Goodbye 2013, there’s gonna be some changes around here

December 31, 2013 in Best Of, Blogging, Misc by pacejmiller

taipei 101 (500x333)

True story: I didn’t even know that it’s New Year’s Eve today until someone asked me what my plans were for tonight. Such is the cloudy mist of routine, exhaustion and apathy that surrounds me these days when it comes to figuring out what is happening outside the bubble of my existence. It felt like yesterday when I said goodbye to 2012 and ushered in an endless list of things I want to accomplish for the upcoming 12 months. And just like that, 2013 is now about to be over!

It’s been a strange year, to say the least. Up at the top of the list is the welcoming of my second child, the absolute highlight of 2013. It’s a different experience when you have a second one. In some ways you care less, and in other ways you care more. I’ve been fortunate enough to be blessed with a healthy boy, a very good boy, one who shits on the notion that “having one child is like having one child, having two children is like having 10.” On the other hand, his elder brother is growing to be quite the handful, so I suppose things even themselves out.

Family has been a gift this year and through all the trials and tribulations I’ve come to appreciate them more than ever, even when my parents are doing their best impressions of Frank and Estelle Costanza.

You know, it’s interesting. Whenever I used to think about who I would step in front of a bus for, there were always people I’d say “yes” for, though there would always be a question in the back of my mind as to whether, when push came to shove, I’d really be able to go through with it. When it comes to my kids, however, it’s a resolute and unequivocal yes. Not even a hint of hesitation. I guess that’s what unconditional love feels like.

While I miss my dear Sydney friends, many of whom I was lucky enough to catch up with during my most recent visit, the friends I have made in Taiwan have been awesome and play another part in my comfortable existence here, complete with regular movies, all the latest TV shows, the occasional book (btw, I smashed my goal of 20 books this year by going for 23), every Pacers game (yay!), and lots of great food and exercise. Oh, and evidently, blogging. But as I have said many times this year, comfort has been a double-edged sword that has sapped me of my career motivations.

That’s where I have to make some changes, man, for 2014. For real. Time to ramp things up and cast aside the distractions. And to be fair, a lot of my distractions are distractions because I allow them to be. That’s it! I’m clearing the plate and licking my chops. Next year, writing MUST be at the forefront of my priorities. Books must be completed. Screenplays must be attempted. Stuff needs to get done.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Now go and enjoy your 2014.

Top 10 Films of 2012!

December 31, 2013 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

All those 2012 movie blitzes bring us to this point — the top 10 films of 2012!

Out of the 109 movies from 2012 (released in 2012, not necessarily watched in 2012) I have reviewed on this blog, these are the cream of the crop. To be honest, I’m fairly disappointed with this list. Looking through it again I think 2012 was a rather disappointing year, with some very good films but nothing really leaving a lasting impression (2011, for example, gave me Drive, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, all films that would have topped my list this year).

Anyway, I’ve decided to stick to my guns and prepare this list based on my ratings at the time I reviewed the films rather than what I think of them right now having had time to contemplate them in more detail or in some cases watch them again. Here they are, in reverse order (click on film titles for full review):

10. Prometheus (2D) (2012)

Yeah I didn't get this either, but he's really buffed

Yeah I didn’t get this either, but he’s really buffed

Despite what you might think, this is not my “worst of” list. Yes, I have selected Prometheus, notwithstanding all its well pointed out flaws, as one of the top 10 movies of the year. All I can say is: bite me. OK, allow me to explain. First of all, I don’t really care about how the film fits in or doesn’t fit in with the rest of the Alien universe (mainly because I don’t know it well enough). I watched Prometheus as a standalone film with elements from that universe, but more importantly as a film with scary creatures and cool special effects. I am frank in my criticism of various parts of the film in my review, but I still think, without having watched it again, that it delivers as an enjoyable horror sci-fi flick. Expectations aside, I really liked it when I saw it, and there aren’t any other films that scored higher than this film apart from those on this list. So there.

9. The Hunger Games (2012)

 

Jennifer Lawrence rules

Jennifer Lawrence rules

This is a film I wonder if I would put on this list had I watched it for a second time, but alas, here it is anyway. Having not read the books when I watched it, I found The Hunger Games to be a lot of fun, driven by a cracker performance by the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence and some stellar special effects. While the premise is not the most original, the execution was strong and the action was dynamite. The set up was a bit overlong (a problem repeated in the sequel, Catching Fire), but once they hit the game arena everything was forgiven. After Twilight, watching The Hunger Games was a real pleasure.

8. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Did I mention Jennifer Lawrence rules?

Did I mention Jennifer Lawrence rules?

Two entries this year for Jennifer Lawrence, who won the Oscar for best actress in Silver Linings Playbook, the best romantic comedy of the year. As I said in my original review, I’m not usually too high on rom-coms, but this one resonated because of the sweet chemistry between Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, the string supporting cast (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver), the witty laughs and its ability to take a quirky angle on the very serious topic of mental illness. Ahh…Jennifer Lawrence…

7. Life of Pi (3D) (2012)

Ang Lee rules

Ang Lee rules

What more can you say about Ang Lee? The man knows how to make movies. Life of Pi, based on one of my favourite novels, far exceeded my expectations given that it was previously considered unadaptable. And yet Lee somehow manages to deliver one of the most magical, visually stunning and heartfelt movies of the year without drowning us in boredom, philosophy or pointless 3D. I admit it’s the type of film that can polarise audiences for its sometimes preachy tone and fantastical premise, but if you’re in the right mood for it then Life of Pi could turn out to be one of the most rewarding film experiences of the year.

6. The Invisible War (2012)

So sad

So sad

I’m not ordinarily a huge feature docomentary watcher but this one left such a lasting impression on me. The Invisible War documents sexual assault in the US military, and it’s one of the most shocking, harrowing and infuriating movies you could ever see. And it’s all true. Directed with a steady hand that doesn’t sensationalise the claims, allowing the victims to tell their own stories in their own words, The Invisible War is one of the most important movies of the year, or any year.

5. This is 40 (2012)

This is 40 is so good it makes you forget Megan Fox is in it

This is 40 is so good it makes you forget Megan Fox is in it

This is an entry that will probably surprise a lot of people given that it received a lot of mixed and negative reviews. I have been a very outspoken critic of most of Judd Apatow’s movies, so it came as a surprise to me too that I fell in love with This is 40, featuring a seemingly perfect couple played by Apatow’s real-life wife Leslie Mann and one of my fave actors, Paul Rudd. The jokes, often brutal but not as crass as some of Apatow’s other works, are painfully honest and spoke straight to my funny bone. Perhaps they resonated with me more as I am also a husband and father with similar pressures, but whatever the reason I just thought it was one of the most hilarious movies I had seen in quite some time.

4. The Avengers (2D) (2012)

Fun and games

Fun and games

Was The Avengers really one of the top four films of the year? In retrospect, I don’t really know, but at least when I watched it towards the start of the year I was in awe of the magnificent feat that director Joss Whedon was able to pull off, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else capable of putting together an ensemble superhero movie with so many big names and making them all fit together and play off each other so perfectly. Not to say I don’t love the growing trend of gritty, “realistic” superhero flicks, but it was also great to see an old fashioned one like The Avengers, where the mood is more relaxed, the jokes are sardonic and the tone a lot less grim. A super popcorn movie that didn’t disappoint despite near-impossible odds.

3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Percy Jackson the perv

Percy Jackson the perv

When I look at all the movies from 2012 a few years from now, The Perks of Being a Wallflower will probably be my fondest memory. Having not read the book (yet — my later review of it is here), I didn’t really know what to expect from it, but I came way thinking that it was the best coming-of-age movie I had seen in years. Directed by the guy who wrote the book, Stephen Chbosky, Wallflower is a sensitive, heartwarming and heartbreaking tale about a damaged boy (played marvellously by Logan Lerman) trying to figure out his place in the world. Emma Watson and Ezra Miller were also brilliant as his soul sister and brother, demonstrating that their acting range is far from limited to the characters they’re best known for. While it is far from perfect, Wallflower has that uncanny ability to creep up on you and latch itself onto your emotions. It’s a sentimental film, sure, but it’s a sentimental film of the best kind.

2. Django Unchained (2012)

Leo being Leo

Leo being Leo, which means being awesome

Tarantino’s best film since Pulp Fiction? I’m not sure about that, but I think it is arguably his most entertaining. Django Unchained is an apologetically violent Tarantino-esque fantasy spaghetti western, and I enjoyed the ride immensely. Like most Tarantino films, Django is a unique experience — you don’t really know where you’re heading but you feel like you’re in safe hands, AND you’re having a lot of fun along the way. A story about a wronged black man who goes on a killing rampage is a premise that probably won’t work in the hands of any other director, but for Tarantino it feels apt. Powered by some awesome performances by Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leo DiCaprio, Django is quintessentially Quentin, filled with slick dialogue, unflinching violence, memorable characters and a truck load of coolness. Yeah, it’s far too long, but most movies are these days.

1. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Rubugrobumarubu Batman!

Rubugrobumarubu, Batman!

I only awarded one film the full 5 stars in 2012, and as it turned out, that movie was The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s epic conclusion to his Batman trilogy, without a doubt the best superhero franchise of all time. While many parts of the film either didn’t make sense or were only possible in comic land, The Dark Knight Rises offers the payoff audiences have been waiting for since Batman Begins hit our screens in 2005. With Batman more mentally and physically fragile than ever, plus a formidable adversary in Bane and an intriguing subplot in the emergence of Catwoman, The Dark Knight Rises elevated the stakes to new heights before ending with a fitting bang. Strictly speaking, however, I don’t think this is truly a 5-star film, but it felt right to award it the maximum rating after placing it in context as the finale of a magnificent franchise. As I said elsewhere, I think The Dark Knight, which I initially awarded 4.5 stars, is the better overall film, and if I had a do-over I probably would switch the ratings. But The Dark Knight Rises is like how everyone treated LOTR: The Return of the King. Does it really deserve to be one of three films in history with 11 Oscars (the others being Ben Hur and Titanic, though Return of the King was the only film to sweep all its nominations)? Probably not, but voters felt it fitting to reward it because of the quality of the franchise as a whole. That’s how I look at it anyway.

So there you have it, the top 10 films of 2012. I’ll endeavour to put up a worst and best of list for 2013 in the next 3 months! Seriously!

Missing the cut: Argo, Zero Dark 30, Compliance, End of Watch, Pitch Perfect, Jack Reacher, Looper, The Cabin in the Woods

10 Worst Films of 2012!

December 30, 2013 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Yep, it’s that time of the year again — the time to name my worst movies from…last year. I suck, I know, but it still has to be done. I have on record 109 films from the year 2012 (ie, with an official release date of 2012, not necessarily watched in 2012) which I’ve reviewed on this blog, and I have sifted through all of them to present you with a list of the worst of the worst.

As it turned out, the “worst of” list was much easier to compile than my “best of” list this year, a reflection of the overall quality of films from 2012. Either that or I just watch a lot of crap movies. Either way, here they are…

(click on the movie title for the full review)

In reverse order:

10. Mirror Mirror (2012)

Someone get me a pair of tweezers

Someone get me a pair of tweezers

There were two Snow White films last year, and neither of them were very good. But for all its faults, Snow White and the Huntsman was at least watchable. Mirror Mirror, on the other hand, starring Lily Collins’ eyebrows and the ghost of Julia Roberts, was atrociously bad. Though it wasn’t badly made, the end product was lame, unfunny, uninspired and lacking in any genuine warmth or excitement. It was a snoozer of the worst kind.

9. Rites of Passage (2012)

Christian Slater speaks to a sock puppet

Christian Slater speaks to a sock puppet

The proof that success in Hollywood is fickle. Christian Slater, Stephen Dorff and Wes Bentley star in this straight-to-DVD laugher about serial killers, hillbillies and talking monkey sock puppets. Imagine a slasher film with all the worst cliches imaginable, including the stupid and unlikable characters. This was worse.

8. To the Wonder (2012)

Imagine this for two hours

Imagine nothing but this for two hours

A controversial choice, perhaps, considering it was written and directed by the worshipped Terrence Malick. But To the Wonder, for me, was the kind of pretentious tripe that would be absolutely ridiculed if it were the product of a lesser known director. Even in this case there were many critics who loathed this arty farty film full of dancing and prancing through the meadows, cornfields and streets with 50 rapid takes of the same scene. Sure, it’s pretty to look at, if you like that kind of stuff, but as a film experience this was a waste of time.

7. The Apparition (2012)

Grab higher or lower?

Grab higher or lower?

This star vehicle for Twilight‘s Ashley Greene had somewhat of an intriguing premise that lasted about two minutes. From then on it was the usual crap you would expect from a generic haunting movie that steals — very poorly, might I add — from horror films you’ve seen over the years, topped off with one heck of a silly, predictable ending.

6. What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012)

This pic says it all

This pic says it all

I’m actually surprised that this film was not higher on the list. Movies based on bestselling self-help books are made to land on my “worst of” lists, and this one is no different. Star-studded ensemble cast having way too much fun amongst themselves to the boredom and disgust of everyone else. It’s saccharine, manipulative and just plain bad.

5. Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

Like we haven't seen this before

Like we haven’t seen this before

Paranormal Activity films are a sure thing to land on my “worst of” list every year, and this year is no different. The fourth film in the franchise is more of the same old — filler filler filler, lame scare, filler filler filler, lame ending, all captured on ubiquitous HD cameras. At what point will audiences wake up and realise they’re all the same crap?

4. Red Dawn (2012)

Hey Chris, did you see Kim Jong-un?

Hey Chris, did you see Kim Jong-un?

A teen action flick in the vein of Tomorrow, When the War Began, except the concept simply does not work in a modern setting. Even with Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson carrying the star power this was a film destined to fail from the beginning. I tried, but I just couldn’t get over the fact that absolutely nothing made any sense. The plethora of holes in the plot and the complete lack of logic and common sense made this one of the most unwatchable movies of the year.

3. Piranha 3DD (2012)

I was as appalled as this guy

I was as appalled as this guy

At least this film knew it was going to be bad. Intended to be a so-based-it’s-good guilty pleasure full of crazy violence, gore and gratuitous nudity, Piranha 3DD could be enjoyed by adolescents who “woo” and “ahh” at every severed penis and spray their shorts at the first hint of a sideboob shot. For everyone else, well…watch at your own peril.

2. Smiley (2012)

Smiley is as bad as this scene looks

Smiley is as bad as this scene looks

It’s probably a little unfair that Smiley ranks so high on this list because the budget and expectations were so low. It’s a good example of viral online marketing (that’s how I came across it in the first place) and an even better example of a horrible movie. Nothing about this film could come close to being categorised as even average. From the limp plot to the sad acting to the tsunami of slasher cliches, Smiley is about as appalling a film as you can see (or for your sake, not see). And yet, there is one film in 2012 that tops it.

1. Project X (2012)

project X

Yep, Project X is the worst

In this list I have covered poorly conceived ideas, poorly made films, pretentious films, and films that never had much of a chance of being any good. Project X is worse than all of them and receives the dubious honour of being the worst film of 2012. It’s a reflection of everything that’s wrong with the western world, but rather than sending a warning about it, Project X celebrates it with a debaucherous party that is supposed to be humorous. Instead, it’s the most unfunny and unattractive film of the year, and the vinegar-laced mean spirit that runs through it also makes it by far the most loathsome.

Dishonourable mentions: About Cherry, Cosmopolis, Fire with Fire, That’s My Boy, Alex Cross, Resident Evil: Retribution

PS: Up next, my top 10 films of 2012!

Book Review: ‘And the Mountains Echoed’ by Khaled Housseini

December 29, 2013 in Book Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

and-the-mountains-echoed

I consider The Kite Runner to be on a short list of books I attribute to turning me into a more avid reader, and so it was a no brainer that I would tackle Khaled Housseini’s latest bestseller, And the Mountains Echoed, his third Afghan-angle emotional roller coaster to date. And to sum it up, I absolutely adored the book, though it isn’t quite on the level of The Kite Runner in terms of its ability to carve a permanent spot in my memory.

Housseini has proven that he is a master storyteller who has a way of getting to his readers’ hearts with his delicate prose and heartstring-tugging themes. And the Mountains Echoed is his most ambitious book to to date, spanning three generations across 70 years, and set in multiple locations ranging from Afghanistan, France, the United States and Greece.

The story is told by a large cast of interconnected characters linked to each other through a tragic incident where circumstances forced a family to give up a beloved child, and examines how it has had a ripple effect on each of their lives. To top things off, Housseini employs an assortment of narrative styles, from third person to third person and even adopting letters and magazine interviews. Each chapter is told through the point of view of a different character in a different time and place, creating a rich tapestry pieced together by a common thread.

The result is a book that offers a slightly different experience each chapter, and at times comes across as a series of skilled character-driven short stories. It works, for the most part, offering insights otherwise not possible with a single character focus, but on the other hand some readers might not like the way the narrative has been split and scattered. For me personally, the introductory chapters, which begin with a father telling his children a touching parable, are the strongest, while the last couple of chapters meandered too much for my liking and turned out to be the most disappointing despite delivering the biggest payoff.

But on the whole, And the Mountains Echoed is still a rewarding novel that tackles universal themes such as guilt, regret, yearning, isolation, family, kinship, and of course — the Housseini special — redemption. Housseini knows how to speak to our hearts and he does so often and with a punch in this book, though at times you could argue that he might have been stepping perilously close to the boundary of manipulation. As usual, while the book is more “international” than his previous efforts, there is a strong Afghan flavour that reflects Housseini’s heritage and the “survivor’s guilt” he says he feels from escaping his war torn country.

The Kite Runner is an unforgettable classic. A Thousand Splendid sons is not quite in the same league (to be honest I’ve largely forgotten its details), but it’s still a very fine book full that pulls the heart strings. I’d put And the Mountains Echoed in between the two — a commendably ambitious effort that fans of Housseini’s writing should love.

4/5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 14

December 27, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Movies reviewed: Cloud Atlas, About Cherry, Dredd, To the Wonder

This is probably going to be my last 2012 movie blitz (at least for now) because I’ve promised to do my best and worst of 2012 before the end of this year and the days are running out! I believe I only have about 4 movies left to watch (I’ve discarded the rest), but since none of them will likely make either list I’m just going to leave them for later.

If this is indeed the last one then I’m going out on a high as this blitz is a great one, packed with some high-profile flicks from 2012.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

CloudAtlas-Poster

Cloud Atlas was one of my most anticipated movies of 2012, but for some reason the film either (1) never made it to Taiwanese cinemas; or (2) was only showing for such a short time that I missed it completely. I’m not sure what happened because it had been slated to be Oscar bait and one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, but perhaps it was the furore over the Asian-izing of white actors that sunk the film even before it made its way to Asian shores.

I finally got around to watching it the other day, and my reaction to it is mixed. I can see why it was so polarizing – there are elements about it which are amazing, but on the other hand it felt like an ambitious film like this was doomed to failure from the start. Success or failure, Cloud Atlas is without a doubt one of the most ambitious films ever made, and kudos must go to the Wachowskis (for those who don’t know, they are no longer the Wachowski “brothers” because one of them is now a “sister”) for even attempting a film of this size and complexity.

Spanning nearly 3 hours, Cloud Atlas is an epic set across six time periods, from the mid-1800s to the 24th century. Each period is played by more or less the same set of actors playing different characters, and that is where the ridiculed makeup and special effects come in (I’ll get to that in a sec). The reason why they got the same actors to play characters in different time periods is because they are supposed to be reincarnates from different lives, and the film is pretty much an exploration of the idea that people go through life after life, that they are bound to certain people in each life, and that actions in one life can affect or shape lives in the future.

The narrative jumps around between the six time periods, which can be confusing and daunting for some, but for the most part the Wachowskis do a stellar job of keeping the story flowing and bringing its core concepts to the forefront. That said, with so many interlocking stories and characters, it is difficult to afford all of them enough time to develop, and as a result I found parts of the film unsatisfying and lacking in emotional depth. There is a payoff at the end, but it took a very long time to get there.

The all-star cast is blameless in all of this. Really, how can you complain about the likes of Tom Hanks, HalleBerry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant? Each of them play a wide range of characters from good to evil, and they each do it convincingly, as far as performances are concerned. What didn’t work so well was the makeup and effects needed to transform those actors from one race to another. This was something that didn’t pose a problem in the novel, and it’s hard to fault the Wachowskis for trying to overcome the issue by, for example, turning Jim Sturgess and Hugo Weaving into slanty-eyed Asians, and HalleBerry and Korean actress Doona Bae into white women. As good as makeup is these days, the results were laughable in many of the cases, especially for Sturgess and Weaving, who look like absolute freaks and more Alien than Asian.

But is that reason enough to bash the whole film? I don’t think so. They did the best they could under the circumstances, but for many people it will mean putting aside the absurdity of the characters’ appearances to enjoy the movie.

Like it or hate it, Cloud Atlas is a memorable film. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s the masterpiece it set out to be, though it is certainly not the spectacular turd that some critics and audiences have labelled it. If you can ignore the freaky faces and immerse yourself into the story, Cloud Atlas could be one of the most enjoyable experiences of the year, complete with well-executed action and eye-popping special effects. I’ve heard on numerous occasions that it is a film that requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate, so on my first (and possibly last) viewing I’ll give it…

3.5 stars out of 5

About Cherry (2012)

cherry

The film is called About Cherry, but it’s really not about much at all. Technically, it’s about a naïve and pretty girl (Cherry — -played by Ashley Hinshaw, who had a small part in the underrated Chronicle) who sinks into the world of pornography, but in reality it’s just about a girl who decided to get into porn for a quick buck.

I thought it would a good, or at least interesting, film because it was backed by a strong cast of supporting stars headed by James Franco, Dev Patel, Heather Graham and Lili Taylor. I’m not sure why they were drawn to this project, the directorial debut of American author, journalist and activist Stephen Elliott, but I doubt this will end up being a film placed high on their respective CVs.

The biggest problem with About Cherry is the titular character, who is played well by Hinshaw but offers no real redeeming qualities or genuine personality. She’s just a girl who wanted to make money, and saw porn as an easy route (no pun intended). There’s no manipulation, no exploitation, no coercion or persuasion – it’s just a consenting adult wanting to make money. And that doesn’t make for very compelling viewing.

Sure, her career creates some friction in her life – with her best friend (Patel) who is painfully and obviously in love with her, a fact she has no trouble using and abusing to her advantage; with her boyfriend (Franco), a druggie lawyer; and her mother (Taylor), a deadbeat alcoholic – but honestly, it’s not that bad.

We don’t really gain an insight into why Cherry went down this path or why it escalated from solo pics to real sex, apart from the suggestion that her mother is a loser and she wants to get away from her. And besides, all these relationships are not resolved properly, with the James Franco arc being particularly bizarre, almost as though he decided to quit the film midway through the shoot and they had to come up with a rushed solution.

The film is made slightly more interesting by the presence of Graham, who plays a porno director who becomes infatuated with Cherry to the detriment of her long-term relationship. But the way this part of the story is wrapped up is stupid and could be perceived as an insulting message about the nature of human sexuality.

In the end, apart from the soft core porn scenes there just isn’t a lot to like about the movie. It’s not poorly made, and the performances are decent, but it’s hard to a connect with a film on an emotional level when the characters feel so remote and uninteresting. Maybe I missed the point of About Cherry completely. Frankly, I don’t care.

1.5 stars out of 5

Dredd (2012)

dredd

It’s unfortunate that the comic strip hero Judge Dredd almost always conjures up the image of Sly Stallone mumbling about something incoherent, with Sandra Bullock beside him wondering what the hell she’s doing. This “remake”, just Dredd, probably won’t erase the memory of the 1995 disaster, but it’s nonetheless a much much better film that’s surprisingly effective and exciting.

For starters, Dredd knows exactly the type of action film it wanted to be – brutal, violent, unflinching, dark, gritty and littered with hints of political messages. This time Karl Urban (who never shows his face) plays Dredd, a Judge who plays judge, jury and executioner in a dystopic future world. Most of the action takes place in a massive slum building block controlled by drug lord Ma-Ma, played awesomely by Lena Heady (from 300 and Game of Thrones). Dredd and a new recruit with psychic powers (Olivia Thilrby) are sent to investigate the building after a brutal execution-style killing, and find themselves trapped against a whole army of criminals.

It’s a fairly simple Die Hard premise, though the look and feel of the film is closer to a futuristic version of the 2011 Indonesia masterpiece The Raid: Redemption – and it would be unfair to suggest Dredd is anywhere near as good as either film. But for the most part, Dredd is effective and should appeal to fans of the source material.

While the plot leans close to predictable, the action is explosive and thrilling, the special effects are sharp and the dialogue is darkly humorous. Plus Karl Urban and Lena Heady are just so good. It’s not quite enough to elevate Dredd above the rest of 2012’s top action flicks, but it’s not far too from the apex of the pack.

3.75 stars out of 5

To the Wonder (2012)

TotheWonder

The title of Terrence Malick’s latest romantic drama, To the Wonder, is very apt, as I am still wondering what the hell I watched. I’ve given Malick a lot of tries through the years, starting with The Thin Red Line, The New World and Tree of Life, and I’ve come away disappointed every time despite all the praises and accolades.

Like those films, my guess is that To the Wonder will polarise audiences, with some critics loving it (as evidenced by its Golden Lion nomination at the 2012 Venice Film Festival) and the majority of audiences hating it. I am siding with the latter.

The premise of the film seems harmless enough – a Ukrainian woman played by Olga Kurylenko moves to the US after meeting Ben Affleck’s character in Paris. She feels isolated and she returns to France – during which time Affleck dates Rachel McAdams – and then returns to try and rekindle the relationship.

But in typical Malick fashion, To the Wonder is all about the arty farty, the beautiful imagery, the barely decipherable whispering monologues (luckily this time there’s no Nick Nolte) and people dancing and prancing around in the meadows, staring out the windows, running around and flailing their arms about like lunatics.

All of this is done in rapid cuts (in one instance you get what feels like 100 snippets of two people frollicking through a cornfield) and minimal, almost inhuman dialogue, which makes it an unusual viewing experience but also a very annoying one. In short, To the Wonder is REALLY self-indulgent.

Maybe some viewers can appreciate the beauty of it all and understand what Malick is trying to do with this movie, but I found it emotionally unsatisfying and bordering on laughable. I thought I would love a film where Ben Affleck says almost nothing and where Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams are the lead actresses, but for most of the painfully long 113-minute running time I was either confused or irritated by it. Javier Bardem playing a priest who questions his faith was pretty funny though, albeit unintentionally.

Bad films that are supposed to be bad I can take, but pretentious films like To the Wonder really get to me. Or maybe we’ve all been fooled and it’s supposed to be a parody, though that doesn’t make the movie any better.

1 star out of 5