Wednesday, April 29, 2009

29th April 09 - 17 Again

It’s time for my quarterly dose of purposefully watching a shit film (see January’s Bride Wars) in an effort to get into the mindset of the general public pleb in order to try and extend the audience catchment area of this site. Granted, calling everyone a pleb might have just hindered my plans, but let’s be honest – anyone who watches this shite on purpose probably can’t read anyway.

So, after successfully insulting everyone let’s get down to it. 17 Again is the offspring of Big and Freaky Friday, the lazy-bods in Disney having the brain wave of making the guy younger instead of older – genius! We await 17 going on 70, when Dame Judi Dench wakes up to find she’s now Miley Cirus. God that’d be a good film.

The main draw of this film is Zac Efron. This is the guy all the kids have been going on about, the star of the rampage-inducing High School Musical series, who is now reaching an age where it’s morally acceptable to like him for us older ‘kids’. People seem to love Zac because of his dreamlike eyes, perfect hair, cheeky charm and slender yet muscular frame. This is just what I’ve read, anyway. It’s easy to see why he’s popular, the lad carrying this film happily enough, with smart little replications of his older-self’s mannerisms (Matthew Perry, looking like a haggard crab in comparison to his younger star, and thus probably wanting to kill himself by the end of the shoot).

Zac seems almost too perfect, though, the product of some sort of Disney breeding programme which is spawning hundreds of mini-Zacs and Zacettes (the trailers showed us what to expect in the future – hundreds of mini-Zacs singing and dancing and smiling at you. For ever. And ever.) It’s slightly disconcerting, but also intriguing – will our Zac steer his career like DiCaprio, swapping pretty-boy for pretty-damn-amazing film choices? Or will he head the way of Britney, damaged and distorted by the press? Although let’s be honest – he’s a guy, so the press aren’t going to make fun of him being too fat or too thin, or wait around to get shots up his trousers (there’s an idea for them…)

Efron is in fact upstaged by nerdy adult best mate Ned (Thomas Lennon) who steals the majority of laughs, or “smirks” as they more often were. Some amusingly cringey and weird moments aside (young Zac + old wife, or more worryingly, young Zac + daughter) 17 Again is largely unremarkable but not wholly unpleasant, made bearable by the antics of Ned and Efron’s effortless charm. A few gratuitous slo-mo shots of him without a top on seem to sweeten the deal. With a good message for the kids (stop being such a whiney-pants about screwing up your life, and don’t have unprotected sex or you’ll turn into a whiney-pants who’s screwed up his life) this is reasonable, but sits below the superior original Big and the ultimately more fun 13 going on 30. It just about sneaks in to a CF0 on the strength of its cast. And because it didn’t have a song in it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

22nd April 09 - In the Loop

Usually a comedy with more than a couple of writers suggests once of those that have required extensive rewriting and extra fart gags just to fill the naff joke quota. But In The Loop’s writing team is an obscure-comedy fan’s wet dream, featuring those involved with genius like Partridge (Armando Iannucci – also the director of In the Loop), Peep Show (Jesse Armstrong), The Armstrong & Miller Show (Simon Blackwell), and the TV-parent of this film The Thick Of It (Ian Martin & Tony Roche, as well as everyone else already mentioned).

Such writing delights make for a dialogue-snappy film, sparkling with diamond-sharp insults and eloquent put-downs dripping in sarcasm (the “willy-banjo” a particular favourite). The plot is at first sprawling, with various characters colliding with each other in a seemingly directionless manner, until the plot threads are suddenly and swiftly tied together in a blunt and bold attack on one of the biggest government lies in the last decade.

The characters are too numerous to go through, but the big favourite has to be Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), a Scottish powerhouse of cunning anger and superfluous swearing, dodging the simple “angry sweary man” label through some excellent acting from Capaldi when we spy a few cracks in his tough hide. The rest of the cast are equally excellent and each get their turn to shine, including James Soprano, sorry, Gandolfini, who has the best angry-breathing ever.

With Iannucci’s laid-back direction and unfolding plot development, In the Loop feels more like a feature-length BBC3 comedy than a multiplex dweller, but compared to the rest of mostly tosh out in the cinema at the moment, there’s no harm in watching a TV comedy on a massive screen surrounded by strangers. Funny, sharp, intelligent and ever so slightly depressing, In the Loop is a proud example of Britain’s writing talent, and a withering reminder of how crap politics can be. It easily makes a CF2.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

15th April 09 - Let the Right One In

Last week I challenged the fictional film world to try and live up to the high marks the last two documentaries have gained. It seems they heard me over in Sweden.

Let the Right One In is a lovely tale of a young boy in 80s Sweden whose human interaction consists of dodging bullies and being ignored by his parents. Lucky for him there’s a new next door neighbour, a girl around his age. Although she’s only out at night, doesn’t feel the cold and is partial to some human haemoglobin. Bless. It’s just how I imagine Angel rip-off Twilight to be, if the characters were 12 year old Swedish kids instead of hormone fuelled preeners.

This film avoids the leather jacket clich̩ and instead puts vampires back to being creatures, preying on humans with an animalistic lust for blood, growling and pouncing Рunusual when on the outside this beast is a 12 year old girl. Eli, played by Lina Leandersson, is superb, being only 14 in real life and yet evoking such age and experience in her eyes when playing the older vampire, with a sorrow bedded in her eyes at the lonelier aspects of her existence. Her human counterpart, Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), sporting possibly the most stereotypically Swedish hair-do ever, is equally good, a fact confirmed by my Swedish correspondent.

The violence in this film is stark yet unflashy, at times surprisingly brutal (acid + face = youch) but sometimes almost comically so, particularly in the beautifully composed swimming pool scene. Cringy CGI cats aside, the film is visually solid, the icy Swedish backdrop clashing nicely with the warmth of the two lead’s developing friendship. It tests your morality somewhat, and that’s part of its charm. On the one side a heart-warming tale of friendship where it’s most needed, on the other a dark glimpse into a potentially destructive and violent relationship.

Let the Right One In takes a couple of old formulas (vampire mythology plus child befriending non-human – see ET) and melds them into something captivating, beautiful and slightly disconcerting. Always nice to get a film with such varying tones, this soars to a CF3, and claws back another victory for the world of fiction. Go on. Let the right film in.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

8th April 09 - Religulous

Ah religion. Like the whole football idea last week, religion is another concept to have escaped my understanding. As a child I prayed to god that I’d stop having bad dreams, and when I discovered this didn’t work I came to the realisation that it was all a bit made up and silly. This was a nine year-old’s conclusion. The fact that fully grown adults – millions of them – still cling to religion is baffling, and it seems comedian Bill Maher agrees as he heads up this documentary on just why people still practice religion, and the harm it can do to the human race.

Maher embarks on his journey with a bemused fascination with beliefs, asking the obvious questions that aren’t asked often enough and at times highlighting the corrupt and hypocritical nature of those who preach. He uncovers some characters who are ridiculous enough to cause hilarity – the self proclaimed “reincarnation of Jesus” (who makes money via a tv show), the man who plays Jesus in a Christian theme park in Florida, a gay man who married a lesbian and now refuses to believe that “gay” exists, and the creator of the first creationist museum. But alongside such people – we’ll call them “mentals” – Maher adds his own humour, be it smirking asides or cheeky add-ons in the form of subtitles or clips of popular culture to emphasise his point. Or just make fun.

And this isn’t just a Jesus-bashing, as Maher covers a variety of religions (albeit with a heavy focus on Christianity and a lighter touch on others, although since criticism of others can land you with death threats it’s no wonder why he steps more carefully). His overall point – that we need to stop this nonsense and concentrate on more important things like not destroying the earth and each other – is an important point to make, and makes you wish this film was made available to a wider audience rather than a small cinema screen full of guffawing pretentioles like me.

Though at times it seems the focus runs off course in favour of interviewing mentals for laughs, Religulous is still a funny and important documentary, enraging as it enlightens and making a point that’s so bloody obvious it’s painful – painful when you know not nearly enough people realise it already. I demand you find a partial believer and trick them into seeing this film, perhaps under the guise that it’s “The Passion – part two”. If we can get the casual believer on to the rational side, perhaps there’ll be enough of us to tackle such nonsensical ideas like having religious politicians.

Religulous scores an impressive CF3, another high score for another documentary (see Anvil). Come on “fictional” films – can you keep up with real life?