Iro's One Movie a Day Thread

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I added The Secret in Their Eyes to my to-watch list. Sounds pretty awesome. I only skimmed your review though, I like going into movies as blind as possible once I'm peaked.



Welcome to the human race...
#37 - A Hard Day's Night
Richard Lester, 1964



A fictitious story about a day in the life (heh) of the Beatles (who play themselves) as they spend their time running from fans, performing music and getting into shenanigans.

I don't much go in for the Beatles' output prior to Rubber Soul but it's solid enough early-'60s rock-pop. Making a film about popular musician (especially one based in fiction) does come across as a rather cynical exercise in exploiting their fanbase, but at least here the end product is a decent enough little comedy. The loose monochromatic photography gives the film a proper documentarian feel and really accentuates the band's youthful vivacity. The music, well, I can take or leave it, but the accompanying visuals (the band doing an impromptu performance in the cargo section of a train car or fooling around in an open field to the tune of "Can't Buy Me Love") don't do much for me. The plot, such as there is one, is helped by the Beatles playing themselves as charmingly cheeky young fellas who are constantly mocking the uptight squares that they encounter. The show is stolen by Wilfrid Brambell as Paul McCartney's crotchety grandfather, whose own antics serve as an amusing catalyst for new plotlines (most notably during the last third of the film where he manages to talk Ringo Starr into running off right before the band's gig). There's enough humour here to be constantly amusing and it's a thankfully lean film, but I guess at the end of the day it's just an alright piece of work despite it coming across as an attempt to capitalise on the band's success.

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Iro is to reviews as Kubrick is to films.



Welcome to the human race...
#38 - Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Robert Wise, 1979



When a strange and destructive entity starts making its way towards Earth, it's up to Kirk and the crew to take control of the Enterprise and deal with it.

The voice of Simon Pegg's character in Spaced echoes in my head: "Sure as day follows night, sure as eggs is eggs, sure as every odd-numbered Star Trek movie is sh*t." I'm sure I'll think of that every time I end up watching an odd-numbered Trek film, but even so I thought I'd try to give this one the benefit of the doubt anyway. The resulting film has an interesting premise, but the problem definitely lies in its execution.

For one thing, it's too damn slow. I can understand taking the 2001 route and taking the time to show off all the shiny effects (and they are good effects for the most part) but it somehow manages to come across as tedious, even with that awesome new theme song playing behind it. It's taken to absurd levels with the scene where the Enterprise goes through a wormhole and everything happens in slow-motion - even the dialogue. There's the usual re-introduction of the main cast and a couple of plot-relevant supporting parts, but having the antagonist be a nebulous ball of light doesn't make for that good a conflict, though the reveal of its true nature is a good one. It's technically well-made for the most part and the Star Trek charm is there, but there's just too much wrong with it to genuinely like (the plot doesn't really make the most of its potential, either). I definitely would not recommend this to people unfamiliar with the franchise.




You're missing nothing. Even the even numbered ones are crap. Well, the ones i've seen anyway.
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5-time MoFo Award winner.



Saw Star Trek The Motionless Picture once when I was a kid. Even in my younger and less discerning days of movie watching I knew this movie was dull as hell and never needed to be seen again. Especially when number 2 was Wrath of Khan. Which is AWESOME!



Welcome to the human race...
#39 - Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Leonard Nimoy, 1986



After deducing that the only creature capable of communicating with a destructive alien being is the now-extinct humpback whale, the crew of the Enterprise travel back in time to 1980s San Francisco in order to find a whale and save the world.

Reading that brief plot synopsis should be enough to make you double-guess watching this film. Time travel? Whales? What? It doesn't help that I'm generally weary of films where characters travel through time and they have to spend a good chunk of the film's running time getting used to the strange society of the past or future. Even though the film seems to be tongue-in-cheek about its far-fetched premise, that's not a guarantee that it'll be endearing as a result. Also, there's the fact that I watched this back-to-back with The Motion Picture and thus the whole "destructive entity is heading for Earth" premise does seem to indicate a lack of originality. Despite my misgivings, The Voyage Home manages to prove a surprisingly solid (if not particularly amazing) piece of work.

Having the franchise jump into comedy after the one-two punch of The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock does make some sense, even if some of the more illogical developments don't always gel with the light-hearted vibe of the film. The core cast frequently breaks the Prime Directive (Scotty divulges futuristic technology to a glass manufacturer, Bones sees a woman on dialysis and grows her kidney back, etc.) and there are some instances where it's clear the film might be trying to pad out the action (such as Chekov getting himself captured aboard a nuclear "wessel") but it's still entertaining enough for the most part as Kirk and co. struggle with concepts like money, punk rockers and, of course, whales. The Voyage Home is a harmless piece of fluff that isn't a peak for the series but certainly doesn't plumb the depths either.




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#40 - Amadeus
Milos Forman, 1984



The tale of Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) and his incredibly complicated relationship with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) as the latter's appearance in Vienna starts to cause problems for the former.

It was about time I went and watched another classic, this time the appropriately grandiose and opulent film about a famously brilliant composer and his passionate but less talented rival. The framing story involving an elderly Salieri recounting the film to a priest as if it were a confession, and in many ways it is. Abraham rightfully earns an Oscar for his work as Salieri, who is an incredibly complex protagonist that struggles to keep his faith when he sees how God has apparently given the gift of musical genius to an irreverent, giggling pest like Mozart. It's a testament to the film's brilliance that, while he does come across as annoying a fair bit of the time, Hulce's Mozart is also a compelling character whose chipper flamboyance hides a heavily flawed and insecure human whose astonishing musical abilities can be just as much of a curse as a blessing. Over the course of three hours you will go from thinking he is an irritating upstart to being actively invested in his well-being, even as his continued existence keeps providing problems for Salieri. Though the complex rivalry between these two men is the heart and soul of the film, there is still a strong ensemble orbiting these two giants in the form of court officials, the Emperor and Mozart's one true love.

On a technical level, the film is astounding. There's all the lavish quality you'd expect from an ambitious period epic - ornate set decoration, elaborate costumes, smooth cinematography and so forth. It goes without saying that the score is brilliant, too. Though the extended edition clocks in at about 200 minutes in length, you barely feel it as the film traces Mozart's rise and fall through the eyes of Salieri, complete with excellent commentary from the older Salieri as he reflects on his past. It's always interesting when I see a film that makes me want to challenge my rule about doing first-time ratings out of four boxes rather than five. While I don't quite feel like breaking this habit, Amadeus is the kind of exquisitely-crafted cinema that I should be spending more of my time watching.




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#41 - Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2014



Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up actor that's best known for playing the titular superhero but he intends to turn things around by mounting a stage adaptation of a Raymond Carver story. Naturally, the production is complicated by unruly actors, unfortunate malfunctions and, oh yeah, the voice inside his head and his growing telekinetic powers.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the best Darren Aronofsky film ever made.

But seriously, Birdman is a stupefyingly good piece of work. Even leaving aside the amazing cinematography and editing on offer (and the near-seamless brilliance of the continuous takes should definitely be enough of a draw on its own), what you're left with is an impressively dark comedy about fame, integrity and, of course, what we talk about when we talk about love. Keaton is the powerful heart of an ensemble drama, playing Riggan with gusto as he deals with a problem a minute - there's the usual "troubled production" tropes at work, plus his damaged relationships with his loved ones and the unnervingly schizophrenic interactions he has with his foul-mouthed alter ego, a personification of his career-making superhero performance. Even the revelation that Riggan has psychic powers feels strangely organic within the context of this otherwise hyper-realistic film. It's a truly powerhouse performance that is peppered with stand-out moments that would definitely come across as spoilers (such as his story about his abusive father, for instance).

Despite Keaton obviously dominating the film, there's a strong ensemble at work behind him. Edward Norton almost steals the show as a talented yet irksome actor whose insistence on being true to his craft results in moments that are either touching or unsettling (or sometimes both). Emma Stone, playing Riggan's daughter/assistant, gets the most impressive role I've seen her perform yet, even getting one amazingly passionate and uninterrupted monologue in at one point. Her chemistry with Norton is also surprisingly strong, which is a shame considering that

WARNING: "Birdman" spoilers below
the film doesn't really offer much of a resolution for either her character or Norton's or the both of them together - the resolution that we get for her is tied into the film's ending which makes it more about Keaton than Stone so I'm not sure how effective it really is.

Other actors get their moments that, while they don't have that much significance to Riggan's arc, are still impressive. Despite Iñárritu's reputation for juggling multiple characters and narratives, the arcs for the supporting cast here either play into Riggan's main arc or they just fizzle out anticlimatically. It's a minor flaw in the context of the film as a whole, but consideringly how well-executed the rest of the film is, this minor flaw does come across as a lot more severe.

For the most part, Birdman is still an engaging cinematic experience. Emmanuel Lubezki once again proves himself a masterful cinematographer, effortlessly capturing the manic goings-on between actors and director. That drum-heavy score also deserves its own mention for being technically proficient and also perfectly suitable to the rest of the film. I don't think it's worthy of Best Picture but it is a very good character study nonetheless.




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#42 - Troll
John Carl Buechler, 1986



A family moves into an apartment building that is slowly being taken over by a malevolent troll and the only one who seems to notice is the family's son.

The reason that Troll 2 is named Troll 2 despite the fact that it has no actual trolls in it is because the powers that be decided that it would be a good marketing ploy to make it a "sequel" to this film. Seeing this film definitely illustrated just how many parallels (both played straight and subverted) existed between the films. A nuclear family moves to a new place, the son is the only one to suspect anything is wrong, a short and hideous monster is causing chaos and picking off all the different side characters using twisted magic, there's an older character who serves as a guide for the young hero, etc. It would be easy to spend the whole review comparing the two films, but of more importance is the question as to whether or not Troll is actually an enjoyable (if not necessarily good) piece of cinema.

While Troll 2 rightfully earns it reputation as one of the best worst movies ever, Troll just comes across as downright awful without providing any unintentional comical respite. Even at the incredibly lean running time of 79 minutes, it drags hard. The tone of the film occupies a no-man's-land between the slightly silly safe-for-kids scariness of an episode of Goosebumps and various unsettling types of adult horror, so you're never quite sure whether or not you're supposed to be scared or amused so eventually you just settle on mildly disgusted boredom. The troll's various ways of disposing of the building's tenants range from the stupefyingly goofy (a pre-Seinfeld Julia Louis-Dreyfus is transformed into a near-naked, constantly giggling forest nymph) to the sickeningly ridiculous (Sonny Bono's mustachioed swinger is slowly transformed into a cocoon-like plant in a manner that is way too disturbing for a film that feels like it's aimed at children). The whole film just turns into a chance to showcase the various puppet effects that a Charles Band production would obviously feature (this was the same producer that gave us the Puppet Master franchise, after all). They even launch into some kind of cacophonous sing-along that, once again, I am not sure is supposed to be either unnerving or enjoyable. Even the "good" puppets look just plain wrong (case in point - the smiling mushroom that belongs to the good witch). The titular troll even looks like a really bad rough draft of Leprechaun, which is really saying something.

What really makes this film a depressing affair is that there is the occasional moment that doesn't come across as completely tone-deaf. Having the troll (in disguise as the hero's kid sister) befriend a terminally-ill little person and then use his normally destructive powers to "heal" said little person was admittedly an interesting touch (even if the execution involved even more horribly uncanny puppets). Unfortunately, such moments are still overshadowed by a film that is dull, tonally inconsistent, better at being disturbing than being frightening, lacking in decent writing, and full of just as many ridiculous factors as its much more infamous successor but without the humour to go along with it. Troll 2 might be the best worst movie, but Troll is definitely a contender for the worst worst movie.

Also, I made it all the way through this review without mentioning that the hero and his dad are both called Harry Potter. So there.




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#43 - Quantum of Solace
Marc Forster, 2008



Following on from the events of Casino Royale, a vengeful Bond (Daniel Craig) is driven to investigate the terrorist conspiracy responsible for killing his previous love interest, which leads him to focus on a wealthy philanthropist (Mathieu Amalric).

Over the past few years, I've come to realise that, when all is said and done, James Bond is actually a pretty terrible character. Realising that Bond films were actually good examples of an archaic power fantasy for straight white males where they could get away with mass murder while bedding and forgetting innumerable women has made me re-examine the whole series and now the franchise has shifted strictly into guilty pleasure territory for me (the films I still like, anyway - with over twenty official films there's definitely bound to be some stinkers in there). I did appreciate how the Dalton films (and, to a lesser extent, GoldenEye) tried to rehabilitate Bond's image and that is why I consider Dalton my favourite Bond actor (and reckon Brosnan got hard done by with the films he appeared in). In rebooting the series with Craig, the producers were willing to try to rebuild Bond from the ground up. Even though Casino Royale was ultimately prone to a lot of the usual Bond movie flaws in trying to establish his back-story, it was ultimately an enjoyable piece of work and a welcome addition to the Bond series. It generated so much goodwill that there was no doubt the next film would be even better, right?

Wrong.

This is the second time I've seen Quantum of Solace and the first since it came out in cinemas. I have long considered it the worst official Bond film (it's still not quite as bad as the unofficial 1960s version of Casino Royale), but I figured I should at least try to give it a second chance to see if the passage of time would help me mellow out about it. Unfortunately, following it up with the technically decent Skyfall has only served to make Quantum's flaws stand out even more.

I think Quantum's worst crime is that it makes Bond boring. Other bad Bond movies may have been bad, but they at least had some campy enjoyment like a fifty-something Roger Moore going to space or fighting Christopher Walken on top of the Golden Gate bridge. Here, the dedication to playing things completely straight serves to shoot Bond in the foot. Even picking apart the similarities to older Bond films gets tiresome. Bond goes rogue in order to avenge someone he cares about (Licence to Kill), teams up with a woman who wants her own revenge (For Your Eyes Only/The Spy Who Loved Me), while the main villain pretends to be an environmentally conscious good guy (Diamonds are Forever/Die Another Day), etc. I know that a franchise that lasts as long as Bond will tend to recycle concepts but without any interesting variations on the formula it just becomes stale and lifeless. Stale and lifeless is a pretty good way to describe just about every performance in this film. Craig plays Bond as a blandly determined stoic, Olga Kurylenko is his vengeful female off-sider who doesn't do much either, while Amalric lacks any definition that would make him stand out as a Bond villain (even in a bad way).

It also doesn't help that the plot holes and gaps in logic also stick out pretty badly even in the context of a Bond film. Early in the film, a mole has the chance to shoot Bond and M but instead shoots an extra and leads Bond on a merry chase through tunnels and across rooftops (thus wasting years of undercover work for no good reason - and the chase is boring to boot). When MI6 decides to arrest Bond, they decide that the wisest course of action is to send a single inexperienced female agent after an agent that they know is a relentless womaniser. Even the climatic showdown in a secret bunker surrounded by unstable solar cells seems like a poor excuse for the film to follow through on making all its major action setpieces revolve around the four elements (there's a plane chase in the air, a boat chase on water, a foot chase on the ground and...fire everywhere? Whatever). It doesn't help that the film is shot through with as bland an approach to making action exciting as any modern blockbuster. The camera shakes just enough to make you give up on caring about what it's trying to show you, while the rapid cutting only serves to make things even less worthy of your comprehension. No wonder they decided to get Roger Deakins of all people to shoot Skyfall. Also, despite there being an elemental motif to the action, that kind of cleverness doesn't make the action any more engaging.

Quantum of Solace may not exemplify every single bad factor about James Bond films (at least Craig's Bond isn't physically abusive towards women like the pre-Dalton actors had a tendency to be) but it showcases enough of Bond's bad qualities and combines them with some of the worst qualities of modern action cinema. A jagged, near-incomprehensible mess of a film that has absolutely nothing to offer an audience, even one who appreciates James Bond. The fact that the upcoming Bond film will also involve a secret organisation (by the way, it's weird how the super-secret Quantum organisation gets more or less forgotten about around the halfway mark of the film so Bond can instead chase a single villain, but hey, we'll add that to the pile of problems with this film) makes me hope it won't be a retread of this nonsense, but if the series can produce an absolute clunker like this once, there's always the possibility it will happen again.




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#44 - The Bat
Crane Wilbur, 1959



A crime novelist and her servant take a holiday in a remote mansion around the same time that the titular serial killer is on the loose and the local physician (Vincent Price) is very interested in finding a hidden treasure that is located inside the mansion.

A while ago, I picked up a $2 DVD that contained three separate Vincent Price vehicles on it - House on Haunted Hill, Shock and this. I liked House on Haunted Hill as an amusing piece of '50s schlock, so I was hoping the other two films would also deliver. Even discounting the fact that the DVD had scanned in such a way so that the left-hand side of the frame (about a third of the whole picture) was cut out, what I was left with a fairly disappointing prototype for the typical episode of Scooby-Doo. There's some conjecture about who the Bat is (and Price is naturally a prime suspect) while death ensues as a bunch of characters, both good and not-so-good, band together trying to figure out the mystery while trying to stay alive.

It's just interesting enough that I care enough to find out how it turns out, but otherwise it's a woefully mediocre B-movie. Price puts out his trademark slimy charisma but the fact that he is reduced to a secondary part means it's ultimately kind of wasted as other less impressive actors fill the screen. At least its 80-minute running time means it's over quickly. It's not completely terrible but it just sort of exists and doesn't do much for me one way or the other. It's not comically bad but it doesn't have enough charm to overcome its B-movie trappings. Oh, well.




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#45 - Stay Hungry
Bob Rafelson, 1976



A directionless rich kid (Jeff Bridges) is sent to acquire a small gym as part of a real estate deal but instead befriends the local characters and becomes conflicted over whether to side with the other wealthy hustlers or with his down-to-earth new friends.

I have in my possession a six-DVD pack containing a number of Arnold Schwarzenegger films. Five of them are standard action-packed vehicles like Commando, Predator and The Terminator...and then there's this. Directed by the same guy who did Five Easy Pieces, it features Schwarzenegger in a supporting role as - surprise, surprise - an Austrian bodybuilder who aspires to become Mr. Universe. While I have to respect the fact that whoever put together this DVD pack would do something as unorthodox as including such a film on this DVD (surely leaving a lot of action fans baffled in the process), it doesn't guarantee that the resulting film is any good.

For starters, there's the fact that you can easily guess how Bridges' character's arc will turn out. His tense relationship with his so-called friends boils over as he befriends Schwarzenegger and begins a tumultuous relationship with Sally Field's gymnast. There's the usual complications as he is torn between unlikeable rich people and his simple but likeable new friends. Field's character, on the other hand, doesn't get much to do outside of her relationship with Bridges' character. Schwarzenegger gets some bizarre developments - we are introduced to him as he exercises while wearing a mask and hooded cape, then we see him playing bluegrass on a violin on a couple of other occasions. It's a bizarre side to Schwarzenegger that is only emphasised by the fact that his underdog narrative is still overshadowed by Bridges' dilemma.

Stay Hungry is a chore to sit through. Even the sight of Schwarzenegger pretending to play violin isn't enough to generate the slightest amusement despite the film supposedly being a dramedy. It doesn't help that, after an hour or so of this sort of tiresome "rich kid rediscovers himself with help of poor people" narrative, there's an irrelevant and unsettling scene involving a couple of gym staff mistreating some sex workers and eventually

WARNING: "Stay Hungry" spoilers below
Schwarzenegger's corrupt and coked-up manager, after having already gone to work on the sex workers, attempts to rape Sally Field's character

and this plays out against the climatic bodybuilding contest that ultimately devolves into a bunch of musclebound men in Speedos running around in the streets that is clearly being played for laughs. The tonal inconsistency is enough to give you emotional whiplash a few times over and makes me really question this film's intentions. It's not funny, it's not engaging - if anything, the only thing I take away from this film is a very problematic treatment of its female characters in the face of a very uninteresting storyline. I can't believe this came from the same director who made Five Easy Pieces. What a mess.




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The last two (before The Bat) are really the same quality? That's rhetorical.
EDIT: Never mind, I clearly misunderstood this post when I wrote my original response. Anyway, I thought I'd established that these are subjective ratings and that my rating system allows for me to find a big-budget blockbuster just as capable of being boring and irritating as a piece of low-budget fantasy schlock.



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#46 - Shakespeare in Love
John Madden, 1998



In Elizabethan England, a young William Shakespeare is struggling with writer's block when he makes the acquaintance of a young noblewoman masquerading as an actor and they begin a secret love affair that ends up inspiring the creation of Romeo and Juliet.

Another one of those films that I've never quite managed to see all the way through, I figured I should at least finish it for the sake of completionism. On a technical scale it's pretty solid, with some excellent recreations of Elizabethan fashions and architecture that definitely deserve to be counted among the film's better chievements. Unfortunately, I could debate whether or not the writing's any good.

I understand that, for the most part, Shakespeare in Love is a bit of a comedy despite its more obviously Oscar-baiting dramatic moments. Given the premise, there are plenty of jokes that reference Shakespeare and the characters tend to be comical exaggerations a fair bit of the time. Unfortunately, a lot of these minor references tend to come across as too clever for their own good and aren't especially amusing. Performances range in quality, too. Despite my suspicions, Gwyneth Paltrow proves herself at least somewhat deserving of her Oscar win as she manages to recite Shakespeare, pretend to be a man and generally tick a lot of Oscar boxes. Judi Dench, on the other hand, feels more like a sympathy vote given her relative lack of screen time and the fact that she doesn't do anything especially out of her range (a disdainful matriarch-like woman? You don't say). The male characters tend to be serviceable (even established actors like Geoffrey Rush and Tom Wilkinson are solid more so than actually amazing), though I do find myself wondering what Ben Affleck of all people is doing in this film. I do reckon it was interesting to see quintessential nice guy actor Colin Firth play an absolute cad, though.

Despite its corny-sounding premise, Shakespeare in Love has at least enough quality in terms of both technique and narrative that I can appreciate it on some level. Sure, the two main plotlines involving a star-crossed love triangle and a troubled theatrical production are both all too familiar, but I didn't hate the way that both played out. Though I don't think the film was especially enjoyable or remarkable, I reckon it's not bad as far as Best Picture winners go.




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#47 - The Bourne Supremacy
Paul Greengrass, 2004



After the events of The Bourne Identity. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is living a peaceful existence until events force him to come out of hiding and start chasing the truth about his real identity.

I can't even remember how long it's been since I saw The Bourne Identity. It was definitely before The Bourne Legacy came out, that much I know for certain. Despite that, I have only just gotten around to watching the films that came out in the interim. The Bourne Supremacy promised an improvement on the success of the original film, but what I got was definitely not an improvement.

First of all, the catalyst for Bourne going after the shadowy organisation that holds the key to his past is a Russian assassin (Karl Urban) killing his girlfriend (Franka Potente) with a bullet meant for him. Not going to lie, I'm getting really tired of what's rapidly becoming known as the "women in refrigerators" trope where a female character is killed off or otherwise attacked simply to provide the male hero with vengeful motivations and thus a narrative. Even if you leave aside the unfortunate implications of having to damage a woman to provide motivation, using it still comes across as lazy. Despite the supposedly high-energy thrills on offer throughout the rest of the film, none of it seems to hold my interest. There's the usual duplicitious conspirators, the occasional fight or chase, there's Bourne managing to track down leads, etc. Even having him gradually recall some troubling memories doesn't do much to create intrigue (but at least it does something).

I'm not sure if this is the film that popularised the extremely intense methods of filming action movies with the shaky cameras and frequent cuts, but they're definitely here and they definitely look rough. The music is all loud and furious but just feels like white noise against the haphazard imagery. Quieter moments don't do much to hold my interest either. Knowing that this is the middle film in a trilogy only served to make it feel even more like 100 minutes of filler, but if I'd seen it back when it came out there's a good chance I might have come to the same conclusion anyway. There's just enough quality on display here that I don't quite feel like dismissing it outright, but even so it's still a horribly underwhelming film.




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#48 - The Bourne Ultimatum
Paul Greengrass, 2007



Following on from the events of The Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is still trying to uncover the truth by any means necessary.

Even after being extremely unimpressed by The Bourne Supremacy, I still had some high expectations for this film, which was supposedly the best in the series (or at least it was good enough to end up on the IMDb Top 250 - while I know the Top 250 is not to be trusted, I figured that should be enough to at least encourage me to give it a shot). Unfortunately it's possible that raising my expectations meant I still wouldn't get a decent film-watching experience out of the whole thing, but whatever, let's see how it goes.

So yeah, it's basically the same plot as the last couple of movies. Bourne is traveling all over the place trying to figure out his identity and his history, frequently getting into pursuits and battles along the way. Much like its predecessor, there's a very jagged feel to much of the action as cameras jitter and edits happen faster than you can blink. The same goes for the scenes that don't have action but are still no less intense. It helps that there's slightly more of a plot to this one, at least. Still not enough to truly endear me to this series but I'll take what I can get. The odds of me watching any of these films again is minimal, though I figure this one's gotten enough acclaim that I will probably try again at some later date. It definitely won't be soon, though.




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#49 - Two Hands
Gregor Jordan, 1999



A young bouncer (Heath Ledger) has to run an errand for a local crime boss (Bryan Brown) but when it goes wrong, he has to try to come up with $10,000 in order to get said crime boss off his back.

Figures that I'd commemorate Australia Day by watching an Australian film - too bad it happens to be a film that I ended up putting very high on my "worst movies" list a few years back. Per my self-imposed challenge to re-watch any film on the list if another user requested that I do so (and they did, of course), I saw that it would be appearing on TV recently so of course I recorded it and proceeded to re-watch it. Now that I've given this film two viewings, let's see how well it handles...

I get that Tarantino's films revolutionised contemporary cinema to the point where every filmmaker and their mum was trying to copy his style, but Two Hands is probably the first instance of a film that feels like it's trying to copy a film that was already trying to copy Tarantino. I originally gave this film guff for being a not-too-original knockoff of Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (it doesn't help that the plot of both films boils down to "black comedy about a complete nobody who gets in debt to a crime boss"), but a second viewing has not unveiled any further depth. Even Ledger's retroactive status as an Oscar-winning actor does little to salvage his flat performance as a sensitive young man who gets in with Brown's extremely ocker kingpin because...why not? Also his romantic sub-plot with Rose Byrne's photography-loving country girl - again, it ends up being a question of "why not"? What kind of good movie doesn't have a romantic sub-plot? Hell, the whole question that hangs over this film is "Why not?" How else do you explain the incredibly lazy plot device that is Ledger's character having an undead brother digging himself out of hell who serves to deliver some seriously redundant voice-overs and pop up at random points? The subtle-as-a-flying-brick opening monologue about the yin-yang, complete with his frequent but ultimately ineffective appearances at crucial moments, just serve to make him even less of a helpful spirit than the grandpa from Troll 2, and if Troll 2 does something better than your film then your film has a serious problem.

What makes the "undead brother" sub-plot really stand out is that, for all its badness and redundancy, it is the closest this film gets to offering something remotely interesting. Otherwise, it's an extremely pedestrian affair. Guy attracts the wrath of a serious criminal and tries to make things right with disastrous consequences. So what? Not even his climatic plan to carry out a bank heist with some appropriately foolish cohorts manages to engage, no matter how badly things go wrong. Various sub-plots coincide in order to make everything nice and tidy. That random pair of street urchins towards the start? Of course they end up playing a major part in the storyline. Ultimately, this is a very poor attempt to copy the major trends in late-1990s low-budget/high-reward filmmaking and its sheer ineptitude in virtually every regard still serves to undermine it even now. The fact that it's intended to be a black comedy only serves to ruin what little charm it might have had and as a result it is still one of the biggest wastes of time I've ever had to sit through - and now I've had to sit through it twice.




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#50 - American Sniper
Clint Eastwood, 2014



Chronicles the military career of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a sniper with the Navy SEALs, as he enlists and goes on four separate tours of Iraq during the War on Terror.

Even if I were to completely disregard Chris Kyle's more disagreeable real-life actions, it still wouldn't make American Sniper a film I felt any real appreciation towards. Sure, it's got some tense moments but I figure those are part and parcel of any sufficiently competent film set during wartime and there's got to be more to a film than just tension in a vacuum. Cooper's performance is decent enough but ultimately hampered by his guttural Texan accent, which can be a little incomprehensible at times. His work at conveying post-traumatic stress disorder is okay, but his scenes being an active soldier who's frequently wracked with guilt leaves something to be desired, especially when he has to make tough life-or-death decisions. Sienna Miller's initial appearance as the tough-talking Taya makes a good impression but she is soon reduced to being another one of those wives who worries about her husband's obsession with his incredibly dangerous professional life. This is another character trope that I recognise has to exist so as to provide some sort of balance to the more directly engaging action of the main plot, but scenes involving this particular type of character generally feel obligatory instead of necessary. Other characters in the film lack sufficient definition, whether it's the other members of Kyle's company or any insurgent antagonists that get the slightest bit of development. There's the "Butcher" character who gets to bring us the film's most disturbing act of violence but is otherwise a bad caricature, while Kyle's rival sniper Mustafa has enough hints towards being an interesting character (such as winning an Olympic gold medal for shooting before joining the insurgents) but is ultimately left to play an unspeaking, emotionless killer and nothing else. That's without mentioning that one family of non-violent Iraqis who serve as a reminder that not every single Iraqi is a violent militant.

Aside from the characterisation or lack thereof, the film isn't particularly impressive on a technical level. Given Eastwood's age and career length, I guess expecting him to try something radically different would be a big ask, but it does draw a lot of attention to his very safe manner of depicting the military conflict on display here. It doesn't help that various tiresome wartime tropes are in play - there is at least one character who talks about marrying his girl back home before getting shot. It's such a familiar plot device that I don't even consider it to be a spoiler anymore. Even an attempt to shake things up by having the climatic conflict take place in the path of a sandstorm backfires by making the visuals hard to follow as a result. The scenes of Kyle trying to adapt to life back home don't add all that much to the film:

WARNING: "American Sniper" spoilers below
The film's denouement follows Kyle after he has finally completed his service and is now spending his time trying to help with rehabilitating other veterans. The continued length of this sequence can really fatigue an audience, no matter how relevant it ultimately ends up being to the film's true ending where one of the veterans Kyle tries to help ultimately ends up killing him off-screen.


American Sniper has shades of being a decent film, but it's let down not just by the real Kyle's reputation but also by being a fairly cut-and-dry wartime biopic that serves to encourage some unfortunate attitudes with its double-edged celebration of American militarism. Though the film takes its time to showcase the ill effects that being a soldier ultimately has on on Kyle, those scenes do get lost in the shuffle of showcasing Kyle's impressive sniping ability. Having nearly every character (Iraqi and American alike) except for Kyle get reduced to basic archetypes doesn't help it become a good story either, nor does the reliance on worn-out developments. A tense moment here and there does little to benefit the film as a whole. Attempting to shrug off the jingoistic nature of a lot of this film's scenes is a challenge. It's got enough quality on offer that I don't hate it outright, but that doesn't mean I like it.