Two documentaries that champion art over commercialism.
Mr. Watterson is Bill Watterson the creator of much loved comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. As Watterson is legendarily reclusive there are no interviews with him and barely any archive footage so instead we have extensive interviews with fans, people in the comic industry and celebrity talking heads like Seth Green. It was nice for me to hear people speak with such passion and excitement about Calvin and Hobbes, as one of my happiest childhood memories involves me reading my C & H anthology surrounded by Pic ‘n’ Mix in the sunshine…
What I found most interesting about Dear Mr. Watterson was the revelation that Watterson has never allowed Calvin & Hobbes to be licenced thus preventing any C & H toys or cartoons or anything else. This moral stance has cost Watterson millions of dollars and has stopped his creation reaching the level of popularity achieved by Garfield or Snoopy.
This brings us neatly to Harmontown which follows Community creator Dan Harmon on his tour across America promoting his eponymous podcast.
Like Watterson, Harmon has been fired from numerous projects (including Community for one season before being re-hired) for his refusal to change who he is and also because of his constant quest for honesty and perfection in his writing.
Harmontown is a brutally honest portrayal of a man trying to overcome his problems with alcoholism and a difficult upbringing by connecting with his fans and trying to help others with similar problems. As well as extensive live footage of the tour and behind the scenes extras there is also illuminating interviews with celebrities who have worked with Harmon including Jack Black, Sarah Silverman, Ben Stiller and of course the cast of Community.
The whole message of the show Community was there is a place for anti social loners amongst each other and Harmontown takes this notion to the next level with Harmon and his fellow podcaster Jeff Davis playing to packed out venues night after night of misfits, dungeons and dragons enthusiasts and people who have nowhere else to go.
I found Harmontown to be much more true, funny, and honest than any episode of Community and I have a new found respect for Dan Harmon and his work.
Both these documentaries are proof that there are still people out there producing art with meaning and both these films pour scorn on anybody who is too stuck up to accept that comic strips and comedy writing are just as much of an art form as anything else.
Nowhere near as much fun as it should be…
Something as innocuous as a man buying a mirror leads to offensively horrible consequences that made me want to cry.
What do you actually look for when you decide to turn off the lights and watch a horror film? A few cheap scares? An overriding sense of dread? Unflinching horror seared into your brain forever? Well then Oculus is for you! Like other recent horror classics 1408, Session 9 and Grave Encounters, Oculus messes with the viewers head as much as the characters. Oculus takes lot of classic elements of the horror genre (haunted item with a history of death and destruction, father turns against family, mirrors in general) and fuses them all together to create something fresh and really rather good. It is gory but not gratuitously so and it plays on our biggest fears (‘I’m not safe in my own home’, ‘What if there was no way to escape’, etc).
One thing Oculus is missing is a great actor. John Cusack turns a pretty naff idea into a modern horror classic in 1408 and Peter Mullan’s performance is the heart of Session 9 but the acting is a distraction in Oculus. I’m not a fan of Dr. Who but I always found Karen Gillan likeable and natural. Here her character is much more of the classic horror film mould of making ridiculous decisions and reacting to things in a completely unlikely way and just being generally unpleasant. There is also zero chemistry between the two main characters despite the fact they are supposed to be brother and sister. Could have been brilliant, ends up just being very good, but definitely genuinely frightening.
Death tells a story.
The Book Thief is a pretty conventional world war two story in the vein of The boy with the striped pajamas, Schindler’s List, The Pianist etc etc but it also makes some really unconventional decisions. For example TBF is narrated by that old joker the Grim Reaper. There is no explanation for this it is just a thing. Also the decision to have the characters speak in English is fine (it is set in Germany) but you can’t then just have them randomly speak German as well from time to time. It is an engaging and well acted story however. Director Brian Percival has quite a lot going on but the story never feels rushed. Emily Watson plays that same strong headed matriarch she so often plays but when she is so good you can’t really begrudge her it. More impressive is the excellent Geoffrey Rush who not only makes a marvellous villainous pirate but also a charming father figure here. Relative unknown Sophie Nelisse is impressively strong through out, fellow child actor Nico Liersch however is enthusiastic but completely out of his depth. The Book Thief is a steady if unremarkable addition to an already swollen genre but I would say it is worth watching once.
Horrible, grim faced woman lowers tone of a nice old gentleman’s house with her vulgar stories.
My first experience of director Lars Von Trier was Antichrist which I hated so much it took me four years to watch another one of his works. Antichrist is just controversy for controversy’s sake as well as being unpleasant, pretentious nonsense so I was pleasantly surprised when I gave his other work Dogville a shot and absolutely loved it. I followed this with Melancholia which I also loved so I had started to think Antichrist was an anomaly.
Then I watched Nymphomaniac… Jesus…
I don’t know what possessed someone as obviously intelligent as Lars von Trier to take four hours to present the message ‘If a man fucks loads of girls he is a stud but if a girl does it she is a slag’ – A view so obvious and prevalent that you see it everywhere from sixth form drama productions to fucking TOWIE.
In fairness the first half is actually pretty good but the second half is truly terrible. The sex scenes seem gratuitous in one way but in another way you definitely couldn’t call anything in this four hour glumathon titillating so accusations of gratuity are probably unfair. All this would be fine if the acting or writing or ANYTHING saved Nymphomanic but nothing does.
Of course it must have been tough for Charlotte Gainsbourg to film all those sex scenes but it would have been tough for me if I filmed them and believe me that would have been shit too. Just because a role is grueling, doesn’t make it good.
Shia LaBeouf is all over the place. I literally have no idea what his accent was. Uma Thurman and Christian Slater save the first half and Jamie Bell is actually the best thing in the entire saga in the second half but nobody else stands out. The characters are so badly written nobody could possibly believe that anywhere in the world there is people like this.
Tarantino also writes characters that are a caricature but they are bloody entertaining. I can’t imagine a single reason to bother sitting through this but I’m sure it is being hailed as a masterpiece the world over.
Vince Vaughn discovers he is about to become a father… to 534 children.
That plot sounds like something that Adam Sandler would shit out these days, possibly with him playing about 50 of the children himself. Thankfully Delivery Man feels more indie* than zany. At times writer/director Ken Scott does force his message down our throat a little (at one point VV discovers that three of his kids are in order: black, gay and finally disabled.), but he mostly keeps Delivery Man just about the right side of sentimental. Obviously with someone like Vince Vaughn a lot of the enjoyment you get out of his work depends on how much you like him as a man (as he basically just plays Vince Vaughn in every film). Personally I really like the big guy so I tend to enjoy most of his stuff and there is a lot of laughs along the way in Delivery Man (mostly in the interchanges between Vaughn and Parks and Recreation‘s Chris Pratt). There is nothing to separate this movie from many others like it but if you are looking for a nice easy watch this fits the bill.
*This is probably because this film has already been released as an indie film by the same director as Starbuck. As I haven’t seen the original I have forgone any kind of comparison.
A bunch of dwarves, a hobbit, a wizard and a dragon do things.
There is so much good stuff on show here but I still left feeling disappointed. Peter Jackson’s biggest task with this trilogy is justifying stretching a 300ish page book over three films and he just has not done that with either instalment. The theatrical version here already feels like a directors cut as there so much padding and unnecessary material. Having said that there are still many breathtaking moments in part 2, particularly in the last hour when Smaug shows up. It is quite refreshing that with the recent clamour for dark fantasy this film owes a lot more to Indiana Jones than it does to Game of Thrones (although seeing penis’ flopping about everywhere would not really suit the tone of the The Hobbit series). The unlikely moments in the Indiana Jones saga are still enjoyable because of the humour and knowing nod and winks throughout. Jackson has just made Middle Earth too stern and serious. It looks like a terrible place to live. Men with beards look off in to the middle distance. It always seems to be cloudy. My final point is that while there are definitely parts of this film that look incredible there are also quite a few scenes that looked like they were filmed at Disneyland or Alton Towers. It just didn’t strike me as real, certainly not in the same way as the rings film did. Overall I really enjoyed most of this film but compared to the rings films and (by all accounts, I haven’t read it) the source material, The Desolation of Smaug just doesn’t stand up.
Two friends plan to travel the world is ruined when one of them selfishly becomes a terrifying vampire.
I can’t remember off hand a vampire found footage tale so points for originality. This is off set slightly by the derivative need to take any kind of modern horror fad and just add every existing horror story to it until it is totally ruined. Expect a werewolf found footage movie sometime soon. The other good thing about Afflicted is that it is genuinely creepy pretty much throughout and does the absolute best it can on a presumably tiny budget. These limitations come to the fore in a negative light however when considering the acting. Newcomers Derek Lee and Clif Prowse do a sterling job with the writing and direction but they could have done with at least one actual actor in the lead roles. As the story becomes more ridiculous they need a more experienced head to keep the viewer engaged. Overall though they have done a decent job here, I am interested to see what they do in the future.
Woody and co return for a Halloween themed story.
If you hadn’t already got this by now I will spell it out one more time. I FUCKING LOVE PIXAR. I wasn’t expecting much from this with it only being a TV special but it is just as hilarious and imaginative as everything else they produce. It doesn’t have the visuals but when it is so much fun it doesn’t really matter. Worth watching for Combat Carl alone (voiced by Carl Weathers).