The Advocate

What Jesse said:

The Advocate. Interesting story about when Europe still prosecuted animals for crimes committed. Colin Firth stars as the poor lawyer assigned to represent the animals… Odd little flick. Good times.
…you’re welcome.

Mike’s verdict:

Right off the bat, I almost didn’t watch this film because I couldn’t find it. Turns out Jesse gave me the North American release title, but two decades on the only sources I could find were under the original British title: The Hour of the Pig.  I don’t much like either title.  But back to the review.

This movie starts slowly, and never really picks up.  Until about three-quarters of the way through I was actually worried that I wouldn’t even have anything interesting to say about it. On the surface, it’s a pretty standard early 90s period drama.  Colin Firth does a fine job of reciting his lines, the set is sufficiently gritty, and there is a nice cross-section of characters – but the narrative doesn’t really grab, or give the viewer anything particularly interesting to fixate on.  If it wasn’t for the odd concept of a pig being put on trial, I might have lost interest entirely.

But by the time the credits were rolling I’d realized that there is actually a subtle undercurrent that makes the film a sort of minimalist black comedy.  And it has a message: Humanity is completely absurd.

With hindsight, I realize that I should have noticed the ridiculousness right away: it’s a film set in 15th-century France full of English actors, speaking with English accidents.  But it actually took a fantastically impassioned speech by Donald Pleasence‘s character for me to notice that the film was trying to portray just how silly society is. We try so hard to be ‘civilized’ and ‘logical’ and adhered to ideas of ‘reason’; yet we do idiotic things like accuse strangers of witchcraft and pretend that animals can commit murder.

I like the message, and I like the way that it sneaks up. But overall I still can’t say that The Hour of the Pig (or The Advocate, if you like) is a good movie – because it isn’t: nice idea, poor execution (no pun intended). Besides, the role of the unjustly accused pig obviously should have been a portrayed by goat.

5/10


The VVitch

What Jesse said:

Got another one for you. Awesome movie by a dude named Robert Eggers. Amazing slow burn thriller named The VVitch. Shot in Ontario!

BTW I visited the Salem Witch Museum when I lived there. Creepy shit.

This guy is from New England and really seems to understand all the folklore. The movie reflects this. Just a great story about people living under really strict religious/ideological mindset. Great movie. Oh yeah, one more thing…Black Phillip. BP is one bad MF! Black Phillip Black Phillip Black Phillip….

Mike’s verdict:

I’m actually of two minds about this film, but let’s get one thing out of the way up front – Black Philip is seriously creepy. Even thinking about him now makes me uncomfortable. To be honest, making a black goat seem creepy is not an accomplishment for any film-maker, but where it lacks originality it certainly makes up the difference in effectiveness.

Of course, while Philip is probably the most creepy part of the film, he’s definitely not the only thing that’s creepy; The VVitch has a consistent anxiety that effortlessly reinforces itself.  I had a constant expectation that something (probably a witch) was going to suddenly and unpleasantly present itself, and that feeling didn’t let up at all until the credits were rolling.

Yet for much of the film, the anxiety is self-imposed.  The classic “spooky” elements of the movie actually take quite a long time to come about.  I was surprised at how long it took to see anything truly, visually intense, given that the psychological intensity begins almost immediately. Actually, at one point I began to question whether or not there really would be a witch and – spoiler alert – I’m still not certain that there even is one. But the climax of the whole story is unquestionably eerie and either way, Jesse’s right about the slow burn thriller.

But where the atmosphere works, much of the characters do not. So much just not believable; the characters’ responses and interaction don’t feel like they conform to the basics of the human condition. Everyone is constantly overreacting or under-reacting (will somebody please discipline those children!), to the point that watching verges on labourious.  The only thing that limits this tedium is a deliberate hurry to the plot which is clearly intended to provide fast relief for the viewer.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work. I understand that irrational belief is a necessary component of any story set in the midst of witch hysteria, but usually we get a stable post to lean on – one character that is rational and has the potential to overcome the blind fear of everyone around them. This film doesn’t have that character – everyone is equally consumed by their fears – and it makes for an awkward uncertainty about where the whole thing is going.

Maybe uncertainty is the point?  Maybe I’m supposed to be wondering what it all means at the end?  But I don’t feel like that was the point – I feel like there was a previous episode that is necessary for the finale to make sense.

Then again, maybe my real issue is simply that between Ralph Ineson speaking like he has a mouth full of blueberries, and everyone else whispering their lines, I missed the bits that pull it all together.

6.5/10


Ridicule

220px-Ridicule_posterWhat Jesse said:

[Unfortunately, I can’t remember what Jesse said about Ridicule.  He definitely liked it, and he was very indignant at my hesitation to spend an evening trying to keep up with subtitles. But at some point over the last year, while I was coming up with excuses to avoid watching the film, I managed to misplace the email with his thoughts. Oops.  Maybe he’ll send it to me again later so I can update this.  Update: Jesse re-sent his thoughts!]

Ridicule: I really enjoyed this French-language movie about the triumph of style over substance, or, how being witty and socially adept was the primary concern of bored French aristocracy in the 1700’s. Some pretty funny moments and amazing cinematography.

Mike’s verdict:

I am really not a fan of subtitles – for two important reasons. The first reason is everything that I miss while I am reading. Dialog in a film is usually important, obviously, but the visual is even more so – in fact, if it wasn’t crucial we’d all still be listening to radio. For me, the opportunity cost of subtitles is simply too high for anything other than documentaries.  The second reason is that subtitles are regularly plagued by errors. Unless written directly by the film writers, subtitles tend to introduce changes to the meaning of dialog, and often these changes are significant.

This is why I put off watching Ridicule, and as it turns out, I was right. Both of my concerns became reality during a painful hour and forty-five minutes.

Ridicule is supposedly about wit in late 18th century France.  I don’t know anything about 18th century France, but Jesse will agree that I know all about wit.  Wit is complicated.  Wit is precise.  It requires a high level of intelligence and vocabulary from both speaker and listener.  Most importantly, for a phrase to be considered witty, there needs to be agreement on the meaning of the words.  There can’t be ambiguity in any of it, unless the ambiguity is intentional.

And therein lies the problem. I have no idea if any of the characters are witty in French, but if they are then that wit was completely lost in the translation of the subtitles I had to read.

Not only was the subtitled dialog distinctly lacking in wit, I even found it incredibly difficult to follow the story. Actually, that’s an understatement – I literally have no idea what the plot was about.  An old man gets peed on. Some people flounder around a swamp to catch fish by hand. Someone steals a shoe and throws it in a fireplace. A guy hangs himself. All the while, people claim to be witty.  That’s all I got.

Maybe Ridicule makes sense to people who can make sense of French.  But it did not make sense to me, and I think the subtitles might have been written by this guy.

1/10


Ant-man

Ant-Man-International-PosterWhat Jesse said:

Ant-Man is a friggin’ awesome fun ‘popcorn movie’ that doesn’t waste the audience’s time with overly complicated motives or over the top exposition. It’s a pretty simple story of a guy (Paul Rudd) who puts on a high-tech suit that gives him the power to shrink down to ant size in order to stop an evil dude from using the technology for not-so-nice purposes. The action sequences were a lot of fun and I thought the comic relief (provided by Michael Pena as ‘Luis’) was absolutely perfect. The whole thing was a lot of fun and I’m definitely checking out a sequel if they ever make one. Michael Douglas does a competent job as the ‘Scientist with a formula’ and Evangeline Lilly sleepwalks through this one as the ‘angry daughter who doesn’t get it yet’. Nothing much to think about or grand themes to ponder, just a fun flick to chill out to with some very cool sequences. Good movie, check it out.

Mike’s verdict:

Ant-Man is not my favourite superhero. Ant-Man is not even a superhero I was aware of until Jesse told me that there was a movie. I still can’t understand why Ant-Man is a superhero at all – at least, I can’t understand why a writer would choose to name a hero with the ability to become very tiny ‘Ant-Man’. Lots of things are tiny, many of them cool. There is nothing cool, menacing, or even encouraging about an ant unless it’s the kind that stings; and this one, as it turns out, doesn’t sting.

I started this movie thinking I was going to see something like Spider-Man, a superhero with super-abilities that are directly related to the persona he portrays, and merely enhanced by technological toys. Instead I got the other kind of superhero – the guy who puts on a suit and just comes up with a name that kind of fits the image at a really basic level – like Batman. That might be fine, except that in this case the toy that Ant-Man uses just takes him from being a normal-sized loser, to a really tiny one.

To be fair, I can’t exactly argue with the things that Jesse liked about this movie:

  • It definitely doesn’t waste time with complicated motives or exposition.
  • It is a simple story.
  • The action sequences were fun.
  • The comic relief was, okay maybe not perfect, but appreciated.
  • Michael Douglas is competent as an idealistic scientist.
  • Evangeline Lilly definitely doesn’t get it.
  • There is nothing much to think about or themes to ponder.

Watching this reminded me of Fantastic Four – the one from 2005 . It’s entertaining for the sake of entertainment, nothing is spectacular but everything works together if you suspend disbelief (which obviously you have to – it’s a superhero movie!).

My only real complaint is that nothing about this movie stands out. If I want a simple story, Ant-Man won’t be the first movie that comes to mind. If I’m in the mood for action, or if I want to watch Michael Douglas, Ant-Man won’t be the first movie that comes to mind. If I want to watch Evangeline Lilly, Ant-Man won’t be – wait, I’ll never want to watch Evangeline Lilly.  And if I don’t want much to think about or themes to ponder, Ant-Man won’t be the movie that comes to mind.

Ant-Man fulfilled its role – it helped time go by while I was bored on an airplane. But unless I’m on another plane with really limited choices, Ant-Man The Sequal/Prequal won’t be my choice.

On last thing, Paul Rudd does a fine job as Ant-Man. I expected him to be funnier, because he is, but I can understand that wasn’t his role this time.  But if I want to watch Paul Rudd in the future, Ant-Man won’t be the movie that comes to mind.

5/10


Rudderless

RudderlessWhat Jesse said:

I just watched a movie that literally left me speechless. It’s called Rudderless and it stars Billy Cruddup and Anton Yelchin, and was directed by William H. Macy (whom I’ve actually met while waiting for a flight in Vancouver!) I really had no idea what to expect from a movie about the fairly difficult topic of how to deal with unbearable grief following a tragic family event. But then there’s the music (I know that sounds like a non sequitur, but stay with me). Cruddup plays Sam, a man whose life takes a nosedive after losing his college-aged son Josh in a mass shooting. A while after this event, Sam starts to play music in an apparent attempt to learn more about his dead son. Overall, I thought the performances were top-notch, and the movie had some funny as well as some very powerful moments. Awesome. Watch it.

Mike’s verdict:

Finally, a decent recommendation!  It’s been ages since Jesse has recommended any movie at all, let alone one that I thought would interest me. I will admit that based on Jesse’s description I was only vaguely sold on this though.  Human strife is tedious so it takes a good deal of talent to make me think it worth spending my evening. That said, Jesse did get this one right.

On the surface, Rudderless is an engaging and clever look at a side of violence that is rarely considered in film, as the plot follows characters that are normally tangential in stories about mass shootings. This film doesn’t look at the classic victims of violence, nor the classic perpetrators of violence. Instead, it circles those who are affected indirectly. But in a way, even the over-arching plot is itself actually tangential to the real focus of the film/ This is more a story about a man trying to escape his life, and his rediscovery of music as a means to propel himself to fulfillment, than it is a story about a mass shooting.

To be clear, the actual plot itself is pretty light. There’s a nice twist (that you’ll almost certainly foresee if you’re paying attention) but not a whole lot really happens. The pace is good, and the characters are interesting, and that’s enough to satisfy the basics without overdoing it or taking away from the real point – which is to follow a man who reconnects with himself as he tries to reconnect with the son he never really knew.

And along the way you become immersed in a fantastic soundtrack that in some ways over-shadows the rest of the film, but is just so much fun.  You likely won’t ever hear a better rendition of The Wheels on the Bus and Kate Micucci (remember Lucy from The Big Bang Theory?) has an angry/sad open-mic ukulele performance that is perfect. Even William H. Macy (whom Jesse thinks he met in an airport but it was really a 52 year old woman wearing a big hat) is superb as the nondescript open-mic bar owner.

I like this movie – it’ll be going in the ‘keep’ pile, and I’m going to hunt down the soundtrack too.

9/10

 


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.

8/10


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 25 other followers