Monday, 22 December 2014

Farewell, Master Burglar.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

In this rather lacklustre films defense some of it's problems do come from having to follow the book. So the natural climax to the story, defeating the dragon, comes right at the start here and then there is an incredibly long, mostly dull battle between a bunch of non-entities some just suddenly introduced for the first time. However this adaptation compounds the books problems by it's desire to work as a gritty prequel to the LOTR films. Names get dropped (so, so much), and the reason for everyone fighting seems so nebulous and the battle itself so badly structured that the sudden appearance of 13 dwarves seems to swing the balance for no real reason except we've seen them for 2 and a half movies already so, yay?
Bilbo is once again sidelined in his own film, which would perhaps be fine if any of the other characters were particularly interesting (the 'romance' between a dwarf and elf once again the weakest plot point here, though some execrable comedy from cowardly humans, including Stephen Fry, comes a close second).
It does manage occasional moments of poetic grace. A combatant watching his downed foe float beneath the ice has a power none of the 'BIG' fight moments do (Billy Connelly's new Dwarf leader keeps smashing his head against helmeted orcs but there is no weight to it, he may as well be washing his hair). And Freeman, when actually called upon to do something, is solid - a sad reminder of what could have been with a more focused film.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Either shut him up or shut him down!

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Superior in some respects to it's predecessor, the action scenes, the sword fights are more interesting, it at least tries to have some kind of attempt at an adult romantic relationship, the dialogue is mostly zippy but it is a bit messier and suffers especially in it's mid-section.
Basically the film comes to a halt when Yoda turns up. Annoying, pointless speech patterns, dull training sequences (skip the training in stories - it's an implied progression that doesn't really need to happen) and more talk about 'The Force', never Star Wars strongest point of excitement.
There's some lovely design and a good mix of locations again, the ATATs and TIE Bombers particularly cool.

Monday, 15 December 2014

It's depressing that the words "secret agent" have become synonymous with "sex maniac."

Casino Royale (1967)

An absolute mess. Anything with about 10 credited writers and directors was not going to turn out even approaching cohesive. Bits of the plot come from the book and then there is a hodge podge of whatever else they could throw in. Literally, given the pointless cameos that spot the film in it's climax. It involves a past retirement age Bond (like A View to a Kill), the child of Mata Hari and James bond, M's toupee, Ronnie Corbett larking around with a dicky ticker, remote control explosive milk vans and everyone calling themselves James Bond. For some reason.  All to a poppy Burt Bacharach sound.
And then everyone dies, 
It's kind of wonderful whilst being in no objective reality at all, any good.
Sort of like Austin Powers if the Mike Myers characters had been called James Bond and Blofeld and was about 40 mins longer. 

Friday, 12 December 2014

I did kill Keaton

The Usual Suspects (1995)

A blistering acting showcase. Almost none of the actors here have given as good before or since. Sharp, funny, decent action set-pieces and a brilliant score.
Most famous perhaps for it's 'twist' but that is almost beside the point - unreliable narrators are a staple of crime films and this one weaves a compelling tale which matters far more than the small detail of who is actually who (I think it is about as straight forward as the ending suggests but the ambiguities leave enough room for your imagination to fill in as your please).
Dynamic. endlessly quotable and fun.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

I don't have a job since, like, an hour ago.

Cheap Thrills (2013)

David Koechner has been great for many years now delivering above the pay grade performances even in dreck like Snakes on a Plane and he gets a chance to shine a dark light on his usual gregarious type in this often funny biting little piece.
A vicious look at the entitlement of those with money (though as with many films about the arrogance of wealth the poor come of perhaps even worse - the scramble to try and be rich born of stupidity and greed that is perhaps unfair but without it the protagonist would just walk off and there would be no story of course) and asking what would you do to pay your rent? To buy your kid food? 
It never really digs deeper than 'because they get off on it' for why the rich couple do what they do but all the cast are great and it doesn't outstay it's welcome.
Well worth a look.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

I play piano, this is just another gig. Nothing else

 Grand Piano (2013)

You wait for one ludicrous part spanish Elijah Wood thriller and then two come along like implausible buses.
Despite the last (yesterday's look at Open Windows) directly concerning voyeurism this is the more Hitchcockian of the two (there is a vicious edit from a killing to a cello being played that seems in his darkly humorous wheelhouse) and certainly the better.
Just as baffling and probably as idiotic about piano concertos as Open Windows was about cameras this one even has a secondary character question the villains plot and not get a satisfactory answer.
It's fairly stylishly done and mostly zippy but in the end far too straightforward. The bad guy (a disembodied voice for the most part as they almost always seem to be in these things) does what he does and there are no real zags to the plot meaning the ending kinda sits there inert. Open Windows at least went all out for rug pulling, Grand Piano needed a touch more of the baroque about it to go along with the 'impossible' piece of music Wood has to perform.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

She'll do anything you ask Nick.

Open Windows (2014)

There's a problem with these gimmicky thrillers, your Phone Booths and ATM or even something like Shutter Island. They become about their gimmick. they have nothing else to say, so at every incredibly convenient bit of unlikely plotting your mind rebels as there is no sustenance. You can fill the gap with good performances, stylish looks (as Shutter Island a movie I like does) or you can just be a hollow exercise in yanking your audience about. Like almost all of the others.
At one point Open Windows comes close to saying something interesting, especially in the climate of stolen celebrity nudes and the entitlement some fans feel but this is never really given any deep thought and instead backs away from that to give a rather lousy 'twist'.
It doesn't really do a good job with it's gimmick anyway, a potentially arresting idea but the film doesn't know how to deliver on it's promise without massively cheating. Ostensibly a thriller the way technology is used puts it more akin to something like Star Wars.
Wood is are fine, though Grey affects a laid back indifferent approach to the work that may come from her being not a very good actor or just a weird stylistic choice.

Monday, 8 December 2014

It all comes down to two words: Horizontal, Vertical.

The Grandmaster

Stunningly beautiful if a little hard to follow narratively. It flicks back and forth in time but that is not so much the problem as the desire to explain odd and baffling points of Kung Fu politics. Occasionally it will try to clear up an obscure plot point with some blunt captions but these mostly just repeat the last bit of information given rather than unobfuscating cultural and historical mores.
Thankfully the movie is enjoyable enough that you can delight in the scenery and fine performances whilst still being unsure of the particulars.
The combat is generally expressive, well played and tight. Water and dust feature heavily as they often do in Yeun Woo-ping's choreographic work.
It skips over certain important beats (such as the struggles under Japanese invasion) which mean that Ip Man himself remains a rather undercooked character in his own movie (Tony Leung gets some funny bits of business that suggest he is not all dour stoicness but doesn't really get to react to any of the dramatic stuff that happens to him and his loved ones, a shame for an actor so capable).
Indeed part way through the movie pulls away from Ip Man completely and focuses on Ziyi Zhang's Gong Er, giving her a complete arc and much to play with. A challenge which she rises to wonderfully and makes you question why the film is not about her instead?

Friday, 5 December 2014

The horse is sober

Grabbers (2012)

It's hard to escape the comparison between the fantastic Tremors and this Irish take on a remote community besieged by monstrous forces but there we go. It's not quite as good as Tremors.
It does slightly less with it's 'grabbers' than Tremors does with it's 'graboids' and the character interplay is not nearly as sharp. The main character is a fairly one note alcoholic so it's hard to know quite what the new female arrival on the island sees in him.
The jokes are ok, certainly good enough to cover up some ropey plotting and the monster design is fine.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Be not afraid, my noble jungle brother.

Welcome to the Jungle (2013)

It doesn't really get any better than the lousy title. Considering some of the comedic talent on board it's shocking just how dull this film is. The Simpsons once took on Lord of the Flies in a brilliant, funny energetic episode. This is basically the opposite of that. There are glimpses of life, Van Damme hamming it up is not bad (though he is actually funnier trying to be serious in some of his films than he is here playing schtick) and it lets loose a couple of times with bonkers cartoon logic that would be more welcome if it didn't just make me think more about that Simpsons ep.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

plus you were drunk, so I knew it was you

Wolfcop (2014)

Not good. 
Barely 80mins long and a full fifth of that seems taken up by a dull werewolf sex scene (certainly has nothing on the Howling). Almost completely witless, it's central conceit is hardly taken advantage of (only a tiny portion of the film - about as long as the sex scene really, actually has him being a Wolf Cop). It occasionally zags when you think it will zig (a bizarre A Team moment when he customizes his police cruiser almost hits clever) but mostly is pretty dreary.
Only of interest if you want to see a human to werewolf penis transformation scene.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

I heard all Tail Sectioners were lazy dogs and they all drink their own shit.

Snowpiercer (2013)

The comic this film is based on doesn't make a huge amount of sense. The film probably even less so.
It strives for deep allegorical meaning but doesn't really make it. 
It does work much better however as a satirical, often quite farcical take down of Ayn Rand (who certainly loved her trains). Literally children are used as parts of a machine to keep society going. Don't think about how it makes no sense at all, here's a pointless fight scene to cover up the cracks.
Tilda Swinton exemplifies the archly funny end of the film's wildly varied tones. Hilarious as a petty bureaucrat, looking like she is ready to run a Church fete whilst ordering how many people should die. The name of John Hurts character - Gilliam, a possible indicator of some of the tone they were aiming for.
Chris Evans is much less ably used, a naturally charismatic and interesting performer the role is too dour to make use of his talents and everyone around him seems much more colourful.
Well shot making good use of switching between the tight messy tail section and various other carriages it remains a quirky fascinating movie despite it's flaws.

Monday, 1 December 2014

corny's good. corny is my stock in trade.

Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever (2014)

There always something a little sad about the sort of Lifetime channel movies, christmas ones especially. They go through the motions, lessons are learnt, christmas miracles are miracled, and usually one or two bahs are humbugged.
They're cheap, often horribly acted, badly written and directed. 
But this is sooooo much worse.
It might as well be called Lantern Hanging: The Movie for the amount of times it references itself and how shoddy it is. But this metatextual spoofing just comes across as a lazy shrugging. Those other movies at least pretend to believe the shit they are peddling if you can put that much effort into saying 'this is bad' try to be better.
Aubrey Plaza takes grump to mean lethargic and delivers a voice-over so apathetic it almost makes the fact the cat almost never moves seem dynamic.
Aiming perhaps for the stoner crowd as much as the child one it puts jokes about molestation and the putting down of pets alongside dumb pratfalls and kazoo versions of christmas songs.
Cynical trash.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Boring conversation anyway.

Star Wars (1977)

Almost indifferently shot (it's only real sense of style is in trying to ape serials with old fashioned wipe edits) but with a magic of it's own that is generally quite delightful. 
It's exciting hokum with fun chases, fights, interesting spaceship design, calls to adventure, evil to vanquish.
Luke is a touch dull, bit too worthy and spends more time moping about a crazy old man he just met than his actual family who have raised him for years.
But the other characters more than make up for that. Harrison ford and Carrie Fisher have a pleasing sparring chemistry getting some of the best lines fired at each other, not quite His Girl Friday for sure but that movie didn't have laser swords and giant metal moons.
Though the political world view is simplistic it fills it's actual universe with details that are often quite funny and feels 'real' and lived in as opposed to sterile.
Several sequels and prequels followed, some of which had better elements (notably the laser sword fighting) but none managed to be as good as this one.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

I got a feeling everyone else passed on this job

The Expendables (2010)

With perhaps one of the most mendacious titles since The Never Ending Story there is very little to recommend this would be 80s action movie love in.
As no stakes what-so-ever drive the narrative it's left to the action to provide tension. Which it does not. A hyperactive mess there is no flow to any of it and little reward for paying attention.
Basically just an excuse for a bunch of old men to laugh. A lot. Occasionally one will say something that has the cadence of a joke but doesn't actually form a joke and they all laugh and laugh and laugh.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Oh my god! You want us to steal Scarlett Johansson?

St. Trinian's (2007)

Dreadful tosh with little genuine wit or amusement to be gained by watching. It marks the time with bad gags, broadly played stereotypes and shameless pedophile bait.
Colin Firth seems game and there are a couple of interesting faces amongst the girls (Juno Temple and Lily Cole) but is a forgettable waste of effort generally.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

You can't win an argument just by being right!

Four Lions (2010)

Incredibly funny. Incredibly dark. Incredibly offensive. 
A biting, sharp satire from Chris morris. By playing out the plot of a group of suicide bombers as comedy rather than thriller it presents the mindset in a fresh way that should make you think deeper than the average episode of homeland. 
but Im not sure it evens cares if you do. It's not really even about Islam vs the west, it's political dimension is there but subserviant to a story about people just wanting to connect with and have an effect on, the world.

Monday, 24 November 2014

You're a cool guy but you're not pulling your weight in the flat.

What We do in the Shadows (2014)

Often very funny effort from some of those behind Flight of the Conchords and a previous filmaday entry Eagle Vs Shark.
It doesn't quite break out of it's cult ghetto appeal being slightly too weird for mainstream and not quite well made enough to crossover.
The set-up of a documentary about a group of flat sharing vampires is fun but even with some nice world building details doesn't really hang together strongly (like most films of it's ilk it can't quite decide how the film crew work in this setting which makes the times when it does bring them into the plot more galling). though there are hints perhaps that the vampires inherent hypnosis abilities can cover over some of the plot holes.
Rhys Darby is, as ever, just terrific as a werewolf trying to run a thoughtful polite pack and Stuart Rutherford gets a lot of laughs out of his dead pan performance (and a neat nod to Andy Warhol's Dracula).

Friday, 21 November 2014

I will show you revenge!

the Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The action is often choppy but generally exciting. it gets bogged down by too many
pointless bits of foreshadowing for Rings (everything with Gandalf is entirely 
inconsequential, a joke about gimli as an infant falls flat). Which all gets in the way og having a fun romp. It also has an unfortunate tendency of sidelining Bilbo in his own story.

There is a very very strange moment where an Elf appears to give a handjob to a dwarf. she's bathed in a heavenly glow and he appears to enjoy it as opposed to a dull hue and a vague feeling of dissatisfaction which i guess is how you know it's a fantasy film.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

You cannot have grief tragically becoming a comedy.

Bernie (2011)

Black and Maclaine are fantastic in this slight but offbeat true crime movie. 
Mixing in to-camera townsfolk talking about the case whilst playing it out with big name stars sometimes feels a little crass but the film is funny and sad when it needs to be. The movie, like the townsfolk, is clearly on bernie's side here, an admitted murderer but it gives out just a hint of ambiguity to stop it from feeling too horribly biased.
Another interesting movie from varied career of Richard Linklater. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

I can't tell you what it is, you can never ask me about it later, and we're gonna hurt some people.

The Town (2010)

Not quite as compelling as Gone Baby Gone but fine work none-the-less, his second directorial effort cemented Affleck as a talent to watch.
It suffers a little from being a touch second hand. You've seen these dynamics in countless other movies about robbers and the cops after them. 
But an assured cast and a great sense of place mark it as above a lot of the similar takes on this genre.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

True inspiration is impossible to fake.

Inception (2010)

'Dream a little bigger darling' says Tom Hardy at one point in the movie. I wish the film had taken his advice. Perhaps because of it's origins as a lower budgeted script Inception never really takes advantage of the idea that dreams can be pretty much anything. The characters' idea of dreamer bigger is to have a larger weapon. But it's still a weapon. Rules are set up to excuse why things don't get too wacky, but the movie made up the rules which don't really make sense anyway.
Apart from that (and a few of the usual Nolan tics - dead wives, chilly characters, very few good jokes) it is a pretty good mix of Phillip k. Dick and James Bond. A large (too long - another Nolan problem) section late in the film serves as a love letter to On Her Majesty's Secret Service and I suppose it's no accident we see Dicaprio first suited up in a tux.
The action is solid if unremarkable, better than many of his other films and it manages a consistant throughline of where (reality wise) everything is that is going on.
Also bolstered by an interesting and capable cast.

Monday, 17 November 2014

You're supposed to be helping us!

The Imitation Game (2014)

There's frequently a problem with these kind of films. It tries to craft a thriller out of something that doesn't really want to be thrilling. The conflict of solving mathematical puzzles is not exactly cinematic (certainly not in the hands of this director) so it puts up contrived, mechanical barriers. The scientists vs. Military through line that emerges may well have been a factor in real life (though it seems unlikely) but nothing about it rings true here. 
The more interesting conflict is within Turing's own head and the film stumbles here too.
His being gay is a big part of who he was. His mental thought processes too. The film does to it's credit not shy away from saying he was homosexual (though even that reveal is dealt with in the most ham fisted way possible) and even tries to tie that into the way he worked. But it still does not allow him to be gay on screen. We hear someone tells us after the fact he paid money to have sex with a man but it's still at a remove which does not benefit Turing.
There is a much more interesting story here about a man who did fine work for his country at a time when what he was was outlawed and is then treated shamefully by his government to the point he takes his own life. that act too is not shown on screen, a simplistic caption having to carry the weight.
Instead it mostly treads water as a redo of the Robert Harris Enigma novel and film adaptation which at least gave license to it's thriller elements by being far more fictionalised. 
Cumberbatch is fine in the role, allowing sympathy for a sometimes deeply unpleasant man.
Knightley's mannered, Joan Greenwood knock-off performance is better suited here than in the recent Say When, which I looked at last week, but is still a dry, dull presence.

Friday, 14 November 2014

We humans are more concerned with having than with being.

Lucy (2014)

Lucy is pretty thoroughly rotten. It makes a complete hash of it's central idea, presumably so it can get on with being a dumb action movie. And then forgets to be a dumb action movie.
Even ignoring the hacky brain capacity device it uses the movie doesn't have much to say of interest.
Ramping up Johansson's power levels so quickly that there is no tension in the film, the 'action' beats basically have her switching people off. At one point it looks like it is going to set up a bad guy to ingest the same drug as her to give her someone to fight but he just puts them in a briefcase and walks into a corridor. thrilling.
It attempts a 2001 riff it's climax which is much much sillier than Interstellar's (and that's saying something) and lacks any of it's grand visual sense.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

You notice things if you pay attention.

In the Mood for Love (2000)

One of the absolute greats. It's a minor story in many ways, a slow lightly plotted look at a couple who live in an apartment block together and realise their spouses are cheating on them. 
It spirals around the two, brilliantly played by Maggie Cheung and Tony Chui Wai Leung, as they form a tender close friendship not wanting to fall into infidelity as their partners had.
Every frame is achingly beautiful Wong Kai Wai and Chris Doyle in complete command of every visual creating an emotive mise-en-scene that compliments the actors  and is reinforced by an exceptional use of sound and music.
On the surface it is perhap a little staid, focussing on repression of passion but it is without doubt one of the most sensual, sexy movies ever filmed.
Pure bliss.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Go write your own stories.

The Book of Life (2014)

I'm not sure if this film is based on an actual Mexican fable, but I assume that it is (im too lazy to do much research). That would explain some of the odd plotting and characterisation (particularly in regards to the female lead who the movie wants to be strong and independent but the story keeps sidelining her as just a prize to be fought over by two men). It's a shame it doesn't get beyond this issue or the fact that it's not really all that funny because the animation is superb. A colourful blast, with a splendid design sense.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

If you wanna take some aggression out on a father figure - let's get scrappy man

Say When (2014)

Too slight to work as drama, too dull to work as comedy Say When (previously Laggies) is inoffensive but forgettable. 
Keira Knightley is miscast as a young women still acting as though she were a teenager with her stilted, clipped manner at odds with the loose, no direction character she is portraying.
The movie picks up a bit of energy when the ever reliable Sam Rockwell appears but the film doesn't seem to know what it really wants to say (she needs to grow up and live her life as her friends have managed to do by ignoring them?) and suffers from a listless low tempo structure which just kills comedy.

Monday, 10 November 2014

It means that whatever can happen, will happen.

Interstellar (2014)

At times quite spectacularly powerful. It manages great emotional weight through image and action (and a majestic organ soundtrack) which doesn't really carry over to idea and dialogue. When not speaking in cod poetic homilies the dialogue is quite stilted and bland. Some jokes about robots feel like they might have actually been written by robots.
The movie aims for great metaphysical depth but never gets beyond a shallow 'the fifth element is love' position.
It splits itself into chunks of incident not all of much interest. The world building first act is unusual perhaps but slight, leaving you to fill in details (commendable but not worth the effort) and laboring over certain plot points in case you didn't catch them the first five times they are mentioned.
The space stuff is more dynamic. A sequence with Matt Damon works. Exciting, driven by real conflict and stakes that makes sense with Damon delivering a real powerhouse performance. 
This is also yet another Nolan movie that I've had trouble with the audio/dialogue sound mix making certain moments incomprehensible.

Friday, 7 November 2014

What did i learn?

Harmontown (2014)

Starting with the camera close up in bed with Harmon and his girlfriend Erin McGathy (and a beautiful cat) is an appropriate beginning for this intimate portrait of a man whose capacity for self destruction is stated from the start.
At times it is an uncomfortable watch (more so if you listen to the full audio of the performances this film references), Harmon is a canny student of human nature and knows how to be cruelly funny, the tragedy is he can also see how this damages and hurts people around him.
But the film brilliantly only uses him as a focus. It asks many people to describe him and they are lost for words, but interestingly when asked to say what they think he would describe himself as, suddenly they find the words and a picture emerges. This serves as an analogue for why he and his works have become passionately loved (by few perhaps, a joke about Community's ratings gets a big laugh, but a dedicated few). He serves as a prism of understanding. People connect to him and his work through it's seeming honesty. They find stories that tell them who they are, not just the who characters are on screen.
This sense is relayed through the film in many ways but most particularly in the story of Spencer Crittenden, a young uncomfortable but funny and oddly charismatic man who has a fame of sorts thrust upon him. Harmon at one points frames Spencer as the hero, himself as the villain but this is just a device (as Harmon well knows) to say both are human.
People want nothing more than to be feel a connection, to feel they have an impact on the world, that they matter.
And Harmontown tells us we do.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

I ain't "people." I am a - "a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament."

Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Pure cinema. 
Astounding dance sequences are married with good gags and a fun sense of time.
Set in the last days of silent cinema but perfectly, brilliantly a 50's 'technicolor musical treasure'.
Nothing perhaps hit the iconic heights of the title number, all joy and superb movement. But 'Good Morning' is a personal favourite using all three of the main cast in spectacular ways. And Make 'em Laugh is a knockout number. Any one of those could claim position as best of a decade of musicals let alone one film.
It suffers a touch from padding, a late (though excellently choreographed) bit is a little superflous but gives the thrill of seeeing the amazing Cyd Charise which is justification enough I guess.
I can't use enough superlatives for this film. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014


Mr. Turner (2014)

Timothy Spall just inhabits the role completely. At times sounding like patient zero for a zombie film, his command of the screen is total and fascinating.
The film skips the usual broad biopic pitfalls. Despite a long running time it concentrates on the late period of Turner's life, he is already a celebrated and accomplished artist, there is thankfully no 'lightbulb' sequence of how his inspiration hits him.
The film can be a little daunting in a way. It gives little exposition, trusting perhaps to a knowledge of the painter's life already (I have none) but the little details are enough to fill the film with incident whilst having not much happening.
Leigh apes the paintings of Turner himself in the visual style of the film, leaving a lush lasting piece of work that applauds but does not whitewash a singular individual.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

What if my problem wasn't that I don't understand people but that I don't like them?

Nightcrawler (2014)

Featuring a brilliantly compelling lead performance from Jake Gyllenhaal (as well as a terrific Riz Ahmed playing his assisstant) this is not quite Network for our age (it never really considers teevee news as something being pushed out or at least threatened by the internet strangely) but a fast, funny somewhat scathing indictment of 'if it bleeds it leads' journalism.
It stays on point, suggesting the people in charge of getting ratings are just as sociopathic as the man who is first seen beating (killing?) a man for his watch. But it never really digs beneath this. 
A late minute 'twist' of sorts doesn't quite work, it feels a little sloppy and contrived and only really exists to service the unsubtle message.
Otherwise though, a tight thrilling two hours.

Monday, 3 November 2014

You killed that poor girl, and now the devil has claimed you.

Horns (2013)

Woefully misguided. As horror - it has none. As morality tale - it's message is mixed. As blackly pitched character comedy - it's not funny. 
Radcliffe is better here than ever before but he still lacks a deeper charisma. The film is completely lacking in subtlety, a dreadful voice-over slamming it's points into to after the visuals already have.
Juno Temple is wasted on a girl next door cypher whose only moment of agency in the film is something from a Nicolas Sparks novel.
The central mystery is neither compelling nor a good use of framework to hang a twisted look at small town politics on. The revelations are skin deep, the supposed pay off for characters not even worthy of the feeblest Cryptkeeper tale.
Rape and murder of an innocent young woman used to what end? 
A trifle with a blank slate as it's lead.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Way I remember it, albatross was a ship's good luck, 'til some idiot killed it.

Serenity (2005)

A terrific cap to the shortlived and little, but passionately, loved show Firefly. 
It manages to be a neat introduction to the cast (though some fall a touch by the way side each if given a character moment) whilst also deepening personalities.
The increased budget (though by no means huge in movie terms) allows for some intense exciting action beats, with Whedon taking full advantage of the screen (a lot of his teevee stuff had cinematic qualities anyway) and Fillion and Glau, ostensibly the leads in this ensemble, make for an interesting unusual pairing and radiate charisma. Chiwetal Ejiofor exudes confidence, grace and charm and gives lie to the old trope that villains do not know they are villains brilliantly.
It is exceptionally funny, more so than most comedies, but that does not undo the dramatic stakes and a couple of well positioned (though somewhat controversial depending on who you are talking to) deaths give cost to the stakes and gain the climatic battle a tension fairly unusual for the genre.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Apparently I'm volatile, self-obsessed, and don't play well with others.

The Avengers (2012)

Super fun. Playing to the promise given in a post credits sting from Iron Man 4 years earlier The Avengers bundles all the previous Marvel Studios characters together for an exciting, funny couple of hours.
Everyone gets a good bit of business (Hawkeye probably gets the short straw, having little chance to show any kind of personality) though it skews towards Downey Jnr's Stark for sure, giving him the final hero moment in a sequence filled with them.
The ensemble work is great but little bits of pairings bring the most joy, a Stark/Banner 'bromance' has been the source of many an online meme. 
It's a touch long, some (very decent) fights scenes going on a beat too much and the climax is given one twist too many when some people are just happy to blow up New York for...reasons (potentially, though certainly not directly referenced, Captain America Winter Soldier irons this wrinkle out a tad).
Precisely how I want my super hero movies to be. Silly without being slight, it has emotional stakes but never takes it eye off of just being enjoyable.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say "YES"!

Ghostbusters (1984)

With a lot of the recent filmaday entries for older movies I'm going by memory (in some cases like Princess Bride i frequently rewatch) but I managed to catch a one day screening of Ghostbusters at the cinema. Had I not, this review would be full of praise, it's a very funny movie, smart, silly, a proto-typical Bill Murray performance, a remembrance of how bits of it scared the hell out of me as a kid. That's still the case. It's a great film.
However, watching it on the big screen, with full attention, certainly presented some problems I never really considered it having in my hazy recollections (last watched about 12 years ago or so).
Nobody in Ghostbusters has an arc. There are no character revelations. Nobody really learns anything beyond "Ghosts are real" (five minutes in). Murray's Venkman comes closest perhaps, he sets a goal of getting with Weaver and achieves it but doesn't particularly do any work to get there. Stuff just kinda happens. And then it stops. All the stuff in between is fun, great quotable gags, cool effects but no one gets a pay off. Ernie Hudson's only point in the film is to show the 'Busters are busy, literally has no other plot mechanic or character beat (there's a vague bit about him being religious and he does get one of the best lines though).
Somehow none of that matters, it's a sloppy mess structurally but zippy and entertaining. That's enough.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

I don't know if there is anything wrong because I don't know how other people are

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Beautiful, odd, funny, tense. Paul Thomas Anderson packs more feeling into this 90mins than most manage over a career.
Adam Sandler has never been better than here, all repressed (and not) rage. His Barry is disconnected from the world, he doesn't understand how he should feel, so the standard Sandler style gags (of which there are a few) seem fresh and strange.
The Jon Brion score is terrific, aurally complimenting the sparse offbeat tone, making great use of a song from the generally neglected Robin Williams Popeye movie, but just as importantly knowing when to let silence carry the day (especially as the sound design is great).
Colour literally washes over the screen at points but carries through, Watson's apartment is only ever seen from the long white labyrinthine corridors outside it, Hawaii is lush with pink hue. Reflecting Sandler's state of mind.
Everything is just on top form, the camera is deliberate, unsubtle but graceful, certainly no other rom-com has ever looked or sounded like this.
A true original and as impacting as the day it was made. 

Monday, 27 October 2014

Would you stop rubbing your body up against mine, because I can't concentrate when you do that.

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Huge enjoyment abounds. 
A loud, messy love letter to the mystical kung fu movies (such as Zu Warriors of Magic Mountain and The Bride with White Hair) that would have much more impact on Hollywood over a decade later it does a number of clever funny things but was too oddball (there's even reference to a Dungeons and Dragons monster) to be anything other than cult.
Kurt Russell's Jack Burton is a raging asshole, of course, and naturally positioned as the lead character but interestingly the story thinks otherwise ("Who?" says one villain in a pre echo of a similar gag used in this years Guardians of the Galaxy) which makes for fun moments.
The action is exciting and silly but it never loses grip on who and where everybody is, for the most part.
Eminently quotable, pacy and one of the last great John Carpenter films (there are a couple of bright spots later like Mouth of Madness but nothing approaching the brilliance of his early work).

Friday, 24 October 2014

Man, are you hungry? I haven't eaten since later this afternoon.

Primer (2004)

Most movies about time travel are bullshit. They can't make any sense because literally time travel cannot make any sense. That's ok. Terminator is hugely fun. but it's not really about time travel, that's just a function of the plot to get a cool robot chasing down the heroes.
Primer tries to make sense. 
It's pared down, cheap, wordy science fiction. And absolutely fantastic. 
Thrilling in ways that most action movies are not, it's baffling and complex whilst being clear in purpose. I may have needed a graph to fully grasp the intricate nature of plotting but it felt earned and not like it was cheating at every turn. 
The performances are good, it's crisply filmed and incredibly clever.
And clocks in under 80mins. Superb.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

I'm like Pinocchio, a wooden boy. Not a real boy. And it kills me.

The Double (2013)

I once stated on facebook I want to grow up to be Richard Ayoade. I have, by more than one person, been called Moss like - his character from The IT Crowd (a show im not particularly fond of despite liking it's cast a fair bit). Submarine was one of my favourite films of 2010, his book Ayoade on Ayoade is a terrific read, hugely funny, and with The Double he remains a smart, interesting film maker though it's not quite the slam dunk of his first effort.
It certainly plays to the right audience in me though. Concerning itself with a less than dynamic character who doesn't understand the world around him, doesn't exude confidence or charisma. The universe seems a system of rules designed to befuddle him, whilst everyone else follows them with ease. Interactions are painful exercises in saying the wrong thing and Jesse Eisenberg is perfect at capturing this hapless idiot as well as the more brash doppelganger that seems to just get how life works.
The rest of the cast is filled with interesting faces (Wallace Shawn, always a pleasure on screen), though not all get much too do, Mia Wasikowska continues to pick fascinating movies and is a haunting offbeat presence.
The film does carry a lot of echoes, both in it's repetitive narrative and more metatextually - it comes off as a nod to Gilliam's Brazil certainly but is it's own beast. Not nearly as likeable as Submarine, it has a cold, off putting awkward momentum (as it should), mirroring the protagonist and sometimes seems more like an exercise in controlling style and content (very ably) than of delivering entertainment.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

You mock my pain.

The Princess Bride (1987)

Made a few years later but due to childhood viewing habits intertwined intimately with yesterdays reviewed film Krull. Of course this is a much, much better film.
As a child I generally liked it for being silly and exciting but as I watched it on growing up new levels were revealed to me. It is an incredibly smart, silly and exciting film. Filled with the joy of storytelling (giving it a thematic depth deeper than simply rescuing a princess).
The cast are generally excellent (Cary Elwes is occasionally beneath the material), a remake would be hard pressed to find anyone as perfect as Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn and Andre the Giant.
The central device of the sick fred savage being told a story by his grandfather slyly allows for the metatextual commentary the source novel had with it's annotated notes without being too dry and who could be better than Peter Falk to tell you a bedside tale?
Rob Reiner is not the greatest visual stylist in the world, but the simple perfunctory direction allows the characters and jokes to take centre stage in a way that perhaps a more showy version of the film would not.
People often ask me what my favourite film is and I never have an answer because there are just too many that I love to bits but this is certainly up there. Pure magic.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

She had another name once. An ancient and powerful name.

Krull (1983)

In just about every conceivable way it is terrible. It makes no sense, both with plot and world building. It seems uncomfortable being neither Star Wars nor Lord of the Rings and sits awkwardly doing nothing particularly noteworthy. But as a child this was one of my most watched films. 
In my hazy memory of youth it feels like I watched this every other time I would be at my aunt's house (the other visits would be taken up with The Princess Bride). I've certainly not seen it in full in many, many years (recurring motif of these last reviews). Bits stick in the mind; a cyclops being crushed by a door (i certainly never realised at the time that this was one of the guys bumbling around Carry On movies), an old man carrying his life in his hand as sand (which is, I confess quite cool but i dont really get why it happens - the movie arbitrarily makes up stuff as it goes along with little rhyme nor reason), the castle moving around as if run by Count Duckula.
It follows a pretty rote (and often baffling) quest narrative but the Princess here lacks the spark of Leia, and the Glaive (pictured above) is not exactly a lightsaber.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Oh, fuck this, get me out of here!

Predator 2 (1990)

It's sort of ok.
I certainly don't have a Freudian analysis to apply as I do with the first one (review here) as it's appeals are generally more bland and I have not watched it nearly as many times as the Schwarzeneggar original.
Maybe something could be made out of it's ropey racial politics but despite some hideous stereotypes Glover is kind of interesting in playing his usual schtick from the Lethal Weapon movies but upgraded to solo lead. Gary Busey gives a typically eccentric performance, the action beats are often non-sensical though zippy enough but there's little very memorable here.
Also responsible for popularising in attentive moviegoers minds the idea of Aliens Vs. Predator with a cameo appearance from a skull on the Hunters' ship, though keyed in nerds would already have read the Dark Horse comics series released just before this movie.

Friday, 17 October 2014

I had a dream about this place.

Mulholland Drive (2001)

Another audience member choice and one I haven't watched since it came out at the cinema many years ago.
Haunting, evocative, sometimes achingly sad, horrifying, baffling, funny. Mulholland Drive is archetypal Lynch.
Even if I had seen it recently I would probably have problems laying out what (or perhaps more accurately - why) happens but it remains lodged in the brain as a tonal pattern. 
Naomi Watts has never been better grounding some of the weirdness with a deeply humane performance. Others flit in and out to lesser effect setting up things that seem to go nowhere (somewhat betraying the films origin as a teevee pilot perhaps) but this helps the dreamlike narrative.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Look, spaghetti arms. This is my dance space. This is your dance space.

Dirty Dancing (1987)

As the second of my audience requested reviews I turn to a movie I haven't seen for many, many years and did not pay particular attention to at the time. So it is perhaps a touch unfair to regard this with the memories of a 10 year old or so but my mom suggested I review it and I can't say no to that, but I also can't be arsed to rewatch this piece of 80s fluff. 
I have, which I never do, done a little bit of research, reading some contemporary reviews and watching a couple of clips to refresh my memory, but the abiding recollection is one of abject boredom. 
I think in my modern day sensibility I would respond more positively to the dancing, though it manages to be reasonably sensual it's also a touch dull.
I guess it is kind of interesting that it's a coming of age story about a woman, still rare to see some 25 years later but even the 60s period setting doesn't excuse the cliches and stereotypes presented.
Thematic depth is shallow at best, tritely obvious (there's a lot of stuff about babies and the main character is nicknamed Baby, wow) but at least exists - it's no accident that the terrific Way of the Gun, whose plot concerns a pregnancy, includes a clip from this film.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

You look like Pippi Longstocking.

Clueless (1995)

Mixing such sources as Emma and Gigi into a slice of pure 90s pop culture.
A great deal of fun, clever, frequently hilarious, incredibly performed, Alicia Silverstone unfortunately never got material as good as this again.
Filled with great comedy ringers and breezily presented it spearheaded a 90s high school rom coms based on classic literature period (the forgettable She's All That, the rather splendid 10 Things I hate about You probably wouldn't have happened without this) and continued to mine a satirical bent from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (whose series got it a second chance after Clueless came out but beat the Silverstone vehicle to the cinemas by couple of years) of presenting so called vapid valley girls and giving them depth, nuance and strength.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

I'm a little bit desperate, I can't pay my bills

The Rewrite (2014)

A well performed, but considerably banal offering made worse by having a character who should know better than the film itself. At one point, teaching some young students how to make better screenplays he circles a bit of dialogue, writing a comment "too convenient". 5 minutes later one of those students tells him she cant write a more personal movie because people keep telling her she's not deep. Just awful. I was unable to scrawl in red ink over the cinema screen (im on my second warning already) "too blunt. to convenient. not one actually talks like that".
In two days I will have completely forgotten this film.
Except maybe for the really terrible poster the film within the film that won an Oscar has. I see this a lot, where fake movie posters always look so bad, which is true of a lot of real posters too but just stick out as posters that would never actually get made for films (frequently because of course they can't put actors on them I guess).

Monday, 13 October 2014

everything we've done to you... it was all done for a reason.

The Maze Runner (2014)

There is a strange tension to the whole movie. Not just from what is going to happen, but whether it could possibly make sense.
Up until it's last act it manages that balancing act by being generally fun. The Lord of the Flies set up is interesting (though perhaps it's Young Adult roots are betrayed by certain aspects being a little 'friendly' - 3 years of hormonal teenagers camping together, even before the pretty young girl turns up, there's some stuff happening there unsaid im sure).
The last act reveal (reveals really) is complete bs of course. Not an ounce of sense made. A dreadful bit of exposition is at least excused in a not exactly shocking twist but it means the film lands with a clunk rather than running free. Or something.

Friday, 10 October 2014

An atom bomb goes off between my legs.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

<deep, gravely voice> sin city 2. damn. facebook cries to me of its need. like a wounded puppy. we dont have to have yet another voice telling you how bad it is, but here i am anyway. weak, like all woman, unless they get naked, or wear bondage gear, then they are strong but still on my terms. strong, as long as i can look at their tits. i sit here and tell you everything i am doing. the keys on the keyboard clack as i type. tak tak tak. it is the only keyboard i have ever loved. for no real reason i call you a whore. what am i doing here, don't worry i wont show you when i can just tell you. there is no need for faces when everybody simply says what they are thinking. tak tak tak, the keys sound repetitious as my fingers crash down on them. as they are doing now. and now. round and round it all goes. i also call you a whore. tak tak tak.

Cheating today slightly by reposting my facebook status above and adding a couple of notes.
The film is pretty worhtless, only the Joseph Gordon Levitt story feels semi interesting (a short Tales of the Unexpected type thing with a bleak but half way clever punchline) and Eva Green once again shines in sub-par material.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

All girls love a man who can dance

Cuban Fury (2014)

A disappointing waste of the talents involved. Nick Frost, who is proving a versatile and interesting comedian who can play the drama of a situation with the best of them (his work in World's End is superb) flounders here a little in a trifle of his own making (or at least the nebulous 'original idea credit' would have it).
It's just not funny enough, not sweet enough, and not exciting enough, I hope for more lead roles for Frost but also for them to be of better quality than this.