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Non-Review Review: Why Him?

Why Him? is perhaps a little over-stretched.

Why Him? is built around a very stock comedy template. A hard-working old-fashioned father finds himself at odds with his daughter’s new boyfriend, leading to a clash of competing masculine egos. The most innovative aspect of Why Him? is the decision to filter this standard comedy plot through two more filters. Why Him? is simultaneously a raunchy R-rated comedy full of profanity and bodily-function jokes. It is also framed as a Christmas comedy, as much as a comedy set in and around Los Angeles can seem like a Christmas comedy.

Guess who's coming to (Christmas) dinner.

Guess who’s coming to (Christmas) dinner.

These are hardly the boldest of innovations. Why Him? is a paper-thin comedy that is somehow stretched out to run over one hour and fifty minutes. There are any number of gags that work and a solid cast that never rises to exceptional, but the fact is that all of these elements overstay their welcome by at least a good twenty minutes. It is telling that one of the biggest issues with Why Him? is repetition, where the movie attempts to spin out slight jokes that prompt a knowing smile into running gags that exhaust all good will.

Ironically enough, given the title, Why Him? never makes a compelling case for its own scale and length.

Fists of fury.

Fists of fury.

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Non-Review Review: Trumbo

Trumbo is a solid (and fairly formulaic) Hollywood biopic elevated by a powerful central performance from Bryan Cranston.

In many respects, Trumbo is a very familiar story. It is a film produced by Hollywood about Hollywood, which offers a broadly positive portrayal of the industry and a vital chapter of its social history. As the title implies, Trumbo focuses upon the life and times of Dalton Trumbo; Trumbo was a famous writer branded a communist as part of the “Hollywood Ten”, sent to prison and excommunicated from the industry. It is a tragic and shameful chapter in the history of Hollywood, one that leaves scars still felt today.

Testify!

Testify!

The plot beats of Trumbo are familiar enough to anybody with an appreciation of the biopic formula. Trumbo is an eccentric idealist who endures terrible hardships (and yet imposes them upon his family) in pursuit of a laudable goal. There are a few nods to the idea that Dalton Trumbo is manipulative and self-serving, but the film never makes a particularly compelling case for its central character as anything more than careless. Trumbo runs through all the scenes and elements one expects from a story like this; from the quirky details to the domestic drama.

There is something very rote and familiar about all this; a movie about a screenwriting genius that lacks any of the energy or verve that its central character brought to his own work. However, while the film doesn’t necessarily work in a “big picture” sense, it is held together by the finer details. Cranston offers a wonderful central performance that towers over the rest of the film, and the movie offsets some of its more formulaic plotting with a tendency towards witty banter and wry one-liners. Trumbo doesn’t have the right stuff, but it has almost enough of the write stuff.

A little bird told me...

A little bird told me…

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The X-Files – Drive (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

In many ways, Drive feels like an episode that tackles the move to California head-on.

After all, the plot of Drive essentially finds Mulder trapped in a car heading westwards through Nevada and into California. The episode even lingers on a “welcome to California” sign, tacitly acknowledging the massive change that had taken place behind the scenes between the fifth and sixth seasons of The X-Files. It is a very clever way of addressing a major change to the production of the show, one that is candid and open about the fact that things are inherently different now.

"Running out of west..."

“Running out of west…”

More than that, Drive figures out how to build an episode of The X-Files around the change in production location. The sixth season often finds the production team struggling to find the right tone and mood to match the new location; after all, the show cannot simply pretend that it is still filming in Vancouver. California is sunnier, hotter and drier than Vancouver ever was – the sixth season of The X-Files spends a little time trying to adapt to those new filming conditions.

This challenge is arguably most obvious in the string of (literally and metaphorically) lighter episodes in the first stretch of the season. The sixth season is quite controversial among fans of the show because there is a period of time where it seems like The X-Files might transform itself into a quirky romantic sit-com. Episodes like Triangle, Dreamland I, Dreamland II, How the Ghosts Stole Christmas and The Rain King would be the lighter episodes of any previous season; they seem to pile in on top of one another at the start of the sixth season.

Feels like going home...

Feels like going home…

In contrast, Drive is very much a quintessential episode of The X-Files. It is a classic episode of the show. It is scary, it is tense, it is meticulously constructed. There is humour to be found, but the stakes feel real and personal. Writer Vince Gilligan very shrewdly plays into the constraints of the new Los Angeles production realities. A lot of Drive takes place during the day on long desert roads. It takes advantage of California’s impressive interstate system, with twenty-five highways covering almost two-and-half thousand miles.

However, Drive is more than simply a demonstration that The X-Files can still work in its new home. Drive is a superb piece of television in its own right. It is highly regarded as one of the finest episodes of The X-Files from the second half of the run. It is notable for a wonderful premise, a great script, and a mesmerising guest performance from Bryan Cranston. Drive would be the first collaboration between writer Vince Gilligan and actor Bryan Cranston, but not the last.

Drive of your life...

Drive of your life…

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Non-Review Review: Godzilla (2014)

Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla remake exhumes the classic movie monster for one more epic city-destroying brawl. Appropriately enough, the film feels like something of a relic itself – albeit a relic from an era more recent than the prime of its featured monster. Opening with the excavation of a giant skeleton in the Philippines, and with the revelation that the titular creature was first awakened in 1954, there’s a sense of coy self-awareness to Gareth Edwards’ monster movie tribute.

This wry self-awareness only extends the film so much leeway. At the heart, Godzilla feels like a nineties blockbuster created with modern technology. If the film had a sense of humour, it would look a lot more like Godzilla-by-the-way-of-Roland Emmerich than the 1998 attempt to reintroduce the character to American audiences.

Who says Godzilla is washed up?

Who says Godzilla is washed up?

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Non-Review Review: Argo

Argo might not seem like it, with the action unfolding amidst the Iranian embassy siege and the stakes involved in the rescue of six hostages, but it is something of an affectionate love letter to cinema from Ben Affleck, who is emerging as one of the most talented actors-writers-directors of our time. From the moment that the grain scratches across the retro Warner Brothers logo to the closing credits where fact and fiction compare and contrast, Argo feels like a celebration of movie magic. Perhaps it’s a little tooself-congratulatory at points, as films made by Hollywood about Hollywood tend to be, but Affleck’s direction keeps the movie surprisingly focused. The film maker does an exceptional job wringing real tension from a true story – no small accomplishment, and a testament to his ability.

Standing out from the crowd…

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Non-Review Review: Total Recall (2012)

Len Wiseman’s Total Recall is a total mess. While the film features some superb production design and some passable action sequences, with an obvious affection for the design of contemporary science-fiction classics, the direction is muddled,the pacing is awkward and the script is constantly tripping over itself. At one point it’s suggested that the lead might have had has memory scrambled during a muddled recall session, the result of procedure started and yet not quite finished. In many ways, that feels a lot like what happens here – a choppy, uneven and unsatisfying movie that is a result of a muddled production and post-production process. “We can remember it for you,” an advertisement for the Rekall service boasts, homaging the classic short story that inspired the film. Unfortunately, they omitted “wholesale”, which is about the only price I could recommend this at.

Where’s your head at?

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Non-Review Review: Total Recall (2012)

Len Wiseman’s Total Recall is a total mess. While the film features some superb production design and some passable action sequences, with an obvious affection for the design of contemporary science-fiction classics, the direction is muddled,the pacing is awkward and the script is constantly tripping over itself. At one point it’s suggested that the lead might have had has memory scrambled during a muddled recall session, the result of procedure started and yet not quite finished. In many ways, that feels a lot like what happens here – a choppy, uneven and unsatisfying movie that is a result of a muddled production and post-production process. “We can remember it for you,” an advertisement for the Rekall service boasts, homaging the classic short story that inspired the film. Unfortunately, they omitted “wholesale”, which is about the only price I could recommend this at.

Where’s your head at?

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