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.