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Monday, October 29, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

Another late review but I've been a bit busy for the last week with writing for which actually get paid. Also, I missed the press screening for this so I paid to see it last week. Not that I would ever complain about paying for a new Wes Anderson film, of course, but still...

Like every Wes Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom will work brilliantly for Wes Anderson fans, but will probably leave everyone else wondering what the hell they just sat through. If you've seen the likes of Rushmore or the Royal Tenenbaums, you should know what you're in for and whether or not Anderson's very idiosyncratic form of storytelling works for you.

If you've never sampled anything from Anderson's oeuvre, though, then Moonrise Kingdom might actually not be a bad place to start - just prepare yourself for plenty of whimsy, deadpan comedy and wry drama, all filtered through a directorial style that is the very definition of ironic detachment. It may not be his best film, but it is very representative of his work and is probably his most consistent thing Anderson has done since The Royal Tenenbaums, a decade ago.

The plot of Moonrise Kingdom is the typical mix of screwy quirkiness and unassuming simplicity as a couple of outcast kids run away to start a new life together, away from their controlling guardians and bullying peers who cannot hope to understand them. What unfolds then is a strangely wonderful mix of magical realism; familial drama; adventure and one of the year's best and most unlikely romances - all told with increasingly strange, yet thoroughly endearing characters and plenty of that old Wes Anderson comic charm.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Piranha 3DD

Oh, I wish I liked this more...

Also at Channel 24

What it's about

After the calamitous events at Lake Victoria, the prehistoric piranhas set their sites on a new target: Big Wet, a water park that is set to open just in time to draw massive crowds for the start of spring break. It's up to the daughter of the greedy and corrupt owner of Big Wet to stop her father from opening the park and causing an even bigger massacre than the one that occurred the summer before.

What we thought

Thanks to Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders, we already know that there's a thin line between love and hate, but who knew that the line awesome and awful would be thinner still. When I reviewed Piranha 3D a couple of years ago, I noted that it was about as good a piece of unapologetically exploitative trash as you could hope to find. It was the sort of the film that the badder it got, the better it was.

Here we are, less than two years later, and its sequel is already upon us. Once again its mixture of gore, boobs and self-aware silliness is just as unapologetic, just as trashy and just as exploitative as it was in the first film – if not significantly more so – and yet, Piranha 3DD fails miserably at capturing even a fraction of its predecessor's grotty charm.

It wasn't going to be easy to replicate the first film's surprisingly deft balance of sleaze and likeability, but it's still pretty shocking to consider how far and how quickly this franchise has fallen with just its sophomoric effort – especially since it sticks so closely to the formula of its predecessor.

Yes, as the title implies, its bigger and brasher than Piranha 3D, but Piranha 3DD seemingly redresses the balance by being even more aware of its own silliness and even more willing to poke fun at itself. And, to be fair, it might smack of opportunistic money-grabbing but, for all of its gleeful blood-letting and sexual objectification, it never feels truly mean-spirited or hateful.

The film isn't at all truly objectionable or obscene (even puritanical Middle America doesn't seem to have much to say on the matter), it's just total rubbish and more than a little dull. It comes across as less a full on sequel to Piranha 3D and more of a pale remake. Remakes are one thing but remakes of remakes? How could this not have ended badly?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Paranormal Activity 4

This is the only film coming out this week that I've seen, but that certainly doesn't make it the film of the week. I definitely intend to see Moonrise Kingdom soon after it releases so look out for a review of that, but for now here is yet another rubbish Paranormal Activity film.

Also up at Channel 24 

What it's about

It's been five years since the disappearance of Katie and Hunter and the events of the first Paranormal Activity film, but similarly strange things start happening to another suburban family after they start getting involved in the lives of their neighbours: a single mother and her young son.

What we thought

The first Paranormal Activity film was a perfectly decent, competently put together haunted house film that was made while the whole “found footage” gimmick was still relatively tolerable and, considering that it cleaned up at the box office, while costing next to nothing to make, it's hardly surprising that it was turned into a franchise. What was perhaps less expected though, was just how quickly the franchise crashed and burned with the frankly excruciatingly boring Paranormal Activity 2. The film was so bad in fact that I went out of my way to ignore the third instalment entirely. To be fair though, based on the apparent complete lack of references to it in Paranormal Activity 4, so did the people who made it.

The good news then, is that Paranormal Activity 4 is a gigantic improvement over Paranormal Activity 2 in that it's merely dull, tired and uninspired, rather than life-threateningly boring. That might not seem like much, I grant you, but there is a noticeable difference between a film that gently lulls you to sleep and one that brings you dangerously close to slitting your wrists.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Five-Year Engagement

Anyone in the mood for a top notch mainstream romantic comedy? I have just the thing for you.

It's funny, I keep on harping on and on about how not only is Emily Blunt hands down one of modern cinema's most likable leading ladies, she has this uncanny ability to seemingly always work with some of modern cinema's most likable leading men. While I'm still waiting for her to work with real life hubby, John Krasinski, we now have her acting alongside the effortlessly, yet atypically, charming Jason Segal in The Five-Year Engagement.

Coming from the producing stable of Judd Apatow, directed by Forgetting Sarah Marshall's Nicholas Stoller and co-written by Stoller and Segal, The Five-Year engagement has some serious comedic talent behind it, but it sill manages to distinguish itself from the "Apatow pack". It's definitely too long, especially during the inevitable relationship-disintegration sequence, but, aside for that, it's a pretty damn perfect romantic comedy.

I would say that the rom-com gets a bad rep from "true" film fans and, well, men but the problem with most mainstream, Hollywood romantic comedies is that they tend to be cynical and depressing, rather than romantic and funny and are entirely deserving of their rotten reputation. It's a pleasure then to see a mainstream romantic comedy that bucks the genre's uglier trends at every turn. The Five-Year Engagement is genuinely romantic, genuinely human, genuinely free of cynicism and, oh yes, genuinely very, very, very funny.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ruby Sparks

Romantic comedies, they're like buses...

Now, admittedly, Ruby Sparks is more of a drama than a comedy and more of a character study than a classic romance, but considering how rare it is to come across a genuinely good movie that can, in some way at least, be classified as a romantic comedy, I'm going to count this as a win for that particularly benighted genre.

Based off a high-concept that could easily come out of the early days of Woody Allen's back catalogue, Ruby Sparks tells the story of a lonely writer who starts writing about the girl of his dreams, only to find that she has miraculously leaped off the page and into his lap. The film initially comes off as a light, playful screwball comedy about a guy who literally creates the girl of his dreams before moving into far darker, far more intriguing territory that explores the very idea of a "dream mate" and how what you want may not really be what you need, or for that matter what you want.

Based on a cracking script from lead actress and screenwriter Zoe Kazan - shockingly, her first - Ruby Sparks is an undoubtedly flawed work that features an immensely unlikable central character and a tonal inconsistency that comes with so versatile a high concept, but it is also a gripping, intriguing, moving and thought provoking gem of a film that is as likely to disturb as it is to delight.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Roundup for September 2012

As you may have noticed, I have fallen somewhat behind lately. As such, here are some quick reviews of the films I have not yet had a chance to cover that came out this month.

The Flowers of War: I'm strangely ambivalent about this one. On the one hand, you have some good performances, not least of which from Christian Bale, some pretty beautiful war cinematography and a story that is not without its more moving moments. And yet, it's way too long, over-egged in both its emotions and its storytelling and is surprisingly forgettable. And yes, the criticism that this is yet another film all about how a bunch of helpless Easterners get saved by a heroic Westerner is sadly justly earned and the rest of the film isn't good enough to make this central flaw all that easy to overlook. Also worth mentioning is just how unapologetically biased it is. The Japanese in this film are very, very bad, while the Chinese are very, very good. Whether this is a criticism or not, I'm not sure, but it's definitely something that sticks out in this day and age of politically correct filmmaking