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2014

A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year

A Most Dangerous Couple, whereby she does not strike me as being a lady
you want to disappoint

dir: JC Chandor

2014

This will come as a surprise to you, but A Most Violent Year is not a particularly violent movie. There are a few instances of violence, but overall it isn’t even as violent as something with Adam Sandler in it. Yeah, I mean like Pixels.

The year in question is 1981. New York was a much different place then than it is now. Back then, well, your truck could be hijacked, and no-one would even notice. The police were deathly afraid to walk the streets. Only Charles Bronson and Dirty Harry kept the peace by shooting ethnic types in the face.

Times Square was still a bastion of sleaze and depravity, and the metropolis was a living hellhole because Rudy Giuliani hadn’t come along to clean the place up yet. This is, at least, the narrative people have been peddling about New York for the last few decades. You could work in a few references to Ronald Reagan, Milli Vanilli and the Cold War, maybe, but other than that it’s meant to be the bad old days of a city in decline.

The real danger, the real violence, we come to understand, is that being waged against one man’s ego, against his morals, against his very soul.

Honest businessman Abel Morales (the always impressive Oscar Isaacs) is that man.

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Welcome to Me

Welcome to Me

This image doesn't convey at all just how weird this flick is and just
how awful she can be. Hiding your awfulness behind sunglasses is
an old, old trick

dir: Shira Piven

2014

Well. That happened.

This is one of those flicks where you can safely say if Kristen Wiig wasn’t in it, the flick would never have been made. And had it never been made, would the world have been any better or worse off?

Welcome to Me is a mildly interesting flick, but not an entirely satisfying one. It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying version of this same story, because I’m not sure such a thing would really be possible.

It has, at its core, a main character who is transcendentally kind of awful. Alice Kleig (Kristen Wiig) maybe doesn’t mean to be, but she is struggling with, at the very least, borderline personality disorder, according to her long-suffering therapist (Tim Robbins).

She has one friend, Gina (Linda Cardellini), a gay ex-husband (Alan Tudyk) who inexplicably still dotes on her, and a completely distorted sense of the world and her place in it.

We know right off the bat that her own personal psychiatric history shapes the majority of her interactions with the world, or at least her sense of it, but we are also giving the clear impression that television is responsible as well.

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The Skeleton Twins

Skeleton Twins

Woah, wait, it's not THAT kind of film about siblings. This ain't
no Flowers in the Attic type stuff

dir: Craig Johnson

2014

This is an odd film, but an enjoyable one, in that I enjoyed it, and it was odd. If the mantra has long been than comedians in dramatic roles is a surer bet than dramatic actors in comedic roles, then the makers here are doubling down by having both Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as the lead siblings in this drama.

The problem, if it is a problem, is that because of their pedigree as Saturday Night Live alums, everything they do we naturally assume is being done for comedic effect. That includes even in serious, dramatic moments. I recall reading an interview with Wiig where she spoke of being at a screening, and being frustrated that people were laughing at parts of the movie where she wasn’t going for laughs and the script wasn’t aiming for them either.

Well, boo bloody hoo. Rarely can we exactly control what other people get from what we do. Plus it’s her own fault for being so funny for so long.

The Skeleton Twins is a pretty serious film. Two siblings deal with the trauma of their troubled adolescence, in terrible ways, before reconnecting after ten years of estrangement.

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What We Do In the Shadows

What We Do In the Shadows

A proud alternative family, like the Addams family, just less interesting

dirs: Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi

2014

From the very start, as the logo for the New Zealand Documentary Board makes its scratched and dusty way onto the screen, we know we’re in for a real low rent experience.

Well, it would have to be. At this stage of the game, a film about vampires has to be doing something extraordinary in order to be worthy of our interest. Surely we had reached vampire saturation even before the Twilight movies drove a poorly acted stake through the genre?

Well, instead of an extraordinary take on the genre, what we have here is an extremely ordinary take on the genre.

Not typified solely by its low budget, which perhaps enhances rather than detracts from the experience, at least in theory, What We Do In the Shadows depicts these creatures of the night as the complete antithesis of the charismatic and highly fuckable vampires that we’re more used to.

These vampires live in a filthy sharehouse, they speak in heavy Transylvanian by way of Kiwi accents, and they live in that renowned haven of the undead, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Interstellar

Interstellar

I often look up at the night sky and wonder if Matthew
McConaugey is looking down upon me

dir: Christopher Nolan

2014

Last year’s big entry in the ‘serious’ science fiction genre was a lot more ambitious than Gravity. Don’t get me wrong, Gravity was plenty ambitious, but its ambitions were reserved towards putting the main character through an increasingly more technically complicated wringer with the desperate hope of getting back home always dangling just out of reach.

Interstellar is bigger. It’s not aiming for the atmosphere (or lack thereof) just above our planet. It’s aiming to become the next generation’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

If that was truly the case, it should have aimed to be a hell of a lot more tedious.

I know 2001 is a classic. I know this because everyone keeps saying it’s a classic. The same consensus tells me that Forrest Gump and Titanic are classics. So if everyone says something is a classic, ipso facto it’s a classic.

With that established, as I repeat every time the topic of 2001 comes up, I cannot for the life of me stay awake during that goddamn film. The only time it didn’t put me to sleep it was showing at the Astor cinema, and I was a child seeing it for the first time, confused out of my mind, but wide-eyed.

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Top Five

Top Five

Let's walk around for a while and who knows what might happen

dir: Chris Rock

2014

Oh, how hard it must be, to be rich and successful! Doesn’t your heart go out to the struggling celebs, whose lives are irretrievably destroyed by the wealth and the constant temptations of the flesh that most of us will never know of, let alone imagine?

I know mine does. Each morning and before I lay me down to sleep on my bed of nails, as I dutifully put on my hairshirt, I pray to the sweet Lord above and below that He look after all those successful comedians who are struggling to be taken seriously as dramatic actors. Then I wipe a tear away and sleep the sleep of the wicked.

Chris Rock directs and stars in a film where he seems to be playing a thinly veiled variation on Chris Rock. Well, maybe that’s not entirely accurate. At least he calls his character “Andre Allen”. And this “Andre Allen” character is way more famous than Chris Rock is. This Andre Allen is like Brad Pitt – Katy Perry – Angela Lansbury famous, being mobbed on the streets and being driven everywhere in limos.

There are key differences, though. The character he plays here is in recovery, is afraid of comedy, and desperately seeks the approval of some film critic called James who hates his work with an unholy passion. I wonder if circumstances will present him with an opportunity to get back at his nemesis?

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Love is Strange

Love is Strange

And it's mean and cruel, and fluffy and silly, and silky
and oh so manageable, too.

dir: Ira Sachs

2014

Love is indeed strange, and wonderful and terrible, and a bunch of other descriptive words and adjectives. And it’s stronger than death, lighter than helium and more painful than anything else we can experience or imagine.

And it can also be a comfortable, gentle thing, as invisible to the rest of the world as it is obvious to us.

What it’s not is the solution to all the mundane problems that beset us in our daily lives. Sonny and Cher, a married couple at the time, sang that some other churlish soulless wretches could say that love won’t pay the rent, but everything’s okay because "I Got You, Babe", and that makes everything fine and dandy.

Well, fuck that. They were rich bastards who got divorced anyway, but their rent being paid was never a problem for them.

For the rest of us in couples, the sheer magnitude or sun-bright brilliance of the love we feel for each other doesn’t get us anywhere near closer to paying the rent living in expensive cities, or taking care of mortgage payments. Sure, last time we were late on the rent and the mortgage simultaneously, I tried explaining to the landlord and the bank manager ‘hey, we ain’t got the money, but we have Love! Lots and lots of love! Surely that counts for something?’

They both screamed “Fuck your love, pay us!” and started pistol whipping me while The Rolling Stones played in the background.

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Faults

Faults

The Leader is good, The Leader is great, we surrender
our will as of this date!

dir: Riley Stearns

2014

There are probably a bunch of faults in Faults. You wouldn’t really put those faults down to the budget, because this flick has none. I have rarely if ever seen a movie with recognisable actors in it with as much of a budget absence as this.

Let me put it this way, in my pockets I have more money than was perhaps spent on any aspect of the making of or distribution of this movie.

It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Constraints often force film makers to come up with intriguing solutions. It’s just that the budget is so, so tiny that you have to figure the makers made it out of a deep love of the subject matter.

Or they just really, really love cults.

I’ve never been, even as a child, prone at all to the temptations of subsuming myself into any group’s loving embrace, whether it be religious, philosophical, political or otherwise. I just don’t have that belonging feeling. I’m sure the people that do get sucked into these entities probably believed likewise about themselves. I’m sure there’s a few Scientologists who still think they made the right decision to sign on for a billion years of service, and that their decision made perfect sense at the time and even to this day.

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John Wick

John Wick

This is a complicated film about a man who can't afford a razor, who
has to get revenge on people for making fun of him. They deserve
everything they get

dirs: Chad Stahelski and David Leitch

2014

Did you miss seeing the lump of pale wood known as Keanu Reeves punching and shooting hundreds of people to death? I mean, it’s been a while since the Matrix movies. Yeah, so they left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths with that last one, but remember when a black clad Keanu kicked all sorts of ass?

Well, other people remember too. Maybe Keanu hasn’t done much of note in the last 12 years, maybe he has. He was gifted by the gods of cinema with good lucks and a wooden aura that he projects into virtually every role in every movie whose title doesn’t start with either the words Point or Bill and Ted’s.

But so what? Who really wants Keanu to be a decent actor? He just needs to turn up and let stuff happen around him. That’s a skill in and of itself. Sometimes that’s more than enough. Half decent directors can work with that. Sure, it reduces him to little more than a complicated prop, but so what? Women have suffered that indignity in almost every other movie made over the last hundred years, why not render Keanu the object in the movies he’s in.

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The Babadook

The Babadook

This is what happens when you don't give your screaming brats the
lavish birthday parties they demand: Do so at your own deadly risk

dir: Jennifer Kent

2014

So much horror is linked to motherhood, or being a parent. It’s a visceral, fundamental connection. The Babadook is by no means a completely original horror flick, but it is a good one that bathes in, wallows in this terror of the monstrously maternal.

Maybe the roots of the idea are a fear of motherhood, but they could also be a terror of what the possibilities are when you are bringing a life into this horrible, beautiful world. That fear could be as universal as any of the fears represented in flicks as diverse as Rosemary’s Baby, Alien, The Ring, Dark Water through to We Need to Talk About Kevin.

In this harrowing flick – make no mistake, this is an exhausting and harrowing, uncomfortably intimate flick - the monster keeps changing places. As the film begins, we could quite rightly think that the monster is the one the main character has given birth to.

The opening scene has a woman (Essie Davis) being driven to a hospital as she seems to be in the initial stages of childbirth. As if going into labour isn’t painful enough, the unknown voice promising her that they’re only 10 minutes away from the hospital also manages to get them into a horrific car accident.

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