Thursday, January 29, 2009

28th Jan 09 - Rachel Getting Married

Another wedding film staring Anne Hathaway? Is this the same as last week? Does a robot-faced blonde show up to try and scupper lovely Anne’s wedding plans with hilarious japes and photo montages? I think not. In fact, our lovely Anne isn’t even dressing up as a princess. This time she is Acting. That’s right. She smokes cigarettes and has bad hair and cries. A lot. If she filmed Bride Wars after this then it explains a lot – Bride Wars must have been a relaxing break after staring in this one.

Hathaway plays Kym, a recovering drug addict released from rehab to attend her big sister’s wedding (that’d be Rachel). Before you can say “dysfunctional” the family arguments kick off big-style, as details of Kym’s turbulent and tragic past unfold and her rollercoaster moods ricochet off her sister’s temper. Director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia) goes for a documentary approach, following characters around with hand-held cameras and allowing actors to talk over each other, giving it a very natural feel.

The actors excel in this realistic setting, Hathaway rightly Oscar nominated for her performance as the troubled, bratty and grieving Kym, while her co-stars (particularly Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel) provide a blanket of emotion, either through jealous sister, mental father or withdrawn mother. When the drama crackles, it really crackles, with fierce battles erupting in between barbed comments and pained glances.

Unfortunately it all becomes a little too realistic. If you’ve ever been forced to watch someone’s wedding video you’ll know the tedium of the endless speeches, or the banality of watching other people enjoying the evening entertainment. For some reason, Demme decided that to add authenticity we should literally observe Rachel getting married, in all its uncut, unnecessary glory. And so we have a third of this film being an absorbing, well acted family drama. And two thirds someone’s poorly shot wedding video, before the editor has got to it.

Ultimately, despite the fancy pants way this film is put across, the plot is too thin. Drug addicts, family feuds, weddings… all seem a bit too familiar, and the flowery ending prompts the question “and the point was…?” It does get points for creating a sense of friendship and warmth, and for the first and only funny dishwasher loading scene, but overall it is one of those films where style takes over from substance and the film tucks itself up its own bottom too far to notice the plot slipping out the back of the trousers. So to speak. It’s proven Hathaway can move away from the Bride Wars slop, but let’s hope she can pick something with a little more weight behind it next time. Rachel gets married, but does so with a CF-1. Sorry to spoil her big day.

24th Jan 09 - Role Models

In the rules of watching comedy, it’s always best to stick to the mantra “never watch comedies featuring children or animals”. Chances are they’ll be annoying, either with a gang of kerrrrazee kids causing havoc for some befuddled adult, or a doggy doing kerrrrazee things like humping legs or pulling people off chairs by running away. Hilarious! If you’re seven years old. And stupid.

Role Models does feature children, but easily side steps the usual child-comedy pitfalls by having its children say stuff like “fuck you”. Neat! It’s co-written by Paul Rudd, the sardonic best friend as seen in Knocked Up, 40 Year Old Virgin, Anchorman and, um, Romeo & Juliet. His incredibly dry humour litters the script, with quips laid out so quickly and flatly they’re often easy to miss. Mixed with naughty toilet humour it makes the majority of Role Models into a deliciously dirty comedy, more so when it features lots of kiddy winks.

Bad boys Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (a nicely buff Seann William Scott) are forced to carry out community service, being “best friends” for some pretty weird children. There’s Augie, a bespectacled fantasy obsessed teen played by Christopher “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse who is now cemented as the go-to for your general nerdy needs. And Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson – yes, that’s a deliberate hyphen in the middle of Bobbe. He must be pretentious), a foul-mouthed, boobies obsessed young ‘un, who frankly steals the show but could also be verging on a horrendous ethnic stereotype.

There’s a great supporting cast, particularly Jane Lynch as the insane child centre leader, granted playing a character she’s played many times before, but hell she plays it bloody well. There are also some amusing set pieces, such as the camping trip, and Paul Rudd’s bleak take on life always raises a smirk (“It's not that I don't like you, I just don't like to eat with other people”). But – and I’m sure you could detect a ‘but’ coming here – Role Models starts off strong and then suddenly twists into something, well, a bit weak. From dirty adult humour to suddenly a sports-movie-esque quest, with a swift focus on Augie’s role playing battle club type thing. Everyone comes together to help defeat the evil “king” in a big, mock battle scene and… hang on. Weren’t we watching a good comedy on two guys, one a women-obsessed lads lad, and one a dishevelled 30-something depressed at life? Weren’t we laughing at how much they didn’t really care, and how twisted their approach was to looking after two kids? Since when did we care about a fantasy role-playing battle? Since when did it turn into a mushy romance?

Alas, its decline into mediocre battle / romance slosh dampens the comic edge and catapults any real character arc into blando “ooo I do love my woman really” or “um… I haven’t changed at all and was just here for the ruder bits”. Add a couple of unnecessary boob shots and you’ve tainted it with teen boy humour ala “Sex Drive” rather than the suggested quality comedy stock expected from Rudd. As such, Role Models does raise a fair few titters, but by featuring some real life titties and having a plot that goes tits-up it slumps down to a CF0, clinging to a recommendation because it’s a fun Saturday night filler, but failing to raise enough of a chortle to be a great comedy.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

21st Jan 09 - Bride Wars

There is a reason why I chose to see this film. I’m not going to go into it, but basically I needed a short film that would take my mind off things without wearing me out mentally. So, in theory, this was the perfect choice. On a normal day this would be a bad choice. Very bad. It has everything I generally dislike: People fawning over weddings claiming they’re the “happiest day in your life”, which is a bold and slightly alarming claim – you mean the ensuing fifty years or so are not going to be as good as today? Nothing will beat sitting in a hot room on small chairs with an Abba mega-mix playing? I may as well kill myself now.

It also has weird photo montages coupled with sage narrative. A plot so thinly constructed a five-year-old could predict what was going to happen (well, maybe not just any five-year-old, but perhaps myself at five, although I was unnaturally clever at that age of course). And it’s set in New frickin’ York. On ordinary days I would have avoided this like Primark on a Saturday afternoon. But I was after something light, and Bride Wars definitely fit the bill without causing too much offence or vomit. I even laughed once, possibly twice, and smiled for at least 50% of the film. A winner!

Well. The leads appear to have a bit of fun with this, but without a huge heap of effort, Hathaway (avoiding my hatred list by being a year older and not smug) winning in the human stakes – that is, being the most sympathetic and also being capable of making actual facial expressions – while Hudson glowers around in the background and raises an eyebrow when describing herself as having put on weight when, quite clearly, she isn’t able to open her mouth wide enough to eat anyway.

The cat fights are fairly fun, but we’ve seen more zing in the few girl spats on episodes of Friends, and the wedding comedy is forever overshadowed by the as yet unbeatable Wedding Singer. As such, nothing particularly shines, the film instead passing by like the consumption of a Milky Way; a not unpleasant but wholly unremarkable sugar injection. No recommendation here, but no real anger either, so a slide into CF-1.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

14th Jan 09 - Slumdog Millionaire

Dubbed “the feel good hit of the decade”, Slumdog has been gathering awards and nominations like a squirrel in a nut factory, and caused a stampede of easily swayed pundits to go and see it, expecting a nice, feel good piece on an Indian kid winning Who Wants to be a Millionaire. According to the posters he punches the air in excitement and a woman in yellow falls in love with him, and everyone goes away happy and elated. Feel good!

Slumdog opens with some light torture before moving on to abject poverty, senseless and brutal death, and child exploitation and mutilation. Feel good! It uses the Millionaire questions as a clever way of tracking back through slumdog Jamal’s life, perhaps suggesting that missing an education on a variety of abstract topics does not make you an idiot – life is your education. Nice thought. But Slumdog moves away from that when it’s clear why Jamal went on the programme in the first place, resulting in an overly schmaltzy ending that’s more corny than feel good.

But Danny Boyle’s hyperactive direction mixed with a thumping soundtrack carries you along for most of the film, and you will care what happens to Jamal (a coolly collected Dev Patel) and his older brother (looking weirdly like Michael Jackson in his Thriller days). The story grips mainly during the flashback scenes, following Jamal’s torturous childhood, and it’s only when the past catches up with the present that the foot comes off the accelerator a little, and we are steered towards cheese land.

Still, it’s a nice blend of the Bollywood with the Boyle, whose diversity is impressive given his last film was a claustrophobic horror in space. Perhaps not quite as monumental as the hype machine would have you believe, and very poorly marketed as some feelgood brit-flick (it’s much deeper than that tag would suggest) Slumdog is punchy, original and emotive, slamming you from poo jokes to murder as swiftly as the questions change on Millionaire.

It notches up an extra point for its colourful exuberance but doesn’t really climb any higher for that whiff of cheese, so slumming in neatly with a CF1. Probably the Juno of this Oscar year. Without the pregnancy. Or the strong female character. Or… oh you know what I mean, though.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

7th Jan 09 - Changeling

A new year and back to the familiar tone of January and February films in the run up to Oscar season. I.e., long and with lots of “acting”. Changeling was out last year of course, but because all films seem to be half a day long right now, this one won the viewing war by being on at the most convenient time. Yes, I am THAT professional.

So, Mr Eastwood is back behind the camera to direct another leading lady to potential Oscar stardom, replacing Swank with Jolie and boxing for, err, motherhood. He takes the true story of a mother’s fight against the utterly corrupt LAPD back in the 20s, who were so keen to hide their mistakes that they refused to believe they had returned the wrong missing son, despite his mother’s insistence, and instead had her shut away in a mental hospital. Bloody hell! Their attitudes and actions are flabbergasting, prompting amazed laughter in places, which given the subject matter (missing, and most likely, deceased child) is probably a bit in bad taste. Sorry.

Angelina wallops in her performance, showing the distress, confusion and sheer grief that her real-life counter part must have felt. It is, however, a little off-putting that she resembles Skeleton Jack from Nightmare Before Christmas, her willowy frame increasing her vulnerability but unusually large lips and eyes making her a bit frightening too. Much of the time she screams “I want my son”, or “he’s not my son”, and the rest she stares wide-eyed, lips slightly parted in a forlorn pout and a bit of acting-snot glistening in her nostrils. But hell, she does a stirling job and must surely get a nomination at the very least.

The first couple of hours of this film were surprisingly very good (I’m not a massive fan of Eastwood). Gripping, emotional, shocking and nicely paced, the film builds to an almost devastating finale, reigning in the CF points… and then it carries on. For another 40 minutes. The points that could have been summed up in a montage or even those little bits of blurb at the end are shown in full, unnecessary detail, dampening the power of the film and making you wonder when on earth the story will finish. It’s such a shame, because the film seems to naturally build up brilliantly, only to level off and peter out. That’s not to say it doesn’t peter out with a bit of a tear in the eye, but it means a film that could have been “great” becomes a film that is “pretty good”.

Still, for Jolie’s presence and the power of a shocking and compelling true story, Changeling is a fine film and a good way to start the year. It lost points for a lack of control towards the end, and as such comes in at a neat CF1. OK Oscar fodder – what else you got?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Cinemafool Review of 2008

Who can believe another year has gone by? It seems like only a year ago I was writing the review of 2007, and here I am again looking back over the year and creating the much anticipated top 10, as well as the educational “turkeys”, which should hopefully steer you clear of the cowpats along the way.

Looking back it’s been a belter of a year, throwing out some spectacular films (particularly in the months of February and July it seems) and proving Cinemafool’s dedication by beating last year’s record with 45 new films seen at the cinema. Because you have short attention spans, I will waste no further time and get straight into the first section: what all films aspire to reach, the Cinemafool top 10 of 2008, presented to you in chronological order:

The Top 10 of 2008

12th Jan 08 - Lust, Caution
Rating: CF3
What: Ang Lee’s foray into 1940s Chinese spy drama… with plenty of , errr, “tucking.”
I said then: Gripping plot, scintillating character interaction and an unusual blend of, well, lust and caution.
I say now: Cruelly ignored by the Oscars when this ticked all the boxes – fabulous acting, period setting, beautiful relationship development. Perhaps the porn-eqsue sex throughout may have put the Oscar crew off, though…
I also said: I couldn’t help but notice the audience for this film was made up of an interesting number of boys in their late teens

6th Feb 08 - No Country for Old Men
Rating: CF3
What: The Coen brothers trot in with a meaty award-laden film full of violence and a hunt for that good ol’ bag of money.
I said then: Powerful, thrilling and chock full of memorable performances.
I say now: Rewards further on a second viewing and now sitting in the Cinemafool DVD collection, No Country is the Coens on full form, even though I still haven’t been able to pay attention to that closing speech.
I also said: I’ve just mixed a landscape analogy with a pie analogy

15th Feb 08 - Cloverfield
Rating: CF2
What: Big monster attacks New York (for a change) but this time they’ve given one of the running, screaming extras a camcorder.
I said then: Chaotic, dazzling and down-right frightening…an exciting B-movie done in an entirely new angle.
I say now: The Blair-Witch style cameras have been done to death the rest of this year, but Cloverfield was at the forefront, and this is still a little nugget of shaky terror worth catching.
I also said: You could only get motion sickness if you felt queasy with simple things like rollercoasters, banana flavoured beer, or just generally moving around.

20th Feb 08 - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Rating: CF3
What: Real life tale of magazine editor suffering stroke, resulting in only being able to move one eyelid. In French! All the hallmarks of something depressing and a bit rah. But…
I said then: This film is both uplifting and upsetting, beautifully shot and acted, altogether emotionally gratifying.
I say now: Not half as rah or depressing as it sounds, this was one of the most moving films of the year and also one of the most creatively shot. Don’t be put off – this should be a definite on your film lists.
I also said: I’ve just bought myself a coffee percolator. It makes noises like Darth Vader underwater and has made me a tad hyper.

23rd Feb 08 - There Will Be Blood
Rating: CF3
What: P. T. Anderson’s whopper about an oil man, with Oscar winning performance from Day Lewis.
I said then: A fascinating character study and an epic tale of greed… you can easily get lost in the depths of this film, with its substantial running time, measured pace and unknown plot directions.
I say now: Cor blimey this is a good film. You have to set aside an entire evening to truly appreciate, but, well, cor blimey this is good.
I also said: I’d even stoop to watching him in a period drama with Knightley, as long as he spent the majority of the film talking in a thick accent about how rubbish she is.

9th April 08 - The Orphanage
Rating: CF2
What: Spanish horror set in a haunted orphanage… mummy!
I said then: Chills with an emotional core... Don your best pair of brown trousers and go watch.
I say now: One of the scariest flicks of the year that still retains a sense of dignity and, well, plot, The Orphanage is one to watch but not with young children who might walk into the room. With pillow cases over their heads.
I also said: Scary enough to make me turn on every light in my house that evening

16th July 08 – The Mist
Rating: CF2
What: Frank Darabont’s done Shawshank, he’s done Green Mile – now it’s time for gloomy monster carnage. Of course…
I said then: Richly satisfying drama meets horror. Oh, and it’s fucking depressing.
I say now: Angry Darabont encapsulates everything Stephen King’s original story had to say about mankind, and throws a bit more welly in to boot. Dark, absorbing, and mighty considering it’s essentially “monsters in the mist”.
I also said: Come out of The Mist and you’ll probably want to sit in your bedroom and poke yourself in the eye in despair.

23rd July 08 - Wall-E
Rating: CF3
What: It’s a garbage-collecting robot and his cockroach companion on a desolate planet. What could be better!
I said then: Refreshing, original, beautifully animated and superbly plotted.
I say now: Pixar shows everyone how it’s done with a heart-warming tale and the most endearing robots ever created.
I also said: Its message is as blunt as a donkey punch

30th July 08 - The Dark Knight
Rating: CF3
What: Nolan and Bale return with the man of bat and a media storm following a career-defining performance mixed with upsetting career-ending circumstances.
I said then: Nolan weaves an impressive tale, with plenty of stonking action, suspenseful lead-ups, dramatic interchanges bristling with danger, and the occasional flash of humour.
I say now: Let’s face it, this has set the bar for superhero flicks. It’ll be interesting to see how the hotly anticipated Watchmen fares against it this year.
I also said: A clown that wants to slice your cheeks and ram a pencil in your face. Come on kids, it’s fun!

14th Sep 08 - Burn After Reading
Rating: CF2
What: The Coens are back again with a spy comedy and a host of their favourite faces.
I said then: Funny, fascinating and fully digestible on first-viewing.
I say now: Double whammy for the Coens, offering up a sizeable main course with No Country, and following up with this sharp and sassy dessert.
I also said: I’m still smug in New York. Check me out. Smug.

2008: The Losers

Not too many stinkers this year, but just a couple I have to mention before the big turkey:

2nd Jan 08 - I'm Not There
Rating: CF-1
I said: "This film is the equivalent of someone taking all the ingredients necessary to make the best cake in the world, putting them in a big bowl, mixing them all together, but then by-passing the oven that will unite them into a cohesive sponge and instead using the mixture to write a big, obscure Bob Dylan quote all over the wall."

3rd Sep 08 - Babylon A.D
: CF-3
I said: “Bloody hell.”
“My only guess is the film makers assume their target audience has stopped paying attention by this point.”
“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.”

31st Dec 08 - The Day the Earth Stood Still
Rating: CF-3
I said: "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."

The Turkey of 2008

Despite the lowest mark being awarded to Babylon Zoo – sorry, “A.D” - the mantle of turkey of the year has to go to another film. One that was highly anticipated but ultimately annoyed, befuddled and confused. I’m talking, of course, about:

25th May 08 - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
: CF-2
I said: “Three words: What. The. Fuck.”
“A never-ending car chase interspersed with everything and anything that could exist in the real world (or not).”
“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.”
“No more sherbet, Lucas. Your mother knows what she’s talking about.”

End on a high

Because I don’t want to leave the year with the bitter taste of insane Lucas in my mouth, let’s throw a few special mentions out. 2008 was the year of films that looked rubbish but turned out to be pretty good. Iron Man and Hulk gave a tantalising view of what’s to come from the new Marvel studio, In Bruges demonstrated Colin Farrell’s immense eyebrow acting abilities, Lars and the Real Girl gave soft smiles, Rambo shrieks of unintentional laughter, and Transporter 3 proved there was a reason for living.
There are some exciting films on the horizon for the new year, and an ever challenging new record to beat (45 is the target for 09). Who knows what’s in store. Shall we go and see…?