Sunday, 29 January 2012

Ant Reviews: 3D Underworld Awakening (2012)

Wow. I’d just finished having various conversations with various friends and I was reminded of early 00s cinema. I talked about Red Planet (2000) and Mission to Mars (Also 2000…), about Torque (2004) and Biker Boyz (2003), and I’d just reacquainted myself with The Time Machine (2002). The night before I’d caught glimpse of what is widely considered the worst film ever made: Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002). As so much Resident Evil material is out there, one can’t forget the very first film in 2002. And now I just watched 3D Underworld Awakening, and was reminded of how hollow and shallow a lot of those movies are.

I’ll get the movie out of the way first. I’ve found that in order to sit through films like this its always better to leave reality at the door. I survived 3D Resident Evil Afterlife (2010) by accepting that nothing I saw on screen was real in any way, shape or form. I ended up having a good time. But this film, unlike the others in the series, has moved on from a gothic, medieval fantasy brought to life with machineguns, and instead has chosen to couch this film in boring old science-based reality. This can be a problem, when one can compare reality to what’s happening on screen it’s harder to immerse oneself in the ludicrousness of it all. But the story, structured very much like a video game, is about how the humans have (righteously) destroyed all the vampires and werewolves in a purge. Both beasts are now literally 'underground' and 12 years later Selene breaks out of a high tech lab and goes on a rampage.

It’s very difficult to say anything intelligent or meaningful about a movie that lacks such life. The older films I enjoyed: Underworld (2003) was surprisingly complex, and Underworld Evolution (2006) was big and dumb and violent and looked great, which is what you want from a popcorn movie. This film, however, wasn’t as enjoyable. I’m going to try and figure out why.

It might be that Len Wiseman, the writer/director whose vision it was made the first three films come to life, wasn’t around for this one. His wife Kate Beckinsale makes an appearance; Scott Speedman as Michael does not, which is an impediment seeing as he’s such an important character. The CGI his face on a stunt man for one shot, and I think they re-use footage from Evolution in another. For the rest of the film they use a wax head for all the other scenes he’s asleep or knocked out. It’s not the best way to do things.

I don’t think that the two directors Mårlind & Stein managed to get it. Very rarely do two directors work out well like the Coen Brothers or even Neveldine and Taylor. Most times it works out like the Brothers Strauss. Nor is it a good sign that the film had four writers. Perhaps the sudden drop in 'quality' (a contentious word to use, I know) is a result of the original movies being more a family affair; Wiseman made the first film with long time friends, he married the star, her ex-husband Michael Sheen did two of the films with him (he’s still friends with everyone) and her daughter played a younger version of her in a flashback sequence. For someone who’s familiar with the films, there is no charm or love in this film, nor any kind of innovation. Add to that the unique look and feel that the original films had, gothic Europe, which is replaced with Vancouver Canada. Much of the style is lacking, and the film is very much just going through the motions. 

Beckinsale’s Selene was always a bit dull in the films, as we don’t really care about her all that much. She’s power and speed and sexuality, and not much else, and her falling in love is something that is difficult to accept from someone so cold. It is simply told, and we are to believe, with little evidence to back it up. But that’s a criticism for the other films; here she is as uninspired and as lifeless as ever before.

The rest of the cast fares no better. There is the Chloe Moretz-esque teen (India Eisley, who’s actually older than she looks), the male model vampire (Theo James) and Chris Martin from Coldplay as a werewolf (Kris Holden-Reid). There is the typical white man bureaucrat scientist who offers little as the main villain (Stephen Rea) and the ‘believing cop’ (Michael Ealy) that most ‘fugitive’ stories have though Selena isn’t really a fugitive. None of them add much, other than Charles Dance, who offers the gravitas that all Underworld films maintain (with Bill Nighy in no.1 and Derek Jacobi in no.2). The music is droll and very much a product of an older movie – I  had no idea Evanescence still made music let alone movie soundtracks outside of Daredevil (2003).

But that really just brings me back to the point I was trying to raise in the first paragraph; this movie belongs ten years ago. I’ve often thought about how people will view our cinema ten or twenty years from now. Will they be as defined as cinema from the 70s or 80s? The early 2000s certainly will.

I’d like to call it the Post-Matrix era. It was a time that stretched from The Matrix (99) ten years till Avatar (09). To me Avatar was the representation of an era, beautiful digital effects, bogged down with a lousy, predictable and unoriginal script with awful dialogue.  The movies of the era had style and visual flair but no soul, no characters worth a damn, no stories that sparked the imagination.  As much as I enjoyed them, the Underworld movies fell into this category, and this film is the unsatisfying apex. It’s a beast of a different era, much like the Resident Evil films of which I saw a trailer for prior to the screening. The difference between this and RE is that Milla Jovovich can hypnotize an audience (or me, at least) without doing much; she has the charm and the character-flexibility to keep me interested.

I must ask: This is 2012, can our sci-fi action movies move on please? Can we get something new? Can we learn anything from Attack the Block, where the story may be predictable though original and the characters are fun and worth your time? Can we make popcorn movies genuinely fun again?

And for fuck’s sake, no more 3D. This movie is not worth $20. Nor will it ever be. For this you lose an extra star.


Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Ant Reviews: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

I started to appreciate cold war stories. Cold war era stories pervade much of the late 20th century popular culture, with stories in the fifties dealing with the prospect of nuclear war, and late 20th century stories (most of them sci-fi) dealing with post-nuclear World War III scenarios. The more realistic of the cold war stories are the spy story category, of which I’ve watched a few. I’ve seen a few, but not many; The Fourth Protocol (1987), Telefon (1977) and even Goldeneye (1995), a gem from my childhood, dealt with the remnants of the cold war. Some films recently have that vibe, like The Manchurian Candidate (2004), The American (2010) and The International (2009), with more intrigue and carefully constructed characters as opposed to outright gunfights and dance music. From the perspective of an aspiring screenwriter I’ve found cold war stories better than modern day spy stories due to the actual intelligence, trickery and skill that go into being a spy. These days it’s all digital and electronic, the intelligence war is half fought online and it’s harder to write about something one doesn’t truly understand. One thing that fascinated me was the idea that if a spy were caught he or she would swallow cyanide so as not to break under interrogation. That was something I couldn’t get my head around because I grew up in a different time. Back then men and women died over what they believed in, people dedicated themselves to ideals bigger than they were; people my age tend to focus more on their own quality of life than anything else.

Tinker Tailor... is set in 1973 Europe, and tells of the secret intelligence war between the UK and the Russians. The story centres on an investigation into which high-ranking member of British Intelligence is working for the Russians. That’s about as far as I’m willing to go with the plot, as it is the details in which the film really shines. Through sound and cinematography the minutiae is brought to the forefront: the buttering of toast; lovers kissing; the sucking of a mint. Papers, film reels, photos, the famous labelled chess pieces, all in sharp detail. The film really picks up the texture of the seventies. Everything has a cigarette smoked brown look to it, from the period accurate wallpaper to the graininess of the film stock. Tomas Alfredson’s film looks from the era and of the era.

The performances are just as nuanced. A character (audibly) swallowing hard before the delivery speaks volumes of both the character and the scene. And it’s that weight and care that’s applied to the film that makes it incredible. One of my favourite shots happens almost at the beginning, where Gary Oldman’s George Smiley is taken by surprise. We’re left with a static shot at the back of Oldman’s head, and after John Hurt’s character Control makes an announcement, Smiley turns to meet his gaze as if to say ‘wait, what?’ He’s also reacting in a nervous way, hiding his surprise from the onlookers in the room. Keep in mind this is the back of his head, it’s the slight hesitations and movements fill the shot with so much story and character. It's a small thing, but they could have done this in so many different ways and it’s amazing they went in this direction.

It all comes back to Gary Oldman, who turns in his best performance in a career of best performances. Recently he’s been nominated for an Oscar, one richly deserved. Oldman’s Smiley is wise and wily, but quietly so, a patient hunter who’s lonely though he doesn’t suffer it. You know enough about him that you want to know more, which fits the elliptical nature of the narrative. He plays people like chess pieces, though you don’t hate him for his manipulations. His performance is a quiet revelation.

Even as Oldman shines, the rest of the ensemble is just as magnificent. Mark Strong is great as Prideux, a skilled field officer, whose wisdom shines through despite his cold professional demeanour. Tobey Jones, Colin Firth, David Denick and Ciaran Hinds as the chief suspects are equally mysterious as they are slimey. Svetlana Khodchenkova is beautiful and tortured; Tom Hardy continues to be dynamite in everything he’s in. Comparably he has a small role in the film, and in one heartfelt scene he earns his place and stands out completely. Benedict Cumberbatch, everyone’s favourite Sherlock, is stellar as Smiley’s younger protégé Peter Guillam who’s appropriately anxious and awkward. Cumberbatch is going great guns at the moment, with Warhorse still in theatres. I had made a joke that all male British actors were split down the middle; half went to Tinker Tailor, the other half went to The Hobbit. Turns out that Cumberbatch is doing the voice of the dragon in the Hobbit so he’s literally everywhere this year.

Alberto Iglesias’s score is tense and mysterious. There’s something about the clarinet that seems to suggest intrigue, as many mystery films seem to use them. The film also uses music from the era as well, and I’ve never heard a live version of a song used in a soundtrack before, and certainly never used as effectively. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.

 So yeah, I spent the whole review kissing this film's ass. There’s something nice about watching an adults movie, in that it doesn’t slow down to explain things. If you pay attention then you’ll be rewarded, and indeed by the end of it you feel as if you’re a spy and you’ve solved it along with Smiley. Tomas Alfredson has created a very carefully crafted movie, so much so that when the credits rolled I didn’t want it to end, which is a very, very good sign. I’ll be going to go see it again by myself I love it that much. So please understand this review is a bit biased. I count this as a movie of 2012 (it was released worldwide this year) and I wont be surprised if it comes in at no.1


Thursday, 19 January 2012

Ant Reviews: The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo (2011)

I’ve been almost avoiding all things Dragon Tattoo. Not in a malicious way, I’ve just not really come in contact or pursued any of Stieg Larsson’s work. So I was nice and clean from all the books and adaptations and sequels and things so I could watch this with a clear mind and take the film for what it is. So let’s bleach our eyebrows and dive on in. 

Firstly the intro titles took my breath away. They were almost reminiscent of a Bond opening, with black oil morphing into various shapes and images (which my filmic companion informed me were references to the later books in the series). Though the rest of the film was full-on and unnerving, it in no way matched the intensity of the opening credits. Not a complaint, though. 

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the story of Mikael (Daniel Craig) who investigates the 40+ year old disappearance of a rich families’ daughter.  To aid him in his search is titular dragon-tattooed psychopath Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) as they scratch delve into the history of an estranged family on a mysterious island. That’s about as much as I can say without giving too much away. 

My initial thoughts, as an uninitiated viewer, were that it reminded me of Mathieu Kassovitz’s The Crimson Rivers (2000). While both films deal with detectives venturing out into isolated parts of Europe to investigate depraved killings, the comparison is more in context than in style or plot.  Both stories address Europe’s dark Nazi past. It hadn’t occurred to me that modern Europe was ashamed of that chapter in their history, and that it was something that still played on a lot of people’s minds, not just the victims. In comparison the dark chapter in Australia’s history during the 21st century would have to be Stolen Generation, though the anger in that event lies mostly with the victims. It is as it is in America and their past with slavery: once the olive branch is extended, all blemishes are swept under the rug and we can convince ourselves that those outrages are behind us. But those scars still remain, and the damage is still felt. 

This theme pervades other parts of the film, particularly with Mara’s Lisbeth. The crimes committed against her have scarred her, changed her into the damaged individual she is today. It comes as no surprise that the original story was called Men Who Hate Women; women very much are victims in the film, and men in many capacities are the perpetrators. Irreversible and heinous crimes are committed against women, some of them on-screen, some thankfully off. Fincher pulls no punches in the depiction of rape, and the experience is uncomfortable if not harrowing. 

Ultimately the impression I got of this very European story is that, beneath the veneer of the modern, secular, progressive Sweden that I’ve heard about lays a dark and violent underbelly. Like pretty much everywhere on earth, violence and abuse pervades behind closed doors. Plumbing these depths can be hazardous to one’s health and to one’s soul, both for the characters and the audience. Even with reasonably happy endings, no one gets away unscathed. On another note, I like that Mikael ends up sleeping with Lisbeth, a girl that isn’t that much older than his own daughter. We the audience cinematically expect the male and female leads to fuck, but the age gap adds another element to Mikael’s character. He’s a piece of shit though on another, lesser level from the villains. He’s a man, he’s flawed and he’s dominated by his urges and ego, evidenced as much from the final scene of the film. 

The acting was stellar. Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth in particular is a revelation. She dominated every scene she’s in, physically and mentally. Mara is in a unique position in that she’s relatively unknown at this point; she IS Lisbeth, it now defines her. What surprised me most was that all the (amazing, largely Euro-centric) cast spoke with Swedish accents (with varying levels of success (I’m looking at you Mr. Craig)). It really helped to localize the film to Sweden, never letting you forget. I had a problem with the Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation of another Swedish character in Wallander. In that miniseries (another English-language interpretation) the cast all speak in their natural English accents and you often forget it’s a Swedish story with Swedish characters. It’s the only the odd uniform or the fact that the cops carry guns that you notice there’s something wrong and, despite that series’ high quality in acting and direction, it hurts the immersion. It’s like when an actor can’t do an accent well (again, looking at you Mr. Craig) and you’re reminded that you’re not viewing a character, you’re watching an actor and the whole thing is a fallacy. 

Outside of the intro, the music was fairly low-key. I don’t know if that was on purpose or that I didn’t really notice. Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose’s score didn’t have any particularly distinctive or, as I said, I just didn’t notice. The visuals were nice, and there were some very great shots, with some nice anamorphic work. I think though my biggest problem with me was the length and the set up of some of the narrative, which can be a pitfall of an accurate adaption. 

Perhaps in the act of trying to follow too closely to the source material means that you pack too much in. There are differences, I’m told by my companion, but it is a big ole’ movie. There’s a lot to take in, though the film is largely easy to follow. And the moments that are hard to follow or don’t make sense all that much mean that they’re setting things up and allowing for elements that lead into storylines that take place later in the book series, from what I’m told. For example, the ‘libel suit’ sub-story, which makes sense for the most part but bogs down the third act and feels a bit tacked-on. All things I ignore in respect of a faithful adaption, but they are sins in any other kind of film. 

So, a tense thriller. Grim and unsettling, disturbing and, though a little flawed, a very enjoyable film. The film is hard to watch at times, but the tense moments can sometimes be quite far apart from each other, giving you plenty of time to recover in such a large film. But the film is worth watching for Rooney Mara’s performance alone, and despite his inconsistent Swedish accent, Daniel Craig is always a welcome site in all his skinny-jeaned-boot-wearing greatness. Worth seeing.


Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Ant Reviews: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

I think in my enthusiasm to review this film was such I burnt out all desire to write the damn thing. So it’s taken me a few days to get around to it. But this is my first official review of a 2012-released film (in Australia anyway) so let's get to it.    

I don’t know much about Sherlock Holmes, that is to say that I’ve never read any of the books, though I have watched the first film in this new Guy Ritchie series, and I wasn’t that impressed by that one. It wasn’t a bad movie by any stretch, it was certainly better than most, but it didn’t blow me away. My only frame of reference for Sherlock Holmes is the Steven Moffat written series Sherlock (2010) that I thought was exquisite. Seeing as they’re both contemporary interpretations of the one character I think that a comparison is appropriate to help me illustrate what I thought were some of the flatter elements of the film, though this doesn’t mean I thought the film was bad.

First, the good bits: The action is great. The hand-to-hand fighting sequences were phenomenal, and reminded me of Batman: Arkham City, though that’s probably just me. The highlight of the movie was where the main characters escape through a forest while being shot at, which was brilliantly scored and excitingly executed. The fast-slow-fast style of action was visually arresting, and a great way to pace and clearly present events as they transpire. I don’t think that it was inspired by some of Zack Snyder’s work, though I’ve always enjoyed those kinds of sequences in both those directors’ films. Ritchie’s Sherlock makes every move like a chess player, and it’s interesting and fun how they portray this on screen. Even in events of pure chaos is there that element of control, speed and precision. I was out of breath after the movie as my friends and I ran fast, then slowed down, ran fast, then slowed down. Its great when something sticks with you visually like that, the same of which can be said of the score, with its memorable chords and recognisable themes.

The acting is strong. Noomi Rapace brings a strange beauty to her role. She’s an odd looking woman in my opinion, exotically beautiful in some scenes, rough and gypsy-looking in others, though she adds some weight to an otherwise small role. Same can be said of Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty, he needed more screen time. He filled the role with the right amount of intelligence, grace and menace, though his presence was limited. Stephen Fry makes a nice (kind of) cameo, as does Kelly Reilly, whom I’m kind of in love with, and Eddie Marsan returning as Lestrade. All do their jobs competently, as do the leads, but my problem is with the set up of the characters rather than the performances.
This leads to my comparison of the two leads with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson respectively. The dynamic of the two, in my opinion, works better than the dynamic of Downey Jnr and Law, which I think comes down to writing. 

With Moffat’s Sherlock, Holmes is a self-proclaimed ‘high functioning sociopath’, with little to no friends or human companionship. He doesn’t know how to deal with people very well, not so much an issue of awkwardness, and more an issue of apathy for such things. His intelligence and arrogance alienate people around him, and it’s up to Freeman’s Watson to act as the emotional and moral centre of the show. Holmes, for all his strengths, is an apathetic and at times dangerous man, and we fear him as much as fear for him. Watson attempts to bring out Holmes’ humanity; acting to complete this incomplete man, creating an engaging duo.

There is no fearing for Ritchie’s Sherlock. Downey Jnr fills his character with a little self-awareness. His arrogance isn’t aggravating; it’s charming and buffoonish. His antics don’t inspire concern from Watson, merely annoyance. And it’s that self-awareness that I think ruins him; he doesn’t need help, he needs a good slap and should be told to behave. This to me makes Downey Jnr’s Sherlock a more complete character, a man who knows better but is controlled by his addiction to the hunt. Self-awareness suggests a possibility of improvement, and if he becomes a responsible man, what use is there for Watson?
I think that’s a question that the filmmakers made when making the film, what to do with Watson. He spends the first act (and half of the second) resisting Holmes and making declarations of a divorce of sorts from Holmes and his antics. There are many attempts made by the story to emasculate Watson; though Sherlock dresses as a woman, it is Watson who wears the dress. He is concerned about marriage, monogamy and scarfs. Watson is the one cleaning up the mess, the one stitching the wounds and tending to the bandages. There is even a moment where Holmes dances with Rapace’s Simza only to dance with Watson. Seeing as Holmes was leading with Simza, we can only assume he leads with Watson, feminising him. Throughout the film Holmes dreams of adventure and intrigue, while Watson dreams of home life and responsibility. Watson represents the wet blanket, the nagging wife cast against (what I feel is a representation of) a carefree stereotypical dude.

Most of this, however, is done for humour. Really, Law’s Watson is more sidekick than partner: a lot of the film could have taken place without him around. Despite declarations by cast and crew to the contrary, A Game of Shadows is more about the action and the intrigue and less about ruminations on the Holmes and Watson dynamic. Could American audiences have handled a darker, more dangerous Holmes? It just feels like with a more rounded Holmes we end up with a waste of a Watson. So despite that little nagging issue somewhat preventing me from engaging with the film more, there was a certain set piece I couldn’t get my head around (how the fuck did they build that castle all the way up that fucking mountain?). But the film was a lot of fun overall. I certainly liked it more than I did the first one. The music was great, the action was fun and the whole thing was beautifully shot. Not a bad was to spend your time.


PS: there's a moment where Sherlock looks like Heath Ledger Joker. I don't think it was intentional, but it was annoying. For me, anyway. 

Saturday, 7 January 2012

From The Vault: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

This one's rough as hell. I certainly didn't like this movie and it shows. So this isn't so much a review as it is an angry shout.
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
 I have many complaints about the film. I think it would work best on DVD where you can fast forward shit. Because it feels like 4 hours long, though it's only like 3 and a half. I asked a girl to come see it with me (she had 'plans'....) and I’m kind of glad that I didn’t because if you're going to sit in and poke fun at a shit movie, Terminator Salvation was better because it's shorter, and at the end of this one I get really tired and I got a big headache.

The FX was fantastic. The fight scenes were spectacular. There’s one character, Jolt, who I don’t think you ever see in car form, which is weird, like you see him as a robot and shit but I don’t know. At the beginning there's a spectacular fight through Shanghai, which is definitely worth seeing, and the fight at the end in Egypt has some impressive moments, but it goes on for WAY too long.

 That being said that huge battle had some high points, but the pacing is all fucked. When humans aren’t on screen is where the movie shines, but even then it has to be in an action sequence.

The robot dialogue is as fucked as the human stuff. There are two jive talking twin hatchbacks, who both sound like Chris Tucker at his most annoying (“yo, that is some dope ass crap, cracker! Word”). They start out as two halves of an ice cream truck before their upgrade to product placement cars. That and their faces are fucked; they both have these huge googly eyes that aren’t armoured like Ironhide, Optimus and Bumblebee. I’d read that they were ugly stereotypical representations of black Americans, and I agree.

Ignoring the stuff with the negro-bots, there's this Steve Buscemi-bot in the form of a RC truck that Megan Fox captures. Its all Italian, talks like a person, is attracted to Megan fox (more on THAT shit later) and ends up fucking her leg. That bit was completely left field and had no place in the story. It was fucked. So basically as long as the robots are blowing shit up, they're cool, just don’t give them any dialogue. It goes without saying that the acting is intense and way, way too over the top.
 Everyone is basically a caricature, and the stuff regarding race is bad. The film is all about American imperialism, and potent American strength. As I said, the beginning takes place in Shanghai (which looks like downtown LA), with the Americans (led by TV's Josh Duhamel) and the autobots working together to take out decepticons, without the input or help from the Chinese. At the end of the Egypt battle, it's Americans all the way, and none of the local Jordanians do much (you'll see what I mean if you see it).

Then there's a moment regarding the vertically challenged. The characters are trying to get from one Middle Eastern country to another, and they go to a border station, where its chief shouts at them from his tower, and when the border station chief comes down he's a vertically challenged. There's of course some vertically challenged jokes from both the Hispanic stereotype and the Italio-bot, the John Turturro mentions something about dessert people being 'his people', him being one 36th Arab, or something, and he talks to the vertically challenged guy and he lets them through with a laugh.

Now, what does this scene seem to mean? That Arabic people think that they're big and important, but in actual fact they are small, pathetic, insignificant people, open to ridicule physically. The main characters are travelling incognito and illegally across borders, so the fact that Turturro says 'New York!' and the vertically challenged goes 'NEW YORK NEW YORK!" and let's them through says two things: the gullibility of the Arabic people, and the potency and the wit of the white American over the foolish, small Arabic nobody, who's rank and importance are insignificant. I think making him a vertically challenged says something of the American mentality of the Arabic world and I think displays basic American teenage boy understanding of the Arabic world.

Now we move onto Leo, the effeminate Latin stereotype. He's portrayed as a doomed and foolish small time entrepreneur, ALWAYS in the permanent pursuit of women, and is an absolute hysterical coward, who is for the most part only concerned with his own well being. Seeing as he’s the only Latin character in the film, as opposed to all the whites (with the exception of Tyrese Gibson, and his three lines of dialogue) he must be a representation of all Latin Americans. I think this is the white American teenager belief of what Hispanic Americans are.

What irks me further is the portrayal of women in this film. There are three women characters: Shia’s mum, Megan Fox, and the Home and Away Girl (H.A.G.). His mother is played (unbelievably over the top and annoyingly) in a stupid and hysterical fashion. She’s shown as irrational and overly emotional, and the ten minute sequence that involves her eating a hash brownie is probably one of the most mundane and inappropriate sequences in this fucking film, second only to the two times you see two dogs of different breeds furiously fucking each other (no joke, this happens). I think this is what white American teenagers think their mothers are like, embarrassing to the point of intense humiliation, overly emotional and over the top

H.A.G. is seen as a huge sluttly whore. She’s seen as forceful and overtly sexual, making forced unrealistic advances on Shia LeBeowulf. This, actually, has a plot point: turns out she’s the T-X from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. When she finally makes her move on LeBeowulf, she pins him down and starts kissing him. As she does so her Terminator tail comes out from under her dress, and we the audience are treated to a lingering SFX shot of her arse and, using the vernacular of the white American teenager, her ‘cooter’.

There is a scene in which this fucking over the top college professor is giving a lecture and all the hot and heavy college girls are ogling him in the audience, panting and petting, hot and heavy. Another scene earlier on has the Hispanic stereotype and Shia waiting for a toilet in their dorm and all these hot college girls walk past them in towel’s ready for the shower, as the stereotype ogles them publicly and expresses his unseen erection by stereotypically spouting phrases in Spanish (MARDRE DIOS!). They are also portrayed dancing seductively at a party at one point. Add to this the fact that the only college girl given dialogue is the fucking T-X, and is really slutty and overtly sexual. this represents what white American teenagers think college girls are like, sexually liberated, scantily clad and very, very horny.

Then we come to Megan Fox, whose sole reason to be in the film is to be ‘hot’. And I’m not even kidding when I say that, because it’s like her whole motivation for the film is to be the hot girl. The way that Bay shoots her is all about ogling her body (that cooter shot from the trailer, as she leans on the motorcycle…) and her glossy lips. During the Egypt battle she’s of course wearing a top that allows us men to see down it when she runs from explosions. Pretty much any time a character talks about her, it’s about how ‘hot’ she is (this is actually the truth; I’m not making this up. Even the robots say it). She’s so hot that a small Italio-bot fucks her leg. I’m surprised for that scene Bay didn’t provide a moneyshot of machine lubricant, just for laughs (like in the first one). The best scene is when the human characters are teleported to Egypt and she wakes up with her face in the Latin Stereotype’s crotch, and he makes comments about how ‘hot’ she is. Very tasteful. 

But it’s the role her character fulfils what’s probably the most sexist element outside of the exploitation of her body. She’s the ideal white American teenager’s girlfriend: loyal, really hot, scantily clad, loves cars and is completely unconditionally in love and devoted to her boyfriend. The whole point of her doing anything in the film is in support of her boyfriend, and their subplot (GROAN) involves Shia not being ready to tell her he loves her, and it can be said that she’s preoccupied and determined to get this out of him, which is in my mind a stereotypically sexist portrayal of a woman’s motivations. At one point she's waiting for a 'webcam date' with Shia but he's at a party, so she waits and waits, then flies cross country to see him, because like all good women she's at his beck and call. She’s there to be hot in the film, there to be hot for her boyfriend, and does next to nothing else, that is truly the purpose she’s there to fulfil.

So, in summary, the film works best when Bay is doing what he does best, which is blowing shit up. Anything involving plot or dialogue fucking falls apart. It also becomes quite apparent that the film is targeted at a very specific audience, and that Shia is meant to represent them in the film. The white American teenagers would only laugh at the jokes in the film, believe in the stereotypes and only they can appreciate the unrealistic depiction of women in the film. Oh, and the whole sorry affair ends on a fuckin Linkin Park Song. But what tops it ALL of is the fact that this film, about giant robots rumbling about, is marketed to CHILDREN

** stars

PS: the whole plot hinges on magic. I’m not making that up. Well, magic mixed with believing in yourself. You know how it is

Ant Reviews: 3D The Adventures of Tintin

There’s something going on with the world’s biggest directors recently. With Spielberg’s Tintin and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, they’re creating kids films that are a reflection of what they enjoyed as kids themselves. This is not so much selfish as it is paternal; it’s as if they’re putting their hands on kid’s shoulders and saying ‘this may not be your thing, but you’ll enjoy it, we promise’. Old fashioned stories told in old fashion ways albeit with brand new technology. In this family we can group Abram’s Super 8, though that was marketed more to an older audience than the holiday season kid group that Spielberg and Scorsese hope to woo. 

I suppose that’s Tintin’s appeal. For a lot of us over the age of the mightiest filmgoer (age 15), Tintin was an enduring part of our childhoods. The second time I saw the film I saw it with my father, who read it in his day. So although many kids could watch the movie, the majority of the revenue surely comes from the wide, wide adult audience in attendance. 

My own personal association with Tintin was back when I was little. There as a bookstore in the Sydney CBD that my mother took me too a few times, and in the children’s section there was a giant, brightly coloured wooden train, parts of which were shelves to hold picture books and Tintin. Like many mainstream comic book fans, our first introduction to the form was Tintin, and he held a revered position in that parents and teachers didn’t look down on Herge’s work as much as they did that of American comics. 

 Looking at the film the way it is, it’s the era in which it’s set that also sends shivers down my spine. Many of my favourite films growing up – The Rocketeer, The Phantom, The Shadow – were set in the 30s like Tintin is. Likewise Batman: The Animated Series was heavily art-deco inspired, from the buildings to the cars to the noir-ish storylines and dialogue delivery. Another, albeit later, example is the first Mummy film of 2000, with its old Hollywood monster movie style with modern special effects. So I suppose I’ve always had nostalgic love for that era. 

What is it about that time that screams adventure? Sandwiched between two wars, perhaps there’s an excitement of an expanding cosmopolitan world. Europe was easily traversed; Asia remained an exotic yet somewhat accessible region. Salty seamen, courageous pilots and intrepid detectives filled the pulp stories and comic books that inspired the children of World War One. Things were done differently then; real men relied on their wits and experience. When Tintin wanted to learn more about the history of a ship called the Unicorn, he went to a library not Google. When he wanted to contact the authorities, he used Morse code, just one of many worldly skills that real men, most men of the time, knew. He also has an interest in model ships, another old fashioned touch that perhaps our grandfathers would have related to more than today’s app obsessed youth. 

In my second viewing of this film I noticed something about myself, perhaps where I came from and the heroes that I idolized, now and in my youth. There’s one scene where Tintin is on the ground, and a henchman rises from a staircase in front of him. I naturally wanted Tintin to shoot the man in the head right there, but Tintin chose to punch him instead. Perhaps our standards these days are different; perhaps this is more a reflection on me more than anything else. 

This also reflects on the sidekick, Haddock. It surprised me in watching the film the portrayal of a drunkard, an ashamed alcoholic and his addiction. There are character motivations, jokes and plot points centred on alcoholism and sobriety, which was surprising to see in a kid’s movie. One scene in particular, where Haddock is wrongly accused of getting drunk, is a bold representation of addiction and the loss of trust that it brings to those closest to the addict. I know situations like this personally, and associated myself with Tintin immediately. It’s a small footnote of a scene, perhaps an attempt by the filmmakers to distance themselves from any accusations of glorification, but its moments like that that remind me of the era in which the original stories were written and in which the film is set. It wasn’t uncommon or taboo to have a drunken protagonist. I have a feeling the 30s/40s were an age of maturity in young readers; perhaps there wasn’t so much of a moral panic in regards to the influence of comic books on young minds, particularly in Europe, that is to say no one, kids included, were worried a Tintin comic would lead to the bottle. 
The old fashioned story telling style of the film also lends to the ‘paternal’ element I mentioned earlier. The pacing of the film is slow at first, with intrigue and character development. I felt, in both screenings, the kids in the audience grew restless at this point. Time and investment is the name of the game, as the second half brings the humorous excitement of the ship escape (the ‘stealing the keys’ scene made me laugh loudly both times) and the chase down the hill in Morocco (worth the price of admission alone), as well as one of the best sea battles ever committed to screen (better than anything in the Pirates of the Caribbean series). Perhaps this is what storytelling was like back then, for young boys – an act of patience with a rewarding conclusion.  Almost like building a grand model ship (“double decked, triple masted, fifty guns...”), the intended audience of the original stories had a greater patience for such pacing, unlike kids of today. 
So, while the film can be most certainly watched my kids, it’s not really for kids. The style and subject matter are for older audiences, those willing to appreciate things. Its major contribution here is its trade in nostalgia; it feels good to reminisce about times of innocence, whether it be the 1930s or our own childhood. 

Oh, and I fuckin love Snowy.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Ant Reviews: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call (2009)

Terry's path into depravity and debauchery began with a jump into murky Hurricane Katrina floodwaters. This selfish act to save a drowning man leaves Terry with a permanently bad back and an addiction to painkillers. A year later we join Terry in his downward spiral into oblivion. And this is where Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant truly begins.
Bad Lieutenant a compelling character study of a man who wavers between good cop and outright criminal as he struggles with the case of a massacred Senegalese immigrant family. His day to day struggles make fascinating viewing with both Herzog and Nicolas Cage creating a complex character of both unreserved honesty and desperate deceptiveness. Cage imbues his Terry with manic intensity, while applying breaks here and there to show subtle virtuousness in some small acts. Arm in arm we go with him, down into the depths. The long-faced craziness that many audiences have come to expect (and have derided him for) works in Cage’s favour; late-career Cage is exceptional in roles that suit him, like Lord Of War (2005) and not in fare like Ghost Rider (2007).
The supporting cast also give great performances. Eva Mendes takes the familiar and at times thankless role of the ‘hooker girlfriend’ and gives it some depth and gravitas. Val Kilmer is good in his small role despite his current place in the movie scene at the moment. I speak of course in regards to his straight to DVD work he’s been doing of late, in fact I’d caught another corrupt-cop-in-post-Katrina-New-Orleans film, it was called Streets of Blood (2009) and it was a mishmash of Training Day (2001) and Street Kings (2008) and it wasn’t very good. Bad Lieutenant was a straight to DVD film here in Australia, and if it weren’t for some slick direction from Herzog and some fine performances, you’d be fooled into thinking it actually was. It’s interesting to see Cage and Kilmer on screen, two contemporaries, and both are making b-movies though Cage is still getting his theatrical releases. In fact, this stands as my only real dislike of the film: the damn name of it. It makes me cringe to say it. The linking of this with an older, Abel Ferrara directed film, does the film no favours due to comparisons and fact that the name doesn't roll of the tongue particularly well. The straight-to-DVDness to the name of the film no doubt turned people of a fine film and a strong performance by Cage, which is a shame.
Another surprise is Jennifer Coolidge as Terry’s stepmother Genevieve. I’ve seen Coolidge play the same high-voiced ditz many times, from an episode of The Closer, to MadTV to American Pie (where it all started) and it was very pleasing to see her play an alcoholic who drinks in spite of her husband, who’s recovering from his addictions and going to AA meetings. In addition there are sleazy drug dealers, Brad Douriff being fantastic and this one customer of Mendes that’s outrageously and satisfyingly over the top as he is douchey. 

Herzog fills his film with a healthy dash of drug-fuelled weirdness. In particular there is an enduring lizard motif that pervades the film, from a club called the Gator’s Retreat (where Terry robs patrons for their drugs), to two singing iguanas to a brief and beautiful detour Herzog makes at one point with an alligator by a roadside crash. To aid this is the sporadic score, which wavers from quite pedestrian at times to all out inspired weirdness, sometimes in the same scene.
Ultimately the film is about right and wrong, about doing the right thing at the right time. Terry’s redemption and damnation coexist in small acts of kindness that reminds us that he’s still human, that there is a good man under the muck. These moments give Cage’s Terry enough complexity and depth, an also unpredictability, that we the audience follow him relentlessly. We relish in his hedonism and debauchery, we cheer at the honesty he displays in his outbursts, we’re warmed by his kindness. So much are we invested in Cage’s career-best performance that we want the best but fear the worst, and to Herzog’s unconventional, shameless and audacious credit, he gives us an ending we all secretly hoped we’d get but never dare expect.

My 10 Best Picks of 2011

I'd better get this out of the way before I start reviewing movies from 2012. I have one of those movie cards that gets you a free movie after a certain amount of time, the benefit of which is you can actually go to the site and see what you've watched. This is very handy. So in no particular order, I give you: the best of 2011

A movie I'll be reviewing again soon for the blog, I managed to see this on Boxing Day when it came out. Christmas was a bummer and I was in a bad mood, and this lifted that mood immensely. Great digital animation, fantastic acting (particularly from the wonderful Andy Serkis), great music, great direction, overall just great, old fashion storytelling at it’s best. Highly recommended. 

Pure entertainment. Though M:I:GP is a flawed film: the script is a times a bit muddled, the villain underdeveloped and difficult to recognise, it remains a great action thriller, bringing to mind for me the best of De Palma’s original 1996 effort, in the best way. Paula Patton was sexy, Simon Pegg was funny in a non-annoying way, and Jeremy Renner was great in his limited role (I’ll always love him. I’m still a fan of S.W.A.T. And he’ll always be my ‘Bad Boy Sheriff’). The Dubai stunt alone was worth the price of admission.
We all know Clooney is a very political man, and works privately for those beliefs in various charities and causes he supports. So I was expecting a dash of his personal politics in this film, though that wouldn’t have bothered me. What I got was a film that wasn’t so much political as it was about politics, and was satisfyingly brutal, adult and as cynical as it gets. No happy endings here, and I love it. 

This makes it in for the fact it defied my expectations so outrageously. It’s a Paul W.S. Anderson film, so I was thinking something as mindless as his Resident Evil films. Instead it’s a surprisingly charming action adventure, from what I’ve heard a fairly faithful recreation of the original story, save for the flying ships, which I loved. The best part of the whole film is the performance given by Freddie Fox, who’s King Louis is at first insufferably annoying but ultimately charming and altogether consistent. I hope to see more of him. Another surprise was Orlando Bloom, who was fantastically douchey as the Duke Of Buckingham. 
One of the best superhero movies ever, and stands shoulder to shoulder with X2, though First Class didn't handle the large cast as well as it did. Fassbender and McAvoy hand in great performances, and their screen time together should have been much, much longer. First Class proves that a superhero movie can have some heart and intelligence, and Fassbenders Magneto is one of the best superheroes in a movie ever, in terms of powers and character construction. It's great that the film portrays the traditional X-Villains, Magneto and Mystique, in a positive and a persuasive light, and Charles as an ivory tower, (implied) self-hating mutant. I didn't stop thinking about this movie for such a long time after I watched it, which is a big deal because not many superhero movies do that for me and I'm a comic book fan.
David Tennant David Tennant David Tennant. David Tennant explodes onto American movie screens with his arsehole of a Russell Brand impersonation, a Cris Angel-esque rock and roll magician. He rocked every scene he was in. Anton Yelchin remains one of my favourite young actors. Imogen Poots is very sexy, and i want to see more of her. I love anything Colin Farrell is in, and his menacing role as Jerry was a great, proving he can be good in standard blockbuster fair as well as the smaller stuff like In Bruges. The dialogue was great, the breaking-into-house scene in the middle act was appropriately dark and disturbing, and everything was appropriately hip, self aware and gory. Great popcorn fair.
Brendan Gleeson. In a buddy cop movie. With Don Cheadle. But its not a buddy cop movie. It’s very, very Irish. So much so that it’s written and directed by Martin McDonaghs brother John Michael. As an aspiring script writer and director, I found that the pre titles sequence is one of the best I’ve ever scene.

Andy Serkis made me forget that the rest of the cast (with the exception of John Lithgow (where have you been?)) weren't’ all that great, and that the whole thing ended on a bit of a dull, unsatisfying note, and that a credits sequence wasn’t enough. But the primates are the start of the show, and the film itself has a lot of heart and intelligence.
So J.J. Abrams made a movie in an old fashioned style, similar to producer Steven Spielberg’s 70s blockbusters like E.T. All I’ll say is that with a largely no-name cast and plenty of good characterization, people should make more movies like this.
Haunting, dark, beautiful, violent and very, very cool. I literally haven’t stopped thinking about this movie since I watched it, and am looking forward to seeing it again. Life changing (for me, anyway.)

From The Vault: Taken (2008) DVD

This is one of my favourite reviews. It reminded me of the work that Scott does over on Cinema de Merde: a review of a bad movie but with a closer look, to find something interesting under the morass. It had some interesting insights that I haven't really found in other reviews of the film. It's also one that made me laugh most. Again, I was young, so please take that into account.

  • Taken (2008)
This movie is crap. Let me say this first and foremost. Shitty performances and shitty dialogue, but I didn’t buy the DVD for that. I wanted balls-to-the-wall, bone crunching, back of the head shooting brutality. And that's what I got.

Taken was released ages ago here but is just getting screened (at a much lower rating and to lot's box office returns) in the US. IT tells the story of ex-CIA killer Bryan (Liam Neeson) trying to find his 17yrold daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, aged 26) in Paris after she is kidnapped by dirty, dirty Albanians who intend to sell off her virgin pussy into prostitution. Like most revenge films, it's all about how the system fails, is run by the corrupt, and only vigilantism is righteous.

My problems with the film? It takes 25 (!) minutes of padding bullshit before Kim starts to get into danger, but when the violence comes it's as brutal as it is righteous. Is Liam Neeson and American or an Irishman? His accent is the same for every film I’ve seen him in. I have no idea. And I’d want to sleep with Maggie Grace a whole lot more if she could act.

On reflection, the film contains elements of misogyny. That boring first 25mins? To prove how protective Bryan is for his daughter, and also to prove how his over protectiveness, constant warnings and worrying (he wants to know where she is 24/7 and where she's going, he wants to be called all the time), in contrast with Kim's teen rebelliousness/recklessness and her mother's "leaver her alone, she's only 17" attitude, lead to Kim's abduction. The wife, who couldn’t stand him being away all the time in his life as a spy (read: the 'I have needs but you weren’t there' woman) left him for a rich, but ultimately physically powerless man. So she married up, basically. Kim’s slutty friend makes all these horrible mistakes and lines them up for abduction because she was looking to 'party'. At the core of all this is Bryan, the Man, who was right all along, whereas the women (the daughter (though cautious at times) the mother and Kim's slutty friend) were wrong and it's almost like they deserved what they got.

This idea of 'getting what they deserve' got me thinking of sex and virginity, of sluttyness and celibacy in the film. Kim is travelling with a (seemingly) promiscuous older party girl, who tells her that she should loose her virginity in Paris, and that she 'has to loose it sometime' (as opposed to 'lose it with the right person, at the right time'), which makes Kim a little nervous. Her friend wants to sleep with a handsome Frenchman who they just met (and is a bad guy). Now, I’ve explained to you that some films have this subtext that girls who are slutty or just like sex are the ones who get butchered (eg. Gemma Arteron in Quatum of Solace) and the virginial girls survive. (Where I learnt about this kind of this I got from here. I had sent my friend the link. Thanks again Scott, you’re a big inspiration) It happens in horror movies; the girls who like sex die while the cautious virgin lives till the credits. The same can be said of this movie. What happens to the slutty friend? Neeson finds her tied to a bed, presumably raped several times and OD'd on heroin. His daughter? Sold to the highest bidder in this hooker auction because she's "100% pure", placing her in a position to be rescued, her virginity safe until the last minute.

So in this film, it's not revenge that makes Neeson murder half the Albanian population in Paris, nor does it make him shoot an innocent woman in the arm to force her husband to do stuff (AWESOME), or shoot a guy to death in an elevator, leaving his body to be discovered by party guests (AWESOME) or to stab the shit out of a guy with his own sick looking knife (AWESOME). No. On the surface this film is about his quest is to save his daughter from drug addled prostitution and damnation in seedy, dark Europe. But it can also be seen in a more direct and creepy way. See, after he rescues her from a dirty, affluent Arab who bought her (he shoots him mid sentence just as he says 'we can negotiate: AWESOME), it seems that the Arab stereotype paid that amount to pop her cherry and thus, with his death, her life, and her virginity are preserved. There is also a subplot where Neeson wants to give his daughter a karaoke machine for her birthday, but is scorned by his ex. She’s into horse-riding now, see, not a singer like she was when she was a child and when he still had custody. After the abuse in Europe he takes her home and gives her singing lessons with a pop star he was body guarding (Holly Valance), thus completing the circle: Daddy preserves his Daughter as his ‘little girl’, ensuring his daughter remains a sexless adult, unchanged by puberty and time.

FILM: Bullshit aside, I didn’t watch this for any other reason but to see people violently meet there end, with satisfying righteous violence. On that front it delivered. ***stars
EXTRAS: None 0stars