Monthly Archives: March 2014

Review: 13 Assassins

Director: Takashi Miike
Year: 2010
Score: 7/10

Traditional samurai weapon #441: flaming bulls.

Traditional samurai weapon #441: flaming bulls.

Solid if slightly overrated samurai movie with good action scenes and excellent production values. The story offers very few surprises and the inevitable deaths of many of the titular assassins don’t pack much of an emotional punch. The antagonist is extremely one-dimensional; he’s sadistic, abusive of his power, and ultimately overconfident, but I couldn’t tell you anything else about him or his motivations. However, the real draw here is the samurai action, particularly in the spectacular battle that takes up most of the film’s final third. It’s also an interesting counterpoint to Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies in that it shows how to better overcome the challenge of introducing and making the audience familiar with thirteen similar characters on a quest.

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Review: Thirteen

Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Year: 2003
Score: 8/10

I don't want to live in a world in which the only two movie options at a fictional cinema are a Jack Black vehicle called The Misadventures of Ezekial Balls and a John Cusack vehicle called Operation Kandahar.

I don’t want to live in a world in which the only two movie options at a fictional cinema are a Jack Black vehicle called The Misadventures of Ezekial Balls and a John Cusack vehicle called Operation Kandahar.

Frightening drama about teenage girls getting up to mischief. The sense of realism is heightened by Catherine Hardwicke’s directorial style and the knowledge that co-writer/co-star Nikki Reed based much of the script on her own then-recent experiences. Great performances all around, particularly from Evan Rachel Wood and Holly Hunter. Some of the music is jarringly late-’90s sounding. It serves as a fitting companion piece to Larry Clark’s Kids, though it’s not quite as good. The scariest part is that Hunter’s character really is doing her best, but it isn’t nearly enough to stop her daughter from spiralling out of control. I’m suddenly very glad I don’t have any daughters of my own.

Guest Review: Alex Cross

Director: Rob Cohen
Year: 2012
Score: 5/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

Seriously, don't look – there's a really tiny guy standing behind you!

Seriously, don’t look – there’s a really tiny guy standing behind you!

Where Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls bravely went first, Alex Cross stumbles clumsily behind. Gone are the days of Morgan Freeman’s deep and atmosphere-creating character as the piercing sunlight of Tyler Perry’s new hard-man character glares painfully into the hungover eyes of the detective thriller genre.

This is a reasonably entertaining thriller, rescued from the depths of cinematic obscurity by a frankly superb performance from a steroid-pumped former Lost cry baby Matthew Fox as the crazed bad guy Picasso. There is actually a fairly strong roster of acting talent; John C. McGinley (of Scrubs’ Dr. Cox fame) and Jean Reno both take reasonably large roles but unfortunately both fail to sparkle to the extent that we’ve seen so many times before.

The problem for Alex Cross is the film’s namesake’s association with the character’s previous outings, and not least because of the change of actor. There’s a change of pace to the film from its predecessors, leaving behind clinical and calculating detective work and embracing a new world of cage fighting and rocket launchers. Were this film called Tommy Knox: Detective Badass then it would be enjoyable in its own right, however sadly for most it will be forever cast into the bargain bin labelled ‘difficult third album’.

As with all ‘film of the books’, Alex Cross is at the behest of the plot laid out before in another medium. Sadly it hasn’t made the transition as effortlessly as many others have, but Rob Cohen’s new vision of the character is still worth a watch.

Drew Pontikis is an avid gamer and film fanatic. A fan of racing sims, first person shooters and horror films, Drew is notable for talking almost exclusively using Futurama quotes. Follow him on Twitter as @drew060609 or read his game reviews at http://obscenegaming.wordpress.com.

Review: Joe Versus the Volcano

Director: John Patrick Shanley
Year: 1990
Score: 4/10

Hmmm if this prototype was available in 1990, do you reckon the final version is available for sale by now? Asking for a friend...

Hmmm if this prototype was available in 1990, do you reckon the final version is available for sale by now? Asking for a friend…

Strange romantic comedy that has inexplicably become a cult film. In the first act there’s an appealing quirkiness that reminded me of the parts of Tim Burton’s movies that I actually like. Unfortunately it quickly devolves into an unfunny, uninteresting sequence of predictable (if bizarre) events. Tom Hanks is his usual reliable self and Meg Ryan (in – for no particular reason – three roles) doesn’t grate as much as she sometimes can, but they can’t salvage the material. Poor Ossie Davis and Nathan Lane are completely wasted; Davis’ scenes seem like they’re going somewhere but don’t, instead basically conforming to the ‘Magical Negro’ stereotype for no purpose I could discern. The moment with the oversized moon is quite nice.

Review: Touchy Feely

Director: Lynn Shelton
Year: 2013
Score: 6.5/10

This is either an extreme close-up of the skin of one of the characters or a Windows 95 wallpaper option.

This is either an extreme close-up of the skin of one of the characters or a Windows 95 wallpaper option.

This lightweight indie comedy-drama has a lot to like, particularly the performances; Josh Pais has never been better and Alison Janney is never not awesome. It also has some really nice moments, such as the scene in which Rosemarie DeWitt’s character recounts memories and the one in which Pais climbs onto a reiki table. Ultimately, though, the story’s a bit too muddled for it to really hold together narratively or dramatically. Changes in people’s circumstances and behaviour aren’t really explained and things (particularly in the second half) just seem to happen, often without much rhyme or reason. Still worth checking out if you’re a fan of any of the talent involved.

Review: Shame

Director: Steve McQueen
Year: 2011
Score: 6.5/10

This is literally the only shot in the entire movie in which we don't see Michael Fassbender's wang (and only because the camera momentarily panned up to his face).

This is literally the only shot in the entire movie in which we don’t see Michael Fassbender’s wang (and only because the camera momentarily panned up to his face).

Engaging but aloof drama about sexual addiction from Steve McQueen, who went on to make the superior (and Oscar-winning) 12 Years a Slave. The central performances from Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan are excellent, there are some powerful moments and sequences, and the film’s refusal to reveal what exactly screwed these siblings up is refreshing. However, by the end it doesn’t feel especially insightful and I was left wondering what I’d gained by watching it (other than an appreciation for the actors and a familiarity with Fassbender’s dong). There are some very impressive long takes, the best being a 2:12 tracking shot of Fassbender’s jogging down a New York street that must have been a logistical nightmare to shoot. Big chunks of the score totally rip off Hans Zimmer’s score for The Thin Red Line; one on hand this is bad because it’s plagiarism, but on the other hand it’s good because I love The Thin Red Line and its score, and it works well here.

Review: They Live

Director: John Carpenter
Year: 1988
Score: 4.5/10

Carpenter's not-especially-subtle dig at film critics. Get it?

Carpenter’s not-especially-subtle dig at film critics. Get it?

John Carpenter’s sci-fi satire falls squarely into the ‘great idea terrible execution’ category. It takes a really long time to get going – we don’t see any of the titular aliens until a third of the way through – though that wouldn’t be such a problem if the first third wasn’t so reminiscent of bad ’80s television. The production values are terrible; don’t get me wrong, I can handle low-budget, but this is just bad. Its biggest flaws are the awful acting (especially from Roddy Piper, a professional wrestler inexplicably cast in the lead role), shitty special effects, hokey action (including a pointless fight scene between the protagonist and his eventual buddy that goes on for over five minutes), repetitive, cheap-sounding ’80s-TV-show music (co-written by Carpenter), and characters whose behaviour is constantly baffling (seriously, Piper is incapable of convincing others to try the sunglasses by giving them a brief summary of what’s going on??). Some of Piper’s lines, such as “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass – and I’m all out of bubble gum” and “Brother, life’s a bitch – and she’s back in heat”, are the sort of things that might have worked coming from Ash in the Evil Dead movies or Duke in the Duke Nukem video games (which actually ended up using them!), but they’re cheesy in a bad way here. The real shame is that the premise is so promising; it’s clear Carpenter had some interesting ideas, not to mention some worthwhile satirical points to make, but all was squandered in execution.

Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Director: Philip Kaufman
Year: 1978
Score: 7.5/10

In a bizarre cameo with no lines, Robert Duvall shows up as a priest playing on a swing surrounded by kids. Because, you know, there's nothing creepy about that at all.

In a bizarre cameo with no lines, Robert Duvall shows up as a priest playing on a swing surrounded by kids. Because, you know, there’s nothing creepy about that at all.

Effectively creepy alien invasion movie has a palpable sense of claustrophobia and hopelessness. Keeping our perspective so localised – forcing us to fearfully imagine what might be going on outside of San Francisco – adds to the tension nicely. Denny Zeitlin’s unusual score also works well. Donald Sutherland and a young Jeff Goldblum are solid, as is Brooke Adams, who I’ve previously only seen in Days of Heaven. For a movie about an invasion, there’s precious little violence. The ending is satisfying and memorable. Caveat: I haven’t seen the 1956 version; I watched this version first, having heard it was superior.

Guest Review: The Great Gatsby

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Year: 2013
Score: 4/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

Welcome to a brand new feature on Movies and Bacon: guest reviews! Today’s guest reviewer is Drew Pontikis from Obscene Gaming. Here’s his take on The Great Gatsby, a film previously reviewed by Movies and Bacon here.

You sit there and think about the terrible film you've made!

You sit there and think about the terrible film you’ve made!

A Baz Luhrmann film is the girl equivalent of a Michael Bay film, and The Great Gatsby follows this format as much as Moulin Rouge does. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, sporting the ropiest accent this side of Janet Street-Porter, the story is told through the eyes of Spider-Man Toby Maguire; a man so infatuated with Gatsby it is hard to build any rapport or empathy with the characters without feeling just a little bit sick.

The set and scenery are overly decadent and grandiose, buried elbow deep in the art deco styling of the time the film is set. Unfortunately after the first five minutes this becomes blinding, and as the film goes on it lacks the ability to impact you in the way it is apparently intended.

From start to finish the film lacks any suspense, clarity of plot, and the twist at the end is so telegraphed that it could have been dreamed up by the World Wrestling Federation. It strikes me as the sort of film that is targeted specifically at girls in their early teens whose mothers have let them watch Titanic as an example of what love looks like, and who now need a further hit. Like I said, the girl equivalent of a Michael Bay film.

I’ve never read the book, so I may be doing Baz Luhrmann a great disservice. This is, however, the film that ‘they said could never be made’ – frankly, I wish they hadn’t bothered.

Drew Pontikis is an avid gamer and film fanatic. A fan of racing sims, first person shooters and horror films, Drew is notable for talking almost exclusively using Futurama quotes. Follow him on Twitter as @drew060609 or read his game reviews at http://obscenegaming.wordpress.com.

Review: An Officer and a Gentleman

Director: Taylor Hackford
Year: 1982
Score: 7.5/10

If you look closely you can actually see Richard Gere's vagina.

If you look closely you can actually see Richard Gere’s vagina.

Solid if simple drama featuring Richard Gere as a headstrong young man trying to make it through the Navy training course that leads to flight school while falling in love with Debra Winger. Louis Gossett, Jr. won an Oscar for his memorable performance as the tough drill sergeant Gere clashes with. The romance is fine but other aspects – such as Gere’s breakdown and a death toward the end – are more emotionally effective. I would have liked Gere’s hopeless father (played by Robert Loggia, best known to me as Frank from Scarface) to reappear at the end to salute his son; apparently a scene depicting exactly that was shot but cut. The iconic final moment of the film, set to the power ballad Up Where We Belong, is pretty great.

Review: Elysium

Director: Neill Blomkamp
Year: 2013
Score: 5.5/10

This futuristic facial reconstruction sequence is a lot like watching one of those time-lapse videos of animals decomposing - but in reverse. Cool.

This futuristic facial reconstruction sequence is a lot like watching one of those time-lapse videos of animals decomposing – but in reverse. Cool.

Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to one of my all-time favourite sci-fi movies, District 9, was always likely to disappoint me, but I was surprised by just how much. It has some cool ideas and visuals, and some of the action is staged well, but it’s dramatically defective. No matter how hard they push the childhood flashback angle, there’s very little emotional impact of anything that happens, let alone the final sacrifice. Also, amusingly, the climactic plot device is basically a variant of ‘Have you tried switching it off and back on?’. Matt Damon is passable; Jodie Foster, on the other hand, overacts and uses a weird accent. Oddly, they share no scenes together. Does this mean District 9 was a fluke? I’ll be watching what Blomkamp does next with interest to find out.

Review: The Parallax View

Director: Alan J. Pakula
Year: 1974
Score: 6.5/10

I believe this is the first appearance of a video game in a movie - and it's being played by a chimp. Subtext?

I believe this is the first appearance of a video game in a movie – and it’s being played by a chimp. Subtext?

Interesting conspiracy thriller starring the ever-reliable Warren Beatty. It conveys a great sense of paranoia, but it’s let down by the final act, which doesn’t properly deliver on the promises of the build-up. I wanted to know more about the Parallax Corporation (e.g. who’s behind it?) and I wanted Beatty to have more success is busting the conspiracy wide open, even if eventually he was doomed to fail. The most interesting scene by far is when he watches – and we see – a fascinating assassin training slideshow made up in large part of bizarre imagery. Worth watching if you’re a fan of Beatty or you’re into conspiracies.

Review: The Kings of Summer

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Year: 2013
Score: 7/10

Board gaming with Alison Brie and Nick Offerman. Why does this only happen in movies and dreams?

Board gaming with Alison Brie and Nick Offerman. Why does this only happen in movies and dreams?

This enjoyable indie comedy’s greatest strength is its hilarious supporting cast – Nick Offerman, Megan Mullaly, Alison Brie, Tony Hale, Kumail Nanjiani, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and more – all of whom are used well for a change. Offerman in particular is funnier and better in this than in anything else I’ve seen him in other than Parks and Recreation. He gets the best line of the movie: “Get the fuck off my porch before I knock your dick in the dirt”. There’s also great work from Moisés Arias as the strange and inscrutable Biaggio; he steals most scenes he’s in (which is quite a few). As for the story, there’s little originality, particularly in the coming-of-age romance elements, but it’s entirely inoffensive. It could certainly be funnier, but I did get some laughs out of it.

Review: Ninja Scroll

Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Year: 1993
Score: 6/10

And that's why you always leave a note! (Seriously, what's with arms getting cut or torn off in every single anime I watch?)

And that’s why you always leave a note! (Seriously, what’s with arms getting cut or torn off in every single anime I watch?)

The third and weakest of the anime films I sampled. Rather than the futuristic sci-fi settings of the others, this one’s set in a version of feudal Japan with some fantasy elements. There’s a plot, to be sure, but mostly it seems to just be an excuse for over-the-top ninja action scenes – some quite good – featuring bucketloads of exaggerated gore (don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with gore and I recognise that showing it in an exaggerated way can be a legitimate stylistic choice; I’m just not convinced it adds a lot in this case). Ridiculously, the key romance is between a female character who inadvertently fatally poisons anyone who kisses or has sex with her and a poisoned male character who is told the only way to cure himself would be to have sex with her. On reflection I think this story and this world might appeal to young boys, but there are too many elements that aren’t age appropriate. The strangest line of dialogue would have to be this one: “Don’t let it cross your mind that I wouldn’t mind raping a dead girl”.

Review: Ghost in the Shell

Director: Mamoru Oshii
Year: 1995
Score: 7.5/10

And that's why you always leave a note!

And that’s why you always leave a note!

Impressive anime that focuses more on its ideas and philosophical discussions than on plot (in other words: not that much actually happens). It also only bothers properly developing two characters, and even they seem useful only for advancing the exploration of the (admittedly quite stimulating) philosophical themes at the film’s core. There are some interesting visuals and a nice meditative tone outside of the action scenes, of which there perhaps aren’t enough. The depictions of female nudity seem a bit fetishistic at times. It’s been highly influential; watching it made me reevaluate my appreciation for The Matrix (one of my favourite films) now that I know the Wachowskis stole so many of its ideas.

Review: Akira

Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
Year: 1988
Score: 9/10

And that's why you always leave a note!

And that’s why you always leave a note!

I’m almost completely new to anime (my previous experience is limited to Astro Boy and a couple of Studio Ghibli films), so I decided to try a few. Of the three I watched, this was the best and the one that made me most interested in seeking out more, perhaps in series rather than movie form. It’s a fascinating, moving story full of inventive ideas and incredible visuals. I really liked the strange soundtrack and have been listening to it regularly, especially the track ‘Kaneda‘. It’s so clear when watching it that there’s a wholly realised world and mythology at play, even if not all of it is included within the film itself. The characters are well-rounded, engaging, and easy to emotionally invest in. The ending is a tad head-scratchy, but not in a bothersome way. If you only watch one anime, I say make it this one.

Review: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Director: Sidney Lumet
Year: 2007
Score: 6/10

A rare photo of one of the early table reads for Boardwalk Empire, back when Ethan Hawke was set to play Nucky Thompson. He's no Steve Buscemi, sure, but it might have worked.

A rare photo of one of the early table reads for Boardwalk Empire, back when Ethan Hawke was set to play Nucky Thompson. He’s no Steve Buscemi, sure, but it might have worked.

Sidney Lumet’s final film is a well made but unpleasant crime drama featuring an excellent cast – the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Michael Shannon, etc. – who all play people I’d rather not spend time with, thanks very much. Lumet tells the story in non-linear fashion, showing us the same scenes several times in order to change from one character’s perspective to another’s. Presumably this is intended to give the audience greater insight into what’s going on; however, in practice we end up gaining almost nothing every time, so the exercise seems pointless. Still, the performances are uniformly solid and there are a few moments of truth and emotional depth (though not nearly enough to warrant a recommendation).

Review: Escape From Tomorrow

Director: Randy Moore
Year: 2013
Score: 4.5/10

Creepiest cameo appearance by Winnie the Pooh and his friends in cinematic history.

Creepiest cameo appearance by Winnie the Pooh and his friends in cinematic history.

A film worth watching only to see how Randy Moore and his small cast and crew managed to shoot it surreptitiously on location at Disneyland and Disney World without permission from the murine authorities. It’s a low-budget black-and-white psychological horror flick with some pretty awful acting and even worse visual effects (which appear to be used whenever particular scenes couldn’t be practically shot at the theme parks themselves). There are some effective parts, particularly in the first half, mostly those that riff on the interpersonal conflicts that invariably crop up between family members at theme parks. The second half, though, goes off the rails and veers into surrealism and narrative ambiguity that don’t really work; it ends up becoming quite a slog to get through. Nonetheless, if you have any interest in ‘guerrilla filmmaking’, or you’re a fan of the Disney parks, it’s probably still worth checking out. The most disturbing line of dialogue (by a considerable margin) is the following, yelled out by a woman during a sex scene: “Fuck me. Feel my vagina. I think you found my Hidden Mickey. Hysterectomy!”.

Review: The Motorcycle Diaries

Director: Walter Salles
Year: 2004
Score: 7/10

Seriously? Two straight hours of a guy writing a diary? Boooooring!

Seriously? Two straight hours of a guy writing a diary? Boooooring!

This engaging drama is part coming-of-age story, part road movie and part character study. It tells the true story of Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado motorcycling through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela as young men. Its three biggest strengths are the beautiful cinematography (capturing beautiful scenery), the winning performances from Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna, and the sense that we’re getting to visit all the places that Guevara and Granado really saw and glimpsing real life in these fascinating South American communities. To be honest, though, I had heard such good things about it that I was a little disappointed; lacking dramatic force and emotional power, it’s merely good, not great. Perhaps I needed the germination of Guevara’s political views to be more explicit.

Review: Dead Poets Society

Director: Peter Weir
Year: 1989
Score: 8/10

Apparently 'Carpe Diem' means 'seize the opportunity for non-consensual sexual contact with a girl passed out on a couch'.

Apparently ‘Carpe Diem’ means ‘seize the opportunity for non-consensual sexual contact with a girl passed out on a couch’.

Probably the best movie I’ve seen in the ‘inspirational teacher’ subgenre, though I haven’t seen Goodbye, Mr. Chips or To Sir, With Love, so take that with a grain of salt. It’s also hard to think of a better dramatic performance from Robin Williams (I guess maybe Good Will Hunting, but it’s a tough call); he’s believable and genuinely inspiring as the unorthodox teacher who urges his boys to seize the day. It’s not a subtle movie by any means but it packs quite an emotional punch. I’ll admit I found some of the boys – including even some central characters – hard to tell apart for a good chunk of the movie; I imagine if I rewatch it, they’ll be more readily distinguishable to me. I wish Neil’s father got more of a comeuppance (or was more obviously shattered by what transpired) in the final act. Interesting piece of trivia for readers of this review who are familiar with Scots College in Sydney: director Peter Weir apparently wove many elements of his own schooling at Scots into the film.