Archive for May, 2010
3.5 Stars out of 4
Control is an inevitable tragedy. It’s a shockingly austere biopic of the cult band Joy Division. Really, this is more about their singer, Ian Curtis (as most of these biopics end up being). Control is simplistic in its narrative, but a grim study of a character that strives beyond the music. Control is so mesmerizing because it does not advocate Joy Division according to their lyrics but in addition to their mood. The mood is far from pleasant, thus do not expect something too lively. Ian Curtis was painted with sorrow – he was always, despite being in good company, alone. He wrote music, short stories, and journal passages in this individualized pessimism. He died at 23. It was as if he wanted it that way. (continue reading…)
3.5 Stars out of 4
The Runaways is an aggressive visual. Its screen boils with an anarchic sizzle – not from the ideas but from the temperament. It’s 1975 and they’re about to explode (as reads the tagline). The band is, you guessed it, The Runaways and they are offering a different edge to rock and roll. They’re an all-girls band. This disgruntles many of the virile Clash and Sex Pistol freaks but The Runaways’ sexual verge creates this chaotic sense of respect within that world of hysteria. For the avid fans of this notorious band, they may be underwhelmed by first-time feature film director Floria Sigismondi’s lack of critical approach to the band. But having little awareness of this band, The Runaways jolting style seared me. As most music biopics, this one is messy, but in a pulsating kind of way. Where the sombre multi-character fairy tale on Bob Dylan – I’m Not There – may have been more creative, it vexed me at times with its incessant symbolism. The Runaways is not just about the band, but exactly like them. Electrically charged hyper-kinetic exuberance. (continue reading…)
2 Stars out of 4
It was difficult watching Rob Marshall’s Nine. Not because it was boring, but because it tried to exude such vitality, such a pulse, and such a unique flavour. But somehow, none of that comes through. From the reviews I have read of the broadway version of Nine, they have been blown away by the artistic grandeur – sets, props, and costumes. However, the emotion is too detached, as if the material does not have the efficacy to create introvert characters. (continue reading…)
Dreamworks needed an angle. And that angle is family. Rejoice in that theme because that is why this film works.
3 Stars out of 4
Unlike actual ogres, Shrek Forever After is harmless. Does it recycle previously used themes, plots, and characters from its predecessors? Absolutely. But what is so appreciative about this fourth, and fortunately, final Shrek, is that it acts more as a revamp from the dreaded Shrek The Third. It knows it’s not going to be as memorable as the first two, so it sticks to a gentle plot and organizes its satire within there. People are probably scratching their heads on how I rated this film bounteously higher than Dreamworks previous 3D galore How To Train Your Dragon. Dragon, for me, lost itself within its own ambition. Shrek Forever After acts as a cut-apart, rectification of what worked with the Shrek series. Dragon was pure visual, yet Shrek’s whimsical aura and highly likeable and relatable characters are an utter pleasure to watch on that eye-popping screen. It’s the traditional ‘once upon a time story.’ But for the kids, when do fairy tales really get that old?
Shrek (voiced by the zany Mike Myers) is a family man. He has three adorable ogre infants (all with first names beginning with ‘F’) along with his ogrette wife Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz). We begin on a dark note. It’s a carriage camping park, where witches infest and Rumpelstiltskin (voiced by Walt Dohm) broods with his matter-of-fact contracts that guarantee eternal happiness. But something about his devilish smirks and snaring grins tell us this is no tiny-innocent teletubbie. He wants the kingdom of Far Far Away land all to himself, like some animated neo-Fascist. Not that the kids would understand that. After that showy ominous opening, we slide over to Shrek’s beloved swamp. His days are repetitive but delectable. He nurtures the children, donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy) barges by with his fire-breathing spouse. Life’s a real ball of goodness right now.
Shrek Forver After’s strongest moments are the beginning when the satire is minimal and the setting is crafted more upon technique and anaphoric montages. We get the repetition of Shrek’s life. As enjoyable as it is, it is maddening watching himself living such a harmless and predictable life. Funny enough, the Shrek series has never really touched upon that. It’s kind of ironic. Being a liked and benign ogre can become dissatisfying. As if that nostalgia for pitchforks is lighting up again.
Eventually, Shrek has a temper tantrum and the primary conflict is obvious. Shrek will make an impulsive and stubborn decision and he will embark on an uncanny journey to amend his wrongdoings. We’ve seen it all before, but Shrek has fun with its characters, which makes it fun for us. Where the previous Shrek’s were more about that sense of discovery and astounding character idiosyncrasies, this new Shrek is more about family. What a fitting message. Shrek is definitely more for the kids, but this heart-warming idea of ‘family is everything’ is a quintessential way to perforate the adoration needed for these animated films. Kids can get the jokes, adults can get the themes.
Once Shrek is thrown into delirium after making a sketchy deal with Rumpelstiltskin, the journey allows us to fall in love with the characters again. You got Puss in Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas) with all his stalwartness, nobility, and adorable glowing eyes. What a cute putty cat! Donkey is as obnoxious but as likeable as ever. His camaraderie with Shrek has that exquisite chemistry, allowing both child and adult to believe this fantasy is indeed reality. With the strong humanization Myers and Murphy induce, we could in fact believe, ogres and donkeys are, er, people too. The rest is an array of familiarity: the Ginger Bread Man has his feisty quirkiness, the three little pigs run amuck with hilarious angst, and the Wolf broods with bashfulness. These are classic-iconic characters and Shrek Forever After uses that to its advantage.
Does the film run out of steam? You bet it does. In fact we are to believe that this whole charade happens over a mere twenty four hours. Therefore, Shrek Forever After, kind of confidently, submits to us that Shrek can make Fiona fall in love with him again, endure a trip to the dragon’s castle (which took a film’s length in the first Shrek), and to convince all the characters they belong to another fantasy – Shrek’s world. Shrek Forever After is flawed in the sense that Bullock’s The Proposal was. So much changes in so little time. It’s detracting when film’s resort to such contrived measures, but Shrek gets away with it because it falls in love with its quibble comedy and tongue-in-cheek one liners. It worries about making us snicker, not making us believe this real. After all, as penetrating as the characters are, this is still an animated world.
Most earnestly, Shrek Forever After does not bet bottom dollar on its slapstick. Shrek The Third was a painful attempt at making us hoot at brief, silly gags. It came off cheap, not deep. Shrek Forever After exudes this irrefutable confidence. As if it knows its franchise is concluding, so it should make tribute to the material that worked. As a result, Shrek Forever After is a homage to the good stuff. It’s not too ambitious, it doesn’t play everything exactly too safe. It does reintroduce new characters to enhance the villainy; and Rumpelstiltskin is indeed an ominous dwarf of a nuisance. He has these typical motives, but the film loves to self-parodize that. It even states in a subliminal message: “this is your tyrannical ruler, Rumpelstiltskin.”
Shrek Forever After is nothing to revolutionize the paradigm of animated films. It’s not Up, Finding Nemo, or Chicken Run. But Shrek Forever After sticks to the basics and plays itself out using humour that it is comfortable with. The film actually enjoys its characters, enhances them on that three-dimensional screen, and that creates such endearing fun. I respected this film for its modesty, making Shrek light, not aggressively slapstick. It puns away allowing us to laugh away. What’s important is that it means well. It enhances the essence of family. And isn’t this a family movie? Indeed it is. So expect something innocuous and with good intentions. For all the right reasons, Shrek Forever After will live happily ever after.
I SAY: SEE IT.
2.5 Stars out of 4
The Coen brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t There has this irrefutable pessimism to it. This is the realm the Coen Brothers are so good at conquering (see Blood Simple and Fargo). To benefit that, the film carries a neo-noir style — the black and whites dialling in this perturb macabre. Being based, loosely, upon a poem called Antigonish from 1899, The Man Who Wasn’t There acts like a monochromatic Sophocles au cinema. It tackles a society, centres the characters within it, and then discombobulates the two by giving them a shake. The two elements create a cynical mix. The Man Who Wasn’t There is fascinating for its style, but the Coen’s overrun the film with recyclable themes, contrived payoffs, and impassive characters. Even if the man was never there, you still have to feel for him. For that dreaded invisibility. (continue reading…)
Zero Stars out of 4
Dogme Brethren of 95 – “Vow of Chastity”
1. Filming must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in. If a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found.
2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. Music must not be used unless it occurs within the scene being filmed, i.e., diegetic. (continue reading…)
3 Stars out of 4
Comedy demands levity in its actors. We love to frown upon selfish, self-absorbed, and fatuous characters in this self-satisfactory superiority chuckle. Watching people screw up, conflict constantly, and exercise their futility is the real gag. We just don’t know it. Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle is stricken with intense comparability. Even if you’re not a pot smoker and you don’t have an impish roommate, the college humour is too presentative to not embrace. Most of these 90 minute-no more shenanigans begin as an array of sketches and then evolve into a feature-length running joke. The events that occur seem like they could have come out from any bag of tricks of any SNL skit. But tossing them together makes an incongruent piece of laughter. Key word: laughter. Harold & Kumar GTWC is ridiculous, absurd, cheesy, and even too revolting at times. But it’s friggin’ funny.
We begin with an Indo-Chino collaboration. Our two dorky pot heads have two unique personalities. Harold Lee (John Cho) works in his office all day, while his colleagues manipulate him to do their work for him. He’s Asian, he loves that stuff, they say. Okay, I sort of chuckled. Then we are introduced to Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) and he frivolously skips interviews his father sets up for him. His dad wants him to be a doctor, but Kumar would rather get an MD in Munchies. It’s kinda of weird – Harold seems to be the boy on the playground with the wedgie and Kumar seems to be the one who would have given to him. Either way, they’re best friends, and their pot-smoking shenanigans lead to an awfully funny ride that, as all of these comedies do, definitely sputters after a while.
You see, there’s this burger joint called White Castle that is said to be royalty with the paddies. It’s like a royale with cheese I think Travolta called it. Harold and Kumar, slobbering, intoxicated, wander off on a wild, stoned up, goose chase to feast upon that particular taste. Their hunger is so strong, not even death can get in their way.
And, of course, harebrained things happen. They wander a school campus for marijuana, nestle in between a bathroom stall as two perky girls play battleshits (what a pun!). They even endure the countryside, where a raccoon hops in their car and makes the car almost go topsy turvy. Okay, so that loud gag runs a little flat. But the punch lines do not quit and Harold and Kumar’s charm illuminates. If the jokes do not always cut it for you at times, John Cho and Kal Penn’s performances will. It’s not as if they are intellectually stimulating, in-depth characters. But they exert such different qualities from each other and mesh them together to create this heartfelt friendship that even the audience could consider plausible. These two act as if they’ve known each other forever and that’s the key to immersion in comedy. Get us to believe and cherish the characters. Then the jokes, whether they create only a titter or a chuckle, still clue you in.
Comedy can be so creative. Why did so many fall for the three stooges or the Marx Brothers? It was the expressions, the clumsiness, and the lovableness. It made us ironically wish: if only we could be that silly. Harold and Kumar are not cocky jocks or complete nerds, they’re foreigners. And they make use of that. The touch is not really satirical, just a gateway to the laughs. And what Harold & Kumar does so well – the likability.
Of course the movie is predictable and transitory with its comedic steam. But Harold & Kumar enhances the golden rule of comedy – make the characters funny not their actions. Deep down, these are funny beings we are dealing with, and that makes Harold & Kumar, as nutty as it could be at times, irrefutably authentic.
Harold & Kumar introduces scenarios as if they emerge in a conveyor belt. One ridiculous moment succeeds another. Are we to believe this is possible? Not really, but it’s how the movie makes use of its confident material. Unafraid to explore the folly, virtuous at making us laugh. Maybe cry.
Running on such a thin premise, Harold & Kumar’s stamina mostly suffices. It’s that idea of enjoying the little things in life. Discovering a little fun after a while could change you. It did with Harold and Kumar. But that evolvement in character is pointless. It’s the journey that counts. What is important is that we engage and encouragingly endear to pursue this…er…stoner trip. So that we’re there, White Castle and all, with those two dork knobs. Together, biting into those delicious burgers.
I SAY: SEE IT.
1 Star out of 4
Here’s the thing about Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It is like junk food. It looks good, it’s cheap, and it’s accessible. Because really, who would make this R-rated? Okay, so my allegory is a little enigmatic. I think the notable comparison between the two is that one word distinguishes it all: junk.
Transformers 2 could have been an innocent and innocuous flop that lasted 90 minutes, but instead, enervating Hollywood director Michael Bay (Bad Boys, Armageddon) extends this film for a gruelling 150 minutes, making this film bring the hatred upon itself. When watching this movie, I felt like I was watching that extended sequence in Super Size Me when Morgan Spurlock masticates McDonald’s meals for two hours. It’s torture. All that cruddy produce slowly regurgitating before our eyes. As Transformers crawls to its sputtering finish, you can point out all its imperfections like leeches in clear water. But the most disdainful aspect about this movie is that it’s loud, obnoxious, pointless, and callow. What a fallen experience. (continue reading…)
2.5 Stars out of 4
If I were to tell you Michael Caine had hit his Gran Torino days, you would have mixed feelings. On one hand, this usually foreshadows the spiralling down of the elder’s acting career (as it did Eastwood), but on another, it also would signify the actor at his strongest. Harry Brown is vile, torturous at times, gruelling, and scatological with its lingo, but first-time British director Daniel Barber perforates the film with a fine macabre. The tone is consistent. The narrative, well, not so much. Harry Brown is not necessarily a revenge story, it is more a quest for a pursuit of happiness, er, less sadness. Though it is mighty difficult to endure Barber’s task at hand, Harry Brown, though irrepressibly shaky, has an efficacious lead and layers of sympathy. In total, it definitely misses the mark, but with enough sentiment and grit, here and there, it only slightly does.
Rick Groen of The Globe and Mail intricately coined Harry Brown as “gritty social realism.” That being said, he disliked the movie. But taking place in the impoverished areas of Britain, Harry Brown’s scenery is constructed of frighteningly realistic atmosphere but the youth gangs are amuck with a dense hyperbole. It seems at every corner there’s an ominous junkie waiting to mug you, stab you, or even kill you. It’s overkill definitely but also a finicky tactic for Barber to enhance his conflict. These really are some mean streets.
Harry Brown (the terrific Michael Caine) is at the existential pinnacle of his life. He just lost his ailing wife and his father in a gang brawl. Harry Brown is at first ambivalent. He should go to the cops, but they are too much of the de jure kind to bring the thugs to justice. They need evidence, and simply put, they got nothing on the gangs. Barber’s opening twenty minutes is smoothly crafted. He presents an apparent problem. There’s a profuse amount of violence that needs to be alleviated. Harry Brown is torn: he can’t go to the police, so his only ‘option’ (per say) is to live with a taciturn modesty the rest of his aging life. Barber corners in our protagonist and provides him only with the worst of possibilities. How sadistic will Harry Brown go?
Critics have castigated Harry Brown for its flawed approach to humanity and fundamental morality. It is simply repulsive to watch an elderly man wreak havoc (or benefit society in this case) by blowing off the heads of the youth. Normally, they would be right. But Barber is smart enough to circumvent this flaw. The first part of the movie justifies Harry Brown. Barber reduces Brown to the lowest ounce of humanity. He is alone, scared, and helpless. A condoling detective named Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer) tries to aid Harry Brown with his dejectedness, but her only condolences provoke him. The murder of his father will ultimately come down to manslaughter. Justice, for Harry Brown, is complicated.
Or maybe it is rather simple. You take a gun, fire it at the problem, and justice is served. On a silver platter. Harry Brown’s remaining hour revolves around Brown’s quest for cleansing; here is where the film plummets. We degenerate from a well-drawn narrative to a luridly meandering one. Barber tantalizes us with a series of set pieces meant to ground you with angst, a clairvoyant vigour, but it all tastes rather brassy and protracting. The low-key lighting rashes the screen, the dialogue pot boils, and the angst acts more of a regression in interest. For example, when Harry Brown attempts to buy a gun from two doped up dealers, they take him through their marijuana greenhouse, without ever questioning if this innocent-enough looking man would shout to the police about their unscrupulous acts. I guess the payoff is for Harry Brown to go De Niro crazy, but we can’t help but sample the contrivances.
Harry Brown’s first and second half is a duality. It moves from plausible to conveniently displaced. Harry Brown goes guns ‘a blazing, he endures justice – the distasteful hard way. When he is briefly immobilized via bullet wound, the police interpret it as emphysema. It’s an elderly thing. It is ironic. But more so, if anything, contrived. Harry Brown turns into street riot hogwash. It places the main characters into a communal feud, where justice really becomes amorphous. Is this really what the world has come to? It’s truly existential and kind of compelling and kind of detracting. We lose hold of the narrative focus, but not Barber’s tone. He maintains it and that gives Harry Brown as defined aura, but not a defined tenacity on its ideas.
But Caine is captivating. His whimpering lips, shrinking eyes, and greyness enhances Harry Brown’s impotence. Harry Brown does end fittingly. It does not suggest that Harry Brown has been an effective vigilante, but the film pokes holes in its justice system. Where our ambivalence relied in the whole film. Harry’s actions will seem excusable. He was just looking for an answer. He is not necessarily right, as he is human. Barber knows this, which makes Harry Brown a study of human regression. But its plot is victim of the contrived fever. But as Barber incoherently told us: nobody’s perfect.
I SAY: RENT IT.
3 Stars out of 4
Wanted asks us a very important question: what the fuck have you done lately? As you sit around playing video games, wallowing in your cubicle, or watching this pulsing movie, what exactly exciting are you willing to accomplish? Life, as you know it, is passing by. If you are to catch up to it, then do something already. As enthusiastic and as eye-opening as Wanted deems to be, it’s not really philosophical. Its smarts, if anything, are embroidered under pretension, ostentation gimmicks, and vulgar profanity. But it still looks cool. And for a summer blockbuster, that’s what the film will order. Wanted is preposterous, silly, over the top, and gimmicky. But it works because this film (directed by Russian-Kazakh filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov) knows it is just that. Wanted finds an incandescent style and explodes its fury on the screen. Danny Elfman’s punk beats shatter the screen and the story, as cliché as it rings out, will force you into guilty pleasure territory. Wanted, fittingly, is precisely that.
Wanted zones in on the individual. It ‘attacks’ a society, that regulates itself on individualism and the material world. As Elfman writes in his theme song here: “someone has to pay for the little things … and it all comes down to you.” I find this very powerful. It enhances the cliché of the story. So what if its bombastic; Wanted is easy to appreciate because it finds a sort of depth behind its ridiculous action. We have a revenge story. We have a hero story. But Wanted also has this unusual humanity buried beneath its cumbersome action scenes and absurd special effects.
It’s all about choosing your destiny. A quasi-middle class worker named Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is living a pathetic life. He lives in a ratty apartment next to abrasive train rails, his girlfriend is screwing his best friend, and his obese boss picks on him like a school ground bully. Wesley just sits there and takes it. And he says sorry too much. The script, which was written by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, and Chris Morgan, constructs Wesley nicely. They give him something that needs changing. Okay, so he must develop from weak to strong, but McAvoy is strong enough to make his character changes more crystalline. The script and the performances both know what they are doing and what they are dealing with. This is an action movie. With its motivations.
Once Wesley joins a group of assassins called The Fraternity, his life spirals into hysteria. That little cubicle won’t swarm him anymore. For now, guns, knives, and shooting wings off flies is his daily work. I guess he’s been promoted. The head of The Fraternity named Sloan (Morgan Freeman, beholding some Samuel L. Jackson profanity) is totally volatile. At one time he is slowly dictating Wesley’s mission as a hereditary assassin, another he is duelling guns and cussing up a storm. Meanwhile, a femme fetale named Fox (Angelina Jolie) nurtures Wesley into the assassin that he never was. She’s violent, rigorous, but something is so voluptuous about her derriere tattoos.
What Wesley goes through is rather terrifying. He gets punched in the face, knives through his hand, blades chopping at him, curved bullet training. Say what? Yes, Wanted even dares to say curving bullets is perceivable. Wanted does not need to have any self-referentiality to keep its absurdism in check. It knows it’s absurd, so it propels that style, exploits it, and kind of masters it.
But all this nonsense can have its limits. Wanted, as good as its script can be at times, can become so foolish with its plot, that it loses any credibility to any of its preceding smarts. We are told to do something vitalizing with our lives, but Wanted exemplifies a scenario so impossible that the film can never really relate to anything vicarious. And that is a problem. What made Fight Club a masterpiece was its grounded approach to masculinity. To be a man, you need to fight and you need to be an active not passive producer in society. Forget the furniture, the big screen television. Living a naked life was the way to freedom. It’s radically beautiful. Wanted is just machismo fun. It’s not beautiful, but it is intoxicating.
In a way, you can and cannot expect much from Wanted. Allow it to dazzle you with its abundance of special effects, but admire its smarts for only a moment. Because if anything, the balance between smart and dumb goes more to the latter. With a preposterous visceral to this film, its ideas become unfortunately that. Wanted does not necessarily mean much what it says, but it is exciting, pulsating, and…well…pretentiously intelligent. Most action films don’t try that nowadays. Wanted does and it, as distracting as it is, marginally succeeds. But admire its foolishness. I mean, what other movie would make curving bullets seem so very real?
I SAY: SEE IT.