Monthly Archives: April 2014

Review: Resolution

Directors: Justin Benson & Aaron Scott Moorhead
Year: 2012
Score: 6.5/10

These three UFO cultists are played by writer/co-director Justin Benson, co-director Aaron Moorhead, and producer David Clarke Johnson, Jr. Based on the content of the film, it wouldn't surprise me in the least to find out that all three are genuinely members of a UFO cult.

These three UFO cultists are played by writer/co-director Justin Benson, co-director Aaron Moorhead, and producer David Clarke Johnson, Jr. Based on the content of the film, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to find out that all three are genuinely members of a UFO cult.

Intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying low budget horror movie with a central premise I’m loathe to discuss for fear of spoiling it. Suffice it to say this isn’t the kind of horror movie that aims to freak you out with shocking imagery, or by laying the tension-signifying music on thick, or by over-using violence or gore. Instead it puts two well-drawn characters into a relatively realistic situation, then gradually throws ‘unexplained phenomena’ at them with explanations that all consist of well-worn horror tropes, and then takes a left turn to subvert and comment on those tropes. Its meta nature has inevitably led to comparisons with The Cabin in the Woods; I prefer this one, but they really are vastly different in what they’re trying to do and why they turn meta. It’s reasonably well-made and the two leads – unknowns Peter Cilella and Vinny Curran – do well with the material. I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending even though I realise it was consistent with the premise.

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Review: Miracle on 34th Street

Director: George Seaton
Year: 1947
Score: 5/10

Is it just me, or does young Natalie Wood look a lot like Mackenzie Rosman, the girl who played Ruthie in that awful TV series 7th Heaven?

Is it just me, or does young Natalie Wood look a lot like Mackenzie Rosman, the girl who played Ruthie in that awful TV series 7th Heaven?

Tedious Christmas fantasy in which the real Santa Claus becomes the store Santa at Macy’s, fixes a woman and her daughter who lack imagination, and is put on trial for being crazy. Edmund Gwenn is great as Santa, conveying just the right amount of warmth and wisdom. There are also a few nice ideas and scenes. However, mostly it’s quite disappointing and predictable. It’s hard to care much about Mrs Walker and Susan’s plight, let alone the barely-explored relationship between Mrs Walker and Mr Gailey. Also, Mrs Walker’s sudden change from hard-headed pragmatist to open-minded fantasist is not explained well and is therefore unconvincing. I was amused by Santa’s line “That’s what I’ve been fighting against for years: the way they commercialise Christmas”, given that the movie is effectively one big ad for Macy’s. And turning even further to trivialities, I learned two things by pausing when fake newspapers were shown on-screen and then using my friend Google: firstly, that the bizarre headline ‘Earth Forces Laid to Cosmic Impulse’ was a real headline used in The New York Times in 1933 and subsequently shown in this movie as well as Reefer Madness (1936) and Decoy (1946); and secondly, that the word ‘alienist’ is an archaic term for a psychiatrist or psychologist. Now you know too!

Review: Million Dollar Baby

Director: Clint Eastwood
Year: 2004
Score: 7/10

Seems like a pretty silly idea to label this so transparently... surely the Brits would raid it?

Seems like a pretty silly idea to label this so transparently… surely the Brits would raid it?

Generally speaking I’ve not been a huge fan of the movies Clint Eastwood has directed; I tend to appreciate the craft of them but find them heavy-handed or dramatically unsatisfying. For the first 90 minutes of this one I thought it was turning out to be a rare exception, but then the final half hour happened and I must now add it to the pile. Hilary Swank and Eastwood himself are excellent, Morgan Freeman slightly less so (though it may be that I’m simply tired of over-used and oft-ridiculed Freeman narration). It’s so difficult to talk about (and in my case criticise) that final half hour without spoiling anything, but here goes: to the extent that it told us anything about the relationship between Maggie and Frankie, it was unnecessary since by that point we already knew that he cared about her deeply, thought of her as a surrogate daughter, and would always stick by her, and that she had nothing in her life but boxing and him. And to be honest, I was enjoying the story a lot more before the Thing I Shan’t Spoil happened. There is some of that trademark Eastwood heavy-handedness too, such as Maggie’s story about her father having to put a dog down, and some themes expressed far too unsubtly in narration. Side note: horrible though the characters are, it’s great to see Riki Lindhome and the great Margo Martindale as Maggie’s sister and mother.

Guest Review: Monsters University

Director: Dan Scanlon
Year: 2013
Score: 6.5/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

Note: this film was previously reviewed by Movies and Bacon here.

"And we're just about done! I won't use these obviously but just to finish off the film, why don't you pop your clothes off?"

“And we’re just about done! I won’t use these obviously but just to finish off the film, why don’t you pop your clothes off?”

Oh, Pixar, what have you done?!

Pixar are one of my favourite companies in the whole wide world. The way that they take any situation, however benign and insignificant it may be, and just dream about what story might become simply staggers me. And they do it over and over – A Bug’s Life, Toy Story and its sequels, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., and let’s not even get on to the masterpiece that is Up. Every single one shares something in common; good triumphs over adversity. Now however we have Monsters University, and the message is as stark as it is cold – no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you want it, no matter how dedicated; sometimes, you will never be good enough. And that, to me, is very very sad.

As the title suggests, the plot follows Mike and Sulley through university life, long before they’re working for Monsters Inc. Sulley’s character has been very cleverly reverse engineered from the original; an overly confident slacker relying on hereditary talent to get by, eventually learning the value of good work ethic, strength of character and morality. Mike on the other hand shares no resemblance to his original form; hardworking and calculating, and filled with burning ambition. A likeable character of course, but not connected to the original.

Goodman and Crystal turn in excellent performances, as does a surprisingly impressive Helen Mirren (voicing Dean Hardscrabble), and all add depth to a plot desperately trying to distract you from an inevitable ending of disappointment. It also contains some surprisingly epic lines (“When you lose, no one will remember you” “Maybe, but when YOU lose, everyone will remember you”) and the relationship between Mike and Sulley grows and develops in a charming way. But you just can’t get away from the disappointment of cold cutting reality that rings through the whole film like the dull toll of a lone funeral bell; no matter how hard you try, you will never be good enough.

I don’t want this from a Pixar film! I don’t care how hard you try and sugar coat the ending, it’s failure. If I wanted to think about a world of failure and misery and cold crushing reality, I don’t need a film for that, I have reality. I want to believe a goldfish can swim halfway across the world to find his disabled son. I want to believe that an old man can fly his house to South America using balloons and a fat kid. I want to dream! And shame on you Pixar for pissing on my chips.

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: Boys Don’t Cry

Director: Kimberly Peirce
Year: 1999
Score: 8/10

Ah, bad karaoke: responsible for almost 80% of tragic romances.

Ah, bad karaoke: responsible for almost 80% of tragic romances.

Harrowing tale of a trans man and his relationship with a girl from backwater Nebraska. I didn’t realise it was based on a true story until the very end, which made that crushing ending all the more powerful. Several scenes, particularly in the final half hour, are very difficult to watch, but that’s kind of the point. Beyond the compelling and upsetting nature of the real-life story, two aspects really make this stand out: the first is Hilary Swank’s remarkable (and deservedly Oscar-winning) performance as Brandon; the second is the decision to use the love story as the film’s dramatic centre, which gives us something positive and hopeful to focus on within all the tragedy. The cinematography is also quite good, as are some of the supporting performances. If there’s a moral to be drawn from this, it’s the fairly obvious one that ignorant drunk rednecks and transgender people don’t mix well.

Review: American Splendor

Directors: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini
Year: 2003
Score: 8/10

The kid does a spot-on Paul Giamatti and Paul Giamatti does a spot-on Harvey Pekar. Or perhaps, if the kid's even better than I give him credit for, he does a spot-on Paul Giamatti-as-Harvey Pekar.

The kid does a spot-on Paul Giamatti and Paul Giamatti does a spot-on Harvey Pekar. Or perhaps, if the kid’s even better than I give him credit for, he does a spot-on Paul Giamatti-as-Harvey Pekar.

Unusual movie about an unusual man. Paul Giamatti gives another sterling performance as our decidedly unheroic hero Harvey Pekar, perhaps improved by regular glimpses of the real Pekar as a point of comparison; in fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role (other than Pekar himself!). The writer/director team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini play with the form in some really interesting ways, forcing the audience to ponder how much of what we’re seeing is real and how much is just another layer of fiction. The more innovative sequences, and the sequences that use art from Pekar’s comic books, mostly succeed and blend in well with the rest of the movie. The story as a whole doesn’t have quite as much drama as I would have liked, but to be fair, it’s all based on fact, and I wouldn’t want them to have manufactured drama that didn’t really happen. By the end, as much as I enjoyed the movie, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would have worked better as a straight documentary, given that the use of real-life people and archival footage somewhat undercuts the sense that we’re watching a work of fiction. Or maybe that’s a moot point and I should just appreciate that it offers a new (though largely unreplicatable) way of telling a true story? I also have a confession to make about Judah Friedlander’s scene-stealing performance as Toby Radloff: I saw his name in the opening credits, completely failed to recognise him throughout the movie, and then had a sheepish ‘ohhh yeah!’ moment when I saw his name again (listed with the character name) in the end credits.

Review: It’s a Wonderful Life

Director: Frank Capra
Year: 1946
Score: 9/10

The title is a lie.

The title is a lie.

Uplifting, life-affirming, joyous fable about the life of George Bailey – played brilliantly by James Stewart – and his family and town and momentary suicidal crisis. It’s a true fantasy, not just because of the inclusion of a guardian angel with the ability to conjure up an alternate reality, but because everything about the vivid world of Bedford Falls and George’s wonderful life is inherently fantastical. Donna Reed is great as The Perfect Wife™. Perhaps my only criticism (aside from a slight grumble about over-length) is that George’s period of disillusionment and anger – necessary, of course, for the final act to work – seems to come on too quickly, to the extent that it jars a little and feels out of character for longer than it should. Regardless, this is now officially my favourite Christmas movie and the oldest movie to make me cry. Those last few minutes are truly magical and just thinking about them to write this is enough to make me tear up again. Glorious.

Review: It Happened One Night

Director: Frank Capra
Year: 1934
Score: 8/10

Apparently this scene is the reason Bugs Bunny eats carrots. I shit you not.

Apparently this scene is the reason Bugs Bunny eats carrots. I shit you not.

Screwball comedy from Frank Capra about a reporter who stumbles upon a huge scoop in the form of a hunted socialite he meets on a long-distance bus trip – and the inevitable relationship that blossoms between them (partly because she appears to suffer from Impulsively Falls In Love Syndrome). It’s still utterly charming all these decades later. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert are perfectly matched and by the end it’s hard not to root for them. The comedic elements are a little uneven but there are some raucously funny parts, such as the scene in which our couple fool a pair of detectives (with Colbert pretending to be a plumber’s daughter) and the scene in which Gable demonstrates his hitchhiking techniques. It’s odd to realise that the use of newspaper headlines throughout the movie to signpost story developments would have seemed fresh and original when this was released. It’s also kind of funny that our endearing hero threatens a man’s children (he’s pretending, but still) and yet we continue to like him. The (unintentionally) funniest line is when Colbert says to her husband: “Promise you’ll never let me get off”. Highly recommended for fans of classic cinema or romantic comedies or both.

Review: Muppets Most Wanted

Director: James Bobin
Year: 2014
Score: 4.5/10

No. Just no.

No. Just no.

It’s not a popular opinion, but I loved 2011’s The Muppets even more than the original run of Muppet movies (or at least more than the first one, 1979’s The Muppet Movie, the only one I’ve rewatched recently enough to have reviewed on the site). That makes my disappointment in this bloated, dismal sequel all the more pointed.

The most important elements of a good Muppet movie, in my view, are the jokes and the songs. This fails on both counts. Sure, there are some laugh out loud moments, but not nearly enough of them, and there are several unacceptably long gagless stretches. As for the songs, they’re uneven; some are quite clever and fun, approaching the standard set in the 2011 film, whereas others are quite dull and unmemorable.

Lots of gags and scenes outstay their welcome. A good example is the bit about Miss Piggy singing Celine Dion songs. This morphs into an extended cameo from Dion. Really, all we needed – all that was comedically warranted – was a brief appearance from Dion, perhaps one line in the relevant song; instead, it lasts a minute and a half, completely overdone.

The celebrity cameos are mostly joyless this time around, and overall it seems to be missing the spark that made its predecessor work. Alas, my affection for the Muppets and some of the key performers (Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Danny Trejo, etc.) is not nearly enough to make it a worthwhile viewing experience.

Lastly, I must mention an element I found quite distasteful: the unsubtle Subway product placement, which is apparently part of a broader deal also involving merchandising and Muppet characters appearing in the company’s ads. The scene in question depicts Fozzie eating a Subway sandwich and drinking a Subway drink, with the cup positioned for maximum logo visibility. He even spills some Subway food on a newspaper, which is what enables him to figure out that Kermit and Constantine have been swapped (a key plot point); so we have a product appearing on-screen, as part of a commercial arrangement, that’s actually so integrated into the content that it plays a direct role in the story. In a children’s movie. Ugh.

(Party Central, the short Monsters University spin-off film that precedes the film in its theatrical release, isn’t bad.)

Guest Review: World Trade Center

Director: Oliver Stone
Year: 2006
Score: 4.5/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

Note: this film was previously reviewed by Movies and Bacon, and given a more generous score of 7.5/10, here.

Get used to this expression, it's the only one you'll see during the whole film.

Get used to this expression, it’s the only one you’ll see during the whole film.

This film makes me angry, and I’ll tell you why: it’s ruined by an absolutely appalling performance from Nicolas Cage. Leaving aside that even on a good day Cage would be outperformed by a scotch egg, Oliver Stone has taken a deeply personal story that is inextricably intertwined in a horrific national tragedy and dumped a massive overacting turd in the middle of it.

The film is actually quite original; following the story of the men trapped beneath the collapsing/collapsed Trade Center towers is a clever angle on an event the world has replayed hundreds of times. The confusion that surrounded NYPD as the news broke heightens the tension, the sense of frightening bewilderment at the sound of the jumpers is disturbing, and the scene where the towers come down viewed from the inside is epic. This makes it all the more frustrating when a moustachioed Cage clomps heavy-handedly all over his character, never once letting you immerse in the plot or ever get beyond ‘oh look, it’s Nicolas Cage doing a really bad job of acting’. His performance is similar to the one given in Kick-Ass, just to give you an idea of scale.

The events of 9/11 evoke many different emotions and reactions in a person’s soul and many will be drawn to this movie, as I was. Some will come for morbid curiosity, some will come looking for a story of humanity triumphing over tragedy, and some will come just to hear a new account on one of the darkest days in history. Sadly, whatever you come looking for, you’re unlikely to find it. And that’s the real tragedy being played out here; you don’t see the wonderful heartening true story of the men involved, all you see is frustration and the overwhelming desire for it just to be over.

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: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Director: Declan Lowney
Year: 2013
Score: 8.5/10

There's something so compelling and yet so disturbing about this image. Inevitably it brings to mind Buffalo "It puts the lotion in the basket" Bill from The Silence of the Lambs.

There’s something so compelling and yet so disturbing about this image. Inevitably it brings to mind Buffalo “It puts the lotion in the basket” Bill from The Silence of the Lambs.

Disclaimer: I’m reviewing this as someone with no prior exposure to Alan Partridge; I’m guessing I would have enjoyed it even more if I was already a fan, though it’s possible fans could be disappointed by it if the TV and radio shows that preceded it were better. I found this utterly hilarious. I would say it made me laugh as much as or more than any other single movie I watched in 2013 (and bear in mind that I watched 364 others). The script is incredibly witty, and Steve Coogan – clearly a master at portraying this buffoon, having done so many times in the past – adds much to that wit with his delivery and performance. Somehow even just the scenes of Partridge singing along to songs on the radio are comedy gold. Regional commercial radio is a pretty easy target for ridicule and the satire on show here is merciless and spot-on. Sometimes film adaptations of TV shows feel pointless (e.g. Get Smart), drawn out (e.g. The Inbetweeners Movie) or just like a longer episode of the TV show (e.g. The Simpsons Movie); in this case, while I may not be the best judge as I haven’t actually seen any of the series, it feels just right. Parts of the last third do drag just a little, and I could have done with more humour from some of the supporting characters, but those are really my only complaints.

Review: 8½

Director: Federico Fellini
Year: 1963
Score: 8/10

An image that promises to haunt my dreams just as it did the protagonist's (and presumably Fellini's).

An image that promises to haunt my dreams just as it did the protagonist’s (and presumably Fellini’s).

Ambitious film from Fellini that works on several levels at once: it’s a self-referential movie about movie-making, an intensely personal glimpse into his psyche, a piece of philosophy about creativity and art, and a meditation on memory, life and happiness. It’s also often very entertaining, and though it’s uneven, it has moments of great clarity and a spectacular ending. What could so easily have failed or come across as pretentious wankery somehow comes together neatly and still holds up well today. Western fans will recognise Claudia Cardinale from Once Upon a Time in the West. Nino Rota’s score features one song very reminiscent of his theme for The Godfather a decade later. Sgulp!

Review: La Dolce Vita

Director: Federico Fellini
Year: 1960
Score: 7.5/10

Presumably this cat-on-the-head costume was the main reason the film won an Academy Award for Costume Design.

Presumably this cat-on-the-head costume was the main reason the film won an Academy Award for Costume Design.

My first experience of Fellini was simultaneously baffling and intriguing. I’ll admit I may not have fully understood what he was trying to say, and I can’t claim to have wholeheartedly enjoyed it – in fact at times it felt like the cinematic equivalent of eating my greens – but it certainly held my attention, and I’ve thought about it often since watching it. Marcello Mastroianni is perfect in the lead role, conveying (often at the same time) sadness, hope, charisma and, most importantly, deep disaffection with his society. Many of the supporting players are also excellent, especially Anita Ekberg and Alain Cuny. Some sequences seem superfluous or overlong, but it’s all put together so precisely that it’s clear they’re all necessary – even if their purposes weren’t immediately apparent to me. Others, such as the famous fountain scene and everything involving Steiner, are both powerful and memorable. It hasn’t turned me into a massive Fellini fan but I’m very glad I watched it.

Review: The Lego Movie

Directors: Phil Lord & Chris Miller
Year: 2014
Score: 8.5/10

Lego Movies and Lego Bacon!

Lego Movies and Lego Bacon!

With this hilarious, thoroughly likeable film, writers/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller prove that their success with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (which I gave 9/10) was no fluke. Remarkably, they’ve now twice managed what the creatives behind most modern animated films strive for but rarely achieve: a film that works just as well for adults as it does for kids.

There are so many cultural references and gags that no child could possibly understand, but they’re interwoven with plenty of jokes for all ages (including constant physical comedy that probably only seems fresh because it’s all done with animated pieces of Lego), so it never feels overindulgent or likely to bore younger viewers. I watched it in a crowded cinema, accompanied by a 6 year old and a 7 year old, and it was great to hear the different reactions around me to the different styles of comedy. I’m not ashamed to admit there were several moments when my young charges turned to look at me, puzzled at what could be making me laugh so hard at a beat that went straight over their heads, but each time they quickly forgot my strangeness when they were themselves bowled over by the next gag.

So many of the voice actors seem to have been selected with me in mind: Chris Pratt, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie and Will Arnett, stars of three of my favourite TV comedies (Parks & Recreation, Community and Arrested Development); Will Ferrell and Elizabeth Banks, both of whom I tend to enjoy; plus small roles for people like Will Forte (as Abraham Lincoln, of course) and Keegan-Michael Key (as Pratt’s boss), who I can’t get enough of. Pratt, it must be said, effectively plays a less cartoonishly stupid version of Andy Dwyer, his Parks & Rec character, but he’s so endearing that I can live with that. He’s certainly not as one-note as other TV comedy stars who have transitioned to movies (I’m looking at you, Michael Cera and Aubrey Plaza).

Some other elements worthy of praise: the animation is lovely and quite ingenious, especially the way water and laser weaponry are handled; the numerous homages to The Matrix, one of my favourite films, are nicely done without being overbearing; the song ‘Everything Is AWESOME!!!’ is pretty damned catchy; and the inclusion of live-action characters in the final stretch is a ballsy move that I think pays off.

I don’t have many criticisms. The biggest is the heavy-handedness of the obligatory ‘message’ section at the end; I could have done with more subtlety on that front, especially as it wasn’t as emotionally impactful as the equivalent section of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (though I suspect that’s an entirely subjective reaction). Another is my slight discomfort with the inescapable fact that this is a 100-minute ad for a brand of children’s toys. Lastly, I got the sense that some of the action sequences were a little lengthy in comparison to their entertainment value, so they may become tedious if the movie ends up on repeat rotation in my household.

These minor quibbles aside, it’s an extremely clever film that I wholeheartedly recommend. Lord and Miller’s style of humour is right up my alley, and based on its level of critical acclaim and commercial success, I’m not the only one. Chances are it will work for you too, dear reader, though it may also leave you with a mysterious and unshakable urge to purchase some generic non-branded interlocking brick toys.

Guest Review: Predators

Director: Nimród Antal
Year: 2010
Score: 7/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

"I'm flying, Jack! I'm flying!"

“I’m flying, Jack! I’m flying!”

The Predator franchise has taken a bit of a pounding during its lifetime; the lowest point for both the series and anyone who chose to watch it being AvP: Requiem. Happily, Predators gives it a nice warming shot of adrenalin, despite some very ropey casting and even ropier dialogue.

Having been dropped into a jungle, a collection of planet Earth’s most baddest asses group together and, having initially taken shelter under Adrien Brody’s nose, find themselves being hunted by a group of Predators on a jolly to their local planetary game reserve. The character roster is taken from The Children’s Book of Stereotypical Bad Guys; ranging from the Black Ops guy, through Yakuza, all the way to Machete (yes, the actual Machete; nope, I don’t know why either), and some of the dialogue is just awful. Of particular note is Adrien Brody’s character; it’s like he got the part at short notice, panicked, googled ‘how to look hard’, watched 25 seconds of Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry and thought ‘yep I’ve got this, let’s shoot us a movie!’. It’s so dreadful it reminds me of a badly dubbed ’70s kung fu movie.

Ignoring the dialogue and focussing on the action for a moment, Predators is in my opinion the best in the franchise since Arnie was directing people towards a helicopter. The action is clever, and whilst there’s rarely anything surprising it isn’t as predictable as the dialogue suggests it might be. You don’t build empathy with the characters, you’re only marginally interested in the plot, but it doesn’t matter; it does what an action film is supposed to do. Even Lawrence Fishburne’s bizarre 15 minute appearance doesn’t detract from the enjoyment, and it’s hard not be pleased that the Predators finally have a half decent film again.

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: Prisoners

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Year: 2013
Score: 7.5/10

Oh, deer. According to the credits, "American Humane Association monitored some of the animal action. No animals were harmed in those scenes". Presumably this wasn't one of the monitored scenes...

Oh, deer. According to the credits, “American Humane Association monitored some of the animal action. No animals were harmed in those scenes”. Presumably this wasn’t one of the monitored scenes…

At its heart, this grim drama is basically just a police procedural. Like many of its kin it features red herrings, convenient coincidences, surprising twists, and no proper exploration of the motives of the criminal(s) responsible for the central crime(s). However, it’s able to rise above these genre tropes thanks to strong performances from an excellent cast (Hugh Jackman is especially good; I’ve generally thought poorly of him but this very much redeems him in my eyes), assured direction from Canadian Denis Villeneuve, and some effective emotional moments. The relentlessness of the movie’s bleakness brings to mind David Fincher’s Se7en, and that’s no bad thing. After the revelations in the last half hour, I’m not convinced it all actually makes sense. In fact, it really is that final stretch – with twists and resolutions that don’t really match the power of what precedes them – that lowers this from a potential 8.5 or 9 down to a solid 7.5. Interesting piece of trivia: cinematographer Roger Deakins was nominated for an Oscar and lost (to Emmanuel Lubezki, whose work on Gravity was admittedly outstanding), making it 11 losses from 11 nominations.

Review: Ray

Director: Taylor Hackford
Year: 2004
Score: 7/10

Surely the only movie I've seen that features both Bunk and Willow.

Surely the only movie I’ve seen that features both Bunk and Willow.

There are three drawcards here: Jamie Foxx’s powerhouse performance as Ray Charles; lots of great Charles music used well throughout, including some pivotal musical moments; and the story of his rise, compelling despite flaws in the telling. Foxx is truly excellent and fully deserving of the Oscar he won. He basically does a spot-on impression of Charles, but his commitment and the emotional depth he conveys elevate the performance well beyond mere imitation. It’s a real shame the movie is let down by its lack of subtlety and its simplistic approach to the ‘conflicts’ in Charles’ life selected to be the points of drama: his drug addiction, his womanising, and his guilt over a childhood tragedy. In particular, making the drug story so central and tying it to that tragedy – and then wrapping it all up with the most unsubtle flashback sequence of the whole film – doesn’t really work. There’s also a disappointing old-fashionedness to director Taylor Hackford’s approach, perhaps best exemplified by the use of newspaper headlines and neon signs floating across the screen to indicate media coverage and concert venues; surely we’re done with that technique by now? Nonetheless, the aforementioned drawcards are easily enough to make it worth watching.

Review: Machete Kills

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Year: 2013
Score: 5.5/10

There's only one possible caption for this: WINNING!

There’s only one possible caption for this: WINNING!

The joke wore thin before 2010’s Machete finished, yet Robert Rodriguez and Danny Trejo have attempted to wring another movie out of it (and based on the fake trailer at the start, there’ll be a third one too – this one set IN SPACE!!). They succeed probably as well as they could; it’s still got the same sense of fun and ridiculousness, there are some funny cameos (I haven’t enjoyed Charlie Sheen – billed here as Carlos Estévez – this much in years), and it remains somehow joyous to see Trejo in a lead role. Overall, though, there probably aren’t quite enough gags that work, there’s too much plot (who cares about plot in a Machete movie?!), and far too much of the second half seems to have the sole purpose of setting up the space sequel. Still, if you enjoyed the first one, and you go in with the right mindset, you’ll enjoy this one too.

Review: THX 1138

Director: George Lucas
Year: 1971
Score: 7.5/10

Shitty 2004 CGI monkeys in a low-budget 1971 sci-fi film? This, George Lucas, is why so many people hate you.

Shitty 2004 CGI monkeys in a low-budget 1971 sci-fi film? This, George Lucas, is why so many people hate you.

Fascinating low-budget dystopian sci-fi drama/thriller that’s as interesting for its actual content as it is for its place in film history as (a) George Lucas’ debut (see what he could make back when he was genuinely creative!) and (b) American Zoetrope’s first disaster. It’s highly evocative of (and, let’s be honest, rips off) Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and presents perhaps the most vivid and oppressive depiction of a non-apocalyptic dystopia I’ve seen on film. There are some core problems, mostly with the narrative (surprise, surprise!) – structurally it’s not especially coherent, the middle section (featuring our hero in a kind of prison) doesn’t really work, and the final act is disappointing in its simplistic focus on pursuit (featuring Yet Another George Lucas Car Chase™) – but there’s much to enjoy despite them. The sound design is brilliant (the oft-heard snippets of techno-babble spouted by bureaucrats who rule through surveillance are especially effective); there are some great ideas; the satirical elements still seem relevant and on-point; and the final shot is deservedly iconic. Robert Duvall is fine but frequently upstaged by the excellent Donald Pleasance. The version now available is Retcon Lucas’ 2004 reissue, featuring new CGI insertions that are mostly (with the obvious exception of the CGI monkey versions of the shell dwellers near the end) more seamless than those in the Star Wars reissues.

Guest Review: Paranormal Activity 4

Directors: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Year: 2012
Score: 7/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

Re-enacting the chest buster scene from Alien, but with less successful results.

Re-enacting the chestburster scene from Alien, but with less successful results.

Whilst the original was polarising between those who thought it was scary and those that thought it was dross, the second and third instalments were pretty much filed unanimously under dross. Why they bothered with a fourth (and fifth) was a bit beyond me, however I was pleasantly and terrifiedly surprised at how reinvigorated the franchise had become.

Breaking from the norm by starring a family outside of the cursed genealogical pool for the first time, there’s little to no effort made this time out to generate empathy in the characters. It is purely like watching CCTV footage of a family, and you don’t really bond with them at any point. That said, that’s part of what makes this one scary; it induces the sort of raw fear that you’d actually get from watching something real. There were moments (oh God were there moments) that you can see coming, you know they’re coming, and they’re toe curlingly frightening to watch unfold.

I would liken this much more to The Last Exorcism, one of the best horror films in recent times, than I would its Paranormal predecessors. It’s frightening, fresh and clever (especially the scenes with the Xbox Kinect), and well worth your time if you love a good horror film.

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.