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Movie Review: The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) March 12, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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The Men Who Stare at Goats is one of those light, quirky, darkly amusing comedies very loosely based on real events.  It features an all-star cast including George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey.  It’s enjoyable, fascinating, and in no way meant to be taken seriously.  It’s not memorable, and is unlikely to win any awards, but it’ll give you a laugh and a good time for 94 minutes.

The film is told through the eyes of Ewan McGregor’s Bob Wilton, a journalist who ends up stumbling across the story of a lifetime – the US army’s attempts to develop psychic spies with super powers.  Yes, the US military actually tried to do this (and who knows, may still be trying to do this)!

You could be forgiven for thinking that The Men Who Stare at Goats is a Coen brothers movie in the vein of The Big Lebowski and Burn After Reading.  It has that quirky feel from start to finish; you wonder what the heck is happening and what might happen next.  Every character Bob Wilton comes across is fascinating and hilarious, especially Lyn Cassady, perfectly played by the “so serious it’s funny” George Clooney.

But actually, The Men Who Stare at Goats is written by Peter Straughan (How to Lose Friends and Alienate People), loosely based on the book of the same name by Jon Ronson.  It’s directed by Grant Helsov, who hasn’t done much directing and is more of an actor.  Hopefully Helsov will have more opportunities to direct after this film.

Anyway, there’s nothing particularly outstanding about the film.  It’s constantly amusing, but the big laughs are less frequent.  That said, it is clever, and somehow manages to stand on the fence when it comes to psychics.  The movie doesn’t endorse them as genuine, but it doesn’t exactly ridicule them as frauds either.  It does, however, suggest they may all be crazy!  My favourite thing about the whole film is that it makes constant references to Star Wars, especially because it stars young Obi-Wan Kenobi himself!

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: and yes, goats are stared at in this movie]

Thoughts on the crappy 2010 Oscars March 8, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Entertainment.
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Ben Stiller's Navi impersonation was one of only a small handful of good moments at this year's Oscar ceremony

I watched the 2010 Academy Awards at a fellow unemployed friend’s place.  I’ve always loved the Oscars – not so much the ceremony itself, but the concept of crowning the best in cinema.

Anyway, this year’s Oscars ceremony was crap.  Too safe, too boring, too cheap, not entertaining enough.  Everyone seemed unnecessarily serious and uptight for some reason.

I was happy with most of the results.  Even though I predicted that Avatar would win Best Picture and Director (and failed on both accounts – see full list of predictions here), I was rooting for Bigelow by the end of the show.  I’m glad a female director won, and I’m glad that an independent film won.  And I’m very glad James Cameron didn’t win.

Here are some random thoughts.

(Click on ‘more…’ to continue!)

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Movie Review: Fantastic Mr Fox (2009) March 5, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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I really enjoyed Up and I thought Coraline was pretty good, but I still don’t consider myself a big fan of animated films.  However, Fantastic Mr Fox is making me reconsider that stance once again.

Initially, I had very little interest in seeing Fantastic Mr Fox – at first glance it looked like one of those weird, unappealing, low-quality stop-motion animations – but a couple of friends told me it was fantastic, and after all, the film is based on the book by Roald Dahl, just my favourite author growing up.

So I watched it, having no recollection of the book (which I am pretty sure I read years ago), and laughed harder than I ever thought I would. 

Fantastic Mr Fox (directed by Wes Anderson – The Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) has my type of humour.  It’s dry, deadpan, random and crazy.  It’s quite Simpsonesque in many ways.  There’s a few clever recurring jokes that never seem to get old, and it’s a film that fully utilises the stop-motion animation techniques to maximise the hilarity.  Who would have thought jerky movements could be so funny?

George Clooney is perfect as the titular character Mr Fox.  His deadpan delivery and voice, which sometimes irritates me, was spot on here.  Supporting Clooney is a wonderful voice cast, including Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Owen Wilson and Willem Dafoe, though none stand out as much as Clooney does.

At the end of the day, it’s really just a weird little story with some weird big laughs, but I have a feeling Fantastic Mr Fox could become a classic in years to come.

4 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Up in the Air (2009) January 23, 2010

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When I first heard about George Clooney’s new film Up in the Air, I thought it was the sequel to the 1994 basketball comedy The Air Up There starring Kevin Bacon.

Well, not as such.

The story revolves around Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man with a very unique job which I won’t divulge, but I will say it does require him to be ‘up in the air’ a lot.  Despite having to use his mouth for a living, Bingham shies away from human connection.  Enter Alex (Vera Farmiga) and Natalie (Anna Kendrick), two women who will turn his life upside down and make him question his life choices.

Up in the Air is the real deal – interesting premise, terrific script, great performances; warm, funny and very human – just about everything you could ask for in an A-grade drama comedy.  It’s not the type of film that will make you go ‘wow’, blow your mind or change your life, but it’s a film voters of awards will love (and from the awards it has already received, evidently so).

Up in the Air is co-written and directed by Jason Reitman, director of Juno and Thank You For Smoking.  If you have seen one or both of those films, then you’ll have an idea of the style and feel Reitman injects into Up in the Air.  It is a film dealing with serious issues and tragic situations, but somehow there are plenty of great laughs – certainly more than I expected. Full credit goes to Reitman and I have a feeling an Oscar nomination is coming his way shortly.

As for the performances – I’ve never been a huge fan of George Clooney because of that smug, dickish vibe he constantly gives off, but I have to admit it works perfectly here.  He is charming and funny and he makes you believe Ryan Bingham is real person.  Vera Farmiga, on the other hand, I am a big fan of, so I have nothing but praises for her subtle, believable performance.  And there’s the always-welcome Jason Bateman, who offers his usual stellar presence.

But it is the tiny chipmunk girl from the Twilight Saga, Anna Kendrick (I think she plays the annoying friend Jessica), that absolutely steals the show as the young hotshot.  I never knew she could act.  I think she’ll get a nomination as well and I wouldn’t be too surprised if she won.

If there is a complaint about Up in the Air, it’s that the film is a little flat.  Yes, there are ups and downs and it can get quite emotional, but there’s not much heart-thumping excitement. At 109 minutes, it’s definitely not a movie children would be able to sit through without getting restless.

Nevertheless, on the whole, Up in the Air is a quality movie that ticks most of the right boxes.  It’s unlikely to be one of those memorable films you’ll remember years down the track, but for now, at least, Up in the Air will come to mind when I think about the top films of the year.

4 out of 5 stars

[PS: Felt good to get that one out.  It’s been a while since I reviewed a movie!]

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