Sunday, 31 July 2016

Movie Review: Central Intelligence (2016)

After my rather paranoia-fuelled experience concerning The Angry Birds Movie, I thought I was past the point of feeling like a given film actively had it in for me. Of course, we have at least 3 films this year featuring official nemesis of the blog Kevin Hart, so I’m maintaining that there’s someone in this world who has a grudge against me personally. This is not helped by the almost gloriously insipid tag line "Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson", which triggers my lame pun allergy something chronic. But hey, even with my misgivings about Angry Birds, I still walked away from that film somewhat pleased that I at least watched it. Am I likely to get such a revelation on this one? Chance would be a fine thing, but quite frankly, I’m in that kind of mood where I’m willing to give a chance to prove itself. This is Central Intelligence.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Movie Review: Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)

You know, not that many years ago, I would’ve openly dreaded any film starring that guy from High School Musical. My, how times have changed. This Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

Well, time to get into what is undoubtedly the most hotly contested release of the year, and we’re off to a good start as it seems that no matter what side you fall on, there’s backlash. You’re either a misogynistic Neanderthal because you see the gender-swapped cast list and sense something is wrong, or a PC agenda-pushing feminazi because you’re agreeing with the gender-swapped cast on principle and for no other reason. So nice to see the entire Gamergate debacle encapsulated into a single film reaction; you know, where everyone comes across as a complete idiot. Now, this is all generalization that usually fuels such arguments concerning gender roles in media, so I don’t give any points to either side. How fitting that, in a year where we had a film called Civil War, we have a fandom civil war brewing over this little piece of cinema. And to make matters worse, when dealing with a film this divisive, the worst place to be is on the fence. Let’s dig in and I’ll explain. This is Ghostbusters.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Movie Review: The Nice Guys (2016)

The weirdest aspect when it comes to actors decide to become filmmakers is when they go back to their acting gigs. This is especially true when the films that they made aren’t all that good. I’ve gone on at great length about the many issues concerning Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner, which everyone else seems to be unwilling to acknowledge, and while I give Ryan Gosling’s Lost River its fair due, that’s only after the many weeks of Fridge Analysis I undertook to understand what the hell it was on about. I may like being overtly critical but a message about Detroit’s already well-publicized housing issues shouldn’t be this obtuse. Sure, they’ve been in films since, but those were definitely two of their wider-known products of late. So, with those still fresh in my mind, let’s see how they do when they are under the helm of the guy who most recently gave us the oft-maligned Iron Man 3. This is The Nice Guys.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Movie Review: Warcraft (2016)

With every passing season, there is a video game movie released to cinemas. Likewise, there is also a flood of people declaring it the worst yet because it seems that the Internet filters out any semblance of perspective and leaves only the bile. While there is some precedent to the notion, as video game adaptations have a pretty failure rate with only one or two notable exceptions (and even then, those are often contested), I will try and let the film speak for itself on this one. I’ll be forced to do so anyway, as Warcraft is a franchise that I have very limited experience with. I vaguely remember playing Warcraft III in a few LAN parties in high school, and of course World Of Warcraft helped give us one of the best South Park episodes ever with Make Love, Not Warcraft, but other than that I’m going into this as I’m sure a lot of filmgoers are: As a casual observer. But even with that in mind, is this film as bad as its already prominent reputation has decreed? This is Warcraft.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Why I Hate Armond White

I make it a point not to bring up other critics when I discuss films... mostly, and usually not by name. I’ve been on record saying that Australian film critics, collectively, need to get their shit together as they seem to need a lot of work when it comes to prioritizing certain titles over others. And then there was that one time I openly said fuck you to Clem Bastow because of her views involving the film The Intern, and while I stand by what I said, I don’t actually mean any ill will towards any other person. Honestly, the main reason why I don’t bring up other critics by name (unless I’m praising the hell out of them, of course) is because most of them not only have a lot more credibility than me when it comes to dissecting films but also have a far larger audience as well. I don’t like tarnishing the reputation of people who actually have a reputation to tarnish, nor do I like diverting the few readers I have away from me. But even with all that in mind, there is still one guy that I have been really itching to talk about, and yet have also been trying to put off discussing on this blog. In the annals of film criticism that don’t habitually exist on YouTube, there is one name that is universally recognized as being one of the... well, ‘worst’ is going a bit far, but definitely one of the less respected critics out there. Yep, I’m talking about the white whale of the critical world: Armond White... and why I hate his guts.

Now, there have doubtless been many, many, many articles discussing this man and how he is an absolute mockery, and most of them bring a lot of similar points. For those not in the know, White is a mostly print-based critic whom has grown a reputation for being a contrarian; basically, he seems to go against popular opinion when it comes to more popular films, even more so than his peers. To put this into perspective, let’s go over some of his more controversial stances on some pretty big-name releases. When the finale to the Harry Potter series came out, and critics and audiences fawned over it (myself included; I see it as a great conclusion to a series that I and many others grew up with alongside the characters), White was not so impressed. To quote the man himself: “Now that the Harry Potter series is over, maybe the truth can be realized: This has been the dullest franchise in the history of movie franchises.” In a world where franchises are the cinematic M.O. in Hollywood, that’s a pretty big statement to make. I mean, I get not liking it, but there is such a thing as over-reaction when it comes to these things. I should know; I do it more than enough in my own reviews. When the Marvel Cinematic Universe was just starting to pick up steam with The Incredible Hulk, and fans were a tad iffy on that effort anyway, White described it as “the crappy summer blockbuster Marvelites probably deserve.” Putting down the fans, eh? Well, that’s one way to bring my piss to a boil. And in case this makes him come across as a negative nancy, he has given a positive mark to certain films. Films like the 2010 version of Clash Of The Titans, where he said that “[Director Louis] Leterrier certainly shows a better sense of meaningful, economic narrative than the mess that Peter Jackson made of the interminable, incoherent Lord of the Rings trilogy.” And just in case that didn’t cement things for you, he also called the few-lived-to-remember-it Wayan brothers film Little Man as “a near-classic comedy”.

So, this guy has the trappings of a higher-tier internet troll. Anything else we should know about him? Well, he’s also become known for being rather boisterous when it comes to face-to-face time with certain directors. He became web-famous for a while when, at the 2013 New York Film Critics Circle awards ceremony, he yelled at 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen, called him “an embarrassing doorman and garbage man” and told him to “kiss [his] ass!”. White vehemently insists that this didn’t happen, but the number of outlets that have covered it (and the fact that he seems to be one of the few people saying that he didn’t say all that) would suggest otherwise. Now, I may be an uneducated kid from the suburbs of Sydney, but even when I didn’t like The Quarantine Hauntings and had a chance to say it to the face of the filmmakers, I had enough tact to not make a scene. Don’t get me wrong: I often have daydreams about taking directors like Terrence Malick by the collar and yelling at them for how bad their films are. However, one of the caveats that I thought existed in the difference between YouTube critics and print critics was that the guys on print were usually less impulsively vitriolic. Or, to put more simply, they know not to be a dick in public.

However, I have no problem with either of these parts of his work ethic. I mean, I’ve made it a yearly tradition to highlight where my opinion and those of the critical masses differ, so his ‘contrarian’ views don’t bother me too much. I mean, if you actually look at his Rotten Tomatoes score, he actually doesn’t differ from popular opinion as much as the Internet may have you think. He may champion Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, but he also described the Twilight Series as “an ADHD sedative.” That quote alone kind of warms my heart to the guy just a little bit. What also helps is that, for him to be a true contrarian, he would have to disagree with the public for its own sake. Instead, going by how he breaks down films, he has a very hyper-analytical and somewhat politically-tinted approach where he puts utmost focus on films as a means of delivering commentary, be it social, political, socio-political or otherwise. While I consent that he may focus on the subtextual ramifications a little too strongly, he still has his own voice that serves its purpose in the overall critical scene. As for his real-world antics... honestly, like a fair few of his fans, I like renegade artists. I like Kanye West for his complete lack of a filter and occasionally bursts of insanity, while others hate him for the same reason. Seeing someone in my personal field of interest who a) is this well recognized and b) is this demonstrably outspoken is kind of inspiring. He claims to have taken inspiration from New Yorker writer Pauline Kael, who herself was denounced for her less than popular opinions, and while I may not agree with either of them all that much, I can see why there would be inspiration coming from either of them.

So, you’re probably wondering why this article is titled as it is, if I am willing to defend this guy as much as I am. Well, while I may not hate him for the superficial reasons that so many others seem to, I have a very definite problem with something else he has a habit of doing. Weirdly enough, this also ties into a few of my issues with the critical scene as a whole, something that I see Armond White as a major embodiment of. When he was a guest on the Filmcast podcast to discuss the then-recent release of Inception, something that he considered to be far inferior and more juvenile than Michael Bay’s Transformers series, there was a certain line of reasoning that caught my attention. In the After Dark edition of that same episode, he and the hosts got to talking about the state of film criticism (as it is in the U.S.) and it’s here where the fuse gets lit for me. Armond White hates people like me. He hates how uneducated plebeians are being listened to as intently as people like him, proudly boasting about his formal education on the matter. He sees it as a sign of not only the critical scene being damaged but also Hollywood as a whole, and he puts the blame squarely on regular filmgoers who put their money forward to such projects. In case you missed last time I talked about this, I absolutely hate it when critics make judgement calls like this. There is zero reason why the blame should be put on the audience for liking/disliking a certain film, and whatever reason may exist is probably in it of itself a judgement call. Not that the commoner audience is entirely to blame though, as he also believes that legendary critic Roger Ebert destroyed film criticism as we know it, thanks to his work on At The Movies. Okay, I don’t agree with Ebert all that much either, but dude! All of this is coming across like the kid on the playground with a new toy, who then gets whiny when everyone has their own because he isn’t so special anymore. It is the elitism and snobbery and holier-than-thou attitude that I have come to despise when it comes to film criticism, and I have zero patience for it. He may have its place in the world, but if he’s sensible, it’s way the hell away from me.

So, in conclusion, I don’t hate Armond White because of his differing opinions on popular films. I don’t hate him because of his openly dickish behaviour towards certain filmmakers. I hate him because he represents an antiquated and almost fascistic mindset that says only properly educated people like him are allowed to have their opinions listened to, and everyone else are just making things worse. There may be points here and there where this notion aligns with my own disdain for the critical landscape here in Australia, but where I have some self-awareness about the food chain, this guy vehemently fails to realize where he is. What makes critics like Roger Ebert as lauded as they are is that, as the times changed, they shifted to meet the new audience. White doesn’t care about the new audience; he just wants things to be like they were in the good ol’ days. Time to grow up, Armond, in more ways than one. You’re not sitting in your ivory tower any more; you're sitting in its rubble.

For extra reading, check out this op-ed done by one of the hosts of Filmcast, which features nice, lengthy quotes from Armond himself just to prove that this isn’t just my own biases kicking in:

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Movie Review: The Do-Over (2016)

It’s Adam Sandler time again. hooray. I know that I’m running the risk of looking needlessly contrarian, but I stand by what I’ve been saying all this time. I still have the same love for Sandler’s older work that I had when I was a kid, and while his newer work is definitely several flights of steps down, I fail to see what makes it so bad that it warrants the scorn that’s been regularly thrown his way. Well, mostly fail to see: Along the same lines of maintaining opinion, That’s My Boy is still one of the single worst films I’ve ever sat through and last year’s The Ridiculous Six still sucks on rye bread. And it seems like we’re going forward down the road Ridiculous Six has lain before us, as this is the second of the scheduled four films that Happy Madison is co-producing with Netflix. I’d argue that taking him off of cinema screens is definitely a step in the right direction, but keep in mind just how many people are watching shows and movies through on-line streaming; he’s still going to nab an audience. Which includes me this time around, as I take a look at his latest... well, ‘effort’ is a bit of a stretch, but we’ll only see just how much of a stretch once we get started. This is The Do-Over.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Movie Review: Alice Through The Looking Glass (2016)

Whether it was listening to the original book on cassette tapes, watching the 1999 TV film version with Whoopi Goldberg as the Cheshire Cat or even playing Alice: Madness Returns on Playstation back in high school, I have a very ingrained appreciation for the story of Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole into a world where pretty much nothing makes sense. As much as the more logical parts of my brain would like to say otherwise, this appreciation extends to the 2010 film by Tim Burton. It’s one of those rare films where I legitimately don’t care about the plot inconsistencies, of which there are plenty to be found there, and I’m willing to bet that my already-admitted fanboyism for Burton’s work has got something to do with it. Nevertheless, I liked the first film which means that I was probably the only person on Earth who wanted to see a sequel to it, which I also was... initially, at least. Am I going to defend this film as well, or am I going to join the crowd? This is Alice Through The Looking Glass.

The plot: Some years after her last adventure into Underland, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns to find that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is distraught about his family, whom were killed by the Jabberwocky long ago. Wanting to cheer him up, Alice goes into the domain of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to steal the Chronosphere, a device that will let her go back in time and save the Hatter’s family. However, it seems that time is not so easily re-written and Time as well as the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) is catching up to her.

In the six short years since the original film, Mia Wasikowska has gone from an Aussie anomaly trying to make her big break to working with the likes of Jim Jarmusch and Guillermo Del Toro. Words cannot express how nice it is seeing an Australian actor doing good in Hollywood, especially since that extra experience serves her well here. Moving beyond the wide-eyed slothfulness of her previous outing as Alice, she manages to translate the supposed strength and smarts of the character into the film proper this time around. Depp gets a bit more emotional heft than before, but the Hatter was never one of his stronger performances to begin with so it doesn’t translate too well on screen. Bonham Carter is as shrill as ever, Anne Hathaway as wispy as ever, Matt Lucas still checks out as the Tweedles and Andrew Scott’s glorified cameo as the psychiatrist, even with how short it is, leaves a definite impression. And then there’s Baron Cohen, and I’ll be honest, I’m glad to see him in proper form again. He may be getting a little too much mileage out of his French accent, but he does admirably at conveying the haplessly regal demeanour of the personification of Time in this film.

The trailer for this film is incredibly misleading. It gives the impression that the creators might be going for a more psychologically-tinged American McGee approach to the story of Alice, something I was initially quite excited about. Alas, the scene featuring Andrew Scott’s manic doctor lasts about as long as it does in said trailer, and it doesn’t even crop up until a little over halfway through the film. That is not to say that the film itself doesn’t start out well, though. On the contrary, as it appears that new director James Bobin and returning screenwriter Linda Woolverton have gotten a better grasp on the source material than last time. Sure, it starts out on some loud and blaring misogyny courtesy of returning buttmonkey Hamish (Leo Bill), but it ends up ringing a little truer since Alice well and truly asserts herself as a person worthy of such scepticism. That may seem a little harsh, but trust me: Seeing him trying to snark her down to size after the very Pirates Of The Caribbean opening action scene did make me sympathize with her a lot more than the first time round. Then we get into the story proper involving the Mad Hatter and… okay, please take my opening spiel into account when I say this: This might be one of the better interpretations of the connection between Wonderland and the real world that I’ve seen in one of these adaptations. The way it connects the very irrational notion of proving the Hatter’s delusions right, as opposed to convincing him of anything else, with the epitome of permanency and inevitability that is Time and how it ends up taking all of us shows that they have a definite understanding of the utter illogic that Wonderland (or Underland in this case) runs on.

This then leads into time travel shenanigans, and as much as I want to lambast any film nowadays that tries to involve such a plot, initial impressions suggest that these filmmakers are aware of the inevitable conclusion of such a venture. Hell, the fact that Alice trying to change the past is framed as the irrational notion that it is is a point in favour of the film. It does end up going down a lot of similar directions as other time travel stories, particularly The Butterfly Effect with the emphasis on past actions and the scene set in an institution. However, I am willing to be fair to such stories because, in yet another notch on my subjectivity bedpost, it plays into the reason why I watch films in the first place. Back when I talked about Love, Rosie, I mentioned the film About Time being recommended to me by my psychologist. What I didn’t mention was why that film specifically: Because I have a very serious issue with dwelling on past mistakes, and that film helped me get through that aspect of my thinking. With this in mind, I have no issue with these stories as I know that, even with their prevalence, they are still useful to some people out there. That is, so long as the story is told well… and here is where things start to slip. While the film initially starts out promisingly enough, it starts to buckle under its own lack-of-weight around the halfway point. This is largely a result of the film not only having very little sense of direction in terms of its overall story but also because it does end up dragging out its ultimate lesson for far, far too long. We get it: We learn from our past mistakes to become the person we are today; Star Trek did a far better job of illustrating this same point in about half the time with the TNG episode ‘Tapestry’.

So, what about the visuals? I mean, even for people who couldn’t stand the first film (of which there are an understandable many), there was still plenty of praise to be had for the film’s visual aesthetic. To be fair, those comments had some rationality to them, as the 2010 film is probably one of the best examples of using a digital backlot to craft a world for the film to exist in, right up there with the film version of Sin City. Well, in contrast to the writing deficiencies, I’d go so far as to say that the visuals are actually even better than last time. As much as I got a real kick of the Burton style garishness of the original, it did end up making the world of Underland feel a tad small. Insert your own joke about cakes marked “Eat me” here. With this one, it starts really strong on those grounds with the aforementioned opening scene set on a ship beset by pirates. From there, once we get beyond the somewhat bland Victorian d├ęcor, Underland shows a definite upgrade. From the Hatter’s house to the oceans of time, right down to the Grand Clock itself, there’s a real sense of world-building as well as scope to be found here. I’d call this a shallow victory, given how the rest of the film doesn’t really hold up alongside it, but I can see some legitimacy in watching films purely for visual splendour. Yes, I have railed against photographically obsessed filmmakers in the past (Terrence Malick, Baz Luhrmann, etc.) but I’m not opposed to the idea overall, and this is such an instance… possibly.

All in all, as much as I seriously want to champion this movie, it’s not good. While it shows signs of improvement and more considerable effort being made, it ends up succumbing to a lack of direction and an inability to carve out its own path, instead just following what other films have done before it to abrasive degrees. I’d still argue that there are elements worth seeing here, but with how much of a letdown it ended up becoming, I can’t bring myself to recommend it. It’s worse than Point Break, as what good this film has going for it ends up dragging down its overall value; PB, by virtue of an overwhelming lack of effort, doesn’t do such a thing. However, with that said, this film at least started out promising something good; The Huntsman: Winter’s War, on the other hand, had zero chance of being good and doesn’t have nearly as many redeemable factors in it.