SIGNIS FILM REVIEWS JUNE 2010
DEATH AT A FUNERAL
HOT TUB TIME MACHINE
PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME
SEX AND THE CITY 2
(UK, 2010, d. Noel Clarke and Mark Davis)
Noel Clarke made two sharp films about teen people and adult people in the London suburbs: Kidulthood and Adutlhood. This film is more ambitious but makes less impact.
It starts with a misleading incident, which is later seen to be the opposite of what we thought and, then, before you can say 184.108.40.206., we are whirling around in time (with whirling camera and lots of flash flourishes) as we follow four young women and what they did over a two day period. When you realise that we are going back in time for each of the four, then it makes sense and we see the interconnections and the repeats and make sense of what is happening.
Meanwhile there is a subplot of a diamond robbery in Antwerp and the misadventures of the London connection which sees one of the girls in unwitting possession of the diamonds. She is also having a bad emotional time as her mother is leaving her father who is bogged down in sadness and self-pity. The rich girl of the four flies off to New York to secure a study place as well as to see the charming man on the other end of the computer link-up. Some disasters there as well (despite cameo appearances from Mandy Patinkin and Kevin Smith). A third girl, of mixed race, has a hard time with her family and teams up with her girlfriend. The fourth is an American (Emma Roberts) who works in a supermarket.
Quite a number of coincidences drive the plot forward, but it will depend on whether you like the girls and believe in them whether you are persuaded that this is an effective drama or not.
(US, 2009, d. Antoine Fuqua.)
Brooklyn’s Finest is a very interesting police story set in New York, specifically in Brooklyn. While much of this material has been seen in many films, it is particularly well done in this instance, from the writing by Michael C. Martin, whose first script it was and who worked on it after observing police. The film was directed by Antoine Fuqua, who traced some of the difficulties in policing in his effective film, Training Day.
The structure of the film is to focus on three different policemen and their crises and gradually to bring them together at the finale – with some tragic results. The film opens with a confrontation between one of the police, played by Ethan Hawke, with a dealer and criminal and his killing him and taking his money to help his family.
The film focuses on the ordinary policeman, the possibilities of corruption and violence, yet his love for his family and his Catholic faith. Richard Gere portrays a burnt-out policeman, trying to be a man of integrity but finding it very difficult, especially with his fellow policemen. He is also involved with a friend who is a prostitute. Don Cheadle portrays an investigator, trying to come to terms with the whole range of policing in Brooklyn. He also has been working undercover, deep undercover, and this has an effect on him and his family. It also affects his relationship with the gangster to whom he had come close. He is played by Wesley Snipes. Ellen Barkin has a strong role as a tougher-than-tough district attorney and the supporting cast includes Will Patton as a policeman, Vincent D'Onofrio and Brian F. O’ Byrne as gangsters.
The film explores the pressures on police life, on individuals, on the structures and the hierarchy, on the relentless pressures from the criminal world.
While the Richard Gere story is familiar, Gere, such a durable presence on screen, makes it convincing. Don Cheadle’s story is a desperate one, making one question why anybody would volunteer to work undercover. The Ethan Hawke story offers the pathos of an ordinary man, genuinely wanting to help his family but overwhelmed by pressures and financial difficulties.
(US, 2010, d. Kevin Smith)
Kevin Smith has been having bad luck lately with film titles. People objected to Zack and Miri make a Porno. And he had to use Cop Out instead of A Couple of Dicks, his working title – there are ruder jokes in the film (though not quite as many in some of Kevin Smith's other films). In fact, if you did not know Smith directed it, it would just be an average time-passer of an odd couple pair of cops solving some crimes while sparring with each other. Smith didn't write the screenplay but one presumes he liked all the movie references and Tracy Morgan's homage to these movies (when Bruce Willis knows he should have used the French, 'hommage'.) Having glanced at so many negative comments, I found it not nearly as bad as some apoplectic reviewers (who became more apoplectic when Smith wrote an article suggesting critics were superfluous) and some die hard Smith fans (who don't agree with him doing genre movies).
Bruce Willis does his laid-back cop thing, not exerting any extra energy. Tracy Morgan (also seen in Death at a Funeral) does his schtick – though how he every became a policeman, got through training, managed action on the beat, did not get attacked by his irritated and frustrated colleagues is the main mystery of the film.
Otherwise, it is Jim and Paul get suspended but keep pursuing the drug criminals, Jim (Willis) preoccupied about paying for his daughter's wedding reception and Paul (Morgan) prone to jealousy concerning his wife (as well as being on the phone or looking in the wrong direction when some important action was 'going down', as they say.
One of many similar cop shows.
DEATH AT A FUNERAL
(US, 2010, d. Neil La Bute)
No, that is not a mistake. It is only three years since many of us enjoyed the British farce, Death at a Funeral, directed by Frank Oz and starring Matthew Mc Fadyen and Rupert Graves organising the funeral of their father and the revelation that his private life was not what they thought it was. There are various guests, problems and misunderstandings as well as some blackmail, a death with two in a coffin and an old uncle with toilet problems.
The script was sold to the US and it was decided, under the auspices of Chris Rock, to re-make it as an American comedy, specifically an African American comedy. Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence are both more subdued than could be believed but giving humorous performances with many black one-liners which weren't in the original. Danny Glover is there as the uncle with the bowel trouble, Tracy Morgan as his hypochondriac nephew. There is also a place for Zoe Saldana (the heroine of Avatar) and Columbus Short. There are two white characters, a rather ineffectual Luke Wilson who pines for Zoe Saldana who is not interested in him because she is concerned about her fiance who has been given a halluinogenic drug instead of an aspirin and causes embarrassment and several kerfuffles. James Marsden gives an enthusiastically funny performance.
After the right coffin is delivered to the house after a driving error, the preacher starts but there are many interruptions. The main one is the arrival of short-statured Peter Dinklage (who played the same role in the British original) who brings the proceedings into crisis, a fight, a collapse and a what do with the body and how can we avoid anybody seeing what has happened.
It is the same as the original but different (as are most interpretations of a common text). The same characters and situations but a different tone with the American humour. Both are enjoyable comedies – funny, but not exactly refined.
(India/UK, 2010, d. Sajit Warrier)
Most horror films these days, going for the scares, frights, blood and gore and special effects can seem rather silly, even ludicrous. But, often that doesn’t really matter for the fans because they accept the non-sequiturs and even the absurdities as long as it’s a good show.
Fired starts eerily enough but soon becomes as manic as its protagonist and, before too long (it is an 87 minute film), it heads towards the top and tries to go over.
While it is set in London and used some location photography, it is very much an Indian film. It concerns an Indian company with many Indian employees. And the sensibility is very much colourful Indian and emotions up there on the screen.
Rahul Bose portrays the new CEO who has manipulated his way to the top – and then sacked 121 of the staff. As he complacently moves into his new office, strange things begin to happen, especially when he goes down the corridor and finds the masked staff sewing up their victim’s eyelids – and we know we are in the realm of dreams and hallucinations. Has he taken too many anti-depressant pills. Is his conscience taking over and playing havoc with his psyche – all the devices for a haunted house story are inluded for a haunted office story. And then there is the spectre of former lover and sacked employee, Ruby – and the security guard who seems to bring some sanity and realism into the torments of the CEO. And so on, with some gory face destroying touches to keep us alarmed.
Actually, it is very much like a Japanese ghost story in plot and in the dreams and the appearance of the Ruby spectre. They have probably made it already.
(US, 2009, d. Jared Hess)
With his third film (with his writing partner and wife, Jerusah), Jared Hess has definitely developed a signature kind of film – which can be greeted as cult entertainment or dismissed as oddball. Napoleon Dynamite, his first, got a lot of the cult treatment. His second, Nacho Libre... well, hmm, um... His third, with the tantalising name of Gentlemen Broncos (whatever that actually does mean in the film itself), can either be irritatingly oddball or entertainingly oddball. Despite the sour faces around me, I opted for the latter.
Of course it is silly. So was Napoleon Dynamite – but Nacho Libre was more stupid than silly. Here we are in between!
The film gives the impression of having almost no budget and being made up as they went along. A young comic book nerd writes and draws his own comics. He goes to a conference and attends a workshop by a writer he idolizes who actually steals his plot, adapts it for his own book and has a great commercial success. In the meantime, a more than eccentric group make an appalling no budget film with our young writer trying to be an actor as well.
What is left is to expose the writer and achieve some success on one's own.
Actually, that sounds quite lame and, I suppose, it is. The amusement is in the antics, with Michael Angarano as the young writer (a bit similar to his role in The Man in the Chair), in disbelieving the dreadful home movie of the comic but relishing the wonderfully satiric performance of Jermaine Clement as the self-absorbed celebrity author. And a bonus is that Jennifer Coolidge plays the boy's mother.
HOT TUB TIME MACHINE
(US, 2010, d. Steve Pink)
No, this back to the future for middle-aged men who are louts or wish they had the chance to be louts, is not as funny as the title might suggest. 2009 saw a film in this vein, The Hangover, which (despite ourselves and the characters' shenanigans) we could find quite a laugh-aloud comedy.
We are introduced to three forty-something men whose lives have been lived in regret, especially since a holiday they had in 1986 at a ski resort where a good life seemed possible. One of them has taken an overdose, maybe deliberately but he does not seem to have any grasp on life which might had led to his making any decision one way or the other. His friends, who have drifted away from each other, get in touch and decide to help him by taking him back to the resort. The nerdish nephew of one of them goes along too.
The resort has gone downhill and Back to the Future's Crispin Glover, is a one-armed bell-hop with attitude. The only consolation seems to be a hot tub, presided over by Chevy Chase. When they spill an energy drink (what a way to initiate time travel in a hot tub!), they are back in 1986, ready to re-live that important day and then get back to the future.
But, unless you enjoy the broadest humour, with accompanying body function, language and crass jokes, you will be straight-faced most of the time. They do re-live the past. Something better than what they did is possible as is a wish-fulfilment happy ending.
John Cusack seems out of place in this kind of film (letting the lout out of him but with restraint). Craig Robinson is quite genial. And Rob Corddry is the epitome of gross crassness (or crass grossness), but, it must be said, he does it with full steam ahead and persuasively.
Every review will probably mention the funny sequence when Craig Robinson telephones his 9 year old future wife and upbraids her for what she will do. If only the rest were as inventive and funny.
(India, 2009, d. Anurag Basu)
Quite a deal of ballyhoo promoting this Indian thriller romance. The international version, at 2 hours, was released with some popular success in India and in the US. Then, a week later, Kites: the Remix was released, a cut version, supervised by Brett Ratner. This review is of the 2 hour version.
Not quite sure what the ballyhoo was all about and what it was for – it is a mixed bag as entertainment. The Indian film-makers have gone to the US and filmed in Las Vegas and in New Mexico. That is more than a bit exotic for the home audience and, maybe, a draw for an international audience. However, it is highly (highly) melodramatic with a Bollywood visual style, bright colours, intense close-ups and some of the new found freedom in showing relationships.
J has moved from India to the US and, while working as a dance instructor, serves as a repeat husband for women wanting to become US citizens or get green cards. When he is pursued by the daughter of a crooked casino owner (also from India) and wins a dance competition with her, her father is so pleased, he invites J to become part of his organisation and to the engagement party of his son. But, he is to marry the last of J's illegal spouses and he persuades her to run away with him.
So, after the Nevada glamour, there are several chases (in one, the cars burst into flame almost before they crash; in another, there are no fires), shootouts as angry jilted gangster pursues J and his woman. When you think the film is going to end, there is more, especially in terms of happy marriage, revenge and an ending of amour fou that will raise an eyebrow or two.
For emotional temperaments who like melodrama. Otherwise, a bit too much.
(US, 2010, d. Sylvain White)
Unfortunately, somebody else got in before me with The Dirty Five or The B Team. But that kind of indicates what to expect from this movie version of a comic strip. It is certainly written like one, filmed like one and acted like one – even to the most impossible high diving catch in movie history.
We are introduced to the five, with their action skills, before they go on an ill-fated mission to destroy a drug house. The villain behind the scenes then emerges as an oddball sounding and fashionably tailored megalomaniac who is not burdened by scruples about taking human life – and Jason Patric plays him just like that, a real comic strip, smooth baddie.
Just when we thought it was going to be a really macho show, in comes Aissa (Zoe Saldana from Avatar and Star Trek) and shows that where punch ups are needed (or, as here, not needed, but fought nonetheless) she is not to be beaten.
It starts in Bolivia, proceeds to Miami, while the villain seems to be able to turn up anywhere in the world from Mumbai to Los Angeles, and does.
There is revenge, betrayal, tricks and explosions going off big time. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the leader with Idris Elba clashing with him and Chris Evans doing some amusing turns as a computer nerd who is also big with action.
For those who enjoy the same old, same old...
PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME
(US, 2010, d. Mike Newell)
In terms of colourful action, Prince of Persia elicits a number of 'Wows'! If you want action, you've got it, in exotic settings with plenty of special effects.
It has been produced by veteran Jerry Bruckheimer, well-known for many a slam-bang show from Top Gun, Con Air to the Pirates of the Carribean franchise. This one looks as if somebody made him a bet that he couldn't produce a movie that was almost all action (with a few conversations here and there which do not really halt the momentum at all). He has won the bet.
We are back in the Persian Empire with the rule of a powerful king (Ronald Pickup) who relies on his younger brother for support and loyalty (Ben Kingsley). He has two sons but is impressed by the derring do and challenge of a young orphan in the marketplace and adopts him as his son. Right from the start we see Dastan, the boy (who grows up to be Jake Gylenhaal) running, jumping, leaping, bouncing, somersaulting, swinging. Director Mike Newell said that Gylenhaal spent weeks rehearsing all these moves and stunts doing a number of them himself but still letting the stunt doubles get plenty of action. (One distraction, however, Gylenhaal's accent seems as if it has been dubbed in a Jude Law vein with a touch of Michael Caine.)
The King wants to confront a sacred city to investigate their loyalty or whether they were making and shipping arms to enemies of the kingdom. The armies invade, prepare for a siege, but Dustan uses his wits and his athleticism and in no time has entered the city, opened the gates, poured boiling oil on the defenders. It is all breathtaking stuff – and we are probably more out of puff than Dustan is.
In the city there is a princess (Gemma Arteton), guardian of a dagger that has mystical/magical powers and can reverse time – which comes in handy at a number of times of danger, and is most useful for the ending.
When the king dies burned, by a poisoned cloak, Dustan is blamed, so that leads to lots of trekking though the desert, lots of chases, encounters with a Sheikh who calls himself an entrepreneur (and has all the funny lines, delivered humorously and lightly ironically by Alfred Molina). He has a servant from the Sudan who is the quickest with knife throwing, and he comes in handy many a time and for the climax.
By this stage, we might think that action might let up and the conversations get a bit longer and more frequent, but they don't. There is really only one kiss between Dustan and the Princess, so very little time wasted on romance.
Treachery, deceit, plots, more chases and, with echoes of Indiana Jones and the National Treasure films, caves with traps, fire, erupting sand and even more heroics.
Yes, it is a lavishly produced adventure (even with some literal cliffhangers, especially at the end) of the Boys' Own kind (which may be a bit too junior macho for a female audience) but it is exciting and entertaining matinee material for any time of the day or night. Older audiences might be reminiscing about those b-budget adventures from the 1950s with Tony Curtis, Victor Mature and Piper Laurie. The Prince of Persia is much the same only larger, longer, pacier.
(Spain, 2009, d. Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza)
Takes up at the moment that the original Rec finished, the journalist who was covering the drama in the quarantined building being dragged off to somewhere infernal.
This sequel plays much the same plot again but in different guises. While there was a deadly aggressive virus taking over its victims in the sealed off apartments, this time we have a different reason for the origin of the virus. When in doubt, bring in something 'supernatural'. Apparently, the little girl who was the source of the infection, was actually diabolically possessed and a priest is now sent in to collect her blood sample to be the basis for an antidote. (This would mean that a remake of The Exorcist would be quite short, the priests coming in and inserting an injection and the girl being instantly exorcised!)
The same kind of tension is created. Angry infected people start attacking. The lighting is a bit clearer because the equipment is of a higher standard but, eventually, the lights go out and the night camera goes into play. Half way through, the plot starts again as three reckless teenagers defy the ban to enter the building and finish up filming, being chased and becoming targets.
No major surprises, just the scary enjoyment of doing it all over again with something demonic in the background. If you feel apprehensive, you could become a nervous Rec 2!
(Australia, 2009, d. Dean Francis)
Probably a good idea for an outback Australian horror thriller with ‘supernatural’ touches, but this is something of a derivative show (Duel, Wolf Creek, Highway to Hell…) for straight to DVD and group home watching, the audience egging each other one as it progresses (or regresses) and the ludicrous aspects loom larger. Of course, for this type of film, in the recent slasher thrillers vein, it doesn’t really matter if it is ridiculous.
Two couples are out camping (and the explicit sex scene is in the first five minutes) in beautiful, isolated South Australia. The cast is strong enough to make them a bit more than the cyphers and victims they really are. A Duel-like road train, with a three heads of Cerberus on the front, crashes into them and one by one, they become the victims of the mysterious road train. This can sometimes be bloody and gory. And that’s about it.
SEX AND THE CITY 2
(US, 2010, d. Michael Patrick King)
The main image that came to mind for reviewing Sex and the City 2 was that seeing it was like eating a couple of large slices of sponge cake, over-filled with cream and laden with lots of icing – maybe a treat at the start but, full of sugar, and ultimately not healthy for you. The moral unhealthiness for many could be gross envy of these four women from New York City who have no real experience of real life and have the money or the connections for them to be able to avoid it and stay fashionably dressed (with multi changes) while doing it.
But, for those who followed the lives of Carrie and her friends Miranda, Charlotte and the provocative Samantha, on TV over the years and enjoyed the first movie, no warning about how dangerous sponge cake can be for your blood sugar levels, is going to stop them rushing to see this sequel.
The four women, despite two of them having children, live an American dream, a designer lifestyle of capitalist consumerism. The first part of this film is also a fairy tale, a half an hour at a gay wedding, with such an overdose of camp in colour, clothes and music (a male choir singing songs from shows), arguments about being PC in talking about this topic, Sarah Jessica Parker arriving in tails to be 'best man' and then (yes, that can be capped, the officiating person turning up in the form of Liza Minnelli who, of course, does a song and dance routine that could become part of the drag queen repertoire).
Where to go after that? To some problems, Miranda being pushed around professionally and silenced by a chauvinistic boss; Charlotte concerned about the busty young Irish nanny looking after her girls; Carrie and Big sorting out marriage issues; and Samantha, just the same, mouthing all the vulgar lines with relish, concerned about sex and menopause.
Fortunately, for them, they have time out with a trip, all expenses paid, to Abu Dabi (filmed in Morocco) where they get to be insensitive American tourists, especially concerning dress and sex issues, although some burkha-clad Arab women show that they are just as Fifth Avenue conscious underneath the black (which means that the film is going to flop in Saudi Arabia, Iran etc, though thrive on women there pirating and downloading copies). Our heroines also do a karaoke Abu Dabi version of I Am Woman. (The rooms, meals, drinks, limousines and so on that they are treated to could probably save the borrowing debts of an impoverished country, say, Spain or Greece!)
Real life almost impinges but they get home, first class flight, and live happily ever after until the next sequel.
(UK, 2010, d. Max Giwa and Dania Pasquini)
Anything you can do, I can do better (sang Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun). These aren't the lyrics for Street Dance but they could well be the sentiments of the makers as they have looked at the many street dancing competition films from the US in recent years (Step Up, How She Move...) and decided that with all the Britain's Got Talent types and all the TV competition programs, the UK could do Street Dance better than the Americans – and in 3D!
It's all exactly predictable, but that is the formula the audience will enjoy.
Two crews are rivals. Leader walks out of a crew and joins the other, leaving his girlfriend and letting her pick up the pieces to prepare in a short time for the finals – which would lead to a trip to the US. He does. She does. They do.
However, there is one big difference (apart from all the aerial postcard scenes of London) and that is Charlotte Rampling. She might be one of the last serious actresses who would agree to appear in this kind of film. But, she does and she really looks as if she is enjoying it. She is a ballet instructor and feels that her students lack oomph and passion. When the street dancer delivers her lunch and sees the rehearsal space, the two come to an agreement that the two groups should work together – but, at first there is snobbery and reverse snobbery.
In these films, there is always a clash with times, the ballet auditions and the finals of the street dancing competition programmed at the same time. I wonder what they do and who wins!!
(US, 2010, d. Michael Lembeck)
In a competition for co-stars that you would not be likely to see on screen, Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson and Julie Andrews might be considered a way out juxtaposition of opposites! But here they are!!
Actually, this is quite a pleasing family film which is not too demanding, has some funny lines for the adults, and has a niceness about it which is aimed at getting rid of the not-niceness in life.
Dwayne Johnson plays Derek Thompson, an ice hockey star who is over the hill but still playing because of his capacity to knock opponents over and knock out their teeth, 'the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth'. But he is in love with a mother of two (Ashley Judd) and is trying to get on with her children. When he tells the six year old daughter, who has put a tooth under her pillow, that the tooth fairy does not exist, he is ousted by the mother and finds a summons to fairyland under his pillow to answer the charge of promoting disbelief. And who is in charge? A senior Mary Poppinsish type herself who brooks no interruption and makes Derek spend two weeks on tooth fairy duty, on call at any moment.
The assistant, Tracey, a taller than lanky Brit, is played by Ricky Gervais' co-writer of The Office, Stephen Merchant, and Billy Crystal is on hand for a few amusing scenes.
Of course, what you expect will happen does happen – would you want to watch it if it didn't!
Dwayne Johnson has shown a very genial spirit in many films and does not hesitate to send himself up – sprouting large fairy wings here and appearing in a pink tutu until fairyland wardrobe fixes him up in a pale blue fairy suit. He does all the right things by his hockey team, by his girlfriend and, especially by the children. And it is a pleasure to see Julie Andrews doing her thing and then letting off steam in a final credits hockey match sequence.
(South Africa, 2008, d. Michael Raeburn)
Triomf is a very ironic title for a film which makes for very (very) uneasy watching.
Triomf, which is based on a novel by, is the name the apartheid government gave to a black township, Sophiatown, which was razed to the ground in the 1950s and the black inhabitants relocated (somewhat akin to the 2009 science-fiction story, District 9). Poor white families were settled in Triomf (no triumph here) where they lived on the outskirts of Johannesburg, poor, ignorant and inbred.
However, the setting for this film is 1994 just prior to the first elections which brought Nelson Mandela and the ANC to government. We are introduced to a middle-aged mechanic at work who observes (with some disdain) the singing, dancing and cheerful shouts of the local black population anticipating victory in the elections. He trudges home, enabling us to see Triomf, which does not look so bad on the outside, but is depressingly ugly inside. The family looks like those isolated hillbilly folks in the southern US who are often the characters in horror slasher films.
As the film proceeds and we get to know Pop, Mol, Treppie (the worker we first see) and the younger Lambert. They live a gross kind of life, slob style and some shock scenes, especially with incest. We later learn that the family secrets are even more gross. The acting, with dialogue in Afrikaans and English, seems odd, to say the least, and sometimes with a touch of caricature.
In fact, you feel in need of a wash after viewing the film.
By the violent end (within the family, not with the black neighbours), we realise that this is offered as an allegory of the decline of the presumptions, racial, religious and political, of the oppressive whites, their decay and their passing as a new South Africa emerges.