Thursday, 25 November 2010

REVIEW: Unstoppable

The king of the rail-road.

So right there's this train, and its going really fast and fucking shit up, and if Denzel Washington and Captain Kirk can't stop it its going to kill a lot of sweet middle America folk. And there's your movie. Its a concept that's easy to mock, yes, but there's something adorably lo-fi about it that feels like a 70's disaster movie, back when the genre wasn't what Roland Emmerich has come to define it as - soulless orgies of destruction - and it was about plucky people surviving against a contained situation or threat.

I like that we have no villains, and I like that the movie respected its subject matter instead of feeling it always had to compensate for it. It's a movie about a runaway train, no more no less. And I got something out of that, and I think the film is much the better for not making it about anything else. Granted our characters are cliched beyond belief, and when Washington and Pine start talking about their back-stories and such it suddenly becomes pretty unbearable. The problem with characters in films like this is that it is believed they should have some kind of emotional resonance, but they have no idea how to actually do that, so we get the ' I love my daughters' or the ' I love my wife' bit which is never not trite or cheesy. I submit that all we need to know about these people we can gather from watching them do their jobs, and its when this is done that the movie works. Like an inferior version of Speed, when we're dealing with the train its pretty engaging thrill-ride, when we're not its a by the numbers chore. But I think there's more of the former then the latter, so I was fine with it.

Denzel Washington, who seemingly only makes thrillers where he plays an under-appreciated civil servant who gets to save the day these days, is such a rock steady, effortlessly engaging presence in these kind of things he often makes mediocre material much more bearable. But what I like about the guy is that despite being a pedigree actor of the highest order, he doesn't try and win Oscars with every movie he makes. And he so could if he wanted to. But he makes thrillers, because I think he likes them. And I like that. Chris Pine does a good job here too, with some rough material and an unenviable role. Rosario Dawson shows up to get paid, and Kevin Dunn plays the corporate douche he always seems to play. Its not rocket science or high art, but its a thriller that thrills and entertains. So fair play.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 21 November 2010

HORROR WEEK: The Nightmare Before Christmas

" Kidnap the santa Claus, beat him with a stick."

I hated this film when I was a kid. It was such a favourite in my house I probably saw it three times before my 3rd birthday, and to a simple naive child with undeveloped ideals in regards to movies and Christmas, movies where there to make me happy, while Christmas was there for me to score tons of free shit off relatives and friends, plus so I could worship at the altar of Santa Claus (Brought up on American Television so didn't do the British version) . Yet here is a movie that has a three minute song/setpiece devoted to the many ways in which one could dismember, immolate and otherwise kill Santa Claus gruesomely, for fun. 3 year old me would not stand for this, so any time the idea of watching this film was brought up, I would cry, wail and scream, I would make deals and comprises (usually involving watching Labyrinth instead, which I simply hated and not terrified by. I stand by that. Because its shit.) You want to watch this film? Well I want to take my custom edition playpen cricket bat to your antique Victorian Piano, how about that?

Once I got to an age of proper consciousness, I passed a movie embargo and didn't watch it for like ten years. I would always be tired or sick, or have to study the next day, or go and kill the president of Panama with a fork, things like that. It got long beyond my petty little reason and became one of those things you just do, perhaps because I mistook stubbornness for awesomeness, although the line does blur. But eventually once I got into film in a big way, it became an blemish that needed to be rectified and I watched and realized something. This film was awesome. Beyond awesome. And I'd hated because of how good it was at its job, which was of course scaring the shit out of me. Its a kids horror movie with a soul, with a point, it looks nothing short of beautiful and at the same time its deliciously twisted and fucked up enough that Adults can see entirely different movies from their kids. In many ways it is a traditional Christmas movie, in which everyone comes together in tolerance, in celebration and in learning the true meaning of Christmas (LOL at getting to type that in a sincere context) but its darkness allows for these messages to actually have some value. Its not about good people learning how to be even better at Christmas time, its about monsters, literally, learning it. Its a true fairy tale precisely because it doesn't whitewash evil and darkness out of its world. And that is a rare thing indeed.

" What? Snake Eyes!"

I don't think anyone's going to argue that the main appeal of the movie, is its look but more then that, its feel. Its so rare to see an animated world come to life like this, and while CGI films and traditional Disney style animation can be both be magnetic and ascendant in their own ways, there's something to be said for having something real to hold onto, and the stop-motion does just that. It feels so much less synthetic and so much more organic. You get the idea that director Henry Selick (not Tim Burton, so suck it all of you who got that pub quiz question wrong) takes particular pleasure in crafting Halloween Town, and the varying monsters within. Some of which, scratch that, all of which, are kind of horrifying. There's the zombie boy lead by a chain, there's the goo-monster made from an uncomfortably coloured brown liquid, there's a fairly realistic werewolf. More so then the ones in Buffy anyway. There's a great effort made in not sanitising the threat, the fear of the things. Yes they can be funny. But no doubt is in my mind, just as there wasn't when I was three, that these are gross looking monsters that kill people. Similarly Jack Skellington, our anti-hero, though clearly more accessible then some of the others, is no slouch in that department either. Like a cross between a scarecrow and a skeleton with added spindlyness, the look of that character in and of itself is enough to entirely love this film.

But for me the greatest stroke of genius was whoever decided that this should be a musical. Particularly because the spoken dialogue at times has that 'bare minimum' feel about it. And yes, that could have led into some dangerous Andrew Lloyd Webber territory but thankfully the music is good enough to avoid that ( See that, Andrew Lloyd Webber just got slammed by implication. By implication.) and frankly, one would be tempted to call it Danny Elfman's finest hour, in spite of Edward Scissorhands. In song the story gets to soar as much as the visuals, and because of this it has 3 or 4 scenes to put it up against anything that ever came out of Disney, or even Pixar. The Oogey Boogie song is that perfect blend of hilarious and menacing, and again, whose ever idea it was to make the boogeyman a psychotic '20's gambling man who sings like a member of the New Orleans rhythm and blues revival deserves an Oscar. Love the sequence if only for Santa Claus' hilariously limp replies.

" Oh how horrible our Christmas will be."

But the movie belongs to Jack, and its appropriate then that so do most of the stand out moments, from the graveyard atop ledge extending whilst he sings to the wonderfully rich scene where he discovers Christmas land, which is as one would expect for this movie, heart-warming whilst incredibly creepy at the same time. Its just great to see a kids movie where the hero is so decidedly misguided that he spends 2/3 of the film making a colossal, hubris driven mistake that probably gets many innocent children killed yet is somehow still impossible not to root for. Its the mark of a great character that you're behind them when they're doing terrible things, and that's certainly the case of this movie. Henry Selick went on to make the excellent Coraline last year, and I think what makes both of these films work so well (although I'd say Coraline is perhaps the better film) is that the come from a great storyteller, a director of animation who cares about more then just how a film looks, meaning his films are as refreshing to the brain as they are to the eyes.

I'm not the hugest Tim Burton fan. I think he's made more bad films then good ones, and the good ones all seem to be a very long time ago. Ed Wood is probably the best, perhaps because its Burton moving away from all the things that Burton does. Yet this is probably the best iteration of what Burton came here to do, and ironically it was done by somebody else. Animation seems the perfect place for his mind to cut loose, yet when he tried it with The Corpse Bride it came nowhere near this. A stand alone film in cinema history, both for making stop-motion accessible and for being a seminal kids movie that scares the shit out of them. Even Pixar have never done that. There's flaws, its perhaps a little too simple and characters can speak their intentions a little too literally. But, you know, just look at it.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, 19 November 2010

REVIEW: Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1

Thinks every kid performance in Harry Potter sucks, except Evanna Lynch as Luna. Who is awesome.

It seems critics have come round on Harry Potter. Back in 2001, it was harder to get in line, what with a Lord Of The Rings shaped albatross on the horizon and everything. It wasn't the fairest comparison, but these were two huge fantasy franchises after decades of having none so damn if it wasn't made, and made again. The first few movies were cursed by their slavery to fan loyalty, fairly shocking kid acting, and everything feeling so low stakes in comparison to the epic battles and grandiose operatics of Jackson's movies. And while Harry Potter can proudly boast the strongest cast of any franchise of any movie of all time, pretty much featuring every great British actor over 35 that we have to offer, all are reduced to cameos. Lord Of The Rings had the excellent performances and underrated anchoring of Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellen, the former of which gets ignored much more then it should, because I don't think the film works nearly as well without it. In HP we spend all our time with 13 year olds who can't act for shit.

But time passed, Lord Of The Rings took its bow, and the Potter movies stuck around. And without anything so stellar to compare them to, people started to change their minds. And while I think that Alfonso Cuaron's Prisoner Of Azkaban is a great little movie, I think the arrival of David Yates in film 5 is the main reason for this. The films started to have a consistency of vision and style, plus things seemed to age, the tone got darker and people started dying. I don't think there can be such a thing as a great Harry Potter movie, the weaknesses of the novels are too apparent and since nobody is willing to change anything they continue to fester, but I think Deathly Hallows is going to come the closest. I'm still not sold on any of the leads, Radcliffe in particular, who misdelivers far too many lines to be even acceptable when one is being apoplectic. And there a few too many scenes of people talking about plot in the woods, but the film has moments of honest to god awesomeness, its a shame they only seem to occur when none of the primary characters are on screen.

For example, the death eater scene that prologues the movie is I think my favourite in any Potter movie. A fairly badass and well-written super villain scene, with a terrific performance by Ralph Fiennes, who has lent so much to the role of rent-an-evil-motherfucker that Voldemort regrettably became. Its dark, twisted and brings in Alan Rickman's consistently terrific Snape. A character who frankly became the series most interesting around book five, yet is still treated as a supporting character and gets about ten lines a movie. How much more awesome would Deathly Hallows be if it was told from the point of view of Severus Snape? Perhaps then the bad guys wouldn't be such cyphers and archetypes. I seem to spend every Potter movie asking why don't we get more of the bad guys, but its somewhat remedied here I suppose. Fiennes and Rickman rock it in the opening scene, and Marla Singer herself continues to be awesome as Bellatrix Lestrange. Newcomers Rhys Ifans and Peter Mullan add to the mix greatly, each giving an awesome cameo. There's just this nagging feeling that there's a much more interesting film skirting the edges of this one, seeing the wizarding world go apocalypse, and if we didn't have to spend so much time with our Nancy Drew's, limiting the potential darkness and scope of the story, then I'd get to see that instead.

Still, like I said I think its the best one yet, and I'm sure part 2 will be better. It's just, whereas the look, the tone and pretty much everything else has matured into something much more interesting, its leads just haven't. And the ideas and concepts suffer for this. Still there's moments and scenes to enjoy, and I really do think these films are well made, there's a great animated sequence somewhere in the middle too, but at its core, its still a kids movie trying to be a grown up one. I don't think it can quite let that go, and thus it will never be as good as it wants to be.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Next Week's Movies

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1: Everyone stay the fuck out of the way, because the boy wizard who uses capital letters to communicate anger is here. Not a single movie decided to take on Harry Potter this weekend, which was probably wise. I'm more optimistic for this one, purely because it should be non-stop action and famous British actors dying. Expectancy Level: 6/10

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

HORROR WEEK: Pitch Black

" I'm not dying for them."

I don't think anyone is really going to argue that David Twohy is some kind of great film-maker. Dude wrote Waterworld. Any attempt he has made to write and direct a film outside the comfort zone of tried and tested genre material hasn't just been a failure, its been a catastrophic one. There's the Waterworld thing, which was a daring and novel concept that got everything so colossally wrong, it would have been much easier and required much less effort to be a much better movie. Then there's the Chronicles Of Riddick, which was Twohy's attempt to infuse political allegory and a transcendental air to sci-fi. Do you know what else tried to do that? Star Wars episode 1. And this was just as boring, arrogant and stupid as that movie. And frankly, you can't make a smart movie if you're stupid. So I guess the conclusion to take is that if you see the uniquely identifiable name Twohy on a film its best to go and see something less ambitiously awful.

And yet, the guy made one of the most exciting, surprising and even subversive horror movies of the last decade. Why and how, you all are no doubt asking in harmonious unison? Because the stakes are lowered, the grand ideas are gone and any and all attempt to be Stanley Kubrick has vanished, but what remains is Twohy's all consuming obsession with originality and subversion. And while his discernible lack of talent and ability to be coherent perhaps got in the way of that being best exploited in bigger films, with Pitch Black set against the rigid and familiar architecture of the sci-fi horror, and speaking to a generation with Alien and all the films that came after entrenched into their bones, that pursuit of originality feels starker, more satisfying and ultimately so much more successful. He knows the material so well that he knows what we expect at all corners, knows how the character dynamics usually play out and who usually dies and when. its this love and knowledge of the genre that allows him to do things in it that have never been done before, so if its occasionally brash, if its occasionally crude or inelegant, its vital enough to be forgiven. This, ladies and gentleman, is how a bad film-maker makes a great movie.

Pitch Black: Johns reminds Riddick that he's on a short leash.

" Somebody's gonna get hurt one of these days."

What's great about Pitch Black for me, I think more then anything else, is its depiction of selflessness as something that is difficult to do. Its a horror movie cliche to have people sacrifice themselves to save the group, often without prior context, thought or difficulty. Say, Walton Goggins in Predators, an entirely selfish character who just randomly decides to die for strangers he has no reason to care about. Not only does it make no sense and so often betray character, but it reduces the gesture for when it should matter. In a way Pitch Black is a film entirely about correcting this. The film opens with a fantastically executed crash sequence, where pilot Fry's (Radha Mitchell) spaceship is crashing down to a planet, and she attempts to jettison all of her sleeping passengers into space to righten the course, in other words killing forty people to save herself. And this is the heroine of this story. She is stopped by her co-pilot, and lands the thing right anyway. What's great about this sequence, aside from it being exhilarating, is the cold logic of that act. Its horrific but understandable. Detestable, but somehow humanizing. This isn't the superheroine, the incorruptible badass chick archetype. Its a character we are asked to follow after we witness her doing the worst thing she'll ever do in her life, and frankly that's kind of awesome. I'm not saying Fry is some super fascinating, multi-layered character or anything, but she's flawed, so when her heroism does come, it is so much more affecting because selflessness doesn't come easy, and precisely because it doesn't is what makes it such an admirable act.

Riddick, the breakout character who has since had two video games and a terrible movie about his misadventures, is that dangerous psychopath that always seems to come along on these asides so they can be hysterically insane and get a really nasty death, kind of goes past that. He keeps his shit together and reacts to the situation better then anybody, perhaps because he doesn't care about anybody. He's calm, rational and considered, and although he's a constant threat, he's not dumb and doesn't attack people just because you know, he's crazy and that. Vin Diesel, whose subsequent career has made him kind of difficult to compliment, is terrific. He's both awesome in the conventional sense and an intriguing character, but there's an intelligence to him, which I think was brought by Diesel rather then Twohy. But again, the selflessness doesn't necessarily come from him, but the situation around, meaning we get to see the context in which it is brought out of him and thus it isn't trite and meaningless.

" Did not know who he was fucking with."

Like the equally successful Cube, a lot of mileage is got out of shifting character dynamics, and people doing things you don't expect. Twenty minutes in one would assume that Cole Hauser's mercenary Johns, is going to be the hero of the piece and Riddick the antagonist. But as we progress, the worst it brought out of Johns and the best out of Riddick. Watching the two compete for the status of alpha-male is probably the movie's strongest suit too, because Mitchell's performance can be a little flat at times, particularly when she can't contain her Aussie accent, both Diesel and Hauser are having a ball, and its a shame they both went on to be so associated with bad acting, because they're both great here. Twohy is also acutely aware of which of his characters you're expecting to die first, and because of this you're genuinely caught of guard by kills at least three times. Claudia Black's 'Shazza' (because she's Australian, dummy) goes way before you expect her too and extreme British stereotype Paris (get it) sticks around longer then you'd expect him too.

But the greatest trick Twohy ever pulled is who dies last, in a way that it makes such perfect sense, yet catches you off guard by a mile. As Fry gets carried off into the darkness by the CGI Bat monster thingies, its a legitmately emotional and affective moment in a survival horror film. And you can count those on one hand. The thing isn't perfect of course. Twohy's dialogue always feels a little too on message, and the scenes post-crash and pre-bat annihilation kind of plod along, and while I appreciate the minor characters being real people rather then hot models in space, they can be kind of annoying, particularly tomboy Jack and the aforementioned Paris. I kind of dug Keith David's Imam character in spite of the writing and not because of it, and there are moments of clunkiness scattered about.

" It ain't me you've got to be afraid of anymore."

But its a movie with such balls, such intent, and one that genuinely cares about its characters for the most part, rather then just looking at them as pawns to be rinsed in awesome ways. Its tense, appropriately scary and mostly thanks to Diesel, deceptively subtle. Its not Shakespeare, but its a great example of how great horror movies can be when they're on their game. The clunks, fumbles and missteps are forgiven because Twohy's focused the ambition that far exceeds his talent to an area where that is an attribute. But sure enough that's such a specific area that he'll never be able to do it again, but I'm happy that he pulled this one out at least.

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 13 November 2010

REVIEW: Skyline

Effects porn for comic-con douches who think Event Horizon was the best film of the nineties. Obnoxious enough?

So in today's second round of my TV heroes betraying me by making terrible movies theme, we have case number two, the Chris Turk edition. Again nothing could make me not love Donald Faison. He did this. He was one of the best things about a show I kind of loved for a long time, even when that show itself entirely lost its shit. He has too much good will in my book for me not not like him, even when associated to films like Skyline. To preface, Skyline comes from The Brothers Strause, the people who brought you Alien Vs Predator: Requiem. Or AVP2: Requiem if you will. I somehow saw that film twice, despite hating it immensely and believing to be one of the worst examples of film-making of my lifetime. It cast a geeky teen as the lead in a predator movie, it had hybrids, it was low-key and took itself way too seriously instead of amping up the OTT and the operatic like it should have done, and more importantly, like the word requiem implies.

Skyline is a marked improvement on that, but fundamentally the same problems remain. Its way too dour and self serious. Even Independence Day had a sense of humour. Its cast although TV centric to the point where that's become a punchline in almost every review, is not without potential. Donald Faison in a dramatic role was something I was interested in seeing, Dexter's David Zayas' trademark earnestness is perfect for this kind of thing and even lead Eric Balfour was good in Six Feet Under. Scottie Thompson has an awesome name. But nobody really comes out of this well, I guess the closest would be Zayas, who just does what he always does. Balfour in particular, is a painful mixture of bland and obnoxious, the kind of lead you just want to punch in the face the whole time. Plus he's named Jared. Thompson is the worst kind of screechy, irritating reasonless voice of reason that girlfriends always seem to play in this kind of thing. And while I like the idea of an Alien invasion movie told from the point of view of normal people, these characters are so utterly nondescript the gimmick doesn't work.

It feels as if this is absolutely the best movie a 12 year old boy could write, and all the storytelling foibles that come with. I remember when I was 12 I wanted to write about awesome Aliens and monsters, and characters, the people themselves were a necessary evil, included simply because Aliens contextlessly beating the crap out of each other is not a story. And the Brothers Strause seemed to have taken this wide-eyed, naive approach to narrative, something that can usually be quite endearing, and made it joyless, they excluded the one thing that could have possibly saved the thing, a sense of wonder, and instead made a movie that's got the worst things about adult and childlike storytelling and the best of neither. Still, I respect the intention I suppose.

Rating: 4/10

REVIEW: You Again

Well you know what they say about Kristen Bell, she's a Marshmallow.

So here's the thing. I think You again and Skyline are about as bad as each other. They're both potentially semi-interesting conceptual takes on worn material, that get so much about the execution wrong one can't really talk about anything else. And yet amidst their undeniable shitness is an earnestness which is kind of endearing. I believe that the people behind these movies tried to make a movie that they'd enjoy, and legitimately thought were good. They are shit because of inadequacy and incompetence and not because of apathy and cynicism, and believe it or not that makes me happy. I'm fine with bad films like this, because I believe in some capacity, they have love behind them.

But boy is You Again shit, a veritable feast of accidental awkwardness, flat punchlines, cheap gags and hit and miss stunt casting. It continues Kristen Bell's quest to take the horde of good will she earned for Veronica Mars, and piece by piece woodchipper the shit out of it in front of our horrified faces. I don't think I can quite ever bring myself to entirely dislike her, but this is a terrible performance complete with mugging, always trying way too hard and just general unfunniness. But whatever. Jamie Lee Curtis seems to play the same role in everything these days, perfect middle class mum with a hidden wild side, and that doesn't change here. As always she's alternates between grating and funny. I think Sigourney Weaver fares the best out of everyone, well except Kyle Bornheimer, most known for being the yuppie douche with the bluetooth in Breaking Bad, who's car Walt blows up in a way that was badass. His character is super broad but at least a little bit funny, even if his entire existence is one cheap, mean joke.

No, You Again is a bad movie, through and through, but if you grade on intention, then there are some things to at least say thanks for trying. I like that Bell's characters main arc didn't involve a man, and revolved rather around her old high school bully, and that in a romantic comedy the lead character wasn't involved in some weak romantic triangle. In the same breath, I liked how little the men in this movie mattered, for good or bad, they all just felt like necessary evils. Which is kind of awesome in a progressive way, not a creative one. I liked that it seemed to have a soul, and not a concoction of some hellish boardroom, so it was more like watching an unfunny comedian tell jokes then the president of GBD. Ltd tell jokes. But again these are all conceptual things, and the execution is so often horrible its hard to hold on to these little nuggets of good will, and suffice to say it still sucks.

Rating: 4/10

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Next Wednesday Instead Podcast: Episode 6: Awesome

Part 1: New Releases

Part 2: Can a film that tries to entertain be a 10/10 movie?

Part 3: Filmography - James Cameron

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Next Week's Movies

You Again: U rated family comedy about high school rivalries that never end, starring Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver. I like it when Weaver gets to be funny but Curtis and Bell are signposts for shit movies, as much as it hurts me to say that about Veronica Mars. Expectancy Level: 4/10

Skyline: This movie has like the best cast ever. Gabriel Dimas from Six Feet Under, Turk from Scrubs, Batista from Dexter and Crystal Reed. I tentatively say that I think this could be trashy fun, but it also could be very much awful. Expectancy Level: 5/10

We Are What We Are: Mexican movie about a family of cannibals. Say what. Expectancy Level: 6/10

Monday, 8 November 2010

REVIEW: Jackass 3D

In which I write a thoughtful mini-essay on the relative creative merits of Jackass.

I while back I was doing the movie blog rounds, as one is wont to do, and I came across this article. I thought it made an interesting point, and put into words that niggling feeling I have always had about Jackass and people's attitude toward it. It intrigued me enough that I casually linked it on my Facebook page, and then went about my day. Pretty soon it became a fairly epic annihilation, about how wrong I was and how awesome Jackass was. Then I went over to the original article over on Pajiba and saw maybe 50 comments that went down similar lines. They weren't dumb responses either, many making reasonable points and coming from an intelligent place. Just as the guys who took it up with me, are smart film lovers whose opinions I respect more then my own. But it seems whoever you are, be it an extremely small-timer like me, or a critic for Time Magazine or God himself, you don't insult Jackass. Unless you want a ton of generation Y rebuke all up in your face.

The irony is of course is that the post didn't necessarily say that Jackass was bad. It said that it was stupid, something that its creators celebrate and shout from the rooftops, and sanctioning this kind of stupidity against say, the stupidity of Vampires Suck or Grown-Ups, is hypocritical. You can't say something is an attribute in something you like, but treat it as a negative in something you don't. That I think, is my main issue with the whole Jackass thing. Not that people enjoy it, I enjoy it, but its when people call it something its not. I think its the smarter fans, who would pride themselves on their taste and not liking anything unless its good, who are the cause of this. Not wanting to attribute their liking the films to people getting hit in the balls in various ways, and wiping out on various hard surfaces, they go on about how structurally revolutionary it is, how deep the meta goes and the fact that these guys know what they're doing is stupid makes it genius. Its apologetics for something going after their basest funny bone and hitting it. I think the films are about dispensing that which does not matter in comedy, like story, tact, elegance or anything like that and just being about the money shot. Every Jackass movie has moments I find to be inspired and hilarious, just as every Jackass movie has moments where disgust deeply outweighs the funny and I wish to all power I could be somewhere else. But fundamentally I believe that there's never been a series of movies to which criticism is more irrelevant.

Its a series of cheap joke skits, classical music or no, of which none have any consequence. So Jackass is and should be treated as an awesome guilty pleasure movie, with people knowing how light and pointless it ultimately is but enjoying themselves just the same. But its kind of gone beyond that to the point where my generation will die on their hill in defence of Jackass and a whisper of a bad word will unleash all kinds of hell upon you. To quote Johnny Knoxville, its a movie about stupid people doing stupid things and laughing about it. So why isn't that OK. Why does it have to be something more, and why couldn't this kind of love and devotion go to a film that actually wants it, and not to a film that would find the nature of this very discussion kind of hilarious. Its just a thought, and like I said I do enjoy these films so be nice to me. I'm like, well fragile.

Rating: N/A


Ok, how are we supposed to explain this to the co-op board?

Let Me In was in an unenviable position from the day it was born. It was always going to be resented, ostracised by fans of the original - which for me was one of the strongest films of the recent past - and outright hated before it had the chance to make its case. So Let Me In did what the vitriolic internet hordes wanted it to do, be exactly the same movie only getting rid of the subtitles. Things are a little less subtle and points are hammred out a little more to make sure you get it, and the overriding majesty of the original's tone has been lost. But if anything its too enamoured with the original, and didn't have the guts to try and be its own movie. Although it would have been hated if it did. And because it didn't, and because it used so many of the original's moments of success, its in the position of only existing in comparison to the original, you can't write about it apart.

I think the most pressing example of this is to compare Richard Jenkins's character with the iteration of him in the original. I think they share pretty much all the same scenes, or the same character scenes anyway as the horror moments have been spruced up a bit, yet the character has none of the impact that Per Ragnar's version has in the original. There he was one of the most moving and tragic things about it, lending a poignancy to the love story at its centre. Here you think that the character is kind of pointless and just serves to pass time until the kids get together. Shows you how important execution is. Its not Jenkins fault, its just a little disappointing. The performances of Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the central kids, give no doubt weaker performances, although that doesn't bother me so much. Those performances were awesome, particularly that of Lina Leandersson, who I would rank as good as anyone in the entirety of 2009, and Moretz does some interesting work here. She's notably less assured of herself, and its a winning and kind of dark performance. McPhee less so, and that squeak in his voice, which was cancelled out by Viggo Mortensen in The Road, still hasn't quite gone yet and that does a disservice to a couple of moments. He's not bad though, and can be good occasionally. Let Me In has decidedly less interest in the supporting cast the the original, and while I don't think that's the worst idea in the world, it does somehow make the universe seem less drawn.

I think my main problem with it is that the moments of horror have definitely been shot up with steroids, and watching this you get the sense that this tries to be a horror film more then a love story, and as much as I love horror, that's what made the original so extraordinary. That and numerous close-ups of Romeo and Juliet just in case we didn't get it and rather obtusely keeping mom's face out of shot the whole film. Because there's glass between them guys. Here all the parts are present and accounted for, its just the magic is nowhere to be found. Having said that, I've no doubt that if you see Let Me In without having seen the source material, the grade goes up two points. Because what feels familiar to me will feel unique and kind of awesome to you. Such is the strength of this story. But the movie ended up OK, which is certainly better then what I was expecting, and is an indication that Moretz could be with us for a while.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 7 November 2010

REVIEW: Due Date

Why in pluperfect hell would you pee on a corpse?

The Hangover's success has less to do with Zack Galifianakis then people think. Or anybody actually in the movie to be honest. No I think it did well because A) It was a studio comedy that didn't outright suck and B) It was a simple, fun premise that everyone could get from the poster, and it managed to follow through on being simple and fun. But Galifianakis was kind of heralded as the next big comedy star, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. I think he works best on the fringes, being weird in weird universes and in interesting ways. But if he is to be the successful, then he's going to be weird in decidedly safe ways in decidedly safe movies. And that quickly grows to be no fun at all.

It's OK for now, because Galifiniakis is working at such a furious rate, he's pretty much giving everyone what they want. But just so he and you know, that can not and will not last for too long. Due Date is a lesser movie, for sure. Its thin and kind of stupid, although to be fair the day a Todd Phillips movie goes for a smart joke, is the day to set your watches for because it'll be the day that a black hole forms right out of Martin Freeman's face and consumes all but the saved. But I think the presence of Robert Downey Jr saves this movie. To be clear, he's no Paul Rudd white bread straight man. There's something emphatic, something cooler and something more dynamic about Downey Jr when he does comedy, so even in lesser material like this, he's still a striking presence. Whilst Galifianakis kinds of gets sucked in to the middle of the roadness of it, emerging as the kind of rent an oddball you are used to finding in films such as this, and that is disappointing. He feels reined in, and that is of no use to no-one. Still its not a laughless watch, and this is an interesting pairing of two actors who've two very different styles. And occasionally it works. Not as often as you'd like, but I'd watch Downey Jr see red in any movie.

I did kind of like that the movie tried to create characters for these guys, rather then just letting them entirely autopilot. Similarly its just about these two guys and generally remains loyal to that idea. A good movie to take in and let go as soon as you leave the room. Movies can do that in different ways, but I think generally this is the right kind of superfluous.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Next Wednesday Instead Podcast Episode 5: I like Himalayas and nuns and stuff

Latest podcast, complete with special guest. As in they're not on it normally but are on it this week, special guest style.

Part 1: New Releases

Part 2: Is the 80's the worst decade for cinema?

Part 3: Filmography - Michael Powell

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Next Week's Movies

Saw 3D: I'd say who is left to possibly give a shit, but this is making more money then anything else this week. Ka-fucking-ching. Expectancy Level: 4/10

Let Me In: Opinion it seems has generally come around on Let Me In, which began an abomination and became something awesome. You can't touch my original, its sacred! Its perfect! You can do this to m...Oh the girl from Kick-Ass. Right, see I didn't know that. Expectancy Level: 7/10

Another Year: Mike Leigh film about English old people. Can I get a fuck yeah? Because this place is gonna last a while. Expectancy Level: 8/10

Due Date: Downey Jr and Galifiniakas is an interesting pairing, but the knives have come out for this so far, still I foster hope for it at least being a little bit funny. Expectancy Level: 6/10

Jackass 3D: You know, given that this is a cluster-fuck of a week and all, I might just skip this. Because I don't care how much it makes me laugh. It doesn't make me happy. Expectancy Level: N/A

REVIEW: Burke And Hare

I think it might be time for something gruesomely hilarious to happen.

Simon Pegg sucks. Well, Simon Pegg sucks in any film where is heart is not entirely in it at least, as his three attempts to be a lead outside of any film not directed by Edgar Wright and co-starring Nick Frost. First there was Run Fatboy Run, then there was How To Lose Friends And Alienate People and now there's Burke And Hare, each insufferably broad comedies showing the none of the deft touch that Shaun Of The Dead, and to a lesser extent Hot Fuzz showed. There just flat out stupid, and though Burke and Hare is probably the best out of this trilogy of suck, its most certainly a hollow victory.

I think that this film is only getting glanced at in any way because it marks the return of John Landis, and just as people overrated The Hole because it marked the return of Joe Dante, I think that might happen here too. With people giving it three out of five and then spending their whole review talking about how awesome An American Werewolf In London is. And to be clear, An American Werewolf In London is awesome, but Burke and Hare is not. And it doesn't deserve to be cut slack just because it was made by John Landis and not by Granada studios for ITV3 as it probably should have been. Everything is just so desperate, everyone is trying too hard, and the black comedy of it is so consistently oversold that there's not much to latch onto. Pegg and co-lead Andy Serkis give good performances, resorting to mugging a little less then Landis, who has put this thing together in a manner where I keep expecting a laugh track to appear, but both are above the material really. I guess Serkis probably is a little better, but his dastardly character is slightly more interesting then Pegg's sad sack. Jessica Hines lends good support as Serkis' wife and Isla Fisher does a surprisingly convincing Scottish accent, to the point where maybe Johnny Depp should pay attention. Generally I don't mind Fisher, she can be funny, but is in a lot of terrible films and this needs to stop. Call it Anna Faris syndrome. There's all sorts of cameos from British stars of stage and screen which I think I was supposed to find hilarious, but ended up just undermining the material, particularly the movie long joke of casting Ronnie Corbett as a police captain, despite the role not being really all that comedic. After a while it just became distracting.

Landis is never going to be the most subtle film-maker. This is the guy who made Animal House, but he can deal with ideas in a crude but nonetheless entirely engaging way. But when the material is this weak, it just feels like Landis tries too hard to sell jokes that aren't funny. The medical side of the film was perhaps more interesting, but the film just doesn't get into it enough. Preferring jokes about people getting shit poured on their head and corpses being hilariously contorted into shapes they're not supposed to be in. And it ends in such a lame shrug, it lost a grade right then and there. I guess its not a terrible film, but its a gormless one, and beneath the talent of everyone involved. I'm sure hope Paul is going to be awesome, because I think Pegg definitely needs it to be.

Rating: 4/10

REVIEW: The Kids Are All Right

So two lesbians, a magician, Alice in Wonderland and the evil kid from the Vampire's assistant walk into a bar.

Hypothetically, if you tell the same story The Kids Are All Right tells and remove its very important progressive attitudes to same sex marriage, and replace it with a bible-belt approved time-worn, male to female marriage, is the film still good? My instinct is no, because outside of its excellent portrayal of realistic, live-long love between two women, the storytelling here can get a bit lax. It goes where you think it will go, people fall out because they have to fall out and much of what happens feels, I don't know, forced. I'd probably still recommend the thing as a showcase for three great actors of our time, giving top shelf performances, but for a movie that has been put forward as progressive and daring much of what happens feels almost timidly safe and predictable. And it feels like it didn't have to.

But they really are good performances. I'll talk about Mark Ruffalo first because Mark Ruffalo is awesome, and not enough people know it. I think in about twenty years or something, hopefully less as I believe in people's ability to not be planks, it's suddenly going to click that one of the this decades best actors has done much of his best work under the radar, I imagine very few people have seen the excellent performances he gave in You Can Count On Me or The Brothers Bloom, the latter almost more awesome because that movie wasn't all that great like at all, but what amazes me is that is as a general rule, if you are the stand out performance in a David Fincher film, as Ruffalo did in Zodiac, where he should have scored an Oscar nomination and so much more, You should be pretty much indisputable. C'est La vie. Ruffalo is great here, a mixture of awkward and self-satisfied but somehow remaining likeable, he's perfect in a role that's more cynical then it first appears. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are equally as impressive, both together as a believable couple in love, that has been slightly worn by time, and separately. Although in the film, Moore probably has the more prominent role. The thing is, I have no problem with any of these performances getting awards recognition, but at times one can't help but feel this film is only what it is because of the people in it, and judged on its own merits, its all a little familiar. Something it should have never been.

In a way it kind overlooks the children's stories in lieu of the parents, and the connection between Mia Wazikowska and Ruffalo was something that I simply didn't believe in because the film didn't give it the time it needed to be credible, and that's a major part of the story. What it gets so right between Bening and Moore it doesn't quite everywhere else, most notably Josh Hutcherson's son character, who ends up being a fairly generic angsty teenager when he didn't have to be. It was lazy when it needed to be incisive, predictable when it needed to be surprising and trite when it needed to be subtle. Yet I'm tempted to say all is forgiven just for the great acting thing. But not quite. Please nobody point out that I gave this the same grade as From Paris With Love.

Rating: 6/10

Monday, 1 November 2010

HORROR WEEK: Night Of The Living Dead

" They know we're in here now."

A while back I wrote a review of The Searchers on this website, which pretty much circulated around the idea of how well a movie ages is pretty much a testament to its original quality, and that holes that seem clear as day now, were masked by originality and just a little bit of awesome. To be honest I think you could lay out a similar argument against Night Of the Living Dead. Some things are a little creaky, some things show their age and maybe not all of the acting is what it should be. But there's something so consistently innovative about it, and it might be the ultimate example of a movie rising so completely above its station to the point where it doesn't just exceed it, it transcends it. The first modern horror movie, that redefined the genre in so many ways its not even funny and not even time can take away the anger and the audacity at the centre of it.

The funny thing is of course is that Night Of The Living Dead kind of starts out exactly how one would think it would and I think most of the people who come out against this film do so based on this opening fifteen minutes or so. Yes the film opens with a deserted country road set to creepy pre-synth music, yes the opening sequence is set in a graveyard and features a helpless woman being chased by a monster of the night, so far, so 1950's drive-in that no-one really pays attention to. But the thing that stands out about this, and this being probably the weakest section of the movie, is that much of the camp, the old horror movie atmosphere where everything is heightened just enough to let you know its a movie is gone. It feels fucking real and doesn't stop. After the attacker/zombie kills Barbra's brother Johnny in a moment that just happens, no frills no fuss, it immediately snaps you out of the conventional horror movie you thought you were watching. When Barbra runs off into the countryside, there's no intrusive music, no jump scares, no distractions. Night Of The Living Dead doesn't take you to a horrible place, it brings that place to you and doesn't let you go.

" We'll see, We'll see who's right when they come begging to let them down here."

It gave birth to the modern horror movie because it brings realism to the mix, it and its sequels are the most potent and thoughtful examination of what an outbreak of zombies would actually do to the fabric of society, how we would respond to it and how it would affect everyday people, rather then cops and soldiers. And once we get to the farmhouse, this dynamic is explored in full, in all its revelatory power. Characters are not heroes or villains, but all struggling to stay above water and the fear they all feel eventually manifests in anger and violence. And eventually their downfall. Its a fantastically bleak outlook, and in many ways is the first horror to pose the notion that extreme situations don't always bring out the best in people so effectively. Particularly the war between Ben, a young black mechanic, whose race is never mentioned but felt immensely, and Harry, a middle-aged family man whose daughter lies dying in the basement. Each believes himself to be the most capable, which in Harry's case is just arrogance as he's pretty much the Jack Lemmon character from Glengarry Glen Ross. I think the character of Ben, perhaps mostly through the performance of Duane Jones whose talent lends a real humanity and authenticity to proceedings, is the most resonant. Its a performance of such understated, assured dignity set against a character that is best an anti-hero, another virtue of Romero's complex universe. At one point the guy shoots someone in cold blood, yet he is still a character you entirely root for. There are no easy answers in this film, and if anything the message of this movie is that humanity doesn't need zombies to destroy itself, they just speed up the process.

Its a testament the quality of this to how little I've thus far mentioned the zombies, but this film works as a horror film in its own right, without all that awesome subtextual shit us bloggers love to preach about. But the movie's tone, which is that off removing horror cliches and create a universe where anyone can die, characters you thought were important get wasted and the most despicable characters don't necessarily die the worst deaths. If anything the nastiest stuff happens to the innocents, a mother is killed by her child with a trowel, a sweet young couple get immolated and then consumed on mass by the living dead and Barbra, well. It redefined horror by making it something beyond scares and gore, the horror is in the tone and in the message. The trite sense of horror movie karma is entirely gone and it makes it one of the most striking films, and for me that hasn't been lost. The zombie scares sure. It ain't no 28 days later. But its more then that. The sixties was probably the first generation to understand the world through its television sets, and having the horror invade these sacred pillars of comfort and information is almost the most horrifying thing in the film, the ongoing newscasts as stations gather more information on the epidemic, from the outbreak of what they describe as 'mass murder' to the revelation that the dead are re-animating, to the poignant depictions of governments officials dodging questions and redneck national guardsmen taking to the countryside with their guns, news reporters in tow.

" Yeah. They're dead. They're all messed up."

All great horror ends in tragedy of course, as otherwise its just a theme park ride, in the final images of Night Of The Living Dead are amongst the most resonant of any film I can remember seeing, horror or no. I won't spoil it, but it packs a powerful punch. The film is a great work, because to an extreme unlike almost anything else, its a film about human beings and how they fail each other. As well as a pretty sick and awesome horror movie. Yes it looks a little cheap, and not all of the acting is top notch, but as the movie encapsulates you you'll find its strengths too much too ignore. That was my experience at least. If a movie is judged by its ambition then Night Of The Living Dead is a masterpiece. If its judged by its merits, it can't be too far behind that yardstick either.

Rating: 9/10