Category Archives: 6

Movies that score 6/10.

Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Theatrical Edition

Director: Peter Jackson
Year: 2013
Score: 6/10

Toilet Dwarf™, the perfect accessory for any rustic restroom. Make your own King Under the Mountain!

Toilet Dwarf™, the perfect accessory for any rustic restroom. Make your own King Under the Mountain!

The Two Towers is my least favourite entry in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, suffering as it does from middle film syndrome (lacking both the joy/wonder of introducing us into the world and the catharsis of ending the story), so it makes sense for me to have similar feelings about The Desolation of Smaug. Of course, I won’t know for sure until the release of The Battle of the Five Armies later this year, but I’m guessing I’ll enjoy that more than this.

Many of my criticisms of An Unexpected Journey apply here too: over-length, unnecessary action sequences, padding the story out with extra bits that don’t add enough, and sticking too closely to the formula established in the previous trilogy. There are also some more specific criticisms to be made: the opening scene lacks ‘oomph’; the ending is weak, lacking even a semblance of finality, let alone resolution; the Kili-gets-injured-and-winds-up-in-a-love-triangle subplot is entirely superfluous and irritating, especially since the two other members of the triangle (Legolas and a female elf created for the movie and played by Kate from Lost) aren’t supposed to be in the movie at all; in the motion-captured-character-redeems-movie’s-final-act stakes, Smaug is no Gollum; the entire Lonely Mountain sequence is muddled; and Thranduil’s arseholishness, with no real redeeming features, quickly grates.

Having said all that, there are still some fairly enjoyable parts (the barrel sequence, for instance), and all the usual elements worthy of praise in a Peter Jackson Middle-Earth movie (action, visuals, music, casting, etc.) are still there too. As for acting, Orlando Bloom continues to think that squinting is the sole form of emoting available to him, Stephen Fry overdoes it a bit as the Master of Laketown, Sir Ian McKellen is solid as ever but seems to be overusing the move-bags-under-one’s-eyes-to-indicate-drama technique, and everyone else is fine.

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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: Barney’s Version

Director: Richard J. Lewis
Year: 2010
Score: 6/10

Presumably Mark Addy was cast as Robert Baratheon in Game of Thrones on the basis of his believable drinking here.

Presumably Mark Addy was cast as Robert Baratheon in Game of Thrones on the basis of his believable drinking here.

Disappointing Canadian movie adapts a book I’ll now avoid. On the positive side, it features a strong lead performance from Paul Giamatti (is he ever not great?), good support from Rosamund Pike and Dustin Hoffman, and much about the central romance rings true. On the not-so-positive side, it’s full of red herring plots that render large swathes of it pointless (for example, we’re initially presented with a possible murder mystery and by the end the mystery turns out to matter not one iota to the overall story), and it goes on too long and takes our protagonist far further than is necessary. The only thread that really matters is the relationship between Giamatti and Pike, so why do we spend time on his other marriages?

Review: Waterworld

Director: Kevin Reynolds
Year: 1995
Score: 6/10

Alas, I wasn't the first to spot the fact that these jet skis are already on fire before they actually collide and explode; someone else already listed it in IMDb's Goofs section.

Alas, I wasn’t the first to spot the fact that these jet skis are already on fire before they actually collide and explode; someone else already listed it in IMDb’s Goofs section.

I went in with such low expectations – which is difficult not to do, given this movie’s legendary status as a terrible flop – that its general adequacy quite impressed me. It’s often hokey and silly, there are some glaring plot holes and nonsensical premises (Enola can’t swim? Seriously?! And some humans will evolve gills and webbed feet within a few hundred years??!), Kevin Costner’s accent is just weird, Dennis Hopper is a cartoon, and some of the action set-pieces are pretty lame. Putting all that aside, it’s easy enough to just go along for the ride, with some reasonable action and a unique setting. I admit I laughed every time Gregor’s airship was conveniently framed just out of shot; despite the enormous budget, apparently it was too expensive to show the airship most of the time, so instead we get hilarious glimpses of its edges and ropes and shadows. The brief appearance by Kim Coates – later of Sons of Anarchy fame – is quite entertaining. Also look for Jack Black as a pilot in Hopper’s employ.

Review: Ninja Scroll

Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Year: 1993
Score: 6/10

And that's why you always leave a note! (Seriously, what's with arms getting cut or torn off in every single anime I watch?)

And that’s why you always leave a note! (Seriously, what’s with arms getting cut or torn off in every single anime I watch?)

The third and weakest of the anime films I sampled. Rather than the futuristic sci-fi settings of the others, this one’s set in a version of feudal Japan with some fantasy elements. There’s a plot, to be sure, but mostly it seems to just be an excuse for over-the-top ninja action scenes – some quite good – featuring bucketloads of exaggerated gore (don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with gore and I recognise that showing it in an exaggerated way can be a legitimate stylistic choice; I’m just not convinced it adds a lot in this case). Ridiculously, the key romance is between a female character who inadvertently fatally poisons anyone who kisses or has sex with her and a poisoned male character who is told the only way to cure himself would be to have sex with her. On reflection I think this story and this world might appeal to young boys, but there are too many elements that aren’t age appropriate. The strangest line of dialogue would have to be this one: “Don’t let it cross your mind that I wouldn’t mind raping a dead girl”.

Review: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Director: Sidney Lumet
Year: 2007
Score: 6/10

A rare photo of one of the early table reads for Boardwalk Empire, back when Ethan Hawke was set to play Nucky Thompson. He's no Steve Buscemi, sure, but it might have worked.

A rare photo of one of the early table reads for Boardwalk Empire, back when Ethan Hawke was set to play Nucky Thompson. He’s no Steve Buscemi, sure, but it might have worked.

Sidney Lumet’s final film is a well made but unpleasant crime drama featuring an excellent cast – the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Michael Shannon, etc. – who all play people I’d rather not spend time with, thanks very much. Lumet tells the story in non-linear fashion, showing us the same scenes several times in order to change from one character’s perspective to another’s. Presumably this is intended to give the audience greater insight into what’s going on; however, in practice we end up gaining almost nothing every time, so the exercise seems pointless. Still, the performances are uniformly solid and there are a few moments of truth and emotional depth (though not nearly enough to warrant a recommendation).

Review: Dirty Wars

Director: Richard Rowley
Year: 2013
Score: 6/10

Jeremy Scahill is so self-obsessed that he insisted the documentary include a shot of himself looking at himself on a TV screen while being filmed. I just hope the DVD release includes, as a special feature, a clip of him watching this scene.

Jeremy Scahill is so self-obsessed that he insisted the documentary include a shot of himself looking at himself on a TV screen while being filmed. I just hope the DVD release includes, as a special feature, a clip of him watching this scene.

Disappointing documentary that’s gotten more acclaim (including an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary) than it deserves. It tackles undoubtedly worthy subject matter – covert military operations (including assassinations) undertaken by US special forces, particularly the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), in places such as Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia in recent years – but it does so in a naïve, somewhat clunky way. The two main problems are that the protagonist/journalist Jeremy Scahill is included in the documentary as a character far too much – this should be about the frightening activities under investigation, not about the journalist undertaking that investigation – and the absence of any meaningful historical context (e.g. what led to JSOC’s establishment in 1980? What was it up to in the ’80s and ’90s?) to allow the audience to understand the disturbing trend at the heart of the film. Scahill also presents all of his findings as startling new revelations, when in reality (as I understand it) lots of other journalists and writers have known about and reported on this stuff for a long time. The stylistic flourishes in the vein of thriller movies tend to misfire, and I could maybe have done without some of the footage of dead kids. Having said all that, I should acknowledge that there’s some powerful stuff in the film and it’s certainly watchable enough.

Review: Evil Dead

Director: Fede Alvarez
Year: 2013
Score: 6/10

She seems mostly armless.

She seems mostly armless.

It’s hard to go into this without preconceptions; mine were that it would probably be an entirely pointless remake and that it wouldn’t work without Bruce Campbell (who only appears in a superfluous fleeting post-credits cameo for fan service purposes). As it happened, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, so perhaps low expectations are the way to go. It has some pretty over-the-top bits, which is what you want from an Evil Dead movie, but they don’t have the humorous undertones that made the original trilogy work. In place of humour there’s the bland creepiness and shocking visuals that are so common in contemporary horror movies. The performances are passable at best, and some of the character/relationship beats miss their mark. Ultimately, while it was successful in that it gave me some scares and wasn’t the complete dud it could so easily have been, I’m still not convinced it was worth making this rather than an original horror film, and I prefer the first two Raimi/Campbell movies.

Review: The General

Directors: Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman
Year: 1926
Score: 6/10

Cinema's oldest wet t-shirt competition.

Cinema’s oldest wet t-shirt competition.

The oldest movie I’ve ever seen (apart from excerpts from Birth of a Nation), this classic Buster Keaton silent comedy only really holds up in the sense that it’s interesting and historically significant; the actual entertainment value is pretty marginal. Some regard it as the best film ever made; I find that hard to fathom… are they really genuinely entertained and amused by it, or just impressed given it was made so very long ago? The best part is the farcical train chase, which goes on quite a while and has plenty of gags to get through. I kept wondering (and still do) precisely how a lot of those train scenes were shot; it looks very much like they just did a lot of it practically rather than with any cinematic trickery, which is impressive if true. I know the bridge/train shot was done practically, and was apparently the most expensive stunt of the silent era, and it’s hard not to be wowed by it. Worth watching for cinema buffs, but probably won’t find much of an audience beyond them these days.

Review: Fatal Attraction

Director: Adrian Lyne
Year: 1987
Score: 6/10

WTF? What does that even mean?!

WTF? What does that even mean?!

As a PSA warning married men against having affairs, it’s potent enough, but as a thriller its results are more mixed. Michael Douglas is quite good, and Anne Archer is fine, but Glenn Close overdoes it a little, going from sexpot to pitiful to stalker to psycho without ever being entirely believable (yet somehow she was nominated for an Oscar!). The first half of the movie is better than the second; it’s when things begin to spiral out of control, and events become more outlandish, that cracks really begin to show. The ending is pretty silly, but I watched the alternate ending too and it’s worse. How did this score a Best Picture nomination?? Look for a young Jane Krakowski as the babysitter right at the start.

Review: The Iron Giant

Director: Brad Bird
Year: 1999
Score: 6/10

The Iron Giant

“If you show me yours, I’ll show you mine…”

I’d read some very flattering things about this so my expectations were high. Now that I’ve watched it I’m not entirely sure why it’s so well-regarded. It’s enjoyable enough but nothing special. The anti-war and anti-gun messages are none-too-subtle, though that didn’t bother me (I’m a fan of FernGully after all, so a lack of subtlety in hammering home political messages in cartoons can’t be a major concern for me). The relationship between Hogarth and the robot is quite nice; in fact, on reflection, it’s really the saving grace that stops the movie from slipping down from OK to bad. Perhaps I’ve been conditioned by Disney and Pixar and DreamWorks, but I did find the movie needed a bit more humour – there’s some, but not nearly enough. A disappointment.

Review: Side Effects

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Year: 2013
Score: 6/10

Well set up and competently made thriller – for the first two-thirds or so. It then descends into silliness that completely detracts from and cheapens what came before it. That’s a shame, since some aspects of the premise are quite intriguing and could have worked well if played out in a more genuine and thoughtful way. This is one of the first times I’ve seen Jude Law in a movie and not disliked him, so that’s a plus. My suggestion is to watch the first half and then make up the rest in your mind; your imagination will make things far more interesting than they end up being in the movie.

Review: The Artist

Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Year: 2011
Score: 6/10

Quite a disappointment. The first half hour is great – I was immediately drawn in by the unique style, the clever homages to the silent film era, and the surprising sense of fun – but then it starts to drag and never really recovers. The second half commits the cardinal cinematic sin of being boring. Jean Dujardin is quite good but Bérénice Bejo is even better.

Review: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Directors: George Miller & George Ogilvie
Year: 1985
Score: 6/10

The weakest of the series but still worth watching. There are two separate halves to this: the stuff involving Bartertown and the Thunderdome, and the stuff involving a group of primitive children who mistake Max for the messianic figure they’ve been waiting for. This second half was apparently developed as a different film and only later became a Mad Max film; that disconnect unfortunately shows. However, I did enjoy some of the stuff with the children, such as the retelling of their oral history. Tina Turner should have stuck to singing; We Don’t Need Another Hero is still great, but her acting is not at all. The style of music used for the score is significantly different from the first two movies (this score was composed by Maurice Jarre rather than Brian May), and that’s a great shame as it doesn’t work well at all. Mel Gibson is still good as Max. Trivia: one of my uncles appears as an extra in the Thunderdome scenes.

Review: Pitch Perfect

Director: Jason Moore
Year: 2012
Score: 6/10

For what it is (essentially a cross between Bring It On and Glee), this is a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours. It helps that I really like Anna Kendrick. Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are fun as a pair of commentators. This movie is also noteworthy for being the first time I’ve actually liked Rebel Wilson.

Review: The Player

Director: Robert Altman
Year: 1992
Score: 6/10

I was looking forward to this but was disappointed, possibly because it suffers by comparison to the other Robert Altman film I’d previously seen – the wonderful Nashville. Tim Robbins is fine and the many celebrity cameos are quite funny, but as satire I don’t think it succeeds. Still, there’s that excellent self-referential opening shot that lasts for almost eight minutes without a single cut (and features characters talking about previous films that used similar techniques).

Review: The King of Comedy

Director: Martin Scorsese
Year: 1982
Score: 6/10

The King of Comedy

Probably the weirdest scene in the movie. Personally I would have used fewer candles, given that the material used to tie Jerry up seems almost like papier-mâché.

Strange Scorsese movie about delusion, with Robert De Niro as a loser obsessed with becoming his idol, a late night TV talk show host played by Jerry Lewis. De Niro does well but seems miscast. Lewis is in great form. There’s some really odd stuff in there, not least everything involving Sandra Bernhard’s bizarre character. Though it’s described as a black comedy, I don’t remember laughing (except perhaps for a moment or two during the denouement); I spent most of the movie just pitying De Niro’s character, and pity doesn’t tend to lead to laughter. As a satire of media and celebrity culture it would still be relevant today, but unfortunately the satirical punches never really land.

Review: The Right Stuff

Director: Philip Kaufman
Year: 1983
Score: 6/10

The Right Stuff

This can only mean Dennis Quaid’s character is a liar.

Long, interesting movie with some really solid parts but a major flaw that, in my view, prevents it from fully succeeding dramatically or narratively: it attempts to weave together (or tell as parallel stories) the tale of the Mercury Seven astronauts and the tale of test pilot Chuck Yeager, but the two threads never seem well enough connected, nor do they improve each other by being told together like this. The cast does well, particularly Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid and Sam Shepard. I found myself generally more interested in the Mercury Seven half of the movie than the Chuck Yeager half (which at times seems to aspire to be almost a western, an aspiration it doesn’t meet), but as it wore on even the Mercury Seven stuff gradually lost some of its shine, perhaps because the movie tries to cover every event rather than focusing on the more narratively interesting ones. There’s a sequence set in Australia, with a token kangaroo and some stereotypically ‘mystical’ Aboriginal characters, that’s laughably bad. Some aspects of the movie appear to have been included as comic relief (such as Jeff Goldblum and Harry Shearer appearing as a bumbling pair of recruiters), which struck me as a misfire. An interesting piece of trivia: Annie Glenn is played by Mary Jo Deschanel and the cinematographer is Caleb Deschanel; they’re the parents of Emily and Zooey.