Archive for June, 2013

Tits and Ass.

Posted: June 27, 2013 in movie reviews

The Look of Love *** (out of five)

Look-of-Love-UK-Quad-2The story of SoHo property king – and saucy theatre impresario – Paul Raymond, framed by his intense, loving but problematically indulgent relationship with his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots, excellent), The Look of Love reunites Steve Coogan with director Michael Winterbottom in a biopic, but the sheer brilliance of 24 Hour Party People is, alas, not repeated here. That film was perfectly hilarious, informative and tragic; this one is not funny (I’m not sure it intends to be); it is very informative and melancholy, but not amazingly entertaining.

Raymond moved in a fascinating milieu – swinging Soho – amid girls, booze and drugs, but he wasn’t a sleazy dude — rather very much an Englishman, with the suits and the posh accent to prove it. In this respect, he’s very much like Party People’s Tony Wilson, who rubbed shoulders with all sorts but was always very much of the upper sort.d0d423492809ad85ab12

Coogan inhabited Wilson unquestionably (he should have been nominated for an Oscar, damn it!) but he’s more uncomfortable in Raymond’s skin – or, simply, Raymond as a human being is far less interesting than Wilson. Both men moved in salacious circles, but weren’t themselves over-indulgent, let alone degenerate; they were proper British businessmen more than anything, and it was business that always came first. (I suspect that this element of them is part of what attracts Coogan, who brought the idea of a Raymond movie to Winterbottom; from what I’ve gathered in interviews, Coogan is a dedicated and professional craftsman, more Russell Crowe than Russell Brand despite his long hair and comedy image).

The-Look-of-LovePerhaps Raymond wasn’t as inherently funny as Wilson, or Winterbottom and Coogan made a conscious decision not to point the movie in that direction; Coogan makes throwaway quips, and Winterbottom cuts on them precisely (what I call the “Christopher Guest cut” – to my mind, he invented it) but the result feels like it’s asking for a laugh, not earning one.

Winterbottom and Coogan redefined the modern biopic with 24 Hour Party People. Here, they try and squeeze themselves into an old-fashioned one, awkwardly. It’s a film with so many terrific elements – a great cast all round (Coogan and Poots are supremely well supported by Tamsin Egerton, Anna Friel and James Lance), terrific period detail, a really fun world, sex, drugs and rock and roll – but it never becomes electric. I suspect the blame ultimately lies with the subject. In the end, Paul Raymond was simply a real estate baron who became Britain’s wealthiest man – a notable achievement, but a vacuous, conservative one, despite being constantly surrounded by tits.

Lots. Of. Zombies.

Posted: June 23, 2013 in movie reviews

World War Z *** (out of five)

_wallpaper_hd__world_war_z_by_bark45-d5krxw1An extremely unholy child of 28 Days Later and Contagion, the uncompromisingly bleak zombie epidemic epic World War Z is nowhere near as good as those two films but is not without its merits.

A famously troubled production, which jettisoned its already shot, huge third act – a massive human versus zombie battle in Russia – because it simply wasn’t working – and hired additional writers after it was finished to fix it, occasioning serious reshoots (you can see Brad Pitt’s hair length go from above the shoulder to below the shoulder and back again, if you can take your eyes off the gazillions of freaky zombies), the end result is episodic, and some episodes are simply much better than others.

world-war-z-4hPitt, also a producer, plays Gerry, who used to work for the UN (I couldn’t for the life of me figure out in what role exactly) who has quit to become a stay at home dad, but gets called back into action when a zombie plague goes global. Gerry is charged with finding the source of the plague, sending him to Korea, Israel and finally Wales, battling, running from and essentially getting bombarded by creepy, fast-moving, shrieking zombie fiends along the way.

The section on Korea is so darkly shot as to be essentially unwatchable; if you wanted to go for a coffee, this would be the time. Confusing and frustrating, it should have been trimmed or excised. Things are a lot more fun in Israel, which hosts an extended section all lit by bright sunlight, which contains some staggering set pieces. It’s the best part of the film by a zombie mile.

The Wales scenes, replacing the Russian catastrophe, are quite creepy and effective, and allow Pitt to actually do a little bit of acting, not just running, shooting and stabbing screechy zombies.

exclusive-world-war-z-posters-take-the-destruction-worldwide-135838-a-1369740754-470-75Besides being consummate examples of suspenseful direction, what 28 Days Later and Contagion (Danny Boyle and Steven Soderbergh, respectively) shared was extremely tight internal logic: both played out as you imagined such calamities might. World War Z suffers most in comparison here. There are huge, gaping logical plot points that will be very dissatisfying for those who like their apocalypse stories well baked, particularly in the reshot third act. But as a massive action film rather than a smart one, World War Z has pace, an undeniably awesome second act, and shitloads of freaky, creepy, screechy, gooey, bloody, spooky, yucky zombies.

Cult Movie.

Posted: June 14, 2013 in movie reviews

After Earth ** (out of five)

devilshyamalanupsetM. Night Shyamalan’s tenth feature is a vehicle for Jaden Smith, and is produced by Jaden’s father Will Smith, who is, or at least was, until this movie, the last semblance of what they call a “bankable star” left on the planet. Why, occupying that position, Mr. Smith would choose this film to act in, strait-jacketing him into a boring sci-fi role of The Bravest Man in Starfleet (or somesuch), who is so brave that he need show no emotion, and therefore has no room for nuance in his art of any kind, is anyone’s guess. Therefore, it can be mine.

will-smith-scientologyMy guess is that Smith has made this movie, and employed Shyamalan (who was once, briefly, the Hollywood studio system’s greatest auteur) to promote the cult he belongs to, which is Scientology, and upon whose tenants and “philosophies” Jaden has been raised.

The film’s central idea – that “fear is a choice”, and can be beaten – is thus dramatized by having Jaden’s character Kitai hurled onto a planet amongst spooky creatures who can only “see” you if you’re fearful (like the old wive’s tale about dogs smelling your fear, which might actually be true). Kitai has been separated by his super-brave Dad because of a spaceship crash and Dad’s injuries; they keep in touch, however, with a kind of bluetooth thingie, allowing Smith Snr. to intone a lot of fooey while his son actually had to show up to a lot of greenscreen sets and conquer the character arc of looking scared to not looking scared. I guess he achieves this. Young Jaden is a stunning-looking kid but lacks his father’s charisma, at least so far. He’s no Tatum O’Neal, Jodie Foster, or Haley Joel Osment.

imgresThis movie is a rort: part Scientology tool, part extremely ill-conceived familial gift (wouldn’t it be better to let your kid go to school than ask him to endure endless takes in a greenscreen studio?) and part blatant money-making attempt (which probably won’t pay off; the film is financially under-performing in most regions). Will Smith was once the antidote to The System: how that has changed.Jaden-Smith-Wallpaper-HD

Do. Not. Hire.

Posted: June 14, 2013 in movie reviews

The Internship *1/2 (out of five)

l_2234155_d86a09e7The Internship, reuniting Wedding Crashers stars Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, desperately seeks to recapture the brilliance of that watershed buddy comedy, with tragic results. The film is formulaic to a terrible fault, unfunny, and – albeit unavoidably – one gigantic piece of product placement.internship_ver3_xlg

Vaughn and Wilson play of couple of wristwatch salesmen, Billy and Nick, made redundant by the fact that “everybody checks the time on their phones now” – the first of many brutally silly (and not in a good way) anachronisms, considering the film is set in the present day and not, say, 2002. This scene – their boss played by a slumming John Goodman – is embarrassing in its bizarre unmindfulness: Vaughn and Wilson stumble with lines about people “not liking computers” and the like, as though it were possible, in this day and age, for two dudes in their forties to have missed the computer revolution, let alone the internet revolution.

the-internship-poster-owen-wilsonIt gets worse. The lads apply to become interns for Google, get in, and off we go! Fish out of water, the fish being these two idiots and the water being the Google “campus”, here depicted as paradise on Earth. Stereotypes abound (The Villainous Englishman! The Nice Geek! The Indian Intern Leader!) Worse, formula abounds. What do you think could happen to these guys? Do you think, possibly, they might need to team up with some of the intern rejects, go into competition with the stuck-up Englishman and his brood, and maybe… triumph?

The total predictability of the plot is made much worse by the fact that each scene builds the plot without leaving air for jokes. It’s like a “perfect screenplay” as punched out of a computer program: Here’s the scene where they apply. Here’s the first day. Here’s the meeting with the cute girl. Here’s the scene where the English kid disses them. Here’s them stressing in bed after the first day. But no jokes. Just plot points. It’s a bullet-point movie.android_cameo_internship_720

Yes, they are both in one bed. Google did not give them a bed each. The film is chock full of dumb errors such as this. Were we meant to fall about laughing at the sight – gasp? – of Vaughn and Wilson in the same bed? That justifies the fact that a wildly insane company doesn’t have a bed for each intern.

Vaughn and Wilson flail, because Billy and Nick are not characters: they are simply these two hugely wealthy movie stars walking around trying desperately to be endearing, lovable and cute. Vaughn, especially, is at his worst trying to be endearing, lovable and cute. He’s been brilliant when his characters have some bite, some snarl, but his Billy is a total vacuum. Likewise, we’ve seen Wilson be perfect as goofy, or stoned, or romantic (in Midnight in Paris) but when your character’s only trait is “nice”… you’re lost. Having nothing to play, they play nothing, badly. It’s career worst for both of them, and it’s embarrassing, considering how talented they are and their fine bodies of work outside of this film.

Oh no - I'm the female love interest in a buddy movie!

Oh no – I’m the female love interest in a buddy movie!

Poor Rose Byrne, who has become Hollywood’s go-to RomCom beauty and who has been hilarious in other films recently, swims against a tsunami in her dreadfully written role. Example of what she has to work with: as she’s hurrying to an appointment, she has a meet-cute with Own Wilson’s Nick. He: “Nick, intern.” She: “Dana, late.” If that sophisticated wordplay tickles your funny bone, there’s another one hundred and nineteen minutes waiting for you.

Google was much cooler before this.

Meaty and Dirty

Posted: June 11, 2013 in movie reviews

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

mud_ver3A beguiling cross between The Go-Between, Stand By Me and Huckleberry Finn, Jeff Nichols’ third feature, Mud, is simple and multi-layered at the same time; it’s a mature, thoughtful work, full of mystery, (non-frustrating) ambiguity, and terrific performances. It’s also got a fabulous milieu – riverside living in rustic Arkansas in the modern day.

In this somewhat fantastic (and beautifully shot) world, two boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) encounter, on an adventurous visit to one of the river’s many islands, an itinerant drifter (Matthew McConaughey) who goes by the name of Mud and is living – at least currently – in a small motorboat that has been deposited high in the treetops by a flood. Drawn to his intriguing tale, the boys begin to help Mud out, and in doing so, have a life-changing season. (What season it is is never specified, and obviously Arkansas is a hot place, but, for the sake of its long cinematic ancestry, I like to think of the action taking place during the summer).

Themes of honesty and trust, love and betrayal are all well served here, and, although this is an original screenplay by Nichols, it feels like it could have been based on a novel – it’s got that level of emotional and thematic meat, and its many scenes, characters, locations and memorable lines trust that they are all going to add up to something substantial, which they do.130429Mud_7540783

There are great, smaller roles for Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson, Joe Don Baker, Ray McKinnon, Paul Sparks (in a very different role from his Boardwalk Empire character Mickey Doyle), Reese Witherspoon and, in his third film with Nichols, Michael Shannon, playing against type as a really nice, well-centered and jovial fellow rather than a weird spooky creep.

983708_089McConaughey is perfectly cast as Mud, bringing all his southern soulfulness and undeniable charisma to a slippery, tricky character with customary ease (if anything, his extraordinary musculature is the only hinderance to his performance: Mud is unlikely to have spent much time at the gym). But the film lives or dies on the strength of the two boys, and it very much lives: both Lofland (in his very first role, and an almost dead ringer for River Phoenix in Stand By Me) and Sheridan (The Tree of Life) are excellent. Mud is a dense, exciting and thoughtful picture; it could have been shorter (it’s two hours and fifteen minutes), but then, Nichols will only make it once: this is what he wanted to show, and he’s a filmmaker who we can trust to have our best interests at heart. Recommended.

Rumble in Mongolia

Posted: June 11, 2013 in movie reviews

Ping Pong *** (out of five)

MV5BMjAwMjUwMzQyOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODA0MTgwOA@@._V1_SX214_Hugh Hartford’s documentary Ping Pong is a charming look at sporting world you probably don’t know exists – that of senior table tennis, played at the international level.

Unfortunately the execution is extremely formulaic for this sort of movie, simply setting up the characters, following them to the event (in Mongolia, which is certainly interesting) and ultimately making its way through the tournament, where we get to see which of the players we’re following may triumph, if any.

This sort of documentary – like Spellbound, Mad Hot Ballroom, Wordplay, Murderball and Word Wars – really relies on the strength of its characters, and unfortunately none of the participants profiled here are particularly intriguing. In this case, the event, and the world of the event, is the most fascinating aspect; perhaps the filmmaker’s focus could have recognized that.  On the more positive side, the actual matches themselves, as they approach the Finals and still contain some of our characters, become really quite exciting. Australians are represented by Dorothy, who, at a hundred years old, lays claim to being the oldest table tennis champion ever, and no-one’s doubting that.

An observation: nearly all of the Western players wear glasses. None of the Asian players do – yet they’re playing wicked ping pong, so they can definitely see… Is there any possible explanation for this?

A Different Perspective

Posted: June 6, 2013 in movie reviews

Farewell My Queen ***1/2

tumblr_m88gqt5d251qatfdco1_1280Benoît Jacquot’s Farwell My Queen takes an oblique look at the first days of the French Revolution – through the eyes of Marie Antoinette’s reader, Sidonie (Léa Seydoux). It’s kind of the Rosencrantz and Gulidenstern Are Dead approach to history, observing it from the perspective of a “minor character”, and it works. Sequestered in Versailles, at the beck and call of the Queen (an excellent Diane Kruger), Sidonie learns of the unrest in Paris and the  possibility of the people marching on the Palace as everyone does – through whispered gossip. The evocation of the “backstage” world of the Palace is excellent and rings true, full of terrific attention to detail, not only in production design but in the manners and customs of the world of the court. As the King and Queen debate their options – fleeing, staying, attempting to appeal to the people by going to Paris – Marie Antoinette takes Sidonie into her confidence with her great love for La Duchesse Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen).farewell-my-queen-06

Relentless and full of foreboding portent, it’s a fascinating glimpse of a moment in history from, essentially, a safe bystander. In this suddenly changing world, to be poor and servile suddenly means being powerful, because you’re not on the kill list – a pamphlet listing 184 noblemen and women whose heads need to be chopped off for France to advance. Marie Antoinette was the very first name on that list, and it included Gabrielle and many others at Versailles. Watching the panic spread through the halls and chambers of the vast palace is evocative and exciting, and Jacquot gives us surprising moments of what people in panic do – including drinking too much and having rushed and sudden sex with people you might normally not.579582_115

Throughout it all, Seydoux grounds the film – as the events are seen only through her eyes, she’s in every scene of the film. She’s terrific, and, given that she looks like a teenage Marion Cotillard, I predict she’s destined for very big things.