Conan the Barbarian

dir: Marcus Nispel

Honestly, I’m capable of being objective. I can be. Seriously.

I know you don’t believe me, but at the very least you might accept that I think it’s true.

It’s important to have perspective on various issues, be it elements of one’s own life, or the world in general. It’s especially handy when you’re trying to sift through the detritus of modern life as represented by pop culture and the world of sub-par art known as The Movies.

Having said that, let me now say this regarding the original film Conan the Barbarian that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and came out in 1982: It’s one of the single greatest movies of all time. It decapitates Citizen Kane, dismembers Lawrence of Arabia and rips the bloody, pulsing tongue out of Bridge Over the River Kwai.

It’s not only a great film, it’s one of the greatest achievements our species has ever been responsible for, up there with the pyramids, landing on the moon, and g strings.

You might laugh, or giggle a girlish titter and think, “Oh ho ho, how fucking funny. He must mean it ironically, or that it’s a camp classic, or he’s saying it as a set up for some punchline. I won’t get fooled again by his shenanigans.”

Rating:

Oceans

dirs: Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud
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Oceans. They’re everywhere! And, did you know that they’re full of water?

Very watery waters, apparently. And mostly the water is blue. Sometimes green, sometimes grey, sometimes a mixture of greeny-bluey-grey, but always very watery.

We owe a lot to the oceans. They feed us, naturally, and they’re also where we dump all our sewerage and garbage, as the gods intended, and they also willingly have become the final resting place for murderous / saintly Osamas who’ve outlived their usefulness, but they’re also really pretty. And they’re also chock full of thoroughly beautiful creatures like dugongs, walruses, stonefish and moray eels.

Who could not love the Oceans? They’re practically the puppies/kittens of the solar system. Only a completely dead-inside monster, that’s who. Or the captain of the Titanic, I guess. Or anyone who’s lost a loved one to the Ocean’s watery embrace, I guess as well.

This astounding documentary which has taken its time to get here, and is playing at Cinema Nova (in Melbourne as at 22/5/2011) acts as if people don’t know what oceans are (as opposed to seas, which everyone knows are the oceans’ poor orphan cousins), or that there are fish in them. There’s actually a line of narration that says the following:

Rating:

Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch

ye gods is this so terrible. This is so terrible I
hope this is the last we ever hear of Mr Snyder

dir: Zack Snyder

A lot of people get their panties in a bunch because of the descriptor usually applied to Zack Snyder, either by reviewers or the marketing people marketing his movies: “From the mind of visionary director Zack Snyder…” goes the line on the poster.

They (the collective ‘they’) got sick of always applying the term to Tim Burton, so now they have someone else to pin it to like a badge of dishonour.

I think it’s an adjective that’s appropriate. At least as far as it applies to lots and lots and lots of visionary visuals, he’s got them pouring out from every diseased orifice.

Directors, or at least the cinematographers and programmers the studios hire, are all about the visuals. Getting the look right is their main task, you’d think, it being an entirely visual medium. If he was producing radio plays I’d say he was a failure, but that’s just my opinion.

What Snyder clearly isn’t about, is writing or that pesky acting stuff. I’m sure he’s capable of possibly getting decent performances from humans, but he seems to do much better with computer generated graphics instead. So I guess it’s unfortunate that there are so many people standing around messing up his effects shots in Sucker Punch.

Rating:

I Saw the Devil (Akmareul boattda)

dir: Kim Ji-woon
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Jeez, do I need a shot and a shower after that. Make that three shots and two showers to get the taste of death out of my mouth and the stench of this film off my skin.

This is a revenge flick, usually a genre known for being full of sweetness and light, made even uglier and darker by a director committed to making the audience feel as harried, exhausted and sick to the stomach as the main characters.

And good goddamn is it a long film. Even had this flick been 45 minutes shorter it still would have felt like the longest flick since Gone with the Wind crossed with Holocaust epic Shoah.

You wouldn’t know it, but South Korea seems to be, based on this flick, infested with serial killers. They’re everywhere. And, even better, they all know each other. I tell you what, this entire scenario is only even vaguely plausible if South Korea is actually located right next to Ciudad Juarez, in Mexico, because they’re getting away with murder on a daily basis in both locations.

Okay, so the Korean peninsula is nowhere near there, but all the same, these fuckers put Hannibal Lecter, Henry Lee Lucas and Colonel Gaddafi to shame.

Rating:

Never Let Me Go

dir: Mark Romanek
[img_assist|nid=1377|title=Letting go is never easy|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=406|height=600]
What a strange, sad film. Watching Never Let Me Go was a profoundly melancholy experience for me, despite the fact that not much overtly happens, and none of my tears flowed in programmed Pavlovian response to deftly deployed violins or postcard photography.

After all, I’m not some flouncy squats-to-piss girl’s blouse. Even if the ending of Toy Story 3 made me weep like a little girl with a skinned knee. No, no sooky la-la, I.

At its heart it’s a simple love story involving three people, but its setup is anything but simple. The flick, based on the book by Kazuo Ishiguro, posits an alternate history timeline where certain medical breakthroughs in our history changed the course of humanity.

And not for the better, as far as the protagonists are concerned. The flick’s timeline covers three distinct time periods, being the 1970s, the 80s and the 90s. Though the setting and the environs don’t really change with the passage of time, our protagonists grow up, and change, and realise just how awful their predicament is.

Rating:

Town, The

dir: Ben Affleck
[img_assist|nid=1338|title=Nuns on the run with guns|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=591]
This flick is still limping its way out of Australian cinemas for at least another week, and so I’m glad not only that I got to see it on the big screen, but that I have something newish to review. Because gods know the world needs more of my movie reviews. You know you crave them, too. It’s like an addiction, I know.

It’s strange that the name ‘Ben Affleck’ as director inspires much more interest in me than when ‘Ben Affleck’ the actor is referred to. One piques my interest, the other inspires my whatevers impulse. When Ben Affleck is the director and the main character, then I’m the very definition of ambivalent.

It really can’t be overstated how good a flick Gone Baby Gone was, which indicated at least that Affleck, at the time, was better placed directing flicks than being in them. Consider it his long march towards redemption for the decade or so of flailing and Jennifer Lopez tabloid hysteria. With all the critical kudos he garnered for directing his brother Casey in probably the best flick they’ll ever be involved in, he somehow decided two seemingly contradictory things: that he should direct more films, and that people were clamouring to see him in front of the camera again.

Rating:

Social Network, The

dir: David Fincher
[img_assist|nid=1322|title=You could try for a few less enemies, all the same|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=468]
It’s a fascinating story, and a terrific film, despite being about something so inherently banal. It’s not even really an origin story, along the lines of a biographical tale like the ones regarding the Manhattan Project, or the moon landing, or, you know, something important that was invented or achieved. It’s more concerned with (fictionally) illuminating the thinking of one of the main people involved in the creation of this online behemoth known as Facebook.

Written with an ear towards crackling dialogue, Aaron Sorkin, known for penning the scripts to such immediately familiar fare such as A Few Good Men and many an episode of The West Wing, has crafted a screenplay that tells us less about what was involved in programming up from scratch this most pervasive of online networks, and more about how someone with a genius level IQ, a resentment towards the privileged, no knowledge of how to treat people as people, and a complete inability to forgive perceived slights conjured up something adopted universally across the tubes of the internets that made him a billionaire, all before finishing college.

Rating:

Girl Who Played With Fire, The

(Flickan som lekte med elden)
[img_assist|nid=1311|title=I guess she doesn't like BMWs|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=432|height=639]
dir: Daniel Alfredson

Ahhhh. I like it when they make semi-decent movies out of shitty books. It gives me hope for humanity.

For my money at least, The Girl Who Played With Fire was the best of the three books Stieg Larsson shat out onto an unsuspecting world before he died. By ‘best’ I don’t actually mean that it was a great book. I just mean that out of three terribly written books, the second was the least worst of the trilogy.

Since I haven’t seen the last instalment in this series of flicks yet, I can’t say whether this is the best of the three. I thought the first flick, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, did pretty well whittling down a phonebook of empty and stolid prose into a competent enough crime investigation flick, with a compelling central character (Lisbeth Salander, not the journalist Blomkvist). She becomes even more central to proceedings here, as the second story, and indeed the rest of the series becomes the All About Lisbeth show.

Rating:

Box, The

dir: Richard Kelly
[img_assist|nid=1300|title=Don't you dare touch my box|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=300]
This is not a good movie. It’s not even mediocre. It’s just incompetent.

It’s not as utterly godawful at his last awful foray into moviemaking, which was the truly dire Southland Tales, but whilst it’s not as asinine, it’s not much better. It’s staggeringly not much better.

Richard Kelly came to prominence with Donnie Darko, and since then has been squandering whatever goodwill the flick engendered with a much too forgiving audience. Honestly, these other films he’s been making are so eye-rottingly rotten that it makes me think Donnie Darko was a fluke, a goddamn fluke.

Maybe the elements that he was able to put together coherently the first time have never been able to coalesce since then. I know this is a review of his latest shitfest The Box, but bear with me for a second: I think you can see the seeds of his failure even back in Donnie Darko, by comparing the theatrical cut with his director’s cut.

That’s what it comes down to: Kelly doesn’t know how to edit his own flicks. Of course, the companies hire editors to actually edit the films, but the directors (and often producers) can end up sitting in at every stage to ensure their singular ‘vision’ gets carried through.

Rating:

Twilight Saga: Eclipse

dir: David Slade
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And the shit keeps on rolling out…

Wow, has it really only been a year since the last Twilight movie? Surely our years and entire lives are now structured around the release of new instalments in this rightly labelled saga? And it is a saga indeed. Epic, if you will, in proportions, length, width, girth, and in precious emotions.

Big emotions. Huge emotions. Bigger than anything you’ve ever snored through in your entire life!

See there’s a girl called Bella (Kristen Stewart) and every boy’s in love with her, because she’s so wonderful, despite not doing, saying or thinking a single interesting thing in her life. She does nothing, thinks nothing, imagines nothing, nothings nothing. She’s such a nothing that four books are devoted to her. Who ever said there was presence in absence was thinking squarely of Bella Swan and Kristen Stewart’s non-acting abilities.

Rating:

Twilight Saga: New Moon

dir: Chris Weitz
[img_assist|nid=1290|title=Time spent with you cretins is a hell beyond human reckoning|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=666]
The problem, the problem with this is… let me just put my finger on the problem…

How do you make a good flick out of a terrible book? How do you get good performances out of terrible actors playing terrible characters? How do you achieve what alchemists have been trying and failing to do for centuries, being the transmutation of shit into gold?

I don’t know. Neither do the people making this flick.

No-one expects either Spanish Inquisitions or full scale refutations of the basics of physical chemistry in order to achieve the impossible, and I didn’t exactly go into this with an open mind. You cannot have read any of the despicable books by Stephanie Meyer in this series and have any hope either for a film version to be a decent film, or hope for humanity in general.

You just can’t. They’re bad, but they’re bad in the way that precludes being ironic about it, taking it as camp, as kitsch, as anything than what it is: a painfully earnest, unintentionally hilarious but soul deadening attack on human dignity.

That’s gilding the lily if I’ve ever gilded anything. Perhaps I’m exaggerating just a tad.

Rating:

Expendables, The

dir: Sylvester Stallone
[img_assist|nid=1288|title=Forget Gandhi, Bertrand Russell or Simone De Beauvoir: you're all my heroes now|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=256]
I guess if someone absorbed and retained all the juicy goodness of crappy 80s action flicks, it was the guy who starred in most of them. And if there’s one person who can profit from perpetuating what he used to be good at, rather than doing anything remotely new, it’s Sylvester Stallone.

His last three films including this one are virtual monuments to himself (the other two being Rocky Balboa and the fourth Rambo flick creatively titled Rambo) and the time when he was one of the biggest action stars on the goddamn planet. But this flick, far moreso than the others, is more of a monument to the era itself and the trashy 80s action flicks that were so beloved by all.

Rating:

Animal Kingdom

dir: David Michôd
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It’s not entirely clear why the film is called Animal Kingdom until past the middle of the flick, when Guy Pearce’s character has to explicitly spell it all out: everything in nature, like in the Australian bush, inherently knows its place. There are trees that live for thousands of years, and insects that die in the space of time it takes to think of them. There are predators and prey, the strong and the weak, and they all have to compensate accordingly.

It’s a moment of exposition that sounds superfluous, because it’s rarely a good idea to explain your title, but it’s used wisely. It’s used by a character who thinks he has the measure of the person he’s speaking to, who thinks this is the best way to convince him to go along with his program.

He couldn’t be more wrong.

Australian cinema has often gone to the crime well to come up with its quality television programs and movies, and this flick certainly doesn’t come up dry. It’s as good as a lot of reviewers are saying it is, but what I failed to glean from other people’s comments and analyses was how emotionally complicated it is, how tension-filled and how grim. And how little it compromises.

Rating:

Unthinkable

dir: Gregor Jordan
[img_assist|nid=1252|title=Lots of screaming for the whole family|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=156]
I know, I know: you’ve never heard of it, and neither had I until yesterday.

You have to wonder how flicks with A-list casts like this can disappear so completely in an era where the biggest flick in the world at the moment only has Tom Hank’s voice in a major role, and the next in line hosts the anti-charismatic properties of Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner in lead roles: three people who if you added their personalities together, you’d still be coming up with a figure significantly less than 1.

I hear they share the one personality between them. Which is why, most of the time, you don’t see them all together in the same place. And the rest is computer generated imagery, just like their sparkly, bare-chested, sexless fame.

Perhaps it overstates it to claim that Unthinkable has an A-list cast. Michael Sheen did play Tony Blair, and a werewolf, and a vampire, David Frost and an even more horrific undead creature in the form of the coach of Leeds United. He’s got to be up there.

Rating:

Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The (Man som hatar kvinnor)

dir: Niels Arden Oplev
[img_assist|nid=1206|title=Cuddly, snuggly, spiky|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=304|height=450]
I don’t know how many people are going to make this point, since I assume that people, like sheep, like doing stuff in concert with each other, that this is the rare instance where the movie resulting from an adaptation is better than the book it’s based on. There, I said it. In reality this is the best adaptation of a Dan Brown novel Dan Brown never wrote. But Sweden’s Dan Brown, called Stieg Larsson, sadly died before he could profit from his success, collect his royalty cheques, and watch this version of his book on the big screen. It’s a shame, because he could have gotten to see what his story looked like with most of the boring bits cut out.

When I read the three books in the Millennium trilogy, as you could say with most crime or detective mystery kind of novels, I remember thinking they seemed like they were always intended for the big screen. They all read like that, usually. I’m sure it wasn’t a fact lost on the shmuck’s publishers, or on the people who made this Swedish film version, or the American shysters who snapped up the rights and who are going to allow Fight Club director David Fincher to remake it.

Rating:

Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road

Some things are stronger than love. Like hate,
for example

dir: Sam Mendes

Oh what a miserable fucking film. It starts off with one of those miserable and uncomfortable couple fights that makes you want to slink away without making eye contact, and progresses onwards with a gruesome autopsy of a relationship that should never have been between two people who should never have been together.

Based on an apparently classic 1950s novel of the same name by Richard Yates, it’s a film undoubtedly influenced at least in its stylistic elements by the rise of that Mad Men era-philia. In truth, though, this is an earlier era depicted, even if visually they’re indistinguishable. Sure the guys all wear smart suits and those hats, and smoke everywhere, and drink constantly and such.

But this is a time meant to be closer to the end of World War II rather than the cool cat airport lounge hipsterism of the early 1960s depicted in the aforementioned (and admittedly highly loveable) television series. Men and women were still working out what their post-war roles were meant to be, and for some people the answers were never going to be pretty.

The name of the flick makes it sound like it’s going to be a film explaining to kids why they should or shouldn’t have pictures of Che Guevara on their t-shirts, but all it refers to is the suburban road in Connecticut where the unhappily married Wheelers live.

Rating:

International, The

dir: Tom Tykwer
[img_assist|nid=1186|title=I could have been the next Bond, you know, I could have been somebody.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=299]
What the fuck happened to the guy who made Run Lola Run?

Here’s your answer: He’s making shitty, ludicrous flicks that sap the will to live of any audience anywhere.

The International is fucking unbelievable. It is a Bourne Identity – Supremacy flick without Jason Bourne or Matt Damon, but, perversely, with Clive Owen, who was in the first Bourne flick anyway. Recursive much?

So imagine: someone wants to make a Bourne flick but can’t afford Matt Damon. Who’s next on the list, oh, we can’t afford them, how about, no, further down, okay, Clive Owen and Naomi Watts? Brilliant.

And of course you need some German people in it, so why not hire German hot stud superstar Armin Mueller-Stahl, who’s 80 if he’s a day over 16?

Sole direction given to Clive Owen in this: “Um, act the way you did in Children of Men, but don’t run around as much.”

Clive Owen roles can be divided successfully into two groups: the ones where he has stubble, and overacts wildly, and the once where he’s clean shaven, and doesn’t overact as much. This role is clearly one of the former rather than the latter.

Rating:

Funny People

dir: Judd Apatow
[img_assist|nid=1178|title=Unfunny much?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=272]
See, the title is meant to be ironic. At least I think that’s the case, since most of the stuff that occurs in Funny People is not funny.

And the funny people who are rich aren’t funny and they aren’t happy. And the funny people who are poor aren’t happy but they are funny. But when rich meets poor, through exploitation and abuse, we get a steaming serving of “we’re all unhappy, rich or poor, unless we’re nice to each other” bullshit.

Isn’t it ironic that funny people are sad, hmm? Don’t you feel sorry for these neglected, forgotten people?

Do I fuck. This is a very odd flick in a lot of ways, odd because it’s increasingly becoming obvious that Apatow tries to wedge as much of his own life story into his films as a way of keeping those close to him happy and employed, but also as an act of revenge by proxy.

Judd Apatow has achieved a certain amount of success as a director and a producer of movies, but he struggled for a long time, especially way back in the day. He came up at a time when a lot of his more famous peers were starting out as well. He even used to share an apartment with some successful guy, what was his name, oh yeah, that’s right, Adam Sandler.

Rating:

Orphan

Orphan

Something very wrong with this child

dir: Jaume Collet-Serra

This is both a horrifying and silly flick. It would be easy to just say it’s a shit flick with the most ridiculous twist ending since the last time M. Night Shyamalan made one of his ridiculous movies. In fact it wouldn’t just be easy, it’d be downright accurate.

Still, I can’t dismiss it entirely. Approached as a genre piece, it’s unsettling and disturbing, as in, it achieves its ambition of creeping out the viewer, the viewer being me, in this case. This strangely-put together flick fits into that horror-thriller sub-genre about competent sociopaths, this time in the form of a nine-year-old child adopted by a nice family, who do what they do, infuriating the viewer because no-one except the main character can see what’s going on until it’s way too late.

Esther is an odd child adopted from an orphanage because a mother (Vera Farmiga) can’t get over the recent death of the baby she was carrying. This is conveyed to us, the viewers, right at the beginning in a horrific birth scene which is rendered as some kind of demented nightmare. Whilst the details aren’t considered literal, the loss of the child is, and we learn more details about spiralling depression, alcohol abuse and infidelity. All this occurs despite the fact that the two parentals have two other kids, an annoying teenage boy called Daniel, and the sweet, deaf Max.

Into this house they bring this strange girl who not a soul buys as being anything but the demented creature the promo posters depict her as being. Those posters were a stroke of genius, I have to say. The way that image was composed, by splitting and mirroring half of her face and reconnecting them at an odd angle, was far-more off-putting than probably most of the flick.

Ah, that’s probably not entirely true. There are plenty of instances of Esther murdering a whole bunch of people, and meting out violence to children, which of course is horribly disturbing.

Rating:

The Road

The Road

It was grim I tell you, grim as being awake at 5am.

dir: John Hillcoat

Oh gods is this film depressing. It’s not as completely hideous and bleak as the Cormac McCarthy novel from which it takes its name, since it leaves out some of the most horrifying bits. Even without some of that stuff, good goddamn is it depressing.

John Hillcoat has made some grim flicks, like Ghosts… Of the Civil Dead and The Proposition, but this out-grims them all. And as with The Proposition, adding to the bleak landscape and sombre atmosphere is a score created by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Of the soundtracks they’ve done together, well, this is of a piece, and whilst it’s not as powerful as the one they managed for that Jesse James flick whose title was almost longer than its running time, it’s still pretty devastating.

This film mostly has three characters. Sure there are others, but three characters are the majority that we look at and care about. There’s The Man (Viggo Mortensen), there’s The Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and then there’s the dead world they walk upon.

This is a post-apocalyptic story with a difference. The difference is that there’s nothing cool or romantic about this devastated place where we spend two hours of our lives and the last days of humanity. Plenty of flicks have been set in some nebulous future setting where nuclear war, robots, a virus, melting icecaps, zombies, evolved monkeys or Michael Bay have been responsible for wiping out human civilisation as we knew it. In almost all of those stories, though, the world left behind might be seriously fucked up and rubble strewn, but there’s still life, of a sort, and as they say, where there’s life, there’s fucking. I mean, where there’s life there’s hope.

The Road posits a world where there will be no redemption, no Hand of God coming down from the heavens to save / kill us, no rebuilding, no preservation of a copy of A Canticle for Leibowitz for future generations, no hope. The world is cold and getting colder, ashen, dead, really dead, and it’s just waiting for its last species to violently expire in order for the whole planet to become as quiet as a global grave can be.

Rating:

Thirst (Bakjwi)

Thirst

I am thirsty too, but not for Korean blood, thanks.

dir: Chan-wook Park

It’s an odd film. It’s interesting at times, boring at others, mostly enjoyable but also emotionally and stylistically flat some times. I’m sure it was deliberate. Chan-wook Park is an accomplished director, but don’t go expecting this to be too much in line with either Old Boy or Sympathy for Mr Vengeance.

It’s clear to me that he really intended on telling a very different vampire story from the ones popular with the girls and their wine cooler soaked mothers at the multiplex. He also intended on supplying the audience with a fairly leisurely, some might say lazy, broad satire of Catholicism. It seems odd to me that a Korean director would give a damn about Christianity, but then again I have no idea how widespread the Christbotherers are in South Korea, or even if the sky is blue and grass is green over there.

All I know about the peninsula is that the North Koreans have some fiercely choreographed high goose-stepping soldiers, millions of them, all starving for attention, freedom and a handful of rice.

South Korea is where the action is, and where the steady streams of films are coming from. It seems, though it’s not true, that Kang-ho Song is in most of them. He is, at least, even fleetingly in all the ones that I’ve seen thus far, whether good, bad or just plain weird.

Rating:

Milk

dir: Gus Van Sant
[img_assist|nid=1164|title=There is a tremendous irony in this|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=533]
You would have thought that the acclaimed documentary The Life and Times of Harvey Milk would have pretty much covered the story of this incandescently flamboyant political icon of the 1970s. But, let’s be honest: unless someone wins an Academy award and fictionalises the fuck out of a story, we don’t really care.

And why have footage of Harvey Milk playing Harvey Milk in a documentary about himself when you can have Sean Penn overacting all over the place instead?

So much better. To be fair, Penn mostly controls himself and delivers what is a stand-out performance in a career defined by stand-out performances, overacting, having been married to Madonna and beating up paparazzi.

I knew plenty of the details surrounding Milk’s death moreso than his life, because of the hilarious manner in which the person who murdered him used one of the most incredible defences in order to beat the rap and reduce his clearly cold-blooded and premeditated crime to an act of junk food-fuelled manslaughter due to diminished capacity. Of course the truth of what was actually argued by his defence team and what has become the pop culture meme of the “twinkie defence” are two completely different things.

Rating:

Coraline

Coraline

Be careful what you wish for, because it might just
KILL EVERYBODY!!!

dir: Henry Selick

You don’t know how wary I was going into this. Genuinely scared. Not scared in the sense that I was scared about what would happen in the story, or about some of the imagery. Sensitive little tulip that I am.

What I was most scared of was the prospect of disappointment. I love the works of Neil Gaiman and Henry Selick so much that the potential for failure seemed very high. Gaiman has written so much incredible stuff, including Coraline itself, and then there’s all the Sandman stuff, and American Gods, and and and…I need to curb the fanboy enthusiasm. Selick made James and the Giant Peach, and Nightmare Before Christmas, both of which I love, and is probably one of the (last) greats in the field of this old school style of animation.

It was a sweet relief to have all my fears allayed. Coraline isn’t a perfect flick, either in its story or its rendering, which is a mixture of stop-motion ‘solid’ animation and computer generated imagery, but it’s so goddamn close that the distinction becomes purely academic. Neil Gaiman, as with any of the greats when it comes to working in the areas of fantasy or what are often derisively dismissed as children’s fairy tales, understands the deep psychological underpinnings of what he’s working with, in the way that the Brothers Grimm and the creators of mythology throughout the ages have always understood. It’s not just childhood fears that these people have to approach and understand: they have to know the different motivations and intensities of feeling that children possess and most of us adults have forgotten. When people like Henry Selick and Neil Gaiman get it right, they forcefully remind us again.

Of course there are similarities with other tales, from Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli stuff to Alice in Wonderland to more ancient stuff, but I should really learn to stay on message and deal with the subject at hand without feeling the need to start enumerating everything else I’ve ever thought of in excruciating detail.

What I absolutely loved about Coraline the most was the fact, which seems really obvious on the surface, that Coraline makes choices and has to act in order to achieve anything in this story. She’s not just a character that stuff happens to until a cliché ending where every bit of a status quo is restored. She’s a bit of a brat who almost gets everything she could ever have wished for, only to realise that if she doesn’t work really hard, everything will become terrible forever for a lot of people, especially herself.

Rating:

Friday the Thirteenth (2009)

dir: Marcus Nispel
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There are remakes that are pointless. Remakes that are insults to human dignity. Remakes that just make you wish a nuclear war would wipe out the world so that you wouldn’t have to watch any more crappy flicks ever again. It would be a small price to pay.

And then there are remakes of crap horror flicks, which are just as crap as their origins, which it’s hard to get angry at.

Shit repackaged as another form of shit, when you know it’s shit, can’t really surprise you. It doesn’t have that power.

Rating:

Boat That Rocked, The

dir: Richard Curtis
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It’s getting to the stage where hearing that Richard Curtis, the genius behind such pop cultural fodder as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and the diabolical Love, Actually, which actually opens and closes with long montages of people hugging. Hugging, honest to fucking gods…

No, I haven’t forgotten what other stuff Richard Curtis was involved with back in the day, like actually funny stuff, like the various Blackadders and maybe even the Vicar of Dibley. But that was mostly as a writer, as a writer of gags. Humorous asides and witty banter. Funny, mildly amusing stuff.

Then he wisely, from the perspective of making more money, started directing the monstrosities he was writing the scripts for on numerous post-it notes while drunk out of his skull. And thus a directorial legend was born.

Now he inflicts these awful goddamn flicks on us which have too many characters, most of which are little different from each other, with sequences that connect little to the ones preceding and following, and which exude an overall stench of desperation that never hides the fact that he doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing, but hopes the editing, popular songs and cheeky swearing can hide the fact.

Rating:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

dir: David Yates
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Another year, another Potter flick. The difference is, now, after having enjoyed Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix so much, I thought I actually cared about future Potter flicks.

And then the Half-Blood Prince came along, and reminded me why I never really liked these tales of whimsy and magic in the first place.

That’s a bit harsh. Initially, going into it, I was pretty excited. I also thought, and still think, that this entry looks phenomenal as well. Hogwarts never looked so vast, so foreboding, so much more like a place that is no longer a sanctuary to these budding sorcerers.

Of course the ‘kids’ are getting older. Harry, Ron and Hermione are becoming awfully, um, grown-up physically, at least, if not emotionally mature. The story reflects and spends an inordinate amount of time fixating and developing these developments, as if the fact that they’re all acting like horny teenagers is supposed to be some kind of revelation.

Of course, this being a very successful franchise, they’re not going to turn it into an episode of the frightening school-age British series Skins, which has kids shagging, doing drugs and carrying on like teenagers having been acting since the dawn of cask wine.

Rating:

Ong Bak 2: The Beginning

dir: Panna Rittikrai, Tony Jaa
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You could be forgiven for thinking that this movie was a sequel or even a prequel to Tony Jaa’s debut Ong Bak. I mean, that’s what 2 usually stands for in these circumstances. Having watched both flicks, I can’t really see any point of intersection except in the fact that Tony Jaa kicks several shades of fuck out of a hell of a lot of people.

As far as I’m concerned, as long as the fights are as jawdropping as this, I don’t care if he calls every movie he makes Ong Bak with some numerical designation following, with no more connective a story-based tissue than: ‘Some guy, for some reason, beating a lot of people up in incredibly elaborate ways.”

For all I know, that’s what Ong Bak actually means in Thai. For all I care though, I eagerly look forward whenever I hear that Tony Jaa’s stepping up and putting out another movie.

Sure, he’s not much of an actor, and spends most of this flick glaring and not saying any dialogue. That’s good, though. We don’t want him talking. Talking’s not his forte. I hear he’s not good at math or doing the dishes, either. And he’s not very considerate in bed.

Rating:

Observe and Report

Observe and Report

Ignore and Avoid, at absolutely all costs, have no doubts

dir: Jody Hill

Damn, this is one ugly movie. I’m usually comfortable with the kinds of flicks about which people say “I felt like taking a shower after watching it”, but in this case, I want to lift my brain and eyes out of my skull, and scrub them clean with something caustic and abrasive.

As if I didn’t currently already dislike Seth Rogen enough, here he is in a ‘starring’ role as a mentally ill, possibly retarded security guard who holds onto his job for no reason I can glean. He is a stupid and violent prick, and yet he is the hero of this incomprehensibly bad film. At first I thought it was a drama. Then, a comedy. Then, a black comedy. Then a drama again. Then maybe a horror flick, then maybe a romance. A character study? Slice of life? Social satire? By the end I’d given up trying to figure out what genre the flick resides in, because I figured the people making it couldn’t figure it out either. I haven’t seen such an ending with so little credible believability in a long fucking time. That this character gets the ending this flick doles out is a travesty of injustice alongside the fact that it’s taken over thirty years to bring that scumbag Roman Polanski to justice.

Rating:

Role Models

Role Models

Jerks jerks jerks jerks jerks jerks there's not a person
in this flick who isn't a jerk. They're not Role Models,
they're... they're Jerk Muddles!

dir: David Wain

I really do wonder how some flicks get made. This isn’t a bad flick, but when I think about the performances, the plot and its success, I wonder who thought it was a good idea in the first place.

For a flick without a single likable character in it, it does manage to generate several laughs, at least several more laughs than another recent comedy that inflicted itself upon our eyeballs called Observe and Report. The difference is that this flick is nowhere near as vile, and does have some pretty funny moments. Not many, but enough.

This one, unfortunately, has Seann William Scott in a lead role, and that never helps anybody. As I’ve said in other reviews, I think it’s great that retarded people not be excluded from working in Hollywood, and that Scott continuing to get work gives hope to all the other Downs Syndrome sufferers out there. But good God is he dumb. Even knowing that he’s supposed to be dumb doesn’t change the fact that he consistently gives the impression that he’s only a few seconds away from crapping his own pants.

Paul Rudd is a bit better, but he’s really only playing a minor variation on most of the characters he ever plays. Actually, scratch that, he remains unchanged from movie to movie. The difference is that I actually find him likable even if his characters are obnoxious.

Rating:

Hunger

Hunger

Fancy a bite to eat? Maybe some crackers or something?

dir: Steve McQueen

When I heard that there was this apparently really cool film that was going to come out, and that it was directed by Steve McQueen, my first question was: “Isn’t he dead?” My next question was “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck had nothing better to do with its fucking time?”

The answers to both questions, surprisingly enough, are “Yes” and “Not much.” Steve McQueen is some artist, not the classic actor from Great Escape, The Getaway and Bullit. The car did most of the acting in Bullit, I admit, but no, McQueen is some other guy which doesn’t mean that the original McQueen is doing a Tupac Shakur from beyond the grave, releasing stuff despite the minor inconvenience of being dead.

The one thing I’ve never heard or seen in any of the reviews of this flick, which have been uniformly positive, is that the film would actually make me sick. I’m not, as is my wont, exaggerating or embellishing like I usually do. In the last fifteen or so minutes of the flick, when Michael Fassbender, who plays Bobby Sands, really earns his keep, the image of his emaciated and lesion/sore covered body comes up on the screen.

Rating:

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