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Micmacs à tire-larigot (2010)

April 4, 2010

Micmacs review

micmacs screenshot

Matt:

Length: 105min

Micmacs isn’t a bad film. Lots of people will like it. The kind of people who like sweet fantasies and serendipitous romances. The kind of people who are happy to suspend disbelief in order to believe that the universe is good, and ordered, and that it watches over us. The kind of people who like Amélie.

I’m a bit more cynical. And I also can’t help thinking “but that’s impossible”, or “but that’s illogical” over and over, even though I know I’m spoiling the fun.

There are plenty of occasions to have those thoughts in Micmacs. It’s set in a universe that has a dash of magic and fantasy to it. It’s a little like an adult’s film in a  children’s universe.

Not surprising, seeing as it’s directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the same writer/director of Amélie, and half of the duo that created Delicatessen and City of Lost Children. Micmacs has the same beautiful appearance as those films, with lovely colours and plenty of creative scenes. There’s also the same fascination for the roles that the tiny and invisible play in chains of miraculous causation (in these films, tiny things are always causing big results).

But the story itself is a little – what’s the word… cartoony. It’s a fairly simple premise – Bazil (the clownish Dany Boon) has a bullet in his head. It can all be traced back to the amoral work of two wealthy weapons companies. He  wants revenge. Bazil hooks up with a group of misfits who live out of a scrapyard. They each have quirky, semi-autistic powers. Like Calculette (Marie-Julie Baup), the human calculator, who can calculate and distance, weight etc just by looking at something. Bazil, with misfits in tow, goes through a bunch of hairbrained hi-jinx to get back at the CEOs of the weapons companies.

There’s not too much to it apart from that. A lot of the screen time is taken up with fun and capers – for example, showing us the contraptions that the misfits make out of junk at their junkyard (which are quite clever and magical). That time is taken away from the characters and the relationships. That’s a trade off that has its pros and cons. I wanted to see the characters developed a bit more. It’s a feeling I often have in films where a team of quirky characters is presented and they each do their little bit, using their special talent.

Micmacs is also a film that seems to have lost something from being exported from France. There are obviously a few French language jokes that are lost in translation. It’s especially obvious because the special quirk of one of the misfits – the ethnographer – is his unusual and garrulous talking style. It seems like it was hard to translate what he’s saying without losing some of the point.

In the end, it’s fun, it’s pleasant, it’s kind of quirky. It’s nice. It looks good. But it has a bit too much sugary fantasy. If Jeunet had piped in some of the darker themes that were present in Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, it would have worked a lot better.

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Does Navi mind-melding work with mountain biking?

February 18, 2010

Huh. I can’t believe I haven’t made a post here for so long. That’s pretty shameful. What I really should do is write some more movie reviews. I got sidetracked doing some reviews for a magazine (wow, lucky me!). Also, I’ve been playing with my other site. Hey, you should visit it!

http://towerofturtles.com

No, really, you won’t regret it. I’m telling you.

And just to make sure this post is at least someway film related, I want to make this comment about AVATAR:

The ‘plug-in’ capability that the Navi use – you know the one in their ponytail? Where they plug in to their horse-beast things? It is awesome! How excellent would it be to understand truly the inner mind of other beings? That concept is a philosophical problem that has entertained thinkers throughtout the ages – how do we really understand what others think? Do they see orange as the same orange that we see?  Is the pain that they feel the same kind of pain that we feel? Etc.  You can never really know unless you can plug in to their mind.

Also, as Stephen Colbert pointed out, the Navi have sex using that same ponytail method. Does that mean there’s some strange bestiality going on?

Anyway, on a different note, I like to think that when I clip my cleats into my mountain bike pedals, I have established a special understanding with the bike, my steed. Doesn’t seem to be working that well though. I still keep falling off. So, to answer the question in the title of this post: No.

Navi mind melding does not work with mountain bike cleats.

Navi mind melding does not work with mountain bike cleats.

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QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2009)

March 31, 2009

Quantum of Solace Review

James Bond, Quantum of Solace
James Bond. “Mm, that chocolate cake was delicious”

Adam: Three stars

Length: 106min

Review by Adam:

The latest in the Bond films has what I think is one of the better titles for a film in this franchise. Not that it makes all that much sense, but then again, neither does the film. For those who haven’t seen the first Bond film with Craig Daniels playing the world’s saviour, then you’ll be in for a rude shock. Bond has changed. Gone are the cheesy one liners, the elaborate spy gadgetry, the promiscuity. We now have a brooding, jaded, and rather ruthless spy killer.

This movie picks up where the last left off. Heart broken, betrayed and out for vengeance, Bond is hunting the people who brought this upon him. Turns out there is a highly organised entity called “the organization” that is apparently running wild schemes and the British secret service knows nothing about it. So the hunt is on. Who is a traitor and who isn’t?

The hunt takes Bond to a guy who is using a land conservation charity as cover for an elaborate scheme to overthrow governments and gain control of water resources. There is one great scene where it’s explained to a General who is plotting a coup that if he doesn’t cooperate, then someone else will. Hello corporate hegemony!

As far as a mindless action film goes this isn’t so bad. Bad guys abound (and they’re typically bad shooters!), as do car chases, fisticuffs, tuxedos, and product placements. For anyone expecting more than that, maybe don’t bother. The film falls prey to too many sub-plots. There are two stories of revenge going, one about what the bad guys are planning, and the other about whether or not Bond is off the rails. You end up walking away wondering exactly who x person was and why they did what they did.

Of course, the politics in this movie is very average. But seriously, it’s James Bond, what were you expecting. I would write about the gender representation but really, it’s not too hard to imagine what it was like. It is Hollywood after all. As long as you remember that and leave your political analysis at the door you could find something to enjoy here.

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THE EDGE OF HEAVEN (Auf der anderen Seite) (2008)

March 1, 2009

Edge of Heaven Review

edge-of-heaven-screenshot

Matt: Four and a half stars

Length: 122min

Précis: Moving, humanistic film intertwining three stories between Turkey and Germany.

Review by Matt:

The Edge of Heaven is a beautiful film of deep humanism; a treat for the eyes, mind and heart. Writer/director Fatih Akin (Head On) explores the dramatic intertwining of six multigenerational characters across Germany and Turkey. Painting a broad canvas, Akin broaches big issues like death, politics and cultural separation. Despite this grand schema, it is the subtleties in the characters and relationships that make this a poignant and edifying experience.

In Germany, Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz), a widowed Turkish immigrant, starts a relationship with a Turkish prostitute, Yeter (Nursel Köse). Tragedy leads Ali’s son (Baki Davrak) to Turkey, just as Yeter’s dissident daughter (Nurgül Yesilçay) flees to Germany. She finds sanctuary with spirited, middle-class Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), and her cautious mother (Hanna Schygulla), before events again propel them apart. Akin’s precise script barely wastes a word as it seamlessly weaves the narrative and thematic strands. His meditative directing lets the stellar performances shine. We’re easily immersed in these characters’ life-changing journeys.

Edge of Heaven mostly avoids the contrivance that often encumbers films with interlocking narratives. Here, coincidence separates our protagonists as much as it unites them and mystical fate is overshadowed by tenderness, forgiveness and other human qualities; the kinds that overcome distance, tragedy and folly to bring us all closer together.

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MARGOT AT THE WEDDING (2008)

September 11, 2008

Margot at the Wedding Review


Adam:

Length: 93min

Taglines:
One family. Infinite degrees of separation.

Review by Adam:

This movie was recommended to us from some good friends but I would be loath to do the same. It wasn’t until we put it on that I realised that Nicole Kidman was in it. I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel like ‘our’ Nicole has become all ditsy over the years, something that now I can’t shake from whatever role she takes (except maybe Dogville).

The plot revolves around a reunion between two estranged sisters for a wedding. All the personal issues that had driven the sisters apart eventually resurface, causing everything to fall apart. Everyone in this movie seems to have some major personal interaction malfunction. In Jack Black’s character at least, it is mostly funny. His wonderful no-hoper attitude is the only thing that makes this movie bearable.

Since there isn’t much plot, and the focus is on character, it’s a shame that every character is largely unlikeable. Nicole is particularly horrible. So self-righteous but so hypocritical. Jack Black’s character sums it up best by saying something like this to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character: “you’re fucking crazy, your sister’s fucking crazy. No I’m not overreacting, when people look back they’ll see that this is a completely normal response”.

He also said that he would punch Nicole in the face, something that would have made the film more interesting.

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RENDITION (2008)

September 7, 2008

Rendition Review


Matt:

Length: 122min

Taglines:
What if someone you love…just disappeared?

Précis: Powerful, scathing drama about the USA’s illegal programme to relocate and torture terrorism suspects.  

Review by Matt:

Mental note. Do not get on the wrong side of the USA. Rendition, a terrifying political drama from director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi), offers a powerful reminder that the heart of the world’s superpower is a piece of cold steel. It also reminds us of the distressing fact that in the dirty, covert ‘war on terror’, innocence is not necessarily enough to keep you on the right side of the USA.

Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), an Egyptian-born American, flies home to Washington, but never makes it out of the airport. American authorities suspect him of being connected to a terrorist group, so the CIA sweeps him off the map, and into its ‘extraordinary rendition’ programme. Anwar is covertly flown to a foreign hellhole, for interrogation at the hands of clinical torture master, Abasi (Igal Naor). Overseeing is a conflicted American CIA operative, Douglass Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal). Meanwhile, back in the US, Anwar’s anxious wife (Reese Witherspoon) desperately searches for answers, the poor everyday citizen stuck at the edge of the Government’s national security black hole.

The roundly good acting intensifies the drama, with Omar Metwally’s remarkable performance as Anwar making a traumatic centerpiece. Meryl Streep personifies the frosty Government neo-con with typical excellence. Peter Sarsgaard also stands out as a political advisor caught between the personal and political worlds. In lesser hands the characters could have seemed like black and white chess pieces in the film’s bigger political agenda.

Rendition slices through a complex and topical issue with great intelligence, weaving the personal and political threads into a coherent and principled picture. Considering the rage one might feel about the USA’s practice of disappearing and torturing people, Rendition remains relatively calm. Its messages emerge with a quiet intensity, realistically showing that the use of torture by a cold and compromised administration only perpetuates the cycle of violence.

Viewers might balk at the stressful subject matter, or at the film’s unhurried style, which pushes the running time past two hours. But the film deserves a wide audience. It’s smart, moving and it takes a stand. Some have complained, but in my opinion, Rendition is not unfairly favorable to one side of the ‘extraordinary rendition’ debate. We’re pitched the administration’s reasoning for its methods daily, and the film repeats them as well. But it reminds us why those reasons are wrong – and it does it with restraint. The film also fulfills an essential role of art. It provokes us to question and criticize. It uses drama to pierce the veil of secrecy that powerful forces use to shroud this abusive practice, and it restores its human face. For George Bush, Anwar’s face would just be another to cross off his scorecard of suspects, after a job well done. (*)

(*) Note, the Washington Post has reported that George Bush does in fact keep this scorecard.

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HANCOCK (2008)

September 6, 2008

Hancock Review


Adam:

Length: 92min

Taglines:
There are heroes. There are superheroes. And then there’s…
Bad Behaviour. Bad Attitude. Real Hero.
Meet the superhero everybody loves to hate.
He is saving the world whether we like it or not.

Review by Adam:

I wanted this movie to be good. I don’t know why really. Maybe I’m just sucker for hype, and apparently the Fresh Prince is now one of the most bankable and successful (in terms of ticket sales) stars around. That, and I love a good story of redemption.

Hancock (Will Smith) is an alcoholic super hero who spends his time being jaded, getting wasted, and seemingly only responding when people call him an asshole. He’s despised by the local population for his reckless acts of kindness, that is, smashing everything in his way to stop criminals. As the only one of his kind, he’s built some pretty distant people skills, which haven’t been helped by the vicious serves he receives from the general population. Eventually Hancock saves a struggling PR man (Jason Bateman) who offers to help him change his “public interfacing”. Thus a story of redemption starts…

The characters in this movie are as shallow as anything we would have seen on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The plot is about the same depth, save for one nicely unexpected twist. Smith manages to crack some good jokes, but it all gets swallowed up by the weak storyline. By trying to get a balance between action hit and comedy hit, the filmmakers managed to avoid them both. Even the ‘baddies’ are pathetic in this film (and everyone also knows it’s the PR people that are pure evil, not the Hispanic gangsters!).

Before I saw Hancock I wondered what would be the evil counterbalance to Smith’s superhero. This is the film’s problem. There’s no great rivalry. No Superman and Lex Luther. No Spiderman and the Green Goblin Family. No Keanu Reeves and Anthony Kiedis from Point Break. There’s only a weak love story that moves this film forward, and even then it doesn’t move it very far.

We can only pray that there is no sequel.