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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

Rio 2

Rio 2

People who write lines like the above will be the first up against the
wall come the revolution

dir: Carlos Saldanha

2014

Rio… Brazil… So timely, you’d think, what, with all that World Cup stuff going on. Instead of punishing your kids by making them sit through this, why not wake them up in the middle of the night and compel them to watch Paraguay play Burkina Faso at 3am, and see their delight when it’s a nil all draw after 90 minutes of play?

That’s pretty much the closest parallel that I can come up with in regards to watching this flick. Of course, trying to get my kid to watch soccer would be virtually impossible, and would be an even greater torment for me. Wait, the parallels are multiplying!

Rio 2 is the sequel to, um, some other animated flick whose name escapes me, and is a film uniquely suited to existing solely as a sequel.

The reality is that it's not actually a sequel to Rio. It's a remake of a previous sequel, being Meet the Parents.

Blu (Ben Stiller Junior, also known as Jesse Eisenberg) is an allegedly rare blue macaw from the jungles of the Amazon. He is forced, by circumstance, to spend time with his hardass father-in-law (Robert DeNiro surrogate Andy Garcia), who utterly hates him for most of the film, and the plot contrives to have Blu embarass himself continuously in the old man's eyes until the very end, where Blu can do one thing to redeem himself in the eyes of his father-in-law, his wife Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and random strangers.

Rating:

Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive

Only watchers left awake will be the ones predisposed to liking Tilda,
Jarmusch, Loki and / or old guitars

dir: Jim Jarmusch

2013

It’s a film about vampires, and that’s enough to send up red flags. There have been exactly 14,798 vampire movies made in the last 10 years alone. The world needs no more. No more, never again, never.

It’s a Jim Jarmusch film about vampires, though. That sends up a sequence of red flags in itself. The idiosyncratic director has never bothered making movies that sit well with mainstream audiences, and this is even more eclectic that what he usually manages.

This is where the stream of caveats begins: an audience member being able to enjoy a film like this is going to depend entirely on whether they can watch films about characters who don’t really do that much for two hours. It’s a strange little duck that gets excited about such a prospect.

Calling Jim Jarmusch’s film’s slow kinda misses the point. They’re frustrating until you understand that the tension generated in scenes that aren’t speeding towards the next point on a plot line is your doing, not the film’s, and misses the whole bloody point of him making films in the first place.

What destination, impatient person? Who promised you a speedy cab ride along a sequence of highs and lows, before some pat denouement and closure is achieved for everybody concerned? You bought a ticket to the tea cup ride and are angry that it’s not the rollercoaster?

Rating:

Under the Skin

Under the Skin

Is this the expression of an inhuman, alien intelligence,
or is it the look of a person thinking "Did I remember to
turn the oven off before I left home?"

dir: Jonathan Glazer

This is a deeply unsettling film, or at least it was for me. The strongest evidence for this is the fact that the movie takes a whole bunch of Scarlett Johannson nudity and renders it unpleasant and deeply disturbing.

This is science fiction in the truest sense of the use of the term, in that it's not just an action flick with robots and aliens fighting it out over the skies of New York. It is, in some ways, more of a horror film. Right from the start the soundtrack and the sound design is structured to make us feel unsettled, and, in my case, really anxious.

You can probably find parallels between this flick and a few others, but it's fairly novel in its structure, and in the amount of information it withholds from us. There's barely any dialogue in it, and almost all of the story it has to tell is delivered visually.

As the flick starts, there are some stark and 'alien' (but really simple) looking visuals, and a screeching tone that causes goosebumps. I wasn't sure what we were watching, other than a skewed homage to 2001 in some form, but what I chose it to mean, as a muffled voice in the distance sounds like it's trying out words for the first time, is the creation of something. Something designed to look like a someone. Because the final of these introductory images is an unblinking eye.

Rating:

Edge of Tomorrow

Emily Blunt - Edge of Tomorrow

It's secretly your film, Emily, they just haven't
told Tom yet.

dir: Doug Liman

Who doesn't want to see Tom Cruise die violent deaths again and again and again? I defy anyone to say otherwise.

Well, this movie seems to have been constructed to serve the interests of both groups of Tom Cruise aficionados: those who actually like him (and what a strange bunch of people they must be), and the far more numerous group of people who behold him and his actions with contempt and fear. As the most prominent member of that church-level scam/cult Scientology, and for his many bizarre actions, he has rightly earned himself a special place in our hearts.

It's so special, in fact, that the prospect of watching him die numerous times becomes an enticement rather than an obstacle.

The premise, taken from a delightfully-titled Japanese manga called All You Need is Kill!, which I wish they'd kept as the title, has been seen in a number of formats and places since Groundhog Day, but that's the one everyone keeps bringing up, as if it's not a lazy grab. Saying "It's Groundhog Day with mech suits and aliens!" isn't creative, inventive or funny, it's just an example of how the path of least resistance to an easy idea is a testament to the fact that you shouldn't be bothering, at all.

Rating:

How to Train Your Dragon 2

By now surely they've learned all they're going to learn

By now surely everyone's learned what they're going to learn

dir: Dean DeBlois

It seems perhaps a tad inappropriate to keep calling these sequels How to Train Your Dragon etc, since, presumably, the dragons should be fully trained by now, yeah?

And if they’re not trained by now, they’re never going to be trained, face it. Some animals, and some people, just can’t be domesticated. Perhaps The Continuing Education of Flying Mythical Reptiles didn’t sit as well with the marketing executives at DreamWorks as a potential title.

But it has my vote for best alternative title. Well, maybe that or “Looky here! What’s that thing over there, proof that Creationists are right?” gets my vote.

I’m going to try to avoid hyperbolic language and such when talking about this flick or the original one, because it's tempting, and it's really easy. Thus I shouldn't give in. I will say that the first one was pretty amazing. This sequel is, for me, almost at least as good, if not an advancement in the story that belies its supposed sequel-dependent nature.

Rating:

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Skate or Die is Walter's new motto, not this Choose Life bullshit!

dir: Ben Stiller

2013

Us lowly shmos. Workaday slobs and Joe Twelve-Packs, people whose dreams died so long ago that the only way we can keep living is through endless material consumption and the magic of cinema, temporarily at least energising us and convincing us that our existence is not entirely futile. One day we could break out of our routines and obligations, and live the lives we once fantasised about.

One day, but not today. Got too much on. Too old to change. Too many people relying on us for us to change and live the way we really want to live.

Who better to remind us great unwashed masses that we should really be living life to the fullest, travelling to far flung places and carpei deim-ing all over the place than a multi-millionaire comedian from Hollywood? Who knows more about pursuing and achieving your dreams than a very successful actor?

Rating:

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Days of Future Past

So many people. Next time give them all something to do

dir: Bryan Singer

2014

Time travel is tricky. I guess it comes down to what your intentions are. I'm not talking about the intentions, good in nature, that the road to hell is paved with. I mean the story-telling purpose, or the creative purpose, or the "let's-make-shitloads-of-money" impulse.

After watching Days of Future Past, it occurs to me that the purpose of this movie, and the desire it represents to change the past in order to alter the present (or future), is really about one thing: Bryan Singer's desire to rewrite history so that X-Men III: The Last Stand never happened.

For some people, including me, it's a perplexing but still appreciable impulse. That third X-Men film, not directed by Singer, was pretty shithouse. It wasn't shithouse because Bryan Singer didn't direct it. It was shithouse because Brett Rattner, who's a barely mediocre director, directed it. Even though it was, as I said, pretty shithouse, it's perversely the most successful of all the X-Men related flicks. So it would seem strange that the studio would give the keys to the franchise to Singer again in order to undo what they themselves allowed to happen in the past.

Let's talk about that for a moment: every time another superhero flick comes out it's an opportunity to express how utterly sick of superhero flicks "we" all are. But we keep watching them, I keep watching them, so why would the gods/clods of the movie studios stop?

Rating:

The Monuments Men

Monuments Men

Monumental men doing manly stuff that's less than monumental

dir: George Clooney

Is a work of art worth as much or more than a human life?

It's not just the central question of this film, asked out loud literally, multiple times, in case we didn't get the point. It's an important question in anyone's life.

It's also not a question Clooney should be getting the audience to ask themselves as they watch one of his movies.

"Sure, films can be works of art, but no-one should have to take a bullet for a film by George Clooney".

The film, The Monuments Men, asks and answers the question several times, with a different answer at the beginning versus at the end, but it's not entirely convincing.

It's convincing as a film, since there are people in it, and the story has an intriguing premise, is a true story, and has a whole bunch of other reasons to recommend it. It will bore the pants off of people who aren't interested in the subject matter or who were hoping for Saving Private Ryan II. It transpires during World War II, but it is not a war movie in the usual sense of the genre, though it uses all of the tropes from All Quiet on the Western Front through to M*A*S*H, and many cliches in between.

It's not a great film, but it's not a completely horrible one either. It looks at the war from another perspective beyond the immense human toll, which, surely, we needed, but in a way rarely considered.

Rating:

Mr Peabody and Sherman

Mr Peabody and Sherman

Wow, she really, really loved her cake. I wonder if she had
a single other definable trait

dir: Rob Minkoff

Everything you even vaguely remember, and don't even remember that fondly, is going to come back and be made into a movie, probably an animated movie.
Bringing every vaguely shitty thing lurking in the back of your memory back to the forefront is done, primarily, I think, because the stuff is so, so good.

I mean, who doesn't have fond memories of, uh, this annoying boy and his pedantic, pretentious dog?

Perhaps I should have phrased that differently: was anyone wanting this to come back?

I swear, Your Honour, the only reason I saw this is because my daughter asked if we could see it. I thought it would slip through to the keeper this time, as in, it would be one of the kid's flicks I didn't have to pony up and see in the cinemas during the school term / Easter break. At least I didn't have to see it in three dimensions, two being more than enough for this historical extravaganza.

If any part of me wanted to see this, or wanted my daughter to see this, it was that wheezy, whiny part of me that makes excuses for caving in on issues, no matter how important or negligible. Someone mugs me on the train and takes my phone? "Well, it was a shitty phone anyway, and now I can get a new one!"

Fired from my job? "Opportunity to study or spend more time with the family!"

Unjustly convicted of murder? "I can catch up on my reading!"

Sure, I can find a silver lining to every cloud. It's what I do.

Rating:

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The perfect place for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and planning
invasions of Poland

dir: Wes Anderson

Another fussy diorama for our delectation…

By now you know if you like Wes Anderson films or not. He’s made enough of them that it is virtually impossible for you to have watched them and still think that there is any possibility that they could vary or be different from what you think they could be like.

This is exactly like every film he makes. In case I haven’t been explicit enough. So, if you like the other entries in his oeuvre, from The Royal Tenenbaums onwards, there’s a good chance you might ‘like’ The Grand Budapest Hotel as well. I’m aware that Royal Tenenbaums wasn’t his first flick, that being Bottle Rocket, but his fussy aesthetic wasn’t established until his second flick, so there.

Alternatively, even if you’ve liked his previous films up to the last one, being Moonrise Kingdom, you could be sick of his fussy aesthetic, the familiarity of the same actors that he tends to use and their often affectless delivery, the way everything tends to be put together in the same way and filmed in the same way, you might have reached your limit.

In other words, telling you "it's just like his other ones" is both warning and further warning, for both haters and aficionados alike.

Rating:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

America. As American as apple pie cooling on a window sill,
skinned knees and spelling bees, entrenched racism and
unaffordable health care.

dirs: Anthony and Joe Russo

Finally. A decent action movie based on a comic book. Wonders will never cease.

Sorry. Forgot to use the sarcasm html tags around the intro. Yes, we’re all sick of superhero movies. We still look forward to the entertaining ones, the ones that will make it easier to grit our teeth through the shittier ones.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not completely terrible. It’s definitely better than that last Thor flick, and it’s probably better than the first Captain America flick. It works as an action flick, and it works, for Marvel’s purposes, as an extension of their franchise, pushing the overall story in some kind of direction, which is good.

It’s also the only one of this recent crop of the Marvel renaissance that has anything to say about the actual contemporary world we live in, with its all pervasive surveillance and drone/targeted killings and such. Okay, so it doesn’t say anything useful about these issues, like the fact that you can’t send a text or have a conversation on the phone without Google, various governments and Obama knowing about it, and what should be done about it, but at least it reminds us of stuff we are perfectly well aware of.

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The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie

Pretty soon, everything will be made of Lego. Even Lego.

dir: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

It's time. Time to go to the cinemas again. Time to embrace the magic of the silver screen.

Time to laugh at movies made entirely of Lego.

Is it too much to ask, is it a bridge too far? I was always going to eventually see this, because there was that law passed by the United Nations that everyone with a kid under ten had to take their kids to see this or they'd be shot into the centre of the sun, but this is school holidays time, and I have a child under ten. So it became obligatory to do it now now NOW!

I am, and this is going to sound quite perverse, considering how all-pervasive and ubiquitous the stuff is, not that big a fan of Lego. They didn't play much of a part in the theatrical off-off Broadway version of my childhood, and I've never really cared for them. When you've got kids, of course, or have to get presents for other friend's kids and such, well of course you're going to be buying them all the time, but I do it without really appreciating it, and I don't have that obsessive desire to encapsulate, build and control a 'world' that I think you have to have for Lego to be like crystal meth cravings.

It's not in me. I've got plenty of other geek obsessions to obsess over, don't need any other addictions, thankyouverymuch for asking.

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12 Years a Slave

Run, through the Forest, run

Run, through the Forest, run!

dir: Steve McQueen

2013

How can you eat your pudding if you don't eat your greens?

The answer is, of course, you've got to eat your greens first before you have your pudding.

It was not a chore to sit through this flick, at all. It's an amazing, harrowing, sickening flick. But the hardest part for me was motivating myself to start watching it in the first place.

It's the very definition of 'homework', of eating your vegetables before getting your dessert, to see something Awardsworthy because everyone says it's the most Serious Important Film of the Year.

But I still knew I had to do it, chore or not, it had to be done. To do otherwise, as Ellen DeGeneres pointed out, would be to admit that I am deeply racist.

Yes, I'm being facetious. More so, I respect the work of Steve McQueen, who has the singular honour of being the only director who has ever, in the tens of thousands of films that have been made, made a film that could cause me to pass out in shock (being Hunger), who managed to make the pursuit of sex seem dull and horrible (Shame), and who now reminds us that Slavery was Bad, Okay?

No-one else, except for all the other directors who've done the same thing, has dared show just how much of an abomination slavery was, at least not recently. Well, not in the last couple of weeks.

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Philomena

Philomena

Where's me shoe? Ken ye see me shoe anywheres, Martin?
Martin, ken ye see me shoe?

dir: Stephen Frears

Look, I admit that a film about a woman in her 70s - 80s trying to find the son she was forced to give up for adoption 50 years ago doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs.

It sounds like a barrel of misery, in fact, filled up to the brim with bitterness and spite.

Philomena is based on a true story, however, and the fascinating aspects about it, and the parts of the flick that are the most enjoyable, don't really have to do with that singular act of Irish Catholic bastardry.

Philomena (Dame Judi Dench) is a lovely old woman who remembers, quite clearly, quite painfully, that when she was fairly young she committed the mortal sin of getting knocked up. For her crimes she was imprisoned by nuns for four years, and, to add brutal insult to agonising injury, the child fruit of her evil was whisked away by these penguins and sold to Americans for a hefty chunk of change.

They took the boy away and just gave him over, specifically without telling her.

They didn't and wouldn't tell her where he went, or give her any information, even decades later, as to where he ended up, with whom and where. Fifty years later the lies continue.

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August: Osage County

August: Osage County

The only way to stop her is to kill her. But then you become the new her.

dir: John Wells

Some families… some families are so toxic that they shouldn’t exist.

Some characters are so toxic that they’ll either make you cringe in horror, or you’ll feel compelled to give them awards, to make them stay away.

Perhaps that is, in part, the theory here, with August: Osage County. Rarely have I seen an ensemble cast in such desperate need of awards, all of them swinging for the bleachers, as an American abusing a sports metaphor would aver. Almost every single one of them gets their special scene that should have For Your Consideration underneath them as they’re intoning their cumbersome, purple dialogue.

It's overstuffed with good actors, and they all want their chance, but perhaps there's too many of them, and too many of those awards-grubbing scenes for this to be anything but an actor's showcase.

Still, it's no surprise that Meryl Streep was nominated, playing the monstrous matriarch of this toxic clan. So, sure, she 'acts' the most, flexing her acting muscles in every single scene, but that's what you hire Meryl to do. At this stage of her career, it's almost impossible for her to not receive Oscars just for showing up. If she went to the opening of a carwash and cut the ribbon, she'd probably earn herself an Oscar or a BAFTA or a Gold Logie just for saying, "It is an honour to be here."

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Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives

Not even God will forgive you for being so devilishly handsome

dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

Holy Shit! What the hell was that all about?

What a strange, pointless film.

Well, maybe it’s not pointless, in that its point is to be a very lurid kind of film, very similar to other kinds of lurid, nasty films that this same prick of a director has made in the past. Refn has made, to date, films as stylised, nasty, pointless and quease-inducing as the Pusher trilogy, Bronson, Valhalla Rising and Drive
.

All nasty, all distinctive (in that they look like the work of a few other directors, rather than most other directors), but hard to really pin down, or, in my case, like. Drive, his last one, was beloved by a lot of people who have the singular distinction and blessing of not being me. I really couldn't see what the fuss was all about. I will agree that a non-verbal Ryan Gosling could be a good thing if you didn't like the Canadian way he talked, but I like Gosling as much when he's talking as when he's not.

I knew that Only God Forgives would be something of a trawl, a low-life transgressive foray into the dark underbelly of Refn's brain, and I expected to hate it, hearing how pointlessly lurid and violent it was.

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