The 2014 Academy Award nominations were announced this week and the relative snubbing of Captain Phillips, Saving Mr Banks, Inside Llewyn Davis and GI Joe: Retaliation is going to have us all cursing the Academy and discussing the actual quality of American Hustle until about May.
Nonetheless one of the great tragedies of my life is that I cannot actually watch absolutely everything ever that comes out and try as I might to rectify this, there simply are not enough hours in the day. There are a couple of films available on the streaming services that have just been nominated for academy awards this week which I have not had a chance to see thus far.
Those films are; The Square, nominated for Best Documentary Feature and now available on Netflix. The Square is about the uprising in Egypt in early 2011 that made the news around the world and the circumstances around this. The other film is The Broken Circle Breakdown, a kind of Flemish version of Blue Valentine set around music which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Feature. Like I said, I haven’t seen either of these and I am hoping to rectify this shortly so will update you as and when.
So fittingly this week we kick off with an Academy award winner from last year.
It’s hard to fathom that now in this day and age Steven Spielberg finds it difficult to get his projects made, but that’s what happened with Lincoln. It was very close to becoming a movie for HBO which would have premiered on television ala Behind the Candelabra. If Spielberg can’t get his films financed then what hope is there?
Lincoln has been years in the planning and was mooted to have Liam Neeson star as the great man for a long time until Daniel Day-Lewis took the job. Those looking for a full on biopic might be somewhat disappointed by the angle that Lincoln takes. The film picks up with the civil war in full swing and follows the efforts of Lincoln and his cabinet to enact a new law essentially abolishing slavery and rendering the war illegal. Although we do get Day-Lewis transformed into Abraham Lincoln in an incredible turn, there is also a lot of talking and a lot of the supporting cast visiting eccentric characters and buttering them up to get their support for the new law being passed through congress.
It’s never less than fascinating as what you are essentially watching is US politics as we know it being born and suddenly so much about today’s world makes more sense if you aren’t a US history buff. Lincoln is solid and compelling but never seems to rise above that, it looks very nice and has a great supporting cast with a meaty role for Tommy Lee Jones but because Spielberg is who he is you get a typical Spielberg ending which doesn’t move as it should thanks to the focus of the film that has gone before it.
Available on Now TV
Why Stop Now? (2012)
This is one of those indie films which suddenly arrives on Now TV after skipping every other medium, which occasionally yields a surprise gem but sadly not this time around.
Jesse Eisenberg, back to his annoying pre Adventureland days, plays a piano prodigy with a junkie mother and a troubled little sister. In order to make an important audition he has to get his mother into rehab and the rehab won’t take her because she hasn’t actually taken any drugs over the last few days. Nonetheless mother is heading for a relapse, so selfishly to get her out of the way he needs to get her wasted and so Eisenberg proceeds to get caught up with crippled drug dealer Tracy Morgan who employs him as a translator in the middle of a major drug deal.
Oh, and there is a girl shoved in there somewhere that inexplicably has the hots for Eisenberg after he pukes and gets thrown out of a party at the start. Billed as a ‘screwball comedy’ the problem with Why Stop Now? is that it takes everything from indie film over the last twenty years and bashes you over the head with it with a loud lunatic pace that dares you to keep up but is just exhausting.
I tuned out around the 45 minute mark because I just didn’t care about any of this and the pace was wearing me out. There are one or two chuckles but this is mostly a waste of time.
Available on Now TV
Robot and Frank (2012)
Set a little ways into the future, Robot and Frank finds an elderly jewel thief played by Frank Langella being given a house robot by his concerned son to keep him company. At first he is reluctant to engage or even turn the robot on but eventually he starts to find him useful and then sees that he can use the robot to re-discover his former self and revert to a life of crime.
Mostly this is a touching tale of friendship and blooming humanity but towards the end the rug is pulled and the film reveals itself to be a study of ageing and what is lost through the natural progression of the human body. It’s a hard heart who doesn’t weep at the final scenes and the stuff between Langella and Susan Sarandon is just lovely.
Available on Netflix
The Seasoning House (2012)
British make up maestro Paul Hyett’s directorial debut is set during the Balkans conflict and genocide of the mid-nineties and focuses in on a derelict house where kidnapped girls are used as sex slaves for the army soldiers who pass through the area.
In this hell-hole we find deaf-mute orphaned girl known only as Angel who is employed to keep the girls clean and high as a kite. At the start the film has a dreamy atmosphere as we remain in the house drifting in and out of corridors and spaces between walls as seen through the eyes of our protagonist with some great gliding camera work. As the film goes on, reality gets more stark and focussed and altogether graphic and Angel decides she can take no more and takes bloody revenge. The aftermath is like a dark fairy tale dream like version of Home Alone and recalls Night of the Hunter and Pan’s Labyrinth as we venture through the countryside of a war-torn nation essentially watching the big bad wolf stalk a young girl.
I like The Seasoning House; I think it’s a solid underrated debut. My problem with it is in its depiction of sexual violence, it’s extremely grueling and tough to watch and considering the tone of much of the finale, I wonder what the decision behind this tough level of depiction was it doesn’t feel necessary considering the fact that this isn’t an all-encompassing look at atrocity but a genre film.
The Seasoning House is horrific in a way that few films manage these days but I am not sure if it makes it a better film in this case.
Available on Now TV
The Muppets (2011)
I meet many people who don’t like musicals; I see the viewpoint, but to me saying you don’t like musicals (especially on the stage) is like you saying you don’t like joy. It’s a similar feeling that I have about The Muppets, how can you not like The Muppets?
Short answer is you can’t. This 2011 reboot of the franchise by Jason Segal and the people behind Flight of the Conchords is just a sheer joy from start to finish. It opens with a blissful and witty musical number and goes from there getting funnier and funnier and is like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold winter’s day. For any old fans who remember watching the Muppet Show back when it was on TV and any new fans young or old, this is just a blast of nostalgic glee, yes glee.
Here’s hoping that the sequel Muppets Most Wanted, out in a couple of months can keep up the quality.
Available on Netflix
The Hangover part two (2011)
Thanks to an extensive pre-screening process and building word of mouth, the first Hangover film became a monster comedy hit in 2009 despite having no real stars in its cast. The first film worked because as there was no expectation so the laugh a minute script and the relatively dark subject matter hit people’s funny bone square on and importantly there wasn’t an over emphasis on gross out or crass humour.
This sequel commits the sin that most comedy sequels make in that is a carbon copy of the first film and just moves the action overseas. It gets more outrageous of course but this just comes across as desperate and annoying with supporting characters going from hilarious guests to annoying main features. I didn’t see part three yet but there again neither did anyone else.
Available on Lovefilm/Amazon
Justified – Season 4 (2013)
Quietly and with a minimum of fuss, Justified has become one of the best shows on TV. Buried away in one of channel 5’s subordinate channels down the freeview roster, Justified is based on the short story ‘Fire in the Hole’ by the late Elmore Leonard. Timothy Olyphant plays Raylan Givens, a US marshal who is an old school shoot first questions later type who finds this approach constantly at odds with his superiors.
Due to his actions he ends up sequestered back in his old home town in Kentucky where he has to face demons from his past as well as deal with all manner of scum involved in the local drug trade. At this time, I haven’t seen season four but at the end of season three, Givens was finding much of what he was doing in the name of ‘the right thing’ catching up with him due to its dubious legal nature and I imagine that season four continues in that vein whilst introducing a new big bad as it does every year.
Justified is actually probably the best written thing on TV with brilliant dialogue in every episode keeping with Elmore Leonard’s style. There is a feeling that this peaked with season two but there is an end date in site with Justified coming to an end at season six which was always the plan.
Available on Netflix
Donnie Darko (2001)
Back in the early part of this century we saw the birth of a true cult favourite and possibly the last true and unmanufactured cult film we have had in the modern age. Richard Kelly’s directorial debut Donnie Darko was a stateside flop on release and then came out in limited release in the UK a year later, but something strange happened.
People started going to see it and word of mouth grew and grew and suddenly a month after its initial release, it was playing at the local multiplex to sell-out crowds. The following Christmas, a cover of Tears for Fears Mad World from the soundtrack was Christmas number one.
Donnie Darko still is the bollocks frankly, no matter what Kelly has or hasn’t done since and I think the clue is in its timelessness and the fact that nobody can quite say what it is or isn’t about. It is set in the 80s and deals with time travel but the way it looks and the warmth in its dark surreal heart is never going to change and will no doubt gain new fans as the years go on. A great film for disenchanted and disenfranchised youth everywhere.
Available on Netflix
Pay Per View
Available this week on the pay once and stream for 24 hours services are:
Aside from The Lone Ranger and Man of Steel, the film everyone jumped all over (those who bothered to review it) last summer was R.I.P.D which seemed like a dog from the start thanks to the lack of faith Universal put into its marketing essentially dumping it in July.
Poor Ryan Reynolds just can’t get a break can he? Year after year he stars in these deeply flawed effects extravaganzas that die at the box office. Based on a comic book, this follows a unit in the afterlife who keep wandering spirits on earth in check and Reynolds becomes the latest of their number and is partnered with Jeff Bridges dead Wild West lawman.
I know I say this a lot but R.I.P.D isn’t that bad and will probably work like a charm for anyone under 12, it’s quite funny and much of the action has a live action cartoon sensibility that I really enjoy. The fact remains that R.I.P.D doesn’t really have an original bone in its body and that may be why Universal had such little faith in it despite the fun. Probably more fitting as a January watch rather than at the height of summer went it limped out.
Available on EE/Virgin Movies/ Film4OD
In a World (2013)
One of the indies that got a decent cinema release late last year and some good critical notices was Lake Bell’s directorial debut In a World which she also wrote.
Exploring the so far unexplored realm of trailer voice over artists, this has Bell playing one such artist who wants to break into the male dominated game following in her father’s footsteps and ultimately competing with him. Unique setting aside this is a touching and funny portrayal of a father and daughter relationship that should not be missed.
Available on EE/Virgin Movies/Film4OD/Blinkbox
This low-key coming of age story is not without its charms but suffers because it aims for poignancy but feels like it has to chuck in quirk because it’s a low-budget indie that has to get into Sundance.
We have your usual set up with a young man stuck with a hippie pot smoking mother and about to get away for his first year of college over the other side of the country. The pot smoking mother is played by Vera Farmiga who does a good job in something that would be better suited to someone like Susan Sarandon and David Duchovny plays ‘Goat Man’ her live in pot farmer.
Does the kid learn some lessons about the importance of roots and family? Well, what do you think? Goats has some great moments along the way but falters and stumbles more than it perhaps should.
Available on EE/Virgin Movies/Film4OD
Director Balázs Hatvani is to be congratulated in shoehorning a fantastic, trailer-friendly, cast into this homage to 80s Horrorshows which sells itself heavily on the fact that Tim Curry plays a demonic clown. The tagline is ‘It has returned.’ and that’s not very subtle is it? Be warned though Curryholics – it’s a voiceover role, and though there are a few Pennywisian chuckles the script is Resident Evil bad – that’s Resident Evil the Game.
Where it falls, and teeters on the brink of being utterly unwatchable is the dialogue our clichéd lambs to the slaughter have to spout. It is genuinely laugh out loud funny, and not in a good way. Gingerclown is a parody down to its bones, in its blood run meatheaded football players and their dappy girlfriends, the nerd and his comic books – glasses and all run riot here.
Scream was a parody film too, but with a very smart script where a connection was made between the characters on screen and the horror movie-sated audience at home. If you grew up in the 80s and watched a lot of horror films you’ll recognise the practical effects and grisly, growly pointless plan of the puppet-master (Tim Curry’s titular hero). There are some sledgehammer-subtle nods to the 80s including the piano scene from Big, a Rocky Horror Picture Show poster and a certain Sports Almanac – but these are deliberate and fleeting. It is very well lit in places, has a number of decent soundtrack beats but it’s not enough.
And swearing isn’t scary. And it is fecking abundant here.
Available on Blinkbox