Wednesday, December 31, 2008

31st Jan 08 - The Day the Earth Stood Still

In a last ditch effort to beat last year’s Cinemafool record of 44 films, we squeezed in one final cinema trip before the last seconds ticked away on the arbitrary marking of time that is the new year. Throwing caution to the wind, the only film that didn’t involve children’s stories being brought to life was a Keanu Reaves remake, and though it had the whiff of potential poo, what better way to see out the year than with a bit of Armageddon? It turns out there are many better ways to see out the year, or spend two hours of your life. Poking a trifle with a fork. Lying face down on the floor. Watching Pirates of the… well, ok. Not quite that.

But it’s surprising just how bad The Day the Earth Stood Still really could be. On the trailer there were cool money shots that suggested full scale destruction. We could ignore ghost-faced wax-work model Keanu plodding around in the background because lorries were being vaporised! Whole stadiums demolished! Who knew what other death and devastation could await! Well. The answer is, frustratingly, none. This is the most sedentary Armageddon piece I have ever seen. The earth is at threat but our only connection to the world is eyebrow-laden Jennifer Connolly, her token son and a handful of army cut-outs, including the portly government representative (a shamefully wasted Kathy Bates). Who cares if the earth is destroyed? Blast it away, was all I could think, as long as you do it with style. But no. They couldn’t even offer me that. Big spheres all around the world. Massive ass-kicking robot. But what, ultimately, is the method of destruction? Dust. A big cloud of metal dust heading for New frickin’ York. Whoop-de-do.

This is the day time stood still as the plot meanders towards a damp flannel finale and your tolerance towards moronic Keanu lessens the more he stares blankly at the camera, perhaps wondering which film he’s supposed to be doing or what time his tea is. Connolly tries her hardest, widening her eyes and staring into lights at every opportunity, but really no one cares. The only reason to watch this sort of film is to see the earth get blown to pieces - there is no other desired outcome in this genre - but this film stoutly refuses to play ball. Sod action and suspense, let’s have a trip to McDonalds and a nice conversation instead.

No disaster flick has yet to beat the monstrously fun Independence Day, a film littered with everything you need in the genre – likeable characters, mega earth destruction, and a rousing speech with drum rolls tinkling in the background. The Day the Earth Stood still is like taking Independence Day and only showing the opening half hour where nothing really happens. But without any form of tension whatsoever. Watch the trailer for the cool stadium shot, then just look at a powerpoint slide with the phrase “save the Earth – recycle” and you’ll have the same effect, only more enjoyable.

A pants way to finish the year, the only way to cheer yourself up is by reading the Cinemafool review of 2008 and seeing the veritable picnic basket filled with film goodies that we’ve been treated to over the last twelve months. The Day the Earth Stood Still, meanwhile, earns a paltry CF-3, and a place on the turkeys list. I’m now making the sound of a raspberry, which I tried typing out but couldn’t get the vowels right. You know the sound I mean though. Think of this film, make that sound, and go rent a DVD instead.

Monday, December 29, 2008

21st Dec 08 - Yes Man

“Yes” is a useful word, particularly in response to such questions as “would you like a piece of cake?” “Would you like a free holiday?” or “Is Cinemafool the most stunningly intelligent web site you’ve ever read?”

When Danny Wallace employed the word to every single thing he was asked, it took him on a journey of wonder and, well, what I imagine was self discovery and new horizons – someone borrowed the book off me before I finished it and I haven’t seen it since (no hint there for its return…) Mr. Hollywood thought this concept was genius, threw away the non-fiction aspect and added Jim Carey. From the trailers this film walked a tightrope between guffaw-filled pre-Christmas joy, or a big sloshing bucket of steamy shite.

Thankfully the bucket remains mostly empty, Carey pulling out another Liar Liar-esque performance with a stable comic creation spattered with familiar Carey madness, particularly when he was introduced to the product-placement wonder of Red Bull. There’s a nice message about not wasting your life away by refusing all new experiences and allowing yourself to plod on towards the end in a boring and miserable way. Plus Rhys Darby from Flight of the Concords adds fresh quirk, mixed with a few gross-out moments (saying yes to the advances of a little old lady was particularly disturbing).

Unfortunately there is a little bit of shite in the bottom of the bucket, and that’s largely down to the lazy choice to fall in line with similar comedies, with cliché after cliché in terms of the strange but beautiful love interest (Zooey Deschanel) who must follow the usual track of falling in love – misunderstanding – fall out – get back together in dramatic gesture, plus the side-kick best mates, one quite good looking, the other a bit of a weird nerd. The yes situations do provide some originality, including some neat touches with Zooey’s random band, or the Harry Potter party, but ultimately the question becomes “can you see what’s coming?” and the answer, obviously, is “yes”.

It’s a shame that a high concept non-fiction (ish) book has been turned into more of a run-of-the-mill Saturday night comedy than something fresher, wittier, or just a bit funnier, but if you’re going to churn out a familiar old flick then it’s at least thankful they’ve picked the Carey to head it up. His energy is enough to carry the film, and though it can’t match the greatness of the Ventura, it at least matches up to, if not surpasses, the likes of Liar Liar. Which isn’t exactly the most devastating of compliments, to be honest. Still, it passes the time, raises a chuckle, and may even make you reconsider some life choices, so for that it gains the recommended CF0. A good one to sit in front of when you’ve said yes to one too many mince pies.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

10th Dec 08 - Transporter 3

It’s one of life’s greatest conundrums. Alongside thought provokers such as why is a teaspoon always left in the washing up bowl, how can you lose one sock in every wash, and who on earth actually likes Pirates of the Caribbean 2, there is one mystery that is yet to be solved. Transporter 2: is it intentionally funny? Did the makers genuinely believe that the best way to take a bomb off the underside of a car was to flip it upside down mid-air, and use a crane hook? Did they honestly think a jet-ski vs bus chase was plausible? Or the best way to survive a plane nose-diving into the sea was by leaping towards the tail-end?

The thing is, if they tried to make it tongue-in-cheek, it would fail. It’s not funny enough and such spoof genres have been done to death. Transporter 2 will go down in Cinemafool history as one of the most enjoyable films ever, because it seems to be genuine and yet is utterly, utterly stupid. The news of a third instalment was the source of much excitement, and it is with great pleasure that I can announce it is indeed stupid – perhaps not quite as stupid as two, but there are new conundrums thrown into the mix that make it just as special.

Plot-wise, Jason Statham is Frank Martin, a no-questions Transporter (he drives things places) who can also happily handle a fight against twenty massive blokes. There are some foreign mwuhahaha baddies who have something vaguely to do with being bad to the environment, which instantly makes Transporter 3 contemporary and, like, issues-laden. But a new twist features Frank tagged with an irremovable bracelet, which means if he gets too far away from his beloved Audi (buy one today!) he’ll explode! So Frank has to deal with the cruel beasts who came up with this rather elaborate and, if the plot is considered in any detail, completely unnecessary device, all the while trying to keep his female passenger safe and figure out what the hell is going on.

The fresh conundrum comes in when trying to consider who this film is aimed at. It has all the hallmarks of a big, brash action, with Frank beating people up on wires, driving really fast (who knew tilting your body weight would result in your car going on two wheels!) and lots of big explosions. Transporter 2 had all that, plus a female lead who spent literally all of her time in underwear, aside from the bits when she was naked. Pretty obvious who we’re aiming at there – pre-pubescent boys too dumb to realise the film is nonsense, and people like me who relish the nonsense and have a good old chuckle for 90 minutes. But the third instalment… here we have one female lead who retains her clothing throughout, meanwhile our beloved Frank gets half naked not once, not twice, but three times.

Now, I’m not complaining. Jason Statham can be semi-naked all the time if he so wishes – I would in fact encourage it. The fight scene that involved him taking off various items of clothing, one-by-one, resulted in me actually shouting “take your pants off” at the screen, like a menopausal monster at a hen party. But the main demographic who enjoys such naff action films is not the same demographic you’d imagine lapping up a strip-tease from the butch hero. So “who the hell is Transporter 3 aimed at” could well be the title of a PhD, and if anyone wishes to give me £20k a year I’d gladly go off and re-watch the strip scene over and over and over in order to try and find out.


Anyway, if you smirk at the thought of a car successfully driving off a bridge on to a moving train, then this is the film for you. If you roll your eyes and ask for your money back when someone manages to leap feet first through the passenger window of a moving car, then you shouldn’t watch this. And should also try finding a sense of humour.

So, not exactly a comedy, but still managing to elicit shrieks of laughter, Transporter 3 manages to be both a parody and a straight-player, a gaudy action flick and a piece of homoerotic fantasy worth analysing further. Jason Statham has stumbled into an absolute corker and if you’re the sort of person who’d enjoy this sort of ride, the Transporter3 is the right way to get you there. For sheer enjoyment factor, Transporter 3 gets itself a CF1. Bring on Crank 2, is all I can say.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

3rd Dec 08 - What Just Happened?

Who knew how much trouble a dog and a beard could cause. Granted, if you applied some imagination you could come up with all sorts of scenarios – “stray bit of sausage caught in beard attracts big scary dog”, or “excited puppy spoils child’s Christmas by running away with Santa’s fake beard”. Perhaps there’s a film somewhere in those thoughts…

Anyway, the original question should have added “for a Hollywood producer”, because that’s the focus of this film. Based on the exasperated book by producer Art Linson , What Just Happened looks at two weeks in the life of big-time producer Ben, played by a calmy collected Robert De Niro. Poor Ben has to deal with beards and dogs, and neither of them make his life easy. In fact, they sort of ruin it, leading to the question of the film. It’s fascinating to see such bizarre power-plays and politics, but also ever so slightly depressing when you see how money can easily beat any form of artistry. Or facial hair.

So we have a sort of behind the scenes film, latched on to Ben’s complicated lifestyle as a double ex-husband and father. There are some neat touches, with Ben listening to his latest film’s soundtrack which cleverly matches various pieces of action in his life, and a cracking performance from Bruce Willis playing himself as an angry, bear-like buffoon, crashing around sets and intimidating the staff.

But the struggle with this was in figuring out its tone. Almost slap-stick comedy mixes with abstract moments, sitting against a fairly straight realist backdrop. See, you can’t put it up there like it’s a expose of life behind the camera, keeping soundtrack to car stereos and following characters around docu-style, then throw in a random arty close-up of M&Ms or a superfast edit. Well, you can. And it’s never a bad thing to play with styles. But here it seems to jar, making it difficult to settle into. Just as you’re getting used to watching Ben’s issue-laden relationship with his ex-wife, you suddenly get John Turturro’s flamboyant comedy acting. Separately either would be great, but together they just don’t mesh.

De Niro coasts, playing it undoubtedly well but not particularly tested, and plot-wise the after-effects of “what just happened” would probably have offered more room for exploration than just charting the events that create the thorn in Ben’s side. Still, it’s an interesting peak into the torturous world of a producer, and the dog scene is darkly fabulous. Not much of a comedy, more a wry journey with the occasional titter, What Just Happened is an odd-one but saves itself with its original – and true - subject matter, and therefore slinks in with a recommended CF0.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

29th Nov 08 - Body of Lies

Body of Lies is both a secret service spy-type thriller and a startlingly real and relevant punch in the face from Ridley Scott.

Secret service spy-type wise, you have Leonardo DiCaprio running around the Far East, hiding under baseball caps, chasing after people while shouting down a phone, with uber-technology backing him up in the form of big-ass satellites tracking his every move and a Brains-esque techie who sits in his weird house and types random shit into computers to make them do clever stuff.

Punch in the face wise, you have suicide bombers, fundamentalist arse-holes spreading the hatred, fat American officials making decisions that disregard various human lives, and violence that is brutally realistic. Take all your Saw-shite-tripe and shove it in the bin, because the only way to truly rattle an audience with torture is to avoid gore-exploitation but just show the stark reality of such practices. Oh, and use a hammer.

This is a bumper film spanning just over two hours (but feeling a little like four) and taking you to unexpected and, in cases like the hammer, unwelcome places too. DiCaprio is of course excellent, bearded up and freakily sporting brown eyes instead of blue. He melds the action (running, fighting, shouting) with the drama, the poor chap having many and various injury makeup sessions throughout the course of his adventures. Taking on the role of fat American official is Russell Crowe, and even when literally the majority of his scenes are spent on the phone, his intelligent but morally flawed Ed Hoffman is a great character, the harsh grey to DiCaprio’s softer brown, the comedy interlude if you like. Well, until you realise people like him are probably in similar positions in real life, making similarly dodgy decisions. And then that punch in the face happens again.

But for all the points gained in a great cast, thrilling set pieces and some definite brain fodder to chew on, Body of Lies slumps slightly because at times it seems to last for ever. New characters are introduced late and new relationships forged three quarters of the way through, leaving you with no clue of the plot’s direction or upcoming end point. Perhaps that is a good thing in a way, and applause to Ridley Scott for crafting such an elegantly long piece of work. But unfortunately when the bottom-seat-shuffle starts to happen, the CF points start to fall.

However, the points had plenty of room to fall, as for the majority of its running time this film is riveting, either in plot, character, or lip bitingly real moments of terror. DiCaprio and Crowe are backed up by a super-cool Mark Strong (Rocknrolla), and with a cast like that and a deftly capable man behind the camera, you canny go wrong. This is an action thriller with a brain. A message piece that doesn’t ram it in your face, or cast too many lob-sided views. It’s relevant, entertaining. A bit like if the news was presented as a drama, but with some nice bits in between to lighten it up now and then. Body of Lies gets a solid CF2, missing a higher mark only for dragging its heels a teeny bit too long. Go see it. Take a cushion. And don’t play with hammers.

Friday, November 28, 2008

26th Nov 08 - Choke

After a woeful gap in cinema visits, what better way to welcome back the big screen than with a film about a sex addict who thinks he could be the son of Jesus. Super. Based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk, whose name I can’t pronounce let alone spell, Choke is the mashed up tale of Victor, a chap who works as an actor in a historical museum, has an addiction to sex, chokes himself in restaurants in order to scam would-be saviours, and tries to look after his mentally ill mother who resides in a hospital and doesn’t recognise her own son.

If you think that’s a lot of rather disparate components then, well, you’d be right. But this is from the author of Fight Club, whose bleak look on the human condition traipses through the majority of his work, often featuring flawed leading characters that we none-the-less begin to identify with. Take Victor – on the surface he’s a pig, a liar, a cheat, and happy to hump any woman that moves. But with flash-backs to his rather unusual upbringing, some touching moments where he tries to connect with his fading mother, and a charming warmth brought to the role by Sam Rockwell, you will find yourself rooting for Victor. Even when he can’t stop imagining the size of every woman’s boobs.

Alongside Rockwell is Kelly Macdonald, flouting a slightly odd American accent (she’s Scottish) and bringing some sweetness to the proceedings, but stealing the show is Anjelica Huston as Victor’s mother. Though current Orange adverts mock her crazier side it’s still fair to say she doesn’t half play a good mental, whether it’s as a dolled up and dangerous lady in the flash-backs, or an increasingly frail old woman in a hospice.

Like Fight Club there is a streak of sardonic humour (the funniest rape scene ever, believe it or not) and because of the subject matter, a heck of lot of dirty humour too (many boobs and flashes of rude, err, positions). But Fight Club’s edgy nature was matched perfectly by Fincher’s erratic direction, turning Chuck’s work into one of the best films in Cinemafool’s experience. Choke is directed by Clark Gregg (an actor, and his first time behind the camera) with a jaunty backing track as Victor trots through the scenes, dampening the fizz and crackle of some of the dialogue or sentiments delivered.

There’s no doubt this is a good film. Original, funny, engaging with interesting comment on how we might choose to live our lives. But there are a few holes, certain relationships not being given full time to develop, and certain plot strands popping up and then disappearing where you feel the novel would have continued. It’s no Fight Club, but it stands tall among some of the shite out today (too many chirpy sing-a-longs for my liking…) and so gains a CF2. Welcome back cinema. Thanks for having me.

Friday, October 31, 2008

31st Oct 08 - Quantum of Solace

Back in 2006 Casino Royale reinvented Bond much in the same way that Nolan breathed life into the Batman franchise. Both were drowning under the cheesy weight of their predecessors and both benefited mightily from a darker, edgier take, with Daniel Craig storming into Bond’s shoes and creating a character who was more dangerous, more damaged, and more interesting. Plus, as mentioned several times in the Cinemafool review (Nov 2006) he also had lovely thighs.

Second time round Bond had the same challenge as Batman – gone was the shock of seeing a new take on a familiar character, and up were the expectations on where they’d go next. Nolan trumped himself with Dark Knight, building on his foundations and moving further into the new direction with startling results. Bond, however… To put it one way, Bond went to the shops for bread and cheese but got distracted by the magazines and forgot his initial purpose. Bond ended up having dry toast instead of the cheese toastie he so craved. Bond was disappointed.

It starts off reasonably promising. A slightly chaotic car advert / road chase (which could have had way more impact if the editing had slowed down a little so we could tell what on earth was happening), followed by moody torture and an ooo baddy moment, followed by second chase sequence, only this one’s on foot. Bond is still angry after the ending to Casino Royale (and I am too frankly – it being 20 minutes too long) so he stalks around a lot looking moody with M trotting after him, tutting. So far, so ‘slightly silly but done well’ Bond. But as the plot meanders off into a string of “go here, meet them, chase with transport, fight! Wear new outfit. Go over there, meet that person, run away on transport! Fight. Change outfit,” the novelty of an angry Bond begins to wear off, and he becomes not so much angry as just a bloke who goes places and chases people.

The Big Bad is just some guy who sells stuff and manipulates people and, well, who knows – the plot was either too complicated or not interesting enough for me to bother to pay attention. The big evil master plan isn’t all that evil or master, really, and its connection to Bond’s quest for solace from his hurting heart is flimsy, leaving an ending that’s more “huh…that it?” than “wow” or “ooo he used a naughty word.” Lady interest either lacks the romance or is easily throw-away. And – biggest flaw in the world – not once, not one single solitary time did his lovely thighs come out. No short shorts, no water scene. No lovely thighs. Not a quantum of thigh. Rubbish!

The usual lovely Craig can’t even save this, his brown-beaten moody glare feels quashed somehow, the initial flickers of characterisation from the first are fizzled out. Though he still packs a Bourne-like punch in the one-to-one combat, and his prickly confrontations with Dench, superb as ever as the all powerful M, are good fun to watch, this is a very subdued Bond. Quantum of Solace is not a Bond of old –sexy, suave, silly – nor is it the promised new Bond from the trailer, the one who stalks over the horizon with a big fuck-off gun. This is a blah-Bond. A bland-Bond. A forgot-the-cheese-for-my-toastie-Bond.

With an irritation already ingrained since every single product known to man is clinging to Bond’s feet (phones, cameras, cars, confectionary, computer games, credit cards… fuck off!) and an indifference to the Bond genre to start with, this was already fighting a slightly inclined battle. But having promised a refreshing take in Casino Royale, this next step is backwards and slightly to the side, with less wows, less plot and absolutely no thighs. Though more Bond-happy fans might find a little more to enjoy, Cinemafool (whose opinion is of more importance) gives only a small quantum of praise, and therefore a CF-2. Bad Bond. Go put your shorts on and we might forgive you.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

15th Oct 08 - Rocknrolla

Ah good old Guy Ritchie. Back in the 90s he gave us gangster-cool, a wave of swift talking swaggering cock-er-nies who dabble in crime and are dapper at coming up with sharp put-downs. Lock Stock was a roaring success, Snatch was a pretty good romp, but then it all went downhill. “A Guy Ritchie film” stopped being something cool, and was more “Swept Away”.

But with Rocknrolla Ritchie has clawed his way back to Lock Stock heights. This is punchy, cheeky fun, Ritchie almost creating his own genre that consists of numerous characters, several plot strands that overlap and interlink in slightly unbelievable ways, a cockney narrator, a contemporary soundtrack, and jazzy bits of direction. To explain the plot would take forever, but rest assured it contains your usual head boss gangster dude, some side-kicks, a raggedy gang of goons who you’re supposed to side with, and a scary foreign boss man. But no Jason Stratham, which must always count against a film surely?

Stepping up to the play in the mighty Stratham’s place is Tom Wilkinson (awesome as usual), Gerard Butler (the shouty chap from 300, who is suitably easy on the eyes), Mark Strong (could fit in the cast of the Godfather easily) and Idris Elba (the ace chappy otherwise known as Stringer Bell from the Wire, woefully underused). There’s also an exciting skeleton-off between Thandie Newton’s unbelievable “accountant” and Toby Kebbell who cuts an impressive figure as the rocknrolla (that’s what the title is – clever, yeah?) This is a guy who is both insane, dangerously violent but also amazing adept at the English language.

Some might say that the uber cool nature of the likes of Lock Stock glamorises crime and drugs and violence. Rocknrolla may play up to that in places – comedy druggies, comedy violence (the Russians who just won’t die) and comedy car thefts. But there’s also a neat blast of darkness, with an unpleasantly long scene featuring said rocknrolla drugged up to his eyeballs and therefore dribbling and convulsing on the floor, and an attack on a bouncer that's flinchingly violent and not all too impossible in today’s society (or yesterday’s society – we’ve been beating the crap out of each other for as long as we could hold tools).

This is, if you try to take it seriously, a bit shit really. Nonsense plot, unbelievable characters. Silly nonsense. But taken as a blast of entertainment it hits the mark dead-on. Amusing and engaging, it smacks of the 90s Ritchie, the one who was cool and not Madonna’s (now ex) hubbie. It’s Ritchie doing what he does best, and though there must come a point where he needs to drop the genre for fear of cliché, in this stage of the cinema calendar (which is as parched as a desert in the summer) it is welcome relief. Even though it’s been out quite a while, and is probably out of the cinema by the time you read this. In which case, why not catch it on DVD? For sheer entertainment it gets a recommended CF0.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

12th Oct 08 - Gomorrah

Although it sounds like a venereal disease, Gomorrah is a bold and bolshy Italian flick, catapulting you into the world of organised crime and leaving you in there with no hope of escape. It’s like the Godfather mixed with The Hills, a film portraying a reality show while teetering on the brink of being a standard documentary.

Before I throw any more genres into the mix, let me explain. Gomorrah is based on a book written by Roberto Saviano, which unearthed the underbelly of a gritty crime syndicate with fingers in pies that were so wide you’d be surprised how close Joe Public is to standing in them. The non-fiction book became a best seller, and the author became the target of death threats. Naturally making a film about it was the next step.

The structure is familiar in the mafia way, a sprawling plot with multiple characters that doesn’t lend itself to things like a narrator, meaning you’re left to fend for yourself as an at first seemingly endless spray of different people are shown to you. It’s only as the film picks up that you start to spot each character group and get yourself embroiled in their stories, each capturing a different component of the massive organisation. Drugs, weapons and violent family wars mixed with waste disposal, property and textile manufacturing.

But director Matteo Garrone goes for an original approach for the mafia genre, wedging his camera among the action, sometimes peeping round corners or over balconies, sometimes failing to capture everything because it’s too dark, or because the car in which you’re situated has driven off. The effect is piping hot reality, which makes the more violent aspects of the story more jarringly explosive. Not that this is a blood fuelled romp, the majority of action being heated conversations or nervous walks with bullet proof vests.

The language barrier does poke a hole in all the fun, some portions of dialogue seemingly left to your imagination, which is a great shame. The banter between two of the characters – young teens who are bigger than their boots – would probably spark off the screen if translated correctly. But hey – that’s the price we pay for not everyone in the world speaking my language. Damn them all.

Gomorrah’s impact increases when you realise it is fact, and the closing paragraphs detailing the extent of their involvement in the world we know does make you stop and think. But the huge array of characters means we fail to spend the time with them that they deserve, especially compared to the time spent on Mr Corleone (although it would have been five hours long if they’d gone for that approach.) As such, though Gomorrah is fascinating, at times thrilling, and after the initial learning curve embroils your thoughts with its realist style, its closing remarks on each character group has less of an emotional punch. Still, it impresses enough to gain a CF1, possibly for the underpants / weapons testing scene alone. Check it out.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

8th Oct 08 - How To Lose Friends and Alienate People

Here’s an idea of how to lose friends and alienate people – say repeatedly that you are more intelligent, experienced and witty than them. Maybe publish it somewhere that the whole world can see. Try it – it works.

Sadly this film isn’t about Cinemafool and all its brilliant nuances. It’s about an annoying journalist whose egocentric activities cause him to be hated by all… Toby Young is a real life Brit journalist, who turned his failed attempts to make it in the big U.S of A into a novel, which now plonks itself on screen for our viewing pleasure (in theory). The first in a duo of films featuring English comedians going to New York (see upcoming Gervais vehicle: Ghost Town), How To Lose Friends catapults our beloved Simon Pegg into the big leagues, staring alongside famous American actors like Kirsten Dunst, Jeff Bridges, and, errr, Gillian Anderson. Hurray for Pegg.

Unfortunately Pegg is just a puppet here, his writing talents kept far away and his comic acting skills tested against mighty jokes involving pigs and small dogs. Great! Although I’m being harsh, because among the slapstick animal gags there are some cutting asides about the biz of show, and the crass nature of that thing called fame and its relationship with the monstrous media. Take these aside and combine them with ace turns from Bridges (with a beautiful mane) and a spicy Gillian, then mix in a surprisingly good moment from Megan Fox (who for the majority is just there for the token boobs, but during a drunken poolside confession actually hits the mark about the price of fame) and you’d probably have a good film.

As it stands, though, How to Lose Friends is patchy, an odd mix of British humour and irritating set pieces (Meet the Parents-esque mistakes) with a guessable plot lacking in true originality – though it’s based on reality, the decision to add a romance element takes off the surprises, and dampens any road to redemption. Sell out your scruples and then have a change of heart, but only really celebrate that by snogging the girl you love? Wow. Plus, choosing to fill the film with the usual New Yorkisms (every taxi ride taking him past Times Square for some reason) only adds to the jaded feel. I’m sure we’ve all had enough of slightly grumpy British people wandering around the Big Apple.

Dunst does her usual Dunst (weird mouth, sassy, dimples) and though Pegg, who weirdly resembles Jasper Carrot, does a great job of becoming one of those horrendously creepy drunk guys who dances really badly and preys on anything female, his character just feels a little too hollow, too stuck in “arse hole” territory to ever really make us route for him. The laughs are few and far between and the romance too blatant to make even the newly soppy Cinemafool care, and considering the cast this is a big disappointment. But not an unexpected one. As such, How to Lose Friends demonstrates the best way to lose CF points, and drops down to CF-1. It's saved from further depths by an ace Yorkshire cave joke, which I won’t spoil just in case you watch it and fancy at least one laugh.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

14th Sep 08 - Burn After Reading

If No Country for Old Men was a three course meal, Burn After Reading is a tasty snack. That’s not to disrespect it - by snack I mean something delicious and enjoyable, such as a double chocolate chip muffin or unknown bakery product from Aldi, rather than something worthless like a tic tac or piece of fruit. Like a good snack, BAR is easy to approach, light enough to enjoy all in one sitting but fulfilling enough to stave off hunger for the rest of the afternoon. Maybe you’ll have a lighter tea because of it. Depends on your appetite I guess.

Anyway, after weighty matters in No Country, the Coen brothers return to lighter fare with another dark comedy featuring their favourite Clooney (twitchy and different - the Coens always seem to bring him out of Clooney-isms), Fargo legend Frances McDormand (sparky, superb), a strangely hairless John Malkovich (explosively hilarious), ice queen Tilda Swinton (as an ice queen… but doing it well) and forever chewing Brad Pitt (getting the cheap laughs, but getting laughs all the same).

The plot is too convoluted to even bother to explain, and part of the fun is joining the dots and seeing what picture emerges. While waiting for the dots to cross, the characters wholly engage, each one bright enough to make you want to stick with them until you’re introduced to the next and find them just as captivating. Dialogue, comic facial expressions, twists and turns all pop on screen with confident exuberance, the Coens in comfortable territory and actors given the freedom to let go.

Funny, fascinating and fully digestible on first-viewing, BAR falls under No Country on its score purely for the snack/meal analogy above. While more can be absorbed from repeat viewing of February’s beast, BAR is so cleanly executed you gain everything first-time and lose a richness, a depth, that often accompanies the Coen’s work. But still, Burn After Reading scores an impressive CF2, and threatens a double-whammy for the Coen’s on this year’s CF Top-10. It’s not out until October in the UK, but I’m still smug in New York. Check me out. Smug. And fancying a double chocolate chip muffin.

8th Sep 08 - Tropic Thunder

From my lofty position in New York this week (no monster invasions or hilarious romantic misunderstandings so far) I have had access to newish films and thus become more smug than usual. I’ve seen these before you. Ha ha. Unless you’re American, in which case, um, nerr.

Ben Stiller’s new comedy Tropic Thunder (“TT“) was first on my hit list. With a plot derived from The Three Amigos, Galaxy Quest and Hot Shots Part Deux, TT doesn’t smack of originality, featuring a group of oddball actors attempting to make a Vietnam film and stumbling across some real bad guys in the jungle. But the cast list is enough to make this a worthy contender for your attention. Forget Stiller and Black, though. The real comedy force comes from two non-comedy actors.

If you were to say that the funniest thing in this film is Tom Cruise it’d usually be some sort of witty, cutting Cinemafool insult. But no - Cruisey is by far the best thing in this film, throwing out a belting performance. Who or what he does, I’ll leave to you to find out. Close second is the lovely Downey Jr, genius as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aussie playing a black-man. D-Jr is, though at times incomprehensible, utterly fabulous, over-acting his face off and making me smirk just thinking about “Satan’s Alley” (you’ll get it). Stiller and Black (that’s Jack) slope behind, doing the familiar. Stiller - slighty goofy but attempting heroic. Black - trying to be overly wild, only occasionally winning a laugh.

The film starts out strong, with faux trailers, faux film and the introduction of Cruisey and Stiller’s agent played by an Owen Wilson-esque Matthew McConaughey. But when we lose the entourage and get stuck in the jungle with the main actor group, the film loses some of its spark, laughs dry up and familiarity sets in. It picks up during the finale, but a promising opening leads to disappointment when you realise your face has stopped hurting from laughing and you have to watch Jack Black in his pants. Again.

Fantastic for the first third, mediocre for the second, reasonable for the third, TT is uneven but enjoyable, poking fun at Hollywood but embracing it all the same. Its saggy middle drops it to a CF1, but it’s still a fun comedy to end the summer with. And I saw it first. Ha ha ha.

Friday, September 05, 2008

3rd Sep 08 - Babylon A.D

Bloody hell.

Ok, so there was nothing else on at the cinema and my companion thought perhaps a silly film staring Vin Diesel could have the same effect as a silly filmy staring Jason Stratham (hands up who can’t wait for Transporter 3?) So with a wry smile I settled down to watch Vin striding through the streets of Russia (not sure why) in an anorak with a heavy beat thumping in the background, cos he is well cool in his anorak with his hood up, right? Big Vin with a voice a bit like Batman’s, so deep it must resonate around his massive empty skull and cause some sort of internal bleeding.

Big Vin is given the task of transporting an ethereal girly from Russia to the holy land (New York of course) in what is blatantly the product of someone watching The Fifth Element, Serenity, Children of Men and probably the Transporter and thinking “hey, I’ve got an idea…” Give it its dues for some interesting futuristic ideas (road maps you can interact with like t’internet, and some fancy-pants new passport system) but Babylon quickly descends from a vaguely promising start into a bit of a silly headache.

The first hint of action, in your atypical futuristic club featuring lots of goths and cages, brings on a cascade of fast edits and uber-shaky-cam making the whole thing incomprehensible. Somewhere in there was the done-to-death street jumping thing (the one used in Bond and a million adverts and music videos, where people jump over walls to look cool. Sometimes I take steps two at a time. Do I film it and show everyone to prove how great I am? I should.) And some kick-ass kung fu from Michelle Yeoh, wheeled in as the quiet nun who can take care of herself (I’ll add Karate Kid to the list above. And, I don’t know, Shanghai Noon.) But if you’re after big fun action this sorely disappoints, mainly because you can’t follow anything that’s going on.

Anyway, the journey/chase portion of the film takes you into a variety of unnecessary set pieces (a snowmobile chase with Vin somersaulting over a missile was particularly amusing) until the plot hits the end point. Then it all goes horribly wrong. Well, more so.

Back when I was a kid I used to write lots and lots of stories, often based on a cool idea that I’d launch into (usually heavily inspired by something I’d just watched on TV) and then not really develop past the initial thought. These stories would either lie unfinished in computer hell, or be wrapped up in some skewed, rubbish fashion. I can say that about my own work. I was 13. I can also now say it about Babylon Zoo, sorry, A.D. Where it suddenly decides to take you takes some explaining (experiment, religion, A.I., conspiracy), and to flesh out these odd new plot choices are a handful of characters stuffed in last minute. While you try to gather up these new pieces of (frankly, ridiculous) information, the film bashes on to a) something already shown in the trailer, followed by b) a bog-standard chase sequence, followed by c) a scene from the Passifier. Seriously. My only guess is the film makers assume their target audience has stopped paying attention by this point, perhaps too busy stealing cars or getting pregnant what like all youth of today are doing if you happen to see any newspaper and believe the sensationalist, destructive tripe they throw out.

Where was I…? Ah yes, the film. Well what did you expect? It was shit. A big steaming shit. Lazily created to sit on our screens for a while before slowly sliding off into the trough of shit films that end up on 3-for-2 offers. But though it was shit, and though it slumps into a CF-3 score, it did not infuriate me as much as Indiana Jones 4, or I’m Not There. See, I can acknowledge it was shit, but I’m not angry because that's what I was expecting.

I think I’m growing as a person.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

27th Aug 08 - Somers Town

Last year Shane Meadows easily placed himself in CF top-10 history with This is England, a grim but funny tale of 80s skinheads, lead by a stunning performance by a young Thomas Turgoose. This time Meadows returns with a film charting the friendship between a young lad from Nottingham down on his luck in that London (Turgoose) and a Polish boy whose father’s working on the Channel tunnel (Piotr Jagiello). Pretentious reviewers wet themselves in excitement - it’s black and white AND features some subtitles. Bonza! But sadly Cinemafool in all its wisdom notes that Meadows has stumbled, missing the “glorious film mark” by a long shot, and bashing “and your point was…?” territory with an unexpected clunk.

Somers Town is an elongated version of a short film Meadows created, funded by Eurostar. Essentially it’s an advert made into a feature. Not a great starting platform. The thing with shorts is, you don’t really have to make them have a massive point. You can do some arty farty stuff, throw in some scenarios, chuck in a bit of a message maybe, and bish bash bosh you’ve got a short. No need to do much character progression or fleshing, no need to funnel the plot into an absorbing arc. If something worked as a short, adding in extra scenes or longer walking montages with mellow soundtracks does not a feature make (so the saying goes).

So Somers Town is a glowing disappointment. Characters are gloriously under-developed (we don’t have to be told everything, but an inkling of where they’re coming from would be nice), plot lines are sparse and unimaginative (boys like French waitress… they hang out… um…) and the film somehow manages to make 71 minutes last twice as long. Plus there’s a rather creepy “friendship” between the lads and the object of their affection. An older woman liking a younger guy? Hmm…

Turgoose is, despite looking like he might beat you for your mobile, a growing star, much of the film carried on his squinting expression. There are laughs to be had, often from improvisation, but Turgoose seems to quash the personality of his co-star, who only really comes to light during a heated debate with his father, which is sadly lost a little in translation.

Somers Town is surprisingly flat, pretty much pointless, and only the few sparks of humour created by Turgoose’s performance can save it sinking any lower than a CF-1. How can you fall from a CF Top-10 to an under-achiever? Somers Town shows you the way.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

20th Aug 08 - Hellboy II: The Golden Army

With Dark Knight making the serious and semi-realistic look so hot right now, it’s interesting to see that the man who brought us the deliciously dark and effecting Pan’s Labyrinth has chosen to go in the opposite direction with a bright and zany Hellboy II. It’s like Dark Knight is the layered, ominous oil painting with hidden depths that you can stare at for hours, and Hellboy is one of those colouring-in books with thick black outlines that’s vivid and fun.

But fear not - though it’s less layered than the mighty Knight, Hellboy’s colouring-in hasn’t been done with an unsharpened pencil in a haphazard and ugly fashion (Jumper) or coloured the same as the previous page only with less heart and imagination (Prince Caspian). Or coloured in for 150 minutes relentlessly with the same mental crayon until the paper’s all ripped and chewed up into this big time-wasting mess (Pirates…)

No, Del Toro has instead chosen a fun picture and taken a great deal of care and attention over the details. Something a bit odd but sparkling with energy and imagination, that doesn’t take itself too seriously but doesn’t scrimp on the effort either. Following a familiar fantasy quest-esque formula, Hellboy II: The Golden Army sees Hellboy fight a, er, golden army, as well as his own battle to be accepted by humans and a fiery relationship with girlfriend Liz (a rather gaunt Selma Blair who spends a little too much time in big black knickers). He’s helped along the way by Abe Sapien (like Niles from Frasier, only a fish-man) and a new boss Johann Krauss, a sort of vapour in a suit.

If it’s sounding a bit strange, it is, but that’s just something you get used to as the number of weird and wonderful creatures matches that of any good Jim Henson production, Del Toro spending probably longer than he should on designs that, quite often, are only seen for a few seconds. The market scene in particular is probably worth several watches, just to catch every last non-CGI detail (Del Toro mostly preferring old fashioned puppetry compared to CGI) and the little tooth fairies are particularly memorable as being cute and nightmarish all at the same time.

It’s bonkers fantasy done well, but still bonkers fantasy none-the-less, and there isn’t too much to separate it from the Jim Henson experience of watching a Labyrinth or Dark Crystal, or endlessly watching that bit in Star Wars where the aliens are playing instruments in the bar. Enjoyable, well crafted, but no real wow-factor, Hellboy II gains itself a CF1. Let’s let Del Torro concentrate on all things Hobbit now.

Friday, August 08, 2008

6th August 08 - The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Kids! War is great! Learn warfare today! You too can be plotting battles, sacrificing lives of your own soldiers, killing foreigners without any emotional trauma. It’s fun! And if you have doubts or think you’re going to lose, don’t worry. Jesus is on your side.

Ok, it seems that Wall-E and Dark Knight have left gaping holes in the rest of the cinema schedules, and as I’d missed it on its initial release it seemed an opportune time to catch up with the kids from Narnia. The first Chronicle back in 2005 was impressive but severely lacking when compared to the mighty Rings. Round two ditches the child-like wonder and goes straight for the jugular, with a Narnia overrun by evil, erm, Spaniards (those pesky Spaniards) and the kings and queens called back to sort things out. Which, as it turns out, is by launching straight into war.

There’s no denying that it’s pretty thrilling to watch an army of assorted creatures, all stunningly brought to life (the centaurs being particularly cool) doing battle against an army of human soldiers, with griffins attacking overhead and leopards leaping alongside fauns. But when trees wander in you can’t help but compare to Mr Ring and his Lords, and as far as epic fantasy battle sequences go the bar’s been set way too high for a Disney pic featuring no true violence and gallivanting mice.

Gone are the exciting first encounters with Narnians, gone are James McAvoy’s little trotters, gone are the menacing foes, replaced with the bizarrely Spanish-esque power-hungry uncle, trying to overthrow his nephew – the rightful heir – and steal all the glory, a plot we’re already seen a trillion times already (Lion King, anyone?) True, C S Lewis may have got in there before Simba and the gang, but for today’s cinema-saturated masses watching some accented dudes in big robes discuss backhanded assassination while staring out of stone windows isn’t anything to write home about. Not that I’d ever “write home” about anything. It’s all text messages and emails nowadays. Eee it’s not like it was, the old people moan. Yes, you’re right. It’s called progress.

Sorry, where was I? Yes, Narnia. Prince Caspian. Ben Barnes, a relative newcomer (he was in an episode of Doctors, though again – nothing to write home about) plays it relatively well, mooching around and clashing with William Mosley’s Peter (cross between Prince William and Charlie from Busted) while the other three kids hang out in the background, the girls pouting and staring into the distance, the other one who was irritating in the first Chronicles being not quite so irritating now. Eddie Izzard voices a mouse, probably the best character, and Liam Neeson is back again as Jesus… sorry, Aslan. The lion. Who only lets himself be seen by the youngest girl. The others have lost faith. Aslan tests them with stuff. Lets lots of people die. But all for a “purpose”. My view? He’s either Jesus or got a thing for little girls. That’s what was going through my mind for half the film, which is a little off-putting to be honest.

Sex-pest son-of-God big cats aside, Narnia is impressive visually and does feature some tense action, but it felt hollow in terms of a heart or a true story. It seemed to leave the child-like charm of the first one, and instead exploit the chance to have lots of battle scenes, which we’ve all seen before only in a much better way. Flash visuals aren’t enough to impress anymore (Potter – I’m talking to you too). It passed the time in a reasonably enjoyable way, but not enough to warrant any extra enthusiasm. Prince Caspian traipses in with a CF0.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

30th July 08 - The Dark Knight

Back in 2005 Christopher Nolan brought us a much needed de-camped Batman. Gone were the nipple nuts and terrible puns, replaced instead with a formidable Christian Bale and a dark streak that made it serious, exciting and CF top-10 rated. A sequel with the same cast and an iconic bad guy was obviously muchly anticipated. Throw in a highly rated performance by a now tragically deceased star and you couldn’t get much more hype than if you implanted a special device in everyone’s ear that bellowed “watch Batman! It’s great! Watch it right now! Now!” At 3am. Every night. For two months.

Now that’s a marketing idea…

Anyway, The Dark Knight launches in with the superhero sequel bonus of not having to spend any time setting up the back-story. Batman’s trying to take down the mob with the help from his police and lawyer friends, meanwhile a crazy guy in clown make-up is slowly building trouble. Nolan (who co-wrote with his brother) weaves an impressive tale, with plenty of stonking action (the opening bank robbery a fine example), suspenseful lead-ups, dramatic interchanges bristling with danger, and the occasional flash of humour.

To be honest, as a character Batman can sometimes be vaguely dull, bumbling around his underground lair with a mood on, dressing up to beat up guys using no real super powers at all save some smooth moves and Bond-esque gadgets shaped like little bat wings. Nolan’s reinvention made him moodier, broodier, more dangerous. Better. But though he carries the film’s title, all eyes are most definitely on The Joker here. Partly because it’s Heath, and there’s no denying the surprising force of sadness that hit most people back in January. But mainly because The Joker is such a vibrant character, and Heath’s Joker takes the fun and twists it into something truly menacing. A clown that wants to slice your cheeks and ram a pencil in your face. Come on kids, it’s fun! Creating carnage for seemingly no purpose, turning people on each other by stirring fears, the Joker is the boogyman to today’s society, not least when his coat is full of grenades.

The film boasts a sizeable supporting cast – the familiar faces of Freeman and Caine mixed with newbies Maggie Gyllenhaal (taking over from Katie Holmes and doing a much better job of giving her character backbone) and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, comic fans knowing what’s to come while those out of the loop probably non-the-wiser, thanks to some refreshingly restrained advertising.

Tone-wise this definitely lives up to the ‘dark’ in its title, some events both shocking and bold to include in what’s seen to be a mainstream flick. It is incredibly violent without showing anything on screen, the implications for a 12A film possibly traumatising little kiddies, although they deserve it for spending half their time walking about the cinema. A quibble might be the running-time, perhaps over-shooting it with too much spent on slightly confusing car / motorbike chases. And an unintentional hilarity from Batman’s voice dampens some of the drama (I think his suit might be a little too tight in the larynx department.)

Never-the-less, The Dark Knight lives up to the hype; with superb control from Mr Nolan, solid performance from the Bale, striking from the Ledger (although not Oscar worthy – crazy isn’t that hard to do…) some ace action pieces and good old-fashioned moral conundrums. Dark Knight matches Wall-E with a CF3 and shows its bum to the other superhero flicks of 2008. Keep it up Nolan.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

23rd July 08 - Wall-E

An animated film about a mute robot? What about angular animals voiced by vaguely annoying American stars? Surely that’s what computer animation has been developed for? You might have summarised that from the trailers preceding this film, each one making me more depressed and ready to push over a toddler to cheer myself up. Throw in a Star Wars “film”, closely resembling a Saturday morning kids show, and you’d be ready to shut down all computers just to make the endless crap stop. But then Wall-E starts and everything suddenly feels much, much better.

Mute robots, it seems, can be endearing, funny and utterly charming to watch. With a cockroach for a companion, wandering through a desolate, rubbish-strewn earth, Wall-E is somehow one of the warmest characters to grace cinemas so far this year. A round of applause for Pixar, who took the winning formula from their flagship short way back in 1986 (Luxo Jr – a “baby” lamp, now the logo for the company) and applied it to a feature. Comedy and heart from supposedly inanimate objects, no dialogue required. It’s a brave step by Nemo creator Andrew Stanton, going from cutesy fish to metal garbage-collector, but his gamble pays off big-time.

Wall-E is refreshing, original, beautifully animated and superbly plotted. Simple but oh so effective, it’ll make you smile throughout and even managed to do the impossible and make me shed a slight tear, though this weakness could be down to recent cracks in my usual bitter and angry exterior. It’s a simple love story mixed with cutting remarks on the state of society and the environment. And it features cute robots and a fabulous sense of fun. What more do you want?

Its message is as blunt as a donkey punch, namely switch off your autopilot, get off your fat arse and don’t just blithely follow the path of consumerism and laziness. For what can be seen as a child’s film it makes a stomping great point, but does it without talking down, or shouting at the audience.

Quibbles to stop it reaching the dizzy heights of a CF5? Well, if I must, I’d say it falters on the whole “America is the world” aspect – we never see anywhere, or anyone, apart from the great A’s, and if it is to teach kiddies that destroying the planet is bad, it’d be also good to throw in “there are other places outside your home town” too. It’s also vaguely ironic that a film showing us how humanity is lost when we only communicate through artificial interfaces is a film made by a huge team of animators sitting in front of artificial interfaces for months on end. And for a film that berates consumerism, it’s interesting to note the Apple product placement and wide variety of Wall-E merchandise now available. Don’t think that buying stuff is the key to happiness – but go out and get yourself a Wall-E t-shirt, cap, toy, computer game, mug, pencil case…

Now I’m just being picky, though, because Wall-E is a winner. Any film that makes me grin for a couple of hours is a film worth seeing, and as such this adorable little robot wheels in with a CF3. The best film of the summer so far. I wonder if an adorable little man dressed like a bat will do any better.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

16th July 08 - The Mist

Zombies, wasps and fire aside, there’s nothing scarier than the unknown. It’s the fear of a darkened corridor, the terror of what’s lurking just beneath your bed. Stephen King revels in such fears (he said so himself at the start of one of his books) so it was no surprise to read a novella of his all about an impenetrable mist with hidden unpleasantries. It was a surprise, however, to see Frank Darabont sign himself up to adapt and direct said novella into a feature length. Frank is a fan of the King, and probably the most accomplished at adapting his work without squeezing out all the humanity. But to see the man behind the awesome behemoths of Shawshank and Green Mile direct a monster flick? Eh?

It all becomes clear when you realise the story isn’t really about the monsters outside, and more about the monsters within each of us. The majority of the film takes place inside a supermarket, with a myriad of characters trapped together under the oppressive might of the mist. As one character says, human beings are insane. “Put two in a room and they’ll have to pick sides - that’s what religion and politics were invented for.” Darabont brings to life King’s characters in all their flawed detail, bitching and cowering, turning on one another and turning into god-jollies.

Of course, there are real monsters out there in the mist. Different to your standard gorilla, these babies range in size and shape, be it creepy giant mosquitoes, super creepy giant spider things, or flesh ripping tentacles creeping under the door. Punctuating the human drama, these nasties bring in some fun frights and good old fashioned gore, and there’s a pleasant lack of big but ultimately disappointing money shots (I‘m looking at you Cloverfield). The big mammas are merely ominous shadows, details left to your imagination. In different hands this could have been cheapo monster-shite, with bad actors battling in the vague direction of bad CGI surrounded by smoky mist. Oooo scary. In Darabont’s hands it is richly satisfying, drama meets horror. Oh, and it’s fucking depressing.

Jesus - never have I heard a cinema go quite so quiet than at the end of The Mist. When Darabont was writing the script someone must have been playing The Ting Tings and Hard-Fi at full blast. It would be enough to make anyone despise all of mankind, and certainly seems to be the mood Darabont was in. Gone is the uplifting hope of Shawshank. Come out of The Mist and you’ll probably want to sit in your bedroom and poke yourself in the eye in despair. Do I sound like I’m being negative? I’m not - Darabont mooned the studios (who begged him to change his ending) and pushed his potential cheapo monster-shite cliché into a daring and exhilarating new territory. A film to make you shudder. Jump. Frown. Laugh. And actually applause (first time I’ve heard applause at a death scene).

Though it could have been slimmed down a little, The Mist is a surprisingly fresh film considering it’s based on a book from 1985 about tentacles in fog. With themes relevant to today (fear can make people believe anything… do you hear that, sensationalist media? Stop it now) and fun monster carnage in the mix, The Mist gets an extra point for being a faithful adaptation of a great King story, and another for having the balls to tweak the story in THAT way, winning a mighty CF2. Which King will Darabont pick to dissect next? I haven’t the foggiest.

Yes. I am that funny.

Monday, July 14, 2008

9th July 08 - Hancock

Superheroes are so hot right now, with Marvel getting their own studio to create cross-over excitement and Nolan’s second Batman approaching our screens (after an eon of advertising it – to the point where I openly groan when the trailer comes on.) So what better than a film riffing on the genre, echoing My Super Ex-Girlfriend’s turn in 2006 when it followed the likes of Spidey. This time, instead of having hero-turned-crazy-ex, we have tramp-hero, alcoholic-hero and – shock horror! – hero who says “fuck” in a 12A rated film. Excellent.

Big Willy is Hancock, a miserable superhero who can’t save anything without making a big mess, staggering around in drunken haze and feeling up passing women. When he saves PR man Ray (Jason Bateman, who I desperately want to like but doesn’t half play the same character every time) he unwittingly gains himself representation, as Ray tries to repay him by “remaking” him. Although you’d expect a typical montage of someone slowly seeking redemption and then saving the day, Hancock throws a few unexpected curve balls into the plot, twisting into vaguely original corners and proving a different experience to that suggested by the trailers.

I didn’t say it was a better experience, mind.

But let’s be positive for a change. Hancock is sort of funny at times (although the better gags were already splashed over trailers) and Big Willy does a good job as a big, huffy bloke with various issues and super strength. His method of dealing with criminals is refreshingly crass, and the plot turns create a more sombre tone that dilutes chances of it being a jolly Fantastic Four-esque romp. The effects are pretty good too (a few dodgy CGI-Will moments aside). And, err, you see his bum for a short time.

To go back to the negative, where Hancock delivers in the unexpected it falters in doing anything too worthwhile, the carefully built up storyline being crushed against the rock of triviality, eventually landing in the port of “is that all you’re going to do?” Baddies are wedged in hurriedly to give some sort of final battle, which is lost in all the “hang on…”, “why doesn’t he…” and “how did they…” thoughts.

Director Peter Berg (who I’ve just spotted is down to make – and ruin – Dune. Gah! Sorry, just had a mini-rage there. Done now.) Where was I? Oh yes – soon to ruin Dune director Peter Berg smugly pushes aside the normal big-guns style of action flicks and instead goes all indie, with soft focus, super close-ups on off-centre heads (alarming on the big screen – a massive Big Willy head just off to one side…) trying to make all the conversations very deep and thoughtful even though the script doesn’t warrant it. When he throws the same style into the CGI-d fight scenes everything becomes a bit difficult to follow, and generally not that exciting. We’ve seen a million superheroes kicking ass now – what we wanted from Hancock was a bad-boy. We do get it, but the minute we stray into generic hero territory the magic is swiftly lost.

Hancock isn’t the film you’d expect (unless you read this, in which case you’re now going to be expecting something. Did I just spoil it for you? Well, it’s not like it’s particularly deep. There’s not even any subtitles. It’s a film for plebs. You’ll probably forget I’ve even written this anyway, with your short attention span.) Sorry – mini insulting tangent. Anyway, Hancock is potentially really good, but ultimately a bit of a let-down. Not funny enough to be a full comedy, and not rich enough to be a new breed of superhero, especially with the heavy weights of Iron and Hulk still fresh in our minds. I probably wouldn’t recommend it unless there’s nothing else on TV. So Hancock flops in at a CF-1. Sorry Willy.

Friday, July 11, 2008

2nd July 08 - Wanted

Although described by most as “that one with Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy in it”, Wanted’s main draw for me was down to it being “that one directed by the crazy Russian dude.” Timur Bekmambetov wowed with his insane style in vampire flicks Night Watch and Day Watch, not only showing utterly random shit on screen, but showing it in an utterly random way. Watching his films is very much like speeding downhill on a rollercoaster – exhilarating, blurry, and slightly nauseating.

To get the most out of him you really need to unbuckle your seatbelt and just go along with the ride. Trying to find any semblance of sense or reality is like trying to enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean 2. After all, Wanted is based on a graphic novel and features super assassins, bullets that go round corners, magic healing wax and – genius this one – a “loom of fate”, which is up there with “the cube” from Transformers. If you’re expecting Wanted to be a semi-realistic action flick then your expectations should be blown away in the opening scene when a man leaps across two buildings, dodging bullets all the way.

As well as dealing with uber-cool assassins, Wanted looks at the abuse of power and skewed moral motives and actually puts forth the thoughtful question of: “wouldn’t you be much happier if you were an assassin, rather than a boring accountant?” (To be honest I’d rather they didn’t give accountants those sorts of ideas.) With the dollop of cubicle woes Wanted becomes the hyperactive offspring of Dilbert and The Matrix. A storyline that’s sort of familiar, except for that magic loom…

Visually this film is very much in Timur’s chaotic hands, but battling with the limelight is McAvoy and Jolie, the former sporting a weird American accent, the latter really needing to eat some pies. Seriously Jolie – it wouldn’t hurt to have some pastry goods or something. Maybe not every day, but you can treat yourself. Custard tarts are nice, if you fancy something a bit different. Or scones with jam. Maybe a biscuit or two. You get the idea.

There are some pretty cool set pieces interspersed with a fair dollop of nonsense, making Wanted thrilling but silly, a barrage of violent carnage with a heavy metal soundtrack and a few wry winks to any Night Watch fans. Like watching the Matrix lobby scene for 90 minutes, Wanted does amaze, but also falters a little with a jumbled middle and some vacuous characterisation. But what were you expecting? Timur’s style is a punch to the face and automatically gets Wanted an extra point, but for a faltering plot it can go no further, scoring a reasonable CF1. Give Timur some more money and see what else he’ll do.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

25 June 08 - Priceless

When a film starts off with a similar plot to the Jennifer Lopez “hit” Maid in Manhattan, you have to worry. Hilarious misunderstanding involving rich person mistaking servant pleb for hot money totty. Oooo. Will the rich one overcome their love of money and learn to live with dating a pauper? Do bears shit on the pope?

That’s how the saying goes, right?

Anyway, so went my thoughts as Priceless began, with Audrey Tautou’s posh Irene sparking against Gad Elmaleh’s poor Jean. Yawn. But the film quickly takes a turn for the better, Irene simply milking older rich folk for nice gifts and Jean quickly following suit, turning it into a competition to see who can get the best pressies rather than a simple case of I’m not really rich, you lied to me, I’m sad, I’ll love you anyway, here’s a nice dress to wear.

The film bubbles with amusing banter and simmers with sexy sex (it’s very French), the co-stars trying to outdo each other on who can look the sexiest. Tautou slinks around in tiny dresses and pouts, while Elmaleh gradually gains an air of Bond with sharp suits and sultry eyes. At times it’s a little like watching Sex & the City, with tracking shots of Tauto’s dresses and enough brand name-checks to sink a sold-out ship.

But through all its sexy style Priceless lacks a beating heart, Jean’s “love” for Irene seemingly driven only by his pants as she is shown to have no redeeming characteristics whatsoever, save jealousy, greed and the ability to manipulate. It’s easy to see why she could fall for him as he makes thoughtful gestures and the like, but it seems all a woman has to do is put on a great dress and have done with it. Actually, why am I complaining? Seems like we get the better deal.

This lack of depth makes their relationship purely cosmetic, a vacuous excuse to feature nice dresses in nice hotels, the question of whether they’ll be together in the end giving an answer that is both obvious and unbelievable (no real jobs, no money – and you’re going to do what?) Rather than an aw bless rom-com with a snappy edge, Priceless falls into a saxophone-sound-tracked farce that passes the time fair enough, but only in a similar way to eating a French Fancy, which wouldn’t take up as much time. Unless you eat really slowly, or happen to have found a giant version of the cake, which would be pretty cool to be honest. The film only just scrapes a CF0, and only really because I quite fancied Gad Elmaleh, and because it gave me chance to think about a massive cake. I’m that easily pleased.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

18th June 08 - The Incredible Hulk

It was with a raised eyebrow that I heard the news they were making a new Hulk film. Ang Lee’s green monster didn’t go down well at all with the masses, his sloth-paced approach clashing with the wham bam marketing campaign that went along with it. People went in expecting lots of smashing action, and instead got a measured drama, which is pretty good but does take about twenty days to get going.

So what makes this film different to the first? Well, Old Hulk was directed by the Sense and Sensibility guy. The new Incredible Hulk is directed by the Transporter Two guy. You literally couldn’t get any more different - from vast dramatic silences to fighting with half a melon on your fists. Granted, Louis Leterrier managed to inadvertently create one of the funniest films of all time, but it was a little concerning that he’d be taking over the franchise. Thankfully, despite wedging in a “hot Brazilian in overalls slow-mo” shot in the first ten minutes, Leterrier captures what everyone wants to see in a Hulk film. Yes, some brooding drama. But mostly, major carnage by a big green dude.

The ever brilliant Edward Norton takes on Banner’s shoes, crestfallen and skinny, capturing the essence of Banner as much as Downy Jr captured the essence of Stark. Tim Roth growls his way through the bad guy role. He’s British - ergo bad guy - but was “born in Russia” so he’s pretty damn hard too (you can’t be hard if you’re only from Britain, unless you're called Winstone) and has a laughably drawn-on six pack. And Liv Tyler floats around in the background with her massive lips, doing not much except looking forlorn.

And as for the man himself. Well, he’s oddly CGI’d, but almost perfectly so, tossing cars around like they’re toys and pouting like a big angry green toddler who’s just been told off for hitting his brother with a spade. Hulk definitely bashes, and there’s not a whole lot else you can do with the character. What Leterrier does do is throw sly winks to the audience that are certain to crack smiles, whether it’s ace cameos or wry plays on the old favourites - “you wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry” quotes Banner in poor Portuguese (though to me hunger and anger are pretty much the same thing.)

Let’s be honest - I really thought this was going to be shit. Like the crazy hulk dogs scene from the first one, but for two hours interspersed with shots of women in bikinis and Linkin Park playing in the background. So it was nice to see a film that, yes, isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but is good fun, sticks to its roots and entertains for its whole running time without resorting to aliens or gophers. Hulk gets a CF1 for being a bashing good time. Plus it showed just how insanely fantastic the new Marvel studio is, with juicy cross-overs and hints at a future where Marvel characters dip in and out of a steady stream of super comic book films and oh my god I am a massive massive nerd aren’t I…

But only in an ironic way.

Monday, June 16, 2008

11th June 08 - Gone Baby Gone

There was a show in America, which I believe has just come out in the UK, featuring paedophile entrapment and a yelling silver-haired man, followed by FBI arrest (it seems that Brass Eye predicted the media’s next move perfectly with their mock trailer for “the Paedo-files”). There’s no doubt that horrible things happening to kids is very very bad, but like hoodies and terrorists the media seems to enjoy latching on to it as a trigger-point and making it into a massive threatening cloud that they can exploit for all its worth.

Gone Baby Gone would have been released last year, but its timing wasn’t great as it features the abduction of a little girl, and it wouldn’t have been too appropriate to release a film so close to a real-life event. Plus there wouldn’t have been room for it, what with the 24/7 news coverage, web site, blog, documentary and wrist bands.

And so it is only now released, with Ben Affleck behind the directing and writing chair, and his brother Casey in the spotlight as a private detective hired to help find a missing girl. It’s a cross between Without a Trace, CSI, The Shield and any other show with detectives, cops and a hyperactive director. Benji has taken everything he’s learnt about direction and thrown it all in, so we have mega shaky-cam for dramatic bits, odd close-ups of random shit when people have Important Conversations, and even weird snap-shot editing to emphasise something really shocking. It does have the feel of a TV show rather than a film, especially with a soundtrack and voice-overs to lazily tell us what the character’s feeling.

As for the plot. Well, there are points where it feels like Benji has watched something like the Paedo-files and thought “damn-right! Where’s my pitchfork!” But there are also points where he may have taken a different approach, showing the pitch-fork wavers to be less than perfect themselves. He has managed to make a lengthy story with lots of “ooo” plot twists, but his characters are a little cardboardy, with shallow histories if shown at all.

Casey (whose strained voice sounds like he’s constantly hanging his head upside down) is undeniably good at what he does, wowing in the Assassination of Jesse James, but this character comes with an untold history that could have been explored much further and given him an edge (how did he get to be a detective so young? Why does he know all these shady characters and have such a tough streak when he ultimately seems a bit wet?) Morgan Freeman pops up as a detective (nice change for you there, Morgan) and the most striking thing has to be his freckles, which seem to be parodying themselves nowadays. And the ever reliable Ed Harris rocks up as a cop, but spends most of his time SHOUTING lots and lots.

But Amy Ryan impresses as the mother of the missing child, and though I’ve ripped into it a little already, I have to say that Affleck has made a film that does give you chance to consider some moral conundrums. To avoid spoilers I can’t say much more, but it was nice to have some thoughtful depth to the proceedings. The film was also tensely exciting at times, and with an ever-changing whodunnit line that hooks you until the end.

With a formidable Casey in the front seat, I was wanting more of a character study than a typical detective film with a slightly more risqué subject matter. It’s one of those films you could watch on a Saturday night and probably pay attention to the whole way through, but it’s a long way off being something great. Therefore it just hits a CF0. That’s ok though, Benji. You can settle with having an OK film. You did star in Daredevil after all, so the only way is up.

Friday, May 30, 2008

30th May 08 - Sex and the City

There’s an amazing start to this film, where Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) frolics across the road towards her beloved Mr Big, when suddenly bam! A bus hits her - ironically the very bus that carries her advertisement, which is seen in every opening sequence to the much loved Sex & The City series. Carrie is tragically killed, and in a fit of despair Mr Big goes on a rampage through New York, slaughters the other three main characters (Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda) before falling into a pit of nuclear waste, which changes his molecular structure so that he literally becomes Mr Big, towering above the buildings of New York and destroying everything in his path. Meanwhile a group of twenty-somethings have to escape from the city, all the while filming their escapades on shaky-cam. Mr Big is eventually felled by a hoard of angry gophers and some aliens.

Ok. That isn’t quite what happens. But wouldn’t it have been something special? Something you could only really do as a one-off special feature? Something to make use of a bigger budget? Something that gives a reason to make a film after a show has ceased to be? Yeah - it would have been. But instead the Sex and the City film is exactly the same as any Sex and the City episode. Only it’s two and a half hours long.

But here’s why that isn’t a problem. Sex and the City was a good show. Funny, dramatic, pioneering in terms of its strong female leads and graphic scenes, SATC established a huge fan base for a reason. Yes, the characters could sometimes get bloody annoying, occasionally seeming to parody themselves to a point of banality, but its character arcs and relationship-fuelled plots became addictive, and it was one of those shows where you could easily watch two or three episodes at a time.

The film picks up a few years after the show left off, and it’s a testament to the writers and actors that after four years the characters and tone of the series simply carry on, as if there hadn’t been a break at all. Characters face varying degrees of dilemma (some far more than others), there’s lots of weird clothes on show (it strikes me as odd that what many people call “fashion” I call “looking like a twonk… in bad clothes”) and even two, count them, two montages of Carrie trying on different outfits. Two. In the first twenty minutes. Smashing.

It’s frustrating and ridiculous that the majority of the major plot points are blurted out in the film’s overlong trailer, ruining any surprise revelations or potentially devastating turns of events. There is certainly a powerful mid-point, which spirals into a wave of darkness, before levelling off for the last third into a rather non-wow finale. But it still made the audience laugh and cry on more than one occasion. Whether it would have the same effect on someone who didn’t have six series’ worth of back story, I’m not so sure.

Like the Simpsons Movie, there was no real reason to make this (aside from money) and there wasn’t anything special done to the series to reason a voyage from the little screen to the big screen. But by being based on a super show, it automatically becomes a super film, notching above the baseline CF0. But only to a CF1. There are no extra points because, well, there weren’t any extras in the film either. And if I see production notes detailing a new B-Movie with a “Mr Big” and some gophers, I’ll bloody sue.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

25th May 08 - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Picture the scene: George Lucas is sat in his study, surrounded by star and planet mobiles, rocketship wallpaper on the walls and the futuristic music from the queuing system at Disneyland’s Space Mountain ride playing in the background. On one side of his computer is a note from Steven Spielberg, which says: “Dear George. We have finally decided to make the fourth Indiana Jones, even though the series didn’t need it and Harrison is a gajillion years old so will look a bit weird. All the other big action films have made fourths, and I was starting to feel left out. Who likes any of the other Die Hards anyway? Please write me a script so we can film a new Indy and make loads of money. The fans will watch it regardless, so put whatever you want in there. Cheers. Stevie.”

On the other side of the computer is a shed load of sherbet dip, which George’s mum has told him not to have because last time it took him seven hours to go to sleep, but she’s on holiday so he can do what he likes. George proceeds to eat all the sherbet dip and then write the script for the fourth Indiana Jones.

If I was to describe the plot for Indy 4 right now, you would most likely think it a continuation of this elaborate scene above (which is of course false - George was joined by Jeff Nathanson on plot duties). But I wouldn’t be making it up. I couldn’t make it up. Seriously. Three words: What. The. Fuck.

Indy 4 is essentially a never-ending car chase interspersed with everything and anything that could exist in the real world (or not) and might cause some excitement - killer ants, scorpions, waterfalls, cliffs, booby traps, FBI, Russians, magnets, quicksand, angry tribes people, nuclear explosions, monkeys, Jim Robinson from Neighbours, and frickin’ gophers (what was with the gophers?!) It was like any and all ideas were used, rather than selected for most entertainment / relevance to the plot.

Just to retract the barbs slightly, of course the original Indy’s weren’t brimming with coherent stories or anything other than a series of tombs and fights. And like its predecessors, Indy 4 has a bit of spirit about it - some good fun can be had in some of the sequences, there’s slapstick and wry humour, and a small portion of the Indy / Mutt (Shia LaBeouf- “the new Indy”) banter was entertaining. But on the whole it dragged horribly, feeling twice as long as Iron Man (when Iron Man was actually longer) and matching the witty old-school opening title sequence by being pretty damn dated. We like character development nowadays. Or, you know, plots that aren’t from a sherbet-fuelled insanity trip.

Indy 4 brings nothing new to the table except a lump of crusty bread that we’ve already seen before, only now it looks like it’s picked up every bit of fluff off the floor and some space dust along with it. Didn’t need to be made, entertained for only a quarter of its running time, and yet will probably make a killing at the box office. It was going to get a CF-1, but having written this I’ve angered myself into dropping it further. CF-2 for you, Indy. No more sherbet, Lucas. Your mother knows what she’s talking about.

21st May 08 - Iron Man

All together now: duuuh… duuuuh… duuuh duh duuuh… yes, the opening power chords of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man have been in my head for several days preceding and post-ceding (it should be a word) my recent cinema trip, the first for the month after a spate of non-cinema outings due to vaguely important events.

Coupled with the echoes of an ace riff was a heady mix of excitement and trepidation. Excitement because this was another comic book film (and there have been good ones - Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman Begins) directed by John Favreau (who did the underrated Elf among others) and starring Robert Downey Jr, whose on screen charisma is only overshadowed by the fact he is bloody gorgeous. Trepidation because this was another comic book film (and there have been some average ones - Hulk, Superman Returns - and some pap ones - Daredevil, Fantastic Four) and it features a bloke in an iron suit, which could be a bit naff. What we end up with is a film that doesn’t quite reach the joys of Spidey et al, but transcends pap and average into the “pretty good” zone.

“Pretty good” is replaced by “excellent” when taking in Downey Jr’s performance. Matched perfectly against his character Tony Stark, Downey is at his best when smug, gorgeous, arrogant, successful and gorgeous, juxtaposed with occasional flashes of fear, guilt and, well, being gorgeous (he does that a lot). Matching his turn in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Downey Jr manages to be a believable arse hole but still causes the audience to obtain an emotional attachment.

So with a strong lead in the bag, the film scores further points with a good mix of comedy, origin story and lots of things that go boom. As a comic product it naturally strays into the ludicrous and implausible (who knew that typing “translate” into a computer can make it automatically translate video? How clever!) but we can forgive that because it’s Iron Man, and he looks awesome when he’s all kitted out and hovering around his basement on rocket shoes.

What isn’t as easy to forgive is the dubious use of Afghanistan bad guys, living in caves and wearing t-shirts that say “designed to make Americans feel better”. Tony Stark makes kick-ass American weapons that can be used to wipe out thousands, but when he realises the same weapons have been sold to the Evil Foreigners he gets pretty upset, because then they might be used to kill “us”. And killing lots of foreigners is Ok, but killing Americans? This calls for a superhero!

It’s not quite as black-and-white as that, but when we stray into murkier territory with a traitor selling weapons to the enemy, we end up straying right back out and paint said traitor as a crazy man, rather than a realistic portrait of the weapons industry.

This slightly half-arsed foray into making a point and then making a really rubbish point taints Iron Man, but only a little bit. It is, on the whole, enjoyable, funny, thrilling, with a strong cast and superb effects, although probably didn’t need quite as many suit construction montages. With a whopping clue to a sequel, it’ll be interesting to see where they take this franchise. One thing’s certain - if Downey Jr’s still on board then get me a ticket to the boat.

Iron Man scores an extra point for being a solid comic book film, and an additional one simply for having a lot of Downey Jr in it, climbing up to a CF2. Duuuh… duuuuh… duuuh duh duuuh…

Sunday, April 27, 2008

26th April 08 - Happy-Go-Lucky

Being happy is the single most significant purpose to anyone’s existence. Fact. I mean, you only have one life which is slowly creeping towards the end every single second, and if you’re not spending it being happy then what on earth are you doing? That’s like going to Alton Towers and not going on any of the rides. Pointless.

Granted, it’s not easy to be happy all of the time, seeing as how adult life (and let’s be fair - teenage life too) is generally rubbish. If all you had to do was be happy then everyone would be fine, but the whole “having to survive - ergo having to eat food - ergo having to buy food - ergo having to earn money” thing can get in the way. But if you’ve made choices that mean there is absolutely no happiness in your life what-so-ever, then really. What are you doing? You’re essentially endlessly watching Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and refusing to change the DVD. You’re being stupid. Change the DVD. Simple.

There. After counselling the whole world, I’ll now get back to business. Happy-Go-Lucky is a film from Mike Leigh, a man whose last work was generally unhappy (Vera Drake - described by Cinemafool in the 2005 review as “well acted, but fairly loose on plot and so, so dreary“). It features Poppy (the superb Sally Hawkins), a 30 year-old who sees everything half full. She embraces life, tries to make everyone else happy, and is generally a nice person. In reality, anyone that happy and lively is most likely tucking away all the niggling unhappiness, saving it for massive unrelenting sessions of grief when she’s completely alone. They didn’t show that - it might have gone against the point. But I’m just saying. It’ll be one of the deleted scenes.

Being more of a character study than a plot-filled romp, HGL struggles at first as Poppy’s endlessly cheery nature begins to grate. We watch her be happy at a series of characters, and the point of it all starts to be in question. But then Poppy enrols on driving lessons and we get Scott (Eddie Marsan), and everything becomes supremely better. The driving lesson scenes are pure genius, a pitbull of anger and insanity versus a balloon of happiness and, err, insanity. Half way through and my opinion had completely reversed. But as the film continues, that same sense of “and we’re watching this because…?” looms in, and though some areas - the Flamenco lesson, the trip to the physio (hurray!), the impossibly gorgeous social worker - are pleasant to watch, others - the wedged-in tramp scene - test your patience, and this two hour film does start to test you, even when you’re full of yummy donuts.

What is refreshing to see, however, is a film with predominantly female characters who aren’t prancing about trying to look gorgeous, pining over blokes, “gossiping” and, well, being like in the Sex & the City trailer. As in, supposedly strong female role models but in fact botoxed Hollywood lovelies designed to continue to make normal women feel like shit. The women in Happy-Go-Lucky are normal women. They like to dress up and have a good time. They have jobs. They slob about at home. They talk about feelings. They take the piss out of each other. There is no learning curve, no revelation. No handsome man to make everything better (pretty much, anyway). Such a thing is rare, and for this I raise my hands in applause.

Siphon off the superfluous scenes around the driving lessons and bare bones of this colourful character, and you’d have a powerful film about making the most of life and, well, being happy. But as it stands, Happy-Go-Lucky is a mixed bag of laugh-out-loud hilarity and seat-shuffle tedium. It notches up a CF1, which is something to be happy about. Just not ecstatic.

23rd April 08 - In Bruges

If there’s just one thing I want to talk about in this review, it is Colin Farrell’s eyebrows. Secondary to my fascination with odd mouths (see: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Meredith off Grey’s Anatomy, Alicia Silverstone, Meg Ryan) is my obsession with big eyebrows. Sandy off the OC was in the lead for size, David Tennant for flexibility, but Farrell has stormed in with eyebrows that are not only dominating in terms of size and colour, but they are also incredibly animated. If anything his eyebrows out-act him, which is a mean feat in itself because the little Irish man does manage to act his chops off in this, albeit in a slightly over-the-top way.

In Bruges is the story of two hit-men being sent to, you’ve guessed it, Bruges, after a botched job. Ken (Brendan Gleeson) is thrilled because he gets to look at lots of old buildings, but Ray (Colin Farrell - or Will Ferrell - or Colin Firth, depending on how you look at it) isn’t too pleased with the trip. Of course, the real reason for their destination is later uncovered in what is a hark back to the good old days of the 90s when we made a massive amount of British gangster type films that were both funny, entertaining, but also ultimately a bit stupid.

Despite being a bit familiar, In Bruges is a minty fresh blast of film, with a cast hamming it up to the nines (Ralph Fienne’s cockney persona keeping up with Farrell’s energetic brows) and some unexpectedly hilarious moments. Though the subject matter of most of the jokes is the stuff of The Sun, you can’t help but chuckle shamelessly as fatties, midgets and foreigners (including Americans) are poked fun at, taunted and punched in the face. Somehow, despite being twitchy killers, Farrell and Gleeson win you over, so the sudden switch in tone as the inevitable shoot-out begins brings with it a genuine tenseness as you care about what happens.

The script is sparky, if not a little film-school Guy Ritchie, but it makes this 90 minute film fly by with smiley fun. Couple it with a solid cast and a beautiful city and you’re on to a winner. In Bruges is in luck, because it made me enjoy it enough to award it a CF2. One point purely for the eyebrows.

15th April 08 - Son of Rambow

Kids. Don’t you just love ‘em? Well, if you were to read back over last year's Simpsons review you’d discover the answer. There were some kids in this year’s Rambo, but the things that happened to them weren’t very nice. Was Son of Rambow going to follow the same lines, but with uglier detail? Alas no - it is instead a story of kids in 80s England, forging friendships and making their own film. Look, they even spelt his name wrong in the title. Bless.

Son of Rambow combines aspects seen in many other films. There’s the joy and creativity of making your own film (Gondry’s Bekind Rewind), the growing friendship between quiet loner and bad boy (Stand By Me), the pained relationship between big and little brothers (Kes - albeit this is thankfully cheerier) and the pitfalls of having a French exchange student come to visit (Slap her, she’s French). Ok, maybe not the last one.

We have mouse-boy Will (Bill Milner), a softly spoken, kind-hearted loner who loves to draw and whose imagination runs riot. He meets naughty Lee (Will Poulter), a right cock-er-ny straight out of Oliver-cor-blimey, who is good at heart but still a bit of a shit. Will’s family is pretty loaded, however, and he has himself a camcorder and a love of Rambo. The boys start to make their own version, using a myriad of clever devices and an impressive, if not unbelievable knack of being able to edit together a massive amount of footage, add in quality sound without even using proper sound recording equipment, and create a piece of film that looks like a professional has tried to make something that looks like non-professionals have made it. Or something.

With side-stories of mouse-boy’s struggle against his oddly religious family (with mother played superbly by Jessica Stevenson) and the usual jealousies and misunderstandings that can occur with friendships across social boundaries, Son of Rambow is a bog-standard drama, with whimsical humour and some slightly pointless but amusing sub-plots.

It’s sweet and easy to watch (although does drag in places) but its point is unclear and either clichéd or underdeveloped. Heart-warming, yes. But by only dabbling in its numerous themes we only get a dabble of comedy, a dabble of amateur filmmaking, a dabble of meatier social issues, etc etc. As such, though it was enjoyable, it only had a dabble of an impact. I’m well aware you can’t get a dabble of anything, dabble being a verb, but I’ve got the word in my head now and as it’s akin to dribble, I thought I’d try using it. Sorry - a dabble of digression there. Anyway, nice to watch but nothing more, Son of Rambow gets a dabble of a CF0.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

9th April 08 - The Orphanage

If I were to make a list of everything that scares me it’d go along the lines of wasps, fire, zombies, Animal from the muppets, and small creepy dead children. If The Orphanage featured any more than the one item from this list, it’d be probably the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen. And also the most surreal. Thankfully though it keeps with just small creepy dead children, and leaves the flaming zombie wasps and crazy pink puppet drummers out of it.

So rather than nightmarish terror, it’s simply bloody scary. The plot is a pretty basic ghost story, with a big house full of a grisly history, and therefore grisly ghosties knocking about. Said house used to be an orphanage, and its past inhabitant Laura (Belen Rueda) moves back in as an adult with her doctor husband and adopted son Simon. Little Simon already has some imaginary friends but his new abode offers new playmates, only these ones might not be as imaginary as you’d like. What follows is an ever increasing series of poo-your-pants scares and hide-behind-your-coat set-ups.

What differentiates this film from many other paint-by-numbers fright-fests is the emotional ties you develop with the characters and the more measured approach to the tone. Many horrors feature failed models running around with few clothes on, making stupid decisions (to quote the great Eddie Izzard: “I heard a noise in the woods. I’ll go and investigate - and I’ll take a thimble with me for protection.”) You generally don’t care about the characters and are more interested in watching them get picked off one by one than actually wanting them to survive. But Laura is introduced carefully, letting us see her caring and fun side, the great mother-figure, so that when she starts doing dumb things like checking out the strange noise or heading into the darkened corridor, you know that she’s doing it for a reason. She’s scared but determined, and though you’re scared too, you also want her to succeed.

It’s a good sign when the producer is Guillermo del Toro, the director of CF top 10 Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, which The Orphanage has been compared to. But The Orphanage lacks the depth and odd-beauty of the superior Backbone, being tied down to ghost horror clichés and occasional cheap scares. I throw this criticism in the works to explain why it doesn’t gain a higher CF rating. The Orphanage is still a powerful, cleverly crafted piece of film, with some extraordinary directing from Juan Antonio Bayona that makes some scenes like the 1-2-3 game just insanely tense.

It didn’t give me nightmares, but was scary enough to make me turn on every light in my house that evening just to eradicate the chances of a hidden ghostie, and to whimper in misery the following day when my friend appeared with a pillow-case over her head, growling softly. The meanie. So for chills with an emotional core, The Orphanage brightens up spring with a CF2. Don your best pair of brown trousers and go watch.