity: How do you write about something that has no (obvious) narrative or story, which isn't really documenting anything other than how awesome-looking some bits of the world are, and which it's almost impossible to describe beyond saying stuff like "And then there's a shot of the Pope's arse, and then there's a narwhal, then there's a glacier, then there's a guy picking his nose at Roppongi Station, then there's a massive sand dune and then" which I could do for thousands of words and still get no closer to capturing its point or essence?
Well, the first thing I can comment on is that even with the lack of a clear narrative, without some voice telling us what to think, there are obviously decisions that have happened, thoughts thunk and put into action and themes put into play by both what was filmed, and how it was edited together. We, being humans, at least most of us, can see something random, something with elements that are not connected, and our minds seek to connect the dots.
We draw comfort from there being a meaning, from there being a connection. I know, schizophrenics do it all the time and it's horrible, because they can somehow connect a curious mark on the side of an apple with a cloud in the sky and a word spoken by a character in a movie, and it all points to how a taxi driver is trying to kill their hamster. Being able to imagine a connection, or hallucinating connections, doesn't mean those connections are valid.
dir: Jake Schreier
Films about old guys battling dementia don’t sound like a lot of fun. If you saw that flick, at least I thought it was an actual movie, of Clint Eastwood getting into an argument with a chair last year and losing, then you know how sad it can be.
Really sad. But where there’s inspiration, there’s hope. Someone fairly clever came up with a sci-fi premise that does what the best kinds of science-fiction stories do: they use some kind of presently non-existent technology to tell us a story relatable to the people of today.
Frank (Frank Langella) is a grumpy old bastard, as if there’s any other kind of old guy in movies. The first thing we see him doing is burglarising a house. He’s pretty rough at it, but he knows what he’s doing. As he’s extracting everything of worth through lockpicking and brute force, he spies a picture in a frame, and wonders how a picture of himself as a younger man with his kids has found it into his target’s house.
It takes a while, but he figures out, too late, that he’s been knocking off his own house in the middle of the night.
So, yeah, we get to see two things: he’s a thief by nature, and he’s got some kind of neurological/cognitive issues, especially as they relate to memory.
He has a son who fusses over him (James Marsden), and who visits him weekly, but he has to drive five hours there and five back each time. Clearly there are limits to filial piety. He has a daughter as well (Liv Tyler), whose whiny voice and ethnic clothing makes her the classic cinematic cliché of a trust fund hippie. She fusses from a safe distance, as safe a distance away as Tajikistan, or Kyrgyzstan, or one of the many ‘stans to choose from.
The concerned son, the good son, decides that you can buy your way out of a difficult situation. Money can assuage guilt, it's possible, or at least that's what this film champions as an ideal in life. The son buys the father a robot. It's far enough in the future where robots are now adept at carrying out all the tasks a senile old man and a crafty thief could ever ask for. Frank's not enamoured with the purchase, because, as with most people who are either old or suffering from dementia or both, they deny they have a problem and they at least pretend to resent any attempts towards helping them (while whining simultaneously if you stop trying to help).
dir: Tim Burton
I admitted, in my recent review of ParaNorman, that I often make mistakes when it comes to allowing my darling daughter to watch stuff that’s perhaps inappropriate for her age, which was, at the time, five. What I neglected to mention is that I’m really not the kind of person you look to for the actual, mature process of ‘learning from one’s mistakes.”
That’s not something apparently that I do. So when my daughter, primed by having seen ads for it, insisted we go see Frankenweenie, I said “why the hell not?”
In the end, it turned out to be far less terrifying than I feared, and better than I expected.
It is, after all, a story about a boy and his dog.
Well, actually, it’s about remaking the ‘original’ James Whale Frankenstein in the most kid friendly manner possible, while also finding time to coat the whole story in the visuals and tropes Burton has been trading on for decades, as well as doing some stuff with the old Japanese monster movies.
And by ‘tropes” I mean the aesthetics and imagery he’s ripped off from people like Charles Addams and Edward Gorey from day dot.
This isn’t a brilliant movie by any estimation, but I loved the hell out of it. It didn’t tell a particularly original story (how could it), but it tells it aesthetically in the best manner possible for what the story requires, which is all we can hope for.
Victor loves his dog Sparky. Victor, Victor Frankenstein, that is, lives in the gloomy town called New Holland. No, it’s not Australia up until the 1800s. It’s gloomy because everything seems to be in black and white. Also, in a first for the protagonist of a movie Burton directed, Victor is a depressed loner, always going about in a funk.
The father here, like the father in ParaNorman, laments that his son isn’t a joiner, or a sporty type, or exactly the kind of son he wishes he could have had. Is every cinematic father like this? Now that I think about it, cinematic fathers from The Jazz Singer to Brave to How to Train Your Dragon to Texas Chain Saw Massacre all wish their kids could have turned out somewhat differently, before either accepting them as they are or killing them in the end. It’s tough love, but it’s the only way they’ll learn.
dir: Ang Lee
A lot of what I’m going to say about this beautiful movie is going to sound churlish, ungrateful and unfair. So be it. Someone has to do it. So much of the rest of the world is tripping over itself saying what a wondrous movie this is, that I can’t help but be a little contrary.
But until that time when I let rip with both barrels, let me lull you into a false sense of security by praising this film’s many virtues.
No, Life of Pi is not about pies, or about the mathematical constant of π. The diameter or circumference of no circles was calculated during the making of this movie. It’s about a guy whose nickname is Pi (Irrfhan Khan) who survived a harrowing experience and lived to tell the story to a writer (Rafe Spall). Lucky for the writer, eh, because he would have been stuffed otherwise, and we would have been none the wiser or entertained.
No, don’t go thinking this flick has anything to do with a true story of any description. Almost every implausible movie that gets made, from Zero Dark Thirty to Titanic to Transformers, practically has an opening title assuring us that what we are about to watch is based on true events. That’s not what Life of Pi is aiming for. It aims to tell an amazing, unbelievable story in the most visually stunning manner possible.
And, oh, is it stunning. Seen in 3D, using the full capabilities of this ‘new’ old technique in the cinema is the quintessential cinematic experience. It’s the most impressive and immersive use of 3D I’ve seen thus far, and it doesn’t just add an aesthetic sheen to the visuals: it makes the visuals visceral and encompassing in a way other films don’t.
When Pi is telling the story, he’s an older man, but the story he’s telling is about his younger self (Suraj Sharma), growing up in Pondicherry, at the time a region of India controlled somehow by the French. I say ‘somehow’ because while I don’t dispute that the French controlled this place up until the 50s, it just doesn’t seem like something those brave and noble Gauls would do.
I mean, I can’t imagine the French ever trying to rule some colonial place and having it explode in their and everyone else’s faces, can you? Maybe the Americans came along and politely asked them to leave?
dir: Rich Moore
Yes, it’s school holidays time. It’s Christmas time. It’s that time of the year where I’m not going to the cinema at all odd hours of the day or night in order to squeeze a film or two in a week as well as keeping all the juggling balls of life and work up in the air.
No, this is the time where I can stride into a cinema in the middle of the day with my head held high, with a huge tub of popcorn (which I otherwise never buy), holding hands with my daughter. The problem, of course, is that I can’t exactly take her to screenings of The Master, Lincoln, Holy Motors or Hitchcock without it rightly being considered a form of abuse.
Especially The Master. Forgetting some of the content for a moment, inflicting that level of tedium on a kid should be a criminal offence.
So bring on the highly animated kids movies, so we can all be happy. Well, so we can be somewhat happy, I guess. There’s always the trade-off between what entertains a kid and what a parent can sit through without wanting to chew their own arm off in order to escape from the theatre.
Wreck-It Ralph may not have the Pixar branding to give it the seal of approval and guaranteed quality, but it’s a tremendously enjoyable flick all the same, in fact it’s better than anything Pixar has put out since Toy Story 3. It’s not a competition, wait, it is a competition, always, surely, competition is a great thing.
Beyond that comparison, it’s actually trading on and treading a similar path as the Toy Story flicks: the simultaneous concept that these arcade game characters are ‘alive’ when no humans are watching, and nostalgia. It’s not children’s nostalgia, because they don’t have anything to be nostalgic about yet, but that of their parents.
dir: Andrea Arnold
There are probably a million versions of this story, and yet this is the first I’ve watched the whole way through. I know there’s versions with chronic overactors like Laurence Olivier and Ralph Fiennes playing the smouldering Heathcliff, but none of them have ever been compelling enough to compel me to watch them.
I don’t have a good reason as to why. As a pseudo-intellectual pretentious wanker (First Class) who also happens to make millions on the side from writing film reviews read by scores of people, it’s almost a negligent crime to not have read and seen at least fifteen versions of Wuthering Heights by now. I should really turn in my union card before the Goth Union comes after me.
Still, I’ve heard the Kate Bush song hundreds of times, and the even funnier Mr Floppy parody version of Kate Bush’s song, so I thought I’d totally be up on all the details upon finally watching a Wuthering Heights film.
Jeez Louise! I never knew Emily Bronte had such a dirty mouth! They should dig her up and wash her fingertips out with soap for all the shocking, shocking language on aural display here.
There was a moment while watching the film where I kind of clicked that maybe this film had varied somewhat from the established text, when Heathcliff screams at a bunch of toffy aristocrats, in a heavy Yorkshire accent, “Fook all you, you pack o’ koontz”. You thought the biggest variation was having Heathcliff played by a black actor, well, the script seems to be a tad more radical than that particular casting decision.
I never realised how bleak this story was, how vicious and cruel. You hear or read the words “doomed love story” and it conjures images of lovers star-crossed though they be eventually submitting to a cruel fate that conspires to only allow them a brief time of happiness before crushing them utterly. Wuthering Heights doesn’t even have that “brief time of happiness”, it’s about love, but it’s all misery from beginning to end.
dir: David Ayer
It sounds like something you’ve seen a million times before, but it actually ends up being much stronger than that. A movie about two cops? Get out of here, it’ll never work…
The director, David Ayer, has been responsible for a lot of cop-related flicks, most notoriously Training Day (as the screenwriter), a film I still loathe to this day, but he clearly has an affinity for two things: cops and South Central LA. As he grew up there, it’s impossible to see it as anything other than a deep affection for the place. In some ways he’s demystifying some of the mystique surrounding the place, but in a lot of other ways, he’s probably perpetuating most of the clichés about the place that give it such a negative rep.
That doesn’t concern me, I’m not here to judge, just to condemn or transcend. In truth, you probably shouldn’t see his many films about cops and South Central as a form of document, covering as they do the transitions occurring over time in that one area, and in policing, as well, but I’m happy to, because how else am I going to know? The only other source of information I have about South Central comes from rappers, and they’re not known for their meticulous adherence to accuracy.
One of the strongest aspects of this flick versus everything else Ayer’s ever done is that, for once, it’s not about a bunch of sadistic, corrupt cops dealing with cops that are even more sadistic and corrupt than themselves. The intention here is just to depict two decent cops on the beat, and the shittiness they have to deal with on an almost daily basis.
The film opens with a car chase, and Jake Gyllenhaal in voiceover giving us the spiel about how cops are a band of brothers, one-for-all Musketeers and the Thin Blue Line and every other cliché out there about cops, and then lives up to it by showing how this really works out for them.
Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña) are officers and partners, they drive around in their squad car, and they patrol the mean streets. They are not corrupt. They aren’t excessively brutal or brutish to the many scumbags they have to deal with, and they actually try to make a difference out there.
dir: Kieran Darcy-Smith
Wow, did I get this one wrong.
This flick was completely not what I thought it would be, either in style or content. For some reason I had this idea it was a light-hearted romantic drama about two Australian couples travelling overseas and finding out stuff about each other and coming to terms with stuff etc.
Spectacularly wrong, incandescently wrong. I could not have been more wrong if I’d thought I was about to watch a film clip for Pink Floyd’s song Wish You Were Here, sung by Christina Aguilera as Lady Gaga spanks her with a rhesus monkey.
It turns out it’s a sly reference to the postcard one used to be able to send, saying the title, as in, Really, I’m Glad That You’re Not Here, But I Just Wanted to Rub Your Nose In the Fact That I’m Here and You’re Not. That’s what it’s always meant in reality, but this flick, which has a black streak through it a mile wide.
There’s a darkness to this flick, a dread which precludes hints at levity or humour, and we’re not sure why at all until the very end. We’re not sure because the flick uses an aggressive editing style to keep us unbalanced and offside, and a non-chronological approach in order to keep us confused and in the dark throughout. There are also hints, feints, red herrings and dead ends throughout the script to keep us guessing, or at least it kept me guessing constantly. Of course it all makes sense in the end, but it’s the getting there that’s the harrowing part.
As the flick starts, as far as we know it starts, we know something has happened. One of the four of a group of Australians has gone missing. We don’t know what’s happened to him, and the three people who return to Australia from Cambodia don’t seem to know what’s happened either.
The waiting’s not the hardest part; it’s the gnawing anxiety that eats away at your insides waiting for something horrible to be found out by the ones you love most. Dave (Joel Edgerton) and Alice (Felicity Price) returned all right, it seems, but they’re clearly worried about what happened to their friend Jeremy (Antony Starr), and they’re really hoping he’s found soon. Clearly.
dir: Ben Affleck
3 for 3. How does Ben Affleck, Ben Affleck get to be such a good director after a lifetime of blockheaded roles and lacklustre performances? Ben Affleck from Armageddon? Ben Affleck from Gigli? Ben Affleck from Pearl Harbor? That Ben Affleck?
And yet Gone Baby Gone, The Town and now Argo are all superbly made films. How does that work?
Well, there’s a scene where Affleck’s character Tony Mendez is asking an old Hollywood special effects hack about whether it’s possible to teach someone how to fake being a director in one day. The weary hack states quite unambiguously that he could teach a rhesus monkey how to be a director in one day.
Affleck must have put this in as an in-joke, he must have, aimed at both the people who admire what he’s done as a director and those who can’t believe such a hammy actor has the temerity to direct films, and good ones at that.
The fact is he can direct, and he’s doing really well thus far. I’m sure my appreciation of him, which will be reported back to him by some perky squirrel of an unpaid intern, who trawls the tubes of the internets for nasty or nice comments about him, will warm the cockles of his heart and tickle the follicles of his under-beard.
dir: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Being a deeply neurotic person, I regularly fall prey to a panoply of fears. One of the most fundamental for me is either not being seen as a person, or failing to see other people as real people.
I'm sure that probably sounds a bit weird. I mean, there are a bunch of far more reasonable and likely things to be terrified of. Spiders, for one, insanity, earthquakes, tsunamis, radiation, cancer, germs; there's a lot out there, and they're just the simplistic ones. People with elaborate and expansive imaginations can think of plenty more crap on a second-by-second basis to be horrified at the prospect of.
My fear about forgetting to see the inherent humanness of people and just seeing them as objects is a powerful one, because I think it's so easy.
You forget, sometimes, don't you, when you're dealing with someone who seems more like a collection of annoyances rather than a living, breathing person, to see them as they deserve to be seen, as a whole person? Or when you fixate on some other aspects of their being, and completely forget about their personhood, and instead bliss out at whatever aspect / fetish takes your fancy?
And what if you do this overwhelmingly to the people you're meant to be closest to in your life, like your own partner or family?
When Ruby Sparks first came out, I recall reading various conversations about how some people were seeing this film as a takedown, a deconstruction of the so-called "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" character that permeates the entertainment sphere. The character, almost always written into screenplays by male writers, tends to reduce female characters to idiotic and simplistic caricatures of femininity just to help a dull male character our of their funk. Sure, fiction is a form of fantasy, but these characters tend to be seen explicitly as a male fantasy of what a superficial but desirable 'woman' would really be like.
This construct, this 'thing' they play has nothing to do with the physical: it comes down to how mindlessly and without agency they act. The bipolar energy, the tweeness, the flightiness, the 24-hour sexual availability, the borderline psychoticness are all, somehow, meant to be desirable to us, the viewer, looking through the eyes of the male protagonist. It's strange, I know, but there you have it.
If you're still not sure what I'm talking about, here's a list of manic pixie dream girls that I can think of off the top of my head: anything played by Zooey Deschanel in everything she's ever done, (often) Maggie Gyllenhaal, Meg Ryan in her heyday, a lot of Natalie Portman's crapper roles, and basically any role where the character's sole purpose is a feisty 'feminine' function that wouldn’t seem to exist except that the main character needs her to.
The writer of this film, however, Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of the legendary and infamous director Elia Kazan, rejects this outright. Ruby Sparks, for her, and she should know, isn't about the propensity for screenwriters to write these empty characters; it's about the danger of idealising the people we're romantically involved with.
She also plays Ruby, so I guess we have to take her word as law. As in, she's the Judge Dredd of this endeavour, and if she says 'manic pixie dream girl' is a misogynistic and reductive term, and that it doesn't exist really as a phenomenon in movies, then She is the Law, and must be right.
dir: Walter Salles
Unfilmable books make for interesting films.
On the Road has been on that list of “Great” American Novels like Tropic of Cancer, Catcher in the Rye, Pale Fire, The Sound and the Fury, a bunch of others, that people never thought could be adapted to the big screen.
But then you think of the flicks made from Naked Lunch and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or further afield to the flicks made from otherish books like Perfume or Cloud Atlas, and it makes it more the question of not “whether” but “how well”, as in, anything can be adapted, but not everything is adapted well, just like with any book.
Kerouac’s classic novel would always have made a good film, if the people involved knew what they were doing, and what they should avoid doing. The biggest problem it would have had is that even in a quality realisation, the flick would always (now) look just like every other road movie that’s ever come out in the last fifty years.
The majority of the flick isn’t, perhaps, on the actual road as the travellers travel down that road, but it certainly feels like it, and where it almost glows with purpose. Far more, comparatively, is spent watching these people smoke, drink and fuck in scummy apartments and dishevelled domiciles across the Americas as these people, these people, live their lives in the pursuit of life itself.
Sal Paradise (Sam Reilly) is, essentially, Jack Kerouac, the author of the novel of the film that bears its name, but the clever conceit the film uses in its adaptation of the book is that it’s not the ‘book’, per se. It’s like a depiction of the experiences, the impressions, the heady moments that eventually got Sal / Jack where he needed to get to in order to be able to write On the Road.
The recent death of his father leaves Sal at something of a loose end. He lives with his French-Canadian mother, working a sequence of shitty jobs, but he has the desire, the intention, the pretentions to aspire to write. Like many people who want to write but don’t know what to write about, he thrills at any opportunity to absorb what he can from fellow contemporaries. He has a somewhat unlikely friendship with a very exuberant gay poet called Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) amongst a bunch of others, but essentially what this then connects him to is Dean, Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund).
In case you know something about the Beats, the Beat Generation, all those jerks, Carlo is Allen Ginsberg of Howl fame, and Dean is Neal Cassady of being Neal Cassady fame.
Dean’s the man, the absolute Man. Every woman wants to fuck him, and every man, including Sal, wants to be him. And in plenty of cases throughout the film, the men want to fuck him too.
dir: Lorene Scafaria
If the world was going to literally end, and we knew about it in advance, and we knew exactly when it was going to happen, what would we all do with the time we had left? It’s a compelling what if? of a thought experiment, and usually, in art at least, it’s reserved to “if you were going to die, what stuff would you do finally that you never had the courage to do before?”
This time, though, everyone’s going to die. Every living thing extinguished in a cataclysm that won’t be averted with a couple of seconds to go, apparently, since this is what the film tells us from the opening minutes. A man (Steve Carrell) and his wife (Nancy Carrell) listen blankly as the radio in their car outlines the failure of some last-ditch attempt to avert the disaster. A meteor called Matilda, which is as good a name as any for something fixing to permanently end your present world, continues on its course towards Earth, where it will obliterate all life, perhaps.
The couple sit grimly in the car, until the wife bails, never to return. Why would she? The point the flick makes sometimes bluntly, sometimes eloquently, is that knowing the end is actually nigh would render most of the underpinnings of the social contract utterly null and void. Why be faithful to your husband or wife; the world’s ending in a few weeks, what difference will it make? Why go to work: is money going to stop Matilda? Why not take hard drugs and take part in uncomfortable orgies? Addictions not going to matter, STDs aren’t going to matter, unintended pregnancies aren’t going to matter.
Social conventions, infrastructure, the value of being courteous to each other: all of it falls apart even when the coming apocalypse doesn’t involve zombies, vampires or mutants.
This is a time where the end of things sits heavily on the minds of writers, screenwriters and the hard drives and Kindles et al of a lot of viewers and readers. If there are too many superhero flicks coming out, then there are even more ‘too many’ apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic movies that have been coming out for far too long.
In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, it’s not used as an excuse for cool head-exploding special effects or fight choreography. It’s solely used as the pretty big trigger for a whole bunch of people, being all of humanity, to start deciding what is and isn’t important to them in these last days.
dir: David Koepp
There's a point in this flick where a character, let's be honest, the baddie, yells at the main character, "New York hates you" with a great deal of venom and probably a touch of insanity, but some truth.
Why is he screaming this, and at whom? A terrorist? An Occupy Wall Street protester? A Wall Street banker? Obama? Someone who works at Planned Parenthood?
No, he's yelling this at someone who's a New York bike courier. New Yorkers - and by default, all drivers and pedestrians - hate cyclists, is the message.
Is it true? I mean, I guess that there has always been a tension between people on bikes and people in cars, mostly due to envy, I guess, but I didn't think it had reached the level of being a globalised rage against those who enjoy two good unmotorised wheels on a daily basis.
People on bikes hate people in cars because people in cars can and often do end the lives of people on bikes, and drive as if they're oblivious that this could be so. This happens, very obviously, because of basic physics. The formula for calculating Force, as far as I can remember from high school science classes, is Force = Mass times Acceleration. Cars have lots of mass, and go very fast, so they do a lot of damage to weedy types on deadly treadlies.
But why do car drivers hate cyclists, then? Is it guilt, is it resentment born of the relative freedom bikes enjoy in traffic jams, or is it because of a quality ascribed to those who eschew four wheels for two? It's not really that much of a choice for many of us living in the inner city, where a car is more trouble than its worth, and a bike is a relative and far more useful necessity in comparison, at least for those of us without that much money.
There's no guessing where the sympathies of the makers of Premium Rush side on. Totally on the side of the bikes, but then again, why not?
Don't start getting cocky, middle-aged men in lycra: It's not a celebration of people on the weekends who wear all that incredibly expensive skin tight stuff bulging over their many bulges so they can chug chug along to some place nearby in order to feel like they've achieved something meaningful and healthy. Instead, Premium Rush celebrates and lionises those brave and foolhardy men and women who cycle across the metropolis of New York as if the devil himself is on their tail.
The lead character is Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), presumably named after the coyote from the old Warner Brothers cartoons. He's tasked with delivering a seemingly harmless letter from one end of the city to the other. He has an hour and a half, and, as the flick is just over 80 minutes long, it's almost, we could assume, a exercise in real-time. That would be a mistake, though, because there are plenty of flashbacks and such dragging the story out. He rides with a passion and a fury, with seemingly no fear or favour or even brakes on his bike.
dir: Jonathan Teplitzky
This Australian film from last year has nothing to do with the week-long Burning Man festival in the States which happens every year (which coincidentally starts today, Aug 27th) and is capped off with a massive effigy of a burning man. It is, however, about a man who is burning.
He is burning with desire, with the clap and probably a few other factors are making him blaze, but as the film opens, what he’s burning with is actual fire.
Tom (Matthew Goode) is a chef, and like all chefs depicted in film, is a hard-charging hyper-caffeinated arsehole. Well, maybe it’s not fair to say all of them on film are Type A personality arrogant arseholes. I think there was one who wasn’t. It might have been Remy the rat from Ratatouille. But all of the rest of them tend to be shown as alcoholics and drug abusers who shag anyone at any time.
Anyone who has spent time with people like this in real life knows how false a picture of the food services industry this truly is. I mean, I’ve known stacks of people working like this in high pressure kitchens, and they NEVER drank on the job or smoked dope during a break or shagged co-workers in the alley behind the restaurant. Also, they never get trashed after work every other night, nor is Monday the night when they tend to go completely crazy, since they’ve usually worked all weekend.
It’s a tough environment to work in. Margins are razor thin, staff can be undependable and turnover is high, and your restaurant can live or die on the quality of a day’s produce, or be murdered by a single stinky review. It produces exceedingly talented people, but it also makes some bush league level arseholes into Parliamentary – International level arseholes.
Arseholes like Tom. We see a lot of disjointed images at the beginning, ones that seem to be jumping all over the place time-wise. We’re not sure what’s happening and when it’s meant to be happening, and it takes a long time for the story to coalesce for us.
This deliberate fractured narrative is intended, I think, to give us the setup first: How much of an arsehole is Tom, who also seems to be heading for a fiery death, and how did this all come about?
There are a lot of women shown briefly at the beginning, giving us a sense that Tom is a player of the highest order, just like all chefs, but as the story progresses it illuminates the elements of his character, so that time (as in, when something happens) tells us more about Tom rather than the element itself.
For much of the flick’s length I thought the flick was trying to explain why Tom ended up where he seemed like he was going to end up. Instead it’s trying to explain why a seemingly high-strung man is always angry. Turns out that he has a bloody good reason.
dir: Tomas Alfredson
I generally reject the idea, outright, that a really good film could also be really boring, the way a lot of people said about Tree of Life. Not necessarily at the same time, or to the same person, but if a flick is strong, then how can it be boring?
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not a boring flick at all. It’s a great adaptation, and a great looking film, meticulously filmed and acted. Alfredson has filmed this (or at least his cinematographer) as exquisitely as Let The Right One In, with a very different plot but a strong, sombre tone.
I can see, however, that this is probably not a flick that should be watched by people under forty. The visual look of the sixties and seventies depicted here, and the cool, stately scenes, edits and transitions, and the considered, intricate nature of the plot is going to anesthetise audiences hoping for the kind of movie they think of when they hear the words ‘spy thriller’.
This is certainly a thriller about spies, but this has to be at the absolute other end of the spectrum from action flicks like Ghost Protocol or The Bourne Legacy. In fact, a flick like this seems to be mocking them outright.
I’m not personally going to know which kind of flick is closer to the reality of international espionage. From what I’ve read and the many and varied compulsive liars I’ve spoken to over the years, I suspect the constipated, dull, institutional approach is probably the closer to reality. The people you might have met over the years who tell you they’ve worked in the clandestine services (and I’ve spoken to a surprising number of them) tend to be delusional braggarts, the kind of people you assume would have been weeded out in the selection process. The people who really have worked in those capacities tend to look more like non-descript accountants rather than suave motherfuckers in tuxedoes with their guns and cocks out, trying to fuck half the world and kill the other half.
dir: Lasse Hallstrom
This title is a blatant rip-off of the band Trout Fishing in Quebec, but I’ll forgive it that. I won’t forgive it much else along the way. Lasse Hallstrom is responsible for some truly terribly treacly flicks in the past, but somehow he was able to pull out before making a horrible mess this time.
I have not and will never read the book this flick is based on, but I’m virtually certain at least one thing about the book doesn’t carry over to the film. The character that McGregor plays has to have been older than the one he plays here, otherwise it makes no sense. Well, I guess it makes some sense if he has Asperger’s, or is just emotionally retarded, but then again, he’s a guy, so it’s hard to tell the difference.
Dr Alfred Jones (McGregor) is an expert on fish, and lives and breathes their fishy world as if it were his own. It’s humans he can’t stand. Even though he’s so curmudgeonly that it hurts the eyeballs, he has somehow managed to marry a woman who, for most of the film, is as emotionless and proper as he is, so they’re an ideal match.
Ewan's great, like he always is, but even he acts so stuffy at times that he almost looks disgusted with himself. He is one of those actors, like Johnny Depp, like R. Lee Ermy, that the womenfolk, in my humble estimation, will watch and adore in anything they do, no matter how good or lame. Maybe not former Marine Drill Sergeant R. Lee Ermy. He'd scare women into having orgasms, as opposed to the firm but gentle coaxing methods Depp and McGregor would be responsible for.
dir: Joss Whedon
You know what this needed? More superheroes.
Not enough superheroes. Also, more scenes of Scarlett Johansson’s character Black Widow elaborating upon her back story. Because the masses needed to know.
Also, it needed more shots of Samuel L. Jackson flipping the tails of his long leather coat outwards in an ever so attractive manner.
Other than that, it’s about as good as we could have hoped for.
Despite the idea that this is a discrete ‘let’s get the band together’ supergroup combination, it’s really the sixth instalment in a series that started with Iron Man. All of the flicks I’m talking about had different directors, but the link between them all is that comic book titans Marvel set up Marvel Studios specifically to make the movies for their own properties. No longer would they have to rely on other studios to bring their stable of heroes to the big screen.
No longer would they have to share as much of the profits, either. As the sixth instalment (if you count the Hulk flick with Ed Norton, which we probably don’t have to), or fifth sequel, or whatever you want to call it, the groundwork has already been laid for all these characters, and for the promise (or threat) that they would eventually be brought together in an all-star cast match-up/mash-up. There were teases dropped in post credits on most of those flicks, or outright explicit references to getting the Avengers together for whatever reason.
And here are the fruits of their labours.
There's a lot of set up all the same, the only difference between that and the usual origin story stuff is that the set up is specific to the plot here, and not the individual sagas explaining how these chaps became the superheroic clods they've become.
dir: Jason Reitman
Charlize Theron was terrifying in Monster, where she played serial killer Aileen Wuornos all those years ago, snagging an Oscar for her performance.
There are scenes in Young Adult where she’s even more horrifying.
She does this thing with her eyes where she leeches them of all human sentiment or human feeling. They transform into the eyes of some infinitely old and infinitely cold alien who observes our species with nothing but contempt.
And then she just acts like a self-centred brat who’s never grown up from being the high school mean/popular girl, who is doomed to be nothing but this for the rest of her life.
When Mavis (Charlize Theron) receives a group e-mail announcing the birth of her married, high-school boyfriend’s daughter, who has been out of her life for decades, she somehow twists this to mean that now is the time for her to return to her shitty home town to rescue him from a life of domesticity and human feeling.
She is a piece of work, a true piece of work. Her alcoholism is only one of her many estimable qualities. When she piles in to her car in order to drive back home to Mercury, Minnesota, with miniature dog in tow, she puts in a tape that dates back to her glory days, to the halcyon, to the peak of existence.
That tape, a mixtape, is just one of the many testaments to a certain age, here. What kids make mixtapes these days? I would hazard a guess that there’s possibly only about five people constructing even ‘mixtape’ CDs worldwide, and they’re probably just perverts.
What’s the contemporary equivalent? Sending a text message with a playlist that has links to the torrentz where some songs could be downloaded? Cram that up your iPod’s nethers and smoke to it, freaks and groovers.
Mavis plays the same song again and again. Actually, not even the entire song. She keeps repeating the intro mostly, again and again, just to hear the words “She wears denim wherever she goes / says she’s gonna get some records by The Status Quo oh yeah / Oh Yeah.”
Oh, yes indeed, it’s a great song from a great album, being The Concept from Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub. It’s meant to date not the film but the protagonist. The strangest thing, for me at least, is that it perfectly situated me in a time and place so I could understand the exact era these halcyon days of hers were meant to be from: the early 90s. If it had been a Nirvana song, that would have been too broad, and too on the nose, too easy. But this song narrowed it down even more.
It’s the way that she keeps playing the first bit of the song that’s even more telling, or possibly even more telling. She can’t even let the rest of the song play, or the tape itself. As if that wasn’t subtle enough, the song plays a key part later on as well.
dir: Jeff Nichols
Michael Shannon is the new Christopher Walken, only even more unsettling. And now they’re giving him lead roles in movies, which is going to scare even more children down the track.
Scooch closer, children, don’t make me tell you again about the scooching.
Take Shelter is a meditative, unsettling, measured story about a man overwhelmed by dread. Curtis (Michael Shannon) has dreams and visions of something awful that’s about to happen, and yet, because of his family history of mental illness, he allows for the possibility that it all might just be in his head.
This is a man who sees his dreams as omens, and takes actions in the ‘real’ world, which, obviously, look like the actions of an insane man, after a while. He knows they’re dreams, but, for him, it would be a crime not to prepare for what is coming. He loves his family too much to ignore the signs, and sees as absolute his obligation to do right by all of them.
His wife (Jessica Chastain, who I think was in every movie released in 2011), apart from being a redhead, is a rock, is a cornerstone, is a heroically supportive woman, but even she has her limits. Anyone would. Ninety-nine per cent of the time, though, she’s the embodiment of the concept of standing by your man to the bitter end.
They live in one of those places in the States, those flat, featureless, godforsaken places where tornadoes seem to happen all the time. By godforsaken, I really mean that the Christian, American God seems to really hate the people living in these places, and so He keeps sending twisters at them to destroy their mobile homes and double-wides. Why does He hate them so? I dunno, it doesn’t seem fair, does it?
A cautious approach to tornado safety wouldn’t seem inappropriate. It wouldn’t seem to be obsessive compulsive. Having a storm shelter, then, would seem entirely reasonable. When you start installing air extractors and buying gas masks, though, people are less understanding.
dir: Josh Trank
With great power comes great responsibility, as well as a great opportunity to get back at everyone who ever did us wrong, right?
Chronicle is a pretty keen take on the superhero genre, told through the non-narrative construct of handheld camera / found footage telling us the story. For that to work, it means that the person filming, at least initially, has to have some reason other than what’s about to happen for filming themselves. At least in theory.
That person is Andrew (Dane DeHaan), a pale and isolated jerk in high school, as are all Andrews, really. Has he got a decent reason for being a loner jerk who films himself with a camera? Well, maybe. The first instance we see worthy of immortalisation, which opens the flick, is him filming himself and his bedroom door, because his violent drunken jerk of a father (Michael Kelly) is threatening him through that door.
We also find out that Andrew’s mother is dying, very slowly, so things aren’t going that well for any of them. And at school, naturally, the other teenage scum sense his vulnerability, and bully the heck out of him. He does have, at least, a cousin who’s on friendly terms with him, which makes him seem like the only person in the world who gives a damn. Matt (Alex Russell) seems like a kid too tall and popular to give a damn about a scrawny skeleton like Andrew, but care he does, all the same. Inexplicably.
Perhaps in efforts to decrease his own burden, Matt insists that Andrew come to a rave with him, so he can get out there and alienate a whole new bunch of people. At that rave, which seems oh so 1990s, Matt, Andrew and another student called Steve (Michael B. Jordan) find some strange rock / crystalline thing down a hole which changes them profoundly.
No, it’s not a metaphor for hot guy-on-guy sex. Wait, maybe it is.
dir: David Fincher
Isn’t everyone sick of these goddamn books and movies by now? Haven’t we been dealing with them long enough? Can’t we just let them go, and move on?
Apparently not, since they’re making American versions now, complete with American and British actors speaking with what they hope are Swedish accents. Why are they speaking with Swedish accents? Who the hell knows. We know they’re ‘speaking’ Swedish to themselves, it just ‘sounds’ English to us within the context of the flick, but why some of them would use Swedish Chef accents and some of them wouldn’t makes it all slightly perplexing.
I guess that’s appropriate, since these are meant to be mysteries. Of course, since I’ve read the books and seen the Swedish versions, which had those pesky subtitles and Swedish actors, there’s really no mystery there anymore. Making Hollywood versions presumably opens up a whole new audience of people who hate subtitles, which is a fair number of people. And since they enlisted David Fincher to direct, we know they’re going for the prestige angle, and not the trashy cash-in angle.
In a perfect world, they could do both, since all it does is keep those wretched Millennium books on the bestseller lists. But this isn’t a perfect world, so here we have the purest exploitative trash elevated yet again onto the big screen to honour our eyeballs and to make us lament that Stieg Larsson was ever born, let alone picked up a laptop and wrote these pot-boiling tales before thankfully dying.
dir: Alexander Payne
I was so surprised when this didn’t turn out to be a biopic-documentary about the great punk band The Descendents, from whose ashes rose other punk superstars Black Flag and All, blessing the world with their fast, brutal pop-punk noise, inspiring a legion of teenage boys in Akron, Ohio and Ringwood, Melbourne, to pick up guitars in their bedrooms and then put them down again once they finished their chemistry and engineering degrees.
No. That would have been too real, too awesome. Instead, here’s George Clooney Clooning things up for the rest of us, based on the novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Cummings.
We see, for the briefest instant, a woman riding on a jet ski, who seems very happy. That’s the happiest we’re going to see her, because Clooney’s sonorous voiceover ensures that we will know quick smart that these people aren’t or can’t be happy for very long.
It turns out that the woman we beheld in all her glory is now in a coma, and her husband, Matt King (Cloons) is looking after her, and dealing more so with the fact that he now has to reengage with his family, being two daughters, which he thinks he’s not ready to do. The youngest, Scottie (Amara Miller) is getting in trouble for acting out (by saying ever so rude and hurtful things to other girls), and his elder daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) has her own problems unsuccessfully hidden away at her elite boarding school.
Though he uses and abuses voiceover throughout the flick, Matt’s main problem, and Payne’s intention, as it often is the case with his films, is to point out that even with people living in paradise, which is what a lot of people would consider Hawaii to be, their lives can still suck a bit, and they can do shitty things to each other.
I’m not sure that’s going to come as a surprise to anyone, but maybe it needed to be said. I never really thought life was easier for emotionally distanced people living in a hot, tropical place, because I always assumed the humidity and heat would drive residents into semi-regular alcoholic rages.
dir: Brad Bird
Sweet Zombie Jesus, if you’re going to make more of these monstrous Mission Impossible flicks, then continue getting Brad Bird to direct, because this one’s pretty amazing. From a pure action point of view, this is probably the best action flick I’ve seen in a long while, and I watch a lot of violent action flicks. Sure, a lot of them involve Chipmunks or are on the Nickelodeon channel, but my point still stands.
These lapdog American retreads of the James Bond espionage action genre have peaked right here, and it would probably be best if they just put it aside and backed away from the franchise. But they won’t, like we all know. Success breeds laziness, so Tom Cruise will probably be making these when he’s in his 80s and still puttering around looking like a 40-year-old thanks to foetal grindings and other secret Scientological super serums. I still find Cruise somewhat scary at the best and worst of times, but I can’t fault him for his work here. This flick exemplifies its own formula, excelling with the stuff that it’s known for, which is a bunch of incredibly orchestrated heists / break-ins, high-tech trickery, complicated impersonations, and saving the world at the very last second after travelling around it first.
The travelogue this time around requires visits to Russia, Dubai and finally Mumbai for their globe-trotting fix, before returning to that wretched den of scum and villainy, known as San Francisco. This isn’t some Eat Pray Love-type journey of self-discovery where they see the world, eat rich food for the first time in their lives and sleep with gorgeous Spanish men with bedroom eyes and washboard abs. They’re out to save the world from nuclear destruction, you sighing, overly romantic ninnies!
Brad Bird is probably best known for directing one of the best of a good bunch of films; they being Pixar films, and it being The Incredibles. This is his first non-animated flick, and he handles it very well. It’s pretty emotionally spare, it just flies along and doesn’t get bogged down by anything. It waits for no man or woman to catch up, and just keeps powering ahead whether you want it to or not. It’s not going to be mistaken for one of the Bourne flicks, but nor would you want it to be.
The team in question, being the team of agents? Operatives? Supergeniuses? I dunno, but they have to break someone out of a Russian prison. That’s our starting point. Although, when you start watching a flick that you know has Tom Cruise in it, and you don’t see him within the first five minutes, you start to get nervous. Where is he, when will he appear, is he okay, that sort of thing. And you also know that it would have to be him that they’re trying to rescue. Or else our minds will be blown.
There’s high tech guy Benji (Simon Pegg), and attractive agent Carter (Paula Patton), and that’s it. Sure, some guy died in Budapest, but I’m sure that had nothing to do with the rest of the story we’ll be watching unfold in Mother Russia.
Why would they do something so unkind to Ethan Hunt (Cruise)? I mean, that’s where the guy wants to be, in a Russian prison, having Russian things done to him. As some kind of punishment, I guess, they end up getting him out, and some other Russian guy as well. Two for the price of one.