Category Archives: 5.5

Movies that score 5.5/10.

Review: The Message [a.k.a. Mohammad, Messenger of God]

Director: Moustapha Akkad
Year: 1976
Score: 5.5/10

If this movie is to be believed, most of Mohammad's enemies died because they used rubber swords.

If this movie is to be believed, most of Mohammad’s enemies died because they used rubber swords.

Strange combination of historical epic and religious propaganda. In a sense, the nearest comparison would be Ben-Hur; unfortunately, this is no Ben-Hur.

It tells the story of Mohammad and the birth of Islam but it’s hamstrung by its adherence to Islamic beliefs regarding depictions of Mohammad. An opening card informs the audience: “The makers of this film honour the Islamic tradition which holds that the impersonation of the Prophet offends against the spirituality of his message. Therefore, the person of Mohammad will not be shown”. Consequently we get an epic biopic missing its protagonist, instead resorting to ridiculous workarounds such as showing his camel’s head (he’s supposedly just off-screen!) and shooting some sequences from his point of view (placing his staff in frame as though it’s a weapon in a first-person shooter game!).

Other than that, the story is told in a fairly conservative, straightforward way, hammering home the view that Mohammad’s opponents were driven by greed and that his message was just totally awesome and should have been immediately taken up by everyone. There’s a lot of time spent on the efforts of the merchants and leaders of Mecca to suppress the growing movement, so much so that it’s almost two hours before we get a proper battle scene. When the battles start things do pick up a bit, but by then it’s a case of too little too late.

There are some fair performances and it held my interest all the way through (that’s three hours!); it just isn’t the kind of straight historical epic I wanted it to be. Perhaps part of the problem, and the source of the sense that it amounts to religious propaganda, is that (as explicitly stated in another opening card) its content was vetted by an Islamic university in Cairo and something called the “High Islamic Congress of the Shiat in Lebanon” (which, when googled, leads only to references to this film).

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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: 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 Vikings

Director: Richard Fleischer
Year: 1958
Score: 5.5/10

"Hands up if you've read the script and think it's awesome."

“Hands up if you’ve read the script and think it’s awesome.”

I first watched this in high school since apparently it had educational value. Supposedly a historical epic, it’s neither historical nor particularly epic. The thing is, it should be epic, given the subject matter and plot outline, but it just never quite gets there and instead the story – featuring conflict between Vikings and Northumbrians, a hidden heir, long-lost brothers, and various other tropes – ends up feeling pretty silly. The performances aren’t terrible but they’re not good either; there’s a fair bit of hamminess and over-acting. I usually like these actors (especially Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis) more. The exception is a near-unrecognisable Ernest Borgnine, who hams it up as the fabled Ragnar in a way that works perfectly. A couple of other pluses: the battle scenes are fairly reasonable for 1958, and there’s some lovely scenery shot quite well.

Review: Man of Steel

Director: Zack Snyder
Year: 2013
Score: 5.5/10

Henry Cavill attempting to nail his 'Superman is concerned!' look. As usual, he succeeds only in making me laugh.

Henry Cavill attempting to nail his ‘Superman is concerned!’ look. As usual, he succeeds only in making me laugh.

I’ll try to put aside my general lack of enthusiasm for superhero / comic book movies in order to fairly review this.

It seems an odd decision to reboot Superman so soon after 2006’s Superman Returns. However, it’s not a fruitless decision, as it allows a retelling of the Superman origin story, which I regard as the most interesting part of a superhero’s mythology. It also means Brandon Routh – who was sterile and unmemorable in Superman Returns – gets replaced by Henry Cavill, who isn’t great (and has some laughable facial expressions when attempting to look serious or concerned) but is at least an improvement. The other casting is quite good too, with talented performers such as Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne and Richard Schiff in key roles. I enjoyed the treatment of Superman as an alien; the people of Earth (and the authorities in particular) react to his presence and power much as they would any powerful extraterrestrial being suddenly discovered here, which is a refreshing change from the standard you’re-a-superhero-fighting-for-good-so-we-love-you response.

As for negatives… well, there are quite a few, and they’re biggies. Though he’s better than Routh, Cavill is no Christopher Reeve. Costner isn’t given a whole lot to do as Superman’s adoptive father Pa Kent and Shannon is regrettably one-note as the villainous Zod. Apart from the origins-of-Superman stuff, which is fine, the story is weak, consisting mostly of convoluted silliness involving conflict with Zod over the Kryptonian ‘codex’ (a MacGuffin if ever there was one). Many of the action scenes are Michael Bay Transformersish or akin to watching a video game unfold before our eyes (speaking of video games, the acting, dialogue and action in some of the early scenes on Krypton bring to mind the worst kind of video game cutscenes). In some cases, most notably the climactic sequence involving the ‘world engine’, it’s pretty hard to know or care what’s going on. A few scenes and devices are particularly preposterous, such as the preserved consciousness of Superman’s father Jor-El (Crowe) appearing on board the Kryptonian villains’ spaceship to guide Lois Lane (Adams) through a series of attacks. There are also quite a number of nits I couldn’t stop myself from picking and questions I couldn’t stop myself from asking even though I knew the answers were all ‘shut up and suspend your disbelief and logic, it’s a superhero movie!’, such as why the Kryptonians would rely on the least secure form of security I’ve ever seen (pegs that fit into holes!), why they speak English, why Superman’s parents don’t flee Krypton with him, etc. And lastly, a minor complaint: it’s a shame that John Williams’ iconic Superman theme isn’t used at all, even briefly as an homage.

Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Director: Wes Anderson
Year: 2012
Score: 5.5/10

This movie is basically Titanic for pedophiles and ailurophiles.

This movie is basically Titanic for pedophiles and ailurophiles.

I’m finally starting to realise I’m not really a fan of Wes Anderson. With the notable exception of Fantastic Mr. Fox, I’ve never loved any of his films, and even those I’ve liked have been more cases of appreciation than proper enjoyment. There’s certainly stuff to appreciate in this one: fine performances, an impressive cast, some lovely shots, assured direction, a bit of wry humour. Despite all this, the story left me cold and it all seemed a bit stale and inconsequential by the end. Is there something I’m not getting? I’m open to joining the Anderson cult, but I’m afraid I’ll fail the entrance exam if it requires me to summarise the point of this movie or what I gained from it.

Review: Army of Darkness

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

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

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

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

Review: Pacific Rim

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

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

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

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

Review: Trance

Director: Danny Boyle
Year: 2013
Score: 5.5/10

Disappointing movie from Danny Boyle squanders a promising opening and reasonably interesting (if Inception-ish) premise involving hypnosis. The problem is that when we get to the end of all twists and turns, and actually find out what was going on, it renders most of the preceding events pointless. It’s also really difficult to sustain suspension of disbelief through the increasingly improbable events; I found myself questioning why characters would behave as they were far too often. Still, there are some neat sequences and ideas, and the performances aren’t bad.

Review: Hoffa

Director: Danny DeVito
Year: 1992
Score: 5.5/10

Jack Nicholson stars in this biopic about corrupt and mob-connected union leader Jimmy Hoffa, with Danny DeVito both directing and playing Hoffa’s closest friend and associate. Several things ruin it: plodding direction by DeVito, a dodgy performance from Nicholson (he’s basically doing an impression of Hoffa rather than actually playing the character, and his impression is wildly inconsistent, especially in terms of the exaggerated nasal Hoffa voice that he only uses about half the time), and a misguided decision to try to heroise Hoffa. Funnily enough, in terms of acting, I thought DeVito’s performance in this was the best I’ve seen from him.

Review: Chocolat

Director: Lasse Hallström
Year: 2000
Score: 5.5/10

I was greatly disappointed by this, though I can’t recall the basis of my high expectations. The cast is fine (though Johnny Depp doesn’t seem hugely interested) and the direction is adequate. However, the central conflict is so obvious, clichéd and predictable that it’s very difficult to invest in at all. The filmmakers seem to believe they’re presenting a potent fable – though doing so with a delightful tone, and with chocolate!; who can resist? – but it comes across as a movie trying too hard to win its audience over. The romance is also quite flat. Despite all this, it’s watchable enough if you can get past the predictability.

Review: Quest for Fire

Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Year: 1981
Score: 5.5/10

As the title suggests, this movie dramatises an early human tribe’s struggle to obtain and master fire 80,000 years ago. Most of the characters are cavemen, so they communicate with grunts and groans and gibberish. It’s certainly an original premise for a movie, but in the end I admired what it was attempting to do more than I actually enjoyed it; to be honest, it was quite a slog to get through, with several long lulls. There’s also a slight problem that will only affect viewers (such as myself) who are fans of the TV series Bob’s Burgers: the main caveman character regularly and repeatedly makes a sound that approximates Tina Belcher’s distinctive ‘Ah! Ah! Ah!’ cries of distress. Still, it’s noteworthy for its uniqueness and the fact that it features Ron Perlman’s film debut (as a caveman, of course).

Review: Animal House

Director: John Landis
Year: 1978
Score: 5.5/10

Look, don’t get me wrong, there are some funny bits, and I guess it’s worth a watch to see what these sorts of movies looked like 35 years ago, but really, most of it doesn’t hold up comedically. Interesting to see a young Tim Matheson (he grew up to become VP on The West Wing). And now I know where my dad got his ‘human pimple’ gag from.

Review: Big Fish

Director: Tim Burton
Year: 2003
Score: 5.5/10

There are some nice ideas in this movie, and its heart is in the right place, but I found it difficult to connect with the characters and it lost me by jumping from vignette to vignette without providing any dramatic satisfaction. The ending is somewhat sweet and carries some level of dramatic resolution, but it’s too little too late by that point. This is yet another nail in the Tim Burton coffin for me: once again, he shows imagination, but fails at story and character. Naturally I’m partial to the Pearl Jam song (Man of the Hour, written for this movie) in the end credits.

Review: Blackfish

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Year: 2013
Score: 5.5/10

Yes, it's exactly what it looks like: two men wanking a dork.

Yes, it’s exactly what it looks like: two men wanking a dork.

Documentary about SeaWorld’s mistreatment of killer whales and the danger they pose as a consequence. It’s been extremely well-received but I found it disappointing; it did little to rise above the level of a mediocre TV documentary. The focus is quite narrow and the film’s message is clear from the first few minutes, which means the only reason to watch the rest is in the hope that we’ll get to see incredible (or gruesome) footage of attacks or hear explosive allegations of corruption or misconduct; unfortunately, we get very little of either. Still, some of the clips and revelations are interesting at least. I don’t mean to trivialise the injuries and deaths caused by killer whales in captivity, or the suffering of the animals themselves, but as far as ’causes’ go, if you’ll excuse the pun, I feel like there are far bigger fish to fry. After all, there are apparently only 45 killer whales in captivity in the entire world right now, and they’ve only caused 3 or 4 deaths.

Review: The Elephant Man

Director: David Lynch
Year: 1980
Score: 5.5/10

Quite different to what I expected, this was actually quite disappointing. Large swathes of it resemble cinema of a much earlier time (and not just because it’s in black and white), but then there are more surreal elements that mark it out as a David Lynch film. This is the second-earliest performance I’ve seen from Anthony Hopkins (the earliest being The Lion in Winter) and he’s quite good as the doctor who cares for the title character, played by an understandably unrecognisable John Hurt. Ultimately I felt it was lacking in drama, pathos and narrative drive. Now that I’ve seen it, the fact that this is Karl Pilkington’s favourite film is rather bewildering. Dexter Fletcher, the child actor who has a small role as a boy assisting the villainous Bytes, looks like a cross between a young Mick Jagger and the actress Nicola Walker (Ruth from Spooks); incidentally, he later starred as Spike in Press Gang.

Review: A Christmas Story

Director: Bob Clark
Year: 1983
Score: 5.5/10

Family Christmas movie doesn’t really hold up, but has a certain easy-to-watch quality that perhaps explains why it’s apparently a US television staple every Christmas (though I wonder how the unfortunate racist scene at the end is received by TV audiences these days). It has some sweet vignettes, though very little laugh-out-loud material. A strong and justified sense of nostalgia pervades it all. It’s narrated by Jean Shepherd and is based on stories from his own childhood, and I really struggled to work out where I know his voice from. I’ve done some reading about him and still can’t figure it out. There’s a chance that something like The Simpsons did a parody of A Christmas Story with a very good impersonation of Shepherd’s voice, or a slimmer chance that I’m remembering his voice work in the ‘Carousel of Progress’ ride at Walt Disney World; or perhaps I’m just thinking of some of Adam West’s work on Family Guy. If anyone has any other ideas, let me know! It’s still bugging me.

Review: Eyes Wide Shut

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Year: 1999
Score: 5.5/10

Subliminal message from Kubrick, who evidently hated C. Montgomery Burns and felt his growing power over Springfield needed to be curtailed.

Subliminal message from Kubrick, who evidently hated C. Montgomery Burns and felt his growing power over Springfield needed to be curtailed.

Well-made but ultimately unsuccessful. The main problems are the pace, which ranges from deliberate to interminable, and the story, which doesn’t really work as a thriller, an erotic adventure, or a marital fable. There’s effective use of a simple piano melody to build suspense, though it never pays off. Tom Cruise is reliable as ever; Nicole Kidman is adequate but doesn’t excel. Overall, while it managed to hold my interest, once it was over it was hard to ascertain what the point of it all had been; consequently I began to wonder if my interest had only been held because of who directed it, how well he does so, and who it stars. Thus far my least favourite Kubrick film.

Review: Arachnophobia

Director: Frank Marshall
Year: 1990
Score: 5.5/10

Spider boobs!

Spider boobs!

This felt like one big missed opportunity. Had it been a straight horror movie, starting with the same premise and using the same great special effects, it could have been thrilling and scary and wonderful; but instead it’s one of those ‘comedy horror’ movies – a genre that, in my experience, apart from the first two Evil Dead movies, can result in good comedy (e.g. Shaun of the Dead) but not good horror. Fear of spiders seems such fertile ground for proper horror treatment, and occasionally we get some, but it’s inevitably immediately undercut by something less serious: a visual gag, or a pesky quirky resident of the town, or John Goodman in comic relief mode. Nonetheless, Jeff Daniels is fine as our heroic doctor who – wouldn’t you know it – happens to suffer from arachnophobia owing to a traumatic childhood experience, and there are a few good parts (such as the opening sequence, which is somehow reminiscent of Jurassic Park, and a scene toward the end in which Daniels and his family flee their spider-infested house).