Comments on Film – Q3 2018

Comments on Film are a series of posts where I give my comments on some of the films I have watched for that quarter.

In order of viewing, recent to oldest.

Poltergeist – ★★★☆☆

Here we have another hole in my film viewing history – there are a lot of films that everyone else seems to have seen but me, but I’m working on fixing that.

Poltergeist is a Speilberg horror classic film from 1982. Everyone knows the story, or have seen one of the remakes or parodies – so I’ll spare those details here and get straight to how I feel about this film.

What I enjoyed about this film (and I find this when watching a lot of culturally acclaimed horror films) is the context I gained to help further understand/identify parodies and influences in other media that I enjoy. I am not unique with my love for Netflix’s own Stranger Things series – but all I could think from the moment I started through to the moment I finished watching Poltergeist was how much I can see elements of this classic film in the new series.

I feel bad for having that be my main take away from watching the film. I may find that I develop some love for other elements of the film, but seeing as many watched Poltergeist as a kid and I didn’t (because I am a big wuss) I feel as if they have a strong nostalgia for it that I could only ever imitate. I try and avoid faux nostalgia, which is feeling nostalgic for something you’ve only just encountered, but sometimes it is almost unavoidable. I’m not a big horror genre fan, but I am a big fan of people who are (such as James Rolfe) or have friends who are, so I feel almost excluded from their excitement because I am not familiar with the source material. Poltergeist is one of those films where I may have watched it more for the feeling of inclusion than being interested in the story. I don’t know if this is a bad thing or not – but I usually find I expect to come away loving these films as much as my counterparts but never do.

Volcano – ★★★☆☆

OK so to try and plump out my Plex server with some unseen content, instead of filling it with stuff I have seen 100x before, I have been buying up bundles of DVDs. A charity shop near my home has a deal where for £1 you can get 6-7 DVD’s in one hit. Yes this does mean I have ended up bringing home copies of Little Britain, Miranda, Roy Chubby Brown and Alan Carr stand-up – which have made their way to be documented on Filmogs and then promptly destroyed. However it does mean I have ended up with some new titles that I may have not picked up otherwise.

Aside from the short list above (of which I am already familiar with their content) I try and give anything a watch at least once (see Raise Your Voice in this post) – but there will sometimes be elements to a film that may prioritise it over others. This can be cool (both good cool and terrible cool) cover art, a funny tag line on the front, cast members, being part of a series or just being critically or culturally acclaimed – again good and bad.  Don’t ask me why Raise Your Voice took priority over everything else, I’m still under the assumption I was delirious at the time of making that choice.

When I see a DVD with the tag line The Coast is Toast it hits position number one in the queue (alright position number two). To whoever thought of that line, I take my nonexistent hat off to you, although I feel as if you intended it to strike fear and dread into me not have me howling in laughter.

Volcano is a disaster film. A genre that is nearly dead. Although seeing as the genre has been around for nearly as long as film, I doubt it’s ever going to really die. The premise of the film is that the geographically unstable city of Los Angeles (which genuinely does experience earthquakes as does much of the west coast) ends up with a volcano emerging from underground. Not sure why I made that statement – volcano’s only appear from above if you’re in some weird SimCity simulation. Anyway, as like many disaster films you get 1 hero, 1 scientist, 1 child to worry about and a plethora of non-believers. Japanese coffee icon Tommy Lee Jones takes the role of the hero here – which was also a factor in my prioritisation of this film – where he runs around a slowly burning Los Angeles attempting to stop the end of the city, keeping his teenage daughter out of trouble and doing other TLJ things like smashing a whole in the asphalt to drop some dynamite down it.

I normally avoid disaster films. Mainly I can find them boring and that they needlessly put fear into people. I know too many people don’t want to ride roller-coasters because they watched Final Destination at an impressionable age – and my too many, I mean at least 1. Now my enjoyment of Volcano comes from an undisputed love for 1990s film that I am currently going through. There is something about the aesthetic of this film that I found riveting. The pop culture present, the over-the-top acting, the completely bombastic storylines and for Volcano the dated CGI.

I’ll be honest when I started to watch Volcano I thought it came out a good 5 years earlier than it actually did – which was 1997, not 1992. The film didn’t do well critically, and people seem to prefer Dante’s Peak which came out the same year (unseen for me at the time of writing) with a preference for the CGI effects in the latter. CGI dates films, it’s unavoidable. What looked cool in 1997, looked dated in 2001, which then looked dated in 2005, 2008, 2013 and now 2018. But I accept that, however for some films the dated CGI is either bearable or distracting. Aside from a few shots towards the end, where the CGI really does break the illusion, I don’t find the CGI lava to be that bad.

Ultimately Volcano is a popcorn flick for me. A film which I will just watch without too much consideration or care for the subject matter, cinematography or critical status. I don’t expect Volcano to make me feel a certain way or think philosophically about natural disasters – I just expect it to entertain me, which this one really does.

The only thing I would also like to mention is that I find the ending shot of the newly formed volcano sitting amidst the L.A. skyline a work of comedic art. I probably shouldn’t leave this film in such hysterics. However I am considering re-watching more disaster flicks to see if I can find a comedy value in them.

American Animals – ★★★★☆

This film will probably always be a notable film to me, as it was the first film I saw at my local Curzon cinema. The town I live in isn’t great for culture, and for the 24 years I have been alive we have only had a middling Odeon cinema which isn’t exactly the best cinema experience I have had.

American Animals covers one of my favourite subject matters, heists. There is something about watching a suave, faultless and professional crime happen. It gives you a rush, like you are involved – and some could say it almost makes you want to steal a rare painting or large sum of money. American Animals doesn’t make me feel this way, and for good reason.

The film was great fun to watch with the actors, and real-life individuals, providing realistic 3 dimension characters. Fantastic cinematography, decent pace and a bloody great soundtrack all help this film. However this aside isn’t why I enjoyed the film as much as I did. For the unfamiliar, American Animals follows the events of a real-life heist undertaken in 2004 where 4 students aim to steal a set of high value books from their university library. The first part of the film follows the heist cliche’s of making out how easy it is to steal the item to the audience, akin to stealing candy from a baby. The film goes as far as to demonstrate the easiness of this, to fool the audience into thinking these 4 amateur thieves could pull the heist off with similar sophistication as Oceans Eleven. However soon after this audience fooling has been achieved, we begin to feel the wheels fall off the wagon as reality sets in. We see the moral and mental implications of stealing an item take their toll on each of the young lads, most of them who have no criminal background or criminal family history.

The best part, and close this tab or keep reading if you don’t want spoilers, has to be when the heist day comes around. A evening of getting pumped up comes around, but when it comes to pulling it off you, the audience member, really begin to see how shameful and horrifying such an easy task actually is. The film does a great job in making you feel as ashamed, nervous, regretful and guilty as the thieves in this film. There is no bravado ending here, no round of applause, no walking out of the theatre thinking maybe I could be George Clooney and steal something. Instead I left feeling mixed. I felt elated and happy that I had such a great movie experience, but I also felt depressed and troubled as if I was carrying part of the regret that the individuals who undertook the heist felt, and still do feel, following the event.

I highly suggest this fiction/documentary hybrid to anyone, definitely those who enjoy heist films.

Killer Elite – ★★★☆☆

I picked this DVD up earlier this year and it has been staring at me from my DVD pile. The bright orange spine is probably what made me pull it out from the charity shop in Ipswich, and the names DE NIRO, STATHAM and OWEN (as in Clive Owen) are what made me put it in my basket. (This gives you a real insight as to how I choose films to watch).

So nearly 6 months later I get round to watching the film. The film gets a middling score on IMDB, a shit rating on RT and for once the Flixster rating is also terrible. Not a great start but hey, DE NIRO man! So I watch the film and it’s just your typical Jason Statham film where it’s ONE MAN VS THE WORLD OF BAD GUYS. I kind of like these films but they do unfortunately all blend together – they’re good for a bit of action and fighting. On that note, I was amazed at how much damage one man can do while strapped to a chair!

For 2011 De Niro is getting on a bit, so he makes infrequent appearances in the film,  but when he does he’s just being a badass. Clive Owen’s character is OK, in the sense that all the characters are very OK, 1 dimensional characters. The plot is predictable and will leave you feeling satisfied by the end if you like happy endings (SPOILER: he kills the bad guys, he lives, he gets the girl).

Director Gary McKendry hasn’t made anything before or since Killer Elite, which is a shame because I felt the film was pretty good for an action flick. Probably the harsh cinematic climate and scathing critical reviews has put him off. Let me say I’d prefer a good balance between these films and superhero films, instead of just one or just the other.

The story is also a ‘true story’ in the sense that it is based off a book that is neither confirmed or denied by British government or the special forces that the books subject matter is about. So for that reason, it isn’t really a true story but even if it was I don’t think that element would really have any effect on me, the viewer, while watching it.

Doesn’t deserve a shit rating, it’s very middle of the road – a bit like The Eagles.

Raise Your Voice – ★★☆☆☆

I’m not 100% sure why I watched this. I have 119 films in my plex that I need to watch, of which 80% of them are probably more critically acclaimed than… this. I like to keep my palate fresh with all my media intake, so to do this I consume some crap to enjoy the good even more. I was also kind of curious about this film. What is it? Knock off High School Musical (which doesn’t work as this film came out 2 years prior)? It seems we don’t really get the influx of musical films that used to be everywhere when I was a kid, if we do they are always featuring CGI pigs or something like that. The film was so inoffensive that it could have played backwards and I probably wouldn’t have noticed. I kind of like the nostalgia this film brings, but some of it is pure cringe. I wanna slap the Kiwi kid for being a constant burke, and the British bloke for also being a bit of a ponce. Duff is so sweet she’ll rot your teeth quicker than full fat coke, but there isn’t much substance beyond that. I forgot how grating her baby-voice can be. This film all feels very Disney, yet the mouse is nowhere to be seen here. The music is decent, but the pop tracks are Radio Disney levels of ugh. The best thing is that the film has Kat Dennings in it – and she is mighty fine. I actually paused this film half-way through to watch something else.

2 stars because it’s not horrendous enough to be 1 star. It’s just a very eh film. I guess I kind of like it because it reminds me of sitting through the things my little sister used to like watching, and even though the content is crap its the memories I cherish.

W. – ★★☆☆☆

I recall seeing this film when I did my work experience at WH Smith in school. I thought it looked interesting and even by that age I was starting to take an interest in satire. I am probably wrong but I always refer to this film as Dub-ya as it appears on the spine, however I don’t think there is anyone on the face of the British Isles who pronounces the letter W like that. I picked it up the other day from CeX which means I paid probably more than I should have to see it.

The film is interesting, sort of. I was alive when dub-ya was in presidency, but too young to really remember any of his more memorable moments – I have been exposed to them over the years. My addiction to angsty teenage punk music from the late 1990s and early 2000s has always given me a negative opinion of President Bush; however with what we have now I think a lot of people would rather have the bumbling idiot back. I probably should research the film and how its made and what points it was trying to make but I kind of don’t really care enough. Oliver Stone is a great director and the film is beautifully shot and put together, but there is something about the pacing of the film and how it just all of a sudden ends. I’ll be honest, I sort of drifted in and out of concentration while watching this. Maybe it was the subject material; it has been known that I struggle to fully engage with heavy political material.

The good points about this film is that it looks nice, and it has Elizabeth Banks in it and she looks nice; she kind of reminds me a lot of Margot Robbie. Josh Brolin does a good Bush impersonation and James Cromwell does a good Bush too. The bad points are I wish I had left the film unwatched as I was hoping it to be better than I expected (then again I’m not sure where this hype actually came from) and that I feel the film’s storyline to be unengaging for me. Also Thandie Newton‘s character in this is very peculiar, probably on purpose.

Two stars because it’s not complete shit, but I probably won’t make any attempts to re-watch it in a hurry.

The Mask – ★★★☆☆

The Mask is one of those films that I have an unspoken nostalgia for. Not sure really why, I don’t recall seeing it all that often when I was a kid. The only hazy memory I do have of the film is watching it around Christmas time, I think after Flubber – which for some reason I hated as a kid, that needs a rewatch.

I had watched The Mask on TV only a few years ago, although it was probably nearly 10 years ago now, and enjoyed it. I watched this following on from watching some Farnelly brothers comedies and just found that it no longer hit the mark. Carey is a good comic and this might be the film where Diaz is looking her absolute best; but the story just feels a bit naff and the special effects don’t really hold up that well for me anymore. I think that’s the problem with some of these films that rely on early CGI so much, it dates them terribly to the point that if there isn’t any other substance available the whole film becomes a bit deflated.

I’ll probably keep it around for the sake of nostalgia alone, and maybe it won’t be overshadowed the next time I watch it by Farnelly comedies. I kind of want to dig out the sequel which my mum always told me was complete tripe; but I don’t recall ever seeing more than 5 minutes of it. Maybe I’ll watch this and the second one and then hope it ends up on Sequelisers.

Three stars because I’m a sucker for nostalgia, this is slipping close to two stars however.

Dumb and Dumber – ★★★★☆

As part of building my Plex library I have been seeking out my favourite films on DVD so that I can import them into it. At a recent car boot a seller was selling off all their remaining DVD’s at 10p each. All of which were in fantastic as new condition. The family selling these DVD’s clearly enjoyed 90s comedy as much as I do as they had quite a few staples. One of them was Dumb and Dumber, which is one of my favourite Farrelly Brother films.

I have seen this film maybe about 3 times now (which is good going for me, considering one of my favourite films Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind I have watched in full maybe 6-7 times?) and each viewing is as enjoyable as the last. Carey and Daniels do a great job here with their doofus characters and it just tickles me pink. I always highly suggest this film to anyone to enjoys silly comedy like myself, although lets be honest most of them will have already seen it!

Not a 5 star film for me just yet as I struggle to give comedies the highest rating. Most of them don’t really try for anything unique or special with their cinematography, and the storylines are usually as shallow as the kiddie pool. But let’s say that Dumb and Dumber gets a strong 4 star rating.

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