This week's list of movies watched:
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012): 6/10
Gangster Squad (2013): 4/10
Slither (2006): 8/10
Kenny (2006): 7/10
A Prairie Home Companion (2006): 7/10
The Interruptors (2011): 7/10
So, this week I made my first trip to the cinema in 2013. Sadly, my moviegoing for the new year didn't get off to a very good start. On paper, Gangster Squad seems like it should be just the sort of film I'd love - it's set in postwar Los Angeles, and tells the allegedly true story of a group of misfit cops who teamed up to bring down the evil 1940s crime boss Mickey Cohen. It features a strong cast (including Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn and Nick Nolte) and was directed by Ruben Fleischer, who also helmed the very enjoyable Zombieland. Unfortunately, despite some redeeming features (the costume design and sets look very impressive), this movie was a major disappointment for me. Sometimes, when I'm watching the slower sections of a classic gangster picture like Goodfellas, The Godfather or Casino, I wonder whether it would be better if the film was non-stop exciting, violent action set pieces (like the assassination of Sonny, the car bomb under Ace Rothstein's car etc.) - but what I suppose I've come to realise is that those movies are great because it's not just about having a few gripping and violent sequences - it's the dialogue and characters which suck you in. I felt that Gangster Squad was lacking in both respects. The various characters comprising the 'Gangster Squad' were basically just thinly drawn archetypes who could be summarised in about three words apiece - "the strong leader", "the ladies' man", "the old gunslinger", "the nerdy one" etc. - and as a result, I never really particularly cared whether they succeeded in bringing down Mickey Cohen, or died trying. Sean Penn, who played Cohen, gives an incredibly cartoonish and over the top performance, which is only very tenuously based on the real life criminal of the same name. With this film, I was hoping for something like L.A. Confidential or Chinatown, but what I ended up seeing was more like The Expendables in 1940s costumes.
There's only one film which I saw this week which I'd wholeheartedly recommend. Somewhat surprisingly, it's Slither - a picture from James Gunn who also directed Super, a film which I couldn't stand. Set in a small town in the American South, the plot involves an asteroid strike hitting the woods near the town, and bringing along an extra-terrestial parasite. When local man Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) gets infected and starts attacking the townspeople, it's up to his wife (Elizabeth Banks) and the local sheriff (Nathan Fillion) to bring him down. Banks, Rooker and Fillion all provide wholehearted performances, and the movie deftly combines elements of humour with some pretty extreme gross-out horror. It's probably the best example of this type of film that I've seen since Peter Jackson's Braindead. If you only see one movie about killer brain slugs from outer space this year, make sure it's Slither.
Finally, I'm going to gloss over the three films I saw this week which were 'good but not great', and provide a few words on another recent release, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. The film has an interesting premise, albeit one which seems common to a number of other recently released or upcoming films, such as Melancholia and This is the End. A depressed insurance salesman Dodge (Steve Carrell) has to deal with the news that due to an impending asteroid strike, the world is to end in three short weeks. He resolves to spend his time tracking down the lost love of his life, accompanied by neighbour/ Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Penny (Keira Knightley). It all starts very promisingly - the blossoming friendship/ romance between Carrell and Knightley is played out in front of a backdrop of end of the world craziness, which includes riots, suicides, orgies and other desperate activities. Unfortunately, the second half of the film is a real slog. After escaping the madness of the city, the pair spend an extended period of time getting to know one another, and sadly for the viewer, neither of them is particularly interesting. It's kind of a shame that the film trailed off so dramatically towards the end, as I reckon the apocalypse could yet be fertile ground for a comedy - hopefully This is the End or Edgar Wright's forthcoming The World's End will make better use of this premise.
Kirk's Quote of the Week
A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
"Lola Johnson: What if you die some day?
Garrison Keillor: I will die.
Lola Johnson: Don't you want people to remember you?
Garrison Keillor: I don't want them to be told to remember me."