Archive for the ‘Matt’s reviews’ Category

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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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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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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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HELLBOY 2: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008)

September 5, 2008

Hellboy II Review

Matt:
Adam:

Length: 120min

Taglines:
Saving the world is a hell of a job.
Good never looked so bad.
Believe it or not – he’s the good guy.
From the visionary director of Pan’s Labyrinth.

Précis: Lighthearted action fantasy about a grumpy hellspawn and his mutant friends, battling to save humanity from a magical evil threat.

Review by Matt:

There’s a big red demon, a looming threat to humanity, and scary gun-toting freaks all around. Is it the 2008 Republican Convention? No, it’s Hellboy 2, the new film written and directed by much-admired Mexican filmmaker, Guillermo Del Toro. He’s dropped the nightmarish atmosphere that characterised his recent films. Hellboy 2 is a fluffy action/fantasy flick about FBI-employed mutants saving the world from a mythological army of death robots.

Ron Perlman is Hellboy, a macho, half-human hellspawn who is a bit like a bigger, redder Han Solo. He’s out to save humanity from the villainous Elf Prince Nuada (played by Luke Goss, who has already endangered humanity once, as part of the awesomely rubbish 80’s band, Bros). Hellboy is helped by key team mates: his pyro-kinetic girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair), and a psychic creature called Abe (Doug Jones), who has an uncanny resemblance to C3PO in a fish suit. Further assistance comes from a German ectoplasmic spirit called Krauss (voiced by Seth McFarlane, emulating Klaus from American Dad) and the beleaguered human minder of the group, Agent Manning (Jeffrey Tambour, who is wasted in this excisable role).

Robots, monsters, Bros. It might sound great to you. But be clear about what you’re getting here, because Hellboy 2 won’t be for everyone. There are things to enjoy. Most noticeably, the film has a hammy likeability, unselfconsciously displayed in Arnie-like one liners and other silly, sometimes funny, dialogue. It also sports an impressive visual style; Del Toro has a talent for composition, and a rich imagination. You get a sometimes crazy mesh of towering monsters and flashy fights, and even a liberal promotion of interspecies marriage (there goes the Republican Convention comparison). You have to admit that in some respects, this is a film that has got it going on.

But the film’s bad side soon engulfs the positives. Hellboy 2 just lacks the qualities to make us invest in its story. The plot is recycled, rushed and disjointed. In some places it is jarringly sloppy. Behind the characters’ striking appearances, they are truly shallow, and most of the acting is accordingly stilted. The romances and conflicts are annoyingly clichéd, and may as well have been left out. The more it goes on, the more it feels over-busy and self-indulgent, as if Del Toro was obsessed only with his scattered ideas and ingenious style.

When even Guillermo Del Toro’s fantastical style starts to appear decidedly undazzling, you know there is something missing. I am an enthusiast of monsters, robots and other curiousities. But Hellboy 2 is a reminder that you’ve got to put them in the right vehicle before you have a winning film.

Review by Adam:

I didn’t even know this movie was coming out until I saw it previewed at The Dark Knight. My company immediately complained about how lame it looked. From that moment I was convinced that this would be awesome, and it kinda is. I was hanging to see this movie and at the end of a busy weekend. I even ended up dodging a dinner invitation with a visiting foreign celebrity so that I could see it with an old flatmate.

So the story doesn’t really pick up from the first movie. There is no reference to the previous happenings, or to the fate of the previous human agent assigned to Hellboy. Maybe he just died of an obscure disease.

The plot happens all very quickly and you’re guaranteed to think that it went from the first instance of slaughter to the final battle with very few events in between. The beauty of the film is in the characters, or better put, the creatures. If you’ve seen Pan’s Labyrinth you’ll know the beautifully creative mind of Guillermo Del Toro. This film gives him plenty of opportunities to showcase that. Kind of like that Tatooine bar scene in Star Wars Episode 4 (you know, the one where that dude tells Luke what all of us are thinking – “I don’t like you” – and then Obi Wan sabres him). It’s also nice to see that not everything these days is computer generated and some nice work has gone into the costumes.

Despite the supernatural realms and the whole threat of total destruction of humanity, this film is pretty light on. It never seems to take itself too seriously, and that’s a strength. The love stories are hammed up in all the right places (including one unforgettable sing-a-long) and only at a few moments are a bit over the top. The theme to the love story is that the destruction of the earth is fine, just as long as you are with the one you love. Easy to say if you have super-awesome mutant powers I guess…

Basically, go and see Hellboy 2 if you want something light. Don’t expect much and you’ll be delighted with a film that is entertaining, funny, sometimes beautiful, and has guns and big red dudes. Apparently there is another one planned – I can’t wait.

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MONGOL (2008)

August 31, 2008

Mongol Review


Matt:

Length: 126min

Taglines:
Greatness comes to those who take it.
The untold story of Genghis Khan’s rise to power.
Don’t despise a weak cub, it can appear the son of a tiger.

Précis: Epic story dramatizing the early life of Genghis Khan with a loving – possibly revisionist – touch.

Review by Matt:

A nominee at 2007’s Academy Awards for ‘best foreign picture’, Mongol dramatizes the little-known early life of the infamous Mongol, Genghis Khan.  Despite focusing on one of history’s most famous warlords, Mongol isn’t really a boy’s battle film. It’s more of an epic drama, glued together by a Wuthering-Heights-strength love story. Russian writer/director Sergei Bodrov constructs a noticeably rosy perspective of his subject. His story follows the young Genghis – better known then as Temudjin – through what could be called his “constantly trapped in stocks and tortured” period.  For the most part it’s easy to cheer for this rugged and mistreated hero. It’s only when you remember that the story conveniently halts just before that whole touchy “slaughtering and raping half the world” chapter, that some of the characterisation seems a little awry.

Temudjin is barely nine when he first meets the stocks. His father, the tribal leader, is assassinated, ancient Mongolian style (tribal leaders should really know not to accept a horse-milkshake from their enemy). The tribe’s subordinates refuse to accept that little Temudjin will inherit the throne. So it’s into the stocks for him, and some other scallywag Mongol unjustly becomes the Khan. It’s the first of a series of struggles and indignities faced by baby Genghis. He fights to rescue his kidnapped beloved bride. He fights with, and against, his blood-brother, Prince Jamukha, in a number of blood-spurting battles. He is imprisoned and enslaved by his many enemies. You start to see why Temudjin grew into a vengeful warrior, declaring that “Mongols need laws and I will make them obey even if I have to kill half of them”. And still, in between it all, he finds time to be Mongolia’s number one dad, and go picnicking with his family.

Mongol looks amazing and authentic, with its hoards of extras, unique cultural quirks, and its lavish North Asian scenery. The performances are fine – Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano exudes a fiery intensity to fill Temudjin’s war-mongering boots. Non-actor Mongol Khulan Chuluun, is impressive as his stoic wife, Borte. Chinese actor Honglei Sun also infuses Prince Jamukha with a sense of wild-eyed Mongolian zaniness. All the imprisonment makes for occasional lulls, but add in the love story, tribal politics, and regular thunderous horse-filled battles and Mongol just manages to remain entertaining for its two-hour length.

Really what weighs it down is the requirement that we limit our mental engagement, else things seem a bit unconvincing or jarring. Aspects of the plot are underwritten, especially the supernatural intrusions of mysterious Mongolian gods. Most of all though, Bodrov’s portrait of Genghis as a Mel Gibson style, family-loving hero, makes you wonder just how the family bond will hold up during the years of raping and killing that are just around the corner. Bodrov will have to solve that one, as he’s set to continue the tale of hero-Genghis in two upcoming sequels.

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21 (2008)

August 22, 2008

21 Review


Matt:

Length: 123min

Taglines:
Inspired by the true story of five students who changed the game forever.

Précis: A disappointingly cliched dramatisation of an infamous casino card-counting caper.

Review by Matt:

21 is another example of ‘Hollywoodization” – the annoying practice of eviscerating a potentially interesting concept and stuffing it with the same old hackneyed pap, because that’s apparently what secures an audience.

The film dramatizes the real-life story of a group of MIT college kids who developed a card counting system and used it to win millions from the Vegas casinos. The affable Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) plays Ben, an ace maths student tempted into joining the secret card crew. The group is led by patriarchal professor Micky, played by Kevin Spacey in another calmly menacing performance. A mundane student during the week, Ben jaunts to glitzy Vegas on weekends, experiencing the heady influence of greed and glamour. On his journey he clashes predictably with a casino security thug (Laurence Fishburne), romances it up with sultry team-mate Jill (Kate Bosworth), and – as in so many college/high-school movies – momentarily forgets who are his real friends.

What begins with potential, winds up a glossy package of formulas. 21 tries too hard to impress us with glamorous cheats. It is particularly irritating considering the many fascinating angles a filmmaker may have teased from this story. Instead, the concept is superimposed with Hollyowood’s seen-it-all-before plot arc. No surprises for guessing how it concludes, despite the contrived – and morally questionable – ‘twist’ tacked-on near the finale. The dubious decision to ‘whiten’ the characters (the real-life protagonists were Asian Americans) only contributes to the feeling of phoniness.

Of course the performances and production value are quite good, and there is still some residual excitement in seeing this audacious scam dramatized. Who doesn’t want to see the Casinos beat? But 21 is mostly just a front of tricks and distractions, desperately trying to convince you it is more interesting than it is. Behind the veneer it is bloated and meaningless. It’s a bit like a real casino really. You’re likely to walk out at the conclusion feeling like the house swindled you again.