Wednesday, July 29, 2009

29th July 09 - Bruno

Back in 2006 Borat stormed cinemas with balls-in-face humour and cringe-inducing set ups. Now Baron Cohen pulls out his final character from the original trio, Austrian TV presenter Bruno, for another foray into the world of duping Americans for laughs. Bruno hungers for fame, loves fashion and, it’s fair to say, is reasonably homosexual. The film sees him head to LA with the dream of becoming famous, trying anything and everything to realise his dream.

At an anorexic 1 hour 20 mins, Bruno ploughs through scenarios and jokes like they’re going out of fashion. Shining moments include interviewing shameful parents for their babies to be included in a photo shoot (“are they comfortable with wasps, bees and hornets?”), baffling tough guys in an army camp and appearing on a talk show with his adoptive child. The best gags have mostly been splashed on the trailers, but will still elicit laughs.

But you’re more likely to do those gasping laughs, the ones you do when you’ve just seen something shocking but you can’t help laughing anyway. You know, like when children fall over. Take the man wrestling scene from Borat and amplify it tenfold, and you’re still not close to some of the chaos that Bruno spurts on screen. He certainly goes for the shock factor, but in my book “funny” outweighs “shock” for entertainment value, and unfortunately Bruno gets it the wrong way round.

Bruno also loses the original gist of the character – a device to expose the vacuous nature of the fashion world – and goes for the homophobic instead. Trouble is, there’s using a gay character to highlight the still apparent homophobia of certain areas of America, and then there’s taking your pants off and attempting to kiss a man in order to make him get up and run off, angrily complaining about the gay guy who just tried to kiss you. That’s not exposing homophobia, that’s exposing people who object to being sexually assaulted. Hilarious!

It’s a shame, as Baron Cohen has created a sympathetic chap, flawed but still likeable, and he yet again demonstrates his spectacular ability for character acting. Faced with a crowd of Americans baying for his blood on more than one occasion, Cohen never breaks face. You’d have to have some mega balls to do that. And Cohen’s not afraid to show them…

If the funnier scenes were beefed up and there was less reliance on staged moments aimed purely to shock, Bruno would have matched Borat for a comedy treat. As it is, Bruno feels too quick with not enough material or a clear focus to warrant a film. Although it gains point for having Paula Abdul sit on a Mexican. One to wait for DVD, Bruno slides to a CF-1. Nicht so gut.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

22 July 09 - Moon

Moon feels like a distilled version of a Philip K Dick story. I compare to Dick as it uses science fiction concepts to explore the very nature of humanity. I say distilled, as you can actually follow the plot the whole way through without losing your sanity. Hurray!

Newcomer Duncan Jones (son of some guy called David Bowie) brings a high concept pitch – moon setting, futuristic mining machines, split screen mayhem – and somehow manages to create a cinemaworthy piece on a miniscule budget. As such, there are no “look what we can do with all our money” shots, and instead just a tight, focused piece that puts plot and character before visual effects, but managing to avoid that “BBC budget” feel.

Without spoiling the plot too much, as part of the joy is in letting realities unravel before your eyes, Moon orbits around Sam Bell, a man coming to the end of his three year stint supervising giant mining machines on the moon (humans have found a new source of energy up there, thus saving our energy crisis back home). His only company is a slightly creepy robot computer type thing, and with live communications blocked by a downed satellite his only real link to the earth is through pre-recorded messages from his wife back home. It’s when Sam’s replacement arrives that things start to get interesting. Read other reviews and the whole concept of interesting is blown out the water via the medium of spoilers, but compared to the others Cinemafool reviews are more considerate and, let’s face it, better.

Anyway, Sam Rockwell takes on the lead role, pretty much carrying the whole film himself and doing a damn fine job of it, building a character who is believable and sympathetic. The creepy but amusing robot companion is perfectly voiced by Kevin Spacey and neatly echoes 2001’s HAL. Jones’ direction is intimate and creative, particularly when tackling various splitscreen type shots (it’s like he thought “hey, we’re on a tiny budget. What’ll make this even more difficult…?)

Moon’s plot would perhaps need some more meat on its bones to bring it out of short story territory and into novel glory, but it’s a charming little film, beautifully handled by Jones and superbly acted by Rockwell. Certainly standing out from the current crowd, Moon delighted enough to raise a CF3. Marvellous.

18th July 09 - The Hangover

At first glance this looked like just another film for idiot men. You know the sort of film – gratuitous boob shots, jokes involving fat people and bodily fluids, a plot that revolves around someone wanting to bone someone and a reliance on stereotypes or casual racism to elicit laughs. Between fart gags. The type of men these films are aimed at are thick faced, gel-haired morons who seriously read the Sun and Nuts magazine, and the sight of a woman bending over in a thong causes them to clap their hands in meaty delight. Between farts.

This is how I dismissed The Hangover, based on its trailer with strippers and a convicted rapist (hilarious!) But then a weird thing started to happen. People were recommending it to me. People who weren’t meat fisted, thick-faced morons. Curiosity and a desire for entertainment lead me to watch it, expectations upgraded from “pile of shite” to “unexpected comedy greatness”. Damn you expectations, because armed with the former I would have been very pleasantly surprised.

The Hangover is not the hair-brained turd-stool that you might think. Four friends go off to Vegas for a stag do, and three of them wake up with limited memories, some unexpected guests and a missing groom. It becomes a whodunit mystery as they piece their night back together again. With a writing team who worked on such gems as Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, and Four Christmases, and a director who brought us Old School and Starsky and Hutch, it’s no wonder this isn’t a hair-brained turd. And every wonder it’s more like a slightly unsatisfying digestive biscuit.

Yes, this has a little more to it than the usual, but it still brings out the old favourites to get a laugh. Naked old people (ha ha, they’re old and flabby!), foreign people (ha ha, they can’t pronounce things!) and bodily fluids (ha ha, it’s spunky!) all get a turn. Then there’s the great void of female characterisation, the main women being either a) a stripper, b) a moany bride to be, or c) a naggy cow, who of course is the one who wears glasses. Not that the men aren’t left out either, our main trio being token hot guy who’s a bad boy who learns to be good, token dweeby guy who learns to be kerr-azy, and token hairy guy who’s a bit weird.

But hey, sometimes all people want is to be entertained, right? And The Hangover can do that, its plot intriguing enough, and dealt with smartly enough, to keep you hooked throughout. Laughs may have been amplified if the trailer hadn’t ruined half the main surprises, or if your reviewer hadn’t watched it in a semi-comatose state with a very irritating person in front who fits the female equivalent of the meat-faced men described above.

So, not half as terrible as at first perceived, but disappointing based on the recommendations, The Hangover jiggles around the ratings and settles on a basic CF0. It’s enjoyable enough without raising the roof, and probably not best to watch it while suffering from the title condition…

8th July 09 - Public Enemies

The pairing of Christian Bale and Johnny Depp, with Michael Mann steering the ship, is surely the stuff of cinema dreams. Throw in a true story of an uber cool bank robber and you’ve got a winner before you ever get past the title screen. You’ve blown up the balloon to its maximum capacity and you’re about to release it, ready to be thrilled as it zooms across the room in a zigzag of fun chaos, complete with silly noises. Alas this was more like those times when you fumble the release and end up with a sputtering disappointment, some spittle in your face, and then a final flop to the ground.

Depp plays John Dillinger, a notorious bank robber (and namesake of metal mathcore band “the Dillinger Escape Plan”, a name that automatically pops into my head every time I say John Dillinger. There – it did it again.) Dillinger is a cheeky chappy, dodging the law and wangling his way out of prison every now and then (hence the band name). Depp nails the cool cheek of the man, dabbles in some deeper shades of emotion, but seems to spend most of the time attempting to squint his eyes and smile with only one half of his mouth. Take it from the expert – you’ve got to have a lifetime of practice before you get that smile right.

Meanwhile Bale plays FBI chap Melvin Purvis, assigned the task of hunting down Dillinger for good. As with Terminator, our Bale doesn’t get to do an awful lot besides running, a bit of shouting, and some moody staring out of windows.

There are some interesting choices in direction, particularly going digital for a night time shoot-out. The ‘digi’ effect wipes the usual sepia focus that covers this time period and gives an immediate feel, making things seem quite real. Either that or difficult to follow and as if filmed on your dad’s holiday camcorder.

What causes the failed balloon effect on this film is the fact that it focused entirely on the wrong guy. Dillinger is made the main man here, a bank robber with a slight weakness for a particular woman, who dodges police. Been there – done that. Bonnie and Clyde got the t-shirt. After 140 minutes, in which a surprisingly small amount of things happen, the usual blurbs appear that let you know what happened to each character next. And without even a bat of an eye Melvin Purvis – Bale’s FBI chap – gets a few sentences which sound infinitely more interesting than what you’ve just seen. Search his name and check out his life story. Now that would have been a good film! That would have given Bale something to get his chops round (and see if the Machinist was just a fluke…) That should have been this film. Not slightly clunky, slightly bland bank robber, cat and mouse type stuff.

For what it is, this is ok. Just ok. For what it could have been just make the noise of a balloon slowly deflating. I know I’m super intelligent, but surely the guys could have taken a few more minutes to check out the better story before ploughing into making this film. For such a stonking mistake, Public Enemies slips down a point and gets a balloon in the face CF-1.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

1st July 09 - Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Back in 2007 Michael Bay played with some big robots and let us watch him for a couple of hours. He created a film Cinemafool described as “bloody enjoyable cheese” and the trailers for the sequel were tantalising awesome. Can Bay serve up some more silly cheese? Or will he leave it out of the tupperware and end up with something hard and a bit of a funny colour?

Well, a bit of both really. Visually this still ticks the right boxes, the effects even more stunning and set pieces even more spectacular. The old cast are back, Shia with his weirdly massive nostrils, Megan Fox pouting like she’s never pouted before and occasionally undressing for no real reason, and the best feature of the first – John Turturro – returning with his usual odd-ball comedy spark. The size and number of bots have increased, including a cool tiger type thing, a monstrous wheeled giant and a super huge bot with a giant sucking mouth. It looks like they’ve been perfecting their CGI too, as the transformers are more expressive, and more interactive with their surroundings than before.

Such combinations of better effects and the same cast gives humour and wows in places, particularly the forest battle scene. But Transformers suffers from sequelitis, in that the pulling power of the first – seeing beloved toys come to life and blow shit up – no longer applies. We’ve been impressed with life-like robots transforming into planes mid-air. What else you got? Unfortunately it’s pretty much more of the same, but for a little bit longer.

Bay’s biggest problem – thinking we enjoy watching battle scenes as much as he does – hampers this as much as it did in the first film. Bay’s hard-on for helicopters and epic fights can never be matched by Joe-Public. It’s like he’s asked us to go for a run with him. Bay’s sprinting, arms flapping wildly, shouting “weeeeee” all the way. At first we – the audience – run along with him, finding it quite entertaining. But after five minutes Bay is still at it with the same level of enthusiasm, whereas we’ve stopped, out of breath and a little embarrassed to be seen near him. “Ok, that’s enough now” we’ll shout after him, but he won’t hear us. Not for another ten minutes or so. This is what the final battle scene is like – we’re tired and a little bit annoyed while Bay is running round going “weeeeee!”

There were elements of a run with Bay in the first film, but the excitement from the novelty of watching Transformers helped to make it bearable. Unfortunately this time around it’s lost its spark, leaving some enjoyment but also some tiresome battles. The plot is nonsensical as expected, clunkily edited together with some casual stereotyping. You’ll watch most of it with a smile on your face, but there’s a point as you go past the two hour mark where that smile wanes. Disappointing given the awesomeness of the trailers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is still a great summer blockbuster, but could have been so much more. It gets a recommended CF0, but no more.