Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Movie Review: Shin Godzilla (2016)

Back in high school, I went through something of a Japanese cinematic phase. And no, this was before I found the Critic; this was less classy A-movies and more splatsticky B-movies. Specifically, those connected with goremeister Yoshihiro Nishimura: Mutant Girls Squad, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, Tokyo Gore Police, right up to the film that started it all for me Robogeisha. It was around this time that I developed a liking for that style of filmmaking, getting into Grindhouse shortly after. This is probably where I also got my appreciation for the more insane films out there so, for those who find reason to object to my defending of films like Yoga Hosers and Zoolander 2, you can thank the land of the rising acidic breast milk for that. So, when news hit of a new Godzilla film coming out with Nishimura himself working on the effects, a particularly abnormal wave of nostalgia washed me into my local cinema to check it out. I’m a bit rusty on recent language-other-than-English cinema, so I don’t know how this will turn out. This is Shin Godzilla.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Movie Review: This Giant Papier Mache Boulder Is Actually Really Heavy (2016)

Sci-fi is a genre with a long and proud history of being enjoyed by losers stuck in their parents’ basements. As such, it has also garnered a certain mockable reputation that, in recent years, has begun to recede into just being another aspect of human life. For all the hate I have for The Big Bang Theory, it is regrettably part of that assimilation process so I have one thing to be thankful to it for. While my brain tries to process me giving that piece of crap any credit, I will conceit that all of this acceptance doesn’t change one simple fact: Sci-fi is also incredibly goofy, even on a good day. As a result, riffing on films within that spectrum is probably the easiest of any genre; hell, the entire idea of riffing came about thanks to the kitschier titles of the 50’s and 60’s. Now, making fun of silly science fiction is all well and good, but then we get into feature-length spoof movies… and now the fear has set in. I say that because the spoof movie died a rather loud and obnoxious death a while back thanks to chuckleheads like Friedberg & Seltzer; people rarely make them anymore, and the few we do see are outright garbage. So, will this micro-budgeted New Zealand effort break the chain? Only one way to find out. This is This Giant Papier Mache Boulder Is Actually Really Heavy… and yes, that is the full title.

The plot: Tom (Christian Nicolson), Gavin (Lewis Roscoe) and Jeffrey (Daniel Pujol), while at a sci-fi convention, sit down to watch the film Space Warriors In Space. However, they find themselves in a weird situation when they are suddenly in the movie, flying a spaceship and fighting off the evil regime of Lord Froth (Joseph Wycoff). With the help of space ambassador Emmanor (Sez Niederer) and a space scientist (Jarred Tito), they plan to a) stop the plans of Froth and b) escape from this cheapily-made and nonsensical universe and back to their own.

It’s indie cast time again, and the results are actually a lot more even than I would’ve expected. Nicolson was brought in as a replacement actor early on, after the original pick for the lead left the project, and he does an okay job as the sardonic and occasionally lecherous lead. Roscoe mostly goes for the cynical route as well, save for one scene that is kind of glorious to watch as a sci-fi fanboy myself, and he makes a good fit next to Nicolson. Pujol might be overplaying the zealous fanboy for most of the film, but credit to him in that he switches between his on-screen personas quite well once the film-in-the-film starts affecting him. Wycoff, for as surprisingly little screen time that he gets, chews through the economical sets with remarkable ease. Niederer is alright as the romantic interest, in all the various modes she ends up being used in, Tito is very funny as the rather pitiful scientist (and equally pitiful camp stereotype later on), and Tansy Hayden as Lord Froth’s henchwoman Fralligay does well considering the massive teeth she’s been saddled with.

This transcends being simply a small-budgeted film and actually kind of embodies the reason for why these kind of production values exist: Because some people literally can’t do any better, same mentality behind the same old-school B-movies that this film spends so much time making fun of. As a result, the premise ends up rationalizing the visuals, not the other way around as is usually the case, which can feel a tad cynical even for a film built on modern-age cynicism. However, credit where it’s certainly due in that not only does it actually reach the point of being a stylistic aesthetic but also how there’s some odd creativity put into said stylistic choices. This is once again something that the better sci-fi franchises are known best for, like how a plunger and kitchen whisk could be turned into weapons for armoured space Nazis with the Daleks on Doctor Who, and something that this film has wholly embraced. From vibra-knives that look like marital aids to water lizards and rabbits projected at giant sizes to make do for giant monsters, right down to the string-held galaxy of planets, it has that level of consistency and dedication where, for as cheaply-made as this universe is, it actually is a universe onto itself. For those playing the home game, that means that this film’s reality has more internal consistency and logic than a lot of those found in mainstream films, up to and including the Divergent series.

Since we’re talking about what is essentially a spoof movie, might as well get into the ugly business that is this film’s sense of humour… well, possibly ugly, at least. I say that it is a very unrelenting kind of humour where there is room for pretty much nothing else but the laughs. This can end rather badly, namely because it could induce a feeling of burnout from the audience. And make no mistake, this is a gag film in its purest form, where the plot doesn’t so much take the back seat as it does ride in the open car boot while the driver is going Warp 9. And for once, I don’t really have much to complain about. I mean, for a film all about the gags, it actually has a very high success rate with its jokes. Not only that, this covers the spectrum for jokes as well, right down to blink-and-you’ll-miss-them sight gags that I always love seeing in movies. Hell, considering the director’s admitted approach to said sight gags, the DVD version could very well have even more of them than the version I saw.

The reason why I lump this film in together with the spoof movie sub-genre, as opposed to something like Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, is because of how it approaches the notion of riffing on sci-fi tropes. Namely, with an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach similar to Ed Glaser’s Press Start; actually, given the utensils used in the making of the various props, I think the kitchen sink actually was used at some point. Now, that all-out assault angle does at times result in the fanboys getting caught in the crossfire, where they themselves are part of the joke. I’ve made my case about audience shaming before, but in all honesty, the realms of sci-fi fandom are where a lot of this ends up happening. I mean, for every person who likes Neon Genesis Evangelion, there’s about a dozen others willing to call that person a retard for having the audacity to have a taste that differs from their own. In fairness to this film, though, none of the hazing that the more sci-fi obsessed characters get feels too mean-spirited. Hell, Gavin’s definitive scene shows better than anything else that this film has nothing but love for the genre. A very cynical, humourous and near-encyclopaedic love, given the slew of sci-fi classics both old and new that get name-dropped and lampooned in the process, but love nonetheless.

All in all, a firmly tongue-in-cheek send-up of the golden era of science fiction where the laughs are good and plentiful. It’s very much a labour of love from all concerned, and that kind of dedication shines through with its approach to tacky detail and wide breadth of painted targets within both the fandom and the subject material. Honestly, this feels like the kind of film I would make if I had the wherewithal to do so. Once the DVD is officially released, I’m putting the link right here because this is a film that sci-fi geeks will definitely get into one way or another. That, and something this genuinely entertaining deserves to have its filmmaker make the budget back which, believe it or not, Nicolson hasn’t managed yet. It’s better than Eddie The Eagle, as the brand of infectious glee found here taps into something a bit more specific and personal, making the connection stronger. However, for as much as I laughed my arse off at this, I still have to tip my hat to the trend-bucking and occasionally mindfragging writing that went into Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Movie Review: Rupture (2016)

It may have taken over a year for it to happen, but I think I’ve finally found a good thing to come out of last year’s Fifty Shades Of Grey adaptation: It brought further attention to another, far better film exploring S&M because we desperately wanted an alternative. Specifically, 2002’s Secretary, a film that seriously deserves getting some form of mainstream attention even if it’s through a tangential connection to a rather weak offering. With a mixture of genuine understanding and realistic characters, even considering the scope of their… actions, let’s say, it managed to give a very reasonable, sympathetic and frequently funny depiction of that type of lifestyle. It’s the kind of film that I personally have all the respect for because it managed to show kindness to an area of sexuality that, up until that point, had mainly been used for cheap jokes and even cheaper exploitation (Body Of Evidence, anyone?). So, after making a film about a famous photographer which also delved into certain elements of fringe culture, writer/director Steven Shainberg has been quiet for the last ten years. Then news hit of his latest film being released in Australia, in a sci-fi film festival no less, and I made my way down to Randwick faster than most of the horses that made the area famous. But is the trip worth it, cinematically at least? This is Rupture.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Movie Review: Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children (2016)

Sometimes, a film comes out where the filmmaker(s) and subject matter match each other that well that you start to question why it’s only now that such a connection was made. On one hand, you have director Tim Burton, a man whom has made a career out of telling stories of pale-skinned outsiders and giving them their rightful place in the world. On the other, we have the modern YA adaptation sub-genre, which has latched onto the public consciousness through teenaged empowerment fantasies of going against the system that wronged them. Add to this screenwriter Jane Goldman, whose work with Matthew Vaughn embodies that same air of acknowledging and celebrating the abnormal, and you have probably the most ideal combination of any film this year… in theory, at least. After all, as much I like Burton, Goldman and some of the higher-profile YA adaptations (I maintain that The Hunger Games is still an amazing film series), none of the above are immune from being rubbish. Last year’s me may argue this point, but I hadn’t yet seen Mars Attacks at that point; this year’s me knows that this guy is capable of making crap. So, even with all the right pieces in place behind the scenes, how does the final product look? This is Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Even in the realms of cinematic remakes, this is a rather unique ouroborosian situation. While you are quickly Googling that word, I’ll get into why this is. Back when I looked at Slow West, I made brief mention of the relationship between Japanese and Western cinema and here is where we crash head-first into one of the first branches on that tree. Based on the Akira Kurosawa classic Seven Samurai, the original Magnificent Seven is a seminal staple of Old Hollywood and set in place an action blueprint of the rag-tag team of characters that come together to fight a great foe that would be copied verbatim for decades to follow. If you’ve ever watched A Bug’s Life, then you have a pretty good idea of the formula. With that in mind, and the fact that this is a reimagining of a remake of a definitive piece of cinema (all of which has sprouted its own niches and sub-genres in their wake), this could prove a tricky one. It is also, based solely on the trailer, one of the few films this year that I have genuinely been anxious to see for myself. Time to dig in and see how this holds up, considering this film has a lot that it needs to prove. This is The Magnificent Seven.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Movie Review: The Girl On The Train (2016)

After spending far longer than I was expecting to this year complaining about movie marketing, I finally get to talk about the positives of movie marketing. Specifically, what it is capable of telling studios. The oldest rule in the medium of entertainment is to give the audience what they want, and what we spend our money on confirms that this is a thing we like to see and wouldn’t mind seeing again. It’s the cornerstone for the franchise-heavy filmmaking mindset that Hollywood has made some comfy cash on in recent years (or decades, if we’re being honest). I say all this because, with only a passing glimpse at this film’s marketing, it is clear that the grease in the production’s gears is the success of David Fincher’s Gone Girl from two years ago. People saw that film in droves, both critics and casuals alike, and I myself would love to see more of that kind of smart and intense thriller. I’ve admitted before to my own fascination with trickery and games of wits, and no film of the last several years did a better job in those two areas than Gone Girl. But that’s where the association gets a little dangerous: This film wants to be seen as another Gone Girl. But is it capable of fulfilling that role? Hell, removed from connections to any other film, is it capable of fulfilling its role as a movie? This is The Girl On The Train.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Movie Review: Deepwater Horizon (2016)

I have no real opinion when it comes to the use of fossil fuels. I understand that its current use is having certain hazardous effects on the environment, but I also understand that alternative energy isn’t yet at the point of replacing its ubiquity. I see it as a necessary evil for the time being more than anything else, something aided by the fact that we as a species have a history of decisions that have adversely affected the world around us, and the living things that live on it; trust me, burning oil and coal is a serious step-up compared to the other things we’ve historically burnt. Yeah, I’m just as surprised as you are that my usual soap-boxing stances on social issues didn’t quite translate on this one. So, as we get into today’s film, understand that I’m going in without any real bias at all; a rarity in these parts, I know. This is Deepwater Horizon.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Movie Review: Storks (2016)

When I was a young-in and still na├»ve to the world around me, I had some… interesting ideas about where babies came from. For some reason, I was under the impression that when a couple is married, the wife’s wedding ring sends a little UFO into the stomach which creates the baby. Feel free to laugh at this in all its preciousness, because I honestly never stopped. What I’m getting at with all this is that, because of my own misconceptions about conception, recurring ideas like “storks deliver babies” don’t seem as ludicrous to me as they probably should. Not that I’m advocating lying to children or anything, but I do understand not telling them the whole truth when they’re too young to understand ideas like sex. I mean, hell, some adults are still struggling to deal with sex in its many bizarre facets. Considering all this, today’s film centred on probably the oldest wives’ tale involving baby-making already gets the head-tilt seal of approval. Does it get any other seals of approval? This is Storks.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Movie Review: Snowden (2016)

As a whole, 2016 has been a primarily emotional year for cinema, more so than any of the last few. From the heavy fan reactions to Ghostbusters and the DC cinematic canon, to the emphasis on pathos in some of the higher-profile releases of the year, filmmakers have been aiming mostly at the heart all year. Hell, just look at my current list of the year’s films that I’ve seen: The top is populated with films that focus intently on traits associated with the best of humanity like family, courage and community (albeit rather sexual community), while the bottom is populated by trash that exhibits the worst of humanity like sexism, racism and ableism. It is this need for more emotionally potent, yet relevant, cinema that is pretty much my only rationalization for why this film exists at this point in time. After last year’s as-close-as-we’ll-ever-get-to-the-subject documentary Citizenfour, I thought that details concerning the most infamous whistle-blower in recent memory would have been tapped out already. Then again, we’re in Oscar season and these sorts of stories are prime material for that brand of filmmaking, so it isn’t all too surprising that this exists, especially considering who made it. So, on top of delivering as a film in its own right, this biopic now has to prove its right to exist alongside a fairly in-depth feature that’s not even two years old. This is Snowden.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Movie Review: Drown (2016)

There isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not grateful for the environments that I was raised in. A supportive family that I could literally tell anything to, the right friends (mostly) who are willing to lend an ear if I need to vent or vice versa, a country that’s a mongrel patchwork of pretty much every civilization that has existed in the last two centuries; not gonna lie, I lucked out in that regard. And in no other regard am I more thankful than when it comes to LGBT issues. My own place within that spectrum is still being sorted out, mainly out of trying to understand its various nuances to find my exact place within it (if there even is one), but I grew up around people who were more than willing to accept it. Hell, when I came out at my Year 12 formal (in response to a gay joke, no less), there was a mixture of silence, giggles and relieving smiles that showed me that there is a place for me in this world with that in mind. However, there is a part of me that feels somewhat guilty of my own gratitude, as I know for a fact that not everyone is as fortunate when it comes to what people understand. Sheltered childhood for the win, I guess? Anyway, I bring all this up to bring my own perspective to the forefront because… wow, this is a bit of a tough one to dissect. This is Drown.