Monday, 25 October 2010

Next Wednesday Instead Podcast: Episode 4 - How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Christopher Nolan's Female Characters

Cuatro. Or number four.

Part 1: New Releases

Part 2: British cinema, and its current situation of awesomeness (not)

Part 3: Filmography - Christopher Nolan

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Next Week's Movies

The Kids Are Alright: This very well-reviewed, very indie comedy looks to have promise. But I remain suspicious of any movie where a character owns a vegan restaurant. Expectancy Level: 7/10

Burke And Hare: Serial-killing comedy from John Landis, that unnerves me. But perhaps the presence of Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis will save things. hmmm. Expectancy Level:5/10

Saw 3D: A plague on both your houses. Expectancy Level: Who gives a shit/10


"I thought she was going to take her clothes off! This is some bullshit."

The recent path of the mainstream American teen movie is not too dissimilar to that guy in Robocop who drives into a vat of toxic waste. A once proud institution took a dive into an American Pie shaped chemical pit to emerge deformed and disintegrating in a gooey mess of dick jokes, empty sex, cheap sentimentality and unfunniness. To the point where, like our boy Paul McCrane, it can't be long before it falls apart altogether. Which makes very happy to see a movie like Easy A. Which though flawed, is so fucking refreshing its not even funny. Smart, entertaining and hilarious in its own right, and containing a star-making performance from Emma Stone. I found it to be a joy. For the simple fact that its humour comes from dialogue and character rather then someone inserting a sex organ into an inanimate object.

At times it reminded me of a more family-friendly version of Heathers, the film that will probably always be the best high school movie, given that both have very successful satirical elements, this going after the sexual double standard, and mostly very successfully, whereas that film went after teen suicide. Both films revolve around the attempt to rise above that all-consuming high-school movie hierarchy of popularity and reputation that is always king. With Stone's character all but shouting 'this is bullshit' from the rooftops. Easy A isn't as good with or as brutal toward its subject matter as Heathers, but what it is is a very winning, very funny ride with something to say. The film wouldn't work without Stone's performance being as good as it is though, and in playing her quicker-than-thou, near saintly Olive, she both handles the movie's many sarcastic one-liners with the highest possible amount of aplomb, but also creates a believable character out what could potentially have been a messianic male fantasy, the hot girl come down from on high to save your high school experience, but Stone lends her such a likeable believability that it leads me to outlandishly say that if Ellen Page can get Oscar nominated for Juno, Stone should be acknowledged for her great work here and not get ignored just because its in comedy. She is that good.

Elsewhere in the supporting cast, things are a little less cut and dry. I think the Juno-lite quirky parents would have been irritating if not played by actors of the class of Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, Cougar Town's Dan Byrd does some good work as Olive's gay friend Brandon and whilst Thomas Haden Church's teacher character is a little stock for this kind of thing, he so nails one particular line about Coke Zero I'm willing to forgive that. Perhaps Amanda Bynes is the weak link as Christian girl Marianne. She goes at it a little too hard, undermining the mostly deadpan tone of the rest of the movie. But fuck it, the script is intelligent and witty, the film is legitimately funny and I really, really enjoyed myself. I think the last time I came out with that feeling from a high school film was probably Donnie Darko, and to be fair that was only half a high school film. I grant it may not be for everyone and you could say it kind of derails in its final twenty minutes and that the love interest sub-plot is kind of thin, but it did pretty much everything I want from a high school comedy, outside perhaps of really exploding to the top level. But between Stone being always awesome and the movie being kind of awesome, it comes very much recommended.

Rating: 8/10


Malkovich + The Ageing Process ÷ Heavy Weaponry = Hilarious

They're bad. They're old. They shoot guns. They shoot guns whilst being old as fuck. Movie magic mate. If you find these concepts hilarious then Red is a movie for you. Me, I find these concepts hilarious in a way that makes me pity myself, I'll laugh whilst my soul is screaming. And while by any definition Red is a bad movie, and by god Red is a bad movie. Its lazy, predictable, feeble and all other words you could conceivably relate to something being half-assed. But I'd be lying if the thing didn't have a laissez-faire charm. And seeing Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren rinse the shit out of legions of anonymous canon fodder is not without its appeal I suppose.

Its all very tongue-in-cheek, which frankly is an all too predictable and easy way to play it. The concept is so knowingly ridiculous that perhaps a little more sincerity wouldn't have gone a miss. Perhaps an indication that anybody involved in this movie is invested in this movie, but instead we get several acting legends turning up on lackadaisical autopilot, taking their pay cheque and doing the least amount of work possible. I think the most guilty of this is Bruce Willis, who not only doesn't turn up, but just looks bored. Like really bored. Like I'm thinking of how best to refurbish the faucets in my third guest bathroom bored. The body of Bruce Willis turns up, but the man is in absentia. It doesn't help that the movie's plot is pretty much pathetic, a one-note barely there conspiracy that would make 24 blush. But the movie knows that if it has John Malkovich being crazy and Helen Mirren with a RPG then it really doesn't have to be a movie, the sight gags will carry it alone. And as much as I want to tell it to fuck off, it kind of has a point. The Malkovich be crazy moments are funny, and while they are in the broadest terms possible and Malkovich clearly could give less of a shit, he's one of those actors who is born to play insane.

I recommend you watch the trailer, because that way you get the benefit of Malkovich shooting people whilst being hilariously aged without having to sit around while Red barely pretends to be an actual movie, and not just secretly a skit for Saturday Night Live. For wasting such a talented cast (I didn't even mention Mary Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfuss and Karl Urban) and coasting with 80 million dollars of somebody's money, Red is kind of reprehensible. But there's moments to enjoy I suppose.

Rating: 5/10

REVIEW: Paranormal Activity 2

I'm in shock that the director of Paranormal Activity 2 also directed The Door In The Floor. That shit's crazy.

It wouldn't be too far a stretch to say that Paranormal Activity was one of my favourite films of 2009. A perfectly oiled scare machine, cynical as fuck sure, but it delivered. Taking the new wave of found footage horror and relocating it to the home, where the superficial realism the gimmick allows for could almost be at its most invasive, and consequently terrifying. It's sequel (although its a prequel really) is basically the same movie, with its scares having the same punchlines and characters having basically the same trajectories. But it somehow felt diluted, like the second time you hear a cheap joke. It makes you laugh the first time, but hear it again and it just feels empty.

Which is weird, because if anything the family at the centre of this movie are much more likeable and fun to spend time with then Micah and Katie from the last one. And if anything its at its most approachable before it turns into a horror, with the family's video diaries that makes up the first twenty minutes probably the most enjoyable aspect of the thing. But the scares just felt painfully familiar, and without the nerve-shredding originality the first movie had just become kind of boring. Particularly nearer the beginning, where you wait five minutes for a door to move an inch. Or three minutes for a pan to fall on the floor. The same things that were somehow electrifying in the first one, fall entirely flat, perhaps because they are entirely the same things. Acting wise its all pretty solid, Brian Boland and Sprague Grayden making for likeable parents and Molly Ephraim is a surprisingly affable teenager, and one that I didn't want to see get brutally murdered, which is no small win for a horror.

But the most prevalent thought you'll have when you leave Paranormal Activity 2 is that it is fucking pointless, whether its shoehorns in a lame and frankly reductive exposition for the first movie or not. Its a freaking cash-in, designed to trick you into thinking that you can have that singular and awesome movie experience that was the first film all over again. But you can't. It worked precisely because you had never seen it before, and this, well, this just tells the same joke over. Except this time its not funny.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Horror Week: Part Trois

For the third successive year I'll be doing a Horror Week, which somewhat remarkably given how it sounds, its a week's worth of posts all about horror. Starting on the 25th and ending on Halloween. Because that's awesome how the dates match up. Be afraid.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Next Week's Movies

Easy A: Its been a while since there's been a decent high school comedy, particular one that has brains. This is what this film seems to be, but I'm staying on the side of caution for now. Probably a breaker of a role for Emma Stone though. Expectancy Level: 7/10

Red: Aside from anything else, this movie has an awesome cast and the old people with guns joke is sure never to get old right? Can it be anything other then an action movie version of Space Cowboys? Probably not, but it has John Malkovich being crazy and that's something I always like to see. Expectancy Level: 6/10

Paranormal Activity 2: Yeah. The film that makes no sense, yet was always somehow inevitable. I'll see it because of the shocking lack of horror films about but still. Sucks. Expectancy Level: 4/10

Legends Of the Guardians: The Owls Of Ga'Hoole: Its a Zack Snyder animated film about owls. So there'll be some sick shots of owls in slow-motion. Preferably in the rain. Then again in theory I'm up for a movie about owls beating the shit out of each other. Expectancy Level: 5/10

Africa United: Oh god. Expectancy Level: 3/10

Alpha And Omega: Hayden Panettiere pays for the rent voicing a wolf, in this fox and the hound-esque kids movie. If I'm passing up on something this weekend it seems likely to be this. Expectancy Level: 4/10

Sunday, 17 October 2010

REVIEW: The Social Network

From whence Facebook came.

There's a darkness to the nerd. The thing that drives them to consume and memorise the titles of all 726 episodes of Star Trek, the thing that drives them to know everything there is to know about Xeon 3500 quad-core processors and the thing that drives them to invent, form and run billion dollar companies doesn't necessarily come from the most warm and fuzzy place. It can come from a deep resentment, a ferocious hate toward the world they can't connect with, the people they cant understand and the attention they haven't received. The Social Network explores this, for all its other attributes, with greater insight and aptitude then any film I can recently remember, showing how this rage that dare not speak its name can drive a person to spectacular and terrible things.

The Social Network's opening fifteen minutes is, for the lack of a better word, kind of a masterpiece of all the things that when they work like this, can make the cinema such a scintillating place to be. It probably starts with Aaron Sorkin's writing which is just as witty and cutting and as intelligent, pitching a scene in which Mark Zuckerberg (the astounding Jesse Eisenberg, whose never been this good by a long shot.) gets dumped by girlfriend Rooney Mara. Zuckerberg talks but never really listens, jumps on slights but ignores compliments and is the worst kind of asshole, a self-absorbed dick who says his girlfriend doesn't have the right to dump him because she attends a lesser university. Its an electrifying and almost horrifying scene, featuring what I've no doubt will be the best work of Eisenberg's career. Zuckerberg then trashes his girlfriend online and sets up the site Facemash, in which people can rate the hotness of Harvard Undergrads in a drunken misogynistic rage. Its people typing at a laptop, but Fincher makes it play like an action scene, both thrilling and charring.

Its a shame the film never quite lives up to its opening after that, it becomes slightly more conventional, playing as a more familiar deposition room drama, albeit a consistently excellent one with some terrific performances, I think both Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield should walk away from this film with Oscar nominations, and Sorkin's victory seems inevitable, but I think the film as a whole falls just short of being the mind-blowingly awesome film I thought it was going to be. Perhaps once it's focus spread from Zuckerberg, to a Rashomon-esque three sides of the story kind of movie, with Zuckerberg being sued by both the Winklevoss twins (Both played amusingly by Armie Hammer) and former partner and best friend Eduardo Savrin ( Garfield). Garfield's character is no doubt the most sympathetic in the movie, but he knocks this one out I think. While the movie belongs to Eisenberg, Garfield gives a performance of such likeable nobility that he deserves almost as much praise. Things fall down a tad with the introduction of Justin Timberlake as internet cool guy Sean Parker too, and while his performance isn't bad, the standard around him is so high that his slightly two-dimensional take looks weak in comparison.

But make no mistake, this is a stellar piece of film-making on all sides, perfectly complimented by Fincher's retrained direction, allowing the words to do their own talking, and the performances to take centre stage. Classy, intelligent stuff to do film-making credit, and to show you the side of nerds that they don't want you to see. Just remember once you walk out, the people who really rule the world are all Mark Zuckerberg. Because what else do they have to do.

Rating: 8/10

REVIEW: Despicable Me

You'll scream. They all scream!

It doesn't surprise me one bit that Despicable Me comes from many of the minds behind Ice Age, because in terms of what's wrong and right with them, these films could be identical. They've the same gleefully insane sense of humour, the same oddball tone that feels free of the usual sanitization that most other non-pixar CGI films have. Everything is lovingly exaggerated, which makes it a feast of a visual experience. But there's also the same unapologetic sentimentality, which is either cynical or way too earnest, that becomes a little hard to swallow. But no doubt that's just me being a sallow grouch, right.

Parts of the film, just as parts of Ice Age were, are inspired. There's the awesome opening sequence, which to put it simply involves a fat ginger kid diving face first into the Pyramid of Giza. Then there's the rivalry between Steve Carell's elder supervillain Gru and younger, upstart villain Vector (voiced hilariously by Jason Segel, who was probably my favourite thing about the movie) which provided plenty of over the top, looney tunes-esque action that is executed with such joy and panache that its hard not to love this movie during these moments, and although I've no doubt this movie was expensive as shit, a great effort has been made to make it feel lovingly low-key and handmade. This is true for Gru's legion of minions, which basically act as this movie's scrat, being hilarious off in the corner when things get a little too treacly. Basically an army of That Yellow Bastard's shrunk down and made about 1000 times cuter, they are good value and no doubt will shift in merchandise.

Its a shame then when it remembers it has to have a plot, and once the three cutesy kids come along, things got a little less enjoyable for me. Granted there have been more insufferably irritating kids then these, and the youngest one Agnes manages to occasionally be funny as well as cute, but generally it veers to much toward the latter to be acceptable. For me at least. And as with Ice Age, the character arcs are way too simplified, particularly that of Gru, whose story may as well have been put up in lights to tell me it was happening whilst it was happening.

Still its hard to hate on a movie this inventive, and its the kind of film to set kids imaginations going rather then putrefy them into some Shrek shaped blob of nothing. The parts I liked got me through the parts I didn't, and this film isn't even aimed at me, so. Man I feel like such a killjoy douchebag. Which brings me peace.

Rating: 6/10

Friday, 15 October 2010

Next Wednesday Instead Podcast: Episode 3 - Joan Of Multipass

Week three, in which stuff is discussed.

Part 1: New Releases

Part 2: Movie Trilogies

Part 3: Luc Besson

REVIEW: The Death And Life Of Charlie St. Cloud

Synchronized Baseball. An olympic event by 2016. Trust.

OK, shall we get this out of the way. Its a terrible title. It makes Knight and Day feel good about itself. It gives you such an image of unrepentant, merciless melodrama. The kind of self-serious movie that came from the pen of Nicholas Sparks, it gives you images of some dude who was in high school musical thinking he's suddenly Leonardo DiCaprio, spilling out insincere emotions with the conviction of a post 1995 Oliver Stone. ( See that's what we call, a call back. Because I made a similar joke in the wall street review. About Oliver Stone. Having no conviction. I'll be hiding in my cupboard now.) But do you know what? The Death And Life Of Charlie St.Cloud isn't the monstrosity it was supposed to be. Its mediocre, which considering the subject matter and the people involved is nothing short of miraculous.

Zac Efron is a weird case. First of the high school musical movies are terrible and no-one is telling me otherwise. He is terrible in them. Boy can sing and dance sure, but the acting is awful and let's all acknowledge that shall we. But since casting that off, I think every performance he's given I've liked in some capacity. Even 17 Again, which was godawful, he wasn't terrible in. And arguably in Me And Orson Welles, he perhaps gave his first legitimately good performance. And here, well I think he's good again. making some of the more squirmy material tolerable because shockingly enough, I think it has to be said that he can act, at least a little bit, at this point. In a way he carries the thing, which in different hands could have been truly redonkulous. And it still is, but its sort of redonkulousness you can believe in, if you don't concentrate too hard. The talking to dead people is still a cliche, metaphor or literal, and it just shows a lack of imagination. The religious stuff is very heavy-handed and any athiests in the audience will have to suppress their gag reflex. And in places there is the melodramatic stuff to make you want to evaporate. But if you judge the thing against contemporaries like Dear John, then it comes out looking better. Its not Face-Off or anything, but its a serviceable film, that is adequate in what it does.

Plus there's the fun game of trying to figure out if Efron's co-star Amanda Crew is stunningly beautiful or hideously ugly. It seems to change shot to shot. I still don't have a definitive answer for you, so its really that ambiguous. But for Efron this thing can act as a calling card to be in better movies. If he can make this shit look good then I think he may be doing something right. High School Musical still sucks though, and if you like it the ghost of Gene Kelly is coming to your house to kill you.

Rating: 5/10


See what they did there? That's called irony, motherfucker.

Bernard Rose is quite an interesting director, if only for the presence of Candyman on his CV, otherwise he makes interesting, thoughtful movies, usually with a classical edge to them. There's the Tolstoy modernisation in Ivansxtc, an emotionally charged Beethoven biopic in Immortal Beloved and Anna Karenina. So there Candyman sits, an awesome horror movie in amidst 19th century biopics and adaptations of classic literature. In a way I think its what gave him his credibility and career longevity, yet for some reason I'd bet its the film on his CV he's most embarrassed about. Oh well.

His latest forray is one of his stronger efforts I think. Mr Nice, as is dictated by the self-effacing philosophy of the biopic, follows a formula. I think it kind of accidentally ended up a very similar film to the Johnny Depp starring kingpin-biopic Blow, narratively speaking I think they could pretty much be the same movie, but I think this may be slightly more successful. If not for what happens in it, then for the performances from Rhys Ifans and David Thewlis. Particularly Thewlis I think, whose been kind of stock playing bad roles in hollywood movies for too long, really cuts loose here as IRA man Jim McCann, and its one of the more entertaining performances I've seen this year, cutting between legitimately threatening and legitimately hilarious, its almost worth seeing just for him. Ifans does a very good job in the lead too, a performance full of the charm one might have come to expect from the guy. He's an interesting and always likeable actor, and perhaps the perfect fit for a Welsh drug kingpin, as hard as it is to believe that there ever was such a thing. Chloe Sevigny does perhaps a little less well in the role of Ifans' wife, struggling a little with the English accent, but its not a bad performance, and doesn't detract from what elseis going on.

The film ends up being an enjoyable ride, and Rose is nothing if not visually gifted, finding ways to make the familiar scenes, and to be fair there are a lot of them, more striking then they would usually be. As biopics go, its one of the better ones, simply because its entertaining and that makes you more liable to forgive a film some of its shortcomings. Maybe I'm being kinder to it because otherwise this week was such a dogpile, but I had fun, so. The story it tells is kind of biopic by numbers, but the way it tells it is a slight more vibrant and energetic then usual, and the performances of Ifans and Thewlis clinch the deal I think.

Rating: 7/10

REVIEW: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

I think Josh Brolin would rather be somewhere else right now.

Well what is there to say. But since you're here already I'll knock out something quick. Oliver Stone doesn't work without outrage. He just doesn't. Some have said that the problem with Stone is that as he's grown older, he's become more nuanced and that just doesn't work for him. I think this is giving him too much credit. Stone has never made a nuanced film, and never will make a nuanced film. He will get in your face as much now as he would in 1986. But now he has nothing left to say it seems, so while the same overwrought and unsubtle style is there, gone is the conviction, the righteousness and the vitality. You watch Salvador or Platoon, particularly Salvador, which might be the best film he's ever made contrary to the fact that no-one's seen it, and there's a power, a rawness that comes from authenticity.

But now Stone is just spitting dead air. Wall Street colon money never sleeps exists because Stone is a film-maker and he wants to make movies. It has no reason to exist, which is even more ridiculous because a film about the perils of corrupt finance has never been more timely or welcome, this film carefully tiptoes the stream, dipping into the real life financial crisis as minimally as possible, favouring instead to be a mediocre drama, full of predictable moments of mawkishness and fabrication. Perhaps its worth watching for Michael Douglas, who just as he did in the first one has the kind of magnetic presence where if he talks you listen. Douglas is kind of awesome, just as he is in pretty much everything. The movie around him may be a mess of a nervous wreck, wanting to be about one thing and the other but not really wanting to be about either. Shia LaBeouf isn't a bad actor necessarily, but he's a frickin loathsome one. In any context he just comes off a preppie spoiled douchebag, with way too much confidence for the person that he is. So when he's your lead and is supposed to be a likeable character, problems arise. Carey Mulligan is in this film for reasons indecipherable to me, playing a weak girlfriend role and leaving you thinking maybe if this film was about her instead of Shia it would be better. Josh Brolin is a serviceable villain, but one can't help but want for more Michael Douglas, who kind of floats around the side of the film, superfluous to the action but still kind of awesome.

Its a stock release, made to make money and an unnecessary sequel to a film that is fine all by itself, Its not terrible, and won't tarnish the original for you, but instead will be forgotten as soon as its walked through the door. The answer to an obscure trivia question ten years from now perhaps What was the sub-heading to the title of the shitty sequel to Wall Street. Money never sleeps, something that makes me cringe every time I type or say it. Anyways, it bears no thinking about.

Rating: 5/10

REVIEW: Life As We Know It

I, baby, am about to get right the fuck out of here.

I think most people on the internet hate Katherine Heigl more then I do. Sure she seems to make exclusively bad, high concept romantic comedies and sure she can be obnoxious sometimes and yes there's a sense of entitlement that she seems to exhale along with the air she breathes, but looking at it that way, her crime is to not apologise for being successful. Do you think Sean Penn has? Do you think George Clooney has? The media tends to go after outspoken actresses with the commitment and ferocity of a much more potent body of reality (how long before Megan Fox's career is destroyed based on a similar principle) and I think sometimes we need to call ourselves on this. Hell Robert Downey Jr says dickish things once and again, and John Cusack seems to treat every interviewer ever to cross his path with a rage born of hell-fire. Do they take this kind of shit?

Heigl isn't the second of Katherine Hepburn or anything, but she's a mildly enjoyable presence who makes the terrible films she's in slightly less abrasive. You certainly don't walk out of Life As We Know It things Josh Duhamel is a the diamond in the rough, and man I better get back to my DVD box set of Las Vegas. For one because nobody owns the box set of Las Vegas and if they do it certainly it wasn't their idea and two because Duhamel is the kind of actor who has a career as long as he maintains his six-pac. Whereas Heigl, well maybe if she stopped making films from an entirely careerist point of view, and made a film because she thought it was going to be good rather then because it could make money, well she could be quite good someday. But the choices need to be a lot less safer, because Life As We Know It like Killers and The Ugly Truth and 27 Dresses before it, revolves around Heigl playing an uptight careerist set against the backdrop of a ridiculous high-concept premise that not only is groan-worthy, but seems to sap one's will to live. Here, Heigl and Duhamel are the respective best friends of a couple (One of whom is played by Christin Hendricks from Mad Men. Ah hell no.) who die, and leave their unborn baby to the two leads even though at this point they loathe each other.

Setting aside for a moment that this is breathtakingly moronic, and really doesn't need adjectives from me to sell you on its stupidity, these guys left clearly put our movie stars feelings and prospects ahead of their own babies. Fine you think they're meant to be, but this is your kid dipshits, you don't willingly place her in an unstable atmosphere full of hate based on a hunch. I'm sorry you guys died and everything but you are some stupid motherfuckers. Elsewhere Life As We Know It goes everywhere you think it will, from the tepid romantic rival in Josh Lucas, to the grating way the two bond over montages and baby-raising. It's a terrible movie, one that doesn't help the romantic comedies slide into what must be at this point at least the second most inner circle of hell. Its everything that's wrong with who studios approach the genre, and while it will no doubt stealth another 30-40 million, nobody gets out looking good.

Heigl's got a couple of films on her CV that look a little more promising, so I'll retain hope. But as much as it may pain the blogosphere to hear, if this generation has a Meg Ryan then its probably Heigl. I don't think she's near Ryan in terms of quality, but I would advocate that when Oscar-Nominee Amy Adams starred in Leap Year, she didn't have the chops to play this horrific, beaten down stereotype of the workaholic woman who doesn't know how to have any fun, but Heigl can. She is pretty much always the best thing about her terrible movies, and to be clear they are terrible, so, you know, I can live with her being around a little while longer.

Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Real life being a dick.

Unfortunately some dissertationish work has prevented me from putting up reviews this week, but they should be up tomorrow if disaster is avoided. You can relax now.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Next Wednesday Instead Podcast: Episode 2


Sup y'all. Our second podcast, a trim eight minutes shorter then the last one. Because we here at Next Wednesday Instead value getting to the point. You can listen here too if you wish to be all alternative.

Part 1: New releases

Part 2: Movies based on computer games and why they suck

Part 3: Filmography - Danny Boyle

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

TV REVIEW: Community Season 1

" I bring my own equipment."

There's something instantly derogatory about the term sitcom. Its a hard word to say without condescension or inferred snarl, and if I were to associate it with a workable philosophy it would be doing less to allow for maximum gain. It makes you think of My Family and Two And A Half Men type things, easily consumable and disposable comfort food that slowly consumes your soul, often in a way that you don't mind all that much. The traditional sitcom is not something I want to bash on too much though. It has a place, it can be funny and if done right can be a very relaxed and easy way to unwind. Not all TV needs to be challenging I guess.

Perhaps its not the most creatively explosive medium, But it makes people happy, right? This is what endless hours watching Friends reruns would have you believe, but the funny thing is that when given thought, doesn't the sitcom have the potential to be the most free, creatively anarchic form of pretty much anything around? Not a pre-disposed slave to story, character, sanity, sense, consistency or any concerns other then getting the laugh. In a way it can literally do anything that a film burdened with telling a self-contained story can not. If something like The Big Bang Theory is equivalent to that guy you know who's kind of funny, then something like Arrested Development say is like seeing a stand-up comedian whose jokes are not only hilarious, but perfectly crafted, painfully intelligent, concise and insightful that you come out thinking that what you just saw was pretty much genius. When a sitcom works like that, I can't think of any form of film or television making that's more enjoyable or satisfying. And while I'll admit that Arrested Development stands and probably will always stand alone in how ridiculously good it got (Unless you count The Simpsons of course, which in spite of its stubborn refusal to just die, can make similar claims.) its good to see that the ambition to use the sitcom as a means to trail blaze and occasionally blow your freakin' mind through comedy, still exists. And while Community is by no means perfect yet, there are kinks to be sure, particularly in the first half of the season. There are moments, and episodes, to suggest that given time, something special might happen here. If it doesn't get canceled that is.

Community has quite the pitchable premise too. Essentially a high school show, only without the poison challis of teenage acting. Set in a community college, the cast is a series of adult dropouts and failures making one last desperate attempt to make their lives worth something. The lead is disbarred lawyer Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) fired from his law firm for falsifying qualifications, is the kind of self-satisfied douchebag that should be the lead of more shows, but what's pleasing is the show doesn't just point and laugh, Jeff is funny and cool enough in his own right to justify his swagger, and McHale is such a likable and winning presence that the character is in that Houseish area where being a dick only makes it him more awesome. Its a great performance by McHale throughout the season, handling endless sarcastic, fantastic one-liners with aplomb and being strong in the more emotional moments to. It deserved an Emmy nomination, but much like Sons Of Anarchy, this show got entirely blanked.

The thing I love about Community is that its always trying to do things the smart way, balancing simple gags with intelligent and insightful ones, being smart but not smug and always tries to avoid predictability. and while it certainly isn't afraid of physical comedy and people falling over once in a while, its gleefully experimental and enthusiastic about being better every week. Perhaps most importantly, it's an ensemble show where everyone is funny, so you don't spend too much time waiting for the guy you like to come back on screen. It also might be the best piece of reference comedy since the Simpson's in its prime. Again, kinks, but by the end of the first season, particularly the last 6 episodes or so, it just found a stride. The now notorious ' Modern Warfare', or the paintball episode as it has come to be known, is the one everyone sites as being the one where Community really came to join the table, so to speak, an episode which was met with endless and bountiful internet adulation and for me was probably the best episode of comedy of anything since AD got shitcanned. A perfect mix of fanboyish, awesomely assured reference-fest to all things action movie, and thoughtful character comedy. The universe got heightened but the characters stayed the same, which is what you want with episodes like that. It was fucking awesome for lack of a better word. Similarly though, there's the ' Contemporary American Poultry' episode, which played as a perfectly elegant and inspired Goodfellas parody, in which everything down to song choice, camera movement and montage recalled the best things about Scorsese's movie, yet without forgetting to be hilarious. Not series of cheap De Niro jokes, but the kind of creative way reference comedy should be done. You see this episode, you think its awesome, you think Goodfellas is awesome, you watch Goodfellas. Everybody wins.

These two stand alone's, both in the back five of the season, were the creative peak, I don't think too many people will argue with that, but there's much to love in the conventional episode of Community. Particularly the group dynamic of the core cast, allowing the show to be more then just a showcase for McHale. Danny Pudi as the Asperger's stricken Abed, basically a walking meta-reference machine, made awesome by Pudi's terrific deadpanning and grasp of the character. Alison Brie, known to most I would imagine as Trudie Campbell of Mad Men, is near revelatory as overachiever Annie who had a colossal meltdown. She is basically Hermione Granger if the night before her exams she had a drug-fueled episode of self-destruction. Brie is always upbeat, comfortable with the broader humor and just plain hilarious throughout. Donald Glover as ex-quarterback Troy, another great example of a dumb character written intelligently, but to be frank, Glover kind of explodes out of the role into something better. I could go on, everyone is pretty awesome really. Many had issues with Gillian Jacobs' Britta, but I found the character and the performance to be funny and unique, particularly toward the end of the year. The Hangover's Ken Jeong is a little out of place perhaps, but the guy is funny enough to make it stick and has more then one moment of memorable awesomeness during the course of the year. But they just all work so well together, more then could have been anticipated.

Other notable episodes include ' Introduction To Statistics' and 'Debate 109', the later being a fresh and very much awesome take on the increasingly familiar debate club episode, but generally, Community is a fiercely intelligent comedy that turned finding itself into an art form and no doubt now that it has, season 2 should be nothing if not amazing. But much more important then that, its just very,very funny. There are weak moments and lesser episodes, it doesn't quite come out of the gate as strongly as it should, but its such a great ride and particularly if you're any kind of geeky film or TV fan, this show was pretty much made just for you.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Next Week's Movies

That was a peacefully thin week of new movies, so of course next week is packed to shit. Because the universe hates you. But hates me more. Fuck you Universe. Dick.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: Sheesh. The repeatedly delayed wall street sequel arrives to bang yet another nail into the coffin of Oliver Stone's career. Burial joke one. Expectancy level: 4/10

The Life and Death Of Charlie St.Cloud: Erm, yeah. The potentially self-serious melodrama starring Zac Efron sees his tiny dead bro raise from the grave and into his head. But Efron's got to let his memory go so he can live a normal life! You can't keep a good ghost bro down in his coffin. Burial joke two. Expectancy Level: 3/10

Life As We Know It: Katherine Heigl continues her assault on good movies and innocent children with her latest, another high-concept romantic comedy revolving around her being uptight. Plus Josh Duhamel. Will make money but nobody will admit to seeing it. They'll take that shit to their graves. Burial joke three, you can't contain this. Expectancy level: 4/10

Mr Nice: The only non-dogpile of the week comes in the form of this Rhys Ifans starring biopic about a famous welsh drug dealer. I like Ifans, and it looks like David Thewlis has a cool role so that's good to see. Still, trepidation before anticipation. Plus coffin joke, pretend I had one. Expectancy Level: 6/10

REVIEW: Buried

Alright guys this isn't funny anymore. Guys?

I often think high-concept movies like this are always better if you don't see them. That way you can go 'what an entire movie about some guy buried alive? That sounds sick..' and there you will be, a untouched film of perfect sickness in your head, without the need to deal with the logistics of, you know, how its possible to maintain that for 90 minutes or, you know, how its not. Because Buried has its strong moments, mostly revolving around Ryan Reynolds performance, and its weaker ones, mostly revolving around a director over-compensating for the lack of movement and space, with zooms, pan outs and other visual tricks that entirely miss the point of the film. I thought a movie set entirely in a box would be entirely about the lack of movement and space. Huh?

But I think, just about, there was more about this movie that I liked then disliked, although the race goes right to the wire. Reynolds is the biggest success story, a rare step out of his duplicitous movie career of romantic comedies and popcorn action movies (plus Adventureland) to really act, and in a movie that entirely depends on his ability to hold the screen, because what else are we going to look at, he comes out on top, earning our sympathy thoroughly and creating a strong enough character to pull us through the movie's slightly shakier moments. The film sustains itself through as a series of phone conversations, and while it can't be said that all of the voice acting was top drawer, Reynolds side of the conversation is always engaging. I did enjoy Stephen Tobolowsky as a particularly heartless insurance man though. But I think the main problem is director Rodrigo Cortes doesn't believe in his premise enough to really let it be, and there's a sequence with a snake that just feels entirely pointless to the point of the now notorious incident of when Kim was threatened by a cougar in season 2 of 24. And there's the ending. I won't spoil it, but if there's a single person who comes out satisfied by that and not wanting to punch someone or something in the face then, well you are a more tolerant man then me.

As a movie experiment it probably fails, but as a showcase for Reynolds, I think just before he explodes into movie stardom stratosphere, it justifies itself. Boy can act after all.

Rating: 6/10

REVIEW: Made In Dagenham

I feel kind of mean to angrily rant at a movie that is OK, but needs to be said.

There's a certain kind of British cinema goer that leaves me livid. Well in fairness there are many, but many words have been said about kids who talk and text all through films, parents who bring 3 year old toddlers into screenings of No Country For Old Men and assholes who laugh like the atom bomb and altogether show no respect for the cinema environment (Its my temple.) No, these guys get theirs. The people I'm about to rag on are polite, respectful and admirable members of society. But because of them, six of the ten large scale British film release every year follow the Made In Dagenham model. Biopic first and foremost, semi hot button topic second and pseudo-realism third. I want to be clear that these aren't bad movies, but just, so thoroughly uninspiring. Is anyone going to fall in love with films like this? Is some 15 year old kid going to see Made In Dagenham and go that's what I want to do with the rest of my life?

Its because of that viewer, that pragmatic entity that believes that cinema should be always and forever a glossier version of a BBC4 documentary, inform before excite and have a heavy hand placed in reality, because fiction in and of itself? Well that would just be a waste of time. And sadly these are the people that write for the daily telegraph, for the Guardian and such. Its an attitude that seems to promote a condescension toward creativity and it means that the majority of British cinematic output panders, gets polite, tepidly complementary reviews and then disappears from every body's consciousness in a heartbeat. Made In Dagenham is one of these films to the bone, and while I can't say it was bad, its well acted and quite well put together, Sally Hawkins is as good as ever in the lead role, and there's some good supporting performances from Richard Schiff, Rosamund Pike and Miranda Richardson, and it isn't fair to say that this film is alone the problem, its one of many, but that grounded, pathologically modest British mentality of fact being worth more then fiction, even in the arena of movies, I'm just tired of it. I've seen this kind of film so many times, and so few of them make a lasting impact. I don't object to this kind of film being made, but it shouldn't be made more then any other genre of film. It shouldn't be considered worthier and better simply because its based in reality and well, my enthusiasm is waning.

Made In Dagenham will be an enjoyable experience for those who believe that film should be above all things educational and the biopic represents your movie of choice, and there's a lot of you and you have no real reason to feel bad about that. But if there's even a spark of imagination in you go and see Buried, fuck go and see Takers, because while they may be worse movies, they allow cinema to be more then a walking, talking wikipedia entry. I look forward to the Bafta nominations.

Rating: 6/10