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.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Take your flunky and dangle

Miller's Crossing (1990)

Nobody knows anybody, not that well...

Pure bliss from start to finish.
The Coens are just operating at peak on all levels here. Smart, incredibly funny, perfectly paced with great kinks in the plot that don't feel simply like a rote pastiche. Instead it is filled with a bleak nihilism that still packs an emotional punch and features side characters that have more life to them than most movies' main ones.
Byrne has never been better and is ably supported by an absolutely stellar cast grabbing that amazing dialogue and matching the terrific visuals with vocal flair. Every line is quotable, the camera is controlled beautifully and Carter Burwell gives a score for the ages.
There is a very slight whiff of homophobia in the fact that the film's gay characters do not have pleasant endings for sure but the flip side of that is that they are fascinating, dynamic people and in one case correct about the details of the labyrinthine plot happening around them and get to drive the movie forwards.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

I want to jerk off - but that's not why I do it. I do it because I NEED to.

Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

A blistering whirlwind. With amazing energy, great central performances, it's perhaps one of the best horror films of recent times.
Jordan Belfort is a Freddy Kruger for the up town set. A Jason Voorhees of new money. Vicious, unrepentant, unstoppable and hollow. For all the talk of glamorizing this prick (and the film certainly does to an extant, and, troublingly, basically ends with an ad for his public speaking) I can't imagine anyone wanting to be him after seeing this.
Despite a lengthy running time the film never lags, never runs out of steam and never stops blacky prodding the raging sociopaths that power Wall Street (Matthew McConaughey is especially funny and horrid in a one scene cameo). Vital, dynamic cinema of the highest calibre.  

Monday, 6 October 2014

Now, I just kind of wish she would stay dead

Life After Beth (2014)

Movies seem to be struggling with how best to utilize the fine talents of Aubrey Plaza. This one at least moves a little way from just making her a big screen version of the brilliant, sardonic April in Parks and Recreation (the terrific Jim O'heir from that show puts in a pleasing one scene cameo) but forget to actually fill that void with anything else.
A big part of the problem is Plaza is only seen after becoming a zombie, and in a touch taken from Romero's sequels mostly wants to continuing doing what she was last doing (in this case hiking, studying for a test and, i guess, having a relationship with a boy?) but has little characterisation. And perhaps even worse gets very little gags (the movie is fairly bereft of humour, quite damning for a comedy). 
It slogs along for a while attempting to pick something meaningful to say about relationships, how they end, the idea of just going through the motions but it isn't quite enough although it does start to liven up a little when it gets a bit more loose and embrace the zombie stuff (and Plaza gets some nice physical stuff to play with).
There's a bunch of potentially interesting business here (what if a zombie apocalypse happened but people, and the zombies themselves, ignored it, what would you give to have another chance at a relationship) but Shaun of the Dead did all that and remembered to put some great jokes in.

Friday, 3 October 2014

All I'm trying to do is be nice

Gone Girl (2014)

A plot which plays out for the most part much as you'd expect with red herrings, twists and rather ridiculous pulpy nonsense is given stylish gravitas by solid film making and a canny story which ties those out there revelations into something approaching a character study. The twists play better when reinforcing thematic depth but are helped by two very strong performances from Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.
Once again Fincher handles a lengthy running time without too much dull padding, always confidently in control of the image on screen but less showy than some of his previous efforts, allowing the cast to pull the dramatic weight.
However it has a deeply troubling aspect to it which I can't really get into without revealing major plot points, though a viewing of the trailer could tip you off to this twist, which comes half way through the film thankfully, anyway. 
So read on past the picture of the crying baby if you wish. 

So it happens that Rosamund Pike is of course not dead, not kidnapped. She has run off to frame Ben Affleck for her murder. Unfortunately this unbalances the ethical weighting of the leads, Affleck's supposed nice man is revealed to be in an affair, prompting this plan, but Pike is generally just 'movie crazy'. 
In the current climate of women being abused online, threatened with rape and murder it's a little galling to see a plot run out the old trope of "yep, the ladies love to lie about being raped, spousal abuse claims are made up all the time"
Sure it's the story this film is telling, it's not it's job to be an ambassador and as I mentioned above I like the way it uses this as metaphorical fodder for examining the way we lie to each other and ourselves, making it deeper than some Law and Order case of the week. But it's uncomfortable (which im sure it wants to be), perhaps because Affleck's character is not given similar transgressions, the affair aside, he's pretty much a decent chap and the movie goes out of it's way to root for him.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Another strong entry from Marvel Studios, this manages to be a bleaker pic than the first film but doesn't wallow in modish melancholy and offers up a lot of fun.
Evans remains completely charming and is ably backed up by Johansson (given the most to do in the movies yet and proving Black Widow could hold her own film easily) and especially newcomer Anthony Mackie whose double act with Cap is immediate and delightful (and the film sells the hell out of his wings which could have come off as goofy).
It suffers from the Marvel Studios template beats but has better definition for it's villain than say Thor 2 or Guardians of the Galaxy. The action itself though is generally a step up from previous efforts with some terrific stunt accentuating character beats.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Progress. Not Perfection.

The Equalizer (2014)

Recently I was discussing The Punisher with a friend. The reason he has a position within the marvel comics universe is that he is quite unusual situated in the world of superheroes. But as a movie figure he is pretty dull. Serves little point. Because there are a hundred and one Punisher movies already out there (of course that is also the reason he's had 3 attempts already - Hollywood loves repetition, and my friend seemed to suggest towards a Punisher movie more in the vein of The Guest,and perhaps a stylish throwback like that could work, I think Frank Castle might be better used as an antagonist in the Daredevil teevee show though).
This is one of the hundred and one movies. Dreary nonsense for the most part, little to distinguish it from a Taken or a Death Wish. It's almost admirable how it tries to set up a Le Samurai style tone, going through the motions of a guy keeping his lethal abilities in check. But as a mood piece or a character study it's sorely under cooked. Nothing particularly interesting is gleaned and it ends up just being time killer before the ok, but hardly pulse quickening, action.