Friday, 30 September 2011

REVIEW: Crazy, Stupid, Love

All the commas in their right place.

So here's the problem with Crazy, Stupid, Love. It's another film that uses the ensemble structure for the pathos and credibility that it brings, yet only has one maximum two stories to tell here, which is Steve Carell's and sort of Ryan Gosling's. For the most part it seemed like a collection of scenes that didn't really lead anywhere or do anything, and characters that were too thin to justify their screen-time. Having said that the film does feel sincere, and that makes even a ham-fisted message more tolerable, if you get the sense that the writer's heart is in it. And there is a sweetness and earnestness to the film, it's just drowned in what one might call the unspectacular. There's no voice here, no insight. Just the same old platitudes re-framed in a more appealing way. And that's fine, to a point.

If there's something that works here it's the scenes between Gosling and Carell in the first half of the movie, where Gosling who is basically playing a less goofy, self-serious take on Barney from How I Met Your Mother here, teaches Carell his almanac of rules and strategies to picking up women in bars. (Always the same bar, by the way) Gosling proves himself to be a very adept comic actor, perhaps because he's simply a good actor, and has an endlessly confident, deadpan vibe to his delivery, which in a way draws something more interesting out of Carell as opposed to just leaning on his usual schtick. Carell in these sort of comedy movies tends to be more enjoyable than Carell in straight out comedies, perhaps because it brings him out of default mode. But there's always been something innately sad about Carell as a comedian, which is way his best work is in the likes of Little Miss Sunshine et al, and he is very good here.

But the movie has such an expansive, over-qualified cast that roles that were probably meant to be throwaway have the spotlight drawn on them, and if you're going to have Kevin Bacon you might as well have him do more than mope around in the background for two scenes, and if you're going to have three-time Oscar nominee Marisa Tomei, you might as well give her role that would be embarrassing on a middling to lesser sitcom. But the worst thing is that Julianne Moore, 50% of the love story we are supposed to care about, is given absolutely nothing to play and fucntions simply as 'Wife', a goal Carell has to reattain. Even Emma Stone, who thought she was going to get her own story there for a while, just gets funneled into Gosling's. And the less said about the teenage son the better.

As an ensemble movie it's sort of terrible, too many undeveloped characters with trite one-note functions, and would certainly have been stronger say if it had narrowed the focus to Carell and Gosling's dynamic, because I enjoyed both of those performances quite a bit. Gosling in particular, in what feels like a necessary move to give him some more mainstream exposure and credibility, comes of well. But movies about middle-aged troubled marriages are vast in number, and you can't be as unremarkable as this movie is and still expect to make a dent. Some scenes are fun, and there are laughs scattered about but fuck is this generic.

Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


The scorpion jacket gag was well meta.

Every now and again you get a film that's so specific in it's intention, and so forthright in the way it goes about realizing it that it feels like someone's vision. A perspective that is so prevalent in every camera move, every cut and even in the way the actors look at each other that at a certain point, you're going to respond to it or you're not. Drive feels like one of these movies. When I watch it I see a text book example of how to make a movie through tone, a viewpoint expressed through mood and emotion as opposed to ideas and words. It's an action movie that fixes an unflinching eye on itself, and becomes more about art than entertainment. Yet someone telling me they saw a slow, uninvolving movie that didn't really do anything or go anywhere. Where people just stared at each other without speaking and was super violent for no reason. I can understand that. I just think Drive is one of those films you get or you don't, and neither side really has the right to tell the other they're wrong.

Personally, I had an incredible experience watching Drive. An anti-action movie that's clever and moving in the way it went about telling it's story, a story that even a semi-casual movie-goer will recognize as having been told many times before. But that's that great thing about experimenting with genre. In terms of what actually happens, it is a forgone conclusion. So in that sense, it gives film-makers an opportunity to delve into how it happens, through style, through character, whatever. Time is afforded to you by the thriller shorthand viewers have picked up over the years, and you can secretly make a film about loneliness.

The action hero is a perfect through-line for this, and Gosling's character isn't even afforded a name. He's simply 'Driver', because it doesn't matter who he is, it matters what he does. An expert behind the wheel, he is incomplete elsewhere, walking around as in a separate universe then those around him. Gosling fights so hard for his chaste, innocent relationship with Carey Mulligan and her son precisely because it's probably the first time he's known any kind of emotional connection, and the film's willingness to make him so ill-formed and arguably the most pathetic character in the film, lending a different coloring to the silent but deadly leading man, was something I really dug, and it lent a different perspective to the scenes of violence that inevitably came in the movie's latter half. It's not Gosling's best performance, but I loved how restrained he was, how internally he played everything, a compliment that could be extended to the movie as a whole.

Nicholas Winding Refn makes a film where the style and atmosphere does the storytelling in lieu of the script, and while this tact has produced many odious and god-forsaken films in the past and really takes a delicate touch to get right, I think Refn makes it work here, and as a result watching Drive is a hypnotic, encapsulating experience. The supporting cast does some great work here too though, and often make it so Gosling can go as far as he goes. Carey Mulligan is essentially given the thinnest damsel in distress role, but I appreciated the casualness of her character and relationship with Gosling, she was pleasingly real and her innocence wasn't exaggerated. Mulligan did a lot with just unspoken glances to work with. There is some career best work for Albert Brooks here too, the comedian/Movie star who has always seemed to be falling through the cracks, his career never really took off like it might have, yet he makes for a compelling villain, and one with enough dimensions to be more than just a plot point. Bryan Cranston comes very close to stealing the movie, in his role as Gosling's mechanical mentor, and Oscar Isaac did a lot with a little in the role of Mulligan's husband.

But like I said, Drive is a mood piece. Not without it;s flaws, there is the odd scene where the silence becomes a little awkward and the plot really is formulaic to a tee, but it's also a beautiful, melancholy study of a man who doesn't understand the world dismantle his life in the name if the first person who made an effort to understand him, with a few exploding heads thrown in there for good measure. I loved this film and the ride that it took me on, even if it wasn't the one I was expecting. Yet I totally get if you didn't. Because whatever you think of it, this a film that commits to what it wants to be one-hundred percent and that in itself is something to admire. Works even better if you click with it too.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 25 September 2011

REVIEW: The Guard

I'll turn you into a tree, motherfucker.

The Guard isn't a good movie. Not really. What distinguishes it from the many, many other Elmore Leonard/Quentin Tarantino derivatives out there is frankly it's accent. The joke that this sleepy Irish village where nothing ever happens is currently where everything is happening is not a new one. It's the same principle that gave us Fargo, it's the same principle that gave us In Bruges and at this point it's not a clever enough twist on the norm to cut it. Having said that, the film put together an intriguing double act in Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson, and who knows, on paper In Bruges looked a little hackneyed too, and that turned into something great.

But The Guard is the sort of thing one hopes doesn't become of these 'clever' post-modern thrillers. A glib, self-satisfied movie that eschews being about something in lieu of pointing out it's cleverness at all turns. Nobody loves movies with great dialogue more than me, but I think when it becomes annoying is when it's used as a crutch so the writer doesn;t have to bother with any characterization. This is something a lot of people wrongly accused Easy A of last year (That movie had an incredible amount to say both in terms of ideas and character) but it's something that The Guard is severely guilty of, particularly with it's supporting characters. Mark Strong's character for example, is given a lot of Leonardesque lines pointing out the various idiocies in gangster cliche, which he delivers well, but what is he ultimately? A placeholder bad guy, with no depth and no perspective, simply there to be defeated. I would have gladly sacrificed some of his dialogue to spend that time creating a character. Several minor characters come and go, speaking with the same hyper-aware syntax and contribute little to anything really and it becomes quite insufferable. This is why people say irony can be a bad thing, particularly when used as an excuse not make anything interesting.

Thank god then for Cheadle and Gleeson, who are both such cool, likable heads that they sort of diffuse the pointlessness of the whole thing. Cheadle's character is very much under-written, but he's an actor experienced and talented to do the best with what he's got. Gleeson though, is pretty extra-ordinary. There's a quality about him that's both pleasingly acerbic yet warm. In this movie he reminded me of Humphrey Bogart or some similar talent that manages to make an incredible impression even with lesser material, and give a performance that's both funny and affecting in a movie that entirely leans on his charisma. I think Gleeson is a large reason why In Bruges is the film it is and by that same token he elevates this from disposable to almost recommendable. Probably one of my favorite performances I've seen this year, but the film around it is such that I have to keep my head here.

On the face of it, The Guard is something I want to like more. Because I do think this is a clever movie, and the performance of Gleeson is that strong. But it applies it's cleverness in the worst way to make this a memorable and effective movie. It applies it in a manor that purposefully keeps everything at a distance, the kind of post-modernism that has an erodible impact on a film's depth. I do think this film wanted to be more than a sum of its parts, and a couple of scenes with Gleeson almost get there. But the story is incredibly flimsy, as are too many of the characters. It's disappointingly lightweight, so I can only view it as a missed opportunity.

Rating: 6/10

Friday, 23 September 2011

REVIEW: I Don't Know How She Does It

Due to this films OCD obsession with taking lists, I have decided to review the movie in this manner:

1) I hung around for two hours to see this movie. And got the bus back at 11 O'Clock subsequently. I could have got jacked. Or died. For I Don't Know How She Does It. That would have made my existence a comedy existence.

2) FUCK THIS MOVIE. It is offensive on several socio-political levels, aside from just traditionally sucking balls.

3) Sarah Jessica Parker is not a good actress. She never has been and never will be. And she is the WORST deliverer of voice-over human kind has ever known. Take you're twee, perpetually flat and high pitched tones somewhere else Parker, for they are not wanted here.

4) If you disagree with number 3, I'd stop reading now because the rest of this is liable to make you very upset.

5) Memo to rich white women. There is one group of people the world hates more than you, and that's rich white men. But it's funny how few movies I see about a rich white guy banker complaining about how his life is so gosh darn stressful, and about how those poor people keep getting mad about us kicking them out of their houses won't stop whining, and my how I don't have enough time to have sex with my hot wife as much as they like.

6) People would leave these movies man. They'd involuntary splurt out FUCK THIS DOUCHE and then leave and go back to their ten hour shift at McDonalds. But for some reason, rich white women think it's OK to make the exact inverse of this movie. Again and Again. Every studio romantic comedy outside of Bridesmaids seems to star a rich female lead, who has just about EVeRYTHING but love.

7) I'm not even opposed to making films about these women, but they keep whitewashing everything, saying that no problems are their fault, and they're perfect hard-working captains of industry. If I Don't Know How She Does It could say, be a comedy about the relationship about two hard-working people whose lives don't allow for true love, then I'd watch that movie.

8)But all they seem to want to do is reinforce how awesome they are, and how their awesomeness defeats any and all problems.

8) I believe the saying goes that whereas you need a reason to hate poor people, you need a reason to like rich people. And if rich white women want to hijack a once proud genre to soapbox their whining, then everyone gets to say FUCK THIS SHIT.

9) Yeah, yeah. It's a fantasy. Except it's not. This film is like the comedian who jokes about how easy it is for him to get into VIP events, and how hard it is to fend off all the girls at the same time. This is that guy.

10) Pierce Brosnan is an increasingly bad actor, Greg Kinnear looks like he has dead eyes and Kelsey Grammer shows up to promote his new show soon to be airing on STARZ.

11) The film ends with a dick joke delivered by Christina Hendricks. Badly.

12) Hendricks is trying so hard to prove that she can be fun and bubbly that she ends up giving a wide-eyed, Jim Carrey-esque ridiculous performance. Embarrassing. Looks great though.

13) Best thing about this movie? Olivia Munn. By miles. A funny and winning performance.

14) Ergh. I feel like I've hit one of those down and out moments where you forget why you care about anything or anyone, and all that's left is for your thoughts of loathing and anger to circle furiously around your head until eventually the pressure becomes too much and before you know why, you've done something that can never be undone or taken back. Like see this movie.

Rating: 3/10

REVIEW: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

The trailer for this was incredible by the way.

I've always had a somewhat adversarial relationship with films built entirely around plot. I understand many, many people believe plot to be the most important and engaging aspect of fiction full stop. In sheer number, I doubt any opposing genre can compete with the amount of mystery novels shifted each year, or the amount of viewers police procedurals pull in every week. But I can't help but think that viewing plot as the most interesting aspect of fiction is somehow reductive of it, that viewing it most giddily through the prism of what happens next is the right side of the brain trying to claim ownership of the left side's rightful playground. The most exciting thing about fiction is the characters and worlds it can create, the perspectives and ideas it can communicate and the atmospheres and moods it can explore. Plot to me seems like an extension of the structure, something that exists as a means to an end. So everything can be said with coherency.

Plot is a completely necessary part of the process, but making it the reason for everything makes your work sort of baseless, without root in any point or meaning. You're just a puzzle to be solved. This doesn't mean a plot heavy film can't be great, LA Confidential is one of m favorite films, but it has to place it through the prism of it's characters. This is why I was less enamored with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo than everyone else and it will be the reason I'm less enamored with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy than everyone else. Superficially, it's an exquisite piece of film-making, with all the sets and photography looking absolutely beautiful and Tomas Alfredson's direction creating a remarkably controlled, consuming sense of paranoia that keeps you uncomfortable throughout. The performances are uniformly excellent. Although Gary Oldman's first starring role in quite some time will remind everyone of just how good he is capable of being, and in a performance quite unlike any he's given before, something entirely internal yet with his usual presence. His George Smiley is like a ghost, everywhere but nowhere, silent but taking in everything. A bafta nomination for sure, and maybe an Oscar nomination.

The likes of Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy and Mark Strong make for a strong supporting cast, Jones makes a strong impression as a particularly cutthroat bureaucrat and it was nice to get to see Strong play a more sensitive role than he is usually allowed to do. I was most impressed however by Benedict Cumberbatch, who in a performance as Oldman's subordinate, continues to build on the good will he's earned from Sherlock and many other projects. A couple of people strike a bum note, John Hurt was a little hammy and ill at ease with the film's underplayed tone, as was Kathy Burke. But certainly the performance you'll notice and remember is Oldman's. But for a film this deeply steeped in plot, I'm afraid you need to pack a stronger punch than this story had to pack. I liked that this was a slightly more realistic take on the spy world, but the end was predictable, largely in part to the casting, and because of the way the film had previously played. Spending so much time unraveling meant that relationships and dynamics had to be implied as opposed to seen, and I think the film had a lot less emotional impact than it was supposed.

My problem with the film is that at its core it's a potboiler, a story about what happens on the next page and never about what is happening on this one. For all the excellent performances and surface aesthetics, which again are stunning, the simple act of time passing doesn't turn a thriller into an art film, and I get the slight impression that Alfredson thinks it does. Be that as it may, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is quite a way better than the usual junk you see at the cinemas, and is an incredibly rich and cultured piece of pulp for Guardian readers. Bu instant classic, maybe not quite.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

REVIEW: The Change-Up

Also, this film is obscenely gross.

This summer is going to be known by many comedy fans as the summer they officially had to start apologizing for Jason Bateman. Time was when Bateman was a figure of incredible credibility, figure-head of what might be the most critically adored comedy in television history in Arrested Development, which ended in such a premature, grief-stricken hysteria that it made villains out of the Fox Network for a decade and made every actor associated with the show an incredibly high-value comedic asset. Will Arnett became a frequent presence in terrible movies starring Will Ferrell, David Cross' career got a bump, Alia Shawkat got to be an indie movie star in such things as Whip It and Cedar Rapids, purely off the back of AD, Tony Hale was cast in every TV show known to man and Michael Cera, will he got to become public enemy No.1 Michael Cera.

Most of these actors crashed and burned, with Cera being the most high-profile and high speed rise and fall, but Jason Bateman seemed to slowly but surely ascend after the end of Arrested Development. Arnett and Cera came out quicker, but Bateman seemed to be going about it the smarter way, playing supporting roles and forging an identity in movies that wasn't solely dependent on his AD persona. Dramatic work in films like Juno or The Kingdom led to a higher profile and eventually to 2011, where Jason Bateman movie star is now a statement people can say. But at the same time, the work seems to be getting broader and broader. Horrible Bosses was perhaps a better example of this, but The Change-Up feels like the moment Bateman becomes a harder guy to praise quite so highly. Granted, he's the best thing about the Change-Up and certainly does his best to elevate the material. But fuck. This is absolute bottom of the barrel movie comedy, built of a dumb premise that seems to only get dumber as things go along.

It feels like the movie does the same thing these terrible studio comedies always do. They get all their indulgence and raunch done and over with in the movie's first half and then work incredibly hard to say how wrong that behavior was in the second half. It's a movie that has no identity and nothing to say, and surely nothing funny to say. Bateman is bending over backwards to make it work, and Reynolds is about as affable/douchey as he always is. Leslie Mann has a nothing role, and Alan Arkin turns up presunably to pay for his granddaughter's piano lesson. It's all the worst things about mainstream comedy films put into one.

It's not going to get the worst rating I've ever given, because if you way up the material against what he's had in the past, Bateman is actually pretty terrific, but the Change-Up is still something I wish I could unsee.

Rating: 4/10

REVIEW: 30 Minutes Or Less

Making movies for slackers doesn't really mean you get to be one.

What happened with Ruben Flesicher's last movie, Zombieland, is essentially a scenario they should teach in advertising college. That movie had an aura of cool, of anti-establishment smart-assery long before it actually came out. It had people celebrating it on arrival, and scored more than one ecstatic review from respectable critical entities, and yet what was so remarkable about it was how utterly tame and ultimately toothless it was. What an incredible sell they made here. I don't hate the movie, largely thanks to Woody Harrelson, but it is about as unhip as it possible to be, and zombie movie spoof that seemed to know nothing about zombie movies or even respect them, from the fact that there's not one zombie kill of a speaking character (Seriously have you guys EVER even seen a zombie movie?) to the forced teen romance and ridiculously positive ending. In a way it was the ultimate hipster movie, something that presented a perfectly formed veneer of ironic smarts on the outside, but as it's core was obvious, dumb and empty.

I say this because 30 Minutes Or Less seemed to carry that same sense of superficial coolness and slacker pandering, but was equally as lazy and uninspired when it came to actually being funny. Again the casting is canny, Fleischer gets Eisenberg back, whose stock has considerably risen since Zombieland, as well as Aziz Ansari, whose status as a rising star comedian has only been amplified by starring one of the best sitcoms on TV right now in Parks And Recreation. He's got Danny McBride, who might just be starting his down-slide, but for now still cuts as a credible comedy star. But there's a couple of problems here. Eisenberg and Ansari don't make a particularly charismatic pairing, mostly due the latter, who might be this generation's Chris Rock in the way he's so fantastic as a stand-up but sort of a lackluster actor. His goofy, over the top performance is ill at ease with Eisenberg who just might be too good for this movie, and gives a performance that doesn't really get on board with the movie's ridiculous tone.

If it has a saving grace it's probably McBride, although he's just doing the same thing he's done many times before, but having said that McBride is a pretty good actor, and it makes me curious to see what he'd do if taken a little more out of his comfort zone. He and sidekick Nick Swardson are occasionally amusing, as is Michael Pena in a turn as an Hispanic hitman. But the whole thing feels overbearingly obvious, no joke catches you by surprise and comedy is at its best when it gives you what you're not expecting. Fleischer's style seems to be give you exactly what you expect at all times, and without a Woody Harrelson or a Bill Murray to make these weak punchlines land, well it just makes the thing incredibly forgettable. A movie that will never cross anyone's mind ever again, and frankly I want Fleischer to try a little bit harder with the material next time. Because you can get away with that shit once, but as the critical and box office response to this movie would suggest, two times is a lot harder to pull off.

Rating: 5/10

Monday, 19 September 2011

REVIEW: Jane Eyre

Hey didn't I just see this movie?

There's a theory I have about adaptations like Jane Eyre. Books of such stature and cultural presence that they have century-spanning legacies, simply can't make for a masterpiece. The story becomes to saturated, too loudly shouted. And Jane Eyre, with 22 cinematic variations already existence, simply can't outdo what's already been done. You can't possibly say anything new with the material, and even if you get everything right, even if you come out with something outstanding, it's just a landscape that's been painted by too many people, and any power it may have had to be powerful or bold has been removed by over-exposure. And in lieu of telling a story with a fresh perspective, we get a 23rd iteration of the same old thing, and at a certain point that's just franchising.

Jane Eyre as a marketing brand cuts more water than an original story about the same period or even an adaptation of a lesser known novel. It sells as instant credibility and quality coming at half the effort. Jane Eyre didn't even have to be a good movie to get good reviews, because to the viewers it's not about being challenged or being told a story. It's about finding something they know every moment of in advance and seeing it play out exactly as planned. Intellectual comfort food. But isn't then the goal to be familiar? And if it is, then how can a movie of Jane Eyre ever be great. It's nothing against this movie in particular, I found it to be strikingly shot and as always, terrifically acted. Mia Wasikowska in particular, showing the kind of subtlety and intelligence she did way back on the first year of In Treatment, and she is certainly one of the best young actresses around. Michael Fassbender would no doubt be everyone's immediate choice for a role like Mr Rochester, a dark mysterious figure, who just might be Charlotte Bronte's version of the bad boy with the heart of Gold.

I think Fassbender can be great, but I've yet to see him completely pull of being subtle, and seeing him acting opposite Wasikowska only brought this home to me. I don't think he's bad by any means, and he certainly has more than one moment of powerful charismatic intensity. But I wanted him to bring something more to it, something maybe a bit more cerebral. Judi Dench turns up in what might be the most obvious piece of casting of all time, and Jamie Bell turns in some great, sure to be overlooked work in what we shall call the 'Jacob' role, to suit the parlance of our times. Everything is perfectly fine, and the story is a classic, with some surprising and welcome darkness. It's just, I already knew that. And I was expected to already know that, and the movie can only be forgettable when deliberately choosing a story with such a level of saturation. Literary classics are not a reason to never try anything new and this damn modern age inferiority complex is getting boring.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Breaking Bad: Shotgun - A Lot of Miles In Between

Two for the road.

- There's been a lot of grumblings about the pace of season 4 thus far, about the lack of forward momentum and the lack of focus on Walt being a badass. I think this is sort of complaint is particularly telling to how a lot viewers watch the show, because I'm pretty sure if you put yourself into the psychology of Walt, he'd be saying something similar. He's frustrated that he's stuck in an endless, uneasy status quo with Gus, and everything he tries to get himself out of it doesn't seem to work. The old Heisenberg solution of spectacular nerve and balls doesn't cut it with Gus, he's simply too clever.

- And it's not like Walt hasn't tried. He showed up to Gus' house, gun in hand in episode 2. He drove like a mad man to Los Pollos Hermanos at the beginning of this week's 'Shotgun', fully prepared to go out guns blazing. Walt at this point is the embodiment of those fans who watch this show for and through him, he wants desperately to move on up to the next stage. He feels he has earned it, and is tired of waiting for it. So much so it has blinded him to everything else. His increasing sense of paranoia and impotence as he is stuck being Gus' worker bee makes him seek conflict with even more ferocity than usual. And I think the more than sizable section of fans who watch this show solely for Walt and Walt's journey, well they're likely to be annoyed about a season entirely about his inability to solve his problems.

- Having said that, 'Shotgun' is the kind of Breaking Bad that I have the least time for. The kind of episode that is entirely and obviously about moving the plot along, and plot to me should be a means to service character, and not the reverse, but I understand many viewers see things the opposing way. But it can often feel jarring, to see the wheels being turned more fervently and openly than before. Breaking Bad has done these kind of episodes in the past, Season 2's 'Breakage' or last year's 'Abiqiui', and I think my official policy is that I don't mind these hours from time to time, they often enable incredible stuff down the line and it's not like they're bad. This is still better than the average episode of almost any other TV show and it might just be a necessary evil for a show as densely plotted as Breaking Bad. Every now and again you'll need an hour to just lay your shit out and say this how it's going to be.

- After last week's cliffhanger, it is revealed that Mike is not in fact taking Jesse to bury him in some hole somewhere, but rather take him riding shotgun (See what I did there) on his collection of deaddrops. That is to say, collect the money accumulated by those dealing the blue magic, put in various deep dark holes in various ass-end of nowhere's. I liked this twist a lot, because I think it was about the right time to bring the self-destructive Jesse arc to an end, as dramatically rewarding as it was. And because taking his mind of his pain was essentially what Jesse wanted to do, and here Gus has found away to do that for him -by throwing him into work - in a less possibly catastrophic manor.

- Plus he and Mike made an amusing buddy cop duo, in part because Mike's exasperation is never not funny. His reactions to various Jesse ravings about being bored always were the stuff of Gold. I think Jesse's dialogue was a little too on point this episode. He asked for a gun one too many times that one began to think it was inevitable he would need one, so when the Gus orchestrated fake-attempted stash-jack happened, it was a little telegraphed. But as a solution to the Jesse problem it worked fine for me.

- Skin-head Aaron Paul is quite considerably more badass then before. Boy to man type shit.

- It's also a shame we didn't get to see that hypothetical keys vs. shovel smackdown between Jesse and Mike, for that would have been legendary.

- I kind of liked how the episode began with a sequence of great intensity, Walt racing to Los Pollos Hermanos thinking he was about to die, telling his family he loved them, to dilute that with comedy, Walt having to sit in a cubicle and get a call from Mike telling him not to be so hysterical. That dissolution of his bravado is the calling card of season 4.

- Also, the show has nicely been building to getting Walt and Skylar back together, and it appears that is about to happen. Interestingly, Walt's 'I'm about to die' phone message was the thing that got him and Skylar back into bed. I think not making Skylar Walt's adversary might be a good thing for the perception of the character, or at least reduce the irrational hatred for a while.

- One thing I always liked about the Walt-Skylar relationship is that no matter what position of strength or weakness Walt may be in otherwise, within that dynamic he is the recessive one, as Skylar deems when he should move back in, and the manner in which their life together should be lived. And that's just how it is. Granted season 4 Walt will fight back against that parameter with much more intent than season 1 Walt, but ultimately there is no Walt and Skylar if she isn't in control.

- The deeds to the car wash were signed, so finally that can happen. It perhaps wasn't the wisest idea to make the buying of a car wash an episode spanning arc. Its much more interesting once the laundering starts.

- Minimal Gus in this episode, although as always his presence is felt. Right now he's hanging back pulling the strings, I expect him to take a greater prominence later. A lot of Mike screen-time in this episode though, and as always Jonathan Banks is terrific in the role.

- The dinner scene at the end felt in character for Walt, certainly, but maybe a little too convenient? Gale seemed like such an easy out for Hank's pursuit of Heisenberg that it felt something maybe a little more artful than Walt getting drunk and telling him he wasn't to solve that problem. Regardless, Cranston played the scene fantastically and with the final scene putting Hank not only back on the trail but potentially back on the trail of Gus, you can feel the various pieces of the season come together.

- Walt Jr. Watch. He had more screentime than usual in this episode, appearing in up to three scenes!

- That though, is what episodes like 'Shotgun' exist for. To get everything and everyone in the right place so future episodes can reap the rewards. Season 4 is a very different kind of year to the previous, which played out in halves as opposed to a full thirteen episode arc. Here, Everything is building to one huge explosion, but that wont come for a while. Its a long game, this one. And I'm incredibly intrigued to see where it goes.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Breaking Bad: Bullet Points - Make Sure To Really Hit The Cancer

Don't forget the dipping sticks.

- I think the most exciting thing about Television as a form of story-telling is that it has an in-built allowance for you to go off the map. There's the bigger picture, the mandate of what usually do, and what the audience expects of you. None of these elements can be ignored or passed over, but the exciting part comes in finding ways to expand on what an episode of your show can be. Breaking Bad has gradually become a show more deeply immersed in its plot, these experimentations and permeations on what is usually done are more vital for the show now then ever, considering that we are fast approaching the endgame. And Bullet Points, while not as notably rebellious as say 'Fly' or 'Four Days Out', was a subtler spin on the status quo, but one that was every bit as interesting.

- Bullet Points seem to take on directly how an episode of Breaking Bad is structured. There's the teaser, and then the A plot, the B plot and the C plot and usually runners involving minor characters and they usual play out in tandem throughout the episode. This creates a sense of forward motion in a way that best suits this show, because the simultaneous escalation of events, however unrelated help to ratchet up the tension. This is nothing new. What Bullet Points did was plays things out in segments, and the 4 stories of the episode, Skylar and Walt convincing Hank and Marie over the gambling story, Walt discovering Hank is onto Gale, Walt trying to find a way to save Jesse from himself and Gus deciding what to do about Jesse's slide into nihilism, came one after another, making each feel like it's own contained story, as opposed to the accumulative narrative the show usually goes for.

- It's episodes like this that make you realize how incredibly important structure is to a show like this, and how different these moments feel when played at a slower pace. It's not like Bullet Points didn't do its share of heavy lifting in terms of the plot, but playing out without cutaways made each sequence feel more significant, and have a great sense of gravitas. The opening scene of Walt and Skylar discussing just how they were going to tell their story to their family was a fantastic piece of writing, that seemed to both seemed to let you know how awesome it was and yet felt entirely organic. Seemed to serve as a great acting setpiece for Anna Gunn, giving a performance so much better than everyone seems to think, and a great comedic setpiece for Cranston, who hasn't got to be this funny on Breaking Bad for a while.

- The moment where he looked sarcastically down at his feet at Skylar's instruction was particularly choice.

- The moment where Walter apologized to Skylar for all he'd put her through and then took it back under the pretense of rehearsal was COLD-BLOODED. But awesome.

- The Dinner sequence was a bit more sporadic. Dean Norris continues to do some incredible work, but a couple of things felt a little too on the nose here. The video of Gale singing Karaoke was probably much funnier in conception or possibly in a different cut, but Walt's somber reaction didn't allow me to laugh at it because, as ridiculous as it was, this was a good-hearted man who Walt had by proxy killed, and that made it get stuck in a sort of awkward place between funny and tragic.

- Similarly the scene in which Hank and Walt go over Gale's notebook, was a little hit and miss. The tension it tried to play out of the moment didn't really work, in spite of its cleverness and the moving way Hank mourned the fact that he never got to put the cuffs on Heisenberg. I liked the Walt Whitman resolution to the W.W Problem (Call-Backs are the best aren't they) its just when the music went up and we were supposed to feel that Walt was in the shit, well I never quite bough that. Great scene otherwise though.

- As is the tendency these days, things began to kick up a gear once the episode became about Jesse, who after being absent for the episodes first half, became its lead in the second. It's pointless to say because every time you do, the subsequent week just makes you redundant, but Aaron Paul did some of his best work in the series to date in this episode. Just the sense of brokenness, the way he showed that Jesse has reached a point where he no longer gives a crap about anything. Emmy all over.

- The scene in which Walt forced him to reenact his murder of Gale step by step, was both a perfect example of how little Walt gives a shit about Jesse's actual soul or feelings, and a moment of incredible intensity from Paul.

- Matched by the way he called Mike's bluff on murdering the hobo who jacked him was awesome, both because it was a moment where Jesse got to be smarter than Mike, and also because it showed how fearless he is at this point. As Mike drives him off to some unknown destination at the end of the episode, you believe that he doesn't care, and we probably comes to the end of the Jesse falls apart narrative.

It's been fun, and some seriously great stuff from Paul, the second episode of this year is amongst my favorites of the whole run and this year it's hard to say that the show's lead isn;t Aaron Paul .

- A small moment of Gus, who hasn't appeared since his tour-de-force in the premiere. His absence has been used well. This a paranoid ass season.

- I believe Walt Jr had two scenes in this one instead of the usual one. Hit the big time.

- Almost forgot to mention, but that was a mind-melting teaser. A terrific reverse-expectation action scene, ending with a moment of gore to shoot for the cheap seats. Mike's annoyance at getting part of his ear shot off is the funniest thing that's ever happened in this show genius.

- An intriguing experiment in episodic structure, and perhaps something that non-writer nerd might find distracting as opposed to rewarding, but this kind of stuff is right in my wheelhouse, an experiment that added to the development of the big picture as opposed to detract from it, with an increased focus on character and less on pace. Nifty

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 11 September 2011

REVIEW: Friends With Benefits

This is the kind of movie where everything around what its about is good, but what it's about is lame.

I think a lot of the problems with the modern Romantic comedy, and arguably modern sitcom, as that they always need a hook. A high-concept contrivance that you can phrase in one line or less, so advertisers have something to work with. But the problem is what is best for advertisers is rarely best for the movies concerned, and it basically means the first 40 minutes are almost entirely about fulfilling the premise to the point in which it can abandon it. Hollywood is more business oriented than it's ever been, and rather than just assume what's good will sell, a financial strategy that's served 90% of the people that have subscribed to it, we get this kind of thing. A movie about a human relationship that you can understand in three words or less.

Currently, hollywood has decided that movies about loveless sex being attractive, but ultimately impossible without falling in love. Hence Love and other drugs, No Strings Attached and now this, the much more literal Friends with Benefits. Sometimes if there's enough talent involved then it doesn't matter how hackneyed a premise may be. You can pretty much skate through anything, and while to be clear Friends With Benefits (A title so glib it makes me gag every time I have to type it) is no classic, it's tolerably OK and not the assault on the frontal lobe that it should have been. It is in many ways the cliched romantic comedy it repeatedly insists that its not, maybe with a bit more carnality and self-awareness then usual but you know, still the same old problems. But thanks to a slightly smarter and quicker script than is usually had for you average romantic comedy, and the general winning nature of both Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, it works better than it had any right to.

The supporting cast is surprisingly strong too, presumably a possibility because of the success of Will Gluck's previous film, the terrific Easy A. You've got Richard Jenkins as Timberlake's father, Patricia Clarkson as Kunis' mother, Woody Harrelson as a gay best friend and cameos from the likes of Emma Stone, Andy Samberg and Jenna Elfman. Again, it falls into the same old romantic comedy traps and about half way through forgets that it is supposed to be funny, and in this case the lighter things were the better things were, but generally the two leads bounced off each other well and the dialogue was much stronger than it usually is so, yay? this is the definition of a muted victory, but the fact that Will Gluck made this kind of movie and it didn't suck makes me thing there's a lot of potential with this guy. I just hope this is his only big studio movie.

Rating: 6/10

REVIEW: The Troll Hunter

Prior seeing this movie, I had a conversation with my Dad in regard to its content. It went a little something like this.

ME: I'm going to see a film about a dude who hunts trolls.

DAD: That sounds retarded.

ME: It's Norwegian.

DAD: Oh, well it'll probably be great then.

I think this Quantifies almost every critical response to this movie. The Troll Hunter came out a week behind Apollo 18. Both use the found footage format and both push it to the most fantastical in terms of subject matter and style. Both are more Cloverfield than Blair Witch, which to me is where the the genre is at least effective. Once you incorporate show-boating, glutenous CGI into proceedings, the illusion of faux-realism is just emphatically broken for me. And watching Troll Hunter, this very much like an effects driven enterprise, the camera lingers maybe a little too long on what it wants to show off, just like it did in Cloverfield, and the whole concept feels way too goofy. If the goal here has to be make everything feel real, then you can't get away with this kind of super-broad corny genre writing. In which nobody has never heard of the super-giant, super visible monsters that wonder the landscape just because.

I wouldn't have cared about this in a straight up movie, but if you are going to jump on the found footage train then you can't ignore its rules, and pick and choose in regards to how closely you want to be realistic, it's simply not going to work all that well. The Troll Hunter should have just been a regular movie, because its strengths have nothing to do with the format, and its weaknesses have everything to do with the format. The characters and the performances are for the most part quite strong, particularly Otto Jespersen is the titular hunter. But something about the trolls and the way this movie is written just keeps everything too wacky and everyone is too unaffected by what is going on to ever really ratchet up tension.

I don't want to come of like too much of a hater here, this is a good time and a serviceable and surprisingly tame monster movie, but the found footage genre is specific, there are things you can do and things you can't to really capitalize on it's potential and to be honest I think this film is only made this way for budgetary reasons, and that dissatisfaction shows. and I think much of the praise it has gotten is because of that same knee-jerk intellectual reaction that makes people think something is automatically better because it's in another language. Because the movie I saw was way to naff and broad to ever be as intense or involving as it wants to be. Then again by rights it should be much worse, and I like I said it is pretty enjoyable genre fare, it's just so much worse for being in a genre it doesn't belong.

Rating: 5/10

REVIEW: A Lonely Place To Die

Touching the void for dummies

As generic and entirely disposable as it is, A Lonely Place To Die is actually something of a novelty in that it's a pretty straight forward thriller that got a nationwide release. Thrillers tend to be the stuff of straight to Video On Demand, of premiering on Sky Movies. But maybe because this one had Melissa George's name on it, an actress who seemed to transition from being eye candy in big movies to being a deceptively talented B movie star with enough clout to at least get these things seen. From Waz down through to Triangle, she made a tough, impressive centre to varying genre shenanigans and that is no different in A Lonely Place To Die, a film that starts of being a thriller about mountaineering, and ends up being a hostage thriller.

It's a gargantuan mess, and the writers have a serious case of ADD, but thanks to a couple of good performances and a couple of creative sequences, the thing has enough about to be a solid piece of pulp entertainment. We follow a group of amateur mountain climbers who upon discovering a living girl buried in the ground, find that rescuing her brings down all hell on them, in the form of Psycho professional kidnapper Sean Harris. Now, if anyone was born to play a psycho in the movies it was 24 Hour Party People's Harris, with angular features and raspy voice to make you uncomfortable in any circumstance. But he's pretty awesome here, resisting the urge to go over the top and instead choosing to play his blank slate of a character with a quiet menace. Also excellent is Eamonn Walker, who arrives somewhat out of the blue for the final act. Walker did a stint on ER and stole Lord Of War out from under Nicolas Cage's feet, and again he brings a commanding presence to the film it sorely missed and almost makes you wish the entire thing had been about him.

George and her group of mountain climbers a bit blander, although I think more could have been done to make these character make a bit more of a mark, although George herself does the best with what she's given and mostly sells the Pseudo-Ripley vibe she has with the box-girl they find. Who herself isn't allowed to be anything more than a plot device. The film is pretty run of the mill, and it does feel like one of things you forget as soon as you leave the cinema, but thanks to the sheer lack of thrillers released lately perhaps its worth checking out, at least to remind yourself what those cliches looked like. But you know, could be worse.

Rating: 5/10

Friday, 9 September 2011

REVIEW: Fright Night

This is a compromise, the vampire is still good-looking BUT he kills people. Win Win

The 1980's Fright Night is probably the kind of movie Hollywood should remake more often . It's good but great. It has a cool premise that's probably better than the execution. Sure they'll be those who whine about how great the original was but come on, it's cheesy fun at the best of times. This remake is slicker and a whole lot less goofy, while still being pretty goofy, and has a couple of impressively executed action sequences. It's disposable entertainment I can get behind, far from perfect but always enjoyable. Art it ain't, but Marti Noxon's script has enough about it to not feel too much like the next Happy Meal on the conveyor belt.

For those unfamiliar with the original, the plot like many, many films before it is someone moves in next door who is up to no good, and it's up to our hero to stop him. In this case our hero is played by Anton Yelchin, who has been bouncing around breaking out for a while, and he is pretty much your stock teen hero. Colin Farrell plays the Vampire next door, and is the main reason to recommend this movie. Farrell always seems to do better in none leading roles, and he has an absolute blast here exuding effortless menace and cool all the while being asked mostly to walk around rooms menacingly. Farrell might be one of my favorite actors when he's on his game and he carries the thing here. David Tennant is a bit less successful as the vampire hunter recruited by Yelchin to help destroy Farrell. I don't have much objection to Tennant's performance, he was actually a lot less hammy than I was expecting, but his character is pretty awkwardly crafted into the film, here solely because he was a character in the original film and doesn't really seem to serve a purpose. Imogen Poots is ' The Hot Girlfriend' and Toni Collette is wasted entirely as 'Mum'.

There is enough here to make you leave happy, sure plots come and go nowhere and the characters are archetypal (The kindest way to phrase it) But mostly thanks to Farrell I had a good time. And the Horror is predictably accentuated with the 3D, with blood and all sorts thrown towards the camera. I still think its a con, but at least it was a con that left an apologetic note here, instead of the usual slap in the face. High quality junk food cinema. A Cadbury's dream not a milky bar, Kettle chips instead of walkers. More of this food analogous shit will hence forth take place in your mind.

Rating: 5/10

REVIEW: Kill List

If you go down to the sewers today.

The British film industry is like a third world country in thrall of Global consumerism in more ways then one. It feels like we have all the natural resources, Over the years we've had directors like Hitchcock, Kubrick, Ridley Scott, Michael Powell and Christopher Nolan, and more incredible actors then you could even begin to name. Yet all that raw talent seems to exist to be shipped off, while nations with less resources and less raw materials continue to outperform us. And we're left with the crumbs. It's why films like The Kill List are so important in a way, regardless of how good they are. We barely get anything and when we do, they are often so underwhelming and formulaic. So I want to preface the review with how happy I am that this film got the release that it did, and it's success is something that can only be good for everybody in the long term.

Having said that, this isn't going to be an entirely positive review. Director Ben Wheatley clearly has talent. Particularly behind the camera, as The Kill List is a terrifically tense, unrelenting experience. He clearly too has a great amenity for the build, and viewed solely by the emotional journey it takes you on, The Kill List plays like a brutal, stark descent into madness pretty convincingly. The two lead performances from Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley are terrific, particularly the former, who is asked to do a lot of changing very quickly. No, the moment the credits began to roll I was pretty happy, thinking I'd seen the Best British movie since Fish Tank. But then I began to think about it, and I realized that upon closer inspection, the writing for this movie was kind of awful/non-existent.

It seemed like there were a number of things they wanted to shoot, they wanted hitmen, they wanted the wicker man, they wanted a David Lynch/Donnie Darko tone where everything felt just to the right of real. But what they didn't want was to do the work to figure out how to make it all cohere and work organically, instead of just changing the gears whenever it felt like it, damn the consequences. The movie is built around what they wanted to shoot, as opposed to what best served the story and the characters. I'm not even the guy who gets offended when movies don't make sense, and I do think there can be a great movie that doesn't have a lick of logic to it. But the problem was The Kill List wasn't quite good enough at papering over the cracks, and it meant that I kept being jarred out of what was otherwise a terrific experience.

For example, I think every movie is entitled to one 'Because it does/is' answer to a plot point question, and in a way the better the movie around it is, the more of these it can get away with and The Kill List is probably a good enough movie to excuse 5, even ten of these. But there are just dozens. And at a certain point that becomes lazy, using mystery and ambiguity as a crutch and not thinking anything through. But I think the average viewer won;t have this complaint, I always look for great writing in movies and some people don't. Some people just want to be taken on a ride, and in that sense The Kill List is absolutely fantastic, a cripplingly tense experience from start to end, and one hell of a calling card for Wheatley who can go on to make stronger and better movies of the back of this.

I think the best way to look at this is to compare it to Following. Not to say that this guy is as good as Nolan, or that he isn't. But this feels very much like a director trying a number of different things to figure out what he's good at. Following was a rough around the edges film that sowed the roots of a director finding and developing a fantastically striking voice. The Kill List could function in a very similar way. Here's what I can do, now give me the money to do something better. I for one am very excited to see what he does next. Maybe hire another writer though, hey.

Rating: 6/10

REVIEW: The Art Of Getting By

If life is meaningless, then why am I listening to you? I could be doing blow of a prostitue or something

The Art Of Getting By is a relic of a lost time. A time right around the early to mid 2000's, when seemingly all teen movies would be about a sensitive, above it all skinny white boy who is smarter than Galileo, but through the evils of the high school caste system would find his intellectual potency ignored. Usually the movie and the character would abandon all these ideas at the merest hint of boobs, which made the films doubly intolerable because they not only make you sit through poser high-school fatalism, they also totally undercut it by unwillingly pointing out it's illegitimacy. It always plays like such a weak piece of egotist fantasy to me, that even the best movies of the era suffer from it. I think that Anna Kendrick starring Rocket Science, for example, is a terrific movie. But its handicapped by this ideology.

But eventually bullshit was called. The self-doubting, self-pitying Emo began to be a character that was gradually phased out and the high-school movie retreated back into the woodwork, waiting for the next type of social outcast take ownership and revive it. But like last year's Its kind of a funny story, not everyone gets the memo that this kind of film has seen the sun set on its reign. Watching The Art Of Getting By was an incredibly nostalgic experience, these were the teen films of my teens, for better or worse, but its a very muted kind of nostalgia. Its not a terrible movie, none of its ancestors were particularly terrible either, but its irritating until it admits that the thing it tries to sell you on is a crock of shit. I did appreciate that love interest of our central emo Freddie Highmore, was more or less just a normal girl, relatively free of quirk and artificial pep. Emma Roberts, so terrible in Scream 4 earlier this year, actually impressed me here.

The supporting cast is a little suppressed but I liked Michael Angarano, who over a number of performances in the last couple years is proving himself to be a real talent, and I reckon is one great role away from taking off. Similarly, its also great to see Blair Underwood get any kind of role, and it amused me to see Clueless' Alicia Silverstone in a role as a dowdy English teacher. But the main problem is Highmore, the film in many ways seems to revolve around the magnetism of his character and Highmore just seems to like anything resembling a screen presence. I remember back when he was a child actor in Finding Neverland and everyone went batshit for his performance, but I didn't get it then and I don't get it now. Maybe he's just playing the wrong kind of roles but he was just way too flat here.

Ultimately, this film may speak to a few teenagers who can empathize with not wanting to try very hard at school and not getting the incredibly hot girl they want, but to everyone else its just going to look like whining posing as story. Which it is. Again, it's not a terrible film and it can be occasionally charming but it just doesn't have enough about it to justify it's point of view.

Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

REVIEW: Apollo 18

The Dark Of The Moon. Because Transformers used...OK I'll go.

For all it's sins and opportunism, the found footage horror movie did one thing for the genre that it has to be eternally grateful for. It brought back the build. Thanks to their innate realism, the tone and scale of horror had to be scaled back, and these movies became about waiting for one ultimate, terrifying event as opposed to an over the top carnival of bloated grossness that most horror movies have become. They allowed tension to become part of the game again, and showed a modern audience brought up on Final Destination movies how excruciating being scared can truly be. And that's awesome. So while I actually think that many of them are kind of shitty (Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity are the only ones that deserve to be talked about in a serious way) I liked the feel of the model, if only because it meant horror became about scaring people again.

But one gets the sense that because it's such a specific model, about all that can be done with it has been done, and maybe now it needs to go away for a while. The tricks are becoming increasingly visible, hackneyed, dated and lame. Any illusion of realism is fast disappearing and that gripping 'this could happen to me' feeling got lost a long time ago. I thought Cloverfield was a piece of shit because its ridiculousness betrayed the format, it didn't work because CGI is CGI and it took you out of it. Apollo 18 suffers a similar fate. The ultimate enemy is so ridiculous that any sense of tension the film tried to build evaporates. And while the critical world at large took their frustration with the genre out on this film, calling it the most heinous assault on humanity since the last one, and I don't think that's entirely fair. In fact as far as premises go, I think this is the smartest and most interesting the genre has come up with outside of Blair Witch an Paranormal. The isolation and helplessness of the astronaut on the moon is sort of bread and butter for a horror movie.

I even liked the way the first 45 minutes or so were put together, and the performances of Warren Christie and Lloyd Owen were actually quite good. Creating a real sense of jeopardy and like I say, the no way out aspect is perfectly set up because we're on the fucking moon, and there is no way out. But then the bad guys have to show up, and well, maybe they should ave gone to a couple more focus groups or something because somebody needed to tell them that that? That was a godawful, movie destroying idea. Until they showed up I was well prepared to give the thing 6/10, and arguably the horror stuff done after we meet our bad guys is still executed pretty well. It's just... It's something too stupid to forgive.

So like everyone else, I have to give Apollo 18 an unfavorable review, even though I think its a great idea, and although the techniques are getting increasingly creaky, I was still involved. But this shit pushed the self-destruct button and then some. To be honest I don't think the found footage movie will ever stop. They're too profitable, and too cheap to make. But as a serious way to push the horror genre forward? Yeah I think we're done here. It was fun while it lasted.

Rating: 5/10

Monday, 5 September 2011

REVIEW: The Skin I Live In

Eli Roth meets Freud meets Eyes Without A Face

I don't want to start out this review by saying something as stupid as Almodovar is under-rated, because I doubt too many people can compete with the sheer volume of critical praise he has gotten over the years, but I think there's perhaps a vocal group amongst film fans that Almodovar has never really had much luck with. People like me. Young males in between the ages say of 16-25. Not all, but I think many of us don't really get it. Many of my film-loving friends who have time for Tarkovsky, Eisenstein and Gaspar Noe, simply don't for Almodovar. Probably because he makes melodramas. I had a lot of trouble with his work when I was younger, a perennial favorite of the other members of my all female household, I watched many of his films without really seeing the appeal. This is just a Spanish Eastenders with pimped out production design, I would say.

But as I got older I began to see and get why his films work so well. He's continually obsessed with two things, the dark side of sex and, for the most part, the value of family. Common themes, but he seems to go further with them, approach them from darker and smarter perspectives. He makes melodramas, but he makes compelling stories about people, in a particularly singular voice. Families seem to be where the strongest bonds in his fucked up worlds exist, and Volver, which after a pointless thriller plot it disposes of inside of half an hour, is my favorite of his films because it's the most complicated, yet perhaps its the lightest and most hopeful. The performances in his films are always exceptional, and The Skin I Live In does not break this rule. It's also perhaps the most accessible of his films to date, in many ways a straight up Psychological Horror movie that infuses the gender crisis schtick of 60 and 70's horror with our very own torture porn ethos, and comes up with something that while not entirely new (He's clearly seen Eyes Without A Face) is as bold as he's been in quite a while.

I only wish he knew how to structure a damn movie though. He always has pretty great ideas, and in most cases writes compelling characters, but he insists on structuring every single one of his films, no matter what its about, like a bad 90's thriller. With predictable non-linear Flashbacks and scenes of exposition, it seems like something he is truly incapable of mastering. I think The Skin I Live In was actually a lesser offender in this regard then say, Broken Embraces, thanks to a twist that sort of justifies it, but there's way too much awkward and ill-fitting scenes in which you can just feel Almodovar pulling the strings too obviously. Similarly, I think Antonio Banderas' plot-driving psycho was all over the shop, with about ten different motivations, none of which was all that convincing or thoroughly explored. The inconsistency of it is sort of washed over by how good Banderas is, giving certainly one of the best performances of his career. But the movie ultimately won me over when it became Elena Anaya's story as opposed to Banderas'.

I've seen Anaya before, but like so many non-English speaking actors, she is a different actress when she is relieved of the burden of speaking in a foreign dialect and this was some Oscar worthy shit she does here. It's a very difficult role, but she carries it with an extra-ordinary amount of dignity and charisma. Come awards time I expect it will be Banderas who gets all the attention but I think the film finds its feet and its focus thanks to Anaya. The film is also admirable in the way it actually explores the psychological consequences of torture, as opposed to that merely being the point. It's why the best horror movies are always made by non-horror directors, because they are interested in the why so much more. It's not simply about sending people on a ride, it's about forcing them to think about why they are afraid. And when this happens the movie becomes so much more valuable.

Like I say I don't think The Skin I Live In is flawless. Structurally its a mess, particularly in the first half, and I think the Banderas character is written badly and too broadly to be truly compelling beyond a mere boogeyman. But Almodovar exploring that dark sexual psychology he always does finds a perfect home in this film, and it's always fascinating to see a man of has talents try and do something a little different.

Rating: 8/10


Jim Sturgess' face here implies something much more awesome than you get

Before 2004, movies were a wasteland for the poor fans of the Romantic Drama. The 90's with it's slacker revolutionaries and its cultural rejection of baroque emotion, had pretty much laughed the genre out of the cinemas. They deemed the Romantic comedy the more tolerable and acceptable home for this stuff, if it had to have a home, because at least that way maybe someone would hit Hugh Grant in the face amongst the sentimentality. But then a little movie called The Notebook came, starring some green indie star and Lindsay Lohan's second fiddle in Mean Girls and these fans decided they had enough. They no longer cared that everyone called them ridiculous, they no longer cared what critics or society said about this kind of film or the people that watched it. They drew their line in the sand and resurrected a genre.

And for about 5 or 6 years, that genre mostly fueled by the works of Nicholas Sparks but not exclusively did very well for itself, tales of unlikely but always exceptionally good-looking love ending in artificial tragedy, spanning over time to give gravitas. This Weepie 2.0 seemed to thrive on crude sentimentally and never was met with much enthusiasm from those outside the faith. Even the genre's Godfather, The Notebook itself, was met more with tolerance than excitement, which its current rating of 52% on Rotten Tomatoes will testify to. But in spite of this, I don't begrudge the film it's success in part because if there's an audience for this kind of thing, then they should get this kind of thing. But just as it's ridiculous when boys try and argue that Commando or Enter The Dragon are some kind of classic, it is when people try and say these new generation of weepies is anything but derivative, lowest common denominator junk food.

Which brings me to One Day, which actually I didn't hate quite as much I expected, largely because it kept the swooning to a minimum and played things out relatively realistically. Or at least realistically for this kind of thing. For the most part I enjoyed the acting, Jim Sturgess is never going to be the charismatic actor in the world, but he does a job and plays the cad well enough here. As for Anne Hathaway, much has been made of her accent in this, and while I'm not from yorkshire, it didn't offend me, and I found it to be more convincing than Patricia Clarkson. Hathaway is a rarity in that she manages to relatable in almost any role, and seems to give off a natural breeziness that perhaps limits her as actress but also makes her excellent in the right kind of role. She and Sturgess work well together, and for the most part the film focuses on their respective lives outside of their love story, which I also liked.

It's not incredible or anything, but rather it functions. And it functions on a slightly more credible level than films of its type in the past have. It's still trite, particularly in its final third, which falls into the same old saccharine cliches of the weepie, but as a moderately realistic look at time-spanning love? Well I suppose you could do worse. It is telling to note though the failure of this film to catch on, particularly at the US Box office. Does it signal the end of the brief revival of the romantic drama. It's probably the beginning of the end.

Rating: 5/10

REVIEW: Conan The Barbarian

Ron Perlman is in this movie guys. No really.

To be clear, the original Conan is not a good movie. It's a bad movie. That's all be clear about that, and not let our idealism and joyous thoughts of our childhood convince us of anything of the sort. But what it did have, for better or worse, was sort of a camp earnestness. Like an attempt by a 13 ear old boy to write the best movie ever made, it made it somewhat endearing in comparison to other cheap entertainments, and of course it had the beginnings of the Schwarzenegger tidal wave going for it. This new Conan, next in the line of memorably camp/awful 80's movies being repackaged for a new generation, pieces of shit presented with out the one thing that redeemed them, their good intentions.

It seems pointless to say that Conan is the latest example to the degree that hollywood has been suffocated by Consumerism, because everyone knows this. Still, the main problem is how many pointless movies its producing, how many things are being made solely for profit and not some more amenable solution that includes both profit and creative intention. From a purely business stand-point every single one of these 80's remakes bar Transformers has failed to meet expectation, from Tron to Conan to Fright Night and from a purely business stand-point it would seem well advised to stop this shit now, but the status quo seems to be its better to have a predictable failure than an unpredictable success, Avatar and Inception be damned. The remake of Commando can't be far behind.

So to business, and you won't be surprised after that preamble that I am not a fan of this movie. It seems almost bored of itself, going through the broad, tired cheap fantasy movie motions with all the enthusiasm and energy of a shitty remake of a shitty movie. It's humorless, joyless, self-important and doesn't even have the decency to have a couple of ridiculous performances you can enjoy in spite of everything. At least the original Conan had James Earl Jones. On paper, Stephen Lang seemed like an acceptable substitute. He is after all the one redeeming human element in Avatar, a performance so terrific it prevented that film from imploding into its own triteness, but it's a different guy here and he plays a rote villain way too sincerely. His sidekick Rose McGowan has a bit more fun and is conversely the most enjoyable thing about Conan. She's not great, but she goes for something in a way that suggests she at least gave a shit. As for Conan himself, Game Of Thrones' Jason Momoa, well it seems that removed from his veil of Dothraki he's basically the worst actor in the world. Keanu Reeves without the strangely magnetic cool.

The film is just so incredibly in the way it goes about everything, from its plot, to its dialogue to its universe, so devoid of life and excitement its uncanny. Its a direct result of this kind of board-room film-making, no-one is actually invested in making it good. The fact that sometimes movies don't need to be good in order to make money means that too many people believe can't be good to make money, and we get cowardly, pointless stuff like Conan The Barbarian.

Rating: 3/10