Monthly Archives: January 2014

Review: Monsters University

Director: Dan Scanlon
Year: 2013
Score: 7.5/10

The end credits are full of visual gags. Could this one be a parody of erectile dysfunction ads? "Low can numbers? I'll give your scream volume!" Maybe I'm reading too much into it; nobody else seems to have noticed.

The end credits are full of visual gags. Could this one be a parody of erectile dysfunction ads? “Low can numbers? I’ll give your scream volume!” Maybe I’m reading too much into it; nobody else seems to have noticed.

Pixar has made most of the best animated children’s movies over the past two decades, but it’s reasonable to be wary of follow-ups to their previous releases; while Toy Story 2 and 3 are great, Cars 2 stinks and the Cars spin-off Planes (admittedly not actually made by Pixar but co-written and executive produced by Pixar’s John Lasseter) reportedly does too. My trepidation was all the greater given Monsters, Inc. is one of my very favourite Pixar films (and that’s saying something). However, I was pleasantly surprised to find an enjoyable romp with some great new characters, lots of humour, and respect for the world of the original. It doesn’t reach its predecessor’s heights but that might be more to do with the fact that Monsters, Inc. had such originality whereas this prequel, by its nature, has less. It’s fun to be back with Mike and Sulley, though Boo is missed; the ragtag Oozma Kappa gang includes some memorable (and amusing) monsters, but nobody who can give the movie quite as much heart as Boo (and her relationship to Mike and especially Sulley) did for Monsters, Inc. Bottom line: if you’re a fan of the original, there’s a fair chance you’ll enjoy this too.

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Review: From Here to Eternity

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Year: 1953
Score: 7.5/10

Note the strategically placed calendar indicating that it's December 6, 1941. Oh, and we're at a Hawaiian military base. Anyone have plans for tomorrow..?

Note the strategically placed calendar indicating that it’s December 6, 1941. Oh, and we’re at a Hawaiian military base. Anyone have plans for tomorrow..?

Mature anti-war drama shows surprising sensitivity in its treatment of masculinity, conformity, relationships, and the struggle to maintain one’s principles. Montgomery Clift and Burt Lancaster give nuanced performances conveying deep pathos, both deservedly receiving Oscar nominations for their efforts (they must have split the votes as William Holden won instead for Stalag 17). Their co-stars Deborah Kerr and Frank Sinatra are very good too. The iconic beach scene featuring Lancaster and Kerr is a highlight, as is the gripping depiction of the attack on Pearl Harbor in the film’s final fifteen minutes. It has some lulls and isn’t my favourite film adaptation of a James Jones novel (that honour remains with Terrence Malick’s version of The Thin Red Line), but it’s a fine film nonetheless.

Review: Bullitt

Director: Peter Yates
Year: 1968
Score: 7/10

3. WRITE TO-DO LIST AS MASSIVE CLUE FOR ANY DETECTIVE WHO HAPPENS TO BE INVESTIGATING MY FINAL MOVEMENTS.

3. WRITE TO-DO LIST AS MASSIVE CLUE FOR ANY DETECTIVE WHO HAPPENS TO BE INVESTIGATING MY FINAL MOVEMENTS.

This police detective thriller has a bit more style than substance, but what style! The slick, showy opening titles set the tone nicely. Steve McQueen is just so very very cool as the title character. Robert Vaughn also does well as a slimy, selfish politician. The car chase sequence is regarded as one of the best in cinematic history and I won’t dispute that categorisation; it’s gripping and fast and quite incredible. Some of the stuff with Bullitt’s girlfriend is hokey and seems plucked from a different movie. I found it amusing and a touch distracting that the Mafia is referred to throughout the film as ‘the organisation’ – perhaps for a similar reason that the word Mafia isn’t used in The Godfather? Perhaps not; apparently in the case of The Godfather it was because of action taken by mobster Joe Colombo’s Italian-American Civil Rights League, whereas the League didn’t exist when Bullitt was made.

Review: Evil Dead

Director: Fede Alvarez
Year: 2013
Score: 6/10

She seems mostly armless.

She seems mostly armless.

It’s hard to go into this without preconceptions; mine were that it would probably be an entirely pointless remake and that it wouldn’t work without Bruce Campbell (who only appears in a superfluous fleeting post-credits cameo for fan service purposes). As it happened, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, so perhaps low expectations are the way to go. It has some pretty over-the-top bits, which is what you want from an Evil Dead movie, but they don’t have the humorous undertones that made the original trilogy work. In place of humour there’s the bland creepiness and shocking visuals that are so common in contemporary horror movies. The performances are passable at best, and some of the character/relationship beats miss their mark. Ultimately, while it was successful in that it gave me some scares and wasn’t the complete dud it could so easily have been, I’m still not convinced it was worth making this rather than an original horror film, and I prefer the first two Raimi/Campbell movies.

Review: Army of Darkness

Director: Sam Raimi
Year: 1992
Score: 5.5/10

Is there anything funnier than a skeleton finger yanking Ash by the nose? (Did anyone else answer 'yes, almost anything'?)

Is there anything funnier than a skeleton finger yanking Ash by the nose? (Did anyone else answer ‘yes, almost anything’?)

The weakest instalment in the Evil Dead trilogy, I give Sam Raimi points for ambition but he loses them for shoddy execution. It seems bizarre that the sequel to a pair of cabin-in-the-woods horror movies should be a medieval quest comedy, but in some ways it kind of works. It is, however, often very silly – and not in a good way. It’s also got the lamest plot of the trilogy. I love the totally inconsistent use of Flowery Elizabethan English, e.g. “When thou retrievest the book from its cradle, you must recite the words…”. Many locations look more like we’re watching a western than a medieval movie. It’s also not clear where Ash learnt swordplay, leadership, battle tactics, or how to make gunpowder. Plot holes? Surely not!

Review: Evil Dead II

Director: Sam Raimi
Year: 1987
Score: 8/10

Sing it with me: "There ain't no way to hide your flyin' eyes..."

Sing it with me: “There ain’t no way to hide your flyin’ eyes…”

The best film in the franchise, this one is funny and scary and gross, all in just the right proportions. Bruce Campbell is perfect, bringing Ash to a new level. It’s the Evil Dead II Ash that we all remember; it’s here that he really gets his mojo (plus his chainsaw arm and boomstick), and it’s here that he best delivers the catchphrases he’s known for (all of which were later ripped off by 3D Realms in the video game Duke Nukem 3D). Big chunks of the movie feature him on his own (apart from demon/s, possessed hands, etc.), which is not a bad thing. So many great scenes; I think my favourite is Ash vs. his hand (still attached at that point). The biggest flaw of the film is that the final act is mostly used to set up the weak third instalment, Army of Darkness, instead of providing a satisfying stand-alone ending.

Review: The Evil Dead

Director: Sam Raimi
Year: 1981
Score: 7.5/10

So... tree rape. The jokes write themselves.

So… tree rape. The jokes write themselves.

The film that kicked off the Evil Dead saga is rough around the edges but full of memorable moments and gruesome visuals. The basic premise is now so familiar but would presumably have seemed original at the time. Sam Raimi uses lots of imaginative camera angles and shots, including of course the oft-imitated ‘shaky cam’ representing the fast-moving demonic point of view. Bruce Campbell is perfectly cast as Ash and doesn’t take long to make the role his own, creating one of the horror genre’s most iconic (and amusing) characters. The balance of horror and comedy is a little off in this one; Raimi was still learning his craft at this point, and didn’t get that particular balance right until the sequel six years later. Notably, one of the Coen brothers (Joel, to be precise) served as an assistant editor and learned a thing or two. If you think you’re a horror fan and you haven’t seen this, well, you’re not really a horror fan, are you?

Review: The General

Directors: Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman
Year: 1926
Score: 6/10

Cinema's oldest wet t-shirt competition.

Cinema’s oldest wet t-shirt competition.

The oldest movie I’ve ever seen (apart from excerpts from Birth of a Nation), this classic Buster Keaton silent comedy only really holds up in the sense that it’s interesting and historically significant; the actual entertainment value is pretty marginal. Some regard it as the best film ever made; I find that hard to fathom… are they really genuinely entertained and amused by it, or just impressed given it was made so very long ago? The best part is the farcical train chase, which goes on quite a while and has plenty of gags to get through. I kept wondering (and still do) precisely how a lot of those train scenes were shot; it looks very much like they just did a lot of it practically rather than with any cinematic trickery, which is impressive if true. I know the bridge/train shot was done practically, and was apparently the most expensive stunt of the silent era, and it’s hard not to be wowed by it. Worth watching for cinema buffs, but probably won’t find much of an audience beyond them these days.

Review: Pacific Rim

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Year: 2013
Score: 5.5/10

Sure, the giant alien destroys Sydney Harbour, but I live 9 kilometres away, so I'm sure I'll be fine. Right? In fact, anyone who doesn't live on or adjacent to a recognisable landmark in a major world city tends to be fine in most disaster/monster/alien blockbusters.

Sure, the giant alien destroys Sydney Harbour, but I live 9 kilometres away, so I’m sure I’ll be fine. Right? In fact, anyone who doesn’t live on or adjacent to a recognisable landmark in a major world city tends to be fine in most disaster/monster/alien blockbusters.

Disappointingly stupid big budget sci-fi action movie with unfulfilled aspirations to be a genuinely cool homage to the kaiju and mecha genres. Some of the aliens are interesting in their designs and don’t look exactly like every previous alien / giant monster I’ve ever seen. The same can’t be said for the robots, which basically just look like Transformers. The robot vs. alien fights are engaging enough for a while but about halfway through the movie they wear thin – and then they just keep on going. The character stuff is boring and lame, and the story is pretty generic. The actors, led by Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy and Idris Elba from The Wire, are mostly bearable. I admire Guillermo del Toro’s ambition, but ambition and mountains of cash for visual effects aren’t enough to make a good movie.

Review: Thelma & Louise

Director: Ridley Scott
Year: 1991
Score: 8/10

Hmmm, nine cars chasing one across a plain... remind anyone else of the Arwen/Nazgul horse chase scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring? The similarity is really quite uncanny.

Hmmm, nine cars chasing one across a plain… remind anyone else of the Arwen/Nazgul horse chase scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring? The similarity is really quite uncanny.

This really isn’t the kind of movie that comes to mind when I think of Ridley Scott, but regardless of its dissimilarity from his usual fare, he does a sterling job with the material. It’s long, almost languid at times, giving us plenty of time to get to know and love Geena Davis’ Thelma and Susan Sarandon’s Louise. Both actresses are in top form, as are many members of the supporting cast: Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, the great Stephen Tobolowsky, and especially Brad Pitt in his breakout role. Thanks to them and the fine script, it’s funny, touching and quite moving. It’s also beautifully shot, with scenery that gets more and more picturesque as our heroines drive closer to their doom. The soundtrack’s good too, full of boppy tunes that help get the tone right. And that ending! I just wish I hadn’t known about it in advance.

Review: Primal Fear

Director: Gregory Hoblit
Year: 1996
Score: 6.5/10

The only primal fear the movie engendered in me was fear of man boobs. Zing!

The only primal fear the movie engendered in me was fear of man boobs. Zing!

Crime thriller focusing on the trial of a young altar boy (Edward Norton) charged with a gruesome murder, the hotshot defence attorney (Richard Gere) convinced of his innocence, and the prosecutor (Laura Linney) who used to be romantically involved with that defence attorney. It’s more cinematic than your standard TV courtroom procedural, though not by much; the plot has a few more twists and turns, the actors are of higher calibre, and the scope is a bit wider (at least compared to what TV producers can fit into an hour). Norton, making his film debut, is quite good in a showy role; his performance deserved to get him noticed, but I’m not sure it deserved the Oscar nomination it garnered him. There’s a sordid church scandal angle that feels a bit clichéd. I suspect it all falls apart if you think about it too much; if you don’t, it’s an engaging enough way to spend a couple of hours. Ultimately your assessment may depend on your reaction to the ending.

Review: Blue Caprice

Director: Alexandre Moors
Year: 2013
Score: 4/10

This was the real reason I changed the name of my blog from Simon Says Movies to Movies and Bacon.

This was the real reason I changed the name of my blog from Simon Says Movies to Movies and Bacon.

Sterile dramatisation of the 2002 Washington, D.C. sniper attacks that gives no real insight into the killers (apart from, in broad terms, who they were), the victims, the crimes (apart from how they were committed), or the fear they caused. By the end I struggled to see the point of the movie. The climax is entirely anticlimactic, and while I realise that’s how it went down in real life, that’s really no excuse; this is a (non-comedic) movie, it needs to end with at least a modicum of drama. The performances are adequate but the material is turgid so they don’t help. There’s a consistency to the tone and mood at least. Skip it.

Review: The Hunt for Red October

Director: John McTiernan
Year: 1990
Score: 7/10

Some brilliant green screen work here.

Some brilliant green screen work here.

Decent submarine movie has some good action and thrills, presuming you’re able to suspend your disbelief far enough. Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin and Scott Glenn are all fairly solid. There’s a lot going on but it never feels overwhelming and always serves the story. However, nothing about it feels particularly grounded or authentic; instead there’s a heightened sense of reality – the sort I should have expected from a movie based on a Tom Clancy novel – that, in my view, detracts somewhat. The switch from Russian to English is neat, though it’s the kind of gimmick that will only work once so it hasn’t been repeated in other movies (as far as I know). For some reason Sam Neill’s Russian character is obsessed with Montana; quite fitting, since three years later he’d end up there as a paleontologist in Jurassic Park. The final moment of the film is a gag, which seems an odd choice.

Review: Waterloo

Director: Sergey Bondarchuk
Year: 1970
Score: 7.5/10

Napoleon's reaction to reading the end of the script and finding out that he loses the titular battle.

Napoleon’s reaction to reading the end of the script and finding out that he loses the titular battle.

Faithful historical epic about Napoleon’s Hundred Days and the Battle of Waterloo. It does a good job of bringing the central historical figures to life – especially Napoleon himself, played by Rod Steiger, and Wellington, played by Christopher Plummer – but it’s the battle scenes that truly impress. They’re absolutely mind-boggling in their scope, scale and realism (except for a lack of blood and gore). Apparently the director was in command of the seventh largest army in the world during production, and the whole thing seems to appear on-screen in some shots. My main criticisms: it’s slow at times and much of it lacks emotional impact. Those battle scenes though…

Review: Small Time Crooks

Director: Woody Allen
Year: 2000
Score: 7.5/10

This scene in the sole reason Small Time a Crooks needs a 3D rerelease, pronto.

This scene in the sole reason Small Time a Crooks needs a 3D rerelease, pronto.

One of Woody Allen’s more enjoyable late-career offerings. While it may not have much depth or meaning, it has at least three things in its favour: a funny script, funny characters and funny situations. I’m not usually a fan of Tracey Ullman (apart from her amusing performance in Robin Hood: Men in Tights), but she’s wonderful in this. Allen is his usual self. It goes in such an unexpected and rewarding direction after Ullman’s character’s cookie business takes off; we get a ‘One Year Later’ time-jump, and then perhaps the best part of the film, a hilarious sequence in the form of a TV news report or documentary to get us up to speed. On the other hand, the sequence toward the end involving Allen and a safe is a misfire, generating very few laughs.

Review: +1

Director: Dennis Iliadis
Year: 2013
Score: 5/10

Definitely the only movie I've seen in which a naked Asian woman (her crotch modestly covered by a leaf) is used as a human buffet table, gets bitten by a black guy, and gets revenge with a flying kick.

Definitely the only movie I’ve seen in which a naked Asian woman (her crotch modestly covered by a leaf) is used as a human buffet table, gets bitten by a black guy, and gets revenge with a flying kick.

Sci-fi thriller mashed up with teen sex comedy, all set at an almost Project X-ish party. It has a promising premise involving doppelgängers and time jumping but the execution is uneven, especially as things ramp up in the second half, and the premise doesn’t lead to any of the interesting places you might hope. At first I thought this was a skilled bunch of actors I’d never seen before; by the end I was less impressed by them. There’s also one subplot that comes across as simplistic fantasy fulfilment; I suppose it isn’t that different to the Nadia/Jim relationship in American Pie, but somehow it made me more uncomfortable. I think the ideas and genres involved could well have made for a smart, entertaining movie; this just isn’t it.

Review: Gravity

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Year: 2013
Score: 9.5/10

It's good to occasionally see the world through someone else's eyes - or in this case, through their eye, face, brain and skull.

It’s good to occasionally see the world through someone else’s eyes – or in this case, through their eye, face, brain and skull.

The best space movie I’ve ever seen and a gripping experience from start to finish. The opening tracking shot, lasting an incredible thirteen minutes, establishes right from the start the technical wizardry on show and director/co-writer Alfonso Cuarón’s refusal to allow viewers to shift from the edges of their seats or peel their eyes from the screen for even a moment. Better yet, nothing – not even the teardrop that floats toward the camera in vivid 3D – is used for its own sake or just to wow us with beauty or how-did-they-do-that wonder; instead, all that wizardry is actually in service of a finely crafted survival story and a moving tale of a woman in crisis. I don’t normally like Sandra Bullock (and from talking to others about this movie, it seems I’m not alone in that) but she’s really great in this, somehow avoiding whatever it is that usually repels me and allowing me to (silently) cheer for her the whole way through. George Clooney is good too, though it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for him as the character he plays is basically just Astronaut George Clooney. It’s quite short, a taut 90 minutes, but that length seems perfect and allows for a concentrated burst of tension and drama that might have been too much if stretched over two or more hours. The ending is quite beautiful. I saw it in 3D at IMAX, the way it demands and deserves to be seen. I imagine its impressiveness would be slightly reduced with every reduction in screen size, so much so that it would feel cramped and stifled on a television, though it should still work. If it’s somehow still playing at an IMAX near you, or it gets rereleased there, do yourself a favour and go check it out.

Review: Girl, Interrupted

Director: James Mangold
Year: 1999
Score: 7/10

Susanna brainstorms possible sequels to Two Girls One Cup.

Susanna brainstorms possible sequels to Two Girls One Cup.

Watchable drama based on a true story about the inmates of a mental institution in the late 1960s. The main reason it’s good rather than great is that although it has a couple of powerful moments, it isn’t as emotionally engaging as it should be, given the subject matter and themes. Still, it features some strong acting from its mostly female cast, led by Winona Ryder (giving one of her better, less irritating performances) and with solid work from Whoopi Goldberg, Angelina Jolie and Brittany Murphy. Jolie won an Oscar for her flashy but undeniably skilled performance. It’s fun to see Elisabeth Moss so young (she was only 16 at the time of filming); she’s not actually very good, and if I’d watched this back when it came out I would never have predicted what an outstanding actress she’d later become (principally on Mad Men). A minor criticism: I could have done with a bit more period flavour rather than just occasional reminders that we’re in the ’60s. The opening line of the film is Ryder asking “Have you ever confused a dream with life? Or stolen something when you have the cash?”, which is pretty hilarious in light of her arrest for shoplifting two years after the film’s release.

Review: Finding Neverland

Director: Marc Forster
Year: 2004
Score: 7.5/10

This is by no means perfect but I enjoyed it and found it very emotionally engaging. Johnny Depp does well in the lead role; he’s not too showy (as he often is) and brings a warmth and a quiet charm to his J. M. Barrie. Kate Winslet is solid as usual. The kids are very good too, and they’re the source of much of the emotion, particularly Freddie Highmore’s Peter. Sure, using kids in this way can be emotionally manipulative, but if the manipulation is this successful, who’s complaining? A couple of criticisms: the pacing was uneven and I could have done without the marital strife angle. Still, overall a success.

Review: Boy

Director: Taika Waititi
Year: 2010
Score: 7/10

I can completely understand why this was such a crowd-pleaser in cinemas. It’s very sweet and – at least for the first third or so – very funny too. As it goes on it shifts in tone and genre, traversing more dramatic territory and losing laughs in the process; this is a somewhat necessary shift, given the demands of the story, but I would have preferred more sustained comedy. James Rolleston is excellent in the titular role, and writer/director Taika Waititi is also good as his father.