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Batman: Year One (2011)
Brooding, and Brilliant
Animation grows up. Batman: Year Zero shows what the medium can do if you get the right talent behind the camera: It's a relentlessly downbeat expose of the first year of the Caped Crusader's reign, but it's not just him punching bad guys and smashing drug rings. Sharing just as much screen time is Police Commissioner Gordon, who arrives in Gotham City at round about the same time, and Catwoman (also known as Selina Kyle) with her lowly beginnings as a sleazy prostitute. With extramarital affairs, graphic violence and even a BABY being threatened at knifepoint this certainly is a long way from the camp 60's icon your mum and dad grew up with... And THANK GOD for that.
There's no padding here, no monotonous voice-over to set the scene... Just BAM straight into the action. We're given a date, we're shown what happened on that day... And then, the plot moves swiftly on. Some of these diary entries only last for a second... Others, like a fight in a burnt-out warehouse (there's ALWAYS a big battle in one of them) take much longer. And all the time, the movie never loses touch with it's human side... The morose, often tragic figures here are just as a pleasure to follow as the slick, brutal beatdowns Batman often finds himself in the middle of. It's tense, gripping, compulsive viewing from start to bloody finish. 7/10
Inside Out (2015)
NOT a return to 'form'
Maybe I just don't get it. Perhaps there's something intrinsic to the the whole experience I require clarifying on. Somewhere, there might be an obscure reason I don't feel as passionately about this film as others have.
Or maybe, JUST maybe...
Inside Out is overrated.
I mean, yea... The animation is excellent. But this is PIXAR we're talking about here... Not Hanna Barbera, circa 1970's. It kinda comes with the territory. And yes, the concept is very clever... But then again, it reminds me of an old comic strip I used to read called 'The Numbskulls' about small men controlling an average human's body. Then of course, there was the film Osmosis Jones, which regarded the adventures of the tiny people who were involved in the day-to-day running of Bill Murray. Not one of his funniest roles, BTW.
But something is definitely missing here. I found sections of the film a bit dull, none of the attempts at humour really made me laugh, and that pink elephant 'imaginary friend' was almost as obnoxious as Olaf the snowman. The part where I suppose we were meant to feel sad, as he was abandoned to fade away with the rest of the Riley's memories, just made me think 'about ruddy time'. What else was he supposed to do... Live, and cause a pre-teen to go through years of enforced therapy?
There wasn't enough going on in the human world, either...There was no real bond, with Riley, our lead character and the viewer... She felt more like a robot programmed by her five emotions than a living, breathing person. Her parents were as stereotypical and plastic as they come, and no other person has enough interaction with Riley for us to empathise with them... Or her, for that matter.
So, what it all boils down to is the quintet of emotions who live in her head and apparently call the shots there. Of them, Anger, Disgust and Fear and the most interesting, but guess what? They're the ones who get the shortest thrift in the script, and end up (for the most part) stuck in the 'control room' while Joy and Sadness go on the main quest. Joy's eternal perkiness is irritating, and Sadness is just a walking doormat. Not the pair I would have chosen for the lion's share of the movie to follow... And the film suffers because of this.
A lot of critics praise the authenticity of the memories Riley has and how it reminds them of their own children and lost youth... REALLY?! In that case, there must be a lot of reviewers out there who live in unbearably corny Life Insurance commercials, full of stock images and manufactured familiar situations. Watching the sun go down? First day at school? Eating broccoli?! Do me a favour.
Plus, some of them seem a bit unlikely... In one flashback, Riley misses the big shot in a hockey game, and hands the championship to the rival side. What do the rest of her team do? Why, put her on their shoulders and throw her up in the air repeatedly!! In the cutthroat world of American competitive sport, I HIGHLY doubt it. Or perhaps they just like being Losers. Hmm...
I did actually enjoy the film, so you might think I'm being a tad harsh. But bear in mind this is PIXAR we're talking about here... Who's every feature was virtually a masterpiece. After a string of underwhelming flicks, though (Brave, Cars 2, Monsters University, and now this) perhaps it's about time I stopped treating them as the purveyors of miracles, and think of the company as a normal studio who pumps out spectacularly animated but somewhat shallow productions. Just like Dreamworks.
What a shame. 6/10
The Age of Adaline (2015)
Great idea, LOUSY execution...
If you were a young woman called Adaline and had eternal life, would you give it all up for 'twue lurve'? The answer would be a resounding 'NO' from my quarters, but what with it being a sappy dappy romance, I think you know what answer you can expect from this increasingly dreary piece of corn.
It doesn't help that the guy who you sacrifice an infinite existence for is a bearded part-time artist who stalks you EVERYWHERE, and his defining feature is his non-stop niceness. In other words, NOT a person, just a conglomerate of what Hollywood' screen writers think is the 'perfect man'. No quirks or surprises here... We've created... FRANKENHUNK!! I've seen this type of bland-beyond-belief Mr-Perfect in FAR too many films... And the next one I spot where I get even a whiff of such a character, the movie goes off. Along with my foot through the screen (hey, I can afford it).
In terms of how she ended up in this state, there was an incident involving a car crash at night, a lot of water and a lightning bolt. Not important. What IS is the fact you were born in 1908, and you start to look just as old as your daughter as she grows up... But you don't. So, here's the plan: You change your identity every ten years, move to a new state, sever all ties from the last decade, and repeat. Better than ending up as a lab experiment, I'm sure you agree.
Until, she meets HIM at a party. You know it's HIM because the action slows down as everyone else blurs into the background, and a cheesy ballad is heard. His actions, which involve following you around everywhere, refusing to take no for an answer, obtaining your home address illegally and making HORRIBLE looking dinners, eventually break down your emotional barriers, and you end up falling head over heels for this Weirdo.
Can I just state for the record that I'm fed up with being told borderline psychopaths and dull-as-ditchwater characters in media are somehow 'charming' and 'desirable'. Not to mention, people in movies acting completely contrary to the way I would in real life (and all other sane viewers) so the next time I have to suffer through one or the other, my television goes out of the window (as you can tell, I get through a LOT of TV's). Meanwhile, around an hour of cutesy poo romantic nonsense ensues.
Things FINALLY pick up again when 'the loving couple' visits The Weirdo's family, and Adaline is remembered by a cameoing Harrison Ford, playing the Weirdo's father, who had a fling with her around the Second World War. Only problem is... He's aged, and she hasn't. Hmm. The scenes where he realises the truth about her, and his heart-to-heart talk with the panicked girl are the best bits of the movie. Why couldn't we have had more interaction with these two instead of... Well, almost everything else?
Alas, the good stuff can't last... there's a car chase in the rain, a serious accident, a teeth rotting declaration of love, and a saw-it-from-a-mile-away twist ending. HOW DARE they take such an interesting concept and balls it up in such a momentous way. HOW DARE they have such a fascinating lead actress, and pair her up with the human equivalent of a freshly painted park seat. And HOW DARE they waste 110 minutes of so many people's lives.
We haven't all got as much time as Adaline, ya know. So do yourself a favour, and skip this unholy mix of genericity, mediocrity and (most of all) wasted potential... 4/10
Mean Girls (2004)
Mean Girls.... Mean Girls... Whatcha Gonna Do?!
The only contact I've ever had with mean girls is probably this film, and a few unimaginative plots in teen sitcoms. Nevertheless, I hear from 'those in the know' that female bullies can be MUCH worse than their male counterparts... With all the teasing, snarking and demoralisation that goes on in these little cliques, it can go as far as causing suicide in those that feel inadequate. I dunno... Insults and wind ups you can ignore, where as repeated punches to the face, and having chairs flung at you are a little more difficult to avoid. Perhaps I've had too little of the former, and an over abundance of the latter...
Anyway, this is pre-insane Lindsay Lohan, when she still had a career as a singer/model/ actress... Nowadays her antics only tend to put her on the cover of the cheapest gossip rags. She plays a 16 year old who's spent most of her childhood in deepest, darkest Africa, and returns home to the USA to discover a different kind of jungle... One where the popular kids rule the roost, and the nerds, fatties, uglies, disabled etc are just part of the food chain. Being pretty if a bit naive, Lohan is actively seeked out by a group of three pretty yet bitchy girls called 'The Plastics' to sign up... And while it all starts up as a bit of fun, it isn't long before Lohan's sweet and innocent nature begins to be corrupted... (Who said real life can't imitate art?)
Scripted by comedienne Tina Fey who obviously has grown up in this type of dog-eat-dog environment and knows the inner workings of the secret hierarchy between so-called classmates, Mean Girls is insightful, interesting and just downright hilarious. Most of the dialogue, whether it be from a spotty geek, or a pampered princess, rings with authenticity, and the film doesn't shy away from showing the harmful consequences of pitting one pupil against another in a battle that ultimately no-one can win. It does get a little too soppy towards the end, as everyone 'learns their lesson', and sometimes you get a character that comes dangerously close to being more of a stereotype than a fleshed out individual.
But, for the most part, Mean Girls is a breath of fresh air in a stale, overdone genre, with something to actually say, rather than relying on the same old high school movie staples. Well worth a watch, especially from those who have yet to survive the experience... 7/10
Very Good Girls (2013)
Very Good Girls in a Very Bad Film
This movie is something, alright. It takes the most worn-out, done-to-death, predictable, stale, unimaginative elements from the many other tedious indie dramas that I've suffered through, reheats them, and tries to serve them as fresh. No dice, kiddo. Only this isn't just a case of mouldy leftovers. No, this is pure, unadulterated, 100% ****. Guaranteed to grow your garden, or your money back. You'd have to go a long way to find something as soulless, brainless, meritless and charmless as this. And by the end, I couldn't care less.
The first thing you should know is, in a SHOCKING twist, the 'very nice' girls in the title are actually pretty badly behaved. In fact, the first thing we see them do is have a skinny dip. On a crowded beach. Gee, I hope those body doubles got paid well. On their bikes during the journey home, one of them collides into a hunky ice cream man. A neon sign flashes: LOVE INTEREST above his head. He is very rude to one of them. Within a few days, they'll be having sex. Despite what the director would like us to believe, with the addition of syrupy softly-sung ballads in the background whenever the duo get within a few feet of each other, there's more chemistry in gym class than there is between these two non-entities.
I almost instantly plugged that her new beau was a STRUGGLING ARTIST, who only sold his diary treats to finance his TRUE CALLING. Ya know what? I was RIGHT ON THE NOSE!! You, see... He takes pictures of people, photocopies them into huge portraits, then sticks them on walls, the backs of buses, etc. This of course, is complete rubbish... without any artistic vision, or otherwise... But you have to remember this film is based in a parallel universe, where all bounds of normal human reaction and values are completely at odds with reality. So, needless to say, his new girl finds it 'CUTE', and he's a 'GENIUS'. Say no more.
Speaking of her, at one point she starts strumming a guitar. And I was on the edge of my seat... Waiting for those three magic words... "OPEN MIKE NIGHT". ZING!! I did it again!! Perhaps I should pick up a crystal ball, and start calling myself Madame Zorro. She also has confidence issues, and I suppose you would... Performing in front of ten people. But don't worry... her new flame gives her the strength she needs to brave the throngs. Her voice is very ordinary... But like I said, these events transpire in an alternate dimension, so we're listening to the new Madonna. SIGN HER UP!!
Richard Dreyfuss and Demi Moore drop by for an easy pay cheque... There's some kind of love rivalry going on between the two bimbos for the heart of Mr Interesting... and a bit of fractious family feuding thrown in to pad out the length. But all of this twaddle can be summed up by simply saying 'Dead Air'. It's not worth the time it takes to watch. It wasn't worth the time to type this review. In fact, it's barely worth the time it takes to put the disc in the machine.
In other words: Do something better with your life. Like, anything. 2/10
The Organization (1971)
You've seen it all before
Ah, the 70's. Big guns, bigger cars and acknowledgements that *GASP!* police departments have black people too. Close on the heels of Isaac Hayes as Shaft, there was Sidney Poitier as Mister Tibbs. Both starred in a number of films based around their characters, although Poitiers tended to be slightly more realistic in nature (What with them being directly made with the assistance of the local force) and with less wanton violence.
That doesn't mean they were immune to suffering from cliché-itis, though. So you have the usual schtick where the bad guys turn out to be the good guys, endless chase sequences through crowded streets and of course... The 'pivotal' moment where Tibbs has to hand over his gun and badge due to him being suspected of corruption. It may not be the movie's fault that such scenes have been done to death over 40 years, but it is what it is.
Poitier keeps things ticking over nicely with his usual reliable screen presence, and the sparse family moments he shares with his wife and son are a nice touch... Although, too brief to really be that effective. Overall, it's an interesting look at a Gene Hunt era of law enforcement which is long since past (for better or worse) but in terms of entertainment, very, very average. 5/10
Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
Fifty Shades Of 'Meh'
Fifty Shades of Grey is a very silly film, based on an over-hyped book, in which an incredibly attractive young billionaire decides to initialise a clumsy young girl into his world of sado-masochistic sex when she turns up one day to interview him.
Aside from a few notably graphic scenes involving blindfolds, restraints and whips, their is virtually nothing here to distinguish this bromidic mush from the thousands of others tales of it's ilk... From the chiselled hunk with the 'tortured' past, to the flighty heroine, who one minute is all for this guy's weird fetishes, and the next (for no particular reason) decides to back away.
In other words, don't expect an in-depth psychological profile... Christian Grey is a d*ck simply because he had some unfortunate experiences at the hands of an older woman in his youth (which aren't really elaborated on) and the brilliantly named Anastasia Steele wants true love in her life... She doesn't like it when Grey forces her into a more casual relationship. Still, at least he gives her a nice car. She should be a bit more grateful, if you ask me.
Most of the film proceeds like this, with Grey popping up where Steele least expects him to, trying to 'get it on' with her at every possible moment, and Steele umming and arring over whether to sign a contract, which would turn her into Grey's personal plaything for months. In other words, she'd be selling HERSELF into slavery. But, hey... a slave with a nice car. Love that car.
The attempts at drama fall as flat as the Rolo I sat on last night, the non-stop brooding by both leads becomes very irritating very quickly, and the always present pop songs in the background make you want to listen to the soundtrack, rather than suffer through the rest of this soporific slop. You know the one... "I let you set the pace... Cos I'm not thinking ssttrraaiigghhtt". Damn you Elle. And Damn this movie. 4/10
The best part? NO SONGS! HURRAY!!
After the success of Maleficent, which was basically a reboot of Sleeping Beauty told from the perspective of the villainess, (But this time making her a MUCH more sympathetic character). Disney returns to their well of classic fairy tales again for inspiration (Read: Money) and... Oh, look what's popped up... Cinderella!! Why bother putting together a new and unique screenplay, when you can just take an old animation, and spruce it up for a live-action remake?! GENIUS!!
Unlike Maleficent, this is a far more straightforward adaptation of the original... the movie stays with Cinders all the way (aside from the occasional foray into the royal castle), and it starts and ends just as you'd expect from a 'Happily Ever After' bedtime story. The Fairy Godmother is a tad more dotty and brusque than before, the various animals that turn into the coach, horses, footmen, etc are loving rendered using CGI special effects and there are a few black faces scattered about to provide a more eclectic cast.
What else can I add? I thoroughly enjoyed it. Lily James makes for a beautiful and charming heroine, Cate Blanchett hams it up marvelously as the truly wicked Lady Tremaine (I mean, she walks with her cat on a LEASH!! Unforgivable) and Helena Bonham provides a memorable yet short cameo and the wacky Godmother herself. Sometimes, you don't need bells and whistles to make an already appealing story better. What Kenneth Branagh has done is let the material speak for itself... Adding some modern twists here and there, but never enough to make them intrusive on the central drama.
So, despite my earlier misgivings, maybe there IS something to said for this recycling-an-old-animation-into-a-flesh-and-blood-version malarkey. Can we have Dumbo next, please? There may not be a Handsome Prince in that particular cartoon, but I can think of a Not-So-Handsome Prince who'd be PERFECT for the lead role. QUICK Disney... Sign him up before he ascends to the throne!! 7/10
More Than Bearable...
While I feel that the story of a family adopting a CGI animated animal was done better in Stuart Little, Paddington was still fun to watch, especially if you're a Londoner... Since it makes extensive use of familiar locations and native speak which some overseas audiences might not get. The story (such as it is) is mainly an excuse for Paddington to get up to his usual disruptive shenanigans, but kids will eat up his light-hearted antics, while adults won't be too bored with the odd grown-up joke thrown their way, and Nicole Kidman as a bleached blonde ruthless huntress.
A couple of pieces of interest: It's funny how no-one reacts to having an intelligent, talking bear around. If Kidman had ANY sense, she'd put the titular ursine on display in a cage, not mount and stuff him. No sense of business practice, some people. And, what exactly is the appeal of marmalade? I don't eat the peel of my orange with the innards... So why would I want to stick it in my sandwich? Paddy, me old china, I'm afraid you and I will never see eye to eye on the merits of that particular spread... 6/10
On reflection, not very good.
The Inexplicable popularity of this dull, over-gimmicky horror could probably be explained by the inclusion of ex Doctor Who assistant Ms Karen Gillan to the cast. Not a fan of the show myself, I have no idea why she appears to have the following a lot of others who have left the role seem to lack... But what I can state is, a movie is NEVER as good as it's stars... And Oculus is an increasingly tiresome exercise in over-elaborate set-up with hardly any payoff.
Starting 11 years in the past, it documents the relocation of your typical white-bread American family (Mother, Father, Two Kids, Golden Retriever. Not too sure about the picket fence) to a new house, complete with a spooky mirror. This object seems to have the power to suck life from everything around it, and causes people to suffer hallucinations to protect itself. Before long the dog is acting weirdly, Mom is driven so crazy she has to be leashed, and Dad spends all his time brooding in his room. To cut a long story short, everyone but the children end up dead... With the boy committed to a secure institution, and the girl left to pick up the pieces.
Present day. The lad is now a man, and has finally been given clearance to leave the mental hospital. Guess what his sister has been doing while he's been on the inside... That's right. Tracking down the antique mirror, and buying it back. You see, she made a vow with her brother to 'purge it of it's evil' before he was send down... And now she expects him fulfill his promise. Rather unwisely, he agrees... And so begins a LONG process of filming the mirror from all angles, checking the temperature of the room it's in... Occasional breaks for snacks and water...
Yes, it IS as tedious as it sounds. And no, I have no idea why anyone with any attention span could sit through this tripe without having something on stand-by to pass the time through the many empty moments (I had my iPad. ALWAYS be prepared). As for the flashbacks, they might be cliché and predictable, but at LEAST you have SOME level of excitement. When it skips forward to the here and now, I found myself uncontrollably yawning at the not-quite-stimulating goings on. And yes... I get plenty of sleep, thank you very much.
And, you wanna know something else? I disliked Gillan in this role. She might be hot stuff in a cheesy Sci-fi serial, but here I found her shrill, manipulative and almost unbearable. During a certain 'shock' scene, when we were presumably meant to be saddened, I could only wish that what had just transpired had occurred earlier. Let's hope her annoying performance here is just a case of a bad script and direction, rather than a harbinger of things to come... 4/10
Drifting in a sea of blandness...
SHH!! If you listen very closely... You can hear the cogs of the screenplay turn, as our cardboard characters bluster their way through predictable confrontations, obvious story developments and easily anticipated 'twists'. From the first minute, when a mother abandons her drunken loser of a husband with her two sons, and one of them kicks him in the chest as they escape in their car, it's all plastic Hollywood construct... Despite being an Australian production, and the disclaimer 'based on a true story' notwithstanding.
Yes, as you'd expect there's loads of top footage of professional surfers doing their 'thing', with waves crashing and gravity-defying stunts aplenty for the connoisseur. But you can see that kind of spectacle in a documentary on the subject. It is REALLY worth wading through this murky plot, including a tacked on romance, stereotypical hippy culture and the most one dimensional bad guys EVER? I would suggest not.
Gnarly surfing, man. Shame the rest is so bogus. 4/10
Cold in July (2014)
Tense and surprising
The title of the film was presumably meant to be an oxymoron, but not where I live.
Starting off as a clichéd Cape Fear-esque thriller about a family under siege due to a vengeful father, it turns into something infinitely more satisfying once conspiracies are uncovered and former enemies must team up to unravel the mess.
The combination here... former prisoner, gun for hire and everyday family man who somehow finds himself tangled up in all this chaos, is eminently watchable, as each imprints their own personality into the partnership, and they play off one another to great effect.
The final showdown is worth waiting for too, with plenty of tension, suspense and blood-soaked mayhem to go around. Overall, an impressive example of how to take a worn-out genre, turn it on it's head and create a product which is very satisfying.
You can't help but feel, though... How is he going to explain everything to the wife?! 7/10
Every Secret Thing (2014)
Thought provoking, slightly upsetting.
A CHALLENGE: Try making a film like this is modern day Britain, after what happened to Jamie Bulger in the early 90's. You'll discover quickly it's nigh-on impossible. The case is so infamous, it will probably have far-reaching effects on our society forever. And, in fact, when the producers of a horrible soap called Hollyoaks tried to develop a plot that bore only the slightest resemblance to the tragic murder over a decade later, they was so much protest that in the end they had to scrap the entire storyline. Overreaction? Or just respecting the parents and public opinion? YOU decide.
So, anyway... Here we have two socially awkward pre-teen girls, one a bit overweight, the other a troublemaker . They don't like each other very much. After getting thrown out of a party, they pass a house where a baby is sitting outside, unattended, in a pram. One of the females decides to kidnap her and keep the tot as her own, much to the chagrin of the other one. Eventually, the more sensitive child backs down, and the pair take her to their secret hideaway... Where they try to feed her nothing but pudding.
Of course, this leads to the infant getting sick, and unwilling to go for help (they don't wanna be caught, ya see?) a decision is made the child must die. Rather harsh, you might think... But not when one of the kids is clearly an unrepentant sociopath. I'll leave it up to you to find out which one, because there are a few surprises in store for the unwary. Regardless, the baby is murdered, the girls are captured, and spend the next seven years in juvie.
Flash forward to the present, and both have been released. The tearaway has got a minimum wage job, and looks permanently depressed. The fat one is even larger than before, and dreams of reality TV. Then, in the same area, ANOTHER toddler goes missing from a furniture store... And guess who the prime suspects are?
Every Secret Thing gives us two very distinct personalities, and slowly changes our perception of them, and the people in their lives, as it proceeds. The people who initially have our sympathy may not hold it at the end, as more revelations about the past emerge even while the investigation in the present is going on. It raises interesting questions about the justice system, how responsible kids that age are for unspeakable crimes and the accountability of parents in such matters.
The ending will split opinion, but I admired the realism of it. Sometimes, the people who should be punished aren't, and this is something all too common in courtrooms all over the world. Karma? What's that again? 7/10
Three Fugitives (1989)
Truly, truly underrated.
Watching Three Fugitives is like traveling back in time to a bygone era, when there was no Internet, only four TV channels and John Major was prime minister. But hey, it wasn't all bad... We got films like this, where the focus is purely on the relationship between a grumpy, fresh out of jail bank thief portrayed by Nick Nolte, a mute six year old girl and her well-meaning but accident prone father, played by Martin Short.
Caught up in a heist-gone-wrong with a case of mistaken identity thrown into the bargain, the trio (as the title suggests) go on the lam together. Ever cop in the district is looking for them, Short is a walking disaster area, the kid wanders off at every given opportunity and Nolte just wants to ditch the other two and go straight. Easier said then done, when Short lands them in non-stop trouble, and Nolte begins to form a connection with the little girl...
It's not a laugh-a-minute split-your-sides experience, but what it IS is a perfect fusion of pathos, understated action and amusing character moments. It's easy to predict the hate-love arc of the Nolte/Short friendship, and some of the punchline are visible from miles off. But frankly, I didn't care.
All the cast play their roles so well, they transform what could have a humdrum script into something quite special. Of course, it also helps to have one of the cutest screen children around as their co-star. Makes their ongoing struggle more believable when we sees what's at stake, ya see? One to watch every few years from now on, I think. I'll never get tired of it, that's for sure. 8/10
Song of the Sea (2014)
A Song Worth Listening To
Sometimes, in an animated film, you don't need a celebrity-laden voicecast, tons of pop culture jokes and a blaring soundtrack full of the latest chart hits. A strong story, well-written characters, some traditional instrumental music and lovely, colourful, unconventional animation is all you require. Song Of The Sea may not be from a big studio and isn't as flashy as the hugely budgeted CGI releases... But in terms of charm and imagination, it beats most of them hands down.
The plot comes from a traditional Irish legend, concerning a human man who has two children with a sea-dwelling creature, called a 'Silkie'. After the second child (a girl) is born, the Silkie realises she must sacrifice herself in order so that her new daughter must live. Flash forward a few years later, and the infant girl is now a child, resented by her big brother for supposedly making their mother disappear, while their dad is still pining for his lost love. Oh, and for some reason she is a mute.
I won't say any more lest I ruin what lies ahead, but sufficed to say... The girl finding out her secret powers, the development between her relationship with her older sibling, and the strange, mystical legend which encompasses itself into all kinds of mind-boggling situations is a joy to behold. Usually, I like a bit of comedy to go with my animated films... But here, it would only detract from the exhilarating journey our protagonists go on (both physically and spiritually) So I'm MORE than happy to let it slide.
Basically, a thoroughly satisfactory effort, with a real tearjerker of a denouement. Just try to stop those flecks of water from running down...
Effie Gray (2014)
Shorter would have been an improvement...
It's one thing arranging all the finest acting talent in a film, and having great period detail and costume design, but it's totally another to keep you invested enough for 110 minutes of your life. Effie Gray just about manages to get over the finish line, but not with any great impact. Expect to reasonably entertained, but to stay perfectly still in your seat (with the occasional glance at your watch).
Effie is stuck in a loveless marriage... Her husband is an art critic... Completely under the thumb of his demanding parents... Who insist he stays at home e.g, forget about the newlyweds getting a place of their own. Her new partner is obsessed with his work, to the point of barely acknowledging her existence. He doesn't even show any interest in consummating their nuptials, for instance... The first night he sees her naked, he bursts into tears and runs out the room. Hmm... Can you say 'issues'?
Then, during an impromptu trip to Venice, she runs into a young painter who is everything her hubby is not... empathic, fun-loving, and deeply in love with her. Sadly, she's stuck with Mr Grump, for the simple reason that if she did split up with him, it would ruin her family name... And besides, getting a divorce back in the 19th century was SLIGHTLY more difficult than it is now. The situation is complicated further by a strange illness she has, which involves copious amounts of hair loss. Hmm... Who'd have though boredom and enforced virginity would have such a toll on your health?
With Effie Gray, you get the distinct impression that lots of the scenes which involve people pottering about in front of beautiful vistas, and staring in the distance while the music swells in the background, could have been dramatically cut... To no great loss of the plot. My theory is, some self-inflated 'important' movies such as this almost feel obligated to unnaturally expand the length beyond what the script requires, to make it FEEL more epic. This tends to not work (It certainly doesn't here) and just leaves quite a bit of dead air.
Still, as I mentioned, the cast full of stalwarts such as Julie Walters and Emma Thompson all do their part to keep things ticking over nicely, and Dakota Fanning does the uphill trajectory of her career no harm at all with an emotionally wrought performance, backed up with a dead-on English accent. In fact, there's not a lot wrong here that couldn't have been avoided with the judicious use of a metaphorical pair of scissors. About 20 minutes off the top should do it, luv.
As it stands, I was mildly interested when I should have been enthralled. Less it sometimes more, ya know? 6/10
The Fugitive (1993)
Watch out... You may just gnaw your fingers off.
An all-time classic chase thriller with an equally compelling character study, The Fugitive ranks as one of the best examples of it's genre around. As dogged detective Tommy Lee Jones hunts his prey (an innocent doctor, played by Harrison Ford) through hospitals, street parades, and even the Hoover Dam, the interaction between the two and the amount of near misses will have you falling off the edge of your seat. And there is also Ford's quest to prove his inculpability in the murder of his wife... Jones's bonding with his hand-picked investigation team... Exactly how much can you squeeze into a two hour long feature?!
My favourite aspect of the production isn't the brilliantly directed scenes of pursuit, or the slow unveiling of who WAS responsible for the tragic crime, or even Harrison Ford as the wronged man who nevertheless stops to help others even while on the run (Thus engaging him perfectly with the audience's sympathies). Nope, that would be Tommy Lee Jones as the bombastic police office in charge of the capture... He is never short of something to say... Doesn't take crap from anyone... And (most of all), the small looks in his eyes as the evidence mounts that Ford may not be the one responsible for his spouse's demise after all. He turns from the man trying to get Ford at all costs... To the only one willing to protect him in the heated climax...
A great character, brought to life by a great actor. Someone give that chap an Oscar... Whoops, he received one. WOWEE Life Is Good. :) 8/10
Lily & Kat (2015)
Just go away.
Two Girls. One, an artiste, the other a hedonist. There are best friends. Lily is American, Kat is British. Lily finds out Kat is moving to London. She's not happy. Lily also hates her job. Her cheating boyfriend.And apparently, life in general. Kat just pops some pills. Gets drunk. And sleeps with everyone who has a pulse. They have a threesome with a graphic designer. Don't worry, kids... The lights go out before things get TOO raunchy. So, the only possibly good scene in the film... RUINED.
I didn't care about any of these people. Their tawdry lives. Their insignificant worries. Their non-existent development. Worst of all were the scenes where Lily talks to a fictitious psychiatrist in her head... I haven't heard such a bunch of fortune cookie psychobabble masquerading as useful advice in all my life. A complete waste of time then. Do drive home safely. 4/10
Children of a Lesser God (1986)
Truly, a match made in... Hell
If I'm watching a film about two unlikable people that the script is desperate to put together, you can forgive me for not being too enthusiastic. In Children Of A Lesser God there's a teacher called James with an 'unconventional' style of doing things (When are we going to see a NORMAL educator doing NORMAL things?) That 'SURPRISE SURPRISE' work on his unruly class. He's just started at a school for the deaf you see, and in true Dead Poet's Society style, is the only live wire in a sea of formality. This part of the movie, as derivative as it is, is at least interesting.
Then we meet the love interest Sarah, played by Oscar winner Marlee Matlin. She's 25, a former student there who's stayed on as a cleaner. For some reason, James starts to unabashedly stalk her and won't take "NO" for an answer when propositioning her for a date. She eventually gives in (Perhaps to just shut him up) and 'SHOCK HORROR' her emotions turn from dislike to l'amour almost in the space of one dinner.
Another thing to note about her is her DARK AND TROUBLED PAST which shows itself in random screaming fits that arise for no particular reason. Yeah, she's had it bad... But flying off the handle at the slightest indiscretion didn't endear her to me one bit. So, you have the creepy stalker teacher who's OH SO WILD & WACKY on one hand, and the unstable deaf girl who takes offense at virtually everything on the other. Am I supposed to root for these irritating boors? No dice.
I'll say one thing for them, though... They TRULY belong together. 5/10
The Boxtrolls (2014)
"Living in a cardboard, Living in a cardboard box..."
All animated films with a conflict need a decent villain, and The Boxtrolls has a great one: A snivelling, merciless, cheese-obsessed, nasty piece of work called Archibald Snatcher. Voiced by the unmistakable Ben Kingsley, he kidnaps friendly trolls who only want to collect junk at night on the surface from their underground base, lies to the population of a small town that they devour small children so they give him carte blanche in taking the innocent creatures, before setting them to work as slaves building a device which he thinks will help him take over the place. And by 'take over' I mean... Sit at a table, and munch on Brie all day long with the other aristocrats. To top it all off, he's allergic to the dairy product... and swells up hideously every time he's anywhere near it. Go figure.
Into this mess are thrown two kids: One who was raised by the boxtrolls as one of their own after his father went missing ( and the subject of Archibald's fibs to the townsfolk) and a little posh girl from the upper echelons of society who has an unhealthy interest in gore at such a tender age. She is VERY disappointed to find out the trolls are not the cannibalistic monsters of yore, but nevertheless agrees to help the boy in rescuing his missing friends and possibly discover what happened to his absent dad. I won't spoil what unfurls for you... But I will offer a single hint. JELLY!!
The Boxtrolls is an engaging piece, brilliantly animated using stop-motion technology (there's even a joke about the whole process after the credits have rolled) filled with lovable characters and hilarious voiceovers. The boxtrolls themselves are brilliant creations... Stark naked apart from their little cardboard containers, each one named after the produce that it initially contained, they communicate in a monosyllabic way and their antics are always hilarious. They reminded me of the minions in the Despicable Me franchise... Only, with a bit more charm. It's a fabulous slice of family entertainment, and one worth re-watching just to appreciate just how much detail was put into the production.
YEARS AND YEARS worth. Got that?! You ungrateful little... 7/10
Brother Bear 2 (2006)
A pleasant surprise...
Yes, I do watch the occasional Disney film. No, I'm not ashamed to admit it. Maybe YOU should be ashamed for being so judgmental now. HARUMPH.
Anyway, this is a Direct-To-Video sequel to perhaps one of the company's lesser known efforts, Brother Bear. This follow-up obviously can't afford Phil Collins on songwriting duty again, and so hires a couple of singers called Melissa Etheridge and Josh Kelley to do a few ditties. And, very nice they are too. The animation as well is a noticeable downgrade from the original, but this is par for the cause with a reduced budget. Joaquin Phoenix doesn't return as Kenai, either, though unless you watched both films back-to-back, you'd be hard pushed to tell the difference.
Where this film REALLY scores though, is the friendship triangle that develops between the former human (now a bear) Kenai, the girl he was SUPPOSED to marry (before his transformation) Nita, and the young cub he adopted in the first movie, Koda. Nita wants to annul the original matrimony arrangement (I mean who'd want to get hitched to an egotistical ursine jerk? Maybe some people... But not in a Disney movie...) so the three go on a journey together to burn some 'ancient amulet' to achieve that goal... Bickering, arguing and eventually bonding all the way.
What follows won't come as a surprise to anyone... (In fact, I knew the ending before viewing. So hard to avoid spoilers these days...) but the camaraderie between the trio is infectious, and their emotional discoveries which erupt during their trek keeps you watching. There is also a couple of comedic moose to be found who are desperate for Kenai's help in obtaining mates (One of them is voiced by Rick Moranis in his last ever role before retiring from acting. WE'LL MISS YA BUDDY!!). Not exactly hilarious, but an okay sidetrack from the main plot on occasion.
Overall, I even prefer it to the first one. GASP!! At around 70 minutes in length, there's bearly (ha ha) any padding, and you can watch it in the morning, and still have enough for Fireman Sam, fingerpainting, and a trip to the park (BECAUSE YOUNG KIDS NEED EXERCISE TOO). Of course, this assumes you're watching it with very small children... I dare say, if you're comfortable in your own status as a masculine male who doesn't put much stock in the opinions of others... It sure beats the heck out of a movie marathon featuring 'the muscles from Brussels'. Gender stereotyping be darned.... 6/10
All About Christmas Eve (2012)
The film about the 99%, made by the 1%
Ever wondered what a Sliding Doors rip-off Christmas Made-For-TV movie would be like? Well, now's your chance. To run a mile, that is.
The appropriately named Eve is trying to get a plane from New York to Los Angeles so she can clinch a very important deal. One of two things could happen here: Either she breaks the heel of her shoe en route and misses it, or she gets to her flight unscathed.
The movie then unfolds through both scenarios... At first, it looks like she'd be far happier if she'd boarded that jet... She finds herself surrounded by glamour, gets an expensive hotel, attracts the attention of The Hunk who's in charge of the company she's schmoozing...
Whereas if things had gone differently... She loses her job, walks in on her boyfriend cheating on her, and the only shoulders she can cry on are those of her bar-owning best friend, and two ugly drag queens.
But... GET THIS. In an entirely unexpected twist, she discovers that GASP being a corporate executive means you have to lose some of your soul!! SHE MIGHT BECOME LIKE HER BOSS!! AND she's always had a thing for painting murals... Until the realities of life as a hard-assed business person came crashing down on her.
What'd think the chances are of her finding out that losing her old position was THE BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO HER? And she can finally LIVE HER DREAM?! As well as ending up with The Hunk, of course.
As for her current partner... Well, he just plays video games all day, doesn't listen to a thing she says and as I mentioned, sleeps around. There is no indication as to what our heroine ever saw in this complete loser... Just think as him as a placeholder for when the The Hunk arrives.
All dreary stuff, with little Christmas cheer about it... Despite the ubiquitous presence of non-stop obnoxious festive tunes on the soundtrack.
At one point, IN A SPECIAL GUEST APPEARANCE, an American Idol finalist that I've never heard of turns up at a party to torture the audience's eardrums with her caterwauling. All I can say is... It must have been a VERY weak line-up that year.
What have movie producers got against those that are well off, anyway? I've seen no end of films that depict them as out of touch, shallow, materialistic jerks who have no idea how the less wealthy but much happier ' common folk' live. Even The Hunk gives up fame and fortune at the end because 'it did not feel right'.
The ironic thing is... Most of those behind this mindless slush (and similar themed efforts) are probably rolling in cash themselves, too. Are they going to throw everything away, to live a Simple Loife of goat herding or flower arranging? Of course not. 'Do as I say, not as I do.' Hypocrisy at it's finest. 4/10
Welcome to Averageville...
RANDOM FILMS PART 7 Now, what can I say about Collision? Shall I mention it was originally called 'Intersections'? I'm sensing a theme here...
Should I talk about the fact that no-one can trust each other? Seriously, this is House Of Cards levels of deception...
I could prattle on about how there isn't a decent woman to be found in the movie (apart from right at the end)?
On the same topic, how about the underlying sexist message that females are only after one thing? (Clue: It start with M and rhymes with funny, though they're not spelt the same, unless you're dyslexic. )
There's a REALLY good car cra... Oh, you already guessed that by looking at the title. Silly me.
Er... The desert looks good at this time of year? Seriously folks, I'm struggling here. I've seen ALL this before... The backstabbing, the artificial tension, the stupid decisions, the frenetic last few minutes... Only, done much better.
Wondering why you've never heard of this film? Wonder no longer. 5/10
Why don't you just say 'No'...? Well...
If someone rung your fast food restaurant out of the blue, told you he was a police officer, and said you one of your employees had stolen from a customer, and needed to be detained... Would you believe them? If he FURTHER claimed that she had to be strip searched before the cops arrived, and he wanted you to do it there and then, would you say 'yes'? And that's just the beginning of the ordeal...
All this sounds far-fetched and exaggerated, but it actually happened 11 years ago to a 19 year old called Louise Ogborn. And if the guy on the other end of the line in real life is as half as convincing as the one playing the role in Compliance, I'm not that surprised they fell for it. His tone has that authority to it, and as one of the duped victims says "He had an answer for every question". What kind of sadistic pleasure you could derive from traumatising a young girl for life when you're not even in the same room I don't know... But the world can be a sick, sick place sometimes I guess...
As each indignity upon indignity heaps up on this innocent person who thought she was only there to do a shift, it becomes increasingly more distressing to watch. This is the mood the film strives for, as the viewer might react with incredulity at the fact that anyone could believe this caller's nonsensical story, but thanks to the raw performances and the nuanced plot progression, we eventually can. My the time it's over, you'd probably want to take a long, hot shower. I did too. After getting rid of the limescale around the drain. 7/10
The Conjuring (2013)
Conjures up a LOT of terror...
The Conjuring is one HELL of a horror film. It grips you from the opening minutes, and doesn't let go till the end. It provides the viewer with a typical set-up of a family moving to a haunted house, before proceeding to frighten the wits out of them (and us, by extension). It manages to shove aside the standard 'bump in the night' cliché that's present in so many recent entries in the genre redundant, and sticks us in a nail-biting atmosphere where we literally have NO IDEA what's coming next.
Most of all, the people in it aren't just targets to be dragged around by their hair ,have objects tossed at them or possessed by EVIL SPIRITS (though all that happens, too). These are children acting like children, parents who would do anything to protect their kids and a pair of devoted paranormal investigators that have so much depth and personality they utterly obliterate the 'comedy' ghost hunters from movies like Insidious. In other words, WE CARE. Believe it or not, this is more difficult than it sounds.
For once, the human element is as important as the shocks, and all the participants are well drawn and two dimensional characters we want to survive this living nightmare. As for, lets face it, what EVERYONE came for (the supernatural angle) it starts off slow, with a few odd occurrences... Mysterious bruises discovered on the mother in the morning... One of the daughters sleep walking at night repeatedly into a closed wardrobe... And then things REALLY start to pick up around the time the dog (Who refused to enter the property, with good reason) is discovered mutilated on the front porch. OUCH.
See this film. ENCOURAGE GOOD HORROR MOVIE PRODUCTION, since it's a genre so difficult to get right. Oh, and you DO discover a shut-off, boarded-up secret room in your new home... best leave it alone... It's most likely that way for a REASON. 7/10