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?


Review Roundup - Christmas 2014

Part 2 of 2 (PART 1)

SCROOGED 


Speaking of unsettling daytime movies, what time do they usually broadcast this one? The first ghost visit which replaces the Scrooge and Marley scene is kinda disturbing, and so is the poor dead guy who gets found in the sewers towards the end. A film which has a far stronger opening half while Bill Murray is being a total jerk to everyone. While it gets less effective when the Ghost of Christmas Present shows up, there's still a lot of fun stuff (who doesn't want to see The Day The Reindeer Died) and I like the past scenes which all work well - it's good to see Karen Allen outside of Raiders.

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


TRADING PLACES


I guess we're moving into all the familiar viewings here, but it's good to get in a John Landis comedy, and one with a pre let's-play-everyone Eddie Murphy. It falls a part a bit once the big plan at the end comes along with the train party / gorilla stuff going on for far too long and the stock exchange plot pushes it away from being a real xmas viewing, but what the heck it fits the bill and has plenty of laughs. As they say 'Merry New Year! Ah-ha-hah-ahhaa!'.

Movie Rating: 4/5
Christmas Rating: Clarence Beakes (2/5)
Festive Moment: Eating salmon through the worst ever Santa beard


BLACKADDER'S CHRISTMAS CAROL


In a rare break from the usual format I will include this seasonal episode of Rowan Atkinson's acidic anti-character as its stands alone from the other episodes. This is never really as good as the two series of the show which get included as dream / spirit visions (the second and third seasons) but it has its moments because of the writing. Plus the idea of this story being done in reverse and the kind, generous man realising he could benefit from being cruel is pretty good spin on things.

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


I was never a big fan of the likes of Paprika or Perfect Blue but this is by far the best of Satoshi Kon's movies for any time of year. Those others showed great skill and imagination but this is the one that manages to cram in the charm, tragedy and character depth pushing them to new levels. By keeping in all those weird cuts and odd moments he enjoys including of course, it builds up a magical experience in spite of the more down to earth story setup of homeless people struggling with their demons. The idea of coincidences driving the plot forward makes for interesting viewing without ever becoming over done, and the darker elements provide some somber moments that flesh things out but never become too morbid. A real animated gem. 

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

Review Roundup - Christmas 2014

KISS KISS BANG BANG


So to kick things off this holiday season, where better to start than with some Shane Black. The man has a fetish for this time of year for some reason no matter how tenuous the link to the actual plot. So for whatever reason I don't have a copy of Lethal Weapon to hand, so this is good enough. It remains the kind of movie where you sit and think ... wow this is still really funny and sharp. Val Kilmer never gets material this good. And Robert Downey Jr. looks so weird with a clean shave. It's a great double act.

Film Rating: 4/5

Christmas Rating:
Shane Black (2/5)
Festive Moment:
Perry's secret weapon


DIE HARD... 2

 

So here's the thing, I already watched Die Hard a few weeks ago. It remains an 80s classic with plenty of shootouts and fights, some nice pyrotechnics and of course Alan Rickman. But now December is here this will have to do. It's got...snow I guess. This still takes place on the right dates, but the sequel remains a guilty pleasure because of the awkward acting, stupid dialogue and endlessly gratuitous violence and cursing. At one point someone in the airport control room confuses ground level and sea level and nobody notices, that's just the kind of quality writing we're talking here. But it does have that ejector seat moment.

Movie Rating: 2/5
(Add one if you're amused at death by turbine)
Christmas Rating: Renny Harlin (1/5)
Festive Moment: Icicle in the eye

BATMAN RETURNS





Okay here we really start to get in the swing of things. Christopher Walken, PVC outfits, gross Stan Winston effects and sexual innuendo. Christmas has arrived... well depending on the type of holiday you have planned I suppose. While I'm not the biggest fan of Tim Burton's outings in Gotham City, they are still plenty of fun for the most part. This one has endless amounts of scenery chewing and weird creepy stuff, while Bats himself has to contend with numerous baddies dividing up screen time, I figure it's a fair split.

Movie Rating 3/5

Christmas Rating:
Danny Elfman (2/5)
Festive Moment: Mistletoe can be deadly  


GREMLINS


Moving onto something just as gross but a little more festive, Gremlins is all about keeping the tone right. It manages to balance the creepy elements of the first half where it feels almost like a b-horror picture, and the bonkers moments later on with flash macks and Snow White. Plus you know, chainsaws, car accidents and tales of dead Santa, just the kind of thing to make you feel all warm and fuzzy.It's also one of those films you should never watch on TV as they always chopped things like the more gruesome moments at the end so that it can be broadcast at dinner time.

Movie Rating: 4/5
Christmas Rating: Amblin (3/5)
Festive Moment: Mrs Deagle's just desserts

(PART 2)

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 ☆