Monday, 18 March 2013

The week in brief (11 - 17 March 2013)

Normally, I start off proceedings by dishing out my coveted 'Pick of the Week' trophy. None of the producers of those films have collected these trophies - I have a whole bag of them at home, just waiting for their rightful owners to come and collect them... Anyway, this week, no-one gets a trophy. I'm casting a disapproving stare in the general direction of filmmakers behind the following pictures:

Logan's Run (1976): 4/10
V/H/S (2012): 6/10
Parker (2013): 5/10

The best of a pretty bad bunch was V/H/S, an anthology of found footage horror shorts from various directors. Each of the shorts purports to be a real video tape in which one or more of the protagonists meets a grisly end. The stories cover a variety of horror subgenres, including an encounter with some kind of succubus type creature (Amateur Night), a send up of slasher movies (Tuesday the 17th) and a haunted house/ Satanic cult scenario (10/31/98).  My favourite segment, "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger" chronicles a series of live Web chats between a girl and her boyfriend, with the girl attempting to persuade him that supernatural intruders have been creeping into her flat at night. One of the benefits of this form of horror movie is that you rarely get the chance to get settled or used to a particular villain, so the potential for consistent scares is higher than with a 'normal' horror film.  However, I found that although there were some genuinely scary moments, most of the characters involved in the shorts, from the horrible frat boys in Amateur Night, to the idiotic college students in Tuesday the 17th, were either insufferable or just really boring.  V/H/S is a real mixed bag, and not entirely successful. Still, at least it held my interest for a couple of hours, so it's better than the next two films in this week's round up.

At the very bottom of the pile this week was Logan's Run, a '70s sci-fi flick which is now really showing its age. What's particularly frustrating is that the movie is based on quite an interesting premise, yet isn't able to build upon it. It's set in the year 2274, in a futuristic city whose inhabitants live a joyful and hedonistic life until they reach the age of 30. At this point, the fun has to end, and they are vapourised in a ritual known as 'the Carousel', though the belief amongst the cityfolk is that this process enables them to be 'renewed' in the form of a newborn baby. Logan 5 (Michael York) works as a 'Sandman', which is to say that he guards the city, preventing anyone nearing the age of 30 from escaping before they meet their final judgment. However, after he's tasked with a top secret mission - finding and destroying a base for escapees known as "The Sanctuary" - he's required to pose as a runner, and in order to do so, he seeks the help of Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter), an idealistic young woman. As he goes on the run with her, he finds himself accepting her ideas and questioning the preconceived ideas of the society in which he lives... Anyway, all of this is fine up to a point, but there are a number of massive, glaring plotholes that are revealed as the story progresses. For example (big spoilers ahead) - at the very end of the film, Logan has turned against his former employers, and decides to bring down the government of the city. In order to do this, his grand plan is to re-enter the city, shout some slogans about the Carousel being "a lie", and hope eveyone immediately changes their mind. Though this doesn't work and he's immediately captured by another group of Sandmen, his plan pays off anyway. During his interrogation by the computer which runs the city, he succeeds in confusing it, and for no apparent reason, the whole city just immediately blows up! It's as if the screenwriter came up with the initial concept, but had no idea about how to follow through with a decent story. That's not the only problem with the movie. The sets, costumes and special effects look very dated now, Michael York is rather hammy as the eponymous hero and the second half of the movie feels both drawn out (our heroes spend about half an hour having a boring conversation with an old man, born free in the outside World) and anticlimatic. Pretty poor.

Finally, we come to Parker, the latest vehicle for cockney hardman Jason Statham. He plays Parker, a professional thief who is doublecrossed by his partners in crime after a successful heist - and left for dead at the side of the road. Of course, old Parker isn't going to take this lying down, so he decides to take revenge against those who have wronged him. Now, if the plot had been as straightforward as the explanation I've set out above, I think this could have been a pretty decent picture. I'm not a huge fan of Statham, but he's effective as an action hero, and had the movie been a simple matter of: "1. Parker is wronged; 2. Parker gets revenge; 3. The End", I think it would have worked  (that's basically the plot of Payback, which isn't a bad film).  Unfortunately, in order to pad out the running time, we take a lengthy and tedious detour in which Parker dons a Cowboy hat and a bad Texan accent and slowly and laboriously stakes out the movements of his former partners as they plan a new job in Florida. This section of the film seems to have been sponsored by the Tourist Board for Palm Beach, as it consists of a number of guided tours of the many fabulous mansions of the area, together with various speeches on the fantastic lives of high society folk in the area. Jennifer Lopez makes an appearance as an estate agent who helps out Parker, but her character doesn't make much of an impression, and could easily have been jettisoned without much of an adjustment to the story. I suppose I wasn't really expecting great things from this picture and ultimately, it was only slightly worse than I had anticipated.

Kirk's Quote of the Week

Fight Club (1999)

"Tyler Durden: If you could fight anyone, who would you fight?
Narrator: Shatner. I'd fight William Shatner."

Monday, 11 March 2013

The week in brief (4 - 10 March 2013)

This week's list of movies watched:
Ordinary People (1980): 8/10
Stoker (2013): 7/10
Silkwood (1983): 6/10
Side Effects (2013): 8/10

For the first time in quite a while, I went to the cinema twice in a week. Reviews for both of those movies coming up...

Stoker is the first English language film from the brilliant South Korean director Chan Wook Park, who previously helmed Oldboy, Lady Vengeance and Thirst. It's a mixture of horror film, gothic drama and mystery, focusing on a wealthy but dysfunctional family who live in a grand old pile, somewhere in the Southern US. We enter the story at the funeral of Richard, the patriarch of the Stoker family, whose passing paves the way for the entrance of his suave younger brother Charlie (Matthew Goode). While Richard's estranged wife Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) welcomes his attentions, his strange, withdrawn daughter India (Mia Wasikowska) suspects that something isn't quite right about her uncle... Now, I had mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, while the plot is set up intriguingly, the pay off towards the end of the picture is a little anticlimactic. Mia Wasikowska is impressive as India, but neither Kidman (who appears to be struggling to emote through a heavily botoxed face), nor Goode are quite able to match her performance. On the other hand, the film looks fantastic. Park has retained his incredibly stylish aesthetic and has edited the picture in a deliberately jarring way, creating a constant sense of unease for the viewer. Not perfect, but a promising Hollywood debut from Mr Park.

As Chan Wook Park makes his entrance onto the scene, we have to bid farewell to Steven Soderbergh, as Side Effects will reportedly be his final picture. Thankfully, he's left us on a high note. The plot hinges on the violent death of a disgraced former stockbroker, stabbed to death in his high rise apartment by his former wife. She claims that her actions were the result of a side effect of a new form of anti-depressant she was taking - she was sleepwalking during the attack, so had no control over her actions. Her psychiatrist decides to fight her corner, but as he delves deeper into the mystery, he finds his life start to fall apart... This is a really interesting, intelligent thriller which seems to be taking you in one direction before lurching off to entirely different place towards the end. Jude Law and Rooney Mara provide strong performances in the lead roles and are ably supported by Catherine Zeta Jones, who seems to be making a bit of a comeback recently. If this is Soderbergh's last film, it'll be a real shame - he's had a diverse career, directing the likes of Traffic, Out of Sight, The Limey, Haywire, Contagion and Ocean's Eleven. Still, he was also responsible for one of the slowest films of all time (Che), so maybe it's not all bad news...

Kirk's Quote of the Week

 A Mighty Wind (2003)

 "Terry Bohner: There was abuse in my family, but it was mostly musical in nature."

Monday, 4 March 2013

The week in brief (25 February - 3 March 2013)

List of films I saw last week:

Tabloid (2010): 8/10
Rust and Bone (De rouille et d'os) (2012): 7/10
Men in Black 3 (2012): 4/10

So, a pretty quiet week, with just three movies watched, all of which were fairly new releases. The pick of the bunch was Errol Morris' documentary Tabloid, which concerns a bizarre story which appeared in various English newspapers in the late 1970s. An American woman, Joyce McKinney, crossed the Atlantic in the hope of tracking down her Mormon ex-boyfriend, who had moved to the UK in order to carry out missionary work. Her side of the story was that they had previously been very much in love, but the Mormon church had brainwashed him into giving her up. She claimed that she brought him away from the church (of his own free will), and then they spent a romantic weekend together in the country . He (and the Mormon church) maintained that Joyce was guilty of kidnapping and sexual assault - she had tracked him down, abucted him, chained him up in a cottage in Devon and then forced herself upon him against his will. The documentary never makes it clear exactly what the truth of the story is, but it suggests that the reality was probably in the middle of the two stories.  What comes across most clearly is the sense that once a person has courted attention from the tabloid press, all the gory details of their personal life are seen as fair game for a story. Though McKinney clearly isn't the most stable individual, the way in which she is treated by the Mirror, in particular, is reprehensible - and the unhappy life she leads after her fifteen minutes of fame seems to be a direct consequence of that treatment.

Rust and Bone is the latest film from the brilliant French director Jacques Audiard, who was also responsible for A Prophet, The Beat That My Heart Skipped and Read My Lips. The film tells the story of Stephanie, a killer whale trainer who loses her legs in a tragic accident, and the relationship she forms with Ali, a bouncer and mixed martial artist. It's not just the story of their relationship, however - there are subplots involving the neglect of Ali's young son, his strained relationship with his sister and the industrial espionage work he carries out on the side with his mentor/ martial arts trainer.  Ultimately, the sheer number of different competing plot strands lead to the film feeling a little confused, and I was unconvinced by the rather contrived ending. However, I was impressed by Marion Cotillard's performance as Stephanie, and was astonished by the quality of the special effects used to make her appear to be a double amputee - these are completely convincing. Even if Rust and Bone fails to quite live up to the standards of some of Audiard's previous work, there are still some incredibly beautiful moments.

Last, and most assuredly least, we come to Men in Black 3. Once again, we join agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones in the present day and Josh Brolin in scenes set in the late 1960s), as they strive to keep planet Earth safe from the extra terrestials who secretly live among us. On this occasion, J is sent back to the year 1969 to attempt to save K's life from dastardly alien Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement).  Boris is a decidedly strange villain, a creature with the voice of Jeremy Irons, but the appearance of Lemmy from Motorhead after a heavy night on the tiles. Now, I was a big fan of the original movie, but with this latest sequel, pretty much everyone involved seems to be just going through the motions to collect another pay cheque. The CGI effects for the aliens look unconvincing and cheap, the action scenes are pedestrian and most of the jokes are stale and tired . The only things which save the movie from complete ignominy are the performances of Josh Brolin - who does an uncanny impression of Tommy Lee Jones - and Michael Stuhlbarg, whose character is the most interesting invention of the movie, an alien who can see through time and perceives all possible eventualities arising from an individual's actions. On the basis of this latest effort, I'd say it's about time for agents J and K to hang up their neurolisers and call it a day.

Before I go, I should also mention that my friend Colin has put together a rather good list of his favourite actors and actresses. I can't say I agree with all his choices (Jimmy Stewart and Emma Stone - yes! Matthew Perry and Neve Campbell - no!), but it's a very entertaining read.

Kirk's Quote of the Week

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

"Kasper Gutman: I couldn't be fonder of you if you were my own son. But, well, if you lose a son, it's possible to get another. There's only one Maltese Falcon."