November turned out to be a massive watching month. This is the time of the year when I really ramp up my new release viewing in anticipation of year in review posts. Overall, this was a good month with plenty of really great stuff, both new and old despite a whole bunch of rubbish 2013 releases being consumed. Please share your thoughts on these in the comments section below.
- Thor: The Dark World (2013), Alan Taylor – I could quibble with aspects of this film, but why bother. Marvel continues their run of making bombastic, exceedingly fun and visually interesting mainstream cinema. It’s not as good as Iron Man 3, also from this year, but it’s different so good on Marvel who could take a cookie cutter approach to their films and still make billions. The relationship between Thor and Loki is the meat of this film and it is examined more interestingly here than in previous films. Both Hemsworth and Hiddleston are excellent.
- Brute Force (1947), Jules Dassin – A really incredible and ahead of its time prison film. It uses the prison escape genre to make social commentary, and particularly shows the evil that arises from the power that those in charge of prisons have. The action inside the prison walls is shocking and lives up to the film’s title. A very fine film that manages to be both enjoyable and examine the philosophy of the prison system.
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), Chris Columbus – The books never did anything for me and I had seen two of the later films randomly. But I am really glad I chose to go back and take a look at this. The film has a cool sense of magic from the get go. It is supremely well made, written and acted with great characters like Hagrid and Hermione Granger. Can see how this will become iconic for the generation that lined up to see it in cinemas. Young Radcliffe is really good and Emma Watson nails that smarmy, overachieving student vibe. Cracking adventure and not afraid to be intense at times.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), Chris Columbus – I initially had fears that Dobby was going to be the Jar Jar Binks of this film. This just continues the awesomeness of the first film really. Kenneth Branagh is such a dude. There is a nice evolution of Harry’s character with more pep and confidence. It perhaps lacks a touch of the first film’s charm. But it is still fantastic. Ramps up the tension even more though (especially for an arachnophobe like me). This is bigger in terms of scope and action than the first film and is brilliantly designed as well.
- Around the Block (2013), Sarah Spillane – This Aussie flick was the closing night film of the Canberra Film Festival. Whilst the script is initially beset by cliché, which it never entirely escapes, it does get a lot stronger. Spillane is an exceptional directing talent and the film is wonderfully put together. And the cast is phenomenal with Matt Nable being a beast of intensity. Really want to see him onscreen more. His is as good a supporting performance as you will see and young lead Hunter Page-Lochard is graceful and very good as well.
- Captain Phillips (2013), Paul Greengrass – The last half hour of this is more tense than anything I have seen for a long time. Tom Hanks, who has been his usual solid self til then, really hits it out of the park through this period. Greengrass is always a director supremely in control of his material and this film is no different. One of the best directors working today.
- The Counsellor (2013), Ridley Scott – Dialogue heavy, but not necessarily in a bad way. The Cormac McCarthy script is a big draw after all and that is the main attraction here. At times what McCarthy delivers it is absolutely sublime. There are also a bunch of really good performances – Pitt, Fassbender, Cruz and Diaz especially. Would be nice if Javier Bardem could just dial it down every once in a while though. I’m not really sure why this has copped such strident criticism. I thought it was original and satisfying.
- Parks and Recreation Season 3 (2011), Greg Daniels & Michael Schlur – This show continues to be the smartest and funniest thing going and turns the spotlight on the government system searingly. The addition of Rob Lowe is a good one. He is a fine actor and creates a hell of a character here. Chris Pratt’s Andy really comes into his own in this series. He is a great comedic talent. This is also the series which elevates the character of Ron Swanson to nothing short of iconic heights. His mindset is brought to life stunningly well and hilariously.
- Fruitvale Station (2013), Ryan Coogler – This is a film of quiet power. A tale of the disenfranchisement of the African American male in contemporary America. There has been no better performance this year than Michael B. Jordan’s here. Cinema that is so raw and truthful is a very rare thing. It’s a rawness that at one point had me biting on my knuckle just to hold on. As a result, the film is unique and demands to be seen. A journey of a deep and complex central character, which explores important issues such as the treatment of African American men and the almost unchecked power of police. A firecracker of a film that left me in a daze.
- Speed (1994), Jan de Bont – I had forgotten how delightfully 90s this film is. Everything from the open credits, to the action has aged pretty badly. But it is still totally tense and awesome. And no one does menacing like Dennis Hopper and he gets lots of opportunity here. Actually everyone is good in this and it really does hold up as a bit of an action classic.
- Parks and Recreation Season 4 (2011), Greg Daniels & Michael Schlur – Those behind this series have the writing of wonderfully unique characters down pat. They have also somehow managed to make the relationship of April and Andy, which seemed so absurd at first, into something genuinely tender and almost adorable. As for Amy Poehler, she continues to be all kinds of awesome, even nailing a couple of really good dramatic scenes as the season revolves around her tilt for public office.
- Jumanji (1995), Joe Johnston – A board game that comes alive is a great concept for a film and this manages to do it justice. It looks great, the CGI actually holds up well and there is some really food use of models too. Even at a young age Kirsten Dunst was a really good actress and this is one of Robin Williams better screen turns as well. It excels in being a relatively psychological film; the relationships between the four main characters are nicely complex.
Not Worth Watching:
- The Evil Dead II (1987), Sam Raimi – Perhaps I just don’t ‘get’ this series. Despite a cool start which establishes the myths of the Necronomicon, like the first film, this didn’t work for me. It still felt cheap, despite the higher budget and I was just totally disinterested by what was happening. The film felt silly to me and aside from the mythology at the start, the lack of character build-up was almost comical. Not to mention that the effects are just annoying. A freaking cool ending though.
- Rush (2013), Ron Howard – Everyone else seems to love this, but to me it just felt tired. Howard has been blessed with two amazing real life characters and a monumental F1 season full of every drama you can imagine. But despite the excellent performances from Bruhl and Hemsworth, the director cannot make it soar. Where there should be so much exhilaration and emotion, there is none.
- The Internship (2013), Shawn Levy – This film is so tired. The patter between the two leads is exactly the same as every other Wilson/Vaughn outing. Even for a film about jobs at Google the product placement is gratuitous. No laughs at all to be had here and it is looong. A decent (if overlong) TV ad for Google, but a garbage movie.
- Identity Thief (2013), Seth Gordon – I defy anyone not to love Melissa McCarthy as a screen presence. But even she cannot save this film. The reliance on jokes about Bateman’s character having a girl’s name is not a positive start. The first half is slightly better than average (almost entirely due to McCarthy). But the second half becomes mired in a dirge of sentimentality and ruins any promise the first half showed.
- How I Live Now (2013), Kevin Macdonald – It is a shame this is so bloody terrible cause there are some interesting ideas here. Saoirse Ronan gets it on with her cousin and WWIII breaks out, but neither are dealt with any incisiveness. Even the better bits of the film rely on a series succession of cheap shocks rather than building any atmosphere or feeling.
- Machete Kills (2013), Robert Rodriguez – I’m usually a fan of Rodriguez’s B movie stylings, but this makes the mistake of going for all out silliness without the charm that is needed to sustain it. Also has a story you don’t give a fuck about and no worthwhile character arcs. That is not to say there are no moments of idiotic bloody brilliance that will make you smile though, because there are a few. But too few, and coupled with the occasional hint of misogyny make this one to miss.
If you only have time to watch one Fruitvale Station
Avoid at all costs The Internship
The first of these films, whilst a totally unnecessary reboot, was decent enough. I thought that Raimi’s first Spiderman film did all the same things, only better, but it could have been worse. I don’t look back on it that fondly, so unsurprisingly, I am not all that excited about The Amazing Spiderman 2. Seeing this trailer has not really changed anything in that regard I have to say. There are some cool little moments, the opening shot for example. But nothing here, even the hints at the Green Goblin or Elecro, really piqued my interest that much. What about you folk, more excited than me for this?
Fruitvale Station (2013) is very close to my top film of 2013 so far. Some people agree, but many have issues with the film. Now I am all for people having differing opinions on films. It would be boring if there was no courteous disagreement. But what I have an issue with is the misreading of films and the mindless parroting of criticisms of others. Not to mention in this case the racism which seems to be bubbling just below the surface of many of the criticisms being made.
The main critique of Fruitvale Station is this: the main character Oscar Grant is presented in such a glowing way that it makes the film manipulative emotionally. I have seen this repeated over and over again. Including by Margaret and David here in Australia on At the Movies (mad respect to them both, they are rightfully absolute legends of the game out here). They were open about the fact that they were repeating criticisms made by many others, parroting this erroneous view in my opinion. In David’s words the depiction of Oscar made him out to be “too good to be true”, an opinion Margaret enthusiastically shared in their review.
In my opinion, this criticism is totally invalid and actually bullshit. Just because a film makes you feel, does not make it emotionally manipulative. The argument essentially goes like this. Oscar is too good to be true because he does the following three things: he pets a homeless dog and cries when he sees it get run over; he is a loving and tender father to his little girl who he clearly adores; and lastly he helps a young woman he befriends in a store with the details of a recipe she is cooking by calling his grandma and giving her the phone. All really lovely things done by him which make you warm to the character. Here are three other things that we learn about the character in the film: he has cheated on his partner who stood by him when he was in prison; he lost his job simply because he couldn’t be bothered showing up on time; and he threatens to beat up his old boss because he refuses to give him his job back. Oh and he has been lying to his partner about all of this. Wow, what a perfect dreamboat.
I think there may be something a little more sinister going on here too. Aside from his threat to his old boss and raising his voice a little, Oscar is a pretty laidback and quiet man. There is an expectation that a young black man should be presented in the media as an angry man, with a ‘me against the world’ attitude. Especially a man like Oscar, formerly a neighbourhood drug dealer who has served time. He should appear angry and violent to the audience. That is how the cops see him in the film. The criticism of the character therefore actually reinforces the entire point of the film and shows that we as a society still have so far to go. The audience has seen Oscar exactly as the cops have. To show him as not fitting this mould is to make him ‘too good to be true’. It apparently automatically presents him in a manner that for some critics beggars belief. Think about that. A black man who likes dogs, his daughter and people he has just met, is to some, unrealistic and fake to the point of being manipulative.
It might not be conscious, but the criticism levelled at the presentation of Oscar is a racist one, arising from the subtle racism that pervades so much of our society and by extension our pop culture. This is particularly true in America where the war on drugs and the prison industrial complex rely on the criminalisation of young, black male bodies to exist. All kinds of white (male) characters are depicted on our screens and accepted. It is about time that privilege was extended to all in our society.
I know this trailer has been out and about for ages now, but I haven’t shared it as yet and to be honest there is nothing new out there particularly grabbing me. This has been playing in front of a bunch of the films I have seen recently and I really dig it. It looks like the film could combine fun, whinsy and a little dramatic weight in an original way. I have no idea if Stiller will be able to pull it off. But given it is not a franchise/adaptation film and is getting a rare prime release slot (Boxing Day in Aus), twould be good if this turned out worthwhile. What do you guys think of it?
Jacques Tati is one of the more famous comedians in film history, possibly even the most revered of the sound era. Tati is most famous for his recurring character Monsieur Hulot who features in three films on the 1001 list. I thought I would take a look at the first of them.
The character of Hulot debuted in Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953), a film famously and shamefully remade by Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean’s Holiday (2007). This is unsurprising given that the character of Hulot is clearly a massive influence on that of Mr Bean. In fact, most of the best jokes in Mr Bean seem to be lifted pretty much straight from Tati’s work. Mr Hulot’s Holiday sees the good natured, but somewhat bumbling Monsieur Hulot funnily enough take off on holiday. A vast majority of the film concerns the travails of the character on his beachside holiday. The film is a gleeful insight into that microcosm that is created when strangers congregate at the same place for a holiday, with firm transient relationships springing up.
The only character that the audience gets a real sense for is that of Hulot, and the whole film really does centre on him. Earlier I said that the character of Hulot is a bumbling one. But it is not really that. It is more that Hulot struggles to keep up with societal sensibilities. He is not aware of the chaos he is causing because he is off in his own world. It is the delightful havoc that one slightly different soul can make in the world. Hulot is not really fussed about keeping up with society, rather he seems content to exist slightly outside of it. Describing humour as slapstick often gives the impression of lazy, stupid, rambunctious attempts at jokes – pies in the face and slipping on banana peels. Mr Hulot’s Holiday sees a lot of slapstick, but it is far more gentle and nuanced than that described. It is derived from Hulot’s befuddlement and inability to use the objects around him. There are also straight visual jokes that in less assured hands would fall flat, but when delivered through the genius of Tati all of a sudden seem inspired. Hulot’s numerous attempts at driving cars spring to mind. One of the great strengths of Mr Hulot’s Holiday is that rather than being a straight slapstick film, it trades in a variety of other comedic forms such as comedy of errors as well. This means that it can appeal to more people, and also that it does not wear out its welcome by continually bombarding the viewer with one kind of joke. It is not only his skill as a writer and filmmaker that ensure this, but also Tati’s physical presence. His long, large former Rugby Union player body creates so much of the humour.
In the current cinema climate it almost seems strange or unnecessary to talk about technical aspects of filmmaking when reviewing a comedy. But as with many older comedies, Mr Hulot’s Holiday really does hold up to this kind of analysis. The film is wonderfully shot, simply done yet beautiful to look at. The cinematography is sharp and there are just enough longing shots of the seaside to set up the idyllic location. Strangely for a film almost free of dialogue, the use of sound is innovative. The film opens by introducing the catchy tune that resonates throughout the entire film, reinforcing the atmosphere Tati is going for throughout. The volume of the sound effects is quite high, giving them added emphasis, especially when Hulot interacts with the props he is surrounded by. As such, waves crashing and doors swinging shut become a focus. The film is gently satirical in tone at times as well. People are really quite rude to this man who is slightly different to them and Tati gently mocks this coldness and uncaring attitude that is found in society.
This is a gentle, simple introduction to the Hulot films, which would evolve and enlarge as the series goes on. It is not entirely groundbreaking, a lot of it riffs on what Keaton and other silent stars did many years before, but it is done well and it is done in a wryly humourous manner. A word of warning though, make sure you get a hold of the subtitled version, not the horrid dubbed version that occasionally rears its ugly head.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
I have written in passing about the new Australian flick Patrick (2013) a couple of times on the blog recently, predominately focusing on the shabby cinema release it has received. I was lucky enough to catch the film when it played as part of the Canberra International Film Festival and now it is getting a limited run at Arc Cinema here in town, so hopefully more people will get the chance to check it out.
For those of you who are unaware, this is a remake of a 1978 Australian ‘ozploitation’ film of the same name. Patrick is a comatose patient confined to an asylum. One of them old school ones where the main doctor is menacing and does terrifying experiments on all his patients. The film focuses on the rather special mental abilities Patrick possesses that he uses to wreak a little havoc and instil terror in those around him. The asylum is tightly run by Doctor Roget, played by Charles Dance and also by Matron Cassidy, played by Rachel Griffiths. Into this atmosphere comes a new, too nosey for her own good nurse named Kathy, played by Sharni Vinson. Patrick has a somewhat different pedigree to most remakes because of the director. Mark Hartley is best known for directing the documentary Not Quite Hollywood (2008) which is an ode to underappreciated classic ozploitation films. It is a little ironic then that this film looks set to join what I think is a really underappreciated batch of genre films in this country, that are getting nowhere near enough love from local audiences.
There is plenty of the schlockiness the trailer suggested in Patrick. But the film is not content to just rumble along doing that the whole time. It gets dark toward the end and I mean super dark. It is refreshing for an Aussie genre flick to not stay set in its ways the entire way through and to take the main characters some really interesting and unexpected places. One of the major positives for the film is the fact that, for me at least, it was genuinely scary. There were some good jump scares and also occasions of building the tension up to unbearable levels. There are moments of silliness that do break the mood, but looking back on the film, they definitely do not cloud my overall memories of it. Whilst not a haunted house film as such (or at all actually) the film takes place in pretty much a perfect haunted house setting. A majority of the action takes place inside the huge old asylum. It is so old that coupled with the design including costuming, tricks you into thinking this is a period piece for long stretches, when it is actually set in the present day. That sounds kind of awkward in theory, but the reality is that the setting and design really brings you into the world and atmosphere of the film and what it is trying to do. It takes an assured touch to clash elements like this – think iphones and old fashioned credits music – and have it actually deliver something to the film. That is a risk the film takes that pays off. There are other risks the film takes that are not so successful. There is a section involving a hand-job which falls to earth with a decided thud. I guess the intention was to have a big, totally absurd set piece. But unfortunately it was just a big absurd, unintentional laugh from the audience I saw this with. Having said that though, I will always go into a bat for a film that takes risks, even if they affect the overall quality of the film.
Despite being named for the main male character (who spends the entire film flat on his back comatose by the way), this is really Sharni Vinson’s film, with her new nurse at the asylum Kathy being the character whose journey we really go on. Hopefully given the success of You’re Next (2011) which was released this year, the presence of Vinson will ensure the film gets a fair workout on VOD internationally, or perhaps even a limited theatrical release. Just as in You’re Next, Vinson is really good here and she could easily spend the next few years of her career playing these roles very well. All the technical jazz here ranges from good to great. The film is beautifully shot. I am not sure what kind of budget they managed to muster for this, but there are no money deficiencies on show. There are some definite inconsistencies in the script. But most of it is really assured and the clunkiness is minimised. I think Hartley does a really good job with this film. You can tell he has an affection not just for the original film, but the form of old fashioned horror films more broadly and he brings that to bear on this. Importantly, he never lets that reverence get in the way of exploring new ground and his own creative channels. Which is a good thing, because the film could have easily been too stuffy given the narrative is a pretty simple one.
I haven’t seen the original Patrick so I cannot really compare the two efforts. But considered on its own terms, this film stands up as part of a growing canon of underappreciated canon of Australian genre work. This is a fun combination of the schlocky and the really well crafted that will appeal to genre fans, or those who loved Vinson’s work in You’re Next.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
Global Warming is not a core interest of mine. I have no doubt that it is happening and that it is cause by us shitty old humans. But for whatever reason, I have never felt particularly moved to either read or watch much about it.
However I recently watched the fantastic documentary Chasing Ice (2012) on the subject which may lead me to explore the topic a little more. The film takes quite a different approach to the issue compared to most. The focus of the film is photographer James Balog who begins an epic effort to set up time-lapse cameras pointed on various glaciers throughout the northern hemisphere. Balog, at one time a climate change denier, is a scientist by trade who ended up devoting his life to photography. His interest has always been the interaction between humans and nature and climate change is perhaps the ultimate manifestation of that. The reason he never really pursued science is due to its obsession (in his view) with statistics and computer modelling. This is also something that plagues discourse around global warming to a degree (no doubt with some understandable reasons underpinning that) which is part of the reason why I am not generally too fussed watching or reading about it. Photographing the change in glacier conditions is a great way to put in perspective what is really going on with our planet. There is interesting interrogations of the science as well though. But even that is a little different to the norm. This is about the concept of ‘air change’ and what ice cores can tell us about climate change over the centuries, which was all new to me.
Chasing Ice is only 75 minutes long but manages to cram a hell of a lot into the lean running time. It gets into the nitty gritty of Balog assembling his team and the high tech equipment that he needed. It also follows the expedition to set up the cameras in a number of countries (4 or 5 from memory). This part of the film almost needs to be a whole film in itself. It is so interesting and it is a perfect setup for a longer focus. That is almost my only criticism of the film. It could be longer or even a TV series with each episode focusing on a different aspect of the story – the global warming background, the kernel of the idea, the planning, initial expedition to put the cameras out, maintenance through the years and the final results. Having said that, all of those aspects are touched on satisfyingly, if briefly, throughout the film. And my, as you may imagine, this is a really pretty film. The imagery is incredible and varied too. Often with docos such as this, the imagery is a little repetitive. But as Balog touches on, there are seemingly infinite variations to the look of glacial ice and many of them make an appearance here. I wish I was lucky enough to see this on the big screen actually. The film closes off with the fruits of Balog’s labour. His time-lapse images are stark in the extreme. A sobering lesson that something is very wrong with our world.
It is not often that I give full marks to a film that I think is definitely imperfect. But when my issue is that the film is too short, then the film has done its job really well. Not content just to rest on the laurels of its interesting subjects, Chasing Ice tells this story really well and even better than that, it does it in a really engaging way. If you are after a global warming doco that is not all graphs, doomsday projections (though it is blunt about the future) and arguing between factions, give this a shot.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
You know whatever the state of your belief or disbelief, the tale of Noah and the ark could make for a badass film – dude with a beard faces apocalyptic floods on a wooden boat containing every species on earth. That’s rocking. With an really intriguing director, Russell Crowe as star and that killer poster above, Noah could be great stuff. However there has already been murmurings that the final cut of the film will be highly geared toward fundamental US Christian audiences. And if that is the case, it will make the target audience for the final film very narrow.
This trailer, quite frankly, looks terrible. Aside from the fact that Rusty looks totally killer with a beard and a buzzcut. I really hope I am wrong and we get a film that is fun and engaging for the everyday filmgoer. But I am not so sure. What do you guys think?
The marketing for the Australian film Goddess (2013) was a strange hodgepodge. Highlighting a heartthrob first time actor in Ronan Keating (former member of Boyzone who seems to have taken up residence in these parts), a woman who starts singing to her webcam whilst doing her dishes, numerous musical numbers and a rags to riches tale.
Without being too blunt about things, the one thing Goddess didn’t look was particularly good. Credit to director Mark Lamprell then that he marshals material that is a little all over the shop into a (mostly) satisfying and (mostly) coherent piece. Keating plays an absent husband, off in Antarctica saving the whales or something like that. The former boy band crooner does not stand out as being particularly bad in this acting endeavour, but neither does he truly engage. The same can’t be said for his onscreen wife Elspeth as played by Laura Michelle Kelly who is a firecracker and has a really endearing presence. Whilst Keaton has a bit of star power, and no doubt a help when financing calls were made, this is Kelly’s film. Her ditties in costume over the dirty dishes go viral meaning she jets off to Sydney to meet with an agent interested in making her huge. It is a credit to the script that Kelly has a fair bit to work with. The characterisation of her as a former small time musician who loved playing gigs but now finds herself on house mum duty is definitely not overly original, but it is made to work.
Goddess plays as both a musical and a melodrama with capital M’s. It is quite old school in how much it wears these two attributes on its sleeve. So much so that there is not really all that much effort put into incorporating the songs into the narrative. Like many of the best musicals there is more than a hint of the surreal to proceedings and it generally does not take itself too seriously. The prime attraction is the cast though. The aforementioned Kelly will hopefully be seen again soon. Whilst Magda Szubanski, a name familiar to Aussie readers but quite possibly no one else, is brilliant as always and her solo number is an unmitigated highlight. Also good in a quite hilarious support role is Hugo Johnstone-Bart. For the most part, the film is a light-hearted success. But it is when it attempts to get a little weightier that it falters. Initially the signs are promising. The thematic concerns of both chasing dreams and being wary of selling out are both teased out nicely. But rather than being a nice, mildly feminist jaunt it turns into quite the opposite. Elspeth becomes racked with guilt simply for chasing the dreams that she should be going for. It becomes this kind of absurd ode to the housewife existence and doing the dishes.
Despite my issues with the problematic themes, the charming cast and assured direction mean you could do worse than checking Goddess out if you are in the mood. Sure the film falters a bit in the last act, but Aussie musicals are not particularly common these days, so give this one a go.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
Woah just realised I completely forgot to post a trailer for this weekend, as mine winds down with a beer. Here is the trailer for next year’s second Marvel Captain America film. Have to say I was a real fan of the approach that Marvel took with the first, making it essentially a period piece. With Cap now in the present day, it will be interesting to see how this standalone film holds up without that hook.
The trailer is promising enough though. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow appears to be along for the ride not to mention Robert Redford doing something or other rather businesslike. There also appears to be some interesting plot points about Cap adjusting to the modern world of preemptive strikes. I will be definitely keen to check this one out as soon as it opens next year.