Category Archives: 6.5

Movies that score 6.5/10.

Review: Fitzcarraldo

Director: Werner Herzog
Year: 1982
Score: 6.5/10

It wouldn't surprise me to learn that Herzog moved the mountain rather than the ship.

It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Herzog moved the mountain rather than the ship.

Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski reunite for the second last time, returning to the sort of Peruvian locations they had traversed when making Aguirre: The Wrath of God a decade earlier, but not reaching the same creative heights this time around. The bulk of the movie is spent on Fitzcarraldo’s crazy quest to transport, with the help of the local native tribe, a steamship over a mountain from one river to another. Beyond any inherent artistic value, the main point of watching and enjoying this stems from the knowledge that Herzog actually did it himself as part of the (troubled) production of the film; we’re watching Fitzcarraldo do something incredible and quixotic, and in doing so we’re watching Herzog do something equally incredible and quixotic, only he’s doing so to make this film rather than to succeed as a rubber baron and use his riches to build an opera house. The parallels between Fitzcarraldo and Herzog – both undertaking this venture for the sake of art – are pretty hard to miss. I wonder how cognisant Herzog was of all this? In any event, though watching the crazy quest has its attractions, it doesn’t, in my opinion, amount to a fulfilling narrative (despite the lovely ending), and therein lies the film’s key problem. As for the performances: Kinski is fine as usual (despite failing to put in any effort to play Fitzcarraldo as an Irishman) and Claudia Cardinale does well as his love interest, though of course she disappears throughout the steamship-over-hill section so what’s the point?

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 (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.

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?

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.

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: Touchy Feely

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

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

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

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

Review: Shame

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

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

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

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

Review: The Parallax View

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

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

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

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

Review: The Producers

Director: Mel Brooks
Year: 1967
Score: 6.5/10

Either there were elaborate special effects used to achieve this, or the actress suffered a great deal of pain.

Either there were elaborate special effects used to achieve this, or the actress suffered a great deal of pain.

I have an interesting history with Mel Brooks. As a child I watched Blazing Saddles and Spaceballs once or twice, and his later (and widely regarded as lesser) parodies Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Dracula: Dead and Loving It lots and lots of times, so they both have considerable nostalgic and sentimental value for me regardless of their actual quality (or lack thereof). For some reason, though, I never saw his ‘classics’ (other than Blazing Saddles) from the ’60s and ’70s, a failing I’ve now remedied by marathoning three in a row: The Producers, Young Frankenstein and Silent Movie.

I quite enjoyed The Producers. It has fun performances from Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder and the ridiculous Kenneth Mars, and a pervasive sense of cheekiness that works well. However, there aren’t really enough jokes, and some sequences (e.g. Ulla’s dance) are unfortunate. The famous performance of Springtime for Hitler is the clear highlight; it’s so much better (funnier, cleverer, more entertaining) than the rest, in fact, that it reveals the mediocrity elsewhere. My favourite line of the film: “You shut up. You are the audience. I am the author. I outrank you!”.

Review: Pi

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Year: 1998
Score: 6.5/10

This almost makes me want to see a horror movie in which the villains are sullen/angry/rabid Jews. Almost.

This almost makes me want to see a horror movie in which the villains are sullen/angry/rabid Jews. Almost.

Darren Aronofsky’s debut is a singular, though not wholly successful, experience. It explores many of the themes he revisited in later films, such as isolation, paranoia, obsession and self-destruction. The ambition of it is plain to see and it showcases Aronofsky’s talent and promise well. The scratchy black-and-white photography doesn’t add much really, other than giving it a very specific look. Sean Gullette is quite good as our protagonist, the paranoid genius Max, and he also co-wrote the story. I have to say I didn’t find the ideas and theories that so obsess Max all that compelling. It also delves perhaps a little too far into the realm of the surreal for my tastes. Nonetheless, I’m glad I finally watched it (it’s a movie that has stared at me in video shops for a long time).

Review: Rounders

Director: John Dahl
Year: 1998
Score: 6.5/10

He's an unpleasant character, but I love his dress sense. This bright red adult onesie  (WANT!) with black hat ensemble is a highlight.

He’s an unpleasant character, but I love his dress sense. This bright red adult onesie (WANT!) with black hat ensemble is a highlight.

Flawed but watchable poker movie starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton, two actors I like (which helps). It’s been called “the best poker movie ever made”, but that isn’t really saying much; how many can you name off the top of your head? Damon has sufficient screen presence to make a lot of it work, and the poker stuff is fairly engaging, particularly the hustling scenes. However, it’s brought down by a lack of subtlety, ridiculous plot points (most notably: a central character having the world’s most obvious ‘tell’ that’s somehow only discovered by another character at a climactic moment) and an awful performance from John Malkovich, who totally overdoes it with a bad Russian accent. Always good to see John Turturro in a supporting role.

Review: Primal Fear

Director: Gregory Hoblit
Year: 1996
Score: 6.5/10

The only primal fear the movie engendered in me was fear of man boobs. Zing!

The only primal fear the movie engendered in me was fear of man boobs. Zing!

Crime thriller focusing on the trial of a young altar boy (Edward Norton) charged with a gruesome murder, the hotshot defence attorney (Richard Gere) convinced of his innocence, and the prosecutor (Laura Linney) who used to be romantically involved with that defence attorney. It’s more cinematic than your standard TV courtroom procedural, though not by much; the plot has a few more twists and turns, the actors are of higher calibre, and the scope is a bit wider (at least compared to what TV producers can fit into an hour). Norton, making his film debut, is quite good in a showy role; his performance deserved to get him noticed, but I’m not sure it deserved the Oscar nomination it garnered him. There’s a sordid church scandal angle that feels a bit clichéd. I suspect it all falls apart if you think about it too much; if you don’t, it’s an engaging enough way to spend a couple of hours. Ultimately your assessment may depend on your reaction to the ending.

Review: Tank Girl

Director: Rachel Talalay
Year: 1995
Score: 6.5/10

Remember folks, stay hydrated!

Remember folks, stay hydrated!

Dynamic but uneven comic book adaptation. The animated sequences and montages of comic book-style graphics are quite effective at giving it a snappy, fun feel and making the silliness feel organic rather than awkward. Cool ’90s soundtrack also helps in this regard. Having said all that, I think that without the title character’s winning smartarsery, and Lori Petty’s wonderful portrayal of her, this might well be unwatchable. As it is, there’s a lot that doesn’t work, not least the plot, everything involving the Rippers, and a pointless and nonsensical musical number half way through. Look for Iggy Pop as a pedophile and Richard Schiff (Toby from The West Wing) in a small role as a bad guy who gets blown up early on.

Review: Romancing the Stone

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Year: 1984
Score: 6.5/10

I did enjoy how briefly the head bad guy had possession of the emerald before he decided to give that nearby hungry crocodile a hand.

I did enjoy how briefly the head bad guy had possession of the emerald before he decided to give that nearby hungry crocodile a hand.

Tolerable but formulaic adventure romcom greatly assisted by a very appealing performance from Kathleen Turner. Her co-star Michael Douglas, who also produced, is merely passable. The identities of and relationships between the bad guys are a bit muddled, but I don’t think we’re supposed to be focusing on that. Worse, there are about 58 remarkable coincidences, which is about 57 more than I could stomach. Some of the music dates it in a way that isn’t flattering. Despite all that, when Turner does her thing, things get entertaining. I especially enjoyed the opening sequence.

Review: Zelig

Director: Woody Allen
Year: 1983
Score: 6.5/10

Fascinating Woody Allen film is one of the earliest mockumentaries (preceding This Is Spinal Tap by a year). The premise is ripe for satire and comedy: Allen is a human chameleon who takes on the physical properties of people around him as a psychological disorder borne out of an intense desire to fit in and be liked. While it’s very funny at times, somehow it feels like a missed opportunity given the richness of the premise. It also feels overlong despite being only 79 minutes; perhaps it would have worked better as a short film rather than a feature (the trivia section on IMDb claims Allen’s first cut ran only 45 minutes and he added more to fill up the time; this doesn’t surprise me, and I’d rather have watched the 45 minute version).

Review: Happythankyoumoreplease

Director: Josh Radnor
Year: 2010
Score: 6.5/10

Debut effort from writer/director/star Josh Radnor, this has a similar scope and tone as his follow-up, Liberal Arts, which I watched the day before. His love interest is played by Kate Mara, who I quite like. The biggest problems with this are that its three plotlines aren’t integrated well and one of them in particular (featuring Pablo Schreiber from season two of The Wire) is a dead weight. Still, the stuff with Radnor and a foster kid he accidentally takes custody of, and most scenes featuring the great Tony Hale (playing a character quite different from his two best-known roles, Buster (Arrested Development) and Gary (Veep)), are solid. It also captures its New York setting well.

Review: Beetlejuice

Director: Tim Burton
Year: 1988
Score: 6.5/10

This is visually and conceptually imaginative, and occasionally very entertaining (the dinner dance scene is particularly hilarious). Ultimately, though, it’s disappointing because it becomes too silly and doesn’t sustain its early promise; after a certain point, it also stops being funny, which is a shame. All of the actors do well; Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones are particularly fun, and Michael Keaton is certainly memorable in the title role. Alas, I’m finding the more Tim Burton movies I watch, the more he disappoints me.

Review: Lucas

Director: David Seltzer
Year: 1986
Score: 6.5/10

This is another one of those ’80s movies about kids – think Stand by Me, The Goonies, etc. – but it carves its own unique place within that genre. The title character, played by Corey Haim (who later went off the deep end but here was just a little kid with some solid acting chops) is a smart loner who befriends – and falls in love with – the new girl. She’s older and therefore doesn’t regard him as a romantic prospect (though she does appreciate how special he is), particularly because she’s busy falling for Charlie Sheen (in one of his not-bad younger performances). The football aspect of the story, quite prominent in the latter portion of the movie, is something of a misstep. Still, it’s got real heart and good performances from the young leads.