Friday, 29 January 2016

Movie Review: Dirty Grandpa (2016)

There is something inherently funny about watching older people do things associated with younger people… I think. At the very least, it’s humourous enough to warrant being the main subject matter for films, TV shows and YouTube clips. Hell, I looked at a film that centred on that same branch of comedy with Sisters. Of course, such a concept works better when it isn’t being inflicted on someone with a tremendous amount of respect to his name. Like, say, legendary actor Robert De Niro. While the man is still attached to some decent work thanks to his connection with David O. Russell, he has still had a serious low-point in his career of late. When you go from working with visionaries like Scorcese and Coppola to being in Little Fockers, you know you’re in trouble. So, time to take a look at the downward spiral of depressing screen appearances as we peer into what is already being called the worst film of the year… oh dear. This is Dirty Grandpa.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Movie Review: Trance (2013)

It’s time to continue to put further effort into these reviews than is really advisable as I look back into another director’s work who has a new release coming out soon. This time around, it’s Danny Boyle, a man is kind of frustratingly difficult to pin down in terms of an overall style. He has a very kitchen sink approach to his craft, something usually reserved for filmmakers on substantially tinier budgets: If it looks cool, use it! Not to say that he doesn’t come up with some amazing visual ideas for his films, like the absolute grime of Trainspotting, the video camera stock that almost looks like a TV news reel in 28 Days Later or even the hectic video game aesthetic adopted for certain scenes in The Beach. It’s just that the man just has so many ideas for how to present a story on film that it’s hard to pin down if he's a true original or just derivative; he’s like Ant from Atmosphere. Still, considering this is the same guy who gave us not only one of the best zombie films of all time but also easily one of the better Christian-oriented films with Millions, you’re usually gonna get quality work from the guy. Usually. This is Trance.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Movie Review: Carol (2016)

It’s Oscar season again, which means that it’s time to buy that new case of Burn Out Repellent that will no doubt be needed. However, unlike last year where we were awash with World War II-era films that I’m positive will pop up later on this year regardless, it seems that the consensus for the Academy has shifted. And no, this isn’t an easy set-up for the current racial issues being brought up about this year’s Oscars; as I have stated before, the Academy ultimately doesn’t matter, so whatever in-house drama is going down follows the same fashion. Instead, I’m talking about how, since the decision to legalize gay marriage nation-wide in the U.S., it seems that quite a few of the more prestige releases are shifting towards romances that aren’t in the cis norm. Between Freeheld from late last year, The Danish Girl from last week, and the generally warm reception that was made towards films like Tangerine and The Duke Of Burgundy, I think it’s an easy bet that this type of film is going to be the current flavour for a while longer. I can only hope that what the rest of the crop will fare better than this, however. This is Carol.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Movie Review: The Big Short (2016)

With the right approach and wording, it is technically possible to make a comedy about pretty much anything. As much as I’ve gone on about how there are some things that should always be treated seriously, even those rather taboo subjects can be made funny in the right hands. And then you have today’s film, a comedic drama about the global financial crisis, as directed by Will Ferrell’s right-hand man Adam McKay. Trust me, whatever initial ideas you may have about this kind of feature as made by the guy who made Anchorman, you’re on the wrong track. So, time to look into some Dennis Miller brand esoterica that, apparently, the Academy has gotten behind… yeah, I’ll let you know when that statement actually means something around here. This is The Big Short.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Movie Review: Room (2016)

Some films don’t allow themselves that well to my certain brand of introduction. When dealing with something this heart-wrenching, I don’t even want to run the risk of trying to be funny; this deserves better than that. This is Room.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Movie Review: The Danish Girl (2016)

After looking at Tangerine last month, I think that my cinematic perspective on transsexuality has been forever altered as a result. It is also going to serve as an interesting contrast to how the more mainstream film scene treats similar subject matter. Now, since I don’t go too far out of my way when it comes to what films get watched/reviewed around here, I don’t want to take any hoity-toity position when it comes to more independent cinema. That said, I can’t help but feel like subject matter such as transsexuality is better suited for the indie scene; the amount of sensitivity required to make a portrayal of such things work shouldn’t be hindered by any kind of company oversight. Then again, if Any Day Now with Alan Cumming proved anything, it’s that the indies are just capable of screwing up as the Hollywood system, so this could really go either way. This is The Danish Girl.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Movie Review: The 5th Wave (2016)

If there’s one name that I have come to associate with sub-standard product, aside from our resident whipping boy Jai Courtney, it’s one all-time Hollywood hack by the name of Akiva Goldsman. Sure, he has a couple of winning films to his name like A Beautiful Mind and, depending on who you ask, I Am Legend, but as a whole, this man is responsible for a lot of shite as a screenwriter. Last year’s Insurgent, Winter’s Tale the year before, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, and let’s not forget the crowning jewel of bad comic book movies Batman & Robin; that’s a hefty platter for a single chef. With all this in mind, I look at today’s most recent YA adaptation with extreme scepticism; only this time, there’s more than definite reason for me to be so. But, given how lenient I’ve been with The Maze Runner and how much praise I’ve given to The Hunger Games, and knowing how it doesn’t get much worse than Divergent, I’m still willing to give this a chance. I’m holding out an idiot’s hope, aren’t I? This is The 5th Wave.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Movie Review: The Hateful Eight (2016)

No other singular person in the world of cinema has given more credence to the importance of the screenwriter than Quentin Tarantino. He’s basically an alternate reality version of Randal from Clerks who decided that, rather than bitching about how shit movies are nowadays, actually did something about it and began making his own. After starting off his career with a loud bang with the festival success of Reservoir Dogs, he continued to carve a name for himself with his unique approach to character writing and his homage-heavy fan-boy sensibilities as a story-teller. Unless we’re talking about the film-about-nothing Death Proof or the comedic abomination that is It’s Pat, you’d be hard-pressed to find a film in his filmography that is abjectly bad. So, naturally, when news hit about his latest release, weather reports also came in of a tidal wave of fan-boy drool that threatened to destroy the world. Then there was news of Tarantino taking the film on a roadshow screening tour of Australia, in crisp 70MM film stock. Would probably lose my buff card if I didn’t attend something like that, so bear in mind that everything that follows may differ from the traditional theatrical release as the version I watched was an extended cut. This is The Hateful Eight.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Seat Of Shame: Sisters

Date: 12/01/2016
Time: 4:10pm
Film: Sisters
Cinema: Warringah Mall Hoyts, Cinema 1
Seats: J15-17

After running into a friend from high school and not initially recognizing her and running into who I thought was a friend from work and recognizing him anyway, I was already in a weird mind state. So, imagine my chagrin walking into the cinema which was completely empty, save for three people sitting together. One of whom was in my seat (For the record, this cinema has designated seating; I’m not some asshole who just calls dibs on a seat). Considering every other seat was empty, I figured it wasn’t important enough to start a fight over and just sat in the next row. Within moments, I realized that this was a mistake. Now, I mentioned in my 2015 round-up that talking during the trailers isn’t something I usually get annoyed at; hell, with how vapid some of the pre-film adverts can get, a bit of distraction is sometimes necessary. However, much like with Truth, this was louder than that leniency allows.

Not only were they talking at living room volumes, it was also the kind of behind-the-back badmouthing that I would usually expect from bratty high schoolers. They mentioned how a ‘friend’ of theirs was a bit of a ho, and how everyone talked behind her back about her. I see that social Lemmingism hasn’t died out. If I had to guess, I’d say that they were in their late-teens/early-20’s, so they very well could be high schoolers for all I know. Not that I cared at the time; all I was thinking was how much I couldn’t stand Valley Girls at the best times, let alone when they are right behind me in a venue where people are supposed to be quiet. Once the movie started, they quieted down a bit; the one on the right was even encouraging the other two to pipe down. Unfortunately, every so often, the one on the left would keep going, at the same level, during the film proper. It would either be moments of stating the bleeding obvious (“She’s like 40 and she just flashed her tits out”) like this was an amateur audio descriptive screening, or just trying to be funny on her own like this was a screening of The Room. It wasn’t so much that I tried to tell her three times to shut up with increasingly velocity (please/would you/shut the fuck up); it was that she didn’t even blink each time it happened. I could’ve been speaking Klingon and it would have had the same effect.

However, what officially got my hackles up was during the John Cena scene. When he first showed up, because of how much I have been exposed to it on Facebook from so-called friends, I immediately had “It’s John Cena” playing in my head. God, if it’s possible to kill a meme, and I mean shoot it in the head, please let me know so I can put an end to neo-Rick Roll. She then proceeding to sing it as well… like my nightmare suddenly became a reality and the memes had started to invade my real life. It was at that moment that an idea sprang to mind. A really really bizarre and kind of stupid idea. Going by traffic camera logic, and thinking that photo evidence would deter future offenders, I shot straight up as soon as the credits did and played a little paparazzi with my smartphone. I don’t know what’s weirder: Me having the idea to essentially take a mug shot, me executing the idea or the fact that she posed for the photo. Not anything gaudy; just looking like she was a five-year-old who had been caught tossing a milk bottle around in the kitchen. I snapped it, told her “next time, maybe you should keep your mouth shut” and left before they had a chance to rightfully lay the smackdown on me. I am describing this instead of just showing the photo because so long as that photo existed, so did the evidence that I had done it; I deleted it shortly after I got home.

So, yeah, turns out I acted a bit dickish as well. Kind of makes the Seat Of Shame thing take on a triple meaning, considering they were in my seat, but still I wanted to make a log about it. I may act a little high and mighty with these posts, and I do plan on making more of them, but I’m not hardly infallible myself.

As long as they won’t be quiet, neither will I.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Movie Review: Goosebumps (2016)

You want to talk nostalgic children’s horror franchises, you can’t get far without encountering something relating to Goosebumps. The house that R.L. Stine built, this over 20-year-old series was responsible for introducing whole generations of kids to the things that go bump in the night, either through the original novellas or the TV series. Well, not to go all Troy Steele here, and I certainly don’t wish to ape that asshole in any way, but I think the world has superglued its nostalgia goggles to its face when it comes to this series. When news first hit that this film was being made, with these people attached to it, people were already screaming “cop out”, “cash grab” and “BE-TRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYAL!”. Yeah, god forbid someone ruin the sanctity of stories where prune cookies turn people into senior citizens or the psychotic mayor of a model town that taunts a captive kid with a phantom baseball game. Don’t get me wrong, I love these stories for their own reasons and I’ll even admit that both the books and the TV show could get legitimately scary at times like with The Haunted Mask and even My Best Friend Is Invisible; hell, the latter was what first convinced me to start up the now-dead Grey Vault review series because it still creeped me out so much. I just don’t think it should be held as this impenetrable bastion of quality in terms of family-friendly entertainment; this isn’t Avatar: The Last Airbender we’re talking about here. So, with all that in mind, let’s take a look at the film several years in the making. Readers beware, you’re in for a scare: This is Goosebumps.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Movie Review: Sisters (2016)

It seems that today’s subject is going to be the first in what I hope is a short-lived trend of older actors doing teenaged things for the year, what with Dirty Grandpa coming to screens in a little while. I’ve gone at length how much I really don’t like the school of comedy that says just being offensive or violent or awkward doesn’t automatically make a film funny; well, the same applies for mid-life crises. Probably the only time I’ve seen a piece of media make adults acting like teens funny was during an episode of Buffy; that was over fifteen years ago. As a result, despite my affinity for Tina Fey, even that appreciation wasn’t enough to make this film look good going by the trailer. Bear in mind that I was willing to give the milquetoast This Is Where I Leave You a chance because of Fey’s involvement; that’s how bad this looks from the off-set. Well, given only one way to find out if my pessimism once again pays off. This is Sisters.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Movie Review: The Revenant (2016)

After how much I dug Birdman last year, I was definitely looking forward to seeing more work from director Alejandro González Iñárritu. So, in prep for this release, I checked out his other filmography… and noticed something disconcerting. While I undoubtedly consider Birdman to be the best film he’s done to date, it’s also the most unlike everything else he’s made so far. Iñárritu’s usual method of story-telling is with numerous interweaving character arcs, some of them seemingly completely disconnected from each other, to convey a specific theme. Birdman, by contrast, is so linear that it is shot and edited to look like a single continuous take (for the most part) and focuses mainly on a single character. It’s kind of like claiming to be a fan of Darren Aronofsky, but saying your favourite film of his is The Wrestler; it isn’t exactly the best representation of the man’s work as a whole. With this new information, I began to anticipate today’s release more shakily than I was expecting to. However, indicative of standard oeuvre or not, I will give this film the benefit of the doubt regardless; I’m not going to just badmouth a Leo DiCaprio film purely based on principle. This is The Revenant.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Movie Review: Point Break (2016)

What is it about crime flicks that make them probably the most widely referenced and quoted of any genre? Even if you’ve never seen a Lethal Weapon film, chances are you’ve heard someone say “I’m getting too old for this shit” at least once in your life. Among the more widely influential would be 1991’s Point Break, which established a blueprint that would be followed by every film involving a cop/agent going undercover and making a connection with their target. Sure, it hasn’t aged well as a result of how much it’s been copied, not to mention its 90’s surfer musings about finding that rush, but it’s still a decent film in its own right. Can’t go wrong with Keanu Reeves giving one of his better performances and Patrick Swayze as the equally charismatic and recklessly thrill-seeking antagonist. So, naturally, it was going to get a remake at some point, and apparently no-one wanted to compete with it because this was the only film to be released come New Year’s Day. Or maybe it was because they didn’t want the shame of having to be connected to it in any way, even if just by the release date. Even though the real answer should be pretty damn obvious, let’s take a look just to be sure: This is Point Break.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Top 20 Best Films Of 2015

Well, after spending the last few posts wallowing in my own misery, time to shake off that bad mojo for good as I look at the Top 20 best films that I had the pleasure to see last year. While, in comparison, it wasn’t as good as 2014 as a whole, it still produced some truly amazing works of cinema that deserve to be watched and re-watched. I know that I mentioned a disdain for honourable mentions before, but then again, I’ve used honourable mentions myself in last year’s lists so hypocrisy shouldn’t be anything new. That said, I still want to give a special shout-out to Hitman: Agent 47, the Best Worst Film of the year. This is the film that was just so awful that it actually reached entertainment from the other end, thanks to its terrible acting, writing and special effects. Now for the official, legitimately good picks of the litter. These are my Top 20 Best Films Of 2015.

You’d be hard-pressed to find something that will make me more hyped for a new release than a film about hip-hop. Given that, this more than met my expectations. The performances are fantastic, especially O’Shea Jackson Jr. as a dead-on Ice Cube, the writing manages to portray a lot of important events from NWA’s history without feeling too bloated, and the soundtrack not only showcases some contemporary stand-outs of the genre but also the important tracks that influenced those very tunes. Hell to the yeah.

Screw popular consensus, this film is awesome. Beyond its amazing animation, its Pixar-level voice acting and its ability to properly tell a story visually, this film makes the list because of how surprisingly dark it is. With very little effort, this stops being a cute coming-of-age story involving dinosaurs and suddenly becomes a violent and gritty Western in disguise. I have a lot of respect for filmmakers who are willing to push boundaries in any way, and considering how this managed to slip cannibalism and religious fanaticism under the radar, it more than deserves its place as one of the best of the year.

I don’t care about Superman. Outside of Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, the character has never struck as someone I should actively want to see, especially on film. So, what does it say that this film is infinitely fascinating to me? Whether it’s a feeling of tragedy that this didn’t get made instead of that horri-shit Man Of Steel movie, or just seeing how much an unfinished film can still influence the landscape of cinema thereafter, this is a great look into not just the filmmaking process but also into the Superman mythos.

#17: Truth
Ignoring how dated the story itself is, as anything involving the Bushes is almost instantly out-of-place nowadays, this is a great portrayal of investigative journalism. James Vanderbilt’s scripting is as engaging and whip-smart as ever, and his first foray into direction yielded some amazing performances, particularly from Cate Blanchett who delivers one of the most gut-punching lines of the year when she is brought before an inquisition for her actions. The real-life morality and efficacy of these people’s actions can be debated until doomsday but, as a depiction of a story that the rest of the world has dismissed as error, it is staggering to watch.

#16: Sicario
Denis Villeneuve is now officially on my list of favourite directors after this one. This is an oppressively dark film, carried by great performances from Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin, a script that revels in asking unsettling questions about the United States’ methods and how they may actually be justified and cinematography from industry legend Roger Deakins that is among some of the best of the last few years. It takes something special to have a different camera filter add so damn much to a scene, but that’s the kind of brilliance we’re dealing with here.

If a film is capable of making Nicole Kidman not only look good, but be a crucial part in one of the best cinematic moments of the year, then it more than deserves to be recognized as one of 2015’s best. Aside from Kidman managing to deliver for the first time in… ever, really, he is bolstered by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Julia Roberts both giving A-grade performances as well. Add to this a script full of subtle little touches that warrant repeat viewings and Billy Ray’s direction that is concrete-thick with tension, and even the lukewarm romantic sub-plot is palatable to get to the good bits.

#14: X+Y
“Oh I’m so smart, woe is me” is an extremely difficult notion to convey, which is what makes this film feel even better when it succeeds. Its look at the preconceptions and pressures concerning those whom have above-average intelligence, filtered through the teenaged experience with some of the most surprising character redemption I’ve seen in a long time, cut deep for me personally. I’m not expecting everyone to associate as closely with a film like this as myself, but then again there’s a reason why these are my Top 20 films of the year.

After leaving the theatre for the screening of this film, I ran into the director in the foyer. Over the next few minutes, I gushed over how great this was, he hugged me, gave me his business card and I took a photo with him. More so than just being an amazing experience of a film, this was also that crowning moment where my thousand hours crystalized into something new and this suddenly stopped being just a silly hobby of mine. As for the movie itself, it’s a phenomenally gripping thriller that uses atmosphere and the cinematic language to full effect; considering its budget and its means, this is probably the biggest surprise in terms of just how good it is.

It may not have been the Oscars, but this was still a damn good horror flick. Its approach is shockingly original, especially in today’s day and age, it makes commentary on the horror genre and its sexualized roots without feeling like it’s just re-hashing so many other ‘self-aware’ films of late and it made excellent use of its budget even with its SuperImposed Inc.-brand television sets. Or, if all of that doesn’t interest, this is actually scary.

This is an incredibly strange film. However, even with how eerily direct it gets, it is also extremely intelligent in its approach to society’s attitudes to relationships and how it can affect individuals. This is also one of the few times when emotionless acting is not only excusable but an asset to a film, as the cast here embody the kind of discomfort and disconnection that fits the story and commentary perfectly.

The sequel to the 7th best film of last year, it’s even better… and it only made #10 on this list. On second thought, maybe 2015 was a better year for film than I gave it credit for. Its action scenes, its writing, its acting; all of it builds on the previous installments to create a more-than-satisfying conclusion to the series. It may not reach the point of genius like Part 1, but overall it made for an immensely well-oiled machine of a film. I can only hope that they don’t try and add onto this series beyond this film because, quite frankly, even with the cheesy epilogue this is still a close-to-perfect way to conclude this story.

This film definitely has its issues, especially with the primary school-style narration atop the Statue of Liberty, but this makes it to #9 on the list purely because it managed to completely transport me into the film’s world. I wasn’t watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt act out a scene in strangely natural French accent; I was watching Phillippe Petit plan out one of the most daring feats of performance art, something strengthened by just how transcendent the climactic scene is in how it’s portrayed. Robert Zemeckis continues his track record of absolutely incredible feats of filmmaking.

For the love of all that is good, Joel Edgerton, keep making movies! Even if they’re only half as good as this, I will still happily pay to see them. Rather than be an incredibly deep and layered film in terms of script, this film succeeds solely out of just how well it is executed. Edgerton is creepy as fuck, Bateman gives probably the best performance of his career which I can only hope the sign of more dramatic turns to come and the production is downright determined to make you shiver in your seat. Oh, and that ending… Holy shit, that ending…

Easily the least Burton-y of Tim Burton’s filmography, he wisely steps back from his own cinematic norms to deliver a really effective tragic story about an artist whose work essentially gets stolen from her. Amy Adams delivers every emotional note perfectly and Christoph Waltz is at once creepy and charming in that way that only Waltz can manage when it comes to villains. Still doesn’t explain Spectre, but never mind. Also, anything that flips the bird to artistic elitism gets bonus points in these parts.

It’s sci-fi scriptsploitation at its finest, utilizing top-notch acting from our three mains, absolutely jaw-dropping effects work and upper-tier dialogue to create an incredibly smooth delivery of confronting ideas concerning A.I. Rather than going into warm and emotional areas with its queries like with last year’s Her, this is more cold and analytical, even getting into thriller territory in places.  Probably this film’s best quality is how it makes the characters curious and want to ask questions, leading to what might be the most effectively self-aware film I’ve seen in quite some time; it’s a god-send for anyone who has a thing for nit-picking films.

#5: Wild
If this list was in any way objective, this film would probably be at #1. This is a genuinely impressive show of technicality, combining Reese Witherspoon’s amazing performance, the soundtrack, the editing, the camera work and Nick Hornby’s living and breathing script to create a head trip unlike most others. It channels that feeling of isolation and need for social interaction that comes with trekking out on one’s own, resulting in a film that is universally relatable in a way that very few are.

#4: Birdman
The only film on this list that, at the time of writing, I have seen more than once. It more than deserves to be watched multiple times, as it is an amazingly well-executed character study that deals with human ego and the modern state of both film and theatre. The acting is outstanding, particularly from Keaton and Norton, the soundtrack is jazz drum goodness and the filmmakers treat the events like a stage play, all shot in what appears to be one continuous take. Even for a production gimmick, this is very well done and gives a trance-like quality to what is already a great film. This also ranks high with me because I can actively point to this film as something that made me want to become a better critic, something I sincerely hope has happened at least partially since I first watched it.

Without a doubt, the most fun I had going to a film all year, this gleefully violent tribute to the spy genre is everything and more than I wanted out of a film from someone like Matthew Vaughn. Its approach to action is insanely kinetic and engaging, its acting drips cool from every pore, and its writing pays homage to the classics while paving out its own niche in extremely violent, funny and clever filmmaking. An excellent triumph of style over substance.

An exercise in cinematic optimism, delivered by one of the foremost family-friendly filmmakers working today. Brad Bird continues to show a command of the live-action realm, creating a monument to the power of human creativity and imagination, applauding human ingenuity while also highlighting what our apathy and pessimism are also capable of. The acting is stellar, with Raffey Cassidy hopefully starting a promising career thanks to her performance here… yeah, I said the exact same thing last year with Sarah Snook, but in keeping with this film’s message of informed optimism, I still hope that she goes on to bigger and better things from here.

I could highlight this film’s mastery of comedy balanced with melancholy, pointing out how this is easily one of the best casted films I’ve ever seen full stop. Or I could bring up how, even with how kid-friendly the animation is, it still fits with the child-like innocence of the story itself and where most of it takes place. Instead, I’m going to isolate how surprisingly adept this film is when it comes to understanding emotions, both on their own and how they can affect people. Not only is this a brilliant depiction of the changes that come about through puberty, it is also one of the most painfully accurate depictions of clinical depression that I’ve come across in any media. For its ability to induce gut-busters and punch me in the gut with its sadder moments with equal intensity, combined with portraying something that is very near to my heart in a way that is easily digestible, this without a doubt makes for the best film of the year.

Well, that takes care of that. If you had any other favorite films from 2015, feel free to comment below; also, any films that I haven’t looked at from 2015 that you would like a review of, do likewise. Until then, it’s officially time to kick off the New Year… and it looks like my first film of 2016 is going to be the Point Break remake. Good to see we’re off on the right foot(!)