Friday, September 09, 2005

THE MAN - what a waste of talent

THE MAN is a formulaic and only occasionally funny cop-buddy movie. The set up is that Samuel L Jackson, Bad-ass and Jedi, is a hard-as-nails cop. His partner has just gone down for corruption, so that Jackson is under suspicion. His mission is to take out a big-time dealer by pretending that he is also a corrupt cop. Unfortunately, the villain of the piece - played with a surprisingly large dollop of credibility by former British boy-band member, Luke Goss - mistakes Eugene Levy for the corrupt cop. Now, Eugene Levy is best known to all of us as the sweet dad in American Pie or as the sweet put-upon husband in a string of mockumentaries like BEST IN SHOW or A MIGHTY WIND. In order to make it credible that the villain would actually believe Levy is a criminal, the script-writers work had on the incidental and frankly, ridiculous, plot details. But you know - any of these odd-couple mistaken-identity movies rely on you buying into the absurd plot set-up. Whether the film still works depends on whether there is genuine chemistry between the two leads and whether the gags are actually funny. Unfortunately for this movie, I found the relationship between Jackson and Levy unfunny and abusive. How many more times do we have to see a wise-cracking hard-ass black guy take the piss out of a geeky white guy? This stuff is tired. Worse still, it generates bad cinema - anyone who doesn't believe me after seeing THE MAN should check out that horribly Queen Latifah-Jimmy Fallon flick TAXI. So, please Hollywood, let's bury this genre or at least get in better funny-men to do the script.

THE MAN goes on release in the UK and US today and hits France on January 11th 2006.

Monday, September 05, 2005

THE FORTY YEAR OLD VIRGIN - a surprisingly sweet comedy

I have a tremendous affection for the new comedy THE FORTY YEAR OLD VIRGIN. It pulls of the rare trick of combining fairly explicit frat-boy humour with the more sympathetic touch-feely quality of a straightforward romantic comedy. The story is simple: a bunch of guys work in an electrical retailer. One day the guys find out that one of the team, Andy Sitzer (played brilliantly by Steve Carrell) is a forty-year old virgin. This prompts them to “lay down the knowledge” on him and try to get him laid. However, Andy is a fundamentally decent guy and manages to form a relationship with a cool woman who works across the street (played by the ever-brilliant Catherine Keener.) That’s pretty much it. Along the way, we have a lot of out-and-out physical comedy, some wry observational comedy and a warm fuzzy feeling. Kudos to writer-director Judd Apatow for coming with such a finely balanced script (in conjunction with Carrell.) Kudos to Carrell and Keener for creating a genuinely feel-good movie. And kudos to the talented ensemble cast, including Paul Rudd, Jane Lynch, Romany Malco and Seth Rogen. So, I implore you, do not be put off by the explicit title to this movie. It is far sweeter than the title implies.

THE FORTY YEAR OLD VIRGIN is on release in the US and UK. It goes on release in Germany on September 29th 2005, in Austria on October 5th and in France on November 9th.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

LAST DAYS - pretentious wank or genius? I tend to the latter

LAST DAYS is Gus Van Sant's beautiful interpretation of the last days of Kurt Cobain. Instead of aiming for a literal fictionalised account of Cobain's life, Gus Van Sant tries to explore the pressures that Cobain might have felt under at the time. The movie has attracted a lot of criticism which basically runs along the lines that the movie disappears up its own arse. After all, there is no clear narrative arc to cling on to. There is very little dialogue. There are long scenes where nothing seems to happen. Michael Pitt plays the Cobain character behind a mop of blonde hair and sunglasses, and we can barely hear what he is saying. More specifically, people have argued that it depicts Cobain "incorrectly".

I can sympathise with these criticisms up to a point. If you want a more obvious biopic then this movie is not for you. But I reckon that the way to approach this movie is as a poem rather than a novel. Gus Van Sant brilliantly evokes a wistful, tragic mood. There may be a lack of obvious narrative but we do have a sense of increasing foreboding as we approach the inevitable conclusion. As with GERRY and ELEPHANT there is something tragic in the wastefulness of young men moving towards a seemingly inevitable death. And if he goes about it in an odd fashion, I genuinely feel that van Sant's method gets us closer to how isolating it must feel to be a great musician who feels increasingly hemmed in by all manner of people who are after things from you. And perhaps, it's better just to watch this film as a meditation on loneliness than as a comment on Cobain. Either way, I found it genuinely moving to see a young man - any young man let alone one of such talent - inch toward death not with a nang but a whimper. Thank god we have people like Gus van Sant willing to take a chance on such demanding material.
LAST DAYS premiered at Cannes 2005 and has been on release in the US. It is currently on limited release in the UK and hits Austria in February 2006.

Friday, September 02, 2005

RED EYE - thrills and spills at thirty thousand feet

RED EYE is a taught thriller that provides the requisite gasps of horror, chases, fights and finally a schmaltzy ending. It doesn't tinker with the genre, or have pretensions beyond its basic mission, which is to hook us into a scary story, and watch it play out amidst an atmosphere of escalating tension. The set up is that Lisa Reisert is the manager of a hotel in Miami where an important US politician is going to stay. Nasty terrorists want him moved to a specific suite wherein it will be easier to assassinate him. To this end, they kidnap her father and, through their plant in the airplane seat next to her, force her to call her hotel and have the VIP guest moved. A large part of the movie takes place in the confines of the plane, and adds to the claustrophobia and rising fear at the limited options available to our heroine. But what really makes this film special is the superlative acting. The heroine is played by Rachel McAdams. She has been great in a bunch of mediocre movies, and I can't wait to see her get her teeth into a meatier role. The charming young man on the plane is played by Cillian Murphy - an Irish actor of great talent - notably in 28 Days Later, Batman Begins and the forthcoming Breakfast on Pluto. Finally, we have heavyweight Brian Cox in a brief part as Lisa's dad. I really can't fault RED EYE. At under an hour and a half it is a perfectly crafted thriller. It just goes to show that in this age of spoofs, post-modern ironies and overly worked editing, if you stick to the basics you can still turn out a great movie.

RED EYE went on release in the US in August and goes on release in the UK today. It hits Germany and Austria next week, and reaches France on October 26th 2006.