Coming soon...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Face-palm of the week

The Twilight Saga: New Moon burst into cinemas in the States last weekend, and has had the biggest opening of all time, beating last year's The Dark Knight. Now, I know box-office means nothing in terms of quality of film, but those soul-less jackals in Hollywood will see this as a green light to make more shit for the multiplexes.

Well done, you masses of teenage girls. Thanks to your obsession over a story that involves a hundred and eight year old who hangs around schools and seduces teenagers, the apocalypse is proceeding right on schedule. Let's see your shiny, glitter-skinned vampire save you when the seas boil and and the skies rain blood. You'd probably get a kick out of that last part though.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Excuses, excuses.

Okay, it’s been a hectic 2 months for me. With trips to the US, work and... general laziness, I’ve neglected updating this blog. No, wait! I’m gonna blame it on my jadedness with the extremely piss-poor year we’ve been having in terms of film. But I’ve seen a few new films, and I’m gonna do truncated reviews for each of em in one big post. Based on the order I saw the films. So, here’s REVIEWFEST 2009!

It’s just lazy reviews.

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS (2009) - Grant Heslov

Based on the book by Jon Ronson, The Men Who Stare At Goats tells the true story of the US Army’s attempt to create a battalion of paranormal spies who use remote viewing to complete missions for the army. When Journalist Bob Wilton meets Lyn Cassady, he seems to have stumbled upon the story of a lifetime. Cassady was the golden child of The First Earth Battalion, an experimental battalion set up by Bill Django, a Vietnam Vet. But when a fork-bender named Larry Hooper is drafted into the battalion, he destroys it from within. Is Cassady telling the truth, or will Wilton find out he’s following a madman?

Military affairs make for savage satire. You only have to look at Dr. Strangelove to see that. The Men Who Stare At Goats seemed like the kind of film that would fully exploit this fact. And in some respects, it is a pretty good satire. But it’s a little too tame to be all that memorable. It has a great premise, and some really funny moments. The cast, which includes two actors who delivered brilliant comic performances under the Coen Brothers are all pretty solid. George Clooney (who also produces), Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey all deliver performances we’ve come to expect from these actors. And even Ewan McGreggor (apart from another dodgy American accent) is better than usual. But I expected something more. It’s entertaining, but ultimately forgettable.


THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX (2009) - Wes Anderson

If you grew up any time in the last 30 years, you should know the story of Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox. But for those of you who spent your youth under a rock, three farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean want to evict (and kill) Mr. Fox for stealing chickens, geese and apple cider belonging to the three farmers. They try to dig Mr. Fox out of the home he has set up underneath a tree, and in the process also disturb the other animals living there. Mr. Fox, feeling responsible for the other animals’ lives, strives to set up new lives for himself, his family and his animal friends.

This film had a winning formula. A well-loved and widely known story. The idiosyncratic style of Wes Anderson applied to stop-motion animation. And yet somewhere, something didn’t connect. There are brilliant, and truly original aspects to the film. The animation is gorgeous. The story, while transported to the US from England is close-enough to the original story with a few tweaks that can be forgiven. The voice acting (Clooney again, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman) is lively when it needs to be but retains that droll nature we’ve come to expect from Anderson’s films. But something isn’t right with the film. It just didn’t do it for me for some reason. Maybe on another viewing, the film would click with me. But despite my love for Anderson’s films, I just think he missed the mark here. It’s good. It’s just not as great as it should have been.


G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA (2009) - Stephen Sommers

Okay, quick plot summary. Weapons manufacturer wants to take over the world. A team of soldiers specially trained in various skills, and powered by super-suits need to stop him or else blah blah, blah blah blah blah. It took me about a minute and a half to write this paragraph. Probably a lot longer than it took Stephen Sommers to come up with the plot for G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra.

Well done, Sommers, you’ve done it again. After The Mummy films, and Van Helsing, you’ve created a film of such unrelenting stupidity that every single moment of watching it made me want to tear out my eyes in merciless rage. I know the argument can be made that GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra doesn’t take itself too seriously. But to hell with that. The film is packed to the brim with clichés. Not just script clichés, but also directorial clichés. It’s like Sommers got a bunch of action films and bookmarked shots from them that he could rip off. And if you don’t see the ‘twist’ ending coming from pretty much the first half hour, then you’ve obviously nodded off and slept through the entire sorry film.

The special effects are inexcusably shoddy. The acting is at best cringe-worthy, at worst ham-fistedly pedestrian. Even from the likes of Dennis Quaid, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Christopher Eccleston. And I think the United Nations needs to put through a resolution stopping any Wayans brother from ever appearing in front or behind a camera again. For the good of humanity. Add to this that over half the running time of the film was spent in pointless flash-back and you’ve got absolutely no redeeming quality anywhere in the film. It’s insultingly dumb and unforgivably bad.



Paranormal Activity was made two years ago, but is only now seeing a release. Very little is known about it, but through word of mouth, it is already the most profitable movie of all time. Is they hype justified? I had heard about it before I headed to the States. And I was sceptical when going to see it.

Katie and Micah are a young, attractive couple with a bit of a problem. Katie’s house (which Micah recently moved into) is plagued by strange occurrences. After purchasing a video camera, the couple begin to chronicle the activity in the house. But as the nights progress, the activity escalates. Katie is convinced it’s an evil force. Micah refuses to buy into anything Katie says. What is going on in the house?

As I’ve said many times in this blog, I love horror films. I’ve seen all manner of horror, from the so-bad-it’s hilarious tripe of Zombi Holocaust to modern greats like Let The Right One In and The Mist. If it’s horror, I’ll watch it. Few films actually scare me. The first time I saw Hideo Nakata’s Ringu way back in 1999 was the last time I was generally frightened by a movie. And then along came Paranormal Activity. I’m not going to say much, but where the film excels is what it doesn’t show you. It’s all about atmosphere and sound. And for that reason, it is a tremendous success and one of the best horror films I’ve seen in years. Genuinely frightening.


WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (2009) - Spike Jonze

Max is a lonely young boy. He lives with his mother and sister, but plays alone. He has no friends and lives and plays in his imagination. He’s also angry and disruptive. After he is sent to his room without dinner, Max runs away from home, finds a boat on a pond and sails to the world where live the Wild Things, giant beasts whom Max befriends. But Max’s nature creates tension within the group, and their relationship gradually breaks down. Especially the relationship between Max, and the group’s ‘leader,’ Carol.

Where The Wild Things Are had a troubled production. Some even questioned whether or not the film would see a release. But it was released and it’s a fascinating film. It’s brilliantly made. No other director than Spike Jonze could have created such a real world without resorting to solely computer generated imagery. The production is of the highest quality and Jonze has created yet another absolutely unique film.

However, make no mistake, this film doesn’t feel like it’s aimed at children. I’d go so far as to say it’s not in any way a kids’ movie. It deals with quite adult themes and is quite a dark film. It’s also quite sad and won’t have you skipping out of the cinema. But then not all films are happiness and joy. Sometimes you need something dark to even things out. Having said that, Where The Wild Things Are is a brilliant piece of work.


UP (2009) - Pete Docter

It feels kinda redundant to review this film now. But I love it so much, I had to say something about it. It’s been out for a while, and if you haven’t seen it yet, well then, shame on you. When his wife dies, Carl Fredricksen seeks to fulfil his, and his wife’s life-long dream. To see Paradise Falls in South America. After being threatened with eviction from his house, Fredricksen comes up with a plan. He attaches thousands of helium-filled balloons to his house and floats south. Unbeknownst to him, a young and chipper wilderness explorer named Russell has stowed-away Carl’s flying house.

Pixar are known for the quality of their films. No matter the story, the quality of the images and execution are second to none. But with Up, writer-director Pete Docter has created Pixar’s fines film in terms of story. Up is the perfect storm for Pixar. It’s absolutely stunning to watch, and almost perfect in it’s writing. It’s not the most visually inventive of Pixar’s films. But what it does do is invoke a range of emotions that most live-action films could only hope to deliver. At times it’s absolutely hilarious and at others, it’s heart-breakingly sad. And if, after the first 10 minutes, you’re not blubbing like a baby, there’s something wrong with you.

Up is the finest film Pixar have released, and is the best film of 2009. If this isn’t the film that earns Pixar it’s Best Picture Oscar, then the whole Academy should be abolished. No film in 2009 is going to come close to it.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Oh for f....

You've got to be kidding me.

And yes, I'm aware the picture has nothing to do with the article. But I think it perfectly sums up my.... hairline....

Monday, September 7, 2009

Alive In Joburg (2005)

And this is the short that inspired District 9...

DISTRICT 9 (2009) - Neill Blomkamp

Four years ago, an unknown South African director named Neill Blomkamp released a short film called Alive In Joburg. The film caught the attention of Peter Jackson who, having obtained the rights to the Halo game franchise, offered Blomkamp the directorial duties on the adaptation. The movie was eventually put on hiatus. However, Blomkamp, with Jackson’s backing, wrote District 9, a feature that expanded on the ideas and themes put forth in Alive In Joburg. And now, we have that feature.

In 1990, a massive alien mother-ship came to a halt over the city of Johannesburg in South Africa. The aliens within the ship became refugees, looking for a new home on Earth. Initially, the aliens were welcomed by the human population. But soon the people of Johannesburg grew tired of the aliens and confined them to a camp, known as District 9. Twenty years later, and a corporation known as Multi-National United wants to forcibly move the residents of the now militarized ghetto away from Johannesburg and it’s citizens. The man in charge of serving the eviction notices is Wikus Van De Merwe. What he finds in District 9 will change his life forever, and draw the eyes of the world on the slum.

The best science fiction films don’t deal with situations, but with themes. The fantasy setting serves to drive the story. And District 9 is a film that manages to merge allegory with action and deliver something quite fantastic. The film is part mocumentary, part actioner, and to Blomkamp’s credit, he manages to merge the two elements almost seamlessly. The early part of the film deals with themes of displacement, apartheid, and xenophobia. The aliens, derisively nicknamed ‘prawns’ by the people of Johannesburg are the lowest on the social scale. They are regarded with suspicion and hatred. Where as once the black citizens were those that were looked down upon by the white citizens of South Africa, now the aliens are those who suffer the racism. It’s Blomkamp’s critique of apartheid that is the central driving force to the film.

But that’s is only one aspect of the film. The focus of the story is on Wikus Van De Merwe, who we are introduced to via the mocumentary footage at the beginning of the film. We follow him as we are introduced to District 9. As the film progresses, the mocumentary footage dwindles and the film becomes more narrative-based as Wikus struggles with an incident that threatens his life. (I’m trying desperately not to reveal too much here!) The last act of the film is where Blomkamp lets loose with the action as District 9 becomes embroiled in a frankly stunning gun fight involving humans and alien technology. It’s no loss that Blomkamp lets the allegorical side of the film take back seat to the action, as the action is absolutely nail-biting.

One of the other great strengths of the film is Blomkamp’s attention to detail. There are so many little smile-inducing moments of detail that just contribute to the overall success of the film. Little narrative and visual flourishes that show how a bit of dedication to quality really draw you into a film. The script moves at a blistering pace. There are moments where logic is abandoned and tiny plot-holes appear. However, you barely have a moment to dwell on these as Blomkamp keeps things moving towards a blistering climax.

District 9 cost $30,000,000 to make. Sounds like a lot. However, when you take into account that most Hollywood blockbusters cost somewhere in the region of $200,000,000+, it really makes you ask where the money in these films actually goes. The special effects in District 9, designed by Weta Workshop and created by Image Engine are staggeringly good. The CG aliens blend in with the live action footage without ever looking out of place. The effects serve the film, and not the other way round, and this is essentially what all CG should do. That it’s done so well in this film should serve as a lesson to other filmmakers who pack their films with all flash and no substance.

Sharlto Copley, an unknown actor from South Africa plays Wikus Van De Merwe, the man caught between following orders and doing what’s morally right. Copley delivers a fantastic performance, changing from a man who’s naive, a bit dim, but upbeat to the man of action as the story progresses. That he does a great deal of acting against unseen CG characters is a testament to his acting abilities. He’s initially somewhat of an unlikable character but you do engage with him and care about his story as events unfold. While some of the ‘villains’ of the film are a tad clichéd, they serve the purpose of the story and all the actors involved throw all they have into their performances.

Blomkamp draws upon a lot of influences in making District 9. However, combining these influences, he has delivered what is probably the best science fiction film of the 21 Century. A bold statement considering Children of Men, The Matrix, Moon, The Fountain and Primer all fall into that category. But District 9 really manages to edge all these films out. Great sci-fi makes you take a look at the world you live in. And while District 9 makes you do this, it also has one of the great climactic battle scenes of recent times in terms of cinematography and ideas. This is science fiction at it’s best. And Blomkamp is the new wunderkind of the genre.


FUNNY PEOPLE (2009) - Judd Apatow

Judd Apatow’s films could never have been accused of being poignant. Sure, there’s a lot more to them than the average comedy. The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked up certainly contained more substance than all the Wayans Brothers and Scary/Epic/Date Movies combined. But none of his films have been as personal as his latest, Funny People. And a great deal of this is down to the fact that the film is more of a drama than a comedy. Despite starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen.

Sandler stars as George Simmons, a former stand-up comedian and now star of empty-headed vacuous family movies. He’s got money, success and fame. He gets any woman he wants. And he has a terminal blood disease. After finding out he’s not got long, Simmons goes off the rails. And he wants to return to stand-up. After gate crashing a stand-up gig, he meets Ira Wright, a struggling stand-up comedian. He hires Wright to be his assistant and introduces him to the world of a successful Hollywood star. But Simmons begins to resent the trappings of his success and wants to get back the one thing he never held onto. His ex-fiancee, Laura.

It’s clear from the get go that this film is different to Apatow’s other films. It’s far more personal. To a degree that the opening titles are scenes Apatow shot of Sandler when they were roommates and yet to hit the limelight. Apatow was a stand-up comedian at one point, and he injects a lot of his own personality into the characters in the film. It also contains quite a few Apatow regulars, including his wife, Leslie Mann, Rogen, and Jonah Hill. So it’s clear the writer/director wants this film to be something from the heart.

But is it good? Yeah, I suppose it is. It’s not as funny as The 40 Year Old Virgin. In fact, it is more of a drama than a comedy. In certain respects, Funny People shares a lot in common with Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy. Both writer/directors are known more for their comedies. And both films are the most personal of their work. The dialogue in Funny People is as strong as anything Apatow’s done, and is where the comedy of the film lies. The actors are very familiar with each other and this helps the witticisms and delivery. So this isn’t a situational comedy.

The performances are for the most part, pretty excellent. Adam Sandler’s always done his best work when he isn’t doing mad-cap films. In fact, his best role was in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, a dark drama-comedy. So Sandler’s on fine form here. I’m sure he and Simmons have a lot in common, so Sandler could draw a lot on his own experiences for the role. Seth Rogen, while not playing a slacker here, seems to fit into the mould he’s forged in Apatow’s films. And while the Jonah Hill, Leslie Mann and Jason Schwartzman are all great in the film, the show is stolen by Eric Bana who appears at the end of the film. Bana is the only actor who isn’t playing a ‘funny’ character. But he slightly overplays the character, and gets the most laughs. That’s not a criticism as I’m sure that’s what Bana was going for.

The great criticism of the film is it’s length. The film is essentially two films tied together, and as such pushes the running time to a whopping two and a half hours. There could have been two films made of the story. And this is somewhat of a drawback for the film. But it’s perfectly entertaining none the less, and Apatow’s most grown-up film.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

THE HURT LOCKER (2009) - Kathryn Bigelow

The Iraq war is a sensitive subject in... well, every medium. It’s a shady conflict with no clear and definable enemy and despite it being in the news nearly every day, it’s a subject filmmakers are hesitant to touch. The majority of films that deal with the war concentrate on the effects of the conflict on the soldiers or the families and friends of soldiers once they have returned from the conflict. Few films actually deal with the war on a day to day basis. But now we have The Hurt Locker, a film that deals with a bomb disposal unit, stationed in Iraq in 2004. Does it shed any new light on the war?

SSgt. William James newly appointed to an Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit in Iraq. He’s seen his fair share of duty in Afghanistan and has disposed of countless explosives. Iraq is littered with Improvised Explosive Devices. James is teamed up with Sgt. JT Sanborn and Spc. Owen Eldridge, soldiers just counting down the days until they go home. They hate Iraq and fear for their own safety. But James is reckless, and doesn’t care for his own safety, nor that of his fellow soldiers. And his recklessness puts him at odds with Sanborn and Eldridge.

Well, The Hurt Locker has arrived on a veritable tidal wave of positive reviews and unrelenting praise. And as I walked out of the cinema I couldn’t help but ask... why? Before the film began, I was sure I was walking into something that would... blow me out of my seat. Heh. But I was very underwhelmed. The first hour of the film had me gazing through the screen as the film failed to grab me by the balls and force my attention on the screen. It seems to follow the consensus that films that deal with the Iraq war are just not that very good.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are some great moments in the film. A lot has been made of the tension that runs throughout the film. And there are some extremely tense moments in the film. But overall, I felt the film just fell a little flat in places and didn’t really hold my attention for long enough. And at a running time of 131 minutes, that is a problem. To the film’s credit, it doesn’t present the three central characters with an enemy they have to hunt for. This would have been cliché. Instead, their enemy is boredom and the situation they’re in. There are themes of heroism, fear of death and brotherhood in the film, but these aren’t touched upon nearly as much as they should have been. Maybe the canvas is too big, or maybe the writing wasn’t strong enough, but I felt there should have been more.

The performances, on the other hand, are excellent. The three central actors, Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty all play their roles with conviction. None of the characters are too similar, and they all have their demons to battle with. Despite glossing over a lot of these, other than for Renner’s James, the actors do their best with what they have and are convincing. There are cameos from heavyweights like Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce and David Morse, but these cameos are fleeting and don’t give the actors much to work with.

Kathryn Bigelow is most famous for Point Break, a film that is basically testosterone on screen. And there’s no shortage of it in The Hurt Locker. But in no way is The Hurt Locker a comparable film to Point Break. It is far more serious. As it should be. Bigelow’s direction is sketchy. At moments, she builds the tension brilliantly. And she does get great performances from her actors. But her cinematic flourishes aren’t anything incredibly innovative. And the very last shot of the film is shockingly misjudged and out of place within the context of the rest of the film.

Overall, The Hurt Locker isn’t a bad film. It’s just a little better than average. It’s saved by it’s actors. And yet the first great Iraq war film hasn’t been made. It certainly isn’t this film. A far better document of the war is the television mini-series, Generation Kill. Obviously, being a mini-series, it has a greater canvas to work on. But many great individual films have been made about World War 2, and wars don’t get bigger nor more complex than that. Ignore the hype and maybe you won’t be disappointed like I was. It’s good, but not great. I just hoped for more from The Hurt Locker.


Monday, August 24, 2009

IN THE LOOP (2009) - Armando Ianucci

British comedies tend to be one of two things. Parochial fare that even I have trouble getting, despite living in the country next-door to Britain. Or else rom-coms that even the most effeminate male will have trouble mustering a chortle to. But occasionally, they get things right. And when they do, the results are often fantastic. Enter Armando Ianucci, one of the co-writers on Alan Partridge (which, if you haven’t seen or even heard of, close this page down immediately and seek it out). His 2005 sit-com, The Thick Of It was critically acclaimed but seen by few, and I must admit I’m one of those that missed it. God bless downloading. In The Loop is a companion piece to the series and it was released earlier this year.

British Minister for International Development, Simon Foster makes a gaffe while on national radio. He says that a war, which the British PM and US President are currently secretly pushing, is ‘unforseeable.’ While this may seem trite, it doesn’t tow the party line, and the Director for Communications, Malcolm Tucker marches in to sort the mess out. Little known to either men, US Assistant Secretary of State, Karen Clarke plans to use Foster as a meat-puppet to stop the march to war. And so begins the satire of Anglo-American politics in this modern day.

What is most apparent from the start of In The Loop is the frankly shocking amount of profanities. While this may offend some, the profanities are so vicious, cutting and inventive, that they end up leaving you laughing your arse off. In The Loop is one of the finest comedies I’ve seen in quite a while. But it’s not just down to profanities. That’d be a stupid reason to like a film. But not an unforgivable reason!

The performances in the film are all fantastic. The stand-out performance is from Peter Capaldi. He plays Malcolm Tucker, one of only two characters who makes the transition from The Thick Of It (although a great many of the actors in the film were also in the series as different characters). Tucker is one of the nastiest, most cruel characters you’ll ever see on screen. And his abrasiveness makes him highly watchable. Tom Hollander plays the hapless and Simon Foster, literally a puppet to all those around him. He’s pathetic and useless and Hollander carries this very strongly. His scenes with Capaldi are a vicious version of Laurel and Hardy. James Gandolfini is on the American side, as Lt. General George Miller, a man who has seen war and wants to do everything in his power to prevent further war unless absolutely necessary. Unfortunately he has only one scene with Capaldi, but it’s memorable.

It’d take forever to give everyone kudos for their performances, as they’re all equally brilliant. But a cameo by Steve Coogan in particular is a lesson in comedy performance. It’s a highlight. Ianucci’s script is the star of the film, and it’s to his credit that he gets such brilliant performances out of the actors delivering his lines. In The Loop is one of the best comedies of the last few years and well worth seeking out. With the new hope politics in the US, it may seem that the film arrived a little late, due to it’s savage cynicism. But in spite of this, the film is still outstanding. At this moment in time, it’s by a long shot, the comedy of 2009.


INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009) - Quentin Tarantino

Whenever Quentin Tarantino releases a film, the nerd world goes hay-wire. Some fanboys are so inherently loyal to the man that no matter how bad a film he releases, they will sing it’s praises, even if they have no idea as to why they’re praising it. To be honest, I haven’t really liked a Tarantino film since Jackie Brown. The films he released before this were classics. The films after Jackie Brown are far from classics. But the Tarantino dream project that is Inglorious Basterds finally hits the screens after over a decade of speculation. Worth the wait?

France. 1944. The war is going badly for the Germans. D-Day is coming. For some reason that is never explained, Lt. Aldo Raine has gathered eight Jewish-American soldiers to undertake a mission in Nazi-occupied France. They are to kill, and scalp one hundred Nazi soldiers. The strategic value of this mission is moot. It makes for pure pulp story-telling. Meanwhile, a young Jewish-French girl named Shoshanna, who escaped certain death at the hands of the Jew-hunter Col. Hans Landa has come into possession of a cinema in Paris. It is here that she and the Basterds will cross paths on the night of the premiere of Josef Goebbels’ latest propaganda film, Nation’s Pride. A night that could provide the revenge Soshanna has sought for the murder of her family and a prime opportunity for the Basterds to end the war.

The name Inglorious Basterds has been bandied about Hollywood for well over a decade. It was Tarantino’s oft-mentioned dream project, and sounded like something only the nerdiest of film fans could hope to see. After all this time, it’s a little bit of an anti-climax to see Inglorious Basterds. It’s not a bad film, don’t get me wrong. It’s very enjoyable. But like Avatar is in danger of suffering come December, the film never lives up to the hype. Inglorious Basterds after all has a number of incredibly large flaws. And a great many of them are down to the casting.

Firstly, Eli Roth. I know he and Tarantino are friends. That’s great, and good for them. But casting as Donny Donowitz, the Bear Jew was a bad mistake. The guy cannot act in any way. Every line he delivers is worse than primary-school nativity play over-acting. It is a prime example of why directors cast their characters and don’t just pick randomers on the street to flesh out their characters. Secondly, and most damningly, Brad Pitt. For some reason, as the film progresses, Pitt just plays Aldo Raine as Marlon Brando in the Godfather, but drunk and lairy. It’s less a performance than a series of bad acting decisions strung together with a ludicrous southern accent. However, having said that, he does have the best line in the film. One word. Which had the entire audience doubled-over with laughter. So fair dues to him for that. And finally, Mike Myers. What in the name of all that is good and pure was Quentin Tarantino thinking when he cast Myers as a British general. It’s hands-down the worst piece of out-of-place casting I’ve ever seen. You literally expect Myers to burst into Austin Powers mode at any moment he’s on screen. It’s shockingly bad and something I wish I could purge from my memory.

Having said all that, the rest of the cast is quite excellent. The entire film is stolen by Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa. He’s the embodiment of grinning menace. A sort of Cheshire cat with a luger and a hatred for enemies of the state. His performance is fantastic, creepy and the best thing in the film. Also well worth mentioning are Michael Fassbender as the British soldier, Archie Hilcox, Diane Kruger as German actress and spy, Bridget Von Hammersmark and Mélanie Laurent as Shoshanna Dreyfuss. When these characters are on-screen it takes the stink off the performances of those listed above.

Tarantino’s script is both excellent, and a problem at the same time. When it’s good, it’s very, very, very good. When it’s bad it’s either dull or baffling. The film is split into chapters. Some work, some don’t. The opening chapter, Once Upon A Time In Nazi-Occupied France is a masterpiece in tension and drama. It’s Tarantino at his best. No obscure pop-culture ramblings. Just unbelievable tension, reminiscent of any of the great moments in Pulp Fiction. It’s stunningly good. And then you have comedy moments that fall flat on their faces. You’ve the Basterds. I sincerely hope you’re not going to see these guys kick-ass. It doesn’t happen. In fact, most of them appear for a moment on screen and aren’t heard of again. It’s a shame. I had half-hoped for a Dirty Dozen-esque men on a mission type film done by Tarantino. That’s the fanboy in me struggling to break free. But this doesn’t happen. Like the last few of Tarantino’s films (and the next few if IMDB is to be believed), this is a female-revenge movie primarily. And while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s getting a bit predictable at this stage.

So after all this waiting, Inglorious Basterds is great, but at the same time, a disappointment for a number of reasons. Ludicrous casting, a sometimes genius, sometimes weak script, and an ending that is so far beyond ridiculous that you just buy it for what it is all adds up to an enjoyable if not classic experience. You get the feeling the film is slightly rushed. It starts so well, has some fantastic scenes that merely involve characters talking to each other and the tension is thick. But it’s let-down by the fact that Tarantino is never quite reigned-in. It happened to a terrible degree with George Lucas and Star Wars. Thankfully, though, Quentin Tarantino can actually write something half-decent. And despite how good the film is, it’s just disappointing to think of what Inglorious Basterds could have been.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

ORPHAN (2009) - Jaume Collet-Serra

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I am actually flummoxed by this one. Orphan, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra seems like it’s meant to be a psychological thriller, but having watched it, the only conclusion I can come to is that it’s the cleverest advertised comedy of recent times. The trailer makes you think it’s a thriller, or even a horror, but it will have you rolling in the aisles! It’s ludicrously bad, and yet I was highly entertained. Oh, the confusion.

Kate and John Coleman seem to have the idyllic family life. They’re not perfect. He nearly had an affair. She’s a recovering alcoholic. But they live in an extremely opulent house with their two kids. They’re all grins and teeth. The perfect all-American family. But there’s something missing. Kate had a miscarriage. But she and John still have love to give. So they decide to adopt. While at Orphan-Con 09, an open house where couples come to shop for kids, they meet Esther, a precocious nine-year-old who seems to be highly intelligent, artistic and well-mannered. They’ve found their orphan. So they adopt the girl and take her home. And slowly, things start to go wrong. As the poster says, ‘there’s something wrong with Esther.’ And the Coleman’s are about to find out just how wrong things can go.

Every year, a few friends and I attend the Horrorthon in Dublin. A three-day festival of horror movies. Some outstanding, some utter tosh. Orphan is the kind of film that would perfectly suit the later part of one of the days. When the audience has sat through four movies and needs a pick me up. The kind of film that everyone is wary of, yet ends up just getting stuck in, cheering at the cheese, and laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. And often times, these can be the best of all movies. They may be rubbish, but they’re damn fun. And there is no doubting, Orphan is rubbish. It’s ludicrous, ridiculous, unbelievable and badly executed. But despite all this, it was just fun.

The script is so far beyond logical that to actually be pissed off with it also defies logic. I’d imagine writer David Johnson had a ball writing it, imagining the looks on the audience faces as they watched the stupidity unfold. Either that, or he’s insane. The performances are pretty bog standard for this kind of film, except for that of Isabelle Fuhrman, who is outstanding. If she is not cast as a Bond villain in the next 007 outing, a prime opportunity has been missed. Her Russian accent and cold malice is perfect for the role. But in all seriousness, she’s by far the highlight of the film, and the only real reason to watch it. Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard are both pretty well-known faces and good actors. So you wonder why they, and Leonardo DiCaprio, who is on-board as producer are doing being associated with the film. Maybe they’re in on the joke.

Like I said, Orphan is rubbish. It’s packed full of clichés, predictable and ludicrous. And yet, I had a great time watching it. So that leaves me in a bit of a quandary. It’s shit, but it’s not as shit as Transformers 2. It’s nowhere near as good as some of the even disappointing better films of the year. Pfsh. Fuck it. Five out of ten.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

MOON (2009) - Duncan Jones

It’s amazing that films like Transformers 2 and Terminator Salvation make truck loads of cash. They’re empty-headed, dull, idiotic movies yet they have mass idiot-appeal and therefore bring the feckless masses into the cinemas to gawp at the screen and marvel at the shiny things and ‘splosions. And then you have a film like Duncan Jones’ Moon. A film that is playing in three cinemas in this country, yet is probably one of the best films you’ll see this year. Have the general public heard of it? Unlikely. It’s a sad indictment of the cinema industry.

Moon takes place, surprisingly, on the Moon. Sam Bell is the sole operator of a mining operation on the dark side of the moon. His three-year stint in charge of the operation is coming to an end, and he is looking forward to returning to his wife and daughter on Earth. However, after an accident involving one of the mining machines, Sam wakes up to find he isn’t alone in the station. The other person in the station is himself.

You don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars in order to distract attention from a badly-written story and hold the audience’s attention. Start of with a well-written screenplay and the audience will forgive all the little mistakes or limitations your budget will have when it comes to special effects. Moon has a brilliantly-written script, effects that involve miniatures instead of computers and a superb dual-performance from Sam Rockwell and it’s a genuinely brilliant film. Along with Sunshine and Children of Men, Moon is the best Sci-Fi film of the last ten years. It’s a film about isolation and identity and yet still manages to have a solid story that keeps you guessing.

Sam Rockwell’s performances as two versions of the same character are integral to what works about this film. I can’t say too much without giving story elements away, but his performances are essentially the same person with major changes, which affect the characters differently. It’s his ability to differentiate between the two characters that really grounds the film. Duncan Jones really captures the mood and feeling of the paranoid sci-fi films of the 1970’s, yet the film doesn’t at all feel dated in any way. Jones writing and directing certainly make him a name to watch in the future.

There’s not much else that can be said about Moon without giving away story elements, so I’ll keep it brief. It’s brilliant. Finally, a film that breaks the monotonous parade of shite that has been this summer’s films. Sci-fi at it’s very best, Moon will be in the top 10 of 2009. It’s a really, really great film.


SOUTHLAND TALES (2006) - Richard Kelly

When I first saw Donnie Darko way back in 2001, I was, like many other people, pretty blown away by it. It had all the right elements, and appealed to that dark, lonely side my of us have when trying to figure out who we are. So I eagrely awaited Richard Kelly’s Director’s Cut version. Which I bought upon release, watched once, and vowed never to watch again. Kelly had managed to completely suck all that was great out of the theatrical cut of the film. It was dreadful. So I was a little wary when Southland Tales came out. Through a series of unfortunate events, and warnings from friends, I never got to see the film. Until now. I was kind of hoping it’d turn out to be good. When you have certain expectations from a film, sometimes you can be pleasantly, or otherwise... surprised...

It’s July 2008, three years after a number of nuclear attacks on the United States. The US is at war, the draft has been reinstated and most of the country is a police state. A new substance called Fluid Karma has been developed to replace the need for fossil fuels. However, Fluid Karma and it’s application has caused a rift in the space-time continuum that threatens to destroy the world. Meanwhile, an amnesia-stricken actor named Boxer Santaros and his new girlfriend, porn-star Krysta Kapowski have developed a film script that begins to mirror events in Santaros’ real life. And police office Roland Taverner is really a neo-marxist impersonating his own twin brother in order to use Santaros as leverage for the neo-marxist plans to blackmail Santaros’ Republican senator father in law.

Sounds complicated? Yeah, it is. It’s also one of the most pointless, muddled, incoherent and needlessly dull films I’ve ever sat through. It’s mind-numbingly idiotic. If you read about films, you’ll have heard about Southland Tales’ adventure at Cannes. How it was booed, and some even went so far as to say it was probably the worst film ever to compete at the festival. That was before the film was cut by Kelly himself in order to make it less lumbering and more accessible. And THIS is what he was left with?! In some sado-masochistic way, I’d love to see what the original cut was like. Thought I really don’t think I could put myself through this film ever again.

The film attempts to satirise the course that the US was headed down directly after the attack on the World Trade Centre. The increase in security and the clamp-down on liberties of the average citizen. However, Kelly’s ham-fisted attempt at subtlety goes nowhere fast. His vision of the near-future (which is now actually the past) looks nowhere near believable. Visually, it’s pretty close to Paul Verhoven’s future in Starship Troopers, but where as that film’s satire fit in with the aesthetic of the film and was actually funny, Kelly’s vision (especially with the bafflingly dour narration by Justin Timberlake) is a mess of ideas that don’t gell.

The script... good christ, the script is a disaster. Most of the actors clearly don’t have a clue what their characters are babbling on about. The characters themselves are a mish-mash of cliches, and cardboard-cutouts that are neither believable nor edgy, nor funny. Events unfold in a way that either leaves you confused, or without caring an iota about what happens. And then, in the middle of the mess, Justin Timberlake’s Pilot Abilene bursts into a drunken mime of The Killers’ All These Things That I’ve Done, which makes for one of the most infuriatingly ill-judged and pointless scenes of recent cinema history. It’s up there with the emo-strut scene from Spiderman 3.

The actors. To be honest, you’re not going to really give a shit what their performances are like. You’re too busy writhing in agony at the sound of the dialogue to worry about how it’s delivered. I actually felt sorry for Seann William Scott, Dwayne Johnson and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Clearly they saw Kelly as some sort of visionary genius and leapt on board thinking that it didn’t matter if they didn’t understand the script, Kelly knows what he’s doing. Nope. He didn’t. And the performances are ground-breakingly bad. But I really don’t think it’s the actors’ fault. The characters are just so poorly written.

Kelly’s a director who got sweapt up in his own hype. He attempts to out-Lynch David Lynch and instead falls spectacularly flat on his face. His writing is an incoherent mess of biblical proportions and his direction is pedestrian and in no way innovative. At certain points in the film, I wondered if Kelly had ever even seen a film before making Southland Tales. The film didn’t kill his career, but in an age where people like Roland Emmerich, Stephen Sommers and Brett Ratner still have careers, that’s not really all that surprising. I should have listened to the warnings. Don’t make the mistake I did. Southland Tales is unwatchable.

Oh, and there’s a scene in which two cars have sex through their exhausts. I shit you not.