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2012

Hope Springs

Hope Springs

Just get a goddamn divorce already

dir: David Frankel

Ye gods and little fishes, if there was one message, one singular plea this film seems to be making to us in the audience, it would be thus; like the words of the ancient Queen Elizabeth to the young Orlando in the film of the same name: "Do not wither, do not grow old".

But what choice do we have? No tablet, no serum, no surgery, nothing spares us from the entrenchment of our own awful habits and the miserly ways this film alleges we inevitably fall prey to, far beyond what age naturally and lovingly does to our physical forms.

See, that I can take. The falling apart of the body doesn’t frighten me, since I’ve been falling apart like a rusty cyborg with leprosy for, oh, simply ages now. I expect it just gets easier from here on in, and if I’m wrong, please have the decency not to tell me about it. It’s the emotional ossification, the hardening of one’s life into an unvarying repetitive routine that I find truly terrifying.

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Bachelorette

Bachelorette

Don't make eye contact, don't get their attention

dir: Leslye Headland

Nasty.

You might think that this is a bandwagon-jumping exercise, trying to capitalise on the success of Bridesmaids, but it doesn’t really feel like that, especially since so much time has passed. People have moved on. This is based on a play, written by the woman who directs here as well, so obviously it predates Bridesmaids, and it’s classy art, baby. I mean, surely all movies based on plays have class up the wazoo?

Obviously, it has plenty more in common with Bridesmaids. It has a mostly female cast, it’s meant to be a comedy, it somewhat focuses on a character who resents her female friend for getting married before her, and some foul stuff happens along the way.

The similarities pretty much end there. I had significant issues with Bridesmaids, in that I felt the characters were blah and the dynamics they were mining for alleged comedy gold were regressive and fairly sexist. But, put simplistically, I couldn’t fault it in terms of delivering what it promised: it was a comedy structured like a comedy giving the ladies what they wanted.

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Skyfall

Skyfall

Bloody typical, always lying down on the job

dir: Sam Mendes

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

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

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

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

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End of Watch

End of Watch

Porkers on patrol, pigs on parade, bacon in black and
bullies in the pulpit

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.

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The Odd Life of Timothy Green

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

The Odd Life of Timothy Green was even more painful
to watch than to write about

dir: Peter Hedges

I’m all for whimsy. No, scratch that, the word alone gives me a piercing headache. What I should have said is that I’m not completely averse to sweetness in movies, because, hell, life’s way too short to just watch movies where people’s heads get routinely blown off by so-called heroes, or where a demented surgeon captures some poor folk and sows them, one to the other, in an unholy form of intelligent yet malevolent design.

The sweetness I can tolerate, not wanting to get diabetes, has to be well delivered. Too much and it drowns the viewer in treacle and regret. Too little and there’s no flavour in an otherwise unpalatable affair.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green tries to be some modern kind of fable, generously brought to us by the Disney Corporation, offering us a little sweetness within a tortured tale about a couple who desperately yearn to be parents. What it ends up being is an argument as to why some people should never be allowed to become parents, and probably a healthy argument for abortion as well.

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Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Where the Southern Wild Things Are

dir: Benh Zeitlin

It’ll come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that I don’t always understand the films I watch. I watch a lot of films, but that doesn’t mean I’m any better at deciphering them than anyone else, including and especially you.

Often that lack of understanding infuriates me, and makes me think less of the flick and the people involved, because I blame them for it. Other times it’s just a reason to be bored, which negates any effort to expend any brain power nutting it out because it doesn’t seem worthy of such labours.

Other times that confusion, if that’s what it is, doesn’t matter, and is of a piece with what I’m watching, and instead of causing me to pull away because of it, it allows me to let go, at least a little bit, of the nagging, querulous critic in my head, and just be embraced by the film. Some of my favourite films defy logical, precise, plodding explanation as to everything that happens in it, what it all means, how it happened or why.

I’m not saying that Beasts of the Southern Wild is now one of my favourite films of all time (it’s a pretty long and potentially embarrassing list), but it manages to capture some of the elements that provoke deep feeling in me, or at least it provoked in me some of the feelings that I mentioned previously.

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Lawless

Lawless

There's nothing on the ground. Stop looking at the ground!

dir: John Hillcoat

*dramatic sigh* This is the biggest cinematic disappointment of the year thus far, for me. No, withhold your sympathy, spare me your proffered hankies, tiniest violins and empty consolation, neither I nor Lawless deserve it.

It’s meant to be a can’t-miss proposition, from the dudes who brought us, uh, The Proposition. Nick Cave wrote the script, John Hillcoat directs, quality soundtrack and score with the usual collaboration betwixt Cave and Warren Ellis, but with a whole bunch of other credible musicians as well doing their homages to the hillbilly moonshine era. There’s Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, and quality actresses Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain, and there’s extreme violence and nudity and redheads and ‘based on a true story’ cred and and and it all fucking falls over flat, because, I’m sorry to say this, but Nick Cave’s screenplay is absolutely the weakest element of it all.

See, lazier viewers / reviewers would say seriously / joke that it fails because of Shia LaBeouf playing a key role. I don’t think he sinks the flick at all. He doesn’t particularly save it either, but he’s not the one bringing the flick down. No-one else on this planet is going to agree with me, but I actually think he puts in a better performance than Beefcake of the Moment Tom Hardy.

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Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

Don't they look like they're having fun? It's not going to last.

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.

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Argo

Argo

Whoever has the better beard should be the Supreme
Leader, I reckon

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.

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Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed

Entertainment not guaranteed, either,
to be honest

dir: Colin Trevorrow

Sometimes I can’t see the plain things in front of me that other people can see. I don’t know whether it’s an eye problem, or some kind of neurological disorder, but, whatever it is, it means the virtues of this particular flick have completely eluded me.

The premise is that this vaguely has something to do with a classified ad that was put in a Seattle newspaper once upon a time, whereby someone pretended to be asking for someone in order to go time travelling together. Hence the Safety Not Guaranteed appellation, as in you couldn’t Guarantee someone’s Safety if they come with you into the Mesozoic era, but you still want someone to come with you, bringing their own weapons and expertise, and maybe a cut lunch. Sunscreen would be nice, and maybe a change of underwear.

That vaguest of premises has a basis in fact by only the loosest of definitions, in that someone once posted an ad like that. It was, however, a joke, as in a fake ad.

From this somehow they’ve spun a confection whose purpose, I guess, is to illuminate the gutting feeling many of us possess whereby we wish we could go back in time to correct something that happened or something horrible that we did. Yes, yes, we all have regrets. But this flick, not unusual in the cinematic landscape, makes literal this wish, in that we’re gradually meant to believe that the nutjob at the centre of the flick could actually do it.

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