Thursday, 30 June 2011

REVIEW: Bridesmaids

Dir.: Paul Feig
With: Kristen Wiig, Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph, Jon Hamm

Unexpectedly, the film opens with Jon Hamm’s O-face. Right there and then I thought to myself, oh yeah this is going to be good. But to be honest, I still don’t know what to make of it. It’s not a bad movie and much better than most chick-flicks one sees these days. However, I think the film has been largely overhyped and really suffers from this. I came in expecting an ode to feminism, something radical and fresh but failed to find any of that. There is a test called the Bechdel test and in order to pass it, the film has to feature at least two female characters, having a conversation about something besides men. When I look at the films I reviewed this year, hardly any pass the test. “Bridesmaids” sort of does but its obsessive focus on marriage as a positive social status factor really annoyed me.

The main character, Annie, is a thirty-something woman who is unhappy with her life. The last straw is her best friend’ s sudden engagement. Annie’s derangement grows stronger the more pre-wedding events she attends and she realises that she is completely out of her depth both financially and socially. Her deepest insecurities come out when she meets Helen, a seemingly perfect wife, amazingly portrayed by Rose Byrne. Annie’s main misfortune is that she completely fails to recognise the real root to her problems and continues to blame everyone else for her own situation. In all honesty, her character really depressed me. Although Kristen Wiig is obviously a great comedian, her deep resentment towards life, envy, competitiveness and self-pitying were very hard to relate to. But all’s well that ends well and she matures slightly in the end.

Much has been written about “Bridesmaids”’s gross comedic approach, something that had been an exclusively male territory until now. It is true, some of the scenes rely on toilet humour and are actually funny but I found that the best moments were born out of witty dialogues, like the whole airplane sequence and Annie’s fight with a teenage girl. “Bridesmaids” is currently being hailed as a proclamation of female comedy, a contradiction of nature, which pre-supposes that women aren’t funny. I strongly disagree with this. The main reason behind this is that pretty much every comedy that’s come out of Hollywood in the past few years relies on laddish jokes and toilet-related gags. Grossness is so hot right now. At the same time, it is socially unacceptable, primarily by women themselves, for females to engage in that kind of humour, or worse, produce various equivalents of fart jokes. Hence the dogmatic belief that women aren’t funny. However, if you look at films from the past with actresses like Katherine Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe you’d find that it was possible to be simultaneously beautiful, classy and fucking hilarious. It’s just unfortunate that their type of humour is unfashionable these days. Although, people like Tina Fay and Sarah Silverman show that one can still make it in the business without being drop-dead-gorgeous or regressing into the gutter completely.

So, I think that “Bridesmaids” has all the makings of a good movie, but again, the fact that it revolves around marital statuses and women’s obsessive drive to get hitched, is frankly disappointing. The cast is pretty similar to “The Hangover” – there is the cool one, the fat one and the normal one/loser. It is quite sad that overweight and/or unusual looking people become the butt of the joke just because of the way they look. I thought the actress in question was one of the best things in the film, with plenty of charisma and a certain charm. Additionally, the editing was diabolic, the film felt far too long and not snappy enough; and at some moments I swear I almost fell asleep. However, it rounds off pretty well, the moral of the story being that friendships are more important in life than bridal showers (ahah...never thought I'd write such a lame statement in my life but it summarises the movie quite well).

Monday, 27 June 2011

Most Dramatic Movie Deaths

I was sitting in a park with a friend the other day, the weather was beautiful, the sun was shining, the birds were tweeting and we got to talking about cinematic deaths. And not just any deaths but the very dramatic ones, with weepy music, slow motion and pure TRAGEDY. The kind of deaths where the deceased person’s friend holds them and cries ‘NOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooo!’  My friend and I made a list of the best ones and then re-enacted some of them in the park, which was very fun and, I am sure, much appreciated by our neighbours. Here are the fruits of our labours.

The Professional. Jean-Paul Belmondo

Jean-Paul Belmondo, having killed his enemy, is about to be delivered back to safety just as the French government decides to turn its back on him and orders to kill him. The music by Ennio Morricone is the cherry on the top.

Braveheart. Mel Gibson

Although this has a pretty good comedy value, Mel Gibson's death conforms to all the dramatic death conventions. There is even Mel Gibson’s wife’s ghost who comes to him in the last moment and priceless expressions on people’s faces. It was rather fun to re-enact.

Lion King. Mufasa

A death that SCARred (get it?) many generations of children.

The Gladiator. Russel Crowe

This death has clearly been inspired by Braveheart. Click here to watch.

Pan’s Labyrinth. Ivana Baquero

This one actually makes me sad. Click here.

The Last Samurai. All the samurai

I am 110% convinced that Mel Gibson’s tragic death has left a deep impression on some of the “macho” men in Hollywood and here Tom Cruise attempts to top that shit. Click here. The drama really begins at around 6:30.

The Seven Pounds. Will Smith

Literally, one of the worst films I have ever seen. This sentimental suicide with a medusa (wtf) may not be the greatest movie moment, but dramatic it most certainly is. 

Friday, 24 June 2011

REVIEW: The 39 Steps

Dir.: Alfred Hitchcock
With: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll

After the previous superhero fiasco, it is my absolute pleasure to write about “The 39 Steps”.  I went to see it last weekend at the Prince Charles cinema in London, a place I MUST recommend to you all! It was like travelling back in time. Not only does the vintage season this summer include some of the most celebrated films of the past, but the building itself also looks like it was transported from the times when a trip to the cinema was akin to going to the theatre. The seats, the screen, the velvet curtains and the lack of adverts work their magic and once the lights are dimmed, you find yourself watching a classic, feeling like it’s 1952 outside. So go, check out their programme here and enjoy yourself!

However, if you are not in London at the moment or if you are feeling ill and lonely, try to get a hold of “The 39 Steps” anyway. Although it was made in 1935, it is unbelievably hilarious. Generally, I find films that old too slow-paced and, if they are comedies, they often rely on slapstick for some cheap laughs. Not in this case though– the people around me were constantly giggling. Granted, sometimes I was laughing at the “special effects” from 1935 rather than at the jokes but overall the comedy in the film seemed to transcend generations. Maybe that is why “The 39 Steps” is currently number four in the BFI greatest British movies list.

The story itself is similar to “The Tourist” with Johnny Depp – a foreigner encounters a female spy and is then drawn into a crazy adventure. Mr Hannay, who is a Canadian gentleman visiting London suddenly finds himself charged with murder and has to flee to Scotland in order to find out what is really going on and protect a state secret from being stolen by a spy ring. Hannay encounters various characters on his way, one funnier than the other and gets himself out of a number of sticky situations with grace, charm and wit. Even though the ending was quite abrupt and I am still not quite sure what exactly the 39 Steps are, I loved the film and hope that you can watch it at some point; it has a very good feel about it (good to know that there were hunky men in 1935). It was also very nice for me personally to see what a train journey up to Edinburgh was like at the time.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

REVIEW: Green Lantern

Dir.: Martin Campbell
With: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively

Poor, poor Ryan Reynolds. I fear that he might join the battalion of the good-looking and at some point promising actors who, by fate or through bad career choices, ended up in a vicious circle of crappy movies and shirtlessness, i.e. the Matthew McConaughey garrison. RR clearly has some acting skills (although none of them were particularly showcased in his mainstream films), he is “normally” handsome and seems to be quite down-to-earth according to his interviews. However, at 34, his highest grossing film to date is still “Van Wilder” and this says something about how unfortunate the past few years have been for him.

One would think that a main role as the eponymous character in “Green Lantern” would change this statistic. However, after watching it I am not so sure anymore. The movie was unbelievably contrived, clichéd, erratic and completely failed to engage with the audience. The story did not flow, I for one could not care less whether the good aliens would win, whether the universe would survive and whether Green Lantern would get the girl. They could have all come over to the dark side for all I cared. There wasn’t enough humour, the aliens were unconvincing and lame and Blake Lively was quite blah.

It would also be interesting to compare this film to “Thor” – they have similar setups, both take place on Earth and on a far away planet, both have heroes with special powers who in turn both have lady friends who are mere mortals and both involve inter-galactic travel. The similarities end here, “Thor” is miles ahead in its plot development, acting standards, humour and general artistry (which makes it sound like no less than a Shakespearean adaptation). Out of the three super-hero films I reviewed recently, including “X-Men”, “Green Lantern” is the worst by far. I do feel bad saying this as it was clearly a huge production with carefully considered casting – Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Robbins, Geoffrey Rush; and I don’t really know who to blame that it went so wrong– the director who completely failed to give originality to the film and hold it in one piece, the actors who seemed confused about what exactly they were supposed to be playing or the producers, who failed to see that their film was totally soulless.

There isn’t much to say really, apart from if you do decide to spend millions on a comic adaptation you might as well try and create something that won’t bore the audiences out of their wits and won’t rely solely on special effects and cheap jesting. Now please watch the trailer and tell me that it doesn't remind you of "The Lord of the Rings".

Sunday, 19 June 2011

REVIEW: Potiche (trophy wife)

Dir.: François Ozon
With: Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu

This film was a very pleasant surprise. A wonderful comedy set in the 70s France with a great cast and meticulous attention to the period’s “look”. It borders on the kitsch and some scenes are unbelievably naff, the interiors seem to have been borrowed from the “Dynasty” series. However, instead of poking fun at that era, it works more like a love letter to the days long gone when the hairstyles were big and the coolest music was by the Bee Gees.

The real gem here is the chemistry between the two monsters of French cinema, Deneuve and Depardieu so obviously enjoy being re-united onscreen together for the umpteenth time, their pleasure is quite apparent even to the blindest audience. Catherine Deneuve, being a woman of royal bearing and vivid lipstick, is absolutely perfect as an oppressed housewife who manages to liberate herself and her (very annoying) children from her husband’s tyrannical control. Not only does she stand up to him, she also turns out to be a talented businesswoman, politician and even reveals that she has not been the most faithful wife in the world against all popular belief. Her performance is very measured but quite tongue-in-cheek and some of her lines are just … well, let’s say that they don’t make them like this anymore. The use of umbrellas in the movie is a nice little nod to the “Umbrellas of Cherbourg”.

This film is farcical and satirical but there is also a strong sense of darkness in it – the ending makes you wonder just how far France and the rest of the Western world has really progressed since the 70s, especially in view of the latest DSK scandal. The battle of the sexes in “Potiche” is not only the central theme but also a prism through which Ozon makes quite an interesting commentary on life in general. French comedy as such is not my favourite type of that genre (rule Britannia!) but every now and then there are some wonderful works, like “Priceless” with Audrey Tautou and “8 Women”, also by Ozon. What unites them is a certain naïveté and a strange affinity for bad taste. And in a funny way although they make you cringe, like an old Benny Hill episode, they are also quite endearing like the woolly socks your grandma knitted for you.

Conclusion – if you’d like to laugh, hear some French spoken, inspect Catherine Deneuve’s face for traces of plastic surgery, wonder how much weight Gérard Depardieu has put on, feel empowered, warm and fuzzy, go and watch “Potiche”!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

***REVIEW: The Tree of Life***

Dir.: Terrence Malick
With: Hunter McCracken, Brad Pitt, and Jessica Chastain

The logic of film release dates is beyond me. “The Tree of Life” was out in France and Belgium right after the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d’Or, it is currently out or about to come out in mainland Europe and is on limited release in the States. The UK release date has not been finalised. So, my UK-based friends, you’ll have to wait for some time before seeing this wonderful film, as it is something that should only be watched on a big screen.

“The Tree of Life” is not a film for everybody. I find that it is quite difficult to pigeonhole into a specific genre, I read it being described somewhere as an ‘existential arthouse epic about the meaning of life’. Make what you will of that. Whilst being 138 minutes long, it has the unusual quality of being “above time” like most Fellini’s works. I felt that time was suspended when I was watching it, the dream-like scenes flowed naturally and morphed into one another without any proper structure that most movies have. Visually, it was an absolute joy. There wasn’t a single shot in the entire film that was not beautiful, ephemeral, intimate, awe-inspiring, magnificent and, at the same time, warm.

The story itself made me want to curl up in a dark corner and die. On the one hand, it is a brilliant character study of a young boy, Jack O’Brien, played with surprising maturity by a new-comer, Hunter McCracken (great name). On the other hand, this is a contemplation of death, loss of innocence, nostalgia, our place in the world and insignificance. The central character, Jack, is a bit of a tortured soul: he is the eldest boy of an average Texan family in the 50s, his mother is a loving and soft woman, his father is a hard disciplinarian. He inherited both of his parents’ traits and these two sides struggle inside him. He is both sensitive and tough; he believes in God, yet he ends up behaving in a way he hates the most. There is also a streak of sibling rivalry and jealousy mixed with tender love towards his younger brother, who is similar to the mother and is perhaps loved a little better by the parents. When Jack grows up into Sean Penn, it appears that the time when he felt the most was exactly during those few warm days of his childhood. He cannot let these memories fade. He is haunted by the same questions that occupied him as a child – why am I here? Why do bad things happen? How to move on? Terrence Malick’s greatest achievement in this film is the incredible way in which he portrayed a child’s mind and its development, his sorrows and joys. I think this resonated with many people in the audience because certain things are universally recognisable.

In my opinion, Brad Pitt emerged here as a very talented and subtle actor. His character in the film was so real, repulsive and pitiable that, in a way, his presence overshadowed everything else. Whenever he was onscreen, you knew that something unpleasant or stirring was going to happen. Jessica Chastain, who looks like someone from a Vermeer painting, was also great, her softness and strong religiosity won by a mile when contrasted to Brad Pitt’s hardness and ambition. Together they created a very life-like family, with its own happy and sad moments.

However, “The Tree of Life” borders on pretension in its cosmic scale – I’m not sold on the ending, the religious context was inescapable and there is also a 15-minute montage of the creation of life, together with beautiful space shots from the Hubble telescope, bacteria and a couple of expressive dinosaurs. I am a ‘National Geographic’ kinda gal so I quite enjoyed this and found it rather hypnotic, I am sure others would dismiss this as a pile of unnecessary self-importance. I don’t think this is the greatest film ever made, but I most certainly think that you should definitely watch it when you have the chance; the brilliance in it outweighs the indistinctness. I promise you, you will be moved and most likely reminded of your own childhood. You will also be left speechless after this make-belief journey through someone else's life is over.  

Thursday, 2 June 2011

REVIEW: X-Men: First Class

Dir.: Matthew Vaughn
With: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon

To hell with art history, I want to be a mutant in the 60s!

I have never been an X-Men fan, I've always found the stories quite dull and the acting unconvincing (apart from Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart of course) and to be perfectly honest, I have a very vague idea of what happened in the first few films as I watched them all in a drunken stupor on a plane. The only reason why I went to see “X-Men: First Class” is because both James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are in it – they are the two young(ish) Celts I kept my eye on for ages. The film also has a 98% approval rating on rottentomatoes, something not to be trifled with.

I probably would not go as far as the rottentomatoes people giving it a near-perfect review – however, I do think that this was a very solid piece of blockbuster filmmaking. First of all, the story itself is pretty fascinating; the human drama element interwoven into the action was cleverly written and quite touching. The film is set in the era before the first X-Men films and tells us the background story of the two main mutants: Charles Xavier, later Professor X, (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), their childhood, friendship and the roots of their subsequent hostility. Moreover, we get an insight into why certain mutants ended up on their respective sides (lurve is often the reason), why Professor X is in a wheelchair and many more answers to other burning questions. The movie opens in the 1930s at a Nazi concentration camp in Poland where we meet Erik for the first time as a Jewish boy who loses his mother. The whole sequence of Erik’s childhood was heartbreaking and it explained the reason behind his hardened soul as Magneto. Charles Xavier, on the other hand, enjoyed the pleasures of a privileged upbringing in the English countryside. As the two characters grow up and meet each other, their onscreen chemistry is an absolute pleasure to watch, they are both very fine actors with tonnes of charisma and plenty of twinkle in their eyes.

The first half of the film in particular could be described as an homage to Sean Connery’s Bond movies, Mad Men and the 60s in general. The beautiful interiors, sexism and the über-kitschness of the montages brings up all these associations. The US war room was an exact copy of the famous war room from “Dr Strangelove”. January Jones of Mad Men was also in the movie, sporting a white leather two-piece suit. Matthew Vaughn, whose previous work includes “Kick-Ass”, is definitely a director with a flare. It was evident that he tried to steer clear from the traditional superhero genre and create something that was true to the cultural legacy of its decade. Michael Fassbender, in his turtlenecks and fitted leather jackets, reminded me of the young Sean Connery, his overwhelming masculinity and the sense of danger he exuded. He would probably make an excellent Bond if Daniel Craig grows weary.

The second half of the film is dedicated mainly to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the mutants’ involvement in it. This part is far too long and just loses the plot and the innovation of the first one. Although, there were some impressive special effects and someone in the audience cried ‘oh my fuck!’ at one point, so yes, the effects were cool. Other than that, the second half is a typical example of superhero blah. There were also many languages spoken throughout, I found that it was the first time for this kind of Hollywood production that whatever the actors said in a foreign language actually made sense and fitted with the story. Michael Fassbender, who is half-German anyway, spoke German, French and Spanish and Kevin Bacon, who was the main villain, spoke German and Russian. He gets my vote for the linguist of the film award as his was by far the best spoken Russian in a non-Russian film ever. 

Overall, although not perfect, “X-Men: First Class” shows that with good actors, clever script and a certain daring to go beyond conventions, any film of any genre can become an entertaining, elegant and at times quite emotional spectacle for most audiences. Of course it is hard to achieve and keep up this quelque chose that most good movies have; the importance of a sense of style and the advantages of borrowing from the filmmakers of the past rather than following current trends are clearly displayed here, especially in the contrast between the first and second halves. The small touches like Hugh Jackman’s short but awesome cameo suggest that this was an attempt to make a film with love and care by people with imagination but that they kind of lost it on the way.