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!