James Franco

Early Bird Film Society’s Films O’ 2013!

Good evening and welcome to the EBFS review of the year (in film). Ahhhh…. 2013…. It seems a different, more innocent time. A time when the Academy saw fit to award Argo its highest honour at their annual, low-key shindig, despite their apparent belief that the film just popped into existence from nothing without any help from a director or anything. Cannes dropped to its knees over three hours of emotionally wrought, sapphic love in Blue Is The Warmest Colour, just to prove how stereotypically bloody French they are. Toronto, in a shameless attempt to hold onto it’s spot as “hot Oscar predictor”, hedged its bets and threw The People’s Choice Award at 12 Years a Slave, which is basically cheating. Venice and Berlin foisted their respective golden animal statues at Sacro GRA and Child’s Pose respectively. Two films so art-house and (eurgh) European that they have yet to see a release in either of the countries EBFS wanders around in. However, all of that backpatting, black tie dinnering, gladhanding was just window dressing compared to the (fanfare/family fortunes incorrect answer noise) annual verbal fist fight that has become the Early Bird Film Society’s Collection of Top Five Films And Some Bad Ones Of The Year! The title will be worked on.

Anyway, all four of us here at the global EBFS offices (Melbourne/Manchester Divisions) have picked our top five films that we saw at the cinema in 2013 based on a less than comprehensive release date schedule spanning two countries and poor recollection skills. It’s our list though, so don’t judge us and you’re welcome:

Top Five @DonDubrow

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (2013)

Joss Whedon threw this Shakespeare adaptation together using his house, his wife, his friends and his deft ear for fast, witty dialogue. Delightfully playful, completely faithful and a little breath of fresh air amongst the towering mega franchises.

– DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

Tarantino’s best film since Jackie Brown, completely ignoring any political subtext and a more brutal depiction of slavery for that reason. Great performances from Foxx and SLJ but Christophe Waltz’s warmth and DiCaprio’s gleeful evil earned them the plaudits. Extra points for surviving Tarantino’s inexplicable Australian accent which he’ll have to be brought to account for at some point.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013)

Divisive doesn’t even cover it. Nicolas Winding Refn’s desire to “violate” the audience came true with this lurid, neo fable of oedipal urges in Bangkok. Ryan Gosling’s easiest day at the office is a bleak and uncompromising, neon drenched nightmare set within the lowest parts of the human psyche. Maybe.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

Despite Spock’s presence, this embarrassingly colon free sequel was almost totally bereft of logic. Insane pacing and set pieces (and lens flare) and the worst kept secret of the year still made for a rip-roaring dash through a thousand tropes of the Star Trek universe all coated with JJ Abrams’ clever script reverses and cinema savvy. Best line delivery of the year too. Altogether now….”KHAAAAANNNNN!!”.

SPRING BREAKERS (2012)

Harmony Korine aims for the mainstream and thankfully misses with his visceral tale of hedonism and excess where the youth of America stop trying to be the best they can be and realise they no longer live in a country where anything is possible. Warning, contains James Franco saying “blue Kool-Aid” over and over and singing a Britney Spears song. Not for everyone.

Worst Film

After Earth (2013)

Will Smith “thinks” up an idea where he doesn’t play Will Smith but seventies Robert Duvall, his son convinces us that emoting is hard and M Night Shawaddywaddy directs? Ooh, it took a round of drawing straws to get one of EBFS into the cinema to begin with to gape open mouthed at a film with as much warmth, wit and charm as someone who bangs on a van at a sex trial. If this ruins Will Smith’s career (which it won’t), karmic film balance would at least creep back into the black….

Top 5 @stuartnbaillie

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

The award for best rug pull/slap in the fan boys faces goes to Shane Black’s exceptionally funny take on the superhero. RDJ nails it yet again as Tony Stark but the star of the show was Sir Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin/Trevor Slattery. Brilliant fun from start to finish.

GRAVITY (2013)

Adored by critics and loved by the public. Alfonso Cuaron’s marvelous film may have taken some fantastic scientific leaps in logic (seriously, look into it) but who cares, it was brilliant. Innovative and thoughtful this was on most critics top 5 lists. Ghost Clooney is my hero.

ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA (2013)

The funniest film I’ve seen in ages. Steve Coogan inhibits a character better than any other actor of his ilk, (take note of how it’s done Mr. Ferrell) and does it to consistently hilarious effect. The lip synch to Roachford’s ‘Cuddly Toy’ and ‘the man fanny’ were two of my highlights. Excellent work from everybody involved.

– CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013)

Tom Hanks is as good as he’s been since he made me cry over losing  a chuffing volleyball. Special mention to debutant Barkhad Abdi who held his own against a hollywood legend, his turn as Somali pirate Muse was almost as good as Hanks’ titular hero. Intense,thrilling, fast paced and superbly directed (well-played Paul Greengrass) this was edge of the seat viewing. Worth it for the heartbreaking final scenes.

FROZEN (2013)

I’m a 35 year old man who likes boxing, MMA, rugby, NFL, horror movies and the 80’s back catalogue of ‘The Austrian Oak’ and Sly Stallone and yes….a Disney musical made my top 5. The music in this is as good as anything from the 90’s golden era. I’ll put ‘Let it Go’ up against ‘A Whole New World’ or ‘Be Our Guest’. It’s very funny thanks to a brilliant talking snowman and the message that you don’t need a man to feel loved plays totally against Disney’s apparent ethos.

Loved. Every. Second.

Worst Film

Only God Forgives (2013)

I thought long and ard about this. I nearly gave it to Anchorman 2 but as awful as that was it just didn’t make my blood boil as much as OGF. As beautifully shot and scored as this was it felt deliberately obtuse at times and constantly frustrating. I hate this film with a passion that burns with the fire of a thousand suns.

Top 5 by @noonanjohnc

-MANIAC (2012)

Elijah Wood is a maniac, maniac on the floor and he’s dancing like he’s never danced before. D’oh! He is NOT a maniac, maniac on the floor, dancing like he’s never danced before. He’s the puppy eyed, mumbling owner of a mannequin store, with an oedipal love for his dead mother. Oh and he likes to scalp women. Franck Khalfoun’s remake of the 1981 greasy cult classic, has the morals of American Psycho and the sheen of Drive. Shot from Wood’s POV, the film makes you an unwilling accomplice in his apologetic rampage (‘I won’t hurt you.’ He cries to one of his victims, before doing exactly that). Haunting, vicious and with a superb soundtrack, Maniac will stay with you for a long time. I suggest showering in Swafeger afterwards.

THE KINGS OF SUMMER (2013)

This tale of three lads building a house in the forest to escape their respective parents took me completely by surprise. Equal parts Stand by Me and The Hangover (Seriously), The Kings of Summer is brilliantly shot and hilarious. I’ve watched this several times now and it never fails to cheer me up. Pretty much every highlight includes either Nick Offerman’s grumpy sonuvabich father who continually fights with the local Chinese restaurant or Moises Arias as the alien-esque Biaggio; a boy who mistakes Cystic Fibrosis for being gay.

THE WAY WAY BACK (2013)

Another coming of age film. This time from the writers of The Descendants, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who also direct. Duncan is a boy forced on a summer break with his mum and her somewhat dominant boyfriend. Whilst trying to find something fun to do, Duncan ends up working at Sam Rockwell’s rundown waterpark. Everyone is on fire in this film. Patriculalty Rockwell who has never been better as the lethargic Lothario with *all together now* a heart of gold.

THE ROCKET (2013)

I’ve got two Aussie films in my top ten. Ivan Sen’s noirish police procedural Mystery Road and this from documentarian Kim Mordaunt. I’ve gone with The Rocket simply because it’s probably the most accessible. A film that is both heartbreaking and joyful, The Rocket tells the story of a young boy just trying to prove his worth to his family when all those around him consider him to be bad look. I’ve told people it’s like a children’s story for grown-ups, and I think it’s the most succinct way I can put it.

GRAVITY (2013)

What can I say that hasn’t already been said on this page. I’m not going to waste your time. If you’ve seen it and loved it, you know why it’s on my list. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading and see if you can find a cinema that’s still showing it. I’ll wait.

Worst Film

– I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2

I’ve seen a lot of tosh in 2013. Hell, I saw three Dolph Lundgren films alone. However, absolutely none of them, not even Diana, could be considered the worst of 2013 when you have I Spit on Your Grave 2 vying for your attention. This shitpile of a movie is everything that’s wrong with most horror films today. Replacing subtly and scares with vicious and nasty, the film tries to justify the brutal hour long rape and abuse of its protagonist by letting her have the final third of the film to exact her revenge. No movie has ever made me as angry as this Fanta bottle full of piss.

Top 5 by @noonanhannah

– STOKER (2013)

I must confess to having mixed feelings about Park Chan-wook’s English language debut upon first viewing. But Stoker is one of those films whose utter dedication to atmosphere stays with you months after viewing until you begrudgingly admit that actually, that was rather brilliant. Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode all put in stellar performances and Chung Chung-hoon’s cinematography is positively lush. But the real star of Stoker is Wentworth Miller’s haunting script, a brilliant love letter to the twisted family shenanigans of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2013)

Flawed? Yes. Overlong? Absolutely. But Derek Cianfrance’s follow up to Blue Valentine is a brooding character piece that asks for a gamut of emotional responses from its audience, most of which it successfully achieves. Plus, it threatened to melt the internet by giving us a scene where Ryan Gosling dances with a dog to Bruce Springsteen, and if that’s not what you want out of a film, then we could never be friends.

THE WAY WAY BACK (2013)

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s ode to coming-of-age films is beautifully judged, wonderfully directed and supremely enjoyable. Allison Janney puts in a brilliant performance as a fabulously awful drunk, and Sam Rockwell becomes the best friend any kid could want. There’s really not much else to say about the Descendants pair’s summer outing that I didn’t cover in my original review.

FROZEN (2013)

Disney’s wintery delight is a strong step forward for the house of mouse, and a beautifully woven tale of sisterly love, sassy reindeers and singing snowmen. But more to the point, the songs are fabulous and if you’re not singing ‘Let It Go’ by the end then you have a heart of ice.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

The second of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek outings is a two-hour exercise in fan wankery at its absolute finest and, forgive me, I fell for it hook, line and sinker. Benedict Cumberbatch e-nun-ci-aaaates his way into the British bad guy canon of Hollywood, and anyone who says it isn’t entertaining watching just how far those nostrils flare is frankly a liar. Star Trek Into Darkness is a film that fiercely says no to logic, and yes to “LOOK! SHINY THINGS!” so excuse me for being a magpie.

Worst film

– OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)

Most likely not the ACTUAL worst film of the year (I never got round to that Shyamalan affair with Will Smith and his young clone) but certainly the most souless and tedious film I spent money on. James Franco is sleepy and disengaged in this needless and saccharine A list pantomime. There’s a terrible CGI monkey sidekick, a creepy porcelain girl I swear I met in a nightmare in my youth, and the dullest of Bruce Campbell cameos. I love The Wizard of Oz, I love Sam Raimi, but this was such a disappointment.

So there you have it. Did you think any of us were blisteringly right? Howling wrong? Let us know.

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This Is The End (2013)

In Superbad and Pineapple Express, our protagonists’ recreational activities are stalled by a series of episodes of over dramatic and increasingly ludicrous events. With This Is The End, writing and directing partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg take their previously established blueprint and push it even further and into the stratosphere, as a party at James Franco’s house becomes the unlikely host for the end of days. This is truly one of the loudest, crudest, most audacious and immature comedies of recent times, and all the better for it.

In attendance at the party to end all parties (sorry, Project X) are Rogen and Franco themselves, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Emma Watson, Rihanna and a whole host of names from Hollywood’s elite. With the coupling factors of everyone playing themselves and the grandiose settings, the first act of This Is The End could be annoyingly alienating, but the possibility for pretention is nicely offset by Jay Baruchel, Rogen’s Knocked Up co-star, who provides the disgruntled foil to all the celebrity hedonism around. More comfortable in his native Canada than Los Angeles, his attitude can be most accurately summarised when the rapture first announces itself and Baruchel finds himself seemingly more upset at the idea of dying at James Franco’s house than anything else. Like the best comedy bromances, Baruchel and Rogen’s is a relationship which, even in the face of impending doom, still hinges on the frustrations they have in one another for their different lifestyles, and with the former’s constant policing of the latter’s occasional errs toward irresponsibility, there’s more than a hint of Shaun of the Dead’s Shaun and Ed.

But the most successful comedic weapon in This Is The End’s arsenal is the brilliant skewering of its famous faces’ reputations. So we get Jonah Hill, overly nice and try hard in the aftermath of his Oscar nominated role opposite Brad Pitt (“I’m Jonah Hill…America’s sweetheart!”), James Franco is the pretentiously tortured aaaaaartiste who of course designed his own house, and Jason Segel is the frustrated sitcom star trapped in a life of monotonous scripts. But triumphing all of these is the all too brief glimpses into alt-universe Michael Cera’s life as a sleazy cokehead whose drug induced shenanigans see him irritating his old Superbad co-stars before hitting on Rihanna and locking himself in the bathroom with two groupies and a Capri-Sun. Emma Watson’s cameo as a take-no-shit baddass is also briefly fun but marred by its inclusion in every trailer.

Unsurprisingly for a film seeped in meta-narrative, This Is The End is dripping in movie references, some more successful than others. Whilst there’s an awkward reference to Rosemary’s Baby which fell uncomfortably in our screening, these kinds of moments are outnumbered by a mocking and well played collection of self-depricating exchanges as the characters/actors often find themselves ridiculing each other’s filmographies as tensions rise in their artsy fort. These exchanges make up the bulk of the ever-so-slightly saggy middle section of the film, and just when you begin to tire the film hits you with the kind of hilarious montage which can only reassure you of Rogen and Goldberg’s firm handle on pace.

All in all This Is The End is a monstrously lewd and chaotically structured obliteration of the value of fame, Hollywood, and all the shallow, hedonistic pomposity therein. But most of all, it’s just damn funny.

127 Hours (2010)

Let’s be honest, it takes a certain presence to hold a viewers attention. Especially if said presence is the only presence on screen for 90 minutes of presence. There’s one too many presences there… Presences? Preseni? I’m drifting.

The point is, if glorified Chippendale furniture, Ryan Reynolds, managed it in claustrophobic nail biter, Buried, then anyone can do it. So, where does that leave Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours; A 90 minute biopic of Aron Ralston (James Franco) whose weekend away comes to a crashing halt after his right arm is trapped and crushed underneath a giant boulder like so much butter under a cow.

Okay, for those of you who have stumbled here via Google, you probably want to know one thing and one thing only, so I’ll make it quick. Yes, you get to see him chop his arm off. Okay, thanks for reading. Enjoy the film and be sure to check out the rest of the site.

For the rest of you sticking around, let’s move on. To start off, I wasn’t looking forward to 127. Despite its awards and incessant use of Florence and the Machine, Slumdog Millionaire left me cold. For all its flashy camera angles it came out feeling like an ITV drama of the week

So, with trepidation, I settled to watch 127, at least hoping MIA wasn’t on the soundtrack. What strikes you about the film is that it doesn’t shy away from suggesting that for all intents and purposes, Ralston was bit of a pillock. After illustrating that he goes off alone without telling anyone, we bear witness to him taking pictures and videoing himself cycling. Ooh look at me! I’m cycling. Haha! I’m so awesome. So far, so massive ego. However, it all works to Boyle’s plan and from the minute Ralston’s accident happens, we not only watch a man struggle to survive, but we also witness the complete deconstruction of someone’s personality ready for rebuilding into something slightly less, well, wanky.

Franco handles all this with aplomb. Going from git to pitiful extremely convincingly. Lets be honest (for the second time in this review), get the characterization wrong and the audience will gleefully cheer for the blunt knife to come sooner. A particular masterful scene shows Franco interviewing himself during a fake radio phone-in. A man’s ego and paranoia coming head to head and brilliantly done.

Boyle’s direction and screenplay ensure that it’s not laboured by overlong flashbacks. They almost finish as soon as they start (Look a big rock!). No real context is given and the viewer is left to ponder on their meaning.

Like its spiritual predecessor, Buried127 bristles with tension even when very little is happening.

I did have some issues. For example, the ending seemed almost trite. Whether knowingly or unknowingly or unknowingly knowingly, it puts Ralston on a hero pedestal which some could argue is not entirely warranted. That said, it’s a bold movie with beautiful camerawork and a top rate cast (member).

You could say for all its faults, it’s armless…

 

Sorry…

Your Highness (2011)

Danny McBride plays a spoilt prince, Thadeus, who constantly, and some could argue willingly, hides in the shadow of his elder brother, Fabious (James Franco). When Franco’s fiancée (Zooey ‘I can sing if you want me to’ Deschanel) is kidnapped by the evil Leezar (Justin ‘Yep, you knew you’d seen my face somewhere’ Theroux), he encourages McBride to join him on a quest to rescue her. Along the way, they meet Natalie Portman’s bottom who is out to avenge her father’s death.

Aaaand that’s the plot. You can probably guess how it all ends and you’d be right.

Except you. You were way out.

Danny McBride has been a constant joy as a bit character and he confidently carries the lead role of both series of Eastbound and Down. However, as a lead in Your Highness, his schtick just falls a bit flat. Mostly this is down to the script, co-written by McBride, which replaces jokes with colloquialisms and must have surely read like this:

Thadeus

I liketh your Bristols, m’lady.

Natalie Portman’s bottom

What do you mean?

Stage directions: At this point I’ll just say fuck and make rude gestures with my hands until the director says stop.

It’s not all like that, but as I write, I struggle to think of any real stand scenes, such is the reptitive nature of it all. Those that do spring forth aren’t the best. The pedophilic soothsayer just goes on to kick homosexual stereotypes back to before Stonewall.

Whilst it does mange to invoke the spirit of 80s fantasy movies with some cheeky nods to Ray Harryhausen’s creations, there’s not enough to keep you wanting to go back to it. Watch it, forget it and then whack on the aforementioned Eastbound and Down for a better quality McBride.