Movie reviews moving to new website!

September 3, 2015 in Best Of, Websites by pacejmiller

New Blog

This is how the new blog looks right now!

I finally did something I had been meaning to do for ages: create a new website for my movie reviews.

And here it is, the new Spoiler-Free Movie Reviews blog. Take a look, have a browse; it too a long time to set up (mainly because I have no idea what I’m doing).

Basically, I felt like this blog was becoming almost an exclusive movie blog, and together with writing posts, book reviews, restaurant reviews and everything else, things were getting a little messy and out of focus. So I decided to start up a subdomain for all my future movie reviews so that this blog could be freed up to focus more on writing. It means this blog will still be up and running, but it’ll be just for my thoughts on writing and reviews of books I read recently. No more food-related posts either — I never really liked doing them anyway. I am, however, keeping all the existing content as is.

As for the new subdomain, set up with the help of my excellent host, Siteground (this is a free plug because their technical assistance via online chat really is so professional and awesome), it will now house all my new movie reviews. I’ve also moved over the existing ones (more than 600 posts) and re-categorised everything — into years, genres, star ratings, etc —  for ease of navigation and search (check the left panel). Trust me when I say it took a bloody long time.

Lastly, I decided to name the new blog in accordance with my “spoiler-free” philosophy. I already have a bunch of posts ready for launch, so please visit and support!

The 10 Best Movies of 2014

August 25, 2015 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

At last, my 10 best movies of 2014. Some controversial choices in here, and as usual, it’s probably not what my list would be like today, though I’ve stuck with the ratings I gave at the time of initial review (which can be accessed by clicking on the film title).

10. X-Men: Days of Future Past

The iconic Quicksilver scene

The iconic Quicksilver scene

With several movies on the same rating, I had to make a decision as to which film I wanted to squeeze into the 10th spot. After some self-deliberations, I decided I had to put a comic book adaptation in there. X-Men: Days of Future Past was my second-most anticipated film of the year and it lived up to expectations by effortlessly fusing the older and younger X-Men franchises through a complex but well-told time-travel concept that also cleverly inserted some historical events into the narrative. Terrific cast, superb special effects and a whole lot of action-packed fun, it paves the way perfectly for next year’s X-Men: Apocalypse.

9. Wild

WILD - 2014 FILM STILL - Reese Witherspoon as "Cheryl Strayed" - Photo Credit: Anne Marie/Fox    © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox

Reese Witherspoon sure looks terrible without makeup

On its face, this is basically a female version of Into the Wild, one my all-time faves, though there are enough differences across the board — whether it’s characters, plot or themes — for Wild to be a wildly satisfying emotional journey. It’s a great film for people who are past the innocence of their youth and are struggling to figure out who they are and who they want to be. Powered by fantastic performances from Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, this is a special experience I found both moving and uplifting.

8. Gone Girl

GONE1

Ben Affleck was perfect as the douchey husband

I didn’t expect Gone Girl to be so high on the list, only because I had already read the book when I saw it and many of the surprises had already been spoiled. But it’s hard to deny that David Fincher did a masterful job in adapting a difficult, multi-layered book with complex and difficult characters who are hard to root for. He captured the dark tones of the book superbly and had me on the edge of my seat even when I knew what was going to happen. Rosamund Pike was wonderful and Ben Affleck and Neil Patrick Harris both surprised in how well they played their respective parts. A very impressive, unsettling experience.

7. Stretch

Stretch is one wild ride

Stretch is one wild ride

Probably the biggest surprise on this list. Not for me though. Stretch was hands down the funniest movie of the year. With Patrick Wilson at his all-time best, rampaging through the streets of Hollywood as a limo driver to the rich and famous, Stretch was weird, wacky and all over the place, but it was also a laugh a minute and so frenetic in pace that I was glad to have gone on this fantastic ride. I’m still shocked that the film has barely registered a blip on the radar of most audiences, but its 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes feels like vindication in my books.

6. Whiplash

Tense

Tense

I went into Whiplash with my expectations raised already, and it still impressed the hell out of me. Never did I think a movie about drumming could be so intense, and yet it turned out to be arguably most suspenseful film of the year thanks to the brilliant writing and direction from Damien Chazelle and the performances of JK Simmons and Miles Teller. Energetic, powerful and pumping with adrenaline, Whiplash is a unique instant classic that deserves all the superlatives.

5. The Babadook

Terrifying

Terrifying

It’s not often that a horror film makes the list, let alone an Australian horror film. The Babadook, however, is a legitimate masterpiece that also happens to be the scariest movie of the year. It’s the anti-modern-horror flick in the sense that the characters are well developed, it’s creepy and atmospheric, genuinely tense, and the scares are not merely cheap tactics. You could tell it was going to be different from the very first scene. Rather than make you jump, The Bababook makes you squirm and quiver because the terror penetrates beyond just the surface and seeps all the way to your core. People with children will get an additional layer from the experience.

4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Nothing beats talking horseriding apes

Nothing beats talking horse-riding apes

I doubt this movie is on anyone else’s top 10 list of 2014, but if you know me or have been following this blog, you’ll know that I have a certain bias towards movies with talking apes. And talking apes who ride horses and shoot guns? Forget about it. I know Dawn of the Planet of the Apes probably isn’t, objectively speaking, one of the best films of the year, but it’s easily one of mine. Granted, Dawn is not as jaw-droppingly awesome as its predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It makes up for that, however, with more apes, more ape character development and more large-scale ape action. Losing James Franco also helped. Dawn is the only movie I watched twice at the cinema in 2014, and it was just as spectacular and powerful the second time around. I can’t wait for War of the Planet of the Apes in 2017.

3. The Imitation Game

I think I just invented Playstation!

I think I just invented Playstation!

Every year there seems to be a highly regarded movie that I love even more than everyone else (that is, apart from the one that has talking apes), and this year that film is The Imitation Game, the tragic “true story” of British code-breaker Alan Turing. I just found the film to be a captivating experience. It’s a multi-layered drama-thriller filled with intriguing characters, educational and exciting plot developments and moving moments. With the incredible Benedict Cumberbatch steering the film, it turned out far more interesting and compelling than a code-breaking story should have been. I was engrossed from start to finish. It’s probably one of the few films I saw last year where I can’t really nitpick about anything.

2. Interstellar

So pretty

Alright…

When I first saw Interstellar I thought everyone would love it as much as I did, but as I realised later on, a lot of people hated it for various reasons. Too long, too slow, too corny, too little logic, too little real science, too “out there”  — all of these criticisms could be considered valid, though for me the biggest challenge was always getting past the fact that I’d have to stare at the smug face of Matthew “Alright Alright Alright” McConaughey for nearly 3 hours on an IMAX screen. In all seriousness, I think Interstellar is perhaps one of the most epic and beautiful sci-fi films ever made. From the scale to the ideas to the risks that Christopher Nolan was willing to take with the plot and the characters, it’s everything that I want from an epic cinematic experience. Sure, it got a bit melodramatic at times, though I think it’s a film needs melodrama more than it doesn’t need it, especially given Nolan’s past catalogue of films. I enjoyed the visual spectacle, I enjoyed the story and I enjoyed the sci-fi concepts and ideas. In terms of pure entertainment and visual splendor, Interstellar sits atop all other films of 2014.

1. Boyhood

Ethan Hawke is the only person who doesn't age in the film

Ethan Hawke is the only person who doesn’t age in the film

It’s a shame 5 stars is the most I can award to a film because there are rare occasions when I feel it’s just not enough. Boyhood is one such film. As remarkable as the fact that it was shot over 12 years with the same actors, what is even more impressive about Boyhood is director Richard Linklater’s ability to mould all that footage into a deeply human, poignant and emotional movie that’s as close to depicting real life on film as a fictional motion picture can be. It’s a film like no other, one that truly has to be experienced personally to appreciate what the fuss is all about. It’s now in my pantheon of favourite movies of all-time.

Honourable mentions: A Most Violent Year, The Lego Movie, Horns, The Good Lie

So there you have it, my best and worst of 2014. Some surprises, some controversy, for sure, but a list I’m very happy with when it’s all said and done.

The 10 Worst Movies of 2014

August 24, 2015 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Here we go, my worst 10 films of 2014. I saw a lot of terrible movies, but none worse than these 10.

As with previous years, this list is based on my ratings at the time of review, and I made it extra easy for myself this year because there are exactly 10 films I rated 1.5 stars or below.

I still had some difficult decisions to make, however, as movies 8-10 on this list all had the same rating. It does mean though that the top 2 were clearly head and shoulders above (or should I say below) the rest.

Unfortunately, that means some truly terrible movies missed the cut. These dishonourable mentions include Scarlett Johansson’s Lucy, Nicholas Sparks’ The Best of Me, and Samuel L Jackson’s Reasonable Doubt.

10. Sniper: Legacy

I need the money

I need the money

I had a long hard think about placing this film, an obvious B-grade, straight-to-DVD abomination, higher on the list. Strictly speaking it is probably worse than some of the other films ranked above it, but the difference is that no one expected Sniper: Legacy to be anything but a low-budget cash grab milking the legacy (pun intended) of the original film released 21 years ago. Its shittiness is almost anticipated, so I can’t claim an ambush. I totally deserve this one.

9. Winter’s Tale

Winters-Tale1

Colin Farrell’s hair sums up this movie quite well

On paper, Winter’s Tale should have been pretty good, a magical fantasy romance fable with big stars (Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Will Smith). Sadly, all it did was make me cringe and bored. Non-sensical, contrived, manipulative and just plain silly at times, it’s the perfect example of what works on the page won’t necessarily work on the screen.

8. The Other Woman

Yes, it's as stupid as it looks

Yes, it’s as stupid as it looks

As annoying as the self-righteous women are in this film, it’s worst sin is still the most serious one when it comes to comedies: a dearth of laughs. You would think a movie that’s supposed to about female empowerment would have some positives, but the fact that it’s branded as mysognistic shows how far off the mark it was.

7. Ouija

Ouija_review

All signs point to “crap”

I think Oujia boards are really scary and I knew it was only a matter of time before a horror film based on this theme is made, but Oujia turned about as cliched and unimaginative as it could have been. The characters don’t act remotely like how normal human beings would act. The dialogue is cringeworthy and full of obvious exposition. Silly, non-sensical and employing only the most typical scare tactics, this is a disappointment that’s even more disappointing than usual.

6. Transformers: Age of Extinction

transformers-age-of-extinction-8

Oh god…

Let’s face it, no “worst of” list is complete without an entry from Michael Bay. Strictly speaking, Transformers 4 is not the worst of the franchise, but the accumulated annoyance from the same old loud noises, boring characters and formulaic execution makes it difficult to bear for 90 minutes, let alone an inexcusable 165. Additional demerit points for all the awkward “Chinese elements” they forced into the film.

5. Walk of Shame

It is indeed a shame

Don’t shoot me for making this movie

It’s hard to hate a film when it’s so “meh.” And that’s what Walk of Shame is, an unfunny, boiler-plate screwball comedy that shits all over the lovely and talented Elizabeth Banks. I didn’t find it as sexist or racist as lot of other offended viewers and critics, though when a movie is so lacking in wit and pathetic perhaps a bit of controversy would have at least stirred up some interest.

4. I, Frankenstein

Aaron Eckhart worked out for this?

I got ripped for this shit?

I knew it wasn’t going to be great, but I, Frankenstein crashed below the low expectations I already had and was a complete waste of the talents of Aaron Eckhart and his impressive workout regime. Incredibly silly even by graphic novel standards, the film takes Mary Shelley’s source material as fact and throws in a bunch of gargoyles, demons and angels into a war with poor fight sequences shocking and shockingly bad CGI effects. The 2014 “blockbuster” that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons if it hasn’t been erased from memories already.

3. When the Game Stands Tall

What would Jesus do?

What would Jesus do?

Now we get to the three films of 2014 I loathed for reasons that are beyond objective and even generally subjective. First up, When the Game Stands Tall — relatively recently watched and still fresh in my mind– an infuriating corny and melodramatic film with sickening sports cliches, unbelievable characters and unashamedly overpowering religious themes. Laughably horrible trash masquerading as a triumphant true story.

2. Extraterrestrial

I'd rather be probed than sit through this shit again

I’d rather be probed than sit through this shit again

I love aliens and I love alien conspiracy movies. Extraterrestrial has turned all that on its head. Apart from being in the dreaded found footage format, this monster slasher also takes home the award for least frightening horror movie of the year, most annoying characters of the year and worst ensemble acting of the year notwithstanding the efforts of Shawshank’s Gil Bellows to bring up the average a little bit. This is so bad that it even destroys the possibility of a so-bad-it’s-good film.

1. Left Behind

Nicholas Cage. 'Nuff said

Nicholas Cage. ‘Nuff said

Of all the horrible 2014 movies I’ve seen, one film dominates all others — and honestly, it’s not even close. And you know that this film is entering a different stratosphere when I proclaim that it could very well be Nicolas Cage’s worst film ever. It’s just one of those surreal experiences where you have to pinch yourself to make sure it’s not a nightmare. It’s actually easier to conceive a world in which Christians are beamed into heaven while everyone else is left behind to suffer Hell on Earth than fathom how a film this shit could have ever been made.

So there you go, my worst 10 movies of 2014. Next up, the 10 best.

2014 Movie Review Round-up confirms I like movies

August 20, 2015 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Movie Posters 2014

Maybe the rumors that I’m too kind to most movies are true.

It usually takes me a while to complete my best and worst of lists for movies for the year because I like to get through as many as I can — and all the ones I want to see — before setting the lists in stone. As I rank films based on the year they are officially released as opposed to when I see them, it typically takes me months after the end of each year to get through all the movies of that particular year.

I didn’t do too bad this year. It’s only August 2015 and I’m finally ready to cast my votes for the best and worst films of 2014. There are still a few films outstanding that I might eventually get to, but my guess is that they won’t make it on either list. For example, I’m about three-quarters through the Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts film, When We’re Young, and my attempt to watch the acclaimed Mr Turner failed miserably (I just found it so boring and the dialogue audibly incomprehensible).

Before I get to the lists, here are some fun facts I discovered why tabulating the results.

– I watched a total of 155 movies with an official release date of 2014

– The first 2014 film I watched was the Robocop remake (which I sadly didn’t even watch until February due to childcare commitments), and the last was Son of a Gun, the Aussie flick starring Ewan McGregor (watched late last month)

– I managed to see everything on my list of 15 most anticipated movies of 2014.

– With a ratings system of 0 to 5 stars and 0.25 star increments, I ended up using every possible rating except 0.25, 0.75, 1.25 and 4.75. Zero stars count theoretically, but it’s a rating I don’t give out — no matter how badly I want to — as I acknowledge that at least some effort has been put into making every movie ever made.

Distribution of Ratings 1

– In 2014, I gave four movies a maximum of 5 stars and one film a low of 0.5 stars. My most common rating was 3.5 stars, which means “very good” and was dished out to 23 movies. This was followed by 4 stars, meaning “excellent”,  tied with 2 stars, meaning “bad”, with each receiving 20 ratings. The median score, 2.5 stars, meaning “barely passable”, received 14 ratings, while my real baseline for a “decent” movie, 3 stars, had 17 ratings.

– My average rating for the 155 movies was 3.077 stars, which according to my rating system would mean that the average film of 2014 is a shade over “decent.” On the other hand, my median rating was slightly higher at 3.25, which means “pretty good”. I think that reflects my overall sentiments well. A lot of mediocre stuff, some horrible crap, and a few memorable standouts.

– There is a vague bell curve to the distribution, though the chart does appear skewed to the higher scores. Couple with the average and median scores, I suppose that confirms I tend to be more lenient than most when it comes to judging the quality of a film. I can’t help it. I like movies.

– Ratings are handed out at time of review and never amended, meaning I sometimes shock myself when looking back at the scores I gave to some movies. Some feel too high, some too low.

– In hindsight, movies that feel like they probably should have received a slightly higher rating include: Gone Girl (4.25), Guardians of the Galaxy (3.75), Edge of Tomorrow (3.75), John Wick (3.5), The Rover (3). Movies that feel like they probably deserved slightly less include: The Good Lie (4.25), Horns (4.25), How to Train Your Dragon 2 (4), The Maze Runner (4), Big Eyes (3.75).

Up next, my worst 10 films of 2014. Stay tuned.

Movie Review: Goodnight Mommy (2015)

August 14, 2015 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Goodnight_Mommy

Let me just put this out there. Goodnight Mommy, the Austrian film also known as Ich Seh Ich Seh, is one of the scariest, most messed up movies I’ve ever seen. If you have children as well then forget about it. Sleeping after watching this film is going to be difficult.

Written and directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, the story revolves around nine-year-old twin boys Elias and Lukas (Elias and Lukas Schwarz). It’s summer, and they don’t have much to do on the beautiful estate they live on in the Austrian countryside other than roam around, collect beetles, feed stray cats and do curious kid stuff. Then one day, their mother (Susanne Wuest) returns with her face all wrapped up in bandages, apparently after plastic surgery. Apart from the freaky bandages, she seems different somehow, and after a while the boys start to suspect that the woman they call mommy might not be their real mother.

That’s all I’d like to say about that, and I’d recommend avoiding all spoilers so the film can wreak maximum havoc on your psyche. Since watching the film I’ve read some ridiculous reviews — from respected publications, no less — that give away some of the best aspects about the film, even just from the review’s bloody headline. Stay way from that shit. If you can, rest assured that you’ll be creeped out, feel very uncomfortable, get queasy, and challenge yourself to keep watching as the film continues to grow darker and crazier before spiraling out of control towards a chilling and jaw-dropping climax.

I didn’t know what kind of movie it was going to be at first. Admittedly, it begins slow, and all throughout the pace is deliberate and controlled. It’s a minimalist production with a simply story and not a lot of dialogue. Not everything the characters do appear to be logical. I can understand if some people find it boring and tune out early. I can also definitely understand if some can’t stick around to the end because they can’t bear the terror.

But man, the atmosphere is so unsettling. The suspense keeps growing and the core mystery — whether the boys are being paranoid or if “mommy” isn’t who she says she is — keeps the tension on high gear. The storytelling is tightly wound and the point of view is subversive. It doesn’t go as far as transcending the genre but it sure pushes the boundaries. Fantastic use of silence too to maximise the persistent uneasiness.

The mother with the bandaged face creepy. Identical twins, let’s face it, are super creepy, especially when they wear the same stuff. There’s just something sinister about kids who never have any facial expressions so you have no idea what’s going on in their little heads. The beetles and bugs are gross. There are visceral dream sequences that are both eerie and shocking. It’s the kind of horror that makes your skin crawl and the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. And the stuff that happens in the second half of the movie is messed up shit. I don’t recall one cliched “boo” scare throughout the entire movie, and yet I don’t remember feeling this nervous and squirming in my seat this much in a movie for a very long time.

Actually, if you can stomach it, Goodnight Mommy is a movie that demands at least one repeat viewing. I suppose the film could be viewed as an exploration of familial trust, paranoia and trauma. There are multiple layers to the story and lots of little hints you’ll be unlikely to catch the first time around. While it is undoubtedly a horror, the film has many psychological thriller elements in that many things only make sense at the end when you start to understand the psychological reasoning behind the characters’ motivations, actions and reactions.

Goodnight Mommy is not a great movie if we’re talking about having an “enjoyable” experience, but if you want to be freaked out, this movie is the shit. And isn’t that what we want from our horror movies? For them to freak the crap out of us?

5 stars out of 5

PS: The film was first screened last year but is only getting a limited release in the US next month.

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