Man of Steel

Man of Steel

He almost looks like a real person

dir: Zack Snyder

Zack Snyder was given an incredible reward when they chose to make him the director of a Superman film. This is very strange, to me, a very strange turn of events.

Snyder’s last film was called Sucker Punch. What was Sucker Punch , I hear you ask, since you blocked it out of your memory or didn’t see it and it doesn’t seem like a real film that was released in this, the apparently real world?

Sucker Punch was an incredibly bad movie, a movie so bad it assaulted the very nature of the word ‘movie’. 'Movie' almost became a derogatory word for a degenerate and pointless form of entertainment previously adored by the masses and now shunned for the horrid waste of time and money that it became post-Sucker Punch for all eternity.

The actual shitty movie itself seemed like it was the fevered dream of an idiot on acid and meth simultaneously, furiously and pointlessly masturbating as he watched a whole bunch of fetish material (Aerosmith’s Janie’s Got a Gun film clip, nubile females in Japanese schoolgirl uniforms fighting Nazi robots and samurais and dragons and lobotomies), who then somehow translated this dirty weekend of cable watching and jerking off of his into a movie, an actual movie, that people paid for and such. Not just to make, but to watch!

And like an idiot, I was one of those people!

Rating:

The Hangover Part III

Hangover part III

Die Die Die you evil bastards

dir: Todd Phillips

The posters said that. The posters promised that. It’s the only thing the posters said other than that there was a film coming out called The Hangover Part III.

The Hangover Part III. The End.

It’s a weird angle to promote a movie with, I thought, before I watched this. Were they saying ‘come watch this movie because it’s the last one in the series, and it’s your last chance to see these rascals in action”, or were they saying “come and watch this flick, or else we’ll make more of them”?

The truth is something I’m never going to know. They might make more of these if this one makes enough money. The first one made more money than Gone with the Wind. The first one probably hit a nerve, a funny nerve, and amused a lot of people.

I’m not sure what this third one is meant to do. It seems inaccurate to call it a comedy, and there’s no hangover involved, no blackout as a tribute to overindulgence, no gingerly picking-up of pieces to solve a problem or save someone’s life/reputation/marriage/colon.

It wouldn’t need to conform to that formula to have been an entertaining film. The formula itself wasn’t really the draw, I don’t think. The real draw was the premise, of a couple of guys (and one complete lunatic), in over their heads, unable to remember what had happened to them, trying to resolve some seemingly impossible situation.

Rating:

Fast and the Furious 6

Fast and Furious 6

This is the least absurd moment in the film, no kidding

dir: Justin Lin

You’re young, you’re in love, you’re wondering if you should see Fast & the Furious 6, as if the question as to whether you should be watching the sixth instalment in any movie franchise is a rational one AT ALL. Well, instead of making you sit through a whole review, why not just read the next paragraph and decide for yourself?

A man, a large muscly man, is driving a sports car very fast. The car is travelling hundreds of kilometres an hour, let’s say 200kmh or so. He deliberately causes some kind of crash which deliberately propels him out of the car. A woman on the outside of a tank coming from the opposite direction that is somehow travelling hundreds of kilometres an hour also, at point of impact, is thrown towards the other guy, also flying at a speed of hundreds of kilometres an hour. The man catches the woman, somehow turns around in mid-air, and crashes into a car windscreen, which, instead of killing everyone within a ten-metre radius with the force of the impact, actually somehow saves all the people I just mentioned, and probably doesn’t damage the car that much. It may have even cleaned it, and improved its value by tens of thousands of dollars.

Rating:

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

The less-than-Great Gatsby: at least the flick has pretty people in it

dir: Baz Luhrmann

Instincts came to the fore, hackles rose up unbidden just thinking about it. Issues filled my head with noise. No porter had to carry my baggage into this cinematic experience because I was happy to do so myself, choosing without a gun to my head, to voluntarily watch another Baz Luhrmann film.

Yet it seduced me all the same. For about an hour. Then it discarded me, ashamed and disillusioned, by the side of the road, well before it ended. Really, looking back, I should have known this would happen. It couldn’t have gone any other way.

After the crime against humanity that was Australia (not the formation of the country, but the execrable movie Luhrmann birthed in unholy fashion upon a suspecting world), I really didn’t think Baz had anything left to say that I wanted to hear. The prospect of seeing his version of the alleged Greatest of the Great American Novels brought to the screen was too tantalising a trainwreck to pass on, all the same.

Rating:

Monsters University

Monsters University

Knowledge Brings Fear, and a whole
multicoloured menagerie of characters
designed by marketers

dir: Dan Scanlon

I know, I know. I start practically every other review pointing out that the film I’m about to review shouldn’t really exist, but I am nothing if not a creature of habit.

Monsters University is the prequel we didn’t really need to have, but it’s still very, very welcome to me. I watched it with my daughter, and she thought it was great. This is, after all, school holiday time, and not taking your daughter to the cinema, even for a deadbeat dad like me, would be tantamount to monstrous negligence.

She specifically wanted me to quote her in the review, and she even told me how I should depict that quote. She told me to put her name at the start of a sentence, with the two dots on top of each other after the name. You know, a colon, as thusly:

Dawn: "Monsters University is a good film because most films are about normal days with a character that wants to be different but Monsters University was about a few characters who wanted an achievement but when they got that achievement it ended up different but they still enjoyed the gift that the achievement had given them plus Monsters University is great."

I can’t argue with that. That's a verbatim quote. I mean I can, but I’m probably outgunned, and who wants to lose to a six-year-old in an argument? The crying, the screaming, and then there’s no telling what she’d do in response.

Rating:

Trance

Trance

This is not a glitch. It's really meant to look like this

dir: Danny Boyle

Trance. Trance. Trance. Trance isn’t the film you might think it is.

It's definitely nothing to do with trance music, in case you were worried.

It’s probably more accurate for me to say that it wasn’t the flick I thought it was.

I went into this expecting one thing, and I got a whole heap of others thrown at me, though I walked into it remembering one or two things about Danny Boyle.

He may have won Oscars, and directed the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics, but you have to remember that this is the same game who made Shallow Grave and Trainspotting.

Yes, you can argue about A Life Less Ordinary almost destroying the cinematic medium for all time, erasing the good films out there from the last century, but he remains a director who enjoys a good shock.

Trance is a fairly low-budget (looking) but stylish movie about something fairly high-concept: human memory, and how malleable it might be.

Rating:

Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2

What wouldn't you be able to achieve with this
legion of idiots at your beck and call?

dir: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

I know, I know. There are far more 'important' recent flicks to review. Far more worthy. The list of stuff I've seen recently keeps growing, and my unease and terror at letting them get too old before putting them out there in review form keeps me up at night. So are you finally going to get to read my trenchant thoughts on The Great Gatsby? No. World War Z, or Hangover III, or Fast Furious 6, or worthier arthouse fare like The Place Beyond the Pines, or Mira Nair's latest The Reluctant Fundamentalist?

No, alas and alack, I'm sorry to say - no. In short, having watched Despicable Me 2 in the last few days, I am forced by my own psyche at virtual gunpoint to review this blessed film.

As sick as I am of the ubiquitous Steve Carrell, there's just something about these flicks that I really, really enjoy. The main premise of a monstrously egomaniacal super-villain becoming a nice person through the love of three little adoptive waifs is nothing new in the realms of fiction even if the setting and CGI and 3D make it seem flashy and shiny and new. Horrible misanthropes have been redeemed (incredibly, as in 'not credibly', much of the time in my humble opinion) in books and movies for the last century to the tune of one a week, probably. It's the premise of every Clint Eastwood film where he's not shooting people for looking at him funny or for not answering politely when he asks them to make his day. It's the premise of almost every film ever made - well, at least the one's where it's not about killing some guy for REVENGE.

Rating:

Epic

Epic

Lots of colourful people, not a lot of
colourful thinking

dir: Chris Wedge

Epic is about the tiny goings on of a tiny bunch of people-like creatures. Hence, the irony of the title.

There is the eternal battle between the forces of life, and the forces of decay, and the conflict between fathers and their children, but, really, let's be honest, it's about fairies and goblins.

Sure, they call them Leafmen and Boggans (no, not bogans, though it’s hard to resist making the joke), but let's call a spade a dirt-shovelling device: goddamn fairies!

I don't mind fairies and forest spirits and such. They're in almost every book I read to my angelic/demonic offspring, they're in most of the kid's flicks we see together in eye- and wallet-gouging 3D, and they date back to the myths and legends of most cultures and nations.

Really, though, it's about fairies.

It's hard for me to drum up too much enthusiasm for fairy-related shenanigans, even when Tinkerbell isn't involved.

All this negativity makes it sound like I didn't like the film. The fact is I enjoy almost any film or movie I watch with my daughter if she enjoys it, because her enjoyment is as infectious as her colds and shingles are.

And she declared this film "Awesome!" at the end, and was entirely entranced throughout.

Rating:

Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Lecherous and Deceptive

dir: Sam Raimi

They didn’t have the guts to do a remake of the original ‘classic’, so I guess we had to have a prequel. Having said that, I don’t doubt that a remake of Wizard of Oz is now probably just around the corner…

Yes, the first question any person might reasonably and rhetorically ask themselves is whether the world really needed a prequel to one of the most beloved films of all time, a timeless classic blah blah blah for all ages that blah blahs children everywhere. Of course the world didn’t need such a thing. If something is a timeless classic, it needs neither prequels nor sequels, and it rarely if ever benefits from them, other than benefitting someone financially.

So, no. I’ll cut the suspense for you now, if you haven’t seen this yet, and answer straight up at the beginning that the world would have kept on truckin’ without this film’s release. I know, I know, it’s not the best way to write anything, because then what’s written lacks the tension that a raised question can generate if you give it ages before you provide the solution.

Rating:

Hello, I Must Be Going

Hello I Must Be Going

These posters explain nothing about what these films are about

dir: Todd Louiso

Hello, I must be going.
I cannot stay,
I came to say
I must be going.
I'm glad I came
but just the same
I must be going.

You have to imagine Groucho Marx singing it, of course, for the full effect, but that’s where the title of this lovely little movie comes from.

I’m not going to pretend I understand what it means in the context of the movie, its deeper significance and whatnot, but I’ll smile and nod my head if you have an explanation.

Hello, I Must Be Going. is a very quiet, very low-key movie, the kind of movie I really enjoy watching and reviewing, especially after seeing some bloated big budget 3D monstrosity in the Cineplex, gorging both visually, on fake buttered popcorn and my own bile. The central performance is by Melanie Lynskey, a name most people don’t recognise, but when you see her, you go “oh yeah, her. Yeah, she’s pretty good at stuff.”

She’s been working for ages, ever since Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures: that tribute to teenage girls lezzing out and killing people who try to keep them apart. She might not have reached the heights like her co-star Kate Winslet, but she’s been putting in solid work for decades.

This is one of the only times where she’s played the main role in one of her films that I can think of. She’s usually a supporting character, which she’s fine at, but now it’s her time to shine.

Rating:

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness: Proudly Brought to you by the NRA

dir: J.J. Abrams

It says they’re going Into Darkness, but I’m not sure what that has to do with the film. Sure, there were some shadows, some underlit places, but I hardly think that justifies such a title.

Wait, you mean it’s metaphorical, not literal? That it’s thematic, not aesthetic? Well, I haven’t been this confused since Michael Bay made a movie about something hidden on the dark side of the moon and just referred to it as Dark of the Moon. The Dark ‘what’ of the moon, Michael? Its dark chocolate centre, which I’ve heard is 80% cacao? Its dark and tortured past as a roadie for the other planets when they used to go on tour throughout the Milky Way? Its dark future as a holiday destination for bored mega-wealthy sadomasochists?

The moon plays a small part in this flick, but mostly it continues to exist and complicates the adventures of the crew of the USS Enterprise, which is a space ship capable of flying around really fast and shooting stuff.

That this is the new face of the Star Trek empire has to be accepted if anyone’s going to have any remote chance of enjoying it. Anyone who’s hated Trek all their lives and all its existence aren’t likely to hop on board the bandwagon now. With all the modern sprucing up they’ve done, the flick firmly and heroically panders to the Trek nerds like nothing ever has before.

Rating:

Syrup

Syrup

He has a very punchable face, that's for sure,
and they both look very happy to be here

dir: Aram Rappaport

Syrup is an edgy, in-your-face satire of corporate madness and the dark side of the Force that is Marketing;

or

Syrup is a hilarious send-up of the American Dream and its malcontents: the people sucked in, chewed up and spat out by its machinations, which is pretty much everyone in the Western world;

or

Syrup is a limp approximation of what would happen if a bunch of uni students got stoned, drank a heap of energy drinks and then came up with a script based on their half-baked knee-jerk thoughts mocking Big Business and the Earth's mindless slovenly drones who do nothing but consume consume consume;

or

Syrup is the greatest film ever about anything.

The movie could be any of those, or none of those. What it would ultimately 'be', even if it was just, like, my opinion, man, is what I spun it to be. Apparently, the movie Syrup, based on the book Syrup, by Max Barry, is the first flick ever to posit the idea that creating desire in consumers, which is the pure purpose of marketers everywhere, is a bad thing.

Rating:

Upstream Color

Upstream Color

It's important to feel safe

dir: Shane Carruth

What a freaky film. It’s probably the strangest film I’ve seen this year. It’s probably the strangest film I’ll see all year. There are six months to go, so, who knows?

It will be very hard to give a synopsis of this flick in a coherent way that will give a sense of what it was like to watch this movie. A few films are good, a lot of flicks are mediocre, but very few films deliberately avoid pandering to an audience by being very hard to understand and aggressively difficult to watch. This, from the same guy who made the low-key low-budget time travel flick Primer, is just such a concoction.

Most flicks, with the business model/logic behind them that generates them, go out of their way to be as easily consumable as possible. Upstream Color doesn’t seem to want to go the easy route, or to really be understood or explained in the way most flicks seem to work. At least that's what I think happened. For all I know, it makes perfect sense, and I'm way too thick to make sense of it, because I'm clearly not a genius.

It’s also aggressively edited as well, and I don’t mean in the way that a Michael Bay movie or one of the Bourne movies will be over-edited to stop you from realising how deeply stupid the plot or action of such a flick is. The purpose here seems to be to keep you unsettled, deeply unsettled.

Rating:

I Give It a Year

I Give It a Year

I wouldn't give these people the contents of my bladder if they
were on fire

dir: Dan Mazer

This is a terrible fucking film.

Sorry about the language. This was just a horrible experience, and I’m lacking the sensitivity and eloquence necessary to hide that fact until later in the review. It's so bad it's robbed me of my precious mental faculties! The bastards.

Perhaps they had good intentions, like the Road to Hell Paving Company. See, I’m already making excuses for them. The people involved have been good in other stuff, haven’t they? Rafe Spall was great as Evil Shakespeare in Anonymous the year before. Australian actress Rose Byrne has probably been good in something at some point in her life. Stephen Merchant has definitely been funny in a handful of things. None of them, brought together in the service of this piece of shit, were able to justify more than a few seconds of the film's eternal running time, despite whatever talents they may possess.

Rating:

Gayby

Gayby

Everyone's pretty in comic-book form

dir: Jonathan Lisecki

It was either this or The Hobbit, and I didn’t really want to review The Hobbit, so, here goes.

I know this sounds like a parody of a movie, like a joke trailer within a Tropic Thunder-like satire which would inevitably star Jack Black as the giant Gayby, but Gayby is a real film, in the sense that it’s not a joke and that it has actors in it, and it runs for nearly an hour and a half, the length God always intended all films to run.

Gayby covers the babymaking misadventures of a bunch of people, but mostly those of straight Jenn (Jenn Harris) and her best friend Matt (Matthew Wilkas) who happens to be gay. The adventure they want to go on involves the creation and raising of a baby, hence the portmanteau title of Gay + Baby = Gayby. How they know the baby is going to be gay is never explained, but I’m sure it’s not really relevant.

Mostly the flick, which trades on the apparently very real phenomena of lots of gay people trading their various bits of DNA, with or without turkey basters, in order to help each other have lots and lots of babies in Brooklyn, and probably lots of other places, is about whether Jenn and Matt will stay friends. That’s really what’s at stake, because the baby is kind of the participant’s award everyone gets just for competing.

Rating:

Promised Land

Promised Land

What's over there? Is it coming this way?

dir: Gus Van Sant

Humans are by their very natures perverse creatures. We want what we don't have and forget why we wanted it so desperately once we get it.

I could go on giving you examples of the strangeness that is our legacy, as if you weren't ever aware that people were like this, but the reason why I'm even bringing this up is because this flick had a strange effect on me.

There's barely anyone on the planet that would disagree that this flick is anti-fracking propaganda. I doubt the director Van Sant or Matt Damon or Frances McDormand would be surprised by any of this. It's a position, a stance, an opinion that I basically share. The people in this flick, patiently building their straw men for the purpose of knocking them down, are saying something that I, a person who doesn't trust corporations or governments to do what's right by the people until they're forced to, basically agree with.

I don't particularly love "the environment", but I know a few people that do, and since I consider 'the environment' to be that place where I live (ie. the Earth), I lean towards not completely wrecking the place, or using the way Nature was dressed as an excuse for despoiling it.

The net effect, however, of watching a flick like this is that it makes me think, "jeez, maybe fracking isn't that bad after all."

Rating:

Iron Man III

Iron Man III

The ageless Robert Downey Jr

dir: Shane Black

Third-parters are almost never good. They never work out well, whether in comparison to the first two instalments, or compared to any other decent films in general. Aliens III? Matrix: Revolutions? Superman III? Can you think of a third parter at least as good as what came before it? The only one I can think of is Return of the King, which many callous people think of as being The Kiwi Flick with Three Hours of Endings. But I don't, since if one happy ending is a good thing, then lots of happy endings has got to be even more super amazing.

You could argue that the difference is when the third part of a film trilogy is an organic part of the story, rather than a second sequel, whose purpose is just to capitalise on diminishing returns. Where Dark Knight Rises fits into this I couldn't tell you. Where some would argue 'necessity', others would argue 'doesn't say anything it hasn't already said twice before'. So whether it's Shrek the Third or Jaws III or Robocop III, or Spider-Man III, we're generally programmed to expect much more of 'more of the same' -ness to predominate, as well as a certain tiredness to the premise and mistakes particular to thirds that just have to be made.

Rating:

The Croods

The Croods

It's a Cowardly, Smelly Old World

dir: Kirk DeMicco & Chris Sanders

It's about time Nicolas Cage brought his particular brand of crazy to the 3D animated realm. He's so perfectly suited to playing a Neanderthal that I'm surprised it's never happened before.

He's not the main character here, I think, in The Croods, but it's pretty much him blathering on all the time. It's very possible the producers of this film shut Nicolas Cage in a room with a mound of coke and just recorded everything he said over a two day period. And they built a film around that. For the kids, of course.

The main character, I guess, is Eep, voiced by Emma Stone. She is the Neanderthal daughter of Cage's character, artfully named Grug. They have a whole family of Neanderthals around them, to provide the laughs and the jolly japery. And, even if you know nothing about this movie, you could probably guess that there is a grandma character, possibly voiced either by Betty White or Cloris Leachman. Cloris must have won the toss.

And there's a feral baby character, but it's not like it matters. The once-great distinction between Pixar, before their selling-out to Disney, and the rest of the animation studios was that Pixar seemed like it was telling stories because it wanted to tell particular stories, not because of the marketing opportunities or covering all the possible audience demographics.

Rating:

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas

All of these people: none of them know what's going
on either

dir: The Wachowski Siblings and Tom Tykwer

There’s something so evocative for me about the sentence fragment ‘Cloud Atlas’. I’m serious, I’m not taking the piss. When I first heard it, and I can’t remember the context, whether it was in regards to the novel this movie is based on or not, I thought it was a poetic piece of brilliance. A juxtaposition of words so simple yet so meaningful/meaningless that I couldn’t help but love it.

Maybe it’s pretentious twaddle. I don’t know. All I know is that I love the name Cloud Atlas. Imagine such a thing; an atlas, whose purpose is to define and formalise exactly what is where in a landscape, yet of the clouds, of something ephemeral and ever-changing. Ironic juxtaposition of contradictory elements or what?

Everything I’ve said there is as much meaning as I ever derived, further on, once I actually read the book and then watched the film, at a much later stage.

The book? Eh. It had its moments.

The film? Well, that’s going to take me a bit longer to unravel.

Rating:

The Queen of Versailles

The Queen of Versailles

These people are you superiors in every possible way.
Don't doubt it for a second

dir: Lauren Greenfield

It takes a certain kind of character to handle being wealthy and powerful. Few people have the stones for it. It’s not for common mortals like us to be rich and famous, no. We would buckle under the tremendous weight of such awful responsibility. The rest of us peasants should be grateful that we don’t live under the dread of such burdens.

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a downside for these brave people. They have to develop heroic defence mechanisms to protect themselves from the harshness of reality and the envy of the lower orders. As an example, you might have noticed that whenever a celebrity or wealthy person does something obviously, demonstrably wrong, then any criticism levelled at them is dismissed as hate from the “haters”. Haters, you see, are the envious, poisonous masses who dream up all sorts of untrue perfidy in order to bring down their betters. It’s the only explanation.

It’s the only way to make sense of a reality that previously seemed to bend to your every whim. If things always seemed to go your way because you were powerful and top of your game, and that your self-directed wilful free ride somehow ends, it’s because of the haters. It can’t be because you did something wrong, ever. It can’t be that you were complicit in a corrupt system, never that.

Rating:

Ginger and Rosa

Ginger and Rosa

The key is: don't turn out like Linsday Lohan or
Kristen Stewart, girls

dir: Sally Porter

I have loved Sally Potter for a long time, all because of Orlando, from so long ago that it barely warrants repeating.

No, that's not a prelude to me spending most of this review talking about a different film, something I often do. Most of her other films since then haven't really impacted upon me to any level similar to what I got from Orlando, a level of connection that haunts me to this day.

Ginger and Rosa is no different, in that it didn't really dazzle me or resonate deeply with me, but it's still a decent film. It's very modest in its scope, somewhat lacking in ambition, but that gives it plenty of opportunity to focus entirely upon one character almost to the exclusion of all others. It's also another opportunity for Elle Fanning to show what an accomplished actress she is at such a young age.

Two mothers give birth in a London delivery room. They clasp hands without knowing the other, needing the comfort of someone else going through something transformative. They forge a link, and their born daughters are linked too, closer than sisters and bonded beyond reason. Yeah, they're the one's in the title.

Rating:

The Imposter

The Imposter

Gaze into the eyes of a psychopath, and despair

dir: Bart Layton

At their worst, documentaries cover something that happened in the most turgid, lifeless manner possible, sending the facts even further out of reach and serving the self-interests of people trying to impose their horrible view of humanity all over the rest of us.

At their best, they illuminate the confusion that confronts all of us in the face of not what happened at particular points in time, but why. It’s not the sole purpose of documentaries to answer questions, or to say “This, then this, then this”. Sometimes they succeed best when they still leave us wondering “what the hell were these people thinking?”

The Imposter is a documentary about something that really happened, in which most of the facts are not in dispute. Let’s say 99% of the facts are not disputed. With the family involved, and the imposter of the title, none of them are denying that any of this happened. What none of them can genuinely answer is the “why” of it all, and that doesn’t detract from the experience in the slightest.

A boy goes missing in Texas, in the 1990s. A ‘boy’ in Spain is found by police, who claims, eventually, to be the missing Texan boy, Nicholas Barclay.

Rating:

Samsara

Samsara

I wouldn't get into a fight with her if I were you

dir: Ron Fricke

How do you even review something like this? It ends up saying more about the reviewer than the movie reviewed.

Samsara isn't a sequel to Baraka, the amazing, awe-inspiring 'documentary' from the 1990s that I've watched a billion times and whose soundtrack I've listened to even more. It's a continuation of Baraka, same director, same incredible 70mm film footage, same globe-trotting footage and same blissful lack of narration.

While I've seen Baraka so many times that it's become like the wallpaper of my skull, it exists in a pre-review time, before I was ever presumptuous enough to start thinking critically about films, about film as a medium, and, even worse, before I had the gall to start writing about them.

Samsara supplies me with a curious opportunity: How do you write about something that has no (obvious) narrative or story, which isn't really documenting anything other than how awesome-looking some bits of the world are, and which it's almost impossible to describe beyond saying stuff like "And then there's a shot of the Pope's arse, and then there's a narwhal, then there's a glacier, then there's a guy picking his nose at Roppongi Station, then there's a massive sand dune and then" which I could do for thousands of words and still get no closer to capturing its point or essence?

Rating:

Robot and Frank

Robot and Frank

On bended knee, I ask that you marry me, Dear Robot

dir: Jake Schreier

Films about old guys battling dementia don’t sound like a lot of fun. If you saw that flick, at least I thought it was an actual movie, of Clint Eastwood getting into an argument with a chair last year and losing, then you know how sad it can be.

Really sad. But where there’s inspiration, there’s hope. Someone fairly clever came up with a sci-fi premise that does what the best kinds of science-fiction stories do: they use some kind of presently non-existent technology to tell us a story relatable to the people of today.

Frank (Frank Langella) is a grumpy old bastard, as if there’s any other kind of old guy in movies. The first thing we see him doing is burglarising a house. He’s pretty rough at it, but he knows what he’s doing. As he’s extracting everything of worth through lockpicking and brute force, he spies a picture in a frame, and wonders how a picture of himself as a younger man with his kids has found it into his target’s house.

It takes a while, but he figures out, too late, that he’s been knocking off his own house in the middle of the night.

So, yeah, we get to see two things: he’s a thief by nature, and he’s got some kind of neurological/cognitive issues, especially as they relate to memory.

Rating:

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

Could you smell my finger, please? There's a dear

dir: Joe Wright

There's some virtue to having modest ambitions. When confronted with the prospect of converting Leo Tolstoy's weighty tome into a movie, many have faltered, most have failed, and none have got it right. The book's way too big. It's also on too much of a pedestal for it to come out right to everyone's satisfaction.

Also, where some would obsess with verisimilitude, with period accuracy and historical detail, Joe Wright and the producers here have elected for a way to illuminate the story without having to get dragged into a genuine Russian winter. I mean, it destroyed Napoleon's army, it destroyed the Nazis, so what hope would petty film producers have?

Mother Russia, or at least the time and place of it relevant to this story set before the Revolution, is created for us on a stage. At least, all or most of the story seems to transpire within the confines of a massive old Russian theatre. It's deliberately artificial, as in, they're not trying to hide the fact that it's an inventive and elaborate pantomime. I doubt this approach was budgetary. I mean, I have no idea. Maybe it was cheaper to do it this way, but it doesn't seem likely. Setting up all these elaborate sets on a sound stage so that it looks like it's in on an actual stage is just as expensive as making it look like it's in outer space or in the White House.

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Amour

Amour

Maybe if I loved you just a little bit more,
then everything would be okay

dir: Michael Haneke

That guy, what do they call him? Oh yeah, the Grim Reaper.

As if life itself isn’t enough of a reminder of it, this movie reminds us why the Reaper is always preceded by the adjective ‘Grim’.

We live our lives knowing that they will end, but, to function every day, to find meaning in the little things, we have to push that thought and its attendant fear out of our minds. I’m not pretending I came up with the Denial of Death concept, or that I’m Ernest Becker. I wish. Things I’d do with all those royalties.

But we know, we know. Everyone one of us, everyone we know, who we love or hate, all of us go into that great oblivion, and thinking about it too much crushes us.

So we watch a film about two seniors, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), people who’ve lived fulfilling and meaningful lives together, who’ve aged the way we all do, who still, somehow, thought the ‘end’, whatever form that would take, would somehow skip over them, at least for a while longer.

But ‘this’ is ‘it’. To be betrayed by one’s body despite not having done anything ‘wrong’. It is to be helpless in the face of mortality, like we all are, but still feel the inherent unfairness of it, because it’s always going to feel unfair.

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Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths

I assure you there are more than seven psychopaths
involved with this movie

dir: Martin McDonagh

When I write reviews about movies, I find it slightly pointless to include info that’s readily available on the tubes of the internets. There’s no point replicating the services that Wikipedia or IMDb provide, so I don’t bother including a lot of “actually, you may be interested to know that while this film was being made, the director was sleeping with the sister of the lead actor, who in turn was snorting the cremation ashes of Charlie Chaplin off the lower back of Rita Hayworth’s great-great-grand niece” type stuff.

It would be pointless, I think you’d agree. My personal take on these movies is the only thing I have to contribute in this world, and it’s not the perspective of an insider or an expert, just a shmuck fanboy. You can guess what that’s worth.

What I’m getting at is this: I could easily look up what the actual circumstances of the writing and production of this flick were. I could find out from the horses or whorses’ mouths almost instantly. And I could include that here. But what would be the point of that? Such knowledge wasn’t with me at the time when I was watching this deliriously insane flick, so it didn’t inform my enjoyment of it. So what would the point of talking about the ‘truth’ be?

Instead, I’ll relate what I was thinking about when I was watching it instead.

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Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie

See a 3D movie, in Black and White! Also, it's a silent movie!
And you get war ration stamps and polio from watching it!

dir: Tim Burton

I admitted, in my recent review of ParaNorman, that I often make mistakes when it comes to allowing my darling daughter to watch stuff that’s perhaps inappropriate for her age, which was, at the time, five. What I neglected to mention is that I’m really not the kind of person you look to for the actual, mature process of ‘learning from one’s mistakes.”

That’s not something apparently that I do. So when my daughter, primed by having seen ads for it, insisted we go see Frankenweenie, I said “why the hell not?”

In the end, it turned out to be far less terrifying than I feared, and better than I expected.

It is, after all, a story about a boy and his dog.

Well, actually, it’s about remaking the ‘original’ James Whale Frankenstein in the most kid friendly manner possible, while also finding time to coat the whole story in the visuals and tropes Burton has been trading on for decades, as well as doing some stuff with the old Japanese monster movies.

And by ‘tropes” I mean the aesthetics and imagery he’s ripped off from people like Charles Addams and Edward Gorey from day dot.

This isn’t a brilliant movie by any estimation, but I loved the hell out of it. It didn’t tell a particularly original story (how could it), but it tells it aesthetically in the best manner possible for what the story requires, which is all we can hope for.

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Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

Fear the flag, sure, but fear the redhead more

dir: Kathryn Bigelow

Torture is awesome! Who knew?!?

Obviously it’s not as wonderful to the people it happens to, but, for the rest of us, it works beautifully. It’s effective. It’s necessary. It’s entertaining. It’s awesome.

Zero Dark Thirty is less about the hunting down of Bin Laden like the dog that he was, than it is about how one woman’s, and the CIA’s, determination to do anything including torture to get him (and her capacity for overacting) are the only reasons they ever found the fucker.

First, we have to endure a lengthy justification for the torture, in the form of audio recordings of soon-to-be victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Talk about moral blackmail. The film is practically daring you to disagree that any actions taken by the US and its allies after that dread day were so utterly justifiable that you deserve to be shot out of a cannon if you think otherwise.

We meet Maya (Jessica Chastain) as she watches a torture session, with rough justice being meted out by some other CIA guy (Australia’s Own Jason Clarke). He’s really good at his work, but he doesn’t love doing it. We get the clear impression that he’s not a sadist, that he doesn’t “like” what he’s doing, but he sees the sadly necessary utility of it. Poor diddums.

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Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Chillin' on the high seas, with your new best friend

dir: Ang Lee

A lot of what I’m going to say about this beautiful movie is going to sound churlish, ungrateful and unfair. So be it. Someone has to do it. So much of the rest of the world is tripping over itself saying what a wondrous movie this is, that I can’t help but be a little contrary.

But until that time when I let rip with both barrels, let me lull you into a false sense of security by praising this film’s many virtues.

No, Life of Pi is not about pies, or about the mathematical constant of π. The diameter or circumference of no circles was calculated during the making of this movie. It’s about a guy whose nickname is Pi (Irrfhan Khan) who survived a harrowing experience and lived to tell the story to a writer (Rafe Spall). Lucky for the writer, eh, because he would have been stuffed otherwise, and we would have been none the wiser or entertained.

No, don’t go thinking this flick has anything to do with a true story of any description. Almost every implausible movie that gets made, from Zero Dark Thirty to Titanic to Transformers, practically has an opening title assuring us that what we are about to watch is based on true events. That’s not what Life of Pi is aiming for. It aims to tell an amazing, unbelievable story in the most visually stunning manner possible.

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