Friday, 29 October 2010

Kidulthood; The Losers


Noel Clarke, previously best known for playing Billie Piper’s boyfriend in the updated Doctor Who, here writes and co-stars in a film for the hoody generation.
I get the impression that the UK urban yout drama has been done to death but arguably there was little out beforehand, save for a handful of examples such as Bullet Boy. It’s not that original, after all the wasted youth films have been around since teenagers as a term in itself came about, and the more modern brand of inner city disaffection has featured in dozens of films, albeit the majority based in America.

We follow a group of boys getting up to mischief, involved in petty crime and looking to graduate up to the next level. The escalation in violence and commitment this involves puts some off, though it might already be too late. There is teen pregnancy, drugs drinks, fights and muggings, there are points made about black and Asian kids being followed by shop security and getting ignored by black cabs, but somehow these depictions of institutionalised racism don’t do enough to explain the boys’ anger. The film’s depiction of violence and bullying at school, leading in one case to suicide, is brutal and one example of the film moving away from genre conviction to frame a British experience; aside from a section of the teen audience many won’t be aware of the reality affecting children like those in the film, halfway between kids and grown ups.
Clarke takes a central if supporting role as the school boogey-man Sam, all Ice Cube scowl and permanently be-hooded. After a less than wise opportunity for the main trio of boys to ambush him he hunts them for the rest of the film until the inevitably tragic conclusion. It’s good that Clarke was able to continue the story past this point in his written-and-directed sequel, Adulthood, as it’s a further chance to carry on the film’s standpoint of not judging the characters for their choices, instead showing that leading such lives isn’t without consequences. Still, however many films attempt to get the message across that life for a bottom-rung teen crim is far from rosy they usually fail to burst the “that won’t happy to me” attitude.

The Losers

A good natured action romp, initially the 12A certificate is alarming for a film about an A-Team alike bunch of mercenaries, but The Losers successfully exchanges any more brutal violence for some pretty decent comedy. The overall feel is light hearted, with off-screen shooting of minions in the head and throwing people off buildings played for laughs.
Jason Patric as the arch-nemesis CIA man Max is wonderful, freed from a leading role and good-guy template he attacks his handful of scenes with glee, dripping with irony and pithy put-downs. The main team of The Losers work well together with all of the actors creating likeable characters. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is good as the head of the team Clay, exuding a ‘man’s man’ air and a sense of reluctant authority; Idris Elba is good as the menacing Roque, using his imposing presence to convincingly backup his character’s anger and frustration; Columbus Short is good as Pooch, tying the team together, Oscar Jaenada draws the short straw as the strong and silent sniper Cougar; Chris Evans is great as the comic relief Jensen, stealing the scene time and again with his skewed outlook.
The plot centers on how this special ops team are sent after a drug baron only to find a bus load of children at the compound to ward off air strikes. Their bosses press ahead regardless so they storm the compound, rescue the kids and escape to the evac point in time to avoid the bombs. Once at the chopper they load on the kids to send them to safety, only to be betrayed and the chopper destroyed, leaving them stranded in South America, officially dead back in the US. The mysterious Zoe Saldana as Aisha approaches Clay in a decent fight scene standing in for a passionate sex scene, crashing around a hotel room and leaving the building in flames after they finally come to an understanding. She is a source of friction for the team as her motives for helping them get revenge against Patric’s G-man are unknown, with Roque particularly averse to her presence.
The action scenes are fine but it’s the interactions between the cast that shine, Jensen provoking reactions and Max’s exchanges with his right-hand man Wade are juicy.
The Losers is not the best example of a tent-pole blockbuster but it’s a fun ride and a good example of a film going for a lower certificate not feeling like a dilution of the original idea.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Brothers Bloom; The Killer Inside Me

The Brothers Bloom

From the opening scenes the Brothers Bloom cultivates an air of the quirky American indie, shades of Wes Anderson et al in the voice overs and present day characters often wearing period suits.
The film is good though, breezily enjoyable rather than slavishly trying to fit within a particular sub-classification of American cinema. Mark Ruffalo is excellent as always, here as a slightly shadier character than usual but reveling as the brash showman Stephen to Adrian Brody’s more introspective, melancholic and rumpled Bloom. The prologue sees the brothers in and out of foster homes until Stephen finds a talent in constructing elaborate long cons, complete with character development and narrative arcs. Jumping to the present day we find Bloom miserable at having to live out his life as his brother’s characters. He runs away only to be tracked down by their mysterious Japanese pyrotechnic expert Bang Bang, when Stephen persuades him into one last con with the added advantage of Rachel Weisz as bait. She has inherited vast sums and spends her days shut up in a mansion learning various random skills. Weisz plays the archetypal quirky girl, but although her circumstances are less than credible she manages to create a believable character from it. Stephen embroils her in a convoluted, international quest involving cat burglary, train journeys, explosives and Robbie Coltrane. Bloom is ethically confused as they deceive the girl, although she simultaneously seems to know that it’s all staged and decides to get caught up in the adventure regardless.
As a movie openly about cons, stories and twists you find yourself constantly second-guessing the reality of any scenes, the depths of Stephen’s set-up and everyone’s motivations, but this guessing removes the audience a step back from the fiction and pulls you away from the characters.
Despite this the whole production is likeable, with Bloom’s melancholy an enriching counterpoint to the jovial, quirky tone that the film mostly holds, closely resembling an Anderson feature with the location trotting and that general feel that isn’t exactly timeless but that could take place in a number of periods whilst set firmly in none. It may not be entirely successful but it’s certainly good enough.

The Killer Inside Me

It would seem willfully contrary to talk about Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me without touching on the controversy surrounding the violence found in the movie.
Men have killed women on film for decades, but the visceral impact of Casey Affleck’s Sheriff Lou Ford punching Jessica Alba’s prostitute Joyce into a pulp is heightened by her “I love you”, delivered before losing consciousness. This unpalatable reaction is a repeat of an earlier scene; after attacking him for threatening to run her out of town, Ford’s retaliation is over the top, taking his belt to her backside. When he catches himself and apologises she asks him not to be sorry, they then embrace and thus begins a torrid affair.
The violence itself, whilst undeniably shocking and horrible, to me doesn’t seem worse than examples elsewhere. Fight Club may seem a farcical comparison as the violence is between males and in a context where it is consensual, but when Jared Leto’s Angel Face is overpowered by Edward Norton’s narrator, only to have his face caved in as Tyler Durden’s voiceover explains that he wanted to ‘destroy something beautiful’ to the shocked faces of other club members, it seems just as visceral. The difference with The Killer Inside Me is down to the context, the idea that Ford’s violence could inspire love, or that he could genuinely love someone who he then proceeds to physically destroy.
Aside from the controversy over two specific scenes there is something ultimately unsatisfactory with the film although it’s hard to put a finger on. The calm manner in which Ford deals with every situation (his killings, while brutal, seem to be a necessary chore) lends the film a dream like quality in keeping with the almost mythical 50s small town Americana setting, but this extends to the plot in terms of a loose structure which isn’t concerned with motivation.
The flashback snippets picking out details from Ford’s childhood are obviously intended to explain how he has turned out but they only hazily sketch out some beginnings of a pathology, most of his murderous inclinations seem to spring from nowhere. In American Psycho Patrick Bateman has no remorse for his victims but he is anxious about his self-preservation and social standing; here Ford barely expresses any interest in his own life, due to his actions it’s hard to believe in his love and there seems to be little motivation in anything else - he’s not driven to kill outside his intricate planning, he doesn’t seem genuinely interested in either the revenge or money gained from his initial plan and he doesn’t seem particularly dedicated to either saving his own skin or destroying himself (in the end he is more resigned to fate).
The controversy over the film’s violence has created a lot of interest in a film which perhaps couldn’t sustain it otherwise.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Solomon Kane; Alice in Wonderland

Solomon Kane

From the creator of Conan the Barbarian, Solomon Kane seems a surprisingly interesting character compared to the black-souled Hercules. A captain in the English army who have pushed on to North Africa after battle in Spain at the dawn of the 17th century, we see Solomon adept at slaying all before him whether with a pair of swords or flintlock pistols. After storming a castle and butchering the wounded survivors  Solomon’s men are picked off by Djinn living in ominous mirrors. He is trapped in the throne room with spirits who manifest as a demon replete with a sword encrusted with glowing runes; it seems he has been sent by the devil to claim Kane’s soul, but Solomon manages to defeat the creature and returns home to England, exiling himself to a monastery while he renounces violence and earnestly attempts to live at peace.

However, one day the monks send him forth as God has other plans for him and he sets out to travel 17th century England, a land of mud and plague with puritans fleeing to the new world, but it is also a land of witches, sorcery and a disease which turns strong mens eyes black as it does with their souls, they in turn killing or enslaving the weak at the bidding of the sorcerer Malachai. Thus it’s Solomon’s destiny to defeat the evil blighting England, spurned on by an innocent girl and her kindly family; his ability to defeat said evil is directly related to him re-embracing his violent side and tolchocking anything vaguely sinister.
Max Von Sydow reprises his English noble with strangely Scandinavian accent from Robin Hood, James Purefoy does a good job of convincingly marrying up a bit of inner turmoil and a bit of joy at hitting many people with intent, all the while carrying off a passable West country twang. Pete Postelthwaite turns up in a reliable, solid manner, and Mackenzie Crook’s appearance is as mercifully brief as Jason Flemying’s.

As fantasy films go Solomon Kane has a nice grounding in some semblance of reality, or gritty medieval action adventure it has a nice line in the supernatural. Not a masterpiece by any means but for a sword and sorcery gorefest it has more than enough to keep you with it.


Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton’s name as some sort of stamp of authority has long been tarnished, ever since the awkward remake of Planet of the Apes. I’m mildly pleased to say then, that whilst Alice isn’t a return to form - it’s not as good as the Burton-lite of Sleepy Hollow, for example - it’s a step back in the right direction.

The idea of picking up the Alice story years down the road (like Hook) is a good way of avoiding criticism for choices made in an adaptation while still being able to use the characters and settings that have become so recognisable. The storyline itself melds Carroll’s Jabberwocky to the world of Alice, the Red Queen having used the eponymous beast and the Bandersnatch to oppress all and sundry. The basic plot of a bad nasty oppressing a world of fantastical characters who are joined and championed by an outsider is a childrens fantasy staple, and the recycling of age old material isn’t confined to the storyline.
Numerous scenes bring to mind snippets of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy with both a hilltop ruin and a crumbling stone staircase used in the same scene, Alice clad in armour reminiscent of Prince Caspian. Casting choices also cause some problems, the distinctive tones of Stephen Fry and Alan Rickman divorcing them somewhat from the characters they play (though admittedly this will only affect those in the audience who know them as household names) and the inevitable Johnny Depp no entirely convincing as the Mad Hatter, his get-up of contacts, make up and mess of hair and eyebrows a little too overwhelming, whilst his delivery feels more like a patchwork of voices and ticks that he enjoys using rather than an actual character (though his moody recitals of snippets of the Jabberwocky in a Scottish accent are more satisfying). Anne Hathaway is stuck in Burton limbo as the White Queen in goth make up and squeamish tics similar to Ichabod Crane, but Matt Lucas as Tweedles Dum and Dee is okay, whilst Bonhams-Carter’s Red Queen, though channeling Liz from Blackadder, is an enjoyable performance.
Despite a number of little niggles Alice in Wonderland is pretty good and a definite improvement on Burton’s more recent productions. It’s probably too much too hope for a return to the likes of Ed Wood, but perhaps he hasn’t yet completely lost the magic.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Robin Hood

Robin Hood

Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott again. A thousand years later the same stocky everyman is fighting in mud rather than sand, and has swapped being father to a murdered son and husband to a murdered wife to become Robin Longstride, archer in Richard the Lionheart’s crusading army. The army is poor and sacking its way back home to England one castle at a time, but a set of coincidences leave the king dead and Robin and some mates disguising themselves as knights to secure passage home with the king’s crown. Robin pretends to be Sir Loxley of Nottingham whose blind dad takes him in, and he swiftly turns that tax-starved village around with a mixture of hard graft and banditry. Meanwhile, Mark Strong is Godfrey and plots to oust the new king, brother of the late Richard, and have King Philip of France take England. Robin unites the northern barons who have been attacked by Godfrey’s French forces posing as the king’s men, and averts civil war, heading off with a newly united force to fight the French on the beaches. It’s at this point that Cate Blanchett’s Maid Marian (widow of the late Sir Loxley and newly sharing her home and bed with Robin) arrives, leading the wild boys of Nottingham forest in a charge on ponies and you go “Durrrr…”.
Anyway, there’s action, jokes, tomfoolery and evil sneers. One dimensional French baddies feature alongside a great cast with Max Von Sydow, William Hurt, Danny Huston and particularly Blanchett as stand outs, with Blanchett in a decent female role absent from Gladiator, brave and resourceful but not too modern to be totally out of step with 11th Century England. If only Russell’s accent were as reliable, but to be fair it does keep to the North of England even if it does sometimes wander coast to coast.
Robin Hood is unlikely to end up in many top ten lists but it’s a reliably entertaining offering nevertheless.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

How To Train Your Dragon

How To Train Your Dragon

Lilo and Stitch is my second favourite non-Pixar Disney film, behind Emperor’s New Groove. The creators of Stitch are behind How To Train Your Dragon (HTTYD), evident in the design of the main dragon Toothless, with its flat, cuddly shark ’s head and bestial traits variously showing behaviour associated with cats, dogs and bats. Whilst it’s heartening that despite the often told coming of age story, the film avoids the usual anthropomorphic tendencies with Toothless being a definite animal.
The first thing that you notice in HTTYD is the accents, and while Gerard Butler fits his role as our hero’s father, village chief, with “SPARTA” sized gusto, it seemed a weird choice to make the Scandinavian vikings Scottish. This will likely go over the heads of most of the intended audience who are just as likely not to notice this as the lack of raping and pillaging, but there are bound to be a few nerdy boys and girls telling mum and dad that vikings weren’t from Scotland. The nerdy boy lead, of course, is American, and curiously sounds quite old and neurotic for a ten year old Scottish viking boy (the character Hiccup is played by teen comedy regular Jay Baruchel who looks younger than his 28 years).
Laughs are there but not plentiful, the fellow dragon slayers in training are broad stereotypes including competitive twins, a knuckle-headed braggart and a tomboy love interest, thrills and spills are relatively low-key (flight feels more threatening than the dragons themselves) an the creature design for the various types of dragon smacks a little of Pokemon and above all, the story of a misunderstood outsider discovering their true worth is age-old in children’s movies (in this case the warrior chief’s son Hiccup is embarrassingly poor as a trainee dragon slayer, but finds another way to deal with the swarms of dragons that plague their village).
Despite all these little bugbears HTTYD is an enjoyable film with enough going on to keep the older children’s film fan interested.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Twilight: New Moon

Twilight: New Moon

What Harry Potter did for children’s fantasy Twilight has done for teen gothic romance, bringing the undying love and heaving bosoms to a new generation of young women.
Second in the franchise, New Moon starts with characters and relationships established and so quickly sets about getting teen ladies swooning. Edward has decided that he has to go; he barely trusts himself with his love, Bella, and her insistence that he turn her into a vampire like himself doesn’t sit well with his idea of the immortal soul, so he denies his feelings and to save his love, he skips town and leaves Bella to a bit of despair. Cue some ridiculous scenes of teen moodiness, firstly of Bella having the most monumental sulk, camera panning 360 degrees around her as she sits motionless whilst the seasons come and go outside her bedroom window. Then comes childhood friend Jacob who Bella decides would be a good way to pass the time and ease some of the Edward pain, regardless of Jacob’s obvious crush on her. She starts to thrill seek like riding too fast on dirt bikes as the danger instigates visions of Edward telling her to stop, only encouraging her as she tries to bring on the visions again and again and satiate her Edward craving. Wispy hallucinations aren’t the peak of the hysteria, though. Jacob’s reaction to Bella playing his heart is to join up with his dodgy mates which entails cropping his hair, suddenly bulking up and developing the habit of running about in the Alaskan forest in just his shorts. Oh, that and becoming a werewolf. It seems that some of his Native American tribe were not just enemies of vampires, but actively fought them as werewolves. It begs the question of how the Native Americans lost North America to the Europeans, but hey.
As with vampire mythology Twilight picks and chooses from the ‘rules’ associated with werewolves, as the boys retain control over their wolf forms (albeit quick to anger) and are not bound to the moon. Even the frequent, gratuitous scenes of Jacob and his beefcake torso (Twilight’s take on the gothic heaving, corseted bosom, and the source of a messy drinking game) aren’t the peak of New moon’s strangeness - this is reserved for the Voltari, something like the high council of vampires and preening, camp hams to a man, decked out in centuries old regalia as if the shiny-skinned updating of the vampire myth never happened. Michael Sheen is particularly guilty here as head vamp, all bug eyes and wry smiles and no doubt relishing the prospect of outdoing Bill Nighy from their Underworld days.
New Moon certainly isn’t only for ladies prone to corny romance, but everyone else may end up enjoying it for reasons no necessarily intended. Though with the sheer quantities of camp sloshing around it would be hard to believe that the producers don’t recognise some of its more ridiculous appeal.

Friday, 15 October 2010

An American Werewolf In London

An American Werewolf In London

29 years on and American Werewolf In London (AWIL) is justifiably recognised as a horror classic. One of its most memorable features were the gruesome transformation sequences created by special effects whizz Rick Baker, but it has a lot more going for it.
The horror/comedy movie was hardly unknown in 1981 what with a couple of decades of camp Hammer features preceding it, not to mention the Abbot and Costello films, but AWIL was one of the first to try and do both sides justice. The comedy was covered in everything from the OTT “You ain’t from round ‘ere” stereotypes in the Slaughtered Lamb to David running through London Zoo with only balloons for modesty, the kvetching between David and Jack and an actual incarnation of director John Landis’ recurring in-joke See You Next Wednesday, here in the form of a dodgy softcore porn film. Alongside this is genuine horror in the tension-wracked scenes of the boys stalked on the moor, in the suit hunted down in an empty tube station and in the sheer violence of David’s nazi-werewolf dreams.
The film succeeds admirably in creating sympathy for David, a nice guy caught up in an unbelievable situation, without skimping on the gruesome reality of what he has become as his victims confront him later in the film.
Speaking of showing the horror, the aforementioned transformation sequences once again highlight the benefit of ‘live’ camera effects over CGI. Whilst you know that what’s happening is a trick, your mind knows tat the effects at least are as real as the actors in the scene and this helps give the sequences real weight, along with David Naughton’s performance as he screams in absolute agony while his body stretches and contorts in unnatural ways.
In the wide canon of werewolf films throughout the decades AWIL still manages to outshine newer entries such as wolf, Dog Soldiers, The Wolf Man and its own dire sequel, An American Werewolf In Paris, with only the Ginger Snap films worthy rivals.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Kick Ass

Kick Ass

Superhero parody has been around as long as the current run of comic-book movies have, with 1999’s Mystery Men’s focus on the slightly less super variety of hero pre-dating both X-Men and Spiderman. Since then he genre has been subverted further by the like of Hancock and My Super Ex-Girlfriend.
While Kick Ass isn’t strictly a parody, it offers a skewed view on the genre - what if costumed crime-fighters were real? The titular Kick Ass’s first encounter with criminals provides a pretty definitive answer.
Despite the heaped critical acclaim, the film is not without its problems. Lead character Dave Lizewski is presented as just another teen schlub, but despite his glasses and mop of curls he is obviously tall, muscular and handsome. In his opening scene as he walks the corridors of high school his smiles are too open and charismatic to convince as an everygeek, Aaron Johnson doesn’t seem able to pull off the dorky wimp that Toby Maguire could. Kick Ass firmly sets itself in the modern age with camera phones and social websites key to the movie, leaving it in danger of dating quickly despite a number of the underlying themes being fairly universal. The film is certainly more bloodthirsty than the average caped crusader adaptation, death and dismemberment ramping up considerably when Big Daddy and Hit Girl arrive on the scene.
As Big Daddy, Nicolas Cage finds himself in a film that isn’t a disaster, though this may be to do with him taking a supporting role rather than opening the film, but could be a possible new direction to reverse a career nose dive?
Kick Ass is filled with numerous neat touches: The ‘origin’ story of Big Daddy and Hit Girl, tying them into the plot, Big Daddy’s prowess as a comic book artist, strange sequences relayed by fractured digital video footage, CCTV surveillance and a first-person night goggle scene.
Most of the supporting cast work well whether it be Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz, various UK odd-bods standing in for Italian American gangsters (think Dexter Fletcher and Jason Flemyng), Christopher Mintz-Plasse once again trading off his awkward nerd persona but particularly Mark Strong, renewing the tradition of the Englishman playing the bad guy.
Kick Ass works well, by turns funny and exciting, but for some reason it just didn’t gel as a whole for me.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

GI Samurai

GI Samurai

The premise at first seems to be straight from the pages of a sci-fi manga story, or possibly an idea thrown about during Twilight Zone scripting meets before being thrown out when budget considerations came into play.
The idea of a modern day battalion transported centuries back in time to come up against the swords and bows of the samurai era could easily be played for laughs, but instead GI Samurai follows a more realist tack looking at how the soldiers learn to accept what’s happened and work out what to do next. Soon after a group of Japanese self defence force soldiers experience a mysterious incidence of time travel, a samurai approaches them and persuades Sonny Chiba’s Lieutenant Yoshiaki Iba to side with him against a local rival army. After making short work of their newfound enemy using a tank and jeep-mounted machine gun, the lord hatches a plan to overthrow the emperor himself and march on Edo.
For an actor famous for playing ass-kicking yakuza and street fighters, Sonny Chiba is refreshingly three dimensional as a man first cautious of making too big an impact in the past, before seeing his chance to wage actual warfare and win, embracing the challenge with gusto. As the film progresses we see just how adaptable the seemingly backward forces were, formulating strategies to defeat the technically superior modern firepower with liberal use of ninjas (though not the stereotypical black pyjamas and balaclavas kind).
Beyond the battles themselves we have other elements among the troops, one man ‘going native’ and dropping out of the fight to stay with a peasant surrogate family, one man supposed to be married shortly ends up attracting a lady who then obsessively follows the troops, whilst we see flash-forwards of his fiancee waiting for him in the present, and one soldier who is openly hostile to Iba’s authority goes rogue with a few men, stealing a boat and raping and pillaging terrified villagers along the coast.
Best of all is samurai Kagetora who enlists Iba’s help. Played by Isao Natsuyagi, he has a childlike glee when the new, powerful weapons suddenly become available to him, but his cunning is more than a match for any of the present-day warriors.
GI Samurai is a superior sci-fi “What if?” feature and is well worth checking out.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Clash of the Titans (2010); Cemetery Junction

Clash of the Titans

It’s long been accepted that many blockbusters are just fodder, success coming from an inflated marketing budget and a cast of household names rather from any inherent quality. Sometimes they are fun with a knowing wink at their disposable status. Sometimes, like with Clash of the Titans, they’re just shit.

There’s nothing here for you; the plot is rubbish (the opening narrated exposition uses pretty CGI constellations to tell the story of Zeus, Poseidon and Hades defeating the titans, so there are no titans in the film itself), the acting is mainly poor with even Mads Mikkelsen struggling to make much of his role, the action scenes are pedestrian with sword and sandal clashes less exciting than the Lord of the Ring trailers and the Kraken seemingly lifted from the Gears of War videogame, the use of 3D is laughable with only a handful of scenes making anything more than a cursory use of the extra dimension, and even these examples are thoroughly underwhelming.

A remake of the 1981 original, famous for its use of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion beasties, the CGI effects fail to convey any sense of weight to its few action scenes - for an action/spectacle blockbuster these are surprisingly few, two scenes fighting Jason Flemyng as a corrupted Calibos, one giant scorpion fight, an encounter with Medusa and the Kraken finale contribute to the film somehow feeling half finished, despite it feeling a lot longer than its 106 minute running time.
The two largest stars are Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes as Zeus and Hades, and whilst you’d hardly expect career-best performances from what is obviously an easy payday, you’d be grateful for at least a little hamming in comparison to the phoned-in throwaways included. The trailer is not just a ‘best of’ compilation of moments, but somehow seems to display more drama and excitement than exists in the entire film itself - as a music video it would probably work fine. Where did Sam Worthington spring from? Co-star in the risible Terminator:Salvation and inexplicably chosen for James Cameron’s 3D baby, it’s probably unfair to judge the man by roles that give him little to do but glower, run and jump. Should you have the opportunity to see this, I’d advise fleeing instead.

Cemetery Junction

What, the 70s? Again?
There is a tired cliché that says you should write what you know, but in the case of this feature from The Office team, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, it’s maybe not so advisable when everyone else already knows.
Freddie has just got a new job as insurance salesman to one day get out of the titular small town, the embodiment of sleepy, suburban 70s England. His friend Bruce is stuck in the dead end factory that Freddie left behind and where his dad still works, and the pair hang around with their friend Snork, the fat comedy relief in a pork pie hat. We see them boozing and brawling, but as Freddie tries to extricate himself from this adolescence in a desire to “be someone”, he realises that the people in the offices with their suits and ties are just as stuck as the factory workers he left behind. Just to reinforce things he meets a girl from his childhood who turns out to be the daughter of his ruthless boss (Ralph Fiennes) and engaged to the reptilian Mike (Matthew Goode in top form), next in line for the boss’s job. She dreams of traveling the world as a photographer, he falls in love, stop me if you’ve heard it all before.
The themes of following your dreams, escaping small town banality and growing up are occasionally enlivened by flashes of Gervais/Merchant style humour, but while some seem out of place for the time period, many others jar as they sound as if they have just dropped out of the mouth of Ricky himself.
As well as the humdrum subject matter of the film itself, it’s hard to identify with the leads Christian Cooke and Tom Hughes as Freddie and Bruce due to their top-model looks which begs the question how they’ve found themselves stagnating in the home counties and bursts the bubble of their everyman situation.
There’s nothing wrong with covering old ground, but you need to bring something new to the situation be it perspective, technique or a new twist, but in the case of Cemetery Junction there is little new here, just like in the town itself. The best thing about the film is a small turn by Steve Spiers as the town’s sergeant who gives Bruce a wake up call towards the end of the film, and the way Bruce’s character relates to his own father after this.
It’s hard to recommend the film to anyone besides the die hard Gervais fans desperate to see him in the role of Freddie’s father, who’s a bit racist but it’s okay because they didn’t know better in the 70s, did they?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Mic Macs

Mic Macs

Jeanne-Pierre Jeunet’s Mic Macs has a similar feel to his other work - whether the fantasy dystopia of City of Lost Children, aborted Hollywood experiment/franchise entry Alien: Resurrection or the acclaimed twee romance Amelie, there is a palpable visual style that links them all - sickly greens and warm coppers with steam driven and clockwork machinery being a big feature (witness the mess of parts that make up Alien: Resurrection’s wheelchair). Mic Macs manages to combine the artistic direction along with Jeunet’s preoccupation for the more eccentric of characters, tying it all together in a tale that protests against the arms industry without being too self-righteous.
It centers around our misfit hero Bazil and in a fast paced montage sequence we see his father die during mine clearance in Africa, his mother bereaved and then taken off to a mental hospital, Bazil enduring a care home until he escapes and ends up working in a video shop aged 38. It’s here that we see him take a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting outside the shop; he survives with a bullet lodged in his brain, and on leaving hospital he finds his things thrown out of his flat and his job taken by someone else, leaving him to resort to busking until he is taken in by a group of outcasts living in a scrapyard. They work at re-purposing and recycling the things Parisians have thrown away and eventually come to help Bazil as he plots revenge on the arms companies that manufactured the mine and bullet that had such a huge impact on his life - one day during a routine junk run he discovers the two arms companies’ HQs opposite each other on the same road.
Lots of gags and slapstick ensue as each of the friends uses his or her unique abilities to help the plan come together.
Mic Macs succeeds as a warm comedy that manages to work despite some of the overly wacky characters and situations.