American Sniper

American Sniper

America? Fuck Yeah!
Coming again to save the motherfuckin' day, yeah!

dir: Clint Eastwood

2014

I know there’s a lot of controversy surrounding this flick. There are probably some ethical and moral arguments to be listened to and appreciated. Whenever American right-wing nutjobs start praising something to the high heavens, and attacking people who have issues with it as being commies and traitors, I reflexively think the thing they’re praising most likely has to be a piece of shit that pushes all the right buttons that so need pressing.

Well, the nutters are out in all their nutty glory about this flick, and it has made a ridiculous amount of money thus far. I still want to approach it from as objective a perspective as I can.

Thing is, I can’t. I can’t be objective about it. I love snipers too much. I know how shallow this is going to make me sound, but of all the slayers on the battlefield, American or not, it’s the sniper I’ve always thought had the hardest and ‘coolest’ job.

One of my favourite war movies ever is Enemy at the Gate. It’s still my favourite, because this flick doesn’t supplant it one bit.

I think American Sniper has its boosters seeing what they want to see in it (and ignoring the inconvenient aspects), and its detractors doing the same. I don’t feel any particular need to be either for or against it, so I can appreciate it or not solely as a Clint Eastwood film.

Rating:

The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything

You never know where your life is going to end up, or when
your horn dog of a husband is going to leave you for a redhead

dir: James Marsh

2014

I personally think it was brave of the people involved to dare attempt this. Making a biopic about Professor Stephen Hawking is a very daunting proposition.

For most of his adult life he’s been ravaged physically by a degenerative motor neuron disease. His achievements advancing our various understandings of the nature of the universe are staggering. He’s certainly one of the most brilliant minds to ever appear on this planet, in human history at least. There was this amazing hedgehog once…

As I kept that frame in mind, that this was about the Professor, it meant that I found the flick itself quite disappointing. It wasn’t until I realised what must have been quite obvious to other viewers, as it was obvious to my partner, who enjoyed the film far more than I did: it’s not about the Prof. It’s about his wife Jane.

Viewed from that perspective, that it’s a biopic about Stephen Hawking’s wife instead, it starts to make far more sense. It doesn’t make it that much more enjoyable for me, or a better flick, in my opinion, but its shortcomings transform from bugs to features instead.

And yet when you find out that the words “based on the autobiography by Jane Hawking” don’t actually mean that the screenplay matches the events in the memoir, you wonder whether you should just accept that it’s a touching drama about a woman whose husband might have been famous for something and has special health care needs.

Rating:

Gone Girl

Gone Girl

Maybe, if she's Gone, you should, I dunno, be out looking
for her instead of standing about looking like a confused,
lazy arsehole?

dir: David Fincher
2014
It’s enough to make you afraid to get married, ever.

As if guys and girls weren’t scared enough of commitment as it was. Now we have a movie come along, based on the bestselling potboiler, that explodes the myth of the Happy American Marriage in this age of social media, infidelity and dubious motivations.

What it boils down to is this: how much can you ever really know about what’s going on in the mind of the person next to you, no matter how much you think you know them?
The answer is, if the person next to you is a meticulous psychopath, not a whole hell of a lot.
The next question is, which one of the main characters in this flick is which?

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck, perfectly suited to playing a big galoot who may harbour murderous tendencies) comes home to find that his wife is not where he expects her to be. As in, his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is the Girl who is Gone.

You’d naturally suspect the husband in a circumstance like this. A lot of the path much of this story follows is that of the Scott Peterson case, of a handsome young guy whose pregnant wife goes missing under dubious circumstances.

Rating:

Wild

Wild

Just keep walking, just keep walking, just keep walking,
walking, walking, and you'll walk yourself all the way to
another Oscar!

dir: Jean-Marc Vallee

2014

A person goes for a long walk. A really long walk. It’s not to throw a ring into a volcano. It’s not to get to the airport to stop someone from leaving. It’s not because a drug cartel is after them, or to honour the last wishes of someone who just died.

It’s so she can…?

I’m not entirely sure why, and I loved the film. I haven’t read the book this is based on, but I think I’d like to based on this movie.

Wild is not an easy movie to love. Mostly, as you might guess, we’re watching a person walking along the West Coast of the United States.

Interspersed between scenes of walking, we get Cheryl Strayed backstory. She is a real person, a real woman. We glimpse her in the movie, as one of the kind drivers who pick up Cheryl along the way.

Most of this story, as in Cheryl’s long, agonising march to victory, occurs in 1995, but much of it comes from earlier, being scenes from her childhood, adolescence, and early twenties. In those times we see Cheryl’s mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) as a beautiful, resilient woman that never ceases to irritate Cheryl until she loses her.

You get the impression that Cheryl’s mother was very important to her, not just as a mother, but as an inspiration towards her pursuit of a life in letters.

Rating:

The Interview

The Interview

The fate of the world rests in the hands of these two dick
and arse-obsessed jerks. The world doesn't have a hope.

dir: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen

2014

Over this? You caused an international incident and nearly caused a nuclear war to start over this?

Only time will tell if The Interview was worth it. In the short term, it’s led to a baffling case of international espionage / bastardry in the form of either North Korean hackers or someone in the employ of North Korea achieving a massive hack on Sony, the company that was threatening to release this flick. And it has achieved a notoriety that it otherwise would never have earned based on what the movie is actually like.

I’m sure Sony will inflate the dollar cost of what was done to them for insurance scam purposes, like when you get burgled and you tell the guy or girl from the insurance company “why yes, and that’s where the Picasso used to hang on the wall”, but the impact on them has been huge. The infiltration of their company has resulted in bunches of films that weren’t yet released being flooded onto torrent sites, and the internal communications of the company going back years being revealed for all the world to see.

Sony’s Playstation Network, through which people can buy and stream movies, through which people could buy and stream THIS movie, was taken down, and so was the one for the Xbox, at least temporarily. All those gaming nerds… forced to step away from their screens, it must have been hell for them.

Rating:

Into the Woods

Into the Woods

You'd think with all the money and Oscars she's received, someone,
anyone could have shouted Meryl some conditioner

dir: Rob Marshall

2014

Musicals may be comparatively rare at the cinemas these days, but it does not mean the world needs more musicals.

On the contrary, if it spawns new ones, they need to be of the utmost quality to justify their existence, toiled over by the finest craftsmen and women that Hollywood can find for a few bucks and a sandwich.

Apparently, Stephen Sondheim is a great writer of songs and musicals. Apparently, Into the Woods is one of his most beloved musicals. Quite rightly, Rob Marshall is not one of the most beloved of directors of cinema versions of musicals. Chicago might have won a few Oscars, but when was the last time you or anyone you know voluntarily watched Chicago of your own free will?

Do you even remember it? He also did Memoirs of a Geisha, which was a shining and absolute true waste of everyone’s time and talent.

So if Sondheim is great, and Marshall is less than great, what could they possibly come up with?

Another forgotten recentish movie musical was Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which was also based on Sondheim’s stuff. Did you or anyone you know watch it, perhaps at gunpoint, or, more aptly, at the point of a straight razor?

Rating:

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.

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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.

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Chef

Chef

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

dir: Jon Favreau

2014

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

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

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

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Godzilla 2014

Godzilla

Go, you great ginormous gorgeous thing, you.

dir: Gareth Edwards

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

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

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

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

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The Fault in Our Stars

Fault in Our Stars

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

dir: Josh Boone

2014

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

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

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

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

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

dir: James Gunn

2014

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

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

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

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

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