January 27, 2011


It has been some time since I last saw the original, 1980’s Tron and it seems a strange film to have a sequel to some 20 years later. It does have a cult following, and has influenced a fair few people, but it has nothing anywhere near the name recognition of, say, Indiana Jones. That said, and my less than fantastic experience at the cinema itself aside, I found I actually enjoyed Tron Legacy. It has its problems, yes, but not CGI-gopher problems.

Legacy opens with the night that Jeff Bridges’ computer genius Kevin Flynn disappears, leaving his young son Sam orphaned and in charge of the company. For most of the scene we don’t see Jeff Bridges’ face and then, as he is leaving, he turns to Sam and BAM! Unsettling young Jeff Bridges face! Yes, it looks somewhat better than what was done for Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, but there’s still something disconcertingly unreal about it. That plastic unreality only serves to jar you out of the scene. And I’ll come back to that…

Of course, Sam Flynn grows up to be something of a computer genius rebel, with little interest in running his dad's company. Garrett Hedlund is fine, if not a stand-out in the role. But really, these first minutes are all guff in service of getting Sam to his dad's old workshop and, from there, zapped into the Grid (and where the film switches to 3D). From there he's picked up and tossed into the Games. It's kind of nice to see that even digital dictators will control/distract the populace with the old "bread and circuses". The scenes played out in the Games are some of the best in the film - there's a sense of danger and excitement as Sam gets his head around the rules of this world. And, of course, light-cycles*. 

It's here that we are introduced to Clu - the younger, eviller Kevin Flynn; the Program who would rule the digital world. That creepy weird unrealness about the younger "real world" Kevin Flynn? It kinda works for Clu: he is a digital creation and the unreality serves the character; like a weird scar on a Bond villain.

Once Sam escapes Clu and his Games though - with the help of Olivia Wilde's wonderful Quorra - the plot becomes needlessly complicated. Not complex, just complicated. And really very Serious. Once Sam finds Flynn the Older - now a zen calm digital Dude - we start to tackle betrayal, genocide... heck you could even talk about a whole Paradise lost situation. And this is all back story exposition. Dark stuff for a hopeful Disney franchise starter.

That aside though, Jeff Bridges seems to be having a ball of a time returning to the character of Kevin Flynn (and villain Clu). Flynn is like a heightened version of Bill Gates - he's a visionary computer programmer but advanced to comic-book levels of realism. Olivia Wilde is understadely great as the lone-survivor Quorra, with gradients of steely determination and wide-eyed naivete coming through. And Michael Sheen, as an Aladdin Sane-era David Bowie bar owner almost upends proceedings with an entirely unhinged performance. 

Things do slow down considerably and the plot begins to make very little sense (but, hey, whatever. I've certainly seen worse in big event films) but it does always look and sound very pretty. It is also more fun than I was expecting. 

Oh, but is anyone else a little confused as to why it’s called Tron? As wasn't the protagonist in the first one Kevin Flynn? And the character of Tron barely makes an appearance in Legacy.

*It's interesting reflecting on this part now, as it shows an entirely different direction the film could have taken. In the light-cycle sequence, Sam is part of a team and easily takes the lead, helping out the Programs on his team to defeat the bad guys. It's easy to imagine in a different draft how this would have been a sign of Sam possibly leading a Program Resistance movement against Clu. This is me just spit-balling of course. 

January 26, 2011


Florian Henckel von Donnersmark's follow-up to his incredibly well received The Lives of Others has come in for a fair amount of critical flak (just see Ricky Gervais' opening monologue from the Golden Globes). It's an interesting choice of film for the director: from a sombre, Academy Award winning film set in Communist East Berlin to a Hollywood produced Venice set caper starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. And while it may not be entirely successful, it's nowhere near as bad as everyone seems to be making out.

Johnny Depp is hapless math professor Frank; he's the kind of man who enjoys a good ole' trashy airport thriller novel and who is looking for an escape from his ordinary life. Angelina Jolie is Elise, the beautiful, glamorous woman who saunters into his train carriage and offers him adventure. She's under constant surveillance by Her Majesty's Bobbies in the Financial Crimes Division - her boyfriend is Alexander Pearce, a notorious criminal in hiding (he nicked a stack of cash from a gangster - but he's only being chased for non-payment of tax). She has to make the coppers believe Mr. Depp is, in fact, said crim. Which is all complicated by her growing attraction to him and the arrival in Venice of the gangster what Pearce nicked the dosh from.

The film so wants to be like a fun, breezy Hollywood caper film of the old-school; like something that may have once starred Cary Grant. That seems to be the general vibe everyone is going for, albeit with Depp as more of an "every-man" character than Grant usually played. But there's the rub: Johnny Depp is an actor who has made a career of playing the odd-ball and it's somewhat strange to try and buy him as anything but. I guess, here, he is the down-to-earth-oddball? Not really one, not really the other. Which kind of sums the movie up, really (not necessarily a bad thing).

Ultimately, I don't know that I've got all that much to say about The Tourist. There's some pretty people, some pretty locales with some nice set-pieces and that's really about it. The film isn't trying to be anything more or less than that, but I don't know that it fully succeeds with it's sense of fun. Sure, it is actually a bit of fun, especially if you enjoy watching Depp and Jolie, but I don't think it is as light, as effortless or as joyous as it really could have been. 

January 24, 2011


This guy would like some change
If you're a regular reader of blog-thingy here, you might be noticing a few changes (and if you're here for the first time, Hello! Make yourself comfy, I'll get the kettle on). Please... don't panic. This is a change for the better. A drastic change? Mmm... perhaps. And yes, the name of the blog has currently changed. This may or may not stay.

I'm trying new things, new layouts, new titles, new ways of making this blog o' mine the best I can make it. So the changes haven't stopped. Expect more. More change, more articles, more contributors, more AWESOME. 

All systems are GO!

January 23, 2011


The debut feature film from J Blakeson, this British thriller is a fairly solid film, packed with twists, turns and character reveals and reversals. It's not as smart as it thinks it is, but it is certainly better than a lot of what passes for a thriller film nowadays (I'm looking at you M. Night).

It's an impressive debut, and Blakeson begins things pretty boldly: the first 15 minutes has absolutely no dialogue as the two kidnappers prepare a non-descript English flat for their abductee. It's a bold stylistic choice (perhaps not as out-there bold as Buried's start on absolute black) and we can see from the get-go that these two have planned this whole thing out, that they're two criminals used to working together. It's bold and stylish, but also (and more importantly) it helps to inform the characters and the situation. But as the film progresses no-one is as in control as they think.

Although on-the-rise young British actress (and former Bond girl) Gemma Arterton plays the titular character, she does not overly dominate proceedings. She may be the biggest name in the cast and get the biggest dramatic stuff (she is abducted and humiliated after all), but this is a solidly well-played three-hander of a film. Martin Compston is the junior partner of the kidnapping duo and he's a weasley wee bastard; you can see his switch in allegiances in his eyes. Eddie Marsan is the senior partner and he's the planner; the boss. He's a man of violence, but with a softer side. Marsan is one of those actors that just brings something to his performances: he was great in the small role of Inspector Lestrad in Sherlock Holmes and it's great to see him here, doing something completely different. 

And after Anne Hathaway's performance in Love & Other Drugs, it's great to see another brave performance from a young actress. And, no, not in a dirty pervy they-get-nekkid kinda way. No, brave not just in terms of physical nudity but of being stripped down emotionally; in the case of Gemma Arterton somewhat brutally so. She is thrown, literally, into an awful, frightening situation; one that humiliates and demeans her and that she may very well not live through but one in which she will fight, if she can. It's sad that there aren't more great roles for actresses out there: too often they're merely the love interest, or the side-kick or the damsel in distress. I belive it's getting better, but there's a long way to go yet.

Twist upon twist, and character shift upon character shift, is piled on and you can become dizzy from the revelations and shifting allegiances. This is a smart, involving and solid wee film anchored by three pitch-perfect performances (say that 10 times really fast) and while the film isn't as smart as I believe it wants to be, it is certainly a better than average thriller that will have you engaged and wishing we could have more intelligent films like this, and more excellent roles for great actresses. And I think Blakeson's next could be even better.

January 19, 2011


98% more boat than other posters!
Or, to give it it's full title: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (TCoN: TVofDT). Now, before I get to talking about the third film in this (somewhat) struggling fantasy franchise a quick word on the preceeding works: I haven't seen the second film, Prince Caspian, and I thought The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was downright rubbish. I haven't read any of the books past The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. So any preconceptions I may have had about the franchise were set relatively low. Having said that, this is the only post-Potter young-adult fantasy franchise to actually be a franchise; all the other attempts have stalled out after the first film. Not so with C. S. Lewis' Christian allegory. Make of that what you will.

Things begin in war-time London (again), with Edmund (Skandar Keynes) attempting to volunteer in Her Majesty's army. He is, of course, a bit young (not that that stopped many) and is turned away (despite being a Narnian King and all that). He and his sister Lucy (Georgie Henley) are currently being forced to stay with their fastidious cousin, Eustace Scrubb (the very welcome Will Poulter, from the delightful Son of Rambow) while their two older siblings Peter and Susan swan about in the States. Just as Edmund and Lucy are wishing for an escape from their intolerable circumstances, all three of the kids are literally swept up in a new Narnian adventure with King Caspian and mouse swordsman Reepicheep. Fantasy type guff ensues.

Well, that's a bit of an unfair assessment: the eponymous ship and her crew engage in some Odyssean style adventures, but it's really all a little confused. I think the quest begins with Caspian looking for some lost Lords who supported his father against his evil Uncle. But at the first stop they encounter slavers and spooky weird green mist and so the quest comes to include hunting down the slavers and freeing their captives. But continuing on the sea-faring adventures run into some sort of wizardy type who explains that the green mist is, in fact, coming from the source of all Evil. So now they're searching for the missing Lords, the slavers and Evil: the Lords took upon themselves to destroy the Evil Source, the slavers are working for Evil (somehow) and Evil is, well, evil. It's a quest that just keeps getting bigger! Oh, and Eustace turns into a dragon. Which is a damned shame as Will Poulter is sorely missed.

New DGA President Michael Apted is an interesting choice to direct a kid's fantasy film; his previous work includes the 7 Up documentary series, Gorillas in the Mist and The World Is Not Enough, which is perhaps the closest he's previously come to helming a fantasy picture. Mind you, Alfonso Cuaron was a bit of a wild pick and Prisoner of Azkaban is one of the better Potter films. Apted has screenwriter Christopher Markus back from the previous Narnia films, but he's really lucky to be blessed with the best actor from the original quartet, Georgie Henley, and the outstanding Will Poulter. Henley, despite being 5 years older and in the midst of her teens, manages to still convey that absolute sense of wonder whenever something magical happens. Eustace is the total opposite to Lucy, stomping about the Dawn Treader refusing to believe any of it is real. It is a character that very easily could have received no audience sympathy (see Edmund in the first film), but Poulter is just a joyous performer to watch with excellent comic timing, especially as most of scenes call for him to interact with a CGI mouse.

Aside from the story and pacing issues, my biggest struggle was with the film's underlying themes. Not just the Christian allegory (which is made pretty explicit at the end), but also the monarchistic militarism. Just something about the whole blanket acceptance of these kids as almost holy royalty... it just doesn't chime with me and my worldview. But the stories are also remnants of their time: London was being blitzed and England was sending her young men off to war and the Commonwealth hadn't yet disintegrated.

All that aside, Voyage of the Dawn Treader is an enjoyable enough fantasy film, with plenty of visual thrills: the art design is beautiful and the visual effects commendable. It's more than a step up from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but no matter how good any of these sequels are, none of them can beat that indelible image of Lucy, standing beneath a lantern staring in childlike wonder at the newly discovered Narnia. 

January 18, 2011


There are two reasons Ed Zwick’s comedy/drama works as well as it does, and they may not be the reasons you’re thinking of. It works purely because of Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway; they are both charming and charismatic performers and have great chemistry together (the three “chs” of a successful onscreen couple). It's because of them and their connection that helps you understand why these two people fall in love.

Gyllenhaal is intelligent, but aimless, lothario Jamie who jumps from job to job and bed to bed. The majority of the first act is taken up with him, until he takes a job as a pharmaceutical rep and happens upon Hathaway’s whip-smart, Parkinson afflicted artist Maggie. They fall into bed (or, more accurately, Maggie's kitchen-floor) and then, as you could probably guess, love.

I can't help but feel a little sorry for Gyllenhaal. He's a fine actor, one of the best young actors around (and is effortlessly great in this), but when he's not in absolute shit like Prince of Persia, he's being outshone by his co-stars: Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain and here by Anne Hathaway. Hathaway really makes the most of the role, without overplaying it or the disease that so defines her life. This is a real, honest performance from a hard-working young actress: not something you generally find in a studio rom-com these days. And yes, she does get naked. A lot. There is plenty of Hathaway topless (and Gyllenhaal's arse) in the early, frenzied stages of their relationship but this is merely in service to the honesty of her character and the relationship. There are no L-shaped bedsheets here and it's not showy nudity (see Halle Berry in Swordfish. Or, rather, don't). It's downright cheesy of me to say, but over the course of the film they both become more emotionally naked than they do physically.

This central relationship, from it's early stages through to the second act and then to it's destruction as Maggie's Parkinsons takes its toll, feels unnaturally real. It's a shame that Zwick didn't succeed as well with the rest of the film. Proceedings take a noticeable dip about midway through, and while they recover, the end doesn't match up to the firecracker of a start. Zwick starts to rely on cliche too much (even including a last minute dash!) - thankfully it's not enough to undo the previous good work. The character of Jake's younger brother Josh (Josh Gad) is somewhat unbalancing: the character feels like it was added as there has to be a gross-out best friend/brother character in romantic comedies these days. Thankfully we also have Oliver Platt (as Jake's pharmaceutical rep mentor) and Hank Azaria (the doctor Jakes gets in good with).

Love & Other Drugs is very, very good. It's not a great film, but you won't be disappointed by the lead performances.


Well it took me until half way through January, but I have now posted my write-up of Let Me In and so have finished with 2010. After spending a few weeks looking back over the year thinking about what I’ve seen at the movies and the experiences I’ve had I’m looking forward to, well, looking forward. Not only are there a stack of films I can’t wait to see this year but I also want to do and try new things. I'm calling 2011 my year of "Yeah, I'll Give It A Shot".

I’ve already got to 5 films this year and am working on my write-ups now. It feels good to be past all my 2010 stuff and back to working out my thoughts and feelings on new movies. I’ll also be putting up my most anticipated films of 2011 and should be finishing off a new “In Appreciation Of…” soon.

I’ve got a few things I’d like to work on and accomplish this year; this blog of mine is just one of them (more on that later). So look for some tweaks and updates coming soon(ish) and I’d just like to say: thanks for reading. I hope you’ve been enjoying Rockets & Robots these past few months and continue to do so.

January 16, 2011

30.12: LET ME IN

Trading in a rare sunny day in Wellington for the cool darkness of the cinema and the snowy desolation of Los Alamos, New Mexico I check out Matt “Cloverfield” Reeve’s remake of the Swedish vampire classic Let the Right One In.

I’ll give my overall verdict up front: it’s not as good as the original. But, it’s also better than an American remake (especially of a vampire film) has any right to be. Some of this is down to the wonderful performances by Kodi Smit-McPhee (as the loner Owen) and Chloe Moretz (as the young vampire Abby), but a lot of it is down to Matt Reeves and the choices he makes.

Beyond some fairly basic comparisons, I’ll try and not get too involved in resemblances between the two films: it has been a while since I saw Let the Right One In and Let Me In can be judged as its own beast. The most jarring difference is Reeves’ use of CGI over more practical effects work. This becomes most noticeable when it augments Abby’s ferocious feeding attacks; the CG Abby moves unnaturally – not the naturalistic unnatural you would get from a performer, but the herky jerky puppet like movements of a digital creation. It’s a little off-putting.

What works better, is that Reeves has a decent handle on tone and mood, better than Cloverfield and its "found footage" aesthetic would have you believe. He has a real feel for the strange alienation a young person, particularly an unpopular one, can experience. In Owen's case, being simultaneously on the cusp of puberty and having to deal with constant, terrifying bullying with no-one to turn to because his parents are wrapped up in their divorce. 

Two of the foremost character actors working today also help proceedings by delivering commonly fine performances. So much so, I actually wanted to see more of both of them. Richard Jenkins plays Abby's "father" and the continually shifting dynamics in their obviously long and complex relationship are kept understated. Elias Koteas is the detective doggedly pursuing the investigation into the horrific murders committed and he gives the kind of solid performance that can easily go unnoticed; it's not flashy or overwrought.

Overall, this is an intriguing remake: it’s not the typical American cash grab. Reeves maintains the period setting (although, not in an overtly cheesy or off-putting way), the sombre tone and the strange, lonely boy as the central character. This is actually personal for Reeves – he was bullied as a child and you get the sense of a very real anger directed at these tormentors.

January 12, 2011


Anton Corbijn’s follow-up to Control (which, admittedly, I haven’t seen) is a film with measured pacing and an attaché case full of style but it doesn’t quite carry enough weight to really stick around.

George Clooney is the titular American – an old hitman, getting tired of the life. While hiding out in Italy he takes the cinematically doomed One Last Job. He’s a cold customer, who tries to keep everyone at a well-tailored arm’s length. Of course, he cannot help but make a connection with two people - a priest and a prostitute, carrying more than a wiff of symbolism.

Some might call the pace of the movie is somewhat slow; I prefer to think of it as measured. Adding to the feel of the slowed-down pace is the lack of constant dialogue - Clooney's character barely speaks, saying only what he needs to, when he needs to. He is, as the title of the source novel tells us, a very private gentleman. He no longer wants the life of globe-trotting assassin/armourer for hire (it is never stated who he works for. He has a contact/boss but even this is barely touched on)  having no lasting relationships; he's tired of it. Basically he's having a very sombre and picturesque midlife crisis.

Everything about this film is restrained: from Clooney reining in his usual charm, to the meticulously composed shots and the slowly unfolding story. Nothing much really surprises: you can pick how everything is going to end up and who's behind it all within the first Act. But that's not really the point Corbijn and screenwriter Rowan Joffe are going for; the primary narrative takes a backseat as the sub-plot, while the character arc takes centre stage.

It's obvious where Corbijn is pulling a lot of his choices from: this has a definite 70's aesthetic (as you can see from the poster). Not in a tongue-in-cheek way, or paying homage to the cinematic era; instead it feels like it could have been lifted direct from the decade. But, in the end, it really takes itself far too seriously. It doesn't carry nearly as much thematic weight as it thinks it does. The American is very, very good with more care and intelligence invested in it than much else out at the moment. It's just not... great.

January 10, 2011


I have just attended a screening of Tron Legacy in 3D at your Courtenay Central multiplex. This will be my last visit. This has nothing to do with the film, which I actually quite enjoyed. No, it has to do with the outrageous ticket price, which I did not enjoy.

Now, why have I got myself in such a tizzy over a cinema ticket price? Lord knows, people have always complained about them and they've always been too expensive for everyone. But it’s something we, as patrons, have become accustomed to (those of us that still come out to the cinema). Sure, 3D has been great for a new experience at the cinema but it's even better for jacking up ticket prices. Again, it seems to be something we've just all become used to. What really got me though, was that I (rather foolishly) tried to use a $5 dollar off voucher at this particular trip to your multiplex. Except, silly me, I didn't read the fine print: not valid for 3D films. Now, I'll clarify: I had this voucher as I am a member of your Reel Club "loyalty" program and, as a frequent cinemagoer (102 films in the past year), I even had two.

In fact, for 3D films at Reading Cinemas NO discounts are available. And tickets are (currently) $19.30. This may have stood when 3D was new but Readings, I am here to tell you: you are no longer the only game in town. The Embassy cinema is just up the road, and they have a new digital 3D projection system. Their projectionists are also well trained, and know and love their job. I know where I would rather go. But it's not just the Embassy (or Event Cinemas in the Hutt). Even smaller, more boutique cinemas such as The Empire or The Lighthouse are now also equipped with 3D capable cinema screens. All of these cinemas offer discounts (such as Student and Child ticket prices) - heck, they'll give you a discount if you bring your own 3D glasses

Criminey, I don’t even mind if their ticket prices are more expensive than yours Reading Cinemas! It’s the experience that I appreciate. Every visit to your multiplex, we are bombarded with your slogan to “Experience the difference”. Well the difference, Reading, is that you are cheap and tacky. Your ticket prices are exorbitant, your staff disinterested and your cinemas terrible (for example Cinema 1, when not full of bodies, echoes. Horribly).

I’m not some whinging nutjob. I am someone who still enjoys watching a movie the way they were meant to be seen – in a cinema. But, as I am obviously only dollars to you, I shall take myself (and my dollars) elsewhere; somewhere I can have a better cinema-going experience all round.


Andy James
Movie fan

January 6, 2011


Since I began writing this blog, I have had two friends also start blogs; brave blogs of real emotional honesty. They are revealing and open. And here I am typing away about movies and other pop-culture bits-n-bobs. But (and certainly not to put this blog on a level with theirs) movies, and writing about them, noting them down, act as the closest thing I have to a diary. You won't get any great emotional truths out of it, but you might discover something. Whether that's my tastes revealing something about me, or me pointing you towards an awesome new movie or who knows what else.

For the past 8 years I have kept a notebook of movies (seen at the cinema) and the date I saw them. So, I can generally flick back through this and say "Oh, 18th of June 2006. That's when I saw Thank You For Smoking and Hard Candy - the last films I saw in the UK." Or I can look back and say "Black  Book was way back in 2007?! When do we get more Verhoeven?!" For the first time in my recorded movie watching history (dun-dun-duNNNNN) I have seen over a hundred films in the past year. Thank-you. Thank-you. Almost half of these were at the big Film Festival in the middle of the year but I still think I managed to clock up an impressive total. I don't mean to be self-congratulatory or anything, it's more that this blog has helped me re-realise my love of movies. In some ways, I want to see more movies not just to watch them, but so I can then write about them. I am currently lookin at this as A Good Thing.

Just like in previous years, what follows won’t necessarily be the “best” of the year, more my favourites of the year. I cannot rank preferences, so these are in no particular order. There’s been a fair bit of back and forth on these selections and I haven't included any of the classic films I've seen this year. These are all films that had their initial NZ run (and were seen by me) in 2010. So, without further ado... 

How To Train Your Dragon
Dreamworks Animation finally stepped up their game in 2010. This may be a controversial pick for some: I'm picking this over Pixar's Toy Story 3, which is not something I would've thought at the start of the year. But fuck it. This is my list. And considering I almost didn't even see this makes it an even more surprising inclusion in my end of year list.

But How to Train Your Dragon comes from the directors of Lilo & Stitch, one of the wittier Disney releases of the last few years. It's a fairly standard storyline of misunderstood creatures and the underdog triumphing, but it was all in the telling: brave, intelligent and with stunningly thrilling flying sequences that really showcased the best thing about 3D. 

Kick Ass
Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of Mark Millar's and John Romita Jr's comic-book wasn't so much a breath of fresh air as a punch to the gut. With a crackingly propulsive script courtesy of Vaughn and Jane Goldman, this was a violent exploration of super-heroes filled with humour and smarts that was topped off with the character intro of the year and Nicolas Cage chanelling Adam West. The film starts off taking the piss and attempting to offer a more "realistic" take on the superhero business, and then Vaughn brilliantly escalates the insane carnage until the absolutely barmy finale.

I really don’t understand what went wrong with this, box-office wise. It’s a superhero movie. It’s got Nicholas Cage. It had a great, smart marketing campaign. It’s violent and smart and funny as hell. Perhaps it was too weird for the masses. Perhaps, for some unknown reason, it just didn’t click. Perhaps it was the R rating it received in the States. I think a lot of people are going to discover this on DVD and wish they could’ve seen it at the movies (or, considering the way people are progressing in their consumption of entertainment media, perhaps they won’t give a damn). 

The Illusionist
Sylvian Chomet's adaptation of an unfilmed script by Jacques Tati is filled with magical moments. Somewhat appropriate as it follows a struggling music-hall magician who alights in Edinburgh followed by a young Scottish girl. Edinburgh has never looked so beautiful in all its gothic glory. This is an animated film, yes, but it's not for kids.

As with Chomet's Triplets of Belleville the film is largely dialogue free, which some people may find an odd and diverting affectation, but which I love. Free of people talking, you are forced to focus on the story, the characters and the beautiful look of the whole damn thing. 

Animal Kingdom
This Melbourne based crime flick was a mind-bogglingly impressive debut feature from David Michod. An uncompromising tale of crime and family, it left you dizzy with twists and tension, with Michod displaying an astonishing grip on tone and pacing. The main character of J is, initially, an annoyingly blank teenager but it's that blankness, that adolescent vacancy, that draws you in. Joel Edgerton is charismatic as the brains, Jacki Weaver is frightening as the controlling matriarch but it is Ben Mendelsohn as the completely unhinged "Pope" who really amps everything up.

However, the big crime was that the showing during the Festival, at the Embassy Theatre and with Michod in attendance, was not sold out. This obviously wasn't the upper middle class Film Festival dames' cup of tea; or maybe they thought it would just be more Underbelly. More fools them I say, as this was a perfect debut feature film from a powerful new voice. 

A Town Called Panic
I had heard this Belgian animated flick about a horse called Horse, a cowboy called Cowboy and an Indian named Indian was something approaching a freeform stream of consciousness slice of weirdness. But I hadn't quite expected this

It all starts off with Horse's birthday but then accumulates secret undersea brick thieves, a journey to the centre of the Earth, mad scientists in a large robotic penguin and Horse learning the piano. Batshit insane doesn't even come close to describing this. Oh, and it's all stop-motion plastic figures. No need for cutting edge 3D CGI here; not when the ideas are so propulsively inventive. The funniest film of the year and an animated feature quite unlike anything else. 

This seemingly small focused documentary was easily my favourite of the year. Late one night walking home from a bar, Mark Hogencamp from upstate New York was savagely beaten by five men into a coma. As part of his own personal form of therapy he builds a fictional WWII European village and peoples it with Barbies and GI Joes: Marwencol. Using these figures, and often crafting Marwencol lookalikes of real life people, he plays out storylines; often ones dealing with his beating. It's fascinating as bits and pieces of his life and personality are revealed, positive and negative, before beating and after. To assist with his stories he takes photos of Marwencol, almost compulsively. They're well-crafted and incredibly real and I urge you to check them out. These weren't intended as works of art or a pathway to stardom: these are his stories/therapy.  

He's a compelling, sweet and somewhat lonely character as he wanders up and down back roads, giving his GI Joes Jeeps authentic wear and tear. He's someone who has been to the brink and is slowly bringing himself back out. 

Winter's Bone
I think if I were to pick one film this year, one film that really surprised me and blew me away, one film that would be my pick of the year... then Winter's Bone would be that film. It's a noir film set in the Ozark mountains of the Southern States of America but is much better than that description would have you believe. Jennifer Lawrence is astonishing as the uncompromising Ree Dolly; a girl who needs to find her bail-jumping no-good Meth-cooking father before the court takes the family home. This is the wild woods of America as wasteland, the bleak landscape populated not with good ole' Southern folk, but hard and uncompromising criminals and shit-kickers. 

It's a film that doesn't let up, that keeps pushing and twisting and challenging you.

I think Inception is the distillation and crystallisation of all of Nolan's films and ideas thus far. This is cinematic dreaming where the whole experience is/isn't real; where it doesn't matter if Dom Cobb is locked in a dream world or not. To some extent we all are, even moreso when sitting in the dark staring up at a cinema screen. This is a Big Film: big ideas with big set-pieces that is perfectly experienced on the big screen. This is perfect cinema, where each and every part locks in and performs to the utmost to unleash something new and inventive and familiar and brash.

DiCaprio gives his second grieving man performance of the year, Gordon Levitt comes across as a new king of cool, Tom Hardy is a joy to watch and Marion Cotillard is powerful and bewitching with her few scenes. The score is key to the film and works to enhance and enlighten. The action is inventive and miles ahead of anything Nolan has staged before: there's car chases, gun-fights, revolving corridors and a James Bond-esque mountain storming.

It's all a dream. It's all a film. 

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Another ground-breaking film that garnered poor box office and outstanding reviews, Edgar Wright's adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novels is his finest work yet. It's a wonderful caffeine fuelled mash of movies, music, video-games, anime, musicals and more. I had my doubts about Michael Cera as the eponymous hero, but he really (excuse the pun) steps up his game. This is a role very different to anything Cera has done before. The rest of the cast is also impressive, with a lot of fantastic talents brought in for what amount to little more than cameos.

You may debate the decision of Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall to compress all volumes to one film, but as much as the film honours the source material, it is also it's own creature. And that creature is a confident, powerful film showcasing Edgar Wright at the height of his directorial powers. 

The Social Network
I find it interesting that this film has been appearing on so many end of year lists around the internets. When this was first announced I know a lot of folks wrote it off as "the facebook movie". How could you doubt this would be great? It had Aaron Sorkin scripting, David Fincher directing and Jesse Eisenberg in the role of Mark Zuckerberg; quite a potent combo of talents. 

And this is so much more than "the facebook movie". Yes, it deals with the people and circumstances involved in the creation of the massive social networking website but it's also an examination of power, genius, creativity and the death of a friendship. It also carries one of the greatest opening scenes of the year: Zuckerberg and his girlfriend in a bar, talking with her quickly becoming his ex-girlfriend. The scene works wonderfully at laying out the rest of the film: witty, densely scripted with Zuckerberg as someone who operates on a different level. 

This is where modern sci-fi should be heading: not big budgets, but big ideas. Alien lifeforms have landed and all but colonised Mexico. But in Gareth Edwards' debut, you barely see them: the focus (as it should be) is on the people. In this case, two people having to trek across the dangerous quarantine zone to reach the US. They slowly fall for each other along the way (as so often happens in films), but it all happens so organically you really believe it (in amongst all the massive, landscape striding aliens).

Monsters is one of those films that pushes and inspires someone like me. It's a confident debut feature from a voice I hope we hear much from in the next few years (and Edwards has just nabbed the directing gig on a new Godzilla).

January 5, 2011


We're almost at my list if favourite films from 2010, I promise. I wanted to aim for a pretty big wrap-up of the year, but I didn't want to dump it all in one massive post. I'm putting the finishing touches on my final picks for 2010 and that'll be coming in the next couple of days. In the meantime, here's the runner-ups for my favourites: films that were very, very good and that I responded to but that, for whatever reason, won't be among my favourites. I was also lucky enough to see a stack of Classic films at the movies this year and I've got a quick rundown of my favourites from that. And, of course, my picks for the worst of the year; the cinematic atrocities that were perpetrated upon me.


The Wolfman
Toy Story 3
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Inside Job
I Killed My Mother
Cell 211
A Prophet
I Am Love
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
The Town
Easy A
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale


Once Upon A Time in the West
Enter the Dragon
Touch of Evil
Some Like It Hot

THE WORST (oh gods! The horror! The cinematic horror!)
I think I managed to steer clear of the majority of the cinematic stinkers this year. And that’s what trailers and advance reviews are for surely? So you know what to avoid, as much as what you want to see. However, the following were films I did see this year whether willingly or unwillingly.* 

Birdemic: Shock and Terror
Quite possibly the worst film I’ve ever seen, period. It’s not so bad it’s good, it’s so bad it’s physically painful. Children armed with a handycam could’ve (and have) done better than this. Fuck the world that there is a sequel being made.

Prince of Persia
The Hollywood entry for this year. A shame, as I held out real hope for this; with the budget and creative people behind it it could’ve been the first video-game film that was actually good. Instead it was stupid and stunningly dull.

This is not a film I expected to have on this list. In fact, if you’d asked me at the start of the year I may have predicted it ending up in the Favourite Films list. To me, it just seemed so misjudged and poorly handled it quickly slipped from crime against nature horror into laughable farce. 

Ne Change Rien
The only reason I saw this film at all was because I had to usher it at the film festival. Tedious art wank. 

Melody for a Street Organ
Also another Film Festival usher entry. This was boring and long and obvious and tedious and just so fucking infuriating I just wanted the two central kids to hurry up an die, as surely that was where this was all heading.

*four of these five were films I caught at the Film Festival. Take from that what you will.