Reviews of films I haven’t seen

January 11, 2011 at 2:39 pm (TV/movie review)

Here in Canberra, the ANU runs a brilliant film club. One of the cool things is that they release a book each semester filled with reviews. I helped them with reviews a little this year, but due to release dates there were two I had to – not to put too fine a point on it – make up. As is, perhaps, immediately obvious.

Gnomeo and Juliet

Okay. Try to stay calm. I know it’s hideously offensive that we’re now getting Shakespeare’s tragedies in animated comic form, but don’t worry – it’s really not anything to do with “Romeo and Juliet”. Sure, the tale involves two cute kids from feuding families, but other than the names, this is a completely original film. Oh, and as you’ve probably gathered from the posters, all the main characters are gnomes who only move when the humans aren’t watching. Mr Shakespeare didn’t come up with a great gimmick like that – more’s the pity.

It’s as funny as kids’ movies need to be to please the parents; Juliet gets a lot more action (not THAT kind you sickos); and the animation is what you’d expect from Touchstone. Gnomes are just like humans in terms of facial expressions, which is guaranteed to make a better film than trying to make cars or other objects interesting.

The voice cast is what you’d want in any film, which is to say James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Jason Statham, Patrick Stewart and. . . Ozzy Osbourne (why not?) Elton John features in the sound track, with at least one original song. He and Lady Gaga sing a duet, too.

Come and see it for your kids, for the music, for the over-the-top animated action scenes, and for the laughs.

And for once, you don’t know how it’ll end.

I Am Number Four

The hero here knows he’s probably going to be killed, and he has to live with a reasonably uncool nickname – but it could have been the movie I Am Number Two which would be worse. So that’s a relief.

Alex Pettyfer plays an alien, AKA our hero. His planet has been blown up by a bunch of tougher aliens, and only he and his eight co-survivors are left. Make that seven. No, six. No, five. Since the aliens are teenagers (like puberty wasn’t bad enough by itself), they pretend to be ordinary humans going to high school (where, as you know, all the most imaginative super powers are conceived). Unfortunately, the bad aliens have already messily disposed of numbers One, Two (another reason being named after a euphemism is a bad idea), and Three. For some wacky reason, Number Four thinks perhaps his life is in danger. It is.

The movie is based on a young adult novel of the same name, written by Pittacus Lore. It’s high-action, with cool alien super powers and a good-looking alien hero who runs around a lot. The visual and special effects are just as shiny and dark as one could hope for, and the baddies are properly bad.

If that’s not enough for you to come and see it, I don’t know what is.

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“Salt”, “The Other Guys”, and “Despicable Me”

November 8, 2010 at 10:12 am (TV/movie review)

I watched three movies in two days over the weekend, so here’s my thoughts (for what they’re worth*):


Spy thriller starring Angelina Jolie

The plot was a little sillier than I expected, even in a spy thriller. But I was still able to enjoy the movie, which had more to do with action and character than anything else (the character wasn’t super deep, but she didn’t need to be any deeper than she was). I was genuinely stressed, and I enjoyed the movie. The action scenes and various devices/disguises were completely unrealistic – but that is what I look for in the genre (see Exhibit A: every James Bond ever – action scenes are meant to be unusual, not lifelike). Bonus points for having a woman who actually removes her impractical shoes before running/jumping/climbing. Tom Cruise was originally meant to play the title character, and then it was rewritten for Jolie. Every so often I imagined Tom Cruise in it, and I was much happier with Jolie. She’s just so much cooler.

By far the least plausible part was the background plot of hundreds of kids brainwashed into becoming Russian sleeper agents who lived as average Americans for years or decades. As my friend pointed out, a Russian sleeper cell has just been found in America. Hmm. I forgive the brainwashing, too, because of what happened in the movie. Sorry, I can’t say any more than that or you’ll have to kill me. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Best line: Would you mind looking after my dog for a while (the hero is on the run and just escaped from the government by climbing out her window and along to the neighbour’s little girl – with her dog in her backpack)?

“The Other Guys”

Buddy cop comedy starring Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell.

The plot was completely rambling and stupid (although the stuff about financial scams in the credits was GREAT); the characters were ugly, charmless, and unfunny (which, to be fair, they were meant to be); and the effects were silly. The worst part was that it was sooooooo self-indulgent. Wahlburg and Ferrell clearly find each other hilarious, and so each scene just drags on and on as they wander past jokes and keep filming for the other two-thirds of the scene. A lot was improvised, and boy does it show. Rating: 0.5 out of 5. I didn’t pay for it, but I resent the time spent trapped in the hole that is this movie. The best part was that the Rock was in it – for two scenes.

Best line: “Aim for the bushes” (not, of course, said by either main character but by the two heroic cops who then jump off a twenty-storey building without any equipment whatsoever)

“Despicable Me”

Children’s comedy voiced by Steve Carell etc

This is about an evil genius who is getting outdone by younger (and infinitely more annoying) competition – so he decides to steal the moon, using a shrink ray. He adopts three extremely cute orphan girls in order to get into the (other) baddy’s fortress, and slowly finds he likes them. This was genuinely funny throughout, with exactly 2.5 sappy scenes (I was wary going in, and was pleasantly surprised). If someone told me it was produced by Pixar, I’d believe it. The humour was better suited to adults than the humour in “The Other Guys” – mostly because it wasn’t based on “Hey, look how unfunny we are! Funny, right?!?!” I was a little disturbed by how fat and ugly basically all the adult characters were drawn, but oh well. I left the movie happier than I went in. The characterisation is well done, and almsot all the character development is done with subtlety (with looks rather than long dull emotional conversations). The hundreds of mini-minions never stop being awesome. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

One of the best lines (many of the best are visual): I meant to close that. (As they test an anti-gravity gun and a minion drifts, meeping in disress, out of the open skylight.)

*This blog is, of course, free

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Scott Pilgrim Versus the World

October 23, 2010 at 9:20 am (TV/movie review)

There are two possible reactions to this film:

1. Meh.

2. Rabid enthusiasm.

I am a nerd and all my friends are nerds and/or geeks. This film is for geeks, and it is only for geeks. I sat between CJ and my friend Ann (who is on the outer fringes of the geekhood realms of computer stuff, iphone stuff, and is well inside the geekhood of a handful of classic crime novelists).

I am mainly a fantasy geek and a writing-in-general geek. I can pass as a steampunk or medievalist geek. I get on well with music geeks (I can at least admire them) and computer geeks (there always seem to be a few around).

CJ is a video game geek, a graphic novel geek, a computer geek (his mildest area of geekhood – he’s competent rather than truly geeky – and he doesn’t actually love computers), a fantasy geek, an anime geek, and a little bit of a music geek. He plays bass.

Ann thought the film was a mix of brilliant and deadly dull. Her personal geekhood quotient: 40%

I thought the film was brilliant in all but one scene (he sings the girl a song – not very well. It’s not funny enough or musical enough to suit the rest of the film). A few bits were boring to me personally, but most of it was – like I said, brilliant. My personal geekhood quotient: 80%. Also, there are a lot of extremely funny lines coupled with perfect acting. At one stage, the main character is asked a question about “her” which he needs to dodge. In his head, a pointer swings between “who her?” and “I need to pee” and he blurts out, “I need to pee on her.”

CJ was flying high from the first frame, and he didn’t touch the ground until the next morning. His personal geekhood quotient: Freakin’ all of it.

Scott Pilgrim is a music geek, a video games geek, and definitely a graphic novel/surreal fantasy geek. If you get comics (ideally), video games, or fantasy in general (particularly on a metaphorical level – which is where it REALLY got me) you will get this film (I devour “Fables” and “Girl Genius” and any comic associated with Joss Whedon, but no others, and I always struggle a little bit with the genre’s rhythms, which is precisely my experience in this film).

This IS a brilliant film. It’s brilliant like durian* is brilliant – it’s difficult in a lot of ways, but those who love it and those who hate it both know there is nothing else in the world that is even similar to the experience of eating it.**

I recommend it for anyone who can hold their own with either graphic novel geeks, fantasy geeks, surrealist geeks, music geeks, or video game geeks. I fit only 1.5 of those areas, and I loved it.

*Also called “thorny fruit”. It smells so bad that some countries have made it illegal in some public places. It is so thorny that you need either the stalk or a bag of some kind to pick it up.

**Don’t eat Michael Cera. There are laws about that sort of thing.

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Where the Wild Things Are

March 24, 2010 at 11:45 am (TV/movie review)

I love the book. Very much.

The movie was brilliantly acted by the child lead – he actually outshone the adults (human or otherwise) and was perfect in every frame. It was also visually beautiful, and the suits for the wild things were amazing and unique.

I hated this movie with a fiery passion. In fact, I went all gooshy when my husband turned to me and said, “Let’s never ever watch that again.”

I know people who love the movie, and it’s certainly not like anything else ever made. But I wouldn’t show it to children. “Some scary scenes” just doesn’t describe it.

Apart from having almost no plot at all, this movie is incredibly disturbing. The basic plot is that a child is unhappy and goes on an imaginative journey, then decides that reality is okay after all.

Leaving aside the depressing reality of how legitimately lonely the child is (remember high school?), the imaginative adventure consists entirely of meeting with large creatures that all represent parts of the child’s very, VERY fractured psyche. One is simply ignored – all the time. Another is an emotionally manipulative mum-like figure who may leave at any time but can’t articulate why. Another gets its arm ripped off. Yet another is deeply depressed. Several mouth adult phrases about being considerate to others, which are incredibly creepy in that context. The one most like the child constantly erupts in inexplicable and destructive fits of rage.

The child attempts to make a functional family, and eventually realises that all they really want is someone new to eat.

Childhood is a frightening, lonely, unstable, angry time. This movie reminded me of that. I hope that someday I’ll be able to forget.

In other news, I wrote a post today on about how to have a totally free wedding. And my program of daily awesomeness begins over there at twittertales tomorrow (after I post the complete story of “Dr Yes”, since it also ends tomorrow).

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“Avatar” Review

January 20, 2010 at 9:54 am (TV/movie review)

It’s like how everyone else is saying: the plot ain’t new, and it ain’t much, and the film should probably be shorter – but it’s sooooo pretty you just don’t care.

Personally I’m not big on special effects. I really like good writing. So I went in with very low expectations. And it was so pretty I loved it. There were even some neat things done with the writing – good characterisation (not super subtle, but it was enough for me to care about those I was meant to care about), and I really liked the way several of the minor characters evolved during the film. The pace is a little slower than we’re used to from American films (not that it was actually slow), but it suited the film.

But mostly, it was SO pretty. The 3D effects made everything more real and more beautiful. I didn’t believe pretty things could keep me entertained for three hours, but it turns out they can. And I liked the acting and characterisation of the hero.

I honestly do recommend seeing it.

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Happy Potter 6 review

July 30, 2009 at 11:38 pm (TV/movie review)

Funny (even more than the rest). Pretty (the castle). Sad. Scary.

In that order.

I REALLY liked what they did with Malfoy. He became a 3D character for the first time.

The acting is a bit sketchy at times, but Daniel Radcliffe deserves his pay (which is saying a LOT).

Slightly too long – but not to the same extent as the book.

You know you’re gonna see it anyway, so just go.

Summing-up-most-of-the-movie quote:

“These girls are gonna kill me” -Ron.

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United States of Tara: review

July 30, 2009 at 2:38 am (TV/movie review)

United States of Tara is a comedy drama about a family dealing with the fact that the mum (Tara) has multiple personality disorder (it has a completely different name now, but I just can’t remember it).

Yes, it’s a real illness. It just SEEMS made up.

In the first episode, two of Tara’s other personalities emerge – “T” who is incredibly skanky (and her daughter’s best friend) and “Buck” who is a redneck male and utterly selfish (or is he?)

All of Tara’s personalities are played by Toni Colette. Every bit of acting is brilliant from beginning to end (not just Toni – but it can’t be easy to play so many people who are all fully realised characters inhabiting one mind).

The first scene both impressed and scared me – Tara is making a video diary, and from the first second she looks like someone struggling with a mental illness (which makes me cringe because I am one). The show is incredibly tragic – can you imagine having such little control over your own actions? – but also utterly hilarious. The last two lines are:

Tara’s daughter: Buck’s left handed, even though none of the others are. Isn’t that strange?

Tara’s husband: Yep. That is the one strange thing.


The two things that blew me away about this show:

-Tara’s multiple personalities make her own character deeper. The weirder they are, the more we relate to the “real” Tara.

-The family dpes actually function – they’re used to all the Taras, and they love all of them (for different reasons – they even have a special boys’ activity for when Buck shows up). So there’s an infusion of hope that lifts this above almost every comedy (especially those set in families) ever written.

It’s on ABC at 9:30 (definitely not for kids) on Wednesdays.

Watch it if you like laughter, hope, or gaining an understanding of mental illness. It is VERY funny – the funniest show on TV, I think.

PS I reported on today’s classroom adventure in my other blog,

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