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?