May Movies

What’s that I hear you say? “That couchmagpie guy hasn’t blogged about films for ages…”

Is that right? Well okay. Just to re-balance my leanings towards music and books here’s my thoughts on some of the films I have been watching recently via Netflix, Amazon, Lovefilm and Film 4 on that outmoded thing called ‘proper’ television. So without any further ado and in no particular order:

Ruby Sparks
From the peeps who brought us the excellent Little Miss Sunshine here’s a story that I was going to write myself and glad I didn’t. An introverted writer played by Paul Dano dreams about a girl (Ruby) played by Zoe Kazan (apparently Dano’s real girlfriend as it happens), overcomes his writer’s block to write about the girl only to discover one morning that she is real and all the things he has written about have come to pass.

To begin with all is well and swell. Other people can see Ruby and so she’s not just a figment of his genius imagination. She meets the family and Calvin (Dano) is happy. Unfortunately and inevitably Ruby gets bored with Calvin (he is quite boring). Calvin then manipulates the situation through his writing and as per normal plotting destroys the relationship in a typical King Midas style. I leave you to guess if it all turns out okay in the end…

12 Years a Slave
Is quite boring in places. Sorry. Am I a philistine if I say I preferred the fantasy of revenge tale Django Unchained to this retelling of a true story? It’s not that I didn’t sympathise with the main character’s plight, that I wasn’t captivated by Chiwetel Ejiofor’s excellent performance or that of Michael Fassbender (and Paul Dano who pops up for a while), but there was nothing in the story that I hadn’t seen in other films and it seemed to go on for an unnecessarily long time.

Maybe that was the idea – that the viewer shared the plight of the main character having to suffer a seemingly never-ending fate. However, much like Titanic we kind of know that the wrongly enslaved Solomon Northup is going to get out of his predicament eventually – it’s more about how he extricates himself rather than when or if. The boat sinks at the end of the film, Solomon escapes – this is known as they say on Game of Thrones. Also I found it quite egotistical of producer (anyone remember the equally slow 7 Years in Tibet?) Brad Pitt to seemingly cast himself as the heroic beady weirdy liberalist deus ex machine.

Lincoln
Talking of boring films about the slave trade… Daniel Day-Lewis plays Abraham Lincoln in this rather ponderous tale of how the thirteenth amendment was passed thus abolishing slavery. The acting is good, the pacing is terrible and for a factual film intent on portraying real events it makes a few gaffs along the way. They are listed in IMDB and make interesting reading.

I can’t say I could happily ignore this film and never watch it is a Spielberg film after all and, unlike M. Night Shyamalan, he’s done some good stuff, but I wasn’t particularly captivated by the story as I have been with other biopics. I am thinking especially of the The Aviator and perhaps would have been happier with a birth-to-death story rather than this focused piece on the amendment and a very quick look at the assassination almost as an afterthought.

The star of the show for me was not Daniel Day-Lewis, but James Spader as scheming lobbyist Bilbo.

Silver Linings Playbook
Appears to be a novel romcom idea until it descends into the usual When Harry Met Sally designed to make you cry plot points. Not sure why Jennifer Lawrence won an Oscar for her ‘crazy’ and super-dooper Bradley Cooper didn’t. Mental health issues are a subject close to a lot of people’s hearts and while things never get as violent as they can do when these things are involved it is as accurate a portrayal as you can expect from a mainstream movie using it as a vehicle in much the same way as Marnie and Me used the dog.

Lawrence is great; don’t get me wrong, I’m just not sure her performance was Oscar-worthy. There are some truly funny and touching moments and De Niro does a good turn as Cooper’s characters dad who has his own mental health issues. Doesn’t everybody to some extent when all is said and done?

X-Men Days of Future Past
Talking of Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Game of Thrones… The old X-Men have to contact the young X-Men to stop a wee man professor played by that dude off Game of Thrones getting assassinated, so they send Wolverine to do the biz as he’s the only one who can survive the time travel process.

I was actually pleasantly surprised by this movie after being pleasantly surprised by First Class. I’m not sure why I keep thinking these movies are going to be naff perhaps I am just think back to how bad X-Men 3 was and I’m still kind of holding it against them. A blue Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t win an Oscar for her portrayal as Mystique/Raven – can’t quite recall why she has two names but the juvenile in me inwardly titters every time some says Raven as I always add ‘shaven’ to the start. Hoo hoo.

The star of the show for me was again the magnificently ripped Hugh Jackman who once more dons his fake sideburns to reprise his role as Wolverine for the umpteenth time. Jackman’s performance adds some gravitas to what is essentially a series of fights. I like time travel stuff and was of course picking holes in the logic of the two sets of X-Men’s actions but enjoyed it immensely nonetheless.

After Earth
Oh dear. I burst out laughing when I saw M. Night Shyamalan on the credits. It explains a lot. I am so not a fan of this Emperor in new clothes. This film is really quite bad. Where X-Men is full of neat ideas After Earth is full of things that have been done a million ways to death.

Jaden Smith actually comes out looking like the better actor with his poor old pops overacting as the estranged father. Scenes from old Tarzan, Sinbad movies, Avatar and Lord of the Rings are played out on a sci-fi canvas designed for 3D cinemas. While some of the spacecraft and prop design is quite interesting it doesn’t seem to shout out (like Star Trek) that it could actually work and some of the creature design is just woefully unimaginative. Also if they are on planet Earth then why is everything designed to kill humans. No explanation is given. This film is like the polar opposite of X-Men, avoid.

Life of Pi
Rather than dwelling on bad wildlife, Life of Pi celebrates life on Earth in all its various forms but most obviously through the Bengali tiger that Pi finds himself stranded with aboard a lifeboat after the ship he is on with his family and a menagerie of zoo animals sinks.

I read the book a long time ago and when I heard Ang Lee was making a film adaptation I clapped my hands in glee, because if anyone can Ang Lee can. He did. It’s great.

Again this is a film designed for 3D but it doesn’t make a big deal about it and the visuals were stunning on my normal 2D telly-box. I would have loved to have seen this film at the cinema but it eluded me. The story is a great ‘lost at sea’ tale and I can’t quite remember whether the interlude on the carnivorous island populated by millions of meercats was in the book but it hardly matters because it is in keeping with the rest of the tale.

Oz the Great and Powerful
Is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz explaining the back-story of the wicked witch of the west and the eponymous wizard. It is also visually mesmerizing with some scenes taking the technicolour palette of the original and turning it up to 11. Mila Kunis and James Franco are excellent as the two main protagonists and the make-up for the green faced witch will trigger any childhood fear you had of the cackling crone.

There are some Spider-man style Green Goblin style effects in places and a cameo by Bruce Campbell which remind you that the director is Sam Raimi. As kids films go it was pretty good with a decent character arc for the wizard and an interesting set of characters not least of which being the china doll voice acted by Joey King.

The Smurfs
Sees our diminutive blue men and one -ette traveling down a wormhole to… and American city of course. Is it LA, no it’s New York, again. Like Oz… and Shrek there is something here for the parents to grasp onto while all the pratfalls, fart jokes and silliness play out.

Hank Azaria is excellent as Gargamel playing alongside an animated cat that is at the opposite end of the CG spectrum in comparison to the tiger in Life of Pi. Neil Patrick Harris (Dougie Howser) is also quite good as the bungling father-to-be who ends up taking in the smurfs.

The original smurf story is nicely inserted as a ‘book of spells’ in a second-hand book store and all in all it’s quite a jolly little film.

Yogi Bear
Well there is a limit to me liking kids films and I found it here. If you thought The Smurfs was formulaic then it has nothing on Yogi Bear with its heavy handed ecological message. There’s very little for the parents in this one and not much for the kids to be honest, most of which have probably never heard of Yogi or Boo Boo.

The only sliver of a silver lining was Dan Akroyd’s voice over talent as Yogi (and I didn’t notice while I was watching the film but have just read that Justin Timerlake was Boo Boo which provides me with a useful segue).

 Inside Llewyn Davis
Is a Coen Brothers film starring Oscar Isaac as a self-destructive and thoroughly unlikeable folk singer with a chip on his shoulder. Justin Timberlake has a small role as does… wait for it… you’ll never guess… John Goodman…  no really.

I’m not really into American folk music but I nonetheless enjoyed some of the original music contained in the movie at times perhaps more than I enjoyed the movie which despite it obviously being a ‘journey’ didn’t really provide me with a satisfactory conclusion. Unlike the writer in Ruby Sparks I didn’t feel as though Davis learnt anything or changed significantly after all the stuff he experienced. I didn’t care about the fate of the character and found myself atypically caring more about the cat that he inadvertently turns into a stray.

Searching for Sugar Man 
Is the film I thought I was watching when I watched Inside Llewyn Davis. This is a fascinating documentary about American singer Rodriguez who never made it in the USA in the late 1960s / early 1970s but was/is huge in South Africa of all places – bigger than Elvis or The Rolling Stones.

A fan and a journalist try and track the man down. Legend has it he committed suicide during a particularly bad gig – literally dying on stage. As it turns out he is safe and well in Detroit. He is persuaded to do a concert in South Africa and finds a multitude of adoring fans. It’s a great unbelievable but true story, and his music is pretty good if you like stuff like Bob Dylan.

Zero Dark Thirty
Talking of Bob Dylan… no actually I’m out of segues. Zero Dark Thirty tells the story of the hunt and death of Osama Bin Laden. I recently watched a film called Geronimo which had less of a budget but was actually more interesting. I expected more from the peeps who brought us The Hurt Locker but didn’t get it, and there were discrepancies between these two accounts and a documentary I saw which leave me wondering about the whole thing. I’m sure I’m not the only one. We’ll probably never get the full deets.

I suppose if you liked Homeland then you’ll probably like this film as the tenacious main character played by Jessica Chastain is very similar in a lot of ways to the fictional character Carrie Matheson.

Lone Survivor
Is another war film. In the same way as 12 Years a Slave the title pretty much sums up the events of this film again based on a true story. Marky Mark Wahlberg plays the lone survivor of a series of firefights with Taliban forces in Afghanistan after a Navy Seals mission goes horribly awry.

The effects, stunts and attention to detail make this film harrowingly realistic and put the viewer into the action in much the same way as the landing sequence in Saving Private Ryan. In this respect it is excellent. It is also interesting and somewhat of a relief to find that Marcus Luttrel was helped by some friendly townsfolk when he most needed it despite the risk to their homes and family of harbouring an enemy of the Taliban. It restores your faith in humanity to some extent.

Godzilla
Bryan Cranston is not in this film for very long, but he’s okay in it when he is. The main guy is that chap out of Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) looking a lot more grown up these days. The star of the show is of course the monster. When I saw the silhouette of Godzilla for the first time I applauded director Gareth Edwards much to Siggy’s amusement. This monster is the proper deal and when he unleashes his big power move towards the end of the film I had a little nerd-gasm.

There are undoubtedly some problems with this film like why do the other monsters look so different to Godzilla if they’re from the same gene pool/era? That’s the main one. I won’t list the rest because that might give you the impression I didn’t like this film and I did – so much more than the shitty 1998 remake.

The POV visuals are on the whole excellently done, the use of the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey for the halo jump ‘descent into hell’ was genius and the fact that I could actually tell what Ken Watanabe was saying was all good.

Maze Runner vs. Divergent
So let’s just say that these are both attempts at matching the Hunger Games series box-office success. Talking of Jennifer Lawrence… lol.

Maze Runner makes very little sense and I am not particularly interested in finding out how the writer manages to get himself out of the corner he’s painted himself into by all this lack of any clear explanations and the ludicrous expenditure this dystopian society has gone to constructing these mazes. Really don’t bother.. watch Divergent instead, it’s not that bad.

Divergent tells the story of an adolescent girl who feels as though she doesn’t fit into the social class she is destined to join and so instead joins the free-running jocks instead and uncovers a global conspiracy along the way. It’s all quite interesting stuff to a dystopia fan and it all holds together a lot better in its explanations and as a one-off film than Maze Runner. Also the acting is a lot better in Divergent that Maze Runner.

A Million Ways to Die in the West
I haven’t seen a funnier film about the wild west since Cowboys and Aliens. Seth McFarlane is an excellent comedy actor and should do more stuff in front of the camera instead of behind it. Charlize Theron is pretty good as the love interest, but I’m not convinced that someone like Winona or Nicole Kidman could have done just as well.

Giovanni Ribisi steals the show as Albert’s (MacFarlane) friend Edward who is in a loving but platonic relationship with a local whore who is saving herself for their wedding night.

The attention to details of the period is excellent and unlike Family Guy or Ted there is only one pop-culture reference but it is so damned good I did my applauding thing again. By the way I found myself watching Flash Gordon again recently. What a silly movie…

The Expatriate
Seems like a reject Die Hard or Taken script. Man with hidden past / skills has to save himself and daughter from assassination after accidentally unearthing a conspiracy. Aaron Eckhart plays Bruce Willis and it’s okay I suppose. Olga Kurylenko is pretty good in it.

Can’t write any more… so I’ll stop.

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