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8 stars

Monsters University

Monsters University

Knowledge Brings Fear, and a whole
multicoloured menagerie of characters
designed by marketers

dir: Dan Scanlon

I know, I know. I start practically every other review pointing out that the film I’m about to review shouldn’t really exist, but I am nothing if not a creature of habit.

Monsters University is the prequel we didn’t really need to have, but it’s still very, very welcome to me. I watched it with my daughter, and she thought it was great. This is, after all, school holiday time, and not taking your daughter to the cinema, even for a deadbeat dad like me, would be tantamount to monstrous negligence.

She specifically wanted me to quote her in the review, and she even told me how I should depict that quote. She told me to put her name at the start of a sentence, with the two dots on top of each other after the name. You know, a colon, as thusly:

Dawn: "Monsters University is a good film because most films are about normal days with a character that wants to be different but Monsters University was about a few characters who wanted an achievement but when they got that achievement it ended up different but they still enjoyed the gift that the achievement had given them plus Monsters University is great."

I can’t argue with that. That's a verbatim quote. I mean I can, but I’m probably outgunned, and who wants to lose to a six-year-old in an argument? The crying, the screaming, and then there’s no telling what she’d do in response.

Rating:

Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2

What wouldn't you be able to achieve with this
legion of idiots at your beck and call?

dir: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

I know, I know. There are far more 'important' recent flicks to review. Far more worthy. The list of stuff I've seen recently keeps growing, and my unease and terror at letting them get too old before putting them out there in review form keeps me up at night. So are you finally going to get to read my trenchant thoughts on The Great Gatsby? No. World War Z, or Hangover III, or Fast Furious 6, or worthier arthouse fare like The Place Beyond the Pines, or Mira Nair's latest The Reluctant Fundamentalist?

No, alas and alack, I'm sorry to say - no. In short, having watched Despicable Me 2 in the last few days, I am forced by my own psyche at virtual gunpoint to review this blessed film.

As sick as I am of the ubiquitous Steve Carrell, there's just something about these flicks that I really, really enjoy. The main premise of a monstrously egomaniacal super-villain becoming a nice person through the love of three little adoptive waifs is nothing new in the realms of fiction even if the setting and CGI and 3D make it seem flashy and shiny and new. Horrible misanthropes have been redeemed (incredibly, as in 'not credibly', much of the time in my humble opinion) in books and movies for the last century to the tune of one a week, probably. It's the premise of every Clint Eastwood film where he's not shooting people for looking at him funny or for not answering politely when he asks them to make his day. It's the premise of almost every film ever made - well, at least the one's where it's not about killing some guy for REVENGE.

Rating:

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness: Proudly Brought to you by the NRA

dir: J.J. Abrams

It says they’re going Into Darkness, but I’m not sure what that has to do with the film. Sure, there were some shadows, some underlit places, but I hardly think that justifies such a title.

Wait, you mean it’s metaphorical, not literal? That it’s thematic, not aesthetic? Well, I haven’t been this confused since Michael Bay made a movie about something hidden on the dark side of the moon and just referred to it as Dark of the Moon. The Dark ‘what’ of the moon, Michael? Its dark chocolate centre, which I’ve heard is 80% cacao? Its dark and tortured past as a roadie for the other planets when they used to go on tour throughout the Milky Way? Its dark future as a holiday destination for bored mega-wealthy sadomasochists?

The moon plays a small part in this flick, but mostly it continues to exist and complicates the adventures of the crew of the USS Enterprise, which is a space ship capable of flying around really fast and shooting stuff.

That this is the new face of the Star Trek empire has to be accepted if anyone’s going to have any remote chance of enjoying it. Anyone who’s hated Trek all their lives and all its existence aren’t likely to hop on board the bandwagon now. With all the modern sprucing up they’ve done, the flick firmly and heroically panders to the Trek nerds like nothing ever has before.

Rating:

Iron Man III

Iron Man III

The ageless Robert Downey Jr

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.

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The Imposter

The Imposter

Gaze into the eyes of a psychopath, and despair

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.

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Samsara

Samsara

I wouldn't get into a fight with her if I were you

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?

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Robot and Frank

Robot and Frank

On bended knee, I ask that you marry me, Dear Robot

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.

Rating:

Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie

See a 3D movie, in Black and White! Also, it's a silent movie!
And you get war ration stamps and polio from watching it!

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.

Rating:

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Chillin' on the high seas, with your new best friend

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.

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Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck It Ralph

You just Wreck everything, don't you Ralph? That's just what
you do

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.

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