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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Roundup of films released on 11 and 18 November.

Most of South Africa's media today has been turned towards the passing of the Secrecy Bill - and rightly so - it's a crushing blow against our constitution and the freedom of the press. I'm tempted to write more about it but, really, what's the point. This isn't some great ethical dilemma, where both sides clearly have some sort of legitimacy. Here it's pretty simple: if you oppose the bill, you're clearly a right thinking individual with your head screwed on and your heart in the right place; if you don't then please feel free to sod off back to Stalinist Russia where you so clearly belong.

With all that out of the way, I'm going to use my constitutional right to beat the living shit out of some films that truly deserve it. Sadly, Adam Sandler and the Wayans Brothers didn't bother to release anything over the last fortnight so there goes that plan. Still, I'll try and make do. 

Everything Must Go is the only film I haven't reviewed yet from last week and I sort of feel I needn't really bother. It's not a bad film by any means but it is the textbook definition of a forgettable indie-drama. Will Ferrell is back in a more dramatic role as a recovering alcoholic whose wife has left him and, on the day that he loses his job, changes all the locks on the doors of their house and throws out all his stuff, leaving him broke and alone on their front lawn. It's not quite as dark as it seems but it's hard to say whether that's because of the relationships he strikes up with his attractive and very pregnant neighbour (Rebecca Hall) and a kid from the neighbourhood who he employs to help him sell off some of his junk (a very impressive Christopher Jordan Wallace) or because the film is directed by newcomer Dan Rush with such deadpan understatement that it never truly delivers anything of any real emotional clout. As for Ferrell, he's pretty good here and, by leaving his funnyman schtick at home, he ensures that no one will be truly offended or annoyed by the film. They may well be bored, though.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Straw Dogs 2011

Originally posted at Channel24, here's my review of a very, very befuddling remake.

What it's about:

A remake of the 1970s cult-classic, Straw Dogs tells the story about a young screenwriter and his wife (played by James Marsden and Kate Bosworth) who relocate to the small southern town where she grew up. What was intended as a quiet getaway for him to work soon becomes something far more sinister as the couple are harassed with increasing intensity by the town's locals.

What we thought:

Before so much as broaching the subject of the film's worth – or lack thereof – based on its own merits, one first has to deal with that great white elephant in the room: Why on God's green earth would anyone want to remake Straw Dogs in the first place?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1

I've fallen a bit behind with updates recently but a roundup of films released over the last couple of weeks is forthcoming - as is my review of the odd remake of Straw Dogs. For now, though, while it is fresh in my mind after having seen it this afternoon (they forgot to invite me to the screening), my thoughts of the latest in the frankly inexplicably huge Twilight saga. 

Those vegetarian, twinkly vampires are back for the first part of the final installment of the cinematic adaptation of the biggest literary success since the Harry Potter series. And if you think that sentence is overblown and long-winded, wait until you see the film. The last three films have ranged between laughably bad and pretty poor but the Twilight series has never been this boring.

The usual ingredients are all here: sparkly vampires, brooding werewolves, mostly irrelevant humans and - most crucially - the overcooked romance between a human girl and her soulful vampire suitor and the excruciating agony of their inability to consummate their relationship without the monster within him bursting free. Now, as always, I find it impossible to watch a Twilight film without being seriously bugged by just how much this whole plot is ripped straight out of Buffy The Vampire Slayer season 3 (and even though it was by far the worst thing about that particular season, it was just oh so much better there) but this time things are slightly different: Bella and Edward are getting married and, at last, they will finally get round to doing the deed - in strictly PG13 fashion, of course.           

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


And now for the film of the week...

 50/50 is that most tricky of balancing acts: a gut-wrenching drama about cancer that also happens to be consistently laugh-out-loud funny. That it's gut-wrenching isn't particularly surprising when you consider that, tragically, the topic of cancer (no play on "Tropic of Cancer" intended, smart asses) has probably ever been more relevant. It's hard to find anyone who hasn't tackled with this most infernal of infernal diseases in their own life, whether suffering personally or watching a loved one struggle with it. What makes 50/50 a truly worthwhile work, though, is its perfect use of well-timed comedy and properly-placed sentiment (a well-worn book in a bathroom, perhaps?) to elevate what could so easily have been an unpleasant, probably mawkish, masochistic viewing experience into something truly humane, uplifting and exquisitely moving. And, yes, at times very, very funny to boot.

Monday, November 7, 2011


With Tower Heist out of the way, there are only a further two films that I need to take a look at from last week. I do want to catch up with Attack the Block at some point but, for now, here's my thoughts on the first of two fairly noteworthy films.

The tagline on the poster kind of says it all but Anonymous explores a fairly simple conceit in a rather convoluted way: did William Shakespeare actually write all the plays and sonnets that bare his name or was William Shakespeare simply an actor who used his name as a way of protecting the reputation of the works' true author, an aristocrat named Edward De Vere, The Earl of Oxford, in an ultra-puritanical England? It's a very interesting conceit that the film does its best to make a strong case for its validity but the more you think about it, the more it shows itself to be nothing but silly, utterly unprovable conjecture.

More interestingly still, is the way the film explores the way Shakespeare-or-whoever's plays affected and were affected by an England cruelly divided by class and oppressively ruled by a particularly puritanical, fundamentalist branch of Christianity. While the "religious leaders" balked at any artistic endeavor as, at best, a childish waste of time and, at worst, fundamentally anti-God, the paranoid oligarchy heavily censored all art with even the slightest hint of sedition. The film uses this political and sociological climate as the seemingly perfect environment to posit the idea that the works of "William Shakespeare" were tools used by an aristocrat to rile up the masses - quite successfully at that - against what he sees to be a grossly unfair and unjust ruling class.     

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tower Heist

No roundup of last week's releases because the only other film I saw was 30 Minutes or Less, which was the very definition of forgettable. Here, however, is a review from Channel24 of the surprisingly decent Tower Heist, which opens this week.

What it's about:
After a group of working stiffs find themselves the victims of the duplicitous dealings of a wealthy Wall Street broker, they conspire to get their own back by breaking into his luxury penthouse apartment and robbing him of a multi-million dollar fortune that he has stashed away.

What we thought:

Tower Heist has a number of things wrong with it but, by the time you reach the end of its surprisingly entertaining 100-odd minutes, there's only one flaw that is of any consequence. This film is preposterous, asinine, unbelievable, fatuous and utterly unmemorable and yet, when you get right down to it, the only real crime that it is genuinely guilty of is one of (as Woody Allen might put it) "insufficient laughter".

What we have here is obviously not high art. Tower Heist is a dopey heist-comedy whose only real goal is to provide a couple of breezy hours of escapist entertainment, which it achieves quite effortlessly. It is, no more and no less than, a slickly put together piece of trashy, feel-good entertainment.