Posts Tagged ‘movie’

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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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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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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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BEOWULF 3D (2007)

December 7, 2007

Beowulf review
Beowulf

Matt: Two stars
Tracy: Two and a half stars

Length: 113min

Taglines:

Pride is the curse.
Survival is ruthless.
Evil breeds pain.

Précis: Rare chance to see something sucking in spectacular 3D!

Review by Matt:

Originally a pre-10th century poem on a parchment, the classic tale of ‘Beowulf’ has been transported into the 21st century as a spectacular 3D film. Spectacular looking only though. Sadly, Beowulf the film is just gloss, gore and paper-thin drama, inflated into a cinematic spectacle. If this film was retranslated back into poetry, it would be doggerel for some student revue rather than an epic worthy of its home in the London museum.

Cinematically at least though, Beowulf is a rare experience. The use of ‘performance capture’ technology means a cast of famous and recognisable actors appear on screen as their digitised doppelgangers. Unfortunately the zombifying effect of this process sucks some of the emotion out of their faces, which could have been useful for, say, emoting. Ray Winstone supplies the frame and voice for Beowulf the great Danish warrior. The computers have shaved him down, sucked his fat and beefed him up, but they don’t hide his rough cockney voice – “cor blimey, I’ll have that bleedin’ monster’s loaf, eh guvners?” (those might not have been the exact words he used). Angelina Jolie appears as a seductive water demon. She didn’t require quite the extreme CGI makeover that Winstone needed, but it’s still been used to sexualise her – Jolie’s demon gets around in a naked, neutered body with built-in high-heeled feet (how inconvenient – she can never stop and kick them off to run like most Hollywood heroines would). She ices it with an out-of-place Russian accent and a lot of pouting. Anthony Hopkins is a tired-looking King Hrothgar and Jon Malkovich is instantly recognisable as a pathetic courtier, whose voice somehow seems even more Malkovichy than ever.

Don your 3D glasses and these characters are suddenly thrusting all kinds of phallic objects out of the screen and into the theatre. Yet, despite our hero’s novel decision to battle monsters in the nude (please see Eastern Promises for what really happens when you fight in the nude), none of these items is an actual phallus (leading to Tracy’s disdainful summary of the film: “Bah, my $17.50 might have been worth it if they’d shown a giant 3D penis!”). In fact the film is weirdly timid. It goes to lengths to conceal Beowulf’s bits – so much so that it looks like a Simpsons-style visual joke. As is often the case in these Hollywood movies, this coyness is ironic considering there are no qualms about splashing blood and gore all about the screen. These blood splattered action sequences are pretty stunning though. Flying dragons crash along cliff faces, the enormous, gruesome Grendl throws body parts around and roars in the flickering darkness – it’s all absorbing stuff.

But, ultimately we have to put the visuals aside and say: what the hell was going on in this film? I don’t mean the plot; there’s no mystery there. No, I mean the utterly wayward tone. In one sense Beowulf is a film that moralises about lust and greed. On the other hand it is obviously making the audience into voyeurs and trying to titillate. One minute it presents dialogue that needs a serious atmosphere otherwise it will appear risible; yet the next minute a naked man is literally bursting his body out of the eye of a giant monster and bellowing “I am ripper, tearer, slasher, gouger… I AM BEOWULF!”

I get that writers Neil Gaiman (who wrote one my favourite series of graphic novels – Sandman) and Roger Avary (co-writer of Pulp Fiction) have tried to modernise the story. They’ve made Beowulf a fallible anti-hero. They’ve made Grendl a pitiable monster who’s only disembowelling the Kingdom’s revellers so they’ll stop inflaming his nasty headache (if only he’d thought of earplugs). They’ve twisted the plot to squeeze out some themes about human weaknesses. But could these themes have been more sophisticated than “moral men are corrupted by women’s sexuality”? The women’s roles are terrible! Perhaps the Queen’s most of all, who is ‘inherited’ into a servile marriage and proves her worth by dutiful acceptance. That’s regression, not modernisation. Beowulf 2007 has just ended up as a post-modern melange that is all froth. You’re not going to be deeply touched. It’s like medieval MTV.

If they were going to ‘modernise’ Beowulf by making it a show about buff and semi‑nude dimwits strutting along the coast in ancient Denmark, maybe they could have called it Beowatch.  It is not quite as empty as Baywatch. but Beowulf does seem to have taken large dollops of Baywatch’s macho posturing and exploitive perving, transported them to ancient Denmark, and transformed them into amazing 3D.  Maybe we should at least be grateful it doesn’t feature a big 3D David Hasselhoff as well.

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SICKO (2007)

November 25, 2007

Sicko review
Sicko

Matt: Four Stars
Tracy:Four Stars

Length: 124min

Taglines:

This might hurt a little.
Get well soon.
What seems to be the problem?
For many Americans, laughter isn’t the best medicine – it’s the only medicine.

Review by Matt:

Hey USA! Start running a fair and humane health care system, you utter sicko! That’s the message Michael Moore is hollering in his new critical documentary Sicko. Moore’s back in his favourite role as the good hearted iconoclast-of-the-conservative. He leads a support cast of everyday mistreated citizens against the irrepressible villain: the corrupt, capitalist USA. This time Moore has America’s ill and undernourished health system in his sights.

This might sound a bit like a good versus evil fantasy tale. In some ways it is. Michael Moore’s productions always have an element of constructed-ness about them. This has been the case ever since the set pieces he ran in his old television shows such as The Awful Truth and TV Nation (Moore has spoken about ‘racing health care systems’ in mock time-trials in TV Nation and being forced by the network to ‘doctor’ the results so that the USA didn’t show so poorly).

The same sense of constructed-ness is here in Sicko. While I actually enjoy it, I can see how it leads critics to question the veracity of Moore’s films. For example, as Moore pretends to set off to Guantanamo Bay with a boatload of needy patients (to access the Cuban health care system), you wonder how these scenes were really put together. Or as Moore reveals that he anonymously (until the film’s release that is) donated money to help the health of the leading anti-Moore campaigner, you have some trouble believing Moore is genuinely that Buddhist. The film’s style provides a lot of ammunition to vehement Moore haters who can denounce it for not being three-dimensionally analytical about the intricacies of health care systems. It even supplies enough ammo, apparently, to fuel a recent feature length documentary dedicated to Moore-bashing called Manufacturing Dissent. (incidentally, the title parodies a brilliant and essential book by Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent).

For me, Moore’s style is fine. You have to take it for what it is. He’s a showman and he’s trying to be funny, entertaining and satirical about important issues. It’s just that his slapstick is merged into a documentary that also carries heavy criticisms and a deep message. But it’s easy to distinguish the tone in the film, and once you’ve got it, I think the messages that he communicates are sound.

They are big picture messages. Sicko is telling us that the health care system in the USA is sick. It has become this way because of something fundamentally perverted at the core of American society. Moore is pitching a message about compassion and humanity and urging us to think how things can improve. Personally I embrace these messages and I’m grateful that Moore is spreading them to a wide audience in an entertaining and palatable way. In any case, the film stands as a defiant counter-message to the brainwashing conservative propaganda that we’re pumped with for most of our lives – Moore shows some of this in his film too (the rhetoric of politicians and the AMA, advertisements etc). Sicko’s style is partly a reaction to dominant orthodoxies, and its strategy is understandable. Like Marx said, the habit, tradition and accumulated mis-education of generations ‘weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living’. And, as Howard Zinn says, you can’t be neutral on a moving train. You have to confront those corrupt messages.

Overall, although the veneer of entertainment slightly smears the fundamental messages in Sicko, its humour and staging is mostly funny and enjoyable. It softens a tough topic. The film still outs the corporate, capitalist sicko that is poisoning us like some greedy virus. I’m glad Michael Moore is fighting that cause, and Sicko is another of his good films. We should watch it, think about it, talk about it, and take action.

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SUNSHINE (2007)

November 11, 2007

Sunshine review
Sunshine

Matt: Four and a half
Tracy: Four Stars

Length: 108min

Taglines:

If the sun dies, so do we.
Dark days are coming.

Review by Matt:

Forget about global warming. In Sunshine’s cold future our beautiful sun has fizzled out. It’s global cooling we have to worry about now. Polluting like crazy hasn’t helped to warm things up (bummer – that would have been such a handy solution). So humanity has resorted to sending an elite team of seven astronauts on a mission to ‘jump-start’ our star by smacking it with a massive bomb – kind of like a stellar defibrillator. Earth has tried this mission once before and failed. Seven years ago a crew of seven astronauts navigated the inauspiciously-named Icarus to the Sun before suddenly vanishing before the mission was completed. An uncomfortable prelude for the new batch of astronauts. Sunshine begins as the tenaciously‑named Icarus II enters the same communication ‘dead-zone’ where the first Icarus disappeared, and is preparing to deliver its crucial payload to save humanity.

Unsurprisingly, the plan does not unfold smoothly. The crew faces a major dilemma when it suddenly detects a distress signal from the drifting Icarus I. What is it doing there? What could possibly have happened to it? The ship’s physicist, Capa (Cillian Murphy), is asked to decide whether the team should deviate to dock with the ship and harvest its unused bomb. Two payloads would mean the team has two chances to jump-start the Sun and save the world and, as Capa puts it, ‘two last hopes are better than one.’ The decision is made and, needless to say, things get complicated. The poor viewer is sucked into a vortex of solar terror.

Sunshine provides some of the best and most tense humans-in-peril viewing around. Director Danny Boyle (best known for Trainspotting and 28 Days Later) is adept at constructing a menacing atmosphere and expertly employs some of the tried and true sci‑fi/mystery/horror filming techniques to achieve it. Consequently it feels occasionally feel like you’re walking through familiar sci-fi territory. At different times during Sunshine I distinctly felt the ghosts of Armageddon, Alien, Event Horizon, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I also sensed a ripple of modern Doctor Who; not only in Sunshine’s plot and mise-en-scene, but in its strong themes of human frailty and noble self sacrifice (the David Tennant incarnation of the Doctor has been particularly big on selflessly offering his own life to save humanity).

Despite the sense of sci-fi familiarity, Sunshine still treads its own path through the genre and it generates an electric (or solar?) experience for its viewers. And anyway, it’s probably near impossible to make a quality space film these days without having some residue of the work that came before. For me the Sunshine experience was also enhanced by the eerie and poetic undertone that Boyle infused into the film. It’s primarily felt through the portrayal of the Sun as a kind of god-like force. It seems appropriate that the representatives of humankind act out our strengths and frailties under this divine solar gaze.

Although Sunshine tells a fairly straightforward story, there’s actually a considerable profundity in the situations that arise and in the characters’ reactions. I found the script (written by Alex Garland, who also wrote The Beach and 28 Days) satisfying in the way it pressures the assortment of characters into making inescapable difficult and moral choices. It devotes time and attention to developing the scenario and the characters, which means the film has a slowish build-up – but this is necessary and it’s worth it. Sunshine’s cast is familiar, but not too well known (Rose Byrne, Chris Evans and Michelle Yeoh would be the most well-known). The actors’ performances are earnest and effective and they solidify the depth of these ‘characters in calamity’.

Many viewers and reviewers were unimpressed with this film. But not me. Sunshine is an unexpected sci-fi gem that tells a great story from start to finish.

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THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007)

August 28, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum review
screenshot-bourne-ultimatum.jpg

Matt: Three and a half Stars

Length: 111min

Taglines:

This summer Jason Bourne comes home.
Remember everything. Forgive nothing.

Review by Matt:

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is angry. Already he has battled his way through two Bourne blockbusters, snapping necks, bullets whizzing all around him. Now, as The Bourne Ultimatum begins, he’s still fleeing machine-gun-clad Russians and patching up his wounds Rambo-style as he goes. Bourne is a CIA-programmed human killing machine, with no memory and no true identity. He’s reached that point in every brainwashed killing machine’s life where the death and pain is too much. He wants to know who he is and why he was created. This time he is after the big guys. As he tells the hapless Russian he has effortlessly disarmed: “My argument is not with you”. That’s right, it’s with the CIA – probably the most sinister and formidable opponent around. Fortunately, in true pupil-turning-on-master style, if any person can crack into the CIA’s dangerous world, Bourne is the one. He’s onto it, and his pursuit takes him to exotic and lavishly-shot locations around the world – Morocco, Madrid, London, Manhattan – where he’s trampling over roofs, diving through windows, leaping over things on motorbikes, palming off snipers, bombers, knifers… it’s truly a visual feast and an electric experience.

To fit all this in, the film is almost all action, right from the start. And when it’s not action, Paul Greengrass (director of the engrossing film United 93) directs it with such a frenetic, hand-held style that, well, it still feels like there is action going on. Even during conversations. Good as this style is, it could become nauseating and during the quieter moments I found it intruded a little on my viewing experience – I’m in a cinema, not in a boat, right? Generally though, this style is gritty and atmospheric and it sucks you into the realism of the scenes. The Moroccan fight scene is so breathtaking and mercilessly edited that I kept flinching and trying to turn away to relieve the assault on my eyes.

Matt Damon doesn’t need to do much as the muted and resolute Bourne – he’s mostly a silent superhuman and occasionally I found he put the ‘bore’ into ‘Bourne’ – but that’s the way his character is. Julia Stiles reappears as Bourne’s ally Nicky Parsons, but she’s limited to being helplessly endangered the whole time. Joan Allen saves the females from relegation to ineffectual damsels with an important role as a tough and honest CIA heavy.

Swim past the adrenaline and you’ll find some light political undercurrents, but nothing too inspiring or radical. I don’t think Greengrass is really pushing any hard message; it’s more like current political themes and images are refracted onto the screen without meaning attached – like images from the day appearing in a dream. Scenes in the London subway echo the tragic real-life shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by London’s anti-terrorism police. The frightening and unfettered CIA powers in the film are justified by the ‘war on terror’ and they mimic real life concerns about unchecked power and abuses. “You start down this path, where does it end?” asks the decent CIA op. “It ends when we’ve won” is the familiar sounding reply from her win-at-all-costs boss (played by David Strathairn). Bourne exists in an intriguing and dangerous parallel world. Unfortunately, it is still a world where some stereotypes persist. While the assassins in Madrid are happy to use trusty old guns to erase their targets, for some reason the Moroccan assassin feels the need to blunder along with a home made explosive. Not very professional and not very realistic – so it seems like it’s just the Islamist-as-bomber convention reinforced on the screen.

As is often the case with action films, the excitement overpowers some of the other ingredients. It doesn’t need to be like that, I think – action films can still get the adrenaline pumping while remaining grounded in reality. The Bourne Ultimatum lives in a believable reality for much of the time. But even if we accept that this is the magical action world where glass doesn’t cut and whiplash doesn’t whip, some of the plot is still frustratingly improbable. In particular, the last part of the film scuppers the early realism. For me, this diminished what was otherwise an enjoyable cinema experience. I don’t want to dwell, but can I just say, I’ve seen Cops; if some guy goes on a joyride, the LAPD snare him with the helicopter spotlight and a squadron of cars so that there’s no escaping. Can’t the CIA get some of that going on for their city chases? And, while they’re at it, should they also install a lock on their own front door?

The Bourne Ultimatum is dominated by action and adrenaline. It has a frenzied pace, it’s shot with an engaging cinema-verite style and it’s certainly a well-above-average action film. If that’s what you’re after, then it really is a winner. Just take a deep breath before it starts and make sure the edge of your seat is comfortable – you’ll probably spend most of your time there.