Movie Review #25 / 250 : ‘INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS’

This is Quentin Tarantino’s film about Nazi hunters. That should already have conjured up some sort of mental bonfire, and in fairness, it’s probably pretty accurate. The only preparation you have to make before watching is to suspend your beliefs, your concepts of reality, your sensibility – entirely. Otherwise, this will rub you right up the wrong end.

In short, Brad Pitt and his league of ‘basterds’ are a rag-tag mob of mainly Jewish Nazi hunters – who seek to kill, and scalp (eesh), members of the German army and the SS. The other main character is that of a determined young woman who escaped from the clutches of the magnificently treacherous Christoph Waltz’s ‘Jew Hunter’ as a child. She moonlights four years on as a cinema hostess and finds that the Nazis plan to premiere their latest propaganda there – and, of course, she sees this as an ideal chance to knacker up the Gerries and take out the four heads of the party.

Essentially, this is a revenge story. It’s interestingly split up into ‘chapters’ to allow us to get familiar with each party of characters en route to a spectacular climax – and despite what you might expect, for the most part, the drama is silently brooding, tense and understated, as characters try to double-bluff and subterfuge their way through the film. A lot end up dead. Obviously. There’s actually less violence than the BBFC would have you believe – with far, far more plotting, stale mating and secret talking. For me, this is a great thing. The vast majority of the film plays out like a stage play, with the bloody action creeping in to finish each act. It’s cunningly directed. And the last ten minutes are wonderful. This is a revenge story to end all – and it’s built up to such a head that the climax is, while as violent as hell, awesomely joyous.

My only gripe is that this is a reeeeal looooong slog. At two hours and twenty-seven minutes, it’s at least 45 mins too long. The drawn-out silences and tense ‘stage moments’ are chiefly to blame for this. It’s mostly necessary – but it detracts from the focus a little bit. People expecting Nazis being kicked about every two minutes may be a bit disappointed – but it’s worth hanging on. It really is.

PROS: Tense, uniquely and well-structured, flawless actors, brilliantly over the top. Plus, Nazis get what’s coming to ’em.

CONS: Too long. Possibly mis-marketed as an all-out action thriller.

9/10 – Very, very entertaining. And this is coming from someone who can’t stomach scalping. My review of ‘The Thing’ may just consist of photos of what I’ve vomited after watching it.

Oh! And we’re at the 10% mark on the 250 Movie Mission. Time to get a spurt on, I reckon. Up next – ‘Joy Division’, a bumload of zombies, and a shapeshifting visceral mess. Stay tuned…

Movie Review #24 / 250 : ‘STAR WARS : A NEW HOPE’

Jesus christ.  What is there to _actually_ say about ‘Star Wars’ that’s remotely original?  How am I to pad out this review with anything remotely insightful, witty, or radical?  Let’s make this absolutely clear – I’m not.  I’m really not.  Absolutely everything remotely communicable about this film, this series, etc, has been whittled down and siphoned off over the past three decades.  It is phenomenal just how much the franchise has enveloped, and impacted, culture and popular fiction.  Even if you haven’t seen the films, you know who the good guys are.  You know who the baddies are.  By god, you even know what The Force is.  This is a cult film, turned franchise, to end them all.  And of course, it’s been the archetypal cash cow, too – but that’s beside the point.

Up until last night, I’ve not sat down to watch any of the original trilogy (I’m keeping the prequels at arms’ length for now).  I have made it to twenty-four years old without having seen Star Wars.  Let that repeat a little.  Some may call it pathetic, others worthy of applause.  But alas, some day, I knew this dubious accolade had to perish.  How could I call myself a purveyor of science fiction without having seen bloody Star Wars?  I couldn’t.  Last night was a rite of passage.  And while I agree with what a few have said in that at my age I’ll probably not draw anything new from the original films, I still found it massively entertaining.

And you know what?  I didn’t think I would.  What’s instantly likeable about this original film is the sheer amount of threads playing out at once.  The cast, while relatively small in its foregrounded main characters, number an absolute bumload in its background creeps.  From the opening mantra onwards we’re thrown into a world full of weird aliens and annoying robots – this storytelling choice may make some films fail horribly, but the accessibility of the characters and the surprising simplicity of the storyline (seriously, I was expecting UBER SPACE JARGON to be flying out me ears) allow us to get up to speed in what’s actually the fourth story of the saga.  There is a massive, silenced story world behind these characters that will obviously come more into play in the following films (and the preceding ones) – and the fact it’s so far removed from our own reality gives this a bit more fascination.

The acting’s mostly great.  Nothing wrong here.  Brilliantly cast (though Alec Guinness would tell you otherwise) and visually superb, you almost don’t realise that next to sod all actually happens.  Pretty much, the Death Star gets destroyed after Luke, Han, Chewie and the bots spring Princess Leia from Darth Vader’s imprisonment.  That’s it.  But it’s well-contained as a story – mainly in part to how bloody well lavish it all is.  This is a fascinating piece of film work – and that’s probably why it rollercoastered into the cash farmyard it’s since become.  Boredom is an awful thing for a film to slip into, and New Hope doesn’t.  It’s one of the least boring films I’ve seen so far.

Enough gushing, though.  I mean, come on.  I stood being exiled into the stratosphere if I didn’t have anything positive to say about SW.  The only things I would criticise would be the over-reliance upon shooty-shooty-lasery-firing bits near the end (technical terms, kids!), and looking back, there is quite a bit of standing around, or standing around trying things out, or standing around waiting for something.  But you don’t notice them when you’re seeing them.  That’s the key.  And this is even with knowing full well what’s going to play out.  I think, despite it having taken very little and having pulled it out to two hours long, the rich backstorying (new word, I made it) at play stops things from slowing down.

But, yeah.  Labouring the point, here.  I liked it.  And I can finally say I’ve seen it.  I wouldn’t say I’d marathon them all in one go and join the whole Greedo debate but, hey.  I feel slightly relieved that I have little to no urge to dive into a cupboard and film myself twirling around with a broom.  God.  What a topical joke.  I’ll start quoting ‘Chocolate Rain’ in a minute.

PROS : Rich story world, strong characters, simple story, excellent wardrobe / effects

CONS : Story is probably a bit too simple, can be slow in places (though never boring!)

8/10 – Doesn’t feel like a nine.  And, as I’ve said, I can’t see myself becoming one of those people.  My thing was Lost.  And look how that ended.  I’m restraining myself from investing so deeply in fiction again for life.  But, I liked it.  This is a very entertaining and accessible film that probably deserves a lot of the fawning it gets.  That ok with you people?  Bring on Empire and Jedi.

Top Ten Worst People to Commute With

10. That really odorous person that always picks the aisle seat next to you
9. The guy with earphones in who raps every third word of the song he’s listening to out loud
8. The guy with three teeth who thinks his dog is interested in hearing stories about cabbages
7. Anyone who hammers the ‘open’ button wildly to get off the train, only to stop and panic when it lights up to let them off
6. The bloke who can’t shut the automatic toilet, so chooses to have a dump with the doors open
5. The nosey sod who hears you finish the end of your conversation, then quizzes you on it as if you’ve known each other years
4. Tipsy ascot enthusiasts dressed up to the nines, and perpetually demanding your attention / offence for their amusement
3. Festival-goers
2. The lad who receives an instant message on his phone every ten seconds, refusing to turn off the constant, hollow sound of discordant bells
1. The pointy-chinned bloke in the grey hat who’s making fun of you on his blog

Movie Review #23 / 250 : ‘SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD’

Okay, before I wade into this one up to my neckline I’d better make two things especially clear.  Number one : I love videogames.  Old school videogames.  Dusty pieces of plastic you have to blow into before they’ll work, AC adaptors the size of breeze blocks, suspicious-looking joysticks and overpriced ‘cheat’ cartridges.  I’m a kid of the 90s.  I grew up pad in hand and Mario on screen.  Stylistically, this film speaks to me, and people like me.  Number two, I’ve not read the comic books, but I’m well aware they exist.  Basically, I’m coming in a novice.  But hey – check out the number of folks who’d read the Harry Potters before watching the films.

With that disclaimer out of the way (so you’re well aware where I stood before watching), we can begin.  Pilgrim is a comic fantasy about a twentysomething guitarist who finds himself falling in love with a girl who’s out of league.  He then finds out that to be within a shot of winning her heart, he needs to ‘defeat’ her seven evil exes.  Stylistically the story is shot as if it’s a real-life videogame, and that’s its main facet.  If you’re not remotely interested in gaming, you may as well check out now – it’s completely covered in the stuff.  This makes things visually entertaining, at least, for folks like myself.

Stylistically, it’s unique.  And it’s never visually boring.  Scenes slide in and out giving you barely blinking time, comic-book sound effects splash all over the show, and, obviously, there’s the whole Street Fighter-style battles that preside over the main story.  This is a film with meticulous style and design – the books have clearly been adhered to at least face-0n, if not in the plot department (some folks elsewhere have pointed out errors that probably plague every single other adaptation in existence).

But that’s about it.  For me.  It looks nice.  The nods to 90s retro gave me a few wry smiles here and there, and the story incredibly fluidly.  But… it’s very, very annoying.  It’s hard to put my finger on it, but – it feels like a cartoon.  Admittedly, that’s what it was adapted from – a comic – but with actual people, the level of kooky, the endless onslaught of meta-referencing, and the wry, sarcastic humour do not work.  I didn’t find myself connecting with any of the characters, caring about who Scott went out with, whether his band got a recording contract, or (and this is the most important) if the bad guys won or not.  The protagonists in this adaptation in Pilgrim are either wildly antagonistic and two-dimensional, or, like Michael Cera’s portrayal of Scott, utterly wet.

More importantly, this feels like a movie that’s been made to purposely alienate 90% of the intended box office audience.  Don’t get me wrong – the direction and visuals are excellent.  And I myself can appreciate them.  But the story (which, fact fans, is the most important part to any film) gets swamped by closed-off, obnoxious characters, visual detour upon visual detour upon visual detour, and worst of all, a distinct lack of heart.  As a fantasy film, a suspension of belief is wholly necessary to enjoy the action here – but, hey.  Never Ending Story is fantasy.  Back to the Future is fantasy.  And despite having their story worlds up in the clouds, you are connected to the characters.  You’re with them from the beginning.  In Pilgrim, you’re thrown into a world full of kooks and snarks and you’ve to accept it and like it.  Immediately.  I’m not saying schmaltz and saccharine is necessary to establish heart.  You just need a good stock of characters folks can relate to, have the story at the centre of the piece, and don’t don’t DON’T be led by style.  Pilgrim positively masturbates over itself every five minutes.  The exclusion imposed on the audience from its characters and its own humour stands right in the way of anyone attempting to enjoy it.

I’m disappointed, because I genuinely tried so hard to like this.  And take into account my spiel at the start.  I’ve been given different sides from different people to Pilgrim, and I have to sway with the more negative audience.  I enjoyed it immensely on a visual and nostalgic level.  But it doesn’t work as a film.  It could work as an animation.  Also, Michael Cera.  God.  Michael Cera.  You could wring him dry like a flannel and it’d take days.  I think the stumbling block here is a dependency on style and not on the story.  Also, bear in mind that I am the ideal target audience.  Have I made that clear?  Like, whatever, and… stuff.

PROS : Visually brilliant.  Lots of in-jokes for 90s gamers.  Good pace.

CONS : Story overshadowed by style.  Obnoxious characters (may just be the acting).  Exclusive to a wider audience.  Smug.  Not many laughs.

3/10.  No.  I’m not giving it any more because the visuals are good.  Because visuals don’t make a film.  Hoo, boy.  Am I looking forward to Avatar

Movie Review #22 / 250 : ‘V FOR VENDETTA’

Here there be tigers.  *touches earpiece*  Sorry, spoilers.  Wax.

Alan Moore, eh?  Have to say I’d been looking forward to this one for a while.  As a Watchmen devotee (to everything bar deus ex machina squid), I kinda knew what to expect.  A futuristic society that is (of course) dystopian, with violence, desperation and seedy-underhandedness abound.  V doesn’t disappoint, certainly not in that regard.

The plot is pretty straightforward, as things go.  A masked vigilante known only as ‘V’ (Hugo Weaving) hatches an elaborate web of schemes to avenge his past transgressions at the hands of the now-ultra-oppressive British state, ultimately killing off or bribing members of the ruling party while advancing towards his intended payoff of blowing up the houses of parliament, a la Guy Fawkes’ intentions (hence his perpetual Fawkes mask).  A young woman named Evie (Natalie Portman) comes into his life after he rescues her from being gang-raped by state vigilantes (again, you can tell it’s Alan Moore), and due to her childhood trauma at the hands of the state – her parents were taken away for being anti-nuke and generally left-wing – she becomes his sometimes reluctant protege.  The story moves through V’s plotting, the police attempting to foil him, and Evie eventually taking the reins of the entire operation.

This is a story with a calvacade of backstory.  Each character has a lavish and full history, the social context is thick and unavoidable, and as a result the world of the story is both believable and captivating.  This is just Moore’s story, though.  Anyone who’s read Watchmen will tell you how in depth this man can go.  But anyway.  It’s pretty well designed and re-imagined.  The cast, for the most part, while chock full of British character actors, is inspired – Roger Allam as the demented, medicine-addicted political commentator and  Stephen Fry as a secretly anti-establishment broadcaster are particularly good spots.  There’s plenty of action, it’s decently paced, and it doesn’t really plod too much (though the last five, ten minutes are a bit laboured).

The only problem I have with V, as it stands (and I feel a bit rotten about this), is Natalie Portman.  I don’t think she’s brilliantly cast.  She does well with a British accent for a lot of the way, but she just doesn’t seem to fit.  She can do anguished and agonised quite well, but any other emotion on the spectrum seems to have troubled her in this one.  I’d be hard pressed to think of anyone particularly who could give the role a better stab, but I’m left scratching my head wondering how Portman made the final cull.  Some of her moments, particularly near the climax, come across as slightly unsure – I can’t quite put my finger on it.  It’s a shame, though.  Because everything else is pretty much dynamite.

This is a captivating, well-cast (mostly) and expertly re-imagined film that stumbles only slightly in a few of the more melodramatic moments, and in the aforementioned Portman equation.  It’s also an extremely dark and depressing (though somehow jaunty) romp through the recesses of power and corruption – anyone wanting a straight-up vengeance story will be hard pushed to get any glory here.  The spectacle is what you’re in it for, basically.

PROS : Well-paced, mostly well-cast, visually striking, rich and believable plot

CONS : Natalie Portman, a bit clumsy on the old melodramatics

8/10 – I was going to write this final sting with words only beginning with ‘V’, but I can’t be arsed.

Movie Review #21 / 250 : ‘THE LOST BOYS’

SHHHHPOILERRRRS AHEAD….

It’s hard to be objective.  It really is.  Take me.  I hate vampires.  Seriously.  They’re boring.  Really, REALLY boring.  The whole bloodsucker angle’s been done to death over the years, no pun intended (Is there a pun?  Sod it.).  Given the rise of insane franchising of stories such as The Twilight Saga, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries ad infinitum over the past few years, I’ve found over-exposure to immortal bat-people almost as tiresome as British politics.  Also, I’m not a huge fan of teen angst films.  I mean, that whole period in one’s life is a clumsy series of embarrassments and stupid mistakes – so why the hell would you want to watch it back?  This is just me.  And I’m weeeeell aware of this.

But, given that formula, my watching of ‘Lost Boys’ bade awesomely.  A teen angst fantasy where a couple of kids wind up getting involved in underground vampirism after moving to a strange town to live with their Grandfather.  Rites of passage, weird hair, bad shirts, awkward love sequences and the classic ‘adults know nothing, kids know everything’ slant ensue.  But, for the most part, it’s fairly enjoyable.  This is clearly a movie that’s remembered fondly as it’s archetypal of its time period (so much eighties it HURTS), and that visually, it’s extremely striking.  Scenes are packed with paraphernalia and proppery abound, and some of the effects are amazing considering the time (consider one Vampy melting away in a bath of holy water and blood gushing up from the sink being part of a particularly memorable sequence).  But, divert from the visual glamour for one moment and things start to drift off.

The characters are, mostly, pretty cookie-cutter.  Token kooky grandad.  Token love interest (and one of two women in the entire film, the other being the main kids’ mother).  Token brainless henchmen.  Kiefer Sutherland’s character (the arch villain of the piece) is memorable not only for looking awesome, but he’s also one of the few here that make the part their own.  Corey Feldman shines as deadpan vampire hunter Edgar Frog, though – but the two leads (one is Corey Haim, RIP, the other is Jason Patric) are very annoying.  Fair enough – the older lad is a sulky teenager, and that’s mainly the point – this is a film about him getting involved with a bad crowd, and as a result finding out who he really is – but he’s so damned obnoxious, I could barely give a toss.  This doesn’t bode well.

But still.  Despite these flaws, it’s not a film that takes itself too seriously.  It’s clearly quite tongue in cheek, and its funny moments work.  But what smacks the most is that this is a film that, as discussed, is an archetypal 80s flick.  It’s nostalgic, it’s kooky, and for the time, pretty original (despite some banal characterisation).  However – while I might not be the target audience, I can’t see it holding up brilliantly today.  Think Short Circuit 2.  Then again… I’m fairly alone in hating Johnny 5 and his racist friend, so I’m probably not the best judge here.  The plot is predictable, but decently paced.  Not a bad thing.

I don’t see any shame in you liking this, nor remembering it.  But it’s not something I’d enamour myself to sit through again.

PROS : Visually impressive.  Nice effects.  Kiefer Sutherland and Corey Feldman carry the cast.  Reasonably funny.  Excellent final sting.  Memorable (hence ‘cult’).

CONS : Most characters either obnoxious or dull.  Females massively unrepresented.  Looks extremely dated now, no matter what you say.  Vampires, yawn (though, at the time…)

5/10.  I can’t see the reverence.  But, I can’t exactly call it bad – it’s a pretty well-made film, and it serves its audience.  I just can’t get on with it as well as I want to.  It’s fence-sitting time.

Top Ten Reasons To Tidy the House

10. The rats have issued you with an eviction notice
9. The carpet in the bathroom used to be lino
8. You have to clean mugs when people visit
7. Your house is fairly secure thanks to turrets of bin bags blocking access to all exits
6. You feel less nauseous eating your meals in the toilet than you do in the lounge
5. The folks across the street are complaining about the smell
4. You list ‘mountaineering’ as a hobby, despite rarely leaving the house
3. The landlord is paying you to stay
2. You need a GPS to find the bath
1. The council is approaching you to open up your residence as a tourist attraction

Movie Review #20 / 250 : ‘PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES’

Spoilers, as per usual…

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is about as straightforward a buddy comedy as you can get. Steve Martin plays an uptight, cynical businessman who is trying to get home to his family in Chicago for Thanksgiving. However, his trip home from work in New York is disastrous, all snowballing on from him missing a taxi at the start of the film. He bumps into a bumbling, talkative and overbearingly optimistic man played by John Candy, who is all too happy for company, several times en route, and ends up attached at the hip to him along his various transgressions despite, in vain, trying to lose him. Oh, and everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, and more often than not, hilariously.

It’s a marvellously simple concept, with two very basic character tropes (pessimist and optimist), ably played out by Martin and Candy. One or two don’t hit, but that’s barely the point, as the chemistry between these two men is electric. Not sexually electric, though. Settle your horses. As the audience we’re tied to Martin’s story as he finds himself later and later for his family holiday as things go from bad to worse to unbelievable, but it’s incredibly hard not to find yourself drawn to Candy’s undying sunniness, despite the fact that the protagonist, for the most part, hates him. Martin’s laughs come from his bubbling frustration, his bitter repartee and, in a sick sort of way, his constant failure. Candy is constantly funny in the way he deals with pretty much everything – with a smile on his face and without any shadowy intentions. Scenes where Candy is torn into by Martin’s unflinching character analysis (only to be rebuffed by Candy essentially telling him ‘what you see is what you get’) and where a car rental assistant gets hit by his profanity-riddled request for service (someone on the internet counted 18 f**ks, not me, honest) are the most memorable.

And that’s mainly what this film is. Memorable. This is a shaggy dog story with a series of events so far-fetched and disgustingly vivid, and with characters so gargantuan (no pun intended with Candy) that you’d have a hard time retelling it yourself. And I genuinely enjoyed it. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much at a movie. I don’t normally do comedy movies, truth be told, but the construction, the timing and the charm of Planes’ script is impossible to lament. The ridiculousness of the scenarios that start piling up may grate for some, and in fairness, the constant shifts in direction would annoy anyone looking for an easy ride (again, no puns). But that’s the point. It’s not an easy ride. This is what makes the moments of happiness and relief so rewarding, and the climax so satisfying. There’s one final twist in the last ten minutes of the film that I’m absolutely not spoiling, but it changes how you view the film from the minute you see Candy’s character getting into the cab. And it’s bloody heartbreaking. This is coming from someone who would shoot schmaltz in the face if it had one (and if I weren’t such a pacifist). It seals the film. Absolutely. And by god, it will make you miss John Candy (RIP) more than you’d ever imagine.

10/10. No films are perfect. But some films have very, very few faults. When I think of what could be construed as a blip in Planes, it looks right back at me as an intentional part of the story. The awkwardness, the increasingly insane series of events – it’s all necessary. The chemistry is spot on. The casting is inspired. The ending is amazing. Even the dated soundtrack is addictive. If you really, really don’t like Martin or Candy, you may not fare so well. But as I’ve said previously – I will know when to award a ten. This. Is. A ten. And you may read that last bit like Gerard Butler in 300. I did.

Movie Review #19 / 250 : ‘STAND BY ME’

Spoilers Ahead!

First of all, welcome to the first movie review on the blog!  I’ve done 18 previously via Facebook as part of my 250 Movie Mission for 2012 (see the bar at the top), and these will all be archived on the site in time.  But anyway, digressing…

‘Stand By Me’ is a Stephen King adaptation with a difference.  Sure, there’s some basic Kingian elements knocking about (dysfunctional families, troubled childhoods, small town paranoia, etc) – but there’s no dodgy aliens or monster clowns in this one.  Rather than that being a huge disappointment, though, it’s actually kind of refreshing.  The story focuses on four lads on the edge of adolescence who go on an adventure to find the dead body of a kid on the other side of town.  Most of them have some sort of parental / family trauma which bleeds into their decisions, their actions, and how they help each other along the long journey ahead.  Essentially, they find the body, though a group of older lads arrive to claim the glory of finding the corpse first.  One of the younger kids points a gun at the teenagers’ ringleader (Kiefer Sutherland, no less), scares him off, and they all return home.

Doesn’t sound like much of a story, does it?

But that’s not the point.  It’s hard to put in words why Stand By Me resonates so well.  It’s definitely partly down to the acting talent (River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell) – hard to believe anyone can act at all at their age, but bugger me.  No lines fluffed, no reactions too false, no corpsing out of the picture.  It’s flawless.  The other facet to the film’s brilliance lies in its subtlety – these are four lads with a lot of harsh stuff both in their lives, and ahead of them – and this is essentially one of their last adventures before adolescence kicks in.  Perhaps it’s all a big metaphor for the end of innocence (that’s probably a very Kingian thing, to be fair).  The characters are solid, with decent backstories, and personalities that haven’t been cut directly out of a cartoon, and with that, some of the more devastating moments resonate far more than they should (the moment where Wheaton finds a leech in his underwear is actually fairly gruesome, though it could’ve been played for laughs).  The film depicts merely one day out of life – and while it’s a pretty major day, it doesn’t feel too over-the-top.

The end monologue by the narrator (the central character at an older age) is particularly devastating – recounting the untimely death of Phoenix’s character hits home particularly given the knowledge that Phoenix died at the age of twenty-three.  Prophetic?

I’ve found this review quite hard to write.  I’ve never heard a bad word passed around about this, and in all honesty, it really is one you’ve got to watch to understand.  Is that a cop-out?  Probably.  Hey, deal with it.

9/10 – Charming, devastating, and I think I had my heart warmed a little.  That doesn’t happen very often.  Well played.

First

Is this thing on?

*blows into mic*

Anyway, yeah.  This is that awkward first post, where I have to welcome everyone.  Nngh.  WELCOME, EVERYONE! Now sit down.

This is me shack.  This is where all the shite that I think is worth my time will be made worthy of yours.  Expect rants, expect reviews, expect ‘riting (three Rs, alliteration, don’t hit me).  So, yeah.  Have a gander at that top bar up there for more info, but for now, sit tight, kids.

~ G