Monthly Archives: May 2014

Guest Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Director: J. J. Abrams
Year: 2013
Score: 8.5/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

This is where Nick Frost should be standing! It's written in my contract that Nick Frost would be here!

This is where Nick Frost should be standing! It’s written in my contract that Nick Frost would be here!

Whilst I’m not a fan of Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, this really is an excellent run out for one of television’s most revered sci-fi franchises. What this and its predecessor do so well is pure adrenalin-fuelled action, at the expense of sticking character development on the back burner; Zachary Quinto continues to do an excellent job of playing Spock; with Abrams less dependent on the character in Into Darkness than his first attempt.

Benedict Cumberbatch proves once again that he can’t be type-cast by taking up the role of Khan, a super villain with far superior strength and mental abilities who wears a long coat. This is a touch unfair as he does a very good job; both actor and role feed off each other and he provides an impassioned performance despite his character’s cold and clinical nature.

There comes a point (that I won’t spoil for you) in the plot that is so very out of touch with the rest of the film that it borders on the tedious, but the action recovers to a thrilling climax that reeks of Abrams and could be transposed into anything that’s gone before and sadly will probably remain the template when Star Wars VII: Milking The Cash Cow comes around. Don’t get me wrong – it works and it’s really good so it’s a bit churlish of me to complain, it’s more of a warm blanket of familiarity than the cold tedium of inevitability.

In summary: watch it, enjoy it.

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.

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Review: WarGames

Director: John Badham
Year: 1983
Score: 8/10

The WarGames movie tie-in version of the arcade game Galaga features Matthew Broderick's face staring out at the player in an effort to cause distraction.

The WarGames movie tie-in version of the arcade game Galaga features Matthew Broderick’s face staring out at the player in an effort to cause distraction.

This sci-fi(ish) thriller could very easily have not stood the test of time given how reliant it is on computer technologies that are supposed to seem futuristic. However, it still holds up, primarily because it’s really good fun, with a perfect tone and the right balance of humour and techno-thrills.

Young Matthew Broderick (several years before he was Ferris Bueller) is a great asset, nailing the role of David Lightman, the bright high school student hacker who’s quickly in over his head but manages to pull MacGyver-esque stunts to get out of any fix and solve problems his seniors just don’t understand. Other members of the cast are also good, especially Dabney Coleman, who rarely disappoints. Also look for John Spencer (The West Wing) and Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill) as the pair of missile launchers in the prologue.

A few minor criticisms: despite being one of the first mainstream movies to feature a hacker as a protagonist (a step forward in the fight for equality for nerds and geeks!), it nonetheless perpetuates stereotypes about computer nerds (Exhibit A: the scene featuring two of David’s nerdier hacker friends); David’s parents’ lack of concern about (or knowledge of) his activities, even once he’s been effectively taken into custody by government agents, is hard to believe; and there’s a bit where the love interest played by Ally Sheedy has a moment of stupidity that seems jarringly out of character, seriously asking David whether his detention by the authorities was “because of what you did with my grade?” despite already knowing that his hacking had caused a temporary military crisis. Just ignore these minor quibbles and enjoy the ride as I did.

Review: Unforgiven

Director: Clint Eastwood
Year: 1992
Score: 7.5/10

For the ten months between the release of Unforgiven in August 1992 and the release of Jurassic Park in June 1993, this was cinema's most inglorious toilet death.

For the ten months between the release of Unforgiven in August 1992 and the release of Jurassic Park in June 1993, this was cinema’s most inglorious toilet death.

Touted as Clint Eastwood’s anti-western, to me this thoughtful film came across as a regular western but one with a clear message: that behind all the bluster and mythologising and storytelling, the Wild West was a harsh, violent world full of cruelty and injustice. The acting is excellent all around (though Eastwood himself doesn’t do a whole lot with an admittedly unflashy lead role), the exteriors are beautifully shot, and the music is quite nice. Some of the events seem to happen a little too easily, but that’s easy to overlook. The line “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it”, used to great effect in a climactic scene, was later reused in The Wire, and I think of it often. Overall, it’s a quality film, probably my favourite of those Eastwood has directed (caveat: I haven’t yet seen Flags of Our Fathers or Letters from Iwo Jima), but I wouldn’t say it deserved to win Best Picture. Having said that, looking at the other films released that year, I’m not surprised it did win, and I’m hard-pressed to pick a better winner; perhaps Glengarry Glen Ross, Malcolm X or The Crying Game? There was also a little animation by the name of Aladdin…

Review: The Color Purple

Director: Steven Spielberg
Year: 1985
Score: 8/10

Ye olde porn.

Ye olde porn.

Moving tale of hardship and redemption in the Deep South, directed by Steven Spielberg but unlike anything he had made before it. There are some wonderful performances, most notably from Whoopi Goldberg in her film debut, future cult leader Oprah Winfrey, and Margaret Avery; all three received Oscar nominations but none won. There’s also a strong sense of the time and place, and a feeling throughout that these characters and their communities are grounded in reality. It’s hard to make it through the ending without shedding a tear or two (in my case, around about the same time I arrived at work… helpful!). I do have a few gripes, of course: the time jumps tend to be somewhat jarring; there’s some exaggerated slapstick humour that doesn’t gel well with the serious drama elsewhere (you can tell that Spielberg just can’t help himself!); and Danny Glover’s character is too bastardly for too long, with a comeuppance that isn’t satisfying enough.

Guest Review: Sinister

Director: Scott Derrickson
Year: 2012
Score: 6.5/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

Still from Sinister

Suddenly Mrs. Wilson regretted her decision to answer the ‘Homeschool Substitute Teacher Wanted’ ad.

Sinister is a strange film, as it doesn’t really sit right as a horror film. As you might imagine, a horror film’s most pressing aim is to be scary; some are really bad at it admittedly, but that is the ultimate aim that it should be striving for. Sinister on the other hand doesn’t feel scary, nor does it feel at any point that it is trying to be scary. This sounds like a criticism and a sure sign that this film is a failure, but in practice it’s actually quite an interesting film. The best way I can describe it is if you imagine a version of Kiss the Girls in which the serial killer is a ghost.

Quick summary: writer moves to a house where some murdering occurred, and whilst unpacking finds a projector and box of home films in the attic; writer watches them and finds that they’re snuff films, continues to watch them anyway, then spooky stuff occurs. It’s quite an odd sensation watching this film; you’re waiting for the horror and it just never happens, but at the same time it tows you along in a relatively interesting plot. It’s almost like it’s a failed horror film that’s fluked its way into being a thriller.

Compared to its peers (Paranormal Activity and Insidious), Sinister fails. It doesn’t make the cut as a horror film, and those (like me) who were expecting to be scared will find their nerves intact and trousers unsoiled. So much does it fail in fact, by rights I would have scored this perhaps a three out of ten were it being judged purely as a horror. In isolation however, Sinister is interesting and rather than a good plot poorly executed, it would fall into the category ‘Not what we were looking for but we’ll take it’.

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: Solaris (2002)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Year: 2002
Score: 6/10

Who wants to play 'Is this still from Gravity or Solaris?'?

Who wants to play ‘Is this still from Gravity or Solaris?’?

A hard film to review, this. Do I attempt to judge it on its own merits, or compare it to the Tarkovsky version I watched the day before? The difficulty of the former is that many of its merits are entirely derivative (though it’s touted as a new adaptation of the Lem novel rather than a remake of the Tarkovsky film), so how much praise do they really deserve? I’ll aim for somewhere in the middle.

While it’s well made by Steven Soderbergh and well acted all around, in many ways this feels pointless since it brings very little to the table that’s new. On the other hand, it trims the running time by more than an hour, which is a plus given that a key problem with the original is its length and pace. It still manages to hit on most of the original’s key plot points and meditate (if not to the same degree) on most of its philosophical questions. It’s similarly cold and lacking in action, and the relationship between the protagonist and his dead wife (cue Robyn Hitchcock) is a bit more heavy-handed.

If I’m recommending one or the other to someone who’s seen neither, I think I’d point them to the Tarkovsky version on the basis of its place in film history and the fact that it’s slightly more interesting and considerably more innovative. However, if the recommendee’s time is limited or they prefer less ambiguity, perhaps I’d point them to Soderbergh.

As a result of this film I’ve come to a realisation about Jeremy Davies: he’s great (in this as well as the TV series Justified and the films Spanking the Monkey, Rescue Dawn, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, etc.) but he pretty much plays the same character in the same way every time I see him so he must lack range.

Review: Solaris (1972)

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Year: 1972
Score: 6.5/10

The Soviet Union certainly had a strange approach to wet t-shirt contests.

The Soviet Union certainly had a strange approach to wet t-shirt contests.

At 167 minutes and with a pace that makes it feel like twice that, Andrei Tarkovsky’s version of Stanisław Lem’s novel is a real slog to get through. It’s philosophical and psychological drama in the guise of a science fiction film, with a heavy dose of tragic love story (or, more accurately, an exploration of the human desire to recover lost love) thrown in too. There’s something haunting and hypnotic about it, in spite of or perhaps because of its confusing and mysterious nature. Given the sci-fi trappings, the lack of action – especially when amplified by the slow pace – is challenging to say the least. So, ultimately, is it moving and does it amount to a successful exploration of the deep questions and themes it attempts to tackle? I say no to the former, as the protagonist’s plight and the love story elements had little emotional impact on me, but mostly yes to the latter. In that regard I judge it a partial success. It’s boosted by a killer ending, one of those shocking final moments that force you to reevaluate much of what you’ve just seen. Random thought: the underlying love-conquers-science message must go down well with climate change deniers.

Guest Review: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Director: Christopher B. Landon
Year: 2014
Score: 1/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

I too experienced this desire to sew my eyelids shut during his movie.

I too experienced this desire to sew my eyelids shut during his movie.

Having enjoyed Paranormal Activity 4, I thought I’d give this a chance. It was a serious mistake, and I feel cheated out of an hour and a half of my life. I could have gone for a lovely walk. I could have written a poem. Hell, I could have played with my kids. But no – I watched this tidal wave of drivel for 84 minutes.

If anybody cares (you don’t), it follows the story of three teenage friends, one of whom finds a bite mark on his arm. He experiences some cool superhuman powers like being able to lean over a bit, then becomes possessed. The plot is laboured and pointless; it’s like it exists only to justify the daft ending of the previous film. It doesn’t make sense as the events only tie together if you take wild leaps of assumption, and even then it’s still fairly incoherent; it has the feel of a horror film put together by a committee of really bad media studies students. The only moment of enjoyment to be had in this film is when the fat kid falls on his arse.

It bears no resemblance to the preceding Paranormal Activity films, with only token links to the previous ones in order to justify its title. It is a thoroughly pointless film which at no point ventures above its own personal zenith of dreadful.

I was once told that the words ‘explosive diarrhoea’ were considered an example of onomatopoeia as your lips make the same movements saying it as your arse does when you experience it. I would imagine the same could be said of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones as I imagine your lips make the same movements saying it as whatever sphincter it was that ejected this nonsense into a script did.

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: The Crossing Guard

Director: Sean Penn
Year: 1995
Score: 4.5/10

Wow, Kristen Wiig was not looking good back in 1995.

Wow, Kristen Wiig was not looking good back in 1995.

Misguided, fruitless, angst-filled tale about redemption, forgiveness and guilt. My least favourite film from Sean Penn (as of 2013), though I still count myself amongst his fans. Jack Nicholson is solid in the lead role, and he’s given a few emotional moments in which to really shine, but his character’s struggle is neither engaging nor moving. David Morse is fine too, though he was better in The Indian Runner. Oddly it was Angelica Huston who received award nominations; to be honest I found her a touch wooden. There are occasional effective scenes but overall it doesn’t come together dramatically or narratively, and it’s extremely heavy-handed at times. The music is also pretty bad, especially the pieces featuring saxophone. Skip it; if you want a Sean Penn movie worth watching, stick to The Indian Runner or Into the Wild.

Review: The Indian Runner

Director: Sean Penn
Year: 1991
Score: 8.5/10

Aragorn is tempted by the One Ring.

Aragorn is tempted by the One Ring.

Sean Penn’s debut as writer and director is a sensitive, meditative drama anchored by strong performances from David Morse and Viggo Mortensen as a pair of brothers. The interplay between them has such an authentic feel to it. Penn’s direction is dynamic, bringing a sense of heightened tension and drama to the somewhat depressing material. I believe this is the only film I’ve seen that’s based on a song: Bruce Springsteen’s Highway Patrolman, which I’ve now listened to and found quite beautiful and moving (particularly after watching the movie). Incidentally, the musical choices in the movie are excellent. A couple of odd aspects: Valeria Golino, who I always thought of as French (probably because of Hot Shots and Hot Shots: Part Deux) but who is actually Italian (and part Greek), plays a Mexican for some reason; and the kid who plays Morse and Golino’s little son is super cute but doesn’t seem to age despite the movie taking place over at least nine months. Look for a young Benicio Del Toro in a very minor role. Overall, I highly recommend this movie. It raises some interesting questions about goodness, commitment, obligation and the bonds of brotherhood, and leaves you pondering whether you’re a hero or an outlaw; strong or weak; and most importantly, a bear or a message.

Review: The King and I

Director: Walter Lang
Year: 1956
Score: 6.5/10

Siamese twins?

Siamese twins?

Watchable but unmemorable Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about Anna Leonowens teaching the King of Siam and his children in the 1860s. I recognised only one song, ‘Getting to Know You’, and while I enjoyed it and a few others, I found the remainder quite naff. Certainly the strangest (and perhaps most compelling) sequence is not really a song at all: it’s the performance of a stage adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin lasting almost fifteen minutes (a ninth of the movie). Deborah Kerr is appealing as Anna and Yul Brynner is good fun in his exaggerated Oscar-winning performance as the King. His chest is on display so prominently and often that it becomes quite amusing; the movie really should be called ‘The King and I and His Pecs’. Some more genuine criticisms: Patrick Adiarte is truly awful as Prince Chulalongkorn; the ‘et cetera’ running gag is repeated so many times that it goes from endearing to tiresome; there are some totally wasted characters, such as Anna’s son Louis (whose most notable contribution is being scared, prompting a fun opening number about whistling) and Kralahome the Prime Minister; and the use of English is occasionally odd, such as in one scene featuring only Kralahome and the King – wouldn’t they be speaking Thai, as characters in some other scenes do?

Guest Review: V/H/S/2

Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sánchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans & Jason Eisener
Year: 2013
Score: 8.5/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

The child version of Doom did not prove a huge success.

The child version of Doom did not prove a huge success.

A couple of things – I love found footage horror films, and I haven’t seen the original V/H/S. All good? Right. This film is unbelievable, and is by a clear margin the best horror film I’ve seen in a long time. For those unfamiliar with the premise, V/H/S/2 follows the found footage of two reporters who get into the house of a missing teenager, and then sit and watch a collection of found footage videos.

It just has everything. Ghosts, crazy cults, monsters, zombies… it just goes on and on. There’s several different short films, and although each is only about fifteen minutes long I found myself completely absorbed and at points genuinely frightened by what was going on. Particularly the cult one. Part of me would like to meet the people who dreamt this up, but the other part of me thinks that if I did it would be my civic duty to beat them to death and prevent them inflicting any more of their unfettered madness upon the world.

I know there’s divided opinion on found footage films. Many don’t like them, arguing that they’re lazy, unrealistic and difficult to lose yourself in. There are instances where this is true, and there is some absolute dross out there. You do, however, get some real gems. The Last Exorcism is fantastic, Paranormal Activity created a whole new genre and The Blair Witch Project (deal with it), whether you like it or not, will go down as a film that truly changed the horror landscape. As unusual as it is to say this about a sequel, V/H/S/2 deserves to sit alongside if not above all of them. Genuinely frightening, cleverly tied together footage wrapped around the most important quality a film of this nature needs: a reason for the protagonists to be holding a camera the whole damn time.

If you like horror films, you HAVE to see this one.

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: The Seventh Seal

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Year: 1957
Score: 7.5/10

Chess was the knight's idea. Death, who likes multiplayer Euros rather than 2-player abstract strategy games, would have preferred The Settlers of Catan, if for no other reason than that its original German title begins with the word 'die'.

Chess was the knight’s idea. Death, who likes multiplayer Euros rather than 2-player abstract strategy games, would have preferred The Settlers of Catan, if for no other reason than that its original German title begins with the word ‘die’.

Iconic Ingmar Bergman existential drama remains interesting if not wholly profound. Bergman uses the metaphor of a knight playing a game of chess against Death (who cheats, of course), and a medieval setting full of death and injustice and apocalyptic panic (or in some cases, nonchalance), to explore questions of the existence of God, his silence in the face of suffering, the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life, and the inevitability of death. Though I enjoyed much of the film, particularly the exploration of these questions and themes, I didn’t find it emotionally engaging; it didn’t move me, which is precisely what a movie with this premise and ambition should do. Still, there’s some excellent work from Max von Sydow (as the knight), Bengt Ekerot (as Death, a performance that continues to influence how personifications of Death are portrayed to this day) and Gunnar Björnstrand (as Jöns, the knight’s squire), some memorable images, and occasional flashes of solid black humour.