Film Reviews 18: “Your Highness”, “Limitless”, “The Terminator”, “Sucker Punch” and 20 others…


This month: “The Adjustment Bureau”, “Beastly”, “Beautiful Lies”, “Cedar Rapids”, “Cry Wolf”, “The Grudge 2”, “Hall Pass”, “happythankyoumoreplease”, “Immaturi”, “Insidious”, “Julia & Julia”, “Limitless”, “May” (pictured above), “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek”, “Out of Sight”, “Paris, Texas”, “Sucker Punch”, “Sunshine”, “The Terminator”, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”, “Videodrome”, “Your Highness”, “Welcome to the Rileys” and “Win Win”.

I’ve been reviewing films for the last two years, but this was by far the worst month. It makes me wonder if I’m going to keep it up. This volume, the average rating is 4.67/10, with film of the month being May. Follow @halfacanyon for more.

The Adjustment Bureau (2011) – 3.5/10

Director: George Nolfi
Writers: George Nolfi, Philip K. Dick (novel)
Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt

adjustment bureauWhat would you do for a cute girl on the bus? Matt Damon repeatedly risks his life and takes the same bus every day for years just to see her again. Don’t worry, the plot becomes more stupid.

There is a ‘plan’ that Damon will eventually become President of the United States, but, in order to do so, he can’t be distracted by falling in love with a girl on a bus. Yes, there are offices of men with suits spying on him, making sure he doesn’t contact the girl from the bus, and they can also move through dimensions by running through door if they’re wearing a hat. This film is 106 minutes long.

(2011) – 0.5/10

Director: Daniel Barnz
Writers: Daniel Barnz, Alex Flinn (novel)
Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Alex Pettyfer, Mary-Kate Olsen

beastlyA very handsome, but unpleasant, young man is put under a curse by a witch – he will be disfigured forever unless he can find someone to fall in love with him before the year is over. The lesson of the film is he finds someone to love him for what’s inside, but actually her exact words are, “I’ve seen worse,” which contradicts the moral message.

I say ‘moral message’, when really he just kidnaps an attractive girl, locks her in his house, then uses months of attrition to make her fall in love with him – it’s a Disney film that says disfigured people have to resort to brute force to find love. So, in short, he becomes ugly, but learns a lesson that beauty comes from within, which he shows by refusing to date someone uglier than Vanessa Hudgens.

Beautiful Lies
(2010) – 4.5/10

Original title: De vrais mensonges
Director: Pierre Salvadori
Writers: Pierre Salvadori, Benoît Graffin
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Nathalie Baye, Sami Bouajila

beautiful liesAnonymous love letters can brighten up your day (I’d imagine), but for Audrey Tatou it’s just a distraction. She cuts hair for a living, so she knows she did a good job at some point. Except they’re actually written by her assistant, who watches her throw his declarations of love into the bin.

Tatou does the strangest deed by copying out one letter and posting it to her mother, to make her feel better about dying alone. In one of the more contrived moments, Tatou sends her assistant (the one who wrote the letters) to deliver the note to her mother, who catches him – a bizarre love triangle begins, but the comedy wanes.

The laughs are incredibly forced, but with charm. Further analysis into the plot reveals plenty of nastiness, but it’s to the actors’ credit that your emotions are closer to incredulity than repulsion.

Cedar Rapids
(2011) – 3.5/10

Director: Miguel Arteta
Writer: Phil Johnston
Starring: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche

cedar rapidsEd Helms, the actor who plays Andy from The Office, is branching out into films to stop himself becoming typecast, so he stars in Cedar Rapids as a character remarkable similar to Andy from The Office. He plays an insurance salesman sent from the office to Cedar Rapids for a convention where comedic set pieces are waiting to occur.

Helms is certainly amiable, but he cannot carry a lifeless script that doesn’t seem to care about anything, let alone being entertaining. I guess unmemorable would be an accurate description – I watched it two weeks ago and I can barely remember what happened.

Cry Wolf
(2005) – 1.5/10

Director: Jeff Wadlow
Writers: Jeff Wadlow, Beau Bauman
Starring: Julian Morris, Jon Bon Jovi, Lindy Booth, Jared Padalecki

cry wolfA slasher film where there are only two deaths (one in the first scene, one at the end) and the best actor is Jon Bon Jovi.

The Grudge 2
(2006) – 7/10

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Writer: Stephen Susco
Starring: Amber Tamblyn, Arielle Kebbel, Jennifer Beals, Edison Chen, Sarah Roemer, Sarah Michelle Gellar

grudge 2The basic premise of The Grudge 2 is that there is a haunted house – enter once, be forever haunted by a creepy girl who appears when you’re in a clichéd horror film scenario, such as waiting for your boyfriend to finish his shower, or when you’re in the shower, or when your sceptical friends leave you for a brief moment. To be honest, I don’t really understand the background story – it involves revenge, but it’s mostly superfluous. I’m just here for the shocks.

What I enjoyed about The Grudge 2 was that the same thing happened at the end of each scene. There are only two types of scene that occur. Usually, a frightened person will walk around slowly before the scary girl appears, and the frightened person runs away. Alternatively, a sceptical person will walk around slowly before the scary girl appears hidden in the shadows.

It was deluged by bad reviews, but it’s fun, scary entertainment, which is exactly what you should be getting when you watch a film called The Grudge 2. I was hungry; my stomach rumbled – it made the same sound as the girl who climbs out of the mirror. As Lou Reed said: I’ll be your mirror.

Hall Pass
(2011) – 4.5/10

Directors: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
Writers: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly, Pete Jones, Kevin Barnett
Starring: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Stephen Merchant, Jenna Fischer

hall passSome context: I’d been awake for thirty hours, and this didn’t send me to sleep.
It helps knowing the plot a few weeks in advance – it’s so incomprehensible, you need time to let it sink in, and then you can allow Hall Pass to act as if a ‘hall pass’ is lexically common and widely practised. A ‘hall pass’ is when a husband is allowed to spend a week cheating on his wife. The reason? To get it out of his system. What does that mean? It means you can guess everything that happens.

(2010) – 1/10

Director/Writer: Josh Radnor
Starring: Josh Radnor, Kate Mara, Malin Akerman, Zoe Kazan

happythankyoumorepleaseI don’t know what’s your take on child abduction, but I would call it: not good. Bad, even. Josh Radnor (yes, goddamn Ted from How I Met Your Mother) makes his writer/director debut and plays a moody writer who starts looking after a stray child he finds on the street. As you imagine, casual abduction brings many issues which the film doesn’t raise (unlike his eyebrows when a pretty girl walks past). Instead, the film focuses on Radnor moodily chasing after perky women who also have nothing interesting to say.

It takes some time to realise that there are two subplots in the film with two other couples whose lives are so dull you barely notice. I kid you not, but happythankyoumoreplease is an episode of How I Met Your Mother if every character was Ted on a bad day. Tell us who the mother is, then go away!

(2011) – 3/10

Director/Writer: Paolo Genovese
Starring: Raoul Bova, Barbora Bobulova, Ambra Angiolini

immaturiIf I was to spell out the film’s title, I would replace the first letter to make it look a bit like a question mark. What happens? I’m not really sure. Twelve years after graduation, twenty-five students have to resit their exams after it becomes annulled (which they find out from the newspapers). This is strange enough, especially as it doesn’t even focus on its strange hook, instead playing out odd stories that walk themselves into a hole in the ground, somewhere in the vanishing point.

(2011) – 5/10

Director: James Wan
Writer: Leigh Whannel
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey

insidiousInsidious is a pretty good adjective. I try to use it on a daily basis, sometimes sincerely, sometimes ironically, sometimes to break tension, or maybe to answer the question, “What is the latest, plain, by-the-numbers horror film you’ve seen lately?”

Julie & Julia
(2010) – 7/10

Director: Nora Ephron
Writers: Nora Ephron, Julie Powell (book)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina

julie and juliaCharm can make anything endurable. For instance, think about the recent surge in brown bread’s popularity in sandwiches. This analogy is relevant for Julia & Julia, the true story of two cooks called Julia. Meryl Streep has a lot of fun playing Julia Child, a chef trying to make a name for herself in the 1950s. Amy Adams has less fun as Julie Powell, a whiny office clerk who starts a blog in which she cooks 524 of Julia Child’s recipes in 365 days. Not much else happens. There isn’t much tension. You know what’s going to happen. It’s over two hours. So why is it so watchable?

Firstly, the cast are truly likeable (as opposed to falsely likeable) and cheered me up. Secondly, I only needed cheering up because Amy Adams burns a meal – yes, you really get that involved with whether she can cook all the meals. Thirdly, Nora Ephron’s script is bouncy enough to make the time pass, and maybe one day I will forgive her for When Harry Met Sally. Fourthly, it’s hard to watch Julia & Julia without unfairly low expectations, as the story is far more interesting and relevant than you’d expect. Fifthly, when Adams has a panic attack over cooking live lobsters, her husband sings, “Lobster killer, qu’est-ce que c’est fa fa fa far far better…”

(2011) – 4/10

Director: Neil Burger
Writers: Leslie Dixon, Alan Glynn (novel)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro

limitlessApparently you only use 20% of your brain. Compare this with cucumber, which is 97% water. Am I really making a point? Not really, but neither is Limitless Bradley Cooper plays a novelist with writers’ block, but finds a drug that means he can use all of his brain. He then excels in every water he dips a toe into, including kung-fu fighting, which is convenient for when Limitless turns into a stupid action film that ironically requires only 3% of your brain.

(2002) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Lucky McKee
Starring: Angela Bettis, Jeremy Sisto, Anna Faris
“This boy is different. I like every part of him.”

may 2The message in May is if you can’t find a friend, make one. May is a withdrawn twenty-something who doesn’t have any friends because most people find her ‘weird’ – she considers her best friend to be a childhood doll that has never left its glass casing. She is attractive, but in an awkward way that stops her from standing out, until she finds a man with ‘beautiful hands’. It’s a horror film.

May’s briefly romantic endeavours begin when they say that they ‘like weird’, but are unprepared for someone who actually is ‘weird’ – she is turned on by cannibalism and talks to her doll. In this surprisingly moving slasher film, she finds a new way to make a friend.

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
(1944) – 3.5/10

Director/Writer: Preston Sturges
Starring: Eddie Bracken, Betty Hutton
“I’m a doctor, not a gossip sharer.”

miracle of morgan's creekIn an era where comedies couldn’t portray infidelity without ending in remarriage, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek seems dangerously edgy. After a one night stand, a woman can’t remember who she was with, but is now pregnant and with a wedding ring. In addition, her father is furious and she contemplates drowning herself in the ocean. This is 1944, four years after the ridiculous remarriage in The Philadelphia Story. Yet, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek misses a tonal opportunity by being a slapstick farce, and even these jokes fail.

Out of Sight
(1998) – 4/10

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: Scott Franks, Elmore Leonard (novel)
Starring: George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Catherine Keener

out of sightGeorge Clooney is smooth – he knows it, but does Jennifer Lopez know it? Yes, she does. Film over.

Sucker Punch
(2011) – 0/10

Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Zack Snyder, Steve Shibuya
Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung
“Undo these straps. And don’t forget the ankles.”

sucker punchThe first image of Sucker Punch is a stage with red curtains. Behind them lie what is possibly the worst film I have ever seen.

Firstly, the names of the five main characters are: Babydoll, Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie and Amber. Even then, I’m assuming Zack Snyder didn’t realise Amber is a real name.

The first scene is horrible enough – a confusing sequence involving a dead parent’s will, an abusive uncle, gunshots and a dead sister. It isn’t clear if Babydoll accidentally shoots her sister, or if the uncle already killed her and then framed her, but you barely notice because this all takes place in slow motion to a loud, six-minute, gothic-emo cover version of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”.

Babydoll is instantly taken to an asylum where she is, of course, going to be lobotomised. Just before this procedure, she enters into a dream world that the asylum is actually a brothel with security guards to stop women from escaping. Yes, really – of all the things one could imagine, she fantasises about being an imprisoned prostitute. The even bigger crime is that the viewer realises the film will all be a dream until she wakes up at the end – except there were red curtains at the beginning, meaning this will all be a dream within a dream, like Inception without the first hour to provide context, narrative or a reason to watch.

Babydoll finds the brothel employs only pretty girls under the age of 25 who spend their days cleaning and working in a kitchen, followed by stripping for strangers in the evening, then getting raped at night. There are high levels of security that mean no one has ever escaped without being killed. If anyone breaks any of the strict rules of conduct, they get raped. In fact, all of the girls accept that they will be regularly raped by any of the men in the brothel, even the chef. Babydoll is upset to find herself here, which raises the unanswered question as to why she chose to fantasise about this place. Given that this is all a pointless dream, it’s hard to empathise with any of the characters, despite how ridiculously awful their lives are.

When Babydoll has to dance sexually in front of a crowd at the brothel, she manages to be so sexy that it hypnotises the men into a trance – all of them, without exception. Yet, you never see this dance because during this time she fantasises about fighting robots whilst dressed in schoolgirl uniform – so, this is a pointless dream within a pointless dream within a pointless dream.

Babydoll convinces her friends they must find a way to escape, so she writes a list on a blackboard for the five things they need:
1) A map
2) Fire
3) A knife
4) A key
5) A deep sacrifice that she doesn’t what will be

There is no explanation for what they will do with these things, or what on earth that last item means. In order to get each item, Babydoll distracts the men by doing a striptease that, as before, sends them into a trance. Again, every time this dance happens, there is a fantasy sequence where all the girls fight dragons and Nazis whilst, for some reason, still wearing their stripper outfits, and these all last for about fifteen minutes each.

Now, to take you away from the dream within a dream within a dream, and to bring you back to the dream within a dream, remember how they used a blackboard? Every time they find something, they cross it off their list. Unsurprisingly, this is found by security who become suspicious when they see the words ‘map’ and ‘key’ written down and crossed off, and they get punished for insolence, or possibly the stupidity of using a blackboard in the first place.

In the end, it turns out the fifth item needed is for Babydoll to allow herself to be raped as a distraction while her friend Sweet Pea can escape the brothel. Interestingly, Zack Snyder has since said that Sweet Pea never really existed, thus making the film even more stupid. Additionally, he also said a sex scene was cut because it looked like Jon Hamm was raping Babydoll. Of course, none of it matters, because five minutes before the end, Babydoll wakes up to find herself in the asylum, then the credits roll. It was all a dream and a waste of time.

Except it isn’t all a dream, because it’s implied that raping did actually take place in the asylum. This film is a 12a (PG-13 in America) meaning that children watched it. In short, Zack Snyder has made adult pornography for children, and spent $82,000,000 on visual cyanide. Quite frankly, he should be imprisoned for crimes against cinema.

(2007) – 7/10

Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Alex Garland
Starring: Rose Byrne, Cillian Murphy, Benedict Wong, Chris Evans

sunshineIn space, nobody can hear you scream. Not true – Sunshine begins brilliantly as an absorbing drama of life in a rocket heading to the sun, raising one particular philosophical conundrum, then collapses when it becomes an action-packed horror. Like the Sun, Sunshine is a beautiful masterpiece, but becomes painful after an hour – as if the writer is afraid his audience can’t handle drama, he throws in a monster. If you’re throwing in a monster, you might as well also throw in the towel.

The Terminator
(1984) – 7/10
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – 8.5/10

Director: James Cameron
Writers: James Cameron (1&2), William Wisher Jr (1&2), Gale Anne hurd (1)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzanegger (1&2), Linda Hamilton (1&2), Robert Patrick (2)

terminator 2 sarah connerEver since James Cameron suggested there could one day be robots who disguised themselves with a layer of synthetic skin, I wonder if perhaps James Cameron is a robot – it would explain why his films have such bad dialogue.

Obviously, the action sequences fare better, particularly in the sequel – having one good and one evil terminator is a stroke of genius, providing some genuinely fascinating fight sequences. These are killer robots, yet they rely heavily on cars – as weapons, as transport, to boost masculinity, to hide an absence of a penis and ability to love.

(1983) – 7.5/10

Director/Writer: David Cronenberg
Starring James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry
“It has something you don’t have, Max. It has a philosophy, and that is what makes it dangerous.”

videodromeThere are some strange conspiracy theories in the world, which are, of course, difficult to believe: David Ike’s theory that our world leaders are lizards in disguise; the moon landing was faked; Matt Damon and Ben Affleck did actually write Good Will Hunting.

David Cronenberg plays around with the threat of television; James Woods watches Videodrome on television, which gives him a brain tumour. The show itself is a distorted display of torture carried out as pornography, which he watches as research for his own television channel. Aside from the brain tumour, he starts hallucinating. In a memorable sequence, his stomach turns into a vagina, into which he inserts videotapes of Videodrome – to Cronenberg’s credit, it somehow makes sense.

There are powerfully disturbing scenes in Videodrome about sadomasochistic women that cause more unease than the body horror moments. Both aspects are hard to watch, but slot into the world created by Cronenberg – the media is only a voyeuristic as its audience, which just so happens to be a lot.
“I’ve learned that death is not the end. I can help you.”
“I don’t know where I am now.”

Welcome to the Rileys
(2010) – 4.5/10

Director: Jake Scott
Writer: Ken Hixon
Starring: James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart, Melissa Leo

welcome to the rileysCould you imagine if the scary guy from The Sopranos lived with the girl from Twilight, but she was a prostitute and he was a married man who’s afraid of seeing her naked? As strange as it sounds, not much else happens in Welcome to the Rileys, and that includes character development. Of course, that’s the whole point – it’s Kristen Stewart and James Gandolfini as you’ve never seen them before, and you’ll never want to see them again.

Win Win
(2011) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Thomas McCarthy
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Alex Shaffer, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale

win winFor reasons too complicated to explain, Paul Giamatti secretly profits from letting a 16-year-old boy stay at his house. Giamatti is a lawyer who also coaches a local school’s wrestling team, and his teenage housemate is a star. There are many scenes in Win Win where the drama is based around what isn’t being said. Fortunately, this tension is released through wrestling competitions.

Much of Win Win allows actors to display their dramatic talents. In particular, Giamatti delights as an exasperated family man tormented by guilt and a hunger to succeed. However, the 16-year-old boy feels misplaced, as if someone from a Wes Anderson film walked into a real life situation. That’s not to say that there aren’t laughs in Win Win, but there is a clear balance between the family drama and the light relief of the wrestling scenes – it’s a shame that balance sometimes seems arbitrary, because Win Win is otherwise a very fine film.

Your Highness
(2011) – 3/10

Director: David Gordon Green
Writers: Danny McBride, Ben Best
Starring: Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Theroux

your highnessThe best way is to describe Your Highness is that it’s like buying someone a birthday card, but forgetting to write a message inside, and it’s also not their birthday.

There are noticeably expensive sets and special effects used by Your Highness, and the visually gifted David Gordon Green is the director, yet the dialogue is entirely improvised. This odd combination is a bold gamble that fails because the pacing feels off-kilter and the actors can’t say anything funny – most of the cast are in straight roles, leaving the humour to Danny McBride, who rarely delivers a punchline that isn’t a normal sentence with the word ‘fuck’ added to it. In fact, the lack of a script makes Your Highness seem like an expensive rehearsal.

David Gordon Green could have been Terrence Malick in his earlier career, but he was always let down by poor scripts (written by himself). His move into comedy started promisingly with Pineapple Express, but it seems he is falling into the same hole – it’s clear a bad script is better than no script, and this can’t be hidden by expensive CGI.

Follow @halfacanyon for more.

About Nick Chen

26-year-old journalist who's written for places like Total Film, Sight & Sound, Little White Lies, Complex, SFX Magazine, Dazed and Confused, Grolsch Film Works, London Calling, Vice, and a bunch of other places. Why pencils have razors. Based on a book. Screenwriter. Buzz word. London. Twitter: @halfacanyon. Lesser known Olsen brother. Multiple instances of words misused contemporaneously.
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