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8 stars

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Buckle my Swash and Shiver me Timbers!

dir: Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt

Ah, finally, a film with Pirates that doesn’t have Johnny Depp in it.

No-one told the lovely people at Aardman Animation that the rest of us in this non-Claymation world are sick to fucking death of pirates, pirate-related stories and even the word ‘pirate’. They just went ahead and ploughed through, adapting a book in order to generate some hilarity and some box office. I can’t imagine this flick is going to do this well, what with the school holidays being over and all by now, but it was quite entertaining for a ‘kids’ movie.

Yes, I took my daughter along, and yes, she and I both thought it was a wonderful way to spend an hour and twenty minutes in a cinema strewn with beanbags. But don’t go in expecting it to be comparable to Pixar, or for any deep environmental messages or heartfelt heartstring-pulling mawkish sentiment-fests. It’s just meant to be clever but goofy fun, and it entirely succeeds.

Although, when I tell you that two of the villains in the piece are Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria, you’ll think that I’ve been sucked in and duped by a flick produced by creationists and anti-monarchist nutbags, which would be a strange alliance indeed.

Rating:

Young Adult

Young Adult

Evil lurks in many forms, especially those wearing lipstick. Repent! Repent!

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.

Rating:

Take Shelter

Take Shelter

What's most terrifying is the possibility that the craziest people have
been right all along.

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.

Rating:

Chronicle

Chronicle

Seattle never looked so sunny. A morally and visually murky place

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.

Rating:

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

From their expressions, you'd think this was a very serious film.
Why so serious, huh?

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.

Rating:

The Descendants

The Descendants

I wonder how high up on People magazine's Hottest 100 Bachelors list I am this year..

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.

Rating:

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Ghost Protocol

Look at poor Simon Pegg, way way back in the distance. He looks lonely

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.

Rating:

50/50

50/50

Now boys, getting cancer is no reason to become neo-nazi skinheads, okay?

dir: Jonathan Levine

Cancer is a hard sell. It’s okay for those four-hanky weepies they make for the abundance of chick channels on cable, but for a comedy drama with nice, liked actors in it, you have to think a lot of people apart from the creative ones involved would have been a bit leery or at least anxious.

“Who’s going to see this?” muttered one studio executive, tugging on his soul patch and massaging his shoulder where Consuela, his usual deep-tissue masseuse had failed to work out the knot that had been bugging him all week.

“I mean, it’s a bit of a bring-down, isn’t it? Can’t he have, like, a cold or something less depressing?”

“What about lupus?” said his female counterpart, fighting the urge to think about food denied to herself at least until daylight hours were over. “Lupus would play well to 27 to 39-year-old one legged lesbians who like blue blankets, at least that’s what our data shows. What about an earache? No, we don’t want to alienate the people with sore eyelids. How about AIDS? Everyone loves AIDS. That’ll get the, you knows, into the theatres.”

Rating:

Warrior

Warrior

Brothers beating themselves and each other up all to get back at their fathers
- a story as old as the Bible

dir: Gavin O’Connor

Men. Manly Men. Beating the crap out of each other.

This is easily the most masculine film I’ve seen this year, in a lot of ways. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact it’s a very good thing.

This is also one of the best flicks I’ve seen this year. At the very least it’s one of the flicks I’ve enjoyed the most this year. There are only a few aspects that squandered the tremendous amount of goodwill and positive feelings I had about the film, and none of them have anything to do with the phenomenal performances put in by nearly all the actors involved.

And yet, it’s still a flick about a bunch of guys beating the absolute shit out of each other.

Soldiers fight for king, queen or country because they have to. Mercenaries fight for coin. Warriors fight because they live to fight. Warrior doesn’t really sit well as a good title for this flick, because the people fighting don’t necessarily want to fight.

But they have to.

There’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to fight flicks. It’s a genre of sports film so well-trodden that it’s virtually impossible to say anything new. It can be said in a more contemporary way, but the themes are ancient, as are the beats and rhythms of the screenplays.

Rating:

Contagion

Contagion

Lotsa people gonna die because of something Gwyneth Paltrow did

dir: Steven Soderbergh

As if germophobes and compulsive obsessives didn’t have it hard enough already.

Speaking as someone who has long been pathologically afraid of germs and contamination (the psych term used to be mysophobia, or, having too much time on one’s filthy, filthy hands), I don’t need flicks like this. I’m already freaked out enough by the prospect of infection that I am the person the scientists lament creating superbugs by using hand sanitiser and giving other neurotics a bad name.

I’m not at the mask or tinfoil hat stage just yet, but, you know, it’s only a matter of time.

Contagion does me no favours, does me no help. It’s almost as if it’s aimed specifically at people like me for whom the horrifying prospect of an epidemic like this, of evil germs finishing off many, many people, is almost too close to home to appreciate. It’s easy enough to handle zombie flicks, where the virus is transferred through biting. Hand washing and ethanol can’t do anything about that. But a bunker mentality and obsessive hygiene could, actually COULD help if this scenario came to pass. And that’s why it hits closer to home. It’s practically goading us with the propensities into indulging them further and falling even further down the rabbit hole.

Rating:

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