Tuesday, 24 May 2011


Why isn't Paddy Considine in better movies? Anyone?

Well its nice to see Jason Statham is still prepared to make English movies? That makes me happy. Not just that, but the people behind Blitz also managed to convince Paddy Considine to play his partner and The Wire/Game Of Thrones alum Aiden Gillen to play the bad guy. So while this was never going to be Chaucer, there was a chance it could have been dumb, excess-ridden guilty pleasure. But as it stands, Blitz could have been much, much worse. Sure Statham is ever the all-consuming charisma black hole at the centre of movies. Yes some of the dialogue can be pretty shocking and it is deathly stupid, but there are moments to enjoy.

Blitz does sort of feel like an episode of a TV police procedural, maybe with a few more fucks and brains blown out, but the gist is the same. Renegade cop Statham and offbeat partner Paddy Considine are on the case of a cop-killing psycho whose current modus operandi is to basically walk up to police officers and shoot them in the face. It's not a film for artistry after all. What follows is a lazy cat and mouse of sorts, occasionally lightened by some fun performances. Particularly Gillen, whose idiotic, borderline hermit psycho makes a nice change from the masterminds we are used to for this kind of thing. He felt like someone who didn't really know what he was doing and I thought that was a nice touch. Considine classes things up a little bit with his gay detective, whose homosexuality is defined as acceptable because he's also a tough guy, capable of beating up criminals. It's all very meat-headed, as you'd expect it to be, but there is at least a sombre, ham-fisted effort to develop character, particularly that of Zawe Ashton's rookie cop, who gets an entire sub-plot for seemingly no reason, and then gets abandoned for even less reason.

Still fans of Statham will probably be satisfied. There's plenty of him acting the hard-man and beating the shit out of people for your pound, and in a way its exactly the kind of generic thriller that rarely gets a cinematic release these days, so if you've been screaming for that bandwagon to return then maybe you'll get a kick out of this. You're also probably quite a dull person, but to each to their own. Destined to be rented by mistake by some poor soul who thinks its a world war 2 movie, and then subsequently watched with passive engagement.

Rating: 4/10

REVIEW: Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Plus, everyone in these movies are way too mean.

Right, this stops now. I love the original Pirates, and have no problem with this becoming a multi-movie franchise because its a fun world to spend time in and the possibilities are pretty wide-ranging. But believe me Jerry Bruckheimer, I will strike you down with the fury of a thousand men if you don't stop it with the double-crossing, labyrinthine plot bullshit. This would be OK if you hired writers capable of managing it, or if a fundamental level it made any sense at all. But you don't and it doesn't. It's just fucking stupid, with everybody double-crossing everybody all the time for no frickin reason and Oh my god just stop. Stop. Just be a fun, simple movie. Its all the weight Pirates can carry, and everyone hates this shit. It's frustrating to an ungodly level.

With that off my chest, I'm actually here to announce that this Pirates movie is probably the second best of the lot. It's certainly more streamlined then the last two, and it has jettisoned much of the dead weight from the sequels, in which every character from the first movie was accommodated for, no matter how major or minor. The plot is mostly simplified, so instead of being unintelligible, its merely just stupid. It has its strongest villain since Geoffrey Rush in Ian McShane's Blackbeard, and it has at least one or two pretty nifty set-pieces, most notably when a bunch of mutant mermaids attack some lifeboats, after some super creepy singing. But if that's a high point, there's at least ten action sequences that bore and go on forever. As for Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow, well you can't help but but feel the character has lost some of his spark, what after having carried two shitty movies on his back already. There's something purely entertaining in the performance, but its been strained. I think Rush fares much better here, as his character has been less bled dry. As for the newcomers, McShane fares well and Penelope Cruz is good if a little under-used as Depp's romantic foil.

But there is still too much dead weight here to be as fun as the first one yet, a film that is certainly one of the most entertaining blockbusters of my lifetime. Too much plot, too many twist and angles being played that don't matter and still way too long. I thing the sad thing is this franchise has had to suffer the weight of Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio forcing their need to write a complex mythology on a franchise it doesn't suit. and in many ways that has ruined what could have been a pretty great franchise. As it stands, better but not cured.

Rating: 5/10

REVIEW: Attack The Block

Allow it.

So to the second horror film released by Film Four by a comedian, who doesn't really want to make a comedy but does a little bit in the first half before abandoning that to make a straight up dramatic horror in the second half. That is my spectacularly inelegant way of saying that Attack The Block and its elder sibling Shaun Of The Dead share more then a passing resemblance. If anything though, Attack The Block is even less comedic then Edgar Wright's film. Which I think is what it had to do to avoid being anything other then ridiculous and condescending. What could have very easily been a pretty awful 'lets laugh at the hoodies' horror comedy is a pleasingly earnest, straight up horror movie, not afraid to be dark nor bloody.

The premise, something that upon hearing made me recoil somewhat, is essentially Hoodies vs. Aliens, but I think the main reason I liked the movie is how it approached its main character, Moses. Neither softened as a threat nor marginalized for comedy, Moses gets to be both a threatening presence at the movie's opening and a pretty badass hero by its end, largely thanks to a fantastically commanding performance by John Boyega. In many ways more then Joe Cornish's script or the supporting performances by more celebrated actors, Boyega carries the movie through and through. If anything I thought Nick Frost and Jodie Whittaker's presence here was a little extraneous, Frost more so. Playing a character that barely belongs in the story at all and makes you wonder if he's here solely to get Nick Frost in the trailer. There is some good supporting work from pretty much all the young cast, plus a strong performance by Jumayn Hunter as the film's human antagonist Hi-Hatz.

Cornish does put together a number of solid sequences of horror, and isn't afraid to heroes as well as villains. I do think we can get carried away in this country, when a British film looks better then the average episode of The Bill, but this did look pretty good, with a number of strong visual sequences that would be impressive in a higher budgeted film then this. But it is a bit scatty, with too many characters here for no reason, that serve to distract rather then provide something, and I think the gravitas of the second half does lessen the slightly looser first half in hindsight. A film I honestly enjoyed much more then I expected, possibly its my horror movie weak spot, but fuck was this fun.

Rating: 6/10



Joe Wright has laid out his cards with Hanna. He's a director who's work I have liked almost without exception up to this point, but he's been swimming in very safe waters. Sure his respective adaptations of both Pride And Prejudice and Atonement were elegant, often exemplary pieces of work, but many British directors do period well, about as many that simply fail to transition to making movies in the contemporary. But Hanna shows that Wright can be a very different kind of story-teller, one who can do innovative as well as elegant, and Hanna, although in many ways is quite a generic movie with quite a generic script that occasionally veers into awful, manages still to be a pretty cool movie purely off the back of how Wright puts it together.

The story though, is pretty much recycled child assassin stuff, following Soarsie Ronan as she flees the CIA and attempts revenge on the agent who killed her mother, played amusingly by Cate Blanchett, whilst her father/guardian Eric Bana goes on his own rampage of killing government types, mostly to give the story something to cut to. Everything is paper thin, and there's little substance to Blanchett's villain or Bana's father figure. Even Ronan goes through that robot girl in the real world arc, these movies enjoy so well. And yet the are so many scenes in Hanna that had me on the edge of my seat, a sequence where Ronan escapes a CIA facility is the most exhilarating action scene I've seen in quite a while, punctuated by an electrifying score by the Chemical Brothers and some pretty swag creativity from Wright. Bana's pretty superfluous subplot is made awesome by at least two fantastically shot scenes of violence, and a flashback to the moment Blanchett set everything in motion was similarly impressive. She has tried to play the villain a couple of times before, usually with accents of some kind, but this is her most successful venture. Her southern accent, plus some nicely deadpan moments make the character pretty engaging, Bana too, gives the best performance he's given in a while.

But the film was going to live or die on Ronan, and yet again she does everything that could be asked of her, giving a performance that's pleasingly sincere and engaging and I'd Imagine we're in the first stage of a 50 year long movie career. But more then anything out of Hanna, I hope it gets Wright some more interesting work because he's shown that rather then simply have one round in his chamber, this film kind of shows he's got several. And I think this film transitions him from a director who usually makes good films to someone's who's films are worth watching simply if his name is on them. Its rare for me to like a film in spite of bad writing, but I think its happened here, and how.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 22 May 2011

REVIEW: Something Borrowed

This picture says everything I could never say.

Just before I say what I'm going to say, I want it clear that I think Something Borrowed is a bad movie because it so thoroughly is. But this seeing the critical reaction to this, and say, the critical reaction to Fast Five, I can't think there's something amiss here. Fast Five was praised for being generic, praised for being simple, forgiven for being stupid and forgiven for its bad acting. Basically it was beloved for not trying to be anything that wasn't what it was. Something Borrowed is a film that does exactly the same things Fast Five does, only here its been savaged instead of praised and its faults lambasted instead of forgiven. You can like Fast Five, who am I to tell you not to, but you lose the right to slam on Something Borrowed. The romantic comedy of course deserves these criticisms, but so did Fast Five. Its not OK for this critical discrepancy for two films similarly terrible, saying its OK for cinema to celebrate its guilty pleasures, but only the ones for the boys. There's nothing I can think of to explain this reaction other then sexism. I'm all for alternate suggestions.

But unfair comparative treatment aside, this film is still for the most part a piece of shit. Like too many romantic comedies these days, its plot relies way too heavily on people being stupid, and more then that, characters that are sold to us as intelligent, likable people. Ginnifer Goodwin seemingly exists to play immensely irrational characters whose immense likability whitewashes over everything. Goodwin pretty much played a sociopath in He's Just Not That Into You, yet she's just so winning you can't help but be won over. Well not this time. Goodwin does her best, but her character is so feeble there's nothing you can do but just be irritated by every decision she makes. I'll admit to enjoying Kate Hudson in this movie. I think she's quickly becoming the Matthew McConaughey of female stars, in that even though she's exclusively in terrible films, she is usually great in them anyway. Having seen two awful Hudson films this year in A Little Bit Of Heaven and now this, she's been my favorite thing about them both, a bubbly, entertaining presence in movies that otherwise exist in a quality vacuum. I guess John Krasinski's OK.

But Something Borrowed commits the romantic comedy fatal flaw, which is to thing that the male lead doesn't matter. Casting such a blank slate of a pretty boy is something this increasingly harrowed genre fails to realize kills you instantly. These films are about chemistry between two human beings, and if that's not there then it doesn't work, and a cardboard cutout can't have chemistry with anything, and Colin Egglesworth is definitely that. If you indiscriminately love romantic comedies then you'll like this but unless you are that guy then, there's just nothing down this road but pain.

Rating: 4/10

REVIEW: 13 Assassins

An hour long action scene. Not even joking.

Takeshi Miike is one of those directors to make any film-maker with claims to the controversial look tame. Both thematically and literally, the guy has seemingly gone out of his way to do what others won't simply for the hell of it, and sometimes that leads to some starkly original if crazy as fuck movies, and sometimes it leads to some terrible, nigh on unwatchable movies which continue to be crazy as fuck. But 13 Assassins felt like a much more accessible version of Miike, one with still many of his traits, but toned down enough to be a studio movie. This is Miike's version of The Seven Samurai, a pretty direct action movie about Samurai's chopping the shit out of each other with badass sword moves. The masochistic violence is still there, to be sure, but I think Miike has made a fervent effort to make the least fucked up movie he can here.

The thing I have liked about certain Miike films in the past is for any faults you can accuse him off, Miike always makes films with something to say, and even in 13 assassins, a film that ends in what is essentially an hour long action sequence. Does take a few jabs at the state of feudal Japan and the old samurai system. The film is also perhaps a little too in awe of it at the same time, almost glorifying the honour code in between making light of its fallacy. Performance wise, the film spreads itself a little too thin with so many characters, but I thought Goro Inagaki played a nicely considered villain in a role so evil it could have potentially been pantomime, and Koji Yakusho made for a solid and engaging lead, and of the many expendable samurai, my favorite would probably be Hiroyama, played nicely by Tsuyoshi Ihara, simply because he killed people in a more badass way then anyone else, and in this kind of thing the people who shut up and just get on with it are always the most awesome.

Is it a slender movie? Yes. The whole thing feels like an extended excuse for a massive battle scene, just as Seven Samurai did, and yes Miike is only intermittently engaged with any of his characters, but it does exactly what it says on the tin, which is to be a samurai movie where everyone gets destroyed by samurai swords. A mostly fun, engaging action movie, something it is so well you kind of don't mind how ridiculous it all is.

Rating: 6/10

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The X Files Season One: "Conduit" - When Was The Last Time You Saw Your Sister?

It came from there!

- Thus far Agent Mulder has been to The X Files to what a thousand blank-faced leads have been to a thousand blank faced cop shows. He's a maverick with an empty motivation we neither see nor hear, the formula being x killed/took y family member, x is never caught leading Z to pursue him by solving crimes aggressively. This always bothers me because it feels like a short-cut to gravitas, the answer to the question of how to get emotional investment without having to spend any time on it, so its pleased me to see that with "Conduit", The X Files isn't just going to leave the abduction of Mulder's sister there as one of these empty motivations.

-It's a flawed episode, that has to do the character work essentially via surrogate because this is a case of the week series after all, but the intention is pleasing to see. In many ways though, I reward this episode more for its intentions then its actual content, because while it made the show's first attempt to get under the skin of its main characters, it also was the show's clumsiest episode to date.

- The mystery this week was particularly poorly drawn, feeling both lazy and incoherent, and while it had a couple of cool moments overall it didn't feel very considered and for a reset button type show that means the episode is going to feel grating, even if there are some elements that hold your interest.

- The opening teaser this episode was just awful. It saw an abduction done in the cheapest and ineffective way possible, and it just screamed the worst opening scene of a horror movie you've ever seen, where you have an unseen villain simply because you can't afford one, and featured some terrible guest star acting to say the least.

- The plot, as you'd imagine, was a mirror of Mulder's own origin story, seeing a teenage girl disappear in the middle of the night, with her younger brother being the only witness. Mulder and Scully turn up to the scene only top find local cops less the convinced by her story, as she herself claimed to be abducted by aliens thirty years before. Only Mulder believes her story, particularly since a local lake has been dubbed an alien activity hotspot.

- As always with The X Files, motions need to be gone through and we need to rule out that it was in fact not a human responsible. A process that seemed more arduous this week then in previous episodes, perhaps because there was an unfortunate and badly executed soap-opera sub-plot, where missing girl's boyfriend supposedly got someone pregnant, but it might not be missing girl. The problem being it didn't tie into the sci-fi of the show at all, and instead became a huge time-consuming anchor to "Conduit".

- I have no problem with the show trying to layer its guest characters, but frankly this didn't do that, rather filling in time for an episode that needed to pad its running length, and that's something hard to defend, mostly because its sort of cynical.

- Like I said, the guest performance of Carrie Snodgress as the victim's mother was pretty appalling. A performance you get in the worst kind of Sci-FI.

- Having said that, this is the most I've liked David Duchovny in the series thus far, perhaps because of his heightened emotional investment, Duchovny was a more sincere, focused presence, less the guy trying to prove a point and more a guy that actually wants to help someone. Mulder is a difficult character for the show to get a handle on because his mission to validate extra-terrestrial life supersedes empathy much of the time, but it was nice to see that not be the case in this episode.

- The interrogation scene between our agents and the teen girl suspect was pretty much the most stereotypical iteration of good cop, bad cop that at times it almost felt like a skit. I still liked Duchovny in it but that was pretty close to laughable.

- I do enjoy some of the re-appropriated cop cliches, for example every episode Mulder and Scully seem to go to a bar or a diner to garner information, in this caze grilling a one-eared bartender about the alien hotspot. That scene was kind of awesome.

- The stuff with Kevin, missing girl's sister was hit and miss. While seeing him decipher coded messages from the aliens was suitably creepy (and the reveal that he was secretly drawing her image.) But the conduit stuff was a again a little unspecific for my taste, and the episode simply didn't explain the how satisfactorily enough, something its been quite good for up to this point.

- The episode's plot ended in a way that I liked I suppose, even if I disliked much of the episode itself. Yet again it re-inforced the X Files core message of despair, in which the one can't be the many, and the weak get crushed by the powerful. Seeing the family with their freshly returned daughter decide to put their head in the sand as opposed to seek justice seemed like a credible and suitably downbeat ending, and Duchovny again was good in that moment.

- The final scene saw Mulder's recorded therapy session, in which he detailed his feelings in the moment where his sister was kidknapped. And that packed a bleak punch also, knowing that the aliens forced him into a sense of calm while his mind panicked.

- A mess of an episode, but it had its moments and showed The X Files does have the intention to layer and deepen its characters. An attribute that it pleased me to see, even within the skeleton of perhaps the most generic and unfocused episode of the show thus far, indicates signs of promise.

Rating: 5/10

Saturday, 14 May 2011

TV SEASON ROUND-UP: The 10 Best New Shows Of The Last Season

10) Happy Endings

As is often reported from every TV website and outlet known to man, there have been many sitcoms about six friends hanging out this year. It seemed to be everyone's agenda to find the new Friends, and most of them were pretty bad, some were sort of OK and others were sort of awful. But I think this one was the best, a nice little underdog of a show that began airing in a death-slot about a month ago, yet somehow found an audience anyway and got renewed in spite of all odds. This makes me happy because while its hardly a ground-breaking show, it's winning and consistently funny, which is all it needs to be. Yes, I know it has got Elisha Cuthbert in it, but it manages to be a good show anyway. So there.

9) The Walking Dead

I don't care what anyone says about this, The first season of The Walking Dead was very shaggy indeed, containing at least two downright awful episodes and almost its entire cast is made out of wooden performances and two-dimensional characters. The only actors who gave good performance were either guest stars (Lennie James and Noah Emmerich) or glorified extras (Andrew Rothenberg's performance as Jim was much subtler and intelligent then any of the leads, and the episode where he played the biggest part, 'Wildfire' was the shows best) Yet there was enough here to convince me of a much stronger season two, the seeds are there and all way need is one maybe two engaging characters to make this really work as the great show it wants to be. In the meantime, all you can call it is OK to good.

8) Raising Hope

Another sitcom that caught me a bit by surprise, mostly because Raising Hope is working off a terrible premise, but as the year went on it became apparent that there were many talented people in this cast with great acclimation for being funny, and that Garrett Dillahunt is a secret comic genius. Putting the usually intense, frightening Dillahunt in a wacky sitcom by the creator of My Name is Earl was certainly risk, but its one that paid off, with him giving one of the most consistently hilarious performances of the year. Similarly Shannon Woodward and Martha Plimpton lend great support and slightly vanilla lead Lucas Neff grew into his role as the season progressed. Its a consistently funny and unique feeling show, that's even occasionally clever.

7) The Killing

I think this would have been higher a couple of weeks ago, but as the first season of The Killing has progressed I've soured on it somewhat, with its slightly bare bones and cliched approach to both characterization and plot development, but it still has enough about it that works, mostly the fantastic lead performance from Mirelle Enos, a terrificly layered and subtle one that is probably high in the running for best on television right now. Joel Kinnaman lends some interesting moments to is partner character, but elsewhere things are kind of progressing on a surface layer, with very little dimension or depth. Billy Campbell's politician character is probably the worst example of this, just an endlessly and boringly stoic one note.

6) Lights Out

I actually wasn't all that excited for this, mostly because it looked like Rocky the TV show, regardless of whether it was on FX or not. Being the story of a once disgraced boxer getting one last shot against his rival and all, but it was a fantastically executed show in the end, featuring many great performances from its regular cast and beyond, with the likes of Eamonn Walker and David Morse, and a great central performance by Holt McCallany, who most will recognize as the 'his name was Robert Paulsen' guy in Fight Club. He shows some unexpected range and gravitas in his work here. Cancelled though, which sucks.

5) Game Of Thrones

The timing of this list is a little unfair to Game Of Thrones, what with only being four episodes in and all, but what can you do. As it stands its a promising show with a lot of things that are working and a few that are not, If its not the most spectacularly looking show in the history of TV then I'm not watching some great TV, and a number of its cast are giving some great performances, particularly Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey who recovers from her somewhat flat performance as Sarah Connor with some intelligently villainous bounce, and Sean Bean makes for a great anchor. Some characters work less well, such as Harry Lloyd's ridiculously evil blonde prince and the many interchangeable lessers in the cast, but its a promising show to be sure, and I expect to eat my distrustful words by the end of this season.

4) Rubicon

This under-seen and under-appreciated conspiracy thriller was in many ways 24 for smart people, but that's certainly reductive. In the end it was uncompromisable is in its intelligence and pace, and I imagine that's why it turned a lot of people tuned out, almost understandably. At first it seems fair to be a little bored by it, but once you cotton on to its wave-length it quickly became pretty awesome, if admittedly slow moving. There's a chance you'll watch this and find it incredibly boring, and there's a chance you'll watch it and find a tremendously engaging show. For me it was the latter. For most people it must have been the former because it too is cancelled.

3) Terriers

The final member of the trio of great, cancelled shows. While I do think that many critics and occupants of the internet liked this show more then I did, I still saw a great, entertaining show with some fantastic lead performances from Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James. There were a few things that were cable show rote, like the whole ex-wife and new husband thing which I always frickin' hate because everyone always does it in the same exact, allegory for petty revenge type way. But for the most part, a pretty stellar piece of television making.

2) Boardwalk Empire

Here's the thing, by all accounts Boardwalk Empire is the best at a number of things. It's cast is nothing short of phenomenal, it looks amazing, there are individual scenes and moments that just blow your mind to hell. But. And its a big but, its sort of a badly executed TV show simply because it pays no mind to the episodic structure of TV. I love serialized television, but a great TV show does both tell a great serialized story and create distinct episodic TV, and for all the spectacular production values of Boardwalk, because an episode doesn't have its own story it can be frustrating to watch. Its a shame, because if it had paid this more mind, this would have been amongst the best television ever, just for the performance of Michael Shannon alone.

1) Louie

If second place looks like it cost about 5o million an episode, first place looks like each episode is put together on spare change, and yet its still a uniquely excellent experience. Starting of feeling like its just going to be Curb Your Enthusiasm with Louie C.K, which would have been fine, but instead became one of the most experimental, interesting comedies in living memory. Not afraid to be serious or profound. Its just awesome, for lack of a better word, and I can imagine the second season only being better.

Friday, 13 May 2011

TV REVIEW: Community Season 2

Cool, cool, cool, cool.

This season of Community felt very much like a show from the mindset of a guy who assumed he was going to be cancelled. Everything about the show's genre-swapping, relentlessly meta stylings seemed to say fuck accessibility, let's just do what we want because we're living on borrowed time anyway. And that mentality has allowed for some of the most interesting, adventurous television out there, that in its audacity is pretty awe-inspiring. Season two of Community has undoubtedly pushed the boundaries of what can be done in a sitcom, and in many cases for people's conception of what a sitcom is. And for that it's almost impossible not to fall in love with this show critically, because it's almost a piece of criticism in and of itself. Yet there have been more than a few grumblings that in exceeding our wildest dreams at the complex (Structure, subject matter, scale) Community has failed to succeed at the simple, which is to say its ever so slightly less funny and its characters are ever so slightly broader to compensate for the ambitious mission statement of the season.

Yet what that mission statement has allowed for has been kind of extra-ordinary. I could make a pretty comprehensive best of episodes list solely from what this show has given me, because each time an episode blows my mind, it seems to do so in an entirely different way. ' Epidemology' for having the balls to put a legit zombie outbreak in the context of a sitcom and being so awesome, 'Co-operative Calligraphy' for it's ingenious use of the bottle-episode trait, 'Mixology Certification' for thankfully reminding me there can be some emotional sincerity in this universe, ' Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas' for managing to be the show's sweetest and darkest episode at the same time, you could go on. I think my favorite episode of this season though is ' Critical Film Studies, or the 'My Dinner With Andre episode', something I would say is the only absolute no holds barred success at blending the referencing and such in a real emotional place for the characters, and being hilarious and sad at the same time. In many ways it sort of showed the counterbalanced what the show once was and what it had become, seeing Abed (In an emmy worthy performance by Danny Pudi) trying to reconnect with Jeff via the means of a referencing a movie where two people have a reconnecting conversation.

Abed, a movie obsessed, borderline aspergers' stricken student, has very much been the protagonist of this season, as he kind of had to be by default as in many ways we shifted into seeing the world from his perspective what with the parodying becoming a more structural part of the show, and not simply Abed's dissenting voice, whereas in season one we saw it from Jeff's perspective, an outsider in a world of misfits. Abed's need to communicate With Jeff and his inability to do so out of the safety of movie-referencing hit a very strong note, and feels to me to be the place the show is in. It wants to have emotionally real characters, and it tries incessantly to do so, but it increasingly doesn't feel safe outside of the world of pop culture, and ironically the one episode that managed to be gloriously both dealt with this exact issue. Oh the meta. Another episode I greatly enjoyed was 'Intermediate Documentary Film-making' perhaps the funniest half hour of the show, and also one of the most intense.

Yet I don't want to give the impression I don't like the big theme episodes, because I really, really do. I think they are what the show does best, speaking in an informed and often hilarious way about these various pop-culture touchstones, and like Abed, its in these episodes the show feels most comfortable being raw with the characters, with that barrier of irony to protect it. Pierce had an arc that seemed to take place exclusively in these episodes, which saw his villainy escalate until it just became insane that the group would continue to accept him as a friend, something I was going to lobby as a criticism against the show until it was dealt with in the finale, seeing Pierce seemingly out of the study group for the time being.

Despite some of the problems I had with his character though, I'd have to say Chevy Chase knocked it out of the stratosphere this season. Honestly I think has been the best performance in a near flawless cast, showing some dramatic chops Chase has never exhibited before and excelling in his role as villain in both the dungeons and dragons and Hospital episodes so well it almost added to the problem. Chase was too good, too convincingly rotten that why anyone would have him in their life by choice became something increasingly hard to believe, yet if anyone deserves awards recognition this season, I think it should be Chase. It's been some great work. I'd lobby some similar praise at Donald Glover, who has been consistently the funniest person on the show, and obviously Pudi, who shows so much range its very easy to miss, but to be honest the entire cast is fantastic, the best ensemble on TV outside of Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Even Yvette Nicole Brown's Shirley is a character I enjoy, not because she's all that funny necessarily, but because she's a well drawn and consistent character.

Sadly I don't think I can say that about all the characters though. While some have been greatly served, others have been a might inconsistent. Particularly Jeff Winger, in an excellent performance by Joel McHale which the show increasingly looks at a loss with how to deal with, Community's one time lead who's been banished into the wasteland of goofed-up straight-men, being increasingly broadened to the point that he's a much less interesting character then he was in the first season. Similarly Ken Jeong's Chang worked as a one-note villain last year, but this year has had him just float around aimlessly, having absolutely no idea what role he plays or place he holds. Perhaps this is necessary to enable some of the grand things Community wants to do. But as a consequence the parody episodes driven by ideas and concepts are invariably stronger then smaller episodes of character driven comedy, bringing in to question whether it's raised the stakes so much it can't even execute those at all anymore, because its hard to care about Britta accidentally kissing a lesbian after you've just watched the most elaborate, awesomely executed Dungeons and Dragons parody.

Or perhaps because the parody episodes almost always require close to dramatic performances, in which everyone takes the reality seriously and intensely, meaning that its feels a cheat just to slide back into everyone acting goofy. For me this season of Community has been about putting the chapter above the book, so to speak, in which its been more important to create a great twenty minutes of television then it is to put together a great season, and while there are maybe 10 episodes in and amongst that are blow-your-mind magnificent, its meant that tonally the year hasn't flowed all that well, and more importantly some of the characters just aren't all that coherent.

These frustrations come simply because I love this show so much, and I would firmly stand-by that the outstanding highlights allow for the messy whole and I find myself having absolutely no problem with forgiving a show this immensely ambitious, this immensely entertaining and this game-changing. People will grow up and want to work in TV because of Community, its truly a landmark and while it's not quite my favorite comedy of the year, that would be Archer because I laughed a lot more, its certainly the most important, fulfilling on that first year promise of following no rules and endlessly raising the game with its seemingly boundless creativity. A fucking awesome show by any definition and seriously Emmy's. Come on.

Best Three episodes:

1) Critical Film Studies
2) Intermediate Documentary Film-making
3) Epidemology

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The X Files Season One: "Squeeze" - Stretch and Tooms

So that's how santa claus does it...

I'm glad this episode came this early, because I was getting a little worried about preemptively committing myself to a show I was only ever going to think was OK, but Squeeze showed me a side of the show that is willing to be a horror movie, willing to be out and out scary as opposed to an effective but unknowably menacing atmosphere. In the previous two episodes the villains were unseen and unaccountable, but here the villain takes centre stage, and I have to say that even though Squeeze is probably a less intelligent episode then those previously, it's a damn sight more effective then either. Complexity can make for great sci-fi, but so can simplicity.

- In a way Squeeze is the most obvious incarnation of The X Files 'cop show with monsters' twist, in that this is a straight forward serial killer narrative, only the serial killer has a few supernatural tricks up his sleeve. Perhaps because of its increased obedience to the deafeningly familiar cop-show structure, more time was freed up to simply do cooler shit. Or maybe it just had an antagonist memorable enough to make anything work. Either way, I enjoyed the crap out of this episode, which dispensed with some of the conspiracy and upped the creepy considerably.

- The plot sees a series of people getting murdered in locked rooms, with no known method of entry or exit. An old agency contact of Scully's (Played by Terriers' Donal Logue) brings her in on the case, and everyone makes fun of her for working on the X Files.

- What I did like about the episode is that there was never any doubt about who the killer was, the first suspect being the only suspect. a Eugene Tooms, a man with the ability to elongate his body to squeeze into all manor of tight spots. So kind of a horror movie answer to the question how does Father Christmas get down the chimney. I concept it sounds a little silly, but thanks to a supremely creepy performance by Doug Hutchison, Tooms is a pretty iconoc bad guy.

- I did notice the banter between Mulder and Scully feeling a little less stiff this week, with Gillian Anderson in particular developing a wry sarcasm amidst Scully's usual idealized pragmatism. Duchovny gets better I think, but it still feels like line-reading rather then acting at the moment. And he continues to be the worst actor at listening ever known to man.

- The Tooms kill scenes were pretty cool, although the second one was much better then the first one, probably because he no longer remained unseen. Watching him go down the chimney was one of the creepier things I've seen in a TV show for a long time.

- Not sure how I felt about the character of Colton, Scully's agency pal though. Felt like an easy way to pass the torch of skeptic to show us that Scully's coming around to Mulder's way of thinking. Did enjoy the scenes of Mulder openly mocking Colton though, perhaps because he's such a rote character for a procedural show. One that every show roles it when they want to show you the straight man warming to the maverick's way of thinking. Like Donal Logue though.

- Tooms is over 100 years old, having committed a similar rash of killings in both 1903, 1933, and 1973. He does this by taking all of his victim's livers, absorbing them, and hibernating in a nest made of newspaper and his own bile for periods in between murders. Pretty cool right.

- Perhaps the final showdown was a little less then well executed. They defeated Tooms by handcuffing him to a bath, but couldn't he just elongate his fingers to escape the cuffs, or maybe he just wanted to get caught who knows. But an easy way out.

- It also was the most cliched slasher movie sequence ever, with Scully running a bath, whilst Tooms stalked around her apartment.

- Like I said, I don't think Squeeze is necessarily the most intelligent or progressive episode of the X-Files, but there's something to be said for just hitting you're audience in the gut, and I think this was an important side of the show to reveal, because the problem with a conspiracy show is that you have a long-term faceless enemy, whose stature is drawn from that namelessness, its good to have bad guy on the screen every once in a while.

- Doug Hutchison's performance does kind of bring to light an immediate concern I had with the show, which was the lack of a supporting cast, and given that while Anderson and Duchovny are growing into their roles, it would be still nice to have an actor's who is always good on the show, because at times the bad acting is the show's Achilles heel. It stops you really committing to some of the scenes, which is a shame.

- I liked that Tooms was mostly quite animalistic, he had no speeches or reasons why, rather just an organism doing what it has to do to survive.

- While I did think the Scully-Mulder dialogue was better, some of Colton's dialogue was awful. One interchange between him and Scully was pretty laughable containing a line like ' If this is what it takes to climb the ladder, then I can't wait to watch you fall on your ass.' It was kind of made awesome by Anderson's extremely reluctant delivery of it. Almost as if she knew it was a piece of shit line.

- The final scene of Tooms staring at the letter-box slot on his cell door lasted forever, and was pretty fucking terrifying. I guess they knew they were onto something, so they didn't kill him. I look forward to his inevitable re-appearance in a lesser episode.

- Oh I almost forgot, there was an entire subplot about a cop who chased Tooms in 33' that took place in about two scenes. He gave a bizarre, pointless monologue about how places where bad things happen smell of evil, and then segued right in to giving Mulder the evidence to solve the case. Bizarre character and scene.

- Its stuff like that that makes me think The X Files is stuck in some netherworld between a cheesy 80's cop show and a progressive, intellectual sci-fi series. It's just fused both realities together regardless of whether they fit or not. At the moment there's some tonal irregularities for sure.

- A lean, mean slasher-movie of an episode. Which ditched larger arcing for the sake of scaring the shit out of you, and for the most part it was largely effective. Its still got the rough around the edges feel, and a worryingly blase attitude toward specificity and the reality of its universe but its bigger picture approach does allow for some of the ideas to shine. Creepy as balls.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 8 May 2011

REVIEW: Priest

The first line of this movie is ' I don't know about this place, it feels like....our grave.' Yeah.

Someone needs to give Paul Bettany an intervention. He's a talented actor who's given enough great performances to be cut a fair amount of shit, but this is becoming unacceptable. Bettany's name has become synonymous with bad B-Movies , pretty much since 2003's Master And Commander, his resume reads like it could be Julian Sands' in the 90's. Just horrible (Except For Young Victoria, am I right guys. Holler.) What makes it even more painful is that Bettany is usually good in these terrible movies, he makes a memorable bad guy in the otherwise odious Da Vinci Code, in the borderline retarded religious horror movie Legion he was OK, right? He never allows me to write him off and then continues to shit all over that lingering good will. Well fuck you Paul Bettany, I don't care if you were once good to me, all you do is smash my face in with a baseball bat. I'll be getting daddy's shotgun now.

It doesn't surprise me one bit that Priest comes from the same guy who made Legion, both are religious horror movies terrified of their subject matter, both are movies that have no idea how to craft an engaging character, and both become vapid CGI spectacles seemingly existing solely to exhibit effects. I suppose Priest would like to call itself a remake of The Searchers, putting Bettany in the John Wayne role and Cam Gidanget as the ingénue rookie, but its just way too gormless for that, and to be honest the movie doesn't even stage a decent action sequence, possibly excepting a scene with co-star Maggie Q, and a nifty animated prologue aside is just boring. Flat, same-old fantasy land nothing, where you care about nothing and no-one. Sterile, is the word I would use. Even Bettany isn't even that good, trying too hard to be the tough guy and instead just coming off a little flat, and plus he isn't really the hero of this movie. Maggie Q is the hero of this movie. While Bettany just gets the shit kicked out of him by Karl Urban, Q destroys ten vampires on motorbikes, an entire train full of zombie vampires and Karl Urban. Bettany is a pussy compared to this bitch. The movie spends its whole running time telling me what a badass Bettany is, only for him to fail and be bailed out by a tiny Asian lady.

Karl Urban makes for a pretty vacuous, empty bad guy. I concede the writing's not the best but there's enough here for a fun performance, but he's so frickin humorless. I gather from a casual piece of mockery I engaged in on Facebook with regards to Mr Urban that he has his fans out there, who won't have a bad word said against Mr Urban or his many great performances, particularly in the likes of Doom and Pathfinder. I use this forum to apologize thoroughly, and to confirm that yes being the 4th best performance in Star Trek absolves you of any and all crimes against movies and definitely not to say that whenever Mr Urban is in a movie, its because they're saving money on actors to spend on CGI. This movie is lame and you shouldn't see it.

Rating: 4/10

REVIEW: Water For Elephants

Chillin' with my elephant.

Normally I'd take a paragraph to make fun of Robert Pattinson before doing anything as foolish as talk about the film, but luckily I don't have to go off book to do it this time because Pattinson more noticeably out of his depth in Water for Elephants then he's ever been before. He probably gives one of the better twilight performances, give it his best shot in Remember Me, but in Water For Elephants feels like the grown up leagues, and here there be Oscar Winners. To say that Pattinson gets blown of the screen by Christophe Waltz is to undersell it. I feel like I need a much grander metaphor that won't be discovered by language for about 10,000 years because it takes you out of the film how much better Waltz is. It's staggering. And playing off an actor only emphasizes how much of an empty vessel Pattinson is, he's capable of being OK, but when required to bring intensity, passion, humor, joy or anything else he just can't do it. Everything hits a permanent note of sullen shyness. And to be honest he's much more guilt of the crime people always accuse Kristen Stewart of, which is doing the same awkward shtick every time with no trace of nuance. Very much a boy amongst men here.

But having said that Pattinson's flaws as an actor don't make him an obnoxious screen presence, just an invisible one, so he's pretty irrelevant to whether Water For Elephants can be considered good or not. And to be honest every time the film flirted with something interesting, it kept regressing into a fairly rote melodrama in which Pattinson pursues Reese Witherspoon seemingly because she's Waltz' wife and because the fans demand it. There's a much more engaging film about someone trying to keep a circus afloat in the depression mixed in amongst the cliches, and for that I can't be to hateful to this film. It feels like a smooth, polished old-school studio movie someone might have made in the fifties and there was a certain charm to that. It also recreated depression era America very well, and like I say Waltz performance is pretty immense, ringing everything out of his mostly inconsistent and in the end cheaply villainous character and giving the film a breath of much needed life. I mostly enjoyed Witherspoon's performance too, its a bit of a nothing role, but she brought as much as she could I think. What holds it back is its inability to veer from exactly what you expect it to be, right down to the entirely pointless beginning and end present day tags where Pattinson is played by Hal Holbrook. There's too much of a sense of going through the motions.

Having said that though, I did get a bit more out of this film then I was expecting. The titular elephant did some cool tricks and that was awesome, and I did enjoy the stuff about the circus, because even if every structural note and word of this movie seems to have been produced in template, that was at least some rich subject matter. An accomplished prestige movie for those who don't know what a prestige movie can be, it's OK I guess. But should be the first nail in Pattinson's coffin I think as far as having a post Twilight career goes.

Rating: 6/10

Friday, 6 May 2011

Defend A Bad Movie: Death Sentence


- Has to have a rating lower then 50% on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.

- You have to like it. That's pretty much it.


Ratings: 36% Metacritic, 19% Rotten Tomatoes

Plot: A suburban dad ( Kevin Bacon) swears revenge on the gang that killed his son, and hi-jinks ensue.

Look nobody is going to say Death Sentence is the best film ever made, but it's an efficiently staged revenge thriller that while brain-numbingly stupid, is pretty bold in where it goes and Saw director James Wan puts together a mean action scene. Its not high art, and its politics are questionable to say the least but it's not fair to call a movie that succeeds in almost everything it tries to do failure, just because good taste and the notion of subtlety have no place in proceedings. I say they wouldn't have belonged anyway, and Wan's ridiculously over the top revenge thriller succeeds precisely because it doesn't stop to think where it's going. This is a movie with a terrible script, cliched dialogue and at best a functioning lizard brain. The best that could be done with it is to make it an entertaining piece of exploitation pulp. And I think it succeeded in that task, it's no Kill Bill, but it's a sort of interesting take on the revenge movie that delivers what you came for and is never boring, and there's so many movies like it you can't even say that for.

I think much of the critical hatred of Death Sentence comes from a place of being disgusted. Most reviews cite its grisly violence and sadistic point of view is the reason its to be found wanting. Is the film morally repugnant, well of course it is. Children get murdered for the sake of cheap pathos, and its entirely about doing what's wrong for the greater right, even if that right is just for you. But then so is every revenge movie ever made. The entire point of the genre is exploring someone who chooses to no longer do what we expect them to do. And if this movie sucks for that reason then so does Point Blank, Kill Bill and every other film ever with violence in it ever. A much fairer point of contention would how fucking dense it is. Because I think somewhere in here is an attempt to subvert the revenge movie, it just gets lost in the film's inability to say what it's trying to say. I think the idea was to show revenge as a vicious cycle, something that once started can never be stopped, because once you've had yours, they'll want theirs and you'll want yours again.

That's a good way to comment on the futility of the act, and the never ending pit it leads to. But the thing just doesn't have enough coherency to make that point. Instead, as revenge movies are wont to do, it gets caught up in the adrenaline, sacrificing introspection, coherency and eventually logic in its pursuit of a primal, dark and violent catharsis. So it abandons trying to comment on the genre about half way through, it abandons having Kevin Bacon's actions make any sense, or even have who the character is anymore. Bacon starts the movie a TV dad and ends it as Rambo, destroying many men all by himself with no training. He's an insurance salesman for fuck's sake. That's not to mention the pretty broad characterizations of both the villainous gang, and Bacon's super-perfect family. I think the phrase golden boy is used several times before Bacon's son bites the dust, and he's dead before we hit fifteen minutes. Garrett Hedlund's poser performance doesn't help any, never really convincing me he's a badass gangster and not a rich boy playing dress-up.

Why let it get away with all of this? Because I felt that it even though it abandoned all that other stuff, it put together sequences with enough intensity to justify it, Bacon's performance is good enough to justify it. And in its own brawn over brains type way it sold me that this was the best choice for the movie to make, because it sure as shit wouldn't have known what to do had it gone any other way. At least Wan knows how to stage an action scene, and like I said there's a couple of doozies in Death Sentence. An extended chase sequence in a multi-storey car park is just a terrific piece of technical film-making. I think from beginning to end it lasts about ten minutes, and it's pretty exhilarating stuff. And as for the final shootout, well yeah. You've seen it before. But what you've not seen before is Kevin Bacon shave his head except for a Mohican type thing and just be awesome killing people. And I think its the casting of Bacon that makes it more then sum of its parts, because there's some horrible dialogue here, one scene that Bacon has to deliver a monologue to his comatose son about family is pretty excruciating.

But Bacon commits to everything, from the syrupy family scenes to his batshit crazy scenes, that even if I was watching a clusterfuck, I was watching a clusterfuck with a great anchor.This isn't to mention the epically scene-stealing performance from John Goodman who must have five minutes of screen time and convincingly walks away with thing. He gets the best lines ( "Take that fucker to the holy land and start your own crusade") and has one scene where he sermons to Bacon about how if he has to kill Goodman's son, fine, just don't bother him about it. Goodman has probably never given a bad performance but he does a lot with a little here and creates a character that's a joy to watch in an otherwise humorless movie. To be honest a movie about that character would probably be a fuck ton more awesome. There's no getting away from Death Sentence's stupidity, but I think it's just fresh enough and well acted enough to be given a pass, and certainly not the passionate disdain it's reputation seems to be defined by.

My feeling is that a movie is always better if its smart, but at the same time its not impossible for a movie to work without smarts. If its exciting enough, or well executed enough or relentless enough then you can forgive an airhead every once in a while. And between the work of Goodman and Bacon, and Wan's technical assuredness, I feel that it delivers on what it promises, and is exactly the best it could be. That's still just an OK movie, but to ignore a film's strengths because it disgusts you is bad criticism, or rather a little unfair at least. An entertaining, dumb and disposable experience, but one of the better ones for its type of thing.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Battlestar Galactica Season One: "Bastille Day" - It's Allegory Time, Feel Lucky?

Some joke about putting people in cages. I'm tired.

Ah, the first glimpse of Battlestar Galactica, the sledgehammer subtle political allegory machine. To be honest that's probably a bit mean, in the latter years it got a little less all up in you face with this stuff, but there was always a near overwhelming level of earnestness to it, mostly tied to the character of Lee Adama. And while it's an admirable for a show, let alone a genre show, to tackle modern politics in such an upfront way, you can't help but feel you've slipped into a fancy dress version of a sixth form debate at times.

-This isn't the last of this, and I think they get better at it as the show goes along, but in all honesty I can't say 'Bastille Day' entirely worked for me. Perhaps I'm just too cynical to be preached at in such a steadfast way, but there you go.

- It wasn't a complete washout though, much of the stuff working at the side of the main plot I found enjoyable, but it's hard to commit to liking an episode when its main thrust doesn't really work for you.

- So, at the end of last week they found a water planet, yay, but it turns out everything is frozen to shit and it will require some merciless labor to extract it. So Adama decides that a ship full of prisoners is probably the best bet, but Lee Adama objects to this because these guys aren't slaves etc, so they decide to offer a labor equals freedom policy. Work the water planet, get free.

- Already I think Lee Adama is the most problematic character in the series. They sell him as both a loyal military man and unflinching idealist, someone who kills people because he's told to yet is supposed to be someone who is a firm believer in a liberal morality. Which of these guys he is tends to depend on what scene he's in, and its never very consistent from when he's a protagonist of an episode, such as here, or a supporting character such as '33'. One problem Lost always had is that characters would devolve back to their broader interpretations when they weren't the focus of an episode, but with Lee Adama that gear switch is even more extreme.

- So of course, the prisoners mobilized by a Tom Zarek, a terrorist/prisoner of conscience take everyone hostage. This leads to several political discussions between Lee and Zarek, a character I liked and actor Richard Hatch does well to lend something more to him then to be a walking talking point, on the nature of oppression, what it means to be free and if terrorism is justified. I don't mind shows doing this, but this isn't a delicate example of how intelligent political discussion should go, to say the least. I think the word is ham-fisted.

- The episode did something smart making recurring characters the hostages instead of regulars, because A) it made you think they could die. B) it fleshed out some of the recurring characters, from president's aide Billy, Pilot Dualla, and Cally the assistant mechanic. All of whom had just had exposition before this, so it was a nice touch to see them get some meatier scenes.

- But the psycho prisoner tries to rape Cally bit was a little obvious.

- Cool Baltar/Starbuck moments of the week, she gives the most unprofessional/hilarious miltary reprimand ever, and Baltar has his imaginary girlfriend tell him how to make a Cylon detector using a nuclear Bomb. Great stuff from Tricia Helfer in that scene, who is increasingly feeling like this show's secret weapon.

- If I hadn't seen the show before, I'd be rooting for Zarek to be a recurring character anyway, mostly because even if I didn't like this episode all that much, its a good performance and it feels like there's more to get at there.

- For some reason I didn't think Mary McDonnell was very good in this episode, she seemed a little detached and rushed her lines. I'm sure its just an anomaly, or that I have brain damage.

- The episode resolved itself rather weakly, with rapist prisoner causing a commotion that both allowed Lee to kill him and to point a gun at Zarek and get everyone to call it off. It was good to see him being true to his idealism, and I liked the fact that that he stood up to both Commander Adama and Roslin, but the character doesn't make any sense at the moment.

- Allegory is a difficult nut to crack, because you have to be true to what you want to say but also true to the reality of your universe, and I felt Moore just pushed things a little obviously toward things we would recognize, such as terrorism etc. I also had a problem with Lee essentially forcing the prisoners to take his deal, by all rights he should believe in their right to tell him no too.

- Some good stuff with Tigh, also peripheral to the main story, as his alcoholism begins to feature more drastically.

- Overall a flawed episode, that just seemed to be trying way too hard. It felt like the kind of standalone episode you get while show-runners are spinning their wheels. It's a necessary evil, particularly at the start of a show, when you've got characters to introduce and worlds to establish, but in hindsight they always feel the weakest. What you gonna do.

Rating: 5/10

REVIEW: Insidious

It's not the house that's haunted. Its your son. BRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOAW.

It's funny how time changes things isn't it. As far as I'm concerned, Halloween and Saw are guilty of the same crime. Both were starkly original films that introduced a fresh new take on the horror genre that people instantly responded to. Both too, spawned legions of imitators that came thick and fast and represented the worst in opportunistic and brain-dead film-making. No-one shot the messenger with Halloween, its still revered as a masterpiece to this day. Saw meanwhile, is beginning to take some shit for being the birth-mother to torture porn, that critically reviled sub-genre that is just about going away. But I'll have to stand up for Saw, in spite of its 800 sequels, because its a taut, surprising puzzle-box of a movie, much more interested in taking its audience on a jounrey than just enjoying cutting limbs of people. A large part of that was down to James Wan's sense of pacing, which was key to making that film work.

But his career hasn't really gone to plan since, I was about the only guy on the face of the earth to like Death Sentence, Dead Silence was pretty embarrassing and now comes Insidious, which is both a great showcase for Wan's ability to put together a smooth, effective scare machine and also his stagnation into genre predictability. For Insidious probably thinks itself a subversion of the haunted house genre, but in a post Paranormal Activity world, Wan's technical shazam isn't quite enough to make you forget the genericism that's almost in the films bones. It doesn't have an original thought in its head, most notable when Wan resorts to the last reel twist ending thing he does every time, each with diminishing results. Having said that, this film did some good work in casting Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, both of whom do their best to give this shit a centre. Wilson in particular does well with the static dialogue, and I guess Wan stages a quite effective final showdown, even if he owes George Lucas royalties for putting Darth Maul in his movie.

The haunted house film, I think more then any other sub-genre of horror, does its best work when everything is grounded, when everything feels real. And perhaps because Wan can't resist shooting for the fences and making the thing into a carnival, it can never be truly frightening, only make you jump when something comes out from around the corner. But you can brush it off your shoulder almost the minute you leave, and the mark of a great, terrifying horror film is the effect it has on you after you leave, if it gets under your skin or not. And to be honest this film just doesn't. It has its attributes, and with another decent script Wan could make another great horror film, but this just simply isn't it.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

REVIEW: Cedar Rapids

The Insurance Man would be a great name for a scooby-doo villain.

I think if Miguel Arteta's previous film, the underrated and under-seen 'Youth In Revolt', had come out say four years before it did, it might have been the teen film of choice for the last decade. Instead it arrived in the midst of a maelstrom of a Michael Cera backlash, and at a time when the 'sensitive/geeky boy wins hot girl who may as well be a trophy' well had been run dry. It came at a time when we were fucking sick of that subject matter, so it didn't matter that it was probably the best of them. I liked it mostly because it acknowledged how fucked up the whole 'dream girl' thing is, whereas many films that aspired to the same quality still bought into the adolescent fantasy unawares (cough Scott Pilgrim, cough).

Arteta seemed to handle the smart, weird humor well in that film, so I was actually looking forward to his follow-up, even if the trailers made it look like a pretty tired Apatow-esque comedy about men being children. Again. But I was pleased to find the film a little lighter, a little smarter and certainly sadder then I expected. Yes it is about insurance salesman acting crazy at a company retreat, but there's also a real sense they do what they do because they feel trapped by their lives, and thus the shenanigans that goes down has a more poignant quality then these kinds of films tend to have. It also put together a strong cast, full of interesting choices and people who don't work nearly enough. Ed Helms and John C Reilly are the known quantities here, and both deliver very strong performances. Helms particularly, showing that if there's any justice he'll be around for a while. Then there's the likes of Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr. Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith and Alia Shawkat, all of whom would be seen on lists detailing actors that don't work nearly enough. I particularly enjoyed Heche here. She's a polarizing actress, perhaps because she seems to be the teeniest bit crazy in real life, but she's the heart of the movie.

It's not perfect, a lot of what you get here you've seen before in various ' one crazy night' type films, but like I said, what made it work was that it seemed to have a genuine interest in its characters and where they came from, rather then just viewing them as objects of ridicule. The best comedies seem to do this, they don't have a heart like this one necessarily, but they have to be interested, invested. Anyway this is a movie I came out liking a lot more then I expected, it's funny, low-key well acted comedy, and the kind that's in way too short a supply. If nothing else, it's more evidence as to Sigourney Weaver missing her calling as a comedian.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The X Files Season One: "Deep Throat" - Unidentified Flying Objects

I'll put this in my field report!

I'm glad I'm watching this weekly instead of on marathon, because The X Files is such a bleak show at its core, where the message reiterated is that the house always wins and it crushes your face for good measure. It's a show about questions that have answers always an inch out of reach, and while it's still rough around the edges at the moment, only two episodes in I can feel the atmosphere growing on me already, even if there's yet to be an episode that bowls me over. I can feel it coming though, any moment now.

- So our plot this week involves a US military pilot with a name way too difficult to spell, having a psychotic break, and upon the military police's arrival to fuck him up, they find him cowering in the corner, covered in sores looking pretty crazy. Mulder thinks that the pilot is part of a secret program to blend UFO technology with regular military aircraft. Because of course he does.

- David Duchovny's performance in The X Files is bad, but it can be kind of awesome if you let. I loved the scene where the woman whose husband got nabbed by the military was like 'how will I support my family', Duchovny made a sound equivalent to 'ergh'. He stopped just short of saying that's why they're called your problems. He doesn't seem to be listening to anyone who's not Gillian Anderson, too awesome is he to look guest stars in the eye.

- Someone who I assume to be a recurring character was introduced this week, a fairly generic government type called Deep Throat. See what they did there. Yeah. Chris Carter nailed that one. He's fairly superfluous to the episode, showing up almost as an afterthought at the beginning and the end. Meh on that guy.

- I liked the concept at the centre of this episode, but I think they were kind of vague with it. Deliberately of course, but sci-fi is smarter with specificity and particularly because this was kind of a grounded idea, military accessorizing their planes with some alien hubcaps, but it was treated with the same kind of mysterious reverence as last week's aliens, and I;m not sure that was a good idea.

- The procedural aspects of the show haven't quite found their footing just yet, while I think the characterization is fine, the plots seem to peter out too early, Carter definitely telegraphs the resolution of the mystery half way through the episode if not before. He doesn't seem all that onvested in making that aspect of the show rewarding. Although it could just be the lottery of the stand-alone show, some weeks are strong, others less so. The plotting hasn't been the show's forte yet though.

- Seth Green! Or as he will be forever known Oz from Buffy, playing the most stereotypical stoner teenager ever. Like totally rad dude.

- The wife of the military pilot is perhaps the most plot device a human being can possibly be.

- The X-Files does well not to portray small-towners as hicks, most of them seem to be onto the governments tricks and seem to react to situations in a non-retarded manor. A rare feat for a procedural show.

- The sci-fi horror of the week was actually quite clever. Telling us that the aircraft were so advanced it was beyong human capacity to pilot them, so prolonged cockpit time left you with your brain fried. Or as Mulder says ' How much human cost is necessary to build a better machine?'

- There should be a drinking game, in which you drink every time Scully mentions her field report.

- Very dark ending. Mulder lays eyes on the freaky planes, then is abducted by the military and has his brain wiped, in a very bleak scene. Isn't he supposed to be our badass hero? So the way it pans out, the audience gets the information, but Scully and Mulder basically get beat down by the conspirators. That's like a cop show having the criminals win every week.

- Gillian Anderson is also growing on me, gets a chance to be a little less square in this one. Some supporting cast would be nice, but I guess this photogenic, charmingly wooden twosome will do for now.

- Again solid, but not quite great. Perhaps the like of a compelling villain as of yet is the problem. The dark turn in the latter half of the episode means I got more out of it, and it took further steps to setting up a master plot, or at least a master arc. The deep throat guy is a very generic, easy way to do that though. Still, getting better and shaking off the rustiness as it goes.

Rating: 6/10