Saturday, 19 July 2014

Review - Smart People (2008 - Dir. Noam Murro)



Probably not one of Ellen Page's most well known films - in fact, I'd never heard of it - and despite the fact that I was hoping Super was going to be randomly selected, this is the film I've got to watch and review for her second round match against Radha Mitchell whose entry only received a not very good 3/10 (Melinda and Melinda). 


So here we go. Wait a minute, it's got Sarah Jessica Parker in it. I have a not completely irrational dislike of Parker. I saw one episode of Sex and the City and despised it. Nevertheless, I will enter this review with an open mind. An open mind ready to slate Parker.


Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid - shame it wasn't Randy Quaid, purely to give me an excuse to type the word 'Randy' and if Randy Wayne (Hold Your Breath) had been in it too, I probably would have died from a nasty bout of giddiness) erm, where was I? That last brackety bit was way too long. Ah yes, Lawrence Wetherhold is a professor who witters on and on about literature (but not the name Randy) and gets a bit too academic. His wife has died relatively recently and he lives with his daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) and his unwelcome adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church). Due to an unfortunate accident he meets one of his ex-students (Parker) who just so happened to have had a crush on him back in the day. Romantic happenings happen.


I bet even now you know the whole plot. And you've probably got it bang on. But, in a similar fashion to horror films, it's how you get there that matters, and the characters are all important in this film.


I like Dennis Quaid. He's a bit of an unsung hero of films. Recently I've seen him in Flight of the Phoenix, Horsemen and this. And he's been pretty solid in all of them. He's spot on here with his pompous behaviour and total lack of any lady wooing skills (he doesn't even wink and click). His character does undergo a change, as you'd expect, but it's a lot more subtle than in most films of this ilk.


Ellen Page, for once, plays a different character from her usual quirky teenager type. So different in fact that she takes her dead mum's clothes to a charity shop just so that she can get a tax break. Plus she's got a picture of Ronald Reagan in her bedroom. As a consequence, she's not as likeable as she usually is. But it makes a change from her normal performances. It will be interesting to see the roles she gets in later life and watch how her acting talents develop.


The front cover of the DVD makes Thomas Haden Church's character look like a comedy uncle who is incredible fun and really wacky and zany (a bit like Russ Abbot), the sort of comedy character that makes you want to peel your eyeballs with an angle grinder (again, a bit like Russ Abbot). Mais non! He's actually funny, but again in a subtle, dry way. His humour is very dry and he doesn't have to resort to gurning to get a laugh. A way better performance than the cover would suggest.


Parker. Here she comes. Dragging the proceedings down as usual. And she does. But it's not her fault. All of the other characters fit together well: Quaid and Church look like they could be brothers and Page does a grand job being the daughter (her brother crops up too, but not very often). Although Parker's performance is a little dull and she seems severely uninterested at times, she's not actually too bad. I didn't hate her completely after seeing this. The real problem here is that there is zero chemistry between her and Quaid. Due to this lack of chemistry it seems completely preposterous that they would ever get together, especially after his behaviour at the start of the film. Something went badly wrong at the casting stage.


Luckily it doesn't completely break the film. There's enough going on to keep the interest for the entire running time. I've actually watched it twice recently and I wasn't that keen initially but it's definitely grown on me. Easily enough for Ellen Page to cruise through into the semi-finals of the FA Cup of Actors.
6/10
evlkeith

If you like this you could also try:
Juno, The East, Super.



Monday, 14 July 2014

Review - Livid (2011 - Dir. Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury)


I need to recap on three points that I've wittered on about in previous reviews:

  • I don't like vampires and I don't like vampire films. Probably Near Dark is the best of a bad bunch.
  • I don't like flashbacks. I'd rather get on with the story rather than get back story. Prometheus was a complete waste of time for me.
  • I don't like horror films that fall foul of all of the usual cliches (as opposed to the unusual cliches?): irritating characters that behave in stupid ways and who deserve to die.
So here we have Livid, a vampire film, littered with vampires and populated with irritating characters that behave in stupid ways. I'm possibly not the best person to review this and you may think that a low score beckons. Yet no. Something saves Livid from a minuscule rating: that all important atmosphere.


Lucie (Chloé Coulloud) takes on a job as a carer for pensioners in their own homes. She is shown the ropes by Catherine Wilson, another carer who seems to be distinctly uncaring. They visit a creepy looking house where Mrs Jessel resides, an old lady in a coma. Wilson lets slip that the house contains hidden treasure. Later in the pub, Lucie tells the story to her irritating boyfriend William who decides, along with Ben (also irritating), that breaking into the spooky house and thieving the treasure sounds like a smashing idea. Reluctantly Lucie goes along with this (in a just about non-irritating fashion) and off they trot for some pilfering fun.


The above makes it sound that Lucie isn't too bad. And she isn't. She's one of the strong points of the film despite falling into the stupid category, "Hey baby, let's split up. I'm only going to search a dark room that contains a bizarre tea party tableau where the partcipants are all evil looking stuffed animals with a tendency to swivel their heads in a creepy creaky style. But don't worry, I'll take a torch." Okay, she doesn't quite say those words, but she may as well. Despite this I found myself caring for her plight. 


Going back to stupidity. The funniest stupid moment is when one of the characters get savagely attacked by someone who is obviously a wrong 'un. Rather than screaming, he tells the attacker to: "Cut it out." In a similar vein he could have tried to repel his aggressor by saying, "Hey mate, calm down," or better still, "Whoa there cowboy!" 


Has this done anything to improve on the whole vampire mythos? It tries a different approach that is marginally more interesting than the usual frilly shirt wearing romantically minded blood-guzzler. It's got some pretty nifty make-up effects and there is maybe one shot of the house at night that shows why they can't escape that impressed me mightily, but still, on the whole there's nothing that really sells vampires to me. 


The things that pulls Livid back from the brink, although they're not enough to give it an above average rating, are the textures and the lighting. Working together, they produce a pretty creepy atmosphere, not up there with Silent Hill, but not too bad either. This allowed the more irritating aspects to wash over me. The production designer and cinematographer both need a pat on the back for filling the screen with textures designed to be dirty, grimy and dusty. Admittedly, the house is sometimes lit by a ubiquitous torch but as Alien proves, it's better not to show too much. Inside, by the same directors, looked a little bit cheap. With the production values on show, this at least looks like it had a budget. 


Something that would have made Livid even better is some great music. The Beyond is generally stupid with paper thin characters and a daft plot, yet it's got a stunning atmosphere which is created through the visuals and the music. It all adds up to one of my favourite films (hence my 10/10 rating). Not that the music in Livid is bad, it's just instantly forgettable.


So for a vampire film filled with cliches and flashbacks it hasn't done too bad.
6/10
evlkeith

If you like this you could also try:
Here Comes the Devil, Silent Hill.


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Review - Melinda and Melinda (2004 - Dir. Woody Allen)



Radha Mitchell managed to get through the first round of the FA Cup of Actors despite a relatively poor showing: 3/10 for Surrogates and 4/10 for Thick as Thieves. Her second round opponent, Ellen Page, has had a good rest since her first entry but Mitchell is thrown straight back into the action with Melinda and Melinda. Will those tired legs let her down or will quality shine through?


Directed by Woody Allen, Melinda and Melinda looks at what happens when you tell essentially the same story as a tragedy or a comedy (it's not exactly the same story but we'll come back to that later). It's all a little bit Sliding Doors and it gives Radha Mitchell a chance to show off her acting chops. Her performance is probably the most impressive thing about this film. Although it's impressive on a technical rather than an engagement level. She plays the two Melinda's in different ways: one is a likeable friendly lady who has problems but is getting on with life, the other is an irritating smoking obsessed curly haired neurotic. Yet the writing didn't lead to me particularly care about either of them.


The story starts with Melinda crashing her friends' dinner party. She's had a bad time with her relationship and needs a place to stay. Her buddies try to set her up with a lucky fellow. But obviously things aren't that simple.


As you can see from above, the story is pretty slight. This is a consequence of the fact that it's told twice. My problem with Melinda and Melinda is that the tragedy isn't that tragic and the comedy, while the better of the two, isn't that funny. In my mind a tragedy should have a really bleak ending, worse than the majority of things that generally happen in real life. Yet here the ending is a tad too pleasant for my liking despite being the downer that tragedies require. It also cheats on the endings because the finale of the comedy is upbeat. I would have liked to have seen exactly the same story told in the two different ways.


The comedy is okay but only ever managed to squeeze a smile out of me (rather than the belly laughs that The Sleeper promotes). I never like the idea of watching Will Ferrell in films. I don't know why but I'm not that keen. Yet I've liked him in the only two films that I've ever seen him in: Elf and this. I never said I wasn't highly irrational. All the way through his performance I could picture Woody Allen: the writing and Ferrell's delivery add up to a quality Woody Allen impression. This was probably the role Allen would have played in the days when he feasibly could have wooed Radha Mitchell.


One upside of Melinda and Melinda is that it has dispelled the horrible visions of Mitchell dancing with Banderas in Thick as Thieves. Here she gets to dance again, with another slimy character, but it's not disturbing in the slightest. This shows that the blame lies squarely at the unmoving feet of Banderas.


To surmise, Melinda and Melinda fails to deliver as either a tragedy or a comedy. And as a drama it fails too due to a lack of empathy for the characters. It seems that playing too many games in a short space of time has led to some serious crampage for Radha Mitchell. It's likely now that the semi-final beckons for Ellen Page (unless Inception or X-Men: The Last Stand come up that is).
3/10
evlkeith

If you like this you could also try:
Sleeper, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.


Sunday, 6 July 2014

Review - Bustin' Down the Door (2009 - Dir. Jeremy Gosch)



The cover promises a colossal rumble combining gangsters, grittiness and surfing, all narrated by Edward Norton. Sadly, it only delivers on the surfing and the Norton narration. This is a low key TV style documentary that charts the rise of surf culture and professional surfing on the beaches of Hawaii in the 1970’s. There’s a bit of ‘handbags’ at one stage, but no shots are fired and the whole thing hardly registers on the gritty scale. That being said, why did I end up enjoying the experience as much as I did?



This is a world I never knew existed. The main characters are now middle aged men, but have lost none of the cocksure bravado that made them surf pioneers, and they tell the story with a passion and optimism that drags you into their tiny little world. Suddenly, Rabbit Bartholomew, PT Townend and Mark Richards are your best buddies as they reminisce about more innocent times and an attitude that revolutionised the sport. It’s not unlike several of your favourite uncles telling tall tales about their youthful exploits, but in a specialised field that no-one else cares about, for instance taxidermy, teabag folding (I care about teabag folding, it's great - evlkeith) or extreme couponing.



There’s some pretty impressive surfing footage of the aforementioned middle aged heroes in their pomp. They do all kinds of tricky moves that I didn’t fully appreciate, usually in slow motion and more often than not, emerging from the inside the heart of a wave, and it’s impressive and often beautiful for the first one hundred times, but thereafter starts to lose its appeal. Don’t get your hopes up, there’s no gritty violence on show, no-one gets bitten by a shark or even stung by a jelly fish. This is documentary making of the slower paced variety, even by the standards of Werner Herzog, although admittedly less interesting.





There are basically only two reasons you’ll like this film; a) you love surfing, or b) you are a sad middled age man and can empathise with these guys as they tell their preposterous tales from their forgotten youth. Watch with non-existent expectations and you may be surprised.
4.5/10
Doccortex

If you like this you could also try:
Waveriders, The Endless Winter - A Very British Surf Movie


Friday, 27 June 2014

Review - Thick as Thieves (2009 - Dir. Mimi Leder)



We finally reach the last review from the first round of the FA Cup of Actors with Radha Mitchell's replay with David Warbeck. Surely Mitchell has to go through after Warbeck's pathetic attempt at goal with Rat Man. Let's see if she can pull a half decent performance out of the bag with Thick as Thieves


Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas star as a couple of thieves intent on pilfering some Faberge eggs (an interesting true fact is that Faberge could see that they were heading down a path of business suicide producing beautifully ornate eggs so they decided to start knocking out mass produced aftershave in the form of Brut to keep the loan sharks at bay). Radha Mitchell enters the fray as the Goddaughter of Freeman and as love interest for swarthy Banderas. Predictably, Freeman doesn't approve.


As you'd expect from the people making this film, it's entertaining in a 'just let it wash over you' kind of way. The heist is nothing special but contains all of the requisite parts: casing the joint, preparation and actually carrying out the robbery including some completely rubbish red lasers that Giant Haystacks would be able to walk through without tripping the alarm. How they don't manage to get the prone form of Banderas sliding along on a skateboard type contraption, I'll never know. There's nothing here that you haven't seen a thousand times before.


In fact, the whole film is a bit lacklustre. I think this is partly due to the script and the casting. The writing lacks any real kind of wit and doesn't give the actors any help in building on-screen relationships. It doesn't help either that there isn't any chemistry between Mitchell and Banderas or for that matter, any rapport between Banderas and Freeman. It's not that any of them does a bad job individually, but when they are put together, they don't gel.


It's a bit like Costa Rica's recent performance against England: they know they're through and so they do the least they can do to secure the top spot in the group. Everything about Thick as Thieves plays it nice and safe, keeping it tight at the back but with no real inclination to surge forward and score. The director also did Deep Impact which I quite liked, although on the strength of this I can see why she hasn't done any more features.


As for Radha Mitchell, I'm more used to her being terrorised by various nasty creatures such as Pyramid Head or a huge crocodile so it was a minor surprise to see her saucing it up here. In a night club, she has to perform a slightly embarrassing dance with Banderas while he stands there still, pretending that he hasn't got any slinky latin dance moves just waiting to burst out from his hips. But to balance this, she does get a classy shot in her underwear. Acting wise it's not her best performance, yet it's not offensively bad, nice and safe like everything else.


All of this adds up to the fact that she's through to the second round. But like Costa Rica, she needs to up her game to fight off the much stronger threat of Ellen Page.
4/10
evlkeith

If you like this you could also try:
Rififi, The Killing.


Monday, 23 June 2014

Review - Rat Man (1988 - Dir. Giuliano Carnimeo (as Anthony Ascot))



Here we go then with David Warbeck's effort in his first round replay against Radha Mitchell. The title didn't really inspire me but I thought that Rat Man may contain some entertainment value in terms of sheer stupidity. Added to that it was written by Dardano Sacchetti so it could feasibly be okay.


Rat Man just cements my feeling that Dardano Sacchetti and Lucio Fulci did their best work together. Apart, well this is the kind of abomination we get. (Fulci can't claim to have done any better on his own, see Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 for evidence.) At least Rat Man has some semblance of a story. Well, vaguely anyway.


A mad scientist fellow decides it would be in the best interests of society if he could cross a rat with a monkey. Amazingly enough, especially with the film's title, he succeeds. He is so pleased with himself he thinks that he may possibly get a Nobel prize. What for? For creating a creature that lives in sewers and shows its backside to passersby? Mmm, maybe. The titular Rat Man escapes from his minuscule cage and goes on a rampage of scratching. (In a bid to further increase his chances of gaining the Nobel prize the scientist gave Ratty poisonous claws. Great.) Fred Williams (David Warbeck) and Terry (another one of Fulci's chums, Janet Agren) are on a search for Terry's model sister who is busy working with a photographer. In Ratty's stomping ground. Or should that be Ratty's pattering ground?


This is a bad film. Not quite up there with the aforementioned Zombie Flesh Eaters 2, but still, it's very bad. Obviously this is an exploitation film. It has gratuitous nudity and also the use of one of the world's shortest men, Nelson De La Rosa, who later went on to work with Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau, possibly inspiring the character of Mini-Me. He plays the title role, replete with savage looking rat teeth. But despite being an expoilationer, it's not particularly funny. In general, it's dull. It follows the pattern of a character going off on their own, then getting clawed and severely deaded. Repeat until asleep.


David Warbeck does nothing to improve the proceedings. In his defence, he doesn't get masses of screen time. We spend most of our precious time with Terry's sister, Monique and her photographer chum. It's similar to Rutger Hauer's role in Hemoglobin. Do the job. Get Paid. Go home. Forget it. It doesn't look like a phoned in performance. More like it's been texted.


Any gore? After all it's only just been released uncut by Shameless. Not really. I only watched it yesterday and I can't remember anything that should have troubled the censors. 


It's not really a disappointing film because I wasn't expecting that much. But due to the lack of fun I found it a completely tiring experience. I can't see Warbeck recovering from this. It seems as though he's just given Mitchell a free pass to the next round.
2/10
evlkeith

If you like this you could also try:
Pieces, Willard.