Tuesday, 31 August 2010

REVIEW: The Girl Who Played With Fire

What did you say about Rooney Mara?

Something is going over my head. Granted many things go over my head, such as tenants of neo-conservatism, the appeal of Dubstep music or why I get so much shit of everybody on my film course for giving The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus seven out of ten. I gave District 9 the same grade and isn't that so much more fundamentally objectionable? That was one of the best films of last year. But no. I have to endlessly defend a film I thought was kind of OK and can't really remember anymore. Dickwads. Anyways, what's going over my head this time is the supposed quality of this particular franchise. I just don't get it. The movies I'm seeing are dime a dozen mystery thrillers, with a couple of good performances. I guess there in Swedish, but that can only account for so much quality.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo I found to be an entertaining thriller with a couple of legitimately strong moments, but for the most part there's just a familiar vibe to it all. I thought its central mystery was weak, it dragged something horrible in places, it was shot quite dully and tonally awkward ultra-violence aside, didn't have any kind of revitalizing qualities a mystery thriller needs to set itself from the pack. The character of Lisbeth maybe? I guess, she's the franchises calling card, but I'd call her more kind of interesting then dazzlingly fascinating and overall I just felt overwhelmed. The sequel, leaves me with no different feeling. It starts of kind of the same, a semi-intriguing mystery set-up and our leads share no screen-time as they independently investigate. I was all set to give it another 6/10 until everything fell to shit in the second half, the plot uncomfortably merged with a Lisbeth origin story and everything fell from its hummingly average perch. It was lazy writing, leaning on unseen family bonds and lame, one-note, contrived villainy to generate its final act intensity, and it just didn't work from me. The whole thing felt very George Lucas, and I mean that in the most derogatory sense.

Again, Noomi Rapace gives an interesting performance as Lisbeth, its pleasingly subtle and internal and even with inferior material to work with there are moments to peak your interest. Michael Nyqvist doesn't have the most original or interesting character to work with, but he's a stabling presence I suppose, although he had more to do in the first one. None of the new characters here make an impact, nor does the film have any interest in them. It commits again to its narrative, which objectively is probably the weakest thing it has going for it, especially this time around.

Rating: 5/10

Monday, 30 August 2010

Next Week's Movies

The Switch: The only thing not sending me to the hills is the presence of Jason Bateman. But Jason Bateman was in Couples Retreat. So. Expectancy Level: 4/10

The Last Exorcism: Digi-cam horror for the win. Not only do these movies seem to to multiply by the day, they also never stop making money. Still I'm getting very close to the place where I don't care anymore. Expectancy Level: 5/10

Jonah Hex: Call it morbid curiosity, but I am definitely going to see this movie. Definitely. Expectancy Level: 2/10

Dinner For Schmucks: Steve Carell doesn't seem to have the greatest sense of quality control, and here is his latest OK movie to be released. Unsure. Expectancy Level: 5/10

Certified Copy: Cannes awarding movie with a supposedly awards worthy performance from Juliet Binoche. There. Expectancy Level: 7/10

REVIEW: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

So who the fuck says I never do anything different?

First impressions are a fickle and confusing thing. Going into this review, my synopsis was basically a film I disliked a great deal, that might be one of the best of the year. Or with a further couple of hours of matured thought, one of the most unique, visually engaging films I'd ever seen that's also a pretentious, steaming pile of self-satisfied hipster bullshit. I don't want to use the word contradictory, but its, you know, its quality is at odds with itself. In the end I think you can't whitewash the flaws nor ignore the strengths. It's a chaotic, clusterfuck of a film that throws an endless amount of creation at a target and sees what sticks. Funneled through the viewpoint of an Arcade Firey, Diablo Codyish, read alternative literaturite hipster. And whether that sounds intolerable to you or not probably tells you whether you'll like this movie. Think Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist was the best romantic comedy in years? Well you've just found the ultimate comic-book movie.

Going into the film, I thought its central concept, defeating seven evil ex-boyfriends in order to win the girl, was ridiculous and to be honest I didn't really come out otherwise convinced. Its not a suspension of disbelief thing, something I enjoy doing and to be honest if I didn't this movie would be unwatchable, breaking one logical rule after the other without much explanation, an aspect of it I liked a lot actually. But more because the concept is such a blatant cover for feelings of inadequacy and jealousy, and approached the wrong way it can be just a ' you can't better then me in bed if your DEAD' revenge fantasy, of which the angst isn't taken away just because they explode into coins instead of blood and gore. I didn't think movie addressed this dark subtext anywhere nearly enough, more concerned with being a ride, and added onto to the fact that Scott Pilgrim is kind of a dick, and played by Michael Cera, it made him a hard guy to root for.

Similarly, the minute I saw Mary Elizabeth Winstead in her pink wig in the trailers I knew trouble was ahead. And faster then you can say manic pixie dream girl, you've got a romance that is a narrative tentpole, and a female lead that isn't allowed to be a character, rather an indie girl fuck fantasy for guys who listen to Interpol instead of Nickelback. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World pitches itself as a romance, its narrative structure depends on it, so this matters more then it usually would. Ramona and Scott share no believable connection, Winstead and Cera share no chemistry in each others presence and there's no investment in the relationship beyond the geek getting to bang the hot girl. I'm not asking for Edward and Bella hysterics but a genuine indication that these two human beings like each other and want to be in each others company for reasons other then narrative expediency might of been nice. I don't even think its the actors fault all the much. Its the hipster DNA, a sub-culture so terrified of the exhibition of emotion that its pushed down with endless layers of irony. And it shows in the story and writing. I've read around the internet that this doesn't matter, its Scott's story, Scott's Journey, but that just means that its yet another film featuring a romance where the girl just doesn't matter. And for a movie as often intelligent and clever as this, its disappointing.

So I don't like the story, I'm not invested in the characters and I just quasi-accused it of being sexist. How am I not hating this movie? Because once you adjust to what is happening, how its happening is so endlessly creative, entertaining, awe-inspiring and original that if you ignore what the movie is trying to say and the story its trying to tell, it just might be the best movie experience you have all year. All the superfluous touches, the incorporation of early video game iconography to the ridiculously over the top fight scenes, to its sense of humor, to the several terrific supporting performances and most impressively Wright's gloriously ADD visual style, which may be owed to the graphic novels I'm not sure, but in the cinematic context just feels so brutally creative, that were many sequences where I just wanted to clap. For moments of pure fun, pure entertainment, Scott Pilgrim just excels, at times beyond even what I thought it would be able to do.

Of the actors, I think Alison Pill was my favorite, as the excruciatingly deadpan drummer of Scott's band whose announcement ' We're sex bo-bomb, and we're here to make money and sell out and stuff' was the funniest thing I recall seeing for a long time. She was terrific. Also Mean Creek's Kieran Culkin as Scott's gay roommate Wallace, gives great acerbic-isms, and even ex-Superman Brandon Routh sells the shit out of his cameo. Cera, an actor who I don't quite hate as much as the rest of the world, I think has some very strong moments in the film, and although he doesn't do anything new perhaps, this combined with Youth In Revolt mean he's an actor I'm at the very least interested in. Winstead, mostly due to the writing, gets to do nothing but act aloof, and I would even say that Ellen Wong as Knives Chau, who mostly is used by the movie as a cheap joke, creates a more relatable character then her.

Wright is primarily interested in the visual creativity the premise provides for, but above all this leaves the movie bobbing in between greatness and the realm of the underwhelming. In the bizarrest comparison I might ever make, I would say it takes the same joy in visual and experimental sense of wonder as Ponyo, only Scott Pilgrim fails when it tries to bare its soul, because it hasn't got one. Sweetness and candy for the dead-eyed generation of irony. But boy does it taste good.

Rating: 7/10

REVIEW: Grown-Ups

The most rewarding scene of Piranha 3D.

You know how there are some movies that are so delusionally unfunny, they feel like the kid you knew in high school, who believed that the secret to being hilarious lied in amping the volume or just not breaking eye contact until you're were forced to laugh out of self-preservation? And do you know how some movies are so thoroughly smug and self-satisfied, that they feel like the guy who so believes in his own awesomeness, that he feels you should be grateful that he's even talking to a plebhead like you? And do you know how some movies are so bereft of talent that almost everyone's presence offends you, to the point it actually makes you angry? Well Grown-Ups is all of these things and more. A movie so lazily awful that it's almost offensive.

This is all Adam Sandler's fault. He has kind of broken out of the C/B- list of comedians to become an honest to Betsy A-lister, whose movies usually make 100 million on the back of his name and here he is, dragging David Spade and Rob Schneider, entities the world has rightly rejected, along with him to the same heights. Sandler, for me at least, is a terrible comedian. He doesn't really add intelligence to the mix, he's not a rubber face like Jim Carrey, he's not a good physical comedian and he doesn't even seem that comfortable with self-deprecation, much preferring to humiliate the supporting cast instead. I don't get why he's done so well for himself, because he's just not very good at what he does. But in a way I'm glad he did, because against all odds I think Sandler is a fantastic dramatic actor, to the point that I am as equally excited to seem him do that kind of work as I am despairing for his comedic roles. And if you have had to see ten Grown-Ups, to get the one performance as good as he gives in Punch Drunk Love then it's worth it. I dejectedly suppose.

Doesn't mean I'm not going to rip these movies to shit though, and Grown-Ups might be the worst of the lot. In past Sandler comedies, they were bad but at least they were movies by some conventional sense. This one just sees Sandler and friends getting paid to hang out and improv unfunny jokes and then laugh really hard at themselves. And believe me they do that a lot in this. So much laughing at stuff that doesn't deserve anything but echoing silence. Its as if they backdoored a laugh-track onto the film just in-case the audience didn't quite get the concept. Which to be fair in this film is a distinct possibility. Sandler is just his usual ineffectual self, Kevin James is probably the least obnoxious, even if he has made a career out of telling fat jokes about himself. Chris Rock is a terrible actor, the Jerry Seinfeld of black comedians in that sense, and something just doesn't seem to click as it should. And as for Rob Schneider and David Spade, well they can just fuck off. But they are not the worst thing in this movie. No, that is Salma Hayek, who a great actress in the right context, can be shockingly awful in the wrong one. And this is the wrong one. Her delivery is just way too big all the time, and frankly its kind of nauseating. Won't be too many worse performances this year I'd imagine.

But Grown-Ups doesn't care what I think. Men of a certain intelligence bought their tickets and made this movie a success and isn't that all that matters. Just call me next time Sandler does a serious one.

Rating: 3/10

REVIEW: Diary Of A Wimpy Kid

I don't think there's a joke to be made about this picture that isn't simplistic, so I'm just going to play the meta-card.

Seeing kids movies alone presents quite the dilemma at times. There's the most obvious concern, which is sitting by myself trying to avoid eye-contact with parents who believe I'm hear to take their children, which in my defense I hardly ever do. Awkward eye-contact, possible switching of seats and muttering seem to ensue, leading me to sink further in my chair and pray for the damn thing to start already. Alternatively there's the critical concern, how fair is it really to criticize a kids movie? Kids have different standards and if it met mine wouldn't it bypass theirs on the way? Not everything can manage The Simpson's balance and frankly you have to wonder why it should even try at times. Sure do appreciate it though, guys.

I don't have much harmful to say to Diary Of A Wimpy Kid really. For what it is its pleasingly not cynical or hollow. It has a consistent tone and some stylistic touches, familiar though they may be. It has solid kid performances from Zachary Gordon and Robert Capron that generally stay on the right side of irritating and if I were ten, I think I would have liked this a lot. Having said that, the ground covered, essentially the nightmare of beginning high school, or middle school or whatnot, doesn't even come close to resembling something new, and if anything it comes close to being a slightly more innocent, slightly less funny version of Drillbit Taylor sans the adult roles. And its not like that movie was The Big Lebowski. But it has a singular voice, as in it doesn't feel it was written via committee, and for a kids movie these days that's something to celebrate.

In a way that seems like apologist criticism, and simply saying that something is good because it isn't as dire as everything else in its field doesn't cut it. But for me if something feels has its own voice, I'm much more liable to be forgiving then say if it just feels like a series of unconnected moments and scenes, each written in debate. So like I said, this movie is harmless. It knows its place, and will no doubt satisfy its intended audience. Which hasn't been me since the millennium, but still. Its not like kids can write these things and if they could, would be weird right.

Rating: 5/10

Quick Emmy Reaction

I've written a lot about these already so I'll try to keep it to the point. Here we go.

Best Comedy: Modern Family
Given that the first and second best comedies weren't nominated, glad they gave it to the third. The strongest of those in the nominee list. Fair play.

Best Drama: Mad Men
Meh, emmy complacency. Should have been Breaking Bad this year, but I guess if you're going to give it to something no matter what. It might as well be Mad Men. Its a great show, and I can only be so resentful because season three was a great year of TV.

Best Dramatic Actor: Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Yay, Emmy Complacency! Jokes. Jon Hamm might feel a little hard done by, but Cranston was excellent this year and there really isn't that much to argue against. What it should have been perhaps, was for BB to win best drama and Hamm to win best actor, perhaps a fairer reflection of their respective seasons.

Best Dramatic Actress: Kyra Sedgewick, The Closer
Perhaps the biggest WTF of the night, Sedgewick seemed a filler nomination at best but apparently not. I've only seen a few episodes of the show, so I can't speak to whether she deserved it, but I know a few others who definitely did.

Best Supporting Actor In A Drama: Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Erm, fuck yeah. The award that makes everything else OK. A surprise in that they gave it to the clear right person, Paul has been particularly good this year and this makes me very, very happy.

Best Supporting Actress In A Drama: Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife
I have no problem with this, although I don't seem to be all that excited about it either. So fair enough.

Best Actor In A Comedy: Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Epic lol. But I legitimately think this is a good thing. Parsons is very, very good in a mediocre show, and why should he be punished for that. If anything it makes the performance even more impressive.

Best Actress In A Comedy: Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Falco said something along the lines of this is ridiculous when she got up to accept the award, and who are we to disagree. Nurse Jackie isn't a funny show, and if it is its certainly not because of Falco. If anything she should have been in the dramatic category to stop Kyra Sedgewick. But she won this because she was in The Sopranos. Simple as.

Best Supporting Actress In A Comedy: Jane Lynch, Glee
Glee fans will no doubt be feeling like The Dark Knight fans at the Oscars a couple of years back, in that sure the we won the award we expected to win, but we should have won so much more. I think this is probably fair. Lynch is the only actor on the show who deserves to win and she won. Sure beats out Matthew Morrison.

Best Supporting Actor In A Comedy: Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
This is one of those cases, where episode submitted trumps performance in a series as a whole. Stonestreet is awesome in Fizbo, but I think Ty Burrell probably deserved it for what he did throughout the whole year. Still, I'm not unhappy.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Mad Men - ' The Rejected' and ' The Chrysanthemum And The Sword' - I've Got A Hate In Me

An uncharacteristically busy week lead to me not finding the time to recap Mad Men last week, so I'll do slightly abbreviated recaps of both that episode and the latest one. I read an interesting piece in the AV Club's review of the chrysanthemum and the sword, saying that this season of Mad Men has divided critics, but not in the conventional way. Here there is a lot of disparity in regards to what people think its doing wrong and what people think its doing right. My personal season favorite is probably 'The Good News', with the strong character work of Don's trip to California and the poignant hilariousness of his New York odyssey with Lane Pryce. But to many others it stands as the weakest moment. I don't get that, but there you go. Perhaps the show itself is to blame for this, in its insistence to try and do just about everything a drama can do, from character drama, to capturing and dissecting a societal era, to exploring the complexities of family, to the complexities of business and advertising and many more topics of discussion.

The problem being that each critic or fan of the show has a particular aspect that they prefer and want the show to give itself to. Personally I'd love for it to be a more focused character study of Don Draper, and perhaps a little less of the capturing a period in time stuff, particularly as we venture further into the sixties and to a time more commonly explored. But Mad Men is determined to be the king of all trades, so to speak, meaning that everybody has something to be frustrated about, even if that something is different. This ambition has looked a bit worn in these last couple of episodes, coming across a little more meandering and less well-constructed then usual. Not bad by any means, but Mad Men sets a very high standard for itself, so...

The Rejected

- I'm not the biggest fan of the Pete stories these days, and kind of feel like Vincent Kartheiser works best for this show in a supporting role. This one felt a little serviceable then inspired. Forced to tell his father-in-law they're ditching his Clearasil account, whilst also discovering his wife is with child, its a further demonstration of how these days Pete seems to be the Mad Men character who has most got his shit together, pretty much happily married, pretty much emotionally stable and perhaps aside from Don seems to be the most valuable asset the agency has, all of which doesn't make him the most intriguing character on the show right now. Still Kartheiser does a solid job.

- Seeing Alison Brie as Pete's wife is such a culture shock these days now that I'm used to seeing her on Community. Can't get over it. Never will.

- As for Peggy's tentative steps into the world of the hippie storyline, I think it was more hit then miss, not the strongest subplot ever but Elisabeth Moss brings such an irresistible likeability to Peggy, watching her in any circumstance is entertaining. I thought the douchebag hippy photographer was a bit on the nose though, as was the police breaking up the underground hippie party. That scene has been exhausted by bad 70's movies.

- Loved the Peggy's head peeking over the door sight gag though. This show is a lot funnier then I remember it being

- The strongest moment of the episode is probably the resolution of the Allison the secretary subplot from a couple of episodes ago. Seeing Don's inability to deal with any human being exhibiting emotion is always good value, and seeing how he pretty much annihilated Allison's self-respect, it was good to see her leave in a moment of semi-strength.

- " I don't say this easily, but you are not a good person."

- Generally a good episode, nothing was bad, but not enough was very good for my liking. That last shot of the suits and the youth separated by the glass and Peggy's lingering look at Pete was pretty awesome though.

Rating: 7/10

The Chrysanthemum and The Sword

- Yikes. Fans of January Jones can't be liking this series do far. Betty Francis is venturing in dangerous territory, going from flawed but intriguing character to a pretty unsympathetic villain in a dark domestic drama, and may be doing damage to poor Sally Draper that can't be undone. Betty was never the greatest parent, but her wrongdoings were always framed in the context of Don's douchebaggery. Now that she's free and perhaps more importantly, contrasted with her saintly new partner Henry Francis, she just comes off a little bit monstrous.

- Betty lands yet another slap to her ten year old's face in sword, believing that the complexities of a child in anguish can only be solved with force, a lesson learned from her own strict childhood no doubt, and even makes Don look a good parent in comparison. I don't know if Betty's going down this road is a thing of permanence or a slight in a grander plan, but she's veering pretty close to mother-from-hell territory. With not all that much ambiguity to be honest.

" You're right. Because it doesn't do anything!"

- Having said that, Sally did masturbate in front of another child, so not currently the most adjusted girl in the world. Although the girl does seem to be pulling away from Betty and her belief set, what with the short hair and the uncouth behavior.

- I did appreciate Betty's scene with the psychiatrist at the end though, implying that something is happening with this character rather then just demonization. It's a little too simplistic for her to go full tilt toward Livia Soprano territory, so I assume something is in the works.

- The Honda contract played out a little like a caper plot, which was kind of cool. Seeing the gang come together to pull a fast one on a rival, up and coming ad agency was yet another example of the show flexing its tonal muscles. It was kind of ruined though, by the tacked on and rather gormless Roger Sterling plot of anti-Japanese fervor. I get that this character might not be the most likely person to forgive and forget, but it was handled all a bit one-note and I didn't really think it added anything.

- Still Pete handing him his ass in the next scene was worth the false-note.

- The conclusion of the caper plot was nifty though, with Don not getting the account but through his ingenuity bankrupting his closest opposition, and always Jon Hamm nailed the final scene with the Japanese clients. I used to think this show was a fairly even ensemble, but Hamm stands out from the pack more and more these days.

- Second great Peggy sight gag in two weeks, this time biking around an empty studio.

- Two OK episodes in a row Mad Men, which would be fine I guess if you were Lost , but I want a frickin good one next week. And perhaps some nuance in regards to Betty Draper being the mother from another planet. She's certainly the weakest thing about this season thus far, so no doubt an episode heavy on her is going to suffer. Having said that, I think the Sally aspect is being handled very well.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Next Week's Movies

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World: I don't know if I'm quite as excited for this as most other people I know, but it looks to be at the very least a lot of fun - Expectancy Level: 7/10

Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Its got sme semi-decent reviews so we'll see. I'm certainly not excited in any shape or form - Expectancy Level: 5/10

The Girl Who Played With Fire: Very brisk sequel to a film everybody loved but me. Sure to be thought awesome by everyone else but me - Expectancy Level: 6/10

Grown-Ups: I hate Adam Sandler the comedian. Hate him, ironically I can't think of a dramatic performance he gave that I didn't like, but there you go. This will be shit. - Expectancy Level: 4/10

REVIEW: Piranha 3D

Punch them in the nose.

I very much wanted to start this review with a whole bit about the progression of cinema over the years ultimately culminating in the achievement of Piranha 3D but there's little point in making fun of this movie for its inherent shitness. It knows it already and doesn't seem to care. But outside of its obvious sense of irony and the glee it takes in its many, many gory killings, it played its story almost too straight, and is suffocatingly anchored down by the blandest, dullest, most badly acted teenage lead I can remember, not only this but he's an entirely humorless presence and his coming of age storyline is played pretty much straight. Steven R. McQueen, you officially killed my Piranha 3D buzz.

What makes the decision to focus on him all the more garish is that in this cast we have Ving Rhames, Elisabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, Richard Dreyfuss and many more. All reduced to cameos and badly written bit parts. Still, the movie finds its feet once the blood starts spilling, and the big massacre beach sequence is very well-executed by director Alexandre Aja, who is a very strong horror movie director and generally brings a lot of style to the various decapitations, losing of limbs and Piranha attacks. The most awesome thing about Piranha 3D though, is that it gets stolen by Jerry O' Connell. Jerry 'Kangaroo Jack' O Connell. Jerry' Mission To Mars' O Connell. I wouldn't believe it myself but it happened, so in my face. Playing the sleazy, coke-snorting director of the girls gone wild video obviously shooting when the Piranha's attack and he's very entertaining and self-effacing. I also enjoyed Party Down's Adam Scott as a seismologist badass, although he didn't get as much to do as I would have liked. Shue is serviceable as the female sheriff, and Dreyfuss' cameo is probably the most inspired moment of the movie. Jaws references are everywhere, from Dreyfuss himself to the use of the infamous dolly zoom. Even the beach attack bares much resemblance.

Its old school in its attitudes, as all sexual beings, and to be honest mostly the female sexual beings, are punished for their ungodliness, with many, many women dying of Piranha to crotch attacks. I found this a little tiresome after a while to be honest, and for a horror movie to be so anti-sex, ironic given how much flesh it displays, is a little old hat. Even Kelly Brook, whose character is probably the nicest in the movie, has to die horribly because she lets Jerry O Connell point a camera at her boobs. Otherwise she's a near saintly human being, but no. I consider myself a horror fan, but not really a horror apologist. I'm not quite ready to offer the all is forgiven amnesty a few have given to this movie because of its creative and very well-executed scenes of gore. Too much else is wrong with it, most potently the irritating teenagers and pseudo teenage romance at its center. Surely Piranha 3D had better things to do with its time. But its yet another movie in 2010 subject us to a wafer thin and corrosive high-school sweetheart fantasy subplot that nobody cares about. Still, thanks to Aja, the film is a little better then it had any right to be, Jerry O' Connell is awesome and Eli Roth is in it for less then a minute and gets his head squished. Score.

Rating: 5/10


Orienteering is more fun with Angelina Jolie.

Few names can make me so suspicious of a film going in then Kurt Wimmer. Brett Ratner? Paul W.S Anderson maybe. No matter, the mind behind Ultraviolet's particularly feeble brand of sci-fi action movies grows weary on my patience. Salt seems to be a bit bigger scale for Wimmer, with semi-credible director Philip Noyce attached, and possibly the only female action star with the ability to make people pay money to see her kick hordes of ass. I find this amusing, because Angelina Jolie is looking particularly skeletal these days, yet the sight of her beating the shit out of a succession of massive guys is something I bizarrely accept, even if it makes no sense.

Maybe its because Jolie has an innate otherworldly quality, something that few movie stars have and its something that has kept her career afloat much more then her choices in films. A lot of crap on that CV. Still as Jennifer Aniston would no doubt attest to, she has a certain something and if there's a reason why Salt isn't quite as shit as Equilibrium or Ultraviolet then its her, annihilating anonymous government officials with the same kind of dead-eyed grace we've come to expect. The plot itself is some spy-hokem nonsense, complete with long-dormant sleeper agents and plans to assassinate the president and destroy the world. Classic Wimmer subtelty, but the action is refreshingly un-CGI even if it isn't the most thrilling thing I've ever seen, and there's a calm, re-assuring supporting performance from Liev Schreiber, as there always is when he's involved. Also I enjoyed a brief cameo from August Diehl, the German actor who almost stole Inglourious Basterds in a single scene last year. He's not really given that much to do, but is great to see him get work. I hate it when actors give great performances and then you never see them again.

Ultimately though, Salt is the kind of mildly enjoyable but ultimately disposable summer blockbuster that won't change the world but could distract you for a couple of hours. Looked at in another scale of criticism, it might be Kurt Wimmer's masterpiece. Largely because he didn't direct it and for various other reasons that aren't to do with him but still. There that is.

Rating: 5/10

Friday, 20 August 2010

REVIEW: The Human Centipede (The First Sequence)

Unfortunately your regular reviewer is too busy doing a hypothetical something else to write this review in the manner to which you've become accustomed. Frankly the notion of the reviewer being busy is something we found very much hilarious, but hey judge not lest ye etc.. The ensuing review is made-up of his notes found at the scene.

8:23 PM: Its the summertime, and the living is easy here in screen one. People seem in good spirits about their decision to spend their Friday night watching the Human Centipede, The first sequence in brackets. It seems to be mostly hipsters, although the goths seem solidly represented. The inevitable nervous irony has already set in. Many jokes about stitching things up.

8:26 PM: The screen is pretty much full, which isn't surprising as this is the only showing of the week. Solid financial strategy Cornerhouse Manchester, this wasn't going to be a cult hit or anything. Its not like its title makes the truthful promise of disgust or anything. Come on.

8:28 PM: Fish are jumping and The Cotton is high. That's right.

8:29 PM: We're a single measurement away from the start of the advertisements (WHOA SHIT) and the atmosphere had devolved from a confident sense of badassery to nervous laughter and near silence. That's right bitches, make like Cyndi Lauper and show you're true colors. Y'all are shitting it. I, on the other hand am a rock of the densest proportions.

8:30 PM: Alright I lied one minute ago. I want to go home and watch Finding Nemo.

8:33 PM: Why is Jack Daniels called No. 7 ? Will anyone ever know?

8:35 PM: I think I'm the only person in this audience who came alone. This either makes me the alpha dog of proceedings or the creepiest guy in the room. I perform both roles so well its hard to differentiate.

8:38 PM: Honest predictions, I don't think this will be a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but it might shit me up, and isn't that all it came here to do?

8:40 PM: End of Advertisements (WHOA SHIT) Could hear a pin drop.

8:42 PM: Trailer for the Girl Who Played With Fire. I love how they don't show any dialogue so everyone thinks its in English. You're being conned fools. By the swedes.

8:43 PM: I like that insight. I'm awesome.

8:45 PM: Lights go down, time to dance. I think this is the most tense cinema screen I've ever been in. Regret fouls the air with its stink.

8:47 PM: I think my glow in the dark pen is getting in everyone's hostile little face. Fuck all of you.

8:48 PM: Okies. Static shot of a motorway. Looks cheap, as do the credits. Hey the Human Centipede is not here to be pretty.

8:50 PM: The villain in his car is a little too on the nose isn't he? This dude looks like Lance Henrikson, and that's some lazy psycho casting. Audience erupts into laughter as bad guy mourns over picture of The canine centipede. I don't know if this is because of nerves or because it looks ridiculous. Plus the dude's name is Tom Six. Comical names are a bad sign.

8:51 PM: Some fat guy just made a Tom Sex joke. He has been rightly shamed by awkward silence.

8:53 PM: Alright this opening seqeuence is pretty shitty. Dime a dozen stalk and abduct and it looks like sixth form digi-cam balls.

8:55 PM: Is this movie going to be shit? He asked dispersively.

8:58 PM: OK, our heroines. And they're awful. Terrific.

9:00 PM: This is getting embarrassing. Their car just broke down in the woods.

9:02 PM: Now they're getting out the car. To look for help guys, surely this can't be..

9:04 PM: And now their walking through the woods.

9:04 PM: For fuck's sake.

Douchebag Intermission: Look, we live in a post-modern age of horror movies. This kind of stupidity of character and writing just won't do, I don't care how good this movie gets when it gets to the centipeding, this is sub-par. This would be sub-par for the Sci-Fi Channel. This would be sub-par for a movie made 30 years ago on the Sci-Fi channel. Jamie Kennedy would have a field day with this shit.

9:07 PM: Loving this valley girl banter as written by a Dutch dude in his forties though.

9:09 PM: " Oh look! There's a House! We're Saved."

9:12 PM: I think the realization that this film is in fact going to suck a hideous amount of ass ( pun intended, bitch) has relieved the air somewhat. The bad laughs are coming thick and fast.

9:14 PM: Don't drink the water, Jenny.

9:16 PM: Don't drink the water, Lindsey.

9:16 PM: Oh well. This German scientist freak guy is ridiculous by the way. The only way this film had any chance of being good was not to make that character into a ridiculous mad scientist pseudo-parody.

9:19 PM: Dr. Heiter as played by Dieter Laser is in fact a ridiculous mad scientist parody. This kind of stuff is teetering dangerously toward 1 or 2 out of ten kind of territory.

9:25 PM: I would have said that the scene which Hieter shows them a slide show of just exactly how they are going to be attached semi-worked if it weren't for the god-awful reacting from our girls and the third. A japanese man in his twenties.

9:26 PM: No please. No. No. Please no. No. No. Please no. No. No. Please No. Sing it loud.

9:28 PM: "The Japanese man can summon great strength in times of trouble." Said by the Japanese dude. This movie is fast approaching the so bad its good kind of territory.

9:33 PM: Lindsey escaped, and so ensued the worst slasher chase sequence since first season Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

9:36 PM: Its operating time. The thing is playing way too much straight. Our Dr. Hitler takes a moment to admire his mouth-slicing, anus-removing work. Seems Proud?

9:38 PM: Money shot. Its the centipede. And it looks. Hilarious. All the gore is covered with bandages so it looks like they're all just kissing each other's ass for no reason. Man that was sure an idea that looked better on paper. Now the rest of this movie is going to be a comedy whether it wants to or not.

9:40 PM: " Hello, my sweet Centipede."

9:44 PM: The Human Centipede is canonballing at such a rate that its vastly approaching The Room bad. Tommy Wiseau bad.

9:46 PM: LOL, Hitler holds up a mirror to himself and laughs maniacally. Trust me there is no irony here.

9:47 PM: Apologist feminism alert! The guy is covered up but the two girls are topless. This would be fine, if the dude in-front of me didn't keep saying 'Nipple' and/or 'sideboob' every time we see, well, nipple or sideboob. We're all mature adults here guys. Lets try and act like it huh.

9:48 PM: Apologetic feminism makes me feel a bigger person. A true child of the modern age.

9:49 PM: Sideboob.

9:51 PM: Oh. My. God. The centipede is now in the back garden, and Dr Hitler is pretending its a dog. Seriously movie?

9:52 PM: " I am not a dog." Nailed it Japanese man.

9:54 PM: In case y'all were curious. Japanese man is first, Lindsey is middle and Jenny brings up the rear.

9:57 PM: Fuck Yeah. Its the notorious they each have to eat each other's shit sequentially scene. Save this movie with your grossness!

9:58 PM: Well that was a washout (Pun always intended) You didn't even see anything. Isn't this supposed to be a horror movie.

10:02 PM: We're pretending we're a dog again. Just Doesn't know what to do with itself? Lame sado-masochist fantasy? I'm certainly not scared. Not really all that disgusted either to be honest.

Douchebag Intermission: Kids, sado-masochism is no joke, and even though these are my notes that I'm making organically in the moment and everything, I feel I have to stop this process in order to acknowledge that I believe that this particular issue is something that deserves the proper respect and intelligence that only...

10:05 PM: ....I'm falling in love with this thing, it just pulled its own version of a Donnie Darko montage, the worst most badly timed fade-outs the world ever did see. Plus the centipede looks so ridiculous it can't really have a poignant moment.

10:06 PM: Nipple.

10:07 PM: It turns out that twice recycled shit isn't quite the source of life one would have thought, and poor Jenny at the back is beginning to rot. That is a pretty cool visual movie, I'll give it that.

10: 09 PM: The Cops. Tell me they've arrived to end this movie.

10:11 PM: While Hitler deals with the fuzz, the centipede tries to escape up some stairs. Maybe it can escape looking ridiculous.

10:11 PM: WOOOOOOH. Nailed it Baxter.

10:15 PM: Lindsey lead the Big C into the room she nearly escaped out of before, but the glass pane has been filled in. That's gotta sting.

10:17 PM: Smash that glass pane, fuck yeah Japanese man.

10:19 PM: Hitler caught up with them, and what is surely the best moment of the film, Japanese man delivers a fairly coherent speech about being punished for his mis-deeds. Akihiro Katamura officially gets the best thing in The Human Centipede award. Is that really an award.

10:20: He just slit his throat. That sure fucks up the centipede. Hitler runs off to kill the cops, while Lindsey holds Jenny's hand. But what's that, Jenny just died from eating too much shit disease. Oh snap.

10:21 PM: Quite the catch-22 being the middle part of an otherwise dead centipede. Bitch be fucked.

10:25 PM: Worst action sequence ever ends in Hitler killing both cops, but the last one shoots him in the head before he dies. Crowd cheers. Dieter Laser you are one terrible actor.

10:28 PM: Cut back to Lindsey, alone in tears. I owe It's A Wonderful Afterlife an apology.

10:29 PM: Sideboob.

Rating: 1/10

REVIEW: Mother

If the Joker were a fifty year old woman. And Korean. And into floral patterning.

With the obvious exception of Oldboy, I think The Host might have been my favorite of the recent golden age of Korean cinema that happened in the last decade or so. It was just so uniquely entertaining, delivering the goods on the monster movie side of things as well as having an eye for the eerily surreal. A low-key classic of genre film-making and certainly one of the better horror movies to come out of the 2000's. So I was quite eager to see Joon-Ho Bong's follow-up, the intriguing if not entirely astounding Mother.

Murder-mystery is never going to be my favorite genre purely because it has been cannibalized so by television. It seems every week there's about 25 new takes on the format on various small screen outlets, so for a movie to take it on successfully it has to bring something else to it, otherwise I could just stay home and watch it for free. This was my main gripe with this year's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a film that was universally adored but left me a little cold. I think Mother is slightly more successful take on the material, in that its very impressively stylized, features a wonderfully skewed relationship at its core and begins and ends with two moments of inspired, off-the-wall genius. The kind of scenes that show you how good cinema can be when it wants to be. Particularly the ending, which features a moment of such raw emotional power that moves from comedy to quite intense with just a change of a camera angle. The movie as a whole doesn't live up to these moments, which is a shame because if it had this would be one frickin good movie. The mystery at the film's core is engaging if not riveting, dealing with a mother's quest to prove her son's innocence, and Hye-Ja Kim's performance as the titular mother does somewhat alternate between inspired and a bit much. Generally I'd give her a pass though. Bin Won intelligently plays her son, whose slowness could have been a bit of a needless entity if not handled with care, which Won accomplishes. Kudos too to Ku Jin, who makes his small and somewhat inconsequential character land.

The mother-son relationship is probably the most interesting aspect, with a quasi-incestuous, intense co-dependency vibe. The film explores the dark side of the overly-devoted mother, and what it can lead to, and I appreciated this given the countless movies where a mother's fierce and never-ending devotion is used as a cipher, never really asking why. Being by the director of The Host, its style is striking, so when the mystery aspect sags, as it does on occasion, you never disconnect. Its the kind of movie that leaves you very impressed with everyone who made it, even if and of itself its not the greatest movie ever made. But a weaker film by a great director is still a very strong work and like I said, it does flicker above its station every now and again.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

7 TV Shows That Crapshooted: Or Had No Idea How To Be TV Shows Past One or Two seasons

There's something about a show that starts well, and then step by egregious step begins to self-destruct, that's about as disheartening as watching filmed dramatic fiction can be. You commit to the world and embrace it, which for a TV show is a much greater commitment then film because it can be a relationship that lasts for years, and if you're a certain type of person, we know who we are, who delves into these worlds as a substitute for existing in this one, suffice to say we consider it quite the diss.

Why it happens, there's no sure answer. Sometimes its that the show-runners commit to the wrong aspect of the show, sometimes its that they go too big too soon, and other times it can be that they just don't know what the fuck they're doing. Anyways, list of disappointments coming your way. By the way, I gave 24 and 30 Rock a pass because just enough years of the show were good before it fell to shit. SPOILERS.

7) Prison Break

What went wrong: People said it could only be a one season show. They were right.

The problem here was the specificity of the premise. Its a show that called itself Prison Break, which clearly states its intentions, so while the first year was a pretty entertaining as we saw the meticulous planning, the group of escapees spar with each other and the various obstacles that were placed in their path, and it lead to an awesome finale where we finally saw shit go down. The problem being that when season 2 started and no-one was in prison anymore, you could pretty much hear the screams of what the fuck do we do now in every frame. It went after the conspiracy sub-plot, it went after the whole fugitive bit. It defied logic in order to keep T-Bag in the show. It's floundering became boring, and considering that our heroes the Scofield brothers were so suffocatingly dull and flatly acted (By Wentworth Miller and Dominic 'Blade Trinity' Purcell') they couldn't support any kind of character stories. Not that the show wanted to give them any really.

Its attempt to save itself? Throw every-one back in prison in season three and totally repeat the first season, only with different, less interesting characters. Past season one, Prison Break had no plan, and because the first season had nothing but the plan, this is what people liked about the show. So people stopped watching. And caring.

6) Ugly Betty

What Went Wrong?: Suffered the consequences of being Over-hyped.

If one was to be particularly cynical, you could say that Ugly Betty lived out the life that is beckoned for Glee. It came out to boundless praise, with everyone calling it a breath of fresh air, original and a new dawn for television. And more synonyms along those lines. It won the Golden Globe for best comedy series and America Ferrara did the double-slam of taking both the Emmy and The Golden Globe in the same year. A very rare feat indeed. Cut to four years later and it gets canceled in near-obscurity, with no real uproar and less viewers then the average repeat of Grey's Anatomy. Of course, all this has nothing to do with the actual show, which in its first year was a quirky, enjoyable diversion with a couple of entertaining performances, particularly from Michael Urie and Becki Newton. It was fun with no real need to be more. Unfortunately it pursued this attitude through the rest of its life, and suddenly the awards and praise felt like a mis-step and while the show slowly stilled into stagnancy, its defenders backtracked as quickly as your average episode of Heroes. It's a little harsh I guess, but the show certainly didn't get better as it went along, content to just offer up more of the same.

Its attempt to save itself? That's the thing. It didn't really, taking the denial route instead. Well unless you count the late in the day make-over for its lead character, but by then shit was over.

5) Alias

What Went Wrong? It Pursued the wrong aspect of itself.

Let's face facts here. At its core, Alias was never really about what was happening in Alias. Plot was a necessary evil in a show about cool action scenes, exotic locales and Jennifer Garner looking hot. In the early years, sure there was some plot bouncing around and even some darkness too. But your average episode was like watching mission impossible only with Garner replacing Cruise and someone taking a whole lot of money away, but I think part of the reason Alias became exhausting was when it starting believing in its own insincerity. The tacked on will they won't they romance between Garner and Michael Vartan became more integral, complete with love triangle villain Melissa George, who came and did nothing but annoy for a long, long time. Not just this, but the fucking Rimbaldi mythology. There's serialization that enriches plot, character and dramatic weight and then there's serialization for the sake of itself. This was long, never-ending and I was amazed how much I didn't care when they told me what it meant. The show became kind of a drag, and several episodes would go by with fun being had by no-one.

Its Attempt to save itself: Er did I mention that the show's villain wanted to turn the world into zombies? This is a spy show, set in the real world by the way. Zombies. For real.

4) Nip/Tuck

What went wrong: Got way too big way too fast.

Man I hated this show. But it got a lot of praise in it first couple of years, for being daring and something no-one had seen before yada yada. Nip/Tuck was always over the top, but in its first year this felt like a refreshing antidote to dramas molded under the Sopranos template, in which everything was subtle, intelligent and under the surface. Nip/Tuck was the antithesis to this, the quintessential extrovert's show where the only way to proceed was to go big. This lead to some guiltily enjoyable moments, and to be fair to Nip/Tuck, I'll never think of DIY circumcision again in the same way. But the ever escalating level of hysteria meant there was no solid foundation. And as the camp increased season to season it made it apparent that at its core it was just hollow, it didn't care about any of its characters instead forming them into increasingly gross caricatures until nothing meant anything. Just what gross out surgery would it be this week.

Its Attempt to save itself: Because it was a cable show, it didn't have to worry about that. It lasted seven years, and can stand in confident tonal brethren with shows like Dynasty or Footballer's Wives, only with the illusion of credibility through darkness.

3) Dexter

What went wrong: Pursued the wrong aspect of the show

This won't be a popular one no doubt, as many people consider this the best show on television that just had its strongest season yet. But you know, if you don't stick to your guns then, well I'd just be the blogging equivalent of Dexter and obviously no-one wants that. The crapshooting of Dexter is the most frustrating one for me on this list, because I loved its first season, and much of its second season, so very much. A twisted spin on the police procedural, bringing new meaning to the term 'victim of the week' featuring a fantastic lead performance from Michael C Hall and even a surprisingly funny experience, complete with a droll voice-over and some awesome deadpanning from Hall. Sure its supporting characters were a collection of barely noticeable cyphers and cop stereotypes but no matter, I thought this was going to be my favorite show for years. Alas, I felt a little like the Arsenal fan who cried Theo Walcott, because in a very small space of time everything just went to shit. The roots of this lie in the second season, where the show defined what it was going to be. It's a very strong year on the whole, and anything wrong with it can generally be brushed off onto Lilah. Oh Lilah, screechy terribly acted, ridiculous, broadly drawn Lilah. Fucking hell.

But one misjudged character does not a bad show make, and generally it remained pretty strong, and once the antagonist switched from Lilah to Doakes in the last 4 episodes, which was freaking awesome, presenting Dexter with a dilemma he couldn't rationalize his way out of, killing a (mostly) decent man in order to save himself. Or his family. Whatever, the show was finally going to make Dexter face the consequences of his actions, see that he couldn't have his metaphysical cake and eat it too and push the show into more dramatically complex and interesting territory. Or it could pull the most shameless cop-out in television history, and I don't overstate it when I call it that, its truly what I think it was, and have Lilah reappear to take care of it for him, so he could take care of Lilah and everything could be tied in a neat little bow. To build something up so exquisitely and consistently and end it with such an impotent, lame, secretion of an excuse is about the most odious thing a show can do. Fuck you show. Fuck you in the face.

But fine, I can see its just one crucial moment it blew. Its not the end of the world right? Well then came the the rancid third season, in which everything went wrong from all sides, from those painfully dull supporting characters all getting painfully dull boyfriends/girlfriends that took up a lot of screen-time, to a meandering, rushed and simply written arc and Jimmy Smits as the year's bad guy. Well that was just embarrassing. Its like all the dark drama, the moral ambiguity and most importantly the storytelling maturity just vanished of the face of the shows' reality. It started off a dark, exploration of a sympathetic monster and became a cartoon, that seemed to apologize for its hero as often as possible. And all this without even mentioning Rita, if Dexter wanted to explore family then fine, but that could never be done in any insightful or sophisticated way with Rita around. Impossibly naive, impossibly forgiving and with the world view of a 10 year old girl scout, and about the level of complexity to match. Hey bitch, if a guy just admitted to you that he's a junkie who assaulted and framed your ex-husband for drug abuse and you have two kids under the age of ten, you don't give him another chance. Have some self-respect woman.

If anything she was, more then the title character, the reflection of the creative voice of this show. Stuck in some turgid status quo without the balls to do anything about it. The fourth season didn't really change much of my opinion. Sure John Lithgow was awesome but the same problems remained. Its twist ending hints at something new, finally, but consider me very much unconvinced.

Its attempt to save itself: I think we're about to see it.

2) Weeds

What went Wrong: Tried to be too clever for itself.

This is an interesting one. What went wrong with Weeds stands pretty much alone in the TV backlog. It was so concerned with being avant-garde, being unpredictable and doing new things, all admirable intentions, that one by one it stripped itself of anything you liked about the show, morphing itself into a dark drama that still kind of thought it was a comedy. The fucked-upedness is nearly all-consuming, to the point where in last season, our heroine's teenage son killed an unarmed woman in front of his mother, and didn't consider it a big deal. Yeah. Every now and again I think its an ahead of its time work of genius, but for the most part I just find it unwatchable. Darkness doesn't always translate as good. If you're going to substantially change the tone of you're universe it has to be earned, you can't just turn into dark drama solely because that wasn't what you did last week. Everything just feels random and smug, and Nancy who began the series as a pot dealer who sold weed to rich white women, has become such a cluelessly irresponsible pit of selfishness that if she wasn't played by the excellent Mary Louise Parker, she would be the devil.

No show maybe outside of Heroes has worked with character as inconsistently and as incoherently as Weeds, and its all so disappointing because Weeds has somewhere in itself such a clever show. I'd be tempted to say that no show on TV does dialogue better when its on its game, an its got enough talented actors to make Damages blush. No, Weeds has been ruined by its own sense of self-satisfaction and its belief that being clever means you don't have to worry about anything else, but it turns out you do.

Its attempt to save itself: What? aside from killing all of Nancy's boyfriends, to burning down the suburban community that was originally its setting, to ridding itself of all of its black characters, to marrying Nancy to a drug-lord, to changing locales every season, to having a 15 year old boy we've seen grow up before our eyes be a homicidal Psycho? Not much. I'm making this sound kind of awesome, but believe watch this show and you'll be appreciate the Joker's brand of thoughtful political concern. In other words, shit be nihilist as balls.

1) Heroes

What went wrong: Lol.

Ah, the piece de resistance. Kids, if TV shows could be space missions, then Heroes would be Apollo 13, only without the everyone surviving thing. Past the first season, everything that could be done wrong was done wrong and then it was done again. It quickly became very clear that Tim Kring didn't just not know how to write a TV show, he didn't know how to write anything. From simple dialogue, to simple character development. I'm not talking Dostoevsky here, just you know shit like this.

Hiro: I'm never going to travel through time again. Bad things happen.

Ando: OK.

cut to, say, 10 minutes and a painful scene with Ali Larter later

Hiro: The only way to solve this problem is to travel in time and make things right. Its the heroic thing to do.

Ando: OK.

But you just said! Its almost as if you're being made to do and think whatever the plot needs you to at any given time, regardless if it makes any sense as far as you're character is concerned. But that would be ridiculous right? Right Nathan Petrelli? Oh yeah. Shit. What made the crapshooting of Heroes all the more beautiful was that each passing season it tried to address what critics were saying was wrong with it, like some desperately incompetent child inanely trying to impress of a disapproving parent. So season two was too slow to get going? Well lets start season three at 6000 miles an hour. Ha take that. Not enough Sylar in season two? Here, have him, look at him being badass in his Neo-trench coat, killing people. All the time. Not enough emotional connection to characters in season three? Well lets stop everything and watch Claire go to college. Not enough interesting villains that aren't Sylar? Look, here's a Carnival full of bad guys with magical powers, in idea that seemed to come randomly whilst watching Carnivale. One of them's T-Bag from Prison Break! Love me!

It came to point that in terms of ground covered, Heroes must have given everyone everything they could have conceivably wanted. But ironically the one thing that everyone wanted was just to be what it was in the first place, a fun diversion about ordinary people with superpowers. The thing that Heroes could never rediscover was that people part, and our root in the universe, the characters, were such works of blatant artifice that there was no reason to give a shit anymore. What it needed was more quiet moments, scenes entirely about the people in them and not whatever the fuck the company was doing now. But that was the one thing it never seemed to get.

Its attempt to save itself: Everything it ever did past the finale of season one. Show never had much self-esteem really. And why should it.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Next Week's Movies

Marmaduke: I dare to dream not a chance in hell, but it depends how masochistic I feel on the day I guess. Expectancy Level: 3/10

Salt: Looks kind of bland doesn't it. Its got some good reviews popping up here and there, but believe me my expectations are tempered. Expectancy Level: 5/10

Piranha 3D: Erm, fuck yeah. This previews itself doesn't it? Plus the fact that Eli Roth is credited as 'wet t-shirt contest emcee' probably means he's going to die in a ridiculously violent way. I can think of no-one more deserving. Expectancy Level: 5/10

Human Centipede (The first sequence): For fuck's sake. I really don't want to see this. Really. Less then anything I can think of in a long while. But it will be between this and Marmaduke, and I sense I might be in trouble. Expectancy Level: 2/10

Mother: The fact that it comes from the director of The Host is enough for me. Some good reviews bouncing around too. Expectancy Level: 7/10

Friday, 13 August 2010

REVIEW: The Expendables

" But I love you! I can't help but feel what I feel!"

Given that I saw three films on the back of each other today, it is somewhat inevitable that they didn't flow sweetly after each other. I had a bit of a wait for The Expendables, so me and the 200 pound guys with the search and destroy emblems had to chill for a while, no doubt thinking the same things. The first of which was an ongoing complex attempt to rationalize buying popcorn even though we're skint, and the second was that this was a guy's film, a repeal to the open machismo of the 80's action movies, where men were pumped and masculinity didn't have to apologize for itself. Days of men, yo. Well, if you ignore the homoerotic subtext at least. Aside from the obvious, consider the fact that these men worked endlessly on their figure for the sole purpose of looking good. The Schwarzenegger bicep serves no practical purpose, its just about vanity. Which is surely the least machismo thing you could do right? No? They were just being badass. Ok. I apologize.

The Expendables is kind of a post-decomposition hymn to the kind of film that died a long time ago, the testosterone fueled action movie that discharged over a million bullets and every problem, be it personal, political or practical could be solved through brawn and force. They were movies where any kind of intelligence made you a bad guy, and women were pretty accommodating to mass murderers as long as they had a ten inch bicep (not a euphemism unless you want it to be). Sure it has a few post-modernist touches, writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone feels compelled to add a modicum of story and character and much like the recent Rambo reboot, there's a slim, simplistic attempt at politics too. The main problem I had though, is that despite the fact that's its competently made, a film that should have been either ridiculous or awesome ends up so generic and familiar. Generally I found the action uninspiring, perhaps because pretty much everyone aside from Statham is on the wrong side of 40 and looks it, particularly Stallone who made me feel everyone of his 64 years whenever he tried to run or engage in a fight scene. Stallone is a smart man, a capable screen-writer and the occasionally talented actor (obligatory Cop Land shoutout) but there's over the hill and then there's this.

Statham is the only action star in his prime, and as far as the carnage goes comes off the best by a long way. Annihilating legions of faceless South Americans with an impressive amount of grace. As a closeted fan of the Crank movies, I like Statham in a certain context. He's droller and more with it then most action stars and that's to be commended. As far as everyone else goes? Well. Its much less of an ensemble piece then advertised, with Stallone and Statham taking center stage. Even Jet Li gets dissed. People keep having to save his ass, and if I learned anything from this movie its that muscles beat kung-fu every time. I mean obviously guys, its not like kung-fu is an art or anything. And why oh why, did the wildcard of the group have to be Dolph Lundgren. Traditionally, an action movie revolving around a squad of badasses will have a wildcard, the guy who's either crazier, unstable or a bit more apathetic then the others and just kind of follows his own rules. Be it Stiglitz in Inglorious Basterds, Spoon in Dog Soldiers or the John Cassavetes character in The Dirty Dozen, there's always one. They usually steal the movie, but the problem here is that Dolph Lundgren can't act for shit, so when he tries to be all crazy it just ends up being hilarious. Sorry Dolph, but there's a reason you went straight to video.

Similarly the villains are pretty much pathetic, a thinly drawn dictator played by Dexter's David Zayas, and a sleazy CIA agent played by Eric Roberts. Seriously, fuck Eric Roberts. This guy is awful, how has his career been revived like this. I know he was in The Dark Knight and all but come on. Irony can only go so far. The Expendables I think may be a fan only kind of deal, I found it to be OK I guess, but there's not much plot, not much good acting, and Statham aside, not much good action. So what's the draw exactly? Nostalgia? And FYI the Schwarzenegger cameo is beyond embarrassing. Although not as much as The Terminator Salvation one.

Rating: 5/10

REVIEW: The Last Airbender

And lo, the Avatar did light up like an emergency exit sign.

Right. To play devil's advocate, M. Night Shyamalan is to my mind a very talented director. At his best he's a master of tension, of suspense even, in ways that not too many directors are capable of even in their wildest dreams. But his CV reads like something that could analogize the term diminishing returns in a way that makes any other attempt seem redundant. It seems like each time out he sets a standard of shitness that seems definitive, he couldn't make a movie worse then the Village, well except Lady in The Water. But that's where the freefall stops because that movie was such an arrogant piece of shit that it could not, I say could not be...Fuck you The Happening. Alright where approaching amateurism at a fearsome pace here, it would be a joke unworthy of Michael McIntyre for such a talented guy to make a movie worse then this. He just can't. Can't.

Please, we're in the Obama age now. Yes we can, and yes he can. Only this time, he pissed away a sickass budget too, meaning the odious end product is somehow more offensive. I can't believe this guy made Unbreakable ten years ago. The Last Airbender plays like a ten year old's incoherent fantasy scribblings, with about that standard of dialogue too. It's as if Shyamalan had each character's motivations open in a word document as he wrote the script in case, you know, he wrote some words that a human being might actually say. Particularly Slumdog Millionaire Dev Patel's character, who is trying to catch the last Airbender ( or the avatar, if you will) so he can go home.

" I have to capture the Avatar, so I can go home. "

" I'm not leaving until I capture the Avatar, only then can I go home."

" I almost caught the Avatar, and was so close to going home."

Believe you me I'm underselling it. Patel says something along these lines about twenty or so times in the movie. But I'm content to give the kid a pass for this one, because I think its such a terrible script, the worst Shyamalan has ever written and he's powered home some balls, that no-one is going to come of well. I think Patel doesn't embarrass himself and gives it his best shot, similarly I semi-enjoyed The Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi as the villain of the piece, but apart from that its a washout. The lead white kids in particular, Noah Ringer who plays Ahn the Avatar, Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone who play siblings that just kind of follow the Avatar around, are so unbelievably wooden, so unbelievably awful that it makes want to apologize to Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson most profusely. Ringer in particular, clearly hired for his kung-fu abilities rather then his acting skills is just an embarrassment. I don't even want to make a joke about it. Except that I just did. But now I don't, the true consequences of its incompetence having sunken in, and I just want to commiserate the state of cinema.

What's tragic about it is that Shyamalan hasn't sold out. In his head, he's still making great, original movies. But that's part of the problem. What's happened to Shyamalan is what everyone said happened to Tarantino. Only this time its actually true. The guy believed his own myth to the point where he both disappeared up his own ass (casting himself as the messiah in one of his own movies I believe) and thought he didn't have to work as hard to get here. He's a cautionary tale as to what can happen to you if you have too much confidence in your own abilities. I still think the guys talented, nothing could convince me otherwise, but it seems I'm only able to talk about that talent in the past tense, because as long as he's making movies like The Last Airbender, he's a laughing stock.

Rating: 3/10

REVIEW: The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Uncagelike - (adjective) A performance that is not reminiscent of Nicolas Cage. Restrained. Uncrazy.

And so the second Jerry Bruckheimer produced action-fantasy based on niche source material starring Alfred Molina and Toby Kebbell of the summer hits the cinemas. It doesn't have the highest standard to beat in Prince Of Persia, a film that if confectionery would be a 10p sweet that you felt overcharged for. The Sorcerer's Apprentice tops it for me, because there's considerably more going on here, despite there not being much going on. Its another thin 'random nobody gets mystical calling' movie that does exactly what it says on the tin. But it entertains, and while again I feel the compulsion to say fuck you to Jerry Bruckheimer for playing so depressingly safe, at least this one has Nic Cage in it.

This has been a bit of a banner year for Cage, recovering seemingly instantly after a troublesome decade that, perhaps, has irreparably tarnished his name. (A decade which also contained Adaptation and Lord Of War by the way, two of the best performances by erm, anyone in the 2000's). Not the bees. This is what people say to me when its time to tell the world how awesome Nicolas Cage is - Three times a day at least- but I'm not here to defend all of Cage's movies. He makes some crap movies. And in these crap movies he can be terrible. But a Cage on his game is something for the books, as cinema goers of 2010 are beginning to re-discover through his scene-stealing turn in the glutinously cult Kick-Ass, and his barnstorming turn in Bad Lieutenant, something I'd pretty much call genius. Now Sorcerer's Apprentice was inevitably going to be a sobering come down, but its not terrible and more importantly he's not terrible, giving a surprisingly contained performance that is most Uncagelike. One might even call it deadpan, leaving it to Alfred Molina to do the scene-stealing. I very much enjoyed his clipped-English villain, powering through familiar scenes with sarcastic panache. Jay Baruchel is an actor I like, and he pulls off the nerdy hero convincingly. Even if the character is a dime-a-dozen geek, complete with nauseating high-school sweetheart subplot.

But like I said, its an enjoyable romp of a movie that generally speaking overcomes its god-given crapness, thanks to the class of a cast it really doesn't deserve, but the Bruckheimer payroll bought it. Cage and Molina lend it both substance and comic relief, Toby Kebbell gives amusing cameo value and if anyone was born to play a near wordless sorceress, it was Monica Bellucci. Who incidentally has ridiculous genes, in that she looks better at 46 then many movie stars did when they were twenty. Even though I'm a man I still feel offended by her attractiveness. Bitch. This is the movie Bruckheimer wanted to make with Prince Of Persia I think, aiming at base, wafer thin entertainment. But whereas POP shot too low even for that, Sorcerer's Apprentice just about hits it.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Mad Men - ' The Good News' - Maybe The Next Time

Quite the economical episode of Mad Men this week, covering a lot of ground efficiently, whilst doing it as elegantly as ever. The year so far is maintaining a consistency of quality which is pleasing to see, but its yet to have an episode to explode off the screen in the way we know it can. Still only three episodes in, no need to panic yet, particularly when the average episode is as strong and as rich as this.

- First Dick Whitman action of the season, and it presented a pleasing shift of the Dick and Don dynamic. With Don's carefully constructed identity and life a pretty bleak place to be in right now, wifeless, kidless and enjoying the regular company of prostitutes. Classy ones to be sure, this is Mad Men, but the world of Don Draper is a solitary place, even more then its ever been. Returning to California and to the tolerating and essentially loving company of Anna Draper, who as she says knows everything about him and still loves him. Something Don doesn't believe to be possible.

- Melinda Page Hamilton does well in the role of the understanding Anna, and brings a real warmth to the episode and to Don's currently bleak existence. Excellent range of skills demonstrated by Jon Hamm this week by the way, and his switching between Don and Dick is pretty awesome, playing the latter with a smile and vulnerability contrasting nicely with the exquisitely subtle 'leave me the fuck alone' performance he gives week in week out as Don.

- The scene Don shared with Anna's niece Stephanie dancing to Patti Page's 'Old Cape Cod' was one of the most relatable moments he's ever had. It reminds him of a beautiful place he wishes he could go to, but probably never will. You can't make me cry Mad Men, I'm a man who plays sports and shit.

- Anna's cancer probably takes Dick Whitman with it, as she seems to be the only person our man of two names has ever been able to truly be himself around. So dies the boy and leaves the man to rot right?

- Of course what was awesome is that all this took place in the first half hour, and the second saw Don go on a late night, Dec.31 odyssey with Lane Pryce. I believe I complained last week that Jared Harris doesn't get much room to breathe with the character of Lane, but he sure got a showcase this week. It was as much about interrelating Lane into the gang, as it were. As he and Don went to the movies, ate at restaurants, took in comedy clubs and capped it off by screwing some prostitutes. Happy 1965.

- Harris was unexpectedly hilarious in all these scenes, particularly shouting Monster in a Japanese accent, as well as handling the 'my wife's divorcing me' moment pretty well. Lane has always been an outsider on this show but this episode was exactly what the character needed. Its as if the writers of Mad Men predict all my potential complaints and address them one by one. Fucking responsible writers.

- Also this episode is serious Emmy submission material for Hamm, who plays the subtly different incarnations of who he was and can't be any more and who he is perfectly. From how sympathetic he is with Anna to how Don like he is with Lane. Good stuff.

- Also, Joan. Its nice to see Joan get a storyline of her own, and Hendricks was as good as always. Planning to have her baby with her surgeon/rapist husband Greg, in spite of his serving in the military and foreshadowing him going to Vietnam ( And lets face it y'all, Probably get wasted.) But I very much appreciated the scene where Greg took care of her cut finger, with Joan almost not trusting him to do it, but whatever he is and whatever he has done, he can do this for her.

-It was a nice moment for Dr. Rapist to be honest. The show made him a bit of a screw-up in the past, and while on the whole he probably is a dick, giving him a moment of humanity and complexity was good writing. Particularly now they are clearly going to kill him off-screen.

- ' I can't fix everything, but I can fix this.'

- How ridiculously 60's was that shot of Don in the convertible sports car. I felt like I was watching a commercial or something.

- Another tonally consistent, fantastically written episode of this show that seems to consistently remind me that I should have missed it more then I did. I may be a Breaking Bad guy, but that doesn't make this show any less a milestone then it is.

Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Next Week's Movies

Yes I couldn't bring myself to see either Cats and Dogs 2 or Step Up 3D. My rules for not seeing movies are as follows. If they are completely not to my taste in any way and are also going to be complete shit and are not big enough to warrant too much press attention. Or sequels to movies that were unforgivably shit in the first place, or cash-ins if you will. Everything else I will see. Anyways, to next week.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice: You had me at Nicolas Cage playing a wizard. Even if this movie is shit, that can only be awesome. Expectancy Level: 5/10

The Last Airbender: Shyamalan's supposed masterpiece of cack was not the bomb everyone thought it would be, but everyone does seem to agree that it is shit. Who am I not to expect I'll toe that line too. We don't do trend-breaking here. Expectancy Level: 3/10

The Expendables: Sure to rival Twilight for the most unintentionally gay movie of the year, it will certainly be something to see. It will also be terrible, but it will be something to see. Expectancy Level: 5/10

Tinkerbell And The Great Fairy Rescue: What the fuck is up with this getting a mainstream release, still I'll probably see it just for the google hits. Expectancy Level: 3/10

REVIEW: Knight And Day

First things first. Knight And Day? This movie cost what, 120 million dollars, but that particular meeting couldn't run more then 5 minutes? I'm all for sociopathic bean counting but now whenever anyone mentions your movie it's with hatred, since you made such a putrid pun pass their lips. What does it even mean anyway? I get the Knight part, but having now seen this movie, I can tell you that the day stands for absolutely nothing. There is no double entendre here, its just a lame pun for the sake of a lame pun. What the fuck. Why do you do these things to me, I go and see your movies no matter how shit they are, and all I ask in return is that you not name your movies with immensely stupid one-note puns. Who feels success in this? Motherfuckers.

Anyway, I guess I should actually review the thing now, but for the record I am still very angry about this. Knight and Day is to anyone who saw the trailer, exactly what you thought it would be. A stupid, paper thin blockbuster trading on star names, with nothing substantial in the way of plot, acting or even action for that matter. Despite being an original script, its one of the least original films to come out this summer and everything in it just feels too old. Most notably Cruise and Diaz, who are both playing roles probably meant for actors ten years younger then them. Even with what we know about Cruise, seeing him in yet another variation on the best at what he does cool kid badass, feels wrong somehow. I don't think he should be doing this anymore, because if Tom Cruise was a middle-aged man in a mid-life crisis, then Knight And Day would be his Aston Martin, a desperate attempt to stay hip and relevant amidst competition that is younger and does it better. I'm not saying I want Cruise to go away, or even that he can't be an action star, but he can't be Tom Cruise circa 1996 anymore. If he wants to survive he can't keep telling us he's the coolest kid in the room.

Cameron Diaz fares a bit better, and she is a capable light comedian, giving this movie whatever charm it has, Peter Sarsgaard gets himself paid, and Paul Dano shows up for a bit as a crazy kid scientist. But maybe if it played up the comedy a bit more then the daftness of it all wouldn't matter so much, and it could just be a ride of a movie, which would perfectly fine. But its level of clunkiness is not offset by how enjoyable it is, I'd say by quite a long way too. Also, isn't this secretly the same movie as Killers only with a bigger budget? Story feels pretty similar. Whatever. Not the worst blockbuster in the world if your standards are forgiving, but certainly not a high point for anybody.

Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Mad Men: 'Christmas Comes But Once A Year' - I'll Never Do What The Swedish People Do

- The show continues it's strong start, and while this episode is perhaps less substantial then the last, it's still a terrific hour of TV. What is notable about recapping Mad Men is that it feels on closer inspection a lot less episodic then the two shows I've covered before, Lost and Breaking Bad. I would say that individual episodes of those shows have a distincter identity in and of themselves then an average episode of Mad Men. There are exceptions to this, the JFK episode stands out to me, but generally its a show about the bigger picture, where moments pay off beats 10 or eleven episodes ago without the need to clarify themselves. Its like The Wire in that respect, only replacing labyrinthine plotting with labyrinthine character drama. This is neither a plus or a minus to the show, but its interesting to note.

- So to start off, I liked the Sally Draper plot in this episode. Enamored with creepy neighbor kid Glen, returning from season 1, and detailing to him how truly disparaging it is to be a Draper child. And in a consequent gesture that I can only deduce to be an act of courtship, Glen trashes Henry and Betty's home, a place she has come to resent, and leaves her room clear. Erm, buy a consonant for the word sociopath? Still, it impressed Sally, who may have found herself a delinquent and creepy boyfriend.

- So given the current belt-tightening at the agency, Uptight Brit and not a stereotype at all Lane Pryce decides that minimalism will be the theme of the Christmas party this year, which irritates all those fun-loving Americans no end. Unfortunately for financial responsibility, plans change when Lee Garner Jr, Lucky Strike big man, announces his plan to attend.

- I like Jared Harris on this show, and while he has a tough role with Pryce, I think he does a good solid job with it.

- Don meets a quirky new neighbor in Nora Zehetner, who y'all might remember from playing the chick who could control people's minds on the first season of Heroes. Anyway, I cared for these scenes less then Don's date last week and just felt a little simpler. We're not done with her I'm sure.

- The Christmas party sequence was terrific, again because so much of what is happening isn't being said. I very much appreciated it when Roger took Lee's baiting and attempts to humiliate him rather then do what most shows would have done and have him explode at him. I think they call it taking one for the team. Even if you have to dress up like Santa.

- The scene between Don and and the Demographic lady was good, with her confronting him after he walked out on her survey. Don being Don, he doesn't want to fill out any information about himself, but she called him out on this pretty good. Life is a mixture of what you want and what's expected of you, after all.

- ' I'm sorry, nobody likes to think of themselves as a type.'

-Poor Allison the secretary. What a gutting episode this was for her. That was a dark sublot wasn't it. Drunk Don leaves his keys at the office, and when Allison brings them to him, he comes on to her and shit goes down. The next day, 'thank you for bringing me my keys.' Her face of pure joyful expectancy made that pretty hard to watch. Then to kick her in the face when she's down, Don gives her a previously discussed bonus in two fifties. Way to make a girl feel like a cheap hooker Don. A brilliantly acted scene by Alexa Alemmani.

- Don Draper, fighting back feminism, one girl's self respect at a time.

- At a side note, if this show has a sad sack, its probably Harry Crane.

- Another great episode for Elisabeth Moss, who seems to be being given far and away the most material of the female cast members this season, liked her scenes with the now reformed Freddie. Who may be reformed, but is still an outdated relic, believing all women define themselves by men and all just want to get married to somebody.

- Not a momentous episode, and still not enough Joan Holloway, but its a confident start to season 4, and the new status quo is continuing to work well for it.

Rating: 7/10