Lincoln

Lincoln

Come, sit on my knee, and tell me what you wish for Christmas,
as long as it is not an end to my interminable anecdotes

dir: Steven Spielberg

You know, I never thought Spielberg had the balls to do something like this, but he did, and audiences never really punished him for it. He’s taken the most iconic, the most universally admired US President (except in the South, perhaps) and depicted him as a crushing, tedious bore, and people are applauding him for it, and lavishing Daniel Day-Lewis with unending praise and statuettes.

Good for them, I guess. The thing is, I don’t even think it was subtle at all. He actively has characters respond with exasperation whenever Lincoln spins another yarn, while every other person sighs and maintains their steeliest “have to look enraptured for the boss” facial expression. People are active, working, doing stuff, usually arguing before he mutters some kind of non sequitur “It wasn’t like this back when I was splitting rails on the Tallahatchie trail”. Then everyone freezes, and we get the feeling that inwardly, they’re dying a little, and fighting the urge to run and hide in a dark, close place, or cry.

“Please, oh please let it be a short anecdote. Please don’t let this story go on so long that I chew my own leg off to escape. Please let his tongue have a stroke, even if he is the single Greatest Statesman and Raconteur the world has ever known.”

Rating:

Flight

Flight

I don't care what anyone says, you're a goddamn hero
and a role model to us all

dir: Robert Zemeckis

It’s enough to put you off flying for ever. Or drinking. Or drinking while flying forever.

This is a strange flick, with strange rhythms and strange themes. It seems like it’s going to be about one thing (a tremendous plane crash), and it ends up being about something completely different (alcohol addiction). Even then, it seems like it’s going to be more about what an unrepentant arsehole the main character is, ably played as always by Denzel Washington, than any kind of redemption, and then it shifts again.

I wouldn’t say the shifts in tone and purpose confounded me or surprised me, but the truth is they didn’t leave me any the wiser about anything inside this film or out of it.

As the film begins, a grumpy middle-aged man awakes, but not before we see his naked bed partner go through her morning routine. The routine involves finishing off last night’s booze, taking a few puffs of the chronic, and bumping a few rails of cocaine.

That sort of behaviour is all well and good for rockstars, primary school teachers and televangelists, but we see with shock and horror that this chap with this morning regimen is a pilot about to fly a plane. And the guy is still drinking, even as he’s flying!

Rating:

ParaNorman

ParaNorman

This is blatant false advertising - Norman never gets
para, not once

dir: Sam Fell and Chris Butler

Mistakes, grand follies, profound errors of judgement… I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. That should be patently obvious to you by now. Most of them I deeply regret, some of them I don’t, but it’s safe to say that mistakes and bad decisions seem to define parts of my life far better than any decent choices I’ve ever made.

What am I nattering on about? Well, let’s just say that since I became a parent, all my bad decisions tend to revolve around parenting. The propensity for making mistakes, if you’re going to survive for any length of time in this life, has to be counterbalanced by having some capacity to learn from those mistakes, and to not repeat them throughout the generations.

That is one of my only virtues, in that hopefully I don’t make the same mistakes too often before learning “Fire? Hot!!!” after burning some fingers fourteen, fifteen times.

The mistake I made in relation to this movie is that when your five-year-old daughter says to you, after watching the trailer for ParaNorman in front of Rise of the Guardians, “Daddy, I really want to see ParaNorman!”, you exercise good judgement and say, “Darling-heart, apple of my eye, daughter and only heir, you’re too young for that movie, maybe when you’re a bit older.” You don’t think about it for a few seconds, belch out some popcorn, and then mutter “Sure.”

Rating:

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

Crazy people shouldn't breed. These crazy people
shouldn't breed

dir: David O. Russell

Do you sometimes hear about a film that a whole bunch of people seem to think is the bee’s knees, the duck’s nuts, the greatest thing since the invention of whisky, and you watch it and think nothing more than a big question mark?

Apparently, Silver Linings Playbook was one of the greatest movies of 2012, perhaps of all time. Your humble writer is in no position to confirm or deny, even after having watched it. Maybe I haven’t seen enough movies. Maybe I’ve seen too many. Whatever the cause, I’m obviously lacking something crucial.

My perplexity doesn’t diminish after having written this review, I’m as confused at the beginning as I am at the end. That’s not to say that this film isn’t modestly enjoyable, it’s just that it’s a very flawed film, and a very conventional one as well.

Mental illness is a tricky subject for movies. Invariably, in the same way they get almost everything real wrong, movies get mental illness wrong wrong wrong. The main character here is a violence-prone maniac with bipolar disorder; it’s what they used to call being manic depressive.

When we first see Pat (Bradley Cooper), he’s in a mental health facility. We don’t know why yet, so one of the first things we see to give us an idea of where this character is coming from, is his taking of, and spitting out, of some medication.

Rating:

Les Misèrables

Les Miserables

Don't suffer the little children: save them
from the Sacha Baron Cohens and Helena
Bonham Carters of this world

dir: Tom Hooper

This might shock you, or anyone else, but I thought Les Misèrables was glorious.

What, I’m not allowed to like a musical? You, of all people, are going to cast aspersions on my sexuality?

Fah, well, obviously I’m not totally comfortable with going out on a limb and praising a hellishly successful film based on a hellishly successful West End/Broadway musical based on a book no-one finishes reading, but I’m a rebel like that. It’s just my way.

I’ve never seen nor heard anything from the musical my entire adult life. If I did (which is probably the case; it’s been impossible to ignore at certain times), then it slid off my brain like lube off a duck’s back, being a topic I never had interest in. 1980s musicals all come down to a horrible agglomeration of Cats / Evita / Starlight Express / Phantom of the Opera, none of which ever sparked any aspect of my curiousity, and I probably know more about rugby than I know about those kinds of icky musicals.

Rating:

Celeste & Jesse Forever

I guess you could call it a romantic comedy, but then how
many rom-coms start where the relationship is already
over?

dir: Lee Toland Krieger

We get to see the entire span of Celeste and Jesse’s relationship and marriage in montage over the opening credits, and by the time actors are saying dialogue, we’re shocked when a friend of the central couple, Beth (Ari Graynor) screams at them for still acting like a goofy married couple when they’ve been separated for the last six months.

It’s a shock to them, and it’s a shock to us, because, well, what were we expecting? They lulled us into a false sense of security, by representing their relationship one way, and then cruelly telling us it’s the opposite.

What are we supposed to think? What kind of romance occurs after the break-up? The messy kind. Celeste and Jesse Forever is really about two people who love each other and for whom being in a committed relationship doesn’t really work anymore, can’t work, no matter how many moments they individually and together get where they think maybe they should.

Real life intrudes, it always intrudes. The days where one of them thinks they should get back together is the day the other finds someone completely new out there in the world, and the possibility of having something with someone else sparks briefly. The next day, one of them thinks they’re never going to have it as great as they did with Celeste or Jesse, and this regret causes them to undermine what they have, with the hope that maybe they can go back.

Rating:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Perks of Being a Wallflower

If only for one night, at least for
one moment,
we
are
infinite

dir: Steven Chbosky

I’m a romantic, but I’m also fairly cynical. I watch a lot of movies, a hell of a lot, as you can probably see from just scrolling down a bit. Most movies don’t move me. Most movies provoke little more than mild interest while their playing, and I sometimes get that curious sensation of walking out of a cinema or pressing stop on the Blu-Ray player or switching cable channels, and being unable to remember, for the life of me, what I just watched.

Few movies move me. The Perks of Being a Wallflower moved me, a lot.

Why do they keep making films and television shows about high school, about coming of age? Because those of us who survive it remember it our whole lives, and we’re always hoping for some way to go back and get it right.

My heart was breaking for Charlie (Logan Lerman) within minutes of the film starting, and then, for the rest of its duration, it kept rebuilding that heart meticulously before smashing it again and again. I felt so much for this character that I started finding it absurd that I was so moved by it.

I’m not so easily moved to tears, but some elements of the human condition appeal to me endlessly, and always will, I hope. Charlie is about to start high school in Pittsburgh, I think, in the early 90s, and he’s dreading it. He has a number of reasons, the main one being that he’s a wallflower, someone who feels they are perpetually on the outside, looking in.

Rating:

The Sapphires

The Sapphires

Sapphires by name, priceless by nature

dir: Wayne Blair

Obscure bits of people’s histories: It’s almost like they happened just to give filmmakers something to make movies about.

I don’t need to be told that this flick is based on a true story, or that it varies significantly from the truthful aspects of the ‘true story’. What matters to me, in this instance, isn’t verisimilitude, it’s entertainment. Australian flicks generally aren’t ever going to be able to get budgets to make something credibly ‘period-piece’ unless it just involves a bunch of people sitting indoors with doilies everywhere and archival stock footage akimbo.

When they do get a huge budget, you get unwatchable crap like Baz Luhrman’s Australia, which was a national disgrace and a true blight upon our history.

Maybe we’re better off with small budgets in that case. I’m sure this flick used its budget well. It looks nice enough, everything’s well shot and in focus, and they had enough money for the music rights to some nice golden oldies from the era. And I hope everyone got paid reasonably well, and that the catering was choice.

Rating:

Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck It Ralph

You just Wreck everything, don't you Ralph? That's just what
you do

dir: Rich Moore

Yes, it’s school holidays time. It’s Christmas time. It’s that time of the year where I’m not going to the cinema at all odd hours of the day or night in order to squeeze a film or two in a week as well as keeping all the juggling balls of life and work up in the air.

No, this is the time where I can stride into a cinema in the middle of the day with my head held high, with a huge tub of popcorn (which I otherwise never buy), holding hands with my daughter. The problem, of course, is that I can’t exactly take her to screenings of The Master, Lincoln, Holy Motors or Hitchcock without it rightly being considered a form of abuse.

Especially The Master. Forgetting some of the content for a moment, inflicting that level of tedium on a kid should be a criminal offence.

So bring on the highly animated kids movies, so we can all be happy. Well, so we can be somewhat happy, I guess. There’s always the trade-off between what entertains a kid and what a parent can sit through without wanting to chew their own arm off in order to escape from the theatre.

Rating:

The Master

The Master

Strange people doing strange stuff to and for each other

dir: Paul Thomas Anderson

I think Paul Thomas Anderson makes the weirdest Oscarbait films in the whole world. Even more so than obscure Mongolian yak herders turned filmmakers and all of France. The Master is another strange film, with a goofy ending, to add to the pile of strange films this man puts out there into the world, for our adulation and confusion.

For years leading up to its release, I kept hearing that The Master was going to be an expose on the creator of Scientology and the whole stinking cult itself. Then publicists and such backtracked those comments, fearful of incurring the wrath of the Church and its powerful devotees, you know, people like John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Will Smith. Who wants those angry, frightening people pissed off with you?

Having watched the film now, I mean, obviously, since I’m reviewing it, I am none the wiser. I mean the so-called Master of the title is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, that great pink honey glazed ham of an actor, and he’s called Lancaster Dodd. Lancaster Dodd isn’t the same as L. Ron Hubbard, is it, but there are enough consonants in common to give it some kind of commonality.

Rating:

Sound of My Voice

Sound of My Voice

I know everything that's wrong with your life, and for only
$299.99, I will help you find out what it is

dir: Zal Batmanglij

Listen to the soothing sound of my sinuous voice, and I’ll release you from all your troubles, bring you to a new holy place of pure salvation, where bliss reigns supreme and all your mistakes are washed clean… all I need is for you to listen to my voice, obey my every command, and give me all your credit card numbers…

This film is a complete out-of-nowhere thing for me, a flick I knew nothing about prior to watching. It has a tiny budget, and consists mostly of footage shot in the confines of some LA basement.

It’s really well done, for what it is, and what it is, is a story about two people who infiltrate a cult, with the intention of exposing it to the world, or at least to the other freaks in LA. Peter (Christopher Denham) is the driving force behind this, wanting to go all the way to be a journalist, perpetrating some serious undercover journalism with these people. He’s even gone to all the trouble to learn their very jive-turkey secret handshake from the 70s, which takes about fifteen minutes to do properly.

Rating:

The Man With the Iron Fists

Man with the Iron Fists

Y'all terrible, just terrible. You should be working in
soup kitchens instead

dir: RZA

We like to think that, with enough love, time money and knowledge, we can make great things happen. The disinterested universe, however, just doesn’t work that way.

It would come as no surprise to anyone that knows anything about rap music, The RZA, or the Wu Tang Clan and its many offshoots, that he has a deep love and knowledge of classic Hong Kong martial arts flicks. Almost every Wu Tang (et al) song I can think of has a sample from an old kung fu movie, replete with poorly overdubbed dialogue and the sounds of people fighting.

A natural next step, you could argue, would be that a man who so wished he could insert himself into the past, into the movies he loves, the movies that consume his vision, his hopes and dreams, would try to make such a movie. And so we have The Man With the Iron Fists, starring RZA in a lead role.

In this he has endeavoured to make a movie like the movies he loves. Unfortunately, he is in the same position I am in.

Let me clarify: I love those movies too. I’d love to make one of those movies. I’d be terrible at it, though, because I have no idea how to direct a martial arts movie, let alone any movie. I don’t possess the skills necessary, or the hard-won experience required, and I wouldn’t magically possess them just because I’ve watched like a thousand of those flicks over the last 30 years.

Rating:

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights

The Heights, they be a-wuthering. The moors, too.

dir: Andrea Arnold

There are probably a million versions of this story, and yet this is the first I’ve watched the whole way through. I know there’s versions with chronic overactors like Laurence Olivier and Ralph Fiennes playing the smouldering Heathcliff, but none of them have ever been compelling enough to compel me to watch them.

I don’t have a good reason as to why. As a pseudo-intellectual pretentious wanker (First Class) who also happens to make millions on the side from writing film reviews read by scores of people, it’s almost a negligent crime to not have read and seen at least fifteen versions of Wuthering Heights by now. I should really turn in my union card before the Goth Union comes after me.

Still, I’ve heard the Kate Bush song hundreds of times, and the even funnier Mr Floppy parody version of Kate Bush’s song, so I thought I’d totally be up on all the details upon finally watching a Wuthering Heights film.

Jeez Louise! I never knew Emily Bronte had such a dirty mouth! They should dig her up and wash her fingertips out with soap for all the shocking, shocking language on aural display here.

Rating:

Sleepwalk With Me

Sleepwalk With Me

Nothing a good night's sleep couldn't fix

dir: Mike Birbiglia

We’ve all got to start somewhere.

This is a curious movie, in that it’s directed by a chap who’s playing himself (under a pseudonym), essentially in a re-enactment of his own life, surrounded by actors. Mike becomes Matt, Birbiglia becomes Pandamiglio, in a pointless charade that’s never intended to shade the truth, or ‘truth’, as the case may be, that This is His Life!

Birbiglia has been dining out on this story for years, and has managed to transform it into the substance of his stand-up (he’s a comedian, in case you didn’t know), a one-man stage show, a book and now a film. I’ve been hearing this story for years, as he’s honed it down to its sharpest edge, from watching Matt doing his routine, hearing it on my iPod and through multiple podcasts essentially saying the same words verbatim. I never tire of the story.

Most of all, I’ve heard excerpts of the story on podcasts from This American Life, probably my favourite of the twenty or so podcasts I listen to with religious, if not disturbing, regularity. It’s a podcast that is the new media version of the radio program from Chicago Public Radio produced by Ira Glass (who of course gets a cameo in this film, as a photographer at Mike–Matt’s sister’s wedding). So it comes as no surprise that they, being WBEZ Chicago and IFC, chipped money in to let Mike transform his multi-format extravaganza into a movie.

Rating:

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.

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