Movie review entries
August 22, 2007
- The Bourne Ultimatum
The funny thing about the Bourne films is how hyped they are for such a forgettable franchise. (That, by the way, is the only funny thing.)
Reviews across the board are giving the new one, The Bourne Ultimatum, 4 out of 5 plus. And okay, it’s fairly gripping with some cool action set-pieces, but there’s very little more to it. I suppose the reason the series is so critically acclaimed is that is it’s not pretentious or flashy. It has the memory-loss gimmick and a smattering of murky intrigue but apart from that it’s balls-to-the-wall action. No hi-tech gadgetry, no glamorous locations, no witty repartee, no suave goodie, no wacky baddie.
Matt Damon acquits himself well as the unassuming killing machine and his antics provide all the entertainment. Maybe it’s because I’m more of a comedy fan but I’m finding it hard to remember a more humourless film. The only times I laughed were a part of a “Ha! Awesome” reaction to something brilliant Jason Bourne did. This happened frequently, happily, but in between you just had endless, frenetically-shot car chases, motorcycle chases, rooftop chases (once you’ve seen one Tangier window smashed by Bourne jumping through it, you’ve seen ‘em all) and fist fights.
When Bourne first appeared it was understated and worthy, which was probably refreshing for some – especially compared to the later Brosnan Bond films. Maybe Casino Royale has made me look on the Bourne in a new light – it offered what The Bourne Ultimatum does and so much more. Bourne kills a man in a toilet with his bare hands. We get that in Casino Royale along with a more intricate plot, better characters and even a bit of humour.
And why cast Albert Finney as a senior CIA type when you had Brian Cox in the last one and his character, a senior CIA type, shot himself? I got a bit confused.
Just me then.
July 12, 2007
- Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
Thanks to my contacts in the film industry, I wangled a ticket to a preview of the new Harry Potter film, due for general release today.
The latest instalment of Middle America’s most burnable series of children’s novels to be filmed is the highly anticipated Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix.
It pains me to report that the effort is yet another in a long line of sequel-based turkeys the poor movie-going public has had to endure this summer (cf. Pirates 3, Spiderman 3, Shrek 3).
The film follows young Potter, a new graduate of Hogwarts, attempting to make a life for himself in the Real World. Unfortunately for him, there is little demand for wizardry amongst the muggles and he finds himself working in Burger King.
The film follows the usual slacker film cliches: Harry and Ron (who, thank to some very implausible reasoning, ends up working at the very same branch as Harry) devise various gross tricks to play on their mean boss Mort Voldeburg, they dream of getting out of the dump, and halfway in Harry cops off with the new hottie in the scene that famously had to be shot 30 times at that rascal Daniel Radcliffe’s request.
Eventually, a pheonix turns up at the restaurant and orders a Rodeo Burger, an obsolete menu item involving onion rings and BBQ sauce. Rather than tell the ashy bird to pick again, pal, Harry decides to embark on a quest in order to deliver exceptional customer service.
No matter how few people are going to see the film as a result of this review, I could not possibly spoil the ending for you. But overall the film is pitiful. There really is no excuse for the blatant product placement, the corporate endorsement of the reviled McJob, the laziness of the script, and the rampant anti-semitism. Wait for the DVD.
May 21, 2006
Don't you just hate it when you come up with a great idea for a film, only to find that someone's beaten you to it? It happened to me in February when I decided what film audiences needed was a mystery about a successful man whose life falls apart when someone who he wronged as a child starts taking revenge. Then I saw Hidden, and needless to say, for fear of being unoriginal I didn't take my idea any further.
A couple of months later, I decided I would write a contemporary film noir, and avoid parody by playing it completely straight, while at the same time getting laughs out of the witty dialogue. As if on cue, the film industry churns out exactly that, only – as far as I could see, given that it's set at an American highschool – better.
I was gutted, but naturally, as a fan of film noir, excited by this news, which is why I went to see Brick (for it is It) when it came out last weekend. The film's about Brendan (played by the kid out of Third Rock From The Sun) – the highschool loner who becomes an amateur private eye when his ex–girlfriend calls him in distress. His investigations are helped and hindered by femmes fatales, a nerdy informer, obnoxious goons and a drug dealer who lives with his mum; they take him to the highest echelons of his small Californian town's narcotics industry, and it all gets rather violent.
It's very daring to make a film like this, which transplants a genre defined by the 1930s and 40s into a modern setting so I give kudos to director Rian Johnson – grudgingly, as I'd have liked to take the glory for the feat myself some day. And for the most part it works. It's very entertaining. The dialogue is deliciously hardboiled and barely ever feels anachronistic. Brendan is very cool – the way he calmly puts his specs in their case whenever he senses a fistfight brewing, and his inspired method of dispatching a knifeman on his tail.
Two criticisms I've heard of it are the way the characters mumble so much and that the genre–typical plot is a bit obvious. I think these actually cancel each other out. I don't know what it is about the sound quality but I kept missing what they said. But this meant that it kept the plot complicated; if I could hear every line, maybe I wouldn't have had so many unanswered questions at the end.
The film is awesome but because they had to keep the whole noir atmosphere going some of it is a bit contrived. The good news is this lack of perfection means I haven't lost hope for my noir project.
May 04, 2006
- The Squid and the Whale
This is the second film Noah Baumbach has written about marine biology, but unlike The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the role of the titular characters is small and merely symbolic. Dumb And Dumber's Jeff Daniels is surprisingly brilliant as a pompous academic, Bernard, whose writing career is in freefall, just as his wife Joan's is in the ascendant. This state of affairs, along with her affair, lead to an acrimonious divorce. Their sons, Walt and Frank, are stuck in the middle of it all and it is their plight on which the film focuses.
It is essentially a drama but it is very, very funny thanks to some great characterisation and performances. The humour is a lot like Life Aquatic, but the film is less surreal/quirky, so is probably more accessible. A highlight of this is Frank's bizarre erotic fixation with a magazine clipping of some indeterminate flesh. More realistic is the sub–plot of Walt's coming of age; his mishaps involving the opposite sex are spot–on. Unfortunately, my parents are happily married, so I can't comment on the accuracy of Baumbach's portrayal of divorce.
In addition to all that excellence, the fit Anna Paquin, of Rogue–out–of–X-Men fame, is in this as the object of both Bernard's and Walt's affections.
As it's an indie film and it's already been out for three weeks, chances are it's not on anywhere. But if you get the chance, go.
January 22, 2006
- A Cock And Bull Story
On Friday night, I saw A Cock And Bull Story, the new comedy from Michael Winterbottom (who directs) and Steve Coogan (who stars), reunited at last after first bringing us the excellent 24 Hour Party People. To add an element of danger to the night's entertainment, we – myself and Aidan – didn't know whether we would be seeing said film, or Jarhead.
On the subject of one of the subjects of my last blog entry, I'll say my piece on Richard "that atheist dude" Dawkins's programme, The Root Of All Evil? which was on Channel 4 on Monday. It was very interesting. Dick's most important points were that religion is often an obstacle to scientific progress and we should question authority which is based on spurious but traditional teachings; and that being religious isn't the same as being moral.
But the big issue that many churchies have already taken up with him is the way he implies religion is the cause of wars, when in fact it was secular regimes in Nazi Germany and Stalin's USSR that caused by far the most murder in the twentieth century, and that the Israel-Palestine and Northern Ireland conflicts are more about national/ethnic identity than theological differences. The God-botherers do have a point; Dawkins's militant atheism is a bit extreme – fundamentalist, even – but we can't throw the aborted foetus out with the bathwater.
The evil thing about religious fundamentalism is its ideological nature. It's the way Al-Qaeda and (to a slightly lesser extent) Christian evangelicals want everyone to think like them that causes the bloody conflict that gives religion the bad name Dawkins wants to demonstrate. I didn't agree with everything he said, but I thought it was a good thing that he was so fervent in his belief that anything that isn't scientifically proven is inherently evil. It was quite amusing. I feel like asking Dawkins if he thinks prison programmes which convert convicts to Christianity - and fully reform them - are evil. I imagine his response would be like George's in that episode of Seinfeld in which they pitch their show about nothing:
NBC President: So what's the show about?
George: What did you do today?
NBC President: Got up, came to work.
George: That's what the show's about.
Jerry: Maybe something funny happens on your way to work.
George: No! Nothing happens!
This in turn reminds me of Larry David's more recent creation Curb Your Enthusiasm, the first series of which I've been watching on DVD this week. I find it quite hit and miss. When it's good it's brilliant, but when it's not, I can't help wishing I was watching Seinfeld instead (the anti-Semites at the Paramount Comedy Channel having taken away its taxpayer-friendly primetime slot last month, the bastards).
But anyway, religion: if only everyone read J.S. Mill's On Liberty instead of their silly holy books, the world would be a much better place. Just ignore his ideas about sex, the crazy celibate.
As I was saying, it was either going to be ACABS or Jarhead. The former was only released that day, so we thought it might be sold out, and thanks to the Metro system, it was looking like we would miss the Tyneside's 8.30 kick-off. So the Odeon screening of Jarhead at 9.15 was our contingency plan. As it turned out we got in, and the auditorium wasn't very full at all. Strange, as Cock… (as I'm now going to abbreviate it to, mainly because it's funnier than the aforementioned bland acronym) had been getting loads of media coverage and pretty good reviews. And, judging by the clientele of Popolo, the trendy bar nearby in which we imbibed following the film, Newcastle is full of people who you'd expect to appreciate a night of post-modern cinema at the local arthouse, be they twattish posers or genuine film students. Incidentally, one of the best characters in the film wouldn't have looked out of place at Popolo. Jenny is a runner on the set of the Tristram Shandy film, who has blatantly just graduated from Warwick with a first in Film & Lit, really wants to be a film-maker and keeps going on about obscure French New Wave, to the bemusement of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. It's funny cos it's true.
But I'm getting ahead of myself; the film hasn't even started yet. It's a bit of a coincidence, actually. You see, Cock… is based on The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, a book described by Steve Coogan (in the film) as "post-modern before there was anything modern to be post about". It was also regarded as an unfilmable novel. Now, I haven't read the book, so I probably didn't appreciate the film as much as I would've, but Winterbottom makes much of its post-modern/unfilmable aspects and, in an homage to Sterne's rambling book, basically rambles with a fictionalised making-of film which intersperses the action of the book. Confused? I am at the moment, but it works on screen, amazingly. Now, I won't tell a lie – I'm digressing deliberately. As my stock impression of Ross Noble goes: "I'm clearly going off on a tangent!" This review is a bit of a cheeky homage to the film's cheeky pissing about with the structure, as you may have noticed. I'm guessing I'm not making a very good job – probably 2 stars.
Incidentally, I got my three-month assessment at work earlier in the day and, happily, my boss had nothing but good things to say about me on the form. However, I was disappointed by the lack of "Dan doesn’t always play by the rules – you might say he's a bit of a maverick – but by gum, does he get the job done."
And on the subject of unfilmable novels, the concept always seems to get bandied about when such novels are actually adapted. What's left then? Here's a challenge: film One Hundred Years Of Solitude. Mind, at the moment it feels like an unfinishable novel.
While Cock… is first and foremost a comedy and as such, is judged by the amount of laughs it gets (which is lower than you might reasonably expect), the making-of part is a stroke of genius on the level that Hamas regards Sharon's latest mishap. At first you think that it's an actual documentary until you realise Jeremy Northam is playing the director and it's basically a subtle Tapesque satire on the British film industry – and on a very self-deprecating Steve Coogan's ego/libido. For all the ongoing bickering between Coogan and Brydon about who the star of the film is, Brydon ultimately steals the show with his impressions of Coogan (i.e. Partridge) and Al Pacino. Other hilarious moments include Coogan's attempt at method acting when he puts a hot chestnut down his pants. You wonder if that was the only thing in the film that was real.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here – the film hasn't even started yet. Ah, fuck it: "So, is it any good?" I hear you asking after all this. Yeah. It is.
January 14, 2006
- Brokeback Mountain
Look, I'm not gay or owt – I only went cos my mum was going and bought my ticket, yeah? But I was pleasantly surprised. The film is a weepy gay love story, so it's basically cornered the queer and (the more open to see a bit of man-on-man action) chick-flick markets, but it's not exactly screaming at my demographic to go and see it. It has, however, been critically-acclaimed, so as a film buff, I was intrigued. But certainly not in that way, honest!
It was good. I had been led to believe that it was set in the Wild West, 1880s-era, but it actually starts in 1963, though Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhall) are technically cowboys so I can't really complain. Still, a shoot-out would've been nice. I'm not fussed about the lack of chaps, though, honest!
Story is, basically: two farm hands herd sheep in the Rockies (by the eponymous mountain, to be precise) over a long summer in 1963, and end up getting it on. They then go their separate ways, get married, have families, but secretly have the odd (or, queer, if you will) rendez-vouses (or is it rendez-voux?) over the next decade or so, and it all gets a bit weepy and relationshippy and I kinda switched off towards the end because of that. Very well done though: superb performances from the no-doubt-in-real-life-very-red-blooded leads, majestic scenery (excellent for those moments when you don't really know where to look), and genuinely moving. Though not down there, honest!
I've got to hand it to director Ang Lee and his sense of humour. Brokeback's no Generation-Y Blazing Saddles or anything, but as tragic as the film is, it still manages to cock a big snook at the homoeroticism of the traditional Hollywood western. He also gives any South Park fans watching a literally delicious reference to Cartman's classic line about independent cinema by having young Heath eating pie - yes! I did almost cream myself because of that scene (and it had nothing to do with the rest of the film, honest!). And he rewards the breeders among us with the balls to go with Anne Hathaway (of tweenie-flick The Princess Diaries fame) and a shot of her tits – double yes!
October 03, 2005
- The Aristocrats
A filmmaker called Paul Provenza goes into a producer's office to pitch his film. The producer says, "Sit down, Paul – what have you got? It's not a family film, is it?"
As Paul sits down he replies, "no, not really."
"Okay then," says the producer, "what's it about?"
"Right," says Paul. "We basically interview a whole bunch of comedians – Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, two-thirds of Spinal Tap, George Costanza, and dozens more with whom the average British moviegoer won't be remotely familiar. We interview them about a joke – a secret in-joke of US comedians called The Aristocrats. Are you aware of this joke?"
"I'm not. Please explain."
"Well, the joke is almost completely improvised – the basic structure of it much resembles this conversation we're having right now. It's essentially an excuse for comedians to be as disgusting as possible and, when performed well, can be hilarious and something of an artform. References to incest, bestiality and bodily functions are not only common, they're practically obligatory."
"So it's a comedy?"
"Well, ostensibly, but because we talk about the joke's origins and culture a lot, and when the comedians actually get around to telling their own versions, they're sometimes not that good, there's not as many laughs as you might expect."
"But it's worth going to see, right?"
"Oh yes. If it's on at your local arthouse cinema, or if you wait 'til it comes to the student cinema, there's worse ways to kill an hour and a half. Plus, when the patrons leave the theater, they'll be devising their own joke, or imagining how awesome the joke would be if people like Ross Noble got their hands on it."
"Fascinating. And what do you call this film?"
With a theatrical flourish, Paul says: "The Aristocrats!"