Instead of my normal layout for the short reviews and ratings posts, I thought it would be fun this time to pair up films based on similar aspects and then decide which one was better.
Awful American Road Movie Comedies: ‘Identity Thief’ and ‘The Guilt Trip’
A pair of stinkers to start with. Identity Thief finds Jason Bateman playing the kind of role he could do in his sleep, whose identity is stolen by a criminal many miles away (Melissa McCarthy). He tracks her down and they’re forced to travel together. What few laughs can be found along the way are predictable and inevitably, we are supposed to find McCarthy’s character more sympathetic as it goes on, something I had a hard time doing considering she began the film by trying to ruin an innocent man’s life. Still, at least John Cho is in it.
There are even fewer laughs to find in The Guilt Trip though, as aspiring inventor Seth Rogan heads out cross-country with his mother (Barbra Streisand) in tow, embarrassment and bonding will no doubt occur.
Winner: Identity Thief
Fantasy Blockbusters: ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ and ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’
Oz the Great and Powerful
After successfully reconnecting with his roots in Drag Me to Hell, Sam Raimi returns to blockbusterland with this needless prequel to The Wizard of Oz, surely one of the most popular films of all time. It gives the colourful fantasy world a shiny coat of polish but doesn’t bring any magic to it. It doesn’t overcome the usual prequel problem as we all know where Oz’ career path is going.
Jack the Giant Slayer
The well-known fairy tale is stretched out thinly into an unnecessary two hour spectacle. A few lighter moments and some impressive effects work can’t make this feel worthwhile. It’s a real shame to see Bryan Singer making films like this. The man needs to make an interesting film again.
Winner: Jack the Giant Slayer
Central Expendables: ‘Bullet to the Head’ and ‘Parker’
Bullet to the Head is Sylvester Stallone’s latest contribution to the increasingly prevalent action-starring-pensioners sub-genre. Based on a French comic book, Stallone plays a hitman who finds himself forced to team up with a cop (Fast & Furious’s Sung Kang) to take on a common foe. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before but they make a decent mismatched central pair in this watchable 80’s style thriller.
There seem to be a number of thrillers coming out right now, based on book series, (often previously adapted ones), that take one story from the series and then sell it on the central character’s name; Jack Reacher, Alex Cross, the upcoming Jack Ryan. The violent and generic Parker can be added to that list. Jason Statham takes the title role as a criminal (with some kind of moral code) who gets inevitably double crossed. He spends the rest of the film seeking unexciting revenge on his former team, and teaming up with Jennifer Lopez for a romantic subplot that goes nowhere.
Winner: Bullet to the Head
R.I.P. Mr Gandolfini: ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’ and ‘Not Fade Away’
Sad news last week as James Gandolfini died at the age of 51. So these are two of his last roles.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a comedy set in the world of Las Vegas magicians, some good potential there. Steves Carrell and Buscemi are a pair of Siegfried and Roy-esque stage magicians who prance around in flamboyant costumes performing big tricks. Their act becomes less popular with the arrival of a radical new magician played by Jim Carrey. He’s a David Blaine/Criss Angel type who’s tricks are mostly just pointless stunts of endurance, and overly gruesome shock tactics (his TV show is called Brain Rapist, one of the better jokes). The timing of this film seems rather odd as it is satirising events that took place a decade ago. At one point they even try to perform the meaningless ‘sitting in a suspended transparent box’ stunt that Blain actually did in 2003. Unfortunately laughs are very thin on the ground, and Burt himself is too unlikeable at the start to buy his turnaround plot line. The most interesting thing about it is that Jim Carrey’s now playing supporting roles in Steve Carrell movies, when 10 years ago Carrell’s first notable appearance was a supporting role in a Carey film. At least you can’t fault Gandolfini in his brief role as a casino owner.
Not Fade Away is the film debut of Sopranos mastermind David Chase. It’s not a gangster film but a 1960s set drama about an aspiring musician in New Jersey. It gets a lot of music from the period in but the story meanders all over the place with no consistent drive, sometimes jumping forward in time abruptly. Chase’s ground-breaking TV work may have changed the medium forever, but his film is more likely to end up forgotten. Gandolfini offers solid support as the main character’s conflicted father.
Winner: Not Fade Away
Supernatural Rubbish: ‘Beautiful Creatures’ and ‘The Last Exorcism Part 2’
The Last Exorcism Part 2
Very faint praise I know, but The Last Exorcism was one of the better found-footage horrors. Part 2, drops that gimmick, but that’s just about the only good thing you can say about it. Very boring, not at all scary.
This dire attempt to start a new teen paranormal romance franchise focuses on a male high-schooler in a small southern American town, who meets and likes a pretty girl. Only, would you believe it, she’s a witch! Except she doesn’t want to be called that, she prefers ‘caster’. Will they manage to pursue their romance despite this? It’s clearly trying to be the next Twilight and is almost as terrible as that film was, but at least it looks like there won’t be a sequel.
Winner: Beautiful Creatures
Odd Experiments: ‘Upstream Color’ and ‘Amen’
It’s taken writer / director / producer /actor/composer/editor Shane Carruth almost a decade to produce a follow up to his intriguing and baffling debut Primer, and his new Sci-Fi experiment Upstream Color is no easier to grasp upon first viewing. While mostly interested watching it, I found myself having to look up interviews with Carruth online afterward to begin to gain some understanding of what it was really about. I imagine repeat viewing will prove more satisfactory.
Amen is Korean auteur Kim Ki-Duk’s seventeenth film (made between Arirang and Pieta, both of which I’ve reviewed previously). It finds him at his most minimalist. It follows a lone Korean girl as she travels around famous sights in Europe, apparently seeking a friend. Kim Ki-Duk’s often been noted for the lack of dialogue in his films but here he takes it to a new extreme, other than occasionally saying the man’s name, the girl only has one very brief exchange near the start. Apart from that there’s no talking at all. As she wanders, she appears to be being followed by a mysterious individual who may be helping her, hindering her, or both. It’s an interesting little film and looks like it was just made by two people with one hand-held camera. But it’s barely feature length at 72 minutes and even then feels like it’s one idea stretched out for too long.
Winner: Amen (just)
Korean Teenage Dramas: ‘The King of Pigs’ and ‘Plum Blossom’
The King of Pigs is a fantastic, gripping and disturbing animation about two men, meeting again after many years, and reminiscing about events that happened in their middle school days. The school is a brutal place where they were bullied daily, until one boy sticks up for them, but he could be even more dangerous for them. It’s unusual to see a realistic, mature animation on such subject matter. There’s no real reason for this story to be animated, but that just helps it to stand out further.
Plum Blossom (2000) might be a more pleasant depiction of Korean school life, but is still troubling in places and deals with some major issues. More of a coming of age story, it follows two high school boys as they experience love and sex for the first time.
Winner (and overall winner): The King of Pigs.