Category Archives: 7

Movies that score 7/10.

Review: Neighbors [a.k.a. Bad Neighbours]

Director: Nicholas Stoller
Year: 2014
Score: 7/10

I admit I was impressed by the technological wizardry that enabled footage from Taxi Driver, Meet the Fockers and several other Robert De Niro films to be seamlessly incorporated into this scene.

I admit I was impressed by the technological wizardry that enabled footage from Taxi Driver, Meet the Fockers and several other Robert De Niro films to be seamlessly incorporated into this scene.

Good-natured mash-up of raunchy frat boy comedy (think Old School) and new parents comedy (think Up All Night, or what happens between Knocked Up and This Is 40). It’s reasonably funny – I laughed here and there – but it doesn’t rise to the level of my favourite comedies because it doesn’t have quite enough jokes or silliness or memorably ridiculous characters and situations.

As always, Seth Rogen is Seth Rogen. Rose Byrne is well cast and gives her best comedic performance since Two Hands. Zac Efron is fine too, though his character is a touch one-note at times.

Many of the supporting characters feel like missed opportunities. While the non-central frat boys aren’t actively unfunny, they could have been so much more. Same goes for Rogen and Byrne’s divorced friends; I like Ike Barinholtz (The Mindy Project, MADtv) but he’s not used all that well, and Carla Gallo is awful (though, to be fair, she had very little to work with). Why is Hannibal Buress’ cop character given nothing funny to do? And why does Jason Mantzoukas get so little screen time?

The relationship between Rogen and Byrne is handled nicely, even if the emotional moments between them don’t feel especially relevant to the main storyline (the battle with the frat). The only ways to fix this would have been focusing more on them as a couple and the difficulties of raising their baby next door to a frat house (the baby is pretty much forgotten after the first act), or making a different relationship (such as the strained quasi-friendship that develops between Rogen and Efron) the emotional core of the movie. Still, this feels like an odd complaint to make about a comedy; I suppose I’ve been spoiled by comedies with more ‘heart’, and now have somewhat unfair expectations. Thanks a lot, Community and Parks & Recreation!

I wish there were more jokes. I wish the frat party scenes had been just a little crazier – perhaps more in the vein of Project X. And I wish I wasn’t completely over Christopher Mintz-Plasse. But I shouldn’t be so critical; as far as comedies go these days, this one’s definitely at the better end of the scale. If I’m picking a Nicholas Stoller movie, I’d still go for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but this is worth watching too.

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Review: On Golden Pond

Director: Mark Rydell
Year: 1981
Score: 7/10

Both Fonda and Hepburn died during filming, and their corpses were used in scenes that still needed to be shot. Pretty disrespectful, I thought.

Both Fonda and Hepburn died during filming, and their corpses were used in scenes that still needed to be shot. Pretty disrespectful, I thought.

Tender if saccharine drama about an elderly man, his troubled relationship with his daughter, and the time he spends fishing on Golden Pond (a lake) with her boyfriend’s teenage son.

Henry Fonda won an Oscar for his solid lead performance, and died soon thereafter. Katharine Hepburn also won one – her fourth Best Actress Oscar, a record unlikely to ever be equalled – for playing his wife, though reportedly it was widely regarded as a sentimental win rather than necessarily being deserved for this particular performance. In my view both are good enough to deserve their wins, though Hepburn is really in more of a supporting role than a lead one. The relationship between their characters is the film’s strongest and most moving facet.

On the other hand, the relationship between Fonda’s character and his daughter – played with mixed results by his real-life daughter Jane – doesn’t quite click, though from a narrative perspective it’s supposed to be the main event. Dabney Coleman is amusing in a supporting role. The stuff with the loons is a tad heavy-handed, contributing to the sense of over-sentimentality.

Still probably worth watching for the performances, the warm humour, and the bits that succeed on an emotional level, of which there are quite a few. After all, there really aren’t enough good movies about old age.

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Extended Edition

Director: Peter Jackson
Year: 2012 (theatrical version) / 2013 (extended edition)
Score: 7/10

The real reason for the extended edition, of course, was so we finally get naked dwarves. The fans... go... wild.

The real reason for the extended edition, of course, was so we finally get naked dwarves. The fans… go… wild.

I’m a big fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and my initial viewing of the theatrical (non-extended) version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, in 48fps 3D, left me quite impressed but a tad concerned. It was an immensely fun ride, with Jackson’s familiar brand of humour-infused action, constant winks at the fans, a largely excellent cast (both new and returning), and a brilliant adaptation of the novel’s crucial ‘Riddles in the Dark’ chapter in the final act. Mostly it was just great to be back in Jackson’s immersive world; it isn’t quite Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, but it’s equally impressive in its own ways.

I did, however, have reservations about the film’s length, the sense that many of the action sequences were shoe-horned in to pad it out as the first part of a trilogy (case in point: the entirely unnecessary rock-monster boxing match scene), the decision to split a fairly short children’s book into three lengthy films, and the often slavish beat-for-beat recreations of moments/sequences/arcs from the original trilogy. In a sense all of these concerns come down to the fact that this isn’t just a film adaptation of the novel; it’s very specifically JACKSON’S adaptation, in the style, vein and scope of his Lord of the Rings. That means we lose the childish frivolity and lightness I remember from the novel, and instead get a dose of Sauron-y seriousness and a bunch of extra bits, all designed to create parity with the original trilogy so this (together with the next two movies) will serve as a stylistically and narratively cohesive prequel trilogy.

I can't decide if the Great Goblin's chin testicles are as bad as or worse than Peter Griffin's.

I can’t decide if the Great Goblin’s chin testicles are as bad as or worse than Peter Griffin’s.

Watching the extended edition in preparation for the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, I had roughly the same response but if anything my concerns grew: this is, after all, an even longer version – 13 minutes of additional footage! – of a movie I already regarded as bloated. For some reason I disliked the Great Goblin character (portrayed by Barry Humphries) more this time round. On the other hand, I found the emotional climax (Bilbo finding his courage and being accepted by Thorin) considerably more affecting, though I don’t recall any changes to the scene in this version that would have made it so. I also noticed and enjoyed the dwarves’ theme music, within Howard Shore’s excellent-as-always score, more than I previously recall.

For anyone choosing between the theatrical and extended versions, the bottom line for me is this: when I watch the trilogy in the future, I’ll be putting aside my concerns about length and unnecessary action set-pieces and ill-advised movie-splitting, so I might as well take the completist route and watch the extended version; the extra bits aren’t by any means fatal to the overall length, and they tend to play OK in a home cinema environment. Or maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment.

Review: Million Dollar Baby

Director: Clint Eastwood
Year: 2004
Score: 7/10

Seems like a pretty silly idea to label this so transparently... surely the Brits would raid it?

Seems like a pretty silly idea to label this so transparently… surely the Brits would raid it?

Generally speaking I’ve not been a huge fan of the movies Clint Eastwood has directed; I tend to appreciate the craft of them but find them heavy-handed or dramatically unsatisfying. For the first 90 minutes of this one I thought it was turning out to be a rare exception, but then the final half hour happened and I must now add it to the pile. Hilary Swank and Eastwood himself are excellent, Morgan Freeman slightly less so (though it may be that I’m simply tired of over-used and oft-ridiculed Freeman narration). It’s so difficult to talk about (and in my case criticise) that final half hour without spoiling anything, but here goes: to the extent that it told us anything about the relationship between Maggie and Frankie, it was unnecessary since by that point we already knew that he cared about her deeply, thought of her as a surrogate daughter, and would always stick by her, and that she had nothing in her life but boxing and him. And to be honest, I was enjoying the story a lot more before the Thing I Shan’t Spoil happened. There is some of that trademark Eastwood heavy-handedness too, such as Maggie’s story about her father having to put a dog down, and some themes expressed far too unsubtly in narration. Side note: horrible though the characters are, it’s great to see Riki Lindhome and the great Margo Martindale as Maggie’s sister and mother.

Guest Review: Predators

Director: Nimród Antal
Year: 2010
Score: 7/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

"I'm flying, Jack! I'm flying!"

“I’m flying, Jack! I’m flying!”

The Predator franchise has taken a bit of a pounding during its lifetime; the lowest point for both the series and anyone who chose to watch it being AvP: Requiem. Happily, Predators gives it a nice warming shot of adrenalin, despite some very ropey casting and even ropier dialogue.

Having been dropped into a jungle, a collection of planet Earth’s most baddest asses group together and, having initially taken shelter under Adrien Brody’s nose, find themselves being hunted by a group of Predators on a jolly to their local planetary game reserve. The character roster is taken from The Children’s Book of Stereotypical Bad Guys; ranging from the Black Ops guy, through Yakuza, all the way to Machete (yes, the actual Machete; nope, I don’t know why either), and some of the dialogue is just awful. Of particular note is Adrien Brody’s character; it’s like he got the part at short notice, panicked, googled ‘how to look hard’, watched 25 seconds of Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry and thought ‘yep I’ve got this, let’s shoot us a movie!’. It’s so dreadful it reminds me of a badly dubbed ’70s kung fu movie.

Ignoring the dialogue and focussing on the action for a moment, Predators is in my opinion the best in the franchise since Arnie was directing people towards a helicopter. The action is clever, and whilst there’s rarely anything surprising it isn’t as predictable as the dialogue suggests it might be. You don’t build empathy with the characters, you’re only marginally interested in the plot, but it doesn’t matter; it does what an action film is supposed to do. Even Lawrence Fishburne’s bizarre 15 minute appearance doesn’t detract from the enjoyment, and it’s hard not be pleased that the Predators finally have a half decent film again.

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: Ray

Director: Taylor Hackford
Year: 2004
Score: 7/10

Surely the only movie I've seen that features both Bunk and Willow.

Surely the only movie I’ve seen that features both Bunk and Willow.

There are three drawcards here: Jamie Foxx’s powerhouse performance as Ray Charles; lots of great Charles music used well throughout, including some pivotal musical moments; and the story of his rise, compelling despite flaws in the telling. Foxx is truly excellent and fully deserving of the Oscar he won. He basically does a spot-on impression of Charles, but his commitment and the emotional depth he conveys elevate the performance well beyond mere imitation. It’s a real shame the movie is let down by its lack of subtlety and its simplistic approach to the ‘conflicts’ in Charles’ life selected to be the points of drama: his drug addiction, his womanising, and his guilt over a childhood tragedy. In particular, making the drug story so central and tying it to that tragedy – and then wrapping it all up with the most unsubtle flashback sequence of the whole film – doesn’t really work. There’s also a disappointing old-fashionedness to director Taylor Hackford’s approach, perhaps best exemplified by the use of newspaper headlines and neon signs floating across the screen to indicate media coverage and concert venues; surely we’re done with that technique by now? Nonetheless, the aforementioned drawcards are easily enough to make it worth watching.

Guest Review: Paranormal Activity 4

Directors: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Year: 2012
Score: 7/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

Re-enacting the chest buster scene from Alien, but with less successful results.

Re-enacting the chestburster scene from Alien, but with less successful results.

Whilst the original was polarising between those who thought it was scary and those that thought it was dross, the second and third instalments were pretty much filed unanimously under dross. Why they bothered with a fourth (and fifth) was a bit beyond me, however I was pleasantly and terrifiedly surprised at how reinvigorated the franchise had become.

Breaking from the norm by starring a family outside of the cursed genealogical pool for the first time, there’s little to no effort made this time out to generate empathy in the characters. It is purely like watching CCTV footage of a family, and you don’t really bond with them at any point. That said, that’s part of what makes this one scary; it induces the sort of raw fear that you’d actually get from watching something real. There were moments (oh God were there moments) that you can see coming, you know they’re coming, and they’re toe curlingly frightening to watch unfold.

I would liken this much more to The Last Exorcism, one of the best horror films in recent times, than I would its Paranormal predecessors. It’s frightening, fresh and clever (especially the scenes with the Xbox Kinect), and well worth your time if you love a good horror film.

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: 13 Assassins

Director: Takashi Miike
Year: 2010
Score: 7/10

Traditional samurai weapon #441: flaming bulls.

Traditional samurai weapon #441: flaming bulls.

Solid if slightly overrated samurai movie with good action scenes and excellent production values. The story offers very few surprises and the inevitable deaths of many of the titular assassins don’t pack much of an emotional punch. The antagonist is extremely one-dimensional; he’s sadistic, abusive of his power, and ultimately overconfident, but I couldn’t tell you anything else about him or his motivations. However, the real draw here is the samurai action, particularly in the spectacular battle that takes up most of the film’s final third. It’s also an interesting counterpoint to Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies in that it shows how to better overcome the challenge of introducing and making the audience familiar with thirteen similar characters on a quest.

Review: The Kings of Summer

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Year: 2013
Score: 7/10

Board gaming with Alison Brie and Nick Offerman. Why does this only happen in movies and dreams?

Board gaming with Alison Brie and Nick Offerman. Why does this only happen in movies and dreams?

This enjoyable indie comedy’s greatest strength is its hilarious supporting cast – Nick Offerman, Megan Mullaly, Alison Brie, Tony Hale, Kumail Nanjiani, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and more – all of whom are used well for a change. Offerman in particular is funnier and better in this than in anything else I’ve seen him in other than Parks and Recreation. He gets the best line of the movie: “Get the fuck off my porch before I knock your dick in the dirt”. There’s also great work from Moisés Arias as the strange and inscrutable Biaggio; he steals most scenes he’s in (which is quite a few). As for the story, there’s little originality, particularly in the coming-of-age romance elements, but it’s entirely inoffensive. It could certainly be funnier, but I did get some laughs out of it.

Review: The Motorcycle Diaries

Director: Walter Salles
Year: 2004
Score: 7/10

Seriously? Two straight hours of a guy writing a diary? Boooooring!

Seriously? Two straight hours of a guy writing a diary? Boooooring!

This engaging drama is part coming-of-age story, part road movie and part character study. It tells the true story of Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado motorcycling through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela as young men. Its three biggest strengths are the beautiful cinematography (capturing beautiful scenery), the winning performances from Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna, and the sense that we’re getting to visit all the places that Guevara and Granado really saw and glimpsing real life in these fascinating South American communities. To be honest, though, I had heard such good things about it that I was a little disappointed; lacking dramatic force and emotional power, it’s merely good, not great. Perhaps I needed the germination of Guevara’s political views to be more explicit.

Review: West Side Story

Director: Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins
Year: 1961
Score: 7/10

Somehow a simple message delivery very nearly turns into a gang rape. What the hell is wrong with these guys??

Somehow a simple message delivery very nearly turns into a gang rape. What the hell is wrong with these guys??

This musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet is pleasant enough, transposing the familiar story into the world of local and immigrant gangs on the streets of New York. The songs are a mixed bag, with some duds and some real winners, but none as memorable as those in some other musicals I’ve enjoyed in the past. Interestingly, I only recognised one song – ‘America’ – which suggests the rest haven’t reached the level of pop culture ubiquity so many songs from other musicals have. The beginning and ending are strong; the long middle is uneven, often brought up or down by the relative quality of the songs. The central romance is easy to get swept up in, helped by the charisma of the young leads, Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood, and the chemistry between them. Considering the setting and everything it’s supposed to represent, I could have done with more of New York itself; it often felt like I was watching Generic Place With Xenophobia Story rather than an actual West Side Story. It won many Oscars, including Best Picture; I wouldn’t call it a deserving winner, though to be honest I haven’t seen enough other 1961 releases to make a definitive call.

Review: American Hustle

Director: David O. Russell
Year: 2013
Score: 7/10

So, Batman gets fat and suddenly Lois Lane is into him. I predict this will also be the plot of Zack Snyder's Batman vs. Superman movie.

So, Batman gets fat and suddenly Lois Lane is into him. I predict this will also be the plot of Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman movie.

There’s a lot to like in this; as a piece of fluffy entertainment, it succeeds quite well. However, there’s not actually much depth to it and the plot – despite its various twists and turns – doesn’t satisfy. David O. Russell has assembled a very good cast (as usual) and the production design, costumes and wigs are all nicely distracting, but they can’t quite disguise the fact that it’s basically just a caper with nothing much to say. The acting is strong, especially from Amy Adams and Christian Bale (more like Christian Whale, amiright?? Boom, roasted! Seriously though, he got himself quite fat for this role). I’ve always liked Adams and it’s great to see her landing – and absolutely devouring – meaty parts like this. The only misfire in terms of casting is Jeremy Renner; don’t get me wrong, he’s a talented actor, but I didn’t buy him for a minute as an Italian-American community leader (perhaps he lacks range?). There are some memorable moments, such as the early romantic scenes between Bale and Adams, Louis CK’s ice fishing story, and Jennifer Lawrence’s use of the “science oven”. I would have preferred more consistent use of voice-over; it’s used quite effectively at the start, sounding almost like retrospective interviews with the characters, but at a certain point it gets dropped and is only picked up briefly towards the end. Overall, it’s definitely still worth watching, but make sure you manage your expectations; if you go in looking for a stylish popcorn flick, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Review: The Cooler

Director: Wayne Kramer
Year: 2003
Score: 7/10

Pretty strange choice of contact lens, if you ask me.

Pretty strange choice of contact lens, if you ask me.

Moody drama about an unlucky man and his unlikely romance with a world-weary cocktail waitress within the seedy world of a not-yet-Disneyfied Vegas casino. The romance is sweet, especially in light of the general unpleasantness elsewhere. The film has an effective noir feel helped by the spot-on soundtrack and dark visuals. William H. Macy is perfectly suited to the role of the downtrodden loser rediscovering the possibilities of life. Maria Bello and Alec Baldwin are both solid in support. It won’t change the world but it’s a pretty good movie and a good showcase for these actors.

Review: Bullitt

Director: Peter Yates
Year: 1968
Score: 7/10

3. WRITE TO-DO LIST AS MASSIVE CLUE FOR ANY DETECTIVE WHO HAPPENS TO BE INVESTIGATING MY FINAL MOVEMENTS.

3. WRITE TO-DO LIST AS MASSIVE CLUE FOR ANY DETECTIVE WHO HAPPENS TO BE INVESTIGATING MY FINAL MOVEMENTS.

This police detective thriller has a bit more style than substance, but what style! The slick, showy opening titles set the tone nicely. Steve McQueen is just so very very cool as the title character. Robert Vaughn also does well as a slimy, selfish politician. The car chase sequence is regarded as one of the best in cinematic history and I won’t dispute that categorisation; it’s gripping and fast and quite incredible. Some of the stuff with Bullitt’s girlfriend is hokey and seems plucked from a different movie. I found it amusing and a touch distracting that the Mafia is referred to throughout the film as ‘the organisation’ – perhaps for a similar reason that the word Mafia isn’t used in The Godfather? Perhaps not; apparently in the case of The Godfather it was because of action taken by mobster Joe Colombo’s Italian-American Civil Rights League, whereas the League didn’t exist when Bullitt was made.

Review: The Hunt for Red October

Director: John McTiernan
Year: 1990
Score: 7/10

Some brilliant green screen work here.

Some brilliant green screen work here.

Decent submarine movie has some good action and thrills, presuming you’re able to suspend your disbelief far enough. Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin and Scott Glenn are all fairly solid. There’s a lot going on but it never feels overwhelming and always serves the story. However, nothing about it feels particularly grounded or authentic; instead there’s a heightened sense of reality – the sort I should have expected from a movie based on a Tom Clancy novel – that, in my view, detracts somewhat. The switch from Russian to English is neat, though it’s the kind of gimmick that will only work once so it hasn’t been repeated in other movies (as far as I know). For some reason Sam Neill’s Russian character is obsessed with Montana; quite fitting, since three years later he’d end up there as a paleontologist in Jurassic Park. The final moment of the film is a gag, which seems an odd choice.

Review: Girl, Interrupted

Director: James Mangold
Year: 1999
Score: 7/10

Susanna brainstorms possible sequels to Two Girls One Cup.

Susanna brainstorms possible sequels to Two Girls One Cup.

Watchable drama based on a true story about the inmates of a mental institution in the late 1960s. The main reason it’s good rather than great is that although it has a couple of powerful moments, it isn’t as emotionally engaging as it should be, given the subject matter and themes. Still, it features some strong acting from its mostly female cast, led by Winona Ryder (giving one of her better, less irritating performances) and with solid work from Whoopi Goldberg, Angelina Jolie and Brittany Murphy. Jolie won an Oscar for her flashy but undeniably skilled performance. It’s fun to see Elisabeth Moss so young (she was only 16 at the time of filming); she’s not actually very good, and if I’d watched this back when it came out I would never have predicted what an outstanding actress she’d later become (principally on Mad Men). A minor criticism: I could have done with a bit more period flavour rather than just occasional reminders that we’re in the ’60s. The opening line of the film is Ryder asking “Have you ever confused a dream with life? Or stolen something when you have the cash?”, which is pretty hilarious in light of her arrest for shoplifting two years after the film’s release.

Review: Boy

Director: Taika Waititi
Year: 2010
Score: 7/10

I can completely understand why this was such a crowd-pleaser in cinemas. It’s very sweet and – at least for the first third or so – very funny too. As it goes on it shifts in tone and genre, traversing more dramatic territory and losing laughs in the process; this is a somewhat necessary shift, given the demands of the story, but I would have preferred more sustained comedy. James Rolleston is excellent in the titular role, and writer/director Taika Waititi is also good as his father.

Review: Footloose

Director: Herbert Ross
Year: 1984
Score: 7/10

Once I got past the ridiculousness of the premise (a rebellious teen moves to a small town where dancing has been banned!), I found this was actually quite a sweet, genuine and enjoyable movie. Great work from a young Kevin Bacon and John Lithgow, who completely commits to the role of the preacher behind the ban. Also look for Christopher Penn and Sarah Jessica Parker in supporting roles early in their respective careers; miraculously, Parker didn’t grate on me as she usually does. The montage in which Bacon teaches Penn to dance is a highlight; the Bacon solo dance sequence is a lowlight.

Review: Glory

Director: Edward Zwick
Year: 1989
Score: 7/10

Faithful and polished retelling of the true story of the first unit of African American soldiers during the Civil War, and the white man who led them. It lacks the passion this story deserves, though the cast do their best (other than Matthew Broderick, who’s middling at best in the lead role) and the battle scenes are quite good. At times James Horner’s score is very similar to what he would use to better effect in Braveheart six years later. It’s still quite a good movie; it just isn’t as epic or moving as it could have been.