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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

This rather lengthy review only touches on my problems with the film but one crucial point I negletced to make in the original review was that there is an R-rated director's cut coming out in a few months when BVS is released on DVD so, while on the one hand that means that maybe some of the wonky pacing, the random dream sequences and unfulfilled character beats will be addressed (though I wouldn't hold my breath), this would mean that we will end up with an R-rated Superman movie. I'll let that sick in for a moment. 

This review is also now up at Channel 24

What it's about

Following the events of Man of Steel, Superman is hailed as a hero by most but three powerful individuals are less than convinced by the alien's motives. Senator Finch questions whether Superman's interests truly align with the country she has sworn to serve; genius billionaire Lex Luthor sees Superman as both a demonic force and something to be exploited for his own ends and Gotham City's longtime vigilante, Batman, sees him as an unstoppable force whose unchecked powers could lead to the destruction of the human race. When these three forces combine, Superman comes face to face with a force more deadly than even a despotic dictator from Krypton could ever hope to be.

What we thought

Easily one the of year's most anticipated films, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a hot mess of a film and an abject disappointment right from the off.

As a lifelong diehard fan of these characters and this world, I have a lot to say about this particular film but, to be absolutely clear from the beginning, Batman V Superman is a failure as both a representation of the two most iconic superheroes ever and as a piece of filmmaking that is meant to appeal to audiences far beyond its niche fan base.

But first, there are some good things to be had and it would be churlish not to mention them, even if they are engulfed by the sheer rubbishness of everything else.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Divergent Series: Allegiant Part 1

If you thought they dragged out the Huger Games series, check this out...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Tris and the rest of our young heroes finally escape Chicago and find what lies beyond those walls is an answer to everything that they've been searching for but also conceal dangers far more deadly than they could ever have expected.

What we thought

The Divergent series has always been something of a loser in the YA dystopian future genre with its lack of clear direction and one of the stupidest premises around. While the third of this four part trilogy (yup, they split up the last book into two) spends much of its running time trying to justify the latter and fix the former, it still utterly fails to understand what made something like the Hunger Games series work as well as it usually did.

The series' central idea that human beings could be so neatly divided into categories based on our dominant character traits has always been more than a little idiotic as anyone with even the most superficial knowledge of psychology knows that not only is it utterly impossible to define anyone by a single trait, most character traits ebb and flow according to all sorts of external and internal factors. All human beings would be “divergent”, in other words, so the whole cast system on which this dystopian future is based made absolutely no sense from the very beginning.

Allegiant does, to its credit, try and address this but the half-assed explanation that it all has to do with gene tampering doesn't make much sense either and seems contrary to the fact that there doesn't actually seem to be a noticeable difference between the “pure” and the “broken”. Worse, it's all spelled out by a smirking Jeff Daniels in, lets be honest, show-me-the-money form, as part of a huge chunk of exposition that is both endless and ultimately unsatisfying.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Roundup for 18 March 2016

Another big week with only one or two truly notable movies. Here are my quick thoughts on everything but The Divergent Series: Allegiant, which will get its own full review by the weekend.

Sink. Starting with a local, Afrikaans drama, Sink is clearly better than the vast majority of those godawful Afrikaans movies but, unlike something like Dis Ek Anna, it only really holds up against its own, quite particular Afrikaans film industry. Taken as a film in and of itself, it is very well intentioned and it makes it pretty clear that newcomer Brett Michael Innes has enough writing and directing chops that he can definitely grow into a very accomplished filmmaker in the future. He isn't there yet, though. Sink, which tells the story of a white couple trying to come to terms with the death of their Mozambiquen maid's young daughter under their watch, uses a non-linear approach to storytelling that robs the film of all its emotional power to the point that the first hour, at the very least, comes across as more than a little dull and entirely emotionally unengaging. It also feels far too staged to fully utilise the rawness and realism on which it presumably tries to stand. (5/10)

Risen. Aka. The Young Messiah: The Much Later Years. Of the two Jesus films out right now, Risen is by far the superior one. Yes, non-Christians will probably still find much of its denouement pretty dopey, but it's still a very sincere and basically well-done and pretty effortlessly enjoyable retelling of a great story from a slightly different perspective (Joseph Fiennes' Roman centurion - mirroring, hilariously, the film within the film on the Coen Brothers' latest, Hail, Caeser) that's nicely designed, solidly acted and makes much more interesting use of the history of the period. They even get Jesus' Hebrew name right - though, for the record, the Jewish high court is pronounced Sanhedrin, not Sanheeedrin. (6/10)

Remember. A story of an old Holocaust survivor hunting down the man who tormented him in his "stay" in Auschwitz is occasionally heavy handed but mostly a very moving, very enjoyable mix of whimsy and tragedy that very almost works. Christopher Plumber and Martin Landau head a great cast and it's largely well written by Benjamin August and solidly, if unexceptionally, directed by Atom Egoyen, who's on decidedly more solid ground here than in some of his latest misfires. It's a pity then that the film utterly fails to stick its landing by shoving in an unearned and utterly unnecessary twist at the end that feels both ridiculous and a little crass. You may or may not see it coming but to my mind at least - and I know for a fact that other disagree - it subtracts from rather than adds to the film. The first three-quarters are really bloody good, though. (6/10)

Kung Fu Panda 3. No better and no worse than its predecessors. Despite my love for beautiful animation and martial arts, I've never been a hue fan of this series. It's fine, to be sure, but it lacks the depth, complex characterization and strong storytelling of the best of its competition. If what you're looking for is something that is ultimately satisfying then look elsewhere but if you're looking for a diverting 90-odd-minutes of some admittedly gorgeous animation (its forays into a more painterly, "2D" style are particularly lovely) that rattles along, has some OK jokes and decent enough action then the latest in this seemingly neverending franchise should more than do the trick. (6/10)  

Sleeping with Other People. My easy pick of the week, Sleeping with Other People is quite a low-key little film that falls squarely into the When Harry Met Sally tradition (between that and the title, you could pretty easily surmise the entire plot) but boasts a witty, moving script and some really terrific performances from its two immensely likable leads. The ludicrously pretty (and pretty damn sexy) Alison Brie especially shines here: showing off both her formidable comedic chops and warm humanity that fans of Community have long been familiar with, but may be news to regular cinema-goers who are mostly familiar with her from (admittedly scene-stealing) supporting roles in other romantic comedies. I don't personally find the actual plot tremendously relatable, but that's presumably mostly because my lifestyle is very, very different from this film's characters (sometmes gladly, sometimes less so) but I still believed in and cared about these characters and their weird, weird relationships with, well, relationships. It ain't groundbreaking and it ain't remotely unpredictable but it's funny, has loads of heart and features one of the best on-screen couples to come along in a while. And sometimes that's more than enough. (8/10)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Roundup for 11 March 2016

Loads of things out this week, almost all of which I've seen. Check out my full review of the Young Messiah below but here are my extremely short thoughts on four other films. Knight of Cups I missed and I have no earthly idea what Safe Bet is but a) the latter wasn't shown to the press and b) I've long given up on Terence Malick's waffling, self-important and indulgent films, but, hey, I'm sure it looks great.

Zoolander 2. A definite disappointment this, but it's nowhere near as bad as some have suggested. It's amiable and just about funny enough to get a pass from me but it doesn't have the quotability of the first one and the smart-dumbness has largely been replaced with dumb-dumbness. Not something to rush out and see, then, but check it out on TV in a few months with lowered expectations and you'll most probably enjoy yourself. Unless you hated the first one, of course, then you'd have to be as dumb as Derek Zoolander to watch its sequel. (5/10)

Triple 9. Proof that a great cast does not a great movie make, Triple 9 has all the ingredients for a top-notch crime drama but its murky characterization and utterly opaque scripting of a fairly straightforward plot adds up to a film that is absolutely impossible to care about, let alone even remotely enjoy. It aims for a mix of Michael Mann and the Wire but barely even ends up better than Mann's latest, the quite awful Blackhat. (4/10)

The Other Side of the Door. Fairly rote horror that is notable only for its Indian setting and generally quite solid performances. Everything else is very much par for the course for modern horror but as it's forgettable, rather than actively bad, it still manages to score above par as a modern horror flick. Yay? (5/10)

Eye in the Sky. By a thousand miles, the best film of the week. What we have here is a taught, tight thriller about the realities and morals of modern warfare that has little action but plenty of suspense; all funneled through moments of Dr-Stragelove-like humour (you almost expect someone to say: "Gentlemen, you can't fight here This is the war room") and killer performances from, among others, Helen Mirren and the late and thoroughly great Alan Rickman in what appears to be his final live-action role ever. (8/10)

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Young Messiah

This Jew's take on the apparently almost entirely made up story of a very, very young Jesus Christ! What could go wrong?

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

As he and his family return to Judea/ Israel after years in exile in Egypt, Jesus Bar Joseph, aged seven, has to come to terms with his strange powers and the even stranger circumstances surrounding his birth.

What we thought

As a reasonably observant Jew, I am, most decidedly, not the target audience of the Young Messiah. And yet, that doesn't necessarily mean that the film didn't have a chance in hell of working for me. For a start, though I don't believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah or the so-called Son of God, I do find the whole story of Jesus to be pretty damn good mythology. I don't care much for it religiously, in other words, but as a fan of great stories, it's certainly one of the better ones. And historically, it's really interesting too. Further, you may not have noticed, but Jesus was Jewish himself and the whole background in which his story takes place is the end of the Second Temple period, undoubtedly one of the most intriguing and often contradictory periods in Jewish history.

I say all this not just to establish my credentials but to make it abundantly clear that, though I think the Young Messiah is a pretty lousy movie, it's not because I have a problem with it religiously. Or, if I do have a problem with it religiously, it's that it failed to actually explore that side of the story in any real detail at all, to the point that I think even its actual target audience of fairly young Christians will leave the film decidedly un-uplifted. Frankly, they'll probably find more religion in the Man of Steel – not that I recommend that particular train wreck either!

Saturday, March 5, 2016


Even by Charlie Kaufman's usual standards, this is something of an odd one...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), a middle-aged author, stuck in a rut of mundanity and boredom, comes across the first ray of light in his miserable life. Miles from his wife and son in a hotel in a strange city, he meets Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), an awkward, self-loathing young woman who nonetheless makes him feel more alive than he has in years.

What we thought

Anomalisa, as it is later explained in the film, refers to this young woman, Lisa, being an anomaly in the drudgery of our protagonist's life but, frankly, from top to bottom, Anomalisa is an anomaly of a film. It's one of the rare adult animated films outside of anime to get a major release, for a start, but, more importantly, every minute of the film is either horribly uncomfortable, ugly, unnerving, hateful or, more often than not, a mixture of all of the above but, as near as I can tell, that's precisely the point.

From the brilliant but horribly unsettling stop-motion animation that dives head first into the uncanny valley (that awful place on the artificial/real continuum where the artificial is just real enough to be utterly repulsive to most human beings: see Beowulf, Polar Express) to the way that everyone but Lisa and Michael are creepily voiced only by Tom Noonan, be they female or male, the film had me feeling almost physically revolted and uneasy right from its opening moments. And, between Michael Stone being one of the most awkward, least likable screen characters to come along in a long time and his horribly uncomfortable rendezvous with the bundle of awkwardness known as Lisa, that culminates in a shockingly graphic sex scene between what is – let us not forget – two anatomically-correct puppets (yes, South Africa's Film and Publication Board rated the film 13, yes the FPB are clearly either insane or deeply stupid), Anomalisa easily ranks as one of the most viscerally upsetting films I have ever, ever seen.