Thursday, July 27, 2006

26th July 06 - Little Fish

I was too hot during this week’s film, so this may have had an impact on my mood. It seems the price you pay for trying to be pretentious and going to art house cinemas is a lack of air conditioning. So maybe it’s best to bear this in mind when you’re reading the rest of my review.

Little Fish is an Aussie film about a recovering heroin addict. It’s my second Australian film of the week, having watched the excellent Chopper (found at a bargain £2.98 in a DVD sale) at the weekend.

But back to Little Fish. You can’t fault the acting. Cate Blanchett breezes through as Tracy, her angst sketched out on her skeletal face, proving her rank as a top actress. A heavily bearded Hugo Weaving breaks free of Agent Smith and portrays a retired footie star, utterly dependant on drugs and slowly wasting away. And Noni Hazelhurst captures the mother figure perfectly; her worry, frustration and love etched on to her face as she is unable to protect her children from the big wide world. And heroin.

The ties between the characters and various events in their past are all slowly realised over the course of the film, building up solid characters with plenty of background. But here’s where the main problem lies. Imagine, if you will, that someone starts leading you somewhere, handing you various bits of cutlery along the way. There are all different types of cutlery, so you make sure you keep them all separate and remember which one’s which. Then, at the end, you are presented with a cup of tepid water and a straw. “What exactly was the need for all this cutlery,” you might ask. “After all that effort it wasn’t used at all. There was no point to the cutlery.” And the other person would just shrug.

Replace the cutlery with the character detail, and the water with the ending, and you get why I was a bit annoyed with this film. Lots of slow build-up, then just a big fizzle at the end. As an example of its impact on me, I’d actually much rather review Chopper instead. In fact, sod it. I will.

Chopper was made in 2000 and is about real life criminal/writer Mark Brandon ‘Chopper’ Read. It mixes shockingly brutal moments of violence with some belting humour (on being stabbed by his best mate, Chopper’s loyal defence is; ‘It’s no big deal. It’s like… if your mum stabbed you.’) Eric Bana plays the fascinating character of Chopper to perfection, highlighted especially once you’ve watched the DVD extras including interviews with the real-life man. A terrifying temper mixed with narcissistic tendencies and a cracking sense of humour makes a perfect front-man. Throw in some innovative directing techniques and you’ve got a smashing piece of film, as long as you’re ok with watching a man willingly have his ears cut off.

Little Fish was well acted, but long and, quite frankly, boring. It loses one CF point for failing to engage me, thus making CF -1. Chopper, on the other hand, gains an extra point for thoroughly engaging me, and another point purely for Eric Bana (my already high opinion of him has increased significantly since seeing this performance.) It therefore makes CF2. The fact that this review has been hi-jacked by a £2.98 DVD I saw four days ago only serves to highlight how insignificant I found this week’s film. Little Fish? More like one of those single cell organisms at the very depths of the sea.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

19th July 06 - Superman Returns

In the super-hero family, Spider-man would be the quiet, intellectual one. Batman, the moody teenager. The X-Men would be an assortment of weird cousins. And Superman would be the loud, slightly irritating older sibling, who probably goes to drama school. Personally I prefer the humanity in Spider-Man and the dark streak in Batman. Superman is a bit too super for my liking. The only streak of humanity in him is through his love of Lois Lane, but even when this isn’t reciprocated he doesn’t get mad. He just goes off and saves a few folk. He’s a bit of a goody-two shoes really. But hey, that’s the character, and that’s what Bryan Singer’s had to play with. And he’s done a bloody good job.

Superman Returns is a loud, brash, fun summer film. As with MI3, don’t expect any more and you’ll have a great time. It makes 154 minutes feel like a joyous stroll through the park, especially compared to the 3 day trawl through the depths of hell that was Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s been a week and I still haven’t got over it. Anyway, different film, different experience. It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the original two (this is set after Superman II, ignoring the dire third and fourth efforts) or are new to the franchise. Through a couple of flashbacks and snippets of dialogue you get the general idea about who Superman is and what he can do (though you’d have to have had no exposure to popular culture in your entire life not to know anything about him. You weirdo.)

There’s some great nostalgia with the original theme tune (that’s been in my head all day and therefore made everything I’ve done somehow heroic) and crappy 70s effects on the credits. Singer handles the pace very carefully, slowly building up the story and characters, holding back instead of just rushing in and doing ‘super’ things. But when he does let go the fun really begins. The plane sequence is fantastic, and there’re some way cool ‘Superman impervious to harm’ moments. There’s also a welcome slice of humour throughout, especially some tongue-in-cheek winks at the franchise’s gaping flaws (really, how stupid do you have to be not to know that Superman and Clark are the same person?)

Newby Brandon Routh steps up to the super mantel, and does a damn good job. He definitely looks the part, and easily plays the bumbling goofball mixed with the quiet alien who’s so in lurve. I’m not sure if he’ll be able to shrug off his Superman cape to delve into different roles, but I hear he’s signed up for the next two so at least he’ll have some income for the next few years. Kate Bosworth plays Lois reasonably well, but it’s a case of ‘she’s an intelligent woman… and now she’s sprawled on the floor in a dress split to her thighs.’ Maybe I should wait for a new Supergirl to get a film that doesn’t portray women as sexual objects. Oh wait…

As for Kevin Spacey. Lordy, he puts the ‘ham’ in ‘hamming’, clearly enjoying his role as Lex Luthor. He’s great fun to watch, and his melodramatic campness makes his utterly ludicrous evil plot (creating a new continent out of magic crystals…) easy to take onboard. Now, ludicrous is a word you can apply to this film. It is ridiculous. But that’s why it’s so much fun. And it’s been setup for sequels that could take the plot in a very interesting direction. My main criticism would be that it dragged a little at the end – Superman saves the day but then there’s another twenty minutes of film.

Superman makes CF0, and I’m giving it an extra point for being an enjoyable blockbuster that made me smile. Therefore it makes CF1. Super!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

13th July 06 - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

The first outing of Pirates was surprisingly enjoyable. Amusing, cool immortal pirates that go all skeleton in the moonlight, Johnny Depp stealing the show with his fantastically bizarre Captain Sparrow. For a summer blockbuster it wasn’t that bad. My only gripes were with some of the ‘acting’ and that it was a bit too long. This second edition isn’t as amusing, lacks the cool immortal pirates that go all skeleton in the moonlight, and Depp’s screen time is reduced. The acting is worse. And it’s 150 minutes long. One hundred and fifty minutes. Let me try and explain what those 150 minutes are like.

First off, the plot. This is the sort of thing that young children come up with when their imaginations go into hyper-drive and they start to make little sense and get a bit annoying. I can just imagine a small boy dictating the plot to Gore Verbinski: “and then the big squid monster crushes up the boat and everyone runs around and it gets crushed up, and then, and then the big squid monster crushes up another boat but they blast it away and it goes ‘eeeeerrrrr’ but then it comes back and crushes it up again, but they blowed it all up and it’s going ‘eeerrrrr’ and then, and then it comes back again and…” At this point you’d pat the boy on the head, softly enough to say that you appreciate his thoughts, but firmly enough to make him stop. What seems to have happened is they gave Gore $200million to make two of the bloody films. Two! There’s another one to come! What more could they possibly have to say with this, except have more scenes with no reason? Take the 20 minute segment on the cannibal island. What was the purpose of it? There was literally no purpose. None.

And then there’s the cast. I usually feel quite sorry for Orlando Bloom. He’s like the simpleton you can’t shout at. But really, come on. This guy’s getting paid to do this? In the first film he was wooden, but battled through. In this film it’s like he’s doing an impression of himself. It’s so bad it made me wonder if this was tongue-in-cheek acting. WHEN THE OWN-ER-LEY THING YOU CAN DO IS SAY EV-ER-REE-THING VE-REY CL-EER-LEY AND IN A VE-REY LOUD VOICE you have to wonder how much longer you can get away with it before someone twigs that you’re a bit crap. Keira Knightly… well, she’s on the same list that Scarlett Johansson’s on (see Hard Candy review). With her orange face, square jaw and smugness that just oozes from every pore. All you saw of her was her constant straining. Must…be…sexy… Must…squint…more…

And good old Depp, who should have saved us from this. He did it in the first one. But this one is so long, so arduous to watch, that he just can’t do it. He brings a few smiles, but they mean nothing through all the tears of pain. It looks like he’s having fun with the role. At least someone was.

Of course, there were a few breaks in the cloud. Some bits were quite funny, the designs of Davey Jones and his water-themed crew were pretty cool and well CGI-ed, and a couple of the action pieces (mostly involving things rolling with people in them) were quite interesting, though that interest wore off after the first ten minutes of the same action. It’s like Michael Bay had a hand in it. Michael: look it’s really cool. Audience: yes, we suppose. Michael: yeah, look, it’s still really cool. Audience: yes, it was pretty cool, but we’re a bit bored now. Michael: yeah! Audience: For the love of God stop!

The icing on the cake was, after 150 long, long minutes, there was no resolution. The film just stopped. That sort of trickery worked for Lord of the Rings, because those films had a weighty plot and were, you know, good. To have a crap film take up 150 minutes of my life with crap, and then end in a crap way without resolving anything. It’s just taking the piss. Don’t get me wrong – I was glad it finished. It was so sudden, though, I was left a little shell-shocked. It was like having some work-men use a pneumatic drill outside your bedroom window for 150 minutes, and then suddenly stop. With a start you realise what blissful silence sounds like, and then remember how torturous the last 150 minutes had been, and then hate those work-men with every fibre of your being.

Pirates doesn’t make CF0, surprisingly. It loses one point for having shit acting and a shit plot. It loses another for featuring Keira Knightly. And it loses another for having the cheek to ruin 150 minutes of my precious life. A Cinemafool first: Pirates makes CF-3. Bastards.

Monday, July 03, 2006

28th June 06 - Hard Candy

Paedophiles are a risky subject. There’s an obvious sentence if ever I wrote one. The Woodsman (see my top 10 films of 2005) proved you could handle the subject and produce an uncomfortable, but captivating piece of film, with Kevin Bacon turning in an outstanding performance as a man whose internal struggle is enough to trigger sympathy, despite his actions. Hard Candy manages to trigger sympathy too, only the struggle isn’t so much internal, more ‘oh Christ why is there an ice pack on my balls?!??!’

To be honest, I went in expecting a so-so film, with the only interest coming from just how far they can push the torture levels. Before you brand me a scary freak, my interest in torture is a) limited only to the make-believe land of film, and b) out of amusement at the thought of slightly geeky filmmakers giggling in a little room and trying to come up with the most extreme scenes they can imagine. Having read hints at what Hard Candy had to offer, I was quite intrigued. But not expecting lots.

So hurray to low expectations, because what I got was a film that, yes, had some good ol’ torture, but also had fleshed out characters and issues you could really sink your teeth into. Jeff (Patrick Wilson) is a creepy bastard, with very little going for him. Hayley (Ellen Page) is a feisty fourteen-year-old with witty banter and a hardened moral streak. So how, at some parts, can you find yourself rooting for Jeff? Who is the hero in this piece? The terrified paedophile or the psychotic girl with a scalpel? Of course Jeff is a bad man. You know that. He deserves what’s coming to him. But then you suddenly realise you’re willing him to grab that phone and make an escape. What’s going on?!

Probably the film’s strength comes with its leads. Patrick Wilson’s sheer terror, alarm, frustration, pain – it’s all etched out on his face so vividly you wonder if it’s really just props they’re using down there. And Ellen Page (Kitty from X3) is definitely one to watch. She’s younger than me (19), very very good and so far hasn’t joined the likes of Scarlett Johansson on my ‘girls who are younger than me and more successful who I hate with a passion’ list. She has just the right levels of confidence without the smug arrogance of Scarlett. Sorry – shouldn’t start down that road or this review will take a very different turn.

Anyway, as to the torture, this is what should be shown to all film school students as a guide of how to elicit moans from audience members without showing anything being done to, erm, ‘members’ on screen. There is very little in the way of gore. It’s all suggestion, and it’s plainly enough. Jeff’s face, her gentle assurances (“this might pull a bit”) and an occasional noise. It’s uncomfortable viewing, but fantastically well done.

Of course there’re some flaws. A few plot holes, maybe the ending was a bit flat, maybe some of it was a little bit silly. But this is a bold effort from relative new-comers to film (David Slade as director, and Brian Nelson as writer). Though it didn’t overwhelm me, it still offered more to chew over than I was expecting. Hard Candy – less boiled sweet, more Chewitt. It gains CF0, and has an extra point for being more than just a torture film. CF1.