Sunday, 23 February 2014

Review - Belle de Jour (1967 - Dir. Luis Bunuel)

(Again seeing as though it's Ladies' Night feel free to play a bit of Kool & the Gang as you read this lovely review by Doccortex - evlkeith)

Catherine Deneuve is the titular Belle de Jour and she has a whole range of marital problems. At the top of the list is the fact that she keeps drifting off into a Mills and Boone fantasy world with whips and chains thrown in for good measure and the Velvet Underground’s ‘Venus in Furs’ playing in the background. Husband, Jean Sorel, although French, doesn’t look the most understanding of types.

Unlike most bored married people in Britain, Séverine doesn’t go to bingo, take up darts or go down to the allotments. Instead she takes up the unusual hobby of prostitution. But sneakily, only in the daytime, so she can be there to cook husband Pierre’s tea in the evening. This seems a tad extreme, but surprisingly, it all goes swimmingly for a while as Severine gets all the seedy action she so desires, but also gets paid into the bargain (a hell of a lot more than writing an obscure film blog I might add.) Obviously it can’t last and things start to get a little awkward in the second half of the film.

The film is all about Deneuve and Bunuel’s infatuation with her, (and often her feet). She is distant, aloof and it has to be said, wooden for most of the film. Only in the latter conflict stages does she come to life and show any signs of life, let alone passion. She is the epitome of French cool and I have no doubts it was the director’s intention to portray her in this ethereal trance state, rather than any slight on Deneuve’s acting. She’s iconic and beautiful, but is too pampered and stylised by Bunuel to be anywhere near likeable or attractive. Consequently, we have no sympathy for her demise and are left with tired apathy. And I had a little chuckle to myself when it all went pear shaped too.

It’s supposedly a classic, and to be fair it’s never less than enjoyable, but if it were made today it would be shown on the Movies for Men channel on Sky. And although that sounds a bit racy, I can assure you it isn’t. If odd, French melodramas are your thing, then this will be perfect, the rest of us may be more circumspect however.


If you like this you could also try:
Viridiana, That Obscure Object of Desire.

Feature- FA Cup of Actors - Match Postponed

The match between Jennifer Connelly and Rutger Hauer was supposed be next up in our FA Cup of Actors. I got midway through Connelly's entry when the game was stopped due to a waterlogged pitch (or maybe it was because the sound kept skipping, making the disc unplayable?).

Sadly this game has been postponed until a later date. The next game will be the first round match between Jeffrey Combs and Marc Singer. Coming soon.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Review - Sharknado - (2013 - Dir. Anthony C. Ferrante)

I had relatively high hopes for Sharknado. A friend had recommended it, saying that it was completely stupid but fun. Sounds like my cup of tea.

I had visions of tornados. Tornados filled with sharks. Maybe the first one that sweeps past our characters could contain some small sharks - maybe a pale catshark or two? - causing some minor nipping. Nothing that Salvon couldn't cope with (is there anything that Savlon can't cope with?). As this tornado moved on, more would appear containing larger and more violent sharks. Hammerheads, bull sharks and tigersharks would all make an appearance. Finally in the largest tornado - one that would whip your pants off you from a mile away - the great white sharks would appear causing pointy toothed mayhem.

I was expecting it to be cheap, but I thought that this would be offset by some sparkling creativity and ingenuity. There surely must be some great shark/tornado related kills, I thought. Sharks whipping past people in the wind and whisking them away for some chompy chomp? Or taking a cheeky bite out of someone as they pass? The possibilities are huge and surely this is where the majority of the time writing the film should have been spent.

Sharknado is nothing like what I thought it would be. My hopes dropped rapidly when I saw that it was a Syfy presentation and that The Asylum were also involved. But even so I gave it a chance. Sadly, I needn't have bothered. A fair proportion of the running time is spent looking at the characters sat in a car that is obviously in a studio/the producer's garage, driving away from tornados. To be fair they do mix it up a bit to create some visual interest, they get in a helicopter. A fair few shots of a studio bound helicopter follow. It's pretty dull stuff.

There is some slight entertainment value at times. I raised an appreciative eyebrow when a huge Ferris wheel chased our heroes down a street. There are some minor moments of tension too, but they're few and far between.

Out of the kills, I can only remember two, both chainsaw related. They are completely preposterous but that's fine in this type of film. The problem is the completely uninventive way they chose to shoot them. I know it's a low budget production but they didn't even try to solve any problems creatively (for good examples of this try Manborg and the classic The Evil Dead). Way more ingenuity is shown by people inspired to make fancy dress costumes.

For once, this could have done with being a mega-budget blockbuster, like Twister with added sharks and death. The stupidity of the (admittedly brilliant) premise could have done with the excesses of 3D, CGI, an 18 certificate and ridiculously paid film stars. It could have been a gloriously stupid fun-filled shark/breeze fest. But no. The gore is tame and the closest it gets to film stars are Tara Reid (big deal, but watching her stare at a hedgecutter for ages has to be one of the funniest bits of the film by far) and John Heard, the dad from Home Alone. Heard is the only cast member with any personality and gravitas, so it's a shame when he leaves the film at such an early juncture.

You may have noticed that I've not even bothered giving a plot synopsis to whet your appetite. Let's face facts, it's obviously not worth my time writing it or your time reading it. It's a shame but the idea, and screenshots, are way better than the actual film. Sharknado is a real missed opportunity and possibly for the first time ever I'm looking forward to the remake. 

If you like this you could also try:
Throwing a kipper into a headwind. 

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Review - Whip It (2009 - Dir. Drew Barrymore)

After Natalie Portman's just above average performance in Hesher, let's see how she fares against the strike power of Ellen Page in Drew Barrymore's directorial debut Whip It.

Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) is a girl living in Bodeen, Texas (not too far from Austin, Texas which in turn is not a million miles away from Denton, Texas). Her mum (the legendary Mrs Carmody from The Mist, Marcia Gay Harden) takes her to beauty pageants in the style of Little Miss Sunshine. Obviously, Bliss isn't too happy with this arrangement and when the opportunity comes along to try out for a roller derby team with some tattooed fishnet wearing ladies, she decides she'll have a go. 

This is an infuriating film, because it is so nearly great. Sadly, it falls at two hurdles and one of them is a pretty major fall. Let's get the one out of the way that could be excusable first: the slinky little turd. Bliss meets up with a bloke out of a band in Austin, Texas and quickly falls for him due to his slinky little turd nature. The problem is that I hated him from the instant I set eyes on him and knew that he was very probably going to be a wrong un. He's just so slimy. The scenes with him and Bliss are the equivalent of the 'plot' scenes in specialist films: flick them and get straight on to the meat of the film.

And the meat in this case is the roller derby action. This is where things come good. It's standard issue in terms of sports films but that's exactly what I want from this sort of film. Do what's expected, maybe in a way that's unexpected, but do it well. For the most part that's what Whip It does. It starts off with a completely useless team that never wins and builds them up to have a crack at the championship. This sort of film needs a villain though, someone for our plucky heroine to triumph over (and no, slinky little turd doesn't count). Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) is that villain.

It helps no end that Juliette Lewis looks completely evil. But her performance is equally nasty too. She is pretty abrasive towards Bliss on numerous occasions. She never passes up on an opportunity to have a dig at her. She becomes such a splendid villain that hands are rubbed in glee at the prospect of seeing Bliss nutmeg her (or whatever the roller derby equivalent is).

This is where we get to huge problem two that is very nearly a film-breaker. Film genres have different conventions that you've pretty much got to stick to. You can mess around with them to a certain extent but if you shoot a romantic comedy where the female lead dies in the final seconds leaving the male lead alone with some razorblades and aspirins, it's going to have very limited appeal. I'm all for taking risks but if you've set something up in a film you've got to deliver. If not, you'll end up with many disappointed people. That's exactly what happens in Whip It; it spends a lot of time setting up something great and then it all falls a bit flat. If I'd reviewed it after the first time I watched it, it would have got a lot lower rating. But after watching it again, in a state of preparedness, I can just about cope with it and the final scenes almost manage to pull it around. 

What does shine through though are the performances of all of the actors (apart from slinky little turd, although he does act the part of a slinky little turd perfectly well). Ellen Page is a bit like Cary Grant in the way that Cary Grant generally played the Cary Grant persona. Ellen Page always seems to play the Ellen Page persona. Whether that's who she actually is or not, it's a part she plays very well and is always a pleasure to watch. Marcia Gay Harden is fantastic as her mum, never getting overly sentimental, but her dad (Daniel Stern - C.H.U.D.) is a complete crowd pleaser, (he even gets to wear a cowboy hat at one point). Every scene he is in is a winner (in stark contrast to the slinky little turd). It doesn't end there. All of the minor roles are also extremely well done too, with not a duff note in sight. It's this and the lack of sugary Disney sick flavoured sweetness that bring it back into likeable territory.

I always knew that I was going to lose one cracking actress from the FA Cup of Actors in this match and it made rating this film particularly hard. As I finished watching it, I was going to give it a 6/10, exactly the same as Hesher, forcing yet another replay in the FA Cup of Actors. But as I thought about it, I knew that I preferred this film to Hesher and it seemed harsh that they should both get a 6. Plus I knew that I would watch this again, but I'm not so sure about Portman's effort. So I've given Whip It the benefit of the doubt, we'll call it 6.517 out of 10 and round it up to a respectable:

So that means that Ellen Page is through to the next round and will play either David Warbeck or Radha Mitchell. Doccortex will be so happy that Portman is out. Meanwhile, I will shed a little tear. Sorry, Natalie...

If you like this you could also try:
Juno, The Tracey Fragments, Rollerball.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Review - Hesher (2010 - Dir. Spencer Susser)

After the first round finished at a stalemate between David Warbeck and Radha Mitchell, here's Natalie Portman's first attempt at goal. The thing with Portman is that randomly selecting a film from her filmography can bring up the delights of something like Black Swan or it can cause suicidal tendencies in the form of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium so I was vaguely relieved when Hesher came up. I can't say that I was particularly looking forward to it, but it could have been a lot worse.

A heavy metal comedy isn't really my cup of tea. I was expecting something alone the lines of Superbad but with Lemmy in the lead role. Plus I've never really liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt so it wasn't looking good for Portman especially since she's going up against the filmic behemoth that is Ellen Page. 

But I was quite pleasantly surprised by Hesher. It's not really an out and out comedy - the dvd cover quote of "Hilarious!" from Ain't It Cool News is going a tad overboard to say the least - it's more along the lines of hidden gem Garden State. It is funny in parts. The conversation about granny going out on a walk around the block and being raped has got to be a highlight, (okay, okay, that maybe sounds a bit harsh on my part but you have to see it in context). But for the rest of the time it works more as a drama.

TJ (Devin Brochu giving an excellent performance) is a young whipper-snapper who has recently lost his mum in a car accident. Him and his dad (Rainn Wilson) live with granny and are all dealing with the aftermath. TJ comes into contact with squatter Hesher (Gordon-Levitt) and accidentally makes him lose his squat. So without permission Hesher moves in with TJ for some heavy metal related fun and games.

So where does Portman fit into the equation? She plays shop assistant Nicole who helps TJ out of a sticky situation with a local bully. Now listen here Portman, you might think that you're fooling us with those Deidre Barlow glasses, but let's face facts, you could wear pretty much anything and still be gorgeous. Apart from the gorgeous factor it's not one of Portman's strongest roles. The script doesn't stretch her in the slightest and is slightly disappointing for Portman fans like me.

The heart of the film belongs to Wilson and Brochu. Their relationship is portrayed realistically as they deal with the unexpected death in the family and it never becomes too sugary sweet. The story is all about them trying to get back to some normality and start their lives again. Wilson nicely underplays the comedy and is fast becoming one of my favourites (a review of Super will be coming up at some point soon). Also I've just had a sneaky peak and seen that Brochu was also in the useless Rubber. A complete waste of his talent.

Hesher hasn't done anything to improve my opinion of Gordon-Levitt. Performance wise he doesn't do a bad job but he looks far too clean cut to play Hesher. I have to admit my dislike is slightly irrational but there's something about him that really gets on my nerves. (I really hope Inception doesn't come up as Ellen Page's entry, I don't think I can sit through another Gordon-Levitt film for a good few months.)

So it's nothing earth shattering but it is likeable enough. Definitely a middle of the road performance from Portman and it looks like she's given Page every chance to power through into the next round of the FA Cup of Actors.

If you like this you could also try:
Garden State, Super.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Review - 4321 (2010 - Dir. Noel Clarke)

(Again seeing as though it's Ladies' Night feel free to play a bit of Kool & the Gang as you read this lovely review by Doccortex - evlkeith)

The cover looks impressive in an urban, gritty, glamorous kind of way. 4 girls, 3 days, 2 cities,1 chance. Sounds intriguing enough. It’s billed as 2010’s best British film from a BAFTA award winning director. What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s get all the negatives out of the way first shall we? It turns out that the writer/director is that guy out of Doctor Who. He was annoying as the Doctor’s sidekick and he manages to make an equally annoying film. The fake urban-ness is almost too much to take and the street gangster types come across like the opening five minutes of Attack the Block, but with no like-ability factor. Do people actually talk like this? In South Yorkshire we all have the same accent, which admittedly makes us sound like the unintelligent cousin of the Dingles from Emmerdale, but it’s got to be better than that fake urban street talk innit?

Another problem is that although the film represents the four lead characters as strong, positive female role models, the whole thing descends into cartoony sub-Spice Girl power. Women can be strong in other ways than being able to beat up guys with limited kung fu skills. The recurring nightmare who is Michelle Ryan returns to spoil proceedings with some more wooden, annoying, stereotypical strong cockney woman acting, but this time with some obligatory limited Kung Fu moves.

The plot is so preposterous that a five year old would probably despair at the diamond heist tomfoolery and the general stupidity of the characters, let alone a safe in a super market cereal aisle!

It’s looking like we’re headed for a 0/10, but fear not! Somehow Clarke and Davis manage to snatch a victory from the gaping jaws of Luc Besson.

The film is told in four equal segments with one of the girls taking the lead in each section. We follow their personal story through the three days and each story is relatively engaging, but the clever part is how the full story is revealed bit by bit as each act is played out. As we view events from each individual point of view things start to mesh together and events that puzzled us earlier are explained. It’s intelligent and clever film making, and despite all the annoyances at the periphery, the film comes over as something really original even if you possibly have to be a teenager to enjoy it to its fullest effect.

The four leads all put in a decent acting shift with Shanika Warren-Markland (Kerrys) annoying but tough, and Tamsin Egerton (Cassandra) annoying and posh. Emma Roberts (Joanne) (Wild Child again!) is surprisingly believable as the gutsy American, but best of all is the depressed graffiti artist Shannon, played by Ophelia Lovibond. She’s introverted, vulnerable and is the only reason I watched for the first half hour.

It’s a mixed bag, but it’s well intended, entertaining and original. I’d watch it again just for all those little subtleties. Surprisingly positive and not bad for 99p.

If you like this you could also try:
Adulthood, Kidulthood, Life and Lyrics.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Review - Surrogates (2009 - Dir. Jonathan Mostow)

After David Warbeck's pretty feeble attempt at goal with The Ark of the Sun God, Radha Mitchell goes on the counter offensive with Surrogates. Now, I hadn't heard of this one when it came up on my Random-Film-Selector but it's got Radha Mitchell in it (obviously) and Bruce Willis who's normally good for entertainment value. So let's give it a whirl.

Willis stars as Greer, a hard-nosed FBI agent on the trail of, well, not much really. There's not that much crime going on. Pretty much everyone is living their life through a surrogate, a robot that is linked to them via a mind control device. So they get to lie in the comfort of their own homes, while their surrogate goes out into the world and does their job, cuts the lawn and irons their pants. This is all experienced by the user but in a safe environment. If the surrogate is destroyed in a hilarious meat grinder incident then a new one is purchased and Bob's your uncle. Crime is at an all time low until two surrogates are found with their eyes fried. Worryingly their users are dead too. Ooh la la. Greer, with his partner Peters (Radha Mitchell), gets on the case sharpish.

Recently I reviewed Loups=Garous and ranted about mobile phones a bit. I was rather happy that a film had come along that agreed with my moderately extreme views. Then along comes another. Surrogates is a thinly veiled attempt at having a dig at technology in general, mobiles, Facebook etc. Basically, it posits the view that a large proportion of people live their life vicariously through technology and rarely connect in real-life with other people. At one point Greer (as himself rather than his surrogate) suggests to his wife's surrogate that they should have a holiday. Without their surrogates. She disagrees and thinks he's an idiot. Substitute a mobile phone with internet access for surrogate and you get a situation that has probably been played out in quite a few homes. 

The point at which I deviate from the film is in a question that it poses: if you could destroy all surrogates, would you? The film has its own answer but I think that technology addiction is not the real problem, just a symptom, and by destroying them the underlying problem would still be present. Another symptom is the hell-hole Starbucks. Not just the hell-hole Starbucks, I'm using them as a representative of high-priced luxury items (Hollister goods, Minis and Marks and Spencer ready made mash would also fit into this category). As for what I consider to be the real problem, well in true mathematician style I've given you a couple of clues and now I'm going to let you try to work that out for yourself. Anyway, I digress.

So Surrogates hates mobiles and Facebook, but what else has it got going for it? Surprisingly, not much. Willis spends half of the film as an unemotional surrogate and when he finally emerges as his human self, he's still not at his charismatic best. Mitchell is treated even worse. She's a surrogate for the entire film apart from a tiny shot of her as a human. She's completely wasted. Not good for her FA Cup chances.

Just as the acting performances feel lifeless and plasticky, the visuals are equally as unnerving. If you imagine watching a film almost entirely set in the uncanny valley then Surrogates comes pretty close. I was creeped out for the most part by the surrogates with their airbrushed perfect skin. It's not a pleasant film to watch. When Willis finally gets his proper stubble and slightly craggy appearance out, it's a breath of fresh air. Also the action sequences where the surrogates leap about like superheroes look so fake that they're laughable.

Maybe the whole point of Surrogates is that this vision of the future is unnerving, yet entirely possible. It still doesn't make it a good film to watch. I though David Warbeck had fluffed it, only get a 3/10 rating for his effort in the FA Cup of Actors but he's still in the fight. In fact, he faces a replay with Radha Mitchell after the rest of the first round matches.

If you like this you could also try:
Loups=Garous, I, Robot.