The Monuments Men (2014) dir: George Clooney

Well I wasn’t expecting Ocean’s Eleven meets the Dirty Dozen, but I was expecting to be entertained. With such star wattage on the screen (Blanchett, Bonneville, Clooney, Damon, Dujardin, Goodman, Murray) and having such a talented guy in George Clooney behind the camera and a crack writer/producer team (including Grant Heslov – look him up!) – what the hell went wrong?

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It’s 1944 and the Nazi’s are looting Europe’s finest artwork, so Frank Stokes (Clooney) assembles a team of crack art experts to go to war torn Europe to try and rescue mankind’s heritage. Unfortunately as well as the Nazi’s these guys (based on real people who risked their lives to do this) also have to face limp dialogue, zip chemistry, lack of tension, and a death scene that looked like it came out of a 3rd rate school play.

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The whole thing was just….well flat. All that effort to re-create the backdrop of WWII totally wasted.

I was so disappointed!!

Kick-Ass 2 (2013) dir: Jeff Wadlow

I loved Kick-Ass (see my original Kick-Ass write up!) and thought it truly great.

Or to put it in perspective: my wife hates comic book movies.  Her verdicts:

The Dark Knight: “Boring.” She’s watched it three times, but only the first 10 minutes on each occasion.

Watchman: “Fuck off.  It’s a little boys film.”

Spider-man 2:  Fell asleep. I remember this was on my birthday – a day when I can choose to do anything (it’s my BIRTHDAY for CHRISSAKE!) We went to see it after 3 hours of arguing about my choice.

Avengers Assemble? Don’t even go there…she’d been ruined by the first two Hulk movies.

And she is not at all keen on extreme movie violence either.

Double whammy.  So I dragged her kicking and screaming to see the original Kick-Ass . At the end of the movie, as the credits rolled, she turned to me and said: “I’d see that again”.

And we have. Loads! So she was dead keen to see the sequel as well! Hurrah!

I know Kick-Ass 2 has had some shoddy reviews but that doesn’t always reflect the enjoyment that you can get from watching a movie. So…

Dave (Kick-Ass) and Mindy (Hit-Girl) are now at high school, Chris (Red-Mist) wants revenge on Kick-Ass for the death of his Dad in Kick-Ass the Original and to become the worlds first super-villain. Dave wants to train to be a real superhero, Mindy decides to quit as Hit-Girl and to become accepted amongst her bitchy high school peers, so Dave/Kick-Ass teams up with some other superheroes.

It all goes pear-shaped. As does the film.

First 30 minutes in and I’m wondering… what the fuck has happened? Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Chloë Grace Moretz. Christopher Mintz-Plasse. All great actors. But they’re delivering lines flat and gurning away in their close-ups – they’re just…bad. Did the director not turn up, just go home early or what? I found it painful to watch.  Thank heavens for John Leguizamo and Morris Chestnut in their roles.

Then Colonel Star & Stripes (Jim Carey) arrives. We start to get a few good lines, however now we’re getting some odd edits and the fight scenes are choppy.  But at least the movie is finally becoming entertaining – super villain side-kick Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina) makes use of a lawnmower in a pretty novel way – and the story is picking up… and it stays “entertaining” all the way to the end.

Hell there is even a particularly nice action sequence with Hit Girl atop a moving  van as she’s being shot at.  She clambers all over it as it speeds along (what looks like very British countryside) and takes out the bad guys – knocking them under and over the other traffic . Unfortunately it didn’t half remind me of the good (or bad) days of the Sir Roger Moore James Bond movies:  great action, brilliant stunt work, nice humour, cut to actor – shit fake background – sequence ruined.

And I think that is the problem. It’s a fake Kick-Ass movie. Pretending to be Kick-Ass the Original. Photocopying all that was great about the Kick-Ass the Original but really only a faded and skewiff two dimensional Xerox.

So ultimately “entertaining” but a major disappointment.  My wife agrees.

I wonder if they’ll let me direct Kick-Ass 3?

Only God Forgives (2013) dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

I was curious about this as in the UK ‘Only God Forgives’ has had some tremendous reviews, but at the Cannes Film Festival a large chunk of the audience booed or walked out.  Where would I sit?

I think anywhere but in the cinema I saw it.  It’s a baffling revenge thriller with loads of corridors, nasty violence and unpleasant characters.

And a lot of karaoke.

A long way from home (2013) dir: Virginia Gilbert

A bit of a curiosity for me is this UK/French co-production, as there were things I liked about this film and stuff that really annoyed.

Based on a short story by the writer/director Virgina Gilbert the film tells the story of a retired couple  in their late 60s early 70s, Joseph and Brenda (James Fox and Brenda Fricker), who now spend their empty days in a monotonous routine in the South of France. When they meet a young couple on holiday (Natalie Dormer and Paul Nicholls), Joseph finds himself irresistibly drawn to the woman – the beautiful Suzanne.

So the annoying stuff first:  story? Ahh, it just didn’t really feel meaty enough, the frailty of growing old is touched upon then forgotten and the whole endeavour wasn’t helped by the use of a lot of cutaways (shots of stuff edited in between scenes) and long starts to scenes (often using lengthy pans before the ‘action’ began). For me some of these really jarred and it just felt like they were being used to pad out the film’s 80 odd minute running time. Basically the film could have been a great short film – but then that would have made it a bit of an expensive undertaking.

I’m pretty rock solid when it comes to paying attention in films and suddenly the story picked up dreamatically (and I mean dreamatically):  Joseph lies to his wife, Brenda, about a day trip he is undertaking when in fact he is secretly meeting up with Suzanne. He takes her and her boyfriend, Mark,  to a vineyard just so Joseph can be with her, and there’s a definite sexual frisson happening when they’re together. After the day out Mark wants to thank Joseph by taking him and Brenda  out to dinner.  Joseph makes some excuses. Fails to put Mark off. Oh fuck. How’s Joseph going to handle this? Brenda’s shown a sign of Alzheimers, maybe (we never know), perhaps he’ll use that to make his lie work? Now things are beginning to motor. We’re going some where.

Next scene Joesph’s with Brenda and I discover that I must have misheard the whole thing,  as Brenda clearly knows about this day out – it wasn’t a secret tryst  at all. No lies.  No deceit. No tension.  It was all wishful thinking on my part. Crap.

Sorry but it would have been better if Joseph had lied to his wife about this!

And what the fuck was the old man at the game of Boules about? Please tell me!

And it has a poor use of music…..I’m making the film sound terrible it is not, just really annoying in parts… it could have been…. so…

Stuff I really liked and which make the film worth a look: James Fox and Brenda Fricker. In particular Brenda Fricker who delivers a masterclass in how a look can convey a thousand words. These two fabulous actors raise the film above it’s source material and imbue their characters with real humanity.  They live the dream but the dream is empty.

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) dir: John Moore

A friend worked on this movie. He overheard this conversation between the Producer and the Studio:

Producer : Yeah we’re making this action movie with Jai Courtney. It’s got huge explosions, and you wouldn’t believe the amount of cars we destroy. It’s cool. Really cool. The director’s really great at blowing shit up! Looks fabulous.

Studio: (a long pause) ……Jai who?

Producer: Er…Jai Courtney a great Australian actor!

Studio:  We’re talking about the same movie right?

Producer:  Er…

Studio: The movie we’ve given you 150…million…dollars…for… to shoot in Eastern Europe?

Producer:  Er…

Studio: I think we have a problem.

Producer: (thinking on his feet)  Trust me – it’s GRrrrrreat!…. But I can see where you’re going with this.  Tell ya what….give me another $25 miilion and I’ll ask Bruce to come on over. It’ll be a blast.

Studio:  Bruce Willis? Hmmm…Tricky…Very tricky.

Producer: Look we’ll change the title of the movie! Make it .. ‘Eat shit and Die Hard’ or something.

Studio: Hmm. Die Hard 5. I like it. I like it alot.  But…..What about the script?  You’ve shot most of the movie already!!!

Producer: No problemo! Bruce is GREAT. He’ll make up some shit on the spot.  No one will know the difference. Audiences today are stupid 5 year olds. They don’t care about stuff like that. Blow shit up! Flip cars! Michael Bay does it all the time and  look at the huge amount of money he makes.

Studio: You have a point there.

Producer: My mate Geoff is here. He’s bald. I can drop him into all the 2nd unit shots we’re going to do in Moscow until  Brucey boy arrives.  Anything else we’ll just stick Brucey in front of a green screen and have him stare or smirk.  Then cut him into the action. He doesn’t even have to get off his own couch.

Studio: What about the villain? Die Hard movies have to have a great villain.

Producer: Way ahead of you there. After all, what do you pay me for? We’ve shot stuff with one villain but I’ll get another. Two for the price of one. And we”ll use them less, but make ’em speak Russian – they’ll appear serious and scary and intelligent and… and… and… Anyway all that good actory stuff.  All at the same time.  But we’ll give them less screen time. …Less is more. What do you say? It’ll be GRrrrrrreat!  Humungous box office moola!

Studio: You know I think this might work.

Producer:  Here’s my bank account details.

The Sessions (2012) dir: Ben Lewin

This film is based on the true story of Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), a 36 year old poet who has been paralysed from the neck down since the age of 6 and has never had any sexual experience – ever, and spends most of his life in an iron lung. With the support of his priest (William H. Macy) he decides to see a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt, in a truly committed performance).

It doesn’t sound particularly cheery and to tell the truth, I probably wouldn’t have gone to see it if it hadn’t been for my wife. I thought it was probably some biopic of a rock band I’d never heard of.

So let me tell you that the film was full of humour, hope and love, and is extremely frank with the subject matter. I was captivated for an hour and a half.

Ok.

I was moved.

Excellently performed by all the cast, especially Helen Hunt, and unobstrusivley directed by Ben Lewin – the last film he did was 18 years ago  – ‘Paperback Romance’ – nope I’d not heard of it either – he definitely needs to be making more films.  In one scene, my wife almost broke my arm she grabbed it so hard:  It’s the middle of the night. Mark is lying in his iron lung. He’s alone, thinking. We’re listening to the sound of the equipment burbling away. The lights go out and the lung stops…

The film’s main source is Mark’s essay ‘On seeing a sex surrogate‘ written in 1990, and a short documentary called ‘Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien’ won an Academy Award in 1997.

The Last Stand (2013) dir: Jee-woon Kim

Ok, this is Arnie’s new film and for any of you asking – is this really a small indie movie? – I’m going to mention it  because:

1. I really liked the director’s other films that I’ve seen, especially his asian western ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Weird’ (which is really worth trying to get hold of – I can still remember the opening scene which starts high up in the sky and tracks a bird down towards, and into, a moving locomotive)

2. It is an Independent movie

3. It’s very enjoyable (in a fast food kind of way)

4. It seems to have been unfairly maligned

Often in this genre there are idiotic plot points and characters doing stupid things to drive the story forward or to justify an action sequence. Suprisingly I found characters doing fairly credible things (for a movie),  and the plotting was actually pretty intelligent and full of little surprises.

The basic premise: bad guy escapes from the FBI in Los Angeles,  drives off in a super fast car (that even the FBI helicopters can’t keep up with),  has his gang clear the route of FBI and SWAT teams – leaving only Arnie’s sherrif,  ‘Ray’, and his deputies to stop said bad guy at the border to Mexico.

The escape is very neat, and the action is all nicely staged (stunts seemed old school rather than CGI) though I would like to have seen more of the director’s trademark visual flair come through – it was definitely muted – I think this was probably due to the constraints of a US film production.

The film is peppered with gallows humour (though the odd Arnie one liner was a bit groan inducing), and it has a certain joie de vivre.

If you are an action fan or an Arnie fan, pre-Eraser,  there is much to enjoy here!