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By Nic Lindh | Saturday, 21 December 2013 | FacebookTwitter

Movie roundup, part 21

Nic watches movies. Some are good and some are terrible. Includes Star Trek: Into Darkness, Dredd, Oblivion, Django Unchained, Hungry for Change, Bullet to the Head, Hansel and Gretel, Act of Valor, The Queen of Versailles, Indie Game: The Movie, and The Other F Word.

[All movie titles link to Rotten Tomatoes, so you can see what the people who get paid to write about movies think.]

It’s been over a year since the last movie roundup, so this one is way overdue. Here we go:

Star Trek: Into Darkness ★★★★☆

After the previous installment of the series, which veered between greatness and awful cliché like a Disneyland ride, my hopes were low for this one.

And they were exceeded. Into Darkness, while certainly not Citizen Kane, is a fun movie that has a good time with a premise that successfully walks the line between homage to the original series and a new vision for the Star Trek universe.

There are certainly nits to be picked, especially some plot elements that are so signaled you think they must expect the audience to be functionally retarded, and a plot that runs way too long at over two hours, but the action is crisp, the acting very good for what it is—remember, we’re comparing with William Shatner, here—and some exquisite cinematography and CGI.

Into Darkness succeeds in being just plain a fun popcorn movie with some big explosions. Nothing wrong with that.

Dredd ★★★★☆

Dredd is very much a b-movie, but it’s a b-movie that embraces what it is, which makes it highly enjoyable. It also saves the Judge Dredd character from the stigma of the execrable ’95 Stallone movie.

Apart from Karl Urban doing a great job of being mono-syllabic and gravelly underneath his helmet, Lena Headey clearly has a lot of fun chewing up the scenery as the movie’s psycopathic villain and the plot, while surely not written by a MENSA member, does the job of creating plenty of popcorn suspense and over the top violence.

Long as you enjoy dystopian hyper violence, Dredd is a good time.

Oblivion ★☆☆☆☆

It’s rare for a movie to be so spectacularly mis-created it makes me angry, but this clunker managed.

Oblivion is a big-budget blockbuster movie starring Tom Cruise, except it actually isn’t a blockbuster. Allow me to explain. Note: I’m not going to get specific here—no spoilers. Oblivion is actually a paranoid and tense Philip K. Dick-type movie about the horror of waking up to the reality that everything you think you know is a lie.

Except it isn’t that either, since that core of an idea is still there, but drowned in a flood of blockbuster tropes and special effects ketchup that warps the movie into the unholy combination of a bad blockbuster and a bad art house movie at the same time.

It’s such a frustrating mess.

On the plus side, the cinematography and effects are gorgeous—it’s a beautiful thing to behold. But goddammit, Hollywood, this could have been so good and then you had to go and completely miscast Tom Cruise—breath-takingly wrong for the part—add frivolous subplots, and slather the whole thing with CGI.

So. Wrong.

If it was cut down to 60 minutes and expunged all the tent pole movie ballast it would be much better.

But it really should be redone from the ground up with a whole different cast and director. Because the concept deserves to be turned into something great.

Django Unchained ★★★☆☆

Well, that was uncomfortable.

Slavery is an utterly evil institution and against everything America is supposed to stand for, but it obviously happened, and watching Django Unchained you sure get your nose rubbed in it.

Which is not a bad thing. We should all be forced to face the utter horror of the slave farms of the South.

(As a sidenote, Django Unchained provides a good answer to the racist idiots who still pop up once in a while saying the Africans had it good in servitude since they had white people to take care of them. No, racist shitheads, they did not. Slavery is evil.)

But then you have the n-word. Boy howdy, there’s a lot of the n-word in this movie. More n-words than the entire oeuvre of Dave Chappelle it seems like.

The n-word spoken by white people bothers me. Nothing against the actors, obviously, and it seems pretty likely that was actually how white people spoke back then, but it’s viscerally unpleasant to listen to.

But what about the movie itself? As usual in a Tarantino movie, it has moments of absolute brilliance and complete crap, often in the same scene, but the biggest problem is that it just goes on for too long, with an entire third act that is unnecessary.

The basic idea is great, and it’s brought home by fantastic performances by the actors. Of course Christopher Waltz is spellbinding as a deranged bounty hunter and Don Johnson appears from nowhere as Big Daddy, a horrible, horrible human being who anchors the funniest scene in the movie where the Ku Klux Klan is reduced to its basic idiot backwoodness.

But yes, uncomfortable, for the reminder of the horrors of slavery, the mostly reprehensible characters, and the gory splatter violence.

You may be asking why the violence in Dredd is ok for Mr. Inconsistent, but the violence in Django Unchained is uncomfortable. It’s a matter of tone, really. Dredd is pure escapist fiction and the people hurt and killed are cartoons, while in Django Unchained we’re supposed to care about (some of) the victims, and Tarantino seems to just enjoy hurting them a bit too much.

Hungry for Change ★★★☆☆

Documentary about how modern life and especially the food-like products we consume are hurting us. Good and interesting, if a bit preachy.

Bullet to the Head ★★☆☆☆

I honestly can’t remember anything about this movie except it being a decent popcorn flick with an aging Sylvester Stallone and his protruding horror veins.

It’s the kind of movie where you spend more time thinking about what kind of drug cocktail you’d have to consume and what kind of diet and exercise regimen you’d have to endure to look like that at Stallone’s age.

Hansel and Gretel ★★☆☆☆

A very, very dumb movie, but you already knew that. The idea is that Hansel and Gretel from the fairy tale become professional witch hunters after their encounter with the witch in the candy house. Well, there have been worse ideas certainly. But there have been few worse executions.

The plot makes little sense whatsoever, including a lot of witches—the entire countryside was apparently crawling with them—who do kung-fu. In medieval Europe. Think about it. Or better, don’t.

This is the kind of movie that’s worth watching if it’s the only thing showing on an airplane. Otherwise, you can find something better to do with your time.

Apart from being so aggressively dumb, Hansel and Gretel also commits one of my favorite movie trope pet peeves, where a person—or witch, in this case—is beautiful (like Famke Janssen) but turns ugly when committing bad deeds. Why do they keep doing this? I know what the witch is doing is bad since I have a functioning frontal lobe and it’s more chilling when beautiful people do bad things. I don’t get it. Unless it’s some kind of plot from the makeup/special effects departments to get more work. In which case, good job.

Act of Valor ★★☆☆☆

Pretty much a recruitment movie for the Armed Forces. On plus side, real Navy SEALs portray the Navy SEALs; on the negative side, real Navy SEALs portray the Navy SEALs. This means the action sequences look very good, but they sure aren’t actors.

With absolutely no disrespect to the SEAL teams intended, Act of Valor is a hard movie to take seriously, both because of the terrible acting and that the non-combat scenes are essentially cut scenes in a first-person shooter, while the action scenes (many things blow up and many terrible villains meet their justified ends) look like the play sequences in that same first-person shooter. This was probably intentional since a lot of the time you view the action from behind a gun just like in a first-person shooter.

But then I’m not the testosterone-crazed teenager target audience for this movie.

The Queen of Versailles ★★★★☆

Surprisingly sympathetic documentary about the Siegels, a couple with a plan to build the largest private residence under one roof in America. The house will be built in Florida, naturally.

And then the crash of 2008 happens and they find themselves without money. It’s spellbinding to watch this couple—the aging time-share mogul and his much younger ex-model wife, sporting a pair of vulgar breast implants, navigate their new circumstances. Probably few things say more about the kind of people they are than that this largest private residence in America they are building is based not on the castle in Versailles, no no, but on the Las Vegas replica of that castle.

And yet, the filmmakers avoid the easy road and treat them as people instead of objects of contempt.

Well worth watching. And as a side note, it opened my eyes to just how insanely much money you can make from timeshares. Never buying into one of those.

Indie Game: The Movie ★★★★☆

Delightful documentary about the people who make independent video games. I’m personally not much of a gamer anymore, but it’s fascinating to see how much work and love they put into their art.

Indie Game is well worth watching not just for gamers but for anybody interested in people pursuing their passions.

The Other F Word ★★★★☆

Poignant documentary about how some of the leading lights of the L.A. punk scene, most of them the products of horrible childhoods and broken homes, deal with becoming fathers themselves.

Apart from the scars these men carry from their childhoods, they also have to balance a career dedicated to rage and non-conformity with taking responsibility for young lives. The Other F Word is a little bit distant and shallow, but there are some great moments. Worth watching.

« Book roundup, part 13

 »


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