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2012

Safe

Safe

Don't point that thing at me, Curly

dir: Boaz Yakin

Jason Statham playing a character who kills lots of people? That’s a radical turn up for the books.

In the eternal pub argument of Caveman versus Astronaut, Ninja versus Pirate and Pussycat Doll versus Spice Girl, there’s the unfortunate real world competition of which is worse: Russian gangsters or Chinese triads? This film makes the same comparison, but posits it by asking: which is tougher? The answer is, of course, Jason Statham.

Or at least the thinly veiled stand-in character for himself, some guy called Luke Wright. You know, because he’s always Right! He gets on the bad side of the Russians, and they not only ruin his life by murdering his family, they intend to keep his life in a heightened state of ruination in an ongoing fashion. It’s a curious state, because I can’t imagine Russian gangsters having the follow-through long term to keep hassling someone like they do the main character here, and not just killing him as an example to all the other noble loners out there. They tell him, as he walks the earth in the time remaining to him, that any person with whom he shares even a single human moment with, they’ll be there to kill them.

It’s not going to do wonderful things for your state of mind, I imagine. Misery upon misery, he sees the only obvious way out, but demurs at the very last moment, because he sees a girl in trouble. Thank gods there was a girl in trouble, because otherwise: short film.

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Red Tails

Red Tails

The actors are more fake than the CGI

dir: Anthony Hemingway

It’s a story that’s been told a few times, but one that bears repeating, and that is clearly deserving of a budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars range. Also, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen deserves all the attention George Lucas, his money, and his film technology can bring to the experience, surely.

After all, don’t African American actors deserve, at long last, to repeat all the corn, cheese and clichés of the Hollywood war movies of yesteryear they were so unfairly segregated from? Aren’t they due their dues by now, at long last, in this enlightened age?

Red Tails, in case you didn’t know and probably don’t care, is a story about African American pilots during World War II. It is a story George Lucas wanted to tell for decades, apparently, because of his deep connection to the subject matter(?) Look, I don’t know his real reasons, because who knows why he really does half of the stuff he does, as opposed to his publicly stated reasons. Does anyone on the planet really understand why it meant so much to him that Han Solo shooting Greedo first had to be expunged from the official record, despite the fact that we all saw it happen?

Rating:

21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street

They haven't aged a day, have they, like the immortals they deserve to be

dirs: Phil Lord and Chris Miller

File this under “should not have worked, but somehow did.” If such a file exists. Which it probably doesn’t.

In truth they could have just called this flick A Couple of Dicks Go Back to School and had exactly the same story without any of the Jump Street references or cameos, and it probably would have succeeded just as well, though it probably wouldn’t have made as much money.

I freely admit I was a fan of the show as a kid, and watched its first four years religiously, as in, always on the Sabbath. Loved the show, loved how moralising and try-hard it was, loved especially the various depictions of the teen experience forced through the filter of episodic police procedural television, with its “I learned something today” consistency. It was very of its time, dealing with the horrors of white kids using drugs, the rise of AIDS, the eternal tensions between parents, teachers and kids, and funky hairstyles. At least, at first, it was one of the only bright spots in that dark age known as the 1980s.

Nothing except eternity lasts forever, and even that the quantum physicists are always trying to fuck with, so Jump Street came and went, all the other actors went back to the obscurity they so richly deserved, and Johnny Depp went on to become the most powerful and highest paid actor in human history.

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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

There will not be a worse movie filmed in
Romania released this year than this

dir: Neveldine/Taylor

You can make a horrible thing worse. It’s true. It’s very obviously possible. And here we have further evidence of this sad fact as the cinema births a new monstrosity aimed at our limpid eyes.

Who takes something horrible and makes it worse on purpose? An evil fairy godmother? A ticket inspector? Dentists? And why would you?

The first Ghost Rider movie, inexplicably shot in Melbourne, was terrible in ways even dedicated viewers of Nic Cage’s films were surprised by. This second flick in this godawful franchise is worse in some expected ways, and terrible in ways that are new but should in no way be confused with inspirational entertainment.

Considering the ‘talent’ on offer here, well, I guess it could have been even worse, but it doesn’t seem likely. They could have strapped cameras to a pack of rabid dogs. They could have told Cage ‘act even crazier, the kids will love it’. They could have made the character an alien who crash-landed on Earth wanting nothing more than to understand this emotion we humans call ‘love’.

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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:

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

Something's missing. Needs more... fire, that's it

dir: Gary Ross

For readers of the book the only question is whether Jennifer Lawrence is a credible Katniss Everdeen. For people who haven’t read the books, it would surprise me if they care at all, and surprises me even more that they went in such droves to watch this film, which they have. It’s the biggest film of the year, thus far, which is pretty surprising in itself, and also gratifying.

In my mind at least, the success of The Hunger Games trilogy has always been a statement of quality against that other titan of the teen – young adult genre, being the Twilight series of abominations. Katniss is the anti-Bella Swan, in that she’s a decent and enjoyable female character to follow, who has agency and makes tough decisions concerning her fate and the fates of others. In contrast, Bella is a blank who has two hot supernatural boys fight over her.

There’s no need to fight over her, boys, she’s definitely not worth it.

But Katniss, Katniss Everdeen… It was like Suzanne Collins was saying ‘this kinda thing can be done right’. And so even if the story comes across as a melange of Battle Royale, Running Man, Predator, Nineteen-Eighty-Four and every reality television cliche of the last ten years, it's still the product of a worthy endeavour.

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John Carter of Mars

John Carter of Mars

Yeah, how and why did this movie fail again? It should have
been bigger than Titanic based on this image, which should
be spraypainted on the side of a panel van near you if there
is any justice in this universe, and we know there isn't.

dir: Andrew Stanton

‘Old-school science fiction’ is one of those phrases that seems like it’s too oxymoronic to be allowable to be used in common parlance and polite company. Even if it’s meaningless semantically, I’m still going to use it because I think it’s totally applicable. And what do I mean by such a phrase?

Tarzan in space.

Maybe Flash Gordon is a better example of where it’s coming from. At the very least, it’s not robots and star ships and ethical dilemmas about helping lichens on distant planetoids.

It’s just about a guy, called Herman Merman, no, sorry, he’s called John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), and he was on the losing side of the Civil War. The American one, not the one in England, or Liberia. In the pursuit of a cave full of gold, he mysteriously appears somewhere else. Somewhere very much else.

Without him knowing it, he’s turned up on Mars, which the locals call Barsoom. And on Barsoom, there are really tall green four-armed Martians, some other reddish looking ‘white’ human types, and some shapeshifting shitstirrers, who look like whoever they want. It’s too difficult to unpack the racial implications of much of this stuff, so it’s easier to just drop it on the ground, and back away quietly.

At the very least it’s not as obviously retrograde as that other paragon of science fiction, being Dances with Avatars.

Rating:

The Lorax

The Lorax

With a moustache that big, they cannot fail to win... whatever it is

dir: Chris Renaud

I love Dr Seuss books. I didn’t know that until a couple of years ago, when I started reading them to my daughter. I don’t really remember them from my first go-round, as a kid, but this time, I delight in the rhyming nonsense and the stern moralising underpinning everything that Theodore Geisel thought up and brought out onto the page.

I don’t think they’re necessarily brilliant, or childhood defining, or fundamental to our understanding of society the way that a comprehensive understanding of Greek mythology or Jersey Shore is, but they’re all right as entertainment. Transmuting them in the crucible of Hollywood to animated movies is a relatively pointless endeavour except from the perspective of earning big cash pay offs.

And there's nothing wrong with earning heaps of big money in ethical and environmentally sustainable manners as far as I'm concerned, so hurray for more flicks based on Dr Seuss books! They can only, surely, make the world a better place.

The Lorax is possibly the least subtle and most colourful anti-rampant consumerism big budget animated movie you'll ever see that isn't WALL-E. Unlike WALL-E, however, which was never that subtle to begin with, this flick is aiming determinedly lower. This will never be confused with something put out by Pixar.

Rating:

A Few Best Men

A Few Best Men

Go back where you came from, you ten-pound Poms!

dir: Stephan Elliot

I am a simple man. Anyone who’s ever met me or read these here reviews will probably have figured that out for themselves by now. So if I watch a comedy whose sole purpose is to make me laugh, presumably, then I consider that comedy to be a success if I laugh.

In that light, to put it very simplistically, this movie made me laugh, it is a comedy, so therefore I give it my highest honour possible, being “eh, it wasn’t too bad.”

That’s not to say that it’s a good film, by any definition other than the one I just offered. It’s clumsy, it’s poorly acted, it’s erratically edited, it’s got actors in it who shouldn’t be in it, or in films in general and specifically, and it’s got a lot of crude, stupid humour.

Shit like that, though, literally and figuratively, makes me laugh sometimes, and I laughed a handful of times while watching this trenchant and probing examination of marriage in the current milieu.

Being a simple man doesn’t stop me from over-complicating things endlessly, though. The main reason for that is this: I’m a simple man who’s also intensely neurotic. So allow me to offer apologies and explanations for this here review and this here flick.

I thought this was an Australian flick made for domestic consumption, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It became pretty obvious after a while that there was a thoroughly misguided attempt to make this flick in Australia aimed at a British audience.

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Friends With Kids

Friends With Kids

You're all laughing and smiling, but none of you are funny in this

dir: Jennifer Westfeldt

Hey. Those of you who don’t have kids and who have friends with kids: I know that those of us with them can be pretty annoying, but you don’t have to try to punish us by making films about it. Honestly, most of us aren’t that horrible. Some of us are, but not most, I hope.

Some friends who have kids, sure, are worse than fifty Hitlers, and are completely self-obsessed and self-focussed, and are constantly telling you how little they’re sleeping and how hard they’re doing it, and what saints they goddamn are for doing something no-one forced them to do and that billions of other people seemed to have managed without turning it into such a goddamn saga, but that’s not the fault of the kids.

Let’s be honest, they were probably annoying fuckers to begin with. As a wise man once said: Look into your hearts. You know it to be true.

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