Tuesday 19 August 2014

60 Second Film Reviews #13

Quick movie reviews, without the waffle. 60 Second Film Reviews is a regular feature where I compile together brief reviews of recent films I've watched at home or at the movies - and generally couldn't be arsed didn't find time to write a proper review for. 

This month, I watched 300: Rise of an EmpireUnder the Skin, Friends with Benefits and Pitch Perfect. 

300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

300: Rise of an Empire is the sequel to Zach Snyder's 2006 comic-book adaptation 300. It's based off Frank Miller's latest graphic novel, Xerxes. Except, there really isn't a lot of Xerxes in this movie...

So anyway, the story interweaves itself with the first film, starting prior to and ending after 300's narrative. It's about a separate band of Greeks defending their homeland from an oncoming fleet of Persian boats. It stars Sullivan Stapleton and Eva Green, with Lena Headey returning as Queen Gordo from the first movie.

I found that this movie was kinda cool, if historically-inaccurate blood-drenched boobfests are your kind of thing. The VFX were laughable at times, especially during sword fights and blood-spurty bits. The slo-mo action scenes were an eye-popping novelty in the first film, but here they are completely indulgent. At times, it sort of felt like they're trying a little too hard to outdo Snyder's original film.

The cast keeps up the solid tradition of having accents that sound distinctly un-Greek; there's posh English, northern English and even some Australian in there. Essentially, everything but Greek. The lead Greek Themistakleeze or whatever he's called is played by Sullivan Stapleton, an actor with about as much range as a zucchini, and none of the beard-shaking awesomeness of Gerard Butler's Leonidas. He's generally rather boring, leaving it to the rest of Greek cast to pick up the slack.

Eva Green plays an oddly pale-skinned and English sounding Persian general Artemesia, and actually steals the entire show. She chews the scenery as she prowls up and down barking lines like "Today, we will dance across the backs of dead Greeks" and "Welcome to my humble barge". Oh, and "You fight harder than you fuck." Lovely. She's a delightfully badass villain that you can't help but love. She just seems to be having so much fun with the cheesy script and OTT action that it's hard not to root for her. She's seriously badass, and makes this film actually worth it. I kinda wanted her to win. Screw you Greece, it's Artemisa's time to shine!

Despite all the drawbacks, it is hard to deny that 300: Rise of an Empire is a helluva good time, especially for fans of the swords and sandals genre. It's completely ridiculous, unnecessarily stylistic and nonsensical at times, but still worth a watch if you're just looking for something fun to munch popcorn to.

I give 300: Rise of an Empire: 6/10

Under the Skin (2014)

Creepy, enchanting, discomforting - where to even start with this movie? Under the Skin is a film that is oddly hypnotic film, gripping and repulsive at the same time. It's a hard movie to pin down, certainly one that will divide audiences.

Starring Scarlett Johannson, Under the Skin is a sci-fi thriller directed by Jonathan Glazer. ScarJo plays an alien who feeds on weak-willed men by seducing and consuming them. It's loosely based on a novel of the same name from 2000.

For Johansson, this is going to be a career-defining performance, her face plastered with a mix of wide-eyed wonderment and confusion at the world around her. Alongside Lucy and Captain America, Johansson continues a run of diverse films showcasing her brilliant range as an actress.

Personally, I thought she was better in Her, but Under the Skin is a bold and ballsy role for her resume. Likewise, Glazer's direction is indisputably striking, with the void-like scenes set within Johansson's apartment particularly grabbing.

It's important to note that Under the Skin is one for the fans of indie flicks for sure - if your sole reasoning for seeing this film is because your mate down the pub told you ScarJo is in the nude, best steer clear. You need to have your brain engaged and your tolerance for surrealism dialled up to 11. It's kind of like an erotically-charged 2001: A Space Odyssey framed by the grey, bleakness of Scotland. Visually, the dreary surroundings perfectly encapsulate the sense of foreboding and entrapment, whilst the throbbing score mimics the sci-fi, alien womb themes.

Under the Skin has been getting rave reviews from critics, but I wouldn't call it the best film I've seen this year. It's certainly the kind of film that'll give art-house aficionados a semi, whilst leaving many others dazed and confused. Did I enjoy it? In an odd, can't-take-my-eyes-off kind of way, yeah. I had a profound appreciation for the visual and technical elements, I'm not going to undersell the artistic merit of what is a gorgeously shot film. ScarJo, and her character, were also fantastic. But in terms of how much it gripped me narratively, I can't say the same.

I give Under the Skin: 7.5/10

Friends with Benefits (2011)

Friends with Benefits is a 2011 R-rated comedy starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. It's about two hot twenty-somethings who, reeling from messy break-ups, enter into a 'friends with benefits' situation where they have lots of sex, sans the complicated relationship requirements. 

Now, raunchy comedies such as this can go one of two ways - they're either really great and hit all the right notes, or fall flat on their face, literally using the good looking cast to attract audiences. We're looking at you, Sex Tape. 

Thankfully, Friends with Benefits falls into the former category. The cast are brilliant, with JT and Kunis sharing a sizzling on-screen chemistry that is no doubt the envy of other similar movies (cough, No Strings Attached, cough). The two gel together really well (no pun intended...?) and visibly have a lot of fun with the nude scenes, of which there are many.

The supporting cast is also great - Woody Harrelson crops up as JT's gay friend with a one-track mind (if you know what I mean), whilst Emma Stone and Andy Samberg have great cameos. However, it's the last act of the film that really hit a home run, with the flash mob set to 'Closing Time' rounding out all-round solid, funny and sexy romantic-comedy.

I give Friends with Benefits: 7/10

Pitch Perfect (2012)

Pitch Perfect is a 2012 musical comedy starring Anna Kendrick and directed by Jason Moore. It's a sassy teen flick targeted squarely at high-schoolers, and is about aspiring DJ Beca discovering her talent for a cappella during her freshman year of college.

In short, this film is a whole lotta fun. I wouldn't say it was the best teen/college comedy ever made, but it certainly had its moments. For starters, the writing is really good. The dialogue is really snappy, and the ensemble cast all work in harmony (see what I did there?) to get the audiences laughing.

Kendrick was great in the lead role, but the real scene stealer was Aussie actress Rebel Wilson. She plays Fat Amy, an eccentric and outspoken member of the group with a talent for well-timed one-liners. They mainly comprise of 'fat jokes', and this may irk some people, but the film pokes fun at all-sorts of college character archetypes so try not to take it personally, eh?

There are also moments that fell flat (heh, music puns are fun); for example, one scene where the group all vomit onto one another felt like a skit from Saturday morning TV rather than a feature length teen comedy. I know it's deliberately gross-out, but c'mon - really? What is this, Little Britain? I expected better.

Also, the plot is formulaic to a fault, sticking to the hymn sheet right up until the final curtain (okay, I'll stop now). If you took a notebook and wrote down how you would expect a teen film such as Pitch Perfect to play out, and you probably wouldn't be too far off.

On the whole, it was funny if not iconic. It isn't Mean Girls, but I would watch it again for cute-as-a-button Kendrick alone.

I give Pitch Perfect: 6/10


  1. lol, your key word when describing Rise of an Empire was "unnecessary". :P Sure, it had its moments, and Eva Green was pretty awesome, but, blah.

    Haven't seen the rest of these yet, though. Interested in checking out Under the Skin at some point.

    1. Eva Green was easily the best thing about Rise of an Empire - hopefully, she steals the show in A Dame to Kill For also! :)

  2. I've seen Friends with Benefits and Pitch Perfect and I'd say your assessment is pretty spot-on for both. Well, I will admit that I didn't like Kendrick in PP. Just wasn't feeling the psuedo-goth/anti-establishment-chick thing she was trying to pull off. Wilson made the movie, for me. Good work.

    1. Fair enough! I really Kendrick as an actress, she just seems like such a regular, grounded person :) I think her best role is Drinking Buddies/Scott Pilgrim :) Thanks for commenting Dell!

  3. Great short, sharp, sweet reviews here! I remember being pleasantly surprised by Friends with Benefits which was although not particularly insightful but actually quite witty at times. Pitch Perfect is some good too. I just hope that Elizabeth Banks doesn't rip apart the sequel and destroy its entire image.

    I have to admit that I truly loved Under the Skin. That film made a trip to the cinemas worthwhile - it really was a viewing experience. Although I'd have to agree that it is indeed not the best film of the year.

    1. I wasn't actually aware there was going to be a sequel until I read this comment! :) I hope its not just a cash-grab, because as teen comedies go, Pitch Perfect is one of the better ones. Whilst I didn't love Under the Skin, I can certainly appreciate the artistic merit and and film-making techniques that went into making it. As a surrealist piece, it was great. Just not the revelation I'd heard it was.



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