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Ted

I’m not a Seth MacFarlane fan. Not Family Guy, not American Dad! and especially not The Cleveland Show. Maybe I just don’t get his humour. He seems like a nice enough guy from interviews I’ve seen and I certainly bear no ill will towards him, but I don’t find him particularly funny. That said, my curiosity got the better of me this afternoon. I went to the cinema to catch The Dark Knight Rises for a second time, but had a last-minute change of heart and plumped for Ted instead. The trailers hadn’t done a whole lot for me, but I like Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, and when I saw the names Giovanni Ribisi and Joel McHale pop up during the opening credits, I was convinced that I’d made a good decision. I’m still not sure what I felt about the film.

Here’s the thing; it is funny, in parts. It’s also painfully unoriginal in parts and even desperate in others. It follows a very similar theme to 90% of R-rated comedies released at the moment: boy loves girl, boy loves best friend, girl hates best friend. The only real difference is that the best friend is a talking teddy bear, and that the girl doesn’t really hate him, she’s just sick of the best friend making life harder (think Ed in Shaun of the Dead). It takes the cult hero cameos of I Love You, Man, the straight-faced-yet-inappropriate voiceover of Anchorman and the often-bizarre pop-culture references of MacFarlane’s other work and melds them together with what I’ve already highlighted as a derivative screenplay to result in an enjoyable but extremely predictable 100 minute or so.

The ending of the film is perhaps its worst moment. One of those where you say to yourself “Don’t do that, don’t do that, don’t do… Oh. They did it. That sucks.” Despite this, there are a lot of very funny moments. Giovanni Ribisi steals every scene he is in and when Marky Mark is allowed to be funny, he does a great job of it, just like he did in Date Night. Unfortunately, Wahlberg is also one of the problems. I don’t buy him, at 41, as a 35-year-old, and I certainly don’t buy him and 28-year-old Mila Kunis as a realistic couple at similar moments in their lives.

I don’t have a lot more to say about Ted, but I think if you’re a fan of MacFarlane’s work, you’ll probably love it. If not, it depends how much unoriginality you can tolerate.

***
P.S. Be prepared to be annoyed at everything who guffaws heartily in a “I get that joke because I know what drugs are” way at every weed joke in the movie. And there are a lot.

The AMAZING Spider-Man

06/07/2012 2 comments

Think back to 2007. Remember Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3? A movie that I will argue, until my grave, was worse than The Phantom Menace. A movie that had more villains than The Avengers had heroes. A movie that grossed $890m worldwide. It was very successful, commercially speaking, and was going to lead to another, equally imaginatively-titled, sequel. But then it didn’t. Raimi didn’t want to do it and went on to make Drag Me To Hell instead, and the wheels fell off. Fine, we had a good run. Two great superhero movies and one that we can try to forget, it’s not all bad. But Sony wasn’t done. Five years after Spider-Man 3, the franchise has been rebooted as The Amazing Spider-Man, with Andrew Garfield as the eponymous hero and Emma Stone as the not-as-well-known-as-MJ love interest Gwen Stacy, daughter of Captain George Stacy of the NYPD. Sony also took the opportunity to give headline writers a field day by handing the directorial reins to the aptly-named Marc Webb, of (500) Days of Summer fame.

The problem with Amazing – as I shall refer to it hereafter – is that as a reboot it has to also be an origin story. We’re starting again here. Forget Tobey Maguire. Forget Kirsten Dunst. Forget both Green Goblins, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, Venom, J Jonah Jameson and the rest. Unfortunately the changes are few and far between. Gwen Stacy might as well be Mary-Jane Watson, Peter’s relationship with Aunt May and Uncle Ben is virtually identical, and the sequences of Peter struggling with and finally overcoming his new-found powers might have been copied and pasted from Raimi’s 2001 effort. What it is is much funnier. Andrew Garfield is what some might call “born to play Peter Parker”. I won’t stoop to this level as I don’t subscribe to the philosophical doctrine of fatalism, but I will say that he is as close to perfect in this role as I can imagine. Despite being closer in age to 30 than 17, he has a boyish charm that convinces even if his physicality doesn’t. Equally, Emma Stone is fantastic as Gwen, reminding us of her performances in Superbad and Easy A as the coquettish schoolgirl. Together they are a joy to watch. The supporting cast is just as accomplished. Martin Sheen does his best Jed Bartlett impression as Uncle Ben and Rhys Ifans, somewhat surprisingly, manages to underplay Dr. Curt Connors to a very pleasing degree, making him feel like a real character as opposed to the caricatures that Ifans normally vomits onto the screen

The plot is essentially Spider-Man. Peter is bullied, gets bitten by a spider on a (sort of) school trip, turns into a hero, is accidentally complicit in the death of his uncle and finally realises, without saying it, that with great power comes great responsibility. All of this comes just in time for a leading scientist to become a supervillain and threaten to destroy New York. His girlfriend gets mixed up in it, the loved one of a main character is killed and Peter becomes a true hero. It is the same movie, but it is done very well.

The main disappointment of Amazing is that Webb does not stamp his mark on the movie. (500) Days was full of interesting visual touches and directorial flair that added just a pinch of something extra to its narrative, but Amazing does away with this almost entirely. I get it though. (500) Days was that kind of movie. It allowed for a different style, whereas Amazing is a superhero movie. We know what we want from a superhero movie. And in Amazing, we get it. The only problem is that we got it eleven years ago as well, when Sam Raimi made the same movie.

****

Categories: Films, Review

The Other Guys and Knight and Day. Two average movies.

I’m trying to catch up with what’s gone on this year, and I decided to start with two of the more surprisingly positively refused movies. Adam McKay’s The Other Guys, starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, and the Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz juggernaut Knight and Day, directed by James Mangold.

There are a lot of similarities between the two films. They are both essentially buddy cop comedies with one extremely annoying element, they both end incredibly predictably and they are both fairly decent.

First, the annoying elements. Will Ferrell’s shouty doofus shtick is more than past its best. While it may have been funny back in the Anchorman and Elf days, its now worn beyond thin. However, Marky Mark more than makes up for it with a pitch-perfect straight man role, frustrated at the incompetence of his partner and angry at the demotions that it all leads to.

In Knight and Day, the smug, self-congratulating way in which Cruise and Diaz portray their relationship is painful. It’s like they’re saying “Hey, we don’t even need to pretend that these are characters. Let’s just let everyone see how good looking we are. That’ll do it.”

As I said, they aren’t bad movies, but they are both let down by some really crucial errors.

Peter Bradshaw gave The Other Guys five stars in The Guardian, and listed it among his top films of the year, and fair enough, everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, it isn’t a five star movies. Even looking at movies with a degree of relativity and comparing it to movies of the same genre, if this is a five star movie, the likes of I Love You, Man and Superbad need a new set of ratings to be introduced to allow their superiority to be properly displayed.

These aren’t bad films but there are a lot of better things out there. Worth a watch, but don’t buy them.

The American – A Review

Anton Corbijn’s The America is a bizarre beast. Part clichéd melodrama, part existential-crisis thriller and part genre-throwback, the film never really settles despite creating a haunting, romantic atmosphere.

Corbijn, in conspiracy with cinematographer Martin Ruhe, shoots the village of Castel del Monte impeccably, giving every scene its own unique feel. While this may contribute to the overall lack of cohesion in the film, it gives the viewer something spectacular to look at, and while the film may lack in certain areas, there is always something beautiful to look at, whether it be one of the many establishing shots of the town, the paradiso of a riverside clearing or the scarlet-lit interior of prostitute Clara’s bedroom.

The plot centres on George Clooney’s eponymous Jack, an assassin sent to rural Italy to await his next assignment. Paranoid and mistrusting, he feels uneasy in this unknown environment and resorts to keeping company with a priest hiding a secret and a hooker who quickly falls in love with Jack.

Clara could be seen as the centre of the film. As one of the two characters that Jack connects with, she plays a key role in bringing him to resolution, giving him a purpose and a reason to leave what he does behind. Her honourable intentions make her a rare figure in The American; where most characters have dark motives for their actions, Clara wants to leave Castel del Monte and to start her life again, with Jack.

While the film is stunning to observe, it is sadly lacking in the storytelling department. To condense a 400-page novel into 105 minutes of film takes skill, and between Corbijn and screenwriter Rowan Joffe, it falls despairingly short. The relationship between Clara and Jack feels forced and rushed, with no time given to developing them from hooker and client to prospective life-partners, and Paolo Bonacelli’s Father Benedetto is given no closure, a character left suspended while the film progresses to its climax.

Perhaps these are intentional, highlighting the spontaneity of life and the lack of endings that many characters in our lives get, but it does not feel right to leave a character as important as Benedetto behind, or to allow Jack to change his life in such a short period of time.

For a film that purports to be so intelligent, The American is incredibly clichéd. We have seen basic symbolism – look out for the butterflies – so many times that it now feels hackneyed and stale; dull rather than deep. The ending is telegraphed as soon as the final act begins, leaving the viewer waiting for what they know is going to happen. While it doesn’t ruin the film, it leaves a bitter aftertaste.

Clooney once again gives a fantastic performance. Quiet and isolated, but powerfully dangerous, he comes across as the bastard child of an odd three-way between Jason Bourne, Harry Caul and Clooney’s own Ryan Bingham from Up In The Air. Clooney no longer gives outstanding performances, as each matches the great heights of the last, but this is among the best he has ever done. At 49, he is finally cementing his place as not just the biggest movie star on the planet, but one of its very best actors.

Although the film fails to deliver a truly convincing emotional climax, as a piece of visual art it is second to none. Clooney’s performance makes it stand out, but Joffe’s screenplay is lack in several key areas. The film has received some harsh criticism, but this can be put down to the disastrous mismarketing of this as an “action-thriller”; the action if minimal and the slow pace renders this film anything but thrilling. A rushed climax does damage The American, as the contemplative build-up deserves more, but ultimately it is a satisfactory watch. It won’t challenge intellectually, but it will entertain visually.

7/10

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 – A Review

I feel as if I should get this out of the way: before Friday I was not much of  a Potter fan. I had read books 1-6 and seen films 1-3, as well as half of the last movie a few weeks ago. I had some fondness for the series as it was a part of my childhood, but ultimately, I didn’t care any more. I went along on Friday morning because I thought I should probably see this. And I’m glad I did.

What is most apparent about this latest installment is that it is not a movie for kids. Looking back on the old films, they very much are. As good as they are, they are for children. The Death Hallows is dark, it’s violent and it’s very grown up. And so are the actors – having not really seen them since they were about 14, in The Prisoner of Azkaban, it was a shock to suddenly realise that these are real people, and more importantly, they are very good actors. Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint are more than accomplished in roles that they have clearly grown comfortable with. Their performances seem effortless and cool. Whereas before, they seemed more concerned with remembering their lines than performing them convincingly, now they simply are Hermione, Harry and Ron.

The opening scenes of The Deathly Hallows tell us immediately that we aren’t in for an easy ride. We are privy to a Death Eaters meeting, complete with torture, murder and wand-breaking. The unfortunate recipient of which is Jason Isaacs’ (Hello!) Lucius Malfoy, father of the douchey Draco.

After this, we lose two of the most memorable characters from the series (who, I won’t reveal, but one is particularly heartbreaking), and the realisation that this is a dangerous, deadly world in which the characters exist.  There are clear parallels to the Nazis’ persecution of impure races and people; a real-life scenario that the makers have done well to mirror in this most fantastical of universes, as it adds vital emotional resonance and pathos to the story we are told.

As opposed to previous Potter stories, this is told far from the comfort of Hogwarts, as we follow our heroic triumvirate as they seek to destroy the horcruxes that hold the power to defeating, once and for all, Lord Voldemort, while avoiding the attention of bounty hunters, snakes disguised as friends, and general bad luck. The chemistry between the three leads is what keeps the story going; lesser performances from any of them would really damage the movie, as they really are the sole focus of the events we see.

It is important to note that this film only tells half a story, and the divide is chosen at an opportune moment – one that leaves the viewer wanting to see the rest of the story, while feeling satisfied with the story they have already been told.

Some critics have offered the opinion that there isn’t enough action on show, and that the majority of the film is boring. However, I would argue that the lack of action adds to the already-palpable tension, and only serves to make the impeccable moments of action all the more relieving and exciting.

The Deathly Hallows is, simply put, an excellent film. As someone who hasn’t followed the story for some five years, I picked up the story fairly comfortably and enjoyed what I was given. We have action, humour, romance, suspense, and the all important magic, and each element of the story is told as well as the next. If you haven’t watched a Potter film in years because they were too childish, this is the film you need to see. Compelling, dark and it ends on a cliffhanger. What more could you want?

9/10

RED – A Review

Robert Schwentke’s RED is an odd film. Some parts of the movie do a successful job of sending up the action genre, while some reinforce the genre’s ridiculousness without the merest hint of irony or humour. It starts off poorly with an awful joke about how the Bruce Willis’ character Frank Moses doesn’t realise that Christmas time is upon him. It gathered a few laughs in from the people around me, but I didn’t see how it was funny. Once again, it seems to be an example of telling an audience that they are watching a comedy, and they will laugh at anything.

The central relationship of Moses and Mary-Louise Parker’s Sarah is so ludicrous that I couldn’t get used to it. She is his contact at the pension offices and he likes her voice, so he tears up all his cheques so he can call back and speak to her. Based on this, they form a friendship and eventually a relationship, despite the fact that their relationship is given absolutely no time to evolve during the 111 minutes.

By far the stand-out performance in this film is John Malkovich doing his Malkovich thing as an LSD-fried former CIA operative. He portrays a naivety and childishness that reminded me of John Noble’s performance as Walter Bishop in Fringe. It’s pretty funny.

However, there are far too many flaws with the film. One character reveals early on that he has advanced liver cancer…I wonder what might happen to him? Another character is shown to have a young family who he loves but doesn’t spend enough time with…what’s going to happen there?

The soundtrack is also terrible. This is the second time in a week that I have been offended by a soundtrack, but this is even worse than Michael Giacchino’s Let Me In score. It mostly comprises of the bouncy, bass-driven “this is comedy” music, but with the odd reference thrown in, such as the plinky-plonky “this is a scene of domestication – remember American Beauty? That’s what this is supposed to sound like” moment, and an awful rising-strings, revealing of true feelings scene. It hurt.

The film isn’t awful, but it’s incredibly patchy. I counted perhaps three or four real laughs in the movie, all of which came from Malkovich. I wouldn’t recommend spending £7 to go and see it, but if can go on an Orange Wednesday, or wait for DVD, it’s not a terrible watch. If it was 20-25 minutes shorter, it would be a much better film.

**

Let Me In

Let Me In is an alternate adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel Lat Den Ratte Komma In. Alternate in that it isn’t Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of the same name. At least, that’s the party line. What it really is is a bad imitation of Alfredson’s awesome original. Where Alfredson’s movie was gripping, thrilling and moving, this is just dull. It seems as though Matt Reeves knew this and so instructed Michael Giacchino to write the most intrusive, blatant score possible. It feels like he is ramming his conductor’s baton down your throat. It is extremely painful to sit through.

You know how when you go to a party with lots of people you don’t know, there’s always one guy who is drunk and tries to tell you funny stories, but can’t get them quite right? This is as if Matt Reeves got hammered and started telling people about how great Lat Den Ratte Komma In is.  LikeLat Den Ratte Komma In, this is a genuinely heartbreaking movie, but for an entirely different reason. This is heartbreaking because you can tell that the people involved love what they are doing, and they think they are doing a good job. To be fair, they aren’t doing an awful job. The actors, particularly Chloe Moretz and Elias Koteas are great; the direction is perfectly competent, if not spectacular and the story is obviously good. It’s the little things that are wrong. For example, the film starts off with a scene that should come about halfway through, and for the simple reason that it is a relatively active set-piece. The vampire scenes contain some awful CGI and turn the character of Abby, formerly Eli, into a monster rather than a girl who is a vampire. Worst of all is the score though. It is truly dreadful. I can feel this turning into a rant, so I will sign off. All I will say is that if you are tempted to see this, don’t. Go and watch Lat Den Ratte Komma In, whether you’ve seen it already or not. It’s a much better telling of the story. This is bad.

**

 

Dry River Road (October 27th 2009)

Leo Whitlock, the main character of Rory Haines’ short Dry River Road, is clearly a very troubled man.

He is living out of his car, shaving in the bathroom at a highway petrol station, and lying to his estranged wife about his (un)employment status. The reason for this, we don’t know. He is a veteran of the Iraq war, this much we do know, but after that it all becomes a bit muddy.

Is he a violent man? His constant badgering of Akeem for a job at said petrol station is pushy enough that it borders on the “one more rejection and he might just lamp you” side of things, but his absolute horror at what later happens might equally suggest otherwise.

He certainly isn’t the smartest man around; stealing money from a dead man, smearing blood on himself and tucking the murder weapon into his jeans doesn’t suggest that all his bulbs are burning at their brightest, but maybe he is really just that desperate.

Perhaps Leo has been dishonourably discharged from the US Army. This could explain his apparent lack of self-discipline (and vice-versa). It would also go some way to explaining why he is having such a hard time finding a job.

A dishonourable discharge may even account for the lack of contact with his wife and son, and why his wife has no interest in entertaining him at all.

Of course, what it all comes down to is whether or not Leo could ever make anything of himself. There is absolutely nothing here to suggest that he is comfortable with meeting the standards that society expects of him.

The case in point: his attire. He has gone to Akeem to ask for a job, but has completely neglected to spruce himself up in any effort to impress his prospective employer.

His absolute lack of respect for Akeem is symptomatic of something altogether more sinister. While we aren’t told of Akeem’s heritage, it is safe to assume that he is of Middle Eastern origin, and the underlying menace of the interaction between the two comes from Leo’s instinct to play with a small American flag while talking to Akeem.

Leo may not consider himself a racist, but his actions in the scene convey a sense of racial tension that could explain everything about Leo and his character.

The thirteen minutes that we see here are the thirteen minutes that change the life of Leo. The lack of any sort of “crash bang wallop” force-feeding of dramatic impact is one of the film’s major strengths.

Through both the way it is shot – conventional, trendy handheld style – and the lack of dictatorial music, the film manages to achieve both a subtlety and a harrowing bleakness that takes it to a higher level, particularly impressive given it is a first time effort from Haines, as well as a first time effort for writer Sohrab Noshirvani.

***½

Hancock (July 9th 2009)

In amongst a spate of “serious” and “dark” superhero movies of late – The Dark Knight and Watchmen come to mind as primary examples – Hancock must have seemed like a breath of fresh air when the original trailers began showing; a comedy, not a spoof, about a pissed-off superhero who doesn’t care about the public he protects. However, after the initial 40 minutes of comedy antics and stunning set-pieces, the film takes a sharp left-turn that can only be described as inexplicable.

I’m sure that I’m not the only person who was enjoying the entertaining, if simple, plot of Jason Bateman’s PR guru Ray trying to turn Will Smith’s Travis-Bickle-with-superpowers into your friendly neighbourhood superhero. While it wasn’t groundbreaking, the premise certainly had 90 minutes of entertaining material in it, and would have kept the laughs coming, which, let’s face it, is the reason why people went to see this film.

The turn it takes for the final act – introducing another superhero, and thereby completing ruining the original premise of the film – could have worked if this other superhero was a villain, but unfortunately between the three of them, Vincent Ngo, Vince Gilligan, and Peter Berg could not decide whether Charlize Theron was a supervillain or a superhero, and left her to rot as a cutaway character during the final “battle”. Not that it was much of a battle – a few guys with guns against a man who has pretty much every power in the superhero book is only going to go one way.

As much as the conclusion of this film was a disappointment, the preceding minutes were full of promise. The story was somewhat illogical (why did Hancock bother to be a superhero if he cared as little as he clearly did?), but entertaining nonetheless. The opening set-piece, involving Hancock flying around with a car in his hand, and, later, a bank robbery that Hancock foils in the midst of a hail of gunfire, were both stunningly put together by a director who certainly knows how to shoot action sequences, even if his dedication to anything much more meaningful is less than lacklustre, as anyone who has seen The Kingdom will attest to, I’m sure.

As well as these triumphs of CGI, the interplay and chemistry between Bateman and Smith is almost perfect. These are two of the finest comic actors working today – throw Paul Rudd into the mix and this film would instantly boast the greatest comedy line-up of any recent film – and their interactions are certainly no let-down. Smith on his own delivers some excellent one-liners (“I’ll break my foot off in your ass, woman” to a gawping woman in a bar and “Okay. Well, you should sue McDonald’s, ’cause they fucked you up.” To an overweight naysayer are my personal favourites), but it is when the two of them come together that they really shine. There isn’t much point listing them for two reasons. One, there are too many to list. And two, it is all about reactions and timing, something which doesn’t easily translate to a written medium.

Not only does Smith handle the comedy well, he also does well with the serious stuff. Although it is somewhat ham-fistedly written, Smith’s ability to control and display emotion brings out the best in some fairly poor dialogue later on in the film, such as the not-quite-classic “I gotta wonder what a kind of a bastard I must have been, that nobody was there to claim me. I mean, I am not the most charming guy in the world, so I’ve been told, but… nobody?” We knew from his performances in Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness, and the equally film-of-two-halves I Am Legend that he was capable of busting some serious acting chops, but I always find it surprising to see the Fresh Prince breaking out the emotion.

Unfortunately, this film should not have been about emotion. Instead, it should have been about a pissed-off superhero being a pissed-off superhero and pissing off everyone else. If the script had stuck to its initial promise and delivered the redemption story that I, and I assume many others, was hoping for, this could have been a very good film. Instead it is a mediocre film, and will always be remembered, if at all, for how much of a letdown it was after the buzz that originally surrounded it. A massive disappointment, but still, somehow, a decent movie. Short enough to hold the attention of the youngest or oldest viewer, but long enough that you aren’t left wanting more (quite a feat at 88 minutes), this is worth a watch, but don’t get your hopes up too much.

6/10

The Uninvited (November 25th 2009)

The Uninvited is a remake of the Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters. It is, somewhat a tale of two sisters. It is also the story of a crazy bitch whose craziness is apparently enough to explain every single flaw in the film.

The crazy bitch in question is young Anna, played fairly ably by Emily Browning (of Lemony Snicket ‘fame’). Anna is in a mental institute following an attempted suicide after the ‘accidental’ death of her ill mother. At the start of the film she is released back to her family, including new step-mother Rachel Summers (Elizabeth Banks – another example of a more than competent actor lowering themselves to a very poor standard), father Steven (David Straitharn), and her sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel).

The plot centres on Anna’s suspicion that Rachel had something to do with the death of her mother, as Rachel was nurse to the mother at the time of her death. She manages to get Alex on the side of her theory, but Rachel manages to get in the way every time Anna tries to communicate this to her father, or to (brief) love interest Matthew.

Given that this film runs at a very short 83 minutes, you may be forgiven for thinking that something would have happened by around the 50 minute mark. Not so. There have been a few scenes of tension between Anna and Rachel, as well as a fairly standard “Dad, I know you won’t believe me, but your new girlfriend killed our mum” “Don’t be crazy. You need to learn to love your new mum, because I love her, and you should be happy that I’m happy” type scene, but nothing else of any note.

All the supposed drama occurs in the last few minutes, and given how straightforward the plot has been up until this point, it seems fairly academic to point out that there is a twist at the end. It isn’t a great twist. Or even a good one. To reveal it, while doing you the favour of not making you watch this atrocity, would still be slightly amiss. However, it is safe to say that this is not a new twist. In fact, imagine a cross between the twist in Shrooms and the twist in the remake of My Bloody Valentine, and you are pretty much there.

The Uninvited is directed by The Guard Brothers – Thomas and Charles – a British pair who have only existed in the medium of short film before this, and while it may be slightly harsh, it would make sense for them to stay away from feature film for a while longer. The immaturity in their direction – somehow succeeding in creating a horror film devoid of tension, dread or indeed horror only adds to the failings of the script, written by Craig Rosenberg, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard.

This is a terrible film. There is no disputing that fact. Like most films, this has a redeeming factor, in that the four main performances (Browning, Kebbel, Banks, Straitharn) were all more than competent. Good performances do not a good film make, however, and this has to go down as the worst film of 2009 to this point.

*