Monday, 20 February 2012

That was the week that was (13 - 19 February)

After a couple of quieter weeks, it was back into the swing of things this week with 6 films viewed, not to mention watching pretty much the complete series 4 of Six Feet Under. As Homer Simpson once said: "It's not easy to juggle a pregnant wife and a troubled child, but somehow I managed to fit in eight hours of TV a day." Amen, brother. (Note: I do not have a pregnant wife or a troubled child. It might be a bit tricky to get away with my current levels of sitting around watching the box if I did...).

Observe and Report (2009)

Jody Hill is the man behind one of the funniest American comedy series of recent years, Eastbound and Down, and with Observe and Report, he brings his particularly dark and twisted sense of humour to the big screen. The film stars Seth Rogen (in what is definitely his bleakest, edgiest performance to date) as the monstrous mall security guard Ronnie Barnhardt, a man whose psychotic and violent tendencies have kept him off the real police force. Ronnie and his crew of misfit mall law enforcers are on the hunt for a flasher who has been terrifying the female staff and customers at his place of work, and are prepared to use any means necessary to bring him down. Looking back at my review of Step Brothers from a few weeks ago, I recall that I marked down that film for its mean spirited humour, so I have to ask myself the question, why do I rate this film far higher than Step Brothers? I suppose it simply comes down to the fundamental, key question for a comedy - does the film make me laugh? In the case of Step Brothers, I didn't find myself laughing too often, so I suppose the unpleasantness of the central characters was something which I couldn't overlook. With Observe and Report, though it was a little patchy, and some of the humour here comes from some very dark places, there are so many hilarious scenes (Ronnie's confrontation with the sleazy salesman played by Aziz Ansari, Ronnie's run ins with Ray Liotta's detective, the unexpected finale, pretty much any scene featuring Michael Pena) that I didn't care that so many of its characters are diabolical sociopaths. This film was rather unfairly forgotten when it was initially released, but if you've got a sufficiently dark sense of humour, it's definitely worth a watch.

Rating: 8/10

Tamara Drewe (2010)

Stephen Frears takes us deep into the countryside for his latest effort, a comedy concerning the titular glamourous journalist (played by Gemma Arterton), whose return to the Dorset village in which she grew up causes a stir amongst the local menfolk. Will she choose strapping, honourable farmhand Andy, brash, confident rock star Ben or philandering, tedious, depraved novelist Nicholas (I'll give you a clue - it's unlikely to be option 3). If I was to review this film using just one word, that word would be 'meh'. The direction is fine, the cast generally decent (a few dodgy accents aside), it's fairly well scripted and makes use of its attractive West Country location. Despite all of that, though the film didn't really do it for me. I suppose the problem is that for a film which is supposed to be a comedy, I rarely found myself raising more than a chuckle, here and there. The plot is all over the place, with the title character out of the picture for surprisingly long stretches, and there's nothing here to hold the attention for too long. Pretty mediocre, on the whole.

Rating: 5/10

The Muppets (2011)

As a regular cinema goer, I see more than my fair share of adverts. Certain commercials which are repeated ad nauseaum (as it were) really begin to get my goat - particularly the Orange adverts which  appear just before the film and do not change for months on end. The most recent example of this is the Orange Muppets ad, which sees The Muppet Show ruined by evil corporate sponsors Orange. This advert was funny the first, second, and maybe even the third time, but not quite so funny when I'd seem the same advert on something like 25 occasions. For that reason, I have to confess that I wasn't really looking forward to this film, despite having enjoyed The Muppet Christmas Carol as a kid. Fortunately, any reservations I had about the film proved to be completely wrongheaded. It's a sweet, good natured movie, which sees smalltowners Gary, Mary and Walter help the Muppets reunite so that they can raise enough money to save their studios from evil oil magnate Tex Richman.  Above all, this film is really funny, full of knowing (but often hilarious nods) to the audience, brilliant songs (from Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie), an '80s robot and a wide range of celebrity cameos featuring the likes of Dave Grohl, Jack Black, Emily Blunt and, er, Whoopi Goldberg. All of that and you also get a sweet, funny Toy Story short thrown in as part of the movie - for free! If you have any affection for The Muppets, Flight of the Conchords or Jason Segal (or comedy in general really) you should definitely check this one out. If nothing else, it will help you work out whether you are a muppet of a man, or just a very manly muppet. (*Maniacal Laugh*).

Rating: 9/10

Black Book (Zwartboek) (2006)

Paul Verhoeven is a director known for violent, exuberant, over the top pictures which can be extremely entertaining for all the right reasons if they come off (as in the cases of Total Recall and Starship Troopers), and for all the wrong reasons if they do not (as with Showgirls). With this movie, which was the first production Verhoeven has made in his native Holland since the mid '80s, he tones down the sex and violence a little (but not too much), to suit the sombre nature of the subject matter. What we have here is a rollicking, epic tale of the Dutch resistance during the Second World War. Our heroine, Rachel Stein (Carice Van Houten), is a beautiful Jewish singer who joins forces with the freedom fighters after seeing her family massacred by the occupying Nazi forces. She is assigned the task of infiltrating the German command centre in The Hague, but finds herself developing real feelings for the pragmatic, decent German officer (Sebastian Koch) she has been asked to spy on. To provide too much more detail would give the game away, but suffice it to say that there are plenty of plot twists from here on in, with poor old Rachel betrayed as much by her Dutch compatriots as she is by the Nazis. Although the film's running time is perhaps a little bloated at 2 hours and 25 minutes, Verhoeven punctuates the story with some exhilarating, well directed action sequences, and the central performances by Van Houten and Koch are strong. My only real issues with the film are that the sheer number of turns and detours in the plotline mean that at times it is rather hard to follow, and it seems a little implausible that Stein is able to progress so far within the Nazi organisation without detection. Nevertheless, this makes for an interesting companion piece to Quentin Tarantino's similarly themed WW2 action picture, Inglourious Basterds.

Rating: 7/10

The Host (Gwoemul) (2006)

In which the dumping of toxic chemicals into the Han river in Seoul leads to disastrous consequences for the people of that city; the mutations caused by the pollution don't just create a delicious three eyed fish - they birth a large, freakish amphibian with a taste for human flesh. The creature emerges from the river, causes widespread chaos and then grabs a young girl named Park Hyan-seo and carries her off as a snack to be enjoyed later on. Only the girl's family (lead by her hapless and clumsy father, Gang-Doo) can save her.  Unfortunately the monster isn't the only obstacle in their path - they must also deal with an agitated US military, whose fear that the mutant is carrying a deadly virus leads to widespread panic... This film was a massive hit in South Korea, and broke all kinds of box office records, but for me, I think something may have been lost in translation. Though the movie starts off strongly, with a very impressive and shocking scene in which the monster runs amok in a public park, I found myself losing interest in the story after that point. Although all of the sequences involving the hideous creature are very effective, with some seamless CGI work, for the majority of the film we are stuck with the less than hilarious slapstick antics of the Park family. Not really a classic then, and certainly not a patch on the great X Files episode of the same name.

Rating: 5/10

The Woman In Black (2012)

Daniel Radcliffe leaves Hogwarts behind with this serviceable ghost story, based on Susan Hill's novel. It's a story set in a bleak and desolate part of Northern England, towards the very end of Queen Victoria's reign. Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a widower and father to a young son, who is sent to look through the papers of the recently deseased client of the solicitor's firm for whom he works. Unfortunately, the firm's client's papers are located in a forbidding looking gothic house on an island accessible only by causeway. Despite the warnings of a number of terrified locals, Kipps is resolute in his desire to spend some time in the creepy old house, and sure enough, he becomes the victim of a series of hauntings by a vengeful and malevolent spirit. The storyline here is rather straightforward and I'd pretty much plotted out the entire film in my head halfway through, but all the same, this is an effective little shocker. Most of the scares here follow the simple formula of "Arthur Kipps hears a strange noise, walks into a creepy room, the soundtrack goes silent and then WHAM - there is a sudden burst of loud noise and the appearance of a grotesque, pale face". While there's nothing particularly new in using this technique, it got me all the same, and I found myself gripping on tightly to the armrests during the film's most frightening sequence, in which Kipps has to survive a night in the house with only an easily spooked dog and a collection of sinister looking dolls for company. Whether the film would be quite as successful without the impact of violently loud multiplex speakers, I'm not so sure.

Rating: 7/10

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