RENTAL ROUND-UP (June-September 2014)

That Awkward Moment

An attempt at mixing up the rom-com formula that flounders due to its crude and flaccid script. What purports to be a more grounded and honest take on relationships from the male perspective ends up falling back on many of the old clichés, with the serious moments feeling abrupt and the comedy too often resorting to the vulgar. Made only vaguely watchable by the efforts of its impressive cast, That Awkward Moment certainly creates one on these actors’ résumés. 4.5/10

 

The Legend of Hercules

Wow. Just…wow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie this expensive look this incompetent. Most major films are at least technically competent if nothing else, but The Legend of Hercules looks worse than most movies you’d find on the SyFy channel. Everything in this movie is just laughably awful: the story is bland and ripped from other better movies, the dialogue is barely above harlequin romance levels, the acting is uproariously OTT, the costumes look like they were bought at a fancy dress store, the action sequences are uninspired and ruined by their lack of violence, and the special effects are just horrendous. By all means, The Legend of Hercules is pure crap, but if you love to watch crap then you need to see this movie. It’s so bad at points that it becomes incredibly enjoyable. 1.5/10

 

Under the Skin

I’m not usually up for watching arty films, but Under the Skin is something I think everyone should at least try to watch. It’s certainly not for everyone, but for those who can stick with it will find an incredibly unique and captivating experience. Scarlett Johansson’s performance is what mainly sells the movie, embodying this cold and emotionless character but still showing a huge amount of depth with very little dialogue; easily some of her best work to date. Under the Skin also features some of the creepiest and shocking scenes I’ve seen in a movie in recent memory, which combined with the great cinematography and minimal but eerie score make for a truly unsettling experience. This is the movie I most regret missing in theatres this year. 9/10

 

Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie

This is a hard one to review for many reasons, mainly because of its low-budget aesthetic and my own personal fandom for the AVGN web series. As a love letter to the fans it delivers on what you’d expect, though I’m not sure how well it stands as a movie on its own. Some of the story ideas are inventive and a lot of gags do hit their mark, but the loose nature of the plot and the simplistic characters do make it hard to really care that much about what’s going on. Whilst I did enjoy the cheesy nature of some of the practical effects, a lot of the digital ones look cheap in the bad sense; I understand it’s part of the aesthetic and that this is an indie production in the traditional sense, but there’s certainly some polishing that could have been done. All in all though, I’d say it’s certainly worth a watch for fans but I don’t think a general audience would really appreciate it. I’m going to give it a 7.5/10, but if you’re not into all things Nerd, then you should probably knock off a point or two.

 

Locke

Bottle films are always an interesting idea for a film even when they don’t succeed, but Locke is probably one of the more unique examples of the concept in recent history. Tom Hardy carries the film almost entirely with his performance, showing off an incredible range of emotions whilst remaining confined to the driver’s seat of his car; it’s an impressive feat by itself. Managing to keep its narrow setting engaging through its brevity, simplicity and somber tone, Locke is a unique picture that is only marred by its abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion. 8/10

 

Divergent

Adaptations of young adult novels aren’t going anywhere, and Divergent is supposedly supposed to be the next big one. Why? I have no idea, because all I saw was an overly complicated riff on every YA story cliché. If you want the brief description, it’s essentially The Hunger Games but without the tension or the biting if somewhat overdone social commentary. The movie’s pacing is stretched to tedium, most of it being just a series of training sessions with very little forward motion in its plot, before rushing through a stale and underdeveloped climax and setting up for the inevitable sequel. Other than the appreciated efforts of Shaileene Woodley, who is honestly too good for this material, there is nothing here that any number of its contemporaries haven’t done better. 4/10

 

Ride Along

There’s nothing more painful to sit through than an unfunny comedy, and though Ride Along is far from the worst example of this it is excruciating at points. Running through the motions of the clichéd buddy cop picture, Ice Cube and Kevin Hart lack chemistry on screen and the jokes they’re given rarely rise above titter-worthy. There are some amusing set-ups for gags, but all of them are stretched out way too long and lack a good punch line before devolving into banal and incompetent action sequences. The fact that this is somehow getting a sequel just baffles me to no end. My advice: if you want to see Ice Cube and Kevin Hart be funny, skip this and find the skit they did with Conan O’Brien on YouTube. It’s far funnier and free. 3/10

 

Cuban Fury

An amusing if occasionally imbalanced romantic comedy that avoids some of the tired clichés but falls back on others. The ever-enjoyable Nick Frost makes for a likable lead, creating an underdog protagonist whose own insecurities and disadvantages seem like genuine obstacles rather than things to get in the way of the plot, as well as proving himself as an impressive dancer for a man of his build. Rashida Jones, Ian McShane, Kayvan Novak and Olivia Colman are good fun in their supporting roles, but the usually appealing Chris O’Dowd feels a bit miscast as the typical “arsehole rival” character, though that may be more down to the writing. Funny and feel-good for the most part, but could have done with some polishing around the edges. 7.5/10

RENTAL ROUND-UP (November/December 2013)

Byzantium

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A very different breed of vampire film, this stylish picture from Neil Jordan is bolstered by wonderful visuals and strong central performances from Saorise Ronan and Gemma Arterton. However, the slow pace, odd structure and a weak performance from Caleb Landry Jones do bog it down. If you’re looking for something a bit different, Byzantium may have something interesting for you but you’ll have to dig through some muck to find it. 6.5/10

Fast & Furious 6

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The Fast & The Furious franchise keeps on driving forward in what is probably the best of the series. Sure, it’s dumb and juvenile in many facets but at this point I think everyone involved is aware; the fact that they still take it so seriously only adds to the goofy fun of it. The ludicrous car stunts are still fun to watch, bolstered by some fun hand-to-hand fight sequences to mix things up. Top it all off with a great post-credits sequence, and now I’m actually looking forward to the next one. How that happens now after the tragic passing of Paul Walker is still up in the air as I write this, but I’m sure that eventually we’ll see Toretto and his boys drive very fast and furiously again. 7/10

The Host

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I somehow managed to avoid seeing the entirety of any Twilight movie, but after watching The Host I can somewhat sympathize now. I have to be honest here: if you get right down to some of the core ideas of this movie, there is some potential for something good here. But the film completely drops every ball it possibly could. The film is dull and slow, nothing happens during the entire second act, the dialog is laughable, and the ending is the most contrived and utterly anti-climactic thing ever; apparently Stephanie Meyer has no concept of consequence or loss. The film only manages to avoid being utterly awful thanks to those aforementioned germs of interesting ideas and Saorise Ronan at least trying to rise above the awful material given to her. 3.5/10

After Earth

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Considering how much of a punch line he has become, I find it baffling that M. Night Shymalan still finds work. Now he continues his extended career suicide with After Earth: quite possibly the most boring and tedious sci-fi movie ever made. Will Smith continues his quest to force his son Jaden down our throats, never realizing that the boy just can’t carry a movie. Jaden Smith is boring, whiny and has none of his father’s charisma. Then again, based on Will’s performance in this movie, you wouldn’t think he had any either; he spends most of the movie sat in a chair speaking in monotone whilst barely ever showing any signs of emotion. On top of all that, the story is bland and formulaic, the production design is lazy, the effects are unpolished, and it is just…so…BORING! At least something like Battlefield Earth is unintentionally hilarious; After Earth doesn’t even have the dignity to be laughably bad. It’s just bad. Please, just don’t watch this. 2/10 

The Lone Ranger

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Don’t let the terrible box office performance and lackluster reviews fool you. The Lone Ranger is a surprisingly decent movie, and one that has gotten a lot of undeserved flack. It definitely is problematic: the film is far too long, the second act meanders and kills the pacing, and I don’t see how this cost $200 million. But there is plenty to enjoy here too. Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp have good chemistry as The Lone Ranger and Tonto, the cinematography and production design is elaborate and stunning, and the action scenes are a lot of fun especially the creative climax. It is certainly a much better film than any of Bruckheimer’s other recent attempts to start a new franchise at Disney, and it’s a shame that this is the one that bombed the most stupendously. It certainly isn’t perfect, but give The Lone Ranger a chance if you’re in the mood for some old-fashioned western adventure fun. 7/10

Epic

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You’d think that after the amount of flack Avatar took for being unoriginal would quell people from making “human finds themselves in magical forest world where they must defend the natives” films for some time, but here’s another one. The plot of Epic is predictable to a fault; there is nothing here that’s going to surprise you. But everything else in the film somewhat manages to save it. Some of the voice acting is pretty good, particularly from Colin Farrell, Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari, but others such as Beyonce and Pitbull don’t fare so well. The main saving grace is the animation and design of the world, which makes for a very pretty animated film. It’s just a pity that the amount of effort that went into creating the look of the film didn’t go into the screenplay. Epic does contain enough enjoyable elements to stave off boredom, but there is much more original fare out this year for the kids to enjoy. 6/10

The Croods

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When The Croods started up, I wasn’t enjoying it so much. It just didn’t seem that new to me and not much was keeping me interested. But, once the plot gets moving and the world opens up, suddenly the film improves dramatically. This is one imaginative movie on a design scale, with lots of bright colours and diverse locales. The animation quality is superb with quick cartoon-like movements, often reminding me of the work of Brad Bird. But, unlike Epic, the story and characters manage to match the quality of everything else. The main reason the movie works for me is the character of Grug, voiced with much gusto by the always-fascinating Nicolas Cage. He starts out as your average stick-in-the-mud, but the way his character develops creates moments of both comedy and eventually drama. If you’re kids are in need of some entertainment and have already seen both Monsters University and Frozen, The Croods is definitely not a bad choice. 7.5/10

Pain & Gain

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I never thought I’d actually say this, but I have to admit it: Michael Bay actually made a genuinely good movie. I’m as shocked as you are, but it’s true. At least for me; I can totally understand if someone hates this movie, as it certainly isn’t for everyone. But if you want a dark comedy with no boundaries, Pain & Gain is one you need to watch. Based on true events, this is a film that lets Bay’s sensibilities run wild and fill the movie with all the excess you’d expect from one of his productions. But for this kind of movie, it works due to the insanity of everything else. Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie put in some of their best work playing some of the dumbest characters in cinema history, and watching them hatch this ludicrous scheme and somehow make it work is so funny but also so heinous that it makes for many moments of awkward laughter. The main reason this works, and something that I think so many critics of the picture didn’t catch onto, is that we aren’t supposed to like these characters; we’re laughing at them, not with them. The film is full of characters that are evil, stupid, or both; the only likable character is Ed Harris, and he doesn’t even show up till the one-hour mark. But that’s the entire point of the film, and in the end everyone gets what he or she deserves. That’s not to say the film is perfect. Like many Bay films, it’s far too long and could have used some trimming. The second half of the film drags and isn’t as fun as the first half, and eventually some of the Bay-isms start to wear thin. But for the most part, this is one big guilty pleasure of a picture. This is certainly a Marmite film (Bay even says as much in the special features), and in this case I love it. It’s just a pity that Bay is next trudging back to make another Transformers movie instead of making more pictures in this realm. 8/10

RENTAL ROUND-UP (August-October 2013)

Maniac

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I’ve never seen the original 80’s film, but this new version is one of the most disturbing horror films I’ve seen in a while. Elijah Wood’s performance shows range I never knew he had; you’ll never look at Frodo the same way again. The POV cinematography is excellent, as it really puts you inside this character’s head and really makes you feel a part of this depraved experience. Seriously, I went out for a walk after watching this movie and I still felt like I was looking through the eyes of a psychopath. This helps raise the film above what is otherwise a pretty standard horror film, and is one of the few films I’ve seen get away with style over substance; it’s like the Drive of horror movies. Seek this one out if you’re up for being disturbed. 8/10

Bullet to the Head

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Geri-action movies are a dime a dozen these days, so here’s Sylvester Stallone throwing us another one with this generic piece of work. I can hardly call Bullet to the Head bad; it’s just so bland on pretty much every level that there’s not much to say but “meh”. Nowhere near as good as the insanity of Schwarzenegger’s The Last Stand, but nowhere near as bad as Bruce “$1 million a day or f*** off” Willis’ A Good Day to Die Hard. The plot is forgettable, the characters are barely fleshed-out, the comedy is flat, even most of the action scenes are pretty generic. The only things worth seeing in this movie are a ludicrous axe fight between Stallone and Jason Momoa at the end, and watching Christian Slater prance around being so sleazy I swear he mustn’t have known he was being filmed. It’s sad to see classic director Walter Hill work with such weak material, and hopefully everyone involved with this will move on to much better pastures. 4/10

Broken City

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Yay! Another bland, dry political thriller with low stakes and stock characters. If this movie were any less energetic, I’d swear it was dead. What starts as a premise for what could be a decent movie falls behind due to slow pacing and not enough going on to keep up interest. The story lacks any real sense of surprise or ingenuity, and the characters are so cookie-cutter that you can sense where pretty much every major player is going. Despite the valiant efforts of Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, who put a good amount of effort into their roles and help raise the material, the film just fails to capture my interest. This has nothing to do with the fact I have no interest in politics; a good political thriller like The Ides of March gets you invested in what is going on no matter what your stance on the matter is. Broken City? More like broken movie. 3.5/10

Mama

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A well-crafted and original horror movie? Wow, those are rare. Mama is genuinely creepy from start to finish, mainly thanks to creative cinematography, wonderful performances from the entire principal cast, and beautifully creepy creature design. The film avoids falling back into too many clichés, but even when it does it remains effective. The bond between the characters, a major theme of the film, is so strong that you do become truly invested in the outcome; it really is one of the few horror films that feels more character-driven and isn’t just a monster-of-the-week jump scare fest. Whilst produced by Guillermo Del Toro, the film feels much more like a combination of the grim atmosphere of an early Tim Burton film and the suspenseful thrills of a classic Alfred Hitchcock picture. If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch Mama. Just make sure she isn’t watching you. 8.5/10

21 & Over

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Hangover rip-offs are a constant part of the comedy landscape these days, but here’s one from the guys who actually wrote The Hangover. It’s like The Hangover…but in college. And that’s about it. The formula, the revelations, and the gags: they are all laid out exactly like The Hangover. And what isn’t from The Hangover is just from every other college comedy ever made. But luckily, the film manages to just about hold together thanks to some genuinely good comedy setpieces here and there, and some solid performances from Miles Teller and Francois Chau. If you like these kinds of movies and have watched all the others, it’s not a bad experience. Just be prepared to see a lot of what you’ve seen before. 5.5/10

Identity Thief

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Wow. I mean…wow. I didn’t think I’d see a movie worse than Movie 43 this year but…wow. This movie. It’s…just awful. Really…awful. This movie is a comedy, or at least that’s what I think it’s supposed to be. But generally, I think the goal of a comedy is to make you laugh. But this film just made me want to crawl up into a ball and cry. And I pretty much did. Not because the film is sad or anything; just because it is that unbelievably putrid. I did not laugh once for the entire two hours this waste of time lasted. Not one laugh. NOT ONE LAUGH! Instead, just a lot of pain, anger and frustration. Even Movie 43 made me chuckle in sheer bafflement at points, but this movie doesn’t even have that distinction. What else is there to say? Jason Bateman fumbles around doing what he does in every f*cking movie he’s in these days, and Mellissa McCarthy plays one of the most grotesque, despicable and downright annoying characters in cinematic history. And the movie expects us to SYMPATHIZE with this b*tch? A woman who stole this man’s identity, completely destroys his life, and then spends most of the movie insulting him? SCREW YOU! No. I think I’ve said enough. I don’t like getting mad like this, but I can’t take it anymore. F*CK THIS MOVIE! And if you liked this movie, then F*CK YOU TOO! AHHHHHHHHH! 1/10

The Kings of Summer

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Some of the best comedies these days can be found in the indie market and, whilst Kings of Summer isn’t one of the better ones, it is enjoyable. The film does tell a unique coming-of-age tale, dealing with issues I find surprising haven’t been touched on, but also borrowing elements from classics like Stand By Me. The film does have some good moments both dramatic and comedic, and the performances from Moises Arias and Nick Offerman are certainly enjoyable. However, the film’s overly-indie quality sometimes felt a little pretentious and out of kilter with the rest of the movie; almost as if I was watching National Lampoon’s The Tree of Life. Enjoyable and charming, but nothing special. 7/10

Mud

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Now THIS is a really good indie effort! Mud gives us another great performance from Matthew McConaghey, who has managed to pull a Ben Affleck and be in some really great movies lately after being in a load of tripe. But the rest of the movie is excellent as well. The story is a very invigorating tale about love, life and family, and the performances from fellow supporting players like Tye Sheridan, Sam Shepard and Reese Witherspoon compliment the film really well. Even Joe Don Baker comes off as good here. A true hidden gem that I’m sad I missed in theatres. 9/10

Much Ado About Nothing

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Joss Whedon and Shakespeare? What a match made in heaven! The witty nature of both of these artists melds perfectly together in this comedic tale of love and betrayal. It’s also quite possibly the cheapest film I’ve seen this year, having been shot entirely at Whedon’s house and starring all his friends. But that only adds to the charm and mood of the film, and it is more about the performances than the look anyway. And what wonderful performances there are; particular standouts being Fran Kranz as Claudio, Agent Coulson himself Clark Gregg as Leonato, and the ever-lovable Nathan Fillion as the bumbling Dogberry. Watching this film just made me want to go up to Baz Luhrman and tell him “THIS is how you modernize Shakespeare, you arty arse!” 8.5/10

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

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Another movie about magicians? As a comedy? Sigh. Burt Wonderstone isn’t bad, but it is just dull for the most part. The film follows a pretty standard fall from grace story with little ingenuity or fun; it is predictable to every last detail. Steve Carell feels tremendously miscast in a role that feels like it was meant for someone like Will Ferrell or Zach Galifinakis, Olivia Wilde constantly feels like she’s meant to do something but is little more than eye candy, and Jim Carrey wanders about doing shtick that just isn’t funny. Only a few funny gags from the likes of Steve Buscemi and Alan Arkin help raise the film to something a little more than plain boring.  4/10

Spring Breakers

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Spring Breakers is among a group of films I like to call “Artsy Bollocks”. These are films that attempt to look like they’ve got some deep message about society or culture, but really want to show you some nice cinematography and some shocking imagery; Only God Forgives is pretty good example of this movement, so read my review of that if you want more detail. But yeah, Spring Breakers is artsy bollocks. No character, no real sense of narrative, no meaningful message. It’s just terrible, shallow people doing terrible, shallow things. But some nice lighting work, some of the soundtrack by Skrillex and a truly bizarre performance from James Franco makes this movie somewhat memorable at least. 3/10

The Place Beyond The Pines

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A riveting tale of parenting and legacy that spans many years, The Place Beyond The Pines is like three movies in one. The central performances from Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Dane DeHaan are all excellent, and supporting actors like Ben Mendelsohn and Ray Liotta are also really good. The cinematography, especially during several bank heists and motorcycle scenes, is superb, and the score by Mike Patton is riveting stuff. Only an overlong runtime, occasional predictability and a weak performance from Emory Cohen hold this film back for me. 8.5/10

The Bling Ring

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Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation was truly wonderful film, but since then she hasn’t done anything that even comes close in terms of quality. Unfortunately, The Bling Ring doesn’t either. Based on true events, the story of the film has the potential to be something interesting. But Coppola’s view on the events feels too distant and simplified. The main characters we follow are severely lacking in depth, and they all just come off as shallow arseholes. The film quickly becomes repetitive, as we watch scene after scene of these kids breaking into a house, say “Oh my God” when they find expensive sh*t, mess around with that expensive sh*t, possibly steal some of that expensive sh*t, and then leave. Rinse and repeat. Perhaps if the film had taken some liberties with the story and gone for a more traditional caper comedy, it could have been at least entertaining. But as it is, it feels like I’m watching some boring reality show. Only Emma Watson and Leslie Mann’s performances help liven the film up and make it remain watchable. 4/10

RENTAL ROUND-UP – June/July 2013

I Give It A Year

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From the writer of Borat comes this British romantic comedy that puts a new twist on the genre. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to keep this movie going. I’m not usually a fan of awkward humour, and this film is filled with nothing but awkward humour; lots of people struggling with dirty talk or being weirded out by it. Other than a few minor chuckles and some decent performances, there isn’t much here to enjoy. You may have some original ideas on the genre, but you’re nothing without good humour. 3/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Texas Chainsaw

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The original Texas Chain Saw Massacre was a landmark of the horror genre and helped kickstart the classic slasher genre. But 39 years later, the franchise has dried out, as evidenced by this tired, clichéd, mess of a movie. Ignoring all previous sequels and continuing where the first left off? Good idea. Filling the movie with unlikable characters, stupid plot twists and broken continuity? Terrible idea. This series just needs to be put to rest before the original’s name is sullied even more. 2/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Movie 43

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What can I say about this movie? What is there to say about this movie? Well, I can say I am sincerely disappointed with everyone involved in this travesty and they should have all known better. This is an utter waste of time for both the filmmakers and the audience, and this movie deserves to be tried for crimes against film, acting, writing and common decency. I rarely say this, but F*** THIS MOVIE! 1/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

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If you went into this movie expecting anything more than the title suggests, you deserve to be disappointed. The movie is f***ing stupid, but it knows it is f***ing stupid and rolls with it. It’s still full of problems like inconsistency of tone and poorly-defined characters, but there is enough fun moments here and there for it to be worth your time if this sounds like your type of movie. 5.5/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parker

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Jason Statham movies are usually worth a watch just for their ridiculousness. But this movie takes itself way too seriously, and that is its biggest downfall. This is a pretty generic action thriller with little original flair to it, which makes it a bore to watch for the most part. The only reason to watch this movie is to laugh at Statham’s hilarious attempt at a Southern accent, and even that isn’t that funny after a while. Let’s just hope that Crank 3 is somewhere around the corner. 3/10