Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Top 10 Movies of 2012

It's been exactly 7 months since I've done a 'what I've been watching' post. My list of watched movies is now so long that it will probably take me another 7 months to write about them all. In the mean time here are the 10 movies I enjoyed the most in 2012, in rough order of preference.

10. Wreck-It Ralph
I normally reserve a place on my top ten for whatever Pixar movie has been released that year but unfortunately they dropped the ball this time with Brave and Disney picked up the rebound with Wreck-It Ralph. Very funny and heartwarming as you'd expect with plenty of nerdy references to keep those of us who grew up on Sonic the Hedgehog and Street Fighter happy.

9. Nitro Circus: The Movie
I suppose this choice is very specific to myself, since Nitro Circus currently holds a whopping 6% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but I don't care. These guys do things that literally make my heart leap and my jaw drop. I don't think another film this year can boast those kind of thrills.

8. Skyfall
Aside from what I thought was a weak ending, and a few attempts to tie this film in with previous Bond films which didn't make much sense, I thought Skyfall was an extremely solid entry into the franchise, matching Casino Royale's quality in almost all respects.

7. Indie Game: The Movie
My favourite documentary of the year, this film shows us the passion and heart that goes into creating a video game with just one or two people. They are artists after all, their chosen medium is just code rather than paint.

6. Cabin In The Woods
Joss Whedon spent 7 years deconstructing the horror genre on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and this film is the culmination of that process. Full of great gags and references, as well as poking fun at itself and the audience, this film is a true roller-coaster ride.

5. The Raid
It has been several years since an asian action film broke through into the mainstream (the last one I can recall being Ong Bak from 2003) but The Raid has managed it by combining traditional martial arts with modern swat weaponry and a straight-forward story line that allows the audience to focus entirely on the ass-kicking. For me it was a toss-up between this and Dredd 3D for best all-out action movie of the year and this just won out.

4. Maniac
The first horror movie in a long time that has actually freaked me out. Amazingly well shot, with a great synth scored and central performance by Elija Wood. it feels like a horror version of Drive.
3. The Grey
Marketed as an action film about Liam Neeson punching wolves, this film was actually a fairly deep exploration of things like camaraderie, depression, the will to survive and leadership. Highly underrated in my opinion.

2. Avengers
This film was the most fun I've had at the cinema all year (probably for several years) and is the second Joss Whedon project on the list. Whedon's ability to weave 4 or 5 different franchises together and not make any of them seem out of place or rushed, while also making the movie stand on it's own is mind boggling.

1. Looper 
I can't say enough good things about Rian Johnson. His screenplay for this film is my favourite of the year, it's fun, engaging and thought provoking. His direction brings it to life with style and originality, and he got great performances out of his players. I'm glad he's found mainstream success with this movie. This is high-concept sci-fi done right.

Honorable Mentions:
Dredd 3D
Life of Pi
The Imposter
Seven Psychopaths

Friday, 8 June 2012

What I've Been Watching 08-06-2012

The Hunger Games
I found this film to be painfully average. I don't see where all the praise for Jennifer Lawrence's performance is coming from, I thought she was wooden as woods she spends most of the film running around in. Couple that with shakey-cam action scenes and over the top melodrama and the result is a film you can skip.
Cabin In The Woods
Hilarious commentary on the state of horror cinema, reality TV and pop-culture in general with some great money-shots and witty dialogue from non-other that Joss Whedon who also directed...

The Avengers
Which was fantastic, masterfully combining four years on Marvel mythology into one film (with only a few plot holes) and providing the big-budget eye-candy you would expect.

Where the Wild Things Are 
I missed this the first time round, though I loved the trailers so I thought I'd catch up with it on DVD. I think the film is a great technical achievement and has a few moments of genuine emotion as you follow the story of a young boy growing up through his fantasies (that's my interpretation anyway) but ultimately the film falls a little flat.

Juan of the Dead
This film is pretty hilarious and a unique take on the zombie genre.

War of the Dead
Avoid this film unless (like me) you enjoy hilariously forced action-hero one liners. A good concept executed poorly.

The Last Broadcast
This film was surprisingly creepy up until the last 5 minutes where it all unraveled. Worth a watch as one of the first micro-budget successes, predating Blair Witch.

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope
A fun documentary by Morgan Spurlock that thankfully doesn't feature him at all. Entertaining interviews with geek gods such as Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon (he's had a pretty good couple of months) and some engaging stories of people trying to break into the comic industry.

Fat Sick And Nearly Dead
The story of an overweight man who decides to lose weight by going on a 60 day juice fast. Some of the nutritional advice seems pretty dubious but it's certainly entertaining to watch.

The Dictator
I'll repeat what I said on Twitter: Don't bother with this movie unless you're a die-hard Sacha Baron-Cohen fan, watch Four Lions instead. More biting satire and less reliance on gross-out humour.

The Raid
It's about time we had a new Asian martial arts film come out and blow everyone's mind all over again. Reminded me of an ultra-violent version of a 70s Jackie Chan movie. Highly recommended.

I'm reading divided opinions on this one, but I loved it. Takes the Alien franchise back to it's roots in suspense filled body-horror wile at the same time hinting towards bigger themes about where we come from and our place in the universe.

Into the Abyss
Emotionally harrowing documentary that tells the story of a man on death row for a triple-homicide. The interviews with the victim's family are particularly hard to watch. Nothing revolutionary here, but a solid entry in the Herzog documentary cannon.

Top Tip:
Since you've already seen The Avengers I recommend seeking out The Raid. The story is simple but the action is great and unlike anything else you'll see this year.

Monday, 9 April 2012

What I've Been Watching 09-04-2012

My, has it been two months already? Time sure does fly when you spend all your time in hot-tubs with super-models and playing shuffleboard on cruise-ships.

Resurrect Dead
This obscure documentary might be the best film I've seen since my last update, it follows a group of young men and women who are obsessed with solving the mystery the Toynbee asphalt tiles that appear all over the world. I won't reveal whether they figure it out or not but the journey is absolutely fascinating and the subjects' excitement is infectious.

Found footage movie in which a group of teenage boys stumble upon some sort of artifact that imbues them with psychic abilities. There were some great character moments here thanks to the script by Max Landis and some creative twists on the found footage angle but unfortunately the film is hampered by it's lack of budget. Overall, a pretty fun time but nothing spectacular.

Woman In Black
Harry Potter dresses as a grown up and is terrorized by the ghost of a woman in an old house in Victorian England. This film uses just about every PG rated scare tactic you can think of to freak out the audience and admittedly does a damn good job of it!

The Muppets
Jason Segal writes and stars in this reboot of the Muppets franchise. This film is pure fan-service from beginning to end, characters pop in and out with no explanation because you're expected to just be thrilled that they're making an appearance. Unfortunately this means that if you're not that in love with the Muppets already, you're gonna have a bad time. It's telling that my favourite character in the whole movie was '80s Robot', a brand new Muppet. On the positive side, the songs were excellently written by Bret McKenzie of 'Flight of the Concords' fame who were also featured in...

The Pirates! In an adventure with Scientists
The story of The Pirate Captain's attempts to win the pirate of the year award and his subsequent run-ins with the likes of Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria is animated gorgeously and infused with that trademarked Aardman wit and sense of fun. Recommended.

Shut Up Little Man/Beauty Day/Paradise Lost 3/Midnight Movies/Corman's World
Lumping these together for the sake of brevity. All are documentaries that are very much worth your time.

Shogun Assassin/Baby Cart to Hades
Shogun Assassin is what happens when you take two gory Japanese samurai action films, cut them together into one film, removing all the 'boring bits' (ie. the plot) and re-dub it into English. It's interesting because this butchered version has become a cult hit over the years, eclipsing even the Japanese originals, I can't think of another case where this has happened. Completely insane, but highly enjoyable. Baby Cart to Hades is the sequel to the films Shogun Assassin is culled from and as a result is a much slower, more somber affair. Unfortunately this means it is more of a chore to sit through but still has a few classic scenes.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Nic Cage is possessed by a vengeance demon, hilarity ensues. Aside from a couple of so-bad-they're-good quotes from The Cage ('It's knocking at the dooooooor!' comes to mind) there's not much to recommend here. I love Neveldine and Taylor but their 'Crank' style doesn't work so well outside of the 'Crank' universe.

End of the Road
Fun little travel doc, interesting in that I think it is only available via LoveFilm streaming. Nothing mind-blowing but worth checking out if you're a fan of this sort of thing, as I am.

Man on a Ledge
Forgettable crime thriller starring Sam Worthington. I'm pretty sure there was a plot but I can't remember what it was.

Project X
[sarcasm]Yay, more found footage![/sarcasm] The ultimate nerd fantasy movie from the current king of nerd fantasy Michael Bacall. Weirdly one of the male leads already seems to have fulfilled this seedy fantasy by starring in a porno. I suppose if it worked for Stallone... Once the party gets started the film is a fun roller-coaster ride but it should be funnier. This is no Superbad.

This Means War
Bad romantic action film. A shame, really because I quite like all the leads, unfortunately it's full of cliches, the comedy isn't funny enough and the action isn't action-y enough.

The Raven
The odd witty line of dialogue or grisly gore-shot can't save this lackluster Victorian crime effort.

21 Jump Street
I'm a huge fan of the underrated animated comedy Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and this is the first live-action effort from the same directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller. I'm happy to report that it delivers on the promise of surreal comedy suggested by the pair's earlier work but is lacking perhaps in the action department.

Demons/Demons 2
A cinema and then an apartment building are overrun by vampire-like demons. Early meta-horror that includes stomach-churning body horror along with classic 80s hairdos and over-acting. Great fun and well worth your time.

The Sweatbox
Documentary on the troubled production of a Disney film titled 'Kingdom in the Sun' that was shelved for 10 years when Disney execs concluded that it made them look like a bunch of bumbling fools. Finally a workprint of the film was leaked onto the internet just a few weeks ago and we were all able to enjoy the engrossing story writing, re-writing, hiring and firing. For those curious, the film did eventually come out, retitled as...

The Emperor's New Groove
Possibly the only Disney film to go for surreal, fourth-wall breaking comedy with mixed results. There are those that love this film but to me it feels like a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

What I've Been Watching 07-02-2012

It's been a couple of months since I've written one of these and my list of movies to review is becoming unwieldy. Have some reviews in your eye-holes. (pupils)

The Fall
Tarsem Singh's fantasy epic. An absolutely gorgeous film (one of the best looking of all time) shot in some of the most visually stunning locations around the world. Unfortunately the story doesn't stack up too well for me, I often have trouble connecting with movies that have a 'real' story and a 'fantasy' story. Why not make the fantasy real and then we can legitimately root for the characters and look at pretty pictures at the same time!

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Directed by Brad Bird (of Pixar fame), this is an almost flawlessly executed action film. Fast, funny, thrilling and eye-popping.

Sherlock Holmes 2: A book of shadows(?)
Is that the title? Directed by Guy Ritchie, this is less a Sherlock Holmes movie, more of a Victorian James Bond. A perfectly fine distraction, if you liked the first one, this is more of the same.

Harold and Kumar's 3D Christmas
I love these films. The third installment in the series is as funny and surreal as the first two with the added bonus of 3D smoke effects.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
I am a huge fan of David Fincher but this film fell very flat for me. It couldn't get out of the shadow of the original for me, feeling like an exact re-tread. The title sequence was great though. Fincher is one of the few Hollywood directors with the clout to get original properties to the big screen so I find it sad that he feels the need to do remakes.

World's Greatest Dad
Black comedy from Bobcat Goldthwait. I remember thinking this film was fine at the time but almost no details have stuck with me. Probably not missing much if you didn't catch it.

I Saw The Devil
This Korean revenge thriller turned up on a lot of best-of 2011 lists, and it certainly is a competent entry into that sub-genre. Unfortunately it didn't cover any new ground and I felt the ("He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.") themes were better explored in Park Chan Wook's revenge trilogy.

Perfectly ok 3D animated feature.

Being Elmo
Surprisingly touching documentary about the man who plays Elmo on Sesame Street.  It's fascinating to see how the show works behind the scenes and how much thought and skill goes into the puppetry, as well as how much the Elmo character means to people the world over.

Kung Fu Panda 1+2
These movies are great fun. I love the references to old kung-fu movies and they make me want to break out my old Jackie Chan video tapes. Jack Black's voice can grate however.

The Sitter
Even the presence of Sam Rockwell can't save this mediocre comedy.

A cross between a Wes Anderson romance and a post-apocalypic horror film, this film lifts your spirits, then brings you crashing back to earth with a bump, then kicks you in the guts for good measure. Filmed with a micro-budget, on a camera built from bits of other cameras, this film is unique and really shows what can be achieved independently with enough passion and hard work.

Tarsem Singh returns with a cross between 300 and his previous film The Fall. I have to say I enjoyed the battle scenes, and the film looks great, but there's not much more I can recommend about this one.

I really enjoyed this. Best hand-to-hand action scenes since the fist fights in The Bourne Ultimatum. The only weak spots are the convoluted plot, that's really not as clever as it thinks it is, and Gina Carano's wooden acting.

Michael Fassbender gives a great tortured performance in this one and I dig Steve McQueen's directing style with lots of long takes to really let the actors play off each other. I had a few issues with the ending that I won't spoil but I felt it was a bit of a cop-out.

Revenge of the Electric Car
Interesting follow-up to the 2006(?) documentary Who Killed the Electric Car detailing how the technology has progressed in the interim years and how the idea of an electric car is gaining traction in the big car companies. A good time for tech or environment nerds such as myself but probably not much to grab you otherwise.

The Unbookables
A camera crew follows a group of 'unbookable' comedians on tour whose material is as offensive as they are morally bankrupt. Funny and tragic in parts.

The Grey
Highly enjoyable existential action thriller. Reminded me of films such as The Thing and The Descent (two of my favourites), just don't go in expecting it to be the action romp advertised in the trailer, this film is emotionally draining. Again I had problems with a cop-out ending.

This film was funny but the dramatic aspects fell a little flat, I thought Christoph Waltz' character was underused and the deeper themes of the movie (the 'god of carnage') were only hinted at rather than explored thoroughly.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Top 10 Movies of 2011

Here's my list of the top 10 movies of 2011, along with some honourable mentions that almost made the list. They are in a rough order of preference but you could probably shuffle them around a bit and it wouldn't bother me too much.

  1. Drive
  2. Melancholia
  3. Attack the Block
  4. Detention
  5. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
  6. The Woman
  7. Tabloid
  8. 50/50
  9. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
  10. Bellflower

Honourable Mentions:

  • Contagion
  • We need to talk about Kevin
  • The Human Centipede 2
  • The Guard
  • Red State
  • Troll Hunter
  • Rise of the planet of the apes
  • Tree of life
  • Hanna
  • Insidious
  • Harold and Kumar's 3D Christmas
  • Source Code 
  • Sucker Punch 
  • Rango

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

What I've Been Watching 07-12-11

A few months since I've done one of these so let's get to it. I've got a lot to get through.

Happy Feet 2
I was reminded watching this film as to why I quite enjoyed the first Happy Feet. It's just so bizarre, nonsensical and unlike anything else out there that you can't help but smile and the funny dancing penguins. Add to that incredible visuals and two 'krill' characters that only seem to exist to make crustacean-based puns and you're on to a winner.

In Time
A thought provoking concept with some great world building. Some of the visuals were excellent but some were distractingly bad (the car crash). The relationship between the two leads went in an unexpected direction too. Passably entertaining on the whole.

Possibly the first 'horror' film to ever cause me to modify my behaviour in day to day life. Little by way of character development, the film seems to be designed to show as realistically as possible what would happen if a deadly epidemic was to occur and it excels at that. Gripping. Great music too.

Great Errol Morris doc about a true story that is stranger than any fictitious one you care to name.

The 'cancer comedy'. Brings the laughs and the tears in equal measure. A sharp, heartfelt script performed ably by Joseph Gordon Levitt.

Tower Heist
A return to form for Eddie Murphy, thankfully, because everyone else in this film is pretty forgettable. Not horrible but not exceptional, stick to the Ocean's Eleven films for caper-comedy.

Paranormal Activity 3
Certainly the best of the series so far. I find these films tense and unnerving but if they annoy you then this won't sway your opinion. Great performances from the kids and some incredibly spooky moments.

The People Vs. George Lucas
Doc exploring the love triangle between George Lucas, his fans and the Star Wars hexalogy. Ultimately takes too long to make it's points and it's hard to feel sympathy for the self-entitled 'fans' that are featured. Apparently the makers of this doc stiffed the artist who worked on the DVD cover but that's another story.

Tin Tin
Again, Andy Serkis turns in a great performance unfortunately for a film that's not really funny enough and not really thrilling enough. A shame considering the immense talent involved. Somehow I think the motion captured format left the action feeling too fake to get me truly invested, though it did allow for some spectacular visuals at times.

My Soul To Take
A film so bad you have to wonder if it isn't an elaborate prank on us all by Wes Craven. How he managed to see this film and think 'yep, that'll do' is beyond me. Hilarious in a so-bad-it's-good, Troll 2, The Room, Plan 9 From Outer Space kind of way.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Taught spy drama. You can't really call it a thriller because it's so slow. I was never bored though, constantly having to filter all the information being thrown at me. There was a BBC series based on the same novel and I can see that it would have benefited from a bit more breathing room. Excellent performances all round.

Forget Tarantino and Rodriguez, this is a true modern-day 'grindhouse' picture. An exploration of human relationships through the prism of existential malaise, punctuated by moments of extreme tension and violence. Brilliant soundtrack, brilliant performances, brilliant film.

Filmed over course of decades this film documents the bare-knuckle boxing matches that take place between two rival families of travellers. Incredibly intimate and fascinating portrait of a little known practice. Feels a little hypocritical towards the end then the director questions the ethics of bare-knuckle boxing after having shown us 90 minutes of footage of it.

Real Steel
The fighting robots was done well but I didn't really buy the relationships between Hugh Jackman's character and his son/girlfriend. Fine for a kids film but not enough substance to keep adults interested.

We Need To Talk About Kevin
Heartbreaking portrait of the mother of a psychopathic killer. Extremely thought-provoking and unique in concept. Unfortunately I thought the most interesting characters were ignored in favour of the mother who was quite boring. Some of the symbolism throughout felt a little heavy handed (red-paint being cleaned, red cans of soup in the supermarket etc.) but not distracting. Harrowing performances all round.

Sleeping Beauty
Creepy psycho-sexual drama starring Emily Browning as a girl that is paid to be drugged and 'played with' by man (they cannot have sex with her). I found this movie to be quite disturbing, with an air of dread about it. The whole concept makes my skin crawl and I suppose that is the point. It's difficult to figure out what message the film is trying to convey but I appreciate that it does not patronise the audience and allows us to fill in the gaps ourselves. Not for the faint of heart but an interesting watch.

A film in which the end of the world occurs that is ultimately about mental illness and depression. If Antichrist (which I love by the way) was Lars Von Trier exploring the extreme aspects of the subject, this is his 'realistic' take on it. I found this film to be both emotionally and visually overwhelming. Highly recommended.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Paranormal Activity Theory

The demon is actually the tooth fairy. The kid loses a tooth at the start of PA3 and we never see it go under a pillow. The demon then turns up looking for the tooth but instead of just giving it up the family spend the rest of their lives running from it. I bet it would all stop of they would just leave a tooth under a pillow for the guy.