Archive for August, 2012

Bloody Funny

Posted: August 16, 2012 in movie reviews

Jo Nesbø’s Jackpot ***1/2 (out of five)

Contrary to its title, Jo Nesbø’s Jackpot is not about the Norwegian bestselling author winning the lottery. Rather, it’s an original film (not an adaptation of one of his novels) that’s based on a story by Nesbø, and a cracking tale it is. A bloody shoot-out in a porn palace near the Swedish / Norweigan border initiates a police investigation into what Oscar (Kyrre Hellum, who’s got something of the Sam Rockwells about him), the only survivor, was doing there. We delve into the events leading up to that massacre, beginning with a syndication of ex-cons winning a football pool. Things go wrong, and get funnier, from there.

Ever since John Travolta shot that kid in the back seat of the car in the head in Pulp Fiction and gazillions of people around the world found themselves laughing hysterically at the site of Travolta’s face covered in the kid’s brains, many films have tried to find the right balance by which heavy violence can be funny. Jackpot, a true “black comedy” if ever there was one, deftly finds that balance, and is entertaining throughout. Constantly engaging, and highly recommended.

Old School

Posted: August 11, 2012 in movie reviews

The Campaign *** (out of five)

The Campaign, the new comedic venture from Gary Sanchez Productions (Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s company) and Everyman Pictures, and under the direction of Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents), stars Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as two candidates up for a congressional seat in North Carolina. Ferrell’s Cam Brady is not only the incumbent, he’s used to running unopposed; Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins (a terrific comedy name by any measure) is a stooge, set up to run by two brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd, whose casting obviously references the older brothers played by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy in Trading Places) who wish to use him to draft laws allowing them to sell huge chunks of the state to China so they can build a mega-sweatshop. Along the campaign trail, mirth – and occasional hilarity – ensues.

The Campaign is far from the smartest comedy ever made about American politics, but it’s not trying for that distinction. Its natural shelf-mates are Anchorman and The Good Guys (both Ferrell / McKay ventures) rather than Bob Roberts, The Candidate or Bulworth, let alone Being There. The comedy is broad and coarse, and often extremely funny. Ferrell’s Cam Brady is a buffoon, and Galifianakis’ Huggins is famous for pooing his pants when he gets tickled. So sharp satire it ain’t. Rather, it’s big, over-the-top, goofball, “dumb” comedy that happens to be set during an election. It could have been set almost anywhere; the point if the conflict between the two mismatched candidates, and they work very well off each other. There’s strong support from Dylan McDermott as a slick campaign manager, Katherine LaNasa as Cam’s sexy, scheming, politically aroused wife, Jason Sudeikis as Cam’s small-town but honest campaign manager, and, particularly funny despite very little screen time, Brian Cox as Marty’s dad.

While there are some arid stretches between really good jokes, and definitely a few formulaic elements that swim against the film’s edgy credentials (it’s at its bet when its at its most outrageous), there are some deliriously funny scenes that certainly put it in the list of Ferrell and McKay’s “plus” column. It might not make you any more of an insider to the workings of American politics, but it will make you laugh.

Beauty *** (out of five)

Beauty, the second feature from South African writer-director Oliver Hermanus, is very dark. Essentially a very intense, very naturalistic character study, the film focuses on Francois (Deon Lutz), a conservative, Afrikaans married man who harbors major sexual inclinations towards men. When he falls into an obsession over his good-looking nephew, his life – barely happy anyway – gets really, sadly pathetic.

Like Death in Venice, this is a gay male obsession story, and like that film, it is told with no levity, no lightness of touch. It feels out of place and time – almost a film about a gay predator, and as such almost an offensive throwback. What saves it are its context and its style. That Francois is a leftover racist from the Apartheid era gives the film political weight (what was an Apartheid-approving homosexual-in-denial to do?) and it is amazingly well shot, acted, and scripted. Although told slowly, it’s a gripping tale. Sexual predators have featured in many films, and sometimes they’re the leads. That’s the case here, and the viewer has the right to ask why they care. I think the film is actually about the left-overs of South Africa – those who loved Apartheid, and can’t deal with its dissolution. As such, it’s an incredibly sad movie. It also happens to be a very well made one – but that doesn’t make it necessarily worth your while.

That’s One Expensive Haircut

Posted: August 5, 2012 in movie reviews

Cosmopolis ***1/2 (out of five)

Hyper-stylised, cold, cerebral, difficult, stylish, at times visually sublime and at times unintentionally humorous, Cosmopolis is David Cronenberg back in Cronenberg Land, after the much more conventional A Dangerous Method.

Essentially a film of ideas – based on Don DeLillo’s very literary 2003 novel (I think there’s a reason that DeLillo’s many, much-lauded books have never been filmed) – the plot is minuscule:  extremely wealthy young investment guru Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) has his limo take him across midtown Manhattan for a haircut on the day the US President is in town and there are threatened protests. Along the way he meets up with various people, including his wife, his lovers, and some business associates. And maybe someone’s trying to kill him.

If that makes it sounds like a “thriller”, it isn’t, in any traditional sense. there are no chases, no action sequences. Most of the action is confined to the back of the limousine. It isn’t a horror film, either, in the way that many of Cronenberg’s early works were. But, like the films of David Lynch, it is drenched in dread, the world of the film being almost completely sinister, unstable, perverse and seemingly very dangerous.

The theme is capitalism. Most of the discussion in the film – and it is a film full of discussion  – centres on money, wealth, poverty, and the potential war between wealth and poverty. There are characters who worship money, characters who are disgusted by it and characters for whom the whole concept is some sort of wonderful, cosmic game. Eric is seemingly in crisis about it – hence the action taking place on this particular day. I have never seen Pattinson in a performance I admired, but he works well here. He is not required to “act” – in a realistic sense. He speaks and performs as a Cronenberg creation in a Cronenberg world, and the very thing that I find extremely annoying in the other films I’ve seen him in – his lack of sincerity, his glacial remove – fit Eric kind of perfectly. I won’t even mention who else is in the film, because part of the fun is seeing who will get into the limo next, and a few of them are major movie stars.

How “real” we’re meant to read the world is open to interpretation. As stated, the film is very stylised. At the beginning, the images outside the windows of the limousine look like bad green-screen replacement (like images outside of cars in cheap colour films from the 1950s); obviously this is intentional, because every facet of this film is thought out with extreme precision: there was no improvisation here. Inside the limo, the street noises are barely audible, but even when Mike has dialogue in other locations (most notably two coffee shops) the sounds of the other diners are muted, while he and his partner in the scene are abnormally audible; it is as though Mike’s world is so privileged that everyday sounds are somehow able to be bought out of existence, like he has some cosmic remote control. the result of all of this is that the film feels like a dream, or nightmare. It’s important to latch onto this (and run with it) early, because the dialogue – I’m guessing much of it lifted directly from the novel – is also incredibly stylised. No-one in real life talks remotely like any of the people in this film, and this is alienating unless you accept it quickly, and move on. (The film’s unintentional laughs arise from the most ludicrous and extreme examples of this heightened language style).

How much you enjoy this film probably depends less on whether you like DeLillo’s book than it does upon how much you like Cronenberg’s style. You might hate this movie – for its real pretension, its pontification, its flagrantly anti-dramatic structure, its sheer impertinence. Then again, these might be all the things that endear you to it. I’ve always responded to Cronenberg, and I did here. It felt like one of my favourite artists getting back into his element, while still taking major risks. No-one will ever say this movie is one of the greats. But you can’t say it’s anything other than unique.