Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Sightseers; Wreck It Ralph; Jack Reacher; Sixteen Candles; My Brother The Devil; Prometheus


Coming in between Kill List and A Field In England, Ben Wheatley’s murderous love letter to English eccentricity and camping holidays shares a certain tone with his other films.
More black comedy than horror, Sightseers still offers a fair helping of gore as sociopath Chris (Steve Oram) takes girlfriend Tina (Alice Lowe) on a tour of England’s lesser-known camping spots which mainly involves killing off people who get on his nerves.

The supporting characters are nicely observed, with Tina’s overbearing mum and the middle-class couple they meet on their journey being stand-outs, but the main cast is great, with Lowe perfect as a slightly naïve shut-in thrilled to be shown the world by the confident Chris, portrayed by Oram as a loner with particularly strong ideas about camping and plastics.
It’s not just the dark tone that’s shared with the director’s other films, with a visual style that often has a dreamlike, ethereal quality, no doubt thanks to the director of photography who has worked with Wheatley on all his films, Laurie Rose.

It’s hard to imagine a film so English to its core taking off elsewhere, but hopefully it will find an audience away from the curtain-twitchers of middle England over time.

Wreck It Ralph

It has to be said I had high hopes for this. An animated film set in and around retro video games? Excite!
As it is Wreck It Ralph has a lot of attention to detail and not a few little fan pleasing elements to spot, but the story only ranks as okay.

Ralph is the baddy of a hit retro game in a Donkey Kong style, and is fed up of living in a dump and getting no recognition of making the game a success after the game characters come to life in their arcade, once the gamers go home (in a Toy Story style).
After finding little help in a game villain’s self-help group (oddly including Street Fighter’s Zangief) he sets off into other games to try and get his own medal.
However, if you aren’t back in your game before the arcade re-opens, you run the risk of your game cabinet being shut down as faulty, so when Ralph sneaks into Hero’s Duty (a generic first person shooter aping everything from Call of Duty to Metroid), steals a medal and then ends up in the kart racer Sugar Rush, he’s putting his own game in danger.
Aside: there’s a myth going round the arcade about a character called Turbo who, upset at his game’s fall from favour, invaded another and caused both to be shut down.
Whilst in Sugar Rush Ralph meets Vanelope who’s a glitch, a character others shun as dangerous (due to said glitching) but who wants to race and become a selectable character in her own right.

Thus Ralph learns that helping friends is more important than helping himself, etc.

The visuals are great, lots of neat little cameos including everyone from Sonic to Bowser and Pacman to Q*Bert, but the obvious love that has been poured into the film doesn’t save it from being a little flimsy plot wise.
It’s diverting and no doubt colourful and eventful enough to keep most kids going, but no classic.

Jack Reacher

Functional and workmanlike as it is, Jack Reacher nevertheless has some charm, as any film which presents a man as capable, decisive and knowledgeable always will to some.

Reacher is an ex-army investigator who has gone off-grid, but finds himself in a city after an ex-soldier he had investigated in war time is accused as a suspect of a random sniping attack.
Whilst he has no love for the man, Reacher sets about an investigation, and after a botched attempt to throw him off the case he is even more resolved.

Tired of society and impatient of rules and regulations, Reacher is dogged, determined and dangerous, easily defending himself when attacked but also capable of bringing the fight to his enemies when necessary. Basically a pitch-perfect fantasy of individual power and freedom, Jack Reacher is designed to appeal to the American male, and is scraping the outside edge of being just another one-man-army trope from the 80s, but what with the whole investigative/detective angle in order to root out conspiracy, it has a little more going for it.

Werner Herzog pops up as a bizarrely threatening ex-con of the Russian penal system, with scars to match, but seems to have been drafted in mainly for his voice, and was presumably happy to pick up the check to fund his next run of documentaries.

Cruise is Cruise, ever the heroic cypher keen to be flattered, but he does a fairly decent job of fitting the role rather than have it fit to him.

Sixteen Candles

Famous for his 80s teen movies, John Hughes is responsible for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, Weird Science and Some Kind Of Wonderful.
I’d heard good things about Sixteen Candles but had not had the opportunity to catch it until recently.

Hughes’ directorial debut in 1984, but 6th screenwriting credit, Sixteen Candles comes across as an early prototype of the ‘gross out’ teen comedies of the late 90s and new millennium, which were arguably just updates of 80s teen flicks.

Sam is glum as her family have forgotten her 16th birthday due to her sister’s impending wedding (this idea of being forgotten and overshadowed will recur in what is arguably Hughes' biggest hit, Home Alone). 
Through the course of a day at school she shows herself to be slightly more oddball than the high school mainstream, but also not off-puttingly different, and moons after the school’s handsome jock whilst simultaneously avoiding the advances of short, geeky Ted. There’s a high school dance and a house party, and by the end of the movie our heroine learns what’s important and has a high school teen version of happily ever after.

Aside from the formulaic template that so many films would copy afterward, some elements of Sixteen Candles struck me as bizarre. The grandparent’s exchange student Long Duk Dong strikes me as plainly racist, what with the oriental gong strikes that accompany anyone saying his name, and there are also some other problematic tones of sexual assault as the hunky Jake tires of his drunken, cheerleader type girlfriend, and basically offers her unconscious form to Ted to do whatever he wants with as long as Ted drives her home for him.

It’s easy to see how many people hold this in a special place in their hearts, as it clearly started a long tradition of broad comedy films about over privileged American teens, but it seems like the formula has been much improved on in the years since, if not perfected.

My Brother The Devil

A slightly new take on the recent run of London underworld films that focus on the urban youth and their part in the drug trade (rather than the semi-idolised gangster/geezer genre).

In this instance two brothers are the sons of Egyptian immigrants living on an East London estate. The eldest, Rashid, is already heavily involved in drug gangs, while the younger Mo is a schoolboy, but anxious to join with the bigger boys he sees on the estate and with his brother. After an encounter between gangs leaves Rashid’s best friend dead, he seeks to distance himself from his old lifestyle even while Mo starts to get involved.

The references to Islam and homosexuality mark out the difference in approach to most of the urban gang kids films that have come out in the last couple of decades, and it’s refreshing to see a depiction of UK urban Muslims that has nothing to do with terrorism, instead dealing with the pressures and temptations of any groups living on the poor fringes of the UK’s urban centres.


A big disappointment on my first viewing, I nevertheless felt that Prometheus deserved a revisit.

The flaws are the same - many of the characters lack character, including Logan Marshall-Green and Noomi Rapace as the leads. Noomi’s Elizabeth is unconvincing in her hazy faith represented in having a cross, and her emotional breakdown at the mention of her father seems unusual with Logan’s Charlie seeing as it’s implied that they have a fairly established relationship, this is unlikely to be old ground between them.
Charlie himself seems very odd when resorting to the bottle after they find their would-be creators dead, feeling more like a method of opening him up to David’s exploitation, where there was no obvious reason David couldn’t have been able to be more devious with a fully sober Charlie.

Whilst an air of mystery is appreciated, there’s nothing close to indicating an explanation as to why the ‘seeding’ aliens who spread their DNA on Earth were stockpiling a substance which destroys them at a genetic level and drastically increases the evolution of other organisms, in order to deliver it to Earth. Nor is there any hint as to why the alien they find alive, for all his technology and knowledge, would feel the need to just bludgeon everyone to death. It could be a result of what David said to him, but it’s unlikely that David would risk his own termination.

The actions of Sean Harris’ be-mohawked Fifield make little sense in the context of his role as geologist and mapper of the structure they explore. It’s he who is shown to know how to use the mapping technology, and even his bumbling biologist partner Millburn (Rafe Spall) is able to give captain Janek (Idris Elba) their precise location at one point, but somehow they get lost in the structure on the way out. This despite the rest of the team becoming more spooked than them by what they find and desperately rush out in advance of a storm - they seem to find their way out with ease.
Additionally, despite being a trained biologist Millburn seems quite happy to play nice with a newly discovered alien organism which looks and acts like a smooth white cobra with a lamprey mouth - sure signs of a predator or at least carnivore.
The fate of Fifield is a massive let down in terms of sci-fi cliché - he returns to the ship in some sort of undead/rabid form and proceeds to kill his crewmates with vast strength, seemingly with no other aim or goal, implying that he has become altered by the goo or the organisms and taken over, able to navigate back to the ship but not have much intelligence beyond that.

Less plot/character related but perhaps more idiotic: when the alien ship crashes back to the surface and rolls, Elizabeth and Charlize Theron’s Meredith Vickers both run from it in a straight line. The obvious plan would be to run at a 90 degree angle out of this path, further emphasised by Elizabeth’s quick roll out of the way after she trips and falls. I mean seriously, this is Looney Tunes stuff.

It’s not all a complete loss, however.

The design of the ship and structures is beautiful,but mainly Michael Fassbender's performance as the android David is pretty much a strong enough reason to watch the whole film, despite all it's faults. Every interaction, whether it be with other characters, plot-points or just the set, is laden with the feeling that his intelligence is something 'other', he is experiencing and thinking about things in a way that isn't human.

Deeply flawed, but some wonder there.


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