Archive for the 'Films' Category

13
Jul
08

Ludo – Wanted

From the director of Nightwatch and Daywatch, both confusing but visually spectacular urban Russian fantasies, comes a film about bullet bending master assassins duking it out among the glitzy skyscrapers of generic American metropolis 2B. We both sauntered down to the pictures to take a look.

One of the first rules when writing anything that you expect your viewers to care about is to not have your protaganist be an insufferable dick. Not even the charming and hitherto brilliant James MacAvoy can turn around this character, who opens as an irritating office drone with an anxiety disorder, riddled with apathy and an emo take on his existence, and closes as a heartless killer. On top of this the writer thought it would be a good idea to have MacAvoy repeatedly insult the audience to the extent that you actually just want to stick your fingers in his eye sockets and wiggle them around vigorously so his frontal lobe comes leaking out of his ears.

As Morgan Freeman explains, MacAvoy’s anxiety attacks turn out to be bullet-time inducing heart palpitations, a disorder that only belongs to a select few bloodlines. As Freeman continues to exposit with grave seriousness:”Your heart is beating over 400 times a minute, pumping extra adrenaline into your brain.” 400 times a minute!? At that rate I’m fairly sure your love muscle would simply explode forth from your ribcage, falling to the floor and vibrating loudly like a fat bloody dildo. Normally when Morgan Freeman says something I just accept it. It’s something about his voice, but not even his considerable pathos can force me to accept anything that happens in this film. Also, he swears. Morgan Freeman doesn’t swear. It’s an effect akin to the Pope dopping his robes and jiggling his wang around at Sunday Mass.

But it’s not really fair to try and take this film seriously, if you can get past some of the pretensions it has of being a critique of modern life then you might at least enjoy the action sequences, which are noisy and almost painfully ludicrous. Beyond these there’s always Angelina Jolie, who is by far the best part of the entire experience, playing the cool and determined badass so well it’s hard to imagine anyone bettering her. Aside from this, the experience plays out as a confused mashup of the Matrix and Fight Club, but without the character or imagination of either.

Ludo out.

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05
Jun
08

Man vs Horse – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Shockingly both I and Dante saw this in at the same time, in the same country, in the same building no less, so we bring you a mutual opinion, man and horse working in tandem, as it was always meant to be.

We had our insults carefully prepared. We had pitfalls carefully mapped out, places we knew that the film would fail. It was going to be another poor remake of a franchise that should have just stayed dead, another Rocky, another Rambo. Ford was past it, Spielberg was past it. Case closed.

Sometimes it feels good to be wrong.

Cate Blanchett hams it up perfectly and her gleaming ethereal features befit the role of stoic Russian leader of psychic weapons division. Her penchant for unnecessary swordplay and her ability to summon entire platoons of Russian mooks at any time, even in the depths of an unmapped jungle, proves both useful and entertaining. I actually lost track during the movie of what it was she had done wrong beyond dressing in a restrictive Russian uniform and sporting a curt and angry haircut, but whatever, she’s bad, Indie’s good. We’re all on the same page.

As for Harrison Ford – there were worries, though it pains me to say it, the man is getting on. Early posters saw him posing in the Indie get up, and there were concerns that maybe it just wasn’t going to work anymore.

The first confrontation. Blanchett glares intently at Indie, nobody says anything, a minute passes and she keeps staring. You realise then she’s actually trying to read his mind. Ford flashes his famous sardonic lopsided smile and makes a crack, and you know then that he’s still got it. As he telegraphs metre wide hooks, wading through whole platoons of uniformed evildoers you’ll still cheer for him. For all his years he can still deliver. Turns out Harrison Ford is the one treasure in Indiana Jones that doesn’t belong in a museum (finally! – Ed).

The plot is, well, it’s just nonsense. But do you remember the whole thing in the first film with the Ark of the Covenent? Remember when the guy’s face melts? Remember when Indie gets Hitler’s autograph? Indiana Jones has always been completely out of its tree, and the fourth film merrily carries on with this tradition, probably taking it to its farthest extremes yet. There are several occasions where it simply goes too far, and you can feel the audience around you wincing as this happens. A couple of grumpy sighs and raised eyebrows later and everyone can get back to watching the action, which is brilliantly frantic, explosive, and many other positive adjectives besides. It’s old school gung ho adventure with some great actors enjoying themselves immensely.

To everyone’s relief, Mud, Indie’s adolescent sidekick, manages to not be too annoying at any point, and rides a motorcycle more convincingly than perhaps Indie would. He’s for the most part silent, and singlehandedly kickstarts most of the action scenes by force of sheer impetuousness. Karen Allen’s in it too, and she doesn’t do anything except get herself into mild peril, but she’s there. Kudos, I guess.

You can feel free to check off the tropes as you watch, themetune – check, snakes skit – check, plane montage with red line travelling over sandy map – check. It’s good fanservice, and good fun besides. Spielberg’s direction is busily choreographed, inventive and colourful, the locales are lush, the explosions are big, the natives fierce. What more do you want, people? Something deep and challenging? Because the greatest revelation this film will bring you is that blowpipes work both ways, anything more and it wouldn’t be Indiana Jones. Now I’m going to get me a sweet hat and a whip and raid me some temples.

Ludo out.

11
May
08

Ludo – Iron Man Review

I’ll be honest, expectations were low.

In footballing terms, Iron Man is the superhero equivalent of an amateur Division Four team made up mostly of plumbers and brickies, whose occasional bouts of violence prove entertaining but whose skill with the actual game leaves a lot to be desired. I remember the cartoon. It was rubbish. But still, I bit the bullet and took my seat, partly because it was free, mostly because it’s the first superhero movie of the summer, and I need something to tide me over till The Dark Knight arrives.

The action kicks off with a torn-from-the-headlines pastiche of the middle eastern conflict, a pleasantly shallow but explosive opening. Then the escalating conflicts (spoilers!) – First up: Iron Man versus terrorism! I don’t want to spoil anything here but Iron man doesn’t not win. Then it’s Iron Man versus American Fighter Jets in the standout action sequence of the film. Third up it’s Iron Man’s greatest weakness: Slightly Larger Iron Man! Who will win? I don’t really need to say do I, but suffice to say that the CG is well executed and the explosions are big and flowery. What more do you want? An engaging plot full of thrills and spills, twists and turns, you say? Hmmm, You may be a little let down in that department…

More spoilers coming up, except they’re not spoilers at all because anybody with half a mind will see the twist coming from a mile off. Let’s just say, some friends become enemies, and here’s a clue – it’s the one that looks really evil. It’s the peadophile beard that gives it away, as well as the obvious evilness that oozes from his fat grinning face in every scene. I mean look, he’s SMOKING A CIGAR, people, and he’s even CACKLING.

I always expected the story to be thin, but my main worry was the central character behind the iron mask. Tony Stark by all rights deserves to be hated, he begs to be hated, your hatred sustains him. He’s incredibly rich, he’s a smartarse and he sleeps with more women than you. His partner for the early sections of the film declares “You are a man who has everything, but at the same time nothing,” which turns out to be exactly half true, as evidenced by Stark’s gigantic state of the art mountain top villa from the future with a basement full of robots that perform his every bidding, not to mention his beautiful assistant (Miss Pepper Potts – the full extent of that joke remains unclear to me, some sort of euphemism perhaps?) and his garage full of sports cars, legions of adoring fans etc etc. The remarkable thing is that you don’t hate him, because Robert Downey Junior defies the odds and turns everything around by sheer weight of charisma. He’s funny and likeable even before he has his moral epiphany. The man carries the film on his shoulders and drags it from being completely forgettable to being a pretty damn entertaining piece of cinema.

So it gets the thumbs up for being the first superhero movie of the summer, and not being half bad. See it for Robert Downey Junior, failing that, see it because RDJ alledgedly reprises his role in the upcoming Increcible Hulk movie. Iron Man versus Ed Norton, who won’t not win this time? I await the answer with baited breath.

Ludo out.

19
Apr
08

Dante – How Hollywood Lost the Plot

There used to be a certainty about the Oscars, it wasn’t nice, that’s for sure, and it certainly wasn’t right, but it was reliable, dependable, solid. It used to be that, whatever innovative new cinema a year produced, the big prize would inevitable go to a solidly plotted, middle of the road film, usually directed by Clint Eastwood or Ron Howard, uninspiring, but decent enough in it’s own way. At the last Oscars, the Coen brothers, the celebrated masters of surreal and funny, went home with the best film award, surely I should be ecstatic? delirious with happiness? Cock a hoop?

Unfortunately not, and for reasons not restricted to No Country For Old Men, for the first time in a long while I’ve seen the majority of Oscar nominated films, all near unanimously critically acclaimed (No Country has often been called the Coens best, by people who I can only assume, don’t like or haven’t seen any of their other films) and yet they all share on clear flaw: a total disregard for structure.

Now it is unusual that so many films would be released in such a short period that mess with the time honoured template of beginning, middle and end. Stranger still that so few would make it work. (don’t mistake me for some establishment hack, I’m all for subverting the form, but it is not always necessary or right to do so, ‘first serve the story’ has always been my credo.) But strangest yet is the fact that critics have apparently decided, in concert, to overlook these flaws, structure it seems, is out of fashion in Hollywood this year.

But of course I don’t expect you to take what I say to be true in the abstract, so sit back while I take you on a ride though the last crop of Oscar nominations, so many of which I expected to like. With each I’ll detail how they cocked up their structure.

There Will Be Blood – Beginning, Muddle and End

There Will Be Blood

Unlike many of the films here There Will Be Blood has a clear beginning and end, it was also directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, whose films I’m a huge fan of, which only emphasises the disappointment I felt at the huge gulf of, well, anything in the middle. It’s a yawning chasm that lacks purpose, drive, point and regular characters save Daniel Day Lewis. Everyone else comes and goes as the middle section simply charts a series of things that happen to Lewis, with no rhyme or reason. The beginning is bleak and artistic, the end is a comical farce, yet the middle does not lead from one to another, it wanders between comedy and drama with gay abandon. The individual scenes are marvellous on their own, yet they add up to a total lack of narrative.

What should they have done – The true crime of this film is that the only way to describe vast portions of it is ‘stuff happens’, yet they have a ready made dynamic in the battle of wits and wills between Eli and Daniel. The cure for this films ills is to focus on this battle as much as possible.

No Country For Old Men – Beginning, Middle and…

No Country for Old Men

95% of No Country is a wonderful film, it has a strong purpose, a driving force, the battle between Anton and Llewelyn over the money. It was lean and it was marvellous, Anton’s murderous drive carrying it off, so what if Tommy Lee Jones turned up once in a while and didn’t have much to do with anything, he’s probably going to be important at the end, and he certainly does, but not in the way one might suspect. Keeping spoilers to a minimum, the massively disappointing end of No Country goes thusly; the confrontation that we’ve been building up to all this time doesn’t happen, Tommy Lee Jones talks with people we’ve never seen before about being old, Anton kills a couple more people before getting in a car crash and stumbling off with a broken arm, Tommy Lee Jones muses about being old a bit more, the end. Again, I like that the Coens don’t conform to conventions, and I love them for it, but if you’re building up for a confrontation for so long and don’t have it, well that’s just going to disappoint people.

What they should have done – Have an ending! It’s all very simple to fix, give us the payoff. Or Alternatively if you’re determined that it be about growing old, then make Jones the central character, don’t spend so much time with the story you’re not going to resolve.


Charlie Wilson’s War
– Middle, middle and middle

Charlie Wilson\'s War

Now let’s get one thing down right off the bat, I love Aaron Sorkin, The West Wing is the finest TV series I’ve ever seen and when I heard he had a new film in the works I was literally jumping with joy (which proved problematic, as I’m a tall man and I was in a low ceilinged room at the time). So why is this here? Because it falls into the trap many films based on real events do, it lacks any kind of structure whatsoever. Real life, alas, doesn’t have a convenient three act structure, things simply happen, one after another with no driving point to them at all. In this respect Charlie Wilson’s War should be praised for it’s realism. But alas as I’ve said before, realism does not good entertainment always make, and in this case it results in an unsatisfying film that has no real point or drive.

What should they have done – Individual parts of Charlie Wilson’s War are still wonderful, like seeing a US Congressman shout ‘Allah Akbar!’ and the fantastic character that is Hoffman’s CIA agent. All it needs is a more conventional structure, surely that shouldn’t be too hard?

Micheal Clayton – Beginning, Moment and End

Michael Clayton

Seeing as this is the last film I’m covering I’ll go straight to the meat of the issue; Micheal Clayton has far too little plot for it’s own good. It’s a thriller without twists, it goes something like “This corporation is poisoning people!” –> “We must find evidence!” –> “Oh, here it is”, which I hope I don’t have to tell you, is very unsatisfying to watch. It isn’t an especially short film, so I’m really at a loss to say where all that time went, the only solution I can think of is that it got eaten up by the inordinate amount of time taken on Micheal’s character and life, his waster brother, his gambling addiction etc etc. The only problem is that none of this proves very relevant to the plot, resulting in both sides being stunted and half realised.

What they should have done – Pick a side, you can have a character study or a lean legal thriller, not both, personally I recommend the latter, because that way you get to keep the excellent Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson.

So there you have it, a concerted analysis of the plotting problems of four films, both praised by the critics and given Oscar nominations, despite their significant flaws. I can only assume some sort of mass hysteria was involved, similar to the brief but telling time when everyone in Hollywood managed to convince themselves Titanic was good, we can only pray it doesn’t continue.

NB: I haven’t seen most of the rest of the nominations, except Juno (which has no problems with structure but some of the most infuriatingly awful dialogue imaginable) but I feel these represent an adequate cross section.




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