Category Archives: 4.5

Movies that score 4.5/10.

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.

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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: 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: 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: Slacker

Director: Richard Linklater
Year: 1991
Score: 4.5/10

Surely no other movie has ever featured characters listed in the credits as "Grocery grabber of death's bounty", "Sadistic comb game player" or "Scooby Doo philosopher".

Surely no other movie has ever featured characters listed in the credits as “Grocery grabber of death’s bounty”, “Sadistic comb game player” or “Scooby Doo philosopher”.

Unique debut from Richard Linklater aimlessly follows a ragtag bunch of mostly unconnected misfit characters in Austin, Texas as they aimlessly go about their day, mostly spouting garbage. It’s memorable, ambitious, and conveys the sense that we’re seeing an authentic slice of the fringe of American society, but for me it didn’t really work as a movie; I think I need at least some semblance of a narrative, and there’s none at all here. The deliberate refusal to stick with any individual character for any substantial length of time also makes it hard to stay interested. Still, the quirkiness – of pretty much all characters, plus the movie itself – has a certain appeal. It’s also fun to see Linklater himself at the start.

Review: Hugo

Director: Martin Scorsese
Year: 2011
Score: 4.5/10

Oh, Scorsese, why? Some of the visuals are interesting and I’ll admit I now know more about Georges Méliès than I did before. Beyond that, this mostly stunk. I didn’t care about the characters or the story, and it degenerated into self-indulgence (OK Marty, we get it, you love Méliès and think early cinematic history is terribly important) and – worse – tedium. The supporting characters were distractingly pointless. For some reason this was critically acclaimed.

Review: Bottle Rocket

Director: Wes Anderson
Year: 1996
Score: 4.5/10

Disappointing debut from Wes Anderson. It features most of what would become standard in his movies: quirky characters, excellent and eclectic musical choices, one or more Wilson (in this case, Owen, Luke, Andrew and Teddy), and a distinctive visual style with precisely and interestingly framed shots. Unfortunately there’s not enough humour and it doesn’t really go anywhere. The stuff with Andrew Wilson and Lumi Cavazos (a hotel maid he falls in love with) is quite nice, but it can’t save the movie. Owen Wilson is incredibly irritating throughout and I’d be happy to never see him again.

Review: We’re the Millers

Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Year: 2013
Score: 4.5/10

Hehe... it's funny because some of the characters think a baby gets killed. No, seriously, this was my biggest laugh.

Hehe… it’s funny because some of the characters think a baby gets killed. No, seriously, this was my biggest laugh.

Mostly unlikable comedy starring Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston. Sudeikis is bland and unimpressive as ever, making me wonder once again how he keeps landing lead roles. The pervy treatment of Aniston made me uncomfortable. Incidentally, she looks like she’s had far too much work done – her mouth in particular looks distractingly odd. Still, there are some laughs to be had, especially when Kathryn Hahn and Nick Offerman show up. Hahn’s probably the highlight of the whole movie. If you recognise Will Poulter (as I did), it may be from School of Comedy, the British sketch comedy series featuring a cast of children.

Review: Jurassic Park III

Director: Marc Forster
Year: 2001
Score: 4.5/10

Jurassic Park III

Prehistoric Snakes on a Plane..?

In short: it’s better than The Lost World but by no means is it good. Fifteen minutes in there’s a talking raptor in a dream sequence – enough said. If I’m interpreting it correctly, this movie posits that Isla Sorna is some kind of magical island that can turn a kid into a survivalist and repair a broken marriage. It also, quite absurdly, ups the ante by retconning the raptors so they’re now even smarter, better at communicating, and (in the case of the males, apparently) have feathers on their heads. I think the slight saving grace, and the only reason I rate it more highly than The Lost World, is that the action sequences are more effective and suspenseful. Watching both sequels now has made me worry that I view Jurassic Park through rose-coloured glasses and perhaps it doesn’t deserve the 9.5 I gave its 3D rerelease; but then, it’s got that nostalgic place the others don’t have – it’s part of my childhood – so I still love it.

Review: Cradle Will Rock

Director: Tim Robbins
Year: 1999
Score: 4.5/10

Tim Robbins gets points for ambition, but loses more for overreaching and making a turd. It’s a good cast and most of them do well, with the notable exception of Robbins’ then-partner Susan Sarandon, who is hopelessly miscast (and does a dodgy Italian accent) as Margherita Sarfatti. The main problems are a failure to pick one interesting plot thread and stick with it (instead jumping around to various less interesting subplots), and an earnestness that makes this work to get through (yes, Tim, we get it – you feel strongly about this subject (that art shouldn’t be repressed by the state)… but just say it once and get over it, stop hammering your audience over the head with it!). It’s a shame as I really love the two other movies he wrote and directed, Bob Roberts and Dead Man Walking. There are some good bits: the scene in which the actual 1937 musical The Cradle Will Rock is performed; the scenes in which Hallie Flanagan (a standout performance from Cherry Jones) appears before the Dies Committee (though apparently the dialogue was all lifted directly from the official transcripts, so it’s hard to give too much credit); and the brief appearances by Tenacious D’s Jack Black and Kyle Gass. As a massive Pearl Jam fan I have to point out that the second song in the end credits is Croon Spoon, a song from the actual 1937 musical The Cradle Will Rock, performed as a duet by Eddie Vedder and – wait for it – Susan Sarandon.

Review: The Hangover Part II

Director: Todd Phillips
Year: 2011
Score: 4.5/10

I did laugh a few times, mostly at Zach Galifianakis and occasionally at Dr Ken Jeong. However, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Todd Phillips and his co-writers actually thought viewers would overlook the fact that they’ve recycled the premise and storyline of the original movie almost beat-for-beat. There is literally nothing new in this, and what little freshness and liveliness there was in the original is now completely gone. Followed by The Hangover Part III.

Review: Spring Breakers

Director: Harmony Korine
Year: 2012
Score: 4.5/10

This film is a failure, but a really interesting one, so perhaps worth watching anyway. I’ve seen it described as both a comedy and a drama, but I regard it as solely a drama. It’s written and directed by Harmony Korine, writer of Kids (which I loved), and he’s definitely got skills, but unfortunately in this case I think his ambition trumped those skills. I think Korine truly believes he made a deep, thoughtful movie, with layer upon layer of subtext, but in my opinion it’s well-made tripe. The constant use of repetition is mostly ineffective, and much of the film consists of music video-style sequences that aren’t particularly engaging (though sometimes the music is used well; it’s somewhat embarrassing to admit this, but I quite liked the way the Britney Spears song ‘Everytime’ was used, and I’ve subsequently found it stuck in my head at times). The four young actresses in the lead roles are all fairly subpar; an almost unrecognisable James Franco is better, if only because he commits to his crazy role, but it’s hard to take him seriously. Near the end of the movies one of the girls discovers (and tells her mum) that “being a good person” is the “secret to life” – at which point I almost vomited. The film seems disturbingly representative of a broader movement in recent years towards ‘false profundity’ from Hollywood: movies that convey the impression of depth but have nothing at all beneath the surface.

Review: Greenberg

Director: Noah Baumbach
Year: 2010
Score: 4.5/10

Disappointing mumblecore(ish) movie. Ben Stiller is the unpleasant title character and his performance is middling. Greta Gerwig is quite good as his main romantic interest; more than anyone else in the movie, she comes across as someone you might actually want to spend some time with. There’s a really good (both comedically and dramatically) party scene toward the end, but outside of that and Gerwig there’s not much to like in this.

Review: Taking Woodstock

Director: Ang Lee
Year: 2009
Score: 4.5/10

Demetri Martin is a funny comedian with a fairly unique low-key style, and I enjoyed his TV series Important Things with Demetri Martin. However, I think we can all agree that he can’t act. All of us, that is, except Ang Lee, who for some bizarre reason thought it would be a good idea to cast him in the lead role in this odd movie about how Woodstock ended up happening. One critic called Martin’s work here a “nonperformance”, and I have to agree; he seems to be giving it his all, but his all is pretty woeful. Putting that to one side, there are other problems: the movie doesn’t seem to know whether it’s about his character or about Woodstock itself, and by oscillating between the two it loses focus and any dramatic potency it might have had. There’s also apparently some comedy in here, but I couldn’t find it. The bright spots are few and far between but they mostly either involve Liev Schreiber’s cross-dressing security guard character (Schreiber is genuinely appealing in this and steals numerous scenes), drug trips, or the broader spectacle of Woodstock itself, which is restaged impressively. It’s not hard to see why this flopped at the box office.

Review: The Girl

Director: Julian Jarrold
Year: 2012
Score: 4.5/10

The second and worse of two movies about Alfred Hitchcock I watched within a couple of days of each other (the first being Hitchcock). Toby Jones as Hitchcock and Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren are both really just doing one-note impersonations, and they get boring quite quickly. The movie basically only has one quite simple point to make: that Hitchcock was a creep who sexually harassed Hedren during production of The Birds and Marnie. Trouble is, it doesn’t take very long to make this point, and then we just get it repeated again and again for 91 minutes. If you’re at all interested in the subject matter, skip this and watch Hitchcock – or better yet, read a book about it.

Review: The Great Gatsby

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Year: 2013
Score: 4.5/10

The Great Gatsby

Leo’s reaction upon realising how shitty the movie is.

If you’re going to bore me this much, at least have the decency to do it in 90 minutes rather than a bloated 143! I admit I haven’t read the book, so perhaps my judgement is somewhat unqualified, but this adaptation just didn’t work at all for me. The performances are fine and none of the actors seem miscast; they’re just given nothing interesting to do. In terms of visuals, there’s clearly a lot of money on the screen, and some of the sweeping shots created with CGI are impressive, though they don’t add much. The anachronistic use of music is slightly jarring, but I would have forgiven it had other elements of Baz Luhrmann’s style been more successful. His failure reminded me of Tim Burton: as with many of Burton’s films, Luhrmann favours style over substance (and story), creating a visual feast that isn’t especially engaging and by the end feels pointless. Whatever profundity he thought he was conveying was lost somewhere between his mind and mine.

Review: Save the Date

Director: Michael Mohan
Year: 2012
Score: 4.5/10

In this sex scene, you can totally see Lizzy Caplan's pussy. (If this caption doesn't get me some hits, I don't know what will.)

In this sex scene, you can totally see Lizzy Caplan’s pussy. (If this caption doesn’t get me some hits, I don’t know what will.)

Wholly unmemorable indie romantic comedy/drama. It stars, and proceeds to mostly waste, several people I like: Lizzy Caplan (Party Down, Masters of Sex), Alison Brie (Community, Mad Men) and Martin Starr (Party Down, Freaks and Geeks). It has nothing interesting to say about relationships (its ostensible subject) and relies on some of the most overused clichés in the romcom book (love triangle! unexpected pregnancy!) without doing anything new with them. Perhaps I’m being too harsh; it isn’t completely terrible, the cast do their best with the material they’re given, and there’s a scene implying that the characters played The Settlers of Catan, earning a bonus half point from me.

Review: Celeste and Jesse Forever

Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Year: 2012
Score: 4.5/10

Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg star in what I think counts as a romantic comedy even though it’s about the end of a relationship rather than the start of one (the genre’s more typical subject). The characters aren’t particularly likable (Jones’ character in particular bugged me), there’s very little in the way of comedy, and there’s barely anything to root for (other than perhaps Samberg’s character’s new relationship). I still don’t understand why people rate Jones, and as I wrote in my review of Hot Rod, I don’t think Samberg has the chops for leading roles in movies (despite being a talented and funny guy). Skip it.