Saturday, 31 January 2015

Movie Review: The Wedding Ringer (2015)

Kevin Hart is one of those comedic actors that I just don’t get the appeal of. He always felt like Chris Tucker: The Next Generation, except at least he was in the outstanding Silver Linings Playbook where he was legitimately funny. Hart, on the other hand? Any time I see him in movies, like in Scary Movie 3 and 4 as well as last year’s abysmal Ride Along, he comes across as either annoying without being funny or just being there without standing out; he hasn’t had his Silver Linings role yet. I put off seeing this film last week when it first came out and that was purely because Kevin Hart was in it. But, I have softened a bit concerning other comedic actors like Melissa McCarthy after seeing more of their work, and hell One Direction seem to get more likable the more films I see them in. Let’s see if the same happens here. This is The Wedding Ringer.

The plot: Doug Harris (Josh Gad) is about to married to his fiancée Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) but he doesn’t any friends to serve as his best man or as any of the other groomsmen for that matter. He gets in contact with Jimmy (Kevin Hart), who offers his services as a best man for hire. He gathers a group of ringers to serve as the other groomsmen for the wedding, attempting to pull off a job that Jimmy had only joked about prior to this, and he and Doug start to bond through the process.

In my rationale for why Divergent is the worst movie of 2014, I made mention that it failed from the concept downwards. This is another film like that but not quite to the same extent. We thankfully don’t have an entire society built on this idiotic scheme, although that would be the only explanation as to why such an asinine setup like this would get off the ground. My only guess is, on the production side at least, that they came up with the title “The Wedding Ringer” and then created the plot around it, not once putting any actual thought into the hows and whys of the thing. Jimmy has made many similar deals with grooms in the past, and from what we can tell he makes no real attempt to change his appearance at any point. Eventually, you would think that the wrong person at the wrong time would see Jimmy and his entire scheme would fall apart; then again, that’s relying on the fact that this isn’t an idiot plot which is giving this movie too much credit. Maybe if Jimmy gave decent advice then it could work but, when the best conversational advice he gives is to speak gibberish and always compliment women to distract them, that isn't the case either.

Admittedly, this film does its best to have some heart behind it as it tries to make some points about love and solitude. The continuously watchable stretch of the film is between the dancing scene at another person’s wedding and the conversation with Jimmy and his secretary about his work. Not only is this the only time when the film feels like it’s actually having fun, and thus the audience can too, but it’s also when the film gets in its best writing. There are some hitches during this time, like an out-of-place rendition of Teach Me How To Dougie, as well as some rather warped gender perspectives during the latter conversation, but it also brings a rather interesting point about its own premise. It begins to question Doug’s entire reason for calling Jimmy in the first place, since him not having any close friends isn’t a sign that he is a complete loser; it just means that he is a bit of a loner. Maybe it’s my own antisocial tendencies peeking through, or rather my want to avoid associating with douchebags on a regular basis, but that honestly felt like proper effort was made in writing that. Then cut to a few minutes later where you have a dog licking up peanut butter off of Doug (No prizes for guessing where), and the film resumes its standard pace of dull and annoying, with some highly infrequent bits of actual comedy. Actually, on that note, this film’s best joke is one that’s sabotaged by the film itself; it’s a pretty dark joke about how bad the fake groomsmen look and comparing them to the cast of the Goonies if they grew up to become rapists, something that got the biggest laugh out of me the entire movie. Then Jimmy admits that one of them is a rapist and the laughter dies like it got a gangland execution.

While I want to point at Kevin Hart or co-star Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting for being horrible in this because of the writing, they themselves aren’t that bad. True, Hart is kind of annoying in this and Kaley kept giving me flashbacks of her prominent role in Geek Blackface, but they are simply working with really bad material. Josh Gad is a good actor in this and he has some decent chemistry with Hart, but his socially awkward loser role is one I’ve seen played countless times before, primarily by actors like Kevin James and Zach Galifianakis. I will give credit that this film at least gives a nod to the writing trend of having bizarrely mismatched couples, where the schlub gets the supposedly hot girlfriend, but that nod is part of the paper-thin story that does nothing to hide how fake this all is.

That, at its core, is the main problem with this film: Even without bringing the main premise into it, this entire production is a sham. Hart and the other actors playing the ‘groomsmen’ are at their best when they’re playing their roles for the job, pretending to know Doug as a friend and sharing fake memories that they’ve had together. Basically, they are really good at pretending not to be complete pricks, even though they totally are in the film’s reality. That’s all this film is: A veneer of sympathy and thoughtfulness that peels away at the slightest breeze to reveal a vile foundation built from rampant misogyny, homophobia, racism, violence against the elderly, jaywalking and lord knows what else. Add to that a rom-com plot that doesn’t even try to pretend that the couple we’re given will stay together, along with an ending that is pure wish-fulfillment and acts as a big middle finger the film’s plot, the audience and common sense in general, and the result is something outright toxic.

All in all, this is trash through and through. The writing exists in its own world where logic and consequences are for losers, constantly throwing vile jokes at the audience in the hope that it can Stockholm laughter out of them. I still give this film some props for avoiding the dreaded third-act breakup entirely, and admittedly Josh Gad does have his moments, but ultimately this had me angry as I left the cinema. This is like that guy who plays music at parties just so he can get laid, since this film also wants to be seen as caring when in reality it’s only after its own satisfaction; it’s the White Guy With Acoustic Guitar of cinema. This is undoubtedly worse than The Quarantine Hauntings, as that movie at least gave me some laughs out of its bad production; that makes this the new bottom of the list and I would be very surprised if this didn’t end up on my Worst Of list at the end of the year. Yeah, it’s only the end of January and I’m saying that; that’s how bad this is. As for my original question about Kevin Hart and whether this film would make me like him any more than I do, I’ll put it like this: Walking in, I wanted Kevin Hart to be drawn and quartered so I wouldn’t have to deal with him again; walking out, I now want director/co-writer Jeremy Garelick to join him when it happens.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Movie Review: The Quarantine Hauntings (2015)

Even with a couple of interactive movie screenings under my belt, this ranks up there as one of the most surreal cinema experiences I’ve had yet even if it wasn’t intentional. Given how this is a film based around a local legend, centered on one of the more popular haunted locations in Australia, I knew that this was going to be a true-blue local production. What I didn’t know was that some of the actors, as well as both of the film’s directors, would be in the audience for the screening. Watching the film with my never-resting cynical eye and then shaking the hands of the directors as I leave the cinema made this a weird sit, to say the least. But was it a good sit? This is The Quarantine Hauntings.

The plot: Jasmine (Lauren Clark) is trying to cope with her father’s recent death and is having nightmares. She, her best friend Skye (Elizabeth Wiltshire), her brother Zac (Jack Marshall) and his best mate Blake (Bailey Skelton) go to the purportedly haunted North Head Quarantine Station to work on a school assessment and pretend to evoke the spirit of The Girl In The Pink Dress (Dalisha Cristina). However, as Jasmine begins to act strangely and the others see the spirit around them, they realize that maybe the legend is realer than they thought.

This is a film with a micro-budget of roughly $50,000 and I have to give this film credit that it looks decent considering that. The main camera quality is good, the effects are a bit wonky but still passable and while the filmmakers may only have access to two different sets, that being Jasmine’s house and the Quarantine Station itself, it at least made good use of the little that they had. As someone who went on a few tours of the Quarantine Station some years back, I also give major props for the concept behind this film as well as that station is all kinds of creepy and works well as a backdrop for a horror film. It may not be the best looking film but there are quite a few things that I can forgive this movie for given the relatively tiny budget.

However, there are some things that lack of money doesn’t make up for, namely ability; like the ability to act convincingly, the ability to use a camera or the ability to write a coherent script. On the first point, the acting here is pretty woeful with a lot of wooden and awkward performances that vary between passable and outright laughable. Easily the biggest offender amongst the cast list is Jack Marshall as Zac, whom must have taken his role as the comic relief a little too seriously as his amazingly awkward performance was making the audience laugh even when it wasn’t intentional. There are a couple of decent spots in the cast, namely Dalisha Cristina as the Girl and Darren Moss as Jasmine’s boyfriend Cameron. Darren is one of the few actors here who has a previous acting credit to his name and it shows as he at least seems to be on a surname basis with Drama. He plays the role fairly aloof with a bit of douchebag charm and he pulls it off. Dalisha as the main paranormal disturbance in the film is genuinely creepy, even without having that much dialogue to speak; props to her for managing it, as far too many times recently have I seen child actors in big-budget horror fare who are supposed to be menacing but just come across as annoying.

Upon seeing this film's trailer for the first time, I immediately thought two things: First, I was wondering what took filmmakers so long to make a horror film set in one of the creepiest locales in the country; and secondly, I was hoping and praying that this wouldn’t be a found footage movie. Well, it is and it isn’t at the same time. There is a traditional movie camera at work here, but there are also a lot of shots taken from surveillance cameras at Jasmine’s house as well as from some camcorders that the characters are holding, as if the filmmakers couldn’t make their minds up on which one they wanted to do. While the normal camera work is decent, the found footage is absolutely awful. The surveillance cameras serve no purpose whatsoever, either narratively or thematically, as they mostly don’t show anything aside from maybe one or two shots of the Girl. The camcorder footage is easily the most bizarre I’ve seen in any movie, theatrical or otherwise. When it isn’t shaking so bad that you can barely make out what’s happening on screen, it’s just a black screen where we literally can’t make out anything. The main points when we are able to make out what the camera is filming is either when it‘s just pointed at the ground as the characters are running, or when it’s pointing at one of the signs at the Quarantine Station like this is some covert promotional video for the place. The fact that the lighting in this film is mostly dim and the editing is extremely choppy make this look even worse.

Despite the great choice for the setting, this plays out like so many other horror films of the last decade or so. The characters are extremely stock and seem to be characterized in the new traditional style of making our cast that unlikable that we don’t feel bad if they die, a style of writing that no-one will mourn the death of; admittedly, they aren't as unlikable as a lot of others out there, but there's no denying that they're made from a similar mold. They're pretty inconsistent even within that basic framework, with character decisions that seem at odds with their previous choices. Jasmine is pretty bland as our lead, Skye is the obnoxious best friend and Zac and Blake serve as our comic relief and very annoying comic relief at that. Oddly enough, the only character that I found myself caring about at all in this film was Cameron, the character that is constantly being given the third degree by Skye throughout the film’s running time. He may be jokey a lot of the time but he feels like the only character who has a decent head on their shoulders, not to mention being the only one who actually seems sympathetic to Jasmine as she becomes possessed by the Girl. Yeah, this is a spirit/demon possession story and a pretty basic one too that doesn’t do much to make itself stand out from the myriad of others out there. Its string of failures to create atmosphere, lack of clarification on what exactly the Girl is doing or is capable of and weak jump scares throughout all culminate in, without a doubt, the weakest and most tacked-on exorcism scene I’ve ever seen. Not that a good exorcism could have saved this film’s final reel, as the writing becomes that incomprehensible that I seriously couldn’t make out what the hell was going on, not helped by the already-haphazard production values.

All in all, I was really looking forward to this one based on the locale alone but this is a pretty bad sit. While the small budget can excuse some of the production problems and there were some genuine scares here and there, the writing, acting and overall composition are kind of painful to witness. This is Z-grade horror schlock that can only really be enjoyed with one’s tongue firmly pressed against their cheek. At least Dumb & Dumber To had some legitimate, if sporadic, moments of genius. This may be the new bottom of the year’s list but I still advise checking this film out; partly to help support a local production, and partly to see some good unintentional comedy. I give the director Bianca Biasi all the best, and I’ll no doubt be returning to her soon enough considering she has three other films in the works for this year, but I just tell it how I see it. No-one's perfect, especially for their first time in the director's seat.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Movie Review: Paper Planes (2015)

While the rest of Australia was busy celebrating how much this great country has developed from being “just bush” (Dammit, Abbott!), I was doing what I find myself on pretty much every major holiday: Watching a movie at my local cinema. However, it seems that my half-baked attempt at scheduling my movies for the week has given birth to a rather convenient coincidence. I originally planned on going out to see a Naruto film at the cinemas, but then I realized that I knew even less about Naruto than I did about DBZ when I reviewed that movie and since it was called “The Last”, chances are I would be more than a bit lost. As such, I ditched seeing it for now (Chances are I’ll end up returning to it at some point in the future) and instead went with today’s film which is an Australian production. This will probably be the only occasion where one of my reviews will be anywhere near the neighbourhood of timely, so let’s make the most of it: This is Paper Planes.

The plot: Dylan (Ed Oxenbould) is an outback kid with an affinity for paper planes, so much so that he gets a chance to compete in the World Paper Plane Championships in Japan. With the support of his father Jack (Sam Worthington), Grandpa (Terry Norris) and fellow competitor Kimi (Ena Imai), he makes his way through the competition all the while facing against his rival Jason (Nicholas Bakopoulos-Cooke).

Even for those not familiar with Australian actors, this is a decent cast list. Ed Oxenbould, fresh off the rather disappointing but ultimate harmless Alexander And The Freak From Suckweasel Mountain, does another good job here as our lead and actually managing to be one of the few child actors in recent memory who doesn’t suck on toast. Sam Worthington gives the same performance he did in Avatar, unfortunately, Terry Norris is charming and mischievous as Grandpa (Yeah, no actual name, he’s just credited as Grandpa), Nicholas Bakopoulos-Cooke does a good job as the stock sporting rival archetype and David Wenham is alright as his father. However, the best actor in this film hands down is Peter Rowsthorn as Dylan’s teacher Mr Hickenlooper. Not only is he given the best lines, most of which seem to written just to make fun of the film itself, he also gives a great comedic performance and delivers them with the timing expected from a man who’s been in the business as long as he has. As someone who grew up on shows like Kath & Kim and The Comedy Company, it was very nice seeing Rowsthorn on the big screen. The only real down point in terms of the acting is Ena Imai. Part of me wants to leave her alone, given how this is her film debut but, if films like Hugo and Kick-Ass have proven anything, it’s that younger actors can be held to the same standard as adults. Ena, to put it simply, sounds like she was never actually shown the script and learnt it all phonetically; it’s really awkward, especially with how she has a lot of scenes with the more than competent Ed Oxenbould.

If you have ever watched a film that involves a child in some form of competition, be it sporting or otherwise, then you could probably have filled the above plot summary yourself without having seen it. This film is filled with so many clichés borrowed from 80’s and 90’s kid’s films that, once this comes out on DVD, it could come packaged with bingo cards. From the eccentric grandparent to the now-hideously overplayed message about how winning isn’t everything, there’s a lot of derivation going on here all leading to one of the cheesiest endings in existence that I could not watch with any semblance of a straight face. This film plays its more ridiculous moments so straight, like in one of the earlier scenes when Dylan is first shown throwing a paper plane, that I honestly can’t tell if the film is aware of how silly it’s being. There is a possibility of that, given some of the jokes and the fact that this is a film centered around paper planes; it’s going to be bizarre regardless. It is with this in mind that it was actually a pretty good move going with Japan as the setting for the World Championship, even if it enters some Ugly Australian territory when the film starts talking about paper production (I really hope this film doesn’t think that Japan is where paper was invented). Why? Because Japan is a country with that little a filter in its entertainment that only they could make this hobby epic enough to warrant being the subject of a film. Shonen anime and manga seems to run purely on rule of cool anyway, so it makes perfect sense that it would set there.

Going beyond the settings of the story, and since this has a pretty standard sports movie framework, we still have to deal with some of the more annoying aspects of the genre’s main premise. The most annoying part of it would have to be the subplot involving Jack. Said subplot largely fails to connect not so much because Sam Worthington is a bit of a weak actor (Although, that doesn’t help) but rather because he is written as that much of a deadbeat that I’m not even sure the writer knew why we should care about him. It has the usual Disney family situation with a dead parent and Jack and Dylan are only just starting to get over the death, and Jack is shown as ignoring Dylan during the majority of the championship, save for a tacked-on resolution during the cheese-tastic ending. It feels like a lot of elements that were meant to build on this relationship, along with a surprising amount of other relatively minor plot aspects, as if large chunks of the script were edited out to scale down the running time. Which is a shame, because I honestly would have liked more of this. Yeah, as much as I am bitching about how clichéd this film is, it has a similar appeal to those old-school sporting movies in that the cheese is what makes it fun. It has a certain charm to it, along with its genuine sense of humour, that make it enjoyable; hell, as I type this up, I’m still giggling to myself over how over-the-top the ending was.

All in all, this is cinematic comfort food; nothing too substantial but filling enough for its purpose. With a decent cast and charming dialogue, it ploughs through its rather goofy premise with complete seriousness despite how bizarre it gets. It’s quite overblown and some of the plot moments feel half-baked, but over the course of the film’s duration it won me over and got me singing along to its operatic vocals; it’s on the more honest side of guilty pleasures. It’s better than Unbroken, solely as a means of entertainment as this film isn’t the best put together in the world, but it’s not as good as American Sniper, as the reasons behind why I like that film are more genuine. If you want a film you can pop in at any time and just let go for 90 minutes without thinking too much about it, this is one to check out.

Oh, and by the way *TRIGGER WARNING*: Contains Kelis' Milkshake for absolutely no reason. Even for a song that has no real use, its placement here is pointless.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Movie Review: American Sniper (2015)

I always feel good when I end up reviewing a film that involves a certain degree of controversy; it almost guarantees that I’ll piss someone off. Okay, that might be a little too cynical (even for me) but weighing in on films like this is still interesting in seeing how people will end up reacting. However, this is different to when I went after God’s Not Dead and for a couple of reasons. For one, I don’t have as strong a stance on the subject matter in question so I am far less likely to get as heated when talking about it, so hopefully I won’t be going on any massive rants here like I did in that review. That might end up making this less entertaining to read, but it’s not like that’s stopped me any other time I’ve written something on here: This is American Sniper.

The plot: Out of a need to protect his country and his fellow man, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) enlists in the Navy SEALS as a sniper. Over four tours of military service, Chris creates a name for himself as a lethal sharpshooter and gains the respect of his fellow soldiers. However, the things he must do in service to the country that he holds dear begin to take their toll as memories of the lives that were lost in war haunt him.

Patriotism is a bit of an ugly word and it goes full-on Dorian Gray’s portrait when you add war into the mix. With the amount of controversy surrounding this film and its purported glorification of war and furthering of the American jingoist mindset, this could easily turn out to be a tribute to the American military drowned out by louds chants of “ooh-rah!” echoing through the audience’s ears. However, there’s something different going on with the writing on this one. Jason Hall may have flopped in 2013 with Paranoia, but here he shows a more deft hand when it comes to the characterization of Chris Kyle. Don’t get me wrong, seeing bloody child death more than once in a film puts my stomach on the spin cycle but there is also the aim to show Chris as humanely as possible here to deal with. Throughout the film, Chris’ actions aren’t shown in an overtly positive way. Sure, his actions are commended by his fellow officers, but said officers are also shown with the kind of desensitization that is typical of most portrayals of the modern military. Even when he is being congratulated for his kills, Bradley Cooper looks visibly uncomfortable receiving praise for his actions. Hell, the climax of the film centers around Chris’ want for revenge against the sniper that has been killing his fellow men against his commander’s orders. The potshots some commentators have made at this movie would be taken more seriously by me if Chris was made into a martyr for his actions, but… he really isn’t. He’s shown here as someone who wants to serve his country and protect people, with his actions taking a considerable toll on himself; he is a patriot and how that in it of itself is interpreted will differ depending one’s political stances. Well, as someone who takes the stance of “just make fun of whoever is in charge because we’re screwed no matter who gets the votes”, this is a more humane look at patriotism than I have seen in recent years; quite an accomplishment from the writer of a thriller about mobile phone companies.

Clint Eastwood is a director with a lot of respect in the industry, and one look at any given frame in this film will give a good reason as to why that is. The man gives the same expert direction that is expected of him at this stage of his career, and what is definitely expected of him by myself after last year’s fantastic effort Jersey Boys, and the film looks great because of it. The entire sandstorm scene is very well executed, ending on a shot that makes for one of the most dramatically resonant moments of the film. That is by no means a slight on the actors here, as Bradley Cooper does a superb job as Chris Kyle. I was initially skeptical about his performance after hearing his Southern accent, but that quickly became a non-issue considering how well he pulls off the more traumatic character moments in this film. The scene with him and a kid with a rocket launcher is a great bit of tension anchored primarily through Cooper’s performance. The rest of the cast, though, aren’t quite up to the same standard; again, not that they’re bad but rather they’re not as good as Cooper. Sienna Miller as Chris’ wife is good but I get the feeling that the lack of scenes with her and Cooper together in this film hurt the on-screen chemistry a bit. Actually, come to think of it, Sienna Miller is really the only other actor that stands out here; the rest of the supporting cast do an admittedly decent job but none of them make that big an impression upon leaving the film.

There were some other points that felt off as well. While Chris’ characterization is good and his PTSD is handled okay, I reckon that it could have been handled better. A good example of this is when he is in an auto-shop back home and starts to trigger when he hears a drill in the background (Why this triggers him is one of the film’s more gruesome moments). The direction and acting both do a good job at showing that the sound is definitely affecting him, but it feels a bit too subdued considering the memory in question. I think I was reacting more to the drill sound than he was as I was squirming a bit thinking back on the scene. However, the biggest problem I had with the film would have to be the epilogue. The use of slideshows featuring real-life pictures of the film’s characters is honestly becoming overused lately but that isn’t the problem I take with this. No, rather it’s the fact that this epilogue kind of justifies all of the glorification talk as this takes a very hard turn into martyrdom that the rest of the film largely avoided. I’m not necessarily talking about what happens but rather its tone doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film. Chris Kyle died during the early days of the film’s development and the ending here feels like a rather tacked-on resolution in response to that.

All in all, while it may not do all that much different in the way of portraying war on film, this is still a really good look into American patriotism and the effects of war, even if it occasionally manages to outdo Fury with its graphic imagery. Clint Eastwood’s masterful direction, Bradley Cooper’s excellent performance and Jason Hall’s layered, if flawed, script, all meld together into a cohesive and quite entertaining whole. It’s better than Unbroken, as I felt more of a connection with the soldier in question this time, but it falls short of Still Alice, which is undoubtedly more emotionally intense.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Movie Review: Still Alice (2015)

In the world of cinema, there are a number of things that have become acceptable targets for ridicule by pretty much everyone: Battlefield Earth, Plan 9 From Outer Space and The Room are all great examples of this. One such thing that has its hunting season sign up all year round is anything connected with the now-dying phenomenon of Twilight, whether it’s the films themselves, the actors who starred in them or the people who are responsible for them. It may have grown tired, given how readily the world rightfully rained down on the series for years on end, but the after-effects still linger to this day. With the female lead from Twilight, Kristen Stewart, in today’s film, I find it hard to avoid talking about the connection, especially when it feels like the film itself is daring me to do so. After the jump, I’ll explain why: This is Still Alice.

The plot: Alice (Julianne Moore), a linguistics professor, is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. As her mental state begins to collapse and her husband (Alec Baldwin) and children (Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parish and Kristen Stewart) do their best to help her, she tries to carry on with her life as best she can despite the disease.

As much as I would rather not go for the easy joke this time around and just focus on the film itself, Kristen’s role and how it is written essentially means I have to at least address it. Kristen Stewart plays Lydia, one of Alice’s daughters, who is trying to make it as a theatre actor and is shown performing in a rendition of Tony Kushner’s Angels In America. In the majority of Alice and Lydia’s conversations on screen, Alice keeps trying to convince Lydia to take up another career path or at least have a backup plan in case her acting gig doesn’t work out. This might be one of the most cynically-charged casting decisions I’ve seen; seriously, “jokes writing themselves” has never had more meaning than in this context. Now, even with my rather guilty enjoyment of the Twilight Saga, the only time I’ve seen Kristen Stewart try to convey any kind of emotion on screen was in Breaking Dawn Part 2. That movie, subsequently, featured Kristen’s worst acting in the entire series. However, believe it or not, Kristen Stewart really isn’t all that bad in this movie. Possibly out of having a better cast to interact with this time around, or maybe it’s because she’s only a supporting character, but nevertheless she doesn’t drag this movie down in any way. Not saying that her performance is all that stellar, but she’s at least able to act convincingly alongside Baldwin and Moore without looking completely out of her element.

Now to discuss the much-lauded highlight of the film, Julianne Moore in the title role, and it is here that I show my hand. The main reason I started out this review talking about Twilight of all things was to get rid of the easy joke early, but another reason for it was that this review needed some levity before getting into this. Simply put, Julianne Moore is positively heart-breaking in this film. Actually, that might not be strong enough wording; it’s more soul-crushing how tragic her character is and how fantastically she plays it. Moore is able to portray every stage of Alice’s steady decline in mental clarity without missing a single beat, delivering every stirring moment like this is the last film she’ll ever be in and she wants to leave on the best note of her career. Stone statues would be crying if they were in the cinema audience, which means that we have very little chance of leaving with any dry eyes. The film itself feels like Nightcrawler at times in how much of the film’s enjoyment is derived from the main character’s performance. Not to say that this is hilarious or creepy at any point like Gyllenhaal was in Nightcrawler, as Moore sells the tragedy that well at times that it gets genuinely uneasy to watch for all the right reasons.

However, there are unfortunately a few aspects of this film that make this uneasy to watch for all the wrong reasons. To start with our most literal example, the cinematography is rather questionable in this movie. A lot of the camera work in this film puts focus on Alice while blurring everything else. Now, admittedly, this does make thematic sense and is a good idea in theory, but consider that there are several shots in this film where the majority of the frame is the background with Alice only taking up some of it, meaning that most of the shot is heavily out of focus. In record time, this becomes rather painful to look at so thankfully it happens infrequently enough for the film to still be watchable. There’s also a few plot points that are never followed up on, the glaring of which being the nature of Alice’s Alzheimer’s. *SPOILERS* Since it’s genetic, her children get tested for it… but the results of said testing never factor back into the plot; one of them came out positive, but it is never mentioned again past that scene. They don’t explore the repercussions of this news or even use it as a way to bring characters together through that connection, instead just letting it drop off of the face of the film. The ending is also a non-event; it doesn’t wrap up anything or even leave us on that emotional a note. It just stops dead.

All in all, even with the technical and narrative hang-ups I have with this film, Julianne Moore in the lead role is just that good that it forgives all sins. If you want a film that can let out some cathartic waterworks, this is a sure-fire winner. It just falls short of Wild, which is better from a technical standpoint, but it definitely ranks higher than Unbroken, since this film got me to empathize with the character’s plight far better. Nevertheless, while I may give a higher recommendation to Wild overall, in terms of acting there’s no question: This meets all of the critical hype surrounding it in that regard and must be seen.

Movie Review: Wild (2015)

Alexander And The Horribly Long Title may have shown a weak justification for why I wanted to see a movie, but I think this makes a new bar to reach. I thought that, after I started taking real notice of the people behind films, this kind of thing would be behind me but apparently not. I wasn’t anxious to see this because of director Jean-Marc Vallée, who directed last year’s excellent Dallas Buyers Club. Nor was I excited about this because of writer Nick Hornby, who is the lyricist on Ben Folds’ Lonely Avenue, one of my favourite albums. Instead, it was because the Beck song featured in the film’s trailer was stuck in my head for several days prior to eventually seeing the film. So, with Turn Away still blaring inside my head, time to dig into today's film in my usual scatterbrained fashion: This is Wild.

The plot: Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), in the hopes of mending herself after several years of different varieties of hell, decides to take a thousand mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. As she encounters other travelers along the way and reminisces about her past, Cheryl begins to forge her way ahead, both on the hike and on her own path.

This is a Nick Hornby script which can only mean one thing: Music! Yeah, this film has a lot of moments that put emphasis on music, whether in the soundtrack or otherwise. Whether it’s a car full of Stevie Ray Vaughn fans that pick up Cheryl hitchhiking, the only time I’ve heard Portishead’s Glory Box outside of my mother’s stereo or the second best use ever of a 4 Non Blondes song, this film wears songs on its sleeves and they often make for very emotional gripping scenes. There’s a scene where a boy sings Red River Valley to Cheryl which is… not gonna lie, kind of painful to listen to as a song. However, the film manages to warp it into something truly powerful when assisted by Witherspoon’s performance and some very nimble editing. The writing also features a lot of dry humour weaved in throughout, often at the expense of Cheryl and her inexperience with hiking. It’s rare that a book burning joke can make me laugh as much as the one in this film did. It’s easily some of the most naturally funny dialogue (or monologue in a lot of cases) I’ve heard in a while, showing that Hornby’s sense of genuine human action and reaction hasn’t dulled in the slightest.

However, that’s not to say that the writing is perfect as there are some definite sticking points in this otherwise sharp script. For one, there’s an odd motif of a fox that crops up from time to time during the hike which gave a heavy vibe of ‘spirit animal’, which in turn gave a vibe of ‘is this still a thing?’ and ‘why oh why am I seeing this?’ due to how hokey the idea has always been and still is. There’s also the matter of the writer for the Hobo Times that appears roughly a third of the way into the movie. Now, given how this is something that actually happened during Cheryl’s hike, I can’t put too much blame on Nick for this one and the scene itself is admittedly pretty funny. However, because of how disjointed it feels against the rest of the film, I still feel the need to question its place in this film; it’s a matter of importance of theme weighed against importance of entertainment, which essentially makes it a non-issue, but all the same it felt out of place. Not quite as out of place as Kabuki Cinderella, but it was damn close. The writing overall, while thematically centered on human discovery and discovery of self, doesn’t contain anything all that new in terms of message. It serves more as a reminder than a revelation but, to be fair, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing; sometimes, we do need to be reminded by an outside source of what’s right in front of us already. The ending is also kind of lackluster, especially considering how emotionally resonant the bulk of the film is, but in a statement that makes me want to cave in my own head with a deodorant can, it makes sense considering the film is all about the journey rather than the destination. I should be arrested for crimes against the written word for being that trite, but it’s true.

I may be defending quite a few of the script’s shortcomings, but in reality these are mostly nitpicks and don’t detract from the film in any major way… especially when in comparison to a certain incident that occurs that pulled me right out of the film for a time. It involves Cheryl, a hunter she encounters on the trail and some extremely uncomfortable and vile implications. While the film made light of the kind of paranoia that would make a hitchhiker worried about such things happening, even resulting in a pretty funny exchange earlier in the film, this scene opened the possibility of such an event actually happening in-story and retroactively made those more jocular scenes very unnerving to recall. It isn’t until a while later, when Cheryl encounters three fellow hikers at a post office, that the paranoia of such a scene occurring again is assuaged. Then again, given Cheryl’s own paranoia during that time, I’m still not sure if this is a bug or a feature. Nonetheless, it’s a rough patch to say the least.

The term ‘head trip’ is commonly used to describe experiences that take someone out of their own headspace, usually through psychedelic or abstract means. This film’s production and writing style gives that term a whole new meaning. The story of the hike itself is told in a linear fashion, save for the opening hook, with flashbacks peppered throughout. The way the flashbacks are set up, portrayed and edited, combined with how Cheryl’s monologue is written in response to them, gives a feel that what we are seeing on screen is what is playing in her head. Her inner monologue will occasionally spill into outer monologue and thoughts and comments connected to her memories will also be said out loud to no one in particular. As much as I would like to joke that a 1000 mile hike sounds more like a horror film to my ears than a straight drama, walking for that long mostly on your own would undoubtedly lead to a need for someone to talk to, even if no one is actually there. This is the only time I can remember seeing literal thinking out loud portrayed on film, and what’s more it’s actually done with a lot of finesse. The fact that Cheryl Strayed was very involved with the production of the film, and the obligatory end credits slideshow shows just how much attention to detail was put into this, adds further weight to this kind of in-depth character writing.

I feel a little odd having talked at this length about the film and not having yet gotten to Reese Witherspoon’s performance. Well, in the time-old tradition of saving the best for last, Reese is astounding in this film. You can see the genuine tiring feeling Cheryl would have experienced because Reese looks every bit of it, through all the sweat and squinting from the sun. Her annoyed comments at her situation, as well as the occasional giggles at her own expense, are delivered just right so that Hornby’s sense of humour in no way feels wasted. However, what shocked me most about her performance is how she was able to sell herself as a teenager, intercut with herself in the film’s present, and it not looking like Dawson casting gone wrong. While the make-up artists at work deserve definite props for being able to pull that off, as well as for the very visceral injuries Cheryl suffers during the hike, Reese does extraordinarily well at convincing the audience that she is indeed a teenager during those flashback scenes. As little importance as I place on the Oscars, Witherspoon is a strong contender for Best Actress.

All in all, this is a film that gives a very definite feeling that you are getting into the main character’s head with expert direction and great editing. Add to that Reese Witherspoon’s amazing performance as the lead and Nick Hornby’s organic dialogue and you have an oddly cerebral experience that never feels like it’s reaching beyond its grasp for emotional resonance. Then again, that might be because this film's grasp is far reaching as is. It’s better than Unbroken, as whatever issues I have with the writing here detract far less from the production as a whole as in that film. However, it doesn’t rank as high as Birdman, purely on the basis that that film tapped into something that felt more personal to me. This gets a big seal of approval from me, but then what do I know? “Some guy on the net thinks I don’t suck, and he should know; he’s got his own blog” isn’t exactly the most valid endorsement, but I’ll give it anyway.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Movie Review: Unbroken (2015)

As Oscar season comes along in Australia, we of course have a period drama set in World War II. That's not to say that that automatically means it'll be bad; just that I have grown savvy enough in my short foray into film criticism to know that war stories make for great Oscar bait. With Angelina Jolie at the helm as director, a fact that blindsided me so much that I didn't even find out until recently that this isn't her directorial debut, and the Coens as co-writers on the script, this film at least has some talent at its core. But how does it fare against its usually lofty competition? Let's dive right in: This is Unbroken.

The plot: Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), an Olympic athlete and a soldier in World War II, has his plane crash over the ocean and spends several weeks on a raft with two other survivors. After their raft is found by enemy soldiers, Louis then spends the proceeding years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp under the watchful eye of Corporal Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe (Miyavi). As he suffers at the hands of his captors and his will is tested, Louis is determined to see this war to the end.
While not having the most recognizable names in the world, the main actors here do very well. Jack O’Connell may have made me question his casting initially, given the strangely glamour shot driven casting decisions at times, but he sells it as the lead character. Louis gets put through hell in this movie and Jack is able to portray all of that hardship, all of that suffering without losing his footing. Miyavi is a little too good as the outright slimy Watanabe, being able to send shivers down the spine whenever he’s on screen by his presence alone. I say ‘too good’ because in one of the many, many scenes where Watanabe beats Louis (it's from the scene in the trailers where Louis is holding up a large plank of wood), it seriously looks and sounds like he is moments away from orgasm. It’s bizarre as hell, but I have to admit that it fits with how his character is played like someone that escaped an 80’s B-movie. In the minor cast, we do have at least one recognizable name: Jai Courtney… and it is here that the air raid sirens go off and audiences run for cover. I really hate picking on Courtney, as the guy is by no means a bad actor and I honestly want to support a Sydney-born actor, but the guy is terrible at picking screenplays if the previously reviewed I, Frankenstein and The Water Diviner are anything to go by, not to mention being in Divergent, my worst film of 2014. Now, in all fairness, this film is nowhere near as bad as those films. However, we still have quite a few problems to deal with here.

First and foremost, the script; the credits list the Coen brothers, legendary filmmakers in their own right with classics like Fargo and The Big Lebowski under their belts, as co-writers on the film which is the main thing that initially got me excited to check it out. It soon became apparent, even before I found out that they were re-writers on the movie, that this is a very muddled script even with that in mind. It constantly feels like bits of character development and plot details are left out (and in some cases flat-out retroactively ignored), leading to some rather flat notes at times. I mentioned before that Miyavi does a good job at playing the very slimy Watanabe; well, it seems that the character wasn’t entirely meant to come across this way. During the aforementioned ‘orgasm’ scene, the dialogue is written in such a way that comes across like we’re supposed to sympathize with him as he realizes what a monster he’s been to Louis, which is reinforced by his being mentioned in the “Now Where They At?!” end credit slideshow. The character is that one-note that any form of character progression is completely invisible, and that’s going by best case scenario in that I’m assuming that we were supposed to see guilt in his character. Maybe Miyavi just had a Roots moment and thought he was being too cruel to O’Connell but the filmmakers left it in anyway, I don’t know. All I know is that his character feels mishandled, despite how Miyavi makes the character at least entertaining to watch.

There is also a matter of the weird detours the movie will make for seemingly no reason. The best example of this happens about halfway through the film when Watanabe tells Louis that he has been promoted and has been stationed at another camp. Now, thematically, this exchange is supposed to show how Watanabe has formed a sort of uneasy respect for Louis, hence why he would bother to tell him at all. Where they decide to stage this scene, on the other hand, is during a Kabuki rendition of Cinderella with some of the other prisoners as the actors. This seriously feels like a scene I would make up in a frenzied fever dream because the film was so dull at times, but this is an actual thing that happens in this WWII drama. When I said that 12 Years A Slave was too bleak and needed something to lighten up the tone at least a little, I didn’t think a film would come along and make me take that back out of fear of what else may crop up. What makes this even worse is that, while this may be the most extreme example in the film, it isn’t the only example either. Of course, there’s also the matter that these weird moments are only mild diversions to distract from the fact that this is a very paint-by-numbers story as the script tells it. When it isn’t taking cues from several prisoner of war films, it’s taking cues from several underdog sports stories. This film’s plot, in how it tries to meld both parts of the real Louis Zamperini’s life as an Olympian and as a soldier, doesn’t juggle both sides that well and honestly comes across like the director should have done a Kill Bill and split it into two tonally different films.

Now, with all that said and done, this film still has some good points to it. The scenes with Louis and the two other survivors in the raft are very well done, as the acting enhanced by the superb makeup job really get across the experience rather effectively. Watching these scenes, which despite what the trailer may have you think takes up a decent portion of the film’s running time, will undoubtedly have audiences reaching for their drinks to fight the dehydration. Actually, speaking of what the trailer shows us, the scene where Louis is punched by the other prisoners is genuinely uncomfortable to watch, and I mean that as a compliment. As punishment for Louis’ insubordination and refusal to aid the Japanese government with a fake radio broadcast, Watanabe orders every other prisoner in the camp to form a queue and each punch Louis in the face in turn. The scene is harrowing enough on its own, as the sound editing and acting sell each punch as hard as humanly possible, but it hits even harder within the film’s context as we see just how brutal Louis’ conditions are and what is asked of him.

All in all, this may not hold up as Oscar bait but it is still a decent movie. While held back by an underwhelming script, the acting is good, the cinematography is decent and the depictions of the conditions that Louis Zamperini had to experience are shown in rather disturbing detail which adds a lot to the film’s atmosphere and tone. It’s better than Taken 3, as this film at least has more purpose behind its creation, but it’s not as good as Birdman, which showed human struggles in a far more compelling and entertaining manner. It’s worth seeing so long as you aren’t expecting too much from it, despite the Oscar buzz this movie has.

What did you think of the movie? Love it? Hate it? Somewhere-In-Between it? Whatever the case, feel free to leave a comment below with your thought.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Movie Review: Birdman (2015)

We all have moments in our lives when we doubt ourselves. Whether it's out of fear of what may result of our actions or just as a backlash from what others expect from us, no-one can be entirely sure that they are doing the right thing. This way of thinking gets even more muddled when it delves into the creative world, where the entire reason for doing anything is out of a need for an outlet for creativity but still being required to adhere to what the higher-ups ask of you. Today's film tells the story of one man who tries to make something out of his creative endeavors while still fighting with his environment, his peers and himself. This is Birdman.

The plot: Riggan (Michael Keaton) is an actor best known for playing the superhero Birdman in a series of blockbuster superhero movies. He decides that he wants to branch out and become a theatre actor with his own written and directed production of a Raymond Carver short story. As he wrestles with backstage and on-stage drama, he is determined to make something meaningful out of it all as he wrestles with his own self-doubt and slowly becomes crazy as a result.

While it would extremely easy to just denounce Keaton’s casting in the lead role as stunt casting, given Keaton’s own history with superhero roles with Batman, it goes a bit deeper than that. True, his previous role in those movies definitely gives this a certain air of “art imitating life”, but there’s no denying that Keaton is an amazing actor with this film alone being proof positive of that. Keaton has built a great pedigree for more manic roles, as shown with his performances in Beetlejuice, Much Ado About Nothing and even last year’s Need For Speed, and he takes full advantage of that experience here with a performance that should stand the test of time as one of the finest of his entire career. He does an expert job at balancing the desperation to be remembered that fuels Riggan’s character with the controlling id that whispers to him in the form of a mostly disembodied Birdman, where Keaton gets to break out his Batman voice once again as if to answer the prayers of fanboys who have been annoyed by Christian Bale’s smoker’s growl for so long. Riggan’s struggles with his self-doubt, inability to believe in his own power and thirst to make something meaningful despite the obstacles is something so recognizable that audiences will easily be able to connect with him and understand his determination to make his creative endeavor work.

Of course, while Keaton’s performance is just that good that he could have gone full Atlas and carried this film on his back for the entire running time, the rest of the cast all give career highlight-level performances here as well. Emma Stone as Sam, Riggan’s daughter, works great as his counterpoint and being able to talk some blunt sense with him while still showing that she does care about the man, a skill honed from playing Gwen Stacy in the Amazing Spider-Man films. Zach Galifianakis as Riggan’s best friend Jake does a surprising turn here as a reflection and enabler of Riggan’s own ego, surprising in the way that he is mostly known for his rather grating role in the Hangover films. Naomi Watts, finally putting her acting chops to proper use after rather embarrassing turns in films like Diane and Movie 43, is very sweet and endearing as first-time Broadway actress Lesley, easily being able to act off of Edward Norton’s Mike Shiner.

And while we’re on that note, if there is anyone in this film who comes even close to being able to touch Keaton’s outstanding performance, it’s Edward Norton who might be on another planet entirely but is absolutely mesmerizing nonetheless. Mike Shiner is the kind of actor who takes method acting way too far, similar to Elizabeth Hurley in Method, only you could easily believe that he would kill someone on stage if it would lead to his definition of a real performance. His entire impotence story arc, culminating in one of the most bizarre yet hilarious moments of the film, is one of the few times in recent cinematic memory that jokes about erections have actually been funny and not just embarrassing to witness. What makes his performance here even funnier is that this is yet another example of art imitating life as Norton has built an unfortunate reputation for being difficult to work with because of how seriously he takes everything. It takes some real guts to make fun of yourself as rigorously as Norton does here by essentially playing a hyper-realistic version of himself. Watching any scene where Mike and Riggan are having dialogue with each other is like watching the unstoppable force meet the unmovable object and it is all kinds of glorious to witness.

As Riggan’s mind unravels further as the film progresses, his ‘superpowers’ make for some of the funniest moments in an already very darkly funny film. He goes through moments when he imagines that he is in a big budget blockbuster superhero movie, flying through the air with giant robotic birds attacking the city, all while the Birdman voice feeds his ego through voiceover. The over-the-top nature of these scenes is a breath of fresh cheesy air considering the current cinematic takeover by Marvel Studios. Actually, speaking of Marvel Studios, this film takes a couple of sly jabs at said takeover by showing how, because of how many films come out of that studio each year and how far ahead they have mapped everything out, quite a few Hollywood actors are too busy with their projects to be working on anything else. Even without the showbiz commentary, these scenes are still hilarious because of the small comedic stabs revealing what might have actually happened during those scenes, and yet these scenes are played that straight and focused that it could easily be taken in either direction.

There is one scene in particular that left a very heavy impact on me after seeing it, involving Riggan talking with theatre critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan). Put simply, she represents the kind of critical elitism, the way of thinking that treats the form of thinking as an exact science with a very cold, calculated and extremely ‘in-crowd’ approach to their work, that makes me take umbrage with some more professional critics out there and why I have doubts about ever being able to turn this blogging venture of mine into anything financially fulfilling. However, it appears the filmmakers here have an equal problem with critics judging by this scene. Upon hearing Tabitha’s rationale for not liking Riggan’s play, Riggan then proceeds to dress her down in quite amazing fashion and mock her for just slapping labels onto everything as that’s the only way the world makes sense to people like her. Very rarely do I feel that true connection with a film, where it feels like a film is speaking directly to me in the audience as I watch it, but this scene was one of those moments.

As for the magic that we don’t get to see from behind the camera, this is a very impressive looking production. The cinematography and editing have both been done in order to make the film look like one long continuous take, save for a few moments in the beginning and end of the film. While this is admittedly a production gimmick, I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t pay off as it gives the film a very hypnotic feel that draws the audience in for the entire duration. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki has done very fine work for films like Gravity and The Tree Of Life (even if the latter film was a steaming pile save for looking nice) and he brings the same love and attention to this film. Actually, this film’s cinematography feels a lot like that in Gravity with the emphasis on slow pans and zooms in order to set the mood. The gimmick itself may lead some viewers to look out more for the spots when the edits happen but the overall package is just that good to largely distract from that idea. The soundtrack is minimalistic but very effective, making great use of jazz drumming throughout with some occasional uses of orchestral pieces for comedic effect. It’s lively and manic, serving as a perfect companion to the portrayal of Riggan.

All in all, this is a true feat in technicality and creativity for filmmaking. The cast all do wonders in their roles, with Keaton and Norton leading the pack with their equally insane performances, the writing does black comedy right with enough humanity to latch on to even the most cynical of viewers, the production quality is impressive with great camera work and direction overall and the music is great all round. It’s the kind of film to explore the more egotistical sides of the human condition while still having naked people as an Easter egg; it’s weird but there is a definite method to the weird in order to tell its very impressively-written story. Undoubtedly better than Taken 3 on pretty much every level and the new film at the top of the list, only this time it’s difficult seeing anything touching it for a while yet. Definitely one to check out for lovers of more oddball comedies or even for those who have been keeping up with all the superhero fare of late.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Movie Review: Taken 3 (2015)

Even in today’s cinematic day and age, the threequel still presents a challenge both for creators and audiences. In order to keep audiences invested enough to stick it out for a third film based in the same universe, the creators need to create a story that is worthy of being continued for that long for whatever reason. Whether it’s pre-conceived to be a trilogy, like Star Wars or Peter Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations, or it adds on films based on public or studio demand, like The Matrix or Pirates Of The Caribbean, there needs to be that factor that brings people back into theatres. With Taken still well and truly in the current cultural mindset, with it being attached in one way or another to everything Liam Neeson stars in (even prior to Taken retroactively), it does make some sense that this would be chosen for a third installment. Time to see how this supposed final film closes out the series: This is Taken 3.

The plot: Bryan (Liam Neeson) and Lenore (Famke Janssen) are starting to rekindle their relationship, but Lenore is found in Bryan’s apartment dead with Bryan being framed for the murder. With Inspector Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) hot on his trail and Bryan’s daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and Lenore’s husband Stuart (Dougray Scott) insisting Bryan’s innocence, Bryan must clear his name and get revenge on the real murderer.

Maybe it’s the seven-year disconnect from the first film, or maybe it’s because of how badly Neeson has been typecast since then, but Bryan Mills as a character feels like he’s burning out in this movie. He seems slower on the uptake and not as sharp as in previous installments, almost as if his particular set of skills have been dulled over time. However, with that said, his character does across better here than in previous installments as we get a lot less of Bryan’s more possessive and overprotective moments this time round... Save for one scene where he intentionally poisons his daughter so that he can converse with her in private. The main reason for why he does better here is because this film takes far less time to get into the main action of the story. With the previous films, they’d take their time and spend about half of the film building up to said action, whereas here we get the bare minimum setup before the shit hits the fan. This is both good and bad: Good, because it shows us less of Bryan’s less favourable traits and the film thankfully uses what little setup it has to show him as an actual decent guy; Bad, because having the film be even more focused on the action than previous installments is a lot more taxing on the viewer. Not to say that said action is bad, as this film has managed to keep its set pieces consistent with the rest of the series in terms of quality, but much like the third Hobbit film it’s too much of a good thing.

The main draw for this film is the cat-and-mouse game between Bryan and Dotzler, which is admittedly very well done. Dotzler is supposed to be the other side of Bryan’s coin, being similarly OCD and meticulous in his work and able to keep up with Bryan at every turn, and Whitaker is a great casting choice for the role. Perhaps a little too good as, given how Neeson does seem to have slowed down a little, Whitaker arguably does better in the role than Neeson does. Sure, Dotzler’s role is a bit heavy-handed (He walks around carrying a white knight chess piece, for crying out loud) but Whitaker at the very least is capable of pulling it off. I freely admit to being a sucker for these kind of character dynamics, and this definitely does it well, but it feels like the writers were getting a little too invested in it. At best, the plot involving Lenore’s killer comes across more as an afterthought in comparison to the one with Dotzler. At worst, it feels like two separate scripts were written for this movie and Besson and Mark Kamen couldn’t decide which one to go with so they just mashed the two together. The main plot involving who really killed Lenore definitely feels tacked on in either case, and what makes it worse is that this might be one of the rare times when a recast in it of itself is a spoiler alert. *SPOILERS* When you take what was originally a minor character with maybe one or two lines in the original, recast him and give him noticeably more screen time and dialogue, not to mention how they flip-flopped on whether or not he was the actual person behind it all, and the audience gets savvy quite quickly. This isn’t helped by the prologue scene which only makes it even more noticeable.

All in all, while I definitely don’t have as much ire for this film, and admittedly the second film as well, as others, I’m not exactly championing it either. The action is still good, keeping up with the series standard thus far, the acting is good with Neeson still doing good in his role and Whitaker being a great foil for his character and the writing, while definitely having some problems, isn’t as misguided as the attempts at depth in Taken 2. Basically, this manages to succeed the second film purely on the virtue of not trying as hard in the writing department and sticking to what the series does best: Fun, if flawed, action fluff. It’s better than Dumb And Dumber To, as whatever enjoyment I got out of this film was more consistent, but given the very visible writing problems here, I’m not expecting this to stay at the top of my list for too long. It’s at least a decent end to the series, but given how Luc Besson is apparently open to continuing it, I’m not putting much stock in this being the series finale. I am starting to get burnt out from these movies and, judging by the result here, the filmmakers are too; maybe they should take that as a sign.

At any rate, this is still better than that comedic black hole of a fake trailer Jimmy Kimmel did for Taken 4.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Movie Review: Taken 2 (2012)

With the release of the third film in the Taken series now out, I find myself in a similar position to when Mockingjay came out late last year and needing to catch up a bit. Having not seen the first Taken film in several years, I went back and revisited that one first and… have to admit, it’s a lot better than I remember it being. Maybe it’s with the benefit of hindsight, but re-watching it definitely gave the impression that this was a film that warranted the success it had with Liam Neeson giving something of a career rejuvenating performance as the lead. However, given the severe case of sequelitis Hollywood seems to be suffering from at the moment, something has become very clear: A film being good on its own is by no means a guarantee that whatever follow-ups said film gets will be good. Sure, some films will be just as good as the original and sometimes may even surpass the original (Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and How To Train Your Dragon 2 from last year were great examples of this), but it sadly isn’t always the case. Time to find out what direction today’s film will go: This is Taken 2.

The plot: Brian Mills (Liam Neeson), his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) are targeted by mob boss Murad (Rade Šerbedžija) as revenge for Brian killing several of his mobsters, including his son, in the last film. He tracks them down to Turkey where they are having a small family get together, where he kidnaps both Brian and Lenore. Kim must now find her parents and help her father stop Murad.

Co-written by Luc “We only use 10%?” Besson, who also co-wrote the original, and directed by Olivier Megaton, a name that sounds like the lead in an action movie rather than the person filming one, this film could very easily have gone down the road well-trodden and just rehashed the original. Thankfully, however, this film does seem to have something sharp at its core in terms of writing that wasn’t present before and is honestly something I wish was addressed more often: Vigilantism in movies. The film’s plot feels spun out of a desire to look at the more human side of action movies, specifically a look at killing in action movies. In any garden variety action film, the high body count is only ever that: A body count, with no need to look any further into how they are as people because they’re the bad guys. Think the Stormtroopers in Star Wars and how they wear face-concealing helmets so that we don’t identify them as individuals. Here, however, the entire reason the plot exists is because of repercussions on who Brian killed in the first film, a notion given further strength given how revenge is the sole reason Brian killed them in the first place. Even the ending flat out acknowledges that this could all end up happening again if Brian and Murad will it to. It’s the kind of bonus layer within the writing that action movies need in order to differentiate themselves from the crowd and make them memorable, something definitely needed here considering how surprisingly well the original ingrained itself into the cultural zeitgeist.

However, as good as this may sound on paper, the fact that this film is actively trying for depth works out more to its detriment than anything else. Even with all this written between the lines, this is still an action movie: Neeson kicks mass amounts of ass, which admittedly still looks as good as before, and leaves a trail of bodies in his wake in his mission to save Lenore and Kim. While this alone would make the attempt at a grey ending shaky, *SPOILERS* the film still ends with Brian killing Murad and pretty much negating any point in them even bringing up how people might want revenge for his death as well.

Neeson may still be great to watch in his role during the action scenes, the action largely starts out with him playing Tank to Kim’s Neo and leading her around the city in order to find both him and Lenore. It’s more than a little ridiculous to accept him being able to lead Kim through the alleyways of Turkey, all from memory, not to mention to accept her not getting arrested at any point for letting off grenades numerous times in film to let Brian know where she is. One thing that particularly bugged me about Brian’s “special set of skills” was that, for how prepared he seemed to be for anything happening and how capable he is as an agent, not once at any point in the big car chases he gets into in this film does he simply shoot out the tires of an enemy car. Brian Mills as a character, for all my talk of this film avoiding rehashes, is pretty much still the same insanely overprotective guy we saw the first time around. The man comes across as being that untrustworthy, considering how many times he flat-out lies to both Lenore and Kim, that I don’t know how anyone could trust him as a person, least of all Lenore who became his wife. Then again, they have since divorced so that might explain it. What makes this particularly odd is that, with the first film, his need to be overprotective was validated and showed him being right… and it still feels like he’s being over-the-top at the beginning of the film when he’s putting out traces on his daughter and doing background checks on her boyfriend. It’s this feeling of uneasiness about the character and how much the audience should root for him, as well as every other problem with the writing that I’ve brought up, that makes its attempts at depth ultimately fall apart.

All in all, while the action is on par with the original and Liam Neeson is still great in the lead role, this film has a similar problem as Lucy, another Luc Besson film, in how it wants to have it both ways. With Lucy, it flip-flopped on whether or not it wanted the audience to take its pseudo-science seriously. With Taken 2, it wants to humanize the antagonists and their want for revenge while at the same time glorifying Brian for killing them as his own revenge. It ends up falling short of the original for trying to punch above its weight, but it’s still an okay action film at the very least. It’s better than Step Up 4: Miami Heat, purely on the virtue that this film made a genuine attempt with its story, but it falls short of The Man With The Iron Fists, which did a far better job at delivering mindless action. If you liked the first film, this is more of the same in terms of action but varied up enough so that it won’t give severe cases of déjà vu.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Movie Review: Dumb And Dumber To (2015)

There are so many rules, regulations and concessions surrounding sequels to Jim Carrey movies that the Sequels Rulebook has an entire chapter dedicated to them alone. You make a sequel with Jim Carrey in it? You get Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.  You make a sequel without Jim Carrey in it? You get Evan Almighty. You make a sequel without Jim Carrey in it several years after the fact? You get Son Of The Mask. You make a sequel with Jim Carrey when he wasn’t in the original? You get Kick-Ass 2. The range and scale of quality of these films is staggering, which makes today’s film something of an oddity. It’s a sequel made several years after the fact that does star Jim Carrey, which is interesting given his previous stance on sequels that don’t involve Ace Ventura (and even then, he was spared the horrors of being in Ace Ventura Jr.), and it also has the filmmakers behind the original film coming back to write and direct. How does it turn out? Time to find out in my first review of 2015: This is Dumb & Dumber To.

The plot: 20 years after the events of the first film, Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) reunite after Lloyd’s stint in a mental institution following his break-up with Mary Swanson. Harry tells Lloyd that he needs a new kidney and they decide to track down Harry’s daughter Penny (Rachel Melvin) whom had been given up for adoption by her mother, Fraida (Kathleen Turner). The two go on a road trip to meet her and hopefully get her to consent to a kidney transplant, all the while avoiding the plotting of Penny’s adoptive mother Adele (played by Laurie Holden).

Given the 20 year gap between films, it would be expected if Carrey and Daniels were a bit rusty in their roles. However, the duo haven’t seemed to miss a beat in all that time as they still have the great manic energy and comedic timing that they had before. However, something feels off about the writing behind them. The jokes here are a lot more hit-and-miss than before and seem to be overextending themselves in order to try and outdo the original, being a lot more overt with its gross-out and cringe humour as well as Flanderizing Lloyd into even more so of a complete prick than before. One look at the list of writers shows a couple of reasons why that could be. First off, we have the Farrelly brothers. Now, this might seem like a good thing, considering how they managed to strike gold with Dumb & Dumber, Me, Myself & Irene and The Virgin episode of Seinfeld back in the day, but their more recent filmography is a bit concerning. Together, the last film they made was The Three Stooges, a film that will one day be on my 2012 list but I’ll hold off seeing anything starring the cast of Jersey Shore for as long as I can. On their own, while Bobby hasn’t done that much of note, Peter is responsible for quite possibly one of the ugliest films I’ve seen: Movie 43. Peter was the spearheading producer behind that cinematic trainwreck, which has made me more than a little cautious considering this film. The second reason may be Sean Anders and John Morris, whose shared resumes include Mr. Popper’s Penguins, We’re The Millers, Horrible Bosses 2 and Anders solo directed That’s My Boy, which is currently tied with another film as the worst I’ve ever seen. Other than that, we have Farrelly brothers regulars Mike Cerrone and Bennett Yellin, whom have contributed to their bigger successes early on, so they could go either way on this one.

I know that I’m making assumptions here, but having too many cooks in the screenwriter’s kitchen is the only explanation I can see for how bizarrely this is written in comparison to the original. With the original, the two leads were always the dumbest in the room and no-one else could catch onto it because of how unbelievable their actions were; kind of like hiding in plain sight. Here, however, given how much more overt they are in their actions and the settings they are in, everyone else starts to look like bigger idiots by comparison. The glaring example of this is the big technology conference that Harry and Lloyd go to where Harry’s daughter will give a speech. While I get the idea of contrasting the duo’s idiocy with this crowd full of brainiacs, it gets more than a little ridiculous when you consider that not one person in that entire conference sees through them and notices that they aren’t who they say they are. Not only that, on a slightly minor note, the technology being shown at said conference goes into the realms of “Why the hell are you showcasing this here for judging when it can change the fucking world?!” and enters into a realm of stupid that this film wasn’t exactly aiming for.

But then we get into the ending… and something kind of miraculous happens. One exchange that always sticks in my head from the original is when Lloyd asks the FBI agent “What if he shot him in the face?”. Why that stuck out for me is that it showed a certain level of awareness that made it clear that all the idiocy that we saw on screen was calculated so that it stayed merely as writing for dumb characters rather than just dumb writing. The majority of the ending for this is that exchange times a thousand; the level of self-awareness shown here, the addressing of previous character moments and traits that went by almost unnoticed before, not to mention addressing the predictability of its own plot twist, almost reaches genius levels in how good it gets. I won’t spoil any of it for you but it makes about half of the bad over-the-top gags in this film worth sticking through.

All in all, this is a tough one to gauge. Partially because the comedy is a bit lopsided: When it’s good, it’s really freaking good; when it’s bad, it’s seriously annoying. But also partially because this is my first review of the year; I have nothing else to compare it to from this year. … Well, I guess I can compare it to the original and the god-awful prequel Dumb & Dumberer, which this film thankfully erases from canon. It ranks far higher than Dumb & Dumberer, as this film had actual jokes in it, but it’s nowhere near as good as the original; It’s at the midway point between the two, and even beyond that it’s just an average comedy. Not exactly a waste of time but not necessarily the best show in town either. If you’re a die-hard fan of the original, though, I can at least give this a recommendation as a rental.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Movie Review: Pompeii (2014)

Way back when, before such stories became cheaper than air with how prevalent they were, there used to be a certain artistic merit to the idea of romance in the face of disaster. Of course, get enough filmmakers repeating the same idea over and over again, or worse making fun of said idea over and over again, and almost anything can become stale. The biggest contributor to this would probably be James Cameron’s Titanic, whose precise formula for such romances has become a blueprint for many other filmmakers both in and out of the disaster film genre. Today’s film is very much cut from that same cloth: This is Pompeii.

The plot: Milo (played by Kit Harrington) is a Celtic slave sold into gladiatorial combat in Pompeii. He soon meets, and falls in love with, Cassia (played by Emily Browning) the daughter of the city’s ruler. Senator Corvus (played by Kiefer Sutherland), arriving in Pompeii for a business deal with Cassia’s father, wants Milo dead so that Cassia will accept his hand in marriage. And while all this is going on, Mount Vesuvius rumbles away.

Not since the 2000’s have I seen the TriStar logo in front of a movie before, and the fact that it has only been used this year for movies like Heaven Is For Real and Moms’ Night Out only makes that more worrying. Add to that that the director is Paul W.S. Anderson, the man currently helping run Resident Evil into the ground, and this already doesn’t look good. However, for whatever reason, this seems to have Anderson trying more than he has previously if the production history of the film is anything to go by. He has gone on record saying that he was aiming to be as scientifically and historically accurate to the actual eruption of Vesuvius as possible, and I will give him credit where it’s due because that kind of dedication is at least noticeable here. In far too many movies involving volcanoes, I have seen lava act in ways that lava doesn’t in the real world and it bugs me every time I see it. This time around, they replace straight-up lava with pyroclastic activity and thick clouds of ash and smoke engulfing the city, which not only is closer to reality but also looks a lot better to boot. The initial eruption of Vesuvius, with the clouds pouring out of the neck of the volcano, is a very impressive-looking effect. In fact, for the most part, a lot of the special effects work in this film looks good and while that may seem like damning with faint praise, considering how easy it is to see decent special effects nowadays, I only bring it up as a means of mentioning at least something about this film that works.

The story here, despite this being an hour and 45 minutes long, is about as cookie-cutter as you can get with its romance without just directly lifting scenes wholesale from other movies. To make matters worse, said romance doesn’t even have decent chemistry between the actors to give it some credibility. While Kit Harrington is a decent actor as his tenure in Game Of Thrones has proven and Emily Browning at least does better here than in The Host, they have very little chemistry on-screen together. It’s very much a drive-by romance: Built up by very minimal time together and yet they are truly in wuv with each other; it’s trite and dull, among other things. However, the real draw of this film when it comes to actors comes from two other sources. The first of which is Kiefer Sutherland as the main villain, who chews through all of the scenery so that there’s nothing left for the volcano to destroy. His performance is by no means good, and his character is in no way written with subtlety or restraint, but it is entertaining to see and it helps that he is in a lot of the film’s running time. This is an amazingly badly written villain; the kind that won’t let a little thing like an erupting volcano get in the way of his petty squabbles and want for revenge against Milo. The other standout performance is Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Atticus, one of Milo’s fellow gladiators; his presence on screen, which is all kinds of bad-ass, as well as his dialogue and banter with Milo make for one of the few legitimately good aspects of the film. But even then, the rare parts that are good about this film are quashed not only by the crap that surrounds them, but also by their own design: The effects work is only good when we don’t see the actors on-screen at the same time as the effects, as the green screen work is absolutely horrible. It has a similar sort of clashing effect as in films like The Legend Of Hercules or I, Frankenstein, only this film surprisingly manages to surpass even those two on a couple of occasions with how shite it looks. Kiefer’s performance is only good in that B-movie way where it seems like the actor is in on the joke that his character is terribly written and just plays it to the nines anyway, and Atticus has definite traces of Magical Negro in the way his character is written, something that always annoys me. We also have some pretty crap action direction, with way too many intercuts to keep track of what the hell is going on; Anderson may be trying new things, but it’s clear that his inability to shoot action scenes hasn’t improved from the Resident Evil movies.

All in all, while I can definitely see that the director was trying for an aesthetic with the visual style and attention to detail, this is an immensely crap script where everything from the characters to the overall plot is rail-thin and the actors can only do the best they can with the weak material, with some going in wildly different directions in order to do so. This might be one of the only times I’ll defend any aspect of Anderson’s direction, but that doesn’t make this a good movie. It’s not even a good movie for a bad movie night at home with friends, because a lot of it is just too boring to slog through. This is better than Before I Go To Sleep, as at least this kept me engaged if for all the wrong reasons, but it ranks lowers than Legends Of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, which had good story elements buried in it somewhere whereas this film does not. If you are willing to sit through vigorous amounts of crap to get your fix of disaster porn, then by all means but aside from a fine slice of Sutherland ham, I find no real reason to recommend this to anyone.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Top 20 Best Films Of 2014

Upon reflection, 2014 was a pretty good year for cinema just going by what I’ve seen: While my worst of list had only a few truly bad films that just missed the cut, there were quite a few films that were more than worthy of being on this list but I thought 20 would be more than enough. Of course, there are also a couple of honourable mentions that were only released on DVD over here and as such are unsuitable for this list: Oculus, a film I gave a very high recommendation in my review, would have been my 7th film of the year had it been included; and Don Jon, a phenomenally good film that I’m very disappointed didn’t get released theatrically over here… but then again, given the use of actual porn in it and our government’s surprisingly weak constitution, it isn’t surprising. It would have made #15 on the list.

And now, without further ado, the cream of the year’s crop: My top 20 favourite theatrical films of 2014:

#20: The Boxtrolls
While undoubtedly the lesser of Laika’s filmography so far, that just goes to show how great said filmography is because this film is still an incredible watch. The writing shows that kind of challenging yet welcoming tone that family films should have, the voice cast do wonders with the witty script they’re given here, the animation is still Laika-standard brilliance, and the plot… may well be one of the crackiest I’ve seen all year and yet the film manages to balance its weirder aspects, like an elitist cheese society, with a lot of earnestness that works in its favour. Also, as a side note, this might be one of the few times when a post-credits scene genuinely adds so much to a movie. I won’t spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but it reaches a new level that the company hasn’t gotten to before, even given the strength of its previous offerings.

Always good to have something polarizing in a Best Of Year list(!) In all seriousness, while the ending went a bit too silly for my tastes, the majority of the film is a very well-done and amazing looking science fiction story that actually has a much harder sci-fi bent than I’m used to seeing. It’s getting to the point where McConaughey is becoming a pretty safe bet in terms of quality films, because he continues to impress with his charismatic and at times heart-breaking performance here. Also, special commendation goes to TARS/CASE for one of my new favourite robot designs.

Realistic depiction of the man or not, Cumberbatch gives a great layered performance here as Alan Turing with a lot of shy charm and blunt humour. The rest of the cast do a great job, with Keira Knightley making me all but forgive her all-too-Jewish performance in A Dangerous Method. The script builds a lot of tension around Turing and his team cracking the Enigma code and also shows some good juxtaposition of machine behaviour vs. human behaviour.

#17: The Lego Movie
Yeah, expecting this to be higher up, I’m guessing? Well, don’t get me wrong, this is an amazingly good movie that stands as a testament to the imagination of both the company and its customers that has made Lego a household name. The animation is pretty much exactly what a theatrical film about Lego should look like and the voice acting, while not taking itself too seriously, is very earnest and extremely funny. The only issue I take with this film is the third act, which took its rather nuanced message about creativity and individuality and then made it all too literal for me to latch onto. But that is nowhere near enough for me to bag out this movie overall. At first glance, I had no idea how this movie was even going to work, but after seeing it this is exactly what a Lego Movie should be about.

#16: Noah
With a story that is as widely known as that of Noah’s Ark, it’s difficult to imagine being able to tell something new with it. Well, enter Darren Aronofsky, whose penchant for the surreal and head-scratching serves him well in constructing a new take on the tale. His flair for imagery and scope gives this film the gravitas it needed and while some of the modifications to the original story seemed… odd at first, they worked well in building the world the film delves in. The cast all do well in their roles, but I just have to give major props to Russell Crowe as the titular character who showed an intensity in this film that genuinely surprised and impressed me, taking an underlying thought of interpreting messages from God and turning it in a very antiheroic, dark and conflicted character performance.

#15: PK
As someone with an admitted axe to grind when it comes to organized religion, this was a breath of strangely fresh air to see. It’s amazing witty with a lot of sharp and thought-provoking satire about how materialistic religion has become, and yet it balances that out by not having a direct agenda against religion itself. The acting is great, the soundtrack is lively and definitely made for the highlight of the Bollywood films I’ve seen this year (Yes, all 3 of them) and it has a romantic subplot that avoids the more annoying clichés we’ve come to know and loathe in movies, even if it does go into pretty cheesy territory at the end.

#14: How To Train Your Dragon 2
Given how good the first film was, it would be a hard feat to try and improve on that but they somehow managed it. The funny moments are even better, the more emotional scenes hit even harder and the scope of the story is grander, while the acting and animation remain as great as ever. This film joins the very select list of sequels that are genuinely better than the original in every regard.

#13: The Wolf Of Wall Street
You know a movie is going to be good when it opens on dwarf-tossing. Martin Scorcese seemed to go a little insane in the making of this, considering the sense of humour on display here, but it resulted in one of his greatest efforts to date. The casting is amazing, with every role seemingly tailored to their actors as if they are literally the only people who could say the dialogue they’re given. DiCaprio goes all-out with his performance here, running the full gamut of emotions and even getting into a bit of physical comedy with, without a doubt, the funniest drug trip ever put to film. Also, as a film nerd, I greatly appreciated the Freaks reference they slipped in there and still find myself laughing at it from time to time.

#12: Saving Mr. Banks
I could probably point to my nostalgia for the original Merry Poppins as to why I like this as much as I do, but I can’t help it; this is a really good film. Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks give great performances and act very well with and against each other, the writing does a great job at intertwining P.L. Travers’ stories in the film’s past and present, even if the events are revised pretty heavily, and the writing shows Disney’s talent at making family films even when in live-action with a lot of humour and heart.

Jake Gyllenhall gives a very awkward, darkly funny, intimidating and frightening performance here as the career-driven sociopath Lou, armed with writing that is sharp and filled with jabs at commercial news reports and America’s economic state. The direction is also great and takes the already high tension levels even further, what with Lou being as unpredictably insane as he is here. Doubtless, you’ve seen many underdog stories of people trying to make it in the business world; doubtful that many of them have been told like this.

#10: These Final Hours
It’s an impressive feat to make a film that’s this bright with literal sunshine this dark and depressing. While not having the most depth in terms of writing, it is extremely intense emotionally with some rather harrowing performances and a very effective portrayal of humanity as it loses its hope, convictions and morality in the face of the end of the world. The filmmakers also make the good move of sprinkling short beats of uplift throughout to keep the dreary tone from becoming suffocating. A great example of what the cinematic world down under is capable of.

#9: Tusk
I give Kevin Smith a lot of credit for delivering this frankly batshit premise with this straight of a face, not to mention being able to wring scares and some effective drama out of it as well. Long, Depp and Parks each give some bizarrely amazing performances and the comedic, dramatic and horrific elements of the script are each delivered effectively. Any film that is capable of mindfragging me and getting me to feel scared, sad, giddy and empathetic at the literal exact same time has to get high marks from me.

#8: Only Lovers Left Alive
Maybe as an internalized attempt to make up for the weed-inspired nunfuckery of our last entry, here is a more artsy film by director Jim Jarmusch, who is quickly climbing his way onto my list of favourite directors. It’s hard to explain this film in terms of the effect it had on me, but the best estimate I can give is euphoria. Something about the overall production here, from the layered writing to the acting to the amazing soundtrack, clicked together in just the right way to make for a seriously great watch.

While part of me is still kind of bummed out that I have to wait till the end of the year until I get to see Part 2, that doesn’t stop me from loving this film to bits. The tone is definitely different from the previous films, going for more of a thriller than action-adventure, but the way it’s written makes it work with a lot of great subtext about war and the power of P.R. as well as making for an extremely powerful moment when coupled with the song The Hanging Tree. With how good this film is, and the shattering note that it ended on, I wait with bated breath for the conclusion.

#6: Predestination
Robert Heinlein’s ‘All You Zombies’ is one of my all-time favourite works of fiction and this, I feel, is a superb adaptation of the material. It doesn’t dumb down the story’s time travel logic for audience consumption, but at the same time it doesn’t make it too confusing. To make it even better, the story elements that were added on to make it feature-length actually enhance the experience rather than hinder it, so this can be enjoyed alongside the original work. Ethan Hawke does great in his mentor role and Sarah Snook giving what could be a career-making performance… at least, if there’s any justice in this world, what will be a career-making performance.

#5: Guardians Of The Galaxy
The most flat-out fun I had watching a film all year. The characters are fleshed out and their actors have great chemistry with each other, the casting is pretty much perfect, even for the bit parts, the action is outstanding, the writing hits drama and comedy at precisely the right points with some of the best laughs I’ve had all year and the soundtrack is one of the most bizarrely fitting I’ve ever encountered. It’s essentially a film with Troma sensibilities on a Hollywood budget, which is fitting considering the director, James Gunn, also wrote the insane Shakespearean send-up Tromeo & Juliet… and that one short in Movie 43 with the horny and homicidal cartoon cat. Yeah. Also, best MCU post-credits scene yet and I doubt another movie will top it anytime soon.

#4: X-Men: Days Of Future Past
Bridging the gap between the original X-Men trilogy and First Class was going to be tough to get past me, especially considering the continuity flubs between the two was one of my larger complaints about First Class. However, despite a couple of new continuity flubs, this film managed to merge the two together without any noticeable seams. The writing shows a lot of thought and care was put into it and is on a grandiose scale that not only its build-up deserved, but also that its follow-ups deserve too considering the next film in the series is going to be on the colossal Age Of Apocalypse saga; and the changes made here from the original comic book not only make sense but also give way for some seriously good drama beats. While I could give some flack to the ending, which is of a brand that never ceases to annoy me, the overall package is way too good for me to let that get in the way.

#3: Gone Girl
Even in a year full of fantastical works, this film managed to pull off a genuine miracle: Making Tyler Perry funny. Yeah, in a film where actors like Neil Patrick Harris and Rosamund Pike are giving A-grade performances, Tyler Perry stands out as the charming and dry-witted lawyer.  Not only that, for as much flack as Ben Affleck has gotten over the years for his acting, he is also surprisingly good in this and does a great job at keeping the audience guessing. I have a major soft spot in my heart for stories involving mind games and battles of wits, which this film shows expertly, but I also love the barbs shot at the mass media here too. This is crazy good, with a lot of emphasis on the crazy.

#2: Her
It’s rather telling that the most believable and heartfelt romantic coupling I’ve seen in years on film is between a man and his computer. Not meant in any way as a slight against the movie, because Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson are a great on-screen couple, especially considering how one of them isn’t even on screen for the entirety of the movie. Johansson does an amazing job as Samantha, giving the kind of performance that is usually reserved for dubs of Miyazaki films, and… yeah, it’s pretty much one of the sexiest things I’ve ever heard, I can’t deny it. The script makes a lot of poignant comments about technology and how it has changed, and will continue to change, the way we socially interact, something that makes this a weird sort of primer for life in the 21st century. A true cinematic marvel to behold.

#1: 20,000 Days On Earth
In my admittedly brief time as a film buff, never before has a film tapped into me as deeply as this movie did; it felt like I was having a religious experience watching this. From Nick Cave’s anecdotes and dark wit to the superb camera work and editing, something in my gut tells me that this is perfect. It is a fascinating look into the creative process of making music and Nick’s insights in his history, his work and his own self make for visual poetry. This isn’t just best of the year good. This is on my potential list for favourite films ever; it’s THAT good.

So, what did you think? Agree with some of my choices? Disagree and maybe want to add some of your own? Think I overhyped some of these a bit too much? Whatever the case, feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.