Monday 16 April 2012


One would think that the phrase “Not one of Shakespeare’s better plays” would place something head and shoulders above the works of lesser men. Our culture is brimming with terrible literature and we might imagine that even the minor efforts of a master of the language would be of tremendous value.

And while to an extent this is true, the language itself has undeniable beauty, Old Shakey had a bit of a blind spot when it came to plots. They are sort of the canvas upon which he worked and he seemingly found them lying about (often in other people’s plays) and then carefully crafted something wondrous in and about the largely inconsequential stories.

Often, perhaps through luck, the plots lent weight to his words and on occasion his plays work in spite of them, but there are a decent number with names we rarely hear that are sunk by the burden. That are so daft or incomprehensible that the mind recoils from them and even the words, those fine, fine words can no longer save it.

It doesn’t help that I have a similar relationship to his language as I do to music: they take a few listens to truly sink in. I need to hear the melody a few times before the whole makes sense.

So Coriolanus was not an easy watch. It’s a fascinating production with iconic visuals, an impressive cast, a news report given by Peter Snow in full Shakespearean language (unadulterated genius) and Ralph Fiennes acting his little heart out as the roaring, spitting war hero of the title. It’s the kind of performance I crave from a Shakespeare play, a properly meaty bit of work in which he stalks about the place leaving bite marks on the scenery, eyes bulging and veins pulsing from his face and head and he is quite possibly alone worth the watch.
But it’s difficult to get passed the erratic actions of the characters. The vicious war hero becomes a public figure because his mum tells him to, is betrayed and banished because direct democracy is a bad idea and returns at the head of an army only to abate because his mum tells him to. People make confusing decisions that take incredulity out the back and kick its damn teeth in.

I have to admit I do like the fact that there are no moral absolutes on offer, no character is fully good or evil. There is no clear hero or villain. But perhaps it would have helped to have someone to definitely root for or rail against. Despite the value in being more realistic and complex it’s hard to be invested in a tale with characters we simply don’t care much about.

And that’s probably the problem right there. Most find Shakespeare’s language difficult to engage with. Myself I find it challenging but generally worthwhile, however I need something to tie me into it, investment in the story or characters that draw me in and demand understanding, or I simply let the vast majority flow past me as if it’s so much flowery gibberish.

Atlas Shrugged

Now I can't say I've read any Ayn Rand, but I have browsed her Wikipedia page and played all the way through Bioshock, so I feel I definitely have a firm grasp of her particular philosophy: If everyone acts like selfish cockbags it'll all work out okay for everyone, except for those that it doesn't, and who gives a fuck about them anyway?

Maybe her novel is a touch more subtle than this adaptation, but rather than an outline of her way of thinking it seems to be an exercise in establishing horribly flimsy straw men. Would it not have been far more effective and cutting as an analogy if the agents of opposition had been well meaning but ultimately misguided public servants, rather than venomous cretins introducing ludicrously daft public policy purely to piss on people’s chips?

It changes the central message from what I assume is supposed to be something along the lines of "socialism impedes progress" into the slightly less worthy point of debate: "some people are dicks". It makes it entirely dismissible as a metaphor if the obstacles to our hero’s goal are purely founded upon malice.

Talking of obstacles: The plot, such as it is, revolves around the rebuilding of a railway line with a brand new metal that essentially amounts to magic. The obstacles they face in this endeavor are: people telling them they shouldn’t build it. That's it. No one actually does anything to actually impede their progress that they cannot be talked out of in the space of a conversation. They want to build a railway, some people don’t want them to build a railway, and then they build a railway. Wealthy people sit in offices and talk in dramatic terms about a financial investment they might make and others would rather they didn’t. Then they go for a train ride and everything goes swimmingly.

Now call me Mr. Picky, but surely the standard of measure for a railway track or bridge is not a single train successfully navigating it. Surely what you really want to know is that many trains, over an extended period of time can roll across them without any of them at any point going cross country.

If this is all intended as an allegory it’s desperately, desperately flawed, which only leaves the frankly worrying alternative that this is supposed to be taken seriously. Its story is nonsensical, the characters are mostly feeble caricatures with outlandish motives, and it’s preachy without any kind of clear point.

There is something of an interesting sub plot involving the mysterious Mr. Galt, but apparently the film is the first part of a trilogy which I can only assume will never see completion, and with that element never seeing development the whole tangled mess is left to stand on its own insubstantial merits. It’s a boring glossy lecture that only manages to paw vaguely in the general direction of its own point.

Despite Ayn Rand’s philosophy being reductive, amoral and demonstrably wrong I do feel it has some value as an extreme, in the same way I see Marxism as an informative concept rather than any kind of ideal, but this film is a simply a terrible vehicle for carrying its intended message. Perhaps because it’s just a terrible film.

Saturday 16 July 2011

Boyz N The Hood

Watching deeply influential movies is always an odd task. Despite the fact that the last time I saw this was too long ago to really remember it, everything was eerily familiar. With the possible exception of certain rap albums (which I won't even pretend to know anything about) no other single piece of media has been as instrumental in establishing the place of the American ghetto in the cultural landscape. The messages it had to deliver, about the complex mixture of pride and destruction brought about by a culture of bravado, that perhaps it pioneered have had such impact for such a time that they have become commonplace. They are mainstays of the medium that can be found in part, whole and often verbatim in numerous forms elsewhere, with varying degrees of success and quality. There is, for example, little in the film that cannot be seen at least somewhere within HBO's excellent series, The Wire. Except perhaps for the haircuts.

Not being able to detach it from it's multitude of imitators I can hardly help but make unfavourable comparisons. While I can more objectively tell that it is a great and important film, it's one that only occasionally engaged me fully, perhaps because I have seen parts of it done in ways I felt were better before. It all seems a bit patchy, cheap, and simple. Not that simplicity is immediately an issue, the story of the Boyz is essentially human and relatable, something maybe lacking in the hugely violent world often seen in such things. My world is quite some distance away from dope fiendery and asses full of caps, but we can all grasp the more universal themes of hope, despair and fear of roving youths.

The one thing the film definitely has not lost to the ravages of reproduction is a cast of excellent characters. No matter how many times it's story is told the film will remain relevant and powerful as it is told through Tré, Doughboy and wonderfully Fishburnes "Furious", Tré's strange but memorable father. Career forming performances for some, defining for others, their plights and dreams are made palpable by the presence they all manage to bring.

Friday 15 July 2011

A Beautiful Mind

Film has a pretty poor track record of portraying insanity. All too often it's merely an simple obstacle, nothing a little self determination will not clear up. It's also often an endearing personality trait, a means of delving into fantasy and occasionally outright Academy Award bait. Here is manages to be all four. I suppose I should really forgive it, as it is after all a story and thus it attempts to compel as much as to represent, but having recently watched a film in which schizophrenia was powerfully handled it was jarring to see one that fell back upon the simplistic when trying to detail an extraordinarily complex individual.

And that wasn't the only oversimplification that bugged me. Admittedly the task of making maths appear cinematic is not an easy one, and it does make the pattern recognition the man has a flair for very satisfying, but these being the things for which he is famous I was hoping for a little more detail. The description of his famous game theory is presented in such a straightforward way I found myself grasping to believe that this was in any way the originall idea the film seems to be insisting it is. Every man for himself not always the best idea? Hard to see as inspired stuff.

I feel I should credit Russel Crowe with bravely playing against type, but I rather like him in his usual roles while here his mumbling, mildly troubled caricature of an academic with biceps as thick as his neck just left me slightly puzzled. He didn't really have the charm to make his disdain for social practices attractive, but it's never presented as a flaw and so just left me feeling he was kind of a dick. The shuffling old man routine of the films latter half has been done so much better so many times that it quickly lost my attention.

I essentially just lost interest in the film as it went on. His flights of fantasy (I can be reductive too) and the intricate puzzles therein turn out to be far more interesting than his actual life and once they had been (so seemingly easily) left behind I found it rather derailing a little, the pace it had set giving way to a mop up operation and a healthy course of overtly manipulative sympathy scenes.

Sunday 10 July 2011

Inside Man

Telling your audience that the film ends in a twist is a little like juggling with fireworks; Potentially it could be spectacular but it's far more likely someone will end up with third degree burns. Brazenly ignoring the potential hazards, Inside Man goes right ahead and declares that it revolves around the execution of the perfect bank heist.

The plot's surprises are of the 'readily guessable but leaving you slightly smug' variety, which is a little less satisfying than the 'out of the blue/it turns out he's (probably) Keyser Söze' type but generally is a safer bet as it has a much shorter distance to fall if it fails. Also the film by no means hangs upon it's tricks, a tactic which is often disastrous. Instead it's a relatively typical hostage/heist movie with several slices of the especially cunning. Some parts of the robbers plan, which it would be criminal to give away here, are fiendishly smart and the whole thing is revealed in an carefully structured and engaging manner. The rather impressive cast is impressive, and while no one truly stands up and makes it their own there isn't a bum note to be found in the whole of the chorus. Each more than adequately holds the screen when it's their turn. There is only one character in the whole piece that you want to fail, and even he manages to evoke sympathy with a rather fine cameo.

I do have a couple of quibbles with it, but all are relatively minor. While the thieves plan has a couple of 'ooh that's smart' moments it lacks the 'holy crap, that's ingenius' appeal that I positively demand of anything calling itself a perfectly planned heist (see The Sting for details). Plus, the plan itself had a couple of flaws, relying on one major assumption and a somewhat contrived setup. These don't really detract from what is definitely a cracking plot, but calling itself perfect is asking for criticism. I was also slightly bugged by the odd directorial gimmicks Spike Lee seems to be keen on, such as the dolly shot, which felt out of place in what was otherwise a solid piece of directing.

Proving you don't need gunfire to achieve tension, smart, brave and occasionally funny, Lee manages to pull off one of the better heist movies available. Perhaps not perfect, but close enough.

Friday 8 July 2011

The Princess Bride

Perhaps my favourite thing about The Princess Bride, aside from it's deeply quotable script, is that I've never been entirely sure what it is.

It's a bizarre mix of often spectacular scripting, definite comedy cameos and low budget 80's fantasy played with the straightest of faces. In one scene you might find yourself cringing from the atrocious acting and bad dialogue and in the next you might find among the finest comic lines in cinema history impeccably delivered. Can the elements that are clumsy and awkward have been intended when it's creators were clearly capable of the sublime?

In that question I think lies it's genius. It strides the line between naive camp and intentional irony like an absolute colossus. Pushed any further in either direction, to put a positive stamp upon it would spoil the fun to be found in both the possibility that this is all some happy accident and that it has been masterfully constructed to appear so.

It allows you to laugh both with it and at it within the same breath, and I very much doubt there is another film in which this is so successfully the case. It's a unique comedy, which makes it both rare and precious. But then again, maybe it really is just a shakey children's film with some strong lines. I hope to never learn the difference.

The Expendables

It's a magnificent idea. A stupendous, ambitious, delicious idea. It's the kind of film you dream of them making but know they never truly will. Stunt casting taken to it's absolute extreme: Packing a movie with the cream of the action genre, a royal rumble of big budget action, a post modern pantheon of our on screen gods!

It was pretty inevitable that they would fuck that up.

For a start there's a lot missing. Where is Van Damme, Seagal, Norris, Chan? Why are so many roles not filled with action stars? I can concede the presence of Randy Couture, as the idea of him tussling with Stone Cold Steve Austin is a particularly fine one, but who's the random black guy on the team? Perhaps most importantly, why is this not directed by John Woo? I know that this was Stallone's pet project, that these people have ego's the size of the sun, that money isn't infinite and Wesley Snipes is in prison but is the plan here to dip our feet in the water or to push the god damn boat out as far as it will go and spend ninety minutes partying in international waters?

The plot is nonsense but that itself is almost an action movie tradition. Unjustifiably, the action is poorly constructed and while there are a handful of colourful sequences it's mostly bland, forgettable and in a number of cases badly lit. Many random mooks die in ways you won't remember. It needed to be overblown, crazy, cartoon, memorable stuff and it's simply a long way away from that targets location. Perhaps even worse it fails to capitalise on the vast and meaty reverses of charisma it's carrying. Mickey Rourke and Dolph Lundgren are the only ones doing anything even remotely interesting, the majority of the rest being guilty of phoning in a performance when they were given the chance to stand out from their peers. I'd be amazed by this but there's a reason I'm saying someone with a track record of bringing solid action to the table should have been at the helm here. When an acting performance is poor there are two people to blame and old Sly just isn't a director.

There are a good many things wrong with this film but oddly the one I found most distracting was Sylvester Stallone's face. A number of the stars, such as Jet Li are becoming increasingly distinctive as they age, their faces taking on depth and character. But for reasons I honestly can't fathom Stallone decided that this was not for him, instead Botox has ravaged his features turning him into a grotesque caricature, an image that his painted on beard does little to dispel. Mickey Rourke might look like a car crash victim, but at least he has the face of a bitterly embattled man that suits the roles he plays, Stallone just looks like a Spitting Image puppet.

And he's not the only one here that thought he could punch age in the face and rattle off a witty one liner. I appreciate as men who spent most of their lives cultivating their image upon an international stage we can't expect them to act in a normal manner in regards to such things, but firing themselves into the uncanny valley was easily the worst option available.

To round this off as well as get back to the whole film thing, I've certainly seen worse action films, but there are so very few cases in which so much potential has been so squandered. What should be a love letter to the classics of it's genre and a potent entry into the cultural canon ends up being yet another disposable action romp. One might even call it...expendable.

Thursday 7 July 2011


It's 1942 and the Nazi's are having a high level pow-wow to figure out what to do with all those pesky Jews they seem to have about the place. To develop a solution, ideally a final one.

It's essentially a film about peoples faces.

Content aside it takes a shape recognisable from the millions of meetings that take place in a million offices every day at every level. They are administrators, some are blinkered by their own agendas, some have power and are prepared to wield it, some are loud and others quiet and some only came for the free food.

But as each man realises what they're truly discussing, the horrors that they are hiding behind careful lawyerly language, it begins to take it's toll, appearing in different ways upon the faces of the different personalities around the table.

As a film it's hampered somewhat by the fact that while certainly an extraordinary meeting it is a meeting all the same. Dry and filled with detail. However it's plot, such as it is is really just a platform for a set of strong acting performances, without which there really wouldn't be much, if anything of value to be found within. Containing a list of some of Britain's finest character actors within it's credits, as well as Stanley Tucci it can fortunately deliver in the performance department. Especially worthy of note are David Threlfall as the only man at the table both abhorred by the proposals and able to show it, Kenneth Branagh as the soft voiced monster in charge and Colin Firth as a lawyer who I found myself seeing as one of the more sympathetic characters despite the fact that his objections are seemingly based on his own personal pride.

It's not the fastest paced of all movies but it's one I found effective. Alongside the aforementioned faces, it conveys in a very subtle manner the real horror of the Holocaust: the reduction of human beings to mere logistics, the dehumanisation that allowed it to happen. For many at the table all those lives are simply numbers they are responsible for reducing. There is so little dissent that I found myself clinging to any available, the tired looks on the faces of the soldiers who will carry out the order, the purely selfish criticism, all are magnified by the tyranny both in and outside of that room.


Spider reminded me, and this is neither a good nor bad thing, but just a thing, that one of the many splendored beauties of film is it's capacity to tell stories in a near infinite number of ways. There aren't many films like Spider, few that tell a story in the careful manner it chooses to. Consequently it's a little challenging as watches go. And that is both a good and bad thing. It's some time before the films point raises it's head above the parapet to glare menacingly in your direction, prior to which you're left alone with 'Spider' and the strange world he inhabits.

Played by a remarkably stark and hollow looking Ralph Fiennes, "Spider" or Dennis Cleg is a recently released mental patient boarded in a halfway house, a place described by another resident as an island from the larger world. Far from free of his demons, he's a mumbling wreck of a man who spends the film shuffling through both the physical locations and the manifested memories of his childhood. It's here that a narrative arises from the ruins and thanks in large part to the excellent Miranda Richardson and Gabriel Byrne the film changes gear from ponderous to absorbing. As he begins to haunt his own past, silently baring witness to events, it becomes clear that we cannot truly trust the things that he sees. He's privy to elements he would not have seen and even those he may take on a subtle but important shift in their reality. As if to render some order to the things he sees he takes copious notes in a seemingly alien language composed of scribbles, perhaps believing that he can excise his illness by trapping it upon the pages of his notebook.

The films problem, and perhaps it's beauty is that it is comfortable with the audience being just as confused as Cleg himself. It's slowly made apparent that there is some method to his profound madness but it's an internal logic he alone can see. The intricate webs he builds from loose piece of scavenged string that give both him and the film their name are alluded to in his past but their exact nature is never covered. They seem to calm him as if they act as protection but we're left to guess as to why. Those things it does choose to explain we are often shown long before their reason has been established.

It makes it one of the most fascinating portrayals of madness I've ever come across, a delicate and memorable puzzle of a movie as fraught as the man's mind, but at the same time there is only so much of a movie during which one can sit and wonder what the devil is going on before the feeling that it is nonsense begins to creep in. Which I suppose it is, as an absence of sense is it's focus, but again we're back to that being both a good and bad thing.

Tuesday 5 July 2011


The thing about Sky television is that there's always something on, but it's probably a documentary about Nazi's.

When my brother comes around we often find that the only thing worth watching within that crucial after-work slot in the schedule is some program involving Ray Mears. Unfortunately more often that not this turns out to be the inferior "Extreme Survival" series (or possibly that one where he builds a boat) were he narrates the tale of some poor schmoes living it rough. We both agree that the best of this generally rotten bunch is the one in which escaped Jews evade and fight the Nazi's by building an Ewok village in the vast forests of Belarus.

Defiance is a film about those Jews and that village. Less focused on lighting fires than the Mear's documentary, it follows the camps leader and his brothers, the Bielskis as they accidentally form a community and become heroes.

There's a emotional balance to be struck whenever a story is told of within the horrors of the Holocaust. It's wounds are so profound that no mixture of images and sound will ever truly convey them, they can't be overlooked yet they risk overpowering any other tale you may wish to tell around them. Defiance, for my money fumbles this a little. While it does occasionally raise it's head (for example in one especially memorable scene in which Daniel Craig lets his people have their rage rather than doing the more obviously heroic thing), it didn't really impress upon me that larger picture, the emotional value of what they were doing in the woods. It's very insular in that it deals with internal issues and rivalries, which I felt didn't really do justice to the camps legend and legacy.

But despite a sense that it failed to lend voice to things it should have, that even within the camp there was a good deal more to the story of survival (perhaps some of Mear's bushcraft was indeed in order) than the guys in charge, I did like almost all of the things it was able to say.

The three Bielski brothers (played by Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell) are all wonderful. The film is essentially about how they each deal with the greatness that is thrust upon them and as luck would have it it is in different, subtle and fascinating ways. There's rivalry, sacrifice and a large helping of questioning what it means to be a hero. Much like Munich, Craig's accent is a touch off putting at first, but it is one of the best bits of acting I've seen him do in some time as a man who's idealism is slightly out of sync with his capabilities.

My usual biographical unease was in this case tempered by a working knowledge of events, and while that left definite edges of a failed story of the overall camp, I think I choose to see it as a successful character study of remarkable historical figures.

Sunday 3 July 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Making the mistake once more of assuming that anyone gives half a crap about the human cast, the franchise is back again to plunder our collective childhoods in the name of loud smashy action.

I have to grant them that the action is especially smashy. They seem to be getting the hang of whatever mystical piece of software generates the giant robots for the screen as many of the fight sequences are actually recognisable as fights and not just lots of metal spinning about the place. It's all very loud and pretty dynamic, three films on and I get the occasionally feeling that they may be onto something here, if only it wasn't made by and for morons.

Realistically, it's Transformers. It can only work in broad simplistic strokes; Good robots fight bad robots because good versus bad. I'm not expecting to be mentally engaged by it's devilish or subtle intricacies, I just wish they could do straightforward in a manner that bore thinking about for more than about five seconds, because sometimes the breaks between exploding giant machines is longer than that.

My instinct is to sit and list all the things that make absolutely no sense in hopes of expelling the bile I've worked up here, but it would really be quicker to list all of the things that actually made some. The criminally token presence of Megatron definitely deserves a mention, as does the hilarious replacement of the guys girlfriend, not that I would generally condone the presence of Megan Fox but I don't think I've ever seen a film that quite so candidly presented good old T and A. It dumps a thin backstory on us and hopes we don't care enough to worry further. Indeed, all over it hopes you approach it only partially concious, and maybe many will but personally I find it frustrating to find films that actively rely upon my passive acceptance of it's gibberish.

But it's biggest problem is really the same one the whole series carries: it relegates the Transformers to bit part players. The humans range from forgettable to cringeworthy yet all the while it has characters who are perhaps a little emotionally removed, but light up the goddamn screen. Somehow everything Optimus Prime says sounds awesome no matter how silly I'm sure it reads in the script. Just why on earth not fill a film with that?

The Dirty Dozen

A lot of films boast of a strong cast. Many make that claim, but few really get to mean it in the same way as The Dirty Dozen. For my money the only film that really beats it for a pure starting lineup is A Bridge Too Far which seemingly went to some lengths to include everybody you've ever heard of.

Sutherland! Savalas! Marvin! Cassavetes! Brown! Bronson! Borgnine! the only issue there is that there are so many great names that the film has little time to let each of them truly shine. You could carry a whole film upon Donald Sutherland's two minute impersonation of a General.

Despite it's many imitators The Dirty Dozen is perhaps the finest ensemble mission movie ever made. The mission itself seems relatively straightforward in comparison to more modern examples (presumably these things have escalated) but the task itself is really just Nazi flavoured icing on an especially moist cake. The well risen sponge and delicious cream filling of the overall film is in the training of the twelve men, sentenced to death or long terms of imprisonment to take on a suicide mission well behind enemy lines.

It's an enormous amount of fun as bucking military authority becomes the means by which Marvin molds the bunch of bastards into a cohesive unit, and while almost everything it does has become cliche I believe the key to making this movie stand head and shoulders above similar fare lies back in those oh so grand credits: There is so much sheer charisma on offer that the characters can't help but work and while each of the actors may have done finer work individually, but I can't name a single movie where the cast felt more like a group, that through humour and adversity really sold the idea that each contributes to a whole. It's so vital to it's appeal as an ensemble piece and theirs as a military unit.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Malcolm X

Spike Lee's Malcolm X is three hours long. Now I know there are plenty of other things about the film which are worthy of note, which is why this review isn't just those eight words, but I wanted to get my major beef up and out of the way. Three hours. I've seen longer films, but few that felt like it.

And I'm not even sure why it is three hours. There are certainly many interesting elements to his life and several highly distinctive periods that contribute to the mercurial man, and while I liked that the length allowed it to significantly change stylistically from one to the other with a subtle flow, I don't think that in in any way justifies the time. It details the things that happened rather than seriously seeking to examine his greater nature, so separate are the segments of his life that it's hard to see where they join into a larger picture of the no doubt complicated man. Indeed it gave me the impression of a man with a talent for speech who spent a life fulfilling roles determined by others, wearing a series a masks with little living behind them, and I can't believe that this was the films intent.

It doesn't even really attempt to explore why he was such an important figure, it covers the controversy certainly, but without the social background, the meaning of someone who spoke in such extremes is lost. There was value in his anger and I don't think that came across. Perhaps it makes the assumption you go in previously aware, which I suppose is reasonable for anyone settling down for three goddamn hours of this, but felt like an oversight of some size all the same.

Despite all these issues I do believe it has value. It's subject was of an importance that is often overlooked and while, as I say, I don't think it makes his case especially well, it does make it all the same . By virtue of it's length few filmic biographies can be considered quite so complete. His ideology was fascinating and his oratory electric, Denzel Washington nails their intensity as well as all of the elements the disparate personality demands of him. Taken as a whole it's a stunning piece of acting. As above the shifting styles are impressive, and if anything say more about the periods through which he lived than the films actual events.

All in all though, the film goes to great lengths to say surprisingly little, it lacks efficiency and I felt it could have done far greater justice to the man in considerably less time.

Sunday 26 June 2011

Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls

I don't think you can knock Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The patented Jim Carrey act wore quickly thin and I think today I would view it as more of the annoying same rather than the original and impressive comedy it was at the time. I suppose we shouldn't blame them for trying to recreate it's success but I'm going to anyway.

Amounting to an excuse for Carrey to do "his thing", When Nature Calls stretches the premise of the original till it snaps off and it's left holding the short end. Beginning with a series of humourless and common parodies, it sets Ace up as some sort of internationally recognised talent rather than the bizarre and hapless small-town-detective-who-done-good of the original. He jumps about and gurns a lot until it's revealed the evil English bloke is English and evil and that there was something about him being a detective which we'd forgotten in all the mincing about in a safari park.

It does I will admit contain some brilliant moments in which I found myself laughing and then feeling slightly dirty for enjoying this sort of thing. The pictured scene with the arrows, while part of an unfunny sequence raised a guffaw, as did the sudden appearance of the monster truck. Sadly these moments are far too few and further between for sheer comedy to save it's flailing plot. Many of the gags are pure gross out humour, which I've never really understood and even more are simply repetition of the original film.

There are laughs to be had, especially if you're not already numbed to the humour of his physical comedy, but there are simply better examples. Watch those instead.

War of the Worlds

Tom Cruise plays a deadbeat dad trying to reconnect with his estranged children, set against the background of an alien invasion. Maybe that's a little unfair to War of the Worlds, the "father as hero" theme that seems so popular recently (or maybe it always has been and I'm just beginning to notice) is rarely used quite so well. Cruise's character isn't really a hero at all, merely a man desperate to protect his children and lucky enough to (mostly) be able to in the face of the interminable Tripods. Indeed in a very nice touch, his son whom he knows little about acts in a manner more selfless and heroic.

The films perspective is rather neat, and again another trend that may or may not be current, being incredibly small. Following characters who may bare witness to, but are not directly involved or responsible for world changing events. Cruise does not save the earth or even at any point spark out a xenomorph and welcome it to Earth. It's a (pleasantly!) surprisingly desperate film as things progressively go from bad to worse and the characters and indeed humanities situation becomes increasingly bleak. Cruise, after a shaky start in which he's a little too much of himself, goes on to impress as a man grimly clinging to his own sanity for the sake of his offspring. (His daughter is the young girl from Taken, who also impresses, but does wear thing quickly with all her comedy neurosis.)

The third act drags the film down a little, dragging on as it does, having literally nowhere to go once things have passed "worse" and I felt Tim Robbins was poorly used, his character containing little of the subtlety he's capable of, but on the whole the film is a decent shot at apocalyptic fiction. It's a bit of a shame they named it War of the Worlds really, while much of the plot and many of the essential details are similar I would like to see a more faithful adaptation, setting and all, and feel there would be greater room for both if the name hadn't been commandeered, but then I suppose it might not have had Tripods in it if that were the case, which would have been a shame in it's own right. It is tremendously eerie to see the iconic machines stalking the landscape and the film contains some powerful imagery of which they are generally at the centre.

Saturday 25 June 2011


Running with the tagline: "Who is Salt?" the films plan is to present an action hero who's motives are never entirely clear. While used to good effect in pulling a couple of neat twists, it did leave my sympathies wavering which rendered much of the action detached and cold.

Always a fan of the lazy route I'm going throw caution to the wind and compare this spy based actioner to Bond and Bourne. I got the distinct feeling it wanted very much to feel like the latter, being down and dirty and lo fi, but with it's cold war nostalgia, global scale threats, hilarious comic book origins and preternatural foresight it fell far more readily toward the former. Not criminal alone I suppose, I like a bit of Bond as much as the next man, but lacking the charisma of the character and the investment of firm motivations it all felt a little too removed.

I should explain the foresight thing. Q always provided 007 with precisely the tools his mission would need, no matter how far off plan said mission became. This is sort of accepted as Bond being a master of his resources, but is essentially an in joke within the never-so-serious franchise. Similarly Salt always has what she needs to hand, but unlike Bourne who reacts to known stimuli, she knows everything she will require. She knows as much as the writer knows meaning she is essentially a super hero.

Despite precognition and often stepping firmly onto the side of the ludicrous, the action is occasionally satisfying and I did like the attention it pays to Jolie's shifting appearance (this is not a euphemism for titillation). Certainly not the worst slice of espionage I've been exposed to, just not nearly as smart as it thinks it is and lacking the strong central character it needed to actually excel in it's chosen genre.

Friday 24 June 2011

Shaolin Soccer

When it was first advertised I remember thinking that it was in fact surprising that we don't see more of this sort of thing; The visual effects more usually found in stylised fight scenes applied elsewhere (in this case, sports!), but even today I can't think of many examples. Perhaps, and at the risk of making sweeping generalisations about cultural output, because it lends itself to a kind of film that doesn't get made much in Europe and America, but seems to find success elsewhere. I suspect we're just bad at it.

Shaolin Soccer is a live action cartoon. I wouldn't say it's exactly for children, but it has no room for subtleties of any manner. It's packed with bright distinct colours, the characters are all well defined stereotypes, the plot is as straightforward as can be and any emotions are expressed as visually as the actors are able, to the extent of gurning or in one case that I still don't understand, song. It goes a bit Bollywood all of a sudden, then forgets about it.

Not that their's anything wrong with anything of this (aside from the singing, there was definitely something wrong with that). Not every film needs to be The Godfather and it's clear that the intent here is little more than to be a barrel or possibly even several barrels of fun. Not precisely funny, but gently pleasing and with some charm. And I think it gets there. I found quite a lot of the childlike naivety most of the characters portray and the absence of any internal logic getting on my pecs a lot, but that's mostly because I'm a cynical generation Y'r with a heart as cold as freshly laid snow.

The effects are definitely special and there are some excellent nods to the fight scenes from which they're derived. It hits all the usual self determination notes as well as a couple of the rarer ones and it's bright, breezy and happy throughout. It's as daft as bag of hammers but terribly pleasing on a visual level.

Incidentally, considered as a cartoon, there any number of similarly repurposed fight effects to be found within anime, notably football again, but I remember once reading a manga about a kung fu chef and if ever there was a film that needed to be made it is that.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Raising Cain

Anyone approaching Raising Cain should first ask themselves this question: Just how much do I like John Lithgow? If your answer, like mine is in the region of "quite a lot" then this is a film I would definitely recommend. If however you're somehow not a fan of his typically zealous performances then I would avoid this ham fisted Brian de Palma thriller like it were the plague itself.

Hindered by a supporting cast straight off the set of some god awful afternoon soap and a screechy violin to illustrate moments it feels are especially dramatic, it's a poorly constructed movie that while pleasingly complex spends far too much time floundering about with the pantomime that surrounds his wife. Her subplot seems to serve no real purpose beyond providing a couple of the aforementioned screechy bits and filling time that would have been better served with more of the only reason anyone would be watching this enormously silly film.

Playing the multiple personalities inhabiting one Carter Nix (don't worry, unlike every other film that uses it, this is not a twist) allows Lithgow to seriously push out the boat. Each is unique, bizarre and pure ham, but the kind of quality meat that only he can really deliver. He gets to do sad and angry and childish and suave, very few actors could have made this worth watching and very few films have allowed him to do quite so much.

More of a curiosity than a film in it's own right, it is at times jaw droppingly poor and at others unforgivably melodramatic, every second he is not on screen is some level of cringe worthy, but it does provide scenery that deserves to be chewed by one of the great masters of the visual performance. Lithgow is one of those people who should just be on screen more often and despite little else in it's favour it does achieve that simple goal.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Green Lantern

I like comic books and as you have possibly deduced I am also keen on film, and so their confluence is of particular interest. Unfortunately we have passed through the era in which Hollywood would approach such things gingerly. Comics have long had a reputation amongst those who have never read one as a medium exclusively for the young, and seemingly in order to counteract this fiction for a time comic book based movies where approached in a decidedly adult manner. Talent was required before it would move it's metaphorical feet, the premise alone presumably not being considered enough of a draw for success. Today, however they have truly entered the mainstream and are seen as ideal targets for haphazard CGI burdened blockbuster fodder. While there is potential still lurking within their darker recesses, it's only a matter of time before the reputation of the comic book hero is critically maligned. As Green Lantern sets out to prove, it may already be too late.

If one were to sit back, relax and disengage the parts of your brain that are used for conscious thought, I think you'd find a straightforward, functional cartoon of a movie. Everything is clearly laid out in simple terms, and often repeated for the hard of comprehension. Fear, it tells us, is bad. Courage, it goes on to say, is good. It then fills the rest of it's time with green computer graphics it feels the need to continually remind us are cool, amorphous baddies and Ryan Reynolds wisecracking his way through some rebel cliches within his slightly confused character.

There's an old storytelling adage that goes: show, don't tell, and while it's not always true that the former is strictly superior there's a reason the statement exists, and it's for films such as this. Along with continually insisting it's cool, it has characters come right out and say things like "Isn't it ironic that you're being given responsibility when you're so irresponsible?", when the only real evidence it feels like presenting is a single case of oversleeping. Whao there, wouldn't want to trouble the viewer into coming to their own conclusions. Why not skip the whole movie business and have someone famous insist that we're not wasting ninety precious minutes of our life?

Green Lantern has bucked the usual trend of adding an extra villain with each iteration and gone straight for the dodgy sequel trick of presenting two. A brave choice alongside the hero's own introduction, but not to worry, they've just made them incredibly thin. Parallax is an angry cloud who breaks stuff just 'cus, not the most potent of antagonists. The other Lanterns can't bring it down because they literally feel no fear as opposed to figuratively. It's a confused message (and somehow the films main theme. I personally thought Jordan's major trait was not just freaking out at the sight of aliens) but remember, don't think, you'll pull something. The other guy, Hector Hammond is a creepy chap with daddy issues who develops telekinesis and is far more interesting than Hal, but only gets a couple of minutes as he's only really here for a short fight scene in which their two immaterial powers interact for a bit.

With all the depth of a warm cheese slice, it's a lazy simplistic film that actively seeks banality. Beyond the trappings of the ring there's nothing here you haven't seen several times before. It's a film that knows there's a definite formula for it's sub genre and is working it like a champ. Inoffensive beyond insulting your intellect, but entirely insubstantial.

Tuesday 21 June 2011


Michael Cera really seems to have the awkward-lovable-high-schooler market cornered right now and one wonders what teen comedies will do without him once he can no longer be passed off as sixteen. Which knowing Hollywood will be around the time his hair turns grey.

Juno is the tale of a young girl who, becoming pregnant in her teens, decides to carry to term and hand off to adoptive parents, but really it's essentially an unusual twist on a familiar format. It's a coming of age movie in which the titular character learns important lessons about life, love and responsibility.

But it's all okay, because this film has an ace up it's sleeve around which could be wrapped almost any premise you might care to name, with high degrees of success: It has spectacular dialogue. All the characters talk in a strange and unique unreal poetic fashion that is sharp and playful and hugely entertaining. It's also deftly delivered by a jaw dropping cast (Her step-mom and dad are played by Alison Janney and J. K. Simmons, two of my all time favourite actors). It's just close enough to normal language to be comfortable yet rhythmic and satisfying all the same. No one really talks this way, but it wasn't long before I began to wish that they did. It's a remarkable piece of work.

I'm a big fan of strong dialogue and thought I would be prepared to watch most anything in which it is this good, but a quick trip to the writers wikipedia page leads me to Christina Aguilera musical, Burlesque and daft Megan Fox vehicle, Jennifer's Body. (That's the vehicle that's daft. In that sentence at least.) I can't see me settling down to watch either of those anytime soon. I was actually quite surprised that the writer, one Diablo Cody wasn't somehow in cahoots with Bryan Fuller, who's various television works are the only other example of raw dialogue that come to mind that are quite so splendid.

Getting back to this film for a moment, it is perhaps a little too fond of it's own music, another track often kicking in the moment the last has ended and while much of it is to good effect (the last song in particular is very sweet) it is at times gratuitous. But this fairly minor quibble is the only real complaint I can lay at it's firm feet. A touch predictable perhaps, and maybe a little safe for it's own theme, her level headedness and pragmatism would I suspect be seen as flippancy in a less sympathetic character, it understands its own tropes well enough to lay them down in a way that satisfied rather than grated. It manages to show Juno maturing during it's course, learning without being truly trite, despite her initial independent nature, offbeat though it may be. She and indeed the rest of the characters are incredibly well painted, and the whole film has a warm and slightly unreal feeling, something that's complimented by almost every aspect is has available. It is very cohesive, which I like in a film.

Sunday 19 June 2011


It's odd but I don't think of Val Kilmer as an actor with strong comedic chops, despite the fact that the three films I can think of that both he is in and I like (smugness to those guessing the other two) are ones in which he is acting the fool. At some point he seems to have decided that he was a serious actor (pronouncing it ack-tor) and sucked all the fun from his work. A string of incredibly dodgy films probably didn't do wonders for my image of him either.

With it's unusual protagonist, broad simplistic fantasy strokes, sense of wonder and fun and the aforementioned Kilmer as the excellent Mad Martigan, who just narrowly misses Han Solo levels of rogueish charm, Willow is one of the better childrens films of the eighties, which must place it in running for one of the better childrens films of all time, because as everyone knows the art of making movies for the young peaked at around the time I was one of them.

Despite the obvious uses of blue screen, some effects that were probably dated when it was made and entirely bloodless sword fights, I feel it holds up suprisingly well. And lets face it, your kids won't notice such things anyway, you'll be lucky if they're paying attention at all and not trying to spread jam into the dvd player.

As one would hope for an adventure starring a dwarf (is that the politically correct term? I was going to use "wee folk"), it has an excellent sense of scale, that not even Lord of the Rings really captured. With Willow's village wholly inhabitted by persons of short stature who refer to humans as a race of giants and the Brownies, imperilled by a two foot drop it can't help but appeal to those who's place in the world is several feet below everyone else. By which I mean children. Not midgets.

On the subject of Lord of the Rings, this film is quite a lot like (or if we're uncharitable, a blatant rip off) a light version of it in which the ring is an ickle baby and everyone is having a good deal more fun. On the subject of the Brownies, they are to this film what would once have been called "The R2D2" but more recently and more aptly here, "the Jar Jar Binks". This film carries in it's credits the worrying words "Story by George Lucas", which, as is evident here wasn't always such a bad thing, but does leave certain unfortunate artifacts of his hand. The Brownies are as funny as a tax form and about as welcome. But we can overlook them. They're only small.

Proving that fantasy doesn't always have to be dark and gritty (though the wierd troll thing is pretty unpleasant for younger eyes, I recall), Willow fills me with a healthy nostalgic glow, but I truly believe it has the magic and charm to stand head and shoulders above whatever it is that kids watch these days.


A fine example of a film I was far happier with once it had finished. It has some grand and robust things to say, but didn't say them in a way that kept me engaged. It was only afterwards, in thinking about what I had experienced that a multitude of layers revealed themselves.

Following a group of Israeli funded assassin's knocking off those they believe responsible for planning the massacre of athletes at the 1972 Olympics (in Munich), a good example of what I mean can be found in the way that they execute the executions. With each there is a problem, some error they make, and this is importation for the films tension as most are unprotected civilians, but it also paints the intrepid band of murderers as fallible. They aren't super spies or meticulous assassins, they're human beings, imperfect creatures. And in consideration this struck me as important to what I was seeing emerge as the central theme, but at the time it's just not as attention grabbing as cold, confident action fare. It all happens slowly rather than dynamically, and this is how I and the film danced, weighty ideas presented in a way that while beautiful, certainly, I couldn't described as captivating.

That major theme that I was drawing from it, alongside the feeling that it is broad and complex enough to be read in a multitude of manners, was the loss of humanity for all involved. Crucially, and perhaps sensibly the film never seeks to pick a side of the conflict, it is critical to all concerned. They dehumanise one another in order to inflict the damage they do, and as we see through the eyes of Bana the protagonist, they lose much of their own humanity in doing so.

The mood one brings to a films viewing plays an important role in the experience, and I have the feeling that the one I brought to Munich didn't necessarily do it justice. It is slow and not all that dramatic, but there is much to be said for it. There are some decent performances, in spite of unusual accents, and the level of uncertainty it portrays, evasive motives, insubstantial allegiances and even the lack of clarity over the assassin's task is most interesting, but for the time it was upon screen my actual attention was often elsewhere. It's something I will definitely watch again, because while ponderous and pensive, it is something I feel deserves to be loved. It'll just be a while before I get back around to it.

Friday 17 June 2011

X-Men: First Class

I have to admit I was a bit of a sucker for this concept. The relationship between Professor X and his counterpart Magneto is one of the most interesting in comics, colouring the conflicts between their respective groups as not just the battle of opposing forces, but of divergent ideologies. There are almost certainly comics that detail their time together and the essential divide between them, but I've never come across one in the chaotic process by which I generally read them (i.e. borrowing ones with smart looking covers from my brother).

The trouble is that I don't think it even attempted to follow through on the promise that the idea holds. We don't bear witness to the divide in theory, just the point at which Magneto ceases to use Xavier as a resource to meet his own ends. At no point do they share a common goal, at no point are the mental and physical aspects they represent cohesive, and I think that fundamentally diminishes the dynamic.

But as I say, never having read a full description of their past this might just be my personal interpretation that the film is failing to meet. As much as I'd like it if they were to start, they just don't make movies for me.

It is fairly successful in a lot of other areas. The spy thriller trappings of the Cold War era solidifying it's setting, alongside the giant sideburns and bad shirts. Hijacking the Cuban Missile crisis as the event that changes the world they inhabit made for an interesting comment on how they would effect our own. The inversion of the usual Harmony versus Discipline trope, Xavier believing their powers are to be controlled while Erik of the opinion they are to be expressed, adding much needed complexity and placing their split beyond one of purely good versus evil. And I did like both the personal narratives and acting of both the leads. It was a little tricky to place them in the same shoes as Picard and Gandalf, but I was left happy that they represented the characters as they might have been, my only issue being that they never manage to connect in a way that satisfied.

Beyond my reservations over the central relationship, it's really the powers that let this film about people with powers down. Beyond Erik and Charlie they really were dealing with a pack of D string material. They seemed to have scoured the source for characters with barely enough dimensions to rub together and abilities that just weren't lending themselves to the screen. They render most of the action entirely disposable, and while their allegiances mark much of the interaction between the two ideologies, I feel it would have been far less corny if that had stayed with just the one character. Kevin Bacon does his best with his physics lecture of a villain, but he does end up being yet another antagonist wanting to set off yet another mutant causing bomb to show those pesky humans what for. More could have been done with this. They should have been dealt a villain who represented the antithesis of both of their paths, instead this just muddies the waters in which they find themselves.

In the end it's all a little forgettable, rather than being especially bad. It didn't really do a good deal with it's concept or it's action, but the things that it did manage were not wholly disagreeable. I feel I should lambaste it further for forging something weak from such a grand idea, but I think I can detach my feelings enough to see it for what it is: a disposable summer blockbuster. And there are worse things in the world. Like wasps.

Thursday 16 June 2011

Southern Comfort

I spent much of the film thinking it was intended as an allegory, but could never quite place it's specific intent. It's the story of a national guard unit lost in the Louisiana bayou and hunted by locals they have managed to piss off; Undisciplined poorly trained soldiers trapped in an unfamiliar jungle like environment being picked off by a largely unseen indigenous force. But beyond a sense that they should be looking out for Charlie, up in the trees I'm not sure it seeks to venture anything further about the nature of that conflict (the Vietcong were not upset over a practical joke or the theft of a couple of canoes) rather it's simply evoking it's familiar imagery as a part of it's thriller element.

Like a mobile Assault on Precinct 13 in a swamp, it's focus is mainly on the interactions within the hunted group, and I think this is where the film lets itself down somewhat. It's characters just aren't all that strong, most just being slightly different flavours of aggressive. Keith Carradine stands out as the squads resident joker, and a man they know as Coach threatens an interesting sub plot, but his initial bizarre behaviour peters out into silence far too quickly. And I liked the dynamic it had going, the power struggle with the slightly hapless corporal left in charge, reinforcing the military doctrine that clearly wouldn't save them, but it did keep repeating on itself. We should have seen more turmoil from him over his inability to meet his responsibilities, instead of being a simple roadblock for the more sensible lead characters. Like many of the characters on offer, I felt it lacked some depth.

I often found myself thinking that the story of the Cajun hunters who dog them would have made for it's own, perhaps more distinct story. Fired upon by strangers, they manage to drive them off only to have one of their number captured and beaten. Once he is freed they must decide whether to invite retaliation by letting them go or try to end it their and then. It would almost work. If it weren't for the whole digging-up-corpses-and-tying-them-to-trees thing. That would be hard to work in rationally.

Despite it's issues I liked some of what it had to say. I liked that it had a certain respect for the Cajuns and their swamp, they weren't merely the backwards deviants of Deliverance. I liked that the swamp itself was a part of the force imposing upon the squad, as if it were an extension of their foe. But ultimately I'm just not sure what it was trying to do or say. It's not about 'Nam, or the military, or even something grand but oblique like the American psyche. It's just some dudes, being chased, in the woods. Maybe that's enough, but it left me craving something further.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

The King's Speech

Like most people I have a tendency to define myself by opposition. Not being like those other guys is an important part of how I see me. Now I find that there are a good many of these other people, and as a consequence it has become one of my internal rules that the greater the number of people telling you something is good the lower the chances are that this wil be true, and in order to keep believing this obvious logical fallacy I will often avoid things that receive universal acclaim. In case I like it, in case I were to become one of them.

Everybody loved The King's Speech. It won numerous popular awards. And it was British; It would be overly sentimental and manipulative and would contain a scene in which someone shouts a string of obscenities. It's an almost perfect storm of things I would naturally avoid. But then again, I do like Geoffrey Rush.

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, depending on your perspective, "everyone" happens to be right in this case. It is a really good film. It is sentimental, it is manipulative (it does have the swearing scene) but manages to be so in ways that I actively enjoyed, in that it mainly comes through in the acting and gives the two leads some serious meat to work with. Rush is good, certainly, allowed to be charismatic and fun, but it is Colin Firth and his performance that really drives the film.

Sympathising with such a removed character might have proven difficult with a less able thespian at the helm, but Firth is able to draw great humanity and depth from a character trapped between his obligations and impediment. His impressive affected stammer is often painful to behold. Both he and the script ably lay the ground work for one of the most interesting individual scenes I've seen for some time.

By the time we reach the films key moment we're so invested in his voice, in the manner in which he speaks and the significance, both globally and personally behind his words, that every line, every syllable of his famous radio address carries intense poignancy. I am admittedly especially keen on speech and it's methods, but I found it entirely delightful.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Mr. Nobody

Do you remember when non linear used to be a thing? When films such as Pulp Fiction were described as innovative for eschewing the more usual manner of plot progression. Today it's a reasonably standard narrative technique, to be found across the entire audio visual medium.

Well this is a bit of a new one. Not only non linear but also interdimension. It tells the story of a Mister Nemo Nobody, but rather than simply the things that happened within his life, it reveals many of the possible lives he could have been living. Paths and realities created and followed by the choices he has made, or not. Women he could have been with, deaths that might have happened. It skips joyfully between them all, as well as fantasies and dreams that he and his duplicates may have formed. It is in essence the story of the potential of a man.

And there isn't a correct path, as one would assume from such a thing. Each of his realities is grim and desperate in it's own way, but as his much older self says, each has value, each contains meaning. Each is true. This does make the film a bit relentless. We see so many of the awful things that might have happened to him (as an aside, I love the fact that there isn't vocabulary adequate to accurately describe what this film is doing), it's hard not to crave more than the scant few victories available across his entire potential existence, even if this was probably important to maintaining the idea of no single path being his one true life.

It's visually stunning, as is Jared Leto, which feels an odd thing to be saying of another chap but happens to be true, and contains so many ideas that I found myself wondering if this was all some incredibly charming physics lecture. Mixing science fiction and magic to portray it's premise, it's quite wonderful how quickly it increases in complexity as each choice generates a whole new life to have been lived and whole new choices to further expand. This does sadly slow down somewhat, but I guess again this was perhaps required in order to detail the major elements of some of his lives. If that's the correct term for them.

With so much going on it was rather inevitable that not all of it would be to my tastes, and there were sequences and strands that I found tedious or served to hinder the overall pace it had set, but I find it hard to seriously condemn such faults in what is a unique, fascinating and genuinely innovative piece of storytelling. I never knew where it was headed which these days is a rare and truly wonderful thing.

What About Bob

Pointing a camera at Bill Murray and letting it roll has long been a recognised method of generating comedy, but sadly this isn't one of the stronger examples. It's a bit of a shame, I remember adoring this film as a kid and like many things revisited it came as a disappointment. I suppose it's fair to say that my sense of humour might have changed in the last two decades, but I still feel pretty bitter about it, as if yet another piece of my childhood has been set ablaze. I'm still not over the Mysterious Cities of Gold. Olmecs? I don't even.

Murray plays Bob, a man described as "multi phobic", which is probably what they used to call one of the vast array of anxiety disorders, and who has plagued a long list of psychiatrists with his laundry list of problems, the latest of which being Richard Dreyfus. Desperate for help, Bob follows him and his family on holiday and hilarity ensues.

Or not, as the case happens to be. I found it mildly humorous, there is excellent chemistry between Dreyfus and Murray, and the occasional flash of brilliant dialogue (When asked about his divorce Bob replies: "There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don't.") but never laugh out loud funny, that oh so crucial metric of the comedy.

It's all just a bit family friendly. While I liked the fact that Bob is never "broken", never shows any signs of darkness despite his illness, which is the sort of thing that happens a lot in Robin Williams films, it really is trying ever so hard to be charming and sweet. There are many moments that could be described as "heartwarming" which Younger Me probably just ate up. The ignorant fool.

Probably a great film to show ones offspring, as it's still Murray if not especially classic. And if nothing else it stands as evidence that I was not the hardened cynic that I'd always assumed I was when I was seven.

Monday 13 June 2011

Grizzly Man

I can't deny that the story of Timothy Treadwell is compelling. On the surface he was either comically reckless or mind bendingly brave, but either way an infectious idealist who traded on what appeared to be a preternatural connection to his subjects and died the way that he lived: way too close to bears.

But as this well crafted documentary meticulously reveals he was in fact an incredibly complex individual who left many of the people who knew him conflicted about who he had truly been.

And I can't deny that much of the footage he managed to capture was both beautiful and spectacular, a good deal of which may have been resigned to obscurity had it not been for this film, which would have been a shame.

But even so I can't get over just how ghoulish this all is. How in order to tell it's painstaking tale we're being made privy to the private moments of a profoundly disturbed individual. Alone in the wilderness he began treating the camera as a confessional and the film has few scruples in exposing them. Seemingly an essentially ridiculous figure, he is unwittingly made the key figure in his own mockery.

I suspect a more respectful telling would have been less engrossing, and indeed that the film maker is entirely comfortable with placing his audience ill at ease, but this did little to temper the sense that watching these moments was really rather wrong, like rubbernecking at a traffic accident.

Sunday 12 June 2011

I, Robot

I, Robot is an adaptation of the Isaac Asimov stories in the same way that an Apple Macintosh might contribute to your five a day fruits. It does explore a handful of his ideas, mainly the three laws of robotics, and by explore I mean mention. As a big budget sci fi starring Will Smith I wasn't exactly expecting a dry essay on post humanist thought, but I had hoped for a little more than a CGI robot brawl.

It raises questions that while interesting in isolation, it's just not equipped to answer and then gets on with the shooty crashy explosive business of the bog standard actioner. Smith plays a homicide detective who hates technology and robots to a degree that would have made him look as insane as everyone in the movie assumes he is every day prior to the one in which he happens to be right. Far from being endearing his technophobia borders upon farce. He spends much of the film investigating a suicide that turns out to be a suicide and stumbles across a plot twist you could see coming from moment it's players were introduced.

Arguably I suppose introducing some intellect into a film that would otherwise have been very simple and straightforward is a good thing, and I've certainly seen worse action films, but the mixture of high and low ideas is most frustrating. The reasoning behind the antagonists plot is clever while the manner in which they are defeated is massively daft. It sways between the two states, flaunting it's failed potential throughout.

Saturday 11 June 2011

I Am Number Four

A group of aliens find themselves on earth and are being hunted, for reasons that aren't apparently relevant in a specific order by another group of aliens, who look copyright infringingly close to the Wraith. This is explained helpfully in a voice over right at the start in order to get any kind of plot out of the way as soon as is possible. The bad guys have bagged three of them already and our hero is, as you might imagine Number Four.

Except that he's not really our hero. He's certainly the main character, but I was left with the distinct impression that it was not him with whom the audience was intended to identify. See, this is not some sci fi Harry Potter, where the he's a lonely bespectacled kid who discovers he's special, obviously appealing to the kind of children who read a lot. No, Mr. Four is tall and tanned, mysterious and kind, entirely composed of abs and who discovers he's special.

This is just Twilight with bleeding aliens, the guy is all glowy and handsome. They aimed it at preteen girls who'll probably identify with the geeky yet beautiful chick, who hates all the fakes at her school, and who our beefcake meets in his new town. Attractive chap who is literally born to protect things falls for her, and in a stunningly shameless piece of fan service, comes from a race who only ever fall in love the one time. Everything here seems to support her fantasy, and not his. Yes, he has powers but there's little in the way of exploration, no fear or difficulty with them, they seem to exist purely to make him seem more impressive.

So, largely due to a misrepresentative trailer, I wondered in expecting a dodgy science fiction /coming of age movie, only to discover I was watching what is basically a teen romance with some drivel about aliens. And it's all horribly flimsy. Elements are introduced almost wholesale from other stories, with no twists or exploration. There's a sassy action chick who arrives to save them all, but those three words tell you literally everything about her. Character development is a term alien to it's writers. The powers he develops don't have any kind of meaning and there's no period of learning, as if someone has heard about comic book heroes but never gotten around to reading about them.

And that's just it. The film is chock full of things from other stories but with no apparent understanding of how they actually work. They're just there because they might appeal to the target audience. As if you pack a film with enough of the individual things you've seen work before, it's bound to be a winner even if the result is complete and utter nonsense.