Monday, 29 August 2011

Backlog Review Extravaganza

Due to various other commitments and procrastinations, I've fell a bit behind all up on this blog so in an effort to bring things back up to date I'm going to bullet point out the reviews I didn't get around to writing, and fast-track my way through this shit. Here goes.


Nutshell: Kevin James is fat and two hot women want him for reasons beyond my understanding

Good Thing: Rosario Dawson is always pretty to look at?

Bad Thing: Kevin James' personality. I'm not against movies about unattractive people scoring hotties, but nothing about James' personality in this film was attractive. A self-doubting, self-absorbed loser who is roughly around the same size as the gorilla he shares screen-time with. Oh yeah talking animals too.

If It Were A Person It Would Be: A useless fat fuck.

Rating: Seriously, what a piece of shit 3/10

Super 8

Nutshell: Kids making a monster movie in a small town, whilst a honest-to-gods proper monster arrives in town courtesy of the most spectacularly over-elaborate train crash of all time.

Good Thing: Clearly a heartfelt project for Abrams, there's a certain nostalgic sweetness to goings on and all the kid performances are very good, particularly Elle Fanning.

Bad Thing: It's kind of stupid, and at times that Spielberg-lite feeling becomes too self-conscious. The science-fiction element is hackneyed I think, with some cheap military villains and awkward exposition.

If It Were A Person: A nerd in high school who gets C grades.

Rating: Well-meaning if a little insubstantial blockbuster. Still better than 90% of other blockbusters. Better than Thor. 6/10

The Devil's Double

Nutshell: Iraqi soldier who looks like Uday Hussein becomes like, his body-double. Hilarious shenanigans ensue.

Good Thing: A gleeful, idiotic sense of insanity taking what should have been a serious story and making a spiritual remake of Scarface. Hell of a calling card for Dominic Cooper, whose turn as Uday Hussein has to be high in the running for comedic performance of the year.

Bad Thing: the extreme OTT of it all incapacitates it's attempts to be actually dramatic, and many serious moments fall flat on account of it. Anyone in the cast who isn't Dominic Cooper, particularly Ludivigne Sagnier.

If It were a person: A Bipolar thrill-seeker on cocaine. Makes about as much sense as you'd expect that guy too.

Rating: Shit is ridiculous, but Cooper is awesome enough to mostly carry it. 5/10

The Smurfs

Nutshell: This is a backdoor film about how hard it is to work in advertising and start a family, with some Smurfs there to get suckers in seats.

Good Thing: Hank Azaria entertains as Gargamel, I always like Neil Patrick Harris. Just about better than Zookeeper

Bad Thing: Why the fuck isn't the smurfs film about the smurfs? They are supporting characters in their own story, and smurf village makes a mere cameo, because Smurfs in New York! Yay! Also it's pretty crappy.

If It were a person: An adult who covers himself in blue paint and calls himself a smurf. Or Tobias Funke.

Rating: Cynical, money making movie making. Where product placement is king and I as an adult creep parents out because I'm seeing the smurfs by myself. Rating: 3/10

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

Nutshell: A heart-breaking story of the world's most awkward title and one ape's attempts to become a sentient being while the man tries to keep him down.

Good Thing: So many wonderfully unexpected things. Andy Serkis' heartbreaking mo-cap performance as Caeser the ape, and a moving, character story told in a summer full of soullessness.

Bad Thing: Alright so every human character bar John Lithgow was a complete dud. Tom Felton embarrasses himself, and James Franco is boring. Maybe a bit preachy.

If It Were A Person: A CGI created Ape capable of more emotion than Freida Pinto.

Rating: Isn't it great when a movie you expect to be a complete dogpile turns out to be awesome? Rating: 7/10

Beautiful Lies

Nutshell: French farce about misunderstandings that end up hilariously awkward.

Good Thing: Audrey Tautou continues to do Zooey Deschanel better than Zooey Deschanel, is likable. So are other actors.

Bad Thing: Very predictable, very dated film. Should have been made in the 1970's and maybe even not then. France's love for the farce is something that is lost in translation.

If It Were A Person: A 70 year old man who can't quite figure out why his jokes aren't funny any more.

Rating: Sort of lazy, a script that screams written in a weekend, and all together too much familiarity. 5/10

Cowboys And Aliens

Nutshell: Well duh.

Good Thing: An over-qualified cast help to make the movie feel slightly less like an unremarkable piece of hackwork.

Bad Thing: Sort of pointless, sort of bland and lacking a sense of fun that may have been welcome for such an inherently stupid idea. Way too boring for the kind of movie it is.

If it were a person: Cpl. Hicks in Aliens. On paper pretty badass but in practice pretty boring and useless.

Rating: 5/10. And scene. This movie is something I'll never remember, think about or recall ever again.

The Inbetweeners Movie

Nutshell: Four horny teenagers go to a greek island and well, that'll about do it.

Good Thing: I only occasionally felt violated by this movie, which given what might have been I'm calling a win. A couple of laughs here and there.

Bad Thing: OK, as a British American Pie, teenage sexual shenanigans type movie it's fine I suppose, but is thing really expecting to get like, good reviews and shit. Lowest common denominator stuff, however you look at it.

If it were a person: Dude with an Oxford diploma in English Literature who tells fart jokes and makes puns until the sky turns red.

Rating: Very generic for this kind of thing, I don't mind people going and enjoying it, but don't pretend its a good movie. Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

REVIEW: Captain America: The First Avenger

Superman with lesser powers, am I right comic book nerds?

This summer up to this point has really soured me on Superhero movies. A genre that before was aging fast but still producing the odd good film here and there, has since May been infused with so much corporate, cynical mediocrity I don't know how a non die-hard can legitimately be excited about anything but the final Batman to be honest. Particularly marvel movies, which feel like such factory line pieces of 200 million dollar hackwork/shallow fan service that I'm so exhausted of, that I was actually delighted to see Green Lantern and see it was a piece of shit, because at least that's something distinctive. But I didn't hate Captain America. Because even though it was again just another piece of frustrating averageness, there was enough color around the edges and enough enjoyable performances that I found something to like, in spite of myself.

I think a lot of it was the WW2 setting, with the film wearing it's Indiana Jones influences on its sleeve and filling its cast with several capable performers with actual parts to play as opposed to just being there because it lends an undue weight to the material. It manages to give the likes of Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones and Toby Jones something to do, instead of just having A caliber actors playing D caliber roles as has been the usual Marvel way. But I'd like to talk about Chris Evans first, because he's an actor that's gone from seeming like a pretty disposable teen star to bona fide leading man, and I think Captain America for all it's ills will be the thing that solidifies this. Because from his terrific, underrated performance in Sunshine on down, Evans has shown there's a lot more to him than simply the guy to call when Ryan Reynolds is unavailable. He anchored what could have been a very silly role, particularly in the second half, and makes it pretty much believable but more importantly relatable. Evans nails the humble, selfless idealism of his character well enough to make the thing stick, and to be frank I thought there was no way I was going to be sold on a character called Captain America so, that's a victory. Credit too to Hayley Atwell, who does well in a surprisingly rounded love interest role.

As far as the villain goes, I liked Hugo Weaving's opening scene a lot and it looked like it was going to be a fun performance, but unfortunately he had to turn into a prosthetic-smothered monster which hampered both his performance and the effectiveness tenfold. Comic book movies, make sure you pick villains that have the capacity to be expressive, because putting Hugo Weaving under tons of make-up ruins the value of having Hugo Weaving. Similarly, it's kind of stupid, plot holes are everywhere, the traditional Avengers hype machine hijacks the final act, even as consequence of that contrivance leads to the ending playing pleasingly downbeat. People who've seen A Matter Of Life And Death will have quite the deja Vu feeling. But I enjoyed myself, and feel confident in saying this is probably the best Marvel movie of the year and roughly about as good as X-Men: First Class, in what has been a desperate year for comic book movies.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Breaking Bad: Open House - Making It Rain

- Last Week I mentioned how watching Breaking Bad week to week can be quite a different experience to the DVD marathon. Quite a few of my friends and apparently most of the world caught up on the show in the intervening year between seasons three and four, and I imagined there would be some growing pains adjusting to the pace and there'll be a subset of fans whom for the show needs to be intensely building to something at all times, those who care more about its plotting than its characters. Any episode that doesn't feature the gangster element heavily is going to be seen as frustrating, let alone one that has no Gus and no Mike but features Marie and Skylar prominently.

- Which is a shame, because the genius of the show is the level of intricacy it puts into its characters, as opposed to it's acumen as a thriller. And if anything the part which is thrilling only works on such an ascendant level because of the investment we have in all of the characters. So the ' I don't care about Marie' sentiments seen across comments sections everywhere following this episode grate me some. I know everyone already hates Skylar even though she's a fascinating character embodied by an incredible performance, but by my count Marie has never got close to this amount screen-time in any episode before this in spite of being a regular character, so if anything it's a faux-pas on the part of the show to just get to exploring her now. I don't get at what point complaining about spending time with great characters simply because they're women and not men becomes sexist, but I'm pretty sure it's getting close.

- Having said that, I do think this is the weakest episode of the season, despite liking almost everything in it. It lacked a throughline perhaps, and everything felt a little disconnected. Maybe because this was the first time Walt didn't lead any kind of narrative, and was the most sparingly used we've ever seen him be. They story-line he was involved in was lead by Skylar and because Breaking Bad is so fundamentally his story, and supporting characters even in their infinite complexity often act as a barometer of Walt's decision making, whose lives act as collateral damage to Walt's ambitions. All of them are worse off for the decision Walt made in the pilot, even if many of them are unaware of who he's become.

- The Marie story saw her visit open houses and each time making up an elaborate story for herself, always revolving around being at an exciting new turn in her life. Be it her 'husband' quitting his job at Nasa to spend more time with the family, or her getting into a clay modelling business and looking for a viable studio, it all revolved around Marie being pro-active, taking control of her life and turning a corner. Making a choice to be happy. Options which her marriage to Hank, which is now hitting a place of stalled existential despair, don't allow her. There she is a prisoner of her situation, nurse-maid and metaphorical punching bag of a man she loves and admires. A situation that has no end in sight.

-So her various fantasies of being somewhere new and exciting in her life, all terrifically played by Betsy Brandt, struck a very poignant note. It also saw the return of the kleptomaniac story from season 1, and while back then it felt arduous and unnecessary, here it made perfect sense. A desperate act of lashing out impotently. A it does no good but at least it does something kind of deal. Marie was essentially an erratic and self-absorbed person in the early going, but Hank's breakdown forced her into being altruistic and self-sacrificing, a person she's not necessarily built to be. Good stuff, and a long time coming.

- Dean Norris may be doing his best work as paraplegic Hank, and that's no mean feat given how excellent he was last year. He's just so angry, so bitter. And that scene where he discovered Marie had been arrested for spoon-stealing was incredible. I think he'll get better as it goes along though, particularly since his cop buddy gave him Gale Boetticher's Super-lab notebook. So it begins.

- In a way the episode's B story was lead by Skylar, who finally apprehends the car wash from the stubborn Bogdan, an does so in fantastically underhanded fashion. A think a lot of people's problems with Skylar stems from that she's a flawed yet forceful personality, and male viewers don't want a woman challenging their anti-hero. He's supposed to be rediscovering his masculinity and being awesome, not getting his balls busted by some bitch. Why is she telling Walt what to do? Why doesn't she just shut up and be clueless like Rita from Dexter. Now that was a great female character. SHE knew her place. OK, Rita bashing is always a cheap shot, but I genuinely believe this can be the only way these guys see it. Because the show's approach to Skylar has been one of the best things about it as its grown. Time was when she was just another clueless spouse, but she found out, discovered her darkness and now matches Walt almost in her scheming.

- Note the awesome scene where she tricks Bogdan into thinking his property is worthless via Saul Goodman stooge. Awesome.

- I love how Skylar is already starting to take control of the running of Walter White's Criminal Empire Inc, being the one who makes the decisions and decides which ways to go. Because Walt, for all his badassery and Heisenbergisms, is still the recessive one in this relationship, because that's how it always was. In a way Walt only found his balls once he pursued his extra-curricular activities and when he was separate from Skylar. Because when they get together she has a power over him that even he can't help. See for instance the scene where Skylar gets him on board with her car wash scheme, by expertly manipulating his ego, insinuating Bogdan doubted his manhood. It seems this is one dynamic that can never change.

- I think the seeds of the great White marriage reconciliation began here too, and one only had to look at the final scene between the two, as they shared champagne celebrating their new property. The slightly flirtatious vibe, the way that for first time possibly in the entire show, Skylar seemed genuinely impressed by Walt, his power and his status. This was an inevitablity, how is Skylar in the show if they split for good, but I like how they're not rushing it.

- Where the fuck is Walter Jr? His total season 4 screen-time currently runs at 1 line and 25 seconds.

- Aaron Paul's Jesse continues to be a hurricane through this season, such a presence of raw emotional pain that it hurts so much to see him on screen. This episode was Jesse-lite, but Jesse's go-karting/returning home to find his house a crack den montage was the episode's highlight for me. Jesse's primal go-karting scream hurts to the bone. And something tells me this is definitively going to be the year of Aaron Paul.

- Also the line that saw Jesse comfort Walt about getting beat up was I think meant to be funny, but ended up incredibly moving. At least to me. Jesse bin beaten up a lot, yo.

- As I said, no Mike, No Gus, No Walter Jr. I like Gus being here in everything but sight what with the security camera in the lab and his new henchman following Walt everywhere, but I think I'd like him to be in next week's episode.

- Overall, a nice little character episode that did a lot for the show's minor characters, and in particular for Marie, and giving her a little extra dimension was well overdue. Perhaps the episode lacked a little focus, but I liked so much of what it was doing I didn't mind. I think the plot best get started next week though or people be losing their shit.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

REVIEW: Hobo With A Shotgun

Black Dynamite is the exception that proves the rule

Just...This kind of.....This abomination of....You know what fuck it. I give up, and concede to my generation's hydra-like ridiculousness. You think you abolish one negative trait like say the love of John Mayer, and up from the bloody stump sprout two more like planking or militant ironic detachment. And Hobo With Shotgun, well it's the ultimate logical consequence of that militancy. If you're the kind of person who refuses to be impressed by anything on an upfront level and can take no joy in how good something is; then all that's left is to take joy in how bad something is. And if you infuse that thinking into creativity and even film-making then this is what happens. The lovingly made, meticulously awful homage to god knows what, the movie that reminds its makers of those precious times they got high and watched Robocop 2 or Return Of The Living Dead. Hobo With A Shotgun is a travesty more for what it represents than what is, but there's plenty of vitriol to be found on that front too.

But as with most things in life, this is all Robert Rodriguez's fault. I don't want to join the Grindhouse bashing, because that's been done by everyone under the sun, and also because while I think both those films are terrible and for all the trailers and reel burns and what not they were honestly trying to make something good and failed. I'm fine with that kind of failure. I think it was with Machete that Rodriguez crossed the line into reprehensible. His sort of parody, sort of spoof sort of political commentary was just such a colossal fuck you to good film-making, to his own talent and to the audience. His career spiral of late is almost depressing. Plus, an intentionally bad movie is truly for no-one. For people who enjoy the shit movies, a deliberate disaster is never as fascinating or hilarious as the accidental one. It never can feel quite as organic, as ingenious as a legitimately catastrophic movie. And for the people who want to see something good, well why are they going to watch something that takes such pleasure in being bad? Who? They are comedies with no laughs, action movies with no production value and horrors without scares. Machete opened to bad reviews and poor box office, just like Grindhouse did, just like Snakes On A Plane did. This kind of film-making has been categorically rejected by the world, and it's core base of hipster douches... Well they're not going to come out and say they like something are they? Against the tide? Not a chance.

And yet, people keep thinking the ironic bad movie is still a good idea. Because Irony. The revolution is coming y'all, it's so clever etc. No. It's the dumb person's approach to cleverness, and Hobo With A Shotgun, supposedly a pastiche of the bargain basement 80's action movie, is just more of the same. Intentionally cheesy angles, intentionally bad acting, intentionally ridiculous dialogue and intentionally ridiculous violence. Sigh. I'm reminded of the guy who tells bad jokes on purpose, you know the guy everyone wants to rip limb from limb and then make a pun about it, to see if he still thinks its funny, who always defends his egregious actions by saying 'It's meant to be unfunny. That's why its funny.' I should be allowed to kill this guy. Much as I should be able to kill the people behind this movie for so thoroughly wasting everyone's time. If you want to make an 80's style lo-fi action movie then make it, but don't cover your bases by saying it's all some big joke. That's just being a pussy. And it's pointless.

Eagle eyed readers will notice that I haven't even attempted to discuss or review this movie here. Because it's literally exactly what it says on the tin. And if you think that sounds funny or amazing then great. But the problem with these things is that someone telling a bad joke on purpose not only isn't funny, but boring. And as with Machete before it, Hobo just becomes tedious. Once you adjust to the joke then it just morphs into the thing its supposedly mocking and that's no good for anyone. It's got to be the last in this ridiculous craze, and yet another blemish on the good name of Rutger Hauer. Which isn't really a good name anymore anyway. Seeing him here is perhaps the most profoundly depressing thing about Hobo. This guy was Roy Batty man. Ergh.

Rating: 2/10