Saturday, July 05, 2014

Film Review: Life Itself (2014)

The first time I remember reading one of Roger Ebert's reviews was when I was in my first year of University in early 2005. It wasn't a review of a current release, but one of George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, and it made a pretty big impression on me. Mostly, this was because it featured a ton of plot details which probably would have bothered me had I not already seen the film, and did piss off a friend of mine who read the review without seeing the film first. But it also stuck with me because it was unlike any film review I'd read before. It was less a review of the film itself than of the screening Ebert attended, and of the broader culture in which the film was made. It was also unabashedly personal, and offered a pointed critique of a wrongheaded certification system which allowed young children to see acts of horrific violence purely because there was no nudity in Romero's film. It was a man speaking his mind, plainly and forcefully, and it was a mind I returned to countless times over the next decade.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Half-Time Top Ten

Blue Ruin
Now that we're halfway through the year, it seems like the perfect time to look back and take stock of how the year in film has unfolded thus far. It's been a surprisingly strong start, with a nice mix of smart blockbusters and entertaining indies, and while I've got high hopes for the rest of the year - Inherent Vice can't get here soon enough! - I wouldn't be heartbroken if this ended up being my Top 10 for the entire year. As far as an assessment of the year, this would be a "keep up the good work" for 2014.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Film Review: They Came Together (2014)

Molly (Amy Poehler) is a funny, smart, beautiful woman who just can't catch a break when it comes to love. Joel (Paul Rudd) is a funny, smart, non-threateningly handsome and just Jewish-looking enough man who discovers that his girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) is cheating on him at the very moment that he proposes to her. New York is a city in the North-Eastern part of the United States of America, and it's also a character in this film. They seem perfect for each other, except Molly owns a small candy shop and Joel works for a big candy corporation that plans to put her out of business. New York seems pretty indifferent to the whole thing, to be honest. Will their obvious chemistry and love of fiction books overcome their slight differences, possibly after a break-up at the end of Act Two and a near-miss wedding to a clearly unsuitable other person? If only there was an entire genre of formulaic movies that we could consult to get the answers!

Film Review: 22 Jump Street (2014)

One of the main issues I had with 21 Jump Street, Phil Lord and Chris Miller's (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, The LEGO Movie) first revival of the '80s cops-pretend-to-be-teenagers series, was that it used a veneer of post-modernism to justify its existence without really doing anything else with it. By pointing out the presumed creative bankruptcy that leads studios to green light remakes of ephemera from decades ago, Lord and Miller, working from a script by Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall, were able to position 21 Jump Street as a critique of revivals of old properties, then use that as a springboard to make a really entertaining buddy cop comedy that wasn't really critiquing anything because it was too busy delivering a lot of great jokes. It started with an interesting idea, then tossed it aside once it had served its purpose. It was able to get away with that purely by being incredibly funny, but it still felt like a missed opportunity.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Film Review: Godzilla (2014)

If there is a single moment that encapsulates the strengths and weaknesses of Godzilla, Gareth Edwards' take on the most venerable of movie monsters, it is the one in which Ken Watanabe, playing Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, the film's requisite expert on things no one has ever seen, utters the words "Let them fight." In terms of the narrative, it comes at a crucial point, the moment when the film acknowledges that the only way to resolve the threat posed by the insect-like creatures known as MUTOs is to let Godzilla destroy them. It's a moment filled with awe at the sheer power of these building-sized monsters, acceptance at the powerlessness of humanity in the face of such enormity, and more than a little bit of excitement. Even scientists dedicated to the preservation of the human race want to see giant creatures whale on each other.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Shot/Reverse Shot - Game of Thrones Season 4

To mark the end of the fourth season of HBO's Game of Thrones, a season that saw it reach new levels of popularity - when you combine live viewings and on-demand figures it's now the highest rated show in HBO history - and controversy, particular with regards to its use of sexual violence as a plot device, Joe Gastineau and I decided to sit down and have an in-depth discussion about the show.

We talk a little bit about specific events in the history of the show, so there are spoilers pretty much from the beginning, but we mainly use it as a jumping off point to discuss the reasons for the show's success, how it functions as an adaptation of a long, involved and still unfinished series of books, and whether or not it is a fundamentally more ambitious show than The Crystal Maze. It's a fun, wide-ranging talk that keeps the Hodoring down to a minimum.

As always, you can stream the podcast using the link below, or preferably (from our point of view) you can subscribe using iTunes. If you choose the later, please rate it and leave a review because it helps us to get more listeners, and also gives us something to obsess over. Speaking of which, you can also Like us on Facebook, assuming that you do.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Film Review: Beyond Clueless (2014)

Anyone familiar with critic and blogger Charlie Lyne knows that he loves teen movies. As the editor of the supremely entertaining film blog Ultra Culture, he has written extensively about how different films depict the teen experience, often with a mix of irreverence and genuine passion that is both immensely funny and deeply admirable, especially considering how little regard the genre receives from either critics or audiences. In 2012, Lyne proposed a manifesto for what he dubbed "The Teen Movie New Wave", referring to an emerging canon of teen movies and newly-minted young stars who are starting to tell entertaining and provocative stories about teenagers - ones that might actually be liked by and seem truthful to teenagers - following almost a decade in which those kind of films became increasingly rare.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Film Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Tom Cruise has spent so long playing action heroes that it's jarring to see him play a coward. In Doug Liman's Edge of Tomorrow, Cruise plays William Cage, a recruiter for the United Defense Force who has convinced millions of young men and women to sign up to battle an alien race known as the Mimics. When the leader of the UDF (Brendan Gleeson) presents Cage with the chance to report from the front lines of the final assault on the Mimics' stronghold in Northern France, he declines, saying that he became a recruiter specifically to avoid combat. His refusal isn't accepted, so he is knocked unconscious. Upon waking, he discovers that he has been sent to a training camp where his commanding officer (Bill Paxton) has been told that Cage is a deserter. Against his protests, he is strapped into a mech suit so that he, along with thousands of others, can fight the Mimics on the beaches. Unable to even turn off the safety on his weapon, Cage is killed within minutes. Then, he wakes up back on the training camp, meets his commanding officer again, and realises that his whole day has been reset.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Film Review: The Unknown Known (2013)

In terms of its style and subject, The Unknown Known feels like a spiritual sequel to director Errol Morris' Oscar-winning documentary The Fog of War. Both turn Morris' deeply unnerving Interrotron onto the faces of former Secretaries of Defense who presided over long, disastrous wars (in The Fog of War, the Secretary was Robert McNamara and the war was Vietnam; in The Unknown Known, the Secretary is Donald Rumsfeld and the wars are Afghanistan and Iraq); both offer overviews of the personal lives of their subjects as well as their political careers; both supplement their near-unbroken eye contact with archive footage, occasional flashy graphics and insistent, faintly menacing music.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Film Review: Blue Ruin (2013)

The first twenty minutes of Jeremy Saulnier's darkly comic revenge thriller Blue Ruin works as a great illustration of F. Scott Fitzgerald's maxim that action is character. There's almost no dialogue during the opening movement, and what little there is tends to be muted or fades out soon after it starts, but Saulnier perfectly elucidates the nature of his main character, Dwight (Macon Blair). Introduced taking a bath in a house he has broken into (before then jumping, naked, out of a window when the owners come home) the film establishes him as someone who is resourceful, able to survive on his wits, but not terribly forward thinking. He knows how to get what he wants, be it a bath, some food or a couple of dollars from recycling cans, but he doesn't think about the consequences until it's too late to do anything about them.