Thursday, 31 December 2009

Worst of 2009

No.3 - The Spirit

If, in 2010, Tim Burton succeeds in bringing Lewis Carroll’s fantastical world to the silver screen, it still could not be as bizarre as Frank Miller’s take on Will Eisner’s classic comic. It’s difficult to describe how perplexingly insane The Spirit really is. The tone is uneven throughout, flitting as it does between slapstick silliness and crime drama, all flourished with an excessive use of green screen stylistics which only enhance the films sense of otherworldliness – and not in a good way. So far removed is this noirish caricature from even the most hyper-real of settings that the nonsensical plotting takes a backseat to the alienated characters and abstract scenarios.

The Spirit himself is a hollowed out duplicate of Bruce Wayne, lacking depth or motivation and replicating smugness only. Apparently invincible, this soulless wonder lures every female within the vicinity as he embarks upon a journey to prevent the similarly indestructible Octopus (an overbearingly irritating Samuel L. Jackson) from unleashing some threat or other, the ramifications of which escape my mind entirely. The absurdities reach heights of delirium come the third act, wherein the (un) comic relief is miniaturised and grafted onto a hopping foot, whilst the villain and his extraneous sidekick played by a virtually comatose Scarlett Johansson, parade about in Nazi uniforms. If it sounds confusing, you’re only halfway there. The phrase “a camel is a horse designed by committee” springs to mind, as both cast and crew struggle to coalesce the many schizophrenic strands into one cohesive whole. If this is the extent of Frank Miller’s filmmaking ability, perhaps he should just stick to the comics.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Worst of 2009

No. 4 - Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus

It was inevitable that a film about a pair of prehistoric battling giants – specifically a shark and octopus - should make the top 5. Its fate as a B-movie poster boy was sealed with the now infamous scene (in cult circles at least) in which the aforementioned shark jumps several thousand feet into the air to attack an aeroplane. The plot is predictably simple, although executed rather shoddily as one becomes more interested in spotting the many flaws. The cinematography is dire which is complimented by a camera operator seemingly suffering an epileptic fit. Unsurprisingly the CG is ropey, the kind which would look out of place in an episode of Doctor Who and the miniscule budget forces many fx shots to be re-used over and over.

Of course in all honesty, nitpicking a movie such as this is a somewhat fruitless task. The laughable dialogue, the poor acting, the cheesy emotional subplots and a group of Japanese sailors communicating in perfect English; it’s all there and more besides. It is not, however, a dissatisfying experience. The title ensures you know what you’re getting and its sheer tackiness is offset by the amount of chuckles it provides. The filmmakers know all too well the type of film they’re creating and the audience most likely to suck it up; so while this doesn’t save it from vehement criticism, it does at least offer a few laughs along the way.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Movies This week...

2 Days in Paris (2007) ***
Avatar (2009) ***
Banlieue 13 (District 13) (2004) ***
Bridge to Terabithia (2007) ***
Fatal Attraction (1987) ***
Flushed Away (2006) **
The Ten Commandments (1956) ****
Tristan + Isolde (2006) ***

Monday, 21 December 2009

Worst of 2009

No. 5 - Dorian Gray

Yes, arguably the dullest film of the year has made it onto the list. Boring, uninspired and completely joyless. Click here for my full review!

Movies This week...

Bandslam (2009) **
The Black Dahlia (2006) **
Blood Diamond (2006) ****
The Family Man (2000) **
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) **
Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004) **
Terminal Velocity (1994) **

Monday, 14 December 2009

Movies This week...

Dear God, Ali G was bloody awful. There was literally no logic to any of it, particularly the part in which the most ridiculous laws are passed, seemingly without being voted for in Parliament. Utter shit.

The African Queen (1951) ***
Ali G Indahouse (2002) *
Cellular (2004) **
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) **
The Hills Have Eyes 2 (2007) **
Paths of Glory (1957) ***
Red Cliff (2009) ****
Touch of Evil (1958) ***

Monday, 7 December 2009

Movies This week...

Monsters Vs Aliens (2009) ***
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008) ***
Seven Pounds (2008) **
The Verdict (1982) ****

Saturday, 5 December 2009

A Christmas Carol (PG)

Although Robert Zemeckis’s latest offering has been widely publicised as a mo-cap, 3D event, the real surprise lies not in its technological advancements but its ability to breathe new life into a well-known, albeit classic story. So imprinted has A Christmas Carol become in popular consciousness that I along with many others greeted yet another adaptation with mild indifference; yet astonishingly, Disney has reinvigorated Dickens beloved novel by, ironically, adhering faithfully to the source material and delivering a near-perfect translation of the quintessential feel-good tale.

Visually, A Christmas Carol is a delight. The blinding yellows and icy blues invoke a palpable sense of the 19th century rather than a pale imitation and the surprisingly modest approach to the depiction of London lends a much needed touch of realism to a film which could so easily have been ruined by indulgent fantasy. The expressionistic camerawork also offers a sense of hyperreality which owing to the fluidity with which it traverses Scrooge’s city justifies completely the use of mo-cap, whilst remaining grounded during the more sombre moments.

True the animation is sloppy at times and considering the time that has passed since The Polar Express (2004) one would expect a far greater leap in the technology than displayed here. Yet somehow it works, perhaps because unlike previous efforts A Christmas Carol is more concerned with caricaturing Dicken’s world, rather than attempting to re-create it. Ebenezer Scrooge in particular is portrayed wonderfully by Jim Carrey, who brings just the right amount of frivolity to the role while restraining himself from ever becoming too theatrical. Yet for all its visual panache – the 3D being exceptionally strong also – the real surprise is how beautifully powerful the whole picture really is. It’s shockingly scary, heartbreakingly sad and tearjerkingly uplifting, which for a story so heavily etched into popular consciousness is a major achievement indeed.


Sunday, 29 November 2009

Movies This week...

Arthur (1981) **
The International (2009) **
knowing (2009) **

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Recent Movies...

I've been away from the internet for a couple of weeks which is why I still haven't posted my review for A Christmas Carol (coming shortly) or my recent movies. Never mind, here we go...

A Christmas Carol (2009) ****
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) ***
Bachelor Party (1984) *
The Boat That Rocked (2009) ***
Gentleman's Agreement (1947) ***
Hitman (2007) *
In The Line Of Fire (1993) ****
L.A. Story (1991) ***
The Maltese Falcon (1941) ***
Observe And Report (2009) *
The World's Fastest Indian (2005) ***

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Men Who Stare At Goats (15)

Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, George Clooney, Ewan McGregor; with such a stellar cast, The Men Who Stare At Goats delivers a level of star power greatly misaligned with its rather slight budget. Unfortunately whilst the actors impress, the film fails to fire on all cylinders, resulting in an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable experience.

As a genre, The Men Who Stare is hard to pin down. Part indie comedy, part biography, the film falls somewhere in between, mixed with a healthy dose of political satire which, in the recent gamut of anti-war propaganda, appears rather ineffectual by comparison. The premise itself is deliciously tantalising and does offer a few decent laughs, but the stubborn allegiance to the source material means that we are never offered the comedy set-pieces one would expect as cast and crew sit deliberately along the mainstream sidelines. Instead of side-splitting comedy and crazy antics we are left with a few nice moments and an awful lot of waffle.

The first act is enjoyable enough but as the number of flashbacks increase one can’t help but feel that the entire feature is little more than a trailer for the real film. In fact, towards the finale it becomes apparent that the film has failed to deliver on providing a story at all, despite the promise of one throughout McGregor’s narrated back story and set up. The cast is generally strong (although McGregor’s American accent is, as in Robots (2005) rather forced) but Bridges and Spacey are woefully underused and this highlights yet another failure of the film to take advantage of the tools at its disposal.

Although in style The Men Who Stare could be mistaken for a Coen film, albeit with a more high-concept approach, it lacks the duos inclination for strong characterisation and as such provides only pale imitations of the actors greatest moments; Jeff Bridges is the Dude, George Clooney the paranoid agent from Burn After Reading (2008), while the intertextual significance of Ewan McGregor as a Jedi warrior is blatantly apparent. Funny then, but for a more pleasurable comedy experience, try the Coens instead.


Movies This week...

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) ***
The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009) ***
The Wizard Of Oz (1939) ***

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Fantastic Mr Fox (PG)

In all honesty it has not been easy to reconcile my love for animation with the decidedly poor quality displayed in Wes Anderson’s latest. Even as a fan of the director I could not quite get my head around the dated, inexpressive animation and only after many trailer viewings did I begin to warm to it.

His masterpiece this most certainly is not, but it’s bloody good fun all the same. In fact, in terms of pure entertainment this is by far his strongest film since Bottle Rocket (1996). Anderson’s trademark offbeat humour is magnified by the absurdity of talking animals which actually provides a far more comfortable outlet for comedy than any of his previous works.

Despite the lack of child-snaring gimmicks so typical of modern mainstream animation, Fox somehow manages to strike a perfect balance between family friendly and slyly adult – the use of the word “cuss” to replace swearing being just one of several risqué but clean comedic gems. Perhaps most impressive is the way in which Wes Anderson has retained his auteur-istic charms despite moving to a radically different medium. The extended takes, static camera shots and unnatural blocking are all present, along with uncomfortable silences, bizarre verbal exchanges, folk music... and Bill Murray.

However, Fox isn’t perfect. The whole affair moves far too briskly as if Anderson feared the onset of restlessness from the younger audience members. Oftentimes the film sags under its many subplots much like in the horribly unfocused The Life Aquatic (2004) and it becomes quite difficult to recognise the original Roald Dahl novel underneath all the decoration. Still, story problems aside, there is no denying that what Anderson has achieved during his sojourn into the realms of animation is nothing short of fantastic.


Monday, 2 November 2009

Movies This week...

17 Again (2009) ***
Dan In Real Life (2007) **
Escape From New York (1981) **
Heathers (1988) **

Friday, 30 October 2009

Recent Movies...

Ok, so I had a few problems which meant that I couldn't update my blog. I haven't actually seen many films recently, but just to catch up on the other week, here they are:

Friday the 13th (2009) **
Hamlet 2 (2008) **

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Movies This week...

The Burbs (1989) **
Cube (1997) ***
Deep Rising (1998) **
Up (2009) ****
Videodrome (1983) ***
The Wild Bunch (1969) ***

Up (U)

When it comes to reviewing Pixar, the only change worth mentioning is the title of their films. This is not to say that Pixar is predictable, simply that the quality of their output is so consistent one struggles to avoid repeating what has already been said a thousand times before. The animation, the humour, the emotion; these are now practically institutionalised facets of the Pixar formula and with their tenth effort have produced one of their best films yet.

Let’s be clear; Up is good. Very good. Within the first five minutes alone, director Pete Docter delivers such a powerful emotional sucker-punch that the opening scene of Finding Nemo (2003) positively pales in comparison. Two dried eyes later and we’re off on our adventure with Carl Fredricksen, Pixar’s most complex and engaging lead since Woody. Accompanied by the extremely likeable Russel providing the inevitable yin to Carl’s yang, the recurrent mismatched buddies routine of Toy Story et al is handled with supreme finesse. Special credit must go to writer Bob Peterson especially, who expertly balances humour alongside their eventual friendship.

Once into the second act, the drama is ratcheted up significantly with the introduction of adorable Disneyesque sidekicks Kevin the female bird and Dug, a talking dog whose antics provide many of the films funniest moments. One minor disappointment is the villain of the piece, Charles Muntz, whose arrival comes far too late to impose a significant threat. Of course, Shere Kahn arrives two thirds of the way through The Jungle Book (1967) but whereas Disney has developed a penchant for crafting appealing villains, Pixar’s appear two dimensional, arbitrary even. As it stands however, Up is not a film reliant on a villain and the lack of one therefore is of no great loss. Of far greater importance is Carl’s journey from curmudgeonly old widower to a selfless friend at peace with his wife’s death.

At times Up risks losing sight of the crux of the story, particularly in the deftly handled action scenes, but thankfully Docter never drops sight of Carl’s personal struggle. In fact, despite its epic scale, Up is surprisingly intimate with the brilliant Michael Giacchino orchestrating a simple but sweet score to accompany the incredible visuals. And they are incredible. The dazzlingly bright colours are truly stunning to behold and the image of a thousand multicoloured balloons evokes a sense of magic nd wonderment rarely found in cinema these days. Particularly impressive are the 3D effects which like the recent re-release of Toy Story showcase a far more understated use of the technology and with it add a phenomenal depth of field to the beautifully designed South American backgrounds.

There seems little purpose in dissecting the animation which is predictably awe-inspiring as it combines the squash and stretch plasticity of Ratatouille (2007) with the more subtle nuances of Wall-E (2008) to create a visual tour de force far greater than Docter’s last effort, Monster’s Inc (2001).

With perfect pacing, exciting characters, an extraordinary emotional depth and potentially the finest closing shot of all time, Up showcases storytelling at its very best.


Monday, 5 October 2009

Movies This week...

(500) Days of Summer (2009) **
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) **
The Man With One Red Shoe (1985) **
Sleepless in Seattle (1992) **
Some Like It Hot (1959) ****
Toy Story 3D (2009) *****

Sunday, 4 October 2009

(500) Days of Summer (12A)

Warning. This is not a love story. Or so the trailers voice over would have you believe. Sadly (500) Days of Summer, whilst masquerading as a remedy to the conventionally stilted rom-com is in truth nowhere near as inventive as it would like to think, coming off instead as saccharine as the very films it claims to counter.

Much like the lukewarm Away We Go (2009), (500) concerns itself with ticking every box on the indie checklist; the kooky Brit-pop loving female; Regina Spektor and Feist wailing on the soundtrack; interstitials between each scene. Amidst the innumerable clichés it is virtually impossible to identify any appealing qualities whatsoever as the protagonist journeys through more troughs than peaks in a melodramatic knock-off of Forgetting Sarah Marshal (2008). Whereas the latter mingles laugh-out-loud humour with a convincingly steady romantic arc that impeccably builds towards a deeply satisfying crescendo, the former offers neither with an ambience less heartening than Straw Dogs (1971).

Despite cutting back and forth across the timeline, we still cover a traditionally structured narrative which suggests the technique was employed for aesthetic purposes above anything else. Not that this is the only attempt to spice up an otherwise underwhelming experience. Now and then the director employs split-screen and fantasy dream sequences to top up the quirky charm but so false and inconsistent are these diversions one can’t help but feel how forced it all is, like a sterile recreation of Fight Club-like stylistic cool.

The characters aren’t much better, particularly the irritatingly “wacky” Zooey Deschanel who speaks each line like a motor-neurone sufferer still learning the English language and looks set to take over Ellen Page as the most irritating screen star this side of Juno (2007). While everyone wanders around spouting defeatist dialogue about how terrible their lives are and performing ker-azy acts like drawing buildings on arms I found myself choking on the hatred I felt towards this universe of overemotional fuckwits.

Yet the real bitter pill arrives at the very end, when our hateable leads suddenly reverse their attitudes and proclaim fate and destiny to have been behind everything. Perhaps under the watchful eyes of Apatow this could have been an excitingly original love story, but as it stands (500) Days of Summer is quite simply one of the dullest rom-coms I have ever seen.


Toy Story 3D (PG)

I shan’t be providing an in-depth review of Toy Story as anyone who has yet to see this film is clearly not worth knowing. Having watched this masterpiece numerous times, I still found myself grinning at how charming it all is so many years after its release. Viewing Toy Story on the big screen again is a magical experience that truly made me appreciate how lucky I was to have experienced such a cinematic achievement within my youth. Now in 2009, the added bonus of 3D technology retains all the warmth and humour but throws in an added extra something special.

For some the 3D may be disappointing if a tour de force of eye-popping visuals is expected, but in my honest opinion the use of such gimmicks should be employed sparingly. Having watched the fantastic Coraline (2009) also in 3D, I found myself occasionally being dragged out of the story whenever objects appeared to point from the screen directly at me. Toy Story on the other hand feels far more relaxed, using 3D not to show off but as a subtle technique to immerse the viewer into a classic story.

Quite simply, if you want to see a perfect film made even better, go see this now!


Monday, 28 September 2009

Movies This week...

Away We Go (2009) ***
The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) **
Disturbia (2007) ***
The Iron Giant (1999) **
The Manchurian Candidate (2004) ***
The Money Pit (1986) ***

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Away We Go (15)

Over the past decade, Sam Mendes has done our little British Island proud, breaking out of the doldrums of the UK industry to establish himself as a top Hollywood auteur just below the par of dear old Hitchcock. From American Beauty (1999) through to Revolutionary Road (2008), Mendes has lifted the curtain on America to expose the hidden darkness underneath, which is why his latest effort is so peculiarly out of sync; a feel-good indie drama as far removed from Jarhead (2005) as you’re likely to get.

As premises go it is hardly the most riveting of concepts as an unmarried couple awaiting the birth of their baby travel around America on some existential quest to find the solution to whatever it is that is actually troubling them. Not that I have any idea what that is and neither it would seem do the cast. Apparently it is acceptable for the stars of indie films to moan about their lives without anything actually being inherently wrong with them, save for a lower class minimum wage which nevertheless is more than adequate in funding a cross country road trip.

Actually, the lack of direction is not its most grating aspect; what really frustrates me about Away We Go is the way it encourages the persistent falsehood that indie is not a financial term, but a genre. The “quirky” idiosyncrasies of impotent un-comedies such as Juno (2007) strive to be messianic in their defiance against the system, but their contrivances are so apparent that they have inadvertently become the most formulaic fictions in recent cinema. Away We Go runs like an indie-by-numbers, complete with trampy liberal leads, stagnant folk music and the kind of humourless material that only attracts fits of giggles from female crowds who find references to female genitalia the height of licentious hilarity: “Haha he said vagina and we have one, so it’s funny!”

Not that it is a total washout. Away We Go is pleasant enough and it certainly isn’t a bad film, it’s just not a very good one. Mendes shows scant regard for visual flare while the camerawork is often static and uneventful. It isn’t helped by a meandering plot which declares each new destination in bold capitals as if in some desperate attempt to interject excitement into a prosaic, conveyor belt-like journey through friends and family, all of which only helps to accentuate the episodic structure. It seems that for his next project, Mr Mendes will have to make a decision regarding whether he wants to make a happy film, or a good one.


Monday, 21 September 2009

Movies This week...

Army of Darkness (1992) **
Bug (2006) **
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) ***
Role Models (2008) **

Monday, 14 September 2009

Movies This week...

I was very disappointed by Network. It was all clever and wonderfully postmodern but it was just a generally boring film.

Dorian Gray (2009) *
Fermat's Room (2007) ***
Get Smart (2008) ***
The Golden Compass (2007) *
Network (1976) **
The Whole Nine Yards (2000) ***
Zack & Miri Make a Porno (2008) ***

Friday, 11 September 2009

Dorian Gray (15)

Despite the urge to critique Dorian Gray in relation to the source material, I refrained from allowing the book to inform my opinion in any way. Although somewhat dismayed at the bastardisation of a famous novel, I entered the cinema with an open mind, certain that I would at the very least be offered a throwaway piece of Victorian horror, be it good or bad. Well bad it most certainly is, although into what category this film should be placed is anybody’s guess, least of all the director whose inability to trigger even the most primary adrenal response from the audience renders Dorian Gray with a lower scare rating than Babe: Pig in the City (1998).

To condemn an adaptation purely for being unfaithful to the original is not normally my concern, but in this instance I must differ. The novel, as brilliantly written as it is, is not a good story. That is, it isn’t a story at all, at least not in Aristotlean terms. Oscar Wilde was far less interested in the implications of eternal youth within a progressive narrative than he was about unearthing the vanities of the upper classes. If this all sounds rather satirical, that’s probably because it is. Wilde’s book is a flamboyant work filled to the brim with sly witticisms, not the grim, haunting world that this film would have you believe.

And therein lies the error. The attempt to mould a satire into a gothic horror fails disastrously as there are simply no set pieces in which the desired effects may occur. It is akin to creating a Raymond Chandler-esque crime drama based on the adventures of Winnie The Pooh.

What remains is an experience so woefully disengaging one wonders if both cast and crew suffered the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. The direction is bland and uninspired while the abundance of static shots suggest a camera operator afraid of his own equipment. Meanwhile the editor packs in so many half-arsed montage sequences and ill-advised jump cuts it is like watching a Goddard wet dream.

The eponymous hero as played by Prince Caspian looks the part but has no hidden charm as he delivers lines with about as much feeling as a Quantum Physics audio-book narrated by Stephen Hawking. The same can be said of Dorian’s immoral mentor Harry, a bearded Mr Darcy completely out of touch with his character who looks eternally pissed off even when he is enjoying himself. The general misery of everyone involved is indicative of how boring Dorian Gray truly is; as a character, a concept and a film. When the scariest thing a movie can offer is a CG painting groaning like an asthma sufferer, the reward lies not in knowing how it ends, but when.


Monday, 7 September 2009

Movies This Week...

Only the two this week, but hoping to make up for it next week.

The Bucket List (2007) ***
District 9 (2009) ****

Sunday, 6 September 2009

District 9 (15)

Once in a while, a film devoid of the usual blockbuster credentials comes along and achieves A grade status much to the embarrassment of its studio forebears. District 9 is one of these films, an experience so deliciously original and downright fun that its entry into any moviegoers top 5 of the year should be compulsory.

Produced with a measly $30 million, District 9 poses some devastatingly brilliant action sequences which are enough to make the far more expensive Mr Michael Bay smash up his toy pyrotechnic set in a hissy fit. Of course not all the CG is perfect, but on such a limited budget these minor quibbles are excusable; particularly when the majority of sequences boast some of the most impressive visual effects work that Hollywood has to offer. The fanboy-baiting lasers reducing humans to a bloody pulp is a constant delight which is presumably why it appears repeatedly throughout. Even the aliens look pretty impressive for the most part, managing to evoke genuine sympathy come the films conclusion.

But let us not stray too far into effects territory lest I paint an image of District 9 as nothing more than a gore-filled action extravaganza. For alongside the glorious visuals, District 9 exceeds expectations in nearly every other department. The premise of extra terrestrials being detained on Earth by shady governments for mysterious purposes is wildly original, although one need not strain too hard to see the obvious correlation between apartheid and Western imperialism throughout the Middle East.

Yikes, this is all sounding rather heavy. Fear not, it is easy to locate a tongue placed firmly within cheek. Despite being on several occasions a piece of rather moving and frankly disturbing cinematic genius, the shift between pathos and bathos is constant, whether it be the cheer-inducing displays of blood splattered violence or the lead character’s hilarious attempts to evict alien residents.

As it weaves incessantly between documentary and live action District 9 mirrors the schizophrenic transformation experienced by our lead man, Wikus, as he deals with becoming the very thing he hates. Actor Sharlto Copley moulds a fully 3-dimensional character who we never get a real grip on and come to love all the more for it. It may not be an Oscar worthy performance, but it is certainly far better than one could ever have reasonably expected from a science fiction action romp.

Second only to Star Trek this year, District 9 is a 2 hour orgy of tension, comedy and excitement which should only be missed by those too archaic to care for anything truly original. After all, when was the last time you saw a film use a live pig as a projectile?

Monday, 31 August 2009

Movies This week...

Apocalypto (2006) ***
Funny People (2009) ****
Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (2009) *
Mesrine: Public Enemy No.1 (2008) ****
Stripes (1981) **

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Funny People (15)

For a film so light on laughs, Funny People is a rather misleading title. Even Apatow enthusiasts who have become accustomed to this auteur’s unique blend of toilet humour and morality may struggle to get to grips with his latest, more serious affair. I say this not as a criticism, but as a warning for any filmgoer anticipating belly laughs. Anyone expecting The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005) or Knocked Up (2007) will be sorely disappointed. And rightly so. What makes Funny People such a success is the director’s unwillingness to coast along on his perfectly established formula.

It may be his weakest comedy thus far (although the Jewish-ness is ramped up significantly), but in regards to filmmaking he has far surpassed himself. The moral teachings of previous efforts have largely been replaced with a far more ambiguous message. George Simmons, played brilliantly by Adam Sandler, is obnoxious throughout and rarely provides the audience even the slightest opportunity to empathise. Unlikeable protagonists are notoriously difficult to realise effectively and Funny People displays incredible boldness by postponing this characters reformation until the very last scene. Yet somehow it pays off. Ok, perhaps not in the conventionally rigid manner expected of a typical Hollywood flick, but cheerful resolutions are not the chief concern here. Just look at Seth Rogen’s turn as a wannabe comic whose indistinct yearnings render him virtually impotent when faced with George’s illness or the criminally underused Jonah Hill as a competitive sell-out.

Clearly Apatow is far more interested in exposing the existential crisis of his characters and in the process demonstrates a penchant for dissecting the human condition, possibly even better than (whisper it!) Woody Allen has been able to do. Of course, this newfound maturity is helped enormously by Janusz Kaminski’s beautiful cinematography as environments are bathed in warm glows recalling Minority Report (2002) and Catch Me If You Can (2002). The cast also is uniformly strong, with Sandler in particular recalling the tragic lead in Punch-Drunk Love (2002) while Rogen excels with a less-is-more performance as the second bill straight-man. Structurally it’s loose even for improvisational standards and the expected love story is somewhat of an afterthought, but this is immaterial if one can appreciate its emotional core; one where the focus is less on the Funny and more on the People.


Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Movies This Week...

Friday was a mixed bag; a fantastic Gene Kelly musical with cinematography by Mr John Alton... and those two dickheads off Gavin & Stacey desperately trying to be Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Pitiful.

An American in Paris (1951) ***
Gran Torino (2008) ****
Interiors (1978) ***
Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009) *
Religulous (2008) ****
Tootise (1982) ***

Monday, 17 August 2009

Inglourious Basterds (18)

***Spoiler Warning***

The arrival of a new Tarantino film is always a big deal, although in my opinion undeservedly so. Let’s get one thing clear: I have little respect for Tarantino. Talk about American new-wave/Auteur revival cinema as much as you like, but in my opinion there is nothing admirable about blatant plagiarism. And Tarantino is a man who likes to plagiarise. Watch Kill Bill (2003/2004) and Lady Snowblood (1973) back to back and the similarities are so apparent that you may be forgiven for thinking they are one and the same. Actually that wouldn’t be entirely true. Killing William, aside from its blatant unoriginality, also demonstrates a complete lack of depth, a trait which has become distinguishable in every Tarantino script to date (not including True Romance (1994) on account of being handled by a far superior director).

However, I put aside my previous grievances with Quentin and went into Inglourious Basterds (or IB as you kids will undoubtedly call it) with an open mind. And the verdict? Not bad. Admittedly, I spent the months prior to release waxing lyrical about the insensitivity with which Tarantino would broach the horrors of war and the gung-ho demeanour of the teaser did nothing to assuage my fears.

Yet whilst his ignorance of history is made abundantly clear throughout, he is at least mature enough to tackle the subject with a reasonable degree of sensitivity. The opening scene in particular is rather daring in its solemnity, though it fails to build the tension required of such a set piece. Not that this is surprising; Tarantino’s films have become as recognisable for their emotional vapidity as their gratuitous violence and lengthy dialogue.

The problem with IB is that it contains little of the former and far too much of the latter. For a film marketed on excessive action one cannot help but feel slightly cheated, whilst QT becomes so self indulgent with his own voice that the running time far outstays its welcome with a meandering, uninspired script. Whereas the characters of Pulp Fiction (1994) exist in a hyper-real world of verbal superfluity, IB is content with a type of mundane conversation so devoid of any poetic nuances that actors literally say what they mean – and take an awfully long time to say it.

Not that this is in any way the fault of the cast who have a far greater time in their roles than the script should allow; even Brad Pitt does a semi reasonable job with a character far removed from his usual smug self. In fact, one may even say that the script is really IBs biggest downfall. Visually, Tarantino has made his finest film to date, with a rich, saturated palette evoking the vibrant mise en scene of 60’s Hollywood and it is therefore rather unfortunate that his writing ability was not as sophisticated.

In many ways, QT increasingly embodies the desperate commercial artist clamouring for past glories. It may be unfair to set Pulp Fiction as the recurring benchmark, but it is a comparison which the director himself seems intent on inviting as he strives endlessly to recreate that success. If pastiche is classified by Frederick Jameson as a series of empty signifiers, then QT is indeed a pastiche, only now of himself. A decade ago his pop cultural, Baudillard-baiting simulacra may have been the postmodernist’s pornography, but his failure to change has now left him looking woefully inept.

As he employs the redundant use of chapters, stories within stories within stories a la Jacques the Fatalist and musical anachronisms, it becomes apparent that all these gimmicks are in place for one reason only; to hide the tedium underneath.

Oh, and killing Hitler is fucking ridiculous.


Movies This week...

Two new films at the cinema this week, Mesrine (Brilliant!) and Inglourious Basterds (Meh!) which I shall be reviewing later on.

The Bank Job ***
Brick **
Dark City **
Eden Log *
Inglourious Basterds ***
It Happened One Night **
Mesrine ****
The Spirit * (I didn't even want to give it that)

Monday, 10 August 2009

This Week's Movies...

Just a round-up of my movies this week and it's been pretty uneventful to say the least.

G.I. Joe *
Gosford Park **
Twilight Samurai **
Waltz With Bashir **
Y Tu Mama Tambien ***

Saturday, 8 August 2009

G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (12A)

After the travesty that was Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), I went into G.I. Joe with about as much enthusiasm as a nihilist. After all, here was a film directed by Stephen Sommers, a Michael Bay clone who in 2004 brought us the terrible Van Helsing. And true to form, Sommers has demonstrated his complete disregard for quality yet again, this time with a film based on a Hasbro toy line.

As nonsensical plots go, this is way up there. After a highly irrelevant prologue which takes place in 17th century France, we fast forward to the near future, where Christopher Eccleston has given up being Doctor Who in order to take over the world with an army of “nanobites”, microscopic robots capable of eating through anything in their path. His reasons for world domination are never explained beyond the typical antagonistic persuasions, but this is clearly of no concern to the director, who introduces so many characters within the first 15 minutes I felt like I was hallucinating during a casting call.

Eccleston is of course surrounded by a group of sidekicks, ranging from a sexy leather clad Sienna Miller to a Korean martial arts expert, played by Byung-hun Lee, star of the absolutely bloody brilliant The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008). There’s also an asthmatic scientist who speaks repeatedly of superhuman soldiers known as the rise of cobra, a term so placid and unthreatening he may just as well have been reading out the winning lottery numbers.

Naturally, an assortment of good guys is gathered together under the name G.I. Joe, supposedly the best of the best despite being caught off guard by ten people in an underground vehicle. Presumably they slipped under their one security camera. The main character is Duke, a character about as 2 dimensional as the film he was captured on. In virtually every shot he appears torn between two thoughts; his obligation to portraying a character and whether or not he left the oven on that morning.

He’s joined by a Wayans brother who literally gets dumber throughout the film, a hot red-head who lets the whole feminist movement down by crying (BOO HOO!), samurai Jack and a giant so stereotypically English I fully expected him to halt the drama in favour of tea and scones. Even with Dennis Quaid leading the good fight, one can’t help but sense in his eyes a look of unbearable sadness; the realisation that it all went downhill after The Parent Trap (1998).

In films such as this, it is not so much a suspension of disbelief but its complete refusal that is required. After all, here is a film in which recruits are deployed into the field within mere hours of joining an organisation. One such recruit shows his proclivity for combat during a training match which is reminiscent of that round in Gladiators where contenders twatted each other using what I can only describe as giant cotton ear buds. Feeling the threat of worldwide destruction to be nothing more than a minor blip in the history of human endeavour, Dennis Quaid feels confident in dispatching only six soldiers en route to Paris to prevent terrorists from destroying the Eiffel Tower.

What follows is a ridiculously excessive, although undeniably fun chase sequence in which the Americans cause more destruction than the bad guys, something which will be laughably familiar to anyone who has seen Team America (2004). Worse still is the amount of fun the whole team to be having as hundreds of Parisians are killed around them. I say the whole team, in fact the two foreigners are forced to stay inside a van during proceedings and watch the entire thing unfold via a sophisticated Nintendo DS.

So a travesty? Most definitely. This review barely even scrapes the surface of how truly terrible G.I. Joe is and I daren’t even get started on the CGI. And yet, despite all of its flaws, there is something appealing about the entire affair. It’s bad, but it’s never painful. In many ways G.I. Joe is what Transformers would be if it didn’t take itself seriously. In fact I’d liken it to a parent’s love for an under-performing child. They may not be as intelligent or popular or even attractive as the other children, but they’re still your child goddammit!