Wednesday, September 29, 2010

the girl who played with fire

I am having trouble writing this title without changing the word “played” to “plaid”, even though I know full well that it’s a completely different word. So this is me apologising in advance for any typos.

For those not aware of the Steig Larsson juggernaut, this movie is the film adaptation of the second installment of the Millennium Trilogy, a series of books set in Sweden and concerning Lisbeth Salander (computer hacker, tough, persecuted, and all like tattooed n stuff) and Mikael Blomkvist (investigative journalist, determined, roughly handsome, defender of Lisbeth) who team up together off and on to solve crimes. Except they are much more than that, too. Lisbeth has many personal issues to sort out, and is an expert researcher with a lot of resources at her hands; Blomkvist is in a polyamorous relationship with his co-worker Erika (in the book, anyway, as this isn’t touched on in the films) and cares deeply for Salander. The crimes they solve are multi-layered, often far-reaching into Swedish politics, and involve men who hate women—the latter phrase being the original Swedish title of the first book, The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo.

The Girl who Played with Fire begins about a year after the last movie ended, with Lisbeth returning to Sweden after months of overseas travel. She is checking up on Nils Bjurmann, the guardian who abused her in the first film, but her interaction with him causes her to be accused of the murder of two aspiring journalists—who were working for Blomkvist’s magazine. Lisbeth goes into hiding and investigates why she has been set up, and Blomkvist, who doesn’t believe the allegations against her, does the same. He is unable to contact her, but she is watching him and he knows it. Separately and together, they discover that this crime goes much deeper than they expected, and will affect their closest friends and family.

This film has had mixed reviews; I even read one that gave it that nasty little dog symbol. (Especially strange, because dogs are cool, aren
t they?) I can’t understand that at all—I really enjoyed it. Because I’m a fan of the books, for me, it’s like when you want to reread a favourite book but don’t quite have the time, so you kind of skim through to the most important scenes and just read those. Watching these movies is like that. The film miss some seemingly important aspects of the book, but I do think they do a good job of condensing long books into two hours of film.

As with the first film, the strength lies in the casting and the honesty of the actors. Unlike in Hollywood, the actors don’t feel quite as plastic. Lisbeth Salander is supposed to be boyish and skinny, and Noomi Rapace is exactly that; she is hardly unattractive, but she is whippet-thin, bereft of curves, and leaves her underarms unshaven. Mikael Blomkvist is played with rugged allure by Michael Nyqvist; he is soft around the belly and his skin bears marks of acne, but he is one of the most appealing men in cinema because of it. Lena Endre is Blomkvist’s love interest, Erika Berger, and she also is as beautiful as the book says she is, while still rocking wrinkles and a curving belly. I wish more films were shot like this, with gorgeous actors that aren’t built by surgery and Botox but through talent.

Night scenes are hauntingly beautiful, shot as if in black and white with a hint of colour. While The Girl who Played with Fire misses the lovely snowbound feel of the first film, the city of Stockholm does sparkle in this one. Because I had the knowledge of the books behind me, I understood the movie well and enjoyed it very much, despite the subject matter—violence against women, political manipulation of the system to the detriment of Lisbeth—being tremendously unpleasant. It was well paced, interesting, exciting, and doesn’t hold back on the ugliness of violence and people. There is a wonderfully shot love scene between Lisbeth and her girlfriend Miriam Wu, as they make love in the dark and the elderly gentleman in the row behind me cleared his throat repeatedly. It didn’t feel gratuitous and I felt again embarrassed about American and Australian movies lagging behind in the world of film.

I do feel—and heard from Chris—that if you hadn’t read the books, it could be difficult to follow, to understand all the connections, and to get involved with some of the peripheral characters that are heavily introduced in the book but skipped over in the film. There are also some oddities in the movie: Blomkvist is unable to open an envelope by himself and demands a knife from a waitress at the cafe he is in; Millennium doesn’t seem to have any other articles on the go during the film, making the employees seem a bit lazy; there are some deaths that have very sappy signposting; people don’t call the police when they witness violence, instead taking retribution into their own hands.

Altogether it remained, for me, a touching film, filled with brutality. It shows how Blomkvist and Salander can remain friends after being lovers, and does well at recreating the main characters and their world. It’s unable to do the impossible task of getting everything right, but tries very hard and it shows.

In summary: Meets Expectations (which were high.)

Friday, September 24, 2010

easy a

Gosh, being a teenager is hard, isn’t it? Like it’s not difficult enough to try and study hard enough to get the grades you need for the course you want to get into, and negotiate a few fun times with your strict parents, and work part time so you can go to a movie occasionally. Then there’s the added problem of your reputation. Because everyone kind of has one: you could be “funny”, or perhaps “quiet”, or “nerdy”, or “good for a lift to the station”. And a reputation is hard to shake, especially when it’s something much worse, like “slut”.

If you’ve ever been called a slut, you’ll know it’s not great fun.
One of the times, I had some fellow student scream it at me while I was on the bus and I went home and wept. Back then I thought it was unjustified, and now the word just annoys me. Who cares if you want to have sex with lots of people? Why was it ever an issue, or anyone elses business or problem? How do I use the terms in this review? Anyway, I can’t go back in time and give my sixteen-year-old self a pat on the shoulder and an explanation about reclaiming words and whatnot, so I’ll stop going on about it and get off my rant soapbox and onto my review soapbox. They’re located very close together and sometimes I get them mixed up.

Starring just about every It Person in the history of Right Now In Film/Television, Easy A follows Olive Penderghast (Zombieland’s Emma Stone) as she goes from being an invisible member of the school’s population to the resident “tart”. It all starts with an innocent enough lie, as she tells her potty-mouthed friend Rhiannon (Hell
cats’ Aly Michalka) a lie about where she spent her weekend—at a party, with a boy—to get out of going camping with Rhi’s hippy-nudist family. Rhi accuses Olive of losing her virginity and hiding the fact, and after being harangued about it Olive eventually caves and tells Rhi she slept with this made-up boy just to shut her up. Alas, they are overheard by Marianne (Amanda Bynes), resident religious enthusiast and a nasty piece of work, who calls Olive a sinner and then tattles to the entire student body. With everyone whispering about her, Olive finally snaps and is sent to detention, where she makes a new friend in Brandon (Cougar Town’s Dan Byrd) and then is confronted with a strange request by him: will she pretend to sleep with him to allay (true) rumours about his sexuality?

At first horrified, Olive sees how miserable Brandon is and they stage an elaborate pretend sex session at a party. While Brandon is happy, Olive is shunned by everyone and labelled a “slut”. When some of Brandon’s friends find out what happened, they ask if they too can get in on the pretend action, and they’re willing to pay for it. So Olive sets up a scheme where the school’s misfits are able to boost their reputations, and Olive gets gift vouchers for her favourite store. Sounds, er, strange, but it’s almost a sound business idea until Olive starts to feel the wrath of the entire school as she is abandoned by h
er friends, and a campaign is begun by Marianne to have her removed from the school.

I have a lot of goodwill for this movie, because I like Emma Stone, the idea was interesting and I went with two of my newest pals so it had that kind of accompanying thrill that a date with someone lovely has. It was also pretty funny and all the act
ors are great. But I have come to the conclusion that, much like high school, Easy A is annoying.

For one, we’re supposed to start the movie believing this person when she tells us she is invisible at school.

Look at her. She is ridiculously attractive. Not only that, but she’s funny, and she’s smart. I’m not convinced that any school could be blind to these facts. And it’s not as if the school is populated by only the hottest people in Hollywood. The casting agent did a good job of getting a convincing ensemble of high school students, all shapes and sizes, and then made the two “average-looking” students (Olive and Rhi) Emma Stone and Alyson Michalka. The school’s cool kids have nothing on the level of hotness of these girls, and it’s ridiculous.

The worst aspect for me is that, apart from a very small scope of people consisting of Olive and her family, her English teacher Mr Griffith (Thomas Haden Church, who has probably done other things but will forever be known as “Ned from Ned & Stacey”), and affable hottie “Woodchuck” Todd (Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley) the characters in Easy A are just awful people. Seriously, what a cast of assholes. Rhiannon is a pain in the butt who turns on Olive and calls her a skank; the Christian group are a pack of bitchy hypocrites; guidance counsellor Mrs Griffith (Lisa Kudrow) is almost completely reprehensible. There is one awful scene where a male student asks Olive to pretend they slept together; when she tells him no, he tells her he could just spread the rumour anyway and everyone would believe him. It’s a terrible thing to say, and Olive tells him off; but then this guy goes all sadface and says he’s too hideous to get a date. So Olive relents. Why? The guy’s a bad man! Olive herself makes some other pretty stupid decisions, can be occasionally mean and comes across as a bit of a smartass, though she is still someone I could get behind. (Also, while I’m ranting, she pronounces the word “twat” like “twot”, leading to a scene I felt confused by because I had no idea why everyone was so offended by a word I’d never even heard.)

For a more biased interpretation, I was surprised to see a high school where, after a girl slept with one person, the entire student body was whispering about it. While I understand that a reputation is easy to get, false or not, at my high school no one really cared about the sex life of others, especially after just one time and/or person. I mean, there were enough mean girls at my school to make life occasionally miserable, but no one was into gossiping about people who’d had sex. I was honestly surprised with that aspect of the film and, while I guess it could be true in other schools, it wasn’t for mine, so it meant I couldn’t buy into the idea straight away. Even if someone at my school had been suspected of sleeping with half the boys/girls, my fellow students certainly wouldn’t be out the front picketing to get them kicked out. What kind of motivation do the writers think teenagers actually have?

Look, Easy A is not a bad movie. Olive’s family is a riot, and Woodchuck Todd is pretty cute. But with everyone else being so stupid or painful, I didn’t really like it. The ending made me cringe, with Olive suddenly bursting into a musical number (so she can sing as well? But is INVISIBLE? You can see this might have bothered me) and don’t bother staying until after the credits.

In summary: Below Expectations, but not by much.

Monday, September 20, 2010

the sorcerer's apprentice

In turn of the (twenty-first) century New York City, a bright ten-year-old boy called Dave is doing his best to impress a girl on a school trip. In a cute little moment, he passes a note for her with two checkboxes, asking to tick which box applies to her—friend, or girlfriend? She ticks something, and leaves the note for him. But the wind, and fate, have other plans for his note, and it ends up across the city in a strange little shop, staffed by a thousand-year-old slightly batty actor called Nicolas Cage. Sorry, I mean, a thousand-year-old slightly batty sorcerer called Balthazar Blake. There, he and Blake discover that Dave is not only a ladies’ man/boy but actually a descendent of Merlin, and someone very important to the fate of the world. Then, because he’s a goofy kid, he accidentally unleashes an ancient evil in Alfred Molina’s Maxim Horvath, and subsequently leads both Horvath and Blake to be trapped in a vase for ten years, which Dave spends trying to believe what he saw in the shop that day was hallucinations brought on by a glucose deficiency.

In 2010 New York City, a bright twenty-year-old called Dave (Jay Baruchel) is a physics student building a Tesla coil and pining after Becky Barnes, the girl he loved in fourth grade. His youthful shenanigans are long past, but the ring he received from Blake that day still hides in his sock drawer. And now that ten years have passed, a certain vase is now about to unleash Blake and Horvath back into the world, and Dave is going to have to step up and become a sorcerer’s apprentice to stop Horvath’s ultimate plan—to free the trapped Morgana Le Fay and have her destroy the world.

By the time I was at the box office this afternoon, I realised I’d exhausted all the blockbuster films I desperately needed to see. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice looked kind of corny, I was sick of Jay Baruchel this year (see How to Train Your Dragon and She’s Out of My League), and going to a kids movie during the school holidays always ends up with me expecting to be pelted with M&Ms throughout the viewing. But I just plain love going to the movies, so I buttered up my beloved until we decided that this was the movie that looked the least terrible out of rivals Charlie St Cloud (the previews of which explained the whole movie), Cats & Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (talking/barfing/pooping animals, ugh) or The Last Airbender (apparently about as much fun as watching The Happening for a second time). But as we watched this, after I broke out into a grin for the twentieth time, I decided: this is actually a pretty decent and fun movie.

It’s a bit cheesy, of course, and follows a fairly well-worn path of magical movies: person denies skill, caves and picks up some skills, makes an error, declares themselves rid of magic and runs away, realises using their power for good is actually helpful, returns to take on The Big Bad. But formulaic can still be fun, and this movie was. The casting had a lot to do with it, from young Dave (Jake Cherry), who is a dead ringer for Jay Baruchel, to Nicolas Cage, toning down the batshit to be a palatable sorcerer as Blake. Alfred Molina has the facial hair to be properly evil and looks ominous in a top hat, and Dave’s love interest, Australian Teresa Palmer, plays a flattered/interested/confused pretty lady really quite well, all the while looking like a twenty-year-old Naomi Watts. Feeling a little tacked on but entertaining all the same was Drake Stone, famous magician and secret sorcerer, requisitioned by Horvath to be his sidekick in the quest for evil, and played by RocknRolla’s Toby Kebbell. He’s over-the-top, and the idea of a real magician making a living as an, er, “pretend” magician isn’t touched on, but he is as flamboyant and playful as Russell Brand and adds good comic relief to the darker, deadly moments.

I realised almost straight away just how odd it is to see a kids movie in two dimensions and not three. I worried that the film would be flat, but the effects are quite extraordinary, from a steel gargoyle eagle prying itself off the side of a building to fly away to the Fantasia-like cleaning sequence with mops and brooms doing their best to clean Dave’s messy (and improbably large) physics lab. When Dave woos Becky with his Tesla coils it’s a genuinely good-looking moment, not to mention heartfelt, and you’re pleased for him because he is just so. damned. awkward. You could team him up with Michael Cera in a movie and cause some kind of mass death though excessive audience cringing. He spends a large portion of the film saying, “W-what’s h-happening?” or similar and looking embarrassed. He is basically playing the same person as he was in How to Train Your Dragon, including flying around on giant winged creatures and scoring with cute blondes, except that he has to do the physical acting as well as the voice acting.

It’s kid-friendly in that the worst swear you’ll hear is Dave saying, “What the heck?”, but involves a lot of carnage too (including someone being shot in the head) even if it is bloodless. Some scenes can get quite serious and upsetting, then are alleviated with such classy things as Dave’s dog farting or peeing. Choosing a college-aged man as a protagonist for a Disney movie aimed at children seems odd, but it works well because Dave doesn’t do other college-type things like spend every moment drunk and running around with knickers on his head. Instead he is a diligent student and the most he gets up to with Becky is (mild spoiler) a little smooching.

I don’t know enough English mythology to stand by the movie’s version of Merlin and Morgana Le Fay’s history, but it skips over it fairly lightly. There’s a few glossed over moments towards the end, like when Hovarth goes to all Dark Side and releases, amongst others, an evil little witch who is fairly frightening yet only onscreen for about twelve seconds. It also followed that movie rule where apparently whenever a character goes to Chinatown, it’s Chinese New Year and there’s a huge parade involving a dragon and a crowd for the bad guy to get lost in. I can’t dodge the fact it was a pretty clichéd film, but all the same, I had a genuinely good time watching it and would recommend it, even though it has flown a little under the radar and when I say, “I saw The Sorcerer’s Apprentice!” my friends will probably say, “What? Is that the American version of The Philosopher’s Stone?”

In summary: Exceeds Expectations. Also, stick around until after the credits, and you’ll get a little teaser.

Monday, September 13, 2010

the other guys

I’ve professed my love for Mark Wahlberg here before. Part of it was a kind of sympathy for the physical condition he had that prevented him from smiling; another part was appreciation for how many pictures there are of him with his kit off; finally, there was a hint of nostalgia for the halcyon days of my youth when he was part of New Kids on the Block, and rapping away as Marky Mark. Anyway, you can imagine my surprise when, during my viewing of The Other Guys, Mark Wahlberg came up with this big toothy smile. I think I fainted for a little while, and my illusions were shattered.*

In New York City, the entire police department is in awe of two men: PK Highsmith (Samuel L Jackson) and Christopher Danson (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). These men are all the brawn and posturing that is required from high-profile detectives, from mid-chase wisecracks (“Did someone call 9-1-holy shit?”) to causing massive explosions and widespread property damage. And then there are the other guys: Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), two men stuck doing paper-pushing due respectively to a fear of risks and the accidental shooting of pro baseballer Derek Jeter. While everyone’s out doing the serious busts, Gamble and Hoitz have a scaffolding violation to deal with—which then turns into something much larger than they expected. Without the force on their side, and with Gamble only sporting a wooden gun after having his real one confiscated, will they be able to take control without continuing to be the mockery of the NYC police?

This is one of the most ridiculous movies I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean that in a bad way—I’m just totally surprised by how many times I turned to Chris, mid-hysterical laughter, and asked him, “What the hell?” Everything about it is patented Will Ferrell insane, though perhaps even more so. If you took the scene in Talladega Nights where Ricky Bobby and Cal professed their love for baby Jesus, and then the one where Ricky Bobby thought he was on fire, then stretched it over two hours—then you get The Other Guys, where weird shit happens pretty much every moment: there’s a violent car chase in a hybrid car with the sweet voices of the Mamas and the Papas as the soundtrack; Gamble and Hoitz’s nemesis police officers, Fosse and Martin, called into a bust while discussing careers at an elementary school invite one lucky schoolgirl along with them on a bust; police captain Gene Mauch (Michael Keaton) has a second job at Bed Bath and Beyond.

Allen Gamble is gentle, kind, gullible, and drives a Prius. (The horror, etc.) Terry Hoitz is on edge, constantly yelling and throwing things, swearing and doling out insults. The two of them are unsurprisingly an odd couple, though each of them helps the team out with unexpected knowledge—Gamble’s driving techniques (thanks to Grand Theft Auto), Hoitz’s expert and beautiful ballet dancing (which he learned to make fun of the “queer kid” up the street who was a dancer.) Will Ferrell movies often involve movie clichés that have a running commentary, and that theme continues in this movie. An explosion ends with them writhing on the ground in pain and shouting about how unrealistic it is that in movies heroes walk away from them without flinching; they are offered courtside tickets by the man they are chasing and are on the court enjoying the game before Gamble says, “Wait, this feels like a bribe!” It’s obvious humour, but hey, I’m not always in the mood for subtle. Sometimes it’s just funnier to see a helicopter taken down by golf balls, or a policeman misinterpret “good cop, bad cop” as “bad cop, bad cop” and whale on Steve Coogan (who annoys me.)

The plot is very thin, really just enough to hang a bunch of jokes on. Still, I did need a key end scene explained to me, and am still a bit baffled in regards to it. When there wasn’t immediate comedy, the movie slowed right down. The idea of the police captain telling them to back off an obviously dramatic case was as frustrating as it always is, and not made fun of. And while these movies are never really offering social commentary, the role of women in this and all other related films remains the same: be pretty, slightly insane, inexplicably attracted to a jerk, and as per the Bechdel test, don’t talk to each other about anything but the men. (If at all.) There’s a running joke where the average-looking Gamble is attractive to outstandingly beautiful women, from his wife Sheila (Eva Mendes in tight dresses) to Brooke Shields (and screenwriter Chris Henchy’s wife) at a basketball game, which is almost great, because looks aren’t everything. Except that every single woman is drop-dead gorgeous. But I guess there’s only so much you can hope for in an over-the-top comedy that opens with a cop driving his car through a double-decker bus.

Beyond that trek into actual thoughtfulness, I had excellent fun watching this movie. The entire cinema was screaming with laughter at some scenes, and I actually rocked in my chair and almost cried, which caused the girl next to me to look at me funny. (Though she answered her damn mobile phone during the movie so she’s lucky I didn’t dunk her iPhone into my frozen coke.)

In summary: Meets Expectations (which were: stupid and funny and a blast)

And finally, payoff: stick around until after the credits. There’s some interesting facts while they roll, and a joke at the end.

*Do not read on if you hate finding out depressing things about the real life of actors you like, but I found out with my ninja Wikipedia skills that he used to be a racist little punk kid who threw rocks at African American kids in a bus, broke a neighbour’s jaw and left a Vietnamese man blind in one eye. He says he now regrets what he did and he “certainly paid for [his] mistakes”, and while I’m a big fan of rehabilitation and so on I really can’t come to the party on the idea that becoming a rich movie star with a gorgeous family and only serving 45 days in prison for attempted murder can be counted as paying for mistakes. As the jerky police guys warned a classroom of children in The Other Guys: “And remember, always try your hardest not to be black or Hispanic.”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

the killer inside me

I love the fifties. Not the whole backwards, racist, sexist, everythingphobic aspect of it, of course, but purely the visuals; the way all the buildings looked, the way everyone dressed, the way all men wore hats and doffed them, leading me to use words like “doff”. If I had more motivation and money, I’d recreate my entire home and self into 1950s style, tripping along in slinky twin-sets with heels and a bouffant, and wallpapering every flat surface in the house, like the television. And whoever styled The Killer Inside Me, the 2010 adaptation of the 1952 book by Jim Thompson, did an absolutely beautiful job; everyone and everything is picture perfect and convincing, like you could drive into a West Texas town right now and find everything just as it was in the film.

And thus ends my compliments of The Killer Inside Me. This has been a controversial film due to the violence towards women; but, as has been pointed out by many, it’s not at all the most violent movie I’ve seen, towards women or anyone else. I also believe that when people clutch at their pearls and tell you, “It’s the most violent thing you’ll ever see!” you will immediately imagine something much, much worse than what will happen.

Lou Ford (a high-pitched Casey Affleck) is a small-town sheriff who wanders about the place in a big hat appeasing everyone he can. But his bland persona hides a much more unhinged personality, and when a trip to prostitute Joyce (Jessica Alba) to move her along turns into unbridled violence, then heightened passion, the viewer discovers that he is a very bad man. Despite dating local lovely Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson, surprisingly not blonde), he begins a relationship with Joyce that ends when, after a double-cross they planned on a local developer turns into a triple-cross with the joke on Joyce, he beats her mercilessly, with the movie camera there to witness it relentlessly. Thinking he has gotten away with her murder, Lou coasts through the town, not realising that people have their suspicions.

The book has been lauded and is probably very good. A film was made in 1976 and is supposed to be a bit average. This film is annoying. Now, I’ll leave a movie observing it on the surface: was it entertaining? Did I want to go to sleep? After a while I will muse on it, and Chris, who will see symbolism all over the place, will pepper me with questions until we have maybe worked out if there was some kind of deeper purpose. If a movie is both superficially and metaphorically excellent, then that’s a win for that movie. When we walked out of the cinema after seeing this, I said, “What was the point again?” and Chris said, “Well, maybe it was, I don’t think so., not that either.” I just don’t understand why it was made. It was attractive, but I just didn’t care about what was happening on the screen in front of me.

We considered a few things that, having read a blurb, you might think were the point of the movie. Are we desensitised to violence? Well, seeing that many have walked out of screenings, I’d guess at no. Does it speak about the lack of emotion regarding violence towards women in ye olde ’50s? No, everyone is horrified in the film. Is it pointing out how if you’re nice enough on the surface, no one will ever suspect you? Nup, many are suspicious straight away. Are women shown as being inferior? Well, the whole film is supposed to be from Lou’s skewed perspective—he narrates it and is in almost if not every scene—and while Joyce makes an odd decision in staying with him (I’d guess she does it to save her business, not that it’s touched on) Amy is still brave, strong-willed and observant.

Perhaps the plotline would have been better suited to an episode of Law & Order: SVU, because then we’d at least have been able to see Christopher Meloni furrowing his eyebrows and Mariska Hargitay raising hers. It wasn’t nearly interesting enough to watch over an hour and a half; someone committed a crime, did his best to evade authorities, who did their best to find him. The character development between key characters was shameful; the relationship between Lou and Joyce was explained only in soundless montages, and makes no sense. He goes in, they fight verbally, he beats her, they have sex, then suddenly we flash to them laughing and joking and talking into the night and having lots and lots and lots more sex (seriously, I could barely eat my popcorn for all the bonkings and beatings in this film) but you never find out at all what they talk about, why they both declare their love for one another, or why they are in any way attracted to each other. Maybe a couple of the minutes that they spent on high-billed but blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Bill Pullman could have been spent having Lou say, “You know, I really like ice cream” and Joyce replying, “Oh my god, I totally love ice cream also!” and then we could assume that their relationship was based on iced dairy product admiration or something. They should have asked me to work on the script, obviously.

The acting is all fine. Alba is suitably depressing as Joyce, who still reaches pitifully out for Lou even as he punches her; Hudson is all cigarette-holding sass as Amy. Simon Baker doesn’t even bother changing his Mentalist accent or hairstyle to play investigator Howard Hendricks. Elias Koteas is excellent as slightly pointless insurance man Joe Rothman, and since I found out that he played Casey in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie I totally adored on VHS when I was a kid, I’ll forgive him anything. Ned Beatty was spot on old-and-mopey as Lou’s adoring boss, Chester Conway, though remains a bit terrifying after voicing Lotso Huggin Bear in Toy Story 3. Casey Affleck, well, I’m still unsure about him. He wasn’t charming enough to carry the movie, but I’m not sure if it’s his fault, or director Michael Winterbottom’s fault, or Jim Thompson’s fault fifty-eight years ago. Or mine for seeing that instead of Step Up 3D.

In summary: Below Expectations, but I’d read the book.

Monday, September 6, 2010

despicable me

I’ll drop everything to go and see an animated feature, especially if it’s in three entire dimensions AND there is a first-person point of view rollercoaster scene in the ad. So there were preview screenings on during the weekend, and I was there, frantically booking online, assuming the movie would be sold out (in reality, there were only about thirty people in the gigantic cinema, which just meant there were less people to make fun of me when I started squeaking uncontrollably during said rollercoaster scene and flapped my arms about.)

The movie opens with the most unexpected and daring theft known to man—someone has stolen the Great Pyramid of Giza and replaced it with an inflatable replica. Watching this on the news is Gru (Steve Carrell), our villain (er, I mean hero) and someone who is incredibly jealous of this large-scale bit of stealing. Gru gathers his minions, a stack of yellow, pint-sized, unintelligible beings kitted out in permanent goggles and blue overalls, and declares that they will steal something even bigger and more amazing than some measly pyramid. When his plan doesn’t exactly work out—thanks to new villain on the block, Vector (Jason Segel)—the only way to remedy the situation involves Gru adopting three little orphan girls who sell irresistible cookies.

Gru’s lack of parenting ability means that Margo, Edith and Agnes are not welcomed with open arms in his house, but instead served with pet bowls of lollies and water, offered some newspaper for wee-wee and poop, and told not to touch anything. Of course, they’re precocious and adorable, so they ignore his wishes, get in his way, smash up his experiments, befriend all the minions, and, unsurprisingly, steal Gru’s heart.

Now, after some consideration, I’ve realised that I should be rating movies. Not by stars, because reviews are opinions and stars try to make it an exact science, but, stealing from school reports, these three options: Below Expectations, Meets Expectations, Exceeds Expectations. Because the reason I’ll pan a critically acclaimed work of art but then act like The A-Team is a masterpiece of modern cinema is because I have certain expectations for what I’m going to see, and that heavily influences my opinion. And Despicable Me did an easy job of getting my first rating: Meets Expectations. Because it’s fun, and funny, and was utterly predictable but that’s okay, because it’s a kid’s movie, and you don’t want the surprise twist to have everyone living unhappily ever after or maimed in the over-the-top explosions, scarring your small child (or inner child) for life. Despicable Me is very much aimed at children, but still entertaining for adults. Some of the jokes almost made me pee my pants, and the 3D was excellent, and any scenes involving too much parent-related love had me shuffling through my handbag for tissues because I’m a big sook. It was good, you should see it.

But it didn’t exceed my expectations. The leap from Gru intent on abandoning the girls at a theme park to reading them bedtime stories and ignoring his devious plans to play with them was basically played out in a couple of minutes of montage that didn’t really explain why someone who had previously popped a kid’s balloon for the lulz was suddenly up for Father of the Year. I knew it was going to happen, that Gru would adore the children, but I couldn’t follow his train of thought. Gru had some flashbacks to his own childhood, with his cold mother (Julie Andrews) breaking his heart consistently; he was also heavily influenced by father-figure/elderly batty scientist Dr Nefario (Russell Brand), who did not like the disruption the children caused and campaigned for them to go. These did add some depth to Gru’s emotions towards family, but still, not enough. It also consistently frustrates me that big-name celebrities continue to be cast for voice work in movies when a) kids don’t give a toss about them most of the time—how many five-year-olds could point out Russell Brand in a line-up?—and b) they’re not actually voice actors. Steve Carell wasn’t completely terrible as Russian-accented Gru, but instead of having him trying so hard to not be Ah-merican that he sounded like he was literally chewing on the words sometimes, why didn’t they, I don’t know, hire a) an actor who specialises in accents or b) an actual Russian actor, god forbid. Russell Brand was fine, though not much of a stretch, as a British scientist, and serial nudist Jason Segel was also passable yet bland as pyjama-wearing villain Vector. And while it was pretty funny, is it entirely necessary to include a dance scene at the end of every animated movie just to watch all the characters dance in an amusing fashion? It’s been done and I am clearly an old fuddy-duddy who is sick of it.

But it was all a good laugh, with some fantastic scenes (Agnes winning a unicorn and screaming, “IT’S SO FLUFFY!” will make you fall off your chair, Gru laboriously reading the book “Sleepy Kittens” is wonderful, and the minions are always a hoot) and a lovely happy realistic moral which is something like “family should come before destroying the world”.

In summary: Meets Expectations

(Please note I had trouble finding an accurate movie poster for this review—it’s actually out September 9 here in Australia. And also, there’s nothing at the end of the credits, though as the cinema kindly didn’t turn on the house lights I did discover it gets very dark in a theatre once the movie has ended and there’s no lights to guide you down the stairs.)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

almost back to your regular programming

Apologies for the virtually nonexistent posting over the past couple of weeks—I’m sure you’ve been barely able to get out of bed in the mornings. I have no sufficiently dramatic reasons—just a few minor chaotic things going on—but will be back spouting off my opinions in the next day or so, when you will again be able to wake up to the day with renewed vigour.

In the meantime, you should go over to beloved spouse Chris’s shiny new comic blog, antiportrait, my contribution to which has mostly been laughing and pointing or reminding him of other embarrassing things that have happened to us. Go see! Leave spam comments! Admire his girlfriend! Follow and so on!