Thursday, October 26, 2006

25th Oct 06 - The Devil Wears Prada

I’m back in sunny old England after my recent trip to a much warmer, albeit irritatingly happy country. With half term causing a spurt of kiddie-friendly films, the choice this week was limited, hence my foray into non-gritty territory.

So, The Devil Wears Prada, based on the novel by Lauren Weisberger, is set in the world of high fashion magazines. To be honest my interest in fashion goes as far as… actually, no. It stops right about there. The film isn’t totally fashion obsessed though. It centres on Andy, a journalism graduate who struggles to find work and ends up as a PA for an unreasonable tyrant. God, it’s like someone’s made a film of my life. A big hello to my work colleagues if any of you are reading this – you know I of course don’t think of you as tyrants.

Anyway, Andy ends up working for Miranda Priestly, the viciously blunt editor of ‘Runway’ magazine. Andy must battle through a series of outlandish tasks (like picking up dry cleaning) all the while learning about fashion, and herself. It’s gripping stuff. She, like, totally starts to wear nice coats and boots, and like, totally gains respect from her peers but loses it from her dumpy friends. Yeah, ok, it’s easy to mock. And maybe there are some slightly deeper issues at stake, like how far you can push your own integrity and how successful women are often depicted as bitch-monsters from hell. Plus there’s some neat acting. Anne Hathaway grows up and is a likeable if not a little unremarkable lead, especially compared to Meryl Streep, who nails the icey indifference perfectly, and shines in the one vulnerable scene where she’s sans make up and, er, sans husband. Although it’s a bit crap that a woman as successful as her is a weakling when it comes to losing a relationship. Boo hoo. She could probably buy herself a husband, maybe a whole selection of them. One for every occasion. I seem to be deviating from the review. That’s a bad sign.

If I were to go back to the mocking, I’d maybe pick up on her token friends (one from every race plus a gay guy to boot), the in your face this-is-a-sad-moment soundtrack (most of the songs would probably feature on some sort of ‘girl power – the soundtrack to your life’ compilation) or that it deviates from criticising the various aspects of the fashion industry (the ludicrous diets of stick thin fashionites) to seemingly praising it (Andy celebrates because she drops to a size 4).

It’s not like I hated the film. It was gently amusing. But it’s like going to a restaurant and ordering a salad. There are bits of taste amongst the blandness, but overall you’re left dissatisfied and wishing you’d picked something better off the menu. Glancing at the current releases I spy the ludicrously good Children of Men and The Departed still out, and if you’re only going to pick one thing I’d go for something substantial rather than the salad. Though some people do like salad I guess. Weird people. Anyway, I can’t really recommend this film, so it drops a point, making CF-1.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

17th Oct 06 - Little Miss Sunshine

This was watched in a completely empty Floridian cinema, showing the mainstream appeal of this low budget indie flick. It’s a road movie about a dysfunctional family. That very sentence conjures up images of those films that like to be classed as ’kooky’ or ’quirky’. Films that generally make me want to vomit. But joy to the world because this missed the vomit trigger. Just.

Little Miss Sunshine is about one little girl travelling across America to appear in a little girl beauty contest. Her family are a bunch of crazies. A drug addicted Grandpa (the dry Alan Arkin). A failed motivational speaker dad (a delightfully annoying yet desperate Greg Kinnear). A suicidal uncle (Steve Carrel, a refreshing turn in a serious role rather than his usual ’40-year-old Virgin’ style fodder). A miserable teenage brother who’s taken a vow of silence (sullenly good Paul Dano). And a mum who… erm… hang on. A mum who… no. Nothing. No discernable issue with her. Aha. The writer is a guy and we have a bland, general mum role. Good job it’s been handed to the excellent Toni Collette, whose presence beefs up the role and makes her part of the family, rather than a bit of the scenery.

And then there’s the girl herself, played by newcomer Abigail Breslin in the most natural and likeable fashion. It’ll be interesting to see how that one grows up.

Anyway, all the family pile into a bus and make the two day trek to the competition. And here is where the film splits. One half is your stereotypical road movie. Arguments happen, stuff goes wrong, hilarity ensues. Lots of driving montages. The other half is your typical ’competition’ based film. Be it sports, spelling bees, beauty pageants, dog shows, dance competitions… all will end with a build up to the main event and the final performance with guessable results.

So what’s original? Not a huge amount. But with a stellar cast and sharp dialogue, the film does suck you in. You will laugh, you may cry, and you do come to like the majority of the characters in some way. And what’s grand is that no one really overcomes their issues. There’s a ‘family’ message in there, and a stab at mocking the creepiness of beauty pageants for kids, but other than that there’s no huge resolution. Which is realistic. But may also raise the question, “what is the point?”

With this in mind, the film relies on its characters, which works, but also a few set pieces that verge beyond the ridiculous line. I think initially I was going to give this an extra point for the great acting and absorbing characters, but I may have to deduct a point for the silliness in places, the lack of originality and the insistence on giving the mum no real role. So it drops back to the still recommended-but-not-overly-enthusiastic score of CF0.

14th Oct 06 - The Departed

Still in Orlando, and a risky move to try watching a 2 hour, 39 min Scorsese drama. But apart from a couple chatting and a few loud shrieks at violent moments, the audience were fairly well behaved. Probably all tourists.

Anyhoo, this is Scorsese’s third film with Leonardo DiCaprio, after Gangs of New York and The (shamefully-overlooked-by-the-Oscars-in-favour-of-bloody-squinty-Eastwood) Aviator. The pair seem to gel, bringing out the best in Leo, who’s done remarkably well in getting away from his boyish Titanic persona and bringing out a rougher yet vulnerable edge. Along with Leo, The Departed boasts an impressive cast; Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg (with silly hair).

The plot is sly. DiCaprio is an undercover cop, who’s infiltrated Nicholson’s organised crime gang. Damon is part of Nicholson’s crew, but he works as a high ranking police officer. When word gets out on each side that there’s a rat in their midst, the danger to each rat increases, as does their desperation to avoid capture and track each other down. In typical Scorsese style, the characters are gradually etched out, deepened and developed. There’s no hurry, but it never drags. The story sucks you in, envelops you, so that when tension starts to build you really feel it, right in your gut.

The performances were spot on. DiCaprio knitting that brow of his into tortured angst, Damon cold, calculating and refreshingly dangerous, Nicholson craggy, bonkers - as you’d expect, really - but he’s held in control enough to create a menacing mob boss rather than a cartoon one. There’s the theme of identity as the two rats struggle to retain a sense of self throughout their double lives, and some achingly nerve wracking moments as each rat gets closer to the truth.

It’s a shame that the carefully paced story gets a little unravelled towards the end. A lot seems to suddenly happen in quick bursts, and it doesn’t completely satisfy given the brilliant first two hours. But regardless, this is still a great film, with plenty of re-watch potential. It won’t be a big award winner, but what do they know? It’s getting a CF0 with an extra point for well developed characters, and another for being a master-class in acting and directing, bringing it to CF2. Better than any Oscar.

11th Oct 06 - Jackass Number Two

Picture the scene. Wee-Man (that’s a small guy) is on a bridge attached to a bungee rope. The other end of the rope isn’t anchored to the bridge though. It’s attached to a fat man. If the thought of the resulting bungee jump brings a huge smirk to your face then this is certainly the film for you. If you’re tutting and shaking your head at the silly yobs who should get proper jobs, then you should stay well clear. And develop a sense of humour. You miserable sod.

Yep, Jackass 2 is a perfect film for my current location - smack in the middle of Orlando. The louder nature of an American audience (sorry guys, but it’s the truth. You just don’t know how to shut the hell up) is just what you need to give this film the right atmosphere. Because there is no plot to this. No acting, no characterisation, no clever direction. It’s just a bunch of blokes pissing about. And as long as you can laugh with them, then it works perfectly.

Of course, you have to be pretty likeable guys to pull this off. I wouldn’t be too keen on watching some idiot arseholes having fun at the expense of my cinema tickets. But with enough charisma and wit when talking to the camera, and some highly infectious laughter when they’re watching each other, the Jackass lads are a strong team. There’s a good mix of personalities, with the fearless and insane (let’s go fishing for sharks. I’ll be the bait. Just let me get this hook through my cheek…) and the eager but a bit wimpy, which is nice to see. Rather than an unrelenting passion for danger, we get to see some of these boys running, shrieking, panicking and at one point actually crying, and it’s all from fear, not pain. It’s a nice touch of humanity. Poor guys. Though if my mates locked me in a limo and poured a bucket of bees through the sunroof, I would find myself new friends. So they sort of bring it on themselves.

Like the TV series and previous film, Jackass 2 has some utterly hilarious moments (jet-powered bicycle on a pier), some vomit-inducing moments (“milking” a horse, or the “fart-mask”) and some so-so, not hugely funny bits, mostly involving the public. But it’s so fast paced, if you’re not too keen on one segment, you can be assured that something else will come along any second.

I laughed a lot at this film. It’s silly and fun, and leaves no lasting impression. For entertaining me for nearly 2 hours it’s getting a CF0. One to watch with a load of mates. Or noisy Americans.