Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday Night Movie Reviews

After a lengthy hiatus, the Friday Night Movie Reviews are back to delight and entertain. Join us on the first Friday of every month to see the best and worst of what we've been watching. Without further ado, on to the movies!

That's My Boy (2012) by J. Tagmire

I know you have always wanted to see Adam Sandler play Andy Samburg's dad in a film that starts out with him as a child impregnating his teacher… right? Oh and did I mention he has an awful accent that sounds like a bad Adam Sandler impression… and his best friend is played by Vanilla Ice. You wanted to see that movie, right?

As terrible as all of that sounds, That's My Boy was actually pretty enjoyable. The plot jumps all over the place, ignoring itself for a good third of the movie, but the characters, the one-liners and semi-realistic ridiculousness made up for it. It's received some terrible reviews, mostly because it's pretty raunchy, but I think even more because it's an Adam Sandler movie.

So, Adam Sandler plays Donny Burger, the washed-up adult version of the world famous middle school student. His child, Han Solo Burger is played by Andy Samburg and he's abandoned all signs of his past, including his awesome name. Han is unfortunately now known as rich, wholesome Todd (whose parents exploded when he was a young child) and he's about to get married, but as expected, his not-so-dead, but super deadbeat father shows up to screw everything up. The funny part is that he doesn't really screw everything up. Everyone laughs at his inappropriate jokes (including me at home) and it sets the tone for the second half of the film.

I really thought this would be terrible, and while it started off pretty rough (the first time Adam Sandler opens his mouth you will cringe real hard) it eventually starts to find its feet. Plus it has a pretty impressive cast. James Caan is a priest who likes to fight, Susan Sarandon is the older version of the school teacher, good old Vanilla Ice plays himself, and Nick Swardson had me dying in his last scene in the film. My biggest complaint is that the school teacher thing has this huge setup in the beginning and it's basically negated by a whole movie worth of footage that has nothing to do with it. It sets the tone, but with such a heavy setup, you would think it would carry throughout the film.

Recommended for fans of Dumb and Dumber, There's Something About Mary, and Anchorman.

Death Note (2006) by Luke Milton

If you’re already a fan of the highly successful manga series that this film is based on, then you already know far more about all this than I do and I certainly don’t need to convince you. High five! But I write this to appeal more to the casual viewer who may have heard praise of the Death Note franchise and desires an easy (and cinematic) way to dive straight in. This is the live action film version from 2006, not to be confused with the animated version.

The story initially centres around Light Yagami, a teenager who finds an ominous notebook which turns out to have been carelessly dropped by pimped-out death god, Ryuk. Now the new owner, Light realises that if he writes the name of anyone in the book - providing he can picture their face - they will instantly die of a heart attack (or worse, should Light decided to include specific details on their method of death). As the corpses of the world’s worst criminals begin to accumulate, suspicions quickly rise and the enigmatic and voracious shut-in detective “L” takes on the case to bring Light down.

Much more than a morbid power fantasy, the true delight in this film is the clever way in which the powers of the notebook are manipulated and realised. It leads to a lot of unexpected twists and each death weighs heavily on Light, and the moral aspects of his actions are called into question. It is never as black and white as you may first thing and I found myself repeatedly reassessing who was in the right and who was wrong.

Admittedly there’s a bit of a cultural divide here - the acting style is amusingly over-the-top at first and the production values aren’t always high, but its easy to get past that once you’re fully absorbed in the well-crafted story. And there are some real highlights - death god Ryuk is a CGI character who appears very faithful to his comic book counterpart and brings the screen to life every time he appears. I also love the characterisation of “L” but the less said about that the better. That’s something you should discover yourself. Check it out!

Zero Dark Thirty (2012/13) by Jacinta

Following on from the success of 2008's The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow returns to the Middle East in the brutal modern American military flick Zero Dark Thirty. Starting with the events of September 11, and culminating in the storming of Bin Laden's compound by Navy SEAL Team 6 in 2011, we're presented with a very stark and uncompromising version of the much-discussed story. It is important to note that this movie is 'based on' the true story, and as such should be taken with a grain of salt instead of as an accurate historical account.

When I first saw the trailer, I questioned if this was really a story that needed to be told. Surely it was too soon? Whatever your opinion on the 'War on Terror', everyone can agree that making a movie based on recent events has to be a risky move. In hindsight, I think releasing it sooner rather than later was the right decision. Time only clouds people's memories, and this could have easily turned into an AMERICA FUCK YEAH pile of crap if left for 15 years and viewed through rose-coloured glasses. One of the first scenes shows American operatives engaging in some fairly questionable interrogation techniques, and it really set the tone for the rest of the film. America may have won the day, but they were by no means unblemished heroes and their actions are never glamorized by the script.

Jessica Chastain is exceptionally convincing in the lead role, with a quietly commanding on-screen presence that packs a punch but is subtle enough to keep her as the vehicle that guides the audience through the narrative as opposed to being the dominating ‘star’ of the movie. We see the story unfolding through her eyes, but the movie’s universe certainly doesn’t have her as the centre; there’s a lot more going on outside the protagonist’s field of vision.

Nearly 48 hours on, I'm still not sure how I felt about it. I felt queasy from the tension at times, and was far jumpier than I normally would be in the cinema. I enjoyed it (as much as you really can enjoy this kind of movie, I suppose), but I think it needs a bit more time to digest and perhaps a rewatch. I did wonder during various points if I would be more invested in the movie if I was American. Is there really a national desire for 'revenge' post-9/11? Would I have felt proud? Or would I have felt embarrassed? It’s a movie that definitely gives you a lot of food for thought regarding moral ambiguity and if the ends justify the means.

(As a slightly more flippant addendum, there is a cameo in ZD30 that nearly made me squeal in a cinema full of people. It’s not the obvious choice you’d immediately assume when talking about a Kathryn Bigelow war movie ie. Jeremy Renner, it’s more along the lines of ‘the very last person you’d ever expect to be in this kind of movie’. The only hint I’ll give is that they’re from the modern Doctor Who universe.)

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