Any Questions For Ben tanked at the box office. I just watched it and totally enjoyed it. The Working Dog mob rarely disappoint and I think it's to their credit that they haven't recycled a formula yet. From A River Somewhere to The Castle... Funky Squad to The Dish... (amongst others) they can't be accused of milking the cash cow. When they pulled the pin on their awesome tv series The Panel, they did so while it was still flying. They knew to quit while they were ahead... and so their 3 films to date have all been worlds apart. The first thing that stood out was the way Melbourne is represented. The cinematography is love letter to our home town and the city has never looked so amazing. And of course there's the soundtrack. As with The Dish, they have filled the movie with perfectly chosen tunes and they let the music tell much of the story. And finally there's the cast and their performances. Very nicely done on all accounts. The script might not be highly original but the players give it authenticity and I suspect they were given the freedom to ad-lib. It all works for me. There's something about Australian rom-coms. We do it so well and watching Any Questions For Ben? got me reflecting on other ones we've produced over the years. The Big Steal, I Love You Too, Summer Coda, Strictly Ballroom (etc)... we have a unique way of telling these stories. It's also great to see Rachel Taylor maintaining an Australian career alongside her Hollywood one. Kudos to her!
Tom Hardy is the only saving grace in this movie. Nah who am I kidding? He's always great to watch but not even he can save this stinker. Two secret agents fall for the same chick and use all resources at their disposal to sabotage the other. It's not a concept that thrilled me to begin with and the movie plays out exactly how you would imagine. A few LOL moments but otherwise a predictable and mediocre flick. Oh and I hate Reese Witherspoon.
Jack Black, Steve Martin, Owen Wilson! Each have highly regarded films to their name... and yet they also have dreadful ones. With this in mind I entered into The Big Year cautiously. The film opens with a title card which reads "Based on a true story. The only thing changed are the facts"... hmm, not a promising start. And so the story is established and we learn that The Big Year is an annual birding (bird watching) contest with the winner claiming a prestigious and respected title of The World's Best. At first it seems like such a stupid way to pass the time and given that the contest is run on the honour system, it feels like a flimsy premise for a movie, particularly a comedy. 15 minutes into it and I was certain I wasn't going to enjoy it at all... 100 minutes later and I loved it!! The movie doesn't go for any cheap laughs and isn't aiming for hijinks or frivolity... it actually ends up being an affectionate ode to an old and popular pastime. I came from the movie with an appreciation for what I initially thought was stupid and an understanding about how people fall in love with birding. The most surprising thing for me, however, was the amount of great actors in this damn movie... aside from the 3 leads there's also; Angelica Houston, Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parsons, Dianne Weist, Kevin Pollack, Brian Dennehy amongst others... hell, Corbin Bernsen even reemerges!! The Big Year is a subtle, understated and likeable movie about 3 guys who love birds. Considering my trepidation at the start, it gets full kudos for delivering something unexpected.
Here's a no-nonsense love story that dispenses with the typical formulas and cliches of Hollywood romance movies. Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones are two university students who get caught up in a whirlwind romance and the film plays out over several years as they try to maintain their relationship transcontinental. Not easy. It feels so real and you automatically understand that it's written from experience. All of the heightened emotions of falling in love are handled so realistically and the turmoils and insecurities are laid bare to the point that you feel like a voyeur watching two people's most intimate moments. There are lots of silent moments which allow the players to emote without vocalising. It's a real performer's movie! I loved it. Its well written and superbly acted. Anton Yelchin has matured into a great actor and has broken free from the child actor he used to be. I suspect lots will hate the meandering nature of Like Crazy but for me it hit the spot!
Robert DeNiro, Jason Statham & Clive Owen... thats kind of hard to refuse. Killer Elite is an action thriller based on a true story about a group of assassins on a final mission to save one of their own from capture. I wasn't expecting much from this film but I was genuinely pleased (and surprised) with how decent it actually is. The action is well staged and the narrative flow doesn't ponder. All players give solid performances and DeNiro is particularly understated. I think it's his best role in a few years. Knowing that much of the movie was shot in Melbourne, there was the added thrill of recognising locations and countless local faces which amped the experience for me. I wasn't expecting to see an early title card reading "Yarra Valley, Australia"... so close to home it reminds me of my days in Vancouver where every movie was made just around the corner. Killer Elite surpassed my expectations and turns out to be a smart and stylish action-thriller.
There have been a few great horror franchise retrospective docos released over the past few years. I recently reviewed 'The Psycho Legacy' and the brilliantly epic 4 hour film 'Never Sleep Again'... I've just watched 'His Name Was Jason', obviously a Friday The 13th examination. There is a lot of cool stuff for horror fans but unfortunately there's more to dislike about it than there is to love. Annoying from the getgo is Tom Savini's series of interludes. He acts as a sort of crypt keeper who pops up throughout the film to make crappy jokes. Unnecessary!! Then for the most part the doco is full of has-been actors blowing smoke up their own arses, discussing the Friday the 13th movies like they're Fellini or something. Half of these middle aged actresses keep saying stupid shit like "I hope to return to the franchise one day" as though it might happen. Massive LOLS for that!!! The structure of the film is also disjointed and it pin-balls between instalments in random order... one second they're talking about part 3 and the next they're discussing part 8... then 5 etc... following the lineal structure of the Never Sleeps Again doco would have made it easier to watch. SO.... get past all of that bullshit, move past the actor's opinions and you're left with the good stuff. Discussions and observations from the directors, writers & most importantly the pop-cultural journalists and mag editors (etc) manage to provide some new information and back stories to the franchise. One segment actually focuses on the constant absurdities and in-continuities which was a particularly welcome confession, especially after hearing the actors bang on about Jason Voorhees being the original masked killer that defined a genre... these fuck-knuckles obviously missed Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. Anyhow, its an overall disappointing documentary that probably belongs as a bonus feature in the box set collection. It most definitely doesn't hold up on it's own like this.
Spike Lee & Martin Scorcese, an unlikely collaboration. Scorsese was originally set to direct Clockers but his commitments to Casino got in the way. He stepped aside and became producer, giving the film over to Spike Lee. It's one of the most potently graphic urban gangsta movie's there is. The movie grabs you by the throat right from the opening credits with a montage of confronting and disgusting crime scene photos. This is an ugly film with Spike Lee's trademark racial statement. During the 80s and 90s he was a truly prolific director, having made some of the most powerful and significant films of the generation. "Do The Right Thing" is his opus but for me Clockers runs a close second. Harvey Keitel, John Tuturro, Delroy Lindo, Mekhi Phifer and others all give rock solid performances and Lee's approach to the film's aesthetic creates a hard, cold and brutal drama for strong stomaches. It's a near perfect film and watching it again I can't help but feel that it had to inspire The Wire (HBO)... there are so many similarities. It's also one of the few Spike Lee films that hasn't become a victim to time and cultural change. It stands strong and hasn't dated...
Years before Broken Lizard hit the big time with their cult hit Super Troopers, they made Puddle Cruiser! Filmed on location at the college they all met at, the movie is a low budget indie film which follows a group of guys on campus. There's none of the trademark lowbrow slapstick that they later became known for and the movie is heavily dialogue driven with a mild comic slant on their conversations. Puddle Cruiser feels like an exercise... almost an experiment so that they could cut their teeth. Its well edited and there's some great camera angles and panning shots. The script is really amateurish and the acting is average... but there's an obvious potential which explains why it was well received when presented at the Sundance Film Festival in 1995. They've come a long way and Super Troopers didn't come along for another 6 years... since then its been one comedy gem after another, with several more in the pipeline. Non Lizard lovers will hate Puddle Cruiser, but for those of us who do, Its a cool glimpse into their creative origins.
My generation grew up with movies like Animal House, House Party, Bachelor Party and Weird Science (to skim the surface) and the frat-house style mammoth party genre is old hat... So it says a lot about Gen Y when a movie begins with a viewer discretion to not attempt any of the actions depicted in the film. Serious? The kids of today need a warning? Oh boy, I ♥ Bluto!!! But I digress. The movie is Project X which is presented as first person point of view of a house party which spirals out of control, resulting in the most monumentally epic party ever witnessed. I usual rag on these hand held camera style movies but this is genius. I just finished watching it and I can't wait to watch it again. I lol'd so much I was pmsl'ing. The set ups are hilarious with never-ending random acts of stupidity. The movie looks low-budget and amateurish to begin with but it soon builds into a big-budget, massively orchestrated comedy masterpiece. Brilliantly acted and so well written, Gen Y finally have a movie they can hold in the same regard as Animal House (the grand daddy of 'em all). It's just a shame that they seem dense enough to actually emulate this shit and they must completely miss the whole cautionary tale aspect of it, otherwise why the warning at the start? Shame about the title too... Project X is a great 1987 movie starring Matthew Broderick. But whatever, this is a new favourite of mine. 4.5 (nudging 5) if I actually rated movies!
I watched John Carter and was in desperate need for a remedy. I needed some pure action and the first movie that caught my eye was the original Gone In 60 Seconds. Forget the Nicholas Cage remake, this 1974 flick is the shit! Director HB Halicki was a stuntman and car enthusiast and he also stars in the lead as a car thief who's offered $400,000 to steal 43 cars and have them delivered within 5 days. If you've seen the remake then you'll know the basics of the story, but you have missed out on the real action. This is amazing stuff. Nothing had been made like it before and Halicki used few actors with regular citizens playing most of the roles. The car chases are incredible and 40 minutes of the film are dedicated to an amazing chase sequence with 93 cars in total being wrecked. It's impressive stuff. You don't watch a movie like this for the acting and so commenting on performances is irrelevant. Its a stunt movie and its a ripper. Halicki followed it up with a thematic sequel called The Junkman which is pretty darn good and a 3rd one called Deadline Auto Theft... sadly he was killed while filming his official sequel, Gone In 60 Seconds 2. It was never completed. He made an impact and his on-camera car stunts paved the way for countless movies to follow including classics like Mad Max, Smokey & The Bandit and just about every other pursuit movie you can come up with.
The guarantee Cameron Crowe offers the audience is that his films will have great soundtracks. We Bough A Zoo is no exception. The original music is written by Jonsi (Sigur Ros) and the movie is also packed with a mixed tape of great tunes... all of which suit the mood Crowe is trying to convey. His films are usually full of sentimentality and, again, this is no exception. It works really well though. Based on a true story, with a lot of liberties taken, the story is about a widower (Matt Damon) who is in desperate need of a fresh start. He finds a property that calls to him the second he sees it, the only catch being that it's actually part of a rundown working zoo. With his newly inherited sanctuary and it's staff, he puts everything he's got into bringing it back to life. Matt Damon is great and he keeps impressing me with each movie he makes. The kids are really solid and there's nothing to dislike about the film. Its well paced and well executed.
Extremely Close & Incredibly Loud is a good film that could have been great. It tells the story of a 12 year old boy, Oscar, who's father perished in the twin towers on 9/11. He finds a key left behind by his dad and spends the movie looking for whatever it opens. He knows it belongs to a person named "Black" and methodically he visits everyone in the 5 boroughs, looking for answers. My problem with the film is the lead actor. I found the kid to be really irritating and it was difficult to watch. It was a great performance but because I didn't like the character, I was a little disconnected from the story... that aside, the movie is packed with great performances. Some very big players are all essentially reduced to support roles, lending weight to this 12 year old's story. Tom Hanks adds a sense of wonder and offers an uplift to an otherwise sombre subject. Sandra Bullock is solid as the mother having to deal with her grief as well as her son's and Max Von Sydow is quite amazing as an elderly neighbour who joins Oscar on his quest. Sydow never utters a single word and yet he manages to express so much depth and emotion... he deserved his oscar nomination. Other small roles include John Goodman, Jeffrey Wright and Viola Davis (all good). It's a shame about the personality of Oscar. His anguish and desperation just didn't resonate with me... I was intrigued by his search but was never too fussed about his conclusions. Finally, the film does manage to come together really well at the end. I came away more satisfied than I was expecting and was able to imagine just how amazing the movie would have been were I fully engaged with it.
If you catch me watching Singin' In The Rain you will see the biggest smile on my face. This is a movie of perfection. A movie overbrimming with love. Knowing the story behind the film's production makes me lap it up even more. So many songs and dance sequences were dropped and/or shifted around and there was so much material that the film could have easily lasted 4 hours. But the right songs were chosen and structured immaculately to bring one of the greatest musicals of all time to the big screen. Debbie Reynolds is so gorgeous and gushes with energy. Donald O'Connor provides a hilarious comical performance that serves as a fantastic nod to the audience... and then there's Gene Kelly... OMG. So incredible. Together with Reynolds and O'Connor he dances as though defying gravity. His presence is undeniable and I can't imagine anyone else leading the movie. I'm in love with Singin' In the Rain and the more I watch it, the more I love it. The iconic scene with Kelly splashing his way down a rainy street is a dance of love... Its not so much a dance as it is a celebration and it encapsulates the essence of the film. So wonderful.
Creature features need to be judged on their genre merits and Shark Night is one of the strangest I've seen. As is expected its jam packed with cliches and conventions and yet at the same time it defies the genre entirely. There is no nudity, no sex, barely any gore and very little violence. It's the Coke Zero of creature features. A group of college students spend a weekend away at a luxurious house on an isolated island in the middle of a salt lake. Soon they discover that the lake is infested with all kinds of species of sharks and the movie does what you would expect it to do. Lots of dumb decisions, stupid actions and typical stereotypes... There's the token black dude, the pet dog, red-neck locals, small town sheriff and fins breaking the water's surface... all stuff we've seen before and yet there's a few surprises that turn the movie in to something a bit different. It doesn't mess around and offers some unexpected kills and cool set-ups... its just a shame that the camera flinches at every attack and you don't really see anything. I started watching it in 3D which was super boring but when I switched it back to 2D I was able to engage with it more. At the end of the day it's a fun flick... probably one for the novices... but it does lack punch.
The theatrical release of Highlander 2 is considered one of the worst films of all time. Shitting all over the wonderful creations and concepts of the first movie the theory put to viewers is that the immortals come from the planet Zeist, 500 years in the past. As a sequel to a great movie, it really is an audacious and monumental epic fail...but standing on it's own it's not too ba