Just Friends (2005)

2016 #97
Roger Kumble | 91 mins | streaming | 1.85:1 | USA, Canada & Germany / English | 12 / PG-13

I was aware of the existence of Just Friends in the way you’re aware of any movie with name actors that came out during the period in which you were cognisant of films that were being released — that is to say, I knew it was a film and it was a comedy, and I had paid it no heed beyond that. Until a couple of months back, when an article at the A.V. Club about a different topic referred to it as a “pop culture dud”, and the comments section got half overtaken with people defending it. Couple that with it being available free on Amazon Prime Instant Video and my curiosity was suitably piqued.

It’s the story of Chris Brander (Ryan Reynolds), a fat kid at school who was publicly ridiculed when he declared his love for his best friend and most-popular-girl Jamie Palamino (Amy Smart). Years later, he’s got fit and become a womanising record company exec who hasn’t been home since that incident. However, events conspire to strand him back home for Christmas, with crazy popstrel Samantha James (Anna Faris) in tow, where he finds Jamie stuck in a dead-end job. Can he reclaim his past love, etc, etc, etc.

For all kinds of reasons, Just Friends spends a long time feeling like a morally bankrupt movie. It’s unclear if it’s praising or condemning Chris’ frivolous lifestyle, if he needs saving by coming home, or if he deserves revenge on the people who mistreated him. We know what the standard Hollywood perspective on these things is, so kudos to some degree for dodging it (at least for a while), but it doesn’t commit to the other direction either. What the story really amounts to is wish fulfilment on an epic scale. Its message is essentially: you can go back to your past and make it better. Maybe I’m just a cynic, but that’s not something I believe.

So it was on course for 2 stars, the inconsistency and moral questionability of its worldview tempered by the fact that it was sometimes pretty funny, even hilarious once or twice, particularly when it nails some slapstick. However, at around the halfway point it seems to lose all control of its story, veering wildly around from subplot to subplot, and from conclusion to conclusion (it feels like it’s reached its final play at least three times). Normally that would make things worse, but, concurrently, it settles down in to what it’s trying to say (as much as it’s trying to say anything). It even delivers laughs more consistently, too. To a degree, from that midpoint the movie is slowly rescued.

One lesson I took from watching Just Friends (as if I didn’t know this already) was that just because a bunch of people defend something they like in a comments thread on the internet, it doesn’t mean you’ll like that thing too, even if that comments thread is on the A.V. Club. Nonetheless, while Just Friends is not any kind of “must see” film, as a 90-minute diversion — with, at this temporal distance, a splash of mid-’00s nostalgia — it’s passably entertaining.

3 out of 5

Die Hard (1988)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #23

Twelve terrorists. One cop.
The odds are against John McClane…
That’s just the way he likes it.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 132 minutes
BBFC: 18 (1988) | 15 (2007)
MPAA: R

Original Release: 15th July 1988
UK Release: 3rd February 1989
First Seen: DVD, 2003

Stars
Bruce Willis (Twelve Monkeys, The Sixth Sense)
Alan Rickman (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Sense and Sensibility)
Reginald VelJohnson (Turner & Hooch, Die Hard 2)
Bonnie Bedelia (Die Hard 2, Presumed Innocent)

Director
John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt for Red October)

Screenwriters
Jeb Stuart (Another 48 Hrs., The Fugitive)
Steven E. de Souza (The Running Man, Beverly Hills Cop III)

Based on
Nothing Lasts Forever, a novel by Roderick Thorp.

The Story
While off-duty cop John McClane is visiting his estranged wife at her office Christmas party, a gang of terrorists enter the building and take the guests hostage. McClane avoids capture, making him their only hope of rescue…

Our Hero
One of New York’s finest unfortunately caught in the wrong place at the wrong time… or, as it turns out, the right place at the right time. They’re currently working on an “origin story” movie for cop John McClane, which is daft because Die Hard is his origin story — he may’ve become an action hero in later movies (I wouldn’t know, I still haven’t got beyond the second), but here McClane is just an ordinary cop. Well, a very committed ordinary cop, anyway.

Our Villain
Smart, witty, and thoroughly ruthless, Alan Rickman’s big-screen debut is a flawless turn that defined thriller villains (British-accented terrorists with a secret plan) for at least the next half-decade. No one does it better, though.

Best Supporting Character
McClane’s only real friend, Sgt. Al Powell is a beat cop on the outside who just happens to pick up his signal. Fortunately, he’s much smarter and more helpful than a team of FBI agents. Well, aren’t we all?

Memorable Quote
Hans Gruber: “Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy?”
John McClane: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.”

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
See above.

Memorable Scene
As Gruber lectures the collected hostages on how the terrorists have planned for every eventuality, a nearby elevator door pings open. One of the hostages screams, Gruber and co rush over, to find one of their compatriots dead with a message scrawled on his sweatshirt: “Now I have a machine gun, ho-ho-ho.”

Truly Special Effect
When the bomb in the elevator shaft blows out the side of the building, the effect was accomplished by collecting virtually every camera flashbulb of a particularly powerful type and wiring them to the outside of the actual building to simulate the flash, then superimposing a shot of an actual explosive blowing a hole in an all-black miniature of the building.

Making of
The filmmakers struggled to find a way for McClane and Gruber to meet prior to the movie’s climax. The scene in which they do, where Gruber pretends to be one of the hostages, was dreamt up after it was discovered Alan Rickman could do a good American accent.

Previously on…
Die Hard is adapted from a novel, which is a sequel to one called The Detective, which was filmed in 1968 starring Frank Sinatra as the lead cop (called Joe Leland rather than John McClane). When production began on Die Hard, Fox were obligated to offer the lead to Sinatra. Fortunately for them, he turned it down.

Next time…
Lightning struck twice for unlucky John McClane when he got embroiled in another Christmastime terrorist incident in Die Hard 2, aka Die Harder; then Gruber’s brother sought revenge in trilogy-forming Die Hard with a Vengeance. Years later, someone realised there was money to be made, leading to poorly-received cash-in sequels Live Free or Die Hard, aka Die Hard 4.0, and A Good Day to Die Hard. A sixth is in development.

Awards
4 Oscar nominations (Editing, Sound, Sound Effects Editing, Visual Effects — or, to put it another way: Sound, Effects, Editing, Sound Effects Editing)

What the Critics Said
“From its trailer, Die Hard looks like a typical action movie of the ’80s: a sweaty, bare-chested, all-American hero battles swarthy, heavily accented terrorist villains, accompanied by lots of high-tech explosions, vast sheets of breaking glass and enough sophisticated weaponry to account for the Pentagon’s budget overrun. As directed by John McTiernan, it turns out to be something more — the archetypical action movie of the ’80s, the perfection of the form. Sleekly engineered, impeccably staged and shrewdly dosed with humor and sentiment, Die Hard has everything but a personality.” — Dave Kehr, Chicago Tribune

Score: 92%

What the Public Say
“Vulnerable but witty, McClane is a very well realised action hero who has set precedence as far as similar roles are concerned. […] Unlike Schwarzenegger and Stallone, Willis’ McClane is not the archetypal heroic figure that is invincible and untouchable. He gets his butt handed to him regularly and often finds himself panicking with frequent looks of nervousness and even fear.” — Billy’s Film Reviews

Verdict

The action movie to end all action movies… or, y’know, spawn endless sequels and rip-offs. But Die Hard really did perfect the mix: a capable but not superhuman hero, a genuinely threatening but enjoyable-to-watch villain, plenty of thrills and tension, but also humour and eminently quotable dialogue. And it’s set at Christmas (though originally released in July — what?!), which makes it ideal for seasonal counter-programming. What more could you ask for?

Prepare thyself… for #24.

Merry Christmas, Internet

I was going to post my review of The Force Awakens today, but I’ve had a grotty cold and haven’t felt like writing it.

Er, I mean — Merry Christmas! Glad tidings to all! It’s the most wondrous time of the year!

100 Films HQ, today.

100 Films HQ, today.

This is what happens when you meet all the family, then all the other family, then go shopping, then to a crowded cinema (i.e. spending time in confined spaces with lots of strangers and their germs), and then stand around in the cold and rain at Longleat for two hours.

Longleat was good, though.

Longleat was good, though.

Anyway, I hope you’re having a nice day. I’m off to debate whether to bother making Christmas lunch or just leave it for tomorrow (because it’s just the two of us and the dog, and precisely none of those people are bothered whether we have The Big Meal today or on another day when I’m feeling more like it).

Marty McFly, in the TARDIS, under our tree, yesterday.

Marty McFly, in the TARDIS, under our tree, yesterday.

Oh, and if you’ve not heard it already, don’t bother with Radiohead’s Spectre theme, it’s rubbish. (But because I know I’d want to hear it even after someone gave me that advice, here’s a link).

Merry Christmas!

The 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015

Good times are here again, dear readers, because it’s December 1st and that can only mean one thing: advent calendars. Specifically, the fourth annual 100 Films in a Year Advent Calendar!

And this year, there’s double the fun: not content with providing you with my precious insight on a single cinematic wonder each day, for my 2015 advent calendar there will be two reviews every day. Or, to look at it another way, one review every 12 hours between now and Christmas Day.

Each day at midnight: a speedy little drabble nightcap.
Each day at midday: a full-length review lunch.
(Sorry, none of these metaphorical meals contain chocolate.)

(This isn’t at all doomed to fail, is it…)

Also of note! As per last year, my advent calendar will serve, in part, as a kind of ‘review of 2015’, looking back on some of the year’s biggest and most significant movies (that I’ve yet to review). Such delights may include Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ex Machina, Force Majeure, Mad Max: Fury Road, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the Shaun the Sheep Movie, Spectre, Terminator Genisys, Tomorrowland, as well as the biggest film of the year (so far), Jurassic World, and the one that may yet surpass it, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (No guarantees, mind — I’ve not written some of them yet. Heck, I’ve not seen some of them yet…)

Plus! A series of reviews dedicated to Star Wars in the run-up to the release of Episode VII. All will be revealed on Monday 14th (or now, if you look at my coming soon page — they’re pretty obvious).

Anyway, let’s get started. Should be pretty clear which are the drabbles and which the full reviews.


December 1st

December 2nd

December 3rd

December 4th

December 5th

December 6th

December 7th

December 8th

December 9th

December 10th

December 11th

December 12th

December 13th


Star Wars Week

December 14th

December 15th

December 16th


December 17th

December 18th

December 19th

December 20th

December 21st

December 22nd

December 23rd

December 24th

December 25th

Merry Christmas!

Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger! (2012)

2014 #133
Debbie Isitt | 109 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | UK / English | U

Nativity 2David Tennant replaces Martin Freeman as the teacher of a primary school class who enter themselves in a Christmas singing competition in this part-improvised sequel to the endearing 2009 hit.

Sadly, lightning doesn’t strike twice. A talented cast (also including Joanna Page, Jason Watkins, Ian McNeice and Jessica Hynes, all of whom are underused) struggle with an over-padded story, which leads to a climactic concert full of charmless, cringeworthy songs. There’s some sweetness from the kids, but not enough to paper over the cracks.

It’s no wonder last Christmas’ second sequel (with another new, bargain basement, leading man) flopped badly.

2 out of 5

Nativity 2 featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2014, which can be read in full here.

The 100 Films Advent Calendar 2014

Come one, come all, to the third annual 100 Films in a Year Advent Calendar!

It’s 25 days of fresh new reviews, ladies and gents! Some in-depth, some short and snappy, but all immensely informative.*

As well as the usual grab-bag from my highly random viewing, this year I’ll be specifically looking back at some of 2014’s biggest and most significant films, including** (but not limited to)… The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, X-Men: Days of Future Past

And! Would you believe it, 2014 had some significant films not based on comic books, too — like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Edge of Tomorrow, The Expendables 3, Godzilla, In Your Eyes, and the Veronica Mars movie.

Plus! One year on, I’ll cover some of 2013’s biggest films — including my take on the all-conquering Frozen.

Also! Some all-time classics, including much-belated (but possibly even worth the wait) reviews of The Night of the Hunter and Seven Samurai.

And if that wasn’t enough, a small tribute to Robin Williams, in the form of drabbles on two of his key movies.

It’s my most well-planned advent calendar ever!

So keep your eyes on this page over the next three-and-a-half weeks, folks (or via email or Twitter, should you prefer) — all manner of wonders shall appear below…


December 1st

December 2nd

December 3rd

December 4th

December 5th

December 6th

December 7th

December 8th

December 9th

December 10th

December 11th


Robin Williams Weekend

December 12th

December 13th

December 14th


December 15th

December 16th

December 17th

December 18th

December 19th


Sin City Weekend

December 20th

December 21st


December 22nd

December 23rd

December 24th

December 25th

Merry Christmas!


* Not guaranteed. ^
** Inclusion not guaranteed (because I’ve not written some of them yet. Heck, I’ve not seen some of them yet). ^

Nativity! (2009)

2011 #94
Debbie Isitt | 106 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | UK / English | U / PG

Nativity!Yes, this is exactly the kind of review I should be posting in April. But hey, it’s Easter! That’s about Jesus too, right? (It’ll have to do, I’m not hanging on ’til next Christmas.)

Nativity! comes from writer-director Debbie Isitt, previously responsible for the entertaining part-improvised comedy Confetti, and this fits in a similar vein… albeit more family-friendly than a movie featuring Robert Webb and Olivia Colman as nudists. This one sees Confetti’s Martin Freeman as a primary school teacher charged with producing his school’s nativity, which always gets bad reviews in the local paper (do any local papers really review nativities?) while their rival private school always gets glowing endorsements. To make matters worse, the other school’s nativity director is an old friend/rival (Confetti’s Jason Watkins), and he must deal with an enthusiastic but unprofessional new classroom assistant (Confetti’s Marc Wootton), and there’s some stuff about his ex-girlfriend (Extra’s Ashley Jensen) who’s gone to LA, and it’s all quite straightforward when you watch it but I’m making a right pig’s ear of describing it. This is why I didn’t use to bother trying to include plot summaries.

It’s not wholly my fault — it’s kind of a daft plot, really. It’s played relatively straight and realist, but it goes off that beaten track at times. Which I suppose is fine — why not, after all? Christmas spiritNo one promised grim social realism — it’s a Christmas family film, with some moral messages and a sort of romance and sweet kids and a cute dog. And regular readers know how much I love a cute dog.

It’s also cheesy and silly, with an ending so packed with sentimentality it could make Spielberg look like a grumpy spoilsport. But in a feel-good Christmas-time film I think that’s mostly allowed. It’s not deep or meaningful, and it’s not cutting edge or shocking, but it has a charm and a sweetness that sit well at that time of year. The kind of film you flop on the sofa, shove your brain in to neutral, and tuck in to a box of chocolates while smiling along.

Try watching this at any other time of year (like, er, now) and you can knock a star off, but over the Christmas period it’s a fluffily entertaining diversion. Maybe I should’ve held this review back after all.

4 out of 5

A pair of comedies — one with snow!

It’s Christmas Eve! Hurrah! All the best of the season to you, and that kind of palaver.

As I have no Christmassy films stacked up in my big pile of things I need to get round to reviewing, I’ve decided the nearest I can offer to the Christmas spirit is a pair of British comedies (comedies being kinda jolly, see), one of which has snow, which is always Christmassy. Except when it’s just at the North Pole. Like in this film. Oh shh, it’s the best I could do.

Without further witter, then, here are some reviews. Snow first, quality second — it is Christmas after all…

Unfortunately it’s only mildly amusing rather than laugh-out-loud hilarious… On the bright side, it doesn’t go on about the green agenda too much… While I’m all for informing people and reminding them Something Must Be Done, battering viewers round the head when they’re expecting to enjoy a nice comedy is perhaps not the best way.
Read more…


Though the film pokes fun (fairly good-naturedly) at sci-fi obsessives, the underlying story here is about a man overshadowed by his past. In this Rob Brydon gives a strong performance — I think he’s a better actor than he’s normally given credit for… The biggest twist, however, is that Steve Coogan plays a nice character. There’s no surprise sting in the tail there, he’s just nice throughout. It’s weird.
Read more…


Merry Christmas!

Diner (1982)

2011 #93
Barry Levinson | 105 mins | TV | 16:9 | USA / English | 15 / R

DinerBaltimore, the week between Christmas and New Year, 1959: the lives of six friends in the run-up to one of them getting married, during which period they spend surprisingly little time at the titular establishment.

The first feature from writer-director Levinson (Young Sherlock Holmes, Good Morning Vietnam, Rain Man, etc), Diner stars a pre-Angel Heart Mickey Rourke, pre-Footloose Kevin Bacon, pre-Police Academy Steve Guttenberg, and a few others who, let’s be honest, probably aren’t recognisable enough (to me anyway) to be pre-anything (including amongst the main friends Home Alone’s Daniel Stern and Superman: The Animated Series’s Superman, Tim Daly). That doesn’t really shed any light on what the film is like, but in retrospect it looks like an All-Star Cast.

What Diner is like is a series of vignettes. There’s a loose plot holding it all together — the aforementioned wedding — but it all plays like a series of connected subplots. It’s a “slice of life” kind of film, rather than a “big story” kinda film. That works for some viewers and not for others. For me, I enjoyed some of it and some of the amusing moments, but it all felt ultimately empty.

A rare scene in the dinerThere are no big turning points or revelations or developments for any of these characters. One is in trouble thanks to deep gambling debts, but there’s the equivalent of a magic wand that wipes them all out; another is permanently drunk with serious family issues, but neither of those go anywhere; another pines for a girl he barely sees and has never been with — well, except for one significant night — but by the end I’m not sure if they were going to get together or leave it be or… what. Similar things could be said for all the others.

Do we need to see big life-defining turning points for all these guys, or even any of them? It’s not plausible they’d all happen in the same week anyway, except on the rare occasion there’s a period of time that’s significant for everyone — y’know, leaving school, or a major world-changing incident; those things that can automatically define the life of everyone involved, if only for a while. Here, you might say it’s marriage, but it isn’t — the fact we never see the bride’s face is probably symbolic of her ultimate unimportance to the guys’ friendship.

A rare woman in DinerLike I said, this kind of storytelling works for some viewers and not for others. If it hadn’t been for the pat ending of that gambling debt plot, or the non-development of some other promising threads, maybe I would have liked it more. As it stands, Diner certainly has its moments, but maybe not enough of them for me.

3 out of 5

December 2010

Happy New Year!

In one minute, technically. But you didn’t read this in that minute, did you.


The final tally

So here we are, the final few new films I watched in 2010. This doesn’t replace my usual pair of closing summary posts, incidentally — they’ll be along as normal at some point in the next week or two.

And, as you’ll see in just a few lines, I sadly didn’t beat my previous record of 129 films. Hey ho — I made it to 100 (and comfortably over it), and after failing last year and barely scraping through the year before, I’m more than happy with that.

Those final few films, then:


#116 The Outrage (1964)
#117 The Wolfman: Unrated Version (2010)
#118 Surrogates (2009)
#118a Verity (2010)
#119 Rambo III (1988)
#120 Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
#121 A Good Woman (2004)
#122 Iron Eagle (1986)


A cancellation

You may have noticed last month that I hinted The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King would be the first film I watched this month, becoming #115d. “Where’d it go?” you may consequently have wondered.

Well, I did watch it, and it was set to become #115d, but once I sat down to write about all three Lord of the Ringses I found I didn’t have a great deal to say about them at this time, besides some vague introductions and/or conclusions to each article. I rather overestimated myself in adding all three to the roster for this year, I think, especially while I was toiling away on watching and reviewing to reach #130 (not to mention general real world stuff).

So those theatrical LotR reviews are gone, for now. Maybe they’ll turn up next time I watch them, though goodness knows when that might be.


Next time on the all-new 100 Films in a Year monthly update…

It all begins again as we head into 2011, for the fifth time.

500 films in 5 years? Hopefully.

130 next year? We’ll see…

2010’s summary posts will be republished in November.