The Book Thief

The Book Thief

Keep an eye on the silverware as well, with this one.

dir: Brian Percival

2013

Homework. Some books feel like homework. Some movies feel like homework.

Now, please don’t start interpreting this as veiled or unveiled anti-Semitism: I am not going to launch into Holocaust-denying or Climate Change-denying or arguing that there's empathy fatigue because of the sheer quantity of books and movies about World War II and the Nazis and the Final Solution. It's great, wonderful, we need more of them, surely.

It's just that, well, since high school, where we had to study books like The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie and had to be taken along as a class to see Schindler's List, I just automatically associate World War II - Weren't Those Nazis Total Bastards? narratives to be somewhat obligatory and something tedious. I feel like I'm watching it or reading about it because I have to write a 500 word essay about it to be handed in first thing first period.

But of course, writing a review about it is a completely different prospect! I initially read the book years ago, thinking I would hate it, actively hating it when I started, but I was won over as it went on. There was something about how it was calculatedly put together, and the clumsiness of the narrator as Death, or Death as the narrator, I guess more appropriately, that brought my hackles up. The hackles came down over time as Liesel and her story moved me in appreciable ways.

Rating:

Frozen

Frozen

She looks pretty villainous to me. She should have a catchphrase like "Ice
to see you!" or "Let's kick some ice!"

dirs: Jennifer Lee & Chris Buck

2013

When they’re this enjoyable, watching kids movies, or at least movies aimed at kids and their guardians, is a joy, and you thank the heavens above that you’re a parent and that you get to share these sublime experiences with your kids.

When they’re the usual terrible children’s fare, be it Smurf this or Shrek that, then it’s a purgatorial experience that makes you curse the universe for ever fooling you into breeding in the first place. You start making appointments to get your tubes tied before you even leave the cinema.

Thankfully, nothing needed to be ligatured or sterilised as a result of watching this film with my glorious child in tow. We both enjoyed the hell out of it, and that is exactly as it should be. It may not be as almost completely perfect as Tangled was, since while I liked some of the songs here, I loved the songs in Tangled, and that matters when it comes to a musical comedy animated movie thingie etc.

So some of the songs aren't that great, though the central one, sung by one of the sisters when she turns evil, is pretty strong. They're that musical theatre kind of songs, that's fine if you can handle that sort of thing, but purgatorial if you can't.

Rating:

The Wolf of Wall Street

Wolf of Wall Street

Would you buy a movie ticket from this man?

dir: Martin Scorsese

The Eighties Onslaught Continues!

I don't want to see any more films set in the 80s any more, at least for a while. That toxic decade is being over-represented at the moment, and I'm sick of it.

I mean, sure, it was a great time that a lot of awesome people lived during, way better people than those born in the 90s, but enough is enough.

"Enough is enough" is not a phrase that people like Jordan Belfort must have heard often enough, or accepted, ever. I don't think it's a phrase Peter Jackson understands either. And I don't think anyone says it often enough to Martin Scorsese, because here he has a 3 hour film celebrating the excesses and sheer horribleness of Jordan Belfort and almost every single person around him.

Yes, it's way too much film. It felt like, after the 2 hour mark, that I was watching the Director's Cut version you watch years down the track way after the cinematic release of a successful film. A two-hour version comes out, 2 and a half if it's Oscar-bait, which this most definitely is, and then years later a Director's Cut DVD comes out adding all the stuff the studios forced the director to cut out in order to not test the tolerance level of audiences too much.

Rating:

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club

What a cute couple.

dir: Jean Marc Vallée

Another flick set in the 1980s. Something has happened, some perfect amount of time has elapsed which means the 80s are now what the 60s used to be as far as movies are concerned. Maybe there's sufficient distance for perspective, maybe it's an excuse for 'period' pictures that are mostly dependent on clichés and lazy visuals and themes. Maybe it's just an excuse to look ever backwards, to ignore how little we've progressed.

Dallas Buyers Club, of all the films up for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards, is probably the least Oscarbait-y, despite its subject matter. It's the one that panders the least, again, despite the fact that it's about AIDS during the peak of the AIDS epidemic, or at least about a bunch of people struggling with AIDS during the Ronald "let's collectively stick out fingers in our ears and ignore their pleas for help because they're degenerates" Reagan era.

Matthew McConaughey of course has been nominated, because whenever any actor loses a dangerous amount of weight it's considered the pinnacle of acting. I don't know about that (it strikes me as the height of idiocy), but I guess I can assert at least that it indicates a level of commitment to a role. It shows that they're willing to sacrifice their health and their long term survivability just for the applause of their peers.

Rating:

American Hustle

American Hustle

Look at them, begging for Oscars. You can see the abject neediness in
their eyes. Just say no, Academy, please.

dir: David O’Russell

American Hustle is one of those big, blousy American movies with American in the title, which virtually guaranteed that it was going to get lots of attention at the Oscars. And, unsurprisingly, it’s got a stack of nominations, most of which I hope it doesn’t get, even though I liked it well enough at the time by the end.

It’s not a flick that gets better the more you think about it, though. The more I’ve thought about it afterwards, the thinner and flimsier it seems, but the bits I found entertaining are still strong.

Problem is, those bits were few and far between.

Two con artists (Christian Bale, Amy Adams) who get busted by the FBI are dragooned into running a scam in order to catch other corrupt people. Some element of this might have actually happened, in this world’s history.

I have no confidence that the real story is anything like what’s depicted here, not that I care. It’s not an important history lesson dressed up in 70s nylon and polyester with the necessary narrative and thematic shortcuts you’d expect from an Important Hollywood Movie. It’s an actor’s showcase, but not in a good way.

Rating:

Her

Her

Him. It's all about him, really, more so than Her.
Isn't that always the way?

dir: Spike Jonze

That poster, with Joaquin Phoenix and his moustache, staring out at us, we who are looking at his poster. The ‘us’ I’m guessing is predominately expected to be women, as we gaze into his plaintive, soulful eyes, and we’re expected to ignore the fact that his moustache is terrible and it’s no longer Movember, thus there’s no excuses any more.

But there’s even more going on in that poster. His eyes aren’t just plaintive, suggesting longing and the capacity for deep emotion; he’s imploring us, he’s pleading with us not just to watch the film, but to accept what it is that the pervert’s moustache is hiding.

That he is about to, or get into, a pretty weird relationship. Don’t judge me, just love me, he seems to be pleading. Because it could have happened to you too.

Her is, perversely, one of the most sweetly romantic and beautiful films that I’ve watched all year, or at least from last year. It’s the sweetest film I’ve seen this year, but this year is only a handful of days old, so that’s not saying much. Like all of Spike Jonze's films, all of which I've loved beyond rationality, there's some fundamental oddness at play, but there's enough focus placed on the crafting of the themes and the various scenes, and the performances especially that combine to render the parts a workable "whole".

Rating:

Riddick

Riddick

Dark, darker than the darkest dark chocolate

dir: David Twohy

You get these strange moments in the world of cinema where, because of your familiarity with its ins and outs, you get the stupid impression that nothing will ever surprise you again. It’s the height of foolishness.

The movie industry is always surprising me. How it continues to exist in this age, the sheer abundance of films it keeps pumping out to ever decreasing profits; it staggers me that it’s still going. Most of all, some of the movies they make thinking there’s an audience for them surprises the hell out of me.

That they, in their infinite wisdom, have made a third Riddick movie, imagining as they have, or at least hoping desperately that the multitudes are clamouring to see this character again, for me is on a par with a studio thinking the world wants to see a Jar Jar Binks movie. Or that the world needs, desperately craves a Turner & Hooch follow-up, or that Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger should make a sequel to Twins. Call it Triplets! Get Mel Gibson to play the middle one! Everyone from your maiden aunt to dribbling infants will kill to see that!

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Before Midnight

Before Midnight

Run away before midnight, because you'll both turn into nagging pumpkins

dir: Richard Linklater

For many of us, at least those of us who have seen and loved Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, the prospect of a third instalment is both thrilling and terrifying.

To see what has become of Jesse and Celine is both too intriguing and almost too daunting, because there’s a good reason why romantic stories, romantic movies at least, end where they end. They end after the grand gesture at the end of the movie, the great declarations of love, and just at the beginning of the presumed Happily Ever After begins. Which will last forever, don’t you know.

They don’t show us what happens afterwards, as the two people brought together by lust and amazement start getting bogged down by the mundanity of the every day, as they argue about money, about who caused the scratch on the car and who pissed on the toilet seat.

That would kind of kill the fantasy for us, since all romance is a fantasy. And the two lovebirds would cease, immediately, being these embodiments of love, youth, beauty, and would become earthbound clay and muck just like the rest of us.

Before Midnight gives us Jesse and Celine in their forties, eighteen years after they first met in Prague, nine years after they reunited in Paris, nine years after their lives together began in earnest.

Rating:

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

So adorably edible, for those of you who like
seafood / primates

dirs: Cody Cameron, Kris Pearn

There I was, basking in the glory that was the presents, breakfast-in-bed, happy birthday birthdayness of my actual birthday on Saturday, when my daughter loudly and joyfully asserted that since it was my birthday, we should do what I wanted on this hallowed day.

And if that meant I wanted to watch a movie, then, by gum we were going to watch a movie. And if that movie happened to be Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, then that was the best birthday present that I could possibly want.

How did this happen? Maybe I was hungover and very suggestible, or, like most parents, I gave in to forestall having to see that look of manufactured yet still heartbreaking disappointment on a child’s face. Whatever it was, somehow I agreed to go to the cinemas to see an advanced screening of this movie.

This movie? On my birthday I should have had the gods-given right to insist that everyone watch the most spine-crackingly boring movie I could find (as long as it was no more than PG-rated). I should have made them sit through 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the even more boring Russian version of Solaris. I should have had the dictator-like right to make my family sit through all 8 hours of Bela Tarr’s Satantango without being arrested for domestic abuse.

Instead, we watched a flick where food comes to life, and it’s meant to be a good thing.

Rating:

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Catching Fire

Girls with bows and arrows, skills and a lot of motivation to
use them must be obeyed at all times

dir: Francis Lawrence

I don’t think anyone is surprised that Catching Fire is a better flick than the first one. Almost every single reviewer mentions it in the first few sentences of their reviews. It’s almost like there’s a groupthink – overmind controlling us all. Of course I’m totally immune to it, but, you know, watch out for it. Or, at least that’s what I’m being told to type.

The thing is, though, as much as I enjoyed it while I was watching it, I had the nagging impression that someone who hadn’t read the books would be hard pressed figuring out what was going on and why, and also why they should care.

Perhaps I’m underestimating people, and underestimating the power of Jennifer Lawrence’s acting abilities as the central character Katniss Everdeen. I’m not going to be surprising anyone by praising her as an actor and a human being: she’s great! She might have received an Academy Award for her role in Silver Linings Playbook, which is still a pretty ordinary film, but she deserves it for her work in these somewhat pulpy and grandiloquent films. Her acting is superb, no matter how absurd the situation or the moment.

Rating:

Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World

I know it looks like another Star Wars films, but it isn't, not by much

dir: Alan Taylor

Yeah, you think you’re Thor: I can hardly walk, because I just watched The Dark World.

And here I thought it would be a screening of childhood favourite The Dark Crystal. Thor fights a giant Crystal and loses!

No I didn’t, I’m being a jerk. My beloved partner and I went to the flicks to celebrate the anniversary of the day of her birth. What better way to celebrate such a golden day than let her watch many scenes of Australia’s Own Chris Hemsworth showing off that incredibly chiselled physique? Those granite abs, that geography of musculature and those planes and angles of flesh she’s hopefully not going to be able to touch in real life with anything other than her eyeballs?

It was a golden day for all concerned. Maybe not Hemsworth, since he was probably busy all day long oiling up those quivering muscles, but I’m sure he’s doing all right.

This is his flick, yeah? The next instalment out of the Marvel Machine that is no longer content with just taking the hardly-earned money out of teenage losers’ pockets and middle-aged shut-ins’ bank accounts with comics has Thor! taking centre stage again after that grand occasion of The Avengers getting together last year.

Rating:

Gravity

Gravity

The title of the flick could have been "We Really Don't Belong
Out Here, People."

dir: Alfonso Cuaron

2013

People have being saying this is one of the films of the year for a year before its release, and they’re still saying it now months after it’s been out.

Just give the Best Actress thingie to Sandra Bullock, already. No-one else is going to come close.

And just give the Best Director gong to Alfonso Cuaron, too. Nothing else anyone has released this year thus far is going to come close either. Even if Spielberg releases a flick with Meryl Streep playing Abraham Lincoln riding the whale Free Willy through a tornado that kills Nazis with lightning bolts coming out of its eyes, and it’s based on a true story, it’s not going to beat Cuaron. Take that to the bank, or the bookies, and bet your house on it. Or at least somebody else’s house.

I’m not saying it’s the best film of the year so far, I’m just saying anyone who’s seen this the proper way, on the biggest screen possible, in 3D, generally is blown away by it, and I’m no different from the masses myself. I’m as susceptible as the next slob to this stuff, sitting there in an ever-expanding war zone of wrappers and spilled popcorn, that I may or may not pick up and consume from the feculent floor as the whim might take me.

Rating:

The World's End

The World's End

If the fate of the world rested upon the noble shoulders
of these wonderful chaps, I'd be drinking heavily too

dir: Edgar Wright

Now that’s how the World Ends in The World’s End, not with a bang, but with a pub crawl.

Yes, I know I’ve been lamenting the absolute locust plague of films and movies ending the world, despoiling the world, rebuilding it and then ruining it all over again, that have been coming out with metronomic regularity. And the last one I saw of this ilk was the despicable This Is The End, whereby my full throated lament of this apocalyptically overabundant genre made it sound like I never wanted to see any of them ever again. At the very least, Wright shows that a film about immature adults (and the potential end of the world) doesn’t itself have to be embarrassingly immature.

Mostly, I hated how the execrable This Is The End spoiled the chances of this ever being a hit. Would it have been a hit for Edgar Wright if there wasn’t title confusion in the minds of non-existent audiences everywhere, thinking that they had possibly already seen the film they hadn’t already seen just because the titles were similar?

Possibly not. Perhaps. It’s unlikely, as theories go. Perhaps it’s more likely that people weren’t as keen to go see another world ending extravaganza only a few weeks after the last one. Maybe they need a few months between apocalypses.

Rating:

The Way Way Back

The Way Way Back

Would you buy a used Coming-Of-Age story
from this man?

dir: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

Coming of age stories… what would cinema be without them? It’d all be giant robots and zombies and werewolves and cars smashing all over the place, hopefully all in the same movie.

Their virtue is that they’re meant to be universally relatable, both to troubled teens and their dull, enervated parents who very faintly remember what it was like to be a troubled teen. It’s a way of reliving highly charged times, and vicariously, in some cases, getting it right this time around.

The Way Way Back, it’s pretty obvious, was initially written to be set in the 1980s. It had to have been considering the sheer abundance of 80s references and marginalia. However, someone must have decided that you could just set it contemporarily, not have people wandering around with iPhones and tight pants slightly drooping down at the crotch, and you could have the best of both worlds, as dubious a concept as that might be.

The lead character is Duncan (Liam James), a shrinking violet if ever a violet shrunk. He has good cause. His parents have divorced recently, which is bad enough, but her new partner, Trent (Steve Carrell) is the classic kind of arsehole these stories invariably require. Everyone needs obstacles to overcome, and quite often those obstacles are the people that treat you like shit.

Rating:

Elysium

Elysium

Kill kill kill kill kill the Poor. Eat eat eat eat eat the Rich!

dir: Neill Blomkamp

2013

Before I watched this movie, I'd heard that it was a thinly-veiled attack on the kinds of people who think the unwashed, unhealthy, unwealthy masses should be desperately scrambling after medical treatment like a bunch of low blood sugar office workers fighting to the death over the last donut. Those people, I guess, think health care should be no more a common right than everyone having the right to gold-plated flying unicorns.

These people, I believe, are called conservatives. They're trying to do the 'right' thing by conserving the precious and scarce amount of health care that's out there, because, let's face it, poor people don't deserve health care, they'd just end up wasting resources by living longer, moochier lives.

So when I heard these claims about a flick I hadn't seen, I thought it was the usual outrage bullshit propaganda these 'types' of people invariably come up with, along with blaming everything on Communists, Jews, Gays and Lesbians, Single Mothers, Dark Skinned People, or combinations thereof. You know the types of people I'm talking about: they're called idiots.

Rating:

This Is The End

This Is The End

If only this was the actual End, then I'd never have to endure
anything like this ever again

dir: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

This Is the End is a movie so bad that it made me wish the world itself was actually coming to an end.

It's one of the laziest pieces of shit I've seen this year. It's so terrible that all it made me think of was that someone had done a mash-up of two of Kevin Smith's worst movies, being Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. It has almost the exact kind of aura of amateurish yet charmless goofiness, and seems to have arisen from the same kind of source, being dope. Specifically, it's the false sense of brilliance and hilarity that smoking dope brings many people when they think they've thought up something tremendous, but don't realise once they've straightened out that what they came up with was utter crap.

I have found many of the people in this flick funny in other flicks. Almost nothing in this flick made me laugh. Much of it made me groan in unamused disgust and growling boredom. Most of it smacked of actors thinking they're so gifted that they don't need to actually be saying or doing anything funny in order to be funny. We'll just find them funny because they're funny, and everything they do is gold.

Rating:

The Smurfs 2

The Smurfs 2

You will die a terrible, terrible death. Oh, I'm sorry, that was
the characters from the last film. You, on the other hand,
all of you, I hope will die a terrible, terrible death

dir: Raja Gosnell

You make sacrifices for the people you love. It’s what decent people do, whether human or smurf. So when you go see a movie called The Smurfs 2, because your daughter has asked you to, you console yourself with the fact that you’re taking one for the team.

Something like this... how do you review it? What purpose would such a review serve? Would it just be a collection of words, in sequences that make some kind of sense, that merely takes up space? Can the world do without it?

These are valid questions, but, let's be honest with each other: If the millions of people posting their thoughts, opinions, idiocies and brilliances to the tubes of the internets evaluated everything they were about to post to the net for importance or universal value, virtually none of us would be sharing ourselves in this fashion, and this internet thing would have died out a long time ago, to be retro replaced with smoke signals, snail-mailed messages etched in vinyl and tin cans, requisite lengths of twine, taking its place.

I know, I know, the world would spontaneously become a utopia anew. This current world, however, is the one we work with; the internet demands words the way Old Testament gods required sacrifices, and I have a compulsion that compels me to write even about the most banal movies you could possibly imagine.

Rating:

Jobs

Jobs

It's like looking into a great big dumb mirror. Would you buy
a used computer from either of these two jerks?

dir: Joshua Michael Stern

I want to make a movie about someone famous. I didn't know them personally, but they're really famous, so people should be interested.

I don't know much about them, either, and what I don't know about the transformative moments of their lives is probably pretty important in telling the story of their lives, but I'm not interested in finding out what they were or telling an audience about what made them tick.

I think if I get someone that looks a lot like the person whose biopic this is, then I should be okay. If we get them to do a couple of famous mannerisms, then audiences won't care that they're not doing anything interesting or revealing or watching a good movie.

Since this biopic is set in the 70s and 80s, mostly, I'll just blare lots of golden oldies during those scenes, in case the sluggards and dullards in the audience have no idea. I'll spend more on the soundtrack than I will on the script.

All in all, I'll tell a story that has no more depth or meaning than one of the ads used to advertise some of the products this person was responsible for, but I won't even make it that good.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Jobs.

Rating:

Lovelace

Lovelace

And I thought this flick was going to be about Ada Lovelace, the
world's first computer programmer!

dir: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

I think everyone deserves a biopic made about their lives. Maybe not everyone deserves to have Amanda Seyfried play them in their movie, in both senses of the word "deserves", but surely this will one day come to pass.

As for who should play me in the inevitable biopic of My Life, which should be called Drowning in Awesomeness, I'll leave that to the learned reader to decide. Perhaps bloviating windbag Kevin Smith? Or Comic-Book Guy from The Simpsons? Mark Ruffalo after a serious car accident? Philip Seymour Hoffman? Ron Perlman? Tom Waits lesser known cousin Guido?

So many choices. During Linda Lovelace's life, she being the subject of this startling and depressing biopic, if you'd shown her a picture of Amanda Seyfried, and told her that one day she would be playing Linda in the story of her life, she probably would have been flattered. Flattered and confused, as I am, a little bit.

Rating:

Stoker

Stoker

Mothers and their daughters, mirrors into each other's
dysfunction

dir: Park Chan-wook

There are families, there are dysfunctional families, and then there is the Stoker family. I went into this knowing next to nothing about it other than it was the English-language debut of the great Korean director Park Chan-wook, perhaps best known for Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, two outstanding and grim examples of the best South Korean cinema has to offer.

But, he’s also the director of films I’ve liked a lot less, mostly because I was expecting something significantly different from what he intended to show us, the fools in the audience, and that can affect how you appreciate something.

This is a very dark and macabre film. Beautiful, no doubt, beautifully constructed and composed, as are all his films, but it's cold, detached, at a remove, like some of its main characters, uninterested in having its audience care about whatever happens to most of the characters in the film.

India Stoker (Australia's Own Mia Wasikowska) is an odd girl, something of a goth, obsessed with death and clearly not quite right in the head. She dresses like a creepy girl of an earlier era, in fact she dresses like Wednesday Addams from The Addams Family. The poor girl, apart from clearly being somewhat disturbed even before the film starts, loses her beloved father on her 18th birthday, upon which she discovers a great many things about her family that she never knew about.

Rating:

The Wolverine

The Wolverine

Why so surly all the time, Wolvie? Aren't you
happy with all the cute Japanese girls fawning
all over you?

dir: James Mangold

2013

Yes, yes, another superhero flick. Your eyes just glazed over thinking about it the way mine did as I was typing it.

The Wolverine, at least, is a more modestly ambitious superhero flick than the four thousand or so we've watched in the last year. In fact, you could argue it’s not even a superhero flick, in that it’s just about a guy with weird hair and the magical ability to heal instantly who kills a bunch of Japanese people. So it's an action flick, more than anything, with nary a mention of the X-Men or most of anything that happened in all of the other films, with the pointed exception being the fate of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) at the end of X-Men 3.

Now, when ranking X-Men flicks, it would seem to make sense to order them from best to worst, but, to my mind, worst to least mediocre is probably a better methodology. The cumbersomely-named X-Men Origins: Wolverine might seem to be the worst, but I have a special hatred for that third turd of a flick, being The Last Stand, which was anything but the last stand, since the tedium rolls on and on.

Let's just agree that both movies are pretty terrible in special, unique ways, and leave it at that. Fortunately, nothing about Origins plays a role here, and I'm assuming in the timeframe this plays out some years after Last Stand.

Rating:

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim

Oi! Stay Away From Our Coathanger!, you giant
physical approximations of adolescent insecurity
and dysfunction!

dir: Guillermo Del Toro

2013

Now, I love me some Guillermo Del Toro. I love him in the way I love Abel Ferrara, Whit Stillman, Hal Hartley, Takashi Miike and other directors who make the either occasional or frequent shit movie: it's irrational, but heartfelt, and rests solely on the fact that they did one or two movies that I truly loved a long time ago.

The most curious thing about Del Toro movies is that I love the idea of them more than the movies themselves. With the exception of Pan's Labyrinth, and maybe Golden Army, I don't think most of his flicks work that well. I'm not sure if it's a cultural/language barrier thing (even though he speaks better, more articulate English than I do), or that he outgeeks me to an embarrassing level, or whether the visual level matters more to him than the storytelling aspect of his movies. Whatever it is, I don't totally get him even though I really, really like him. It's a strange relationship we have.

Rating:

World War Z

World War Z

The queues for Luna Park rides are getting worse and worse

dir: Marc Forster

I wonder if there is anyone on the planet not sick of zombies as yet.

We, and I’m speaking on behalf of all of cinema-going humanity here, are even more sick of zombies than we are of vampires. I am so sick of vampires and zombies that I generally avoid new movies with them even if people I really like are in them, and I hear that they’re good films. I’m sick of them all, and I can’t be summoning the energy and time to watch them and review them, I just can't do it.

Except for this one. Come on, I was curious.

I have read the book this is based on (another reason for my undead care-factor fatigue), but the film has about as much to do with the book as any other flick about zombies has to do with the book: they’ve both got zombies in them, and that’s about it.

Out of the dry reportage of the novel comes a story with an allegedly relatable hero (Brad Pitt, as if any mere mortal men can relate to him) and a story at a scale we can grasp despite it being about a global epidemic of flesh-chomping. It’s the right approach, I guess. They also have to make it even more relatable by making the main guy motivated to find a solution to the zombie apocalypse by his having a redheaded wife and redheaded children: so if he doesn’t find a ‘cure’ or whatever, not only will everyone die, but some redheads too!

Rating:

Kick-Ass 2

Kick-Ass 2

They kick no ass at all, but they do kill a lot of people

dir: Jeff Wadlow

I know, I know, whenever you hear “It’s better than the first one!” regarding a sequel to an ordinary movie, the immediate response is "well, that's not saying much."

In some ways, though, ways that probably don't matter that much, Kick-Ass 2 is probably a better, or at least less repugnant movie that the first one, though not from want of trying.

The Kick-Ass stories falls into a sub-genre of hero flicks which are about regular people with no discernable skills or abilities wanting to be crimefighters. Also, of regular scumbags who want to be supervillains despite having nothing that makes them particularly super or villainous.

Kick-Ass himself is defined by a look, being a green-and-yellow wetsuit, the wielding of two batons, and no actual abilities. But he has the desire, the will to do good for the city, and he has inspired others to do the same.

Rating:

The Heat

The Heat

I have no idea what's going on in this poster either

dir: Paul Feig

2013

Paul Feig made Bridesmaids. Bridesmaids made, perversely, something like a billion box office bucks.

So Paul Feig can basically do what he wants. When he makes another film with who might have been the main actor in Bridesmaids (barely anyone ever remembers that Kristen Wiig was even in it), and it's a buddy cop movie with female leads, well naturally it seems like Paul Feig is a great big feminist trying to right the imbalances of the past by pushing a particular agenda for female equality in the movies.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It's pure marketing. A lot of people find Melissa McCarthy funny. I find her funny. The last few films she's been in have scored big at the box office in such a way that it's impossible to argue that it's in spite of her presence, rather than because of it. Maybe people went to Bridesmaids without any idea of who she was, but no-one went to Identity Thief because of Jason Bateman. No-one came to this because of Sandra Bullock, Demian Bichir or Marlon Wayans.

It's all Melissa McCarthy. For some brief period of time, however long or short it may be, and I hope she gets to enjoy it, she is a box office queen.

But what does all this mean? Does this mean women are in the ascendant in Hollywood? That audiences are keener to see flicks with female leads, that McCarthy has broken through barriers and glass ceilings and such?

Rating:

Now You See Me

Now You See Me

Now You See Them, But I'm Telling You, Don't Bother
Looking At Them At All. You'll thank me later.

dir: Louis Letterier

It's pretty strange that I was excited to see this flick. How a man of my age gets to be excited by the prospect of watching a bunch of actors pretend to be magicians who pull off bank heists is a mystery even to me, dear reader.

Somehow the premise did its weird alchemy on my brain chemistry, and I was hungry for this flick despite knowing very little about it except for some positive reviews.

Yes, I was tremendously disappointed. Can you hear it in the tone of what's written thus far?

It would be unfair to call this flick terrible, perhaps. Calling it a worthless waste of my time would perhaps be closer to the mark.

The first fifteen minutes or so of flick introduces us to a number of magicians: sleight-of-hand guy, pickpocket, hypnotist and escapist. Someone is watching them as they do their thing. This someone wears a hood, and has his or her back to us, the audience, as they leave a tarot card for these various goons to find.

The sleight-of-hand guy is played by a guy so intensely arrogant that he could have been played by Mark Zuckerberg himself. Instead they get Jesse Eisenberg to play him. He turns down sex with a sweet young thing just because he sees this card appear in his boot.

There's no reason for the card to be so powerful; it's a mystery to us and to him for the whole film as to why he would have turned that girl down because of the card.

Rating:

Mud

Mud

He ain't no Mudhoney, that's for sure

dir: Jeff Nichols

Mud continues a fairly stellar run for an actor people wrote off as a vacant himbo jock a long time ago. 'People' being me. And yet somehow, inexplicably, the Renaissance of Mathew McConaughey continues.

But it's not even his film. Mud firmly belongs to one of the two boys who are the film's leads, not to the character of the title. It's a coming-of-age story for a boy called Ellis, a boy living a hard scrabble life on the banks of the Mississippi River, amongst and amidst a whole bunch of riverbillies or swampbillies, whatever the right term is. And they all earn our sympathies, every one of them. Every single goddamn one of them.

Ellis is the one going through the grinding agony of finding out that life is one crushing, disillusioning disappointment and letdown after another. And there's some joy, beauty and hope along the way.

It has nothing to do with Winter's Bone, another stellar flick about a young kid trying to get by in an impoverished and shitty world, but it reminded me of it a bit. It has another strong performance by a teenager in a complicated role.

Rating:

Oblivion

Oblivion

Imagine a world without people. Now imagine a world
without Tom Cruise. You know which one is more
terrifying.

dir: Joseph Kosinski

The global obsession with obsessively destroying the globe continues…

This is film #437 to come out this year which either has the world about to be destroyed or a world already destroyed as its setting.

When will they just leave the world alone? What did it ever do to you? Why do you always have to be wrecking the place? Get your feet off the couch, and put that beer on a coaster, that coffee table is mahogany, arsehole!

A while back I would have said these flicks of a pre or post-apocalyptic nature reflected our anxiety about the place actually being destroyed, as in we feared nuclear war or pollution or some other catastrophic fuck up permanently. The wrecking of the world would probably be the highest stakes that a film could put up, and so you'd think we'd have to take it really seriously and really care.

Since we see a flick come out almost every week with a world on the brink or just flat out ruined already, I think it signifies that we just gave up being scared about it. We no longer fear that the world will be destroyed, or at least the people at the studios think it's no longer that shocking for us. It's commonplace, it's every day now to think about a world destroyed. And even though we're not going to be able to get internet connectivity or soy lattes in a ruined world, whether it's crawling with mutants or completely poisoned, we're resigned to it, and we're looking forward to what comes next.

Rating:

The Lone Ranger

Lone Ranger

The dead bird is the smartest one out of the three of them

dir: Gore Verbinski

I was told to expect a disaster. We were assured it would be the absolute bomb – total dog of the year.

I wasn’t told that it was episode 5 of Pirates of the Caribbean, because ultimately that’s what this flick comes across as. With Trains!

Johnny Depp simply plays a more boring yet still over-the-top character than he does in the Pirates franchise, and the strongest similarity is that just like most of the character's actions in those nautically and intellectually wet movies, his character's actions here don't make a hell of a lot of sense most of the time either, but they’re meant to be entertaining. Meant is the operative word.

This possibly was meant to be like an origin story for a new Lone Ranger franchise, which strikes me completely as the triumph of wishful thinking over intelligence, but the horrible pre-release press and the dismal box office performance should have staked this idea before it had a chance to flourish.

This isn't a complete disaster, though, as irritating as Depp's Tonto might be, and as ill-considered as the idea was, honestly, there’s nothing wrong with resurrecting the squarest American hero of all time. The Lone Ranger may be a complete unknown to people under thirty, but who’s to say it was the wrong time for a comeback?

Rating:

Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra

This is the least gay moment of the whole film

dir: Steven Soderbergh

I never thought a biopic about Liberace would turn out to be one of the best flicks of the year. I can't imagine that anyone thought a flick about Liberace could be one of the best flicks of any year.

I don't think even Liberace would have predicted it, but, based on the character here, he probably would have felt entitled to it all the same.

I mean, how many people even remember him?

People of a certain age, I guess. If you were old enough to see him on the telly, and his twinkly smile, and the countless references / mentions of him in a pop cultural sense that seemed to pop up all over the place in the late 1970 / early 80s, then he would still come as something of a revelation to you, as played by Michael Douglas.

Did you know, for example, that Liberace was gay?

I know, I know, it shocked me too. Apparently, a lot of people, including perhaps some of the guys Liberace was having sex with, didn't realise he was gay.

This virtuoso pianist who wore extravagant mink coats and costumes dripping with jewels, from what this film says, turns out not to be the paragon of heterosexual conformity that he portrayed himself as being.

Rating:

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