This month: “Alien”, “Apocalypse Now” (pictured above), “The Brothers Bloom”, “The Cat’s Meow”, “City Island”, “Eagle vs Shark”, “The Fountain”, “The Green Hornet”, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”, “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, “The Last Picture Show”, “Marie Antoinette”, “The Oh in Ohio”, “The Rage in Placid Lake”, “Role Models”, “Star Wars”, “SUPER”, “Tucker and Dale vs Evil”, “X-Men” and “Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael”.
This month, the average rating is 5.5/10, and the film of the month is Apocalypse Now. Follow @halfacanyon for more.
Alien (1979) – 7.5/10
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Dan O’Bannon, David Giler, Walter Hil
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton
“I’ve never seen anything like it.”
On a lonely spaceship, seven lonely crew members walk around in silence, acknowledging the dark without realising the danger they’re in. Disaster strikes when John Hurt is attacked by an alien that grabs hold of his face, but he is still brought back into the ship, much to the disapproval of Susan Sarandom. At first, I was impatient. I wanted to know when that thing was going to come out of the stomach, but the tension builds and builds – each actor has sweat glistening under sparks, in a spaceship designed like a biological nightmare, claustrophobic in colour and location.
The alien itself is fairly frightening, considering it’s just a man in a rubber suit. For this, credit has to go to Ridley Scott, who releases the alien at the right moments, with the gaps ticking away like the beeping of a radar. Just before the infamous ‘stomach’ scene, all we know is that the alien bleeds acid and it made John Hurt say, “I remember some horrible dream about smothering and… anyway, where are we?” Once it hatches from its egg, this creature is daunting in size and physics, and I would call its behaviour random, but that would be the most incorrect use of the word ‘random’ since I misspelt the name Susan Sarandon in the second sentence of this review – especially as it turns out I was mistaken, and it was actually her doppelganger, Sigourney Weaver.
Apocalypse Now (1979) – 8.5/10
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writers: John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Herr
Starring: Martin Sheen, Robert Duva, Marlon Brando, Frederic Forrest
“Never get out of the boat.”
Francis Ford Coppola’s portrayal of war in Vietnam is as frightening as, well, war, but never feels like the enemy in Apocalypse Now. In Saigon, violence soaks into the background, and soldiers surf by the beaches, with bombs exploding behind them, unheard over the screams.
It is up to Martin Sheen to stop Marlon Brando, a crazed US colonel who has lost control – his name is Walter E. Kurtz, so insanity seems to be in his family history. The journey to Brando’s temple is exhausting and Sheen’s wide eyes witness tigers, deaths and thousands of hard-working extras.
A soldier cries, “I’m not going! I’m not going!” before being dragged towards gunfire. Elsewhere, Martin Sheen looks at a tree and contemplates mortality.
The Brothers Bloom (2009) – 4.5/10
Director/Writer: Rian Johnson
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo
“The only danger is that you actually fall in love with her. Mexico is closer than you think.”
I’m not sure if I’m the person who ultimately rates Rachel Weisz with one unfair, pithy sentence, but, here, if she wants to be a Winona Ryder, she is a half-rate Natalie Portman. The Brothers Bloom are con artists performing one final job and try to swindle Weisz, a wealthy loner who ‘collects hobbies’. As we are reminded, repeatedly, word-for-word, all Adrien Brody has to do is ‘not fall in love’ with Weisz, while they elaborately ‘do a number’ on her that is too complicated to explain or take seriously. However, the ultimate con is the absence of humour and inspiration, with the misdirection of two second camera shots, flashbacks and healthy doses of Mark Ruffalo.
The Cat’s Meow (2001) – 7/10
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Writer: Steven Peros
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Edward Herrmann, Eddie Izzard
“I’m watching how ridiculous how everyone else looks, and I wonder why nobody realises it.”
In 1924, a wealthy group of silent film stars and media moguls spend a weekend on a luxurious yacht. Like every birthday party, someone has to die. The Charleston is performed, Hollywood jokes are shared, and murder is inevitable. The intertwining of these relationships are fascinating, mostly consisting of stars on the descent, trying to impress optimistic beginners before the crossover takes place. However, once the gunshots are fired, the film, helmed by Peter Bogdanovich, doesn’t know where to go – it’s a boat, and no one wants to swim.
City Island (2009) – 6/10
Director/Writer: Raymond De Felitta
Starring: Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Steven Strait, Emily Mortimer
“What a wonderful time to have not disappeared.”
Everyone lies in City Island. For instance, a city is never an island, no matter what you call it. The central theme in City Island is dishonesty – the viewer is even told this, repeatedly, in case you went to the toilet and missed a bit at the cinema.
Lies envelope Andy Garcia’s quirky family – the quirkiest of all of quirksville. For instance, the son discovers his neighbour is a fat fetish porn star (with a 24-hour webcam in her kitchen), and invites himself round her to help her cook. What takes central stage is the father’s contrived behaviour that creates a crazy circus of confusion and misunderstanding – he pretends to be a gambler, but secretly enrols in acting classes, and brings a criminal into his household, without telling anyone this is his son.
The sitcom-lite plot makes little sense when you think too hard about it, but the actors in City Island don’t give you this opportunity because they never pause – actors need not pause if they could be acting.
After the misunderstandings have been established, the film writes itself, which isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing – we can see what will happen, but we also realise in advance that the conclusion won’t be satisfying.
Eagle vs Shark (2007) – 3.5/10
Director/Writer: Taika Waititi
Starring: Jemaine clement, Loren Horsley, Craig Hall, Joel Tobeck
“He’s going to reap what he’s sown, and it ain’t corn.”
I wonder if the makers of Eagle vs Shark fretted over the film’s central premise – a socially inept couple struggle to keep it together – which limps along for thirty minutes, while mustering a few sympathetic chuckles. The main character – played by the one from The Flight of the Conchords who has black hair – reveals his obsession with beating up a childhood enemy. The joke gets as tired as the protagonist during his training to be a fighter.
The director’s style is to linger on shots that could fit the DVD cover, and it really seems that the title was chosen solely for the DVD cover.
The Fountain (2006) – 4/10
Director/Writer: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn
“They say whoever drinks of its sap will live forever.”
In The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky asks many philosophical questions. For instance, can death be cured? Are history and the present doomed to repeat itself? And is it possible to make a film about the ‘tree of life’ without a hint of irony?
Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz play multiple characters across three narratives that overlap with each other, despite being set in different time periods. The mystic direction is filled with whispered images and metaphors that want to be taken seriously. Across the three narratives, we witness three attempts to beat death – invent a cure, find the tree of life, or kills lots of Mayan soldiers.
The scene structure proves to be clumsy and disorientating, and awe becomes a blur of images that produce more question marks about the direction, rather than ‘life’ itself. The greatest accomplishment of The Fountain is that, for such an ambitious film, it is only 97 minutes long.
The Green Hornet (2011) – 7/10
Director: Michel Gondry
Writers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz
“The Green Hornet’s nothing without me.”
During the press promotion for Pineapple Express, Seth Rogen and James Franco repeatedly praised the humour in seeing an action film filled with people who can’t fight. Rogen has taken that idea further, but with an even bigger budget. This causes a bit of confusion with the action sequences – as a superhero film, The Green Hornet is torn between its diligent choreography and stoner humour throughout its inconsistent fight scenes.
The better scenes are the ones that deal with The Green Hornet as a superhero with a lousy name, no special powers and no real motivation –seeing Seth Rogen be able to kung-fu kick all of a sudden is less entertaining than seeing him in a superhero outfit in a car, insisting on playing Coolio on the stereo system, then showing off he knows the lyrics.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010) – 2/10
Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Writers: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Ned Bizzini (novel)
Starring: Keir Gilchrist, Emma Roberts, Zach Galifianakis
“I still need to face my homework.”
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is tritely sentimental film that thinks it’s edgier than it really is, while hoping nobody realises it relies on a premise of subtly making fun of people with mental illness and ensuring the “normal” person wins the girl. The casting of Emma Roberts is one of many hints that a younger audience is being targeted, but I somehow found this more offensive than The Idiots by Lars von Trier, and not just for the instrumental cover of the Pixies.
The final word of the film is a piece of advice: “Live.” Thank you, film.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) – 8/10
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writers: Hayao Miyazaki, Eiko Kadono (novel)
Starring: Minami Takayama, Rei Sakuma, Kappei Yamaguchi
“In order to be a good witch, I have to train for a year away from home.”
What I enjoyed about Kiki’s Delivery Service is how quickly the viewer is brought into its fictional world. In the first few minutes, Kiki, a thirteen-year-old girl, tells her parents that she wants to leave while it’s still a full moon – what does she mean? Her cat questions if she’s ready – don’t cats just say miaow? And then she grabs a broom and flies away, hitting a few trees on the way. Yes, it is an animated film.
As a tradition, witches move to a city for a year when they reach thirteen years old – like a gap year student, except it’s probably more genuine if she claims to ‘find’ herself. Kiki finds a job by flying around on her broom, delivering cakes before they get cold – this doesn’t exist in real life, by the way. In the film, she doesn’t particularly have anything to achieve or lose, and, like life, it’s really about building and maintaining friendships with people who show too much kindness. The sincerity is warm, not saccharine, and accomplishes surreal humour and awe despite having a vacuous storyline.
Like other Miyazaki films – I probably should have mentioned him earlier – the touching moments avoid cliché through their inherent weirdness. For instance, the most heartbreaking moment is when Kiki’s cat stops talking to her, which is something Breakfast at Tiffany’s never made me say. And finally, I can empathise with someone’s inability to fly a broom without having to learn the rules of Quidditch.
The Last Picture Show (1971) – 8/10
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Writers: Peter Bogdanovich, Larry McMurty
Starring: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybil Shepherd, Ellen Burstyn
“I’ll see you in a year of two if I don’t get shot.”
Sometimes you fall out with your friends over Cybill Shepherd, and that’s just part of growing up. I heartily recommend The Last Picture Show to anyone who appreciates well-shot drama with confused characters in tough situations, or did I just describe you, reader? At the very least, you might enjoy seeing what Jeff Bridges looked like when he was young, or be surprised that Cloris Leachman started looking old at 1971.
Marie Antoinette (2006) – 5/10
Director: Sofia Coppola
Writers: Sofia Coppola, Atonia Fraser (book)
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Judy Davis, Rip Torn
“Let them eat cake.”
Sofia Coppola’s approach to historical biography is strange, but bold. Firstly, the cast consists of non-European actors, none of whom speak French. Secondly, the actors playing royalty include Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman and Rip Torn. Thirdly, politics is ignored almost entirely, instead focusing on Marie Antoinette as a fourteen-year-old shoved into a royal relationship and pressured into producing a baby. Fourthly, the soundtrack is prevalently anachronistic.
All of these twists are welcome, apart from the soundtrack. Seeing Jason Schwartzman as a geeky Dauphin, riding a horse and forgetting about his impotence, is more of a thrill than, well, what really happened in 1769. The casting of Kirsten Dunst, who previously worked with Sofia Coppola in The Virgin Suicides, means there is always something weird with Marie Antoinette – a gamble that pays off whenever she speaks like a teenage brat, quoting from her own Wikipedia page.
The soundtrack is the main issue. Of course, for the music to not be anachronistic there would just be traditional classical music and maybe some Cliff Richard. However, Sofia Coppola picks songs that don’t fit in at all. In particular, when The Strokes start riffing through a montage, it becomes more obvious that Coppola is picking her favourite songs, hoping the viewer enjoys her mixtape. It feels as if half of Marie Antoinette is a musical montage, a horrible decision she would take to its extreme in 2010 with Somewhere, a film I previously rated 0/10.
Considering how much of the mood is ruined by ill-fitting music, it really makes me wonder how much thought went into the making of Marie Antoinette. Yes, Sofia Coppola’s approach to historical biography is bold, but it’s also lazy.
The Oh in Ohio (2006) – 2.5/10
Director: Billy Kent
Writer: Adam Wierzbianski
Starring: Parker Posey, Paul Rudd, Danny DeVito, Mischa Barton, Heather Graham
“You are so predictable, and that is what I prize most about you.”
Parker Posey and Paul Rudd have been happily married for ten years. The only problem is he has never given her an orgasm. Neither consider this a problem, given that they’ve stayed together, in love, for over a decade. All of a sudden, they split up for this reason, in a manner completely inconsistent with the previous scene, portrayed so poorly that you barely realise it happens – neither the writer nor the director has a wikipedia page.
After separating, Paul Rudd has an affair with one of his students, then disappears from the film – he was the film’s protagonist, but isn’t present in the second half, as if the writer couldn’t be bothered to finish his plot strand. Meanwhile, Parker Posey has a meandering relationship with Heather Graham, before finding unconvincing happiness with Danny DeVito via embarrassingly lazy set pieces.
Parker Posey may be one of the finest comedic actresses of her generation, but, based on this, there is no oh in generati-oh-n.
The Rage in Placid Lake (2003) – 3.5/10
Director/Writer: Tony McNamara
Starring: Ben Lee, Rose Byrne, Miranda Richardson
“You’re not normal, Placid.”
It should have been better: a film called The Rage in Placid Lake about a teenager called Placid who lets down his hippy parents by finding a job as an insurance salesman. Instead, the lead actor is an annoying spokesperson for Tony McNamara’s terribly jokes – further research shows that this was Ben Lee’s only acting role, and, even then, he didn’t consider himself an actor.
The film never takes itself seriously, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but I also feel the writer doesn’t take himself seriously. It’s okay, Tony, I believe in you – I just don’t believe in your characters.
Role Models (2008) – 7/10
Director: David Wain
Writers: David Wain, Timothy Downling, Paul Rudd, Ken Marino
Starring: Seann William Scott, Paul Rudd, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
“Where am I going to find a girl who hates all the same things I do?”
The two protagonists of Role Models, played by Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott, must commit to community service to avoid prison, and, for maximum comedic potential, they each must mentor a child for 75 hours. Rudd, himself, is a role model for comic actors searching for a way to successfully play the same character alongside the same actors, over and over again, without a Michael-Cera-lite backlash. Similarly, William Scott is a role model for maintaining lead roles despite having more enthusiasm than talent.
There are a few R-rated jokes in Role Models, particularly the “banter” between Sean William Scott and the child he looks after, but it follows the structure of a family film. The advertising and early scenes may suggest a raucous comedy with a laughably innocuous subplot involving Rudd winning back his ex-girlfriend, but Role Models is about how long it will take for Paul Rudd to become a father-figure for a young boy. It manages to have the happy ending you saw coming from the start, steers clear of the issue over whether a grown man will stay friends with a young boy once he’s no longer taking part with community service to avoid prison – let’s face it, all jokes aside, children are mostly horrible people.
SUPER (2011) – 7/10
Director/Writer: James Gunn
Starring: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Lib Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Nathan Fillion
“Shut up, crime!”
It’s unfortunate that SUPER had to come out so soon after the widespread success of Kickass, despite both being in production around the same time. Like Kickass, the plot of SUPER revolves around a sad loser who decides to become a vigilante with a catchphrase – a superhero with no powers, but an eye-catching uniform. The two films even share the smaller details, like a younger female sidekick who uses inappropriate language, and a plot hole involving how trusting the superheroes are with email identities.
However, the more appropriate comparison should be with Observe and Report – the violence in SUPER is genuinely shocking, in a way that mocks the ridiculous complaints made about Kickass. SUPER is a brave film that seems to know it will fail critically and commercially – many of the gags and action sequences fall flat – but must be admired for its edge. In particular, Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page deliver the most demented performances that I’ve seen from them.
Yes, I do feel bad that SUPER will be forever compared to Kickass, but I feel even worse knowing that I managed to mention it in almost every sentence in this review.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010) – 2.5/10
Director: Eli Craig
Writers: Eli Craig, Morgan Jurgenson
Starring: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden
“Oh my God! They cut off his bowling fingers!”
X-Men (2000) – 3.5/10
Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: David Hayter
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Steward, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry
“[blah blah blah]”
At the beginning, there is a scene where legislation is passed that will force mutants to reveal themselves – finally, a mutant registration act. From that moment onwards, I had no clue what was going on. I envisaged mutants, but I would need a spreadsheet to understand X-Men. A new one would come out of nowhere, and I was unsure of whether they were good or evil, or what kitchen appliance they would turn into.
Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael (1990) – 3.5/10
Director: Jim Abrahams
Writer: Karen Leigh Hopkins
Starring: Winona Ryder, Jeff Daniels
“That’s it? She was in a song and that’s why she’s so famous? She didn’t save a country? Or invent something great? Or murder someone?”
A teenage girl, Dinky, for some inexplicable reason, believes the actress who once lived in her town is her biological mother. This actress, Roxy Carmichael, is a legend in the town, whereby men still talk about her fifteen years after she left, and Jeff Daniels even breaks down into tears – this really happens, and it isn’t supposed to be funny. Elsewhere, Dinky looks after some farm animals, even comparing her breasts with a teacher who tries to console her about being bullied at school. A strange film that seems to have been made as a dare – a sour victory.
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