Woman in Gold

Woman in Gold

Some things are worth fighting for, especially when they're
worth hundreds of millions of dollars

dir: Simon Curtis

2015

This is not a colour afflicted sequel to either The Woman in Black horror flicks or The Woman in White, the classic Wilkie Collins pot boiler. Or The Woman in Red, the classic 80s flick with Gene Wilder and Kelly Le Brock. Rawr! The sexual chemistry just burned up the screen, it did.

It’s something far more laden with importance and weighty significance. It’s based on a true story, in some ways an incredibly true story, and its very title is an affront and a lingering insult to the people affected/afflicted by the Nazis.

Austria. Vienna. In some ways this flick and a lot of ink spilled in the last half century have argued about the complicated relationship people have with that great nation and city. It spawned great art and architecture. It spawned a dictator too, who tried to consume all of Europe with his Jew-hating madness, which in turn consumed much of the rest of the world, too.

Unfortunately for me, and for one of the protagonists here, one can’t look at the clean lines and fascist architecture of the place even now without seeing the horror of back then. This flick, more than anything else, is about trying to make right something that under no circumstances can be made right.

Rating:

Inside Out

Inside Out

Some things are more powerful than Joy, and last way, way longer.
Ah, hello Sadness my old friend. It's time to drink with you again.

dir: Peter Docter

2015

Finally.

We’ve missed you, Pixar. I’ve missed you. I’ve missed the days when you made beautiful, touching, insanely fun animated movies that we could watch again and again and feel joyful about each time.

It’s been a while.

The supreme virtue Pixar used to hold, prior to its purchase by Disney, wasn’t just that it was producing the best looking computer animated movies of their day. It was that it was making the kinds of movies with the kinds of stories that other shittier companies wouldn’t or couldn’t make. Anyone can make an animated movie, seemingly. Only Pixar was making Pixar-like movies, if you’ll allow the obvious tautology.

Its run was almost unprecedented. The only other company I can think of that had such a sustained consistent run in terms of originality and quality is probably Studio Ghibli. That came to an end seemingly after Up, I think. I mean, some of the other Pixar flicks haven’t been completely terrible (Brave was an okay attempt at doing something ‘different’ for Pixar but the same as everyone else, but there just isn’t any compelling reason to ever pop that Blu-Ray in the machine, ever, no pressure from the kids, either).

Rating:

While We're Young

While We're Young

Taking ayahuasca is not something people in their 40s should be doing.
You're meant to be arguing about tax returns and negative gearing and
prostate examinations! Also, private schools: good idea or great idea?

dir: Noah Baumbach

2015

I’ve barely recovered from the last time I watched a Noah Baumbach film. You could almost describe my symptoms as being “post-Baumbach stress disorder” after having endured Greenberg. I know that wasn’t his next to most recent flick (that being Frances Ha), but I’m still trying to reconcile the deeply visceral and hateful reaction I had to that earlier flick.

I was wary to enter into the lion’s den again. One shouldn’t return to one’s abusers. It’s not healthy. It reeks of co-dependence and unhealthy relationships. If a person abuses you, physically or mentally, there are no good reasons to spend time with them ever again. They don’t respect you, the way Baumbach seems to have no respect for his audiences, sometimes. That’s when you start the exceedingly complicated process of extracting yourself, which can take months, years even.

But hey, if you’re a masochist or a glutton for punishment, let the good times roll!

Rating:

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Uplifting! Uproarious! Superannuated! Now I need a lie down.

dir: John Madden

2015

Why wouldn’t you?

Why wouldn’t you make a sequel to such a successful movie? I mean, every white middle class Anglo-Saxon over the age of 65 in Britain and Australia was obligated by law to go and see the first one or risk having their Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and pensioner cards ripped up in front of them, so why not?

Well, call me the querulous voice of pedantic temperance: this flick really has no reason to exist, like most sequels. Was there anything desperately necessary for the makers or the characters to do or say?

No, not really. But many of these actors, being national treasures, deserve every opportunity to continue sitting there in front of a camera complaining about the pain in their hips or knees. And I begrudge them nothing. As long as someone gets them a nice cup of tea and puts a blanket over their knees.

With many of these elders, I could literally sit there watching them talk about tea or textile content percentages and consider it time well spent. They’ve earned it. Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith are Dames, for crying out loud. That’s not an exaggeration or a term of endearment. They’re literally Dames! As in knighted by the goddamn queen. If anyone deserves to coast along and not do much and still be thought of as wonderful, it’s them.

So, yeah, I’m always glad to spend time with them. Many of the other people in this film? Meh…

Rating:

Chappie

Chappie

This little tyke is just learning his ABCs, but can also
rip your bloody arms off! Auntie Jack would be so proud

dir: Neill Blomkamp

2015

I mentioned in a recent review that, fortuitously or not, the week I saw this was a week in which a couple of other AI-related movies came out, and that this was a significantly different version from the other.

How different? Well, if you’re a fan of South African hip hop outfit Die Antwoord, (let’s face it, why would anyone be?), you can delight yourself by watching a flick where they mostly star mostly playing themselves using their stage names, and oh yeah there also happens to be a robot hanging around with them too.

The Johannesburg police have been replaced with robots, or at least supplemented with them. One of the engineers working on the goofy robots gets this idea that he wants to create a cop robot that has self-awareness. How does he achieve this? Um, somehow.

A defective robot is his guinea pig, into which he inserts a magical program that will, all other things being equal, let him appreciate art and maybe write poetry one day.

The defective robot itself has only a short time frame in which to experience all that life can provide. The creator, whom Chappie refers to as ‘Creator’, didn’t do this deliberately as a control or anything, or to be cruel. It’s just that, you know, like the benevolent and all powerful yet insecure deity of the Old Testament that ‘created’ us with a use-by date, it’s a feature, not a deliberate bug.

Rating:

Home

Home

Your movie is bad and you should feel bad

dir: Tim Johnson

2015

The wholesale destruction of the Earth never looked so cute.

If ever you wanted to watch a cutesy version of global genocide, Home is the animated kids movie for you.

Let’s be honest about this: sure, the whole flick fixates on an alien called Oh (voiced by Jim Parsons) and a human called Tip (voiced by pop star Rihanna), but in the background of this whole story, Earth has pretty much been destroyed through alien invasion. The remaining humans have all been forcibly relocated to a white picket suburban ghetto in outback Australia. One human remains on the outside, trying to rescue her mother. Hilarity doesn’t ensue.

The aliens don’t do any of this stuff maliciously, or sadistically. They very humanely abduct all humans without too much violence and deposit them in their concentration camp without harming a hair on their pretty heads. To this vaguely octopus-like species, we’re not seen as being any more advanced than dogs. With their superior technology and scientific advancement, it’s seen as less Manifest Destiny and more like an average day at work.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

Ex Machina

There's appropriate touching, there's inappropriate touching,
and then there's "This touching is an abomination unto the Lord".

dir: Alex Garland

2015

It’s funny that I’ve gotten to watch two films with pretty much the same premise within less than a week of each other (or their release), and yet they take the same basic story (artificial intelligence) and go in two completely oppositional directions.

Both have flaws, but they’re interesting, to me at least. The other flick I’m talking about is Chappie, but I’m not going to spend this review talking about a different flick. Even if there’s far more bizarre stuff to talk about with the other flick.

This flick takes a cool, calm approach to its subject matter. It’s basically a three-hander, well, maybe four, confined to one location (an incredible looking place in Norway, part carved out of the earth, part high tech glacier?), with muted themes and even more muted action (before the ending). Mostly, it’s a film where a guy called Caleb (Domhnall Gleason) chats with his boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac) and someone else called Ava (Alicia Vikander).

Someone else… someone else. This someone else is not as others might be. She possesses a very expressive face for something that is basically just a very complicated iPhone. And boobs too. Why would you put boobs on a robot?

Well, apparently there are very good reasons. Boobs can be a lot of things to a lot of people. They can also be a great diversion or an even better distraction.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending

The Wachowskis: Finding new ways to make you regret
ever liking any movies they've ever made

dirs: Andy and Lana Wachowski

2014

I can’t really understand how the Wachowskis can keep getting these budgets for their movies. It’s insane. I can’t get an extension on my overdraft, but the Wachowskis, whose last few movies have lost an extravagant sum, close to like 500 million dollars, and yet someone keeps bankrolling them.

They’re like the Donald Trumps of the moviemaking industry. Maybe they have photos of someone, maybe the amount of money they made on the Matrix movies gets them a free pass for life.

I have no idea, but if they are given like another $200 million for their next movie, there is no justice or fiscal sanity in this world.

Nah, just kidding. I knew those two abstract concepts never existed in the first place.

If it does, amazingly, happen, it won’t be for a sequel or another instalment in the Jupiter series. I have no doubt, really, considering it cost so much to make and could not have made its money back, no matter what is claimed on various sites through the so-called ‘foreign’ markets.

Saddest of all is that somehow this is considered at least a partially ‘Australian’ movie, due to who put money into what, and a lot of the post-production work. Damn, someone’s career should be toast over that one, or at least someone deserves to be mocked over Friday drinks at the very least.

Rating:

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron

Yeah Nah there isn't too much going on in this pic/movie,
why do you ask?

dir: Joss Whedon

2015

Well. That happened.

This will probably be the ‘biggest’ movie of the year, with the possible exception of the seventh Star Wars flick that comes out around Christmas. It has the most advertising, the most merchandise, the most cross-promotional opportunities and the biggest cast of superheroes we’re likely to see in a donkey’s age, let alone an Ultron’s age.

Wait, at least until the next comic book movie comes along. Which is… probably a week or two away?

Such a juggernaut, such a monolith of concentrated media saturation can’t help but put you off your popcorn, if you’re a cynical person who’s tired of just these kinds of ‘events’. You start seeing things less for what they are, and more for the sad things they say about us and the world we now live in.

If I can switch that voice in my head off for a while, though, I may just find elements of the experience a tad enjoyable? Maybe I’ll laugh a little, maybe I’ll cry a little?

By some set of freak circumstances yesterday (Sunday), I found myself sitting in a cinema I haven’t sat in for a long time (the Westgarth, ye olde Valhalla), watching this latest extravaganza for the eyes and the soul. And worried as I may have been over what would transpire, I was not overly disappointed.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

SpongeBob Movie

These superpowered jerks are idiots, like a version of
the Avengers with more impulse control, and less angst

dir: Paul Tibbet

2015

School holidays can definitely be a slog for parents. SpongeBob Squarepants movies can be a definite slog too.

School holidays just passed. I took two kids to see this in 3D. They were there voluntarily. Me? Not so much.

It turned out that the two kids weren’t really there by choice either. I thought they were, but they were under the mistaken impression that we’d be watching that other animated movie that came out at the same time called Home.

Home has that commercial where the annoying guy from The Big Bang Theory with Asperger’s plays an alien character that declaims that his hands are in the air like he just doesn’t care. I wonder why I didn’t leap at the chance to watch that one.

Timings weren’t right to see it on that particular Sunday, so instead we saw this. In 3D no less. Cost me nearly $80 fer crying out loud…

But that’s neither here nor there. It’s not a cartoon I enjoy that much, so I was never really ever going to love this either, I’m sad to say. When I consider the cartoon riches that are out there at the moment, that I get to enjoy on a regular basis with my daughter and her friends (the short list contains Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Regular Show, Gravity Falls, and that’s keeping it real short), SpongeBob is not really up there.

Rating:

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?

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

The Book of Life

The Book of Life

Live your life so people remember you fondly, seems to be the
message, either that or "Don't Die!", whichever.

dir: Jorge Gutierrez

2014

Sure, there are plenty of animated movies, perhaps too many of them, but few of them are based around the Mexican Day of the Dead, which isn’t, inherently, the kind of topic you’d think appropriate for kid fare.

There have been a few death-themed animations of the modern era, connected to Tim Burton (but not directed by him, since he never directed Nightmare Before Christmas, ParaNorman, Coraline or any of those: people just always assume he must have). It’s understandable, in that they aren’t that common. It’s a tough sell as a theme to the marketplace. Not the kids, who I’m sure mostly would be curious, if not Delighted!

It’s more their uneasy parents. Uneasy parents like me. I have long held that there is an association, a connection between kids accepting the mortality of the people around them and their own mortality, and the end of childhood. In the otherwise deeply terrible movie The Crow, the villain is introduced talking to his sister, saying something along the lines of “Childhood ends when you realise you’re gonna die”.

It’s irrational, I know, but I’ve never let go of that line. You’d think the take away I should have, um, taken away from that terrible movie is not to watch The Crow movies ever again. Instead I’ve managed to make the avoidance of talking about Death a staple of my lackadaisical and lacklustre parenting.

Rating:

The Water Diviner

Water Diviner

Rusty still has that "I'd kill you for the sandwich you're
eating" look in his eye, even in his attempt at 'prestige'
award bait drama! Is there nothing he can't not do?

dir: Russell Crowe

2014

I never thought I’d be typing the words “dir: Russell Crowe” at the beginning of one of my reviews, but then we live in a brave, new world where anything is apparently possible.

Anything is possible, to the extent that Crowe could make and star in a flick set around Gallipoli, and that it actually ends up being an okay film that I enjoyed.

Even more perplexing is that this is one of the few flicks I can think of where the Australians aren’t praised to the high heavens for their sun bronzed bravery on the sands of Gallipoli, and the Turks aren’t demonised for their actions defending their homeland. It may be this great nation’s foundation myth, but its utility in magnifying how great we Aussies truly are (for dying in great numbers in the service of the British Empire) isn’t used here.

It’s a far more personal story, in that it’s mostly about one chap (Crowe, good ol’ Australia’s Own Kiwi Rusty Crowe) trying to find the remains of his three sons who went and died on the shores of Gallipoli. So it’s not about re-prosecuting the war, or depicting a bunch of larrikins fighting and dying in splendidly heroic ways: it’s about a father wanting to fulfil his wife’s most heartfelt wish that her boys, if only in spirit, could be brought home to her.

Rating:

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman

Now that's not something you see every day, at least, not on
a day you get to survive

dir: Matthew Vaughn

2015

Damn, I’m getting old.

There was a time when something like this would have been like sweet, sweet crack to me. I would have embraced its charms and indulged its weaknesses in the pursuit of an action high otherwise rarely approached.

But for some reason, many reasons, while I enjoyed parts of this James Bond update, I couldn’t help but feel that it was, to use the technical film school term, pretty fucking dreadful.

The Bond template is not a rarely used one, in fact, there are probably thousands of films bouncing around in your memory that used the formula. In its purest form, though, it’s still fairly generic. The difference here is that it’s paired with the adolescent wish fulfilment only Mark Millar can come up with. It also produces a vision of Britishness so arch and so unbelievable that it amazes me that the director is a Brit and that Millar, who originally wrote the shitty comic this is based on, is a Scot.

They conjure a vision of Britain less grounded in reality and less believable than the Harry Potter films.

Rating:

Pride

Pride

The union forever defending our rights!
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite!
With our brothers and out sisters from many far off lands!
There is power in a union!

dir: Matthew Warchus

2014

A few of the reviews I’ve read about this film, or at least ones I read before watching the flick myself contain the stock standard sorry phrase “you wouldn’t think there’d be much crossover between the 1980s British Gay Rights movement and the coal miners who went on strike, but Pride’s here to tell you, there was!”

Maybe that’s not entirely accurate; maybe I just imagined it. It’s just that the film itself plays off on the alleged jarring juxtaposition, and so the reviews mention the self-same seeming ‘paradox’: that the people you would imagine would least like ‘the gays’ end up accepting their existence.

Pride is no doubt heavily fictioned up, but is nonetheless based on the true story of what happened in the 1980s in Britain, in Maggie Thatcher’s Britain, more importantly. As the film tells us, activists for gay rights / equality under the law woke up one morning and found they weren’t being harassed by the cops anymore. Or at least, not as frequently. This didn’t come about because anything changed legally in the country: it came about because the cops were now too busy harassing and beating the crap out of the striking coal miners.

Rating:

Still Alice

Still Alice

To me the look on her face says "If I don't get the Oscar
for this, someone's going to get stabbed."

dir: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland

2014

Still Alice is quite a sad film. I’m sure that’s not going to be a surprise to anyone that’s heard even a little bit about what it’s about. But it is truly sad.

All the same, this is not the kind of manipulative drivel that one usually associates with these kinds of dramas. It’s also not about the nobility of suffering, or about a beautiful woman getting some disease and expiring in the most delightfully photogenic manner.

Julianne Moore has rightly been nominated for this performance, but I’m not sure that she’s necessarily going to win. Her achievement in this role is often what she chooses not to do more so than what she actually does. There is a minimum of hysterics or melodramatics in the flick, which keeps it inline with the story as it is being told.

But at least she's subtle about it.

Alice (Moore) is delivering a lecture on linguistics. She pauses, trying to recall a word that is eluding her, and then it comes to her, and she moves on.

This is only the first step down a very long road.

Define ‘irony’. Irony is a professor of linguistics, a person whose field of study is the human brain’s ability to soak up language and the structures of the brain devoted to communication, and the idea of how words form a person’s concept of their own identity, and then have her lose it all as we watch.

Rating:

Selma

Selma

I, too, have a dream, that one day I'll be judged not by the content of my
character, but by the colour of my skin, because otherwise I'm screwed

dir: Ava DuVernay

2014

Time for more homework, me guesses.

Selma is definitely homework. Selma is the kind of flick most people only get to see because it gets mentioned at Oscar time (for people like me, I guess). Had it not been nominated for anything, anything at all, no-one would have seen it, and no-one would really have cared. Nor missed it, nor felt its lack in any substantial way, regardless of what Oprah might tell them.

What’s it about? Is it about that most beloved of Simpsons characters, Selma Bouvier and her many husbands, or her perpetual disdain for customers down at the DMV? Is it about Selma Blair, that actress from the 90s who doesn’t seem to have done much else since reaching her pinnacle in Todd Solondz’s Storytelling?

I mean, she did her bit for black/white relations in that harrowing film, but where's her parade?

No. It’s about something far more boring/important. It’s about African-Americans fighting for their right to register to vote in the South in 1965. It’s about them fighting for, and in many cases, dying for, a right most of us take for granted.

Because it’s about a specific event, you wouldn’t really call it a biopic of the very Reverend Martin Luther King’s life, and yet you couldn’t argue that he wasn’t the main character in this flick, because otherwise the main character would be… Selma, Alabama itself.

Rating:

Whiplash

Whiplash

It ain't worth it, people, this jazz stuff will just mess you up

dir: Damien Chazelle

2014

Well, whatever the template is in a flick like St Vincent, Whiplash would seem to be the absolute opposite.

This is not, in any way, a flick where an older curmudgeon is brought out of his shell by a younger person who teaches him to reconnect with his humanity and people and Russian prostitutes.

Oh good gods, no.

Whiplash is a superb film. I know, I’m a bit late getting to the table on this one, since it’s been nominated for stuff, and it made many reviewers’ 2014 Best of listicles. It’s up for Best Picture in a couple of weeks. J.K. Simmons has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Praising it now seems like throwing confetti after the limo has left the church.

It being superb doesn’t always make it easy to watch. It is tense, and energised, and frightening, in a lot of scenes. It is harrowing to watch what the main character Andrew (Miles Teller) endures for his art. It is disturbing to consider the points the film makes about sacrifice, about needing to suffer to become “great”, and about how, sometimes, it feels like the flick is endorsing the abuse we witness.

Rating:

St Vincent

St Vincent

I can't believe they didn't use a single song from the actual
St Vincent (Annie Clark) in this flick. Totally wasted opportunity.

dir: Theodore Melfi

2014

Old grumpy curmudgeons becoming less so (grumpy and curmudgeonly, not the old bit, since there’s no cure for that) over the course of a flick is a genre in and of itself. There’s this inherent belief, ably supported by movies, that even the most misanthropic dullard can be brought out of themselves by the attention and love of a much younger person.

It’s a template as old as movies themselves. The first movie ever was a home movie of a crotchety Thomas Edison screaming at people to get off his lawn at Menlo Park, until some filthy urchin teaches him to love again.

And that was 100 years ago. There have been exactly 10,000 versions of this theme in the interim. They do it in every country, in every language. I’ve probably seen five versions of this in the last month alone.

When it’s done well, it’s as good as Pixar’s Up, or About A Boy, that one with Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult, a film I still have a lot of time for. When it’s bad, it’s creepy, or unearned, or just generally uncomfortable. Like As Good As It Gets, 90 per cent of Clint Eastwood’s recent movies, or many, many, many other versions of the theme.

Because it’s such a formula, it doesn’t really hold any surprises for us. What it does hold is ample opportunities for actors of a certain age to desperately grasp one last time for that Oscar that’s eluded them thus far.

Rating:

Paper Planes

Paper Planes

If you do it right, you get to be the Aussie ambassador to Japan!
No-one else wants the job, so it's more of a punishment than a prize

dir: Robert Connolly

2015

Of course Australia needs more Australian films that Australians want to watch. Australia Australia Australia we love you. We won’t have a sustainable film industry (with such a small population, with so much cultural cringe, with so much downloading possible) until we can make the big hits that support the other ‘quality’ productions that no-one other than a few hipsters, a bunch of confused pensioners on Cheap Mondays, and Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton want to see.

Paper Planes has been very successful. A caveat on that is that it’s been very successful for an Australian film. A decent outcome box office-wise for an Australian film would be the very definition of a disaster for most American flicks, but that’s a different argument.

And it deserves to be a success. It’s the very definition of a crowd-pleasing, mass audience family flick. It has the exact contours, rhythms and beats of an underdog triumph / sports movie (which is not a bad thing at all), and though it is constructed from bunches of clichés, the performances manage to wrest the material away from its more mawkish tendencies.

It’s also horribly, horribly emotionally manipulative. There are scenes so potent in their ability to wrest tears from the tear ducts of adults (as opposed to kids) that you feel like a fool crying over such clichés. But they work.

Rating:

Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman

You seem to have something stuck to your head.
Want me to, uh, get it for you?

dir: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

2014

This film is totally fucking nuts!

And that’s not a bad thing at all.

In fact it’s quite enjoyable, visually confronting, artfully constructed and pretty well acted by almost everyone involved. There is a lot of yelling, a lot of virtuoso camerawork, and a lot of people struggling for credibility.

It’s not unique in cinema to do this, but it’s very hard to watch this and not think that there are fourth wall breaking – meta elements in the flick, considering that Michael Keaton is playing a character called Riggan Thompson whose claim to fame is that he starred as the superhero in some flick called Birdman decades ago.

I hope that almost everyone knows that Keaton, who up until then had been considered a pretty successful comedic actor, also played a little known superhero called Batman in a couple of movies with Tim Burton.

No-one points out, of course, that they were pretty shitty movies. Well, the first one was, maybe the second one was okay.

Of course, Keaton hasn’t exactly been in the wilderness since then, having been in a stack of flicks. If there are autobiographical similarities between Keaton the actor and Thompson the character, perhaps they’re just coincidental.

Rating:

Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler

While you were sleeping, Jake Gyllenhaal was out
there being creepy

dir: Dan Gilroy

2014

For me at least, after watching this film, it’s been confirmed, as if these things really matter anyway, that the Academy has yet again dropped the ball when it comes to nominations for Best Actor. Nothing I’ve seen thus far from last year was as great as what Jake Gyllenhaal achieves in this film. For my money, Nightcrawler has the performance of the year.

It’s also an incredibly strong film in its own right, but, man, that performance is breathtaking.

Gyllenhaal, who’s generally never been a slouch in the acting department, really pulls out all the stops and gives this creepy, monstrous character his all. That should not imply that there is overacting all over the place. Nothing of the sort. Au contraire, to be accurate.

Well, mostly.

This is a performance up there with Lord Anthony Hopkins for Hannibal or Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, or Anyone as Richard Nixon, only this character is probably even more of a monster than those three jerks, and yet he is far more polite and courteous. His manner, however, barely hides the cold alien nature that lurks below his feverish eyes and gaunt cheeks.

Rating:

Pages

Subscribe to fresh movie reviews expressed daily RSS