Archive for Film Reviews

Film Review: Prometheus (2012)

Posted in Other with tags , , , , , on August 15, 2012 by innothingwetrust

SPOILERS. SPOILERS. OILERS. SOILERS. COILERS. BOILERS. SPOILERS.

I like a movie that makes you think. Exposition should always take place half in the viewer’s head – it should never just be totally explicit. However, if that were my only rule regarding the subject then Prometheus would be a veritable wet dream.  However, it is not. At least not yet. Let me explain.

If, like me, you go and see Prometheus without really having read up about it first and are attracted mainly by the awesome trailers, eye-popping CGI and the fact that Ridley Scott is returning to the world of Alien (maybe – he remains defiant about the links, but surely it is the same Universe??), you will undoubtedly leave the cinema with a list of questions the length of a Bible and this expression on your face:

Here are just some of the things which left my head a little scratched as I made my way home in the car:

Why does the Engineer kill itself at the beginning?
What was the big spaceship in the sky?
What was the significance of the DNA breakdown?
Why did Weyland lie about being dead?
Why can we see pixellated re-creations of past events aboard the Engineers’ spaceship?
Why are these only triggered when a button combination is pressed?
How does this pixel technology work?
Why do the pods ‘sweat’?
What is the black goo?
Why do the murals on the ceiling change?
Why does David steal one of the pods?
What are the things inside the pod?
Why does David infect Charlie?
Why does this infection have the effect that it does on him?
How does Elizabeth get pregnant when she can’t have children?
Why is her impregnation a squid-like tentacled being?
Why did all the Engineers die?
Why did one of them put itself in stasis?
Why didn’t they go to Earth before if there is nothing wrong with their ship?
Why do they want to destroy life on Earth?
DO they want to destroy life on Earth?
Why does the one living Engineer try to kill the humans (and David)?
Why does Elizabeth’s aborted alien foetus continue to live and grow (really fast)?
Why does the now-gigantic foetus kill the Engineer?
Why does the Engineer give birth to an Alien at the end?
Why is this Alien a different species again to the Engineer, the Humans and the Squid-thing?
Did the Engineers create us or not?
Why did they leave us a star map (/invitation) in the first place?
Have they visited Earth already (as the cave paintings would suggest)?

Trust me – and those who have seen the film will agree – Prometheus does not answer any of these questions, and most are pretty central to understanding the key events of the film. This has to be the first in a series of films (probably a trilogy). If that is the case, then Prometheus is a perfect opening – an intriguing quest, a gazillion unanswered questions and just as many possibilities. If, however, this is a stand-alone film, then what it professes to be ‘intelligent film making’ is way too far off the scale and just comes across as ‘incredibly lazy’.

And in the spirit of laziness, I am going to post links to two other reviews rather than write a proper one myself. I don’t usually do this, but given that these are out there it would be futile for me to add my two cents. One goes into imagery which I hadn’t even begun to consider while watching the film, and the other points out some quite glaring holes in the plot and script and with a level of venom and satire which I simply cannot match.

The first one is an in-depth look at the hidden mythical and religious themes of Prometheus from a blogger named ‘Cavalorn’. The length of his analysis should tell you something about the complexity of the film: http://cavalorn.livejournal.com/584135.html. It’s really worth reading, really interesting (if you have seen the film) as are the addendum and comments at the bottom.

The second is more of a surface refutation of some of the questionable plot points. It’s from Maddox who is… outspoken to say the least. However, I agree with everything he says about the movie and regurgitating these points would be nothing short of plagiarism. The potty-mouthed framing of his review just adds to the enjoyment: http://www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=prometheus_nutshell.

Both are very entertaining reads and say more than I ever could, but briefly:

David (Michael Fassbender), the ship Prometheus’ resident tinkering android is easily the best character in the film by virtue of being utterly enigmatic and virtually emotionless. Fassbender’s eerie smile gives nothing away regarding the motives of his character’s actions. Neither does the plot or the dialogue, more’s the pity, but still.

The crew killing themselves at the end is ridiculous. They are given far too little screen time and absolutely no opportunity to justify why they would just sacrifice themselves based on a theory which was suggested 5 minutes beforehand. I am copying Maddox’s review with this point, but it is just so stupid I felt the need to repeat it.

The more I think about it, the more I come to realise how poor the script and direction is in this film. I don’t mind the unanswered questions – IF they are going to be answered in subsequent films. But some of the questionable events which transpire are not meant to be open-ended and symbolic, they are just terribly executed and unjustified (see again all of Maddox’s points). But despite this, Prometheus is still an incredibly engaging premise and absolutely stunning to look at. It’s just so hard to judge as it doesn’t feel like a finished film (and I sincerely hope it isn’t). I’m going to have to give this two ratings:

As the first film in a series, Prometheus is good (pending conclusions to be given in the subsequent films and hopefully some better direction/ less lazy scriptwriting)
Rating: 7/10

As a stand alone film, it’s pretty awful and a total disappointment.
Rating: 3/10 (all 3 marks being for the visuals)

It’s that divisive.

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Film Review: Deja Vu (2006)

Posted in Other with tags , , , , , , on July 4, 2012 by innothingwetrust

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS, BUT TO BE HONEST IT’S BETTER THAT YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NOW RATHER THAN WASTING YOUR TIME ACTUALLY WATCHING THIS MOVIE

I won’t expend too much energy on this: Deja Vu is comfortably one of the stupidest films I’ve ever seen. Here’s the premise:

An explosion on a boat kills lots of innocent people. Denzel Washington is an investigator on the case (yawn). He impresses Val Kilmer with his police work and eye for a clue so much that he asks him to join his team. But this isn’t just any team, this is a top secret experimental team using top secret experimental techniques. What techniques? Well, it’s simple really: The government were messing around in their labs and happened to stumble upon space-time folding technology which would create a wormhole in the very fabric of existence allowing us to see exactly 4 days, 6 hours, 3 minutes, 45 seconds and 14.5 nanoseconds back into the past. Helpfully, this wormhole-window is beamed into the TV screens in the police unit’s top secret base (seemingly a warehouse with minimal security), allowing the time-cops to view past events and look for evidence. Even more helpfully, this past-world is fully 3-dimensional and fully navigatable. Somehow the wormhole allows us to fly around like a computer game and enter any property we like within the relevant zone – oh yeah, unfortunately the wormhole only focuses on a small area. Fortunately, that area is directly on and around the boat explosion. You can’t see outside of this area with the conventional technology, so helpfully again the government have devised a time-helmet with a time-camera on it which Denzel can don and travel outside of the focus zone (in the present world) and beam back pictures from the past in that area to his buddies.

But it doesn’t stop there! There is also a time-oven which the team can put things in and transport them into the past, such as a note with a tip-off for one of the policemen working on the case. And not just send it back in time, but put it precisely where they want, like on a table where the cop will see it. Brilliant technology. But they can only send simple objects back. They have never tried to send anything complex or organic like an animal or even a human – there’s no way in hell they would do that. It’s just too risky, it’s never been tried before, we don’t know the consequences, it’s out of the question. Unless of course Denzel insists and they try it and it just works perfectly first time.

Doesn’t make sense? Don’t worry, it didn’t make sense to the film’s writers either, which is why they wrote in Adam Goldberg – a cookie-cuttered film nerd whose only purpose is exposition and who mostly runs around waving his arms saying, “Look, we don’t know how this technology works either, but it does work so let’s just run with it!”. The blatant inadequacy of his explanations is covered up by quite annoying sarcasm and his theory that the past they are looking back into is in fact a separate branch of time (think Back to the Future, the diagram he draws is almost identical to Doc Brown’s) contradicts the fact that these two dimensions keep communicating with each other. Like the note they send back. Like the fact that Denzel’s fingerprints are inexplicably all over an apartment at the beginning of the film, explained later by the fact that when he goes back in time, he goes to that apartment and so has ‘already been there’, despite the fact that the apartment he goes back in time to is supposed to be in a different dimension. Like the fact that Washington has a voicemail on his phone in the ‘real’ world which we see is left by a woman in the ‘past’ world – a different dimension apparently!

There’s science fiction, and then there is this. I mean, I can suspend my disbelief when watching a film as long as the events make sense within that context. ‘Suspension of disbelief’ is not a licence for film makers to just do literally whatever they want, it still has to make sense. Deja Vu is one of the most nonsensical attempts at ‘high-octane’ sci-fi I’ve ever seen.

Also I really don’t get the big deal with Denzel Washington. Is he really that good an actor? I guess it’s hard to judge from this particular performance as trying to make such drivel look convincing is like trying to hammer in a nail with a turd. However, you would have thought that a more intelligent actor would have looked at the script, thought about it for one second and rejected it along with all the other proposals he gets which go on to premier in the bargain bucket of petrol stations worldwide. And make no mistake, if it weren’t for Washington’s inclusion that is exactly where this movie would have ended up. It is a B-movie with a blockbuster budget. Perhaps old Wash’ had more interest in his salary at this time than his artistic integrity – it seems the only logical explanation.

So what good can I say about Deja Vu? Well, not much. I guess the fact that I actually managed to watch it from start to finish has it going for it. It was ‘action-packed’ and the boat explosion looked cool. The story surrounding Denzel’s partner’s death is quite sad. Jim Cavaziel is good as the crazed chain-smoking terrorist nutter, even if the terrible script really doesn’t give his character any motivation for his actions whatsoever. And that’s it. The rest is ridiculous.

RATING: 2/10

Film Review: Red Lights (2012)

Posted in Other with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2012 by innothingwetrust

SPOILERS ALL OVER THE PLACE. AVERT YOUR EYES.

Although I have not seen it, Rodrigo Cortes’ last film ‘Buried’ starring Ryan Reynolds is apparently a masterclass in suspense building and claustrophobic tension (which, given the fact that the whole film is set in a coffin-sized wooden box buried beneath the Iraqi desert must have been difficult to rein in rather than manufacture, but still). So hopes for Red Lights were high, given the much-vaunted new director (who also wrote the film), a very strong cast and such an interesting subject.

Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) are University lecturers who enjoy the study – and debunking – of paranormal activity. In an age when Hollywood is so afraid of upsetting the spiritual apple cart for fear of a box office mauling, the scepticism of our two main protagonists really is refreshing, as is their disdain for the believers of such nonsense. Although their day-to-day prey consists of kooky mediums channelling voices of the dead and lifting tables with their feet, occasionally they take on lager fish and it is after they expose one such celebrity spiritualist as a fraud that things get a little tasty.

Another Celeb Psychic, the blind Simon Silver (Robert de Niro), The Greatest Spiritual Healer Of All Time, announces his return to theatres to heal the sick and open the eyes of the world and all that jazz. The showdown is inevitable, and Buckley sets about convincing his partner Matheson to investigate Silver. However, Matheson, frightened of Silver’s pursuasive abilities from an earlier encounter, refuses to assist. This plotline obstacle is dubious and ill-considered I must admit – Matheson hates this mumbo jumbo and doesn’t seem the sort of person to be flustered by the fact that years ago, for a split second, Silver ‘made her doubt’. Surely his heavy-handed security entourage and serpentine agent are far scarier. But Weaver gives an impassioned defence of the device anyway which splits our duo apart.

And then a shock twist is thrown in very early – another refreshingly brave move. Weaver is killed seemingly remotely when Buckley is investigating Silver on his own at one of his shows and all of his electrical equipment blows up – spooky! Fuelled by the grief of losing his partner, Buckley resolves to expose Silver if it’s the last thing he does…

I really like Cillian Murphy and he gives another solid and increasingly frantic performance here as his investigations lead him down dark alleyways and progressively weirder dead ends. Strange occurrences such as the wrecking of his apartment, an encounter with an extremely rude tramp and kamikaze crows flying at Buckley’s head all leave the audience guessing to the last which way this movie is going to swing, prone like a fallen Gladiator awaiting the northerly or southerly indication of the Emperor’s thumb. But there’s two key events to get through.

It is an interesting angle to add that Matheson and Buckley’s department at the University is criminally under-funded, while the department for research into extra-sensory-perception receives more money than they can spend on cards with shapes on them, sound-proof telepathy booths and ‘thoughtography’ experimentation. And it is this rival department, led by the well-meaning but ultimately rather methodologically careless Paul Shackleton (Toby Jones), which is allowed to scientifically evaluate Simon Silver’s ‘powers’ once and for all in a controlled environment. Buckley, naturally, wants in and almost beats his panel inclusion out of the poor Shackleton.

The tests are meticulous and Silver’s performances almost flawless. Once they are done, it is a race against time for Buckley and his protegés Ben (Brit Craig Roberts – dodgy American accent) and Sally (Elizabeth Olsen, who is also Buckley’s love-interest in a totally pointless sub-plot pasted onto proceedings with careless abandon) to find out how his tricks are done, or else they will be published in a scientific journal causing every sceptic across the world to die a lot inside.

And the movie starts to play its hand. I had begun to worry that we would be insulted by one of those non-endings where you never find out what happened (and you’re just a philistine if you don’t think it’s genius – yes ‘No Country For Old Men’, I’m looking at you). There is a nice line where Ben and Sally are scouring CCTV footage of Silver’s experiments to try and discover the secret of his deception where Sally asks Ben if he can ‘sharpen the image’. Ben’s sarcastic reply points out that ‘this isn’t the movies, it’s just a CCTV film being played on a standard computer’. Yes! This is a movie living unashamedly in the real world, where nonsense is exposed and logic and reason are celebrated! And their subsequent discovery not only that Silver had cheated on the experiments, but that – dun dun duuun – he is not even blind (!!!) left me grinning like a Cheshire Cat. Finally a writer and director who can stand up for sense in a land where sceptics are treated like the nutjobs (America).

Meanwhile, Buckley is over at the theatre at Silver’s last ever show ready to confront the great illusionist. After having the b’jesus kicked out of him by one of Silver’s cronies in a surprisingly brutal toilet scene (featuring, I must admit, some very brittle ceramic lavatoryware), the bloodied Buckley stumbles into the auditorium to begin the showdown we’ve all been waiting for. He tells an audience member – arm fixed in the air by one of Silver’s ‘charms’ – to put his hand down as there is nothing stopping him. The man obliges – bam, another victory for reason. Buckley, unaware at this point in time of Ben and Sally’s findings, you imagine is going to speak to the audience and simply give a beautiful defence of the art of ‘thinking about what you are doing, questioning what you are told and scrutinising what you believe for the sake of the pursuit of truth through reason and testable means rather than the pursuit of fantasy through fear of reality; of an answer – any answer – for fear of having no answer’. The devastating refutal of Silver’s scientific ‘triumphs’ would merely be the smug cherry on the realist cake.

However, what Buckley actually comes out with left me with my head literally in my hands.

Turns out that Murphy’s lecturer is in fact himself all ‘paranormal’. A comically brief montage of all of the film’s strange happenings narrated by Buckley revealing the final twist like some M. Night Shyamalan character seeks to tie up all the loose ends and the aforementioned apple cart of spirituality is saved from the brink of collapse to huge sighs of relief, mainly from the Deep South and the film’s financiers. It’s such a shame, because I was looking forward to a landscape of fruit being trampled on by throngs of enraged audiences lambasting the audacity of Cortes for attacking their beliefs. But, unfortunately and annoyingly, what could have been a victory for common sense wusses out to fall back on the safe side of the fence.

One of Buckley’s last acts in the movie is to throw a coin to Silver who catches it – exposing to all in the audience that he actually isn’t blind (which is ridiculous for two reasons – firstly, given his years and years of pretending to be blind, you’d think that Simon Silver would know to not catch the coin to maintain the ruse, and secondly, even if he did choose to catch the coin, this is a man who has just performed surgery with his bare hands and levitated 10 feet into the air on stage – you’d think that he could explain his ability to catch a coin despite his blindness on some kind of ESP!!). The audience reels in shock at this expose, Murphy adding the nail in the coffin, “Phony”. An ironically fitting line as that’s what I wanted to say as I left the cinema.

Overall, this one is hard to judge. Most of the movie is great; the suspense builds, the plot thickens and the guessing really is left right up until the last scene. But that last scene is just so stupid it’s like a middle finger to all the good foundations it has laid before it. Murphy and Weaver are both captivating and their on-screen chemistry as a duo is believable and enjoyable. De Niro, who has been known to ham up such roles, is convincing and darkly charismatic, aided by the fact that he actually doesn’t have all that much to do in his limited screen time which all helps to build the cloud of mystery surrounding him. Cortes has written and directed 98% of an excellent film. However, if I drew a rude picture on 2% of a Michaelangelo I imagine its value would drop considerably, and the stinking ending to Red Lights sticks out like a spray-painted penis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

RATING: 5/10

Film Review: The History Boys (2006)

Posted in Film Reviews, Homophobia with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2012 by innothingwetrust

THE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW WILL SMASH YOUR VIEWING PLEASURE TO SMITHEREENS IF YOU HAVE NOT YET WATCHED THIS FILM. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

Have I missed something here? I think I must have missed something. I didn’t get a joke perhaps or failed to pick up on some subtle piece of subtext. Because the only words running through my head as the credits rolled at the end of The History Boys began with the letters ‘W’, ‘T’ and ‘F’.

The History Boys is a film adaptation of Alan Bennett’s 2004 play of the same name. It is a shame that I have not seen the stage version as it might have shed some more light on the very strange storyline, although given that the film features the same cast as the original version, perhaps it would not have been that helpful.

The basic plot is pretty straightforward: set in a Sheffield boys’ Grammar School in the 1970s, a class of history students attain the highest A-level results the school has ever achieved and their last term is spent being prepared for Oxbridge entry exams. But the hard facts and figures which satisfied A-level examiners will not cut the mustard when applying to Oxbridge and the headmaster Felix (Clive Merrison) drafts in the somewhat maverick supply teacher Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) to teach the boys about flair and originality in their writing – even if it means blurring the historical truth a bit. Irwin’s emphasis on writing to persuade and for achievement is in direct contrast to the boys’ regular tutors Mrs. Linott (Frances de la Tour) and Hector (Richard Griffiths) who stress the importance of searching for truth and learning for learning’s sake and the pupils find themselves divided over whose approach they prefer.

I’ll get the pleasantries out of the way first because, like the film, this review is going to end on a weird note. And there very much are pleasantries.

Firstly, there isn’t a single poor performance in sight. Each of the boys stamp a strong personality on their character including the young James Corden as Timms, Dominic Cooper as the class heart-throb Dakin and Samuel Barnett as gay Jewish student David Posner whose singing voice is even better than his acting. The teachers also play out an engaging secondary plot as they vie for the pupils’ attention, each adding their unique spin to their approach.

This is also a very intellectual (if uneventful) film with a challenging script full of literary quotes and wisdom which the excellent cast deliver without breaking a sweat. My only criticism here is that occasionally the script is so heavily layered with subtext that it loses sight of what is really trying to be said. The compulsion to say things through the words of Blake or Keats sometimes over-eggs the oratorical pudding which becomes a little hard to swallow. But largely it is clever, entertaining and often witty.

As a more neutral point, The History Boys was very obviously a play before it was a film. You would be able to tell that even if you didn’t already know it. Not only is the cast and director (Nicholas Hytner) the same as the first incarnation, but the stage style of narrative and the way that it can get away with not really being very realistic is retained (eg. a particular conversational cue makes Posner and Scripps jump up to the piano to perform a barnstorming sing-song – this would not actually happen in a school, but that’s theatre for you). There is no real effort made to adapt the medium and perhaps if it had, the boards beneath the actors’ feet would not have creaked so loudly. However, whether or not this was necessary is a matter of debate. I think it was.

Moving onto my main gripes, what is very odd about this story is the way that the theme of sexuality is dealt with. A number of the characters grapple with their own sexuality as it appears in different ways.  For example, Dakin, the ‘good looking’ one, is bursting with smutty comments and enjoys regaling his class mates with stories of his increasingly adventurous sexual encounters with the Headmaster’s secretary Fiona (Georgia Taylor). Then there is Posner, whose impulses toward Dakin are suppressed by his religion and his own uncertainty. These things could have been an interesting angle looking at the formative years of smouldering adolescent sexuality and its manifestations, but such issues are afforded minimal screen time in favour of a much stranger storyline which is treated with alarming flippancy.

It is Hector, the boys’ General Studies teacher who is the main focus. It is alluded to early on, and then shown, that Hector regularly fondles the boys’ genitalia when they catch a ride home with him on his moped. However, not only is this behaviour not reported, it is joked about and laughed off by the boys as if it is a small price to pay for a lift home – oh Hector, what are you like?! As I said, have I missed something here?? Toward the end of the film, Merrison’s headmaster – quite rightly – berates Hector for his behaviour after one such fumble is reported by a sharp-eyed lollipop lady, explaining in no uncertain terms that “It’s not normal!” before informing Hector of his impending redundancy. Astonishingly, the film treats Hector with complete sympathy – a minor telling off from fellow teacher Mrs. Linott is vastly outweighed by the pupils’ solemn reaction to the news that Hector is going to lose his job. This reaction leads to Dakin entrapping Felix into re-hiring Hector by threatening to expose his own chauvinistic harassment of secretary Fiona – lo and behold, yay, Hector gets his job back! WHAT?! No matter how engaging, learned or witty a teacher you are, surely – surely – a line must be drawn quite a distance short of engaging in sexual activity with your teenage students. Not according to The History Boys, apparently. I wonder why.

Is it because it was a ‘different time’? The seventies were not that long ago, and I’m pretty sure unwelcome sexual advances were just as unwelcome 40 years ago. Does the veneer of theatre cover up gaps in realism as I previously mentioned? This applies mainly to the way characters behave in an exaggerated and caricatured manner, but to an extent, yes, the theatrical style does somehow paper over the cracks of possibility with the lacquer of ‘artistry’. But that still doesn’t seem to fit the bill. Perhaps The History Boys gets away with such a blase attitude toward sexual harassment because it is homosexual in nature.

In the final scene of the film, Mrs Linott walks us down a path of the boys’ futures. Posner has followed in Hector’s footsteps and become a teacher, “without touching the boys”, he jokes. That line would be ok as just a joke, but the addition of the line “which is always a struggle” again reduces the character and the situation to farce because the protagonist happens to be gay. Would this have been so ‘humourous’ if Posner was straight and teaching in a girls’ school? Likewise, would this play and film have been half as credible if Hector had been caressing teenage girls on his commute? Conversely, would there have been half as much moral quandary if it had been a hot female teacher doing the fondling? You can decide for yourself, but this reviewer sees such frivolity as reflective of the fact that homosexuality still isn’t taken seriously in modern culture. But that’s another rant entirely.

It must be added that perhaps fate has the last laugh as the very afternoon Hector is reinstated, he is killed in a road accident. However, this doesn’t appear to have anything to do with his former wrongdoings. Moreover, if it is supposed to be some sort of karmic conclusion, then I think the story goes very much too far in imposing death upon the portly teacher.

And the banana on top of this cat food cake is applied when Dakin propositions inspirational teacher Irwin for a celebratory, exams-passing blow-job – a date for which Irwin vows to make a space in his diary. Just because, you know, that’s what happens.

To say that this film differed from my expectations would be putting it lightly. It promises to be an engaging and intelligent story of literary exploration and preparation for the pomp and ceremony of Oxbridge enrolment. However, the truly bizarre sexual overtones drain the credibility from the story for me, although there is still some very good dialogue throughout. In the absence of the ability to quite make sense of it all, I ask for a third time – have I missed something? Answers on a postcard please. Or, indeed, in the ‘reply’ section of this post.

RATING: 5/10

Film Review: Evan Almighty (2007)

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2012 by innothingwetrust

SPOILER ALERT. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS, DON’T READ ON. BUT THINK NOAH’S ARK

Two concessions before writing this – firstly, I have not seen this film’s predecessor, Bruce Almighty. However, I get the impression that this is not particularly necessary as at no point was the Jim Carrey film referenced or alluded to. Secondly, my attention was a little bit divided during my viewing as I was also playing Football Manager at the time and approaching the squeaky-bum-end of a treble winning season (including, I might add, a third consecutive Champions League win). But I digress. Evan Almighty came on midway through a lazy Saturday afternoon and I watched it from start to finish, so, by my own rules, I have to review it.

Evan Almighty starts well enough. There is little pretence and we are told in the very first scene that our news anchor protagonist Evan Baxter (Steve Carrell) is leaving his post on TV after being elected to congress. The ‘introductions’ are completed within about 5 minutes; we are shown Evan’s impossibly perfect family, his brand new mansion, his new colleagues and the scene is set. However, Evan begins scratching his head when deliveries of increasing quantities of tools and timber arrive at his front door and he is followed around by pairs of various animals which cause no end of problems for him at work. His greedy new boss (Jon Goodman) is less and less impressed with Baxter’s eccentricity and suddenly Evan’s bright new future is in jeopardy. However, after God (Morgan Freeman) appears to Evan and manages to convince him that he isn’t going mad, he sets out to fulfil the role chosen for him at the expense of his job, his family and his sanity. The problem is that… well, it’s just not that funny.

Anyone expecting that Carrell and Jonah Hill’s inclusion should signal a Judd Apatow-style, foul-mouthed gross-out would be both naive and mistaken. Nor does the film call for that kind of adolescent indulgence – this is a family film, after all. So instead we have CGI animals, father-son banter, musical montages (a bit too sickly for my liking) and awkward workplace situations. There are some very funny moments; the birds defecating on Baxter’s suit is a nice touch and Steve Carrell manages to make hitting his thumb with a hammer and falling over repeatedly whilst suppressing his urge to vociferously blaspheme (something which might have looked pretty tedious in the script) thoroughly entertaining. There is also a nice nod to one of Carrell’s previous films when Baxter passes a cinema advertising ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin Mary’. However, my inner teenager (which to be honest is basically my entire persona) was disappointed that there was not a single ‘that’s what she said’ during the Ark construction scenes which are a veritable minefield of childish innuendo (“Give me that pole”, “Is it in yet?”, “Just ram it in”, “This thing is massive”). Such lines could have been another Easter Egg referencing Carrell’s role as David Brent’s American counterpart, Michael Scott in the fantastic American version of The Office. Admittedly, this might have lowered the tone a little and been out of Baxter’s character, but it still would have been another funny joke in a film where in general the laughs are too few and far between, making the wait for the inevitable flood seem longer than it needs to be.

Perhaps my split focus between the imaginary characters on screen and the (very real) football players on my computer was down to the fact that this story just isn’t very compelling. When you are dealing with a pre-known plotline, your movie becomes about the characters and how they muddle through it. In Titanic, you weren’t on the edge of your seat because you didn’t know what was going to happen to the massive boat but because the leading characters were playing out a gripping and perfectly paced sub-plot and turning in excellent performances in the process. You felt the panic and chaos through the fantastic special effects and the claustrophobic atmosphere and you raged at the unfairness of the class divisions and the pomposity of the fabulously wealthy. Or, if you are a philistine, you were saying “Ahhh it’s just a load of old love crap”. Either way, the film’s already-famous key events were no more than a setting for the real story.

Not the case with Evan Almighty I’m afraid. This is basically a modern adaptation which is confused as to whether it is going to go the whole-hog and recreate the Biblical story for a modern audience or upgrade the story from an impossible parable* to something which could plausibly happen. For example (spoiler alert), the global flood is downgraded to a more believable local dam bursting to tie-in with the sub-plot. This element is thrown in at the last minute by Jonah Hill’s brown-nosing clerk; an afterthought which exposes the fact that too much time is spent on the jokes and high jinks for the story to make much sense. But at least that could happen, which cannot be said about the situation regarding the animals co-habiting on the Ark.

I would like to have seen at least a discussion of the types of problems discussed in this brilliant cartoon from NonStampCollector (this is part 1 of 2, the link for the 2nd part is at the end of this):

But to be fair, seeing as the whole story is downscaled, I guess it doesn’t matter that there aren’t representatives of every single species on Earth (although that fact is never mentioned, there are clearly nowhere near enough animals for there to be one of every single species). But then if the flood was only going to crash through D.C, why did God have Evan build an Ark at all? And why populate it with animals? Were the futures of the elephant and crocodile species really in danger? The more you think about it, this story makes even less sense than the Biblical original. I mean, forgive me for perhaps over-thinking this, but if the God in the film is one which has the power to actually affect events on Earth, such as appearing corporeally to people, making deliveries of wood appear out of thin air and pairs of every animal congregate in one spot, shouldn’t he have used that power to just fix the dam in the first place? Even if there was a wider point about saving acres of countryside from Jon Goodman’s wallet-lining housing development legislation, was this really the best course of action? It is also rather strange to see Freeman’s God ‘doing the dance’ after thousands of innocent people have just been drowned, but still.

Questionable ethics aside, this is only ever an average comedy film. It is probably more enjoyable for kids, but for us adults it’s less ‘Evan Almighty’ and more ‘Evan Alrighty’.

RATING: 6/10

*If this site is no longer here tomorrow, it is because I have been shut down by the Fundamentalist Christian Police and extradited to Texas to await trial and probably the death penalty. I would like to take this opportunity to just thank anyone who read my ramblings and supported me, it’s been a blast.

Film Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , on March 4, 2012 by innothingwetrust

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS A LOAD OF PLOT WRECKERS, BUT LET’S FACE IT, IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE STORYLINE OF CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN FOR THE LAST 50 YEARS???

Let’s make something clear from the start: it is virtually impossible to review this film without comparing it to Gene Wilder’s 1971 classic, ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. It is very hard not to think of Tim Burton’s attempt as a ‘remake’, so indelible is the image imprinted upon the minds of anyone who has seen the original prior to this one. Of course, it isn’t a remake at all – it is simply another adaptation of the book. However, when you take stab at something which has already been done brilliantly and is universally adored, you are asking to be held up to it. The question is why make this film at all?

Firstly, as Tim Burton fans will love to tell you, this version is much more true to Roald Dahl’s beloved book than the first film was. It has the squirrels instead of the golden geese, the Oompa Loompas are just very small people and not Andy Warhol gnomes, the words to their songs are taken from the novel and not invented and we see the fudge mountain, among other things. And secondly, as non-Tim Burton fans will love to tell you, it is yet another opportunity for him to cast Jonny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (Burton has now directed 17 feature films – Depp and/ or Bonham Carter have been in 10 of them), in a film which he can cake in his signature brand of self-indulgent kooky darkness. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily hate Tim Burton films – The Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow and the fantastic Mars Attacks! were all thoroughly enjoyable. Even Big Fish has it’s nice moments and Sweeny Todd it’s slapstick gore (plus Sacha Baron Cohen). I have grown, however, to necessarily hate Tim Burton.

I’m sure I’m not the only one now bored to death (perhaps quite fittingly) by the predictability of his work. Having a style is great – one could not mistake the sugary feel of a Spielberg picture in his pomp, an unmistakability aided in part by his frequent collaboration with distinctive and magical John Williams scores. However, Tim Burton has fallen into the same trap as Quentin Tarantino insofar as his ‘style’ has now totally overtaken the substance of his films and the quality of his direction, and that is certainly the case with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

This film has many faults: firstly, the Oompa Loompa songs are terrible. Totally unmemorable stock pop backing tracks pulled from a Casio keyboard with utterly incomprehensible lyrics sung over the top (which is strange as the vocals were provided by the excellent voice of Musical Director Danny Elfman himself, who performed Jack Skellington’s singing voice in The Nightmare Before Christmas). Again, it’s impossible not to make the comparison with 1971’s ongoing reprise of ‘Oompa Loompa Doopety Doo’ – there is just no contest. The accompanying dance routines are also completely unimaginative and look like they have been set by an amateur dramatics choreographer. No clever split-screen editing ideas like its predecessor either. The CGI looks cheap, clunky and cartoon-like. Occasionally this fits in with the context of cantankerous childhood wackiness, but most of the time it just looks naff (for example, Violet Beauregarde’s gymnastics at the end would have been far more impressive had they been performed by, say, a gymnast rather than a computer). Scenes which should have been dramatic were limp and pathetic – most notably the demise of Veruca Salt (who barely screams when she is attacked by 100 squirrels and whose father cannot figure out how to traverse a 3 foot fence and save his daughter, choosing instead to just stand aghast and do nothing) and the boat scene down the chocolate river (which was veritably terrifying in the first film but is reduced here to an unconvincing splash through some Nesquick on a plastic-looking pink dragon). And I will also, as an Englishman, take issue with the American language used by the English characters throughout. It’s strange that a film portending to be so much closer to the source material has the Bucket family talking about ‘candy’ instead of chocolate, ‘band aids’ instead of plasters and referring to elders as ‘sir’. How did this get through script reviews?

But the greatest mistake made in this film is committed by none other than Johnny Depp, whose portrayal of the weird and wonderful Wonka is creepy, unwitty, out of control and did I mention creepy? If Depp based his brilliant Jack Sparrow on studies of Rolling Stone Keith Richards, one can only assume he spent months impersonating Michael Jackson in preparation for this one. The total asexuality of his persona, pale skin and unsettling childish laugh jar completely with the fact he is supposed to be a leading character guiding the audience through the maze of his factory. It is the blind leading the blind. While purists might argue that Depp is more faithful to Dahl’s imagining of the character, I argue that it’s just a poor character for the context. Gene Wilder (there I go with that comparison again) was weird but knowing, kind yet scathing, childish yet philosophical and at all times likeable. He was totally indulgent in the chaos of his factory but always under control of every single event, which is what made him such a great host for this tour. Johnny Depp is too innocent to be taken seriously and his constant flashbacks to an opperssive childhood only further detract from his authority (and allow Burton to shoe-horn in Christopher Lee as Wonka’s domineering dentist father, Wilbur), although they do add some refreshing character development.

Having just slated nearly everything in the movie, it is prudent to point out that there are some things Burton got right. Freddie Highmore as Charlie is innocence personified and perfect for the role. The only downside is that for the entire middle section of the film he is practically an extra while the other children take center stage. The other children, however, are one of the other plus points from the film (although, once again, not as good as their earlier counterparts). All are selfish, typical Dahl semi-villains and fulfil their stereotypes well, the only one falling short being Julie Winter’s Veruca Salt who just isn’t quite obnoxious enough. The back story to the Oompa Loompas is also one of the film’s highlights, raising some of the all-too-rare laugh-out-loud moments of the film, another being the malfunctioning singing animatronics at the entrance to the factory. Finally (yep, we’ve reached the last positive already), where Elfman’s compositions for the Oompa Loompa numbers fall completely flat, his musical score dances with mischief and mayhem aptly befitting of what the film should have delivered.

When watching Tim Burton’s take on this beloved children’s story, the original 1971 adaptation isn’t so much the ‘elephant in the room’ as the ‘mastodon stomping all over its rejected newborn runt’. That may seem like a harsh analogy, but there really is no contest between the two incarnations. Burton’s annoying focus on the costumes, sets and making sure Johnny and Helena’s trailers are comfortable enough means that he can’t see the trees for the wood when it comes to his key characters, and Depp’s lifeless Wonka fails to command any interest. Now there’s a review he will hope never to hear again.

In other news, Tim Burton is currently putting the finishing touches on gothic vampire flick, ‘Dark Shadows’. I’ll give you three guesses which two actors feature in it, but you’re only going to need none.

RATING: 4/10

Film Review: The Descendants (2011)

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , on February 29, 2012 by innothingwetrust

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. NOT THE ONES YOU PUT ON A RACING CAR.

As this is my first review, I might as well set out my stall early: If there is one thing that really gets my goat in films, it’s bad exposition. ‘Exposition’ is basically all the methods by which the film maker reveals the plot and key information to the viewer. The most common form is dialogue: how do you let the audience know that one character is looking for a place to live? You have them say to another character, “Cor blimey, this house hunt is doing my head in!”. Or words to that effect… It can also be acheived through subtler means, such as showing them looking through property listings or attending a house viewing. Good exposition – much like good costumes or visual effects – goes completely unnoticed; it flows with the pace of the film and feeds the audience information without them knowing. It is the cinematic equivalent of hiding pills in your dog’s chunky meat dinner so that it gobbles them down thinking it has got one over on you after it refused to eat them on their own. Bad exposition is like offering the pills as dinner itself, and the worst films proceed to ram them down your throat with a baseball bat. ‘Blockbusters’ such as the Transformers films and the otherwise-excellent Avatar tend to be the chief offenders, and it often exposes the financial rather than artistic motives behind such films. However, judging by the rate at which Joe Public laps up such offerings, it seems to be a sadly common and successful practise.

So given how passionately I feel about exposition, my heart rather sank during the opening 10 minutes of The Descendants. The introduction is narrated by the main character, Matt King (George Clooney). Nothing wrong with narration, and some of the initial monologues add interesting insights into his character. But when the narration ceases to be a stream of King’s thoughts and becomes a literal description of what is going on in the film, a line is crossed. However, I must admit to being torn – on the one hand this is blatant exposition at its worst, but on the other, it is so unashamed that it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. In going straight for the jugular and explicitly telling us the background to the story, much time is saved and when the narrative is thankfully dropped after the opening chapter, the film can concentrate on being an excellent character piece.

Fundamentally, this film is about opposing things coming together and exploring the friction and the aftermath of their collisions. Clooney sets this tone with the very first lines of the film which ridicule the notion that Hawaiians live in ‘paradise’. Their cancers, he points out, are no less deadly than mainland dwellers’ and their families no less dysfunctional, and the first tension between the spectacular beauty of the story’s setting and the jadedness of our main protagonist emerges when he asserts that “Paradise can go fuck itself”. Then there is the issue of the sub-plot: King is the chief benefactor for a trust consisting of his other family members who own a large plot of land on one of Hawaii’s islands. The family is weighing up bids from various developers who will turn the land into luxury holiday condos, 5 star hotels and retreats for the wealthy. The friction between this impending decision and the wishes of the natives – who do not wish to see their homeland turned into a tacky resort – is dropped into the story periodically and keeps perfect pace with the key events. There are other contrasts; King’s transition from ‘back-up parent’ and hard working businessman to his new role as a single dad while his wife Elizabeth is in a coma with two feisty daughters to look after is interesting and often provides welcome moments of light comic relief.

But by far the most intriguing plot point is the dualism of the main event – Mrs. King is in a coma following a speedboat accident and (SPOILER ALERT) we are told that she will never wake up. Instantly Matt, who has already rued all the missed opportunities and time spent apart from his wife and has expressed a wish to change and not take her for granted again, switches into a very convincingly human ‘goodbye’ mode, trying to remember all the good times to ensure that he is left with only positive memories of his loved one. However, he is afforded no time to do this as the revelation of his wife’s recent infidelity is dropped on him to further compound his misery. What follows is a journey through King’s battle to reconcile the wife he loved with the wife who betrayed him (and who, importantly, is not able to defend herself) and the impact this has on his ability to deal with his sense of loss, the enormous decision he has to make regarding the land sale, his feuding family, his new responsibilities as a father to his foul-mouthed daughters and his ability to move on from it all. It is an intriguing and compelling story.

However, it is not all gold. There is the aforementioned lazy opening and I also take slight issue with one of the film’s other characters, Sid. Sid is shackled to our main characters through King’s daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who is for some reason referred to throughout the film as ‘Alexander’. She claims that having her friend present throughout this ordeal will stop her ‘freaking out’, which is a thinly veiled excuse for super-imposing a comedy character onto a film which doesn’t necessarily need it. Sid’s introduction is like inviting a clown to a board meeting – it might provide some light relief and some of the suits might have a chuckle or two, but sooner or later one of the juggling balls is going to knock a drink all over someone’s notes, especially when their method of entertainment is to brazenly laugh at inappropriate times and to make unfathomably offensive comments. An attempt is made to add a bit more substance to his character when he and Clooney have a late night heart-to-heart, but the conversation doesn’t really go anywhere and we are none the wiser as to either character’s motivations than we were before. In addition, a scene late on with the potential to add another conflict of interests – namely the wife of Elizabeth King’s lover confronting her comatose counterpart and her hatred for her clashing with her desire to forgive – is reduced to a farce when she gets hystrerical and Matt bundles her out the door to avoid some sort of embarrassment. However, these loose threads are small and don’t detract too much from the overall tapestry, which is a well-woven and compelling pattern of contradictions.

There are two excellent performances on display here: firstly, Clooney’s Matt King is emotionally wrought, believably human and satisfyingly pro-active in equal measure. He could just mope around and question his station in life (which wouldn’t make for a very interesting film), but he decides to go and do something about finding out the truth, which includes a hilarious sprint down the road in flip flops to his friend’s house. This pro-action is aided by his believable daughter, Alexandra. Shailene Woodley forges an excellent partnership with her on-screen father and keeps the main character going while also dealing with her sometimes rather annoying younger sister, Scottie. The integrity of her character is somewhat undermined, however, by the fact that at every opportunity she is squeezed into a revealing bikini. Call me old fashioned, but given the fact that she is only supposed to be 17, it does verge dangerously on child pornogrophy.

Overall, this is a gripping story which pulls the viewer through the same mangle of emotions which the characters find themselves in. The themes of contrasts and collisions mean that it is never quite comfortable to watch, but that only fits in perfectly with the dualism of a heart-wrenching story set in paradise. It is ultimately a very sad film, but sometimes sad films are the best ones. Conclusions are drawn in all the right places and you leave with a very true message – that paradise begins in your heart. If that is not content, you can be anywhere and still want to kill yourself.

RATING: 8/10

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