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.