Thursday, July 26, 2012

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN


SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN is an interesting story but a bad documentary.  Indeed, it's less a documentary than an anecdote. In the early 1970s, a Mexican-American folk singer called Sixto Rodriguez made two wonderful albums but achieved no commercial success in the USA. This mournful, self-effacing man then went back to hard manual labour and a hand-to-mouth existence.  Meanwhile, the album, with its anti-establishment lyrics, became super successful in apartheid riven South Africa, but the royalties and the recognition never found there way back to Rodriguez.  Finally, in the mid 1990s, some South African music lovers tracked Rodriguez down using the internet and staged a comeback concert tour.  Still, nothing much changed for "Sugar Man".  He remains, as he was, a modest, quiet, working man.

The documentary is a nonsense. It opens with urban legends about Rodriguez' supposedly outlandish suicide - rumours that it never tracks down to their source, and which Rodriguez seems reluctant to discuss. The doc also drops the ball on where all the royalties went - interviewing an irascible record exec and then just refusing to dig any deeper.  What we get instead is filler.  An investigative journalist doing not much investigating but looking things up on a map.  And concert footage filmed from 1998. It rather begs the question, "why now?" for this doc.  All in all, be aware of the anecdote and spend your  money on his albums rather than a ticket to this film, which doesn't even tell us if he's receiving royalties now.

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN played Sundance 2012 and is currently on release in the UK, Ireland, and the USA.  It opens in Sweden on August 24th, in Denmark and Australia on October 4th, in New Zealand on October 11th, in the Netherlands on December 20th, in Norway, France and Germany on December 27th, in Poland on February 22nd, and in Japan on March 16th. 

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN is rated PG 13 in the USA and the running time is 86 minutes.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A ruminative essay on THE DARK KNIGHT RISES - Spoilers replete


I respect Christopher Nolan as a film-maker. He applies an unusual degree of intelligence to genre films and he is not unafraid of radically rethinking a franchise.   At a technical level, I admire Nolan's unabashed commitment to delivering the highest quality, most immersive images to the movie-going audience.  That means that Nolan still shoots on film rather than digitally, with a preference for IMAX.  He does not shoot 3D movies because he understands that 3D technology, as it currently stands, cannot rationalise the point of convergence and the point of focus, and that this subconsciously brings us out of the movie.  Nolan is thus a man of integrity when it comes to his technical approach to film-making and is to be applauded.

All of which is pre-amble to the fact that despite going into this film with high hopes (though not over-hyped), I left disappointed.  It's by no means a bad movie - I loved the thematic material.  But as entertainment goes, the set piece action sequences were impressive technically but didn't set my pulse racing.  There were too many characters and story arcs - too many plot developments that felt unearned.  Ultimately I just didn't care.  

THEMATIC MATERIAL

To begin with the thematic material - which I found to be insightful and thought-provoking - the first major discussion was about the MORAL AMBIGUITY OF BENEVOLENT INTERVENTION.

The Gotham of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is a peaceful, almost banal place, in which the peace has been bought with a lie and repression.  Batman has taken the fall for Harvey Dent's death, allowing Commissioner Gordon to create support for the repressive Dent Act.  Running through the film is an intelligent discussion about how far with-holding choice from ordinary people can ever be a good thing.  Even if born of benevolence, were Batman and Gordon right to assume that they had to manufacture a "White Knight" to corral public opinion toward crime-fighting?  Shouldn't they have had faith in the public? And even if that faith were misplaced, what right did they have to distort the truth?  They certainly pay a harsh price for their machinations.  In the first hour of the movie we see that Gordon has driven away his family, is about to be sacked, and is lying severely wounded in hospital.  Batman's body has also failed him - his joints wrecked by ill-use and  prior injury.  Their bodies are symbols of moral decay - the literal manifestation of the corrosive impact of living a lie. Ultimately, their lie will be exposed by Bane, but it is welcomed as a liberation.  In a sense, Bane, Gordon and Batman are in agreement.  Founding a repressive peace on a lie was patronising and condescending.  The people deserved more respect.  Gordon and Wayne, agents of a standard patrician comic book world in which an elite makes interventions for the "ordinaries" do not have sufficient radical courage to say it out loud. But once the truth is out, they are all the more liberated for it. 

The theme of questioning the morality of benevolent intervention is further echoed in the use of weaponry in the film.  Wayne/Lucius Fox have developed an array of high spec machines to protect Gotham, as well as buying up inventions that could be harmful, such as the Clean Slate programme that Selina Kyle covets.  They've even mothballed a potential clean energy source because it could be used for military purposes at great cost to their company, and to the horror of do-gooding entrepreneur/militant terrorist Miranda Tate.  But it's those very machines that are used by Bane/Talia to wreak havoc on Gotham, with a particularly superb scene in which Bane literally blasts through into Lucius Fox's so-called secret R&D warehouse from his own under-ground lair.  

A radical question raised by this is whether Batman is himself the true antihero of this movie.  If Wayne/Batman hadn't developed/amassed these tools, would Gotham have been put in such danger?  In other words, just as its better for Wayne to leave his Batman identity behind (whether through death or through a daring autopilot assisted escape to Tuscany), is it also better for Gotham that Batman has left? To paraphrase Monty Python, what have superheroes ever done for us?  This, of course, brings us back to the plot arc that sees Batman ultimately confront the new head of The League of Shadows, Talia al Ghul. The League is basically an elite force of warriors who assume that their elite status gives them the right to direct history so as to "restore balance".  We do well to remember that Wayne was also a member of the League, and while he rejected it, he has kept many of their assumptions about the strong intervening in the lives of the ordinary to put them back on the right track.  The only difference is that he is benevolent rather than malevolent.  The discussion reminds me a bit of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.  Maybe it's just bad to intervene whether with good or bad intentions.  Maybe freedom from crime - whether organised in the case of Gotham and the Dent Act - or individual in the case of Alex - is only legitimate if it is engineered by legitimate democratic means. 

The second major theme in the movie is ECONOMIC INEQUALITY. That theme is refracted in different ways by each of the three purported villians.  The trio of villains begins with Daggett - a caricature greedy capitalist bastard who wants to take over Wayne Enterprises.  He is utterly conventional in his view of society and inequality.  He takes it for granted that capitalism distributes material wealth unequally and will play whatever game is necessary to make sure he comes out on top.He never questions the ultimately sustainability of the social order in Gotham, even as he disrupts the social order in minor African nations. Daggett hires the catburgler, Selina Kyle, to steal Bruce Wayne's fingerprints so that he can place fictitious trades that bankrupt Wayne and force him from the board.  He also hires Bane - a super-strong mercenary associated with African coups and mythical stories of having escaped a hellish prison - to make the trades in at attack on the stock market. Of course, as history proves, capitalists who think they can control political zealots always lose control to them, and Bane quickly dispatches Daggett as casually as Daggett might initiate a mass lay-off.  

But Daggett's most significant hire, as far as I'm concerned, is his sidekick Stryver, played by the marvelous Burn Gorman (just watch him as Guppy in the BBC's recent Bleak House).  Stryver is to me the most authentic character in the whole movie - symbolic of most City workers I know, who do their jobs well, fulfil their briefs, never once questioning the morality of the entire system they are part of. They're the aggressively upwardly mobile investment banking analysts who perform their tasks with absolute efficiency and dexterity in bonus maximisation - meanwhile the economy is crashing down around their ears.  Stryver, clumsily named, symbolises that faith in the capitalist system, where if we all work that bit harder, get a better degree, kiss-ass for promotion, we too can ascend to the elite. 

Selina Kyle is a more conflicted villain. She portrays herself as a kind of Robin Hood, only robbing the rich to feed herself - never taking from people who can't afford it.  She is seen to have the most insight into the corrosive nature of extreme material inequality and is also, on a tangent, insightful about the impossibility of getting a clean slate in a digital world. There's a lot to like about her character, not least that the Nolan's have not written her as a typical quasi-comedic fetishistic sex-kitten.  She has clear purpose, no self-delusion, and provides the only "zingers" in the film.  And in a three-hour film that often feels ponderous, ill-paced, and ill-plotted, Selina's wit is a valuable commodity indeed. 

In the middle section of the film it is Bane who emerges as the true match for Batman and Wayne - with his militant anti-capitalist forced "liberation" of the masses inside their new prison-Gotham.  Wayne becomes financially, as well as physically crippled: Batman is intellectually and physically broken by Bane - the broken mask and broken back.  In that sense, Bane is (in this middle section at least) the complete inverse of The Joker.  The Joker was petrifying because had no back story, no motivation, no logic. How was one to negotiate with such a man? How was one to out-think him, when his every action was seemingly anarchic, random, impossible to predict?  By contrast, Bane is a rather conventional, if particularly well-armed left-wing militant, complete with almost anarchic redistribution of wealth and kangaroo courts trying the former elite.  A lot of the footage reminded me of documentaries and history books about the Russia after the 1917, with luxurious houses occupied by multiple families, arbitrary judgments - the revenge of the oppressed. Only Selina voices the fact that these are people too - these apartments used to belong to people.* 

The only thing that doesn't make since, given Bane's stated anti-capitalist popular protest, is the fact that he arms a device that will explode in five months no matter what.  There is a contradiction in his liberating the people only to destroy them which is unsatisfactorily resolved when we realise that he is really a stooge for Talia's nihilistic destruction. To that end, I felt that Bane's project, character and force as a super-villain had been blunted by turning him into, essentially, a pussy-whipped patsy.  All of which brings us nicely to what I perceive to be the major problems with the films narrative arcs, character development, plot twists and pacing.

NARRATIVE PROBLEMS

So here's my problem with THE DARK KNIGHT RISES: I didn't care. And I didn't care because there were too many characters doing too much stuff that was either illogical or unearned.  Let's start with Bruce Wayne.  Wayne starts as a broken man, mourning for the future he could have had with Rachel Dawes.  He meets earnest entrepreneur Miranda Tate at a charity ball, then she comes to his house, and within about three lines of dialogue he tumbles into bed with her, despite the whole Rachel-brooding-thing.  I didn't buy it.  And then Selina Kyle is suddenly magically in love with Bruce, just because he "believes in her", kissing him passionately before he flies off with a bomb.  We're meant to be massively moved by this but come on - when did this love triangle have time to be established?  When did we, as an audience, get time to buy into this? And when did Selina  and Bruce fall sufficiently in love to end up together in Tuscany?!  

I came to the end of the film with the strong impression that this would've been a far better movie if Miranda/Talia simply hadn't been a character. This would've prevented the inclusion of a forced rom-com cheesy, unearned love triangle. It would also not have undermined the logical purity of Bane's mission as well as cutting of his metaphorical balls. It just didn't sit right with me that this hulking intellect - the first real match for Wayne/Batman - would basically be a love-sick pup, although I acknowledge that his tears at the end could've been because his pain meds were cut off as the mask was ripped, rather than an emotional response to Talia/Miranda rehearsing her back story.

Next problem - why are we introduced to so many small characters who have no bearing on the plot, distract attention and bloat the run-time?  Do we really need to see Stryver pushed out onto the ice? Do we really need to see the Scarecrow sitting in judgment?  Do we really need to see Matthew Modine's incompetent cop turn coward?  Do we really need the little orphan Robin story - and what a completely obvious and facile plot twist THAT was -  for any reason other than as franchise-fodder for Warner Brothers? All of these digressions took time away from Gordon and Fox. I wanted to see more of Gordon suffering for his part in the Dent lie. I wanted to see more establishment of the Love Triangle storyline if that was indeed the direction they were going in.

Final problem, so many micro choices didn't make sense.  If you invent a massively powerful energy source you have to be an idiot not to realise that any power source can be used for good and evil.  Why act all surprised when some scientist creates the trigger?  And if you have all this stuff that's dangerous why not just destroy it. Why keep it hanging around just in case you might at some unspecified future date be able to use it safely.  How come Bruce Wayne can strap on a super knee brace and suddenly run around like everything's all okay? (As I'm recovering from a fractured ankle right now - that really rubbed me up the wrong way).  How come Bruce can reach peak physical fitness in one training montage and then hop, skip and jump back from Jodhpur to North America and penetrate a locked down island, all the while secretly plotting to fake his own death (and falling in love with Selina)?  You get my drift....

TECHNICAL PROBLEMS

Perhaps the best thing about THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is that it is technically accomplished.  Wally Pfister's IMAX photography is superb.  But there are still two problems. I hated Hans Zimmer's over-bearing score.  And I found Bane's mask problematic.  His speech was too indistinct and it unfairly turned Tom Hardy into a Vader parody.  Poor chap.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is on global release.

*Of course, many commentators have drawn the obvious contemporary analogy between Bane's radical condemnation of capitalism and the Occupy Movement.  All I can say to that is that I respect the logic of Bane's argument, but I've  never seen anything like such a cogent programme from Occupy. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

LOLA VERSUS


LOLA VERSUS is a mediocre drama about a twenty-something girl living in Manhattan and how she fails to cope with being dumped by her fiancé. This rather predictably includes trying to sleep with her male best friend, resenting her female best friend when she gets together with him, and basically having all sorts of questionable sex.  I didn't mind that Lola was rather self-absorbed and unlikeable - because that's what people who've just been dumped are like.  I did, however, object to the rather thin characterisation and any kind of witty one-liners.  It says a lot about Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister Jones' (BREAKING UPWARDS) rather earnest, lacklustre script that even the charming Greta Gerwig (DAMSELS IN DISTRESS) can't bring it to life.

Maybe there's something even more fundamentally wrong here?  Even though I have big issues with Lena Dunham's output, there's a way in which when her characters talk about sexually transmitted diseases and hate sex it has the ring of painful truth which is sadly missing in LOLA VERSUS. There's a sense in which we believe in twenty-something angst because we see the characters literally bare themselves in demeaning relationships.  There's none of that willing self-abasement here. 

LOLA VERSUS played Tribeca 2012 and opened earlier this year in the USA. It opens in the UK this weekend. It opens in Turkey on September 7th, in Russia on September 20th, in Estonia on October 5th, in France on November 28th and in Germany on December 13th.

LOLA VERSUS is rated R and has a running time of 87 minutes.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD


SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD is a boring, tonally uneven, miscast mess. Which is a shame, because writer/director Lorene Scafaria's previous flick, NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST was a genuinely funny, sweet rom-com with an awesome soundtrack.  Maybe it was helped by it's simple conceit - two kids go on a road trip to see a band play a secret gig.  By contrast, SEEKING A FRIEND is hamstrung with a really bizarre conceit that the director clealru doesn't know how to handle: the world is going to end in three days when an asteroid hits the Earth.  

The rom-com implication of the end of the world is that Dodge (Steve Carrell) goes on a road trip to find his college sweetheart, aided by his neighbour, Manic Pixie Dreamgirl Penny (Keira Knightley). Naturally, despite the fact that he's a boring insurance salesman and she's, well, a Manic Pixie Dreamgirl, he's going to fall in love with her en route.  This storyline doesn't work. Prim and proper Keira Knightley can't sell Manic Pixieness and she has no chemistry with Carrell, who basically looks like her father. Plus, the whole kooky rom-com vibe is totally offset by the disturbing background of looting and survivalists. I mean, can we really root for Penny when she abandons her boyfriend (Adam Brody) to a crowd of violent looters?

SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD is currently on release in the USA, Canada, Croatia, Slovenia, Israel, Ireland, Poland and the UK. It opens on July 19th in Russia, July 26th in Hungary, August 2nd in Singapore, August 8th in France, Greece, the Netherlands and Iceland, August 17th in Lithuania, August 20th in Bulgaria, August 23rd in Australia and Estonia, August 31st in Brazil, September 6th in Hong Kong, September 14th in Mexico and Turkey, September 20th in Germany, September 27th in Portugal, October 18th in Chile and November 7th in the Philippines.

The film is rated R and the running time is 101 minutes.

Friday, July 13, 2012

MAGIC MIKE


MAGIC MIKE is a much hyped film about a male stripper who wants to escape the business, all the while inducting a young kid into the same exploitative game. Based loosely on male lead Channing Tatum's own experiences, the movie has an authentic eye for the details of the business, but also a blind eye for the seedier aspects of the game.  We see Mike's young protege fall into drug use and strip club owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) exploit both Mike and The Kid. But the griminess of the business, the gay subculture, the violence of the drug trade aren't shown.  Rather we get a warm-yellow-toned world of buff guys banging hot chicks, living in cool lofts, with a nice redemptive character arc. This truly is Disney does Strip Clubs just as Strip Clubs give men and women a safe fantasy environment. 

Where the movie works best is in showcasing Channing Tatum's easy charm as the jovial "elder brother" figure to The Kid and the suitor to the kid's sister. Even when he disses the bank for refusing him a loan, he gets the best lines.  Steven Soderbergh is also at his best in directing, editing and photographing these causal scenes of intimacy, taking us back to his indie roots.  Matthew McConaughey gets the "Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder" role - the outlandish, cartoonish svengali who is utterly at peace with his world, and the movie creates minor tension by leaving it till the end to show him stripping.  As for Alex Pettyfer as The Kid, it's a pretty anonymous performance. 

But taken as a whole, I found the movie rather wearying.  There were too many stripping routines, The Kid's descent and Mike's redemption were too obviously mapped out. The whole thing tdo sleek and easy and long.  I couldn't help but think that there was a cracking 95 minute movie inside this flick's 120 minute running time. 

MAGIC MIKE is currently on release in Georgia, Russia, Canada, Estonia, Lithuania, the USA, Thailand, the Philippines, the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Iceland and Poland.  It opens on July 20th in Norway; July 26th in Australia and New Zealand; August 3rd in Greece, Israel and Romania; August 9th in Hungary and Singapore; August 15th in Belgium, France, Sweden and Germany; August 23rd in Denmark; Finland on September 7th; Italy on September 21st; Hong Kong on September 27th; Spain and Turkey on October 5th; Brazil on November 2nd; Taiwan on November 9th; Mexico on November 23rd and in Argentina on January 3rd 2013.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN


To state the obvious, there is no need for THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN to exist other than that Sony needed a superhero movie for their 2012 production slate. A mere ten years after the critically and commercially successful Sam Raimi revamp is too soon for a reimagining.  And director Marc Webb ((500) DAYS OF SUMMER) seems to acknowledge this with has artistically cowardly retread of Raimi's first film.  There are superficial differences.  Andrew Garfield's Spidey is more emo and Method than Tobey Maguire's.  There's no Daily Bugle. Emma Stone's slightly bored-looking Gwen Stacy is substituted for Mary-Jane Watson. But a lot of the beats of the film - the individual scenes - seem to safely restate what was established by Raimi, especially in its first hour which retells the origin story.

In the second half of the film, Spidey tries to investigate the death of his parents - an event taken for granted in Raimi's version.  Apparently papa Spidey was a genetic scientist - a fact that sits oddly with me. I had always thought Spiderman was compelling because he was a blue collar hero, battling small-time crime, in sharp contrast to his better educated more moneyed superhero peers such as Batman.  Anyways, it is what it is. Following the trail of his father's research leads Spidey to Dr Curt Connors aka the Lizard (Rhys Ifans) - a pretty weak two-dimensional villian more from a cheap pantomime than a modern superhero movie.

The best I can say about the new Spiderman is that it's pretty harmless. And I guess it would've been to much to have expected a genuine reboot along the lines of Nolan's Batman.  Maybe my disaffection stems from the fact that Sony seems to be pitching this film at a younger audience than the typical superhero fare.  There are just too many juvenile jokes - Spidey shooting web at a guy's crotch - Spidey using his superpowers too skateboard better - Spidey biting on FOOTLOOSE in the boat-yard -  for me to take this film seriously, no matter how Method Garfield goes.

Meh.

THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN is on global release.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Ankle-frack Round-Up 5 - MR POPPER'S PENGUINS


From the director of MEAN GIRLS and the writers behind HOT TUB TIME MACHINE and THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG comes an entirely harmless "tab A into slot B" kids movie in which all things are predictable and cute and banal and blah.

Jim Carrey is typecast as the divorced workaholic with no relationship with his kids who is magically transformed into a warm-hearted, touchy feely dad when he inherits some penguins.  Despite the all-star cast (Carla Gugino as the estranged wife, Angela Lansbury as the picky client) the movie just doesn't catch fire.  The penguins (real life) just aren't as cute and fun as they are in HAPPY FEET - maybe the screenwriters should've stuck with the Popper-forms-a-circus-troupe story from the original children's book?  The plot is entirely predictable.  There isn't enough oddball comedy of the kind found in THREE MEN AND A BABY - we need to see Carrey's Popper struggle more with his apartment being trashed instead of just immediately becoming a wonderful pet owner and father. Worst of all, Carrey just looks tired and old and bored. At his best he was an actor so full of energy he could transform mediocre movies into works of comic genius.  But now? He's lost that lovin' feeling.  

There's nothing out and out badly done about the movie, but nothing worth watching either, even as a DVD.

MR POPPER'S PENGUINS was released in summer 2011 and is now available to rent and own.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Ankle-frack Round-Up 4 - REAL STEEL

REAL STEEL is set in the near-future where robot fighters have taken over from humans.  Hugh Jackman plays a washed up ex-boxer called Charlie, who's so deeply indebted and uninterested in his son Max (Dakota Goyo), that he effectively sells his right to parent to his rich sister-in-law (Hope Davis).  Paid to babysit the kid for a summer, Charlie surprisingly finds himself bonding with the kid who shares love of robots, as well as enough charisma and chutzpah to get their underdog bot a prize fight.  Newly inspired, Charlie teaches the bot to shadow box, setting the film up for a Rocky-like final bout and a schmaltzy finale in which father and son and bot have bonded with each other and the crowd.

I fully expected to hate REAL STEEL but rather enjoyed it.  It's an entirely derivative affair, to be sure, heavily borrowing from ROCKY.  And after the first twenty minutes you can predict everything that's going to happen in the film.  But for all that, there's an unmistakable chemistry between the lead actors, some wonderfully designed fighting robots, and some handsomely choreographed fight scenes - apparently courtesy of Sugar Ray Leonard.  The upshot is that while I knew exactly how the movie would play out, I was genuinely excited and moved by the final fight scene and the shamelessly populist ending. 

Digging into the credits, it's easy to see why the movie works.  The Sugar Ray Leonard credit combined with cinematography from Mauro Fiore (AVATAR) and direction from Shawn Levy (NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM) adds up to technically impressive and visually engaging vis effects.  And the original idea, based on a story by Robert Mathieson (I AM LEGEND) holds our interest.  Overall, REAL STEEL is a perfectly fine kids movie with enough fighting skills to hold an adult's interest.  I can't quite understand the rather sniffy reviews.

REAL STEEL was released in autumn 2011 and is now available to rent and own. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects but lost to HUGO.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Ankle frack round up 3 - WE BOUGHT A ZOO


WE BOUGHT A ZOO is Cameron Crowe's first film since the mawkish, embarrassing ELIZABETHTOWN, and I'm afraid that it's another flabby sentimental film in which the central characters do not hold our interest. Based on a script by Aline Brosh McKenna (27 WEDDINGS) the movie sees a recently widowed journalist pour his family's money into a neglected zoo. Everything is utterly predictable.  There's an angry exchange that provides catharsis for the father and his teenage son.  There's flirtation with bankruptcy before a triumphant reopening of the zoo. There's a mean government inspector, a cute vet love-interest for the dad, a cute vet's niece love-interest for the son, and an attempt to put some bite into the mix with a sarcastic older brother.  The material is hokey as hell, but I couldn't help wonder if different casting might have helped - and direction toward broader humour. Perhaps Ben Stiller and Amy Adams  as the father and vet rather than Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansen? 

I despair that Crowe will ever again direct anything with the emotional depth, narrative sophistication, dark undertones, and genuine heart (as opposed to manufactured schmaltz) of ALMOST FAMOUS.

WE BOUGHT A ZOO was released in winter 2011/2012 and is now available to rent and own.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Ankle-frack Round-Up 2 - THIS MEANS WAR


Forced into house arrest after a particularly nasty ankle injury, I have decided to finally get around to reviewing all those releases that I didn't get round to originally. Next up, THIS MEANS WAR.....


THIS MEANS WAR is a rom-com so excrescent that my use of the word excrescent contains more intelligence than its entire run-time. It's a confection so plastic and manufactured, so alien to any actual authentic emotion, that its the cinematic equivalent of a children's brightly coloured bouncing ball. The sets and locations are perfectly manicured and designed, as are the three lead characters - all far better actors than this lame story deserves.  

Reese Witherspoon plays one of those bouncy vapid heroines that she so brilliantly satirized in LEGALLY BLONDE.  In the ultimate risible movie set-up, she starts dating two hot guys - Chris Pine (STAR TREK) and Tom Hardy (THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) who just happen to be both best friends and spies.  Cue lots of magical dates (who goes to a circus for Christ's sake?!); awkward Hollywood dancing around the fact that Little Miss Perfect might be banging two guys; and stupidass skits revolving around spy-cams and gadgetry. It is neither edifying nor entertaining - a transparently shameless cash-in.  I discard this film - even for McG, this is scraping the bottom of the barrel. 

THIS MEANS WAR was released in February 2012 and is available to rent and own.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Ankle-frack Round-Up 1 - YOUNG ADULT



Forced into house arrest after a particularly nasty ankle injury, I have decided to finally get around to reviewing all those releases that I didn't get round to originally.  First up, YOUNG ADULT.....


YOUNG ADULT is a brilliantly scabrous tragicomedy from the writer and director behind JUNO. It's  about a narcissistic delusional writer of Young Adult fiction who returns to her home town to break up the marriage of her high school sweetheart. It's a testament to the nuance and bravery of Diablo Cody's script and Charlize Theron's lead performance that she allows Mavis to be quite unlikeable but that we still care about her emotional journey. Mavis can be deliberately mean-spirited - she is horribly rude to the disabled town geek (Patton Oswalt) and shamelessly uses him as a drinking buddy while she waits to pounce on her beloved Buddy (Patrick Wilson).  But she's at her most compelling when she's just plain disconnected - like when she asks the provincial sales assistant if the store stocks Marc Jacobs.  She's a girl who's ridden along on her good looks - she's trumpeted as the town's success - all the more tragic then that the books she writes aren't selling, and she's desperate for a family.  

YOUNG ADULT is gritty in a way that few movies dare to be.  DP Eric Steelberg (UP IN THE AIR) zooms in on Mavis itching her balding scalp and spitting into an ink cartridge to make it work.  It's a signal that this is a movie about the way our bodies betray us as - about the dangers of making a myth out of high school love. Then again, Cody's script doesn't dwell on that physical frailty long enough to beg our sympathy. There's a cool matter-of-factness to both Mavis and the movie.  The grittiness extends to the narrative arc.  Sure, there's a scene of "emotional catharsis" near the end, where key facts are revealed, but there's no easy redemption or new-found likeability.  And the relationship between Theron and the schlubby Matt goes no further than it would likely go, rather than giving us a nice rom-com pay-off.  In fact, now I think of it, there's little humour in the movie at all, and certainly very little that's do with the narrative arc. Rather, there are some very funny sly scenes where Cody winks at her critics who wonder how she writes like a "teen".

I loved YOUNG ADULT even though it didn't really make me laugh, never gave me any emotional release, and didn't really teach me anything I didn't know. There's just something refreshingly honest about a movie that dares to be disliked. It's like the pitch for Seinfeld - no-one hugs, no-one learns everything.  

YOUNG ADULT was released in winter 2011/2013 and is now available to rent and own. Charlize Theron was nominated for a Golden Globe.