Sunday, February 23, 2014
Films of 2014, #26:
John Carter (dir. Andrew Stanton, 2012)
Despite all the bad press, this is a really fun adventure film. A couple of clichés, sure, but played really well… And it’s a military adventure on Mars. It’s like Jules Verne meets the Hollywood blockbuster (but in a less horrific way than that version of 80 Days…), minus extensive descriptions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
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Honestly, even though it was a little predictable and full of tropes, I really enjoyed this. I’d have liked to see a little more of Carter struggling with gravity, maybe, but that woulda kept us away from the good parts, after all. Nice acting all round, too – again, not award-winning stuff, but decent. Definitely less high-budget B-Grade than I was expecting. It’s the characters that are more one-dimensional, but the actors work with it well, and it works well for this kind of story.
Possibly the one detrimental feature to the film is the ending, which breaks from the visual conventions already established for the plot device it uses, opting instead to… Imitate Avatar almost exactly (minus the alien body). It’s the most obvious example of weak and contrived in the film, and seriously should have been better thought-out. You wanna evoke the same feeling of completeness/homecoming that Avatar had? Don’t do the neuron tunnel thing. The usual flash, followed by a shot of Carter standing in Helium or somewhere would have been much better.
Other than that, great fun and extraordinarily underrated (though I never saw a lick of the original marketing campaign, which I hear has a lot to do with the “this is utter shit” sentiment). Just don’t expect an arthouse work, or a “serious” and/or M-R16+ kind of fun action.

Films of 2014, #26:

John Carter (dir. Andrew Stanton, 2012)

Despite all the bad press, this is a really fun adventure film. A couple of clichés, sure, but played really well… And it’s a military adventure on Mars. It’s like Jules Verne meets the Hollywood blockbuster (but in a less horrific way than that version of 80 Days…), minus extensive descriptions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

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Films of 2014, #25:
Kitchen Sink (dir. Alison Maclean, 1989)
A little incomprehensible, but that’s not always a bad thing (look at Un Chien Andalou, or Lynch). Fantastic – and fantastically scored – creepy little film.
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I don’t think I could quite decipher what MacClean was getting at here – though I like to think I caught glimpses of it – but it would have been a brilliant, eerie watch nonetheless. As with most other reviews I’ve seen, this reminded me a lot of Eraserhead… with less stereotypically male anxieties, touching on more than anxiety about children more often (in my books, anyway). Intriguing, and horrific in its own way – no jump scares, but I felt incredibly nervous through almost the whole thing.

Films of 2014, #25:

Kitchen Sink (dir. Alison Maclean, 1989)

A little incomprehensible, but that’s not always a bad thing (look at Un Chien Andalou, or Lynch). Fantastic – and fantastically scored – creepy little film.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014
Films of 2014, #24:
This is the End (dir.Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen, 2013)
Better than I expected – a damn fun film, but for several jokes that met rather than exceeded my (very low) expectations (a couple of which I actually found distasteful enough to be objectionable, as opposed to the majority of distasteful jokes in the movie which were actually funny).
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Notes I took within the first 20 minutes of the movie: “yes, my thoughts on non-gluten-intolerant/allergic people going on gluten-free diets exactly,” and “15 minutes in and no dick jokes yet? Wow, better than I expected.” The latter about sums up my thoughts on that particular area, but for a particular confrontation – definitely exceeded my expectations.
Of course, I’m not a huge fan of the type of humour the main players are usually associated with, so my expectations were pretty low. My reaction to the Pineapple Express references early on was basically “ah, yes, I thought this reminded me of something I mostly disliked” — but, a few cringe-worthy sequences I was tempted to fast-forward through aside, this was actually fairly enjoyable, clever humour. Well, mostly mindless – but still somehow clever.
There’s a nice handful of references, too. Though I guess all of them but Exorcism and Pineapple Express could just be conjecture on my part, but a particularly cool scene towards the end just screamed Mad Max and Escape from New York to me. I love both those films, so it was kinda cool to see them referenced (or at least arguably cribbed from) in another movie about the apocalypse.
Sure, it’s nothing particularly high- or even middlebrow, but if you can suffer through scenes like “I’LL COME WHERE I WANT WHEN I WANT”, This is the End is a fairly cool, mindless bit of fun to kill about 104 minutes with. You could do worse, anyway – at least it’s not Pineapple Express.

Films of 2014, #24:

This is the End (dir.Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen, 2013)

Better than I expected – a damn fun film, but for several jokes that met rather than exceeded my (very low) expectations (a couple of which I actually found distasteful enough to be objectionable, as opposed to the majority of distasteful jokes in the movie which were actually funny).

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Films of 2014, #23:
Duck Soup (dir. Leo McCarey, 1933)
Fantastically funny film, with a few moments that are as absurd as absurd gets, in the best way possible (outside of Camus’s/Esslin’s idea of the word - and even then there are moments that wouldn’t be out of place in Beckett). Sure, there’s a sense of writing the movie around the gags, but hell, why watch a Marx Bros film for anything else? The mirror scene, in particular, was pretty cool.

Films of 2014, #23:

Duck Soup (dir. Leo McCarey, 1933)

Fantastically funny film, with a few moments that are as absurd as absurd gets, in the best way possible (outside of Camus’s/Esslin’s idea of the word - and even then there are moments that wouldn’t be out of place in Beckett). Sure, there’s a sense of writing the movie around the gags, but hell, why watch a Marx Bros film for anything else? The mirror scene, in particular, was pretty cool.

Sunday, February 9, 2014
Films of 2014, #22:
Easy Rider (dir. Dennis Hopper, 1969)

Rebellious in its time, Easy Rider manages – aside from the degrees to which that day’s counter-culture is today’s culture – to stay fresh and progressive.

“They’ll talk to ya and talk to ya and talk to ya about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it’s gonna scare ‘em.”

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The most obviously stand-out, counter-tradition aspect of Easy Rider is its editing, which is innovative even by today’s standards (maybe a little less so than it was in ‘69, but nonetheless). It’s predominantly displayed in creative, attention-grabbing and medium-displaying flickering cuts, and culminates in an amazing trip sequence that does a brilliant job of displaying the, well, “trippiness” and the characters’ disorientation, without resorting to a more traditionally psychedelic sequence (though whether such a thing would have been the trippy go-to at the time…). Not that there’s anything inherently inferior in the latter, of course, but the write course was definitely chosen here.
My favourite sequence, though, was near the beginning: a completely wordless drug exchange at an airport runway, with the only audio being the almost overbearing noise of planes taking off and landing. The only thing I’ve seen like it (which probably says more about my narrow explanation of cinema than the film’s uniqueness) is the occasional moments in Dogme 95 films where dialogue is (presumably, partly unintentionally) drowned out by heavy traffic. It’s a great indication that what you’re in to see isn’t just going to display nontraditional characters, but will itself be nontraditional.
One aspect doesn’t quite hold up as counterculture to this 22-year-old viewer from 2014, though – the soundtrack. Steppenwolf aside, I had some difficulty parsing the likes of The Byrds as a theme for rebelliousness and a lifestyle free from The Establishment.
One last thing deserving mention – indicating an attitude at the heart of the film that I absolutely adore – is, closer to the end, displaying the lifestyle of the protagonists (and also brothel) along side the holy, with even the brothel’s décor evoking the Church. At first I took this for bog-standard irony (or Morrisette-like not-actually-irony? I find the definition between the two more and more muddled), but rather, it’s association, equation. Their modus vivendi and the sacred are declared to be one and the same; their freedom made consecrate. Overscored by The Electric Prunes’ fantastic “Kyrie Eleison.”
In standard form, of course, kyrie is part of the Order of the Mass, “Lord have mercy”, which I (in my limited experience with musical settings of the mass) have often found to be funerary, even despairing – placing this sequence at a fairly appropriate time in the film, between two encounters with more “upright” Americans who’d persecute these free individuals in imitation of the Romans persecuting the dangerous, subvertive Christians. In a couple of flourishes, the goodness of the protagonists lifestyle (though equally valid and good alternatives are certainly offered) is heightened by this juxtaposition to the random, senseless violence which is horrifically perpetuated by the “lawful”, “moral”, traditional American citizen.
What I expected from Easy Rider was a snorefest of ‘Nam vet (or maybe the only slightly different anti-‘Nam) clichés sitting around smoking weed with now-tired hippies, in a collection of now-stock scenes, confronting vague sketches of policemen who just don’t understand freedom, maaan. What I got – what I’d wholeheartedly recommend to anyone – was a far more compelling piece that, 45 years on, still retains the spirit of rebelliousness and freedom that it portrays so wonderfully.

Films of 2014, #22:

Easy Rider (dir. Dennis Hopper, 1969)

Rebellious in its time, Easy Rider manages – aside from the degrees to which that day’s counter-culture is today’s culture – to stay fresh and progressive.

They’ll talk to ya and talk to ya and talk to ya about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it’s gonna scare ‘em.”

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Saturday, February 8, 2014
Films of 2014, #21:
Rabid (dir. David Cronenberg, 1977)
As with Shivers, this film by the master of body horror is not so much visceral (well, aside from the anus-penis-stinger thing), but about giving in to your urges – including violence. Rabid, however, is less subdued than its predecessor in terms of both viscerality and the urges.
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Unlike the former’s sex zombies, the infectees in Rabid are hardly conscious, and all about the more traditional territory of random biting (though unusually, they seem satisfied with that alone – no-one eats or drains anyone, really). The only one conscious – also the only non-biter – is Patient Zero, Rose (Marilyn Chambers), who is easily the most sympathisable figure in the whole film. Fraught with uncontrollable urges, she seems to enjoy them at the time but is filled with remorse both before and after the fact - “please let me go,” she begs a friend, knowing she’s near her tipping point. “I don’t want it to be you.”
Of course, even before we get a view of her extraordinarily phallic stinger, it’s very clear that these urges – although not those of the other infectees – are sexual (usually involving embracing someone and stroking them while breathing sensually), contributing to the vaguely exploitative nature of the film and no doubt capitalising on its lead actress’s reputation. Knowing her usual genre, you might be surprised to find that she’s the best actor in the piece; despite the low calibre of the rest, she’d still stand up very well against higher-calibre co-stars. Of the others here, the only one really notable is Joe Silver who it’s a pleasure to see again.
In the end, though, Rabid seemed a little flat. Despite the automatically atmospheric martial law, and a very bleak ending, it suffered from the lack of its predecessor’s claustrophobia, and its own reticence – although the film doesn’t drag, everything still comes across downplayed. 
Probably consequently, it fails to cultivate the despair that permeates other zombie and/or vampire-hoard movies; with both the horrific and exploitative aspects deemphasised, that doesn’t leave Rabid with much to go on. It’s a nice flick to kill the time with, don’t get me wrong – but at best, it’s only average in its class.

Films of 2014, #21:

Rabid (dir. David Cronenberg, 1977)

As with Shivers, this film by the master of body horror is not so much visceral (well, aside from the anus-penis-stinger thing), but about giving in to your urges – including violence. Rabid, however, is less subdued than its predecessor in terms of both viscerality and the urges.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014
Films of 2014, #20:
The Avengers (dir. Joss Whedon, 2012)
A solid two-and-a-bit-hours of blockbuster entertainment. Not particularly deep or amazingly written, but definitely entertaining.
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A big gripe about blockbuster actions – especially superhero movies – is that they’re derivative. And while repetition is to be expected within the Avengers franchise, The Avengers felt derivative within itself. 
I seemed like at least half the movie was allies fighting allies. Stark (Downey Jr.)/Thor (Hemsworth)/Cap (Evans) itself gets tiring, and that’s just the start! The Hulk (Ruffalo)/Romanoff (Johansson) confrontation, especially, only makes it more confusing when Banner shows a degree of control over The Other Guy later on (I suspect the point was that it’s double-edged sword – he can unleash and his direct his anger, but he still loses control on occasion – but if so, it definitely could have been better emphasised). I get that infighting is Loki’s shtick, but the gimmick gets boring after a while – the best example was the major non-physical confrontation within the group, which emphasised it enough.
Perhaps paring that down would have allowed more time to explore the relationship between Loki (Hiddleston) and the aliens, which I found pretty intriguing and woefully underexplored. The aliens themselves were mostly well-executed (for the typical, vaguely threatening mass that still drop like flies when it’s called for), but man were the vocal effects laughable. Straight outta a b-grade BBC sci-fi… Or maybe Morrowind (compare them to Azura). 
Their world was a neat touch of flair, though – it’s interesting that Loki the Frost Giant is again associated with a cold, dark place. His “bow to me” scene (you know the one) was even more clever. I originally thought that it lacked poignancy, playing the “not to men like you” card before anyone knew who Loki was, but looking back, that was the point: recognising monsters, and refusing to bow to them (or if it’s too late for that, standing up again) before they’ve made themselves into a household name. 
Banner’s costume (once he boards AF1) was another arresting touch. It’s ill-fitting, and shabbier than the others’, which is befits his character – a man of science, like Stark, but pointedly not a charismatic billionaire playboy – and also his presumable years isolated from places where fashion is such a priority.
Of course, this movie’s real strength isn’t in relatively subtle suggestions, but in big, fun, action scenes (and Romanoff. Can we have a Black Widow movie please) and a fair few touches of humor (again, with Romanoff the biggest asset here). Sure, the alien-blasting gets hard to follow, but that comes with the territory – either way, they’re entertaining. Hulk and Thor, especially, work much better in an ensemble than on their own; Iron Man and Cap do a solid job; and I was definitely pleased with the screentime given to Romanoff and Hawkeye (Renner), my favourites at this point. 
I did prefer the solo-ish Iron Man and Cap films overall (though that might just be because they were the freshest at the time), and I’d definitely prefer to watch Iron Man 3 or Winter Soldier (and a Black Widow movie) over an Avengers 2. Nonetheless, The Avengers is a good piece of entertainment; not being into the franchise myself, I’d tentatively label it a must-see if you are.

Films of 2014, #20:

The Avengers (dir. Joss Whedon, 2012)

A solid two-and-a-bit-hours of blockbuster entertainment. Not particularly deep or amazingly written, but definitely entertaining.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Films of 2014, #19:
It Happened One Night (dir. Frank Capra, 1934)

A fun screwball comedy (like all screwball comedies), if chauvinistic (and yes, I know that, gosh-darn, that just plain reflects 1930’s society). Good for a laugh, but to be honest, I found this a little underwhelming – I was entertained, but not captivated. Of course, if I hadn’t allowed the praise heaped on this film to build up my expectations, that wouldn’t have been a let-down.

Films of 2014, #19:

It Happened One Night (dir. Frank Capra, 1934)

A fun screwball comedy (like all screwball comedies), if chauvinistic (and yes, I know that, gosh-darn, that just plain reflects 1930’s society). Good for a laugh, but to be honest, I found this a little underwhelming – I was entertained, but not captivated. Of course, if I hadn’t allowed the praise heaped on this film to build up my expectations, that wouldn’t have been a let-down.

Saturday, February 1, 2014
Films of 2014, #18:
Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (dir. Neil Jordan, 1994)
A wholly enthralling film – owing in no small part to the hypnotic lure of its leads, but fascinating (and very definitely entertaining) down to the last detail.
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The thing most immediately striking about Interview with the Vampire is just how magnetic Louis (Brad Pitt) and buddies Lestat (Tom Cruise) and Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) are. Pitt, at first, looks just like a normal bloke – the first reveal once he switches on the lights is fairly spectacular, so much so that I (unlike Christian Slater’s Molloy) didn’t even notice that he’d leapt across the room in a heartbeat. It’s very fitting to the vampire mythos – after all, most of Dracula’s incarnations are sexually charged and irresistible to many. Lestat, unrecognisable as Cruise, is a particular achievement of the make-up department and costumer Sandy Powell – even before his spoiler-ridden, more traditionally horrific moments.
Nonetheless, art director Malcolm Middleton, and those underhim, preserve a good/evil divide in their portrayal of the other vampires of Paris, who aren’t nearly so attractive – more stereotypical. While it’s a bit of a shame, it does emphasise the other vampires’ theatricality, as well as, perhaps, preserving Armand’s (Antonio Banderas) idea that most vampires are doomed to fade away as the world slowly outdates them.
The Théâtre des Vampires vampires’ cartoonishness also allows for (indeed, goes hand in hand with) the clownishness of Santiago (Stephen Rea), who is just as enthralling as Louis at the pair’s hilarious initial meeting, one of my favourite moments of the film – only just beating out Lestat disdainfully wringing the contents of a rat into a glass, as a mere mortal might squeeze an orange. I think my favourite character is still firmly Louis (through protagonist bias), but this guy is a close second. I also loved just how much of a drama queen Lestat is – among other things, Cruise manages (entirely appropriately) to make his reaction to arson of his home seen overblown and unreasonable.
And beyond the touches of humor, there’s plenty of touches of brilliance elsewhere – mostly in the realm of some excellent staging and framing, that goes above and beyond the norm (hell, maybe it’s ordinary – I just like deep staging). There’s also elements to the frame story that remind me of the sorts of cosmic bets that torture Job (or the Animorphs, if you prefer), and a neat throwaway implication that the eldest vampire holds on to the old-timey concept of keeping a thrall. Probably at least a handful of other references to the vampire tradition that I’d have caught if I was a more active viewer, too… Ah well, all the more excuse for me to give this a re-watch. For Pitt’s supernatural allure alone, this is definitely going to merit one.

Films of 2014, #18:

Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (dir. Neil Jordan, 1994)

A wholly enthralling film – owing in no small part to the hypnotic lure of its leads, but fascinating (and very definitely entertaining) down to the last detail.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Films of 2014, #17:
Shivers [among many other titles] (dir. David Cronenberg, 1975)
Fairly great B-horror from Cronenberg – and given the writer-director and premise, not as much explicit body horror or gore as I expected. There’s a few wince-inducing moments, sure (walking on glass, oh god), but until the movie starts to approach the finale, the eerie atmosphere is mostly built on the slow, lingering unfolding of Starliner Towers’ own small apocalypse.
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Of course, it comes with the typical B-horror features – borders on an exploitation flick, acting off at times, and inconsistencies with the athletic abilities of the sex zombies – but you don’t watch a movie like this because you want a masterpiece. And even then, the slow collapse of it all is still fairly creepy, helped along by the anonymous, disorienting (even numbing) nature of the apartment building and apartment life. In a way, it’s a horrific Romero or Boyle (though he came later) apocalypse, as reimagined with STD yeerks instead of the viruses or walking dead.

Films of 2014, #17:

Shivers [among many other titles] (dir. David Cronenberg, 1975)

Fairly great B-horror from Cronenberg – and given the writer-director and premise, not as much explicit body horror or gore as I expected. There’s a few wince-inducing moments, sure (walking on glass, oh god), but until the movie starts to approach the finale, the eerie atmosphere is mostly built on the slow, lingering unfolding of Starliner Towers’ own small apocalypse.

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