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.