SCORECARD

DECEMBER

  • Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom ☆☆☆☆
  • Gremlins ☆☆☆☆
  • Tokyo Godfathers ☆☆☆☆
  • Toy Story 2 ☆☆☆☆
  • Toy Story ☆☆☆☆
  • Trading Places ☆☆☆☆
  • Guardians of the Galaxy ☆☆☆☆
  •  The Empire Strikes Back ☆☆☆☆
  • The Fellowship of the Ring EE ☆☆☆☆
  • The Return of the King EE ☆☆☆☆
  • The Two Towers EE ☆☆☆☆
  • Nebraska ☆☆☆☆
  • Robot & Frank ☆☆☆☆
  • The Cat Returns ☆☆☆
  • Frank ☆☆☆
  • Home Alone ☆☆☆
  • Kingdom of Heaven DC ☆☆☆
  • X-Men DOFP ☆☆☆
  • Scrooged ☆☆☆
  • Batman Returns ☆☆☆
  • Die Hard 2 ☆☆
  • Lucy ☆☆
  • The Zero Theorem ☆☆

Review Roundup - The fine line between clever and stupid

LUCY (2014)

As one of the last science fiction type films I'd see towards the end of this year I was actually looking forward to this from an action stand point rather than anything else. Many years ago Luc Besson directed the likes of Nikita and Léon, and while the genres in his back catalogue are not straightforward these stood out has having both explosive stopping power and solid character material that made them engaging on more than one level.

So here it's a shame that this failed to deliver on either front. As for the science fiction elements, these are the parts that work least of all and everything begins to come apart as they take precedence in the storyline. Early on it felt like there could be potential so what makes it stumble so much?


Festive Roundup - 'tis The Season

Part 2 of 2

SCROOGED  (1988)


Speaking of unsettling daytime movies, what time do they usually broadcast this one? The first ghost visit which replaces the classic Robert Marley scene is kinda disturbing, with full on zombie effects even if they're played for laughs. The poor frozen guy who gets found in the sewers towards the end is also pretty grim in a scene that can't really be a joke. But it gets the message across effectively I suppose. Scrooge is replaced by Cross but the material is all pretty much still here besides the modern day take and the TV production meta story.

It's a film which has a far stronger opening half when Bill Murray gets to be a total jerk to everyone. He's a cartoonish but believably scummy executive. It slowly becomes less effective when the Ghost of Christmas Present shows up, but there's still a lot of fun stuff. It's just that the opening gag of a movie in the movie (who doesn't want to see The Day The Reindeer Died) is impossible to beat, they put themselves at a disadvantage. I like the past flashback scenes which all work well, and it's always good to see Karen Allen outside of Raiders. But the best take on this story is still the one with Kermit the Frog.

Movie Rating: 3/5
Christmas Rating: Richard Donner (3/5)
Festive Moment: 'Charles Dickens would have wanted to see her nipples!' 


TRADING PLACES (1983)


I guess we're starting to move into all the familiar festive viewings as things go on here. But at least that means we can cover a decent John Landis comedy, and one with a pre let's-play-everyone Eddie Murphy. There's a lot of simple but effective class comedy with the prince and pauper style swap going on, and some of the visual gags like the judgemental portrait gallery is wonderful. Elsewhere it's what you'd expect from a film where the two leads are being directed effectively, and throwing in Denholm Elliot is just an extra treat. The first act has a lot of the best dialogue as Murphy as Billy-Ray Valentine finds himself caught out and thrown behind bars, before the scheme of two rich old jerks starts to unfold.

It starts to fall a part a bit once the big Wall Street plan at the end comes along, and the New Years Eve train party with its caged gorilla subplot really outstays its welcome. The whole stock exchange plot pushes it away from being essential Xmas viewing, and there's too much information crammed into the finale few scenes. But what the heck it still mostly fits the bill and has plenty of laughs from people at their peak performance. As they say 'Merry New Year! Ah-ha-hah-ahhaa!'.

Movie Rating: 4/5
Christmas Rating: Clarence Beakes (2/5)
Festive Moment: Salmon and the worst ever Santa beard


BLACKADDER'S CHRISTMAS CAROL (1988)


In a rare break from the usual format I will cheat a but here and include this Christmas TV special. The seasonal episode of Rowan Atkinson's acidic anti-character stands alone from the other episodes, but still includes sequences taken from earlier seasons in the Elizabethan and Georgian eras. It's never quite as good as these two seasons of the show which get included as dream / spirit visions but it has a lot of good moments because the writing is still great.

Plus the idea of the original Charles Dickens story being done in reverse is a master-stroke. The kind, generous man realising he could benefit from being cruel is pretty good spin on things. All of the usual suspects return as characters they've played or in new roles such as Queen Victoria (Miriam Margolyes) which keeps the variety act tone going. In general it's uneven but includes just enough acerbic quips and mean spirited retorts to make it annual viewing.

Episode Rating:
3/5
Christmas Rating:
Robbie Coltrane (3/5)
Festive Moment: 'Ill-conceived love I should warn you, is like a Christmas cracker. One massively disappointing bang and the novelty soon wears off'   




TOKYO GODFATHERS (2003)


While I was never a big fan of the likes of Paprika or Perfect Blue this is by far the best of Satoshi Kon's movies - for any time of year. Those others of course showed his great skill and imagination as a storyteller, but this is the one that manages to cram in the charm, tragedy and character depth I was craving and it pushes the whole thing to new levels. All those weird cuts and odd narrative moments he enjoys including are still present and correct of course, and it builds into a magical experience in spite of the darker, melancholy and more down to earth story setup.

A band of mismatched homeless people struggling with their demons might not seem like the obvious choice for Yuletide viewing, but the themes of family ties, charity and making up for bad past decisions all firmly fall in line with many other seasonal classics. The idea of coincidences driving the plot forward instead of just being contrived or awkward makes for interesting viewing. Since they're central to the story it never becomes over done. The bleaker elements provide some sombre moments that flesh things out but never become too morbid, and overall it's a rounded story full of oddball humour, character drama and genuine humanity. A real animated gem. 

Movie Rating: 4/5
Christmas Rating: Uncle Bag (3/5)
Festive Moment: Saved by an angel

Review Roundup - In the not too distant future

ROBOT & FRANK (2012)

Frank Langella stars in this science fiction drama, a story which despite featuring advanced robotics has no hint of dystopia or society on the verge of collapse. It's a cosy world, more Star Trek than Blade Runner in that respect. Though the scenes in which Frank's local library books are replaced by a 'virtual community' environment could perhaps be considered a little unsettling, this more of a backdrop to events which provide enough cause for concern on a human level. The technology here is reminiscent of real life developments - the title characters design has similar features to the Honda ASIMO project - but the other elements like phones and less sophisticated machines are added subtly to allow for a realistic feeling to the world. But this is a character piece with the dressing of a near future used as one small aspect of the story.


The real depth in the story comes from the title characters, and yes the robot is always just that, he's never given a name. In spite of this, and despite it stating more than once that it's just a machine and not alive; a lot of the best character moments are between these two. Frank is an aged jewel thief with a growing mental illness which affects his memory and his day to day life, and so against his wishes a helper is left by his son to provide lifestyle improvements like planning hobbies and diet. Frank's distaste for this slowly falls away when he realises that these projects could include lock picking at super fast speed and burglary planning - which the robot allows as this all goes towards aiding his brain power. The dynamic of the grumpy older man and the innocent monotone robot works really well as he slowly becomes attached to his faceless helper, ignoring the fact that any hints of his new friend being subversive or unlawful are all just programming; Frank's health are its only concerns. But of course it's only human that this level of anthropomorphic thinking transfers to the audience, and they make a likeable double act.

All this adds extra layers to a story about someone trying to recapture the past, even if they've never been entirely happy with how being a crook or doing jail time affected their children growing up. Ideas like books being taken away to be replaced with computer displays build on the other aspects of Frank's world when at times he begins to forget how old his family are or even smaller things like how long local restaurants have been closed down. When things are so downbeat it's easy to root for them and get invested as bumps in the road come along to shake up the big heist plans. This kind of sadness also adds to the atmosphere of the movie which balances out the more humourous parts of the script and any which might otherwise become too sickly. As this all comes to a head there are a few developments that feel a little rushed and the conclusion does raise a few questions on first viewing, but this is forgivable.

4/5

BONUS REVIEW
NEBRASKA (2013)


From one drama to another, albeit one more concerned more tragic story elements; Nebraska follows Woody (Bruce Dern) and his son as they travel across states to collect on what is clearly a phony million dollar sweepstakes prize. David is more concerned with his father's health and seems to be going along with the idea just to spend time with someone he feels distant from - it's clear as they travel and meet even more awkward family members along with people from his past that there's a lot he doesn't know about the man beyond the fact that he has a big alcohol problem and is slowly coming apart at the seams. The stark black and white photography adds a coldness to the proceedings which are already very melancholy, but it's interesting to see how the visuals add to scenes in which regrets and mistakes of the past are discussed. It's also a story which comments on the nature of family and friends, the choices that begin these relationships, and how dark their true colours might be when it comes out that Woody is going to be 'a millionaire'. In spite of this there are moments of warmth here, and it has a bleak comedic element going throughout that makes it a complex and compelling watch.

4/5

Review Roundup - Talking heads

FRANK (2014)
 
When talking about a film like this it can be difficult to nail down the exact components and pigeon hole it in a way that makes it simple enough to discuss. Even suggesting a genre proves to be a challenge, after all strangeness in itself is not enough to define a story. Of course it's billed as a wacky comedy with an odd collection of musicians trapped in isolation while they attempt to record an album, but under the surface this is a much darker and melancholy tale. The underlying character study is far more unwieldy, and like the eccentric characters taking centre stage there are many troubled layers beneath the mask.


Michael Fassbender dons the big head of Chris Sievey in a story which takes only a small inspiration from the television personality, opting instead to tell a story about the problems of musical inspiration and the nature of talent, or perhaps even genius. The performance, or lack of is both touching and alienating. The enigma of a man who refuses to show his face offers both intrigue and frustration as a core to the movie, as often he is not the focus. Despite the title, this story is really about Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) a keyboard playing songwriter, and an outsider looking in at this established group. Whether they look different, speak different languages or simply have a better grasp of their place in the scheme of things, they are all detached in some way or another. The limits of his ability are immediately clear and while Frank and the group's manager seem welcoming it's obvious that the other members question his worth; and perhaps they are justified in doing so as his lack of creativity slowly gives way to ego. While the device of such a character plays on the idea that the band are outcasts, Jon is rarely likable and his dependance on social media is both a distraction to the story and a jarring visual element. I'd prefer to have Twitter as something that exists outside of the screen personally.

In spite of my issues this is mainly a story about music, and it's great in that regard - Frank is both a great personality and front man. The experimental rock sound has hints of Jim Morrison, with one scene during the recording sessions in particular suggesting the more bizarre sections of The End a little. Perhaps it's worth just hearing to get a better idea; personal tastes and where similarities can be drawn will differ from person to person. But as soundtracks go this is a recommendation. Ultimately a lot of this is very good but the idea of it being a comedy is never central, it's a misleading label. As the elements about suicide attempts, mental hospital patients and panic attacks come into play, these are the issues which become thematic as things progress. It's interesting to view these characters as unknowable, and it's a thought provoking idea that the nature of inspiration may be a mystery with or without disorders and neuroses - but at the same time I would have liked more time to explore that side of things. Like the mask this draws you in but always keeps things at a distance despite there being moments of real depth. There a many great scenes which develop a sense of emotional weight yet it can feel cold and unfocused at times, showing care with many issues while keeping them at arms length. Ultimately it may be worth a look just for those moments. If that simple description of weird is appealing, of course.

3/5

Review Roundup - Et tu Koba?

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

Reboots, and worse yet the dreaded re-imaginings, are something of a sore point for many film fans much of the time. After all we all have our special favourites, and on most occasions remakes simply add a frustrating 'no the other one' moment to cinema discussions and nothing of else any value. It was interesting to see then, that Rise of the Planet of the Apes did the unthinkable by escaping the shadow of a much maligned Tim Burton effort some years before and even managed to go beyond the horribly trite "Rise" style title which usually signifies a shoddy effort on the part of the writers. But they pushed forward with motion capture technology, provided a story with some emotional resonance and managed to offer many viewers a good time. They were some questionable inclusions of course - some poor casting, a few clichés and perhaps some unnecessary shout outs to the original Charlton Heston film... but overall it was pretty impressive once things got moving. Would a follow be able to do the same of even up the ante?


Scorecard

 NOVEMBER

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark ☆☆☆☆☆
  • The Thing ☆☆☆☆☆
  • Dial M for Murder ☆☆☆☆
  • Guardians of the Galaxy ☆☆☆☆
  • Source Code ☆☆☆☆
  • Strangers of a Train ☆☆☆☆
  • Vertigo ☆☆☆☆
  • X2 ☆☆☆☆
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ☆☆☆☆
  • X-Men Days of Future Past ☆☆☆
  • Edge of Tomorrow ☆☆☆
  • Brain Damage ☆☆☆
  • Cleopatra '63 ☆☆☆
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much '56 ☆☆☆
  • Halloween ☆☆☆
  • How to Train Your Dragon ☆☆☆
  • Meet the Feebles ☆☆☆
  • The Princess Bride ☆☆☆
  • Under the Skin ☆☆☆
  • Godzilla '14 ☆☆
  • The Robe ☆☆
  • Flying Swords of Dragon Gate ☆