Review Archive : #1 – #18

This is an archive of my first 18 movie reviews for my 250 project, which were all viewable on my Facebook timeline.  Before my 19th review I shunted everything over to WordPress as I discovered running a blog for this gubbins was probably a saner move than to lump everything on folks’ news feeds.  

Be warned – my first few reviews were pretty short, until I picked up momentum, and the thrill of wittering on about films you’ve probably all seen before.  Anyway – enjoy – everything from review #19 onwards is linked on the 250 Movie Mission page.

#1: ‘Withnail & I’.

Erm. Not much happens, does it? There’s some great lines scattered about, and there’s some truly monstrous characters ambling about the place. Perhaps the majesty of Withnail is in its minimalistic audacity, and in the sheer amount of times and situations in which Richard E Grant (aka REG) can wax profane. Had me laughing, though. Don’t think I’d come back to it for a while, simply because there’s… not really much to miss. Richard Griffiths making his lecherous moves on Paul McGann has to be seen to be believed… and appreciated.

7/10 – Dialogue carrying this one alone.

#2: ‘Die Hard’.

Spoilers ahead.

In complete antithesis to the first film I’ve seen this year (Withnail), an absolute bumload happens here, and it never ever stops. I’ve had a soft spot for brainless blow-stuff-up fests ever since I first saw ‘Under Siege 2’ (Steven Seagal going ape on a train), and suffice to say, as this one is always earmarked as one of the daddies of the genre, it didn’t disappoint. HOWEVER. It’s about half an hour too long. Fair play to the character relationships being built around what is essentially Bruce Willis hiding in a building full of terrorists, killing a few, hiding again, killing a few, and then hiding again – but the payoff in seeing Alan Rickman managing to HAM UP FALLING FROM A BUILDING feels far too long coming. Granted – you’ve got to give license for intensity and the creation of drama. But, hey. You could’ve wiped that smarmy sales guy straight out of the script and lost twenty minutes at least. Best character is the limo driver, all the while kicking back in the back of his ride with an oversized teddy bear and a carphone that’d give you carpal tunnel from two minutes of use.

8/10 – Suitably epic, suitably brainless, likeable characters, with the ludicrous meter reaching sickening levels.

#3: ‘Se7en’.

Spoilers ahead, if you ACTUALLY need them…

This was a weird one. A really weird one. I tend to favour thrillers over any other genre, so I knew I’d have some sort of favour for Se7en before I even started watching it. I’ve sat through three hours of ‘Zodiac’ and it’s one of my all-timers. But… I think there’s just something special about the way this one is told. A murder mystery where the action and the narrative is fast-paced, filler is kept to a minimum, and the only lengthy bits of exposition are saved for a conversation with the killer? Yes please. Saving a big name actor under wraps as the perp also adds clout – genuinely taken off guard. And, of course, the ending. Everyone knows the fecking ending to Se7en. But still… the intensity of the final ten minutes is incredible. Morgan Freeman, who was put on this Earth to play laid-back, straight-talking characters, flipping out? No explicit shot of the final victim (apart from in a blink-n-miss freeze frame)? And no lengthy epilogue after the event, just Brad Pitt being led away to a soft cell and a cut to black? Wow. I think I felt something. This is how you tell a story. I think I’ve tipped things in my favour my watching three critically acclaimed films first (I’ve still got ‘Lesbian Vampire Killers’, ‘Skyline’ and ‘Meet Dave’ on the list to brace myself for, gimme a break), but hey, sod off. My thing, not yours.

9/10 – Well told, well crafted, well shot, and an obligatory twist ending. It’s all I ask. It barely missing out on a perfect, which I won’t give unless I’m absolutely sure a film deserves it. It’s not quite on the scale of ‘Nuns on the Run’, y’see.

#4: ‘American Beauty’. 

There’s probably an absolute bumload of stuff you can say about this film that I can’t do justice in this paragraph, so I’ll just pick out a few points. I liked it – I liked it a lot – very intense, very philosophical, and with a great cast of characters – each one massively flawed, or freakish, or going through their own personal breakdown (and the main focus of the film appears to be the deconstruction of what truly is ‘normality’ and how it’s so loosely defined and relative for one person to the next). The philosophy of ‘living free’ that runs through it appeals to my own sense of existential nihilism, and I can’t help but feel slightly unsettled by the fact that I’ve gleaned this from the monstrous cast of people tearing themselves apart in front of me – and this is possibly the only, but rather pressing, issue I have. Who are we meant to be rooting for? Which are the antagonists and the protagonists? Or are they one and the same? I guess it depends from viewer to viewer. This was unsettling, refreshing, and pretty captivating. Not one I’ll ever own, but one I’ll talk about.

(I don’t think you’ll get thoughts as deep as this on ‘Monsters Inc’, by the way. Just a forewarn)

7/10 – Unsettling, intense, and all the while strangely agreeable. It’s not Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane mucking around in habits, but I like it.

#5: ‘District 9’.

Spoilers ahead.

This had a lot riding on it. I’ve not heard anything negative, ever, about District 9. And that’s probably because, for the most part, it’s fantastic. It’s a political satire wrapped in a sci-fi-action-fantasy, which is pretty light on the aliens, and heavy on the ‘corrupt humanity’ angle. What starts out as a documentary and newsreel on the segregation of extraterrestrials in Johnannesburg slowly and seamlessly evolves into classic sci-fi. Wikus, the human protagonist, becomes little other than money for his own kind as he slowly transforms into a ‘prawn’, and he is forced to work with the suppressed immigrants in order to ensure his ‘return to normality’. What’s troubling at this point for me with the story is that normality for Wikus is done for as soon as he becomes a fugitive from the MNU looking to harvest his organs – did he expect to integrate safely back into society after returning to human form after escaping law enforcement (and later on, blowing people up)? Maybe I’m missing something. But, hey. It’s essentially a tale about surviving and exposing corruption that’s very cleverly wrapped up with aliens and guns and visceral limbs and exploding bodies and junk. Nowhere near brainless as your standard action flick, and nowhere near as pretentious as select amounts of sci-fi like to be. Interest rarely wanes here, and longevity is the key in my book.


#6: ‘Lost in Translation’.

Spoilers ahead.

This one, apparently, is a film that splits audiences in two. One look at the comments on IMDB will tell you that. This is, essentially, an art film. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen meet as strangers in a foreign country one week. The themes of loneliness and being lost are represented with long, dialogue-free scenes of looking out of windows, and with lots of shots of both characters looking ill at ease in their alien surroundings. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a film that’s beautiful to look at – but… see, this is the thing. Sod all happens. Two people having crises in life meet and bond in various situations. They… vaguely… share philosophy along the way. Erm. While I can appreciate that the point of the film is that the story at large is left up to our own varying interpretations (the subtle glances, the silences, the muted direction), for me, it doesn’t make for much entertainment. Johanssen and Murray are both excellent at what they do, but with little to no depth in character and plot given to us, and with so much left to imagination / interpretation (including the infuriating final scene where Murray whispers something inaudible into Johanssen’s ear, which half of the viewing audience called ‘genius’ and the other half called ‘bloody annoying’), this is a film that is clearly trying to spread a philosophy to its audience but can’t _quite_ do it. Throw in some stereotyping of Japanese people and culture and this is your film on paper. Don’t get me wrong – I LIKE philosophical stories (see ‘American Beauty’) – but this is more interpretive art than ideological drama.

4/10 – Nice to look at, but extremely boring. Discuss. Or, don’t. I’m tired.

#7: ‘Spirited Away’.

Spoilers ahead.

Going from a film like ‘Lost in Translation’ where next to sod all happens to ‘Spirited Away’ kind of knocks you for six. This is a bizarre little anime where everything is thrown at you at a relentless pace – basically a huge fantastical dream sequence, it’s hard to know where to start talking about it. The overlying story is basically a girl and her parents accidentally wander into a realm of spirits – the parents get turned into pigs by the owner of a spirit bath house, and the girl is forced to work at the resort in order to find out how to return them to normal, and return home. It’s as mad as it sounds. The film’s charm seems to come from the absolute bumload of tangents and subplots it generates, each starting and finishing as quickly as the next…. it’s bloody exhausting. There’s a lot of magic, metamorphosis, monsters and dragons, and it’s easy to see why this is a family winner. The only stumble it seems to have is in its lack of foreshadowing – the plot twists depend upon elements brought up halfway through the story for the most part, and this can get a bit grating – but apart from that, it’s translated absolutely fine. It’s clearly nothing you’d see from Western cinema – there’s too much imagination in it. I think I’d probably need a breather before sitting through it again, mind.

7/10 – Very strange, very clever, very fast-paced, and probably a sight more interesting than some of the bumph I’ve got left on this list.

#8: ‘The Big Lebowski’.

Spoilers ahead.

Wow. Getting all the interesting ones in early, I guess? Mainly positive, here. It’s a shaggy dog story where a laid-back guy (‘The Dude’) gets entangled in web of kidnappings, ransoms, ransackings and rug urinations following a simple case of mistaken identity. Things spiral out of control once Dude’s ‘sensitive’ and trigger-happy compadre Walter decides to start taking events into his own hands, and a whole host of fringe and cartoony characters start crawling out of the woodwork to deal the Dude various misdeeds. Make no mistake – this film is ruddy mental. It’s almost a parody of itself. The unconventional humour that flows through the script (mainly in dialogue between Walter and The Dude) will probably divide a lot of people. The entertainment from Lebowski comes from its relentless snowballing of bizarre and non sequitur events and characters – once you’re aware that it’s a film that’s not taking itself seriously one inch, you’re more at liberty to enjoy it. There’s enough here to grab your attention with likeable characters, a ridiculous, rolling set of circumstances. Like I said – there’s a style here that won’t wash with some. ‘Offbeat’ doesn’t quite cover it. But I think I understand why it’s frequently cited as a film you ‘have to see’ – words cannot do it justice. If not in an ‘OMG IT’S AWESUM’ way, more on a ‘in writing, it sucks’ slant.

7/10 – Trying not to give too many sevens away, honest. I’d see it again, and probably enjoy it again.

#9: ‘Gran Torino’.

Spoilers ahead.

Clint Eastwood pretty much has one expression, and one octave to his voice. But, jeeez. He can create tension on his own without much trouble. An embittered and xenophobic Korean war vet gradually warms to and comes to the aid of a Hmong family living next door as their lives become entangled in threats of gang violence. Scenes where Eastwood (at that point seventy-ruddy-nine) squares up to thugs of various sizes verge on epic – and his final confrontation and how it turns out comes as a genuine surprise. I like vengeance stories more than anything – champion of the underdog, me – and this doesn’t disappoint. It’s a slow burner, and altogether, not much happens – but Eastwood commands an unbelievable presence, and it never drags. A mainly young cast performs well and believably alongside a wizened Clint, too. Well scripted, reasonably well acted, and a great twist. Brilliant.

9/10 – This is getting bought.

#10: ‘A Clockwork Orange’.

Spoilers ahead.

I hate giving sevens. Out of the nine films so far, four have been given 7/10. And so has this. Clockwork Orange was extremely hard for me to rate / review on first watch last night for a bumload of reasons, so I’ve slept on it, and this is me verdict. Yeah. I can see why this is considered a quintessential film and a perpetual ‘must see’. It was banned for 27 years by the director himself, and… it’s pretty vivid. Sometimes annoyingly vivid. The characters (particularly Malcolm McDowell’s Alex) are twisted and distant, the world they live in is kaleidoscopic and bizarre – but, that’s the point. It’s a dystopian future – society has twisted itself into a weird mess of a place where McDowell gets away with the stuff he does (raping women while singing ‘singin’ in the rain’, beating tramps half to death, etc), and where he’s ‘fixed’ by a controversial means of hypnotism. I struggled to find where I stood on this last bit – he’s rewired so that everytime he hears his favourite song, Beethoven’s 9th, he feels physically and mentally ill. Is this justifiable retribution? As he’s painted out to be such a monstrous sociopath from the very start, it’s a possibility. But then his downfall from receiving his ‘fixing’ onwards is spectacular – those he aggrieved previously come back to get their revenge in various horrendous ways. It’s a tricky one. I genuinely can’t tell if Alex is a protagonist or an antagonist. On one hand, he’s charismatic and is therefore likeable, but on the other, he’s a bloody monster. A film that makes you question such things is clearly one that’s well made – but I found very little of it entertaining. Hence the 7. I don’t think there’s anything here I’d come back for to watch again. Oh – but here’s something. There’s cameos by David Prowse, who went on to be Darth Vader, and (and this is the biggie!) John Savident, who went on to be Coronation Street’s Fred Elliot. Without Savident’s appearance, this would’ve gotten a 6. Obviously.

7/10 – It raises questions. A lot of questions. But… I just found it overwhelmingly nasty, to be honest (though I obviously knew it wasn’t going to be sugar and spice). Also, the ending narked me off. I would’ve left him dead from jumping off of the roof. Just saying.

#11: ‘Cloverfield’.

Spoilers ahead.

Okay, so – people complained about Cloverfield for two main reasons, from what I know. 1), the camera. And 2), you don’t get to find out what the monster is, nor where it came from. Personally, I don’t think either matters – the former is part of the style, and the latter is irrelevant. Cloverfield is an interesting twist on the monster movie genre in that it’s entirely filmed from a handheld camera, giving direct POV from one character at virtually all times, and in that there is absolutely no preceding reason for the monster to have shown up, and the authorities are willing to nuke Manhattan to get rid of it. Very much in the vein of Blair Witch, this is absolutely gripping in its dedication to its style of direction and thus creates an immersive experience that’s pretty unparalleled. There are moments of genuine terror, genuine fear, and genuine shock. The mystery of the beast, the fact so much is unsolved, and that you’re left to assume all of the protagonist characters DIE just adds to the twisting. HOWEVER. Jesus christ. This was heading for a ten… but… jesus, the subplot. I call it a subplot because it’s inferior to a dirty great monster raising hell. The horrible, saccharine, hyper-Hollywood unrequited love story (trade mark) that runs through the middle verges on being distractingly annoying. fair enough that it sets the characters on a tangent, but it’s stupefyingly artificial. It’s a good technique to have interrupted the hokeyness with a shitting enormous explosion at the very start to immediately switch the mood, but… ugh. The artificial (and obviously immensely beautiful) protagonists are barely interesting, as they’re barely believable. Watching them explode, get bitten in half or blown to shit is massively entertaining, sadly. The only character for me that provides any entertainment while stuff goes down is the cameraman. The terror from the actors is rather good, though. But do me a lemon – the characters suck hard. I couldn’t tell the two brother characters apart for the first ten minutes. One had floppier hair. Then he died, so that made things easier. So, yeah. Very nicely directed, unbelievably shot, and impressively scary. Just… god. The characters. Is it just me? It might just be me.

9/10 – Like I said, almost a ten. I LOVE the idea. I LOVE the execution. But I HATE the characters. Shame. It’s weird to have griped so much about a nine, too. But I would happily sit down and watch this again, which is more than what I can say about Lost in (YAWN) Translation.

#12: ‘Super 8’.

Spoilers ahead.

Following JJ Abrams’ Cloverfield last week I thought I’d follow up with another ‘angry-monster-accidentally-stranded-on-Earth-and-wants-to-go-home’-fic. There really isn’t much to summarise here apart from six kids shooting an amateur zombie movie get caught up in the horror of both a colossal train crash and the revelation that a dirty great alien has been harboured by the military against its will, allowing it to become hostile over time. What’s obvious about Super is that you can see where Abrams finishes, and producer Spielberg picks up, and vice-versa. Abrams builds up the mystery and the unspoken tension, while Spielberg throws in the character, the charm and the swelling strings section at the dramatic bits. It feels massively like a film that probably would’ve sat better in the 1980s, hence why I believe it got such a disappointed response from people expecting another Cloverfield. Point being – it’s NOT Cloverfield. It’s a completely different animal (or is that monster?). Super excels in its characterisation and its subtle weaving of drama between a cast of at first seemingly uncomplicated characters – we get to know these kids very closely very early on, allowing for the dramatic swells of the monster throwing its weight around to resonate at a deeper level with the audience, as we see lives fragmenting into chaos as a result. At first, the monster element feels extremely detached – much of the first half focuses on the kids making their film, and the aftermath and mystery of the train crash. However, past the halfway mark, things seem to fly together and the less dramatic tangents are left behind in favour of the chaos that is growing around the military’s secret pet. This is extremely well written – it doesn’t get too ridiculous too soon, and by the time it DOES head full-on into fantasyland, you’re ready for it. Anyway. I think I’ve talked about this more than any other film so far, and for good reason. For those of you that’ve seen the film – read this : : for a brilliant slant on what the monster could represent, ergo making watching it a whole lot different second time around.

9/10. Superb writing, direction, meta-direction, and casting / characterisation. This deserves so much more love than it gets. Not a ten, though. When the time comes to give a ten, I will not doubt it. Watch. This.

#13: ‘Battle Royale’.

Spoilers ahead.

A load of Japanese schoolkids get enlisted into a programme on a remote island where the aim is to kill each other until one remains living. There is absolutely nothing beyond that. But, that’s what I like about it – no pretention, no distractions, no unnecessary character derailment. There are a few characters that get specifically focused on throughout (and it’s not hard to guess how things are going to end, particularly – though you be deceived in premise alone that only one will come out of it), but, surprisingly, the film never seems to suffer from ‘redshirt’ syndrome – named after the faceless characters off of Star Trek that would be dressed in red on missions and get offed without any defining characterisation or backstories. Every single character in the film seems to have a different way of playing the game, some are carrying emotional baggage, some are just plain deluded – but they are all fairly unique. Particularly notable are the two ‘exchange students’ – one who has actually survived a previous Battle Royale, and another who voluntarily signed up (he’s a psycho, obviously) – interestingly, the latter has no dialogue in the film at all, and he is definitely the most fearsome, and most monstrous. All in all it’s a fairly grim satire on how base society could devolve if needs be – no doubt games like this in order to thin out prisoner ranks could well be blueprinted in some far off time. As a film, and beyond metaphors, etc, this is good, unnerving fun. It does exactly what it says on the tin, the characters are surprisingly deep given the population and running time, and while the subject matter and grisly turns are decidedly sinister, the pace never slows and the ante never drops. It’s unavoidably enjoyable. The ending is slightly predictable, but the journey and the spectacle more than allow for it. And hey, the good guys win. And that’s a nice change.

9/10 – Addictive and electric cinema. Awesome from start to climax, and with absolutely no filler to anchor it in boredom. I need to stop watching so many great films. I wonder if PAUL BLART will get a nine, too…?

#14: ‘Paul Blart : Mall Cop’.

Spoilers ahead, I guess.

Before watching this, I had to take into account three things. 1), this film has had mostly negative press. 2), comedies aren’t high on my agenda (not when it comes to film, anyway), and 3), I am nowhere near the target audience. But hey – I still enjoy Watership Down. Deal with it. But anyway. Having cleared my head and kept these things in mind, the 90 minutes flew.

Or, they would’ve done, had I enjoyed them. Relativity and fairness aside, this is utter dross. Pulling no punches. There is barely a moment here that I can pinpoint as either clever or memorable – it’s devoid of any merit whatsoever. Paul Blart is basically a bumbling, mild-mannered mall cop (who knew?), who finds himself having to take down a crew of sleazy skateboarding ninja criminals who invade his precious shopping centre, in order to allow humanity to restore its faith in him, and to both get the girl and save his daughter. Standard family fare, there’s been equally inane plots, granted. However. What unfolds is a series of fat jokes and slapstick moments that falter from a divine lack of both timing and subtlety. But that’s barely one point. My main issue with Blart is that, for a family film, it’s overwhelmingly mean spirited. The protagonist is cheerful and good of heart, but everyone hates him, he has a shit life, he’s grossly overweight, he has cripplingly low self esteem and he seems to be the only one that cares about his job. Okay, fair enough. You can’t say that’s not character backgrounding. But what’s resoundingly painful to behold is that every single dig aimed at this already sorry character is played for a laugh. Hey, whatever. Nothing wrong with writing a punching bag as a protagonist – just as long as they get recognition at the end, right? As I’ve said, I love underdog stories. And this is one. But there’s barely acknowledgment of Blart’s saving of the mall, several lives and $30,000,000 at the climax. He locks lips with the lead female, stereotypically romantically linked to him from the start, and that’s about it. And throughout – every single time he starts kicking ass, he gets brought down a peg. He gets sneered at, or gets rebuffed. And it’s played for laughs. Surely, if we find THAT funny, we’re on par with the antagonists? What level are we playing at as an audience?

Anyway, yeah. All that aside. It’s hard to connect with a character like Blart that gets chewed out so often if only for that reason – but take into account he’s massively uninspiring. You can’t be bothered fighting his corner, because he’s not worth it. He’s not an inspiring or even remotely interesting antagonist. This review’s starting to look like I care too much, so lemme just add a few more points. The story is unoriginal, predictable and dull. The characters are insanely dislikeable (many are one-dimensional, or simply have abysmal actors). The jokes are base and badly timed. It ends too quickly (HEAVEN FORBID). There is no message, no moral fiber, no real reason for the story to actually happen (other than it prints a bumload of money).

I tried to like this film. God knows I tried. And I was warned so hard. But god. God. This is soulless. The only people guaranteed to get any kicks out of Blart would probably be the under 7s, and that’s only due to the pratfalls, and that he’s fat. This is a film about a fat, dull man who everyone hates doing a ‘Die Hard’, fucking it up for laughs, and the story tapers off from there. It’s Steven Seagal for kids. Positive thoughts? Kevin James can act. I’ll give him that. And there’s not much wrong with how it all looks. It doesn’t take itself seriously (is that a good thing?). Also, I’m a sucker for a segway. My head hurts.

2/10. I will die happy knowing I will never have to sit through it again. Because I won’t. As a reference point, I will gladly sit through ‘Mannequin’, ‘The Lawnmower Man’, ‘Disaster Movie’, ‘The Little Panda Fighter’, ‘Children of Men’ and ‘Lost in Translation’ again. Nurse, the screens…

#15: ‘Network’

Spoilers ahead.

This film was lauded in 1976 for being an intricate, unashamed and unadulterated depiction of television network corruption and how far greed runs down its veins. It centers around the exploitation of a newscaster undergoing a very public breakdown who is given a soapbox in the hope that it will generate huge interest, figures, and cash. Along the way, business deals break down, people lose jobs, and it seems everyone has a grasping side that inevitably leads to a fall. For its period (the mid-70s), and for its intricate plot and message, I can appreciate that it’s groundbreaking in its very nature. It has a clear message – executives are corrupt, people are numbers, and a man can be killed live on air for the sake of upholding image. It’s an extremely cynical satire – which is perhaps rather prophetic given the various scandals that have been unveiled over the past few years (in entertainment and elsewhere).

But, for entertainment value, I found the whole thing… banal. The characters talk in reams of multi-syllabic jargon, and when they’re not doing that, they’re shouting their sodding heads off. Seriously. There are very few moments of silence, and as a result, this is the loudest film I have ever seen. I’ve no idea if my response was meant to be a humourous one as I witness grey-haired, hairy-lipped execs chewing the scenery like they haven’t eaten in weeks, going off on the same shit over and over and over again, but God – the scene where Beale is brought in front of that moustachioed exec who nearly spits his skeleton out of his mouth, he’s screaming that hard? Hilarious. And the story is one that can be told in under 60 minutes. It lasts TWO HOURS, and by God, does it drag. I’ve read opinions on this and they’re mainly in praise of the intricate plotting and the acting – am I missing something? The acting is insanely over the top. I get the message. It’s an angry, cynical and dark portrayal of the television industry… but the characters are all extremely uninspiring and unmemorable men and women in suits that stand around shouting at each other. I can’t remember half of their names, and even less of their personalities. This is a screenplay that has gone hell-for-leather on ensuring that the satire is at the forefront of the picture – but for me, it just makes for an extremely tedious, long-winded affair that carries very few scenes of interest. I’d genuinely like someone to point out what I’m missing, because clearly I’m in a tiny minority. I’m actually pretty disappointed. Maybe it hasn’t aged well. I’d like to run with that. This is two hours I could’ve spent asleep.

1/10. Angry, loud, boring, long, and burdensome. The wikipedia page lists the amount of awards and critical laudings it’s received – I’ve clearly either got the wrong end of the stick, or we simply don’t agree with each other. Either way, we won’t cross paths again.

#16: ‘Hard Candy’.

Spoilers ahead.

Jesus christ. Well. Erm. A teenage girl lures a paedophile into being castrated and eventually committing suicide. Along the way, she tortures him psychologically and physically, in return for him luring and abusing young girls – it’s essentially a vengeance story. It’s a vengeance story with two very strong characters to play with – young girl as protagonist, paedophile as antagonist. With some character development, and some solid history for them to have come out of, this makes for some extremely powerful drama.

But there isn’t any. Character development, I mean. The actors are fantastic. Ellen Paige is absolutely terrifying as a psychotic teenage girl utterly in control of a depraved but helpless man, subtly played by Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl off of Watchmen, fact fans!). Paige spits coy, calculated venom at every corner, sussing Wilson out from the start, second-guessing his every last move, while going mainly unheeded in her quest to avenge the children he’s molested. But this is the thing. This formula for a screenplay would have me running up a ten, or at least a nine, if the characters weren’t utterly, utterly hollow. We are told, throughout, that Wilson is, obviously, a child molester.

But, that’s it.

He’s a paedo. That’s the only real facet he has to his character. Oh, apart from the fact that he doesn’t want his balls lopping off, and doesn’t like people going through his stuff. Paige’s character is a calculative, disturbed individual who decides that she’s going to mutilate him and convince him to kill himself. That’s it. There’s no backgrounding, no motive (other than OMG HE’S A PEDDER), no real perceivable reason as to why she is what she is outside of ‘I’VE HAD FIVE THERAPISTS’. This makes it extremely hard for me to appreciate her as the protagonist, as the good guy. Is she meant to be the good guy? But Nite Owl’s a paed! He must be the bad guy! This antagonist / protagonist blurring is an excellent technique to use in two-character stories. It’s one of the best. But with characters defined only by what they DO rather than who they ARE, it becomes a fairly confusing experience. Paige’s character as a result grows more and more obnoxious as the film continues, and the ultimate payoff gives absolutely nothing to back up why she did what she did outside of pure vigilanteism. The balance is at such a slant that, at times, I found myself PITYING A CHILD MOLESTER. Fair play if that was intentional – but with a bad guy this reprehensible, it wouldn’t hurt to make the good guy a teensie bit likeable. I’ve a sneaking suspicion this film was made purely to get people cheering at a child fetishist being mutilated. “Let’s snip and hang a paedo, boom, box office monies”. The inversion of power is clever for about half an hour, but unlike most revenge stories, the epic drama never really hits. It’s just very unsettling. The two characters are both monstrous in their own ways, and possibly even more so down to poor characterisation. Don’t get me wrong though – the dialogue is fantastic, the acting is spot-on. But the characters are crap. You don’t feel anything from watching this other than slight unease. If that’s the point, mission accomplished.

5/10 – I can see what they did here. They just could’ve done it better. I hope this was made to make you query where your loyalties lie, as opposed to it being purely lazy vigilanteism. I can’t tell. That’s kinda bad, really. I want good films again, please.

#17 : ‘Scarface’.

Possible spoilers follow…

Before I talk about this one, I won’t lead you astray – I liked it. I really didn’t think I would as it’s not my kind of film at all (then again, Battle Royale is leading the list so far, and I wouldn’t have expected that had you told me it would be at the start of the year), but Pacino manages to energise what is essentially a (mostly) morally bankrupt, but intensely determined character, into one who is charismatic enough to make you want to see him succeed. A lesser actor in a different portrayal may have rendered the character utterly dislikeable to the point where his inevitable death is cheered on from a very early point in the movie. But Tony Montana – as greedy, as decadent and as ruthless as he is – is passionate, ambitious and protective of his interests. He cares deeply about his family, and maintains a moral compass well into his descent into madness (where he refuses to kill an assigned target as the target’s wife and kids are on the scene). As a story, it’s long, but it’s a brilliant saga. The evolution of Montana from Cuban immigrant to multi-millionaire baron is drawn-out by necessity, and it doesn’t drag its heels for a moment (other two-and-a-half-hour epics, such as Amadeus, struggle to fill their boots). The characters around Montana are disposable but necessary. Pacino commands his stage, and as a result this is an extremely compelling piece of cinema which is flawed only by the glamorisation of its lead character’s lifestyle which has been snowballing since its release.

The only issue I have with Scarface is exactly that – and it’s of no fault of its own, nor anyone involved in its execution – I find it disturbing that anyone would witness the rise and fall of Tony Montana and wish to emulate it. Not on the basis of the decadence and the greed (life is what you make it, do with it what you want, just don’t try to hurt people while you’re doing it, philosophical insert over), but on the basis that I hardly believe that’s what the original motives behind making this picture stood for. If anything, the glamorisation of the drugs trade and this monstrous rags-to-riches snowball of a life that Montana leads feels to be leaning towards satire, though not in a way that it takes the piss out of the entire thing it’s representing. It is, essentially, a fantasy, a tale of what COULD happen should a person with enough drive and greed want to push it so far. Life isn’t as straightforward. It’s annoying to find people wanting to ‘be’ Tony Montana, or wanting to achieve his ‘greatness’ when his ‘greatness’ results in his torso being drilled to pieces, and falling face first into a water feature. If that’s how you want to go, so be it – but basing a lifestyle on what is blatantly a Hollywood fantasy is well beyond my grasp. This film’s reverence should lie in its masterful lead performance, its quick-moving sagas, and its subtle satire – not in the post-glamorisation of its fantastical anti-hero.

9/10 – I can’t not give this a nine – like I said, not my kind of thing at all – but I think I finally understand why Pacino has been named the greatest actor of all. I would happily watch this again. Happily. However, I’m off to plot my new lifestyle based entirely on this INSPIRATIONAL fictional character, just so I can get five minutes in a jacuzzi while swearing at an aggravated Michelle Pfeiffer. I’m joking. Or am I?

#18 : ‘The Ladykillers (Original)’

Not much to say on this one (sigh of relief breathed all around). Revered as one of the Ealing studio comedy classics, this is a comedy of errors based around a band of bumbling bank robbers who take up lodging at the home of an elderly lady to concoct their schemes. However, she eventually cottons on, and wants to inform the authorities – and then, of course, the title of the piece comes into play, as each of the crooks attempts to bump the old dear orf. I have to admit – there’s nothing in this that’s particularly laugh-out-loud funny, outside of Alec Guinness’ superbly creepy Professor Marcus, the leader of the crims (and his awful false teeth). It might be its age, it might be my tastes. The ensemble is marvellous (Guinness and Peter Sellers leading the big names), and the farce isn’t as far-fetched or as over-the-top as you’d be sold it. However, this kind of dampens it a bit. It’s a relatively short film with a clever premise, but the laughs aren’t as thick and as fast as they might’ve been. The action only gets relatively frantic towards the end (when the crooks start killing each other as opposed to the old lady), and even then it seems to stumble slightly on its way through. The remake’s on me list as well, so I’ll have to wait and see if it makes a mark.

6/10 – I’m taking into account the passage of time here. It’s a quintessential British farce, pretty dark for its time, and while entertaining enough, not as zany as the blueprints make it out to be.


5 responses to “Review Archive : #1 – #18

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