The Imitation Game

Imitation Game

Once you get the eyebrows right, the rest of the acting just
falls into place

dir: Morten Tyldum

2014

What kind of name is Morten Tyldum anyway? Sounds completely made up, to me. It sounds like someone started with the name ‘Tyler Durden’ and randomly started changing the consonants around. What is it, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, random name generated by some program in Mongolia?

Whoever the delightful Morten Tyldum is, he she or it has directed a truly delightfully depressing flick about true genius Alan Turing and his great achievements during World War II. Chief of these achievements would be the creation of a machine that could crack the German’s Enigma code, used for all of its naval wartime communications, and considered unbreakable at the time by both sides.

I have known of Turing since I was a teenager solely due to the use of his name in science fiction novels whenever the issue of Artificial Intelligence came up, but I didn’t know that much about him at the time. Later on, when his status as one of the progenitors of modern computing received greater prominence, I came to understand not only that he was a great man, but a martyr to the cause of gay rights as well.

Rating:

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6

I think the Japanese title was 'Delightful Robot God
and Smelly Hangers-On'!

dirs: Don Hall, Chris Williams

2014

It’s not that I didn’t like it. I did, I did, I swear. It’s just that sometimes the obviousness of the formula sticks out like dog’s balls, as the phrase goes, and I can’t ignore it. During what should have been a sweet and uplifting moment, when our Hero called Hiro takes flight, all I could think of was “wait, isn’t this moment straight out of How to Train Your Dragon? And what is that smell coming from the back of the cinema?”

And it was. And then I started thinking about while I realise the movie is called Big Hero 6, and that it’s based on a comic book, and that it’s a kids version of something like a superhero supergroup like Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy etc, there was absolutely no reason I could figure out why the hero and his loyal robot Baymax needed the other generic sidekicks by their side. They didn’t really add anything to the mix, other than occasional one-liners. They are all, I’m sorry to say, superfluous. In fact pretty much everything other than the robot is superfluous.

Rating:

Annie

Annie

Hmm, maybe this isn't the 'gritty' Dark Knight-like reboot that I
thought it was going to be

dir: Will Gluck

2014

It must be hard to take on a classic in order to remake it. You’d think it was daunting, wouldn’t you? If you loved the musical of Annie, and the movie from 1982, then it would have to be daunting.

Of course, if you don’t give a good goddamn about the movie, and in fact it looks like it’s not as universally adored as I assumed it was (not up there with Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz, but more like with Starlight Express and The Wiz instead), then it’s just an opportunity.

Like the song says, don’t waste the opportunity.

I have a theory. I don’t think it’s true, necessarily, so you might wonder why I’d bother relating it. Well… I’m sure there’s a valid reason, but I just can’t find it right now, might have fallen behind the couch cushions or something.

Here goes: the only real reason this flick was made was because Jay Z wants to annihilate his past.

You may know who Jay Z is, you might not. To some people he’s the former drug dealer turned producer and eventual rap demigod. To others he’s that guy married to Beyoncé, the one-woman music industry.

Rating:

Fury

Fury

He looks a bit sad, doesn't he? Do you think he might cry?

dir: David Ayer

2014

Fury. Pure, unalloyed Fury.

That’s what I felt after paying good money (I received free tickets) to see this flick. Actually, it’s not a feeling I had afterwards, it’s a feeling I felt while watching it, which tempered to relief when it ended.

And the thing is, it’s not because it’s a particularly bad film. I am not sure whether, objectively speaking, it’s a good or bad film. I can’t say I’m sure either way objectively speaking about any of the flicks I see and review. I’m at slightly more of a loss than usual with this one.

See, there are these scenes of great ugliness that horrified me or made me uncomfortable, but if that was the intention, surely it’s not a failing of the film? It’s a failing of mine if it repulsed me in the sense that it made me dislike the film even if it strove for and achieved what it set out to achieve.

As I said, it confuses me somewhat. Fury is not in the grand tradition of American war movies that posit the hallowed idea of War is Hell, but We Were Righteous and Awesome and We Won. I don’t think I saw a single rah rah American flag floating in a slow motion breeze. There wasn’t a plaintive trumpet playing a variation on the Last Post throughout the soundtrack. There wasn’t any nobility, patriotism or any “tell my wife I love her”, or “I am glad I am dying for my country” type bullshit.

Rating:

Predestination

Predestination

I'm about as confused as you look, but I'd like to offer you
a great opportunity on the ground floor as a secretary at
Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce

dir: The Spierig Brothers

2014

Predestination is the third film by the Queenslander Spierig Brothers that I’ve seen, or that they’ve made, and the first one that I can recall reviewing.

The reasons are… well, it’s not polite to say why. This will probably, hopefully for them, be their most successful film. Saying it’s their best film is damning with faint praise. Undead was half an okay movie (zombies), and half unwatchable (sci fi crap and a high pitched screaming cop that I wanted to murder more than the other characters did). Daybreakers was terrible, so terrible, such a terrible take on the vampire genre. Daybreakers took a bunch of actors I liked and made me hate them all, at least for a while.

Predestination is a different beast. It’s actually competently made. It may be complicated, but they take steps to try to explain everything that’s going on. The acting, especially the central performances by Sarah Snook and Ethan Hawke is fine, in Snook’s case great, perhaps.

Rating:

Boyhood

Boyhood

Boy in the hood, but who or what will he grow up to be?

dir: Richard Linklater

2014

Twelve years a slave to Richard Linklater’s ambitions. What a terrible fate for any set of actors.

Boyhood is a fairly unique film in how it was put together, but not in its subject matter. Its subject could not be any more mundane if it tried.

The reason is, the subject is Life. And Life, itself, at least other people’s lives, can be pretty mundane. That’s not a criticism. Most films except biopics aren’t really about people’s (or character’s) lives, broad swathes of their lives. They’re usually only about a certain period of time in which really exciting stuff happens to them, and then when they return to normality, crushing mundane normality, the credits are usually rolling.

Boyhood transpires over twelve years in the lives of a bunch of characters and the actors who play them. That doesn’t mean it only covers a twelve year time period in terms of its scope. They were filmed for a few days at a time over the course of twelve actual years. Now that’s commitment to an idea. We literally watch the actors, especially the kids, grow right in front of our eyes. The film is nearly three hours long, so there’s a lot of growing up to do.

Since it’s called Boyhood, you can pretty much guess that it’s the story of a particular boy growing up in Texas. Richard Linklater is from Texas, and he was a boy at some point. Are there autobiographical aspects to the story?

Rating:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I look forward to the next film in the series:
The Day After the Night Before the Prequel
to the Sequel of the Time of the Afternoon of
the Takeover of the Planet by the Apes! Part 8

dir: Matt Reeves

2014

I probably said a lot of similarly effusive stuff around the time that Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out, but I find it disturbing and a little sad to say that some of the best performances that I have seen in this year, or any year for that matter, were delivered by CGI apes.

The alchemy that allows performers and computer programmers to put together something so… incredible, these incredibly expressive eyes and faces, these performances that say as much if not more than words can, are kind of worrying. We are starting to look like something substandard compared to what can be created by these people with arcane skills.

Pretty soon we’re not going to look as real as the cinematic reality they’re coming up with.

There is, hands down, no greater character or performance this year than Andy Serkis / the programmers as Caesar in this film. Caesar looks and acts like such a powerfully believable character, with a face and manner so expressive, so ‘real’, that you can’t help but wonder why the humans don’t look as believable or as vital. All of the leading ape characters look so real that for not one moment did I feel like I was watching a CGI character despite knowing full well that I was.

Rating:

Into the Storm

Into the Storm

Tornadoes: God's way of telling you to move to the coast

dir: Steven Quale

2014

Does anyone really miss Twister? Is there a cult following for that tornado movie which had Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton chasing tornadoes, something which contravenes entirely common sense and basic human nature?

I would say no. No-one misses Helen Hunt. Twister was, however, bafflingly successful, and was one of the first times special effects became realistic enough to look more real than the nincompoop humans on screen.

Those tornados looked real, devastatingly real. And catastrophe on the big and small screens is dangerously compelling to us.

When Jan De Bont’s Twister succeeded, it created an entire genre of action movies derisively labelled as ‘weather porn’. When you think about the combination of the two words, it does make for a very complicated mental image. Basically, it just points to the idea that many of us ‘like’ (however that liking manifests itself) watching weather slap around a bunch of people and property for our entertainment.

Tornadoes are a great way of making it look like weather can take a personal and distinct form with which to kill people.

This isn’t the place to start moralising about it, about what it says about audiences. We’ve ALWAYS enjoyed watching disasters and catastrophes on screen. It dates back to when this crazy cinema thing started off. It’s just that collectively, as a species, we’re better at it now.

Rating:

Million Dollar Arm

Million Dollar Arm

Who's idea was it to have him swing his jacket over his
shoulder for the promo? That's like the worst idea in
human history, even worse than the idea behind
Million Dollar Arm

dir: Craig Gillespie

2014

I am second to no-one in my love of Jon Hamm. There’s no way I would have watched years and years of Mad Men if it wasn’t for him. Well, that’s probably not true, the series has a deep bench of great actors and characters. I can honestly say, though, that had Jon Hamm not been in this flick, there’s no way I would have ever bothered watching it.

Seriously, I could not care less than I already do about baseball. That would have been my first mistake, because though this flick has little to do with the actual game of baseball, it hits all the same beats of a sports flick.

It’s also based on a true story, and true stories are never boring, and they never go wrong, do they?

A movie made about a bunch of people, about something that really happened invariably is either going to be about how something they did or what happened to them went really really right or really really wrong.

Honestly, with all due or no due respect to any of the people involved in the actual story of what happened here, it is un-fucking-believable that this got made into a movie. Millions of dollars were spent bringing this story to the screen, and it’s the most inexplicably bizarrely misplaced story I’ve ever heard of, transformed into a ‘success’ story.

Rating:

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sin City A Dame to Kill For

This is the dame, apparently, who people want to kill for,
and honestly, who can blame them?

dirs: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller

2014

I’m not always glad when I hear something is going to have a sequel. I was kind of glad this time, because Robert Rodriguez returning to the well for Sin City sounded like a good idea. He got the idea right the first time, why wouldn’t it work again?

There were more stories with many of these characters to tell from the Sin City comics, and, as they were already a distillation, a potent cordial of noir clichés and tropes, surely there would have been rich rewards with another hyper-violent and lurid adaptation?

This is an instance where the first few minutes of a flick dashed whatever hopes I may have had that something good would happen, only to be gradually won back over the course of the movie, and then convinced it wasn’t worth it by movie’s end.

It’s never a good idea to have high hopes when it comes to something from Robert Rodriguez. It’s important (for me) to remember that he is a cheesy hack and always has been, from his first movies to his latest. Sometimes his cheesy hackiness serves the material perfectly. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve enjoyed several of his flicks. I have also hated several of his flicks, because they’re cheap, nasty, and sometimes amateurish out of hastiness/laziness rather than anything else.

Rating:

Lucy

Lucy

Lucy doesn't end up in the sky with diamonds, but
maybe she should have

dir: Luc Besson

2014

Mr Luc Besson: I don’t know what drugs you have access to, doubtless being able to afford shit the rest of us could only dream of; stuff so far above Class A drugs that they’re not even manufactured from ingredients found in this solar system.

Thing is, we don’t need to know about it. Whatever experiences you had taking magic mushies, DMT or ayahuasca with South American shamans, or even more obscure drugs snorted from the navels of Russian hookers, they’re for you to bore your fellow drug takers with. Sober people aren’t interested. Just like when you wake up having had a particularly vivid dream, why bother trying to play it out for someone else? That shit’s never going to make sense to another person.

“And then the priest came in, and this is the best bit, he was holding a tennis racket, and he was whacking this lady’s pineapple with it, and then we were flying, and I was saying to my girlfriend, who’d turned into Cardinal Richelieu, “Argle bargle” and he/she said back to me “Foofaraw” before we grew massive flippers and swam away.”

Cut that shit out. Or, maybe, instead spend a massive amount of money (for a European movie) bringing your delusions of humanity’s potential to the big screen for all of us to delight in.

Rating:

The Boxtrolls

The Boxtrolls

Sure, it's all about the bloody Boxtrolls. But where's
Archibald P. Snatcher's medal, where's his parade, hm?

dir: Graham Annabele and Anthony Stacchi

2014

The Boxtrolls is another of those somewhat anachronistic animated movies that uses a lot of actual, physical, stop-motion animation to tell a story. As such it possesses a physicality missing from most of the purely computer generated animation we see these days, and that’s its curse and part of its charm.

In and of itself, that doesn’t guarantee a blissful experience. This mob, calling themselves Laika, have put together a decent animated film before (Coraline) and an okay one (ParaNorman) as well, so it’s reasonable to believe that they know what they’re doing.

The Boxtrolls is better than ParaNorman , and perhaps almost on a par with Coraline, though not as thematically rich or inventive. Despite what some might call a grotesque and macabre aesthetic, this one, from a kids’ perspective, is not as personal and frightening as Coraline, or as horrific as ParaNorman (which had, as its Big Bad, the vengeful spirit of a murdered child, if you can believe that, and sadly you probably can).

Rating:

The Signal

The Signal

dir: William Eubank

2014

A lot of films have too much money and not enough ideas.

A lot of films have too many ideas, and not enough money.

Some films have no ideas, and no money.

The Signal is some combination of these positions. Call it a super-position if you like.

I am amazed that this flick got made and was released upon an unsuspecting, unwilling and uninterested public. Amazed. It’s so almost accomplished and so horribly amateurish at the same time. Either one of those should have damned it to not-even-illegally-downloading-it hell.

That anyone thought this could be made and shown to people, to humans, and not have them fall into dissolving pools of frustration is a testament to the optimism of humanity. This is, as far as I can tell, William Eubank’s feature debut, and it’s as if he wants people to grunt “Meh, smells like M. Night Shyamalan-type crap to me”.

Rating:

The Rover

The Rover

Come the Apocalypse, there will be no
razors no more for ever!

dir: David Michod

2014

Wow. I’ve seen some grim movies in my time, and even this week, but this out-grims them all.

Well, maybe not all of them. It’d have to go a long way to out-grim The Road, Stalingrad, or Tinkerbell and The Pirate Fairy, but it’s certainly up there.

The funniest thing for me, if there is indeed anything I can say is funny in a flick so grim, is that the setting is kind of a post-apocalyptic one. And while the behaviour of the people in this scenario is certainly post-apocalyptic behaviour, visually it is indistinguishable from what the more sparse parts of Australia look like all the time.

In other words, my fellow Australians, we’re living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and we didn’t even notice.

The opening title card informs us that what we are about to see / experience / endure is set in a time ten years after “The Collapse”. We never really find out what that was, but what it means is that people are very dirty, Australian currency is ill-favoured compared to American dollars, there are Chinese people everywhere, and civilisation has broken down.

How can we tell? Well, everyone has guns and everyone’s shooting everyone else with pretty much nil repercussions.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis

What some guys will do for some ginger pussycat

dir: Coens

2013

I love Coen Brother films. They’ve made about 16 of them, and I can honestly say I love perhaps most of them. That fandom doesn’t always predispose me towards loving anything they do (the films of theirs that I don’t like I downright hate), but it does make me cautious.

That caution was probably at play when I avoided watching Inside Llewyn Davis for as long as I could manage. In the end my curiosity won out, and I’m the better for it, surely.

Even critics who like the flick referred to it back in the day as a ‘lesser Coen Brothers’ flick, as more of a curio than anything else. I’d like to dispute that retarded judgement right here, right now, right here, right now. It’s certainly not a crowdpleaser on the level of an O Brother Where Art Thou? or a viscerally brutal thriller like No Country for Old Men, but it’s certainly coming from the same place that they come from when they make their quieter, more philosophical efforts like A Serious Man and Barton Fink.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin

This is what happens when you stop buying Will Oldham's
records, he starts going on kill-crazy rampages

dir: Jeremy Saulnier

2013

Beards. Who isn’t sick of them? I have one, and even I hate them. Everyone’s got one, from the guy who poorly serves you a beer at the Grace Darling hotel, to the homeless guy trying to wheedle some cash out of you so he can get some beers at the Grace Darling hotel.

Beards. They’re not good for much. I don’t know how the ladies abide them.

The homeless bum protagonist of Blue Ruin has a beard. There’s nothing hipster about his beard, I can assure you. He has the beard of the kind of man that eats out of the trash, and doesn’t grumble about it, in fact he’s grateful for whatever he gets, which is a great contrast from the last flick I saw.

When the film starts, it’s a slow horizontal pan across, through a house, as we eventually come to a man enjoying a nice bath. When other people arrive and start entering the house, the previously mentioned bearded man beats a hasty retreat.

Ah, he broke into their house for a bath and probably some food. He’s a hero already as far as I’m concerned.

Regardless of the brief shelter, he continues to eke out a grim existence sleeping in what looks like the shell of a car, scavenging where he can, collecting bottles and cans and such for change. It’s not as pleasant a life as some right wing conservatives tend to tell us it is.

Rating:

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?

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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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The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro

Amazing Spider-Man 2

Someone's been doing their yoga poses, haven't they?

dir: Marc Webb

2014

What's most amazing about this movie is that it's not really that amazing at all. Also, it's amazing that the makers will never learn from their past mistakes.

If there was one almost universal criticism from the 3rd Spidey flick, it was that having so many villains in it didn't improve a goddamn thing. Three villains is two too many for most people. Two is still too many. Well, maybe the third even had five villains, if you count domestic abuser Spidey himself and Aunt May with her guilt inducing speeches.

This sequel to the reboot continues with Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, which is another mistake continued on and replicated. He was aggravating in the first one, and, forgive my language, there are multiple scenes where he is an absolute spastic in this one, for no reason other than he thinks it's amusing or compelling.

The evidence I submit to the court is a scene where Peter is meant to be having a deep and meaningful conversation with his oldest alleged friend Harry Osborn (Dale DeHaan), whose father has just passed away. They're having a chat along what's either the East River or the Hudson, I think. Not content with just actually talking, Garfield starts jumping about, climbing over the barrier and basically doing a whole bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with what they're talking about or what the scene needs.

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Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

That's the look of an American actor who just found out how
little he's going to get paid to be in a South Korean film

dir: Bong Joon-ho

2013

On its surface, Snowpiercer sounds like a pretty dumb idea for a movie: it’s about a train that never stops upon which the last remnants of humanity reside, due to a man-made global ice age.

Thank you for being so dumb. And if I tell you it’s based, despite its Korean director Bong Joon-ho, on a French graphic novel, you’re going to think it’s the dumbest thing since flared pants. Oui oui? Incroyable!

But if I then tell you that it’s one of the weirdest and most enjoyable flicks I’ve seen this year, then you’ll really think I’ve gone stark raving bonkers barking mad plus 1.

Snowpiercer has a strange premise, but it has a plot anyone can appreciate. Aboard this gleaming train, the scum of humanity are relegated to the tail section, where everyone’s dirty and it’s horribly grim. Talk of mutiny, of revolution bubbles up from their darkened bunks. Whispers here and there indicate that something’s gonna happen, and happen soon.

If something didn’t happen, well, we’d just waste two hours watching a bunch of bored, dirty, unshaved people on a train, and I see that every day for free, being one of them.

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Transcendence

Transcendence

We all know it's only a matter of time. You know in the end
the machines will win

dir: Wally Pfister

2014

Transcend… from what to what, you might ask? Transcendence is an interesting story mired by a world in which the impact of advanced technology is not as unbelievable as the actions of many of the silly, silly characters to be found abounding in this script. For there to be a popcorn friendly story, a lot of the super-smart people on display have to do a lot of dumb things, and that never bodes well for a high concept sci-fi story.

Personally, the premise (uploading Johnny Depp into the internet) is intriguing. The idea of uploading human consciousness into some kind of machine has been around for a while (predating William Gibson’s cyberpunk stuff from the 1980s), but recent advances in actual technology have to up the ante when it comes to what people dream up in science fiction. So it’s not just about a person’s consciousness uploaded: it’s about quantum computing, nanotechnology, technological singularities and artificial intelligence as well. And whatever other kitchen sinks the screenwriters cribbed from old copies of Wired magazines.

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Noah

Noah

It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is planning on killing everyone

dir: Darren Aronofsky

2014

There is no more epic a fantasy than the Bible, really. And Noah, the latest flick by Darren Aronofsky sets out to show us just how absurd believing the literal version of the story is.

No, that's not fair. The religious types who took umbrage with this flick, who, let's face it, take umbrage with anything because it's their favourite hobby, and because they're deeply insecure, ignore the fact that the original story, as read, straight out of the Book of Genesis, is already pretty monstrous. And flat out bonkers. Nothing said, no blasphemous statement can really saying anything worse about the Hebrew / Abrahamic / Old Testament God than his own actions would indicate.

I mean come on. He was the original genocidal maniac. He tried to kill off our entire goddamn species, for crying out loud, not just the people he didn't like because they had the wrong coloured skin or because they talked funny, or their eyes weren't the right shape.

Every other mass slaughterer of humans has taken their lead, their inspiration, from up on high. From the classics. From the one who started it all.

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