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.