Category Archives: 5/10

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

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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


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.


Lawless

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.

5/10


Enemy

What Jesse said:

Enemy is one of the most anxiety inducing movies I’ve watched all the way through. I can’t remember the last time I was this uncomfortable watching a flick… and still enjoyed it. Oh, yeah, now I remember… “Prisoners“.

Mike’s verdict:

I don’t get it.

I had high expectations for this one. I thought Prisoners was fairly good and figured that if Enemy could maintain the same atmosphere but with a more interesting plot, it would do well too. And in one sense, the movie is quite effective – the atmosphere is tense from beginning to end. Jesse isn’t wrong about the level of anxiety at all. The music and the cinematography work together perfectly to build a tension that stayed just beyond my comfort level without being over the top. The problem is, it’s a trick. The atmosphere is so effectively tense you almost don’t notice that with the exception of a few scenes there’s almost no reason for the tension. Most of the ‘big scenes’ involve characters reacting dramatically – portraying tension – to events that don’t actually warrant the reaction portrayed. The fear is fabricated – I just can’t imagine normal people reacting the way these characters react. Granted, all movies fabricate atmosphere – that’s pretty much the whole point – so I can’t really criticize that too much.

Unfortunately, Enemy has a much bigger issue: it doesn’t make any sense. Are the twins really twins? Are they just two personalities in the same body? Why does twin #2’s wife suggest she knows what’s going on after meeting twin #1? Why is twin #1 willing to comply with twin #2’s demand immediately, without any fight? Why does everyone act like the sudden appearance of a twin means that something terrible is going on? Why is the movie even called ‘enemy’? What is with the damn spiders?? And what was the point of the opening scenes in the creepy club? Basically all the questions you have after watching the trailer are left completely unanswered by the movie. My theory: José Saramago thought that Javier Gullón‘s book would make a fantastic trailer, and then he tried to write a movie around it.

Admittedly, the acting is really good. The characters seem totally irrational, but the actors do an amazing job of portraying them anyway. And I really liked all the little references to Toronto. I tried to find a location inconsistency but there’s wasn’t anything noticeable.

I have to give this one 5/10. Full marks for the artistic parts, but zero marks for the story. If it had wrapped up in a way that explained what was going on, it might have gotten a perfect score.

p.s. This one will probably be watched again just in case it’s a matter of picking up clues, and I’ll reassess the score then – hopefully it doesn’t lose points.


The Purge

The PurgeWhat Jesse said:

I was expecting the average thriller but was pleasantly surprised that the movie had a more philosophical / political tone to it. The sequel will be out this year and also looks interesting. The concept takes class warfare to the extreme and was a little over the top but I thought it was effective overall.

Mike’s verdict:

I wasn’t really expecting much from this film, and that’s pretty well what I got. It’s a fairly standard thriller with dark scenes, spooky music, and startling jolts. At least on that level I think The Purge did a decent job of building suspense; there are certainly worse suspense-dramas. Of course all of the ‘twists’ are obvious – that’s how Hollywood thrillers work – but the atmosphere was good. My main complaint is with all that the film left out. The idea of a 12 hour legal free-for-all is in itself very interesting and exploring that idea within a suspense thriller could definitely work. Unfortunately, Jesse managed to get more out of that side than I did.

There is so much that could be explored from a philosophical point of view: Do people really need a ‘release’ from aggression? Are the consequences of such a release worse that the stress of not allowing it? Are there groups that will be unfairly exploited? How hard is it for a person to be convinced that the suffering they are inflicting is justifiable? And even beyond the philosophical, there are practical questions that could be looked at: Should only murder be allowed? What happens if someone is seriously hurt, but manages to survive? What about other crimes like vandalism or theft? Should the entire effort be started and finished during the 12 hour window or can I set a trap ahead of time that will be triggered during the specified time? Can I set a trap during the 12 hours that will be triggered sometime after?

But The Purge didn’t really touch on these to any great degree. There are clear references to the fact that certain people believe the whole exercise is nothing more than an excuse to kill the homeless. But these are rare, and there’s hardly any real discussion of the implications. Most of the movie is about the family trying to stay alive given the uncertainty of the villains, and whether that uncertainty comes from the free-for-all concept or not, its effect is just like any other suspense thriller.

I think this film would have worked better if the writers had completely left out any overt references the philosophical side. We would have had exactly the same suspense, but the audience would be able to read into it as much as it liked. Or The Purge could have gone in the complete opposite direction and actually explored the concepts that it was hinting at. Essentially, I like the concept and want it to be covered in a totally different movie.

5/10


The Dallas Buyer’s Club

What Jesse said:

Remember when I said I was gonna give you a “happy movie” to review next? Forget that. You need to watch The Dallas Buyer’s Club next. What an amazing  performance by an almost unrecognizable Matthew McConaughey! Jared Leto also turns in some serious work in this crazy “David vs Goliath” story. This one’s definitely a strong contender come Oscar night. Wow.

There is some unpleasant scenes for sure but I was surprised to find out it wasn’t really an “AIDS movie” (like Philadelphia). It’s really about the “little” guy taking on the big bad FDA. There were actually quite a few very funny scenes. Pleasantly surprised with this one.

Mike’s verdict:

Most movies are appraised based on the elements of film – writing, directing, acting, set design, etc. If one of the key elements is missing, the lack is reflected in reviews. Even movies that don’t have anything specifically wrong in those elements end up getting panned by critics if there isn’t something that stands out. It isn’t enough to be not bad; most films need to actually be good.

But for some reason certain films get a pass based on their topic. They don’t need to be stand-out good as long as there’s nothing stand-out bad. This is especially true with films involving the poor treatment of an already marginalized group. Unfairness is somehow universally acknowledged as cause for a good review; sympathy is applauded as long as nothing is undeniably wrong.

This is The Dallas Buyer’s Club. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t good either. Any interest in it relies entirely on the theme. I’ll admit that the story concept was decent and the characters were fairly imaginative. McConaughey obviously put a lot of effort into his role and so did Leto – in fact I think Leto did the better job. But as a whole the film is unremarkable. I didn’t want to stop watching it, but it didn’t hook me either.

The only engaging aspect of the film is the interaction between the patients, the doctors, the FDA and the pharmaceutical companies. I found myself wondering just how closely the excuses and arguments reflect reality. But of course that’s not really the point of the film so that interest is left quite unfulfilled.

Was the public treatment of AIDS victims in the 80s (and ever since) terrible? Yes. Do pharmaceutical companies intentionally mislead everyone to inflate profits? Probably. Is the FDA completely bought-off. It wouldn’t surprise me. But The Dallas Buyer’s Club isn’t a documentary, it’s entertainment. And entertainment should be entertaining.

One thing I agree with Jesse on – this is exactly the kind of film that does well on Oscar night.

5/10