Review catch-up (Paddington, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Babadook, Interstellar, Hercules and Lucy)

As I currently live in the middle of nowhere, with a 90-minute drive to the nearest cinema, I have seriously lagged behind on my movie watching. Also, I’ve been busy pumping all my free time into completing a novel-length piece of fanfiction, so this blog has admittedly been a bit neglected.

To make up for that, here are some mini reviews of high profile releases of the past 9 months or so that I finally got around to watching at home. And for the most part, I have to say I’m glad I didn’t blow money on cinema tickets for such hit-and-miss mediocrity.

The films have been ordered essentially from best to worst.

After the slapstick-heavy preview material, I was very worried that the first movie based on Michael Bond’s beloved series of children’s books was just going to be another Garfield or Smurfs – replacing the charm that made the character so popular in the first place with cheap gags. Consider me surprised to discover that the Paddington movie accommodates both, and the result is a truly lovely, funny and touching family film. With a decidedly British touch. And an A-grade cast of adults.

Sure, the plot is pretty much just Beethoven with a bear. And I could happily have done with more segments inspired by the books. However, the spirit of the idealistic little immigrant remains true even with the film’s changes and contemporary setting. In fact the contrast between Paddington’s dated English manners and his interactions with cold 21st Century Londoners actually adds extra layers to the film for adult viewers to appreciate.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Here’s another surprisingly satisfying and touching movie experience. I certainly didn’t expect to cry during a film where a giant tree man and a snarky, genetically-altered raccoon are among the main characters – a mismatched, frequently feuding band of intergalactic criminals, for the record.

The tonal shifts may be jarring at times in this adaptation of one of the lesser known Marvel Comics properties. However, the film is always fun, and it’s one of those rare sci-fi movies – like Star Wars – where the audience accepts its vast, colourful universe from the instant they’re dropped into it; no explanation necessary. Oh, and rounding out the experience is an impossible-to-resist 70s soundtrack.

The Babadook
The standout name in the horror genre during 2014 was The Babadook, a low-budget effort from Australia. More psychological thriller than gorefest, The Babadook centres on a grieving widow and mother (Essie Davis) who is struggling to reign in her resentment towards her oddball son. Then creepy-as-all-fuck children’s book The Babadook appears, and starts prodding our heroine towards a violent breakdown.

Sadly, the film’s delicious ambiguity is mostly cast aside for the conclusion, but it’s still a treat for anyone who enjoys character-driven horror that is exceptionally well-acted and dripping in ominous atmosphere. Just moderate your expectations though – The Babadook has been quite overhyped.

When Christopher Nolan makes a movie you always have to sit up and take notice. Especially since Interstellar is his big science fiction (or fact) epic, set in a future where the Earth is dying and Mankind is forced to find another planet to settle. So Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and others set forth into space while Michael Caine and Jessica Chastain are left back home to investigate alternate solutions to combat human extinction.

So much effort is put into making the science of space credible it’s a bit odd that at a certain point, characters start spouting lines like “The only thing that can transcend time and space is love.” The cynic in me twitched just before my inner 2001: A Space Odyssey hater mentally disconnected with Nolan’s film going similarly surreal supernova. It’s worth sticking around to the end but personally I didn’t really buy the film’s emotive message. Come back Contact. All is forgiven.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson makes a fantastic Hercules in this Ancient Greek-set actioner, based on the gritty graphic novel by Steve Moore. For the most part the movie trundles along happily, delivering decent battle scenes and snappy banter, even as it downplays mythology and reinterprets the demigod as a real man whose feats were only accomplished with the aid of his warrior companions.

The problem though is that a dark, distinctly R-rated comic gets all its edges filed away in its PG-13 transition to the big screen. Hercules is very watchable but everything ends feeling a little too convenient, safe and sanitised during the final 30 minutes.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Perhaps if it hadn’t taken Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller almost a decade to release this sequel to the hit 2005 graphic novel adaptation, things might have felt fresher here. Since the original film released though, audiences have seen several hyper-stylised shot-entirely-against-green-screen movies, so A Dame to Kill For has lost its dazzling visual novelty. Suddenly the film just feels like more of the same, even if it maintains a star-saturated cast.

It also doesn’t help that for the most part the crime noir tales selected this time around feel more dour than gratifying in their depiction of revenge. Mickey Rourke’s unhinged Marv is still a treat though, and the title segment, starring cast newcomers Eva Green and Josh Brolin, satisfies due to its combination of committed acting and complicated characters. Overall though, there’s very little memorable about Sin City 2.

Wow. Just wow. Awfulness, thou has a name, and that name is Lucy. I had high hopes for slick female badassery in this sci-fi actioner from writer-director Luc Besson. However, despite a solid start, all promise was squandered in a movie so stupid, I started laughing… and couldn’t stop. I haven’t done that since Prometheus. Oh, and it’s not even a fun stupid, for the record; it’s painfully frustrating.

It’s ironic for a movie about a woman who harnesses 100% of her brain capacity, but I could feel my IQ plummeting every second I was exposed to the absurdity on-screen. It’s just horrible in every single way. There isn’t even a character to latch on to emotionally, as leading lady Scarlett Johansson swiftly transforms into a robot, devoid of facial and vocal expression. Then again, perhaps her perpetual scowl reflects her feelings about agreeing to star in this turkey.


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