Archive for the 'Movies' Category

Film Reviews: Rango, The Other Guys, Another Year and others

March 6, 2011

I caught up with some film viewing this weekend

Rango

The film starts with an unnamed lizard who lives in a glass case and fancies himself as an actor, using toys in place of a full cast. The poor little chap is clearly a bit lonely and struggling with his identity. Before long his glass case falls out the back of a moving car and he finds himself dumped unceremoniously in the desert. From here he finds himself in a small wild west town filled with other small critters. They don’t much like outsiders so he pretends to be a gunslinger called Rango. From here he quickly finds himself being central to the towns efforts to save itself from various problems.

The film is, unsurprisingly, dotted with references to all sorts of other westerns, and even Three Amigos. There’s also a plot line that seems to draw parallels with everyones favourite obsession of our time: the banking crisis.

Johnny Depp provides one of his more enjoyable performances in recent years and clearly enjoys playing a ham. The animation is beautifully done and the design is great. Hans Zimmer does a brilliant job of taking every western soundtrack and incorporating them, as well as a fantastic Dick Dale rip-off on the end credits.

Mostly though, the jokes are great, and there are enough surprises to stop things getting boring.

As a sidenote to anyone thinking of taking their kids: I saw this in a cinema filled with children and I think kids less than nine are going to struggle with this movie. It seems too long to hold their attention, most of the jokes will just fly past them and some of the scenes will completely confuse them.

The Other Guys

The Other Guys is yet another vehicle for Andy McKay and Will Ferrell. This time the plot is that New Yorks best cops have died in a bizarre accident so now two loser cops look to take their place. And that’s basically as much plot as you’re going to get.

I think this film is a warning to Ferrell and McKay that their relationship has finally run out of steam. I really liked Anchorman, Talledega Nights was pretty good (although largely because of Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance) and Step Brothers was a cobbled together, hit and miss mess. The Other Guys represents a further drop in quality.

Firstly Mark Wahlberg doesn’t belong in this movie. Either he was badly directed or he can’t do comedy for shit. He should be playing a purely straight man role (much like James Caan in Elf) but instead he’s playing a weird combination of straight man and wacko and the poor bastard just can’t make it work.

Secondly this film is a criminal waste of comic talent. Steve Coogan plays a Nick Leeson like character who makes losses in the stock market and then hides them in other investments. He doesn’t get a laugh in the entire movie. Even more insulting is they give a running gag to Michael Keaton that is one of the most pathetic attempts at a gag you’ll ever hear from professional writers.

Finally, the jokes in the first half an hour are pretty good but then the whole thing falls of a cliff, the energy dies and the film starts to feel like a chore.

The film this most readily resembles is Ben Stiller’s and Owen Wilson’s Starsky and Hutch. So, if you think that someone should have made a lower quality sequel to Starsky and Hutch then your luck is in.

Oh, one last thing. The end credits are taken up with infographics about the US bank bailout. Seriously.

Another Year

Here we have a Mike Leigh film that revolves around Tom and Jerry, a couple who are approaching their retirement. But while they are the centre of the film the main stories come from their friends who drift in and out of their lives.

In this respect the film has a similar structure to Mike Leigh’s earlier film, High Hopes – and shares most of the same cast.

The main character is Mary who is middle-aged, single and rather fond of wine.

There’s surprisingly little drama in Another Year, no big revelations or conflicts. It becomes apparent that this is because all the drama has already happened, the damage has been done and now we see the fallout.

Another one of the odd things about this film is that it is ultimately about Mary but doesn’t centre around her. It’s as if she’s an incidental character in her own life – and ultimately that’s the saddest thing about her.

If you’ve liked Mike Leigh films previously then this is a must-see. Highly recommended.

44 Inch Chest

This movie has five of Britain’s greatest actors playing a bunch of gangsters. They kidnap a waiter from a restaurant because he’s having an affair with Ray Winstone’s wife (note: never have an affair with Ray Winstone’s wife). They drag the poor bastard to an abandoned house and then try to work out what to do with him. And that’s it really.

The film feels a bit theatrical because it pretty much happens on one set plus the dialogue is in no way realistic. But, that criticism to one side, this is a very entertaining bit of old nonsense with the superb performances covering a multitude of sins. Make sure you catch it on telly.

The Yes Men Fix the World

And finally a documentary about The Yes Men, a pair of guys who play pranks on corporate America. It’s about time someone did.

I do feel that the prankster-ish element that has crept into public protest is very welcome – it would be awful to revive the prudish, po-faced protesting of the eighties.

So if you want to protest (and there’s so much to protest these days) this film offers inspiration.

Film Review: Privilege

February 7, 2010

As I was saying in my previous review of Permissive, I have recently acquired three films on BFI’s Flipside series. Since I love all thing Sixties and groovy some of these films are rather appealing to me.

Next up for review is Privilege.

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Privilege is about a pop star with the dull name Steven Shorter, played by the boringly named Paul Jones of Manfred Mann. His act is a recreation of his time in prison where he is put in a small cage and sings while being tortured by his guards. All the while girls scream and eventually rush the stage. Backstage we see that he is managed by stereotypical music business types. Further, we learn that he is employed by “the establishment” to contain the masses by channeling their outrage into these performances.

Later on we also find that he is used to sell British products, promote the governments views on healthy eating, and eventually he is promoting the Church of England.

All through the film we can see that all is not well with Shorter as he appears to be deeply uncomfortable at all times. Eventually he encounters a pretty young painter, played by Jean Shrimpton, someone with whom he can finally open up about his unhappiness which opens the door to his inevitable public breakdown.

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The more eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that the two lead roles are Paul Jones (a singer) and Jean Shrimpton (a model), two people who’d never acted before this film. While their performances are not great they’re not the worst offenders in this film. (There’s a guy who plays a musical arranger who is also a “self confessed anarchist” and it’s a shockingly poor performance.)

The more eagle-eyed will also have noticed some flawed logic where the establishment is redirecting rage from themselves by directing it the prison services who, presumably, are also part of the establishment. Yeah, I don’t get it either. These lapses in logic are littered throughout the film.

The film was made in 1966 and the most dated aspect of the film is the idea that it’s the government that has somehow gained almost exclusive control of culture to push their propaganda. I guess back in the sixties the idea of Britain turning into a quasi-Communist state seemed more realistic than now. These days I think most of us realise that it isn’t the government that’s all powerful, but the wealthy; the government is just as manipulated by these people as the rest of us. However this film isn’t so far off the mark when you consider that people these days often feel more animated to vote for X Factor than their local MP.

Privilege is a flawed film that seems to be pulling in several directions at once. There are many cliches and a serious lack of tension or sympathy. Steven Shorter’s meltdown is eventually a big anti-climax and the repercussions of his actions for him or anyone else are not investigated.

Still, I wouldn’t want to be too negative. The film is beautifully filmed and many scenes look fantastic. Also it does hit some high points when it strays into more exotic imagery: toe-tapping bishops, walking apples and ticker tape parades.

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Ultimately it’s hard to recommend, but anyone who has a love of the quirkier end of sixties film-making will find at least some of this film very enjoyable.

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Film Review: Permissive

January 29, 2010

I’ve recently gained possession of three DVDs from the BFIs Flipside series. Apparently the goal of Flipside is to rescue and restore unusual or cult British films from the cultural skip.

I’m a big fan of all things late sixties and groovy, and I can’t resist old footage of London so some of the films they’ve chosen have a lot of appeal to me. I’ll be reviewing the films over the next few days.

First up is Permissive. It’s a sexploitation movie from 1970 about groupies following a band who are on the bottom rung of the rock ladder.

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First let’s get the sexploitation aspect out of the way lest I be prevented from leaving the house without a grubby mac. This is a not an erotic movie. Certainly there is plenty of naked lady flesh but any frisson is quickly lost because a) they’re shagging ugly hairy hippies, b) all the scenes are liberally intercut with shots of dead people and c) everyone is utterly dead-eyed.

If, on the other hand, you can only reach a state of tumescence by seeing the naked, hairy arse of Alan from The Average White Band bobbing up and down: good news – I’ve found a film you’re going to love!

The excellent booklet that comes with the disc notes that the makers of sexploitation movies would often ensure that the sex scenes weren’t fun so they would be more likely to get past the censors. Nothing much has changed in this regard – every film in recent memory that has included explicit sex scenes has been an art house parade of misery. I’m not going to say that this is either a good or bad thing; after all if people want to see explicit sex scenes I understand that such things are available on the internet. However it’s hardly surprising that the British have such a dysfunctional attitude to sex when all on screen portrayals have to be served up with a heaping spoonful of bromide.

But I digress…

The movie begins with a brief flash forward and then we see our protagonist Suzy arrive in London wearing and carrying half of an army surplus store with her. Let’s just say she’s not dressed glamourously. We don’t know where she’s come from or why she’s there, only that she’s come to meet her old school friend. Suzy arrives in the bands hotel room only to find her friend shagging Alan from The Average White Band. A shock for any woman.

Predictably Suzy gets dragged into the bands orbit and becomes corrupted.

Permissive came out in 1970 and there’s no escape from the feeling that everyone in this film had partied through the psychedelic era only to end up the jaded and dislocated people in this movie. It’s as if everyone is tired and sleepwalking through their lives. The music is repetitive, the shots from the transit van are repetitive, the locations blur into one. Everything in this film portrays life on the road as monotonous.

Adding to the feeling of dislocation is the fact that every character in the film arrives with no back story and little in the way of personality. Have they always been this way or have years of touring turned them into this?

The film is unremittingly grimy, to the extent that it kind of clings to you after you watch it. It also contains an eye watering amount of cynicism.

In an odd way it feels like an extended version of those Public Information Films you used to see about not playing with electric pylons, or the importance of wearing a seat belt. Unlike those films, this is a warning on the dangers of being a groupie. PIFs don’t have a plot, back story or character development either. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Despite it’s numerous flaws, and there are many, Permissive is a single-minded film that perfectly captures a time and a atmosphere. Wether you want to be on the receiving end of such a grubby feeling is very much up to you. And if you don’t want to see the hairy arse of Alan from The Average White Band then you’d best avoid.