Sunday, September 23, 2007

19th Sep 07 - Superbad

You may remember a few weeks ago I saw, and was pleasantly surprised by, Knocked Up, a remarkably grown-up, insightful comedy that still retained an immature level of silliness, which made it a barrel of different sized laughs. Its trailer and premise suggested gross-out naffness, but in reality it served up a very different slice of comedy pie. So when another film pops up from the same makers, with another trailer and premise that suggested gross-out naffness (teenage lads wanting to ‘do’ girls) I hoped that a similar surprise would occur.

It seems that surprises, like lightening, rarely strike in the same place twice.

If films portray reality correctly, then I’ve learnt over the last couple of weeks that men are perverted, sex-obsessed freaks who talk and think only about how to get women into bed, and who like to wear dead badgers on their heads (alright, maybe Hallam was alone on that one.) To be fair, none of this is a surprise. But as the first ten minutes of Superbad rolled by with a never-ending stream of crude conversations about porn and the like, I thought “crikey, is this really what lads talk about all day? Isn’t it boring. And not very funny.”

Thankfully the film warms up, as Seth (Jonah Hill - also in Knocked Up, and the spitting image of deceased Chris Penn. Seriously - put him in a blue tracksuit and he IS Nice Guy Eddie from Reservoir Dogs), Evan (Michael Cera, George Michael from the spectacularly great Arrested Development), and Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) battle to get booze (ha ha to the Americans - I could buy booze when I was 18! In your faces!) so they can go to a party and get with the girls of their dreams. It’s only when a series of crazy events introduces two dysfunctional cops (Bill Hader and Seth Rogen, the writer and star of Knocked Up) that the fun for us adults begins. And by mixing ‘fun’ with ‘adult’ I don’t mean the sort of thing Seth would enjoy. I mean things that people over the age of 15 would find funny.

It’s a shame, really, because the playful banter between the leads actually feels real. I could very well imagine boys of that age having those conversations, and realistic-ish dialogue was one of the aspects that warmed me to Knocked Up. The three leads are strong, competent comedy actors, even if Michael Cera plays the same character from Arrested Development (he plays it very well though, and the scene where he is forced to sing is fabulous.) There’s also some nice brotherly moments in there, where the strong friendship between the leads is explored (especially the sleep-over, probably the best scene of the film).

On a side note, Superbad and Knocked Up have been accused of having misogynistic tendencies by featuring only beautiful women but still having reasonably ugly men, as if that’s never happened in any film or television programme ever before. Seriously, if you want to tackle the still ever-present issue of female image in the media, don’t go after a teen movie and expect it to be the root cause. I could write a thesis on the subject, but I won’t. Someone’s probably already done so, and it’d only make me angry about the subject, and make anyone reading this stop (because men don’t give a crap about it, really, and most women already know.)

Anyway, Superbad had funny moments, a strong cast and a streak of realism in its dialogue, but an unoriginal concept, long stretches of no-laughter time, and an almost cringe-inducing insistence on forcing in every sexual reference possible. The younger, stupid brother to Knocked Up’s mature, wry big sister, Superbad will probably delight males between 13 and 16, but to everyone else it’s asking a big commitment before you get to any of the good stuff. It just misses out on a CF0 (I wouldn’t really recommend it to many people, unless I happen on a group of ‘youths’) and bobs in with a CF-1. Not super-bad, but not super-good either.

12th Sep 07 - Hallam Foe

It’s a common truth that spying on people is lots of fun. Neighbours are fascinating, buzzing about their gardens, or their front rooms or kitchens (depends on where you’re viewing them from) doing their everyday things - boring things that you do too, but made more interesting because it’s someone else. Like the song by Modest Mouse, other people’s lives are more interesting because they aren’t mine.

Young Hallam Foe shares my fascination, only he devotes a lot more of his time and effort to it (my spying only really occurs from a seated position, unless the event really warrants a crouch by the window) and he also likes to don a dead badger on his head and wear his dead mother’s clothes and make up. Hallam’s in a different league, really.

Look up the plot keywords for this film on imdb and you’ll see a cornucopia of incestuous terms and dodgy behaviour. It looks like Jamie Bell has tried to pick the polar opposite to ‘Kes-with-dancing’ Billy Elliot, that made him a star back in the day. And who can blame him - what twenty-something lad wants to be remembered as a little skipping, jumping brat? In Hallam Foe, Bell turns in an impressive performance, mixing creepy with na├»ve, charming with cunning and confused with voyeuristic greatness. He carries the film, and I’m curious to see where his next move will be as an actor.

Despite the slightly disturbing nature of the plot (Hallam’s relationship choices all having a ‘mother’ theme) Hallam Foe is a much lighter film than expected. Hallam bumps into an array of jovial Scottish types on his travels, latching on to Kate (Sophia Myles), the vaguely unhinged HR worker who gives Hallam his first job, and also resembles a certain dead parent. The film follows Hallam’s relationship with her, with his own battle to get over losing his mother, and with his increasingly estranged father and rent-an-evil-step-mother (whose facial features are so strikingly evil, you wonder if she’s CGI).

So Hallam wanders away from voyeuristic-creepy and dabbles with elements of comedy and romance, as well as a bit of murder-mystery thriller. But rather than add to the film, I felt almost cheated by these plot directions. As a character, Hallam has the potential for following many dark paths, and as an actor, Bell could have coped with all, making this a challenging, powerful film. But watered down and striving for a ‘happy’ ending, the film feels like it’s pulled short of its true potential.

Not that I’m a sicko who wanted a dark, nasty film full of incest and voyeurism. But something along those lines would have certainly elicited emotion, maybe revulsion, but at least some form of reaction. Watered-down Hallam was entertaining, at times intriguing, but mostly left little impression. It’s reviewed in magazines like “Star!” and “Kabam!” and “Whatever!” with “oo Jamie Bell’s really moved on in this hot tale of blah-de-blah! Wow!” Big deal - I wanted something better than average because it’s been a long time since a film has really made me go ‘wow’. It even took me over a week before I could even be bothered to review this.

In short, though it wasn’t a bad film, it wasn’t a great film either, and I seem to be taking my ‘lack of great film’ frustrations out on it today. Harsh, maybe, but that’s the way the cinemafool world goes. Hallam gets a recommended CF0, albeit in a lacklustre tone. Now if you don’t mind, I think my neighbour’s just got home…

Monday, September 10, 2007

5th Sep 07 - 2 Days in Paris

Marion and Jack have been together for two years. Marion is French, Jack is American, and at the end of their European holiday they stop by Marion’s home city of Paris for two days (hence the title), where they happen to bump into numerous men from Marion’s past, forcing Jack to question their relationship after a series of “hilarious” misunderstandings.

The above synopsis screams “rom-com” to me, and would have been a film I’d have avoided with effort, like I do with those people giving out free newspapers on the streets (they’re on the bus, they’re in my office, I don’t want any more so stop looking offended when I don’t take one. They’re free - leave them on the street and we’ll help ourselves if we want to.) But, as I seem to be mellowing with age, I gave it a go and did not leave the cinema with the usual cynical sneer and nausea.

Hats off, then, to Julie Delphy, who not only played Marion, but also wrote, directed and composed the score for this film. Smarty pants. Delphy’s story is nothing particularly new, but her delivery is frank, realistic and a little charming too. The ties between Marion and Jack feel real, filled with the nuances of a couple who have spent two years together. Squabbles, in-jokes, comfort and those niggling doubts when considering the future. As with Knocked Up, this adds a neat thorn to the usual rose-tinted view of romance.

Delphy gels with Adam Goldberg’s Jack, the two creating scenes that feel improvised, riffing off each other rather than just trawling through lines on a script. The film has several shades of ‘funny’, be it sweet little directorial touches, wry banter between family, or abstract moments like a crazy man on the tube (Goldberg’s method for scaring him away was particularly memorable).

At times the tone wavered into dodgy territory, showing France from Jack’s American perspective as a strange place, with strange traditions, full of strange foreigners doing and eating stranger things. Ooo those weird French, the Americans will be thinking (replace ‘weird’ with ‘bloody’ if you’re British). Poor old Jack, stuck in that weird country. Let’s laugh at the foreigners and their silly culture. Occasionally I had to remind myself that Delphy is French herself, quelling my assumptions that this is your usual naff Hollywood rom-com that’s set itself in a ‘foreign’ country to give the lazy writers extra jokes. And on looking deeper, Delphy tags on a few American stereotypes, with some digs about their attitude towards terrorism. She makes Jack form his own stereotypes of his surroundings and mirrors it with her family’s attitude towards ‘the American’ that she’s brought into their midst.

By steering Jack and Marion’s main problems towards the issue of thirty-something relationships, Delphy just about avoids making this another boring culture-clash flick. Instead she looks into relationships, how people cope with their destruction, with their past, and with never really knowing the other person. It’s slightly uplifting yet slightly depressing too.

Delphy and Goldberg’s chemistry add to Delphy’s strong script and playful direction. Dig into the bag of adjectives and you can bring out funny, charming, sweet, real and absorbing. Not overly original in concept, but still nicely done, 2 Days in Paris matches its days for CF points (that’s CF2 if you can’t figure it out.)