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Workable action film, which burns its way to some involving content involving characters we like and social commentary
5 January 2018
What I admired most about "The Hunger Games" was how it managed to resist the temptation to leap into the second unit material straight away - a misstep so many films of this genre, especially those geared towards the same demographics as this one is, have done so. Instead, "The Hunger Games" earns the right to 'go there', so to speak - taking its time to establish character and situation. What I also appreciated was its subtext to do with violence and entertainment; de-sensitisation and trivialisation, and more broadly how governments are able to utilise such things to control populations.

Jennifer Lawrence plays the rather conspicuously named Katniss Everdeen, a young woman living somewhere in a North America which has gone to the dogs through war and now suffers life under a totalitarian regime in the far-future. Where she lives, the equally conspicuously named Panem, possesses in its constitution a highly questionable law which dictates that, every year, one male and one female between the ages of 12 and 19 from each of the country's dozen or so districts must face off to the bloody death in a large gamezone carved out of the forests in what are the eponymous 'hunger games'.

The reasons for this brutal regulation pertain to the dictatorial government wanting to keep up the traditions of honour and willpower synonymous with its national identity, but these days everybody largely agrees it is down to the sheer fact that said contest makes for damn good television. Questions pertaining to how old the nation is and what they did before television was invented are not answered...

As a character, Everdeen is nobody special - nobody in Panem is, because the grip the rulers have on the country keeps anybody from broadening out too far into becoming anything at all. She maintains her friendships; lives in her rudimentary village; takes care of her younger sister and spends enough time fooling around with a bow and arrow to become a bit of a crack-shot. Will the skill come to benefit her later on in the tale?

Disaster strikes when, through reasons I will leave unspoilt, Everdeen winds up appearing in the yearly contest having been selected as the female to represent her district. This plunges Lawrence's character into a whole new world of colour; energy and fame, not to mention life-threatening danger on account of having to do battle with a motley group of compatriots from the other districts which range from robust, muscular black males on the very brink of being too old to compete to mousey younger girls too young to possess any real clue as to what is even happening.

"The Hunger Games" is not an especially exhilarating character piece, but it does do the basics required of both the action and horror (and, in part, romance) genres especially well. The film is an energetic post-modern fusion of all sorts of things ranging from "Predator" to "TRON" by way of the 2000 Japanese film, to which it seems to owe its greatest debt, "Battle Royale".

It allows its premise and the sheer scope afforded to it in terms of whatever content it might possess to make a scathing attack on modern American (even Western) free-market consumer entertainment. This is unsubtly presented to us for the first time quite early on when one character quips about the contest that "...if no one watched (on TV), they (the government) wouldn't do it", eventually becoming a film depicting a society with a violent, deranged spectacle at the very core of its identity.

Indeed, while nothing in the world (that we know of) can quite match the barbarity of what Gary Ross' film depicts here, we should be aware by now that WWE is adored by millions; heavyweight championship boxing matches can make billionaires out of its participants in one evening and that some of the highest grossing films of all time are action (or violence) packed blockbusters.

This begs the question: how do WE - the film-going audience - react to the violent action when it finally starts? Are we entertained? Do we fall into the trap of rooting for a character because we want them to succeed? Is it not too often the case that the target audience for the film roll from multiplex screening to multiplex screening absorbing the latest actioner?

By the time the "Games" themselves have begun, the film has earned the right to take us to where we go. To complain that they are episodic, and that the set-pieces & killings might happen in any order, seems silly, but the best action films have always had a sense of grace and timing to their second unit sequences as events unfold around their characters: "Terminator2" and "Jurassic Park" might be two good examples from recent history.

The screenplay possesses very little of any terrific profundity, while the lead's taking in under her wing of a fellow female contestant far too young to survive on her own merely proves what we already knew: she is a good older sister - a more affecting arc may have been to establish her earlier as a bully to her sibling and have her return much kinder. Irrespective, there is enough in "The Hunger Games" to get stuck into and enjoy.
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Etz Limon (2008)
Smart and engaging drama which moves around its subject matter, not to mention wider political isues, with ease
1 January 2018
"Lemon Tree" is not a particularly political film, but its roots lie in a deeply divisive and inherently political issue. Its overall attitude to the seemingly perpetual conflict between Jews and Arabs on the Sinai Peninsula seems to be to poke fun at it, even point out the absurd nature of it and the ridiculous conclusions people involved in it reach - such as the rather far-fetched belief that a small orchard might be used as the means for an armed assault on a premises housing someone important. Its second of two agendas is to remark that, ultimately, the conflict is one being fought between two sets of human-beings, all of whom are flesh and blood and as flawed in their thinking and attitudes as the rest of us.

It does not seem coincidental that the film's opening shot is that of a large knife dividing into two halves a lemon, for here is a film about a problem to do with binaries; segments and redistribution. Cutting the lemon is Hiam Abbass' middle-aged Arabian woman Salma Zidane, somebody who is living in the West Bank and runs an orchard housing the eponymous lemon trees which has been in her family for decades. She grew up tending the trees with her father, but with him deceased and her children off and away studying in America, she relies on the elderly Abu Hussam (Tarik Copti) to help her harvest and maintain the plot. On the other side of the orchard is, quite literally, the nation of Israel.

From nowhere, the very real situation that has engulfed her geographical area since the forging of a Jewish state in Western Asia lands directly on her doorstep: none other than the Israeli Defence Minister, played by Doron Tavory, moves into the villa on the plot immediately next door to her land. In a flash, lookout towers go up; fences are erected and guards armed to the teeth patrol the perimeter. Director Eran Riklis utilises here the harsh juxtaposition of the harmless, aging fruit pickers of Salma and Abu going about their business with the extreme militarism of the new neighbours for what I assume to be comedic effect - the statement is subtle, but effective, in what is a difficult situation to get across a political point without appearing reactionary.

To Abu and Salma's horror, the Minister's paranoia about being exposed to some sort of attack by Israel's enemies extends so far that he places an executive order to have the orchard torn down... His reckoning being that the collection of trees might act as fantastic cover for a group of soldiers or militants to surprise the Israeli during some kind of siege of the villa. Not content to take this as it stands, Salma decides to drag the decision through the judicial system - stopping at nothing to keep her lemon trees.

From here, one is able to reach a glut of conclusions about the film and enjoy it in a variety of different ways. The most basic of readings is to enjoy it as little more than a procedural legal thriller, where somebody of some power has done something which victimises somebody else and that said victim must fight their way through the courts for an unlikely victory. This in itself brings about an array of problems, issues no less pertaining to legal costs; mind numbing levels of mostly unresponsive bureaucracy on the judiciaries' end and the sheer emotional toil. "Lemon Tree" reminded me, in this respect, of an old Senegalese film you will not have seen entitled "Certificate of Indigence", where a woman largely on her own wades through the system to seemingly obtain a basic right to even be acknowledged.

Alternatively, the film is a love story: the lawyer Salma hires, Ziad (Ali Suliman), to work with her throughout the case eventually comes to fall in love with her - the fact he is already married complicates matters further. "Lemon Tree" might also be read into as a feminist piece - a mousy, and otherwise defenceless, woman seeks a victory over a patriarchal figure. Lastly, it might be 'enjoyed' as either pro-Palestinian - where the Israelis are bullies and the Arabs victims - or inherently Zionist, where the last bastion of the homeland of the Jewish people's minister for defending that land is merely taking the rightful precaution for his survival. Does he not have a point about the orchard in the first place?

Director Eran Riklis, who is Israeli born, manages to find a film-making 'place' which depicts Israelis as both shallow reactionaries and bullies, but also, in the form of the Minister's wife, sympathisers of the poor Arab woman next door who is about to lose her beloved trees. Scenes involving the two often humanise them, meaning the Jews' role in the film is not to fulfil the role of the stock Zionist oppressor/villain. An Arab, for sure, is the victim in the film, but we are somehow able to sympathise with Salma in her plight without being anti-Semites - her lawyer, the aforementioned Ziad is presented as a deviant in one respect as he would quite easily have gone behind his existing wife's back had Salma not rejected his advances. However one views "Lemon Tree", one ought to be able to enjoy it.
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Bangkok's Dangerous for our Vegas 'wolfpack', as the same film is churned out again - louder; nastier and abroad.
23 December 2017
It must surely be the case that "The Hangover 2" is the moment people come to realise their folly in liking the first film, and thus come to review their opinions on it. Indeed, how can one realistically claim to enjoy the initial 2009 effort, about the hijinks of three American men lost and confused in the city of Las Vegas, without proclaiming the superiority of this one too? It may, of course, be the case that you claim to like both, but this is surely mere self-delusion as this second effort is patently not good - it is about as ordinary as the first one, no better or worse - a series of chaotic sequences involving connected men in an alien locale which doesn't happen to have the raw punch of the first because neither the jokes nor the scenarios are fresh.

Within the first hour, one can practically hear the voices of the producers and writers which radiated out of the well-groomed office suites of a large Los Angeles building bathed in 27 degrees of sunshine - people knocking around ideas for the sequel to the wildly successful and perhaps genuinely funny in two or three places comedy "The Hangover". Let's not mince our words: the second film exists because of the financial success of the first, nothing else.

The film is, more or less, a rehash of the initial outing: the location has changed to Thailand, offering the dynamic of a language barrier for our leads to struggle through, and another character has joined the troupe in the form of the young; Asian and gifted Teddy (Mason Lee), but the formula is not one that has been strayed from especially greatly.

As was the case with the first film, I did not believe for one second that the parties involved would know one another; care for one another or have anything to do with one another in the real world: Phil (Bradley Cooper), a primary school teacher who steals his pupils' money in the first film, here attempts to swipe a prescription sheet for some narcotics which will take you to a happy place whilst at the dentist. Ha ha. Said dentist is Stuart (Ed Helms), who is the series' lateral thinker and musician. Completing the foursome is Doug (Justin Bartha), whom I spent most of the first film wondering how he would know these people, and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) - Doug's somewhat retarded in-law.

It is Stuart's wedding in Thailand that propels the gang off and away for their latest escapade, one which will eventually see them (minus Doug, whose presence in the franchise may now very well be redundant) charge around the noisy, squalid streets of Bangkok and its surrounding suburbs looking for soon-to-be brother in law Teddy. Todd Phillips and his creative crew tweak the 'winning' formula only very slightly, this time forcing the crew into their misadventure after they each agree to have a quiet drink on the beach rather than a boisterous night out. Things do not go entirely to plan, and someone from the original gang of course is missing when the time comes to wake up in a mysterious hotel room: Stuart does not lose a tooth, but instead obtains a tattoo; there is no tiger in the suite, but instead they have acquired a monkey; the groom is fine, but his father-in-law's pride and joy has disappeared without a trace...

This propels Stuart; Alan and Phil into action, but the writing is generally lazy: Thai stereotypes, such as the monastery dwelling Buddhist monk on a vow of silence and the ladyboy whore, pepper the experience, while the film has to resort to using a monkey to boost its chuckle count. Monkeys are funny, aren't they?.

If the writing is lazy, the adventure itself is mostly unspectacular: whether it was the regurgitation of old jokes or something else, very little of "The Hangover 2" is actually that funny, but then it struck me that perhaps it isn't supposed to be.... There is a strange air to the film, almost as if the predicament this time round is something to endure rather than have fun experiencing. The gang's hammering around Las Vegas and the surrounding Nevada desert carried with it a fun, punchy feeling - it was a process they sensed they'd survive, if only they could piece together the clues.... In Bangkok, the 'wolfpack' have strayed too far from home and the film plays more like an odd action/horror hybrid as the gang bear seedy backstreets; psychotic Russian cartels and friends' severed fingers...

Where Doug's fiancée was afforded the opportunity to spit fire at the crew's losing the love of her life in the 2009 effort, tremendous strain is undertaken to prevent Teddy's father from ever knowing that they placed this clean-cut young man in the way of any kind of harm. Despite not necessarily having anything 'wrong' with him, it had already been established that Stuart is disliked profusely by his future father in-law - the vanishing of Teddy under his watch risks enraging him even further, potentially scuppering the wedding entirely. But without Teddy's father ever discovering he was first lost, and then retrieved, nothing is learnt and the entire arc of his coming to accept Stuart as an in-law himself is rendered totally redundant.

"The Hangover", not to mention this sequel, are films which most people seem to really enjoy - I think most critics seemed to realise they were had the first time round when the time came to see this second film, hence the backlash which seems to have been born out of their own frustration with themselves for not getting the review right first time round. I'd like to be able to enjoy it all with everybody else, but I just find myself unable to get involved with any of it. You could do a lot worse than this and its slightly older brother, but you could probably do better.
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Grand Central (2013)
This love story is too patchy to really fall in love with, but it's not made without a certain flair.
9 December 2017
"Grand Central" is about people so poor, so hard-up, that when they have their wallets pinched from them aboard trains, the thieves look on in anguish at the fact said wallets are completely devoid of all currency. There is not a sausage – not even a few coins. It is also about men – men who don't have very much, but get by; who are not educated, but do an important job; who are loath to give away what precious few things they already have. Lastly, the film is somewhat of a romance and is a study of the lengths people go for those whom they love.

There is a quite brilliant character drama swimming around in "Grand Central" somewhere, where each and every perfectly timed revelation induces its own tragic result and nuanced spark, but I could not find it. Once you have recalled Ken Loach's 2001 film "The Navigators", which, like "Grand Central", is about working class men just about getting by in their demanding jobs on top of whatever else life throws at them outside of the workplace, it is very difficult to remove it again and "Grand Central" film suffers as a result of this.

The film's lead is Gary (Tahar Rahim), a young Frenchman from Lyon who flits from job to job with very few qualifications but a lot of energy and heaps of enthusiasm to work. He likes bars; beer and pool, and fits into blue-collar society very easily. He has never been in love; struggles for money and maintains a very fragile relationship with his extended family of in-laws and blood relations.

Life has been fairly anonymous for Gary until this latest escapade lands him a work placement at a nuclear power plant in a rural stretch on the fringes of a small town. With one thing leading to another and the elements conspiring against him, he settles down in a small gypsy camp with a family of people – one of whom, Toni (Denis Menochet), he knows through work at said plant : he is Gary's supervisor. Toni's wife is the promiscuous Karol (Léa Seydoux), who is around Gary's age and whose presence eventually complicates things.

Writer/Director Rebecca Zlotowski seems to take her raw cue from John Steinbeck's novel "Of Mice and Men". This is most certainly a text about people at the lower end of a capitalist society just about getting by with tough, honest work under burdensome conditions having ambled around the country and suddenly stumbled into employment. The intimacy of the living quarters are quite striking: Californian bunks are swapped for old caravans that do not feel as if they have moved in decades.

It is to Zlotowski's credit that she captures the world of where this film takes place remarkably well: the power station acts as this huge, God-like presence which looms in the background and dominates the skyline. Its warning alarms, sounded weekly for purposes of testing, echo around the hills; fields and riversides, reminding us all of its presence and of its inescapable nature. Its interior is shot intimately and intensely – a space where macho, uncouth blue-collar guys must radically change gears and drop their exterior personas in order to survive in their becoming very calm; intricate and careful in the doing of their job.

Rebecca Zlotowski strikes me, from what I saw in "Grand Central", as somebody able to make a film without necessarily being able to tell a story or really bring characters to life off a written page. She has, without question, an eye for imagery and atmosphere – when the film takes you into the plant for the first time, there is an incredible sense of claustrophobia and danger. You sense real harm could leap at you from nowhere and there is a real fear for the characters' safety.

Otherwise, the film is peppered with individual moments of what are otherwise moments of silence or contemplation which are quite striking: the manner about which the camera loiters in the train carriage during the opening scene, affording the lead a glimpse at the looming nuclear station as he heads into town; the way Gary, with friends we sense he has never had, hares down an isolated county road in a convertible sports car on a day off with two others – techno music blaring out of the stereo.

What is lacking is the material that makes up the film's narrative, which is essentially straight out of a daytime television serial. The relationship at the core of the film, that of Gary's with Karole, and how that might put strain on an existing friendship Gary already has, is derivative and does not move us. We have seen this plot before in something else. We have accidentally read about how it will rock the town; village or suburb of our nations' favourite soap opera within the next few weeks inside cheap television magazines or guides.

While "Grand Central" unquestionably suffers from these things, on top of the fact its characters are, when scrutinised, remarkably one-dimensional, it just about manages to stand up on the strength of its imagery and how its director manages to capture the world around whom it is depicting. Its central theme, that love knows no bounds and tremendous lengths are often gone for those close to another, even if that means death by radiation, is worthy.
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East Is East (1999)
Much to immerse one's self in, as contrasting faiths; outlooks and identities clash in working class England, but this doesn't quite have the punch needed.
9 December 2017
When the first Muslims from the colonies arrived in Britain in the 1950's, nobody really paid them much attention for the simple reason nobody really thought there needed be any. Islam was practically Christianity anyway, wasn't it? It was patriarchal; inherently conservative (if not more conservative); took a firm position on things such as the death penalty and had a rigorous idea of what constituted good sexual conduct. Many Muslims, suddenly finding themselves in a free and open democratic rather than a despotic Islamic one, left Islam altogether and became Christians anyway.

By the 1970's, things had become more complicated - a series of radical reforms by Labour governments in the 1960's had changed Britain from being a country built on restraint, and into something else. Suddenly, things are more liberal - attitudes to a range of things from God to sex to the Empire are reset, and default positions take a staggering shift. To varying extents, Muslim people become outcasts - the fundamentals of their religion clash with the pervasive mood of the times, although the alternatives offering themselves to said mood do not seem to be on the side of ethnic minorities in the first place...

"East is East" is a film from the mind of Ayub Khan-Din - somebody who seems to have been on the front-line of a lot of what transpired during this period - and covers both a family's inner-turmoils on top of a society's desperate staggering around for identity and meaning, as a series of violent dynamics are forced to fuse with one another. It is often a very funny film, but one finds difficulty in recommending it as a comedy; its grounded, even touching, coming-of-age narrative is too often undermined by a very distinctive post-1980's canon of crude American films for it to be a total success.

In a small house in early 1970's northern England, an Islamic inter-racial marriage between Ella (Linda Bassett) and George (Om Puri) has produced a large family of boys and girls who, at this period in time, are more interested in chasing after girls; sneaking out to nightclubs; hiding from the bus that takes them to Koran school and refuting the veil than anything intrinsically "Islamic". Having triumphed in the 1970 election, Edward Heath occupies 10 Downing Street, but the 'conservative' triumph is a false-dawn - his party triumphs DESPITE Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech of two years prior, not BECAUSE of it. The worries expressed by a certain Wolverhampton constituent of Powell's, which induced the speech, are not acted upon.

The simmering non-white backlash the family seemingly live in constant fear of does not erupt in any especially manic, dangerous way - the kids in the family are far more frightened of their own father and what he might do to take their lifestyles away from them than anything else. Indeed, it is George himself who is guilty of one of the more nationalistic (or even bigoted) moments in the film when he proclaims his hatred of Indians following the patrician of Bangladesh thousands of miles away. In one of the more bizarre scenes perfectly capturing the ridiculousness of the situation England faced at the time, as numerous political and religious elements clash with one another, Enoch Powell's presence on a television screen speaking about immigration lends George's children hope that, with Powell's party in power, George himself may even be repatriated. Would the children have gone so far as to vote for John Tyndall's National Front party (who argued for the total repatriation of ALL non-whites) at such times of desperation had they been given the chance?.

What holds "East is East" back from being a roaring success is, I suppose, the fact it thinks it ought to be more mainstream & accessible than it needs to be. The film feels too far removed from a really grounded, even disturbing, sense of realism you might find in a "La Haine" or anything coming out of post-Second World War Italy. The inflections of a classic, British kitchen-sink drama are certainly there, but they are undermined too often by a joke about circumcision or a gag on certain bodily functions which take you right out of the picture. It is all too often that Damien O'Donnell's film plays like a cross between "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning" and "American Pie", but with Asians. This may have been different if Khan-Din had decided to take the directorial reigns himself.

In its rummaging around for some sort of direction, "East is East" settles on an arranged marriage to propel it through to its final act - something which results from its unfortunate inability to decide whether it is going down the road of accessible generic causality or something grittier. It had already been established as to how an estranged son of the family, who must be awkwardly telephoned from the veiled sanctuary of a phone booth away from the house by the rest of the family, conflicted with George over a preordained marriage agreement, so when the time comes for our rebellious leads to go through the process, we expect sparks to fly.

And sparks do fly, in what is an often engrossing film about a strange time in contemporary British history, where nobody really knew all of the time who they were; where they belonged; where they were going; with whom they belonged and whose side they should back. There is more to recommend in "East is East" than dismiss, but one cannot do so without some reservations.
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Oscar (1991)
Scattered and unfocused, this disorganised farce about a million things at once does not work at all.
9 December 2017
I think Ken Hanke's remark, when writing in North Carolina's "Mountain Xpress" newspaper, that 1991 film "Oscar" is a "bad idea badly executed" cuts closest to what I thought of this John Landis comedy than any other remark. Indeed, you cannot fault its ambition, and the film is not without the odd laugh, but I think there is a very real and very cutting reason Sylvester Stallone is not an actor especially synonymous with comedy and this film is it.

There is a branch of film theory which looks at the careers of people such as Stallone and, to a greater extent, Arnold Schwarzenegger in a post-Cold War world; namely, that without an enemy, in the form of the Soviet Union, for the American film industry to flex its muscles toward in the form of a "Rambo" series, big-money action stars such as the aforementioned Stallone and Schwarzenegger are redundant in the same way a vast arsenal of weaponry capable of untold destruction might be.

With Reagan out of the White House (and the more effeminate, 'catch-all' William Clinton in), and with the American nation lacking in an ideological enemy, it is no wonder that films such as "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!"; "Junior" and, indeed, "Oscar" became more prominent in the output of either of these actors. Actioners were still made, but the leads in these films suddenly seemed vulnerable – the protagonists in "Eraser" and "Cliffhanger" were no longer really the gun-toting action heroes they would have been a decade earlier. Counter-arguments might be made with regards to "Judge Dread" and "Demolition Man".

As for "Oscar", it is tough to think that the film is anything else other than close to terrible. It becomes too carried away by its own premise, and even begins to come across as quite arrogant in its thinking that we will embrace the approach to its material – that of a frenetic series of events which causes numerous comedic comings-and-goings. Meanwhile, one grows weary of being cooped up in the lead character's huge Chicago mansion, and begins to long for some sort of adventure or characterisation set outside of it. By the final reel, John Landis is relying on the spectacle of Sylvester Stallone emptying out onto a desk a handbag of lady's underwear to induce a laugh. Needless to say, it doesn't arrive.

In early 1930's prohibition America, Stallone is Angelo Provolone – an Italian-American gangster at the peak of his powers in protection and liquor racketeering. His tale unfolds over a single day one month on from his father's death and on the brink of a major investment deal with a local bank whereby Stallone's outfit will leave the criminal underworld and go 'straight'. There are amusing references, amusing for the fact they are eerily topical 25 years on, as to just how 'straight' Angelo's outfit will be now that he is wrapped up in the banking industry. His reason for doing this was brought on by his father who, on his death-bed, emphasised how Stallone's actions as a mobster brought shame on the Provolone family name. Thus, Angelo seeks to do his father proud in hindsight of this revelation and become law-abiding.

But the film is far from the touching, soul-shattering tale of redemption it ought to have been as a son strives to fulfil a dying wish. Surely the respectable thing would have been to begin again from the bottom of a different career ladder and work one's way up.

"Oscar" essentially comes to form a series of comedic interludes set in one very large house which revolve around far too many different characters wanting very different things and a spate of mix ups involving a set of people you might get if you chemically hybridised "Goodfellas" with "Bugsy Malone". One of these mock-ups is the character played by Vincent Spano, who does a wonderful job in portraying both the innocence and ruthlessness of Provolone's shrewd bookkeeper Anthony – he is in love with someone more connected to the Provolones than first appears. Meanwhile, the more we get of Angelo's bored and frustrated daughter Lisa (Marisa Tomei), the more we want the film to be about her tribulations of staring down a Mafioso dad and an arranged marriage.

Landis doesn't capture the right tone. Kids might find the spectacle of Stallone standing in an office pointing a chicken drumstick at somebody having first thought it a gun to be amusing, but the adults are unmoved; meanwhile, nobody under the age of 25 will understand why the fact Lisa is reading "Lady Chatterley's Lover" is so important to who she is and where she wants to be when the films introduces her for the very first time. For younger viewers, the repetitiveness of the film's setting; tone and material might become tiresome, while for the adults there just isn't enough meat on the bone to get stuck into to begin with.

Otherwise, the film is actually fairly boring all things considered. It is a long time since I have been genuinely bored with a film like I was with "Oscar". Stallone's character's quest to leave behind the criminal underworld - ditching, in the process, all use of gangster slang his bodyguards might use and resorting to intimidation to make a point - becomes hopelessly lost amidst a slew of supporting acts coming; going; leaving and returning for a variety of inane reasons and that real sense of mind-numbing claustrophobia as the mansion they'll all occupying seems to close in on us. It would be impossible to recommend "Oscar".
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The Hangover (2009)
Loud; chaotic and only periodically funny, "The Hangover" bets big but cannot cash out.
11 August 2017
Do not expect to see anything 'new' in "The Hangover", which is played for good, old-fashioned bawdy belly laughs. It has no real plot, although is very easy to pitch; possesses very little in the way of characterisation, although lots of people are frequently coming and going from the frame, and on top of everything else, does not seem to have a single thing to say on any particular issue whatsoever. We have already experienced quite a lot of what transpires here in an "American Pie" film, or some such other contemporary comedy about adults who should know better. Cameos by famous boxers and maybe a liberal use of various pop songs aside, there is very little actually going on.

Justin Bartha plays Doug, who is about to be married to Tracy (Barrese), in what promises to be a lavish Californian wedding between two people very much in love. In the opening scene, Doug and his brother-in-law to-be Alan (Galifianakis) are sizing up their wedding day apparel: Doug is shaven, handsome, has a good build and looks smart – he's worn suits in the past and he'll wear them again. Alan, by comparison, is flabby; unshaven and childlike – we do not sense he has ever worn a suit in his life, nor that he has ever had many friends.

Ahead of these two men, and before the wedding, is a trip to the Nevada city of Las Vegas, which they are lining up with two more of Doug's friends so as to provide the husband-to-be with a final night of bachelor driven fun and frolics. Of these two men, one is Bradley Cooper's Phil, whom we do not believe for one second is a teacher, while the other is Stuart (Helms), whom we do believe is a dentist and might possess a nice house in a good part of town with a sensible girlfriend who espouses conservative views on gambling and prostitution.

Discounting Alan, who is now family and present by default, we are unconvinced that each of these three men would really meet one another in life and hit it off to the extent they would entrust one another on a booze-cruise to Vegas. The film is not especially interested in who any of these people really are or what they think, just that Phil is very bohemian and aggressive; Stu is ultra-defensive due to a white-lie he has told his partner about going in the first place; Doug seems to be a kind of 'glue' which keeps everything from falling apart and that Alan is a little retarded.

Once in Las Vegas, the night out gives way to a morning after characterised by a wrecked hotel room and a total lack of memory of what happened. The major problem is that Doug did not wake up in the hotel suite with them. Consumed with panic, the three take to the daytime streets of Vegas on whatever meagre clues they have as they frantically try to piece together just what it was they did last night.

The set up allows the film to 'drop' various things on us which we might not otherwise find funny, such as a police car matching their valet ticket; two gangsters popping out of nowhere with baseball bats ready to do serious damage and a nude gentleman jumping out of a car boot. Other films would need to depict why these things are as they are, and would thus lose a lot of impact.

"The Hangover" is not without one or two genuine laughs, with the very sudden homage to "Rain Man" being one of them and a very amusing scene of confusion whereby an exchange with some unruly gangsters returns the 'wrong' Doug. Yet the overriding item permeating throughout is the strange sense of disassociation we feel as Phil; Alan and Stuart charge around various hotspots looking for the groom while essentially trying to save their own skins from various wives and in-laws finding out: Do we care if they find Doug, or that he gets to the wedding? Who is anybody in this film anyway? Why does any of this even matter in the first place?

Prior to their losing him, care is taken to set up a series of items which exist to then later be knocked down: Stuart's girlfriend, Melissa, hates Las Vegas and thinks he's gone to a winery; the gang's mode of transportation is an antique silver Mercedes lent to Doug by his fiancé's father, while Stuart's ring belonged to his grandmother, who survived Hitler's Final Solution. Are we surprised, or even amused, when any of these delicately poised things become tarnished or threatened by the chaos which begins to unfold around our leads?

The Hangover's director is Todd Phillips, who wrote 2006's "Borat" and before that directed "Road Trip". He later made "Due Date" in 2010, and "The Hangover" very much falls into line with that 'Phillips-ian' road movie-comedy-perpetual chaos 'aesthetic' which he seems to enjoy penning and making. "Borat" was often very funny because of the outlandishness of the central character and what he had to say to real people in real situations. "Road Trip" was about someone who had to learn to appreciate what he had, while "Due Date" depicted somebody learning to accept those different to him.

"The Hangover" isn't really about anything or anyone. Its opening montage of Vegas set to the gloomy tones of Bill Withers, followed by a shot of the four roadside and looking pretty desperate, seem to set something up on the nature of Vegas, but by the end the consensus seems to be that it's a pretty darned great place to go and that pole dancers make for better wives than conservatives. Once it's finished, we have seen a series of moderately unfunny scenes of no real order or coherence; have laughed maybe twice and been offended at least once. Skipping this particular Hangover is advisable.
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Imperium (2016)
Though far from impervious, Imperium is about able to pack a white-power punch.
29 July 2017
Politics in the United States of America beyond the right of the Republican Party is a fairly murky pool – it seems you do not have to journey too far for too long before you at least arrive at a very basic form of fascism. "Imperium" is a film which dares to depict these circles – the ones you end up venturing into when you plough through the barriers of what might constitute plain-old-regular conservatism: when you've passed the place on the spectrum occupied by people possessing an allergy to abortion; a love of the Christian God and a good rifle collection and arrived at straw swastikas; Confederate flags; Nazi salutes and One World Government conspiracy theories.

I think this is ultimately down to the fact there is no such thing as American 'nationalism', so one does not need to go too far beyond the constraints of standard Roman Catholic/Christian/Mormon inflected right-of-centre conservatism (epitomised, perhaps, by George W. Bush or Mitt Romney in America in recent years) before one hits the brick wall of out-and-out hatred. This derives from two things: America, unlike European and Asian nations, lacks a physical national identity - an accepted national dress code; a national cuisine; a common language or religion. It opts, instead, for metaphysical things to determine its identity - things such as a love of freedom or faith in democracy. The point being that one can be of any racial denomination and from anywhere to share these beliefs.

Secondly, the USA never had to stare down the armies of Hitler in the way Britain did, nor suffer occupation like the French; the Dutch and everyone else had to. Because there was no direct Nazi threat to them in the 1940's, Americans appear less sceptical to picking up the torch of Hitler's ideology and running with when compared to Europeans. There are plenty of European politicians and parties who are accused of doing this, but a moment's thought should figure out that they often are not actually those types of people.

As for the film itself, "Imperium" is a perfectly workable thriller, which cracks along at a satisfying pace and never over-complicates what it's trying to do so much that you become lost in a maze-like narrative. It is fairly televisual and plays out its dynamic of 'cops' vs. 'racists' in a standard heroes and villains manner.

It is English actor Daniel Radcliffe, who is actually part Jewish and is on record as to having supported the British Labour Party, playing Nate Foster who leads the film - an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As a character, Foster appears shorter than the other agents in the bureau and a little geekier – he's bespectacled and listens to classical music. When he is given his brief in a local diner by the perpetually gum-chewing Agent Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette), he appears to have ordered a glass of wine rather than the standard beer or whisky. He is picked on at work and scorned for his "pipsqueak, ivy league" intellectualism. The film's overall arc in many ways is about Foster winning their respect.

Zamparo's said brief is the suggestion that Foster go undercover in order to infiltrate a skinhead gang with ties to wider neo-fascist movements – this is in the wake of the bureau discovering chemicals frequently used in terrorist attacks that could only have come from Africa in a recent road-traffic accident. You can, meanwhile, literally hear the clunking as there is the suggestion the chemicals might not have anything to do with an Islamic Terror cell, but a White Supremacist one. An amusing aside derives from Foster's way into the group: a fake story based on serving in Iraq and becoming inherently disillusioned with the direction America is going. This is despite the fact it not being very long prior to this that Johnny Rebel was singing "F... You" to Osama bin Laden in the wake of 9/11 and banging the drum for war in the Middle East while he did it.

It is to Daniel Ragussis' credit that he spins out a thriller as engaging as "Imperium" is, although it is not without its problems. The film is spearheaded not by any fantastic narrative or character study, but by a Daniel Radcliffe performance which demands credible fascist world outlooks on some occasions; inflexible fear on others and sheer terror at the worst of times as suspicions arise around him. Both actor and director combine well to convey the numerous dread-infused situations whereby Foster's otherwise liberal individual is forced to confront people most certainly not of his political persuasion under the pretence of solidarity. Similarly, the decision to unfold the film in such a way so that tremendous harm appears in the least likely of moments and vice-versa is incredibly satisfying. In spite of everything flimsy about the film, "Imperium" is worth catching up with.
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Gravity (2013)
Trite and overrated, although not totally lacking merit - Gravity is ultimately disappointing.
29 July 2017
I think "Gravity" must be the first ever instance of a screensaver being re-calibrated and re-packaged as a cinematic experience. It's all well and good demonstrating what the latest and greatest in special effects is capable of, but of what use is it without a scrap of substance to back it up? Rebellious though it may sound, films such as "Gravity" are neither enhancing nor prolonging cinema, in fact they are killing it and if there is a genuine zeitgeist amongst audiences that this is the future then cinema has very little future to look forward to.

"Gravity" opens with a blank screen followed by a series of ultimately pointless statistics pertaining to the nature of the space vacuum. Its temperatures, we're told, "…fluctuate between minus 148 and positive 258". "Sound…" it says "…is unable travel" So what? To what is this any reference? Where is this relevant later on? We then begin with a startling composition of the lower hemisphere of Earth from outer space - our eyes are distracted by the land mass to the left of the frame as it slowly comes to form due to the Earth's rotating, failing to notice the object which sails into our eye-line from the hard right of the screen.

Lo-and-behold, it is the Hubble Telescope, and we meet our characters in the midst of spacewalking their way to upgrading said telescope. One of them is Matt Kowalski, played by George Clooney - a Texan stereotype with a brash attitude; a love of old cars, country music and a backstory that saw his ex-wife leave him 20 years ago. His opposite number is Sandra Bullock's Ryan Stone, a comparative rookie; a woman who doesn't really belong in space, whose past tragedy is her young daughter's recent death and who seems to be perpetually nervous when compared to Kowalski's bombing around confidently on a jetpack.

Disaster strikes when, out of nowhere, debris from an exploded satellite that has collided with a second satellite sends a glut of space junk the way of our leads. There is some clumsy propaganda about it being the fault of the Russian Federation, but this all acts as the catalyst for Cuarón's feature to turn into a mad dash for the sanctuary of a working spaceship, and then home, as the methodical Kowalski and the unhinged rookie Stone grapple with both one another and the elements.

Understanding why "Gravity" has done so well and received a lot of praise is at once both baffling and painstakingly obvious. It is an incredibly simplistic film - people take to it because of its linear nature; easy causality and the not having to follow any kind of narrative. Much in the same way crowds took to James Cameron's "Avatar" for similar reasons, the special effects play their role in hooking people in. It is also the case a character you expect to be around by the end is removed from the piece very early on, which I think has stunned people into thinking they've seen something of greater substance because they've not previously seen it happen.

The film essentially consists of a string of action set pieces told from the constrained perspective of those involved as they dodge a series of life threatening near-misses. Some of these are born out of the chance event of the space debris flying their way; others rely on the more convoluted occurrence of an onboard fire. Limited air supply also acts as a rudimentary source of drama. These set pieces might well happen in any order and be of any length of time. There is a heavy reliance on imagery and visuals; a complete lack of story and an all but total lack of complexity.

The film's apparent core strength, that of a strong female lead in Bullock's character, raises further questions. She has short hair; a boy's name (Ryan - something the film bothers to bring to our attention when Kowalski mentions it) and gets to fulfill the role of an astronaut - a job otherwise synonymous with men. She is androgynous in this respect, but it is Alan Evans writing for 'The Guardian' who points out that she needs either chance or other men to rescue her from every situation - rarely does she use her own ingenuity and, indeed, spends most of the film a gibbering wreck. The over-not to mention needless-use of shots of her dressed in her underwear when not in a space-suit is equally perplexing.

I accept, on the one hand, the majesty of the special effects and their ability to bring planet Earth to life as this rotating orb of blue ocean; white cloud cover and green land mass, as we float around in the space vacuum. In terms of characterisation, Cuarón seems to want to tell a story about somebody dealing with grief; discovering that life carries on and coming to want to grab it by the horns again, and this is admirable - but it gets lost. I note with deference as to how small and insignificant the film seems to want to tell us we really are in the grand scheme of things: Earth; Space; the Universe, etc.

And yet, the film is piecemeal and ultimately a little underwhelming - dare I say even dull? People have mistaken well-worn disaster movie genre tropes for top-level art because it had a shiny surface, or because they felt like they were able to reach out and touch it, or something. If enough people get it into their heads that this is the future of film-making or what constitutes a cinematic experience, then there will not be much of a future to look forward to.
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Excruciating fight scenes; painful product placement and a central joke revolving around going to the bathroom, Demolition Man is worth avoiding.
29 July 2017
A measure of how bad "Demolition Man" is lies in the fact the IMDb's trivia pages inform me that both Steven Seagal AND Jean-Claude Van Damme turned the film down. The reason? We may never know, but Marco Brambilla's film certainly has that 'numbing' quality and sense of overuse of action which would not have been out of place in a feature starring the aforementioned stars. I think it would be wrong to say that there lies not an interesting idea at the epicentre of "Demolition Man", but anyone would be damned if they admit to what the final product resembles is the best way to go about executing it.

Sylvester Stallone plays John Spartan, an all-action police officer in the LAPD occupying a dystopian then-future set in accordance to the film's 1993 release. Crime, despite the law now essentially coming to resemble what some armies around the world might look like, is overrunning the city to the extent that the "Hollywood" sign is permanently alight. Perhaps there is a hidden subtext to this dramatic opening vista. Perhaps not. Filmed in the aftermath of the riots which were induced post-Rodney King fiasco, buildings are ruined; gunfire sprays up from the ground at patrol choppers and rubble often dominates the ground.

For reasons unexplained, Spartan is hunting a stock psychopath in the form of Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes), who this time has overrun a building with a gang of thugs and is holding some hostages he intends on killing. We sense the two share a backstory, in the mould of Batman and The Joker, but it is never clear. Phoenix is not an especially interesting villain – his reasoning for what he does seems to be to merely invoke chaos at a time when all law and civility has broken down. Spartan eventually apprehends his man, but the police force denigrates him for his blasé approach which leads to the building blowing up and the hostages dying.

Consequently, Spartan is frozen in ice, without being killed, so that he may be thawed and possibly paroled at a future date. This should strike us as strange for the fact much of what lies behind a prisoner being granted parole in the first place is good prison behaviour. Frozen in a block of ice, of course, negates this. However, he is thawed prematurely in 2032 when Phoenix escapes the very same prison (why Snipes' character was not given the death penalty, we do not know) and goes on a rampage for reasons which later become clearer. Spartan is charged with initially trying to put a stop to the violence and terror Phoenix is now unleashing.

The entire premise is mostly an excuse to have Snipes and Stallone duke it out in a variety of locations using their fists and an array of exotic weaponry not limited to: Kalashnikov rifles; sawn off shotguns; futuristic laser-blaster guns and, on one especially silly occasion, a Napoleonic era canon. But in a post-"Terminator 2: Judgment Day" era, the hand to hand combat is not up to standard while the action sequences themselves are rapid and unmoving.

More interesting is the world into which they are thawed, namely a future very much removed from the era they came from: a dreamy, gooey, wide-eyed Utopia stuck in a strange place on the political spectrum between liberalism and conservatism, and one which is now free of violence and anything which was once considered harmful to society – things not limited to: spicy food; sugar; cigarettes; sex and kissing. The pioneer of this world is Raymond Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne), who despite being a political visionary, is not adept enough to guard his own well-being following the bringing of other pre-frozen criminals into the new future.

Also in the future is Sandra Bullock's existing police officer Lenina Huxley, whose character arc blunders onto the screen when she whines about the lack of crime in the city: "I want some action!" she moans. She'll get it eventually, although is curiously absent during the film's climax when her catharsis of really learning about violence should have happened.

The film is a mostly weak exercise. Very little is made of the fact Spartan lost his wife in the interim of being frozen and then thawed and it is not satisfyingly tied in with his newfound fondness for Bullock. Can we remember, by the end, that he was even married? Similarly, the roots of Stallone's character are flaccid – he is seemingly responsible for the deaths of dozens of hostages in the beginning, but maintains this gung-ho approach again in the future when granted the opportunity to go after Phoenix again. Despite craving violence early on, and having experienced what she experiences, what does Bullock's character learn about anything?

By the end, when certain twists and turns have played out, we think we've seen something more interesting than we actually have, while the film's heavy reliance on elements from works such as Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" has the film feel loftier than it actually is. The film's insistence on bombarding us with product placement in-between its actions sequences becomes ingratiating, with no fewer than Taco Bell; Armour Hotdogs and Marlboro getting in on the act becomes insulting. Meanwhile, somewhat central to the film is a joke about seashells and going to the bathroom... When all is said and done, "Demolition Man" is a mostly empty, numbing experience.
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Killer Joe (2011)
Winner winner, chicken dinner
26 June 2017
There is much to admire in "Killer Joe", a film which depicts a number of characters ill-suited to their predicament slowly, yet surely, tightening the noose they only discover to be around their necks in the first place by the time it's too late. It is several things: a very funny black comedy; an engrossing stripped down drama portraying a family in a way that, if it was British, you would describe as "kitchen sink"; a mobster movie; a coming of age story... There are many places wherein it feels like a Jim Thompson novel, or at least an adaptation of one of his novels.

Fittingly, the film opens with a bang, and then does not really let up. Lightning cracks across a Texan sky and rain pummels down; a young man by the name of Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) arrives at his father's trailer in the dead of night and demands everyone wake up to let him in. He's in trouble - owing a local drug cartel $5,000 because his mother, divorced from his father and living separately, lost him the cocaine he was holding for them. His father's new wife, and the little sister they have custody of named Dottie (Juno Temple), are the epitome of dysfunctional – they shout; argue and bicker. Sharla (Gina Gershon) even answers the door nude from the waist down and it is revealed through quick-fire dialogue that Chris once beat his mother up.

At this crucial juncture, director William Friedkin very subtly introduces the aforementioned Dottie – somebody very physically cut off from the ensuing argumentative chaos unfolding next door. She is younger, more child-like. She has fridge magnets glued to her bedroom door which spell out her name and sleeps in a room decked out with stuffed animals clutching a cutesy snow globe. In a town of hicks; rednecks; lowlifes; loose women and grizzled men, Dottie is a photogenic blonde with an ample figure and a girlish allure. Temple plays the role in such a way that she is temptress without striking us as being some who necessarily knows what that is – her performance is subtle smiles and happy faces; snappy, friendly backchat which neither means nor infers any offence.

Strapped for ideas, Chris suggests the family have his and Dottie's mother – his father's ex-wife – killed. The reason? She has a $50,000 life insurance payout in Dottie's name. This would take care of Chris' money problems and it would eradicate a member of the public who has been a thorn in the sides of everyone else. When Dottie was a baby, for instance, she tried to suffocate her with a pillow.

The vehicle through which to make this a reality is the titular "Killer" Joe Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, who has come a long way from when would be ridiculed by the British press as "Matthew Mahogany" for yet another feature in the mould of "Failure to Launch" or "Fool's Gold". Joe is a local law enforcer in the city of Dallas, but his real paycheques seem to come from his moonlighting as a hit-man. He is both refined and calm – he's a professional dealing with amateurs and possesses his own series of principals and regulations to do with his work. Contrarily, we do not sense the Smith family have ever had a principal between them their whole lives. They meet in a disused games outlet where pool tables lie wrecked and pinball machines beyond repair – what follows will essentially come to form a series of very dangerous games, of both mind and body, involving these two parties.

Friedkin does not hold back in "Killer Joe" – within the first ten minutes, we have had presented to us blunt female nudity from both the waist up AND down. It is often an extraordinarily violent film in places, but the very distinct atmosphere of calm and method which dominates proceedings I think merely accentuates the violence. The film somewhat effortlessly combines the best of what Tarantino and the Coens were doing around twenty years ago with the manner about which Billy Wilder's very slowly cooks the situation in his 1944 feature "Double Indemnity", wherein characters are allowed to come and go on the issue of ending somebody else's life for an insurance payout before snowballing into further trouble once the murder has actually happened. There is plenty to recommend in "Killer Joe".
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More lacking beneath the surface of explosions and gunfire than I remember, but still very much worth a watch.
13 April 2017
The story goes that the inspiration behind the idea of the Terminator films derives from a bout of illness its creator, James Cameron, had whilst working on a previous project that had tumbled into being a bit of a creative nightmare. Frantically trying to piece what turned out to be "Piranha: The Spawning" together in an edit lab against a ticking clock, Cameron became run down by something which gave him all sorts of unpleasant dreams about indestructible robots chasing him; his life being in mortal danger and nobody believing him.

It is perhaps the nightmarish quality of "The Terminator" which really allows it to stand out. Let us not mince our words, here – Cameron essentially hopped from one exploitation feature to another in making it. Everything that needs to be present for an effective Z-movie is present: the gore; the action; the nudity; the causality and the lack of a plot. That is not to be rude to the IDEA, which is wonderful - a robot killing machine is sent back in time to assassinate the mother of a brave resistance leader, who is proving to be a thorn in the side of the metal maniacs in their attempts to wipe out every last human-being. One of Cameron's characters even pokes fun at the premise, describing what the robot is attempting to do as a kind of "retroactive abortion". It is, however, little more than a cue for all-out mayhem across the urban sprawl of Los Angeles.

We have all read the essays and digested the feminist theory which revolves around the character of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) enough times by now for anybody to need to rehash it here. Put simply, Connor is the aforementioned target – the protagonist who learns of her destiny and is taken from being your generic bimbo, and a useless waitress, to a brave soldier. Later theory would revolve around Connor and the Terminator character transgressing their respective roles in the sequel, which had the 'killer' robot being reprogrammed to become a mother/guardian figure and Hamilton's character tooling up to wipe out a defenceless anomaly (Miles Bennett Dyson) for being something they were not even privy to.

Chasing Connor here is Arnold Schwarzenegger's titular Terminator: a metal exoskeleton operating underneath living flesh tissue and impervious to the pathetic weaponry of the 1980's, while also sent back is one of the future humans' top fieldsmen in Kyle Reece (Michael Biehn). One of the most endearing things about watching the film now, I suppose, is that each are playing the roles they are most famous for. The opening exchanges, as both time-travellers adapt to their surroundings; tools up to take the other on and go about hunting down Sarah, are good value. We witness The Terminator dealing with three rough-shot punks upon arrival with the simplest of ease, while Reece is depicted as actually having to run away and hide when the police pick up on his otherworldly arrival. Cameron's goal is fairly obvious: the odds are stacked against the good guys.

What follows is by no means 'bad', but it is remarkable as to how quickly the film settles into a causality driven process of action; chase and recovery – something is to be said, however, in the way Cameron kicks things back into life via the ingenious ways the Terminator picks back up on his prey again when it seems they've gotten away. More substantial is Cameron's social commentary, not to mention the love story which develops between Reece and Connor. Cameron shoots on location in Los Angeles at night, capturing the down-to-Earth reality of homelessness; street hoodlums and the general junk and filth which litters the streets – making, in the process, a correlation between the nightmarish ruined LA of the future, where the war is taking place. The film goes on to use a very clever transitional edit using a caterpillar track during scene whereby Reece falls asleep and dreams of the future to reiterate this: utopias do not exist.

Digging a little deeper, and analysing some of the franchise's cod-philosophies to do with destiny; making the future what it is and not being bound to your fate, may very well reveal one or two more truths, but that is for the individual viewer. On the whole, and while I am unsure as to whether there is as much substance here as everybody seems to remember, "The Terminator" does very little of what it attempts to do especially badly, and I think that is what propels its lasting power.
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American Pie (1999)
Routine situational-comedy, which seems to want to say something although isn't sure what or how to do it
12 March 2017
The cultural and sexual revolution is referred to as such because it revolutionised, aside from certain other things, attitudes towards culture and sex. Where it hit in the 1960's, among other places, was the United States of America and "American Pie" is less-so a commentary on why we-are-what-we -are than it is a reasonably funny depiction of a group of people living their lives in such a fashion BECAUSE of what preceded them. If GK Chesterton once said that "...there is a certain fury in sex that we cannot afford to inflame, and that a certain mystery and awe must always surround it if we are to remain sane" then Paul & Chris Weitz's 1999 film should seem like a kind of antithesis to this.

Indeed, I do wonder if the central characters in "American Pie" even know of the origins of the world outlooks they each possess. One of them, Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), seems to cut more of an esoteric figure than the others, or perhaps that's just because the others know less of the world than it first seems. Despite his nature, however, not even Finch seems to know why there exists a sudden rush amongst a class of youngsters to lose their virginity before the termination of an American high school year.

Writing in "Unspeakable Things", British social commentator Laurie Penny describes sex as 'something you do' - not as something ' wait around for someone to do TO you', before going on to describe her virginity as something she 'shook off' at the first opportunity she had – as if it was an annoying bout of influenza. "American Pie" captures this whole ethos somewhat well – the notion that abstinence is virtuous, or that sex is something else other than mere recreation, rears up in drips and drabs but not enough to convince us it's what the makers actually think.

"American Pie" depicts a diverse set of boys: one speaks Latin and drinks expensive coffee. Another, Chris (Chris Klein), is a bulky lacrosse player. Kevin already has a girlfriend; is close to sex anyway and is granted, I think, the deliberate privilege in this regard of being the best looking of the five while Stifler (Seann William-Scott) treads an uneasy line between unfriendly lout and colleague you cannot afford not to have. The last, Jim (Jason Biggs), we sense is some kind of lead – his father was, we feel, present when much of the aforementioned cultural revolution unfolded and was amongst the first to break the taboos. His willingness for Jim to follow in his footsteps hits a strange spot between curiously heart rendering and absolutely deplorable. Depending on your politics, of course...

Each of the boys is in their final year at your standard American high-school, but none of them have had sex yet except for Stifler, who seems to want to have it again, although is hindered by this fresh swarm of vultures now surrounding what was once his easy prey. They induce an agreement between them that they will press to lose their virginities before the year is up and a graduation prom takes place. How they go about doing this involves a diverse set of approaches and circumstances, neither really overwhelming the other and each different enough to entertain us reasonably well.

One character eventually only finds what he is looking for when he gives up all hope and accidentally finds it right under his nose – a process of maturing enough not to especially fall into a trap of hedonism and rather to take things as they come. Chris only joins a soppy choir group to score one of the many women who sing in it, although is depicted as to actually coming to care for one of the girls there.

Much of the gross out humour involving toilets and the consumption of bodily fluid is unwelcome, but then it always is in these films – writers never learn. Fortunately, these instances are rare and one can feel struck ultimately by how reigned in its material actually is. For instance, when the film finally bares a pair of breasts, we feel as if we should flinch because there has not been the cascade of nudity and 'raunch' we were perhaps expecting - the likes of which others in its genre have succumbed to.

Does one really recommend "American Pie"? Not especially: it is episodic and often quite disgusting, but it is not a film one can easily despise. Is it really a film which, hysterical conservative shrieking aside, really sends young men and women out to 'get laid' as soon as possible? It seems to present sex, or the pursuit of sex, as something frustrating; bumpy and ultimately superfluous to a good, hearty relationship with someone whose time you genuinely enjoy, but it seems nonplussed about people going out to get it anyway. The film is a long way from being a triumph of conservatism, but it does not seem to argue the case for the other side quite as manically as I remember it doing.
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Difficult film to love, but rarely uninteresting and oddly captivating when it's at its best.
21 January 2017
Reaching a comprehensive conclusion on the first part of Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" is a grisly yet satisfying exercise. The film is generally refreshingly observationalist, in its taking a step back from what it depicts – from what I can garner, it neither glamorises nor demonises to any great extent the behaviour of the characters within. By the end, the characters have been neither punished nor rewarded for their actions. There is a very cold, empty tonality to von Trier's first Nymphomaniac volume, but this is not a criticism – the life of the film's lead, a middle aged woman who goes by the surely deliberately androgynous name of Joe (Jo), has almost entirely consisted of furrowing about trying to find that next lay with the opposite sex. She has done very little else and, despite living through the latter half of the twentieth century, not to mention possessing a gift for oration, we sense has very little else say on any other subject.

The film consists almost entirely of flashback. It is Charlotte Gainsbourg playing present-tense Joe, a woman found beaten and bloodied on the concrete courtyard of an apartment block in an unspecific English locality on a rainy day. Stellan Skarsgård's Seligman, a grey suited monosyllabic neighbour from abroad, finds her en route coming home from the local shop - rather than call for help when she asks him not to, he brings her back to his dwelling so that she may recover and that is when she decides to recount her life hedonistic life-story which will lead us to this very moment.

In the past, she is played by new-comer Stacy Martin, whose job it is to bring to life Joe's years of adolescence and young adulthood – one characterised by a radical outlook of anti-marriage; anti-bourgeois and anti-love on top of a demonstrating of just how much of a bohemian hedonist she really is. During this time, she will garner some menial office work; maintain a friendship with her father and have an on-off relationship with boyfriend Jerome (Shia LaBeouf). It is during these scenes that von Trier seems to combine props; attire and other mise-en-scene from the 1960's; 70's and 80's to create a very non-specific era –his shooting of it in Germany is further designed to disorientate us during the viewing.

But why was she lying on the concrete, bloodied and bruised, in the first scene? Why is she deciding to tell Seligman her tale in the first place? What, precisely, is Skarsgård in relation to anything at all anyway? These are not questions von Trier answers in Volume One – indeed, they are in a sense irrelevant to the film's nucleus. But then, what of that? It seems to be that, no matter what you are talking about, be it fly-fishing; organ music or something else, you can incorporate philosophies or stances on sex into it – sex is life and life is sex and parallels can be found between the actions of a good fly-fisherman and a woman on the prowl; between the makeup of the specifics of a Johann Sebastian Bach sonata and the way a sex-addict balances their lovers. Correlations and equivalents are everywhere, if only people would just take the time out to look for them...

But is this really the end of it? Perhaps one character is actually the figment of the other's imagination: a bored, single and lonely Seligman imagines he meets Joe coming home and concocts a story possessing everything he doesn't have. Moreover, perhaps a concussed Joe is still lying there in the street imagining aid from a stranger. Whatever the case, von Trier essentially allows his audience to fulfil the role of Seligman – someone who listens on in either silent awe or restrained disgust at how Joe had a sexual revelation as a young child with her friend Bea (Sophie Kennedy Clark) and decided to act on it in a way that saw her spend her teenage years as she did.

Their dual-dynamic itself opens up several tins of numerous kinds of worms in its basis – the gender imbalance is a pseudo-feminist driven psychoanalytic nightmare: a clear distinction between orator and receiver, it is the woman propelling proceedings but her tale is one of often perpetual sexual humiliation as she lowers herself to playing the whore; the tart; the loser. She has nothing else in life and is one-dimensional – she recounts her experiences for the pleasure of the male, be it Seligman or the member of the audience.

While they are Joe's experiences, the entire film seems to be made up of figments of Seligman's imagination: it is he who is picturing Joe in the bathroom; on the train and with on-off boyfriend Jerome – something alluded to when he tries to picture Joe studying geography although apologies for imagining it incorrectly before we carry on again. Then, there is the problem of the unreliable narrator – an issue Seligman himself even raises towards the end when he deliberately stops Joe mid-flow on account of not believing an aspect of the story she is telling. This is an odd and very disorientating moment, wherein Seligman wrestles power off the story-teller and is suddenly in command of what we play witness to.

What are we left with when everything is said and done? We certainly come away feeling like we have experienced something – there is a centrepiece which I will not spoil that seems to get stuck in to whether Joe has lived a worthy life: it reaches the conclusion that she has not, for bohemianism and nymphomania is a fatuous, rotten thing which destroys your life and the lives of those around you – lives you did not even know existed. Indifference is a strange reaction to have to the film, but then loving it or hating it is very difficult. I would certainly recommend it, but with reservations.
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Quite striking social commentary on modern America and where it seems to be heading.
12 January 2017
Speaking in November 2009, American social-critic Christopher Hedges argued as to how America's decline, certainly as an empire, was inevitable – he lamented how Americans have become 'disconnected from who (they) are, what (they) represent and where (they're) going' and how they have essentially been kept in a perpetual state of adult-infancy through a series of badly judged political decisions over the last 40 years. The result of this, he asserted, was that people will begin to 'search for a demagogue or a saviour that promises moral renewal, vengeance and the glory.'

On the back of this, and if the depiction of America (or more importantly, Americans) in Bobcat Goldthwait's film "God Bless America" is at all accurate, I would say that there was almost certainly something in the fact that the British Channel 4 network decided to air "God Bless America" on the night of Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 US Presidential Election. To understand the deeper meaning of this, one needs to first understand the hypothesis of Goldthwait's film, but also be a little more familiar with the basic view of those such as Hedges who, if his public lectures and television interviews on the topic of America's direction are anything to go by, seems to have had much of what he has to say heard and then adapted to the screen right here.

In conjunction to his other remarks, Hedges commented on as to how America is shifting from a 'print' based society to an 'image' based society – how it was 'moving away from nuanced thought and from the struggle with ambiguity' for 'jargon and clichés'. He continued: 'We are seeing the dying gasps of a culture that is severing itself from print and entering an age of terrifying illiteracy', which will in turn supposedly give rise to certain horrifying things....

The crux of this evident in "God Bless America" – an ambitious, morbid comedy which seems to fuse the droll, even blackly empty, tonality of "America Psycho" with the sheer terror of the apparent barrenness of life as terrifically demonstrated in "Taxi Driver". It is confrontational and quite upsetting, but then most films which try to explore the fatuity or frustrations of a given era are.

Narrative is secondary to subtext here, but for the sake of simplicity I will reveal that the film centres around a middle aged American man called Frank (Joel Murray), who is divorced; lives alone and struggles over custody of his young daughter. He hates his life and those around him. Oddly, he seems to insist on engaging with the very thing he despises most: television, which glamorises fatuity; revels in the obscene and promotes a sort of sordid liberalism where everyone, no matter how contemptible they really are, is a champion in some of the ways Hedges argued. Away from home, he finds himself unable to escape the idiotic monotony of his co-workers and neighbours, who speak of nothing else but low-brow pop-culture. An exemplar of this divide lies in as to how he trades a BOOK with the receptionist at his desk job.

Frank is tipped over the edge when he is fired, in what appears to be a statement from the film on how maddening modern political correctness is when it comes to talking to/making moves on women, before completely loses contact with his daughter. Put briefly, the ingredients bubble up into an explosive rage forcing him across America and it isn't long before he and a young female accomplice named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), whom he meets along the way, are in way over their heads.

The film's tone is flippant throughout, and events seem to have been transplanted to an unreal universe which still strangely seems to be grounded in the real world. The characters are often viciously unlikable and hideously hypocritical – Roxy's left-wing mantra sees her rage against right-wingers who lobby for foreign wars and are against gay-marriage yet exudes a punk-fascism herself.

It is remarkable as to how cine-literate the film is – done deliberately, I'm sure, to disorientate the audience as it makes its overall point on the commoditised nature of American culture. Roxy's backstory is remarkably similar to Mallory Knox's in "Natural Born Killers"; a scene in a lay-by with a state trooper calls to mind "Psycho"; the leads dress at one point like "Bonnie and Clyde" and Samuel L. Jackson's riff on AK-47's from "Jackie Brown" is rehashed seemingly without shame.

Goldthwait's film is not generic, yet we have seen films like it in the past; it is satirical, yet seems to rage against a society whose fascination with funny quick-fixes and the visual image essentially began in the 1960's with a boom in the satire genre. It despises popular culture, yet cannot help but draw influence from it so as to either prove its point or garner a few laughs. The film plays like an amalgamation of the ideas put forward over time by various commentators warning where television; celebration of trash and the Capitalist free market might lead. It is Neil Postman merged with Hedges by way of the now conventional point on how the Western world has largely adopted the model of the universe found in Aldous Huxley's novel "Brave New World": where Orwell feared totalitarian regimes banning books, the reality now is that no one is willing or able to read them having been 'educated' out of liking high-culture and taught to sneer at intellect.

Few things have changed since "God Bless America's" release, but then it has only been three years. In Britain, the 2016 series of "X-Factor" made popular a would-be rapper named Honey-G, who was evidently terrible, and yet came to represent a true-to-life version of the Steven Clark character found within this very film – the fact they are so bad makes them so good. The fact "God Bless America" is as good as it is warrants you seeing it.
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Nowhere near the best of what Leonard adaptations have to offer.
23 December 2016
"The Big Bounce" is not a boring film, but it is certainly unremarkable. It is too often the case that the film feels like a six-episode television series that has been scrapped and then condensed down into a 100 minute feature. It is rich in character diversity and snappy put-downs; overflowing with a sense of people coming and going in and out of one another's universes that can often be refreshing and is laden with micro-narratives pertaining to heists; betrayals and collapsing marriages, but there is no finished product – no substance to really sink one's teeth into.

Owen Wilson plays Jack Ryan (no, not that one) – a handsome conman who has served time for his petty crimes but now lies low on a Hawaiian island and works on a construction site. He's cool; calm and amusing. When he breaks the law, in infiltrating the glamorous surroundings of a beach house hosting a pool party so as to nab a couple of hundred in notes to tide himself over, he does it in such a way that we cannot quite hate him for it.

Ryan lands himself in some trouble when he clobbers a foreman with a baseball bat following an altercation on his work-site that involves protesters unhappy at the desecration of their lands to make way for a new hotel. Fired, and told menacingly by the henchman (played by Charlie Sheen) of his ex-boss that he should leave the island, he finds solace in working as a handyman for Morgan Freeman's district judge Walter Crewes on a small holiday-camp he runs on the side.

It is around this time that he meets Nancy (Sara Foster), a blonde twenty-something beach-bimbo with a backstory of city-based exotic dancing and a fetish for criminality – not a dangerous girl, but one who is fast and loose and too pretty for Ryan to turn away from when she demonstrates an interest in him. The reason for this is, of course, that he himself has a penchant for criminality, albeit petty burglaries. The relationship occupies the bulk of the film's middle third – Nancy, already having an affair with the chap who wants to build that hotel, is thus able to garner access to yachts and luxury villas otherwise off-limits where the endless teasing; flirting and talking plays out.

Sadly, there is no real substance to this core relationship: Nancy is turned on by criminals and Jack commits crimes. Elmore Leonard, author of the novel from many years earlier upon which the film is based, would later bring a character similar to Jack Ryan together with a federal marshal in "Out of Sight" – two binaries that should repel but who eventually come to attract. Rum Punch, later adapted as "Jackie Brown", possessed at the core of it a far tougher love story to bring to life between the eponymous Brown and Max Cherry.

Eventually, Nancy digs out that the man to whom she plays mistress possesses the sum of $200,000 nearby – located, as it happens, in a safe in one of these luxurious homes he owns. She hits upon the idea that they could steal it, but Ryan already has an angry foreman in a neck-brace out for payback; an on-off criminal accomplice in the form of Frank (Gregory Sporleder) saying he needs $1500 to pay off some bad people and a job to hold down for Crewes who has his own plans for Ryan...

The film is not remarkably well made – it is bouncy in that way "Get Shorty" and "Jackie Brown" are without ever being frivolous, but does not amount to the satisfying experience those films were. We are provided with endless shots of surfers to transist between scenes, while the close ups of the rolling white waves as they crash into the beach as Nancy and Jack make love is just clumsy. On one occasion, there is a particularly silly sequence whereby Nancy nips back and forth between the first and ground floors of a house to appease Jack and another male visitor (with whom she is additionally having an affair) without the other knowing either of them is present.

There is a certain style and a certain logic to the film, although I am perplexed as to why one character seems to spend the duration of the film trying to talk Ryan out of doing something which is crucial to a plan of his own that he has up his sleeve for later on. When all is said and done, this is tough to recommend as both a genre piece and as a standalone accomplishment.
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Falls well short of any kind of standard, in what is a series which once stood tall but now seems like all the others.
23 December 2016
I am somewhat confused. It is widely accepted that the first of the now five "Die Hard" films is the best one – if not, the most renowned and looked upon as the most inspirational. Indeed, if you were told you could only see one of the rather now bloated franchise, it would most likely be John Mctiernan's 1988 effort which kicked the entire series off. Odd, then, that the last two entries seem to draw more from the third in the series than any other – 1995's "Die Hard: With a Vengeance", what with its sense of the sprawling and of the madcap; of driving and of charging around with an accomplice to crack-wise as you aim to avoid yet another pile-up. Do not get me wrong, I have the time for "Vengeance", but this process of throwing action at the screen and hoping that doing nothing with a lot will compensate for your inability to do a lot with very little, is waning.

Indeed, it is unfortunate that "A Good Day to Die Hard" is as bad as it is – a throwaway film with nothing to really mark it out amongst any other action thriller; a terrifically grey film, cold and metallic and arid in character; a film lacking a villain and any sort of real tension. Then again, perhaps it is something else. Perhaps it is the removing of the film from its Christmas setting of the first two, or that Bruce Willis is a quarter of a century older now. Willis reprises the role of John McLane, a veteran NYPD police officer who is established as a decent shot in his taking down of numerous targets at the range – it seems you are expected to come to the film knowing the rest: the tempestuous relationship with his family; the never-say-die-attitude and the ability to handle himself in a crisis. Time has moved on – he was an analogue watch in a digital age in the fourth outing, powerless to stop his now adult daughter dating, and here now finds himself alone firing off rounds at the range under the watchful eye of a portrait of America's first black President.

This entry eventually sees him fly to Moscow, in Russia, where during his visit to meet his son John jr (Jai Courtney), the Central Intelligence Agency breaks out of prison a political prisoner in the mould of an Alexei Navalny or a Mikhail Khodorkovsky named Komarov (Sebastian Koch). In the area at the time for an unrelated reason, and uncovering both that his son was involved and that some especially nasty people want Komarov back, the charge is set for some Die Hard shenanigans as a race against time and for one's life plays out across the Russian capital's road systems and high-rise buildings.

Only, that is not what especially happens - in fact, far from it. The film is cold and detached; the opening hour might just as well be any standardised CIA/FSB/breakout espionage thriller, the difference here lying with the fact one of the most celebrated heroes in cinema (at least, according to those many AFI lists) just happens to be in amongst the thick of what is going on. McLane's son begins the film hating his father – are we sure this will still be the case, once they have had their adventure and Junior gets a taste of what his father has had to go through on all these occasions, by the end?

It has often been the case that a franchise, when it is loose on ideas but high in box office potential, begins to mix father and son relations into sequels. We know this from Indiana Jones (3 and 4) and one or two of "The Mummy" sequels. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is so contrived that one can be forgiven for rolling eyes at it. Admittedly, some of the action sequences are somewhat impressive, with the standout being a long repelling down a tall building, but gone is the sense of danger; of the sense of threat or terror in facing down obstacles with the potential to do you harm.

A later twist involving Komarov and the true reason why most of what's happened in the film has played out as it has done has us feel as if we have seen more than we actually have and has the plot feel more layered that it actually is. Meanwhile, director John Moore, he usually of remakes and video-game adaptations, would be better advised to resist invoking imagery of past entries if he wants his own version here to possess any stand-alone credibility. Anybody with any kind of real awareness about contemporary Hollywood cinema is going to seek out to watch "A Good Day to Day Hard" – purely from a completest perspective; the film is, essentially, 'critic-proof', but that does not stop it being just about the right side of terrible.
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Not quite quick enough for a place beyond the last-eight...
12 September 2016
It is quite remarkable that "The Quick and the Dead" hangs together as well as it does. The film, needlessly overly stylised and forced into balancing too many ideas; stories and characters all at once, does not disgrace itself but similarly does not have you walk away from it feeling as if you have seen anything of any terrific substance. We are left wondering as to how a character, who was pronounced dead the last time we saw them, was up and walking and shooting as straight as they always could a mere five minutes later; left unsatisfied at the actually rather fascinating narrative between an aging sociopath and his cocksure son who is looking to inherit the autocratic rule which dominates the destiny of the small Old West town he runs; left underwhelmed at how the potential for romance between said cocksure son and a certain female character is not taken any further than what it was.

This is a difficult film to recommend, but an even difficult film to entirely dislike. Its struggles derive from its short run-time and its bloated number of characters: a number of actually really fascinating stories about people who might otherwise have existed some 130 years ago are being told at once, but director Sam Raimi is forced, seemingly, into squeezing each of them into a run-time that constitutes as "commercial".

Sharon Stone, in the tradition of westerns looking to tear up the rule-book, plays an otherwise unnamed lead (referred to throughout as "The Lady") who rides into an isolated Old West town called Redemption for reasons unexplained. She takes no flak from anyone – when one of the town's many grizzled male sociopaths drools "You're Purty" to her, she whips back "'re not", which was particularly brave given he had just shot a man in the back and carved a mark onto his arm with a blade.

Stone does what she can with the role, but her job is made harder by the film's eagerness to fall into traps of transgression – specifically, a woman is allowed to effectively 'lead' the film but the male audience, for whom the film is made, must be reminded of her 'to-be-looked-at-ness'. Take the opening, which is typical of any western opening with regards to its guitar music and desert locality, whereby somebody is shot off their horse by a trigger happy gold hunter. When it's revealed to be Stone, we are surprised at the fact it's a woman, and the manner about which the music begins to encompass sounds of a whip cracking, on top of the fact Stone has comically shackled the gold hunter to his wagon, suddenly alludes to a certain sexiness or quirky kinkiness she's supposed to embody.

Meanwhile, in the town, Russell Crowe's character Cort is having a bad time at the hands of he who runs the place – Gene Hackman's suitably evil John Herod. Herod, a sadist and a psychopath, has dragged Cort away from his existence as a Christian missionary and to a place where people have seemingly been blinded into spitting on religion because here, Herod is God. Cort has some history with the man – they both used to be as bad as Herod presently is until Crowe's character turned away from violence. During The Lady's time in this place, and without giving anything away, it is alluded to that Herod was responsible for the death of someone quite close to her, while complicating matters is Leonardo Di Caprio, who play's Herod's son. He takes a liking to The Lady.

These dynamics revolve around, of all things, a gun-slinging tournament, whereby 16 entrants fast-draw every time the town clock strikes the top of the hour – needless to say, most of the fighters are present in the tournament to make up the numbers so that the four that count can come to blows. In the interim, we find out what makes each of these people tick and how they have reached where they are in their lives – the backstories are substantial and often gripping; many would make for fascinating films all unto themselves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the competition very quickly mutates into a fight to the death, lest the film's title seem misplaced.

There is enough to admire in "The Quick and the Dead", but equally enough to become frustrated by. I've no doubt of the film's origins – those Italian and Spanish westerns of the 1960's, the likes of which are embedded at the very epicentre of Raimi's piece. The trouble with this is that, during one particularly harrowing scene, we are instantly reminded of the similar fate of a character in Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West. There are other issues, such as the realism related to whether Hackman's character, having experienced what he did as a boy in relation to his father, would then grow up to bestow upon everyone else what it is that he does.

As said, there is too much going on and too many characters and their tales to fit into a mainstream run-time. Three years later, Raimi would make "A Simple Plan", which really is a quality film about people; predicaments and the way folks interact with their situations and one another. Needless to say, that film was longer and much better. You could do much worse than "The Quick and the Dead", but then if you looked hard enough, you could probably do a lot better.
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Buckles under the weight of what it knows it needs to do and depict - will likely leave you unsatisfied.
12 September 2016
I will spare any reader the lecture on Freud – if, indeed, I could even provide you with one. We have all heard, casually or otherwise, the psychoanalytic ideas pertaining to men; women and fear before – fear of one's mother or the opposite gender or whatever else is on offer, but of course all conveniently sub-consciously: we know what we think but have no idea that we think it. Somewhere at the heart of "The Million Eyes of Sumuru" there is a reason to fear women; to fear their beauty and their company – to be sceptical as to their motives and to be mindful as to their ideas.

The decade of the 1960's was a time of extraordinary change, no less on the issue of women in the Western hemisphere – abortions; easier access to a divorce; better opportunities on various career ladders are but three items which revolutionised a female's "place" in society. "The Million Eyes of Sumuru", certainly a piece of its time, is the strange amalgamation of these two articles crashing head first into one another: women are powerful and independent – they have a newfound sense of freedom and power; they are capable of things they were deprived of previously. They are to be at once both feared and found attractive. The fact that those responsible for the film considered it befitting to depict aspects of these psychoanalytic/post-feminist notions as some kind of horror piece is interesting.

Alternatively, the film is merely a somewhat strange and relatively incompetent 80 minute long thriller which is ultimately both too uninteresting and too confused of its own individual identity to be something really worth recommending.

Shirley Eaton is the eponymous Sumuru; a woman whose origins are not provided nor whose overall vision is ever fully explained. She is the stock movie antagonist – somebody who wants world domination and she plans said conquest from the confines of an island just off the coast of Hong Kong. She presides there with a small army of women aged between 18 and 35: they are beautiful, but deadly - in the opening scene, Sumuru kills 19 men with one bomb explosion on the mainland. Arriving home, the women are coldly watching on as a comrade uses her thighs to choke a man to death. The whole operation reeks of a cross between the Czech-based "Other World Kingdom" and the infamous "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant".

This combination of terror and heightened sexuality is the thrust behind Sumuru's plan: to send each of these gorgeous girls out to seduce and marry the richest men in the world. Sumuru assumes that, once they meet grizzly ends, most of the money will be left to their new muses – money which will all come back to Sumuru who'll thus be able to fund her campaign to take over the world.

On another strand, Nick West (Nader) and Tommy Carter (Avalon) are CIA agents holidaying in Italy. Carter, the younger man, likes his girls whereas West appears more prudent – early nights and an oral affirmation that he does not force himself upon anyone seems to characterise him. They become entangled in Sumuru's plan when a murder in their vicinity that she ordered was already connected to somebody they knew, and after a bit of prodding and poking, both men are in the Far-East. West is later forced into working for Sumuru as they seek to kill a local tycoon, while Carter spends most of the film trying to find and save him.

In spite of the globe-trotting; the high-concept idea; the efficiency in how the enemy is conveyed to us and the plot of world domination, it is remarkable as to how the film does not really lift off. We are distracted too often by other things: Why is Central European Klaus Kinski cast as somebody from Hong Kong? Why doesn't the lead react as he should when he is provided a tour of the villain's lair? Why do characters act with remarkable inconsistently throughout as per their established outlooks on life?

The film is not without a sprinkling of substance – it allows both Sumuru and West to seem to come to question their outlooks on life and the world. Eaton's character punishes one of her girls early on with a death sentence for the "crime" of falling in love, but then appears to come to quite like our lead agent – providing him in the process ample opportunity (too much to be consistent with her views, hence why we sense it to be so central) to return that fondness. West, comparatively, who begins the film with a cautious attitude towards women, seems to fall under a spell of promiscuity the longer he stays on the enemy's island. By the end, he seems to have fallen for his gaoler and realised the pleasures one can derive from sexually submitting to a woman. This, however, makes the film sound more substantial than it actually is.

It is difficult to entirely work out what point the film was trying to make. Many have laughed the whole thing off as camp nonsense – an idiotic piece of its time and era. It seems to me it had something to say about the way men and women co-exist; that sex, love and power are too interlinked with one another as elements to ignore one or all of them. The sexualisation of our culture in the years since it was made, not to mention the more prominent role women have had in where we live, have had an incredible impact on our civilisation - "The Million Eyes of Sumuru" seems to have been made by people aware we were heading into a brave-ish new world, where girls; sex; power; mass-influence and Technicolor would be more prominent, but it is a very difficult piece to be entirely enthused by.
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Tough to truly dislike, and I'm glad I took the time to track it down, but Jurassic World does not uproot trees.
3 April 2016
Films such as "Jurassic World" are so often the most difficult to review; you find yourself in a strange place wherein you really want to like it, but must remember that impartiality and balance are so crucial as to forging views on anything, that to resist them means to completely waste your time in the first place. There is not, in many ways, much to remark about Jurassic World: it does not overstay its welcome; its second unit content is exciting; it a least attempts something resembling character study and manages to take a franchise into new directions without wrecking too much of the nucleus of the initial idea. Unlike, say, recent "Die Hard" or "Terminator" entries.

Many of the ideas coined in the aftermath of the blow-away 1993 success "Jurassic Park" by critics and theorists remain; observations which were never meant derogatorily, but are either included here out of a rooted urge to stick to the source material or by way of academic homage. Thus, much of what was written twenty years ago with regards to the symmetry between a theme-park ride and a movie going experience with films such as "Jurassic Park" still stand. I believe it was Tom Shone who once remarked that, in a post 1977 Star Wars era, cinema/film-going experiences are becoming more like trips to an amusements park with each passing summer-blockbuster line-up.

In Jurassic World, a tracking shot once we are in the park after some formalities is deliberately set up so as to resemble a standard person's height as the park is entered and a woman steps before us with the line "Welcome to Jurassic World" – it is the closest to a process of breaking the fourth wall that one can realistically come without cordially turning to the camera and asking the salivating multiplex audience if they are ready for what they are about to experience over the next 90 minutes. It does, in many ways, call to mind Spielberg's self-conscious references to the various items of "Jurassic Park" memorabilia which were actually on sale in shops anyway in 1993 by way of his otherwise needless tracking shot around a gift-shop full of theme park memorabilia towards the end of that film.

Two strands set the film running, the likes of which somewhat clumsily merge towards the end. The first revolves around two minors: essentially one child and a teenager with Justin Bieber locks and an eye for the girls. They head to Central America and Jurassic World: a realisation of John Hammond's dream to one day build a theme-park where the dinosaurs are the attraction. This is doubly rewarding, because the head of the park is the aunt Claire, played by Bryce Dallas-Howard.

The second strand follows an Alan Grant-knock off by the name of Owen Grady, played with a really good balance of energy and vulnerability by Chris Pratt. Grady works in a strange capacity as some sort of dinosaur trainer; a process whereby the once-feared velociraptors are now essentially pets performing tricks at a click. Occupying him on his strand is Vincent D'Onfrio's shady Vic Hoskins, who wants the raptors signed over to the military to essentially fight Al-Qaeda, but we have previous experience of this archetype by way of Paul Riser's character in James Cameron's "Aliens".

He is present in the park to help Claire with a new hybrid dinosaur the park has created: the Indominus-Rex, which is director Colin Trevorrow's taking of the franchise to bigger places: "The Lost World" needed to put a Tyrannosaurus Rex in an urban environment; "Jurassic Park 3" needed its Spinosaurus to juice up proceedings and now the 2015 vintage technically needs something that doesn't even exist to keep people interested. With a Tyrannosaurus-Rex in place of the lab-creation, but the film exactly as it otherwise is, things just wouldn't be as much fun. The trouble is, this new creation, echoing perhaps Frankenstien's Monster, is a bloodthirsty killer which does not take to being caged up, and it is not long before things get out of hand once it cuts loose. What follows is essentially a B-movie trussed up like an A-movie, an old adage which, I believe, was once attributed to Spielberg's "Jaws" anyway, although not in a derogatory manner, as the kids strive to survive in the wilderness; the park tries to contain the Indominus and Vincent D'Onofrio refuses to take "no" for an answer.

Along the way, we get plenty of dino-on-human and dino-on-dino action, but Trevorrow has a trick up his sleeve and it is the development of the Dallas-Howard character, whom is transformed from cold and robotic bureaucrat barely able to recall her nephew's name to hard-bodied supporting heroine on the front-line saving their lives. A very physical epitome of this might be the moment she physically tears away some of her clothes beside a waterfall in order to shed one 'skin' and embrace another. Various "body" theories have been coined about allowing the viewer to technically gauge just how far along the film has progressed by the state of a lead character's "body" without so much as even glancing at a watch.

Alas there is not much to marvel at away from the heavy spectacle of dinosaurs doing what dinosaurs used to do to one another, not to mention what they would almost certainly do to human-beings if in close proximity to them, aside from Dallas-Howard's aforementioned arc. Colin Trevorrow should strike us as a shrewd director, in that he manages to pay homage to the 1993 original in fairly audacious ways without ever really encroaching on it. Despite this, he manages to take what now appears to be a franchise that has been re-energised and reinvigorated to new and exciting places. The film is for sure a success, but is not innocent of lacking in several areas.
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Parker (2013)
Not the sort of adaptation we would have hoped for, as plastic action and rushed storytelling dominate.
30 December 2015
To be blunt, "Parker" doesn't work. It isn't thrilling enough to be the crime thriller it evidently wants to be and is not satisfying enough to be the rock-'em sock-'em actioner it seems to want to in part be as well. Its pace is unmeasured; its narrative loses us too many times; it doesn't seem to know what to do with its supporting characters and isn't funny when it's trying to be.

Jason Statham is the titular Parker, a thief with very little background to him other than the fact he is English; possesses a vast experience in engaging in heists and is married to a woman who is the daughter of an elderly gentleman that seems to know the ins and outs of the coast-to-coast American criminal underworld. Aficionados will already know that he is based on a character going on 60 years old: Donald Westlake's (writing under the penname Richard Stark) rouge gangster-cum-thief Parker, who first appeared in the novel "The Hunter" and the film "Point Blank". Back then, he was played by Lee Marvin but has, over the years, undergone an array of modifications that has seen him depicted by people as somewhat diverse as Mel Gibson and Peter Coyote.

Indeed, the last we saw of him was in 1999, when a troubled picture by the name of "Payback" was shoved into cinemas off the back of changes at the very top and a variety of re-shoots. In the meantime, he has appeared in a series of Darwyn Cooke graphic novels in the late 2000's which, from what I have seen, caught the mood and tone of a lot of what Stark wrote. "Parker" is brighter and breezier than much of its preceding kin; it is fluffier and more throwaway. The film, itself an adaptation of a book entitled Flashfire, which I have read, seems to be aware of who all the characters are but doesn't have the faintest idea in how to direct them around the screen.

The opening heist is at an Ohio county-fair, where the money made on the day is targeted by Statham and four other goons: a black one; a balding sociopath; a wormy one who's only there because of who he's related to and a demolitions expert, whose role is much smaller than in the novel upon which this is based. We are informed fairly early on that Parker is not an animal, in that he takes time to calm down a nervous hostage where another may have killed them on the spot. From here, violent disagreements (unrealistically played out in a moving vehicle) lead the others way with Parker's share to another job they need the total haul to pay for, and this causes Parker to have to start from scratch in getting over an injury; finding clothes; a car and whatnot so as to eventually find his share.

Statham, the wrong choice for the role, struggles with a character that is one-dimensional; flaccid and needs various shots of his scars to develop character. Stark's novel, neatly unfolded and indelibly written, provides all these people with the room they need to breath: the ditzy estate agent whose down on her luck looking to 'pull' the lead; the local Florida policeman who fancies her and thus threatens to rumble the plan she has with Parker the more he follows her around; the Latin-American forger who has his own problems; the gang of four who betrayed Parker in the first place and are now busy planning a new job; the anonymous assassin sent by the mafia to kill Parker after he interferes with their circles of influence.

Taylor Hackford looks to paint a canvas of similarly broad scope of these characters; people and scenarios, but does not manage it. His film constantly feels as if it is in a rush to get where it's going, when tone and mood are what characterise film-noir. Parker's relationship with Jennifer Lopez's estate-agent is not tense or teasing enough to have us genuinely feel like he is torn between falling for this woman and remaining faithful to his existing partner, who are very much into one another. Its centrepiece, this quite gruelling fight scene in a hotel suite involving knifes; shower curtains and all the other elements, merely reminds you of a better crime film in "Eastern Promises".

The great, overbearing thing hanging heavily over this film is the quite brilliant 1998 Steven Soderbergh film "Out of Sight" which, like "Parker", depicted a likable villain amidst a sea of psychopathic ones; provided its protagonist with an unlikely love interest and saw events dart from bleak industrial cities to sunny Florida hotspots. The casting of Lopez in this sense was poor judgement on the producer's behalf, who must have been aware how akin to Soderbergh's piece "Parker" would represent and that she played a role in making it as god as it was. I wanted to like "Parker" more than I did, but its existence is a sign of the times: flashy, shiny and colourful crime fiction featuring people ill-suited to the roles provided and unsure as to how to unfold a burning story because this is not the age of narrative film-making. If there is to be another Parker adaptation in the future, which I hope there will be, I would hope few people involved in this one have any say in how it turns out.
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Savages (2012)
Terse and often quite involving, but this is fairly hollow stuff in the long run.
30 December 2015
"Savages" has very little that is profound to say about both drugs and the narcotics trade, save that they can land you in a lot of trouble and that its universes are inhabited by some very dangerous people. The film is fast, loose and kinetic; its runtime clocks in at over two hours, despite not feeling like it. It is extraordinarily visceral and wallows in postmodernism to the extent that cathartic events towards the end are quite literally rewound by the narrator so as to depict them in a different way. It is also somewhat of a generic film – at one point, a character utters a ridiculously clichéd line along the lines of "smoke that....", before dropping an f-bomb and making an impossible shot with a scoped rifle unrealistic to the circumstances.

Quite, this is not for the crowd that enjoyed "Traffic" – its multi-stranded nature; insistence on dipping in and out of a varied glut of characters' fates and very airy, almost dreamlike aesthetic, as the camera waves in and out of compositions and has fun with focus and depth of field to put across a sense of feeling to the audience, is about all it has in common with said film.

"Savages" is told from the perspective of Blake Lively's Ofelia, whose name is abridged to merely "O" and who spends most of the time away from the very people whose actions she is telling us about and the places within which these things happen. She lives in Laguna Beach, California, with Chon (Kitsch) and Ben (Taylor-Johnson) – two young-ish men who are to the local marijuana trade what Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were to computers and microchips. We are told Shaun fought in the Middle East, and buries his scars with weed and blunt sexual intercourse with O, but this is not revisited. Both he and his dreadlocked accomplice, we sense, are too young to be competent enough to be running the operation (which extends as far as Africa and South East Asia) they do. They unrealistically possess access to a "Bourne"-like command centre; maintain an uneasy relationship with John Travolta's DEA agent and have an endless supply of cannabis.

O's background sees her, like so many people who get into marijuana, come from a family made broken by the lack of a father figure – something which saw her tumble out into the Californian counter culture and into a universe of hedonism and self-gratification. The abruptness of her name derives from a hatred of high-culture; reading and intellect, something synonymous with her type, in that it derives from a William Shakespeare text, and that cannot be tolerated... At one point, Shaun perfectly sums up the three's philosophy when he reminds Ben: "You were dead the second you were born."

"Welcome to paradise" O tells us as things open, but we then witness the threesome proceed to dull their brains and numb their senses through smoking in order to pass the time - in spite of living under the roaring sun; on a fabulous beach and with more than enough recreation in the form of cycling; surfing and otherwise to fill their hours. We have all frequented places that offer these things, at least once in our lifetimes, either in the capacity of holiday makers or otherwise – at no point, as we occupied these places of such beauty, did it occur to us that stupefying our minds with illicit substances might be rather a good idea.

The trio are so good at what they do, although we are unsure as to O's actual purpose, that they attract the attention of a bigger, broader Mexican cartel based just south of the border going through its own fiscal problems. Offering to move in and thus soak up some of the action, the gang, run by Selma Hayek, are aghast when Ben and Shaun say "no" – something which kicks off the kidnapping of O and forces the two supporting males into a spiral of blood; guts; guns and grief. But much of this has the film sound as if it is better than it is.

For what it is, "Savages" is bouncy and energetic, and it involves us enough to want to observe as to where things venture. Oliver Stone, a versatile and often very impressive director, has essentially made the Mexico-United States border narcotics thriller for this generation: the Skype calls; the keyboard warfare and the sub-Call of Duty sniper fights. The characters are young and hip – the expert on the hacking and computer data side of things even looks as if he fell out of an episode of "The O.C." When the time comes to see two stalwarts such as Travolta and del Toro share the screen, in what is a fairly intense dialogue-driven sequence, it feels as if Stone is pausing in order to provide those who can remember a little further back with a moment for themselves.

And so we come away from the film unable to either love or hate it – it would not be a misstep to recommend it, but to place it against some of Stone's other work and other films on the subject matter would be a mistake. Where "Savages" ends up, that is to say what propels its final act in the form of a counter-kidnap, might very well have occurred at the hour mark is the best exemplar of its structural problems. Films big in both scope and scale of the contemporary crime thriller sort, as two sides appear to constantly rub one another the wrong way, often have the potential to be truly memorable: "Heat" and "The Usual Suspects" taught us that. "Savages" is not one of these instances, but that is not to say it is of no worth.
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The Avengers (2012)
Very little to Marvel at here - a somewhat tame effort with an odd chuckle and a decent stunt, but mostly underwhelming.
31 December 2014
When we observe a supporting character, a mere mortal – a defenceless human-being, in Joss Whedon's "Marvel: Avengers Assemble" decide to single-handedly take on a near-indestructible son of a God, purely so as to come to the aid of a SECOND son of God, who is trapped inside a glass box, although has at his disposal a large hammer, and indeed pays for it with their life, you know you're not mining particularly intelligent territory.

This largely disappointing 2012 effort begins in a quasi-Area 51 style military base where a mysterious blue cube is pulsating enough for a race of monsters, who dress like the creatures in "Stargate" but look like something you might have caught in an episode of "Power Rangers", located on the other side of the universe to be attracted to it. Like Stargate, although with the roles here reversed, Tom Hiddleston's Loki (turns out Nordic mythology was the one, true religion) emerges from a portal created by the cube into this top secret laboratory and steals the cube in order to fabricate it so that the rest of the war mongering creatures can come through at a later date to destroy all human life.

A measure as to his menace and ability is put across in two ways: first, the ease to which he neuters the human beings – finding no threat in automatic weaponry and 'converting' them to his cause through a magic staff. Second, the way in which he is framed so as to encompass an eagle-like emblem in the background (actually the badge of the good guys) as he utters "Freedom is life's great lie..." – something designed to invoke a Hitler-like personality with what resembles the German 'National Adler' behind him.

Later on, there will be a strange allusion to Nazi Germany again when, in Germany of all places, he forces a score of German citizens to kneel before him, with one brave citizen standing up and making some allusion to how there will "always exist people like you" people who "want power". Had it been me, I would have cited a very famous remark, actually made famous in the twentieth century by a Communist, which goes: "It's better to die on your feet than to live on your knees". Had I still been in one piece to offer a further retort, I would have recommended he hop on over to the Middle East, where they're heavily into sprawling themselves out on the floor because a deity tells them to. Loki's philosophy on human existence essentially being one of desiring submission would be right at home.

But nobody watching Marvel: Avengers Assemble will know of anything about German life between the wars, nor will they have heard of the Versailles Treaty, nor that Hitler commanded not for people to kneel before him, merely salute out of respect and recognise that his policies had made Germany a nation that was rich enough to fool itself into thinking the Great War never even happened.

After Loki's theft, an otherwise needless character played by Samuel L. Jackson, whose purpose in the film is to look cool wearing an eye-patch and firing a bazooka, gets together a string of superheroes whom have each had their own blockbusters from as recently as 2008. These are the titular Avengers, although what they are "avenging", we do not know and the film's title card appears on the screen as if itself a response to a character's asking "What do we do?" following Loki's theft of the cube doomsday device. Given this, the film ought to be entitled "Assemble (the) Avengers". Tossed in is an archer and an expert in kung-fu, because they offer an alternative way to kill an enemy to the main heroes, who can do nothing more than keep blowing them up or swatting them away with their power.

The film is mostly noise, but good looking noise; made more bearable by the wonderful editing during the action sequences, particularly when a flying battleship loses its ability to fly mid-air and New York City is besieged during the finale, wherein it is clear what each of our protagonists are doing; where they are in relation to each other and how they are going about fulfilling their tasks amidst the elements. The film is essentially Superman II with multiple Supermen; a concoction of 1994's "Street Fighter", wherein each character is designated a fight with every other one, despite some of them being on the same side, with Stephen Norrington's damp 2003 squib "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen".

I don't mind action films, but action films with a great deal of special effects are often somewhat tiresome affairs. This 2012 feature is no exception here. Over the last 25 years, Hollywood has proved time and time again that the best action films carry with them that grounded sense of base-level operation being propelled by realistic heroes. This is why the street; highway and inner-city set event movies of a "Speed" or a "Die Hard: With a Vengeance" will always be superior to a Marvel: Avengers Assemble, films that do not rely on a tremendous amount of special effects but provide you with enough chase; pomp and bullet-time to have you feel as if you are caught in a crossfire.

Should be unfortunate to catch this good looking, although ultimately vacuous, 2012 feature, I sense you will be disappointed. I was left dissatisfied in being asked to believe that there could exist a form of authentic theism AND the existence of an alien species elsewhere in the universe without any of it being explored; left perplexed at the tremendous amount of science on display, in Iron Man's suit and Bruce Banner's fascinating ability to shift into a separate molecular form – the likes of which essentially smashes the concept of creationism. It is harmless; inoffensive and does indeed fly past nicely, but there's nothing here to get excited about.
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R100 (2013)
Cryptic little Japanese avant-garde piece, which will both reward and frustrate the open mind in good measure
16 September 2014
The thing that has always bugged me with regards to films about sadomasochism pertains as to how those primarily interested in such things are depicted, that is to say as unbalanced; deranged and generally mentally ill. Filmmakers often see things such as sadomasochism, I think, as outsiders to the pursuit, and thus deem it detached from the mainstream, which in mainstream language means that it is strange and perverted. Away from this, S&M is often the butt of a joke; rendered a 'go to' event for cheap laughs and engaged in by cartoon characters as well as those out for cheap kicks by writers. This is no better evident than in 2004's Eurotrip. The fact is, I am yet to see a film which accurately puts across the sense that the people depicted have genuinely reached a decision to undertake this activity. The characters are often skittish or disturbed. This is in ways that those very much into pulling members of the opposite sex in a loud, rowdy bar for one night gratification never are.

R100 seems to fall somewhere smack bang in the middle of all this – it does nothing to deconstruct the head of an S&M enthusiast, yet resists the easily obtained own goals upon which a director can doom his work. In a sense, it has nothing to do with S&M – this is in spite of its promotional material and the fact after seeing it, critics could talk of nothing else BUT its S&M content. In actuality, the film is a well-meaning and ambitious piece which aims, although fails, to deliver the sort of controversial avant-garde punch a Gaspar Noé film might otherwise succeed in doing. Instead, it comes off as a blend of "Being John Malkovich" and "The Player" with bits and pieces of famous Japanese auteur Ozu thrown in for good measure. Nao Ōmori plays Katayama, a low level department store salesman with a routine existence in a standard Japanese suburban town which he shares with his young son and elderly father, who comes around to visit every so often. This is punctured by the fact his wife is dying in a coma and he is on the brink of losing his job, although this second pointer is not explored later on as much as the film has you think it might.

For reasons that remain unclear, indeed so hazy that we must question as to whether they even happen, Katayama visits an underground club known as "Bondage" (an English word in a Japanese film, no doubt designed to distort the viewing experience for native viewers) where a deal is forged whereby various dominatrices of varying ages and sizes, but all with unworldly abilities, will randomly visit him for flash-sessions. Thereafter, the women will appear and disappear; they will beat him up in the street with nobody batting an eyelid; they will be there, wherever he may be, waiting for a spot-session. Do the patrons of a sushi bar look on in disgust at the fact a dominatrix smashes up Katayama's food with her bare hands prior to him eating it? Or is it Katayama's own grotesque eating habits which infuriate them, and the woman isn't even there. I notice a heavy insistence for the film to have us focus on the pills the Bondage club owner has in his possession when first visited. Was he just a drug dealer the whole time?

But none of this really tells you all of it. There are several ideas and films going on here at once: the fourth-wall breaking narrative about the producers who don't like the veteran director doing what he wants in his final film (which, it seems, doubles up as the film WE'RE watching); the tale of a middle aged man losing his mind through what appears to be an ecstasy addition and a bog-standard kitchen sink drama about a man and his son soldiering on through domestic strife. Try to imagine Ozu's "Good Morning" propped up by "My Neighbour Totoro", as imaginary friends and blurred lines between escapism and realism take centre stage. In ways that do not entirely make sense, Katayama ends up falling afoul of this organisation, whose earlier eerie ability to see people on the other sides of doors without the aid of CCTV lives up to its promise as his family become wrapped up in a postmodern series of life threatening games.

Why it is that this organisation goes from operating out of a grotty, pokey headquarters in a dilapidated apartment blocks to being able to boast CEO's flying in on private jets from abroad, is never explained. Nor too is as to why this indomitable "Hostel"-like underground gang do not merely hit the switch on his wife's life support machine as she lies there defenceless in a hospital. As it wears on, deliberately I'm sure, the piece falls apart at the seams; becoming stranger and stranger although maintain the ability to make total sense.

The ultimate problem with the film lies with the fact it doesn't have enough of a leash on it. I like the idea of there never being any mistresses in the first place, and that the women are essentially a metaphor for how drug addiction at a time of domestic angst can lead on to very bad things: hallucinations and the neglect of one's loved ones. There is a scene with a police man about half way through, where he outlines nothing can be done for the fact adults beating on adults in controlled environments is something they must get on with. He compares the relationship between master and slave as being akin to pro-wrestler and pro-wrestler: when one hurts the other, they do not sue for assault. I looked up the actress who played the aforementioned CEO: the leanest, meanest dominatrix-cum-brothel running yuppy type in history. It turns out she has a wrestling credit to her name. Is there something wrapped up in that?
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Hardly sparkling, nor indeed worth its weight, Goldmember has its amusing moments but limps in the long-run
5 October 2013
"Austin Powers in Goldmember" brings the curtain down on a mostly unremarkable series, something which exploded into life with an often funny spoof of spy films whose most interesting parts were when it juxtaposed life in the 60's with life in the 90's via subtle montages. It gave way to a sequel which ought not ever even existed such was its often intolerably lax nature, but Goldmember is a film which, to an extent, brings the franchise back. This is very much the sequel "The Spy Who Shagged Me" should have been, with Elizabeth Hurley's character from the first one perhaps returning to fill the role of the female accomplice; the time travel element removed and everything else remaining the same. Distancing itself from its roots was a brave thing for Goldmember to do, but distancing itself from the likes of the 1999 sequel was almost mandatory – thus, Jay Roach's 2002 second sequel is here stuck in a precarious position although just about manages to find a way out of it.

The film will begin loudly and bombastically, in a manner that suits most fatuous Hollywood action movies, via its aesthetic and general content. For a franchise to be synonymous with the Bond films, I view this as a slight on more contemporary entries and how devoid of character and charm they are in the opinion of the makers: spoofing Oddjob and the idea of a hunched, cat stroking villain in a swivel chair is good fun out of the fact these people and their characteristics are so distinct and charming – fast-forward to what we're expected to spoof through the likes of "Tomorrow Never Dies" or "The World is Not Enough" and much is lost. How are you meant to riff on something which is so action orientated and without the sort of soul evident in the films of the 60s? But the film is not even a "The Player" take on what goes on behind the backlots of Los Angeles, filthy money grabbing cameos-and-all. Nay, for what we get is yet another entry which appears to be bored of Dr. Evil as the villain (before changing its mind); appears to be bored of the 60's and thus sees the 70's as an ideal setting (before changing its minds for the 2000's) and wants to throw in this quasi-deep father/son relationship subplot which, around all the action and in true "Last Crusade" style, is meant to see us all sigh in recognition that two men of the same name finally come together and accept each another.

The chief difference in this third film compared to the others lies with its villain, Mike Myers' own Goldmember, a send up of 1964 smash Bond hit "Goldfinger". But where's the sense in sending up one of the most loved; most cherished Bond villains, about whom mostly nobody has anything nasty things to say? Spoofs are supposed to send up the relatively unloved; the often derided, the derivative and the easily mocked. Here, Goldmember is a world-hating; skin flake consuming abomination of a much admired former villain who speaks mock-Dutch and has suffered genital pratfalls. For a while, and with Myrers' other creation Dr. Evil behind bars, it looks like things are heading in the sorts of fresh directions with this fresh villain and the time setting of the 70's which was sorely required three years earlier. Alas, the film welches and it isn't long until we're back into a familiar groove whereby an African American character called Foxy Cleopatra (Knowles) is filling the female void whilst paying homage to a movement of films the target audience won't even have heard of. At one point, Knowles' character (herself an agent) is brought forward to the then present of 2002 – how does she react to this revelation? Why, by laughing at an Internet video of a monkey falling off a tree.

I read somewhere that Myers based his performance of Powers on that of Michael Caine's in his 1966 breakthrough role "Alfie" – look closely at Powers in that first one and you will see scraps of Caine's Harry Palmer character as espionage and British spy films of the 60's are parodied. I mention this out of the fact Caine appears in this entry as Nigel, Austin's father. In a franchise that needed to expand, Caine's suave take on a former top agent and the material they give him is, admittedly, somewhat amusing. The way in which he points out how useless anonymous henchmen often are when the time comes for them to take on the hero in these sorts of films not only cracks a good observational joke but tees up further changes another character will undertake when Nigel's capabilities in psychological warfare are applied.

Social critique was never the reason anyone tuned in to an Austin Powers film, but that doesn't mean there weren't instances of it in previous entries. Here, an amusing 'dance off' between Powers (with his group of 60s go-go dancers) and Britney Spears highlights an inherent clash in attitudes towards music of the then-and-now. Through Spears, we observe the highly provocative and heavily sexualised route contemporary popular music has undergone over the decades. Her backup singers are topless, everybody's clothing is black and leather invoked – things are much more aggressive. On the other side of the stage, Myers initiates a mock-fisticuffs session with Spears wherein his clothed, bubble-gum and seemingly normal troupe of flower-power girls and boys do battle to a thumping musical soundtrack as these two very distinct eras of music and attitudes towards dancing and music play out. The sequence isn't anything important plot-wise, but it's one of the best of the trilogy and proof that there is something at the centre of the whole Austin Powers idea which was always there, but just never quite tapped into. The film, like the series as a whole, is colourful and energetic but ultimately a bit drab and often inconsequential.
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