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.