Category Archives: B

Review: Bridge to Terabithia

Last night I decided to watch Bridge to Terabithia. It was a confusing experience. I will be first to accept that I am probably not ‘who this was made for’, an adaptation of a literary work for and about younger people than me wrapped up in Disney fuzziness. The film follows Peeta Mellark and his far too chirpy next door neighbour as they deal with their respective emotional/familial issues by imagining a childlike world of wonder. Here the more ethereal dangers that plague the young protagonists lives, such as bullying and a perceived lack of parental attention, manifest as trolls, flying gopher type things, and a mysterious shadow guy. By becoming solid they can be tackled head on, and as they do so Mellark and his not-girlfriend become happier.

However what I imagine in the book resolves as a beautiful commentary on escapism and the role of imagination in how we deal with the less manageable aspects of our lives, translates into the realness of film as a sort of shared schizophrenic episode. I have not read the book, but Wikipedia says it is one of the most frequently challenged books around. The film makes it obvious why, the lives of the people in the film are messy and their relationships are complicated in ways we are unused to in fiction for this audience. In this respect it should be great, it doesn’t wrap everything up in comfortable little packages because it believes its audience isn’t sophisticated enough to deal with what it is showing.

The problem is that in many ways the characters issues are caricatured and more problematic than they reasonably need to be. Mellarks father loves his sisters more than he loves him; we know this because whilst his sisters get sweet goodnights, Mellark is left with a gruff ‘lights out’. We never learn why this is. Some might argue that it is in fact not the case, there is a scene later in the film where the father does tenderly tuck the boy into bed, the problem is, the boy isn’t awake, in the world of the film his father still doesn’t love him as much as his siblings. This is just one of a plethora of similar problems, the film argues that bullying as revenge is a legitimate activity, it has a barely present mother whose attitude to her child is also not explained, and if you read the literal painting of a wall with gold as saying something about wealth, it says that money makes families happier.

These things might all be true, they might even be interesting in the hands of another film for a different audience, perhaps one that is prepared to think about how these things might have come about, but here the broad stroke caricatures of characters make them into a series of problematic events portrayed by characters with little or no motivation. Am I supposed to hate the father because of his nepotism? I do not know because I do not know why it exists. The film’s final moments ‘probably’ see the dark mysterious shadow person of the forest resolve into Mellarks father, who, rather than harming him catches him in an embrace – in doing so the film teaches us that the path to resolution can lay in the imaginary worlds it depicts, implicitly rejecting the ‘get your head out of the clouds’ attitude the film’s most divisive character (the father) adopts in response to his son. The problem is, the issues the film depicts, including a death, could be resolved by doing just that.

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Review: Bodyguards and Assassins

Bodyguards and Assassins is a sort of historical epic/ ridiculous fightin movie. Set in the long time ago times (1900 or thereabouts), the revolution in China to overthrow the Qing Dynasty is in its fledgling stages. A group of unlikely allies come together to defend Sun Yat-sen on his short but dangerous trip to Hong Kong to meet the leaders of groups that will go on to become some of the revolutions key players.

Everyone has different motivations, which means that as much as the film is about the sacrifice of the revolutionaries it is equally about love, honour and friendship. In all its silly depictions of outrageous combat, it’s absolutely unflinching in its portrayal of these themes, if someone has to die to get the notion of sacrifice across, then you can be damn sure they are going to die. This makes it all intensely sad, but rather beautiful at the same time, and the nice thing is that all of this still works perfectly alongside lighter moments.

I would say it’s a pot boiler, simmering tension releasing in a masterful cavalcade of brilliance at the end, but the reality is that it reaches its peak about fifty minutes before curtains down, and maintains a frenetic pace for that whole time – I am not saying you’ll be exhausted at the end, but you’ll have felt something, and this makes Bodyguards and Assassins one of the best films I have seen in a while.

Brave

Well, this might be it, two princess based movies in as many weeks. Finally EFIHR has gone all girly and put down the guns and knives and things. It was inevitable I guess, call it mellowing with age, or perhaps there is something in the water, who knows. What I do know is that the site will soon have an appropriate re-design to light pink with kawaii emojo overloaded reviews of nothing but the most girl orientated movies. Brave is all about a princess who doesn’t want to be very girly, she wants to shoot arrows and ride a horse. She also doesn’t like her mother very much because, although she seems quite reasonable and relatively nice, her mother does not want her to shoot arrows and ride a horse. Cue overly dramatic metaphor and your movie synopsis is done. It is OK I suppose, but it just lacks something, call it, scope maybe. A magical beautiful world inhabited by interesting characters derailed for a claustrophobic exploration of a girls relationship with her mum. For sure, not a bad story in itself, but something of a waste when crowbarred into a scenario which could have been so much more. Add in overly long ‘running around the castle’ scenes and the film becomes a slight bore-fest at around the half way point. If only someone had a gun or something to liven things up…

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The Burbs

Tom Hanks is probably one of my favourite actors. Not only because he is pretty good at doing all that acting business, but also because he seems like a pretty stand up sort of guy. He isn’t into anything weird like some of those celebrities who are so rich they have forgotten what normal is. The Burbs is pretty old school. You can tell by the DVD transfer, which was like watching a VHS tape after it had been dropped in the sink, even then it started with some mumbo about how brilliantly it had been restored, leaving one wondering quite how bad the original was if this was the best they managed. Its a good film though, about strange goings on in, you guessed it, suburbia. Its a sort of quasi comedic rumination on neighbourhood life. It lambasts everyone to some extent, from the teenager whose parents are out of town, to the bored middle aged man who lives alone, and eats as much of his neighbours food as possible. Really, if you want to get philosophical the film is about what it is to be normal, the ending might feel like a bit of a cop out, but the reality of the film, and I suspect, the reality of the real world, is that there is not really any such thing as normal. This is a pretty noble message for a late 80s comedy about the suburbs. But then, it works because its got Tom Hanks in it, and he is a real nice guy don’t you know.

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Batman : Year One

Yeah Batman movies. Omnomnom. There is something strange about Batman movies, I can’t seem to review them objectively. Someone could just label up an actual turd with a badass Batman logo and I would probably still think it was pretty cool. I wouldn’t touch it or anything; I would just say ‘hey, did you see that Batman turd? Pretty cool right?’ Anyway, all reviews of Batman on this site should be understood within that slight brain deficiency I have developed, objectivity is no longer on the table when it comes to Batman. So, Batman Year One. A brief synopsis. We follow a young Batman through his first year at school, seeing how he deals with being a social outcast, developing his love of winged creatures, and drinking so much Jack Daniels mixed with gravel that his voice breaks at age four. It is not long before he gets into trouble after a play fight with a young, un-genetically modified Bane and gets expelled. His understanding and very rich parents try to console him with a trip to the theatre, after which they both get shot, right in the bloody face. Batman is right depressed after this and goes relatively emo, not Spiderman emo, but sort of mopes around a lot in his mansion. Luckily he decides to start fighting crime, presumably because his parents got shot in the face, but also maybe because he doesn’t have much else to do, and his lack of education precludes him getting a job like a normal person. He has a moment where he starts talking to his dead father. Obviously he doesn’t reply, he got all shot up in the face and is dead, but just at this moment a bat shows up and goes nuts. Batman takes this as a sign he must dress up like a bat and go on a vigilante rampage. This is much better bat-motivation (Batmotivation) than the silly being a scared idiot like he is in the Nolan movies. All the while Gordon is fannying around being the only not corrupt cop in town. How much of this synopsis you choose to believe is entirely up to you. Needless to say this is really one of the better repetitions of Batman before he starts having to deal with actual super criminals like the joker and two face, here he is just trying to clean up the town in his own, unique, deranged way. Batman rules.

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Brotherhood of the Wolf

I had absolutely forgotten that I had seen the trailer for this film when it was released, a whopping 13 years ago, until I saw it whilst perusing the shelves looking for something entertaining to fill my friday night. What I remembered though was that the trailer looked absolutely amazing, and the film didn’t disappoint. Its probably impossible to explain what genre the film is succinctly, so you’ll just have to accept ‘historical, kung fu, horror, wolf film, love story type thing – set in France’. That is, it plays as fast and loose with French history as it does with its genres. This is no bad thing, because we end up with a sort of mash up of brilliantly entertaining stuff. Its a bit like a really thick stew, you are not entirely sure what the next mouthful is going to be, but its probably going to be tasty. This kind of thing isn’t really big news anymore, some of the most popular series about at the moment (Game of Thrones…) combine all sorts of influences, but remember this was 2001, a time long forgotten to memory where people were just getting stuck into Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, two franchises so generically formulaic that this cacophony of more usually demarcated material may well have blown their tiny underdeveloped minds. Truly, 2001 was a simpler era. That said, the Matrix was released a couple of years before, which might explain the slightly strange addition of quasi-kung-fu elements. Kung-fu made everything better in 2001. It has Vincent Cassel too, which, if we operated a star system on efihr.com would immediately earn this film an extra one, just because he is amazing in everything he does, even if he very often seems to be playing exactly the same character in every project. So you want to know the story? A huge, terrifying wolf like creature is terrorising the good people of France, it takes only the women and children and seems to be something like unstoppable. Enter our two heroes, Gregore De Fronsac (Le Bihan) and his sidekick Mani (Dacascos) (a potentially problematically portrayal of a Native American). These guys have been sent by the King, frustrated with the lack of progress in killing the beast, to see whats up. This doesn’t really give you a sense of all the intrigue, romance, random fights, pumpkin shooting, wolf hunting and other assorted goodies that go along with the story though. It might be best to just watch it yourself and you’ll see what I mean, just, for goodness sake watch it in French, unless you desperately want the kung-fu influence to extend to astoundingly bad dubbing.

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Branded To Kill

When we watch films we are interpreting a specific language we have all be unwittingly taught. It is a simple one, but none the less the cognitive leap that must occur to understand that times and locations can change between shots is something which must be learned. Even something as simple as showing a person getting out of bed, then in the next shot out street comes with the assumption that you will fill in the gap yourself where they got up, took a shower and a shit, got dressed and left the house. We know this because we have grown up with movies and tav shows which don’t value the shower/shit/dressing process as important with enough consistency that we can generally assume that they will not be shown, and as a consequence assume these things have occurred. Equally when time jumps around film makers usually signal this with little tricks like the shot fading into another, rather than a jump cut, or even the classic wavy lines cut from the sixties. We have learned that when we see these little cues that we are probably going to see something which occurred before the ostensible “present” of the film. What if that was all thrown away? What if a person was to walk down some stairs then in the same shot drive past in their car. What if someone could just walk out of a shootout/hostage situation because they wanted to eat at a restaurant? What if a ticking clocks hands do not move? What if? It becomes incredibly hard work. Because you have to work out that the driver of the car is the person on the stairs, and that the hostage will return dutifully when the meal is finished and that the clock…well…the clock was ticking, it all becomes something you have to think about rather more. Branded to Kill is kind of a yakuza movie. It looks like one and its about rich well dressed people who have amazing sex and say deep meaningful things – then try to kill each other within a wonky system based on honor and hierarchy. Its not a yakuza movie though, this is just sort of a framework all of the madness sits within, something to point at when you are not sure what is going on, or why. What the film does is makes you think about everything it is doing. Be it working out what means what or why something is happening or even how. Because of this though everything becomes important, you have to pay attention because you might miss one of the clues – we know the person on the stairs is in the car because they were given a ride in it earlier in the movie. As I said, its hard work, but its rewarding learning a new language – even if there are still parts that don’t make sense to you.

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Big Ass Spider

You don’t need a run down of the storyline? Here is one anyway. The big ass spider keeps getting bigger. Only one man can stop it. Thats pretty much it. This is no sharknado though, no slothcano. no tsunamiguana, no pirhanicane, no blizard. (That last one isn’t that great) It is better than these. It has a leading man who is
charismatic, slightly overweight and totally at one with the fact that he is in a really ridiculous situation. He also has a Mexican sidekick, which is dealt with in such a way that it almost isn’t problematic. He also has a love interest. The big ass spider isn’t actually all that important, the film would probably be as fun with a little tiny ass spider, or even no spider at all, because all these other people are such good fun to watch. Maybe it doesn’t have quite as many really silly moments as sharknado, or quite as many sloths as slothcano but at least it exists, unlike that second one there, and it really is great fun. Big Ass Spider shows that the stupid title low budget monster movie doesn’t have to be quite as dumb as a it sounds.

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The Battle of Algiers

The all time greats, those films which are said to be masterpieces – I usually appoach these with a considerable amount of trepidation. Some are dated and boring, some are difficult to relate to, some (and these are the worst ones) were probably always crap, but somehow the wool was pulled over the eyes of the critics (these are usually the worst “masterpiece” culprits) and the idea has somehow perpetuated. The Battle of Algiers absolutely has some soundtrack issues, and a trip to wikipedia was required to remind myself of the context, but for the first time in a while one of those so called masterpieces actually lived up to expectations.  As a starting point the film looks amazing. The shots are simple though, filmed in black and white with a lot of handheld camera shots, you couldn’t mistake it for a documentary, but this does add a heightened sense of realism to proceedings. What really does it though are the settings, filmed on location, nothing seems false or staged, in sights and sounds alone there is something incredibly immersive in the general milieu of French occupied Algeria film depicts.  On top of this the acting is outstanding, there is an intensity to the performances which gives the film a gravitas that could easily have been lost in stereotypes and artifice. And so  – onto the subject matter. Much has been made of the films controversial depictions of both sides of a (probably rather regrettable, and incidently rather long) period of French intervention in Northern Africa. It depicts torture, terrorism and murder. What it doesn’t do, and this is probably where the controversy arises, is address the question of who is right and who is wrong. You could read the film in either way, perhaps the FLN are shown to be noble freedom fighters, or perhaps the it is the French military, who somehow always manage to look exceptionally sharp, who are glorified. Perhaps it is both, more likely though it is neither. The film tells us an important story, undoubtedly it is a problematic re-telling, but this is because in reality the events upon which it is based are far more problematic than the film could even hope to imply. It does an amazing job though of acknowleging (some) of those issues, without explicitly passing judgement, but also without shying away from the terrible implications of some of the descisions which were made by those involved. It is a masterpiece because it does all of this, and still manages to be a prescient and compelling today as it was when it was released.

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Batman – The Dark Knight Returns Pt II

I think I have seen every batman movie. Unless there is some really obscure one that I have missed, and it is secretly awesome, this is hands down the best Batman I have ever seen. That means, so long as I am correct in thinking I have seen every Batman movie, that I think this is the best Batman EVER. Seriously. Just to qualify, its better than the Nolan trilogy, its better than returns, forever and Robin, its better than the Adam West ones – its better even than the Batman who turns up in the Lego movie. Really there is no character who appears in such a large and diverse collection of films who can ever top Batman, and I love them all for their own reasons, but to be more awesome than all of those other Batmans, what did this one have that the others didnt? Well, to be completely honest, it is because he is completely wonky in the brain cabin. Lots of story lines we have seen before, the vigilante aspect, the whole Joker storyline, Bruce getting on a bit, are all taken to their logical conclusions. I dont mean, for instance, the “Batman killed the Joker” ending of the Nolan Dark Knight, the one where you get to still think Batman is a good vaguely normal guy who happens to dress up as a bat and have a rigid set of rules which mean he wont take a life. Clearly “normal” people dont do this type of thing, but rather than just play with this idea, here it becomes central. So by logical conclusion I mean that Wayne has somehow to reconcile his need to maintain order with his self imposed rule book – and there is no avoiding the fact that this doesn’t really work. Batman literally fights, not evil, but the things which dont fit into his worldview. It makes the politics of the whole thing a bit strange, Batman clearly IS awesome, and he fights to preserve control in a world of chaos, but its hard to really get behind the undemocratic idea of the un-elected vigilante, to say nothing of what the ‘order’ he seeks to preserve represents. It only really works in a world where the bad guys are really very bad, and the good guys? Well they can just stay out of the way. Like part one this isn’t a kids animation, it stays true to the story and things occur that would never have made the cut in live action versions – the Jokers henchwoman (lover?) wandering around with a swastica on each nipple? Anyone? Did I mention Superman shows up too? No kidding, best Batman ever.

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