If you take out all the hullabaloo surrounding our end of year Best Of lists, then you could say it’s been a fairly quiet month at Spooool.ie Towers. Simply put there just haven’t been that many films coming out which, when added to the usual end of year fatigue, means the volume of new reviews we’ve been posting has been quite low. Oh and we’ve also had to take the obligatory holiday to celebrate Jesus’ birthday.
Putting all that aside we’ve still found the time to catalogue our reviews and write-up shorter reactions and therefore rank the best and worst films we saw this month. Starting with the best, here are the films of December 2013 (links to reviews included where applicable).
The abyss also looks into you – ★★★★ (PMcG)
At the sprightly age of 77 Bruce Dern may have given his greatest performance in Nebraska as the alcoholic, curmudgeonly Woody Grant moving ever closer to the grave.
All is Lost
So very alone – ★★★★ (NW)
Speaking of old Hollywood favourites surprising us, what about this from another 77-year-old, Robert Redford. He is the only cast member of J.C. Chandor’s dialogue-free tale of a man who is lost at sea, you’re rarely given a moment away from him and his grizzled features.
This is a highly unusual film which works well when considered alongside something like Rodrigo Cortés’s 2010 picture Buried. While that film highlighted the claustrophobia that develops when you’re in a tiny box, here like in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity we have vast space all around and yet are just as trapped. And unlike Cuaron’s tale the ending feels just right.
Sister Act – ★★★★ (PMcG)
Disney are back with a traditional tale of sorts, full to the brim with impressive tunes that have every chance of becoming classics. It deals with two sisters, Anna and Elsa, and how through no fault of their own are separated. Elsa possesses magic powers, which incidentally are never really explained, meaning she can change anything to ice. An accident results in the entire kingdom being frozen and Anna sets off to find her sister in an attempt to save their relationship and the town land.
It has the now standard children movie motifs; a funny sidekick (a talking snowman in this instance), will-they-won’t-they romances and a nice message to do with unconditional love. It may leave boys of a certain age feeling left out as it’s primarily a musical for girls but they have more than enough to be getting on with. With great numbers like “Let It Go” and “For the First Time”, credible voice acting from Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, funny side characters in the form of trolls and a charming if predictable story Frozen has all the ingredients for a Christmas favourite of the future.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Afternoon delight – ★★★½ (NW)
Peter Jackson’s fifth of six entries into his library of Middle Earth movies is probably the most fun he’s had on-screen since he started with the Fellowship of the Ring landed on screens back in 2001. This is an unashamed children’s thrill-ride of a film with a series of brilliant action set-pieces providing the back-bone for a film that was always going to prove difficult because of its very nature as a “middle bit” of a new trilogy.
Fans of the literary source material will probably complain that the movie has stretched the simple children’s book into an unrecognisable shape but if you can manage to put the book aside for a moment, you’ll see that Jackson is really doing the adaptation his way by inventing new characters and scenarios because they’ll make for a better on-screen experience. This is a shamelessly enjoyable film that will provide a great afternoon’s entertainment for the 12-year-old boy in all of us.
Kill Your Darlings
Heartbeat of a Generation – ★★★ (PMcG)
The film is an examination of a budding post-war society unsure of its old world values and a coming of age drama showing how the best minds of a generation began their journeys on the road.
Japanarama ninja drama – ★★★ (NW)
If you’re looking to find fault with the film that everyone has doomed to failure for months (here’s Variety’s latest take on its woes) then you’ll find a fairly prosaic script and dull, one-dimensional characters. However ever the trouble-maker I actually found myself taking a lot from the film and revelling in just how simple it was and, much like The Lone Ranger, how much it felt like a film we’d be given 15 years ago before superheroes ruled the blockbuster box office.
It’s really just terrific fun and great to see such a nice family-friendly action-adventure film find its way onto screens with an incredibly simple message of good and evil at its heart. Surprisingly my Monday evening screening was completely jam-packed showing there is still an Irish appetite for action man Keanu even if the film’s massive international box office failure suggests otherwise.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
The Hangover IV – ★★ (NW)
It’s been well-documented just how long it took for the first Anchorman to gain its status as a modern comedy classic and it’s felt like just as long since Will Ferrell and co started on their publicity tour for the second segment of the film. It should have been a warning sign as to the film’s quality as this was an unrelenting publicity assault which saw them advertising everything from Gatorade to the Late Late Toy Show for God’s sake.
Sadly there’s not a whole lot to report from the film which isn’t nearly as offensively bad as some critics have suggested but is just very forgettable and all rather “meh”. Best of the bunch are the kookie weirdos Kristen Dunst and Steve Carell who just go all out for it. Everyone else disappoints.
Will Ferrell needs to sit down and take a long look at himself at the mirror, file for a divorce director Adam McKay and try to remember his best work in a film like Stranger than Fiction and Elf.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
If only it were a secret – ★½ (PMcG)
This isn’t the first time Ben Stiller has directed (The Cable Guy) nor is this the first time he’s directed and been the main actor (Zoolander). However it is the first time he has directed and been the main actor and played it straight. While we have daydreams full of nonsense and silliness the fact they are daydreams makes them irrelevant. Stiller’s Walter is more clean cut and straight up than most James Stewart characters and Stiller can’t quite carry the film as much as he tries too. There are some ancillary characters that pop in from time to time, Kristen Wiig who is criminally underused and Sean Penn who was obviously a favour cameo.
The story is annoyingly predictable, if you don’t know where the photograph is you have not seen more than two films. It has sickening levels of Hallmark card bullshit sentiment and should come with a bucket. The real life scenarios soon become more ridiculous and stupid than Walter ever dreamt up in his imagination. The landscape shots are fantastic to look at so credit to Stuart Dryburgh for that but unfortunately it doesn’t warrant the price of admission. Thankfully we can leave this behind us in 2013 and not have it tarnish our 2014