Category Archives: 7/10

The Grand Budapest Hotel

What Jesse said:

Jesse didn’t really say anything about this one as far as I can remember but he did suggest we get together to see it.  It’s not the strongest recommendation, but a recommendation none the less. We never got around to finding a good time, so I decided to watch it myself.

Mike’s verdict:

Wes Anderson makes strange movies; sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Within minutes of opening, The Grand Budapest Hotel projects a feeling similar to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou which, despite a strong cult following, didn’t work for me. That put me a little on edge to start and in some sense that feeling stayed with me throughout the film, though in the end I felt I had been well entertained. I think anyone who enjoyed Life Aquatic will likely enjoy Grand Budapest but the latter will probably find a broader audience.

Grand Budapest managed to mostly fix the things I didn’t like about Life Aquatic. It’s still very Wes Anderson – you’re watching for an understated quirky story populated by overstated quirky characters. But this time the two halves meshed really well. The endless string of cameos was a lot of fun and the whole cast did a fantastic job. In a lot of cases it took me a moment to figure out why a person was familiar.

One really nice surprise was the variety of cameos this time. You don’t just get the standard Wes Anderson movie fare. A whole new group of recruits meant a wonderfully sparing use of Owen Wilson and no Ben Stiller at all!

The story still moves a little slow, but like with all of Anderson’s films you are expected to make use of the pace to look around at details in the background.



One Week

What Jesse said:

You need to watch One Week. I really enjoyed this Canadian flick. It’s loaded with amazing cinematography and a decent soundtrack. I think I really connected with what the main character went through as he tried to make sense of life after getting a shocking diagnosis. There’s plenty of conflicting opinion on this one but I really enjoyed. As road movies go, this one is a real gem.

Mike’s verdict:

I enjoyed this one, but I’m not sure it was really for the right reasons. There’s quite a bit to like in this movie, but the main components – story, writing, acting – are fairly unremarkable. They’re not bad exactly, but not particularly engaging either. The story itself has been done – many, many times – and I don’t think this version brought anything new. Joshua Jackson is believable enough as the terrified hero, but Liane Balaban‘s performance is rather flat.

Even so, I had a good time watching One Week. For one thing, Jesse is definitely right about the cinematography; there is some great footage of Canada. And I actually thought the soundtrack was better than just decent. (Stars!) The cameos by Gord Downie and Joel Plaskett were fun too.

But my main reason for enjoying this film was the novelty of seeing familiar places. Canada is so rarely depicted as Canada in movies and television. It was neat to see Ontario road signs and all the silly things that Canadian towns use to put themselves on the map – like the totally random giant red paperclip in Kipling, Saskatchewan.

If anything, the best part about the story is that it doesn’t get in the way of backdrop that has so many interesting things to see. A nice light early evening flick.


Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!

What Jesse said:

I watched this awesome documentary about the Australian film industry last year and thought it was hilarious. It’s always amusing watching “dignified” high-brow people squirm, and you get plenty of that in this doc about how exploitation films like Mad Max and The Howling became the face of Australian cinema during the 70s and 80s. It seems like in order to compete with big budget Hollywood movies, the only way to go was to go for shock, gore, and all of the over-the-top activities associated with generally bad scripts, hilariously bad performances, and some truly ill-advised stunt work by people who were either incredibly brave/dedicated, or just plain stupid. Enjoy.

Mike’s verdict:

I’m still a little on the fence about reviewing documentaries because there is a very different dynamic between the film and audience compared to traditional fiction-based films. But since there are definite qualities that make documentaries more (or less) enjoyable to watch I’m going to give it a try.

I think that I might have missed the point that the writers were trying to make with Not Quite Hollywood. Before last night, my thoughts on American movies from the late 60s through the early 80s could be summed up as: boobs, gore, and busted cars. After watching Not Quite Hollywood, my thoughts on Australian movies from the late 60s through the early 80s can now also be summed up as: boobs, gore, and busted cars. The only real differenceseems to be the accent.  The writers tried to make the argument that Australian films of the time were somehow ‘worse’ – more boobs, more gore, more busted cars. Maybe that’s true – but I wasn’t convinced. What really came across for me was a feeling that the people involved in Australian genre films had lost their audience at some point after the 80s, and wanted a way to get back in the spotlight. Maybe the film would have come across as less self-serving if it had been written by someone not obviously involved in the subject.

In any case, none of that changes the fact that this film is quite interesting. For me, the most surprising thing was just how closely American culture and counter-culture in the 60s and 70s were mirrored in Australia. Women’s liberation, the sexual revolution, anti-Vietnam protests, the abortion debate: they all feel like very North American subjects to me – obviously because that’s the angle that I learned about them from. Realizing that these issues were being dealt with in very similar ways in Australia (and probably other western countries) at the same time is fascinating. In hindsight it shouldn’t be surprising at all, but perspective  is everything; especially regarding the teaching of history. Placing films on the backdrop of the culture that produced them is eye-opening. It would have been nice to have had more actual comparison with American films though; at least to make the differences more obvious.

While the content of Not Quite Hollywood was definitely engaging, I did find that at certain points I was impatient for the film to move on. The section covering horror/gory films seemed particularly drawn out. It wasn’t a case of the gore being too much, but actually the opposite – eventually I was bored.

In some sense this film actually falls victim to the same issue that its subject matter was criticized for – it tried to be over-the-top, but instead was just too much. A re-edit to bring the film down to an hour and 30 minutes would make it much more accessible.


Burn After Reading

burn after readin-coverWhat Jesse said:

Hey Mike, have I mentioned before that Brad Pitt is dreamy? I watch all his movies because he’s dreamy. Oh, speaking of Brad Pitt being dreamy, there’s a movie you should see. It’s called Burn After Reading and Brad Pitt is adorable in it. He says funny things. So dreamy. Frances McDormand is pretty good in it too. And there are some other funny people who you’ll recognize.

Mike’s verdict:

When Jesse told me about Burn After Reading he only mentioned Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand by name. Somehow he managed to leave out that the film co-stars: George Clooneywho’s really goofy; John Malkovichwho’s quite good – obviously; Tilda Swintonwho’s fantastic; Richard Jenkinswho pretty much reprises his awkward character from The Visitor; and J.K. Simmons, who doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as he deserves. 

I actually had reservations about this one because it’s a comedy with so many big names. I like comedy, but I prefer clever funny rather than idiot funny. Too often, writers rely on funny people to make up for silly dialog and slapstick situations. Being a recommendation from Jesse, I knew it could really go either way.

In this case, it’s clear that the goal was to try for clever but I don’t think Burn After Reading quite hit the mark. It’s close. It’s definitely funny, but not always cleverly so. Much of the film was just too silly for the caliber of talent that is involved. Though J.K. Simmons really uses his minimal role to steal the show. His deadpan is great.

About halfway through I thought the best part of this movie would be Brad Pitt being punched in the face, but (without giving too much away) I was wrong.

Overall, I didn’t find this one exceptionally funny other than Simmons’ character,  but it was definitely amusing. It’s a good watch for a light evening when you’re not drunk enough to watch Jim Carrey but still don’t want to have to think too much either. Plus Stuart the comic shop owner has a decent cameo. It’s nice to see him get other work.


Take Shelter

What Jesse said:

Check out “Take Shelter“. Intense performances. The main character`s paranoia/fragile mental state really comes across. Great little film. Enjoy.

Mike’s verdict:

I mostly agree with Jesse – there are some very intense performances in Take Shelter. Unfortunately, I found the best parts rather spaced out with dull sections that just took too long. I’m sure the intention was to build intensity slowly, but in this case the slow pace lost momentum and had to start building all over again. If I feel the urge to see how much of a movie is left, I take it as a flag that things aren’t moving fast enough. I not only felt that urge with Take Shelter, but I actually checked three times – and there was still 40 minutes left at the point when I checked for the third time. I never found myself wanting to stop watching though, I just wanted the plot to move on.

One thing I really liked was that the characters mostly reacted realistically. Movies involving mental illness frequently rely on the ‘rational’ characters greatly over-reacting (or just over acting) as a means to advance the plot, but this movie managed to avoid that. I also really liked that Michael Shannon was able to portray an unraveling mind without letting that mind lose a sense of conscience. The tension between reality and delusion is all-encompassing, and you can see it pulling the character in all directions at once.

The only thing that really bothers me about this film is the last 30 seconds or so. The ending is a cop-out. Given the kind of audience that looks for this type of independent film, I don’t think it was necessary (or even warranted) to give it a Hollywood ending. Still, that is only the last 30 seconds.

Overall, Take Shelter is a decent movie that will keep you watching until the end – even if it does get a little slow at times.

7/10 (But let me redo the last 30 seconds and it could have an 8 instead.)

The Conjuring

What Jesse said:

Dude – watch The Conjuring. It’s scary. Like, totally scary.  I was really scared – but in a good way. It’s not lame like most movies that are supposed to be scary. You’ll be scared too. Seriously.

Mike’s verdict:

(This review is a lightly edited version of an email I sent to Jesse immediately after watching The Conjuring. That email was itself the main impetus for the creation of the mike reviews movies recommended by jesse blog.)

All that Blue’s Clues and Thomas the Tank Engine has made Jesse soft. The Conjuring was pretty decent as far as ghost movies go, but it wasn’t noticeably scarier than some others I’ve seen. Sort of reminded me of The Exorcism of Emily Rose (which I liked) but with annoying and unlikely secondary characters.

Part of the problem might be that I dislike movies where the ‘authorities’ have some kind of emotionally scarred history that they need to contend with – ie the chick ghostbuster seeing something scary at a previous exorcism. Really, she’s a bloody ghostbuster and she’s only seen something scary once? They could have at least made it that she had actually been possessed or something. The emotional block from the past is a cliched and far too easy way of pretending that characters have depth. It’s like the writers finish the movie and then realize that they haven’t explained what some character’s issue is; ‘well if we can’t work it into the movie proper then lets just throw it into the back story’. Lame.

Don’t even get me started on the cop that doesn’t believe in ghosts but is still more than happy to spend days and nights in the house anyway. And since when does the church refuse to help people just because they weren’t baptized? Oh wait, on second thought that actually makes sense…

I really didn’t like the museum of supernatural objects either. First, it’s clearly stolen from Warehouse 13. And second, it’s stupid – if you are a proper ghostbuster with a healthy respect for the supernatural objects that you are busting, you don’t store them down the hall from your daughter’s bedroom. At least in Warehouse 13 they have the sense to keep the objects buried in the mountains of South Dakota.

The movie definitely had some good creepiness though. Aside from the first bit about the doll where it looked like it was going to be a comedy, there were lots of scenes with creepy atmosphere. And they didn’t rely on the jump scare too much either. The very last scene looking at the mirror could have been an easy scare but they didn’t go for the cheap jump.

I give it a 7/10 since most of the issues are industry tropes that ‘real’ reviewers expect to see. It could have had an 8 but they chose to use an unattractive woman as the mother. That’s just lazy.