Reviews written by registered user

Page 1 of 203:[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [Next]
2030 reviews in total 
Index | Alphabetical | Chronological | Useful

Louts in Africa, 3 September 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sydney Pollack directs "Out of Africa". Based on an autobiographical tale by Danish author Karen Blixen, the film stars Meryl Streep as a middle-aged woman who journeys to Africa, starts a plantation and falls in love with a rugged adventurer, played by Robert Redford.

Beautifully shot and framed, "Africa" is at its best when milking the movie-star charisma of Redford and Streep. Otherwise, though, this is a typical bit of Oscar Bait, overlong, trite, melodramatic, and condescending in the way it reduces African's to fawning decor (it's Lean's "Passage to India" without the political/racial satire). Actor Klaus Branduaer co-stars as a sweaty land baron.

5/10 - Worth one viewing.

I'm not a natural blonde, 21 August 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Set in Prohibition era Chicago, "Some Like It Hot" stars Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as a pair of jazz musicians who dress like women in an attempt to evade mob bosses. Their adventure takes them to Florida, where they join an all-female band and drool over luscious band singer Sugar Kane Kowalczyk (played by a pouty Marilyn Monroe).

Influential, gorgeously lit, lovably acted, and wittily written, "Some Like It Hot" is regarded as one of director Billy Wilder's many masterpieces. Whilst constant imitation has lessened some of its gags, and whilst not as substantial as a number of the director's other works ("Sunset Boulevard", "The Apartment", "Ace in the Hole", "Double Indemnity" etc), the film nevertheless finds Wilder elevating what would otherwise be tawdry material.

8.5/10 – Bring back the forums, IMDb.

Frontera (2014)
Bad Neighbours, 21 August 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Written and directed by Michael Berry, "Frontera" is a well-meaning but ultimately cartoonish attempt to sketch the lives of several characters living along the United States/Mexican border. And so we watch as Mexican immigrants flock north, are shot by racist white guys, are framed, scapegoated, raped and beaten, and are occasionally treated with decency by good samaritans.

Berry's script – it recalls the work of John Sayles - means well, but never rises above clichés. Western capitalism's hunger for a constant influx of cheap labor, its grow-or-die imperative, its need for an expanding consumer base, and the effect this all has on local Americans, is likewise never substantially tackled. The usually interesting Michael Pena does little with a generic role. See Sayles' "Lone Star".

6/10 - Bring back the forums, IMDb.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Bubble Girl, 21 August 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Written and directed by Rebecca Miller, "Maggie's Plan" stars Greta Gerwig as Maggie Harden, a young woman scarred by past wounds. Determined to "control her destiny" and "protect herself" from things outside her control, Maggie resolves to lead a highly structured, controlled, isolated life. This bubble extends to her reproductive organs: Maggie will fertilize herself with a stranger's semen, thereby removing men, mates and messy relationships from the reproductive process.

When Maggie falls in love with a middle-aged writer (Ethan Hawke), however, her credo fall apart. She allows herself to be in love, to let someone else take the reigns, all of which inexorably (and ironically) leads Maggie into a chaotic, domesticated, subservient role which she quickly grows to resent. Maggie, ever meddling, passes her new man off to his German ex-wife (Julianne Moore).

Funny in places, "Maggie's Plan" is typical of contemporary "indie cinema" (a misnomer, as most of these films are funded by subsidiaries of mega studios): offbeat, quirky, funny, and starring indie starlet, Greta Gerwig. Julianne Moore steals the show as a buttoned-down university professor.

7/10 – Bring back the forums, IMDb.

The Double (2011/I)
1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Matryoshka Madness, 9 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Double" boasts an interesting premise: Cassius, the greatest assassin in the world (Richard Gere), trains a gang of Russian assassins. He then joins the CIA as a double agent, where he secretly works for the Soviet Union, hunts the assassins he trained and then pretends to hunt for himself. After Cassius' retirement from the CIA, a young FBI agent (Topher Grace) resumes attempts to apprehend Cassius. To assist him on his quest, he teams up with none other than Cassius himself.

This is an interesting angle for a cat-and-mouse procedural. The drama is derived not from finding the villain, but from the villain finding ways to trick the "good guys" into finding a different villain. Late in its final act, the film then delivers another neat twist: the FBI agent tracking Cassius is himself a Russian double agent.

But despite its interesting premise, "The Double" is mostly inept, shallow and has little to say about the workings of Eastern and Western, neo-Imperialistic spy agencies. Director Michael Brandt's script wastes a good idea, utilizes unnecessary flashbacks and his picture as a whole lacks drama, movement and is far too often hokey and over-the-top. Topher Grace works well as an archetypal rookie.

5/10 – See "Demonlover".

Paddington (2014)
Polite bear meets stiff upper lip, 9 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Written and directed by Paul King, "Paddington" tells the tale of a CGI bear who sails from South America to England, feels alienated, is taken in by a loving family and battles nasty taxidermists (Nicole Kidman). The bear's exodus is aligned to West Indian or Afro-Caribbean immigrants, who left the Caribbean to live and work in England during the 20th century. These immigrants, who typically arrived to fill labour shortages after and during the World Wars, faced hostilities from local, white populaces. Using various tactics, the British Government would either scapegoat these immigrants (blaming the results of economic contradictions on them), or attempt to convince white locals to accept them (again, for largely economic reasons).

"Paddington" has no serious interest in "immigration" and "economics". This is a light, simple film about "loving" people from foreign lands, all of whom "deserve a home". Along these lines, it is a very good picture; funny, sweet, cute, quite clever in places, and with that quintessentially British twang that is hard to get right. Only a rather generic villain and climax lets the film down.

Incidentally, the film was released during a wave of Euroscepticism and shortly prior to "Brexit", a movement in which the British public supposedly turned its back on "Paddington's" ethos. Here the United Kingdom opted to "cut itself off" from the European Union, an act which some read as a kind of politically correct form of "bigotry". Others defended the choice in more pragmatic ways: Brexit would supposedly mean "more jobs", "better pay", "less immigrants" and "more national control". In reality, however, the UK was never meaningfully in the EU (unlike less powerful nations, she largely made her own rules), will never meaningfully leave, will never be free of immigrants (capitalism collapses without a constant net influx of consumers and cheap labour) and the EU, a giant project chiefly set up to shuttle cheap labour back and forth, and to streamline market laws in the favour of corporations, was as brutal to both the British and the Paddington's of the world, as the supposedly "independent" laws and codes being planned to replace it.

The point is, nations tend to cycle through periods in which they either embrace the beautiful values of "Paddington", or "rationally" kick them to the curb.

7/10 - Bonus points to Paul King for casting a botox-faced Nicole Kidman as a taxidermist. Hugh Bonneville co-stars.

Rogue One (2016)
14 out of 29 people found the following review useful:
Show me on the doll where Mr Lucas touched you, 9 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Directed by Gareth Edwards, "Rogue One" is a prequel to George Lucas' "Star Wars". It opens on the planet Lah'mu, where little Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) witnesses the apparent murder of her family by the henchmen of a Galactic Empire. Jyn's father is Galen, a weapon's developer. His buddy, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), takes Jyn under his wing.

After its generic opening scenes, "Rogue One" flashes forward fifteen years. Here a pilot called Rook defects from the Empire with vital information from Galen, whom Jyn had previously assumed was dead. Galen's information reveals plans of a super weapon known as the Death Star. Rook smuggles this information to Gerrera. Gerrea passes this information on to the Rebel Alliance, who are currently waging a guerrilla war against the Empire. The rebels respond by sending Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to assassinate Galen. Jyn tags along. Cassian refuses to assassinate Galen, and together he and Jyn instead go to a high-security Imperial facility on the planet Scrif. They hope to infiltrate this facility and beam the Death Star plans to a Rebel fleet in orbit. A big battle ensues.

"Rogue One's" plot is needlessly convoluted. What should be a swashbuckling tale of plucky Rebels outsmarting Big Bad Wolves is instead filled with dull subplots about abandoned girls, guilty scientists, random space-Asian-force-ninjas, and generic villains who spew cartoonish dialogue in-between an endless parade of establishing shots. A better writer would have jettisoned half this material and constructed a script that moves.

"Rogue One's" plot was haphazardly cobbled together by boardroom puppets and money men. Its aesthetic is similarly soulless. Like most raised on Spielberg, Cameron and Lucas, Edwards' shtick is to replicate everything he's seen as a kid, before replacing the light-heartedness of his fore-bearers with grunge, emotional distance and a low-key tone. His awful previous films, "Monsters" and "Godzilla", pretty much play like "Rogue One": dull characters running across glum landscapes whilst big CGI objects do explosive but ultimately unthreatening things. "Rogue One" itself plays like "Saving Private Ryan" meats "Star Wars" as directed by a director of joyless pornography, Edwards rolling out yesterday's decor to appease the basest, most unimaginative expectations of an audience desperate for yesterday's murder. George Lucas may be a joke today, but his original trilogy was once weird as hell. In contrast, Edwards' version of "Star Wars", a franchise whose mysteries were long killed by millions of video games, books, comics and sequels and prequels, comes out the gate looking like a deflated balloon.

Edwards' cast is no better. Diego Luna is cool as Cassian, but Edwards has mostly obediently assembled a bland band of politically correct faces; the white girl, the Latino, the black guy, the Asian etc etc. This is casting by robots and banks, every decision dictated by spreadsheets and market researchers, all calculated to guarantee maximum demographic penetration. There's no spontaneity, creative decisions or real art here; just machine logic, up and down and all the way around. Lucas' "Star Wars" may have been white as hell, but Lando Calrissian, a disco space pimp with a private mining empire and lady-cape, didn't feel like an attempt to court black dollars. Everything in "Rogue One", in contrast, reeks of reverse engineering.

"Rogue One's" first action scene occurs at the 31 minute mark. Here, on a desert planet, Imperial stormtroopers battle rebels. Lasers fly back and forth, but there's no real danger; Edwards' stormtroopers are more inept than usual (a problem in a supposedly "gritty" "Star Wars" film). The film then climaxes with a half-hour battle on land and in orbit. A replica of Lucas' Battle of Endor, this sequence finds giant Imperial walkers missing everything in sight on land, whilst giant Imperial Star Destroyers miss everything in sight in orbit. And unlike Lucas' climactic battle, Edwards' lacks drama, danger, a cool score, good compositions, intelligent pacing and clean camera work; its mostly a blur of CGI whilst humans attempt to hack into the silliest computing filing cabinet ever conceived.

"Star Wars" was a weird independent film by a geeky kid who just wanted to make goofy B movies. Today it's only B movies which get A-list budgets, and "Star Wars" has not only become the template for virtually all tent-pole movies, but become emblematic of Hollywood's escalating drive to capture dollars and lowest common denominators; "Star Wars" as the ultimate Hollywood and so American Success Story.

Ironically, "Star Wars" was conceived as a giant middle finger to Uncle Sam. Writing of his franchise, Lucas would say: "I took concepts I was going to use in a Vietnam War picture, and put them in space. So you essentially have a large technological empire going after a small group of freedom fighters; a small independent country like North Vietnam threatened by gangsters aided by empire. The Empire is like America ten years from now, after Nixonian gangsters assassinated the Emperor and were elevated to power in a rigged election. This 'total control' police state was welcomed by the people, because the Empire created civil disorder by instigating race riots, aiding violent groups and allowing the crime rate to rise."

But of course the United States has made a career out of imagining itself the injured victim. Indeed, both the nation's Imperialism and national image hinge on it being seen as an underdog. And so somewhere along the line, Lucas' tale of Vietnamese communists and the "force" which helps them defeat Western Imperialists and their giant space gonads, got turned upside down. Thus "Star Wars" became, not just the ultimate tale of How We See Oursevlves vs The Other, but an altar to Hollywood capitalism itself; big, loud, faceless, endless, soulless, bland, impersonal, pointless, infinitely propagated for the sole purpose of profit, and completely designed by yes men, algorithms, the deluded and those fork-tongued marketing gurus on cell block 1138. And here's another one. And another one. And another one. And another one.

5/10 - Sithspawn.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
I'll give you the moon, Mary., 30 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Directed by Frank Capra, "It's a Wonderful Life" stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a young man living in the picaresque town of Bedford Falls. George has dreams of becoming an adventurer, of seeing the world and travelling to distant lands, but the impromptu death of his father forces him to become the manager of a local Building and Loan company instead. George takes this job to protect the inhabitants of his town from Mr Potter, a greedy banker who keeps local workers poor and unable to purchase housing.

"Life's" first act watches as George matures, finds a wife and becomes a "responsible" member of his community. He also saves the life of a boy who goes on to become a decorated war hero, and positively touches the lives of countless other locals. Though he doesn't realise it, George is a saviour; the world is a better place because he exists. More importantly, the Building and Loan company he operates functions as a means of staving off commercial banks. The latter operate for private profit, for their shareholders, and with the ultimate goal of accumulating everything in Bedford Falls. The former, at least in theory, to do the bidding of depositors.

"Life's" final act finds George accidentally misplacing thousands of dollars. Fearing a scandal, he attempts suicide. A guardian angel then intervenes, at which point the film becomes a retelling of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". Here George is shown how life in Bedford Falls would have unfolded had he not been around to protect its inhabitants. Shown that he positively influenced the world, and so purged of all regrets, George aborts his suicide. The town of Bedford Falls then magically rallies around George, donating thousands of dollars to help save his Building and Loan company.

Aesthetically, "Life" is a bit of a masterpiece. Snappy, carefully lit, and ambitious in the way it navigates time, the film also boasts beautiful Norman Rockwellesque sets. And then there's Jimmy Stewart. In another actor's hands, George Bailey would grate, but Stewart keeps Bailey lovable; a chirpy dude who chooses principles over personal desires and so whose life serves as a plea for social solidarity in times when fears make people selfish.

On another level, however, Capra's film is devious as hell. Prayer, Christianity and "good" communal banks are positioned on one side, and fat individualists, capitalists and "bad banks" on the other. But George Bailey, the banker-populist who altruistically exists for community and for the working poor and who "makes loans based on character and not credit", has always been a dangerous myth. Perhaps the best summation of this was made by director David Mamet in an issue of Sight and Sound: "George is as close as Hollywood can get to the notion of an equitable distribution of wealth: the reliance upon a person of character in a position usually occupied by the heartless. In this praising of individual conscience, we thus indulge a peculiarly conservative ethos: enlightened or compassionate conservatism. Such may pass muster as wish-fulfilling entertainment, but as a political aim it can be adopted only by the self-deluded. For if the worker has no power to demand other than as an appeal to conscience, he or she has nothing. And so the memory of the war and of the Depression waned and America voted for Ronald Reagan. His administration, in the fulfillment of a conservative erotic dream, broke the back of labour, and the voter was induced to vote for fantasy. And it was in those Reagan years that "Life" replaced "Casablanca" as the unofficial Favourite Film of America - the fantasy of the compassionate conservative."

And so George becomes the type of hero common in John Ford's films. Never mind that replacing all banks with mutualistic Building Societies would still lead to poverty, unemployment, debts outpacing money in circulation and all the usual contradictions of capitalism. Never mind that, at every node of the network in even an idealistic world like Bedford Falls, value would still be reaped from the ignored energies of the low-paid, unpaid and natural resources, none of which appear in the accounting of production costs, but as invisible gains to capitalists. Never mind that George is essentially in the business of sub-prime lending and that if Bedford Falls didn't bail him out he'd have taken them down with him. No, like Ford's Judge Priest, George remains a beautiful impossibility; the upstanding, god-fearing, community-saving, benign wielder of power.

And yet despite being goofy, overcooked and dumb, "Life" remains one of Capra's smartest films. The film's visions of Pottersville - a banker's paradise in which communities are destroyed in the name of The Almighty Dollar – remain prophetic. Also smart is the way the film shows how money alters relationships (Pottersville even pushes women into prostitution), breeds monopolies and systematically devalues everything decent that cannot be monetised. Also clever are the film's narrators, angelic beings whose perspectives imply that George has no free-will. George himself feels as though he has been repeatedly forced to stay and live in Bedford Falls. What George comes to realise, however, is that he has been choosing all along; he hasn't been a victim of fate, but has been making a series of very precise moral choices. In a contemporary America in which the average net worth of someone in their 20s is negative 39,000 dollars, in which over 75 percent of the populace lives paycheck to paycheck (nevermind that over 80 percent of the planet lives, and must live, in poverty), these are all quite timely, and even philosophical, themes.

8/10 – From Capra would spawn Disney and Spielberg and then a whole slew of films (Minnelli, Sirk, Lynch etc) which attempted to counter such idealized visions of 1940s/50s America.

Always bet on Black, 22 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Once upon a time there was "Die Hard" (1988), a film in which a wisecracking hero battled terrorists within the cramped confines of a skyscraper. This formula would lead to "Die Hard" on a boat ("Under Siege", "Speed 2"), "Die Hard" on a train ("Under Siege 2"), "Die Hard" on a bus ("Speed"), "Die Hard" on a mountain ("Cliffhanger"), "Die Hard" in a mall ("Point Blank"), "Die Hard" in a ski resort ("Icebreaker"), "Die Hard" in a school ("Masterminds"), "Die Hard" in a stadium ("Sudden Death"), "Die Hard" in the White House ("Olympus Has Fallen"/"White House Down"), "Die Hard" in the President's personal plane ("Air Force One"), "Die Hard" in a prison ("The Rock"), "Die Hard" in an airport ("Die Hard 2"), "Die Hard" in a city ("Die Hard 3") and "Die Hard" in a plane ("Passeger 57", "Executive Decision").

Directed by Kevin Hooks, "Passenger 57" stars Wesley Snipes as John Cutter, a butt kicking law-man who's having the worst damn day of his life. We watch Cutter beat up terrorists, do crazy stunts and wade through a film rife with 1990s mullets, epic Casio keyboard music, zany clothes, gold earrings, giant shoulder pads, Michael Jackson doubles, Arsenio Hall jokes and tons of cheese. Strictly by-the-numbers, Snipes elevates some moments with his real-life martial arts skills. The film co-stars Tom Sizemore as a guy who delivers exposition.

6/10 – Worth one viewing.

Deadpool (2016)
15 out of 26 people found the following review useful:
Infinite Jest, 10 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Shall I spend much of your time pointing out the degree to which visual values influence the contemporary mood of jaded, self-mocking materialism, blank indifference, and the delusion that cynicism and naivete are mutually exclusive?" - David Foster Wallace

Sappier than a maple tree at a bukkake party, Tim Miller's "Deadpool" charts the life of Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), a young man who is diagnosed with liver, lung and brain cancer. Seeking a cure, Wade is left permanently disfigured. Not wishing to be rejected by the woman he loves (Morena Baccarin), Wade confines himself to isolation, dons a mask, becomes a superhero called Deadpool and uses his spare time to beat up villains.

If teenage stoners directed a rip-off of Sam Raimi's "Darkman", it would probably look like Miller's "Deadpool". Most of the film's running time is dedicated to sexy white dudes fighting, sniffing crotches, swearing, doing "funny" stuff, trading "clever" wisecracks and hurling incessant non-sequiturs. Sometimes they also take prosthetic penises up the butt. Like most postmodern art, the film's tone is relentlessly ironic, snarky and by extension nihilistic. Nothing matters other than the moment, and the moment exists only to short circuit and titillate the most basic expectations of long atrophied nerve-endings. Man punches other man in crotch. Man breaks hand. Audience laughs. Repeat.

When our heroes aren't hurling one-liners, they're doing slow-motion flips, rocking out to "cool music", shooting people in the head, punching blurry CGI rag-dolls and rescuing women tied-up by evil villains. None of these sequences are done with style, or have any sense of tension, importance, pacing or weight. All rely on the cutaway - to "random" dialogue or "random" physical acts - to generate affect. This is all presented as being "edgy" and "alternative", a lie which not only ignores every other superhero movie (from R rated fare like "Kickass", "Defendor" and "Super", to the wisecracking heroes of "Spiderman" and "Iron Man"), but the entire landscape of postmodernity itself.

Most action movies become cheesy, camp and homo-erotic with time. This is largely because conventional "masculinity" constantly defines itself in opposition to a "femininity" it deems to be weak, an act of opposition which is itself an admittance of weakness and insecurity. And so the conventional action hero is de facto "effeminate". And the more it tries to assert its toughness, the more ridiculous it looks; think the muscle men of 1980s action movies, or how homoerotic most martial arts movies look today.

In "Deadpool" these insecurities take on schizophrenic dimensions. Wade Wilson is sexy and invincible but also impotent and ugly. He's ridiculously hyper-masculinised (even sociopathic), but is constantly cracking homoerotic jokes, having anal sex and salivating over Rent, Wham and the prospect of fondling balls. This has led to some fans claiming that the character represents "pansexuality", when in reality, like everything Deadpool does, or postmodernity as a whole does, such "jokes" only exist to anticipate and short-circuit sincerity. Deadpool's bro humour mocks "masculinity" to stop you from mocking it first. In this way it inscribes a new type of 21st century "masculinity"; open to all contradictions, so long as it still gets to be the hero.

"Deadpool" is based on a Marvel Comics character. Like most Marvel films, it is strictly irreverence by committee; like watching a Nike sponsored live-stream of six ADD-inflicted kids dissing each other's mothers under a YouTube video walk-through of the sixth level of "Call of Duty 14". It is currently the highest grossing R rated film of all time. Its sequel is in the works. Perhaps also a prequel. And also a spin-off. It contains a character called Negasonic Teenage Warhead.

5/10 - Worth one viewing.

Page 1 of 203:[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [Next]