Friday, 13 January 2012

Holiday Movie Madness

15 Movies in review...

Since I've spent so much time this week lazing around on a couch when I’m not at the beach, here’s a list of movies I've watched, and a paragraph-length review of each of them! 
This is an eclectic mix of films. Most are, if not great, worth a watch. Some deserve an entire post to themselves, so maybe if I find some time I’ll go back and do them justice. More likely I’ll be too busy to get around to it, so I’ll just heap them with a lot of praise while I can...

A Walk to Remember
When I started watching this film I groaned; it’s High School Musical. Well, at the start it kind of seems like it (ignoring the cruelty of the opening scene) – young rebel boy meets sweet n’ innocent choir girl, is forced to perform in a play, finds that it’s his calling, and falls in love with her. Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there; it takes a tragic turn, and has a few very thoughtful things to say. One thing it isn’t though is subtle. The opening scene sums it all up; the bad guys are very bad, the good girl is very good. The boys’ transformation feels like it happens way too fast – like the bad switch flicked over to good. If you don’t mind that, then you might just love this film.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Simon Pegg is moving up in the world – from a hack writer at a no-name magazine, and opportunity comes up for him to work for the very vogue Sharpe. Packed with comedy that’s clever as well as hilarious; a stinging satire of our culture of celebrity worship. Simon Pegg is not quite as funny as Mr Bean, but a little better at the drama. Could have used a more fleshed out ending, but overall a solid flick and a lot of fun – especially if you’ve ever been interested in journalism, movies or celebrities.

The Kings Speech

Deserving winner of Best Picture last year and probably deserves its own post here. The definition of uplifting; the drama is sharp but not too heavy, creating a movie that’s engaging and fun to watch. Colin Firth delivers a powerful performance, and draws the audience along King Georges’ journey dealing with his speech impediment, while Geoffrey Rush and the rest are a pitch perfect support ensemble.

Mission: Impossible
Mission: Impossible 2
Mission: Impossible 3

Having already seen the fourth film, I decided to check out the rest of the series, starting with the 1996 classic, based on an 80s TV show. First of all I was shocked to learn that IMF literally stands for Impossible Mission Force. I didn’t think the series would be that campy… but it is. For the most part, the first film holds up, thanks to the solid storyline, which is cleverly set out and executed. The CG train sequence at the end is cringeworthy by today’s standards, but the rest of the film makes up for it.
The second film on the other hand… I got bored. MI2 was such a long ordeal, I thought I might fall asleep. The characters weren’t very interesting, and there were huge stretches where nothing happened. At the end, the action suddenly hits, and turns out to be quite a spectacle – until it goes on for too long. John Woo directed this instalment, and it shows in the flamboyant editing and epic feel to the action scenes. They’re not worth sitting through the middle to get to though.
MI3 was my favourite, of these three. The story was strong, the quest for Ethans wife was compelling, and the villain was chilling. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is almost as frightening as the Joker; a sadistic, rich and powerful man bent on making Ethans life hell. The action and the missions were pretty good in this film, but the struggle between the villain and heroes that became the highlight.

Easy A

To my surprise, I enjoyed this movie. I enjoyed the references it made to other movies, but I also enjoyed most of the actors, the sense of humour, and the witty storytelling. It’s a little bit hard to pinpoint the message of the film, which is perhaps why it works so well. It’s subtler than others of this genre and it brings up issues to think about; rather than hammering in a single position. It touches on a range of important subject for teenagers, such as promiscuity, lying, intentions and rumours.

Oceans 11
Oceans 12
Oceans 13


Have you ever wanted to watch a bunch of A-list movie stars rob 3 casinos at once? If you answered yes, you have strangely particular taste, but the Oceans series caters for it. In the first film, Con-man Danny Ocean assembles a team of 11 talented individuals for the purpose of robbing a group of casinos run by the man now dating his ex-wife. In the following two, said team first steals a valuable museum piece to payback their winnings. In the third, they take down a bullying hotel owner who wrongs one of their number. As a premise it’s fine, and the stars (Clooney, Pitt, Damon…) are bankable. The problem is there’s very little in these movies in the way of character arcs or compelling drama. The film is basically a vehicle for the big stars to look cool. Credit where it’s due: they do a very good job of that. The villains are iconic and well acted, but one-note. The struggles are trivial, and usually solved by another layer of planning, or a magical piece of gadgetry. Somehow Ocean always seems three steps ahead of everyone, so there’s never much concern that he might lose, or that things won’t go according to plan, even when the audience doesn’t yet know what the plan is. The first film is the best, in my humble opinion. It’s the most straightforward, involving one heist, one objective and one linear path to get it. Although there is so little character development, or tension between characters (Even Danny getting kicked off the team feels planned from the beginning), the film works because that’s all it is: some people doing a clever heist. The second and third movies get a little lost in ridiculousness (most notably: the Frenchman dancing through the laser field). The third film features Al Pacino as a very effective villain, but gets a little lost somewhere between the riots in Mexico and the misadventures of the ill-fated hotel reviewer. Despite this, all three films are an enjoyable watch, and it is a close call between the first and third as to which is the best.


High quality sci-fi on a low budget; Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a worker on a 3-year contract stationed on the far side of the moon in the near-future. His only companion is Gerty, a HAL-alike artificial intelligence whose only directive is to ‘take care of Sam’.
I’m being misleading here – but it’s probably for your benefit if you haven’t seen the film. This is one of the more underexposed but critically acclaimed thrillers of the past few years. It’s so clever and mysterious; do yourself a favour and check it out.

Knight and Day

Tom Cruise again! Doing what Tom Cruise does best: smiling, talking fast, shooting people, performing outrageous feats and running. So much of Tom Cruise running. Actually, not so much of it in this movie as the Missions; this film contains a lot more unrealistic acrobatics and mindless action. It takes a few shots at itself and can be quite funny at times, but it really lacks the urgency or visceral excitement of better action films (Mission Impossible 4), or the sharp wit and entertainment factor of better comedies (How to Lose Friends and Alienate people).

The Lion King

I think I underestimate this movie because I grew up with it. Watching it now, I wish I had experienced it when it was re-released in cinemas. The scope of the tale is nothing short of epic; a young lion growing up in the savannah with the expectation to be king suddenly becomes the victim of a coup by his treacherous uncle and runs away, to return again years later to challenge him for the throne. It’s a technically beautiful film, with great animation, writing, editing, acting etc. It handles hefty themes such as betrayal, guilt, loss, grief, responsibility – it could even be considered a philosophical film. Most of all, it has that exuberant vitality – a youthful verve that makes it entertaining for all ages. The songs and the colour and the energy just light up the screen with such an infectious vibe, my little sister can’t help but to jump up and dance along with the movie, just as I did over a decade ago.

Captain America

Having watched this, I’m excited for The Avengers coming up this year. Marvel has been pumping out comic book super-hero movies over the past couple of years. Though overall they’ve been hit and miss, Captain America is one of the better ones. The effects are better than ever, the story is clever in the way it builds up an origin story in the 40s and brings the character into present times. If there’s a problem, it’s that all of the supporting characters  in this film will probably never return – which is a shame. All in all, a good romp of action, adventure, and techno-wizardry, with a few nice nods to the vastly inferior 1980s version (see this review)


Despite MI2 being mostly boring, I’ve decided that I love John Woos sensibilities. Red Cliff is one of my favourite movies ever, and Face/Off is now my next favourite of his. So many grand reveals, sweeping shots, excessive slo-mo, gratuitous action, and chaotic kineticism loaded into every scene, it’s a kind of gloriously ridiculous pleasure to watch. The other highlights in this film are Nick Cage and John Travolta, each having a chance to play two vastly different personalities and each making the absolute most of it. The movie is almost wacky in its over-the-top-ness, but it clings to just enough reality and grounding drama to keep it visceral and exciting.