Category Archives: Film reviews

Guardians of the Galaxy

After Peter Quill’s mother dies of some terminal illness, he runs outside and is abducted by aliens (isn’t that aways the way?) Twenty-six years later, he’s stealing some orb from an alien planet, and is then hunted down by a genetically enhanced raccoon who like any good child in a Hollywood film is equipped with allegedly witty one-liners, and an animate tree called Groot. But he’s also targeted by some green-skinned alien babe, and in the course of all their sexy shenanigans, the police nick all of them and ship them off to some Awful Penal Colony (in Space)™.

You see, some blue-skinned bloke called RonVn (V = any vowel randomly inserted by Americans in unstressed syllables) hates peace treaties (probably because he’s some entitled knobhead). Thus, he wants this sphere because it contains an infinity stone which is utterly inimical to life so that he can destroy the planet Xylophone (or whatever it’s called; Glenn Close is running the place; or Mrs Doubtfire, but as Robin Williams is dead, I’ll stick with Glenn Close).

Our heroes try to prevent RonVn from getting the orb, but they’ll fail because The Big Book of Clichés in American Films says he has to get his hands on it, and in spite of it being very, very dangerous, he still has the power to incorporate it into his war hammer.

Of course, the same volume, which faithfully guides so many Hollywood films, also says that the heroes have to undo the villain’s nefarious plans and spank him into the middle of the Stone Age.

The exposition is a mess which, I’d assume, the comic explains in greater detail. Why did the aliens abduct the child? Why does the seriously evil blue-skinned villain have a problem with some peace treaty? Who’s the purple bloke on the throne made of rocks? Why does anyone care about this collection of clichés.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s another slick Marvel production aimed at Third-World audiences who like lots of CGI, explosions, and space battles, but it seems to be doing nothing new. Quill even turns out to be more special than he ever realised. How Harry Potter of him.

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From start to finish in three tedious hours

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Unbearably long, lots of explosions, plot thinner than a randy nun’s knickers.

No.

Deadpool.

Deadpool is some sort of mercenary, either intimidating people or shagging his hot girlfriend (or she shags him; either’s good in Deadpool’s world). Unfortunately, Deadpool gets cancer and is offered a cure which will alter him physically, turning his lovely smooth skin into an approximation of a pink-coloured lunar surface and rendering him immortal. The treatment is horrible, but Deadpool eventually escapes to hunt down Frances, the man who turned him into a mutant.

There’s a big fight at the end set on a derelict aircraft carrier and with the help of a couple of cut-price X-Men, Deadpool takes out Frances and his minions.

By dint of being different, Deadpool is, to a degree, a bit more entertaining than the usual Bowdlerised superhero films. It’s not as metrosexual as the Guardian hacks gushed because it’s a parody. The girl-on-boy action is part of the mockery; so, too, when Deadpool gets shot up the bottom.

Entertaining, rather silly, and not for everyone.

Interstellar.

The Earth is dying. Well, American farmlands are dying. NASA, working in secret, has sent astronauts on a one-way mission through some wormhole that has appeared near Saturn. Cooper, an ex-NASA rocket jockey, finds his way to NASA’s secret base where Michael Caine instantly appoints him to the expedition to go in search of the pioneering astronauts on the other side of the wormhole. When the expedition arrives, they find that the whole thing has been a failure, and that Matt Damon has gone mad and causes part of the expedition’s mother ship to be destroyed. Cooper uses a local black hole to try and slingshot himself to safety, but ends up behind the bookcase in his daughter’s bedroom, trying to send her messages. Somehow he’s rescued and wakes up inside a Dyson torus.

The other half of the film is about what’s been happening on Earth while Cooper is in space. His bad-tempered teenage daughter grows up to be a bad-tempered teenage woman who hates her father for abandoning her, but ends up working for NASA and working out that Michael Caine had already solved the gravity equation, only lacking one vital piece of information, viz. what happens beyond the event horizon of a black hole.

By that stage, the audience has ceased to care about this rambling, baffling film, which seems to be a metaphor for something entirely different. Something about fathers and daughters? Oh, who bloody well cares? Lacks adequate explanatory power.

The Revenant.

A group of hunters is attacked by the Ree, who are searching for the chief’s daughter, Powaqa. The survivors start making the trek by river and overland to Fort Kiowa. On the way there, their guide, Hugh Glass, is badly mauled by a bear. When it becomes clear that the rest of the hunters cannot haul him all the way to safety, he is left behind with his son, Hawk, Hawk’s mate, Bridger, and the villainous Fitzgerald, who kills the former, tries to kill Glass, and intimidates Bridger.

In spite of his horrific injuries, and encounters with the Ree and the French (also, the man seems strangely immune to being thrown into ice-cold rivers where he ought to be dying of exposure), Glass is eventually rescued and Fitzgerald’s crimes are exposed. Even after all he’s been through, Glass insists on pursuing Fitzgerald and eventually leaves him to the tender mercies of the Ree.

The Revenant is an intense film, but drags on and on and on (which seems to be a common feature of all the films which I’ve watched recently). By the time Glass fights Fitzgerald, the whole plot has outstayed its welcome and the final battle descends into bathos with the two men crawling across the snow.

The cinematography is gorgeous, though, and the wintry American wilderness has never looked so nice.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

A considered survey of the parts of this film would almost certainly end up with it being reduced by an hour to an hour and a half with the removal of all the tedious bloat. By asking the questions “Where did the First Order come from?” and “How can the rebels be the rebels if they restored the Republic, and just who is the government?”, the film almost entirely vanishes.

The main storyline is that a BB8 droid has the final piece of a map leading to the location of Luke Skywalker, who appears to have disappeared after Kylo Ren, the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia, turned to the Dark Side just as his granddad, Anakin Skywalker did under the tutelage of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The droid eventually reaches the rebels, who also have to see off Death Star++. Han Solo leads the away team, tries to get his son to return to the family fold, and gets skewered on a light sabre for his pains.

Meanwhile, Rey, some random girl from Jakku, goes and finds Luke Skywalker.

Not boring, but definitely flabby and full of holes.

X-Men: Apocalypse.

Terry, the first mutant, who was a bit of a bastard, is raised from suspended animation by some chanting Egyptians. How does that work? (Oh, and I’m calling him Terry because he doesn’t appear to have a name.) He goes in search of the biggest bastards among the mutants of the 1980s, including Magneto. Only the X-Men can save the world.

Actually, only Jean Grey can save the world because she seems to be the only mutant powerful enough to taking down the power-sucking Terry, which begs the question why she wasn’t brought into play sooner, thus sparing the audience considerable amounts of suffering.

Is there life on Mars?

The Martian.

When a Martian storm turns out to be much stronger than predicted, the astronauts manning a base on Mars evacuate the place, but as they trek through the storm to their shuttle, a satellite dish hits Mark Watney, who is left behind, presumed dead.1

Watney survives, and finding himself stranded on Mars, must work out how he can stay alive long enough for the next manned mission to arrive there. Fortunately, he’s a botanist and he starts doing some indoor gardening, growing potatoes.

NASA eventually realises that someone is still on the surface of the red planet and manages to make contact with him. Plans are made to send a supply rocket, but it explodes not long after launch, and the only other plan is to send the Hermes (the mother ship) back to Mars to pick Watney up by sling-shotting it around the Earth and collect a Chinese supply ship at the same time.

“I’ve done the maths,” says the NASA scientist who doesn’t even recognise the man who runs the show. “It’ll work.”

Meanwhile, Watney loses all of his crops and must trek to another shuttle, but in order for him to reach the Hermes when it gets back to Mars, he has to strip it of most of its kit or he’ll never make it to the rendezvous point. But even without all the extra weight, he doesn’t quite make it, and must stab a hole in his suit for that extra propulsion to cross the gap to safety.2

It obviously wouldn’t make for a good film if Watney merely got on with his gardening for a couple of years, and nothing bad happened. In the best traditions of Hollywood, you know that the moment someone says, “Provided nothing goes wrong”, everything will go wrong, and it does. It could’ve been worse, though. It could’ve been Gravity-bad, with increasing levels of ludicrousness.

Matt Damon at least plays Watney as a personable individual. His banter with the rest of the expedition members is informally chummy and entertaining. Jeff Daniels is a bit bland as the head of NASA, and the scientists who aren’t in major roles are all typically nerdy because, er, that’s what scientists are. Oh, and the head of China’s space programme wouldn’t ever have grey hair. He would’ve been at the hair dye like almost everyone else.

Overall, The Martian is a decently entertaining piece of cinema even if it has to conform to The Big Book of Hollywood Disaster Film Clichés.

Notes.

  1. On this point, I have to wonder why the storm was strong enough to rip the dish off its mount and blow it hard enough to knock Watney 20m or so through the air, but neither affect the astronauts nor kill him.
  2. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation why the other five members of the expedition were able to fly back to the Hermes without any problems while Watney’s super-light spaceship can’t make it.

Now out on DVD. Then out on DVD

The Hateful Eight.

A bounty hunter, Marquis Warren (Samuel Jackson), is taking some prizes to Red Rock when his horse dies on him. He hitches a lift with John Ruth (Kurt Russell), who is taking the notorious Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Lee) to Red Rock to be hanged. A bit further up the road, they meet the man who is going to be the town’s new sheriff. Behind the coach is a blizzard.

The party arrives at Minnie’s, where they find the cast of Reservoir Dogs, but no sign of Minnie or Sweet Dave. Ruth and the stagecoach driver drink poisoned coffee and die, while Warren and the sheriff start putting two and two together. There’s the inevitable shoot-out when it’s revealed that Domergue’s brother and the rest of the gang are there to rescue her.

The sheriff and Warren finish off the job which Ruth started, and after three hours, the film is over.

The Hateful Eight is like an extended version of Reservoir Dogs set in the Wild West. Some viewers will not doubt find that the film drags because of its length, but I don’t seem to have been in that mood.

It is full of the usual Tarentinesque violence and blood. Domergue’s face gets increasingly bloody one way or another as the film progresses.

The twist, if you want to call it that, is that the sheriff is not quite the dimwitted rustic clown the rest take him to be.

Not advisable for anyone who is not keen on blood, violence and a three-hour-long film.

I now pronounce you Chuck and Larry.

Chuck and Larry are firemen, but in order to scam the system (for all the right reasons), they pretend to be a gay couple and get married.

Dull and frequently embarrassing. (Also, Adam Sandler as a babe magnet? Don’t think so.) The 1970s rang part way through and said it wanted its tacky comedy back. I watched it on and off, but mostly ignored it.

Fast and Furious 7.

Yes, I know. Vin Diesel and chums drive fast cars and engage in the most ridiculously OTT stunts and storyline you can imagine. Jason Statham… Yeah, ’nuff said. Dwayne Johnson… ’Nuff said there, too.

Poignant send-off for the late Paul Walker who was killed in a car crash in real life while the film was in production.

Disintegration of the mind

Still Alice.

Alice Howland is a 50-year-old lecturer in Linguistics at Columbia (and – thankfully – we’re spared a lot of gushing about what a genius she is) who starts forgetting words, and then things in general, even those which she has only been told moments earlier. She goes to a neurologist who diagnoses early onset Alzheimer’s disease, which she inherited from her father, and which she has passed to at least one of her children.

Howland does what she can to retain her memories, testing herself every day to see whether she’s still capable of remembering basic facts. Before the disease has gone too far, she makes a video to tell herself where she has stashed a bottle of sleeping pills which she is to take when she can no longer answer the questions she puts to herself. The obvious problem is that she’s likely to have forgotten about the video by that stage, and it’s by accident that she stumbles across it later on. Howland’s attempt to instruct herself to commit suicide fails because the nurse arrives, but she struggles to retain the instructions.

The film ends with Howland unable to produce much more than noises.

Julianne Moore largely dominates the movie in which the rest of the cast has a supporting role. This is perhaps for the best because otherwise it would be easy for this to have become mawkishly sentimental (little is made of the end of her academic career) or filled with shouting born of frustration with her inability to recall things. Similarly, Howland’s decline is tragic, but it’s presented as a tragedy which is a natural consequence of the disease.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Metal Gear Solid.

“Can I have a look at Loki’s Sceptre? Pretty please?” says Tony Stark.

“Yeah, fine” says everyone else, quite forgetting that this isn’t going to end well. (You’s think they’d never seen a single American film in their lives.)

And no, it doesn’t end well. Stark’s defensive program, Ultron, comes to life and decides to destroy the Avengers and humanity. The former will be fractured by a pair of twins, one with super speed and the other with mind control powers. The latter will be annihilated by dropping a central European village on them.

Unfortunately for Ultron, his attempt to upgrade to a living body leaves him open to mind reading, which reveals his nefarious plan, and the twins change sides. (Damned robotists all with their robotism creating a barrier between humans and their metal overlords!)

The village gets fired into the air and falls back to Earth, but somehow ends up in a lake. The Avengers go home, leaving Captain America and the Ginger Assassin to train some new recruits at their new HQ.

Another glossy action flick from the Marvel stable with plenty of fighting and explosions for Third-World audiences.

Film reviews Part LXIX

American Hustle.

A couple of con artists are nicked by the FBI and forced to work for them to nick some corrupt politicians. The Mafia gets involved. Things could get very unpleasant, but our heroes manage to wriggle out of trouble and keep everyone happy apart from the FBI.

The film lacked spark, I thought. There were tense moments such as the appearance of Robert de Niro (yes, again) as the potentially über-violent mobster who could speak Arabic, but that was just largely a cameo which resulted in no particular payoff. All mouth and no trousers. No one seemed to be in any real danger and the denouement of the film was not one of those moments when the audience breathes a sigh of relief that the main characters have got away with it.


12 Years a Slave.

Solomon Northup get a job as an itinerant musician, but one night, after imbibing a little too much, he wakes up the following morning to find himself in chains and bound for the slave states where he is called Plat(t) and must hide the fact that he’s an educated freeman. During his time in servitude he witnesses and suffers all manner of barbaric treatment on the plantations, but eventually manages to get a Canadian to get word to people in New York, who rescue him.

Sad to say, Northup never received any justice for his abduction because although he had papers to prove that he was free, the law did not permit him to testify against the men who abducted him. He became an abolitionist and was involved in the underground railway that smuggled slaves to freedom, but the circumstances of his death are wholly unknown.

Not a bad film overall, but it suffered from feeling episodic in that there was this part from the book, that part from the book, and the other part from the book with only a fairly loose connection between them.


Saving Mr. Banks.

P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books, proves to be a difficult collaborator during her involvement in the making of the 1964 film because she objects to almost everything about the production. Eventually, Disney mostly wins her over and everyone sings happily ever after.

The story is intercut with scenes from Travers’ childhood when she was Helen Goff, the daughter of an alcoholic bank manager in Australia who died of influenza at the age of 43.

As my subsequent research revealed, this is the Disney version of the making of a Disney film. In reality, much of Saving Mr. Banks is invention. More interesting would have been a biopic of Travers’ life because although she does seem to have had a very prickly personality, she wasn’t exactly conventional, having had a string of boyfriends and a very close, long-term relationship with another woman. She has started out as an actress and won fame and fortune as a writer. Although Travers had no children of her own, she had adopted an Irish boy, Camillus, whose twin brother (passed over by Travers on the recommendations of an astrologer) eventually found him in London. At the premier to which she had not originally been invited, she cried not because she was moved by the film, but rather because she was furious at what it’d done to her books.

But who cares about reality when Tom Hanks is playing Disney’s version of Walt Disney, the genial storyteller rather than the right-wing con­serv­at­ive?


The Butler.

After seeing his dad murdered with impunity, Cecil Gaines decides to leave a life of picking cotton behind him and gets a job in a hotel. He then gets a job in a hotel in Washington where he is headhunted to work as a White House butler, serving eight presidents and finally seeing a black man ascend to the American throne.

The film contrasts Gaines’ subservient role in the White House with events which were affecting black Americans as they fought for equality. One of Gaines’ sons gets involved in the Civil Rights Movement, but another goes to Vietnam and is killed.

Much of the film focuses on the 1960s and early 70s, and is dedicated to the people who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Apart from protests against the apartheid regime in South Africa, much of the rest is glossed over.

The film does tend to drag on and I found my interest in it waning. Like other films I’ve been watching recently, this is an American film for Ameri­can audiences.

If anything can go wrong, it will in the worst possible movie

Gravity.

I had high hopes for Gravity, but it brought me down to Earth. Disaster movie based on Murphy’s Law.


Elysium.

Social satire. The bosses live on a posh space station. The plebs live in Los Angeles, which looks like a South African shantytown. The villains have the most outrageous Seth Efrican accents. Jodie Foster has a weird accent. Matt Damon dresses up like a robot and downloads himself for the greater good.


The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.

The film is based on some book I’ve neither heard of nor read, but it’s painfully obvious that the producers cherry-picked bits of it because there are various non sequiturs (e.g. “Hello, we’ve just met,” says Lily Collins. Five minutes later. “Now I’m going to address you as if we’ve known each other for years.”).

It’s a little Harry Potter (“I’m a special girl,” says Lily Collins), and a little bit Star Wars (“You’re my dad?” says Lily Collins. “You’re not Darth Vader, are you?” No, replies Henry VIII from The Tudors, but you did snog your brother).

After Buffy, why does anyone bother with these sorts of stories any longer?


The Family.

A black comedy about a Mafia family in a witness protection programme who end up in a village in France where they prove that an apple never falls far from the cliché. Their old associates track them down and send a hit squad to take them out. Fortunately, it’s not played for deliberate laughs, which saves it from being utterly dire.

More and more beddy gooda!

The Bagman.

Robert de Niro tells John Cusack to go to a motel in the middle of nowhere, wait in Room 13, and not look in the bag which is in his care.

Cusack finds himself in Bizarro World, killing everyone from dodgy FBI agents to corrupt policemen to weird motel managers while acquiring some six-foot-tall Amazon as a sidekick.

The film ponders dully along, and eventually de Niro turns up and reveals the ghastly truth – he’s murdered Cusack’s girlfriend so that she won’t distract his most faithful employee. There’s a gunfight. Our heroes get US$5 million.

I think the film was meant to have been a black comedy, but it was all black and no comedy worth mentioning. It was dull. Even the exciting bits were dull. Why would the likes of John Cusack and Robert de Niro even bother with such a soggy celery stick of a film?


Ender’s Game.

Ender is a creepy, skinny 14-year-old child who looks like he escaped from the Boys from Brazil. Stick a toothbrush moustache on him and he’d be Hitler with blue eyes.

Instead of being a normal 14-year-old, he’s fast-tracked through the military to become High Commander of Earth’s forces as they prepare for a strike against some race of insects from another planet.

“It’s the final test,” says Han Solo. What was the final test? Actually destroying the alien planet and committing genocide. “Well done, Hitler. Sorry, Ender,” says Han Solo. “We’re promoting you to admiral even although you only arrived a couple of days ago and haven’t even reached puberty.”

Meanwhile, in cinemas across Japan… “Dude, this is like a total rip-off of Neongenesis or RahXephon.”

Ben Kingsley is apparently meant to be a Maori, although he has a South African accent.


Now You See Me.

A group of illusionists commit a series of robberies in the hope that they’ll gain admittance to an ancient guild of magicians.

The FBI and professional sceptic, Morgan Freeman, are after them, but always a step behind.

Ultimately, showy but shallow. The audience had no real reason to empathise with any of the characters or even care why the illusionists wanted to get into such an exclusive club.


The Wolverine.

Logan goes to Japan. There’s lots of fighting, ninjas, and a mecha made of adamantine.

Er, well… That’s it!


Kick-Ass 2.

Kick-Ass is back in an uncomfortable combination of gags and ultraviolence. This time, the Motherf_cker, who dresses in his mother’s bondage gear, wants to kill Kick-Ass in revenge for the death of his father (by bazooka) in the previous film, and recruits an army of wannabe supervillains to help him.

Kick-Ass teams up with a small group of superheroes, wishing that Hit Girl would join them. But her foster father has clipped her wings and she promises not to get involved.

Yes, of course she gets involved when Kick-Ass goes to confront his rival. There’s a fight. The Motherf_cker falls into a shark tank and gets eaten… by a shark.

Hit Girl decides she’s had enough of New York and rides off on her purple motorbike.

I need to watch the original film again, but this seemed to be a reasonable sequel to that even if the novelty is no longer there. The tone did feel inconsistent with the violence being cartoony on some occasions, and nasty and vicious on the other, The Motherf_cker was a sad specimen where Kick-Ass really needed his archenemy to have a proven record of evil behind him.

Beddy, beddy, beddy, beddy gooda!

Preface.

Having missed a bunch of films of late, I thought it was about time to catch up with Hollywood’s latest quality cinematic offerings. I don’t like going to my local DVD shop because DVD先生 insists that everything he has in stock is “Beddy, beddy, beddy etc. gooda”, which it never is. Quality cinema to him is a low budget, right-wing American epic with a lot of guns. He seems to think that I must want to accept all of his ill-considered recommendations without question.


Seal team 8: Behind Enemy Lines.

Lex Shrapnel (no, really) leads a mission to rescue a CIA agent who has been captured by a Congolese warlord. As the audience instantly realises, the secret agent is the real villain and the Americans find themselves in deep, deep doo-doo. Basically, it’s a long cutscene from a video game.

DVD先生 gives this a 5-beddy rating because this film requires no thinking. Mr Bamboo says, “Not fit to be used as a dog-turd scraper.”


Blue is the Warmest Colour.

This is the winner of a Palme d’Or from Cannes. Why did it win? Was it the excruciating length (three hours) and the general dullness of the film? Was it the rambling storyline? Was it the clichés about confused lesbians and inflexible relationships?

DVD先生 would probably give this a 3-beddy rating. Lesbians, good; rest boring. Mr Bamboo says, “Boring.”


The World’s End.

Gary King persuades all his old school mates to return to their hometown to do the Golden Mile, a pub crawl which they attempted but failed to complete after leaving school. During the course of their journey through the town, they find that almost everyone has been replaced by robots. King is determined to complete his quest at the end of which he tells the aliens to bugger off.

King is that stock character of British cinema, the annoying plonker who ploughs through everyone else’s lives without a second thought. Simon Pegg also gets a little too much screen time, it seems, as the rest of the cast merely orbit him like small asteroid-sized moons.

The film is obviously a satire on the uniformity of modern life. The pubs are all the same and people have been assimilated. Hot Fuzz dealt with a similar theme.

DVD先生 has no opinion. There are robots, and there is fighting, but there are no Americans and no right-wing subtext. Mr Bamboo says, “All right to a point, but might’ve been better if the tone was serious or poignant with, say, Gary King dying of something terminal at the end of the film.”


Lone Survivor.

Based on a real-life mission into Afghanistan to whack some Taliban commander, it goes pear-shaped almost immediately, and the four-man squad is pursued by the Taliban, which kills them one by one until one man is left. He falls into the hands of some Pashtun villagers who are honour-bound to protect him. The Taliban aren’t pleased and start an assault on the village just in time for the US military to arrive and see them off the premises.

DVD先生 prefers a 4-beddy rating. He likes all the guns and ammo, but isn’t so keen on the human dimension and the lack of super-soldiers. Mr Bamboo says, “More depth than the first offering, but really another American film for Americans which should’ve stayed in America.”