V/H/S

V/H/S

I'm more terrified by all the money I wasted on all those tapes
than anything in this flick

dirs: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Chad Villella, Ti West, Adam Wingard

Blah. Terrible. An anthology of horror flicks as horrible as the media storage format they replaced.

There is something creepy about video footage, yes, granted. None of that, none of it improves any of the flicks or the framing device used to situate these short, mostly pointless flicks. The graininess of the footage doesn’t add to the atmosphere at all, it doesn’t improve the terrible framing device, and it also doesn’t make that much sense, honestly.

As this ‘movie’ starts, a bunch of creepy frat boy criminal types commit various crimes and film themselves as they’re committing them. They’re real scumbags, which, in the context of the horror genre, is not a bad thing, because we know that they’ll get theirs in hell, so to speak. These shitbirds are hired by someone to break into a house and steal a video tape, in order to give context and meaning to their constant filming of everything they do.

When they get into the house and start creeping around, they find an old guy dead in front of a bunch of televisions, and stacks of tapes around the house. One moron at a time pops a tape into the VCR and starts watching.

Rating:

Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect

You're all winners, except for those of you who aren't

dir: Jason Moore

I like pleasant surprises. Well, duh. What person out of the 7 billion who grace this planet with their presence doesn’t?

It’s the unpleasant surprises we are not partial to. The lump in a bodily location where lumpiness should just not be. The realisation, post bending-over, that one’s pants have achieved a new configuration, including a vast gap where seams should reign supreme. Waking up to find someone, at this happy time of the year, actually dressed as Santa Claus, breathing heavily, in your bedroom, going through your stuff, stinking strongly of meth.

All unpleasant, all unwanted, all unappreciated. Pleasant surprises are far rarer, but much more enjoyable. I enjoyed Pitch Perfect despite the fact that I absolutely should hate a movie like this, any movie like this. After all, it features singing, and is as much a product of the current pop cultural obsession with Glee, American Idol and shit of that ilk.

It’s also so twee-ly American, it’s set in college, it’s structured like a sports film, and it has montages galore.

So how could I like this? How could I have enjoyed a single second of this entire farcical deal? Well, I don’t have to explain myself to you. I just enjoyed it. That’s it. End of story.

Rating:

Hope Springs

Hope Springs

Just get a goddamn divorce already

dir: David Frankel

Ye gods and little fishes, if there was one message, one singular plea this film seems to be making to us in the audience, it would be thus; like the words of the ancient Queen Elizabeth to the young Orlando in the film of the same name: "Do not wither, do not grow old".

But what choice do we have? No tablet, no serum, no surgery, nothing spares us from the entrenchment of our own awful habits and the miserly ways this film alleges we inevitably fall prey to, far beyond what age naturally and lovingly does to our physical forms.

See, that I can take. The falling apart of the body doesn’t frighten me, since I’ve been falling apart like a rusty cyborg with leprosy for, oh, simply ages now. I expect it just gets easier from here on in, and if I’m wrong, please have the decency not to tell me about it. It’s the emotional ossification, the hardening of one’s life into an unvarying repetitive routine that I find truly terrifying.

Rating:

Bachelorette

Bachelorette

Don't make eye contact, don't get their attention

dir: Leslye Headland

Nasty.

You might think that this is a bandwagon-jumping exercise, trying to capitalise on the success of Bridesmaids, but it doesn’t really feel like that, especially since so much time has passed. People have moved on. This is based on a play, written by the woman who directs here as well, so obviously it predates Bridesmaids, and it’s classy art, baby. I mean, surely all movies based on plays have class up the wazoo?

Obviously, it has plenty more in common with Bridesmaids. It has a mostly female cast, it’s meant to be a comedy, it somewhat focuses on a character who resents her female friend for getting married before her, and some foul stuff happens along the way.

The similarities pretty much end there. I had significant issues with Bridesmaids, in that I felt the characters were blah and the dynamics they were mining for alleged comedy gold were regressive and fairly sexist. But, put simplistically, I couldn’t fault it in terms of delivering what it promised: it was a comedy structured like a comedy giving the ladies what they wanted.

Rating:

Skyfall

Skyfall

Bloody typical, always lying down on the job

dir: Sam Mendes

It’s a decent enough film, it’s just that I’m not sure how much of a Bond film it is, and that’s something I’m ambivalent about.

The tone of the flick is also fairly grim, fairly dour. It even spends a fair amount of time on the northern highlands of Scotland, which is the grimmest, dourest place on the planet.

After fifty years of these movies, I guess they needed to do something substantially different, radically different despite the window dressing. Skyfall is steeped in Bond lore, and far more grounded than the usual Bond film. When I say ‘grounded’, I don’t mean realistic, or that it’s being punished for breaking curfew. What I mean is that excluding the high energy pre-credits introduction, the rest of the flick mostly avoids the elaborate stunts and absurd gadgetry-inspired last minute escapes that James Bond is renowned for. Mostly, it shows our ‘damaged’ protagonist plodding through the plot up until the strangest ending a Bond film has ever had.

It’s the first time I can think of where Bond doesn’t save the world, and doesn’t really win, in the end, if you consider what his objective is, which I won’t spoil unnecessarily, and I guess that’s refreshing too.

Rating:

End of Watch

End of Watch

Porkers on patrol, pigs on parade, bacon in black and
bullies in the pulpit

dir: David Ayer

It sounds like something you’ve seen a million times before, but it actually ends up being much stronger than that. A movie about two cops? Get out of here, it’ll never work…

The director, David Ayer, has been responsible for a lot of cop-related flicks, most notoriously Training Day (as the screenwriter), a film I still loathe to this day, but he clearly has an affinity for two things: cops and South Central LA. As he grew up there, it’s impossible to see it as anything other than a deep affection for the place. In some ways he’s demystifying some of the mystique surrounding the place, but in a lot of other ways, he’s probably perpetuating most of the clichés about the place that give it such a negative rep.

That doesn’t concern me, I’m not here to judge, just to condemn or transcend. In truth, you probably shouldn’t see his many films about cops and South Central as a form of document, covering as they do the transitions occurring over time in that one area, and in policing, as well, but I’m happy to, because how else am I going to know? The only other source of information I have about South Central comes from rappers, and they’re not known for their meticulous adherence to accuracy.

Rating:

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

The Odd Life of Timothy Green was even more painful
to watch than to write about

dir: Peter Hedges

I’m all for whimsy. No, scratch that, the word alone gives me a piercing headache. What I should have said is that I’m not completely averse to sweetness in movies, because, hell, life’s way too short to just watch movies where people’s heads get routinely blown off by so-called heroes, or where a demented surgeon captures some poor folk and sows them, one to the other, in an unholy form of intelligent yet malevolent design.

The sweetness I can tolerate, not wanting to get diabetes, has to be well delivered. Too much and it drowns the viewer in treacle and regret. Too little and there’s no flavour in an otherwise unpalatable affair.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green tries to be some modern kind of fable, generously brought to us by the Disney Corporation, offering us a little sweetness within a tortured tale about a couple who desperately yearn to be parents. What it ends up being is an argument as to why some people should never be allowed to become parents, and probably a healthy argument for abortion as well.

Rating:

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Where the Southern Wild Things Are

dir: Benh Zeitlin

It’ll come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that I don’t always understand the films I watch. I watch a lot of films, but that doesn’t mean I’m any better at deciphering them than anyone else, including and especially you.

Often that lack of understanding infuriates me, and makes me think less of the flick and the people involved, because I blame them for it. Other times it’s just a reason to be bored, which negates any effort to expend any brain power nutting it out because it doesn’t seem worthy of such labours.

Other times that confusion, if that’s what it is, doesn’t matter, and is of a piece with what I’m watching, and instead of causing me to pull away because of it, it allows me to let go, at least a little bit, of the nagging, querulous critic in my head, and just be embraced by the film. Some of my favourite films defy logical, precise, plodding explanation as to everything that happens in it, what it all means, how it happened or why.

I’m not saying that Beasts of the Southern Wild is now one of my favourite films of all time (it’s a pretty long and potentially embarrassing list), but it manages to capture some of the elements that provoke deep feeling in me, or at least it provoked in me some of the feelings that I mentioned previously.

Rating:

Lawless

Lawless

There's nothing on the ground. Stop looking at the ground!

dir: John Hillcoat

*dramatic sigh* This is the biggest cinematic disappointment of the year thus far, for me. No, withhold your sympathy, spare me your proffered hankies, tiniest violins and empty consolation, neither I nor Lawless deserve it.

It’s meant to be a can’t-miss proposition, from the dudes who brought us, uh, The Proposition. Nick Cave wrote the script, John Hillcoat directs, quality soundtrack and score with the usual collaboration betwixt Cave and Warren Ellis, but with a whole bunch of other credible musicians as well doing their homages to the hillbilly moonshine era. There’s Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, and quality actresses Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain, and there’s extreme violence and nudity and redheads and ‘based on a true story’ cred and and and it all fucking falls over flat, because, I’m sorry to say this, but Nick Cave’s screenplay is absolutely the weakest element of it all.

See, lazier viewers / reviewers would say seriously / joke that it fails because of Shia LaBeouf playing a key role. I don’t think he sinks the flick at all. He doesn’t particularly save it either, but he’s not the one bringing the flick down. No-one else on this planet is going to agree with me, but I actually think he puts in a better performance than Beefcake of the Moment Tom Hardy.

Rating:

Natural Selection

Natural Selection

You can pick your family, but you can't pick your genes

dir: Robbie Pickering

Every now and then you need a quiet, chilled-out flick as a bit of a palette cleanser. A bit of cooling pickled ginger after the burning momentary wasteland of wasabi. A nice, clean beer after a nasty shot of rotgut whisky served in a dirty glass. Most of the last twenty or so films I’ve watched have been pretty intense, so something light and breezy is surely desirable.

Natural Selection is one of those flicks I knew practically nothing about before watching it, other than it was a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival some time or another. Something being a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival doesn’t usually make me want to watch something especially much, in fact it’s more likely to make me recoil in horror and contemplate watching another Michael Bay film instead.

But it was liked by a few people who I take seriously, and so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

It’s an odd bird of a flick, but nonetheless it’s an enjoyable one about a woman going on a very modest journey of reflection and self-discovery. Thankfully, this doesn’t involve Julia Roberts or Tuscany or getting a vibrator for the first time.

Rating:

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

Don't they look like they're having fun? It's not going to last.

dir: Kieran Darcy-Smith

Wow, did I get this one wrong.

This flick was completely not what I thought it would be, either in style or content. For some reason I had this idea it was a light-hearted romantic drama about two Australian couples travelling overseas and finding out stuff about each other and coming to terms with stuff etc.

Spectacularly wrong, incandescently wrong. I could not have been more wrong if I’d thought I was about to watch a film clip for Pink Floyd’s song Wish You Were Here, sung by Christina Aguilera as Lady Gaga spanks her with a rhesus monkey.

It turns out it’s a sly reference to the postcard one used to be able to send, saying the title, as in, Really, I’m Glad That You’re Not Here, But I Just Wanted to Rub Your Nose In the Fact That I’m Here and You’re Not. That’s what it’s always meant in reality, but this flick, which has a black streak through it a mile wide.

Rating:

Argo

Argo

Whoever has the better beard should be the Supreme
Leader, I reckon

dir: Ben Affleck

3 for 3. How does Ben Affleck, Ben Affleck get to be such a good director after a lifetime of blockheaded roles and lacklustre performances? Ben Affleck from Armageddon? Ben Affleck from Gigli? Ben Affleck from Pearl Harbor? That Ben Affleck?

And yet Gone Baby Gone, The Town and now Argo are all superbly made films. How does that work?

Well, there’s a scene where Affleck’s character Tony Mendez is asking an old Hollywood special effects hack about whether it’s possible to teach someone how to fake being a director in one day. The weary hack states quite unambiguously that he could teach a rhesus monkey how to be a director in one day.

Affleck must have put this in as an in-joke, he must have, aimed at both the people who admire what he’s done as a director and those who can’t believe such a hammy actor has the temerity to direct films, and good ones at that.

The fact is he can direct, and he’s doing really well thus far. I’m sure my appreciation of him, which will be reported back to him by some perky squirrel of an unpaid intern, who trawls the tubes of the internets for nasty or nice comments about him, will warm the cockles of his heart and tickle the follicles of his under-beard.

Rating:

Your Sister's Sister

Your Sister's Sister

Make a choice and stick with it next time, ya drunks

dir: Lynn Shelton

What is Mark Duplass bribing people with in order to keep turning up in all these films lately? Has he got some great weed? An abundance of serious green bankroll from all those indie megahits he’s co-directed or starred in? A fantastically long penis that not only hits all the right spots but sings a sweet, melancholy torch song afterwards?

However he’s doing it, here he is again, at least from the perspective of my week, in that I’ve accidentally seen him in two films in only a few days. What a harsh coincidence. What cruellest fate in the kindest month.

At the very least I can console myself with the fact that I enjoyed his performance, goofy performance at that, much more than I did in Safety Not Guaranteed. It helps that he’s not playing a mental case here. His character here, all the same, is somewhat depressed, and a bit obnoxious, so it’s not like he’s stretching himself out of all shape or comfort zones.

A group of friends, and the brother (Duplass) of a guy who died the previous year, get together to remember him and to have a drink in his honour. We don’t know who the guy was, but one of the attendees (stand up comedian Mike Birbiglia) gets up and says some nice words, making people, including Iris (Emily Blunt), an ex-girlfriend of the guy, get all misty-eyed and nostalgic.

Rating:

Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed

Entertainment not guaranteed, either,
to be honest

dir: Colin Trevorrow

Sometimes I can’t see the plain things in front of me that other people can see. I don’t know whether it’s an eye problem, or some kind of neurological disorder, but, whatever it is, it means the virtues of this particular flick have completely eluded me.

The premise is that this vaguely has something to do with a classified ad that was put in a Seattle newspaper once upon a time, whereby someone pretended to be asking for someone in order to go time travelling together. Hence the Safety Not Guaranteed appellation, as in you couldn’t Guarantee someone’s Safety if they come with you into the Mesozoic era, but you still want someone to come with you, bringing their own weapons and expertise, and maybe a cut lunch. Sunscreen would be nice, and maybe a change of underwear.

That vaguest of premises has a basis in fact by only the loosest of definitions, in that someone once posted an ad like that. It was, however, a joke, as in a fake ad.

From this somehow they’ve spun a confection whose purpose, I guess, is to illuminate the gutting feeling many of us possess whereby we wish we could go back in time to correct something that happened or something horrible that we did. Yes, yes, we all have regrets. But this flick, not unusual in the cinematic landscape, makes literal this wish, in that we’re gradually meant to believe that the nutjob at the centre of the flick could actually do it.

Rating:

Taken 2

Taken 2

He's trying to remember where he put his car keys

dir: Oliver Megaton

Taken 2: The Takening? Taken Too? Taken 2: Achin’ for the Taken?

It was begging for a title worthy of parody, but they stuck with the prosaically functional. That’s a shame. If they’d had a sense of humour about it, perhaps they could have winked at the audience and made something functional a bit more fun. It’d be the equivalent of a dentist cracking jokes as he or she cracks into your jaw with shiny metal.

As it stands, Taken 2 is just about exactly the thing you expect it to be; another go-round of Taken. There’s even a bit which Liam Neeson has to say into a phone, replicating the same scene with minor alteration from the first flick, “Your mother and I are going to be TAKEN!” just in case we forgot what the fucking title on the ticket clenched in our sweaty hands was. He should have found a way to say, instead, “Kimmie, I’m about to be taken, and your mother is going to be Taken Too!” The expression on Liam’s face as he intones the actual dialogue is something along the lines of “no amount of money justifies having to say shite like this”, when it’s meant to be a look of consternation.

Liam Neeson looks even older and crankier than he did the last time, and who can blame him. To quote Bruce Willis from Die Hard 2: Die Harder, “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?”

Rating:

Chernobyl Diaries

Chernobyl Diaries

Please do not feed the mutants with your fellow travellers

dir: Bradley Parker

What a waste.

It’s one thing to make a flick set around Chernobyl, yes, THAT Chernobyl, being the site of the worst nuclear accident (publicly known) to occur thus far. Let’s just ignore the one that happened at Fukushima just recently, I guess, at least until the Japanese start making monster movies about it.

It’s another thing entirely to film such a film in the actual location you’re setting it in. I mean, that just blows my mind. That’s a great idea. Even allowing for the greatness of the idea, I can see that, necessarily, there are only two kinds of films you could set at such a location: documentary or horror movie. Comedy, well, not even Adam Sandler or Roberto Benigni would be able to get away with it. Romance, hm? Love in the Time of Lethal Radiation?

I am somewhat obsessed with the place. Perversely, the best realisation of something set there thus far have been the Ukrainian-produced S.T.A.L.K.E.R games, which used the location very effectively, but I’m not pretending it did so in a deep or meaningful way. It’s an excuse for some very creepy, very effective first person shooters where you get to blow away a whole bunch of horrifying (but poorly animated) mutants, tracksuit-wearing hoods and some very hardcore mercenaries, on your way either to death, escape, or a basket of puppies wearing cute scarves.

Rating:

Killer Joe

Killer Joe

Y'all nasty people make me sick to my goddamn stomach

dir: William Friedkin

Ew, this film is sleazy and nuts.

I guessed Killer Joe would be a lurid, vile, messy trawl through white trash mania and I can’t say I was at all surprised by the end result. I mean, a title like that doesn’t conjure visions of doilies, parasols and cucumber sandwiches. Instead, surprising no-one but me, this flick ends up being a nasty, repugnant black comedy about how dumb people do dumb stuff.

The chap referred to in the title is played by Mathew McConaughey, and this caps off an incredible year for this very odd man. I’ve generally found him to be an actor I don’t have much time for, but this year he’s been great in a whole bunch of stuff. He played the incredulous prosecutor in Bernie perfectly. He played the awesome (and admittedly creepy) owner of the all-male strip club in Magic Mike. And now he’s playing the loopiest and nastiest character he’s played thus far.

Joe Cooper is a police detective who also, somehow, gets to moonlight as a contract killer. I guess if you’re potentially one of the guys who’d be investigating a murder in a one-horse shitty Texan city, then you’ve got a bit of a leg-up on the opposition.

Rating:

Ruby Sparks

Ruby Sparks

Bloody caveman writers, stealing all the fictional women

dir: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris

Being a deeply neurotic person, I regularly fall prey to a panoply of fears. One of the most fundamental for me is either not being seen as a person, or failing to see other people as real people.

I'm sure that probably sounds a bit weird. I mean, there are a bunch of far more reasonable and likely things to be terrified of. Spiders, for one, insanity, earthquakes, tsunamis, radiation, cancer, germs; there's a lot out there, and they're just the simplistic ones. People with elaborate and expansive imaginations can think of plenty more crap on a second-by-second basis to be horrified at the prospect of.

My fear about forgetting to see the inherent humanness of people and just seeing them as objects is a powerful one, because I think it's so easy.

You forget, sometimes, don't you, when you're dealing with someone who seems more like a collection of annoyances rather than a living, breathing person, to see them as they deserve to be seen, as a whole person? Or when you fixate on some other aspects of their being, and completely forget about their personhood, and instead bliss out at whatever aspect / fetish takes your fancy?

And what if you do this overwhelmingly to the people you're meant to be closest to in your life, like your own partner or family?

Rating:

On the Road

On The Road

Just can't wait to not get on the road again

dir: Walter Salles

Unfilmable books make for interesting films.

On the Road has been on that list of “Great” American Novels like Tropic of Cancer, Catcher in the Rye, Pale Fire, The Sound and the Fury, a bunch of others, that people never thought could be adapted to the big screen.

But then you think of the flicks made from Naked Lunch and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or further afield to the flicks made from other "unadaptable" books like Perfume or Cloud Atlas, and it makes it more the question of not “whether” but “how well”, as in, anything can be adapted, but not everything is adapted well, just like with any book.

Kerouac’s classic novel would always have made a good film, if the people involved knew what they were doing, and what they should avoid doing. The biggest problem it would have had is that even in a quality realisation, the flick would always (now) look just like every other road movie that’s ever come out in the last fifty years.

The majority of the flick isn’t, perhaps, on the actual road as the travellers travel down that road, but it certainly feels like it, and where it almost glows with purpose. Far more, comparatively, is spent watching these people smoke, drink and fuck in scummy apartments and dishevelled domiciles across the Americas as these people, these people, live their lives in the pursuit of life itself.

Rating:

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Four score and seven slayings ago, I kicked serious some
serious ass for the Lord

dir: Timur Bekmambetov

And yeah, no-one’s thoroughly sick of vampires yet, not one little bit...

Abraham Lincoln kills vampires. That’s all you need to know, because that’s the entirety of the premise as far as people were meant to care.

Pretty much all you need to read. You could stop here. Walk outside, if it’s nice out. Breath in deeply, enjoy the sunshine/night/hail/plague. Go on, get out of here.

Wait, WAIT! Come back, please, I was just kidding. I swear I’ll try to be more amusing / illuminating than this movie was.

The masses were meant to care all the way into the cinema. I can’t see how they could have cared, really, but maybe there’s a greater pool of history buffs out there that I didn’t know about.

The statesman of American history who kept the nation from tearing itself apart and freed the slaves also killed vampires in his spare time, and actually went into the Civil War with the intention of throwing off the shackles of the shadow aristocracy trying to rule from the shadows by taking away their food supply, being African-American slaves.

Rating:

Hotel Transylvania

Hotel Transylvania

Perfect for Deadbeat Dads to take their non-custodial progeny to on the weekend

dir: Genndy Tartakovsky

When the school holidays ended in Melbourne a week or so ago, so too did the simultaneously exciting and terrifying prospect of having to take a child or children to the cinema in the pursuit of an hour or two of entertainment for the munchkins. It’s exciting because I love taking my kid to the cinema. It’s terrifying because most kid’s films are eye-bleedingly awful and make you wish you’d never been born, let alone them.

I’ve been lucky in the last month or so in that the films I’ve taken her along to haven’t been bad enough to make me want to shoot myself inside a cinema filled to the brim with children (not that I would there or anywhere, no need to get the Crisis Assessment Team out to pay me a visit, thanks), even if they haven’t been especially strong. I can’t expect Hayao Miyazaki or Henry Selick or Pixar to make eight films a year just to cover the school holidays for my benefit. Hotel Transylvania is good enough. It’s not good, it’s good enough. There’s a difference, but not enough of one to really matter.

Rating:

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

I don't think they have turntables where you're going

dir: Lorene Scafaria

If the world was going to literally end, and we knew about it in advance, and we knew exactly when it was going to happen, what would we all do with the time we had left? It’s a compelling what if? of a thought experiment, and usually, in art at least, it’s reserved to “if you were going to die, what stuff would you do finally that you never had the courage to do before?”

This time, though, everyone’s going to die. Every living thing extinguished in a cataclysm that won’t be averted with a couple of seconds to go, apparently, since this is what the film tells us from the opening minutes. A man (Steve Carrell) and his wife (Nancy Carrell) listen blankly as the radio in their car outlines the failure of some last-ditch attempt to avert the disaster. A meteor called Matilda, which is as good a name as any for something fixing to permanently end your present world, continues on its course towards Earth, where it will obliterate all life, perhaps.

Rating:

2 Days in New York

2 Days in New York

They could be in two completely different films

dir: Julie Delpy

Yeah, there really aren’t enough flicks set in New York, you know. Seconds, sometimes minutes go by in cinemas across the world where people are occasionally looking at footage of cities other than New York. It’s a shocking statistic.

2 Days in New York tries to correct this terrible shortage, this famine of the soul, by gifting us with the antics of some not-very-likeable people in New York going to Central Park and the Statue of Liberty and every other cliché you can think of.

Julie Delpy, who also directs, edits, wrote the screenplay, the music, made the sandwiches and probably stood outside cinemas urging people to come inside and watch her movie, decided a sequel to her earlier flick 2 Days in Paris was mandatory, instead of optional. She stars as Marion, a French woman with a kid living in New York with her new partner Mingus (Chris Rock) and his kid.

Rating:

The Turin Horse (A Torinoi Lo)

The Turin Horse

Depression in cinematic form. Enjoy, you lucky so-and-sos!

dir: Bela Tarr

Sometimes you watch a film knowing you’re not going to enjoy it. It’s with the foreknowledge that the reason for watching the film is not the pursuit of entertainment or escapism; it’s with the expectation that the experience is going to be a difficult one with no promise of redemption or eventual meaning.

What compelled me to watch this film, The Turin Horse, and review it, for you, the utterly nonplussed reader?

Curiousity, dear reader, nothing but curiosity.

I have heard of Hungarian director Bela Tarr, but never seen one of his films before. They are famous, or notorious, for being extremely long, consisting of very long, uncut scenes of people not doing very much. His most famous film, Satantango, is over seven hours long. He’s the quintessential director of the kinds of films people who never watch arthouse films think arthouse films are all like.

As such, The Turin Horse is practically the epitome of a parody of European arthouse films: it’s in black and white, the tone is overwhelming in its sombre dourness, there are peasants in peasanty clothing doing peasant things, the soundtrack is a repetitive, depressing four tone dirge, and what dialogue we hear (or read, since it’s subtitled, unless you’re Hungarian) is either trivial, makes no sense or is pretentious drivel and the point of it all is almost a complete mystery even to the most attentive and hopeful of viewers.

Rating:

Savages

Savages

You'd think this was a serious drama from the poster. Sucked in!

dir: Oliver Stone

Savages is a quiet, restrained film about two estranged siblings played by Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman coming to terms with the impending death of their abusive deadbeat father. Arguments are had, feelings are expressed, Broadway plays are written, everyone except the father is happy in the end. The End.

No, wait, that was The Savages, whereas this flick is just Savages, and it’s a completely different kettle of decapitated heads. First of all, it’s directed by an Oliver Stone we haven’t seen for a very long time, since U-Turn, I think. It’s the Oliver Stone who channels Brian De Palma, and who revels in lurid, trashy, violent excess rather than conspiracy theories and political bloviating.

And no-one wants any more of that shit, not even Oliver Stone. This flick is based on a genre novel by Don Winslow of the same name, which covers the adventures in the sun of three people in love: Chon (Taylor Kitsch), Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and O (Blake Lively). Two of these people are dope growers. One of them is the person the other two have sex with. The three of them apparently love each other equally. Puts a bit of a different spin on the love triangle trope, don’t you think?

Rating:

Dredd

Dredd

Fear me, for I Am the LAW! And I have a funky, funky helmet

dir: Pete Travis

Look, I know what you’re thinking: how could a Judge Dredd movie without Sylvester Stallone possibly work. It’s a hard sell, I know. But the miracle is that this film is about the most perfect movie version of the long-running British comic book character that we’re ever likely to see in our lifetimes.

No, I’m not saying it’s a great film, one that’s likely to ever have the kind of crossover appeal of The Avengers or the Batman epics (I mean crossing over to the ‘normal’ segment of the population, as opposed to the geeky or the ones who just watch any action movie as the half-eaten corn chips fall out of their gaping maws). This will probably disappear into the ether unwatched and unlamented by the discriminating masses.

That’s not much of a shame, because, honestly, who cares across this sad and beautiful world? A handful of comic book fans like me? It’s enough of a shame that they actually bothered to make a decent Judge Dredd, with a decent actor as Judge Dredd for once.

It’s a shame because every time they adapt a character faithfully from the paper medium into the one of 3D and ‘splosions, do it well, and it fails at the box office, the scumbags at the studios think “Well, we obviously didn’t change it from the source enough. Next time we’ll put in more puppies.”

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Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows

What a lovely family portrait of a despicable bunch of people

dir: Tim Burton

And this is what home video was invented for. You know, watching stuff on VHS or even Betamax tapes in your lounge room. No, I don’t mean porno. Well, maybe on laser disc or DVD. Definitely not Blu-Ray.

This is an artefact not just from the 60s, but from a time when we expected nothing more than to be entertained by something no matter how ludicrous it might be. Tim Burton may just be the most successful B movie director in the history of American cinema. I can't think of the last time or the first time he made something genuine, heartfelt and 'real', whatever that might be. He's happier with completely melodramatic fantasy, and who can blame him?

Johnny Depp certainly can't, which is just one of the many reasons why he's not only on board as the lead here, but also as one of the producers. I have no idea why Tim Burton and Depp thought making this would be profitable, successful or desirable to anyone else but themselves. But that's only because I know absolutely nothing about the show this is based on, other than it was a supernatural soap opera in the 1960s. Called Dark Shadows. That was probably even sillier than this.

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Arbitrage

Arbitrage

(to the Beastie Boys' tune ) Tellin' all y'all it's Arbitrage!

dir: Nicholas Jarecki

With a title like that they're going to be turning away teenagers from cinemas in droves, whacking them with sticks and pepper spray-smeared tasers.

I mean, who doesn't get a little wet hearing the silky, seductive word 'arbitrage'? Say it to yourself with a sensuous lilt to your voice, like you're a phone sex worker or telemarketer. From Mumbai, south of the Melbourne where you are from, mister sir.

I like to think that this is the sequel to Pretty Woman, though they couldn't get Julia Roberts to reprise the least convincing role as a prostitute any woman has played in the history of women and movies. Thankfully, they got an actual actress to play the role this time, being Susan Sarandon. But Gere, Richard fucking Gere is the lead.

I have to admit to a certain bias here that colours my ability to appreciate such a film: I'm not much of a fan of Richard Gere, in fact, I find his squinty mole-like eyes and hammy performances gut-wrenchingly difficult to sit through. It's not fair to him, or you, dear reader, but it's more honest this way, more respectful of you. That way you can assess for yourself whether my opinion is based on what I thought of what might be a decent flick, or whether it's just that I can't stand a particular element of it, skewing my perceptions shamefully.

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Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom

Enter the fussy world of Wes Anderson, again and again
and again

dir: Wes Anderson

Every couple of years we are graced with another Wes Anderson film, and those that hate him and all his works are gifted with the opportunity to rant again as to why they loathe him, and those who rave for him do the opposite. My relationship is somewhat more complex, in that I find myself liking some of his flicks and not others, but it never sits as simply as “I like your old stuff better than your new stuff.”

Moonrise Kingdom is his latest (well, duh), and I enjoyed it well enough. It’s of a piece. You know what to expect in every present and future Wes Anderson film if you’ve seen at least two of them, because they never vary in their meticulous look, in their affected acting and in their quirky awkwardness that we’re meant to find endearing.

That doesn’t mean they’re all equally good or equally bad. I guess if you like the underlying story and fussy aesthetics, it makes up for all the Andersonian fetish work you have to sit through in order to get to that ‘happy’ place.

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Premium Rush

Premium Rush

Well, don't you look oh so serious?

dir: David Koepp

There's a point in this flick where a character, let's be honest, the baddie, yells at the main character, "New York hates you" with a great deal of venom and probably a touch of insanity, but some truth.

Why is he screaming this, and at whom? A terrorist? An Occupy Wall Street protester? A Wall Street banker? Obama? Someone who works at Planned Parenthood?

No, he's yelling this at someone who's a New York bike courier. New Yorkers - and by default, all drivers and pedestrians - hate cyclists, is the message.

Is it true? I mean, I guess that there has always been a tension between people on bikes and people in cars, mostly due to envy, I guess, but I didn't think it had reached the level of being a globalised rage against those who enjoy two good unmotorised wheels on a daily basis.

People on bikes hate people in cars because people in cars can and often do end the lives of people on bikes, and drive as if they're oblivious that this could be so. This happens, very obviously, because of basic physics. The formula for calculating Force, as far as I can remember from high school science classes, is Force = Mass times Acceleration. Cars have lots of mass, and go very fast, so they do a lot of damage to weedy types on deadly treadlies.

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