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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Super Quick Roundup for July 2013

Paying writing work kind of got in the way of regular updates for all movies this past month so here are very, very quick reviews of all the films I have not yet covered that were released in SA cinemas this month.

Despicable Me 2: Not despicable at all actually. The plot ain't great and it lags in the middle but it's genuinely cute without being overly cutesy and, thanks to an increase in Minion activity, is much, much funnier than the first film. (7/10)

Killer Joe: Now this one kind of is despicable. It has a grotesque final scene whose sexual politics I am really not happy about so I can't exactly give this a hearty recommendation but it's still brilliantly if bleakly written, sharply directed by the legendary William Friedkin and has a bunch of great performances, most especially by a stellar Matthew McConaughy in the title role. It's great but it's awful. Check it out at your own peril. (?/10)

The Big Wedding: A so-so family dramedy with a terrific, star-studded cast and a number of chuckles along the way but it's way too ordinary to leave a mark or to bother with at cinemas. (5/10)

Disconnect:  Like all dramas made up of separate but barely interlocking plotlines, Disconnect is a bit of a mixed bag but this film about the way the internet can shatter lives and relationships as easily as it can connect people rages between good and very, very good and, once again, it has a top notch cast and plenty to say. It could certainly have done with a bit of humour, though. (7/10)

World War Z: I appreciate that this is a zombie film that actually plays out on a world stage but the location hopping is the only truly standout thing about this otherwise decidedly generic and largely charmless zombie flick. (5/10)

The Company You Keep: It's intentions are clearly in the right place and it's discussions about terrorism and revolution are both interesting and admirably complex but as a thriller or as a drama - it's not quite clear what the film actually wants to be - it's something of a stodgy, often uninvolving affair and, though the supporting cast are pretty uniformly great, Shia Labeouf is totally miscast as tough, down-trodden journalist. (5/10)

I Give It a Year: A very pleasant surprise, this one. Its romantic aspects do admittedly play out like fifth-rate Woody Allen and, despite it's attempts to update the romcom formula for a world where half of all marriages end in divorce, it's still pretty formulaic stuff. It is, however, hilariously funny and, considering how rare that is for mainstream romantic comedies these days, I found it easy to overlook its many dramatic flaws and embrace is as easily one of the year's best and funniest comedies. A must especially if you like your humour dry, sardonic and very, very British. (7/10). 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Wolverine

Well, I Don't know if it's THE Wolverine but it's certainly a Wolverine.

Also up at Channel 24

What it's about

After the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Wolverine's life of solitude and privacy is interrupted by an old acquaintance summoning him to his death bed in Japan. When he gets there, however, Wolverine finds more than he bargained for as the old man is now one of the most powerful and richest men in Japan and, in exchange for protecting his beloved granddaughter from Yukuza thugs, he offers Wolverine something he could only previously have dreamed of: an end to his tortured existence.

What we thought

Considering how weak Wolverine's last two proper cinematic adventures were – X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine – it was never going to take much effort to make his latest look good by comparison. And make no mistake, The Wolverine is a far better film than either of those clunkers. It's just a pity that it could have been so much better still.

When this latest entry into the X-Men was first announced, it came with Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) attached as director and the promise of something more adult, more stripped down and more unique than any previous X-Men film. And with Aronofsky on board it was easy to believe the hype. Aronofsky isn't simply a brilliant director, he's one with a very singular, very adult and very art-house style who could have really put a different spin on the now tried and tested superhero formula. Plus, the last film he made with Hugh Jackman was the brilliantly deranged The Fountain that, for all its flaws, is easily one of the most intriguing genre films released this century.

Sadly, Aronofsky left the project but all was not lost as he was replaced by another interesting director, James Mangold. Now, Mangold may have none of Aronofsky's idiosyncratic strangeness but as someone best known for directing the likes of Identity, Girl Interrupted and Walk the Line, he was certainly a more inspired choice than a hack like Brett Ratner. His resume isn't exactly free of misfires (I'm looking at you Knight and Day) but with Mangold at the helm, there was still a good chance that The Wolverine could have been something special.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Internship

Taking product placement to all new levels...

What it's about

Two middle-ages former salesmen, who after having their careers destroyed by obsolescence and a terrible economy, apply for an internship at Google and despite knowing next to nothing, compete head to head with dozens of gifted, tech-savy teenagers and twenty-somethings for the final reward of a job at the illustrious company.

What we thought

Does Google really need to advertise this badly?

It's funny, despite being one of director Shawn Levy's more enjoyable efforts (not that that's saying much as the only truly worthwhile film he has ever made was the admittedly pretty great Real Steel), The Internship never gets past that central question. The movie's PR people are adamant that it's not just a glorified advert for Google but, whatever else you might say about it, The Internship's primary goal is clearly to tell us over and over and over again just how unbelievably and supernaturally swell Google is.

And, ya know what, Google is swell. Their products really are top notch and I'm sure it is a really interesting place to work that offers a veritable metric ton of perks for its employees. But Google's not exactly mired in controversy and aside for the small town of Pawnee, Indiana (that's for you my fellow Parks and Recreation fans), everyone with an internet connection isn't just aware of their products but actively use them on a very regular basis. There's a reason, after all, why “google” is now an official English word and “altavista” isn't.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Lone Ranger

Here's something for those who simply can't wait for the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie...

Also up at Channel 24.

What its about

Native American legend, Tonto, tells a young boy the story of how straight-laced district attorney became his partner, the outlaw known as the Lone Ranger.

What we thought

Enough has probably been said about how The Lone Ranger is effectively “Pirates of the Caribbean on Horseback” but that doesn't make the analogy any less accurate. The Lone Ranger does, after all, share the same star, producer and director as the first three Pirates films and it replicates both the distinctively knockabout action scenes of those films, as well as most of their many, many flaws.

The Lone Ranger is, of course, an enduring part of American pop culture that started off as a radio serial in 1933 and has since appeared in movies, movie serials, books, comic books, comic strips, cartoons and TV shows. While this new film might clearly be an attempt to resurrect the old favourite for a new generation and may fail entirely to do so (reviews, word of mouth and box office returns have been, to be charitable, underwhelming), it is innocuous and bland enough not to do too much damage to a character that has been around longer than Superman.

First, the good news. Despite what all the marketing may suggest, The Lone Ranger is very much the lead character in his own movie and Arnie Hammer is charismatic and likeable in the role. Despite this being an origin story, The Lone Ranger's characterisation is somewhat weak and underdeveloped but Hammer clearly makes the best of what he has to work with and he alone makes the film worthy of its storied title.

The best thing by far about the film, though, is the really beautiful (and smartly 2D) cinematography that makes the very best of the film's photogenic Texan (and Utahan) vistas. The action scenes too are nicely, if rather lengthily, shot and the film does work, at least for a while, as something of a visual feast.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Song for Marion/ Unfinished Song

Just a quick one to close out the week.

It's kind of strange that after having written nearly three thousand words on Man of Steel, a film that I didn't even like, I have so little to say on the genuinely wonderful Song for Marion. It is one of those films though, that really speaks for itself and doesn't need me waffling on for a half dozen pages about how great it is.

The story focuses on Arthur (Terence Stamp), an old curmudgeon, who tries to find meaning in his life after his beloved wife (Vanessa Redgrave) finally succumbs to cancer by taking her place in the singing class where she spent so many of her final days. Despite his wife's obvious love for the singing group, while she was alive, Arthur had little patience for what he saw as a collection of old fogies embarrassingly desperate to hang onto their youth but with his wife gone, his days empty and his relationship with his estranged son, James (Christopher Eccleston) more fraught than ever, he is convinced by the class's beautiful, young teacher, Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton) to not only participate in their classes but to join the group in a singing competition.

Relationships are forged, frayed and fixed; tears are spilled; laughs are had and an uplifting ending is all but guaranteed but it doesn't matter how familiar this all feels or how predictable its plot is, Song for Marion is simply a delight from beginning to end that features sterling performances (sung or otherwise) from its top-drawer cast and is heartbreaking, funny and joyous in equal turns. It is sentimental but I think it earns its sentiment and is less mawkish than unabashedly heartfelt.

The cynical and the cold-hearted need not apply but if you enjoyed, to any degree, films like Quartet, The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel or, most especially, The Concert, Song for Marion is a must-see. I really can't recommend it enough. 

Incidentally, if you like Song for Marion be sure to check out the similarly-themed documentary Young@Heart, which is not only every bit as moving and as funny but also features a heartbreakingly beautiful cover of Coldplay's Fix You that utterly destroys the original.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Man of Steel

I barely even know where to begin with this...

The Background: Why Superman is Super

I am a Superman fanboy. There really is no getting past it. I consider Superman to be not only one of the greatest fictional characters ever created and the Alpha and Omega of superheroes, but one of the few modern day creations that can truly be called "mythical". In terms of pure preference, The Flash may be my favourite superhero - thanks in large part to Mark Waid's (more on him in a bit) take on the character when I first started reading comics on a regular basis - but Superman represents everything that's powerful and beautiful and enduring about superheroes and, as such, has held a special place in my heart for pretty much my entire life.

I know this sounds hyperbolic, especially as there are so many "cooler" superheroes around but - and here's where the mythological part comes in - Superman is as much about what he represents as who he is.

Going back to The Man of Steel's origins, he was created by two Jewish American/ Canadian teenagers who, as the children of immigrants, imagined a character that was a mix of the biblical story of Moses with the then contemporary issues facing waves of immigrants trying to forge a new life in a brave new world. Superman wasn't merely a crime fighter but the very embodiment of hope, empowerment and optimism, all wrapped in the blue, red and yellow of a character that was an alien in both literal and metaphorical senses. Since then, his story has taken on Jesus-like undertones (or in the case of the movies, overtones) and has grown and shrunk in power, married (and, uh, "demarried") Lois Lane and has been a science fiction explorer, super soldier and saviour but, at his core, Superman boils down to one image and one image alone. A mild mannered, all too human Clark Kent, ripping off his starched white shirt to reveal the Superman - the being of empowerment, goodness and hope - beneath.

Superman matters to me and while I'm going to review what does and what doesn't work about Man of Steel as a movie, I hope it's clear by now that I am not going to approach the film with even the little objectivity I can muster for most movies. There are reviews out there by people who don't care either way about Superman for you to check out but, believe me, this really isn't going to be one of them.