Monthly Archives: August 2013

January movie reviews

The following reviews were originally published on Facebook on 31 January 2013, at the end of my first month of watching a movie a day.

  • John Dies at the End (2012): 5/10. Has some interesting ideas and visuals, and the always solid Paul Giamatti. Overall, though, it’s pretty silly and disappointing, particularly the second half.
  • This Is 40 (2012): 6.5/10. It’s about 30 minutes too long and it’s yet another Paul Rudd movie that left me puzzled as to why anybody thinks he’s a competent leading man. Leslie Mann’s not bad and the kids (played by Apatow and Mann’s real-life kids) are great. Enough gags, and insights into marriage/relationships/parenting that ring true, to make it a worthwhile watch.
  • King of the Hill (1993): 7/10. Very watchable Soderbergh film set during the Depression. Great performance from its child star Jesse Bradford (who never really amounted to much). A particularly memorable scene depicts him cutting pictures of food out of magazines (or cookbooks?), arranging them on a plate, and eating them with a knife and fork.
  • Die Hard (1988): 7/10. The only one of the 31 that I’d seen before. It’s a very entertaining action flick and probably my favourite Christmas movie, though to be honest it was a little disappointing this time around for some reason.
  • Killing Them Softly (2012): 5.5/10. Excellent performances, and solidly directed, but by the end it all seemed a bit pointless. Also, the subtext was rammed home in a repetitive and very unsubtle way.
  • Pitch Perfect (2012): 6/10. For what it is (essentially a cross between Bring It On and Glee), this is a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours. It helps that I really like Anna Kendrick. Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are fun as a pair of commentators. This movie is also noteworthy for being the first time I’ve actually liked Rebel Wilson.
  • Lincoln (2012): 8.5/10. An excellent film dominated by a staggeringly good performance from Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s easy to expect him to be great – he always is – but he exceeds all expectations here. Just sit back and watch the master do his thing. Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader are also very good in supporting roles.
  • Network (1976): 7/10. Very interesting, this: a sharp satire that’s more dramatic than comedic. Ahead of its time in its critique of television. Faye Dunaway is magnetic in a challenging role. And, of course, there’s the famous line (something about hellish madness and refusing to take something..?); great to finally see it in context.
  • Barry Lyndon (1975): 8/10. Very long but always engaging Kubrick film about the rise and fall of a character who at times reminded me of Forrest Gump. Covers a lot of ground but has a consistency of tone that makes it work. Nice soundtrack too.
  • Peep World (2010): 2/10. Terrible comedy that completely wastes some actors I usually like (e.g. Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Ben Schwartz). I don’t remember laughing once.
  • Carnage (2011): 6.5/10. It’s very play-ish (unsurprising given it’s an adaptation of a play!) and at times the performances seem a bit stylised, but it’s still an interesting demonstration (and exploration) of how easily the fa├žade of polite society can be stripped away to reveal our selfish, arseholish cores.
  • Your Highness (2011): 4/10. Better than Peep World, but still a very bad comedy. Danny McBride and James Franco occasionally amuse, but mostly it’s just dull, and a major problem is that it tries to take its fantasy action sequences seriously instead of making them funny.
  • Punch-Drunk Love (2002): 9.5/10. Wow! The best film I’ve seen all year. It’s funny, gripping, deeply touching, entirely unpredictable, and very innovative in its direction. I can’t believe I waited so long to watch this! I think it probably isn’t for everyone, but I really loved it.
  • The Battle of Algiers (1966): 7.5/10. It’s quite incredible that this was made almost 50 years ago; it doesn’t feel nearly that old. The style is closer to a documentary than a drama, which gives it a sense of realism and urgency. Well worth a watch.
  • Bellflower (2011): 6.5/10. Experimental indie film has parts that work and parts that don’t, but you have to give them points for trying. Probably the aspect I’ll remember most is the depiction of the central friendship; it felt genuine and warm. But then, of course, there are the parts that don’t work… and instead come across as self-indulgent or – worse – laughably silly.
  • The Intouchables (2011): 7/10. Crowd-pleasing French film is definitely entertaining enough, but there isn’t all that much depth to it. It’s been accused of racism, and to some extent that’s a valid criticism. Still, it’s hard not to smile through most of it.
  • A Separation (2011): 8.5/10. Fascinating story that gives insights into the Iranian bureaucracy/legal system, and into universal experiences of family/relationship/domestic strife, in equal measure. At first it doesn’t seem that engaging, but once you’re about 20 minutes in, it grabs you and doesn’t let go until the very end of the credits.
  • Bernie (2011): 7.5/10. Jack Black is great in this overlooked gem from Richard Linklater. An interesting take on the Christopher Guest-style mockumentary genre, it mixes in interviews with actual residents from the small town at the centre of the story who knew the real Bernie. The songs performed by Black are permanently stuck in my head.
  • The Campaign (2012): 4/10. Yet another bad comedy. I like Will Ferrell and Zach Galafianakis, and they both do a few funny things in this, but overall it’s pretty crappy. As villainous brothers, John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd seem like they can hardly be bothered all.
  • Brave (2012): 6.5/10. It’s a Pixar film so my expectations were high. I spent the first 3/4 feeling increasingly disappointed; it wasn’t funny enough, didn’t have enough memorable characters (and so many of the minor characters seemed like such missed comedic opportunities!), and its story didn’t seem ‘big’/significant enough. By the end, those criticisms still stood, but it won me over to some extent with some nice emotional moments in the final minutes. It’s rare – and nice – to see a movie that, at its core, is about the relationship between a mother and her daughter.
  • Argo (2012): 7/10. Well-made, interesting, and at times quite entertaining, but a bit overrated and not worth all the awards attention it’s getting. Still, Affleck certainly knows how to make movies.
  • Safety Not Guaranteed (2012): 7.5/10. Fresh indie romantic comedy in which Aubrey Plaza does the Michael Cera thing – i.e. plays the exact same character she’s best known for playing in an excellent TV comedy series. In other words, she doesn’t have a huge amount of range. But that doesn’t matter here; she’s fine as the troubled magazine intern investigating – and, of course, falling for – the even more troubled wannabe time traveller. It’s a bit predictable but nicely written and produces the requisite warm fuzzy feelings such films intend us to feel.
  • Event Horizon (1997): 3.5/10. Not good at all. Has some interesting ideas, and the basic premise (The Shining in space) has promise, but it descends into such stupidity! Plots holes galore and some laughably bad sequences, particularly in the second half. Plus, the explanation we’re given for what’s going on is pretty lame.
  • Public Enemies (2009): 7.5/10. Johnny Depp is very good as John Dillinger, and the film succeeds in conveying the ominous sense of doom closing in around him. Christian Bale, as usual, is a bit ‘meh’. Solidly directed by Michael Mann.
  • Body of Lies (2008): 7/10. Not sure why I didn’t get around to watching this until now. Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe are good, but the real revelation here is Mark Strong, who I normally don’t like. It’s not Ridley Scott’s best work, but it’s definitely worth a watch.
  • Waltz with Bashir (2008): 9/10. What an incredible film. If you watch nothing else from this list, at least watch this. The manner in which the story is told is very clever, gradually drawing you further and further into the horrific events as the interviewees bring Folman closer to them through his and their memories. So many sequences will stay with me. Also, the animation style is excellent. And when, in the final moments, animation is replaced with archival footage – all of a sudden it hits and crushes you.
  • Gattaca (1997): 6/10. Some interesting ideas, but overall the execution is a bit muddled. If this is supposed to be the future, why is everything in film noir style?
  • Legends of the Fall (1994): 6.5/10. There were lots of parts I liked, but lots I didn’t. I had two main problems. Firstly, Brad Pitt’s character was a total douche most of the time so why would I want to root for him? And secondly, it often felt – in the depictions of time passing, and certain events being alluded to but not shown – that the parts of this family’s story we were actually shown weren’t always the most interesting parts or the parts I would have wanted to have seen. I was amused by Julia Ormond’s character ending up being romantically involved with ALL THREE of the brothers. And James Horner’s music was nice.
  • Lebanon (2009): 7.5/10. Gripping, claustrophobic and quite moving portrayal of life in an Israeli tank at the start of the 1982 Lebanon War. There’s a bit of Murphy’s Law in terms of what these particular soldiers experience, and their reactions and infighting sometimes seem a little bit over the top, but it’s still a very powerful film.
  • The Devils (1971): 6/10. Understandably controversial Ken Russell film isn’t really all that good, but Oliver Reed is excellent in the lead role.
  • The Sting (1973): 7.5/10. Very entertaining caper has some nice twists and turns and a cast of characters you just want to see in action. The idea of a whole room full of people who are all in on a con, all basically acting, all working in concert to execute the sting, seemed inherently novel and interesting to me. Redford and Newman are solid.