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:

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:

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