These Final Hours

What Jesse said:

Got another Aussie gem fee ya. I want you to check out These Final Hours. I’ve never heard of any of these actors so I had no idea what to expect from this low-budget flick. Familiar premise but I found it a lot of fun and thought-provoking. Check it out.

Mike’s verdict:

This is the first movie in a long time that I’ve had trouble starting a review for. I’ve been thinking it over for a few days, trying to come up with something to say but I keep drawing a blank. The trouble is that this film is really quite generic. It’s not bad exactly, and it’s not totally uninteresting; but there’s nothing specifically novel about it. It’s kind of the Australian movie equivalent of Nickelback – all the right elements are technically there, but there’s no spark of life.

I’m generally a fan of the apocalypse genre when it’s done right and I don’t care much about why the world is ending, as long as there’s a good story surrounding the characters. There has to be a thin layer of anxious suspense, or consistent hilarity, that keeps me interested in the people. And of course it helps if the people have an interesting goal that takes them through increasingly unlikely settings before they arrive at the oasis they’re invariably running to.

This films lacks all of those criteria.  The main characters are mostly sympathetic (technically) but I never really felt invested in them, and the plot lacks any significant depth. I do wonder if this might be different for viewers in Australia who, presumably, would be more familiar with the actors. To me, they’re just generic dramatic action movie stand-ins who haven’t had a chance to develop a unique style of their own yet, but at least a few of them are apparently recognizable in the southern hemisphere.

I must admit that I strongly disagree with Jesse’s assessment of it being a low-budget film – at a reported $2.5 million (Australian) it’s definitely not Hollywood, but it’s not an art school project either.  The cinematography is actually quite well done; I was never distracted by it. Of course that doesn’t fix the overly familiar story line and forgettable characters.

If there is one saving grace, it’s that Jesse was mostly right about the though-provoking nature of the film.  About halfway through I came to the realization that there is a subtle undercurrent present in most apocalypse films which is brought to the forefront in this one; namely, the insinuation that, given the knowledge of certain death and sufficient time to react to it, humanity will destroy itself before the apocalypse actually happens.

For some reason, suicide, rioting and general mayhem are regularly assumed to be the most immediate reaction to news that the world will be destroyed tomorrow. While I generally take a dim view of human nature, I’m not sure that I agree with this assessment. Certainly there will be pockets of individuals who decide to kill the boss that passed them up for a promotion, and a significant spike in drunk driving accidents. I’m even willing to accept the odd suicide as well. But I don’t think that average people will be anywhere near as quick to kill their families or themselves as we’ve portrayed them to be. I think people will be so focused on finding ways to ignore the inevitable and in such a state of denial that when the end does come they will miss it.

In considering the spectrum of reactions presented in this film, I realize that film in general has done a poor job of predicting pre-apocalypse behaviour and this is one more example of that. It’s too bad too; the intention of These Final Hours is obviously to provoke discussion on this behaviour and it would have been nice if the film hadn’t presented such melodramatic examples.

Overall, this movie gets a 5/10. The film is thought-provoking in its misunderstanding of people, but not particularly interesting as a movie.

The Babadook

What Jesse said:

Finally an accurate depiction of parenthood! A well crafted unsettling tale about family. I give you… The Babadook. Essie Davis is mesmerizing as a single mom slowly getting to the end of her rope. And that kid…yikes! Go see it now.

Mike’s verdict:

I hadn’t heard of this one before Jesse suggested it and I think he intentionally tried to mislead me by saying it was about family; thankfully The Babadook is not really a story about family in the way Jesse insinuated, though on a certain level it definitely speaks to the relationship and influence of parents on children.

On the surface, this film is a standard haunted-house ghost story that reminded me a lot of The Shining. There’s no terrifying father figure in this, but Essie Davis‘s early on portrayal of the exhausted mother is eerily similar to Shelley Duvall‘s. Similarly, Noah Wiseman does a less effective but still admirable job of channeling Danny Lloyd as the creepy child. And although it’s less literal than in The Shining, I definitely felt a similar sense of isolation on the part of the characters. Beyond the characters themselves, the atmosphere of The Babadook also reminded me a lot of The Conjuring.

The story base – a scary monster that only a child sees – isn’t particularly novel, but there’s no doubt that this movie is disturbing.  Every setting in this film is designed to build anxiety; the house, the car, the hospital, a treehouse, and even the position of a neighbour’s window, all would have made me uncomfortable even if the activity happening around them didn’t. Added with just the right lighting and some cinematography tricks, the visuals had me uncomfortable from start to finish and I was aware of that discomfort the whole time.

Even better than the visual is the audio. Thinking about it now, I realize that I can’t recall a single moment when I was aware of the soundtrack. A frequent problem with ‘scary’ movies is over-use of those sounds that we all recognize as tropes. In the right measure they add to the atmosphere, but too much pulls you out of the moment. The Babadook feels natural at every point, even when the monster’s noise is at its worst.

That is the face of this film – an effective ghost story that left me needing to watch an anxiety-reducing comedy before moving on with my night (thank you, Archer).

But I think there is actually much more here.

The Babadook isn’t really about a haunting at all – it’s the story of a woman’s rapidly surfacing psychosis, which has been brought on by the overlapping events surrounding the death of her husband and birth of her son.  What at first seem to be the aggravating and sometimes frightening actions of a disturbed child, are in fact the reactions of a child attempting to live with the symptoms of his mother’s illness. There is no Babadook, only the disassociated personality of a woman who resents the child that is a daily reminder of the husband she lost.  The “disobedient child” is actually a completely normal child trying to live with a woman who is sometimes a loving mother and sometimes a terrifying monster. His fascination with building weapons isn’t a burgeoning sociopathy, it’s a very literal attempt to protect himself and the mother he loves from her own demons.

This film speaks very clearly to the need for parents to understand how directly their own fears, disappointments, anxieties and whole mental state affect their children.  It’s an ironic, thought-provoking, and clever take on the “haunted-house”, and a satisfyingly entertaining scare.



kjjjghWhat Jesse said:

So I thought I was gonna watch a movie about one of my favourite Marvel characters, instead I get a weird movie about how Jake Gyllenhaal spends his nights looking for bloody footage to sell to sleazy TV news people who go by the motto “if it bleeds it leads…”. Nice. Gyllenhaal does a nice job as an ambitious sociopath and I can’t remember the last time I saw Renee Russo in anything but she was pretty good too. Check it out.

Mike’s verdict:

I was intrigued by the trailer for this movie. It combined a slow-simmering and eerie awkwardness with an uncommonly clean look – creepy but without the cliché grittiness that everyone’s been doing lately. It gave me high hopes for the movie despite the fact that the concept – people chasing gruesome disasters with a camera, intent on sell the footage to television news – didn’t jump out at me as particularly interesting. I wasn’t overly excited, but I expected there would be a sufficient backdrop for exploring the creepy characters presented in the trailer.

I was wrong.

I will admit that the subtle unsettling nature of the trailer does come through in the full movie. The atmosphere is right, and the creepy-but-clean setting works. Unfortunately, a lot of the scenes are drawn-out – presumably to build suspense – and they’re left just a little too long. Eerie only stays suspenseful if it fluctuates enough to not become desensitizing. Nightcrawler fails at this. It’s really, really slow.

The film is also very obvious. Maybe I have a dim view of human beings, but I wasn’t surprised by any of the things the main character did. I could see every plot point coming way in advance, and that includes the ‘big surprise’ at the end.

‘Slow’ and ‘obvious’ are enough to ruin a movie themselves, but my criticisms are not done: the characters are problematic as well.

One major issue is inherent in Jake Gyllenhaal‘s character. He’s a terrible person on the inside, and a terrible person on the outside. Everything he says is garbage and nobody around him is fooled by it. That’s the point – he’s fake and we all know it. Unfortunately, the nature of acting requires the actor to pretend to be something they are not, and convince the audience. In this case, Gyllenhaal is pretending to be someone who is unconvincingly pretending to be someone. The meta-acting means that Gyllenhaal has to convince me that he is someone who is unconvincing – in other words, the more convincing Gyllenhaal is, the less I am convinced. This movie was doomed right from the beginning. Gyllenhaal could never come across as convincing, because he was trying to be unconvincing.

Sadly, I have problems with the other main characters as well.

Rene Russo‘s character is just awful. I have no idea if she is an accurate depiction of a television news producer, but I really hope not. The trope of the newsman (or woman, whatever) who is willing to do anything for the story is well grounded in reality, but I would like to think that most television producers would set a higher standard for what they are willing to give up personally for the story. This is especially true given that Gyllenhaal’s character is so intentionally unconvincing in his sales pitches. For every hard decision Russo’s character has to make, her choice is unbelievably stupid. And I mean that literally – I simply could not believe that a real person would make such choices. Riz Ahmed‘s character suffers a similar fate – he’s so stupid that I have a hard time believing he could exist.

The movie actually reminds me a lot of the True Detective mini-series. The series definitely shares an intention with Nightcrawler: to show the awfulness of individual humans in an eerie but clean atmosphere. But it also shares its problems; both are slow, obvious and lacking believable characters. Unsurprisingly, Jesse liked both.


As for the most significant complaint raised by Jesse (and way too many other comic nerds), the bottom line is that the Marvel character is not known even remotely well enough for the movie producers to have thought there would be confusion. Marvel’s Nightcrawler is little more than a tag-along to the X-Men and nobody can realistically argue that they saw this movie thinking it was going to be about mutants.  If Marvel ever chooses to make X-Men 56: Nightcrawler’s Turn, Jesse will have no doubt what the movie is about – because every showing will be sold-out 3 weeks in advance and there will be over-night line-ups of desperate nerds outside every theatre.


Note: Today we have a special guest recommendation! Jesse has been recommending terrible (or just uninteresting) movies lately and I felt like watching something different. Zaki just happened to be excited about a movie one day so I decided to add a rule allowing me to take one-off recommendations from people other than Jesse. Maybe that will get Jesse to start choosing better movies.

What Zaki said (paraphrased):

I watched a movie that I think you should review – Lawless. I thought it was great the whole way through, right up until the end. It could have been a fantastic movie; good characters and story – if only the end wasn’t such a disappointment. Even so, you should watch it – you’ll enjoy most of it.

Mike’s verdict:

I don’t feel anywhere close to the level of disappointment that Zaki expressed over the end of this film – but I completely understand what it is he disliked.

Lawless is an interesting premise for a movie and it has a few different levels. As the opening credits were scrolling along, my initial thought was, ‘Oh, no, I have to watch a Western!” Thankfully, this movie isn’t a Western at all – it just really looks like one. On the surface Lawless is about moonshiners trying to do their thing during prohibition. On another level, Lawless tries to explore how legends build and are maintained. In this case, the legend is the seeming invincibility of three particular moonshining brothers. The final level is an attempt at exploring our definitions of good and bad. The movie definitely tries at all these levels, enough to see them, but it doesn’t really pull them off.

Rather than question prohibition itself, or highlight the effects on the average person, this film tells a story from the point of view of the little-guy moonshiner working in a bigger system. There are no good guys here, only varying levels of bad guys. That’s been done before, and generally I don’t like it, but in this case there are some pretty clear lines between the bad guys that don’t want to hurt people and the bad guys that seem to want to hurt everyone. It makes the story feel like good vs. bad, when in fact it really isn’t.

The story itself is fairly engaging. There are some little things that seem forced – like everything about Jessica Chastain‘s character, and I found the ‘invincible’ legend to be tedious. But over all, it’s an entertaining film.

Other than Chastain, the rest of the cast feels realistic. Tom Hardy‘s subdue-ness (?) built a nice tension and Shia LaBeouf‘s punched face was a good release for it. Guy Pearce plays a bad guy that you will instantly hate and I did eventually stop seeing Alice in Mia Wasikowska.

Unfortunately, the end is definitely not satisfying. Given the level of violence and the way the story was building – especially with the ‘invincible’ angle – you’ll be anticipating an ending that just doesn’t happen. That’s certainly why Zaki was disappointed. But I think most would agree that the ending you do get is fairly predictable in hindsight. The story sets it up perfectly, you just don’t see it coming because you don’t want to.

Realistically, Lawless doesn’t really stand out for me. It wasn’t fantastic, but it wasn’t awful either, which is actually kind of an accomplishment given the use of Shia LaBeouf.


Transcendent Man

What Jesse said:

Back in my electronic music days I used some gear by a company called Kurzweil. Turns out that the guy who started that company is a fascinating (and rather sad) human being named Ray Kurzweil and there’s a documentary about him called Transcendent Man. The topics covered are quite profound and reminded me of Her starring Joaquin Phoenix. Go watch Transcendent Man. It’s one of those rare movies that manages to be uplifting and depressing all at once. I liked it a lot.

Mike’s verdict:

I’ll agree with Jesse on one point for sure: Raymond Kurzweil is a rather sad human being. Transcendent Man isn’t so much a documentary as it is a biography. It presents the story of a man who, after bearing witness to the slow and all too foreseeable death of his father, becomes terrified by his own mortality. As if that isn’t bad enough, Kurzweil is an engineer – he’s used to thinking about ways to solve problems – and (because he’s an engineer) he doesn’t realize that death is not a problem he can just engineer a solution for.

Kurzweil has spent the better part of his life looking for ways to ensure that the he lives forever. He takes somewhere in the neighbourhood of 200 pills each day – basic supplements and vitamins as well as his own brand of ‘anti-aging’ chemicals. He also has his blood tested every few months to check on his progress. To be fair, at one point Kurzweil was diagnosed with Type-2 Diabetes – definitely a condition to take seriously – and he managed to reverse it. Whether or not he beat diabetes because of his daily drug routine is very much open to debate though.

Of course, Kurzweil doesn’t limit himself to the traditional remedies of medical science. He is, after all, an engineer – and he has been looking at technological advances as the next step to defying death. He’s spent decades inventing and researching in a broad range of fields and he’s witnessed first-hand the way that technology has exploded over the last 50 years. He thinks of the world he was born into, compares it with the world he lives in today and imagines the world he’ll experience in another 50 years. Kurzweil has convinced himself that, within his lifetime, technology will advance to the point that death will no longer be a concern – he just needs to live long enough to make use of the technology.

As a response to his fears, Kurzweil has prophesied a pseudo-religious utopian future where humanity and machines intertwine such that there is no way to distinguish between the two. First science will advance nano-technology to fix everything, then it will advance convergence technology to bridge the gap between mind and machine. Then we will travel the stars.

Eventually, we will be sentient machines and as we spread the universe will ‘awaken’ as a single entity.  He calls it The Singularity but there are corollaries found in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Bahá’í, Buddhism, and nearly all other religions.

As it happens, Kurzweil isn’t just another crack-pot with a vision – he is actually a brilliant engineer who is responsible for, among other things, the CCD flatbed scanner and text-to-speech synthesizers. He is a director of engineering at Google.

And that’s why his story is so sad. Technology is moving at blistering speed, but it’s not going to continue fast enough to save Kurzweil. You know it, I know it, his doctors know it. And on a certain level Kurzweil knows it too. But he lives in a world that wants his delusions to be true – and is constantly recognizing him for his very real accomplishments. Everyone knows he’s crazy, yet despite his delusions he is helping people. His delusions are riding the coat-tails of his otherwise brilliant career.

I would have like to see more dissenting opinions in this film – particularly from technology experts who could speak to the validity of Kurzweil’s beliefs. The producers chose to include interviews with two people who questioned Kurzweil’s prophecy but they were clearly straw-men – one’s argument was lost in his own completing religion while the other came across as the caricatured cold, unsympathetic scientist.

Overall, the film was interesting – I hadn’t ever heard of Kurzweil before and now I know a great deal about his life. But it was slow in parts, and it became clear that the producers didn’t have a lot to work with in terms of presenting Kurzweil’s imagined future. Just as with any other religion, it’s impossible to provide real evidence to justify his utopian predictions so the producers had to rely on clips of his impassioned speeches – entertaining, but ultimately empty. What I would have liked is a documentary discussing the (im)possibilities of the technology he imagines rather than a biography of the man. I’d like to know more from biologists, chemists and other engineers.

I guess that’s a different film though.



What Jesse said:

… before he watched Interstellar:

Dude, we should go see Interstellar. Everyone and everyone’s monkey and everyone’s monkey’s dog is saying that it is fantastic. My brother and my cousin and my neighbour and my wife’s hairdresser’s pet saw it and they all say it’s awesome. They also say it’s the kind of movie we definitely need to see in IMAX. It is a space movie after all. Seriously, it’s going to be great. Plus it has Matthew McConaughey – he’s not as dreamy as Brad Pitt but he’s a close second.

… after he watched Interstellar:

Dude, please don’t review this movie. I don’t want people to think that I would recommend this – it will be devastating for my reputation as a movie-watcher and human-being. Please, please, please don’t tell people I made you and our respective significants pay $17 + taxes to see this in IMAX. Please. Let’s just forget this night ever happened.

Mike’s verdict:

I’ve decided to review Interstellar because even though the recommendation was both premature and formally rescinded, in the end I saw this movie because Jesse suggested we watch it: as far as I am concerned, that’s pretty much the definition of a recommendation. The fact that Jesse didn’t have his facts straight before he made the recommendation is irrelevant. Besides, there is already precedent for this type of situation: Black Dynamite.

There’s a lot wrong with Interstellar, but let’s start with the good because it’ll be quick. The atmosphere is great. This movie doesn’t have quite the same feeling of vastness that Gravity has – which is significant given that I watched Gravity on a comparatively tiny 8-foot screen rather than IMAX – but it still does a very good job of expressing the distance and emptiness of space. There is even one scene where I had a twinge of agoraphobia. I also really liked the stark difference in soundtracks between scenes on earth, in space vessels and in open space. You could really, really here the silence when it mattered.

And that’s it for good points.

My first complaint is that every major plot point is obvious – including the big twist. It’s not just obvious from the point of view of the spectator watching on the outside either – the characters themselves definitely should have seen it coming. The only parts of Interstellar’s plot that were not obvious were the ones that lacked any tie to actual science. Jonathan and Christopher Nolan took the liberty of using fantasy to fill in where science stops. In some sense this is fair, unfortunately I felt that the fantasy they invented was too silly. I really enjoy learning about the theoretical science behind space travel and this movie started off really well (at least to my non-specialist eyes). But it takes a bizarre tangent at the point where the science runs out.

Next, the characters. There is one interesting character in this movie; he gets all the best lines and is the only one you will feel for when there is danger. The entire rest of the cast is just there to ensure that the plot moves along – and I was never invested in any of them. In case you are wondering, the one good character isn’t portrayed by McConaughey, nor is it  really a central character in the strictest sense – in fact it isn’t a real person. I hope Bill Irwin is given the credit he deserves for bringing some entertainment to this movie. As far as the real characters are concerned, McConaughey was the same gritty-but-well-meaning character he is in every movie; Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine had suitably adequate performances but nobody is going to remember them for this movie. Matt Damon‘s role is less forgettable, but his performance isn’t really notable. I did like how Topher Grace and Casey Affleck were unceremoniously thrown in like extras though.

Overall, I think most of this movie was okay. I was basically entertained most of the way through until fantasy took over near the end. But it isn’t a good movie and it doesn’t deserve anywhere near the critical praise that it’s been getting. It’s also not worth the money to see it in a theatre – much less IMAX. I wish I’d waited and watched this at home.



What Jesse said:

Alright, I’m gonna give you a break for once and recommend a movie that is not a documentary about something that happened 30 years ago or requires reading subtitles! I want you to put down your “Hipster Life” magazine and go watch Homefront starring my favorite British ass-kicker Jason Statham and thespian extraordinaire/academic powerhouse James Franco. Statham does his usual amount of knee-capping in this flick, and the plot is fairly straight forward, but Franco is just creepy enough to make this a pretty fun ride. Oh yeah, almost forgot, you’ll get to see Winona Ryder doing her very best impression of a bad girl doing bad things… I had a blast (pun intended) watching this one. Get yourself a large bucket of popcorn and settle in for some good old-fashioned hollywood violence!

Mike’s verdict:

This movie sucks; not because the characters are stupid – which is true – or because the plot is nonsensical – which is also true. No, this movie sucks because of its failure to adhere to the core tenets of action movies.

The first half was the worst. It definitely had a bit of the knee-capping action that Jesse was blinded by, but it was wasted. The narrative spent time trying to force emotional investment in the characters and in doing so neglected aspects that draw viewers to Statham movies in the first place. Nobody watches this kind of movie to have their heart touched. It’s almost as if the writers thought they needed to prove that the protagonist was a good loving father – as if anyone cared. By the halfway point I felt like stopping, not because the movie was so bad (it was!), but because I was annoyed at having been tricked. It’s too bad too – the beginning seemed particularly promising with Izabela Vidovic stepping up as a possible rival to Chloë Grace Moretz‘s Hit-Girl. Unfortunately, five minutes later she was just a lame little girl again. The writers completely missed an opportunity to redeem her later in the movie too.

The second half got a little better as the action picked up, but it was too far gone to recover. I was no longer subjected to the family movie sub-plot but by this point it was just too late. With every new ridiculously unfortunate coincidence, I found myself waiting for the explosions that Jesse alluded to. Incidentally, on my original reading of Jesse’s recommendation I was left with the inference that Winona Ryder was going to be blown up. Even to the last minute I held on believing that my patience would be rewarded. The anticipation was immense and probably would have saved this review if not for the heart-crushing disappointment felt when the credits rolled and I finally realized that Ryder’s character wasn’t going to be obliterated.

Positives: The characters are believable as their characters. James Franco definitely comes across well as the backwoods thug – in spite of the lame actions written for him. I also liked the almost-crooked-but-mostly-just-lazy town Sheriff, and all of the rednecks were sufficiently dirty.  Of course both Statham and Ryder feel natural as well – they play themselves, so how could they not?

I’m both surprised and disappointed with this one. I knew I wasn’t going to get award-winning performances, but I expected a decent smash and bang action movie. Homefront is not that. It’s not enough to have bad guys with unlimited ammo and protagonists that can rig whole houses to explode. A proper action movie needs to be able to insinuate that the good guy probably has deep connections with the people he saves, without wasting precious viewer time trying to show it. Every minute Jason Statham acts like a good father is a missed opportunity for him to headbutt someone.

If you’re looking for a good action movie and have your heart set on seeing Jason Statham hurt people, forget this one – watch The Mechanic instead.



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