Monday, 17 September 2012

God Bless America Review

Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Year: 2012
Starring: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr
Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 105 minutes

God Bless America
I love films like God Bless America. I'm a sucker for dark satire and cultural commentary. I love films that mock pop culture, and expose the many flaws within it for our entertainment. When the trailer for God Bless America was released, I was naturally interested. I expected all of the aforementioned qualities that I enjoy to manifest themselves in this new film. I was bitterly disappointed. What I ended up viewing was a pathetic, extreme and somewhat perfunctory attempt at satirising modern culture. The film never really seems to know what it wants to be, switching from dramedy to borderline action flick at the drop of a hat. It seems that the characters are supposed to be likable, but they are the exact opposite. Good dialogue is wasted in an overall failed product, making the viewer frustrated that it hadn't been put to better use. This, and many other things, contribute to making God Bless America one of the most disappointing films of the year.

The story is, in a word, ridiculous. Middle-aged Frank works in an office. He is sick of the downward spiral of American culture and the seemingly decreasing intelligence of the American population. He is told by his doctor that he has an inoperable tumour in his brain. Frank plans to kill himself, but just before he does so, he is prevented by something he sees on television: a girl named Chloe on a reality TV show screaming at her parents because they got her the wrong car for her birthday. Delaying his suicide, he goes down to Chloe's high school, and handcuffs her to her car. Does he give her a long-winded rant about her wrongdoings? Does he attempt to open her eyes to the bigger picture? Does he try and show her how to be a better person? Nope, he shoots her in the face. The only witness to the murder (which I find very difficult to believe considering it happened directly outside a highly populated high school) is Roxie, a by-the-numbers withdrawn type of girl. "Did you just kill Chloe? Awesome!" she says, in the tone that one would use if they were describing a solar eclipse. This is where God Bless America begins, as Frank and Roxie go off and pump everyone they hate full of lead for no apparent reason.

I'd be lying if I said that I didn't find it entertaining. It was rather amusing watching this pair blasting people away, simply because it was done in such a playful manner. However, it's clear that the film was trying to convey a deeper meaning. This is where it completely falters. As Frank and Roxie begin to list off their targets, one would expect rapists, abusers and maybe even robbers to be on the agenda. They would be incorrect. Instead, a man who takes up two parking spaces is gunned down without hesitation, as Frank and Roxie stride off with grins on their faces. Uh, okay. The only people in this film that Frank and Roxie hunt down that are even close to deserving such punishment are a crazy church group, obviously intended to parody the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. Everyone else that is a victim of their deluded spree are seemingly irritating people, but in the case of most of them, their actions aren't even punishable by a kick to the nuts, never mind a bullet in the head. It's impossible not to feel that director Goldthwait's message is unnecessarily exaggerated in this film. Perhaps he thought this would benefit the film in terms of effect. He was wrong.

The first twenty or so minutes of the film are actually very impressive. Frank's rant to a colleague at the office about how people are exploited on shows such as America's Got Talent and The X Factor actually resonates and is delightfully relevant. In fact, pretty much everything up until the point where he meets Roxie is enjoyable enough. However, I'm not criticising the character of Roxie. It's their actions that make the film take a downturn. Tara Lynne Barr's turn as Roxie makes me very interested to see what else the young actress can offer. She has a certain unique disposition about her that is very fascinating, and she suited the role of this disturbed character very well. Likewise with Joel Murray. I don't think anyone else would have suited the role of Frank, but both main performers have been put in a film that offers them nothing more than bad attempts at cultural relevance and dark humour. It manages to point out flaws in culture, but doesn't deal with them well within the context of the film. It's full of plot holes and silliness. It's almost as if an operating police force does not exist in the world of God Bless America, as Frank and Roxie spend days killing people going largely undetected.

Overall, the film is just far too mean-spirited to be a success. It's almost as if Goldthwait wasn't even trying to make an effective film. The film is just one giant downward spiral into an unbelievably dumb conclusion that will leave a very small minority of people satisfied. The film has some strong aspects, but they are placed in a feature that is unsound and weak as a whole. The film is desperate to be meaningful, and just ends up being cruel and crass. In a consistently disappointing film, it's low point has to be a scene that takes place in a movie theatre, where a group of young people are among the first victims of the murderous duo. Why are they brutally gunned down? They didn't turn off their cell phones. Right.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Top 30 LOST Characters

Having just finished the masterful six-season show LOST, created by J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber and Damon Lindelof, I felt it appropriate to list my 30 favourite characters from the show. A lot of my choices will be unusual and might not go down well with fellow fans, but what do I care. Here goes:

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Prometheus Review

Director: Ridley Scott
Year: 2012
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender 
Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 124 minutes

Earlier in 2012, people were buzzing with anticipation for releases such as The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers, myself included. But ever since its trailer was released, one film caught my eye and filled me up with excitement - Prometheus. Prometheus follows the story of a group of scientists - led by Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) - who discover a star map on the Isle of Skye, which leads them to the moon LV-233. They arrive here aboard their ship Prometheus in 2093, hoping to discover the origins of the human race: the "Engineers" who created us, and why they did it. Piloting the ship is Janek (Idris Elba), and also aboard is Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), a Weyland Corporation employee sent to monitor the mission. The founder of this Corporation, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), funds the creation of the vessel, but he is apparently dead by the time the mission is activated. Eager to explore, the group - which includes the android David (Michael Fassbender) and an array of other scientists - heads out to an alien structure near where Prometheus has landed. They discover many alien artifacts, a colossal statue of a a human head and the body of a giant alien, believed to be one of the "Engineers". An approaching storm cuts the expedition short, but two scientists are left behind. The rest of the crew manage to return to the ship safely, with the head of the Engineer. However, the mission begins to go awry when the two scientists are killed by snake-like creatures in the night.

Prometheus is as beautiful as it is disturbing, as challenging as it is fascinating, and as powerful as it is resonant. The story builds wonderfully, bracing the audience with a slow start, building up suspense as things start to go wrong. The scenery is absolutely mind-blowing - from the very first frame I was engrossed by the panoramic landscapes and the detailed settings. Ridley Scott uses CGI among other special effects to create a brooding, effective atmosphere, rather than just for flash. There isn't any overuse of violence here, we are given just the right amount that prevents there being too little or too much. Ridley Scott obviously knew exactly what audiences wanted from Prometheus: a film that is effective and entertaining, but challenges the viewer at the same time. It will leave you asking many a question, perhaps wanting answers, but what's important is that Ridley Scott does this craftily and without ramming anything down our throats. Comparisons to the Alien franchise are unfortunately inevitable, as they are set in the same universe, but all in all, Prometheus really doesn't have much to do with the Alien films. It is a different story that stands on its own two feet, so referencing any of those films in this review would be completely unnecessary. 

The acting in Prometheus is top-notch. Noomi Rapace gives a career-defining performance as Elizabeth Shaw, displaying the character's capriciousness with great effect, going from excited, to eager, fascinated, distraught, desperate and hopeful, among many other emotions. Her line delivery is spot-on: during the latter stages of the film, some of the the lines that she comes out with are truly heartbreaking, and leave the viewer begging for her survival. Michael Fassbender is phenomenal as the android David. I was entirely convinced throughout by his performance. I cannot begin to fathom how difficult it must have been for him to turn himself into an android, but he did it successfully, and made his character suitably eerie and fascinating. Also giving another great performance is Charlize Theron, who transforms her character from a simple crew member into a cold, vicious, merciless woman. All other supporting performances are above average, including Guy Pearce, who tranforms so much I barely even recognised him. It's a shame that Prometheus probably won't get much attention around Oscar-time, but the acting truly is wonderful. Every main character was unique and had enough meat for me to care about them, thanks to brilliant character development and powerful acting.

Another thing that contributed to my love of Prometheus was the philosophy that came with it. As the story advances, the film will ask more and more metaphysical questions: how did the human race come to be? Who created us? Why did they create us? Where did they come from? The film will answer these questions within its own fictional universe, but it will also leave you asking these questions for our universe. Prometheus' interpretation of these questions is gripping, cleverly done and interesting enough to keep the viewer hooked. Another element that makes this film work is the soundtrack - the songs vary from uplifting to dark, to set the tone appropriately - crafted skillfully by Marc Streitenfeld. All of these aspects - the atmosphere, the acting, the character development, the plot, the direction, the philosophy, the music - are perfectly great on their own, but when they all come together in this film, it is simply out of this world. There isn't a dull moment in sight in this film, thanks to Ridley Scott's masterful direction and all who were involved in making this excellent feature. 

In conclusion, I would recommend this film to pretty much everyone. An exception would be people who are going to do nothing but criticise the film based on the Alien franchise. The two are barely alike, so making these comparisons would do nothing but spoil the experience for you. I think most people, including fans of the Alien films, will enjoy Prometheus, a satisfying, powerful and resonant film that will please anyone who loves intelligent sci-fi. I don't know if I could have wanted anything more from Prometheus, a top-line, engaging, eerie, visually mesmerising, gripping, atmospheric, riveting metaphysical study. It is without a doubt the best film I have seen this year thus far. It has set a high standard for the summer releases of 2012, and perhaps even the later releases. 

Saturday, 19 May 2012

War Horse Review

Director: Steven Spielberg
Year: 2011
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson 
Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 146 minutes

War Horse
Labels akin to "Typical Spielberg pat" have been placed on War Horse, a picture that was destined to divide audiences. One aspect of the film that has been overwhelmingly one-sided with audiences are the visuals, which have been described as breathtaking, and they are worthy of such praise. I was engrossed and swept up by almost every meticulous, stunning scene. However, the visuals weren't enough for many - the complaints that I have heard vary from the film being sickeningly sweet to the film attempting to tell too many stories - but upon watching the film, I have come to a realisation: cheesiness isn't always a flaw. The film is undoubtedly sappy, and the events so miraculous that a five year-old would struggle to believe them, but this begs the question: isn't that one of the reasons that we go to the cinema? For miracles, for extraordinary tales, and to have, well, great cinematic experiences. For me, who enjoys these experiences, War Horse succeeded with flying colours. However, visuals and cinematic aesthetics are not the only areas in which War Horse shines.

I liked pretty much every character. Each one had some essence of individuality, and I enjoyed watching them progress, whether their screen time was brief or prolonged. Jeremy Irvine succeeds in making Albert Narracott a classic Spielberg lead, offering charm and personality at every turn. Peter Mullan and Emily Watson are strong as Albert's parents; Ted, a struggling farmer who purchases a horse - later named Joey - to plough his field so he can grow crops and pay his landlord Mr. Lyons (David Thewlis), and Rose, a strong-headed, family-orientated housewife. Joey, who initially struggles to perform his task, eventually manages to plough the field, thanks to arduous and thorough training from Albert, whom he forms a friendship with. This friendship is torn apart, however, when the war begins, and Ted sells Joey to Captain James Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) for the war, after heavy rain destroys the crops that had been planted. Despite Albert's protests, Joey is taken to war, on a promise from Nicholls that he will look after Joey just as closely as Albert did whilst raising him. We are then taken on a journey through the lives of Joey and Albert, both affected by the war, yet still connected by friendship.

As cliche as it may be at times, the story is nonetheless gripping. The narrative is essentially your typical underdog story; but instead of the central character being a human faced with a fight or a crucial sports match, we are shown a horse who has to overcome war against all odds. This tale is shown beautifully and lovingly, with the horse encountering various people and issues. Joey, along with his fellow war horse Topthorn, are taken into care by a little girl named Emilie (Celine Buckens) and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup), albeit briefly. In the short while that we are with these two characters, they are developed fantastically. I grew swiftly enchanted with the little girl because of what is revealed about her as a person: how fragile she is physically, but how strong-willed she is mentally. I was slightly miffed about how short her time onscreen was, as I feel she could have developed even more over the course of the film, if she had been included. Despite this, engaging characters are plentiful, and the story was gripping enough to allow me to forgive this.

At certain points, the pacing doesn't flow too well. The transitions between a few of the stories are slightly jarring, and the film does burn through a lot of characters in a short period of time. However, I am willing to forgive this, as I interpreted it as a method of relating back to war, the setting and theme of the film. Perhaps Spielberg's intention was to make certain patches of the film incoherent to represent what war can mean for many: separation, confusion, heartbreak and loss. In all honesty, I felt that the film reflected war in a very moving and gritty way. All of the scenes which included battles were very powerful, and a particular scene in which Joey runs through No Man's Land, jumps trenches, falls over multiple times and eventually is caught in barbed wire nearly brought me to tears. The subsequent scene - where we see two soldiers of opposing British and German sides travelling to the middle of No Man's Land to free the horse from the barbed wire - was probably my favourite in the entire film. It's an unlikely scenario, but beautiful nonetheless.

War Horse concludes with what many will interpret as a happy ending. While this is true, we are reminded that many of the side characters have died, and also of the loss of around fifteen million people during the war. I personally felt that this ending was pitch-perfect, reflecting the tragic theme of the film, but offering us solace in the joy of some people. War Horse is undoubtedly recommended to anyone who loves cinema and enjoys being swept up by gorgeous scenery, a wonderful score and a strong story with (mostly) memorable characters. For anyone who hates cinematic miracles and can't handle a little bit of pat, stay clear. I expected to like War Horse, but not nearly as much as I actually did, and I wouldn't have a moment's hesitation in watching it again. Everyone involved has helped to construct an entertaining, moving, cinematic and aesthetically pleasing picture in War Horse, an authentic Spielberg venture worthy of my 146 minutes.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

2011-2012 Oscar Winners Predictions/Hopes

Despite the fact that every time the Oscar nominations flood in, we are riddled with disappointment and left reeling with what could have been, it's hard not to get at least a little bit immersed in the buzz. So it is here, in my 1st Annual Oscar Winners Predictions, I give you my predicted winners, whilst I'm still in the buzz. Also, I'm only listing the more major categories. I really don't see the point in spending time editing pointless categories that no one really cares about anyway. NOTE: The people that I think will win are in bold, who I WANT to win is underlined. If more than one nominee is underlined, it's because I wouldn't mind either or winning. 

Midnight In Paris
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Artist
The Descendants
The Help
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Woody Allen - Midnight In Paris
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne - The Descendants
Martin Scorsese - Hugo

Dámian Bichir - A Better Life
George Clooney - The Descendants
Jean Dujardin - The Artist
Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt - Moneyball

Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis - The Help
Rooney Mara - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams - My Week With Marilyn

Kenneth Branagh - My Week With Marilyn
Jonah Hill - Moneyball
Nick Nolte - Warrior
Christopher Plummer - Beginners
Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Bérénice Bejo - The Artist
Jessica Chastain - The Help
Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer - The Help

The Artist - Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids - Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo
Margin Call - J.C. Chandor
Midnight In Paris - Woody Allen
A Separation - Asghar Farhadi

The Descendants - Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Hugo - John Logan
The Ides of March - George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon 
Moneyball - Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin 
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan 

A Cat In Paris - Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli
Chico and Rita - Fernando Treuba and Javier Mariscal 
Kung Fu Panda 2 - Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Puss In Boots - Chris Miller
Rango - Gore Verbinski

*Have only seen Rango, which I didn't enjoy. This will be updated at a later date.

In Darkness
Monsieur Lazhar 
A Separation

*Haven't seen any, updated at a later date.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Mary and Max Review

Director: Adam Elliot
Year: 2009
Starring: Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Country: Australia
Language: English
Runtime: 90 minutes

Mary and Max
Striking, deftly stylised and emotionally resonant. Usually, that is what one searches for within the realms of the animation genre; and Mary and Max duly delivers in that department. Toni Collette imparts an enchanting, warm voice to the character of Mary - a small, fragile 8-year-old girl, paranoid and lonely due to the neglect represented by her mother, a cold, alcoholic and arrogant woman - and her father, a conspicuously unsatisfied man; both in life and his monotonous occupation. Mary finds solace in Max, a forty-four year old man living in New York, who has suffered from obesity and autism from a very young age, after finding his number in a phone book whilst trying to discover where babies come from in America. The relationship is atypical (making way for a very profound and confounding societal commentary) but the two are able to relate in social neglect, taste in television and their love for chocolate, cake and other confections. Their friendship valiantly fights on through many significant events as the pair grow older, such as Mary's marriage and brief spell of success with a book about Asperger's (which infuriates Max) and Max winning the lottery and overcoming people's judgmental views and standpoints on him. It does all of that brilliantly, but Mary and Max didn't quite live up to the grand eulogies bestowed upon it by many fellow film lovers.

One of the critical problems I found within the film, is that it has damaging pacing problems. Instead of slowly and skillfully moving through the time periods embroidered with the film, it scarpers through them, leaving less time for emotion to resonate. When a friendship starts - especially in the unusual circumstances of this particular one - it takes time for the relationship to become strong and flourish - when the film simply rushes through the character's ages, how are we expected to see, admire and enjoy this happening?  Mary and Max succeeds thoroughly in a lot of areas and aspects, but unfortunately, structure isn't one of them, and it shows vividly. It's also very difficult to become immersed, involved and engrossed with a character's development when crucial parts of their development are skipped to speed up the story line. Perhaps a longer running time would have been a little bit more appropriate for this film to evade such problems, but there's always the unfortunate barrier that the film might grow boring if the running time is extended. Nonetheless, I was left bitterly disappointed and unimpressed by the chronological route that the narrative took.

Returning to where the film succeeds, the soundtrack is absolutely BEAUTIFUL - the use of 'Perpetuum Mobile' by Penguin Cafe Orchestra blends stunningly with the contrasting light and dark atmospheres reflected throughout Mary and Max, along with many other delightful tunes of differing genres, each slotting perfectly into their selected scenes. Secondly, the majority of the film is narrated, and although I don't always enjoy narration - it works wonders here - with Barry Humphries adjusting the tone of his voice skillfully to be apt to the mood. The dialogue is very sharp, witty and not susceptible to cliche and niches; it is unique and distinct. The animation - although having been done before - feels original and authentic, likely due to it being melded with a distinctive broody atmosphere and fresh characters for the genre; ones you wouldn't usually find in your quintessential animation. In general, the animation is animation in its finest form - beautiful to look at, exhilarating and due to its feel of originality, it doesn't get boring - making way for some pretty solid eye candy. Mary and Max has many thriving minuscule aspects, but the ones mentioned are the ones that are heavy and dense enough as to stand out from the crowd.

My next complaint is not so much a devastating flaw within the film, but instead a personal reason: the film never really 'clicked' for me. Normally when I watch a film that I consider masterful, I am usually comfortable within the opening segment of a film, but here, I never genuinely felt comfortable. I don't think it was anything to do with the unwonted feel of the film in terms of genre, but perhaps because every time I almost became fully accustomed with the film, I found a slight flaw that would retract back to the uncomfortable sensation that I had prior. Another personal problem that I had with it is that I could never help but compare it to Fantastic Mr. Fox - one of my person favourite animations - and if you were to ask me why I continuously made these comparisons, I honestly wouldn't be able to tell you. This never-ending subconscious feeling of similarity between the two films throughout the viewing experience has probably deteriorated my overall opinion of the film, as I probably felt subconsciously that Mary and Max had to live up to Fantastic Mr. Fox to garner a higher rating from me, which is why a second viewing of this film is guaranteed from me, and next time, I shall train myself not to make the comparison. 

If you have consistently read my reviews, you will know that if I give a film a rating any lower than 3.5/4, I'm very critical of it, it's just the way I write. However, a lot of films that I roast are in total, good films - and that's exactly what Mary and Max is. I found a lot of flaw - personal and impersonal - but it compensates by being a very enjoyable, fresh and praiseworthy venture. It undoubtedly warrants a second viewing from me, and in all honesty, I'm looking forward to it, because despite the difficulties I had watching it, it was a unique and unparalleled viewing experience, and the audacity and daring intentions of Adam Elliot and all involved with Mary and Max shine through. A fair warning - don't watch this film if you're in a good mood, and don't want that mood to be disturbed - this film will destroy, jolt, and revive your emotion within the proximity of a few scenes. To conclude, if you haven't seen Mary and Max, it is, evidently, worth a watch. Even if you feel similar to me on initial viewing, it has enough cute quirks and strong aspects to follow through from any flaw. As I said, I look forward to watching this again, and I also look forward to contemplating the intricate and singular experience that I have just sustained.