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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Quick review roundup for 14 February 2014

Finishing off this week's releases...

Anchorman 2. I really wanted to like Anchorman 2. I was a big fan of the original when it came out and I am a fan of a number of the people involved in the film. Unfortunately, whether it's a simple case of sequelitis or the fact that what once seemed so fresh now feels so stale thanks to constant repetition in other McKay-Farrell vehicles, Anchorman 2 is too long, too scattershot and nowhere near funny enough. There are some chuckles to be had, to be sure, but they're cancelled out by far too many stretches of uncomfortable silence and the only sharply satirical bit that has to do with the current state of news was handled better in the movie Network, which came out more than three decades ago. (4/10)

The Monuments Men. Speaking of disappointments, despite the stellar cast, interesting story (with its central thesis about the worth of art over human lives) and impossible-to-escape Clooney likability, The Monuments Men is a, well, monumental failure. Its storytelling is disjointed, its cast underused and its tone all over the bloody place, The Monuments Men utterly belies George Clooney's veteran status as a really impressive filmmaker. I probably should rate it a lot lower but, again, it may be a total failure but it's somehow still a charming, affable one.  (6/10)

Vampire Academy. This one is no disappointment as it was pretty much exactly what I expected it to be, but there's that general likability that stops me from truly taking against an overwhelmingly poor piece of filmmaking. Wooden acting, a seriously stupid plot and all the bland romance and convoluted vampire mythologies that post-Twilight vampire flicks seem incapable of escaping, it also has a plucky, likable lead in its main heroine (Lea Thompson's kid, Zoey Deutch) and a sense of humour about itself. Once again, it ain't Buffy - not by a long shot - but it's still way more fun than something this bad should rightfully be. (5/10)

That should do it for this week. The good news is that one movie opening this Friday goes some way towards redeeming the lameness of the above three movie. The bad news is that the other movies being released makes this crop look like Citizens Kane I, II and III.

Monday, February 17, 2014


The Oscars go scifi and there's no way that I was going to miss it!

Spike Jonze has never been the most prolific of feature filmmakers as Her is only his third movie since his 1999 breakthrough, Being John Malkovich, but considering just how creative and involved all of his films have been, it's easy to forgive the long gestation of each of these projects - even if they haven't always been worth the wait.

Being John Malkovich was indeed a tremendous, if slightly flawed, calling card for a new director but it was one that he had trouble truly matching. Adaptation was excellent for the first two thirds of its running time, only to unravel into irritating self-indulgence in its third act, while his kid-lit adaptation Where the Wild Things Are never quite got off the ground, despite its best intentions.

Her, however, isn't just worth the wait, it may very possibly his most coherent, most fully accomplished film to date. It may not have the boundless off-the-wall creativity of Being John Malkovich or Adaptation (both of which were written, incidentally, by Charlie Kaufman whose own creative energies seem to have been burned out on the pretentious headache that was Synechdoche, New York) but it's more focused and emotionally involving for that.

Mind you, it's not like Her has a particularly conventional premise, but its story of a lonely man who falls in love with an artificial intelligence is hardly alien to science fiction. What's really impressive though is how Jonze fully understands the allegorical and metaphorical nature of the best science fiction and has created a fable (or parable - I always confuse the two) about relationships, of very rare power. So rare, in fact, that somehow Jonze has managed to sneak one past the members of the Academy and has somehow managed to get a weird science fiction movie nominated for five Oscars, including one for best picture.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Playing catch up: February 2014 edition

Loads and loads of films to catch up on so some of these mini reviews will be a paragraph or two, other merely a line or two. There are some decent flicks in here, though.

Best Man Holiday. This clearly should have been released around Christmas, not a month and a half later. Either way, it's OK when working as a tearjerker but is bloody awful when it tries to be a comedy. (3/10)

Romeo and Juliet. Another adaptation of Shakey's most archetypal story is a solid, if perfunctory retelling, with largely questionable performances (only Paul Giamatti and Lesley Manville are the only true standouts) made all the worse by the fact that they altered the original text. If you're going to do Shakespeare in the original text, don't randomly change lines to make it more "understandable", do it in the original text! (4/10)

Robocop. Talking about pointless remakes. Robocop could have been worse, as it is competently made and not unintelligent and it's hard to go wrong with Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman and Samuel L Jackson, but this is an utterly pointless and horribly neutered version of an 80s science fiction classic. If you want Robocop without the ultra violence, sharp satire and wonderfully trashy aesthetics then Robocop 2014 is for you. Otherwise, feel free to stay away. (4/10)

Cool poster though!

Labor Day. Strong performances from Winslet and Brolin elevate what is otherwise a fairly forgettable mess that can't decide whether it's a crime thriller, coming of age story or mature romance and ends up being neither. Jason Reitman is a very capable director and he's done some very good stuff in the past but Juno this ain't. (5/10)

Fire with Fire. A truly terrible revenge flick that somehow managed to be released in cinemas here after going straight to DVD a couple of years ago in America. Nasty, predictable and badly thought out, it boggles the mind how this is somehow deemed worthy of a cinematic release here when so many good, indie flicks are bypassed entirely. (1/10)

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. Not as surprising or inventive as the original but this bright, colourful and wonderfully nuts sequel is still one of the better animated movies to come out over the last twelve months. (7/10)

The Book Thief. Even if you see the film as being more about totalitarian oppression, rather than about the Holocaust in particular, The Book Thief still suffers somewhat from holding back just a bit too much when it comes to depicting the horrors of such an existence. It is admittedly aimed at younger audiences but so is the Hunger Games, which has shown us - particularly in the second film - how it's possible to aim younger, while still packing the right kind of dystopian punch. Flaws aside though, The Book Thief is still a very solid and rather moving coming of age drama with strong performances, nicely chilly visuals and a well told story. I haven't read it yet but I assume the book handles the very literary narration by Death quite a bit more organically as well. (7/10).

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Chris Pine once again proves to be the man for the job when it comes to major franchise reboots and though there is nothing exceptional about this by-the-number spy thriller, it's plenty of fun with a likable hero, a Cold War throwback plot and a great villain played by the film's director, Kenneth Branaugh. (7/10)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Admittedly, I far preferred the more biting early sections of the film where we follow our titular hero through the humdrums of his mundane life to his later, grander adventures but considering how sappy and annoying the film could have been, it's kind of amazing that it turned out to be as good as it is. We've seen this sort of live-life-to-the-fullest (or YOLO to younger, Twitterific audiences) movies before but it's handled particularly well here as it is every bit as willing to embrace the bizarre as it is the sentimental and is as funny as it is life-affirming. People may sneer, but Ben Stiller actually pulled off something quite impressive. Good stuff. (8/10)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis

It may have been overlooked by the Oscars but this is a must see for Coen Brothers fans and all aficionados of challenging, multi-layered and poignant cinema. 

Incidentally, I have upped the rating to a full-on 10/10 after seeing the film a second time. It's a masterpiece.

This review is also up at Channel 24 

What it's about

Based very loosely on the life story of legendary folk singer, Dave Van Ronk, the Coen Brothers' latest tells the story of Llewyn Davis, a down on his luck folk singer , who is left to pick up the pieces of his quickly disintegrating career after the suicide of his singing partner, Mike. As he tries hopelessly to make a mark in the overcrowded and generally impoverished Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961, he has to navigate his way through incompetent management, fraught relationships and one seriously tenacious cat. Or is that cats?

What we thought

It's hard to know where to even start with this one. What looks at the outset to be a fairly straightforward examination of a particularly interesting period in the history of American popular music, quickly proves itself to be one of the Coen Brothers' most challenging and least accessible films ever. And considering that these are the guys who brought us such provocatively anti-mainstream films as A Serious Man and Barton Fink, that's really saying something. Inside Llewyn Davis is a masterpiece, make no mistake, but it's one that's going to alienate, if not outright infuriate, a good number of regular cinema goers and Coen acolytes alike.

As one of those acolytes – the Coens are very simply my all-time favourite filmmakers – I confess that I was thoroughly and completely floored by the film, but as Inside Llewyn Davis basically plays like a Coens film on a batch of very bad acid, neophytes and the Coen-ambivalent alike should approach with extreme caution. Needless to say, while I'm disappointed that the film was almost entirely ignored for the upcoming Oscars, I can't say that I don't understand how or why that happened.