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2014

The Expendables III

Expendables 3

The cast keeps getting bigger, but the film's don't get any better

dir: Patrick Hughes

2014

Old old old, I’m feeling old today. I’m feeling so old that I think I’ll just talk about how old I feel and how old everyone around me looks instead of doing anything else that’s interesting or anything really worth reading. Did I mention that I’m old?

The first Expendables was a tribute to itself, in that Sylvester Stallone and a bunch of other has-beens from the 1980s thought they’d remind the world that they were still around, and they could still star in movies where they look like they’re total badasses. Let’s pretend for a moment that it wasn’t then and isn’t now special effects and stunt people stand-ins. No, these guys, because they looked like badasses, must have been badasses, surely?

‘We’re not past it!’ they’d bellow like nervous cattle, loudly through the screen at us while joking about being past it. Everyone else would tell them they’re ‘past it’, especially the villains, they themselves would mock each other about being ‘past it’, but they’d still win in the end. So, thus, the Expendables were anything but expendable.

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The Giver

The Giver

What you're giving me is the desire for this flick to
be erased from my memory

dir: Phillip Noyce

2014

By all the gods above and below, this is the dreariest flick I’ve seen in a long time.

I know enough about the book The Giver to know that since the 1990s the book has been on the reading list for high school students, probably causing them collectively to groan whenever they see the advertising because it stinks of homework. Same way the rest of us feel whenever Shakespeare or Anne Frank’s Diary is mentioned.

But honestly, how did this book get such traction in the American consciousness? I haven’t read the book so maybe it’s a masterpiece of dystopian allegory or didactic science fiction, but based on what’s ended up on the screen it’s a trite, dreary and fundamentally unbelievable story with a simple-minded resolution that not even a kid would buy.

And yet a lot of people have read it, and a lot of people saw the film. I remain categorically unimpressed.

It even has The Dude, and even that doesn’t work. Shameful, shameful work.

The world of The Giver is one we’ve seen many a time before. It’s a bland gated community without too many dark skinned people, and everyone is blandly handsome and polite. Plus, they’re all in black and white. In other words, it’s not just that the images we are seeing are in black and white, we’re informed, by how it changes, that the denizens of this community also see everything only in black and white, like dogs.

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A Million Ways to Die in the West

Million Ways to Die in the West

There might be a million ways to die, but it doesn't seem there
are a million things to laugh about, based solely on this shitty flick

dir: Seth McFarlane

2014

I couldn’t say which movie is the funniest I’ve seen this year. There are still a few months to go, so I probably haven’t seen it yet. I can safely say which is the least funny comedy I’ve seen this year, or will see this year, or in many a year.

A Million Ways to Die in the West is the least comedic comedy I’ve seen in a donkey’s age. On that score alone I have to say that for me the flick is an abject failure. What bugs me the most is that it should have been something nifty. Some poor studio gave McFarlane a huge budget and thought comedy gold and box office glory would ensue. Clearly there was no screenplay yet when that money changed hands.

McFarlane is guilty of many things, but he is someone who has made me laugh before, many times. Family Guy, Cleveland Show and American Dad may not have the stellar reputation of shows like The Simpsons or even South Park, but they do possess streams and streams of gags. Not all of them make you laugh, and most are risqué just for the sake of it, gleefully stumbling all over the fine line between ironic sexism/racism/homophobia/whateverism and actual sexism/racism etc.

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The Two Faces of January

Two Faces of January

Her name is not January, and she only has one face.
Confusion ensues

dir: Hossein Amini

2014

Something being based on a Patricia Highsmith novel isn’t always a guarantee of quality, but it is often enough to pique my interest. And if you cast Viggo Mortensen in something, well, I’m halfway through the door.

Kristen Dunst? Eh, not so much, but Oscar Isaacs I really like. The Two Faces of January is essentially a three-hander, something of a period piece, probably set in the 1960s. It’s something of a low-key thriller, but not in the sense that it’s like a spy action film or anything. It’s about a con artist (Isaacs), who gets caught up with a couple of con artists (Dunst and Mortensen), where you start to wonder who is better at it, and who is going to get what they want, and how many people are going to be left alive at the end of it.

The setting is Greece, and it’s filmed in such a way that makes it look a thousand times nicer than it actually is. Also, being set in the last century, it helpfully avoids having to acknowledge the current dire economic circumstances, and saves on costumes (most of the old people in the flick are wearing their own ‘vintage’ clothing from the 1960s without having even to be asked). In fact many of those old Greek people probably don’t even know the war is over.

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Chef

Chef

And remember, always tip your wait staff and
other service industry types so that they don't
spit in your food too often

dir: Jon Favreau

2014

With some flicks, when there’s a clod/visionary at the centre of them who seems to have performed every job on the film (star/direct/produce/screenplay/edit) I often joke that they did the catering, too. In this, Jon Favreau’s tribute to Jon Favreau, it’s more than likely that he did the food as well.

There are people in this life who must feel very lucky to have gotten where they have. Other people work and strive damn hard and get nowhere for decades. For others, it just seems to fall in their lap. There’s no point getting angry about it: no-one except the delusional should expect a random and chaotic universe to allocate outcomes to people based on merit. It only happens in fantasy stories. Still, when that success comes to you, it’d be nice if you could acknowledge that you’ve risen to a station you otherwise don’t deserve.

On some level, it’s hard not to feel like Jon Favreau’s career as the director of some pretty big budget films is some kind of cosmic fluke. A man who has shown little ability as an actor or as a comedian ends up directing two of Marvel’s biggest recent movies? How? Why? Who does he have photos of in compromising positions that haven’t been leaked to the internets yet?

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Godzilla 2014

Godzilla

Go, you great ginormous gorgeous thing, you.

dir: Gareth Edwards

Come in, close the door, have a seat. We didn’t know we missed you, Godzilla, because we thought we’d had enough of you over the last 60 years. But it turns out we really missed you.

Sure, we bumped into you in 1998, in that terrible film by the German Michael Bay known as Roland Emmerich, where Matthew Broderick was meant to save Manhattan from you, but that was an embarrassing run-in. It was the equivalent of going out and seeing an ex you still think fondly of, covered in vomit and staggering in the gutter. It’s best to forget about that time.

And honestly, the halcyon days between you and the audience was so long ago that we’ve all moved on. We’ve amused ourselves with cute kitten videos on the internets, and week after week of superhero flicks being poured out into the cinemas. The question becomes: do we ever really need to see each other again?

Gareth Edwards made a flick called Monsters back in the grim, distant days of 2010. In really obvious ways it was a test run for making a new Godzilla flick, except for a miniscule fraction of the cost. The budget for Monsters was in the tens of thousands. The budget for the hair care products alone used on performers in Godzilla would have been in the millions. It’s an easy transition for Edwards to make, apparently.

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The Fault in Our Stars

Fault in Our Stars

Get off my lawn, you crazy star-crossed cancer-riddled lovers

dir: Josh Boone

2014

I don’t go out of my way to read sappy or depressing books, but, for some reason, probably to do with the excellent reviews it received, I sought out The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, knowing that it was about kids with cancer.

Now that’s a topic that comes pre-loaded with an emotional reaction: It’s like showing a picture of a basket full of puppies and kittens chugging along a conveyor belt into the blade of an industrial saw. Even knowing how manipulative the subject matter would be, I trusted that the author would do right by his characters.

It turned out that my trust was rewarded with a sweet story about teenagers with cancer dealing with love and the fact that they know they’re going to die far sooner than most of us do. It’s one thing to accept the fact that all that live will one day die, no matter who, no matter how wonderful or how loathsome, it comes for us all. It’s another entirely, since most of us live long enough to indulge in the supreme illusion that helps our lives not be an unremittingly miserable trudge to oblivion, being the denial of death, dying when you’re a kid, a teen, or barely out of your teens.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

I wouldn't trust them to guard my corned
beef sandwich, let along an entire Galaxy.

dir: James Gunn

2014

When I first saw the trailer for this Marvel movie, which was probably playing just before another Marvel movie was about to play on the screen, I cringed inwardly, and sighed melodramatically. I do that, sometimes.

To me, because I’d never heard of these characters or this comic book ever, it smacked of arrogance on Marvel’s part, in that they’re so big now and have made so much serious bank since starting up Marvel Studios, that they could literally put any shit together and expect people to see it because it says Marvel Marvel Marvel all over the place.

Marvel. It had megaflop written all over it. If I had money to bet on its failure, I would have bet everything.

I was sure this film would die a horrible death at the box office, and it would be a stinging rebuke to Marvel’s hubristic attempts to take over the entire world. Stan Lee would have to eat dinner out of a can, they would from then on only make Iron Man movies all the time, more and more ludicrous crossovers like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four versus Loki Loki and more Loki. Disaster on an epic scale.

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Maleficent

Maleficent

Jeez, be careful around those cheekbones, you could lose a
finger if you're not careful.

2014

dir: John Stromberg

We need new, 3D movie reinterpretations of classic fairy tales the way that we need a gigantic meteor to crash into the planet, extinguishing all life as we know it: we don’t, not that much.

When they bring out these new tellings of ‘classic’ tales, basically it’s little more than an excuse to have big battle scenes that look like the rare bits of Lord of the Rings battle scenes that editors were able to cut and Peter Jackson was able to let go of without crying. Of course that never happens, because he’s never cut anything ever, because anything and everything he’s ever filmed has been great and needs to be seen by everyone. But I truly do sometimes find it hilarious to see battle scenes under a darkened sky, where some big thing, like a tree-like thing, or a rocky tree-like thing, slaps around a whole bunch of dudes in armour, and it looks like twenty other movies I’ve seen in the last bunch of years.

You never knew it, but fairy tales as diverse as Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, Noah, Jack and the Beanstalk, and now Sleeping bloody Beauty all had, way back when they were dreamed up by the opium users who thought of them, all of them were crying out for the time hundreds or thousands of years hence when computers could be used to really bring the stories to life by computer generating vast armies to die bloodlessly in pursuit of a glass slipper or a kiss from some aquatic desperado.

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Calvary

Calvary

Big Irish priest, you take upon you the sins of the world,
go have a drink instead

dir: John Michael McDonagh

2014

We all know how awful the Catholic Church’s legacy of abuse and corrupted silence is. At least, those of us who aren’t apologists for the Church realise that. And it’s also uncomfortably part of the present, because many of the Church’s victims are still alive, some of the abusers still live, and many of those whose job it was to threaten, cajole, or bribe people into silence still reign, and are in wonderfully lofty positions still in the Church’s hierarchy.

But going over that is a very different story from the story Calvary wants to tell. It’s impossible to tell the story of a Catholic priest in Ireland without that awful legacy looming over everything, but the point of Calvary is very different. Its central character is a good priest (Brendon Gleeson). He doesn’t apologise for or deny what went on before; he strives to minister to the people of his tiny village in County Sligo despite their seeming complete indifference to the religion they purport to be a part of.

He, doggedly, refuses no-one, no matter how outright contemptuous they are of him or his faith, or how awful their crimes.

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