SUMMER MINI-MOVIE REVIEWS

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It’s been a great summer here in Melbourne and being a secondary school teacher means I get a nice long break over christmas and january. I decided to take a break from blogging too. However I did watch a lot of movies on my break and wanted to share my opinions on them. So I culled them altogether and made a list of all the films I watched and briefly what I thought of them. Hope you enjoy. Happy 2015 everyone.

 

Horrible Bosses 2 – 1 Star

A plodding sequel which tries (and fails) to recapture the magic of the far superior original. Jason Bateman, Jason Sudiekis and Charlie Day seem to be in it purely for the paycheck.

Boyhood – 4.5 Stars

Watching a life unfold before your eyes was quite breathtaking. Richard Linklater’s 12 year journey through a young mans life becomes a cinematic masterpiece which shows how special time is and how although it changes it also somehow remains the same. Moments seize us we don’t seize them.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – 3.5 Stars

Although it drags and could have been condensed into one film instead of two, Mockingjay Part 1 is still a thrilling sci-fi vision of the future which parallels 2014 with its depiction of media, war and politics. Also the only popular franchise with a strong female lead that I haven’t seen since Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The Equalizer – 3.5 Stars

Denzel Washington stars as a brutal vigilante and seriously kicks ass! An enjoyable action film in the vein of Schwarznegger and Stallone 80s classics.

A Madea Christmas – 2 Stars

An enjoyable Christmas flick with corny messages. One for Tyler Perry fans only.

This is Where I Leave You – 2 Stars

Four siblings deal with the death of their father during a seven day Jewish ritual which their mother enforces. The film is a cliched family drama filled with melodramatic twists and turns which is pretty forgettable once the credits roll. Includes an all star cast including Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll and Jane Fonda

Dumb and Dumber To – 2 Stars

An enjoyable comedy sequel that takes place twenty years after the original. It shows as Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels have aged a lot. However there characters Lloyd and Harry are still dumber than ever enjoying prankish each other over doing anything meaningful with their lives. This sequel follows the structure of the original and finds the two on another road trip this time to find Harry’s biological daughter. The film has some fun moments and good lines however doesn’t come close to the classic original.

Bad Words – 3 Stars

Enjoyable comedy in the style of ‘Bad Santa’ where a foul mouthed middle aged loner makes friends with a young indian boy who is picked on by his parents and kids at school. Jason Bateman directs and stars in as a man who has found a loop hole in a children’s spelling bee tournament and has mysterious motives as to why he wants to ruin the competition for the children and their parents.

Belle (2013) – 3.5 Stars

Excellent period drama dealing with the complexities of race during Victorian England. Based on the true story of the painting Belle featuring a black young lady and a white young lady in that time appearing as equals. During the story of this young girl we also get a side story dealing with a ship delivering slaves that killed them all to claim insurance. Brilliant performances from everyone including Tom Wilkinson and especially Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the title character.

Nightcrawler – 4.5 Stars

A shocking and biting look at our current news media. I thought Gone Girl captured this perfectly however this film shows the true ugly side of news journalism and the depths people will go to have a story for the 6 o’clock news. Featuring brilliant cinematography of the LA night and an award calibre performance from Jake Gylenhaal this is one of the bests of 2014.

The Longest Week – 1 Star

A shallow and uninspired film starring Jason Bateman. It uses the style of Wes Anderson and Woody Allen however doesn’t ever come even close to their brilliance. It revolves around an unemployed 40 year old writer living off his parents fortune who all of a sudden begins to lose it all. Set in the beautiful New York City (of Woody Allen’s imagination). Also starring the beautiful Olivia Wilde. Directed by Peter Glanz.

Life Itself – 5 Stars

An inspiring documentary about one of my idols, the late great film critic, Roger Ebert. The film explores Eberts life, his rise through the newspaper Chicago Sun-Times where he became a popular film writer to his television days with his film critic partner/sworn enemy Gene Siskel. However the film truly shines in the scenes dealing with Eberts cancer ridden body and his inspiring effort to keep writing and critiquing although his body continues to restrict him. He shows how you can continue pursuing your passions no matter what life has dealt you. A truly inspiring film about someone who has truly inspired me not only in writing but also in being a good human. This has become one of my favorite films.

Brick Mansions – 2 Stars

Enjoyable action film starring Paul Walker in one of his final roles before his tragic passing. The film has a convoluted plot involving a futuristic housing project which the government is trying to destroy. The story is clearly borrowed (ripping off) the far superior Robocop however it does contain many breathtaking action scenes involving parkour.

Sabotage – 2 Stars

A highly violent crime drama starring Arnold Schwarzenegger involving a group of DEA agents who are more like mercenaries who start getting murdered due to a bust gone wrong and $10 million in missing cash. I enjoy director David Ayer’s brutal style however this is for Schwarznegger fans only.

The Babadook – 4 Stars

What is it with horror films and creepy kids? The Shining, The Exorcist, The Sixth Sense all have kids you don’t want to have as your own. It reveals a primary fear for everyone either being a child or a parent dealing with the horrors of our world is a real horror that can touch us all. On top of that this film is made in Australia so I don’t have that Hollywood air of fantasy to distance myself from the horror, this could be my neighbour! This film is scary for all of these reasons but also it is a very well made and confident horror film. From the acting, directing, cinematography, production design and sound design this is a very polished film. It reminded me a lot of The Sixth Sense; a single mother dealing with her troubled child and losing all control and hope as events unfold around her.

The Interview – 4 Stars

Seth Rogen and James Franco’s controversial latest film is one of their best and most hilarious. The film centers around Franco’s Dave Skylark a popular talk show host (who is also completely vain and insipid) who manages to score an interview with the nefarious dictator Kim Jung Un. Seth Rogen plays his producer who joins him on his journey to North Korea. Before they embark on their trip they are intervened by the CIA and Agent Lacey (the gorgeous Lizzy Caplan) tell them they have to assassinate Kim Jung Un. The film takes no prisoners and isn’t afraid of completely destroying Jung Un’s image. Jung Un is hilariously played by Randall Park. All of the set pieces throughout are hilarious and although Franco is so over the top with his performance I still found him funny. Rogen again plays himself but his chemistry with Franco is priceless. This is the best comedy I’ve seen all summer

Penguins of Madagascar – 3 Stars

An enjoyable action comedy featuring the Penguins from the Madagascar films. Although they weren’t in those films much they were clearly the highlights of those films and became such fan favorites that a spin-off was made. The film revolves around the Penguins Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private as they get into misadventures involving a crazy octopus (voiced by John Malkovich) out for revenge on the Penguins. The film is filled with thrilling and hilarious set pieces that will entertain children and adults alike.

Tusk – 4 Stars

A highly disturbing film from writer, director and podcaster Kevin Smith. This film is like a cross between The Human Centipede and The Pink Panther films with Smith’s witty dialogue thrown in. Smith has matured as a director the visuals and editing are used to great effect to build mood and horror. The film is his most personal in years. It centers around a podcaster, Wallace Brighton (Justin Long clearly a stand in for Kevin Smith) who ends up in Canada trying to interview a reclusive storyteller for his podcast. However what he discovers will destroy his life forever. The film is very disturbing (do not watch while eating). However I enjoyed it for its go for broke attitude, Smith’s enjoyable dialogue and the actors involved. Michael Parks delivers a haunting and insane performance and Genesis Rodriguez is strong as Wallace’s girlfriend who goes on the hunt for him. There is a surprise cameo in the third act which is pretty distracting at first and possibly belonged in another film but once you accept it you can go for the ride.

John Wick – 3.5 Stars

An enjoyable action revenge flick with the great Keanu Reeves also making a comeback. Ex-hitman John Wick is retired and widowed when he runs into a spoilt mobsters son during a stop for petrol. He then goes on a war path to get revenge for his beloved dog and car. The film is filled with exciting action sequences with Reeves showing off his physical skills unseen since the Matrix trilogy. One of the best action films of 2014.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – 3 Stars

A pretty lackluster end to the Hobbit trilogy. The film mainly revolves around the lead dwarf Thorin attaining the castle and gold and being corrupted by his treasure. Other factors weigh in such as the men who defeated Smaug the dragon, the elves and the orcs who also wish to claim the wealth of the castle. An enjoyable ride however it never goes beyond the original trilogy or even the far more enjoyable ride of the previous film.

REVIEW: DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

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Koba: Caesar weak!
Caesar: Koba weaker.

Director: Matt Reeves

Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Toby Kebbell, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Gary Oldman

Synopsis: In a dystopian future where genetically advanced Apes now rule the earth, Ape leader Caesar struggles with keeping the peace when a band of human survivors seek shelter and help from the apes.

The last entry into the Planet of the Apes series (for now) which is a direct sequel to 2011’s reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as we follow the aftermath of the events from that film. Mankind has fallen due to the virus which Will Rodman (James Franco) developed in Rise. This film is set ten years after the events of Rise and is essentially a remake of 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes (which is a direct sequel to 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes which was also remade into 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Make sense??) However whether you are a fan of the series or if this is your first ape film to see you will definitely be impressed with this epic tale filled with parallels to Shakespeare’s classic Julius Caesar, as well as modern news headlines including threatening viruses, terrorism, politics, global warming, fear of technology all wrapped up in a sci-fi cgi heavy blockbuster.

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Andy Serkis reprises his role of Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar now leads his ape community with his right hand man Koba (played by Toby Kebbell) and Maurice (played by Karin Konoval). In the opening sequence he leads his army into an attack on some deer. This sequence is breathtaking as the camera and sound follow Caesar and his apes into the forest. No dialogue only subtitles showing their communication highlight the sounds of the forest and its slow build-up of suspense and foreboding. The cgi is once again top knotch the geniuses at Weta have again sculpted living, breathing apes with actors portraying them through performance capture technology. Andy Serkis has already become a master in this medium with his iconic performance as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings series however who truly shines in this instalment is Toby Kebbell as the tortured Koba who hates all humans and begins to disagree with his leaders outlook. It is an iconic performance and is easily the best villain of 2014.

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After the opening deer chase a group of humans lead by Malcolm (played by Jason Clarke) cross paths with the apes and seek help in order to bring back electric power to their small community of survivors. Caesar begins to remember the human who helped him as a child and helps out the group of humans in an effort to work and live together in peace. However with all great stories the search for peace isn’t easy and with man and animals nature peace can only exist in short bursts of time. Soon Koba plots to get rid of the humans despite his leaders frame of mind. What ensues is an action packed final battle between the humans and apes.

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This film is brilliant, strong plot, characters, set design, special effects, sound design/soundtrack and direction. It is not an ordinary blockbuster and although previous ape entries have been parallels to our current time this one really gets all the beats right. This is very high on the list of best films of 2014 and also very high on the list of Planet of the Apes films. Strong recommend.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

REVIEW: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011)

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Maurice: Hurt bad?
Caesar: You know sign?
Maurice: Circus orangutan.
Maurice: Careful. Humans don’t like smart ape.

Director: Rupert Wyatt

Synopsis: A scientist testing a new drug to cure alzheimer’s uses apes as test subjects. The drug works and one ape named Caesar begins to grow more intelligent…

After 2001’s reboot directed by Tim Burton bombed critically and financially ten years later Fox decided to do another reboot. Only this time they moved away from remaking Planet of the Apes (1968) and made a hybrid prequel/remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972). The one thing that differentiated it from the franchise (and had fanboys quite worried) was the fact that all of the apes would be completely CGI and not men in costumes. Although the one thing everyone praised in Burton’s reboot was the amazing costume design. This film opens in the jungle and provides a far more serious and compelling opening far removed from what we have seen in the past films. Thanks to the geniuses at Weta Digital we have amazing looking apes who look more like they are from a David Attenborough documentary than a Halloween party. The apes look and move exactly as real apes do and this opening is brilliant in showing not only this new universe but also the new tone this film/franchise will go in.

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After the jungle sequence opening we are introduced to Will Rodman (played earnestly by James Franco) who is a scientist experimenting with cures for alzheimers. We quickly learn that Will has a personal stake in this as his father is suffering from the illness (played heartbreakingly by John Lithgow). Will has a lab full of chimps who have been given a serum that increases their intelligence and gives them the IQ of humans. After a presentation goes wrong the experiment is called off and the chimps are all euthanized except for one baby chimp which Will takes into his own care. As weeks go by Will discovers this chimp has the AZL serum in his blood passed down from his mother and shows signs of increased intelligence far superior than any regular ape. The ape also befriends Wills dad, Charles and he names him Caesar based on his love of Shakespeare. The famous Shakespeare play Julius Caesar definitely has parallels to this story.

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As years go by Will begins dating comely Vet Caroline (played by Frieda Pinto) and Caesar grows claustrophobia as an ape with no jungle to explore. He watches outside the attic window at children playing and becomes depressed in his current predicament. Will begins to take him on trips to their local sanctuary where Caesar is able to climb trees and swing from the vines. These sequences are breathtaking and show the scope of the quality of Weta’s special effects. As with every Planet of the Apes film things soon begin to go wrong not only for Caesar but also for Will and Charles who begins to slide further into madness. Caesar ends up in a zoo owned by the nefarious John Landon (played with moustache twirling glee by Brian Cox) and his son Dodge Landon (played by Harry Potter villain Tom Felton). Here Caesar meets Maurice and Rocket and many other apes and begins to find a place among his primates. He soon becomes King due to his advanced intellect. Unfortunately Caesar also learns the evil of men and becomes distrustful of Will and sees his fellow apes as his equals. He rallies them together to rise up from their cages and take over the city. The action and special effects filled sequences that follow are truly breathtaking especially the action on San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge.

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The film is ultimately a tragedy and shows the problems with our modern society between different classes, ethnicities and groups of people. Also the cost of trying to advance science and technology to play God. The film is an allegory for many issues in today’s society and unlike the older Apes films it doesn’t hit you over the head with the obvious subtext. Instead it provides an action filled and at times heartbreaking story of man and ape who lose their way.

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One more thing I need to praise in this film and that is Andy Serkis motion captured performance. After playing Gollum and King Kong in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong, Serkis has made body acting an art form. He is brilliant in this role and brings the ape Caesar to heartbreaking life. You follow his journey and side with his character more so than any human performer. Serkis’ Caesar has become one the greatest CGI characters in the past five years. He is truly a revelation and lifts this film from enjoyable to fantastic.

Rating: 4 Stars

REVIEW: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

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Gamora: We’re just like Kevin Bacon.

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper

Synopsis: A disparate team of thieves and bounty hunters join together to save the galaxy from an evil tyrant named Ronan the Accuser.

Review:

The latest blockbuster from Marvel Studios delivers all of the adventure and excitement of their previous comic book adaptations. A fast and enjoyable ride that will push these Marvel characters into the mainstream. The problem is it also doesn’t improve or transcend the genre either. This is not a complaint as this film not only delivers the thrills of the best superhero genre films but also subverts the conventions with quirky humour and a superb soundtrack of 70s and 80s hits. The only problem is that it doesn’t attempt to move beyond what has come before such as this years Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which delivered breathtaking action with excellent character drama. Perhaps it is too soon to compare this film to Captain America TWS because we have gotten to know those characters through multiple films and this is an origin story which ultimately must follow those conventions strictly to gain a wider audience. The inevitable sequel may use its time to delve into the characters further and create a deeper and more realised narrative. However what we have here feels somewhat rushed and fast paced to the point of shallow character development and more emphasis on special effects, action and humour. For the average movie goer this is sufficient for a good time at the movies and although this film is better than most of the blockbusters this year, including The Amazing Spiderman 2 and Transformers: Age of Extinction, it’s not a game changer either.

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The story begins in 1988 with a child named Peter Quill listening to ‘I’m not in Love’ the smooth 80s ballad on his Walkman, while waiting in a hospital preparing to see his ill mother. A heartfelt opening which is perhaps unlike any opening of a Marvel film we have seen. The heartfelt sequence is soon interrupted by Peter running off and randomly being taken by a spaceship. Cut to the future where Peter is a grown man still listening to his Walkman searching for a lost orb on another planet. We can see shades of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars immediately. Director James Gunn quickly subverts the genre with the Indiana Jones looking Chris Pratt dancing around the planet while he looks for the orb. This is a fun film with lots of humorous moments throughout and possibly the closest we’ll get to a great sci-fi comedy in the vein of Ghostbusters. Chris Pratt is almost a lighter Bill Murray. The film quickly gets into the space action and Gunn films it clearly and allows special effects to dazzle the audience. Peter quickly gets introduced to the other members of the team including Gamora (the sexy Zoe Saldana), Rocket, an anthropomorphised raccoon (voiced by a scraggly Bradley Cooper), the dumb and lovable tree, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and the bulky Drax the Destroyer (played with deadpan humour by professional wrestler, Dave Bautista). The crew come together rather quickly and I didn’t completely buy their immediate friendship based on how they get together. The films biggest fault in my opinion is in their introductions and the fast paced plotting of having them immediately all come together to become friends and ultimately defeat the evil force threatening the world. It’s almost as if the writers thought “Hey, we’ve got a team of badass characters who all have individual quirky traits who need to get together to save the world and then become best friends just like the avengers!” However these characters would have benefitted with more character development in their earlier introduction scenes and also remain individuals by the end. I’m not sure if it was necessary to establish them as a great team by the end because of how independent their backstories are. *Spoiler alert* I have to say I didn’t buy the ending where they all got together to go on another adventure. The film set them up to get together to fight this evil but I didn’t believe that they would always stay together and remain a team because of their pasts. I guess the comic book might have developed the characters better, but I have never read a Guardians of the Galaxy comic and I didn’t quite buy them as a team in this film.

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However these complaints aside I have to say the humour, action set pieces and the characters were all excellent and I did have a great time watching this film. Narrative problems aside this was a fun ride.

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Rating: 3.5 Stars

 

REVIEW: TRANSCENDENCE (2014)

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Max Waters: I spent my life trying to reduce the brain to a series of electrical impulses. I failed. Human emotion, it can contain illogical conflict. Can love someone, and yet hate the things they have done. Machine can’t reconcile that.

Evelyn Castor: Can you?

Max Waters: Yes.

 

Director: Wally Pfister

Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy

Synopsis: A scientist developing a new form of AI technology is shot at a conference. With only moments left to live he uploads his consciousness into his new technology as his wife helps him develop into a new form of artificial intelligence.

Review

A promising plot somewhat similar to last year’s Spike Jonze sci-fi drama ‘Her’, this film unfortunately doesn’t quite reach those heights. Opening with the clichéd narrative trope of the bleak ending we then rewind five years earlier to Johnny Depp’s Will Caster introducing his new technology PINN to a crowd of funders and fans of his work. We are also introduced to his wife Evelyn Castor (Rebecca Hall) who loves him and supports his work. A terrorist cell is also introduced that don’t want technology and computers to advance (for reasons unknown). One of the terrorists shoot Will with a poisonous bullet that makes him slowly die over the next few days. Will wishes to upload his consciousness into his new program and show the world how much his program will change the world.

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What follows is an over complicated clichéd story of the ghost in the machine. We have seen this before in 1993’s Ghost in the Machine and 1995’s Ghost in the Shell and I’m sure countless other science fiction films. This one doesn’t bring anything new to the genre with a plot that is filled with ambition but nowhere to go and a rather lifeless (pun intended) performance from Johnny Depp. This film had a lot of promise with the directorial debut of Christopher Nolan’s go to cinematographer Wally Pfister. The film’s visual composition is as beautiful as Nolan’s Inception and The Dark Knight however he could have used Nolan’s help with the narrative progression. Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany also turn in great performances.

Rating: 2.5 Stars