Sunday, 23 November 2014

What We Do In The Shadows - review

Following the sparkly tween blandness of the Twilight films, it is nice to see that the vampire genre is coming back from the dead with movies like Only Lovers Left Alive and What We Do In The Shadows.

Both released this year, they both take a different look at the everyday life and normalcy of a vampire's existence.

What We Do In The Shadows does it through the style of a Mockumentary, nicely played with "New Zealand Documentary Foundation" credits, that documents the undead lives of four vampires who share a house in Wellington, New Zealand.

There is a nice mix of characters in the house with Dandy Vamp Viago, Vlad The Impaler Vamp Vladislav, Rock Vamp Deacon and Nosferatu Vamp Peter.

While there is humour in taking jabs at modern vampire references (newly turned vampire Nick goes around claiming he's the guy from Twilight and Viago is told he can't go to a costume party dressed as Blade as it would be offensive to other vampires) ultimately the best gags come from the mundane (Nick's human friend Stu showing them sunrise videos on YouTube, the group's inability to get into nightclubs as they can't get the bouncers to invite them in).

The gags come as thick as fast as a spurting artery but the final product could do with a bit more bite.

3 stars

P.S. would quite happily watch a spin off documentary that follows Rhys Darby's Wolfpack of "werewolves not swearwolves".

Friday, 21 November 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 - review

It seems that playtime is over with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 as it abandons the well-worked three act structure of the first two films as the events of the second part of the trilogy have put an end to the Games but the wheels of revolution have been set in motion.

It might pick up right where Catching Fire left off but I for one could have done with a quick catching up and a "Previously on The Hunger Games" in order to remember certain characters, relationships and events.

The gang's all here and it still has Hunger Games in the title but this is as different a movie to the others as District 12 is to the Capitol.

This is dark, bleak stuff as Lawrence's Katniss, in a twist on the established formula, is moulded, schooled and trained to become, not a fighter, but the face of the revolution and a propaganda weapon.

She is needed in order to galvanise the support of the surrounding districts to take down the villainous President Snow and the Capitol. Funny though, if this was the follow up to The Running Man Arnie would just take down the city single-handed.

As President Snow, Donald Sutherland chews through all the scenery available to him, hence why all the Districts are so barren and destroyed, but in order for the fight to really mean something he needs more screen time, perhaps something that will be rectified in the final part.

Hopefully it will also provide moments for all the non-Katniss characters like Peeta, Haymitch, Plutarch, Effie, Finnick, etc who all feature but don't have a huge amount to do although Liam Hemsworth must be thankful of finally getting a big speech instead of just sitting around and brooding.

Once again, another Hunger Games movie, another one that feels like just another part of an incomplete story. Looking forward to seeing how it all ends as the franchise is starved of a satisfying conclusion at the moment.

3 stars

The Homesman - review

It is tempting to argue with Tommy Lee Jones about The Homesman when he says "don't call it a Western" as the opening shot of the film is of a dusty plain .

While the plot sees Swank's Mary Bee Cuddy and Jones's transporting three insane women from Nebraska to Iowa, for the longest time the film doesn't seem to go anywhere.

It takes forever to get going and then when the odd couple finally set off on their mission it goes nowhere fast until a interesting narrative turn at the end of act two.

Swank and Jones make for an intriguing onscreen pairing. Swank has a tough role of a woman who is "plain as an old tin pail and bossy" and also described as much of a man as any man in the town, transporting these insane women who also have lost their sense of femininity. Partnered with Jones's gruff and irritable outsider, the journey sees them bring out different sides to their personalities.

Anchored by two strong central performances, it is a shame that the three women being transported aren't given more to do other than occasionally at out and stare silently out the windows of their wagon.

The Homesman might be set in the Mid-West but it would be very comfortable in the Western genre... just don't tell Tommy Lee Grumpy Cat!

3 stars

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Imitation Game - review

According to The Imitation Game, Alan Turing was a genius but a tortured one. Socially awkward, unlikeable, irritable. The perfect character for Benedict Cumberbatch to do his best stiff upper lip imitation of House M.D..

He's even given a classic House moment as something unrelated to the problem suddenly unlocks the key and you see him working out the solution in his head before that "Eureka" moment.

There have been previous films that have looked at the Bletchley Park team that cracked Enigma but this is the first that focuses on the man behind the machine that beat the machine.

The action is kept within the confines of Bletchley Park, rarely venturing out to examine the horrors of war, but the team are aware of the power and responsibility they have in determining the fates of many and the outcome of the war.

Cumberbatch delivers a commendable performance in a film which sets out to crack the code of what made Turing the man he was.

Very much like The King's Speech, it is a watchable take on a true story but isn't that cinematic and feels more like a real Sunday night BBC drama and an imitation of an Oscar contender.

3 stars

Nativity 3: Dude Where's My Donkey? - review

It is important when attending the movies to be able to suspend your disbelief.

For example, and very topical, let's look at science fiction epic Interstellar. The key is in the description. Science "fiction" not science fact. Therefore it is relatively silly and petty to get hung up on various aspects of the "science" of the movie.

However it probably helps if the movie you are watching is engaging and entertaining.

Unfortunately, the film being watched was Nativity 3: Dude Where's My Donkey? which centred around the third visit to St. Bernadette's School, home classroom helper Mr. Poppy and some unnamed children.

This school features a teaching position even more of a poisoned chalice than the Defence Of The Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts. In three films they have from Dr. Watson to Doctor Who to, er, Doc Martin.

This time round the "plot" centres around the kids competing in a flashmob competition to win a trip to New York to reunite Clunes's Mr. Shepherd with his fiancée (Catherine Tate) after he loses his memory after being kicked in the head by a donkey.

Beyond thoughts such as "does anyone actually do flashmobs anymore?" or is this still 2012, the answer to the question of "why is there a teenage girl with braces in a class of primary school children?" (answer - it's the director's daughter), "why is there no resolution to the issue of the school inspection which is mentioned every ten minutes?" and the endless pondering about where the hotel interiors were filmed and it was certainly no hotel that exists in New York City, the end result was full of terrible song and dance numbers that it was impossible not to spend the majority of it making a mental list of all the many, many things which would not have happened due to logistical and bureaucratic red tape:

  • A local doctor's advice for memory loss is not a trip to hospital for a scan but for the kids to recreate Christmas for him

  • Taking a group of children on a day trip to London to compete in a competition would require permission letters going out to parents several weeks in advance

  • Celia Imrie is the worst headmaster ever as she has no idea that several of her teaching staff and children are missing from school for several days

  • The school would undoubtably be shut down and Mr. Poppy arrested once parents found out there children are missing and in another country without their permission

  • Given the incredibly thorough and strict security screening procedures at airports it is completely unbelievable that they would be able to steal someone else's passports and tickets and get on the plane. They certainly would not get through customs and Immigration at JFK

  • Despite checking in to the interior of an English country hotel, of course it is check out the size of the bedrooms, there is no way that a NYC hotel would have space for 10-15 children with only two accompanying adults and even if they did, who is paying for them?

  • Given quarantine rules, there is no way that the donkey would make it to NYC in time for the finale, yet alone get up to the top of the Empire State Building

  • Finally, there is not enough room to perform a flashmob at the top of the Empire State

  • I might be accused of having no Christmas spirit and "Bah Humbug" but Nativity 3 is so bad that the least of its problems is a sub-title that refers to a stoner comedy that 99% of the target audience will never have seen.

    An awful film that features one donkey but an entire manger full of asses!

    1 star

    Saturday, 15 November 2014

    The Drop - review

    The Drop might be a tough, gritty crime thriller about the employees of a Brooklyn bar used as a "drop" by gangsters, but it features one of the most adorable onscreen couples this year.

    No, not James Gandolfini and a meatball sub... Talking about Tom Hardy and the baby pit bull Rocco!

    Tom Hardy's quiet and soft spoken barman Bob Saginowski might be the one who finds the puppy beaten and abandoned in Noomi Rapace's trash can but he might be the animal who needs saving in this story adapted and expanded from a short story from Dennis Lehane.

    Bob works for his Cousin Marv in his bar, which is now owned by Chechen gangsters, which is the target for a robbery which brings them unwanted attention from the owners and the police. He also catches the eye of unhinged local criminal Eric Deeds (Matthieu Schoenaerts) who claims to be Rapace's ex-boyfriend and the owner of the dog.

    This unwanted scrutiny threatens to provide the spark to a powder keg situation and unlock secrets that everyone is keeping close to their chests.

    The tension is slowly ratcheted up to a climax that will change the fates of all involved.

    This was Gandolfini's final screen role and showcases him at his Sopranos-best but this is Hardy's film. His performance is fantastic, although quiet and brooding, there is always the idea that his bite might be worse than his bite and he has nice chemistry with Gandolfini, Rapace and, of course, Rocco.

    In terms of story and performances, The Drop is the dog's bollocks.

    4 stars

    Monday, 10 November 2014

    The Skeleton Twins - review

    The Skeleton Twins Milo is very much Bill Hader's Little Miss Sunshine role, similar to Steve Carell (at that point best known for his comedic roles) playing against type as a gay man attempting suicide following a break up who reconnects with his family, in this case his sister Maggie (Kristen Wiig) after being apart for ten years. Proving blood is indeed thicker than water, particularly when it is spilt.

    As the two siblings reconnect, it is clear that it isn't just Milo who has problems, as Maggie inwardly struggles with her marriage to Luke Wilson (who is played as a sweet, lovable doofus but completely committed to her).

    The reason behind the distance between them is never really discussed and while both of them have their own secrets, the script does a fine job of building the characters with just a look or line of dialogue without the over reliance of expository dumping.

    Thanks to working together for years on Saturday Night Live, Hader and Wiig have terrific chemistry and really give the impression that their twins and have that real connection, demonstrated perfectly in the fantastic scene where Milo tries to cheer up Maggie by lipsyncing to Starship's Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now, a moment that could have been incredibly cheesy but manages to come across as heartfelt and uplifting.

    Despite having two strong comedic performers, this is not the laugh-out-loud comedy many might expect and instead is a dark family drama with bittersweet comedic moments to cut through the pain. Comedy and tragedy working seamlessly together. Like Joss Whedon said "I like to hire comedic actors for dramatic parts because comedy is the hard one".

    The Skeleton Twins succeeds thanks to two strong central performances that flesh out these two characters, making them relatable and empathetic.

    3 stars

    Sunday, 9 November 2014

    Say When - review

    Directed by Mumblecore director Lynn Shelton, Say When has desires of achieving a Garden State-esque meditation on the struggles of someone in their mid-twenties finally leaving the past behind and figuring out who they are and what they want out of life.

    In this case, it is Megan (Keira Knightley) who is floating through life without a job or career, still with the same group of friends she has had since high school but feeling like an outsider as she hasn't really grown up. When her high school boyfriend proposes, she freaks out and runs off for a week, pretending to be at a career seminar, but actually hangs out with teenager Annika (Moretz) and bonds with her single dad played by Sam Rockwell.

    Rockwell adds some much needed spark to a tale that kind of shuffles and mopes along like a sulky, lethargic teenager and instead of becoming a thoughtful take on the "quarter-life crisis", it descends into standard rom-com cliches and formulas come the predictable finale.

    2 stars

    Interstellar - review

    With 2010's Inception Christopher Nolan explored the inner mind. With Interstellar, Nolan has decided to "dream a little bigger darling" and has set his sights on outer space to deliver a grand, awe-inspiring, wondrous 2014 A Space Odyssey.

    The McConaissance goes out of this world as Cooper, a former pilot/engineer who now makes his living as a farmer on an Earth that is dying. He is given the chance to lead a mission to search for inhabitable planets beyond our solar system using Interstellar travel.

    This leads to the central crux of Interstellar. Humanity versus the human race.

    Several times Cooper is reminded of the sacrifices he must make to complete the mission:

    "I've got kids, professor.
    Then get out there and save them. We must reach far beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals but as a species."

    "You might have to decide between seeing your children again and the future of the human race."

    On the one hand you have a mission to save the human race, on the other it is boiled down to our humanity and own individual survival instinct and Cooper's will to keep his promise to see his children again.

    The awful truth of what this will take is demonstrated following a message from home after a visit to one of the new planet's surface.

    To go into the plot and science in any more detail would do the movie a disservice and also possibly require a PHD as there is so much more to this film than the trailers have given away.

    This is the type of film where plot and dialogue can take a back seat in the space shuttle as you strap in for the audio visual experience that Nolan, Zimmer and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema have dreamed up (sometimes literally as there are times when Hans Zimmer's booming score overpowers the dialogue).

    It also wears its influences on its sleeves like a host of NASA mission patches, with the biggest patch belonging to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    Not only are there certain themes and plot similarities between them but also the A.I. robot companions resemble the black monoliths plus both films reliance on practical effects in filming that ground them in reality whilst simultaneously taking us to galaxies and universes we could only dream of.

    It is said that Man's reach exceeds his grasp but when that man is Christopher Nolan and he is reaching for the stars, the result is still an extremely powerful, moving, exhilarating cinematic experience.

    4 stars

    Tuesday, 4 November 2014

    The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman - review

    The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman is another in a long line of fantasist stories of "An American Abroad" where, as the femme fatale herself puts it, "you have a fantasy of about helping a woman in a faraway land", as Shia Labeouf (who between this and Fury looks like he hasn't washed in two years) plays a young man visiting Europe and through a chance encounter meets a beautiful girl, gets involved with vicious criminals, partying all night with drugs, drinking, naked women, an Inbetweener and Ron Weasley, cultural stereotypes, yada, yada, yada.

    As an outsider's view of Europe it is perhaps only just more palatable and slightly less painful to watch than Hostel.

    2 stars

    Monday, 3 November 2014

    Ouija - review

    Imagine the disappointment when it turns out that this movie is not about a groups of teenagers who summon an angry, drunken Glaswegian when they play a board game on Halloween.

    Instead Ouija is a bland, tired, generic story about a group of friends who unleash a vengeful spirit in a house with a mysterious background who torments them with loud bursts of music when people and/or things look in mirrors or pop up out of nowhere.

    Ouija is advertised as being "based on the Hasbro board game" but the only word that is relevant out of that sentence is "board" which is what audiences will be by this insipid horror.

    1 star

    Mr. Turner - review

    Going in to Mr. Turner, expectations were high. Everyone was talking about this seeing this "masterpiece".

    Coming out, it felt like I had looked at the Mona Lisa and just seen a painting of a woman with a funny smile.

    Art is subjective and so is the criticism. Where some see amazing works of art, others see splodges of paint.

    Where some see a "masterclass" in Timothy Spall's portrayal of JMW Turner, I see a man lumbering around like Toad Of Toad Hall, issuing more grunts than the US Marine Corps.

    It is undeniable that the film, like Turner's paintings, is beautiful to look at (although perhaps not during the scene where Spall is seen rutting away with his housekeeper up against a bookcase), but may simply be a case that I just don't "get it".

    3 stars