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#559 - Obvious Child
Gillian Robespierre, 2014



After being dumped by an unfaithful boyfriend, a twenty-something comedian has a one-night stand that results in an unwanted pregnancy.

Obvious Child seemed like a fairly promising film thanks to its decidedly romance-free premise about a woman (Jenny Slate) whose boyfriend leaves her for one of her friends. In the wake of this revelation, she has a one-night stand with a man she meets in the comedy club where she performs. A few weeks later, she discovers that she is pregnant. So far, so familiar. Then she immediately decides to go through with an abortion without intending to tell the father. This is an interesting enough hook to a rom-com premise that has grown rather stale in recent years, but between that and the extremely brief length of the film it becomes unfortunately clear that this is not enough to sustain a feature film. It clocks in at a lean eighty-four minutes, but even then there are many scenes that do feel an awful lot like padding even when they're not supposed to be (such as the entire sequence of scenes featuring David Cross as one of Slate's fellow comedians - as funny as I normally find Cross, even his rather pathetic character isn't very amusing).

I can accept that just because a film is about comedians doesn't automatically mean that it has to be a funny one. However, when considering how much screen-time is dedicated to actually watching stand-up routines, it is kind of disappointing how none of them provoke any laughter, especially when it comes to the ones that are deliberately trying to amuse rather than showcase Slate's character having a subtle breakdown on-stage. Another thing that is interesting about Obvious Child is how it does actually commit to having its pregnant protagonist not only decide to have an abortion but also stick to it, which is a bold move considering how the film also tries to develop and display quirky indie bona fides. Unfortunately, even that doesn't feel like enough to make the film as a whole feel especially worthwhile. It's not terrible by any means, it's just awfully...dull. Even Slate's central performance as an adorkable neurotic who does her best to take her situation in stride (with a decently acted support network at her side) isn't enough to totally salvage the film. I can respect its rather unorthodox approach to such a contentious subject while trying to deliver an off-beat slice-of-life comedy, but that doesn't automatically mean it works.

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Surprised at such a low rating, but I guess you do explain why you think so.

I remember enjoying this one back in the days, but I don't know if I have grown older and thereby won't like it as much anymore, because it can be quite silly... Funny thing is, I haven't seen Smith's masterpieces like Clerks, but I have seen this one, Tusk and Cop Out. Oddly enough I enjoyed Zack and Miri and Cop Out, but I did hate Tusk.

I don't know, I guess I have to watch this again to really criticize anything you say, because right now it is only a faint memory.



Is a woman making the decision to have an abortion and stick to it really something unusual in film? It seems like something that'd be really prosaic.
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I have a copy of this, but haven't watched it. I bought it when it came out but even then I wasn't psyched by the prospect of watching it. Being a Smith film was all it had going for it. One day I'll watch it (much like Juno) but much of what you said is as I feared.
Hey, you never know. Considering our difference of opinion over Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, you might very well like it more than I did, but it really will depend on your own tolerance for Judd Apatow and whether or not you can handle Smith trying his damndest to replicate his style with only the occasional Smith signature such as Star Wars or hockey or Jason Mewes being thrown in for good measure.

Surprised at such a low rating, but I guess you do explain why you think so.

I remember enjoying this one back in the days, but I don't know if I have grown older and thereby won't like it as much anymore, because it can be quite silly... Funny thing is, I haven't seen Smith's masterpieces like Clerks, but I have seen this one, Tusk and Cop Out. Oddly enough I enjoyed Zack and Miri and Cop Out, but I did hate Tusk.

I don't know, I guess I have to watch this again to really criticize anything you say, because right now it is only a faint memory.
I haven't seen Zack and Miri since it came out in 2008 and I was pretty much geared up to dislike it because of the whole Apatow thing. Even mellowing out about that over the past few years hasn't done much to improve my opinion. Also, Smith's earlier work is worth checking out, though I'd argue that Clerks is the only true masterpiece. Films like Chasing Amy and Dogma are alright, but stuff like Mallrats and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back only looks good in comparison to stuff like Zack and Miri.

Is a woman making the decision to have an abortion and stick to it really something unusual in film? It seems like something that'd be really prosaic.
Maybe within the context of American comedy - given the whole "quirky indie" vibe, my initial frame of reference was to compare it to Juno (which admittedly did feature its protagonist going to get an abortion but ultimately deciding against it at the last minute) and, to a lesser extent, Knocked Up (which skimmed over the possibility of the female lead getting an abortion so quickly that I can barely remember why not). Then again, there was Fast Times at Ridgemont High so I don't know, I guess it's a case-by-case basis and it was interesting to see the makers of Obvious Child try to build a dramedy around a woman who was most definitely going to get an abortion.



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#560 - Lost in Translation
Sofia Coppola, 2003



Two Americans - one an aging actor, the other a young newlywed - strike up an unlikely friendship while both of them are staying at the same hotel in Tokyo.

This is my first time revisiting Lost in Translation in ages. I liked it well enough the first time that I saw it, but I didn't exactly love it or anything. The passage of several years and the many changes to my cinematic tastes naturally meant that my viewpoint would be different, but would it be different enough to improve my opinion of the film? That'd make sense given how much Lost in Translation tends to be based in a less-is-more approach as its admittedly rudimentary narrative tries to provide an experience more so than a story. Renowned sad-clown star Bill Murray thus makes for the ideal lead as a character that bears a lot of similarity to his real-life persona, here playing a famous film actor who is in Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial. When he's not working on the commercial or appearing on talk shows, he's engaging in singularly empty activities such as watching subtitle-free Japanese TV or swimming in the hotel's luxurious pool. To counter screen veteran Murray, relative newcomer Scarlett Johansson co-stars as the young wife of a professional photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) who's in Tokyo for work reasons. While he's off working (which is almost all the time), Johansson finds herself bored; though she makes an effort to play tourist and check out a lot of the sights, more often than not she stays cooped up in the hotel listening to self-help audiobooks or staring out the window. Eventually, the two leads' paths cross and they become acquaintances who opt to kill their free time together out of a sort of mutual disconnection to the people and places around them.

One could definitely question the intentions behind the many comedic scenes in which Murray is either amused or bemused by the culture shock and the language barrier (such as one scene where he has a linguistically-based conflict with an escort that's arrived at his hotel room door), though they do feed into the film's main themes of emotional emptiness that go beyond any superficial fun that's being poked at Japanese stereotypes (which I'm not entirely sure excuses it). The film will challenge and reward an audience's patience as it takes time unfolding with many scenes of what could be considered nothing happening; despite its emphasis on restraint, it doesn't become truly boring. The down-to-earth visual style captures Tokyo with clarity and little else; the soundtrack is an interesting one that invokes some unusual choices in its use of shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Given how shoegaze is a musical genre in which relatively simple songs are lent greater weight by excessive distortion, the choices on offer definitely do a good job of reflecting the film's emphasis of everything except its simple plot. The pairing of Murray and Johansson is an unlikely one, but their dynamic is decent enough to carry the film during the periods where they are together. Otherwise, it really is dependent on scenes of one or both Americans spending their time being bothered by not just their fish-out-of-water situations but also by their own gnawing ennui. Despite the many superficial differences there are between the two characters, both actors are good at communicating a lot through body language more so than words, though they pretty much have to do that considering how often they end up on their own.

It's a shame that Lost in Translation works a little too well at making an audience relate to the same listlessness that its protagonists feel by being a somewhat slow and uneventful film that feels like passing time in a hotel room. That's not an automatic reason to condemn the film, but it's enough of a strike against it that I still feel slightly bored even as I've grown older and learned to appreciate cinematic restraint. The film definitely has enough good moments strewn throughout its running time that I'm willing to think of it as a decent film, but decent is all it really feels like. There's a certain indescribable quality to it that means that I would not be averse to giving it a third chance at some point down the line, but as for right now I'm willing to think of it as an uncomplicated indie film featuring an understated yet strong performance by Murray (how constant Oscar-chaser Sean Penn took home a Best Actor award for his scenery-chewing work in Mystic River over Murray's work here is beyond me) and a good break-out role for Johansson. Definitely worth at least one viewing no matter what.




I haven't seen Lost in Translation, but I've heard that it's worth seeing just for Bill Murray's performance. It's been on my watchlist for a long time, but it keeps getting pushed down by HoFs, MoFo lists, and other recommendations. I may have to move it up a little bit.



28 days...6 hours...42 minutes...12 seconds
Sorry I've missed a lot of this thread. You're a machine.
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#561 - Birdemic 2: The Resurrection
James Nguyen, 2013



A group of people working in Hollywood must band together to survive when bizarre rainstorms start bringing prehistoric killer birds back to life.

In many ways, the age of irony has proved to be a double-edged sword when it comes to pieces of unintentionally amusing entertainment (which is doubly ironic when you think about it). Back in the old days, noted bad directors like Edward D. Wood Jr. and Coleman Francis were somehow able to craft several poorly-made but well-intentioned films before their output was "celebrated" years later as a result of people like the crew at Mystery Science Theater 3000 latching onto their films as sources of accidental comedy. With the advent of the Internet and the constantly-evolving modes of humour derived from its existence, the thirst for such entertainment paradoxically guarantees that it's harder for filmmakers to provide anything that could be considered "pure" in terms of providing such entertainment value. Take Tommy Wiseau, the star-writer-director of the notoriously low-grade 2003 melodrama The Room. That film was a perfect storm of bizarre characteristics that gave a grossly incompetent film a second life as a weird curiosity and made its creator into a cult figure. Of course, Wiseau's response to the film's newfound following was to claim that it was his intention all along to create a deliberately terrible black comedy, as if his making one of the so-called worst movies ever made was deliberate. Unfortunately, by recognising what he had done and by trying to play up his weirdness for intentionally comic effect, Wiseau basically guaranteed that he would never produce anything on the same level as The Room ever again. He had become too self-aware to make any kind of sincere follow-up, and so anything else he does won't have that same indescribable sense of magic to it.

This brings me to Birdemic 2: The Resurrection, James Nguyen's follow-up to his zero-budget cult horror, 2010's Birdemic: Shock and Terror. The original Birdemic, which ultimately played out as little more than a rip-off of The Birds, had all the hallmarks of a bad movie that were only exacerbated by the film only having a budget of about $10,000 (making films like Troll 2 and The Room look seriously polished in the process). Though the most prominent problem was undoubtedly the incredibly primitive-looking effects work used to bring flocks of killer birds to life, that element was still supplanted by some incredibly amateur-ish acting, writing, editing, camerawork, sound work, pacing - and that was without mentioning the film's aggressively heavy-handed environmental message (with the Birdemic apparently being caused by the effects of global warming). I bring this all up because Birdemic 2 seems to promise more of the same as it follows the same plot progression as the first film. However, there's a good chance that the passage of several years and the inception of a cult following for the first film might have had the same kind of damaging influence that has affected Wiseau's own post-Room output. As a result, Birdemic 2 ends up being one of those sequels that is awfully similar to its predecessor without managing to capture the same ineffable magic, which is a shame when magic is all that the original Birdemic really had going for it.

The plot is fundamentally similar to that of the first one in that it takes half the film for the Birdemic to actually happen. In the meantime, the action relocates from the Bay Area setting of the first film to Hollywood, where a director named Bill is trying to make his own indie film. He ends up meeting Rod and Nathalie, the survivors of the original Birdemic. Rod, who already made millions of dollars during the events of the first film, agrees to help finance Bill's project on the condition that Nathalie, a Victoria's Secret model looking to break into acting, gets an audition for the movie's lead role. This causes conflict with Gloria, another actress who was originally promised the lead role by Bill (although that was mainly the off-shoot of Bill making advances towards her). Such behind-the-scenes drama is enough to fuel the first half of the film, complete with lots of foreshadowing about the inevitable Birdemic. The reveal of the Birdemic still hits about as suddenly as the last one (and once again after a sex scene featuring the two leads - wonder if there's something to be read into there), but this time the nature of the Birdemic is fleshed out in some especially ridiculous ways. Whereas last time there was no real cause for the birds becoming homicidal (apart from global warming, of course), this time it's blamed on red rain falling from the skies and reanimating prehistoric birds that have been preserved in tar pits, bringing them all back to life to shock and terrorise the population of L.A.

Whether it's a deliberate attempt to invoke an audience's fondness for the predecessor or simply a lack of genuine innovation on Nguyen's part, Birdemic 2 struggles to fill out its brief running time with anything worthwhile. There is little in the way of significant variation on the experience of watching Birdemic - at least, not much that would for any "improvement". A lot of that has to do with setting the film in Hollywood and spending its first half focusing on a film production - this allows for the occasional meta-fictional joke such as having one character remark on how low-budget indie films are better than high-budget blockbusters or the existence of an Asian character who remarks about how he wants to write a movie based on the Birdemic. There's also a somewhat interesting plot development thanks to the competition for the film-within-a-film's lead role leading to a passive-aggressive rivalry forming between Nathalie and Gloria; in true Birdemic fashion, this goes nowhere. The film brings back several other characters from the first film; the exposition-dumping scientist, the ponytail-wearing tree-hugger, the lounge singer, Nathalie's mother, and even one of the two children (the explanation for the other child's absence is probably one of the most memorable moments in this whole film). Unsurprisingly, the characterisation is weak and the acting is weaker, yet the various random appearances and disappearances of characters still feels extremely inconsequential - I literally forgot about at least one character disappearing without any explanation until I started reading up on the film after watching it.

As for the rest of the film - well, if you've seen any footage from the first Birdemic, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. The effects work used to capture the birds have ever-so-slightly improved, using fully 3-D computer effects rather than flat clip-art animation However, just because Nguyen has a slightly larger budget to work with this time around doesn't mean the actual scenes depicting the Birdemic become any better underneath the technological advancement. They go through the exact same motions that they did in the first film, alternating between hovering, dive-bombing, and getting killed by humans. Even Nguyen himself seems to realise the limited appeal of the birds and thus tries to add in several other different threats and the various effects needed to bring them to fruition. What is arguably the film's most memorable scene doesn't involve any birds whatsoever; instead, it focuses on a woman being stung by a sizable computer-generated jellyfish. That's without referencing the addition of raining blood (which naturally doesn't leave so much as a puddle on any actual scenery), which not only kick-starts a Birdemic by raising dead birds but also creates zombies, who are shown crawling out of graves in a manner that involves obvious use of green-screen. I can't even appreciate such a left-field development because it basically shows that the makers of an 80-minute killer bird movie where the birds don't even show up until the halfway mark can't even trust the killer birds to carry what's left of the movie. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with zombies, but here their presence seems like a convenient way to pad a movie where the conflict is driven by magic rain that brings the dead back to life. At least the resurrection of a pair of Neanderthals smacks of some creativity, if not necessarily of quality.

While Birdemic was definitely a novel and rather enjoyable experience (which was probably helped by watching it in a theatre with friends), Birdemic 2 ends up being a rather confounding piece of work for a number of reasons. I still find myself trying to figure out exactly how self-aware Nguyen and his collaborators are about the quality of the film they're making; if anything, the various attempts at jokes that pepper the film would suggest that there is an element of conscious self-parody at work here, though one might actually wonder if they are sincere jokes whose intentions are being misinterpreted (especially when one movie executive character complains about Bill's script lacking any sexually titillating content before later being shown presiding over a scene featuring three topless women - talk about the filmmakers having their cake and eating it too). The same goes for the film trying to introduce brand-new elements such as zombies, cavemen, and blood-red storms in order to prop up the killer birds' growing staleness. Such a concern over authenticity really does become significant when you want to rationalise the fact that Birdemic 2 is a sequel that tries to replicate its source film while also trying to make it different enough to justify its existence. Is it a deliberate attempt at satirisation (which is no doubt backed up by the various jabs at film production and Hollywood in general) or a failed attempt to make lightning strike twice (as evidenced by how slavishly this film mimics its predecessor)? It can be one or the other or a combination of the two (most likely the latter), but in any case the film feels like even more of a chore than its predecessor. Best recommended for when you have company of like minds and similar senses of humour, otherwise it really will feel like a serious contender for the worst movie ever made.




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#562 - The Guest
Adam Wingard, 2014



A family is visited by a man claiming to have been a friend of their eldest son, who died while serving in the military.

I'm of two minds when it comes to the recent wave of '80s nostalgia that's permeating quite a few recent films. On the one hand, I appreciate that filmmakers are working to filter the best parts of that particular decade's techniques and aesthetics into new and exciting contexts, but on the other hand I do have to wonder if such slavish adherence to a decade gone by might actually be working to either stifle creativity or at the very least serve as window-dressing to films that I might otherwise not have cared about. Right from the moment that The Guest features a title card written in Albertus typeface (because if you're going to go for a deliberate cult '80s atmosphere, you've got to make sure that you use the same credits font as John Carpenter), you have a pretty good idea of just what you're in for. The film begins on a rural homestead located near a small town where the resident family is mourning the death of their son during the war in Afghanistan. It is around this time that an ex-soldier (Dan Stevens) arrives on their doorstep, stating that he was friends with the deceased son while they were in the military together. Though the family is initially wary of his presence, they offer to let him stay at their home for the time being. In addition to being bereaved, the family has a number of other issues such as the father (Leland Orser) having trouble with his job and the family's other son (Brendan Meyer) being bullied at school, so Stevens starts to set himself up as the family's guardian angel, even going so far as to escort the 20-year-old daughter (Maika Monroe) to potentially dangerous parties. Eventually, Monroe starts to clue in to the fact that there is something weird going on with Stevens, while Stevens' own erratic behaviour starts to escalate...

So the obvious frame of reference here would be the Hitchcock classic Shadow of a Doubt, with a family taking in a virtual stranger where the family's precocious daughter is the first and more or less only person to clue in that something's not quite right. While Shadow of a Doubt made it clear from the outset just how much of a villain Joseph Cotten's character is is before he starts hiding out with his distant relatives, The Guest offers no such insight into Stevens' character, though early scenes where he goads Meyer's bullies into a very one-sided bar brawl definitely hint at there being something seriously wrong with him, but the movie does tease out its reveal very carefully. The film is probably a bit too careful about its pacing, resulting in a first half that does feel a little dull and eventually you're just waiting for the truth to come out rather than anticipating it. At the very least, the acting is solid enough to carry an all-too-straightforward film - Stevens makes good as a character whose awkward yet affable behaviour hides a dark side that's a little on the vague side, while Monroe is a decent enough heroine who is believably flawed but sympathetic. Character actors such as Orser or Lance Reddick (playing the man who knows the truth about Stevens' character) flesh out their fairly standard characters reasonably well, especially the latter channeling his usual brand of no-nonsense charisma.

While the story is admittedly a bit too thin and poorly paced to make this film truly great (especially when it comes to expanding upon Stevens' true motivations, which are either too simple or too convoluted), the real strength comes from the fact that you get to feast your eyes and ears on a retro-style throwback full of lurid cinematography and loads of synth-pop on the soundtrack. I thought it was a nice touch that the soundtrack included the Sisters of Mercy's cover of Hot Chocolate's "Emma", though I wish it had been given greater emphasis or context. The choices of music combine to strong effect with the cinematography, which involves all manner of high-contrast shots featuring all sorts of complementary colours bouncing off one another. Though the film is a little too short on serious action, it crafts a sufficiently strong third act and puts together an interesting set-piece for its climax. The Guest ends up being a fun enough little film but it struggles to evoke the same sense of energy and flair as the films that inspired it. That seems to be the paradox that afflicts many films like The Guest - it's great at imitation, but not great full stop.




As is often the case with films like this, Iro, I simply really like/enjoy all the things you don't like about Birdemic 2 and they're what make it more enjoyable than the first. I like the return of the characters and the differences (love the explanation for the boy not being there and the tree hugger who now hates books as they're bad for the environment and praises the kindle). I like the zombie street gang who, naturally, have automatic weapons. I like the same streets being used and the ridiculous blood rain reason for the birdemic. It's better than global warming. I like the pointless/random/satirical gratuitous nakedness and the killing which happens there. I like the stupid, but much improved, computer animations of the birds.

My g/f and I just laughed from start to finish and she enjoyed it far more than I. Taking out the 'proper films' she likes, such as The Matrix, this is up there as, arguably, her favourite film. I'm pretty sure she liked it more than Birdemic, though I'm not sure if she prefers it to Birdemic with the RiffTrax.

If I rated films solely on competency and the like, this'd be dead in the water. At least as little as you've given it. But those things rarely cut any ice with me and, with films like this, that's certainly not why I'm watching them. I'll be far harsher on a $200m film which has a poor script than a $1m film with a poor script. But then, I'm far less likely to want to watch a film which costs $200m because those films rarely have much use for the things I enjoy about a film and things like the script are merely there in those films to get to the set pieces. Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle is a great example of this. It's a mess but, for the most part, it's too competently made/written/acted/edited/etc to be laughably bad and so I get my enjoyment elsewhere. Mainly my affection for Drew and the likeability of the Angels.



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As is often the case with films like this, Iro, I simply really like/enjoy all the things you don't like about Birdemic 2 and they're what make it more enjoyable than the first. I like the return of the characters and the differences (love the explanation for the boy not being there and the tree hugger who now hates books as they're bad for the environment and praises the kindle). I like the zombie street gang who, naturally, have automatic weapons. I like the same streets being used and the ridiculous blood rain reason for the birdemic. It's better than global warming. I like the pointless/random/satirical gratuitous nakedness and the killing which happens there. I like the stupid, but much improved, computer animations of the birds.
Actually, it was the girl who was absent, not the boy. There was no zombie street gang, just a regular street gang that had been killed by birds (the zombies were entirely different characters). The blood rain was an interesting concept but it fell apart once I realised just how transparent an attempt it was to inject life into a flatlining high-concept.

My g/f and I just laughed from start to finish and she enjoyed it far more than I. Taking out the 'proper films' she likes, such as The Matrix, this is up there as, arguably, her favourite film. I'm pretty sure she liked it more than Birdemic, though I'm not sure if she prefers it to Birdemic with the RiffTrax.
As I was sure to note in the review, I'm sure this is better in the company of like-minded individuals (that much I know about the first film), but I watched this by myself so excuse me for being alone.

If I rated films solely on competency and the like, this'd be dead in the water. At least as little as you've given it. But those things rarely cut any ice with me and, with films like this, that's certainly not why I'm watching them. I'll be far harsher on a $200m film which has a poor script than a $1m film with a poor script. But then, I'm far less likely to want to watch a film which costs $200m because those films rarely have much use for the things I enjoy about a film and things like the script are merely there in those films to get to the set pieces. Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle is a great example of this. It's a mess but, for the most part, it's too competently made/written/acted/edited/etc to be laughably bad and so I get my enjoyment elsewhere. Mainly my affection for Drew and the likeability of the Angels.
I don't know if you've noticed, but competency is not exactly the be-all and end-all of my rating system either. I think Birdemic 2 quite simply falls prey to a lot of the usual sequel flaws, what with it being caught between being too samey and too different. Any similarity to its predecessor felt unremarkable and any difference felt desperate. I was also worried that Nguyen would have gotten in on the joke and tried to tailor a possible sequel to be more deliberately hilarious - even if he was being totally serious then it's still a bad sequel regardless of his intentions.



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#563 - Slow West
John MacLean, 2015



A young Scotsman travels to America in search of the woman he loves and teams up with an Irish bounty hunter to find her.

Given its incredibly simple storyline, I do wonder how much chance Slow West had of being genuinely great as opposed to just good. The tale follows a naive young Scotsman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who travels from Scotland to America's Wild West in search of the woman (Caren Pistorius) he loves, who has emigrated for reasons that become clear soon enough. His journey doesn't last long before he is ambushed by a group of ex-soldiers hunting a Native American; fortunately, he is saved by by a laconic Irish bounty hunter (Michael Fassbender) who is clearly a lot more experienced when it comes to dealing with the local dangers. As a result, Smit-McPhee then decides to hire Fassbender as his bodyguard to help see him safely towards his destination in the west, which is complicated by the fact that Fassbender is secretly hunting Pistorius, who has a large bounty on her head due to the actions that forced her to leave Scotland in the first place. Throw in the fact that Fassbender's former gang (led by Ben Mendehlson) is following the lead duo in the hopes of them leading them to the bounty in question and there is sufficient complexity to pack out the film's extremely lean running time...

...or not. Slow West becomes more or less dependent on its episodic structure, building its strength less through crafting an organically developed whole than through a number of strong scenes. The earliest example of this is a scene in which Fassbender and Smit-McPhee visit a general store in the middle of nowhere that ends up going south extremely quickly. Other scenes, such as Smit-McPhee's solo encounter with a German writer or a minor character recounting the tale of his time with a young outlaw trying to make a name for himself, the film is definitely better at building singularly satisfying sequences than a completely satisfying film. This is a little unsurprising considering that this is writer-director MacLean's feature-length debut after working in short films, so the film really does play out like a series of vignettes. Some of them are good vignettes, but some of them aren't. The sporadic use of voice-over involving Fassbender's character feels awfully redundant for the most part, and the interplay he has with Smit-McPhee is decent without being spectacular (with the occasional high point, such as one scene where the former shaves the latter's face with one especially large knife). The film can be considered a black comedy due to the direction that some scenes take, but it's not liable to generate any major laughs nor does it justify the jaunty acoustic score that plays through much of the film.

Even so, Slow West is not without its good points. The cinematography is pretty strong, especially during the film's extremely bright and impressive third act that makes good use of complementary colours as it sets yellow fields against blue skies. The performances are generally decent, with the cast selling a generally nonplussed demeanour when it comes to witnessing some of the absurd circumstances that come their way. Fassbender and Smit-McPhee in particular do well at this as they give off airs of seen-it-all weariness and dumbfounded shock respectively. Though the film definitely lives up to its title by taking its time to progress through its eighty-four minutes, it's definitely got enough going on to feel at least a little worthwhile, but unfortunately the film's few strengths aren't enough to make it a modern classic. It's an entertaining enough modern Western where the flaws may prevent it from becoming a modern classic but that doesn't stop it being too difficult to enjoy.




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#564 - Top Five
Chris Rock, 2014



A comedian turned movie star must do an interview to promote his latest film, which is a more serious departure from his most famous work.

If you've read enough of my reviews on here, you'll know that I don't much care for the films of Woody Allen - not even the classics like Annie Hall or Manhattan. I bring this up because veteran comedian-actor Chris Rock has decided to run the Allen playbook when it comes to writing, producing, directing, and starring in his own film. The film's main premise even sounds like something that Allen would've come up with himself (and people who've seen more Allen films than I have are welcome to tell me if he did actually do a film with the same premise). Rock plays Andre Allen (what a coincidental surname, huh?), a man who started in stand-up comedy before making the jump to acting in films, with his most famous role being in a series of comedies where he plays a cop that just so happens to be a talking bear. In a somewhat unsurprising development, he plays on making the jump from funny films to serious films, which leads to his latest film being a dramatic biopic about a Haitian slave uprising. The film takes place over the course of a single day as he must give an interview to a New York Times journalist (Rosario Dawson) while promoting his new film, all the while having doubts about his impending marriage to a reality TV star (Gabrielle Union).

Top Five doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel, but it doesn't need to. Rock has always been a fairly likeable presence whether he was speaking truth to power through his stand-up or playing second fiddle in films like Grown Ups, and that translates to an appropriately self-aware performance that doesn't shy away from showcasing his self-insert's shortcomings, such as a struggle with substance abuse and his frustration with fans that only recognise him for his lightweight talking-animal fare. He generates some good chemistry with Dawson, which allows for some good interplay as he gets to let loose against a foil who is challenging yet receptive to his output. Dawson herself gets fleshed out a little more than her role as interviewer would suggest and she gets some good laughs outside of her connection to Rock. The rest of the cast gets packed out with some good characters, chief among them being J.B. Smoove as Rock's childhood friend turned overeager minder. The smaller parts range from recognisable faces playing tiny roles (such as Kevin Hart as Andre's agent or Tracy Morgan as his brother) or recognisable faces playing themselves (most prominent among them being people as diverse as Jerry Seinfeld and DMX). It's especially impressive how the characters aren't exactly given the short shrift regardless of their place in the narrative; while it would be easy to establish Union's character as a one-dimensional obstacle to the admittedly predictable tension that develops between rock an Dawson, she does get enough depth and material to work with to stop her being a bland rom-com stereotype.

Thanks to the flexible nature of the interview-driven narrative, the main plot's 24-hour timeframe is supported by a number of flashbacks that help to develop the characters nicely. All of them prove entertaining in one fashion or another - the extended sequence where Andre "hits bottom" proves especially cringe-inducing in a genuinely hilarious way. The laughs do come at a cost, especially when it comes to Dawson getting her own revenge on a boyfriend with...very particular tastes (which was funny at first, but I do have to question whether or not it was worth laughing at in hindsight). The film still touches on a number of subjects related to the fame monster that plagues Andre and makes for both amusing comedy and compelling drama. It's always great for a film to genuinely surprise you and Top Five definitely did that. Rock's comedic sensibilities hit the mark for the most part and make this better than the typical talk-heavy picture and support the film as it hits upon some familiar narrative beats. Also, I'm not sure I could bring myself to hate a film that features a scene where Jerry Seinfeld screams out his top five rappers in the middle of a loud nightclub.




As I was sure to note in the review, I'm sure this is better in the company of like-minded individuals (that much I know about the first film), but I watched this by myself so excuse me for being alone.
It wasn't a criticism, but you have to be aware that watching films like this is always better with more people around.

I don't know if you've noticed, but competency is not exactly the be-all and end-all of my rating system either. I think Birdemic 2 quite simply falls prey to a lot of the usual sequel flaws, what with it being caught between being too samey and too different.
That's just sequels for the most part though, isn't it?

Any similarity to its predecessor felt unremarkable and any difference felt desperate. I was also worried that Nguyen would have gotten in on the joke and tried to tailor a possible sequel to be more deliberately hilarious - even if he was being totally serious then it's still a bad sequel regardless of his intentions.
As I said, I liked the things you didn't. Had I watched it on my own I doubt I would've enjoyed it as much. that much is obvious.



Welcome to the human race...
#565 - The Elephant Man
David Lynch, 1980



Based on the true story of Joseph Merrick, a person born with significant physical deformities who is initially resigned to being a sideshow freak until a doctor decides to take him away for study.

For a filmmaker that's built such a reputation on wild surrealism, it's interesting to see David Lynch balance his cinematic sensibilities against more fundamentally accessible conventions. The Elephant Man marks his second feature after his years-in-the-making Eraserhead and shares many similarities with that film. The Elephant Man transposes the same monochromatic industrial landscape and focus on grotesqueries from Eraserhead's dark fantasy world to the grimy real-life setting of Victorian England. Here, a respected physician (Anthony Hopkins) learns about the existence of a sideshow freak known as the "Elephant Man" (John Hurt), so named for the birth defects he developed due to his mother being attacked by an elephant while he was still in utero. When Hopkins sees him living in squalor and incapable of speech, he opts to spirit him away to a hospital so as to investigate his unique physical condition. It turns out that, despite growing up as little more than a revolting curiosity, Hurt has normal intelligence and emotions; however, even the good intentions of Hopkins and other characters aren't enough to stop many people from mistreating Hurt.

The Elephant Man does have the occasional Lynchian touches here and there as it creates disturbing combinations of sound and vision (especially during its opening scenes and during one nightmarish depiction of events) but otherwise it is an incredibly straightforward film. It gets by on the considerable strength of its performers, especially Hopkins and Hurt; Hopkins may play an appropriately conflicted character who worries about whether he is helping or exploiting Hurt, all the while lending gravitas to his role as a learned man whose natural sympathies cause him to side with Hurt. As the titular Elephant Man, Hurt delivers an appropriately nuanced performance from underneath layers of make-up, reciting increasingly loquacious dialogue through the most dignified of rasps. It's a credit to these two and to others (such as John Gielgud as an initially belligerent hospital administrator and Anne Bancroft as a renowned stage performer whose intrigue with Hurt goes beyond a crude fascination with his appearance) that they take what could have been an otherwise stolid biopic and turn it into something that's affecting without being manipulative and striking without being ostentatious. Other characters play relatively minor parts, whether it's immoral yet entrepreneurial hospital staff looking to make a living off bringing gawky spectators to Hurt's quarters or carnival folk who genuinely believe that the freak show is where Hurt truly belongs and that removing him from that environment is a harsher act than leaving him there. Lynch has long since established himself as a director who cares about even the smallest of roles in his films, and it shows even in one of his earliest films.

In terms of technique, I seriously can't imagine this film being as good as it is without the black-and-white cinematography. When it comes to any film that's made in the era where colour cinematography is the widely available and accepted norm, any film that can not only make it work but feel essential to the film as a whole has to be impressive; if you have to seriously struggle to think of this film in colour (much less improved by colour), then that's most definitely a success. The music is period-appropriate, though it does resort to deranged-sounding carnival tunes a bit too often for its own good, threatening to ruin genuinely disturbing moments in the process. Otherwise, the score is good - of note is the usage of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" in a way that threatens to steal it away from Platoon completely (and that's saying something). Though I still think it doesn't quite have what it takes to overrun more stereotypically Lynchian fare such as Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive, I do reckon that The Elephant Man is an all-around outstanding film that deserves to be seen by...well, everybody. It's not too weird to alienate wide audiences but not too safe and comfortable to become totally forgettable either. With his sophomore feature, Lynch crafts one of his best works, which is good enough to transcend his trademark brand of weirdness. Seek it out.




Welcome to the human race...
#566 - Tangled
Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, 2010



Based on the classic fairytale of Rapunzel, the story of a princess with extremely long hair who is locked into a tower by an evil hag.

Can I really begrudge Disney for not really doing anything overly inventive with their features? After creating a consistently strong alliance with Pixar in order to create some of the definitive family films of this generation, their non-Pixar output has tended towards sticking to the tried-and-true formula of taking classic fairytales and offering their own interpretations of them. Here, the tale of the day is that of Rapunzel, a young princess who has been locked away in the highest room of a tall tower and whose hair has grown so long that it can be dropped from the tower, allowing people to climb up and down to the room in question. I don't remember exactly how the original tale went (which is probably for the best considering what the brothers Grimm were like), but in the world of Tangled it means that Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is the long-lost princess who has been kidnapped by a hag named Gothel (Donna Murphy) due to some magic mumbo-jumbo about a flower that has healing properties, which ends up being used on the local queen and resulting in the newborn princess being born with the flower power. Enter a dashing rogue by the name of Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi), who is on the run from having pulled a daring heist and has decided to hole up in a certain tall tower...well, there, you have enough plot to fill out a hundred minutes of computer-generated family fun.

What Tangled lacks in narrative innovation, it makes up for in a relatively high level of visual prowess. This doesn't automatically extend to character models (damn the people who pointed out how much Rapunzel's facial model makes her look the same as Elsa, Anna, and Honey Lemon - now you can't unsee it either, and then there's the unfortunate implications associated with the appearance of Mother Gothel...), but it extends to everything else in a fairly tolerable manner. The annual release of a mass of floating lanterns makes for a decent motif and narrative objective, but the rest of the film definitely seems to play things awfully safe with its generic fantastic European kingdom setting - and then there's Rapunzel's hair length increasing or decreasing as narrative convenience demands. There's also the carefully paced-out use of musical numbers, most of which feel don't feel great in recollection but are thankfully not obnoxious ear-worms on par with a certain Disney song about letting something go. The action sequences do little to stand out in my memory, while the ones that do don't exactly do so out of the thrills or laughs that they generate. Basically, Tangled is about as middle-of-the-road as Disney films can get - it's not great but there's enough quality involved so that you don't hate it outright.




"""" Hulk Smashhhh."""
I enjoyed Tangled. Thought it was a nice little movie. Nice review.
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#567 - Father of the Bride
Vincente Minnelli, 1950



A family man becomes concerned over the fact that his only daughter is getting married.

One of the drawbacks about getting into classic film is that you are more often than not going to start at the top and then find yourself being rewarded with diminishing returns as you track through various associated films. I liked the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn courtroom dramedy Adam's Rib well enough, but subsequent attempts to watch any related comedies (e.g. Woman of the Year) have met with underwhelming responses. Now think about how it plays when you remove Hepburn from the equation, which leads us to Father of the Bride. Here, Tracy plays a father who, upon learning that his only daughter (Elizabeth Taylor) plans to get married to a man he knows nothing about, initially intends to put an end to any such plans for marriage. This kicks off the plot as the wedding day draws nearer and Tracy does his best to handle the situation as things grow more and more complicated with each passing day.

For a film that's apparently considered a comedy, it's extremely short on laughs (to the point of there being a complete absence of them). I could credit that to the film's humour not aging all that well, but if a film's going to be held up as enough of a comedic touchstone to merit at least one remake then it should be worth something (or is it one of those films that actually needed a remake?). Tracy is his usual ornery yet likable self, though it's wasted on a framing story that leads to him narrating everything and providing dry quips in the process. Not even having Taylor appear in a supporting role as the bride-to-be is enough to sufficiently redeem this film. The very occasional interesting moment (such as Tracy's character having an impressionistic nightmare about his daughter's impending nuptials) adds little to the film's favour either. As a result, this film is hardly the worst ever but it's regrettably quite the chore to get through with the very occasional interesting moment to lend it any staying power.




I wasn't that happy with Top Five but I see the appeal. I just didn't click with it but Chris Rock did succeed in a few areas with it.

The Elephant Man is a strong and emotional film and I also like how it is definitely Lynch in a few places, but mostly it moves straight ahead and gives the characters and the actors portraying them plenty of room to breathe. I love the film, I own it on blu-ray, but I haven't picked it up again since I saw it last time. An unbelievably tragic and touching film. It's beautiful, but hard to watch at times.

I saw Tangled in theatres and I wasn't the biggest fan, I think I felt kind of the same as you did. I do owe it a rewatch though, but I'm not exactly in a hurry to do so.

Good reviews, Iro.



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#568 - Tender Mercies
Bruce Beresford, 1983



A famous country singer that has fallen on hard times opts to marry a motel-owning single mother, but things are complicated connection to his estranged ex-wife and daughter.

Robert Duvall is an actor whose generally understated demeanour served to cement him as one of the most dependable character actors in modern cinema (with the odd performance that allows him to stretch his abilities, such as the eccentric helicopter squad leader from Apocalypse Now). To this end, Tender Mercies had a lot riding on it as the film where Duvall finally ended up winning a Best Actor Oscar; after all, this could be one of those films where the lead performance is the only truly worthwhile reason to watch it or might even be a sympathy vote for a film that borders on unwatchable. Fortunately, Tender Mercies avoids that particular pitfall as it gives Duvall a role that may feel like it's trying to bait awards but Duvall manages to make it a role that deserves them. Here, he plays a once-renowned country singer who starts the film as a perpetually drunk resident of a roadside motel who works out a compromise with the proprietor (Tess Harper), a young widow and single mother. He soon ends up marrying Harper in a move that seems equally romantic and pragmatic, but his past soon catches up to him when his country singer ex-wife (Betty Buckley) and his estranged daughter (Ellen Barkin) end up passing through the small town where he resides.

Duvall more than earns his accolades as he manages to play a convincing once-legendary music star (even going so far as to do his own singing) that is a very flawed human being but not without a certain charm that does make his small victories feel worthwhile and his defeats conjure up bittersweet feelings. Even so, he wouldn't quite be where he was without a decent ensemble cast backing him up - Harper is decent as the woman he marries who is constantly trying to do right by the people she cares about, while Buckley and Barkin do work well as characters that are understandably upset with Duvall without being totally unsympathetic to an audience invested in his struggles. There are a number of familiar tropes here and there, such as the up-and-coming group who drops by the station to pay him reverent lip-service, to say nothing of the nosy journalist who decides to reveal Duvall's whereabouts to a larger populace. Beresford has always been a filmmaker whose aesthetic sensibilities are in service to the story at large so there is nothing especially ostentatious about his work behind the camera. This makes for a good fit with a film that is pleasant (if bittersweet) enough to be worth watching, though not exactly a great one.