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Friday, August 29, 2014

Lovelace

Lovelace: Boogie-Nights-light or Boogie-Nights-dark - that is the question...

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

The true story of Linda Lovelace, the perhaps unwilling star of the most successful porn movie ever made, Deep Throat.

What we thought

The amount you'll get from this compelling but flawed biopic is almost directly proportional to how little you know about its subject. Or is that inversely proportional – I never was very good at maths. Either way, it does seem that the more you know about Linda Lovelace, the less the film will have to offer.

Weirdly, despite my general lack of interest in '70s porn, I actually know quite a bit about Deep Throat and its controversial star. I've seen the excellent documentary, Inside Deep Throat, and have even seen the BBC documentary The Real Linda Lovelace, since it was written and narrated by my favourite film critic, Mark Kermode. I doubt I'm alone in this. Linda Lovelace (real name Linda Boreman, later Linda Marchiano) has released a number of (often conflicting) books about her time in porn and later became an avid anti-porn crusader – all of which resulted in her becoming a somewhat infamous household name in the 1970s.

Lovelace, then, is a well-made but often overly safe telling of her story that is both far more compelling than its harshest critics would suggest and yet still something of a missed opportunity.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

And now, for the big movie of the week!

Well, OK, considering its abysmal box office numbers, "big" might not be the word I'm looking for...

This review is also up at Channel 24.


What it's about

Returning once again to the stylish-noir world on Frank Miller's Sin City, we meet old faces and new as their paths cross and criss-cross in often deadly ways.

What we thought

As I haven't revisited the first Sin City in film in many a year, nor having caught up with any of the comics in even longer, I'm not sure if my luke-warm reaction to Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a result of my having outgrown the property or if, very simply, this sequel just isn't anywhere near as good as the first film. Either way, though it certainly has its pleasures – even if those pleasures are more often that not on the guilty side – A Dame to Kill For is a definite misfire.

To be sure, even if the first film was genuinely good (and I am starting to have my doubts), it was always about style over substance and, for all of its cool stylistic tricks, it was always more of a transliteration than an adaptation of its comic book source. In the case of Sin City though, this was far from the end of the world.

The best noir does tend to pack at least some sort of emotional punch and/ or have something interesting to say about the society in which we live (see, for example, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' brilliant noir comic book series, Criminal, or Raymond Chandler's novel masterwork, The Long Goodbye) but it has always been a genre that revels in pulpy plots, archetypal characters, tough-guy dialogue and beautifully bombastic narration – and Sin City had all of these in spades... Sam Spades even.

The Rover

I hate to dump on personal, independent flicks, I really do, but...

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Set in Australia after a giant economic collapse, the Rover tells the story of a loner who embarks on a mission to reclaim the car that is stolen from him with the help of the brother of one of the thieves.

What we thought

The Rover is the eagerly awaited follow-up to David Michod's breakthrough film, Animal Kingdom, and being very much aimed at art house crowds, it has, not surprisingly, been on the receiving end of a number of very positive reviews. Personally though, I was bored senseless by it.

The film's admirers point to the film's use of the desolate Australian planes as the perfect representation of a desolate future, while at the same time applauding the film's bare-bones minimalism that places atmosphere and mood over plot and characterization. Then, of course, there's also the matter of the very strong performances of its two lead actors. Guy Pierce is in typically very fine form and Robert Pattinson takes yet another giant leap away from Twilight in what may well be his best role yet.

The Purge: Anarchy

It hasn't been a great month for movies and, sadly, this past weekend was no exception. I may be forgetting something but I believe The Purge: Anarchy is actually the best film of the week! How crazy is that?

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

It's Purge Night once again, where all American citizens are legally allowed to indulge in all their worst criminal behaviour for twelve hours and the focus this time is on a group of non-participants who are forced into the mayhem on the streets, with their only hope of survival lying in a man who is out on his own mission of bloody revenge.

What we thought

I was vaguely aware of the first Purge film when it came out last year but it was one of those film's that somehow managed to entirely pass me by. Interestingly though, while both films are the work of writer/ director James DeMoneco and are both based on the same premise, they are, by all appearances, very different films.

The Purge earned its following by being a quite grizzly home-invasion horror movie, but the Purge: Anarchy only makes use of the whole home-invasion motif for something like ten minutes of its total running time. The rest of the film is primarily an action thriller that occasionally dips over into social satire when it turns its eye towards what the rich do on Purge Night.

The problem though, is that though the film is actually a really well executed thriller, it's nowhere near as comedic or as satirical as it needs to be to make its utterly daft premise work. The idea that criminals would limit themselves to only a single night a year is pretty idiotic by itself, but the idea of legality being the only thing preventing regular people from being barbaric monsters is just impossible to take seriously by anyone but the most misanthropic nihilists.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams. RIP.

In memory of the great Robin Williams, a truly funny man whose tragic battle with depression robbed us of his talent far, far too early.

Here's Robin working his magic on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.



Adult World

Really, what's with the hate?

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

An idealistic young poet is given a ultimatum by her parents to get a “real” job or move out. Doing both, she soon finds herself living among a group of bohemian misfits and working (badly) as a clerk at Adult World a mom and pop (literally) porn shop but it's when she meets and forces herself into the life of her hero – an unsuccessful, cynical middle-aged poet – that things really start to get interesting.

What we thought

Along with certain similarities to indie-gem Igby Goes Down, in many respects, Adult World is the sprightly, more idealistic younger sister of the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis. It doesn't hold a candle to the Coens' stone-cold masterpiece, of course (what does?), but it certainly deserves more respect than it has gotten so far. Opening to weak reviews, worse box office and a tepid audience response, I doubt Adult World will find much of an audience in this country either, but – and I promise, I'm not just being a contrarian here – I really, really liked it.

Admittedly, as someone who is trying to make a career out of one of these “ridiculous” semi-creative jobs (hey, you try reviewing a thousand mediocre films a year without being at least a bit creative!) our heroine's story resonated particularly strongly with me in much the same way that Llewyn Davis' did, but I do genuinely think that Adult World is a smart, heartfelt and massively enjoyable little comedy-drama.

Hercules

And now for the true story of -

Nah I can't even complete that sentence...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Making the most of a legend that he helped propagate, Hercules is an apparently very mortal man who, with his small band of mercenaries, suddenly finds himself leading a ragtag army of peasants and farmers against bloodthirsty marauders who threaten to tear down the entire kingdom of Thrace.

What we thought

Brett Ratner is a director who has long been considered one of the more notorious hacks in Hollywood; a guy who producers call in when they need something knocked out in very short notice after the proper filmmaker attached to the project bails out. It's a reputation that he seems to have mostly earned on the (de)merits of X-Men: The Last Stand alone – a truly dire franchise-killer (or, in this case, attempted killer) that “proper” filmmakers like Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn have spent years trying to correct.

Beyond that terrible X-Men movie, however, Ratner's only real crime is that he's ultimately a very mediocre filmmaker. He hasn't made many truly bad movies, but his absolute best work is only just better than passable. He tends to work off mediocre scripts, making mediocre movies that are mediocre hits. He is, however, certainly nowhere near as awful as the McGs and Michael Bays of the world. Still, the news that he was going to be handling the latest Hercules movie didn't exact fill me with confidence.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (and a quick look at the success of Marvel Studios 10 movies in)

Judging by international box office reports, every person on earth has seen this already and have already formed their own opinions. Still, there was no way that I wasn't going to throw in my two cents, so here's my own take on what is easily the most unexpected Marvel hit of them all.


Proving that the Marvel brand is all but indestructible, Guardians of the Galaxy made, in the U.S. alone, a whopping 94 million dollars on its opening weekend. Think about that for a moment. This isn't a film based on a well known comics property, nor is it one that has as its star an A-grade action hero or an even remotely commercial director at its helm. Instead - and all of its marketing has reflected this - it's an unabashedly bonkers space adventure with some seriously quirky anti-heroes at its centre, coated in several layers of cheese, a day-glo colour pallet and a gleefully now-obscure 1970s pop soundtrack. It's the kind of formula that makes Joss Whedon's brilliant but commercially disastrous Serenity look like a sure thing but it's a formula on which Marvel has staked their Next Big Thing. And yet, would ya know it, it has paid off in spades. Marvel has somehow turned something that by all rights shouldn't even exist into box office gold and a critical hit.

Now, sure, some of this obviously has to do with the endless onslaught of trailers, posters and TV spots that the studio bombarded us with in the months leading up to its release but, less cynically, Guardians is the ultimate proof that the folks at Marvel studios simply know exactly what they're doing.

I hate to keep bringing this up because a) I am actually a DC kid at heart, b) am far too old for all that Marvel vs. DC nonsense and c) I mostly read Image Comics's incredible stable of creator owned comics these days, but Guardians of the Galaxy is a textbook case of why Marvel have become so much better at cinematic adaptations of their properties than their Distinguished Competition - certainly once you take Batman out of the equation. And, yes, I'm fully aware that Man of Steel did gangbusters at the box office, but that doesn't take away what a joyless, turgid mess of a film it was and one that, crucially, failed to understand what it is that makes it's titular hero great.    

Marvel, you see, make films that embrace their source material, rather than be embarrassed by it. Marvel don't just make superhero movies, they make comic book movies - movies that perfectly reflect just why these decades-old properties have survived as long as they have; confirming once and for all that us comics geeks were onto something all this time. They have traditionally not gone for exclusively big name actors and have constantly surprised with their choice of directors.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wish I Was Here

Sorry for the delay but I'll have my in depth Guardians of the Galaxy review up soon. In very short though: it's awesome, go and see it. 

For now though, here's something completely different.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Aidan Bloom, a thirty-five year old husband, father and struggling actor, is confronted simultaneously by a dying father, a deadbeat brother, an impasse in his acting career and the sudden lack of finances to put his kids through the private Jewish day school they have been attending. With his life in flux he is forced to confront his deepest beliefs, dreams and ambitions, while trying to hold himself and his family together.

What we thought

As a general rule, when I call a movie an ill-disciplined, tonally inconsistent mess, I tend to mean that as a criticism. And yet, when it comes to Wish I Was Here, Zach Braff's long-delayed follow up to his massively popular directorial d├ębut Garden State, the film's unwieldy messiness and its incoherent shabbiness are somehow a big part of why I like it as much as I do. Only something this true-to-life could be this messy.

Like Garden State before it, Wish I Was Here is as obviously personal as it is personalized. Directed by and starring Braff, who also co-wrote the script with his brother, Adam, the film feels less like a carefully crafted and finely honed work of fiction than the work of a filmmaker who just vomited out all his frustrations, doubts and fears into a seemingly slightly fictionalized version of his own life.