Movie Reviews (such as they are)

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Back in the day, when I was a comic-store worker, I used to read Hellblazer. It was one of very few DC titles that I read, being more of a Marvel and Dark Horse fan. So when I first heard that a film was being made based on Hellblazer, I was mildly interested.

Despite this interest, it has taken me from then to now to actually get around to watching the film, which came to be known as Constantine and stars Keanu Reeves as the grouchy, chain-smoking eponymous John C.

First up, let me start by saying it's a long time since I last read any of JC's adventures, but the film didn't seem much like I remember from the books. (That might be just me, though, and my poor and fading memory. Old age comes to us all.) As such, I felt like I spent a good chunk of the film trying to work out what was wrong with the film.

The truth is, as a film in its own right, there's not that much wrong with it, per se. But I don't know how much it would work for people who don't know the comics. And you gotta feel for the filmmakers: you tackle a fairly unknown comic-book character (it's not Spider-Man or The Hulk, y'know?) and you have years of source material, but you want to make a fast action movie that will appeal to non-readers, ideally without alienating long-term fans...

The story was okay. The effects were okay. I dunno what to tell you. It was okay overall.

The most interesting performance came from Tilda Swinton as Archangel Gabriel. She is a great actress and always good in androgynous roles. I really enjoyed watching her. Peter Stormare makes an appearance as the Devil himself, and he was fun in that hammy way that he is fun. (Having seen Ray Wise in Reaper, though, I can't help wondering why he hasn't played the Devil more often!) Keanu was Keanu: you know what you're gonna get, more or less. And Rachel Weisz (who shares my birthday) was good and watchable, as ever ("I'm a librarian!", anyone?). Oh yeah, Shia LaBeouf was in it too.

So, all in all, it was okay. But okay just don't cut it in my house, and ultimately I wished I could have back the time I spent watching it. I give Constantine 60 points out of 100.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Films such as K2 are almost exactly suited to a blog called "Movie Reviews (such as they are)", because you really need say so little.

Firstly, though: what the hell happened to Michael Biehn? I mean, one minute he was every fan boy's preferred movie star; the next he's hamming it up like the ham store just run out of him in K2, and playing such a completely unappealing character, too.

Remember Vertical Limit? Now that's how you make a perils-up-a-mountain action movie. K2, not so much.

And it even had Matt Craven in it, from the was-oh-so-great-in-Season-1-but-then-they-fucked-it-up-in-Season-2 show Boomtown. Man, this guy knows how to act badly!

So, if I were to sum up K2 in one word, it would probably be: "Ha!" But I do my summing up in numbers, baby, and here's my digits: 19 out of 100.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Black Book (aka Zwartboek)

Paul Verhoeven's first Dutch film in quite a few years, Black Book is a World War II tale set in the Netherlands and "inspired by real events". It concerns a Resistance movement, one member of which is a young girl who has witnessed the massacre of her entire family, among a boatload of Jews, while they were all trying to escape the Nazi occupation.

Events conspire to throw her into a conversation with the head of the occupying force on a train journey, and soon after she is asked by her friends whether she would sleep with him -- you know, for the cause. She accepts the assignment, and what follows is a treacherous and dangerous game for all involved.

What follows is also a crazy action ride! The "true story" tag has come to mean very little when attached to movies. I think the Coen brothers may have started (or at least revived) this trend of elasticating the truth when they used a short news story as the catalyst for Fargo. Verhoeven goes one better, with a script that has taken years to finish. At every turn of the the celluloid page there is another incredible piece of derring-do or another implausible case of coincidence. But the film is none the worse for that!

And let's not forget that Verhoeven, while he has put out a few duds in his time, is actually great at what he does. And the colours and sets and cinematography were all great, and Carice van Houten and Sebastian Koch (also seen recently in The Lives of Others) shine in the leads.

You know what I say? At its heart, this is a genuine, old-fashioned wartime picture, so suspend your disbelief, put on your arthouse action movie hat, and enjoy. Black Book is pure fun, and we all need some of that from time to time. I give this movie 73 points out of 100.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

No Country for Old Men

I've long been a fan of the Coen brothers' work, so I was keen to see No Country for Old Men, which has been touted by many as a return to form, following a couple of near-duds in the form of The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty.

The fact that the film had Javier Bardem in what I would consider the lead role (shame on you, Academy) was yet another reason to spring £6.50 (US$13) on a ticket for the cinema rather than waiting for the DVD.

The plot is actually far simpler than I had imagined. Dude finds money; another dude wants it back and will kill anyone in his way (and pretty much anyone not in his way, too); a third dude tries to stop second dude from killing first dude (while investigating the multiple other killings along the way).

Anyone expecting profundity will be left wanting, I'm afraid, regardless that the source material comes from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Cormac McCarthy. (BTW, I hate how we're awarding writers who are trying to do away with punctuation.) As a comment on society and the effect money has on people, it doesn't work as well as Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan -- though I appreciate that the intent of No Country is more to do with changing times than with greed and the like.

So that's the premise dealt with. What about the performances, direction, mise en scène?

First up, the performances, as you would expect with a cast of this calibre, are truly wonderful. Bardem steals the show, of course. But I will say this to all those banging on about his hairdo: the film is set in 1980. That hair is completely pertinent. It's the hairdo sported by Josh Brolin that is anachronistic. Nobody looked that fucking cool in 1980s Texas, I'm pretty damn certain!

I've seen Bardem in a few Spanish-language films over the years, and he is a fine actor, so it was no surprise to see him doing great work here as an utterly reprehensible human being.

Brolin was also very good. He's come a long way since Best Laid Plans!

Tommy Lee Jones is a funny one. He sort of leaves me cold as an actor, though I accept that he's good at his job. I feel he always plays essentially the same role, though, and that role kind of bores me. Meh.

Some people are claiming that Kelly Macdonald has been overlooked for an Oscar nomination. My view: no, she hasn't. She simply didn't warrant one. She's okay. She doesn't do enough, though, to be rewarded for her performance... which is as much a comment on the thinness of the characterization as it is on her ability.

The look of the film and the set-ups of the scenes are, as you would expect from the Coens, quite lovely, and the movie looks great and feels great from beginning to end, with that underlying sense of dread you get from all the best thrillers.

So, sort of a mixed bag, overall. Not quite the movie I thought it would be, but a great film nonetheless, in the sense of art created for the movie screen. Great looking, and great entertainment, if the tiniest bit too long. I give No Country for Old Men 72 points out of 100

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Mean Girls

I watched Mean Girls for a bit of a laugh, really, thinking it was something more suited to my teenage niece than to a seasoned movie-watcher like myself. It appeared on TV one Sunday night, and I happened to be sat there.

And guess what. I actually thought it was really good fun. I mean, I'm not going to rush out and buy the DVD or anything, but it was a worthwhile watch. I've certainly seen worse movies purporting to be serious fare and far worse movies that are supposed to be funny.

If you haven't seen it, I say give it a crack (if it happens to be on TV). It may not be worth actually going to a video store and paying for, y'know...

Lindsay Lohan was fun and more than a little appealing, and the rest of the cast, including 30 Rock's very own Tina Fey, was great too. Like I say, we're not talking classics here, but this is a good example of the genre. I say we give it 66 points out of 100; what say you?

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Self-Made Hero

This is a French film. I'm guessing it's about some sort of self-made hero, but two attempts at watching it both put me to sleep within half an hour. I didn't finish it, so I won't score it. And no score is a bad thing, my friends.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Casanova - RIP Heath Ledger

Bumping this one back to the front in tribute to Heath Ledger, who died yesterday, Tuesday 22 January 2008, aged 28.

I didn't expect much from Casanova, but we rented it purely to see Venice and cast our minds back to March 2006 and our time in that wonderful, unique city. But what an enjoyable romp it was -- huge fun from beginning to end.

This really is Hollywood at its kitschest, silliest, laugh-out-loud best. The cast are all good, with Oliver Platt putting in a fucking genius performance. This is right up there: 75 points.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Ostensibly, DiG! tells the story of two rock 'n' roll bands: The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. The two were friends back in the day, playing gigs together, and the BJM were greatly influential on the Dandys. BJM frontman Anton Newcombe wanted to start a revolution and did not want to play the corporate rock game; the Dandys were happy (at least on the surface) to sell out for success.

What we have here is two parallel tales, informing us how the paths of these two groups diverged. In some ways, it's a cautionary tale; in others, it could be seen as some sort of bible on how to fail in the music biz (in much the same way that Overnight could be seen as how to fail in the movie biz).

This documentary is funny a lot of the time, but there are hints of sadness. Ultimately we are supposed to feel for Newcombe, but although he has some likable traits, it's hard to see him as anything other than a bit of a self-destructive loser. You just wouldn't want to be in a band with him, y'know? (Okay, maybe "loser" is a bit strong; but how else can you term someone who wants success but then bites the hand that tries to feed him every time? It's not like anyone asked him to sell out, y'know.)

The film is a riveting watch, and you may well spend a good amount of the running time slack-jawed with disbelief. While I'm not a fan of either band, it's telling that the least interesting of the two are the biggest success. And I dare say when they're writing the book of rock history in a few decades' time, the Dandys may well be simply a footnote to the creativity of Newcombe and The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

I give DiG! 72 points out of 100.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

16 Blocks

I barely remember anything about 16 Blocks, I'm sorry to say. It was really very subpar. And I actually like Bruce Willis, so it's not just that I'm hating on Hollywood or anything. Mos Def was fun, but the film was just quite mundane and mediocre. Oh yeah, and there was the obligatory feel-good ending. Ho hum.

Pointage: 43 out of 100.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

le dîner de cons (aka The Dinner Game)

I had no expectations of le dîner de cons before sitting down to watch it. My wife vaguely remembered some good reviews, so we thought we'd give it a go.

The initial set-up is that every week a group of friends get together for a dinner party, each of them bringing the dumbest person they can find, hence the name of the film, which translates as "The Idiots' Dinner", more or less.

The invited idiots are asked to talk about themselves, and the person who brought the most stupid guest is declared the winner.

So far, so slapstick.

Pierre chooses François, a man who makes world landmarks out of matchsticks, as his idiot and invites him to his house prior to heading to the dinner. But Pierre injures his back, so the pair miss the meal and end up having to spend the evening together in the apartment. Throw in an ex-wife and her lover, and sit back for the fireworks.

As I said above, I had pretty low expectations. European humour doesn't always travel well to other languages (or, rather, to subtitles). But I needn't have worried. le dîner de cons was one of the funniest movies I've seen in a long time. I was close to rolling on the floor.

If you get the chance, you should see this instead of the forthcoming US remake, poetically titled Dinner for Schmucks (vom!). I give le dîner de cons 81 points out of 100.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008


I saw Signs for the second time a few nights ago. I didn't intend to watch it, but it started up on TV, and the missus was asleep beside me, so I figured what the hell. Plus any film starring a bigoted, anti-Semitic, billion-children-rearing Catholic zealot (allegedly) has got to be worth seeing, right?

We all know the story: smalltown family with dead mum and ex-preacher dad find massive crop circles on their land. Turns out it's a global phenomenon. Aliens are here. And "there'll be a twist, probably, cos, y'know, that whatshisname made it, the one who did The Sixth Sense." "Ah, yeah, The Sixth Sense. Loved that movie."

Well, you know what? I fucking hated The Sixth Sense. It was shit, all right. And after about five minutes it was fucking obvious that Bruce Willis was dead. Jesus, people!

Anyway, I think I digress...

Thing is, for all the spleen I vent about The Sixth Sense, one thing I took away from it was that M Night Shyamalan looked like a pretty decent director. I liked all the handheld camerawork and his choices of angles, which is why I have continued to watch his films.

Bottom line: Signs is some hokey shit, but it's kinda fun while you're in it. The aliens aren't very impressive, either, and the ending... Well, I liked the ending enough. It's not really a twist as such, but it's reasonably interesting, even if it goes slightly in a direction that I didn't want it to...

The performances are good (Joaquin is always good, and you get to see that Little Miss Sunshine girl before she was that Little Miss Sunshine girl) and the direction is solid overall. We get more locked-down camerawork this time out, but it works nicely to create a sense of tension.

So, it's not shit. But we aren't talking a major film of the 21st century here, either. I give Signs 60 points out of 100.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Baise-Moi (aka Fuck Me; aka Rape Me)

I like a good controversy, and Baise-Moi, upon release a few years back, was nothing if not controversial. Even its native France was divided over whether such a film should be banned. France?! Considered by many to be the home of cinema and usually above such proletarian concerns as censorship... "My, oh my, che razza di film e' questo?" I wondered to myself.

The basic plot is: two women, strangers who meet one night, go on a crazed kill spree, following the rape of one of them.

They kill on a whim any man who crosses their path and quite a few women too, most notably at an orgy/sex club.

Over here in the UK our version has been shorn of a couple of its most extreme moments, but some of the hardcore sex has been left intact. This is one of that wave of cinema of that time that delighted in including full penetration, and here as in a couple of other flicks a porn star takes one of the leads to help facilitate such scenes.

So, it's Thelma and Louise meets Ms. 45 meets Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer? Well, maybe.

Does it live up to all the hype? Well, maybe.

Is it any good? Well, maybe...

That's the overriding impression I took from this maybe. It's a bit "Well, maybe." Not a terrible film, as some would have you believe, but a short film that could have been shorter still for its lack of real plot.

Tough to score, since it's more an experience, or ordeal, than a film for pleasure. But overall I'd give it 52 out of 100. That's not a wholly accurate score, since it could have been more than twice as good as it is, but it places it in the right context in my list of films rated so far.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Lives of Others (aka Das Leben der Anderen)

I've been very shit lately at reviewing the movies I've seen. And I've seen a lot. The most recent one was this one, so I'll review while it's fresh.

The Stasi is not a subject I've seen many films about, it must be said, but it is an interesting notion. The Lives of Others focuses on Wiesler, a member of the East German secret police, following his investigations into a writer called Georg Dreyman.

He sits, hour after hour, listening in to the author's life -- his parties, his meeting with friends, his sexual encounters -- keeping notes for the Stasi chiefs. But the reason for his investigation turns out to be rather more personal than legitimate: the writer is involved in a relationship with a woman who is also having sex with the Stasi big boss, and the latter wants the writer crushed with whatever evidence can be found.

Wiesler feels this is a breach of the Stasi's power...

Considering how little action this film contains No, scratch that. The term "action" implies something different from what I want to infer. There is a deliberate inertia to much of the film, yes, and that is wholly correct. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the movie is fully absorbing. From the initial set-up explaining what the Stasi is (which could have been plodding but isn't), right up to the big reveal at the end, the viewer is rooted to his seat.

This is in no small part due to the magnificent performance given by Ulrich Mühe in the role of Wiesler. Sadly we shall see no more of his work, since he died in July of 2007.

For those interested in such things, The Lives of Others beat Pan's Labyrinth to win Best Foreign Film at the 2006 Oscars (i.e., those held in 2007).

I can quite imagine myself watching this several times over the coming years, and I highly recommend you watch it too, if you haven't already. I score The Lives of Others 84 out of 100.

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