Sunday, October 30, 2011

in time

In Time has a good idea behind it: everyone’s now genetically engineered to age only until 25, when they then have one more year of life they can add to only through hard work (or robbery or theft). The poor, like Will Salas (Justin Timberlake, shorn) live in a ghetto in one timezone, scrimping for every minute and trying not to be robbed by gangsters like Fortis (Alex Pettyfer, rough) and supporting his mother (Olivia Wilde, are you kidding? So hard to get behind this idea.) However, just over in another timezone, you have people with more time than they know what to do with, including businessman Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser, perfect) and his daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried, not blonde.) What happens if someone like young Will gets pissy enough—and lucky enough, thanks to an unexpectedly timely (haha oh god there are many time puns to be had here) donation, to try and level the playing field?

It’s an interesting concept ruined once you try to think about it longer than thirty seconds. It’s an allegory for the power money has over people: after all, if you can’t afford shelter, food, or medical care, what hope do you have? And in this current economic climate, it’s true that few people hold most of the money just because they’re horrible examples of humanity. And it’s a pretty fun movie on a very base level, with a man hell-bent on revenge, a beautiful young woman who can’t help but be attracted to a man from the wrong side of the tracks with superior morals, an oily bad guy, some horrible thieves with cultured accents and a (time)cop who just wants to uphold the law, no matter who’s breaking it. But ultimately, it fails, because:
1) They never explain why society evolved like it did. I’m happy to take leaps of faith, but you have to give me something.
2) There are so many corny time/money jokes, it’s like someone as cheesy as me wrote the damn thing.
3) Why does everyone stop aging at 25?
4) Who would agree to have their child implanted with an under-the-skin digital clock that has a timer?
5) Cillian Murphy, while awesome, cannot pass as twenty-five.
6) Why does a civilisation advanced enough to be able to pass time through skin contact not have any other technological advances apart from a CCTV system that conveniently follows no one but important characters?
7) Why does everyone drive 70s-noir muscle cars like they’re in Mad Max?
8) Honestly, it is just really, really impossible to ever believe that a society would turn out this way, even being as pessimistic as I can muster.
9) You only ever see one evil fat cat in Kartheiser’s Philippe—does no one actually rule this world, or the countries, or the timezones? Is no one actually in charge?
10) And seriously, why the hell is everyone in this world skinny? This just makes no sense at all.
11) The future doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test.
12) How does it all WORK??

On the upside, there’s some good casting (Alex Pettyfer and Vincent Kartheiser are stand-outs), it trundles along nicely, and the Robin Hood aspect of Will and Sylvia’s criminal spree is something you can really get behind. It really has to be said that having everyone’s timers on the verge of running out half every second scene makes for some seriously intense viewing: anyone can die, at any time.

In Time isn’t the worst thing you could spend your afternoon watching, but if you really want something juicy this week, go see Drive.

I give it twelve out of twenty-five years.

Friday, October 21, 2011

the thing

Back in the best year of all, 1982 (three guesses when I was born, folks), a movie came out known as The Thing. With the release of 2011’s The Thing, 1982’s The Thing has been referred to frequently (well, by me at least) as The Original The Thing, though people have been saying there’s an Even More Original The Thing that came out in 1951. But that was called The Thing From Another World, so I’m going to continue by calling John Carpenter’s smack-down-great movie The Original The Thing and Matthijs van Heijningen Jr’s new actually-pretty-good-prequel The New The Thing. Though it’s set before Carpenter’s. Ahem.

For those who have seen The Original The Thing, you’ll know it starts with two Norwegians in a helicopter chasing a dog at the South Pole, and the subsequent shitstorm that follows, because aliens. The New The Thing tells the story of how things got to that point, and luckily, it’s not really a spoiler to know the beginning of The Original The Thing.

The Norwegian base camp at the South Pole has made a discovery: there is an alien structure beneath the ice, one dated from a very, very long time ago. And alongside this structure, something else is found: the inhabitant. It’s the most important discovery in science, and the Norwegians need to assemble a team to make sure everything goes according to plan. [insert scoff here].

The worry of creating a subtitled Norwegian blockbuster is neatly sidestepped by hauling in a bunch of Americans to help solve the problem, and then making everyone speak English about 80% of the time. It’s corny, but better than hiring A-list actors to pretend to be a certain culture and then failing miserably (I’m looking at you, Scottish lead of 300.) Norwegian scientist Dr Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) brings his research assistant, Adam Goodman (Eric Christian Olsen, one of my favourite people: he played both Vaughn in Community and Austin “Jakey Jakey about to make a big...mistakey” in Not Another Teen Movie) who then suggests his friend, palaeontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who will forever be known to me as Ramona from Scott Pilgrim). Helicoptered over to the South Pole by able pilot Sam (Joel Edgerton), tensions arise early between sensible Kate and Sander, who is making rash decisions out of excitement. Her cautiousness is proved right when the alien, brought in a block of ice to their base, thaws out and instead of sitting down for a cup of tea and a chat about interplanetary politics, goes on a murderous, stabby, regenerative rampage—because it’s a creature who can take on the form and nature of those it imbibes.

It’s the are-they-aren’t-they tensions that make these movies so fun: who has become The Thing and is hiding it behind their poker face, and how can the others figure it out? Scenes in The Original The Thing involved an excellent tense moment when blood was tested, and because that scene is so grand I’m pleased they didn’t recreate it, and instead went for a punchier version, opined by Kate, whose know-how and level-headedness almost instantly sees her grab control of the situation. This upsets some—namely Sander, who clearly has issues—and mutiny is afoot, like they don’t already have enough damn problems.

The New The Thing is a good prequel to The Original The Thing because it could have easily been terrible—many, including myself, adore John Carpenter’s version and were hesitant to like anything new. But it’s got a cracking pace, good effects, hair-chewing tension, and a woman with a flamethrower. It also passes the Bechdel Test, admirable considering there wasn’t a single female in The Original The Thing. Kate is the Ripley of this piece, taking charge and rightly so and saving cowering menfolk from getting dead. It’s quite inspiring.

Alas, there really isn’t enough character development in this—to have enough characters to be able to (not really a spoiler) kill a bunch of them off, you’ve got to care somewhat for everyone, which you do, at the expense of caring particularly hard for anyone. There’s a hint of a romance between Kate and Sam, and some clear friendship lines that, when broken, make you sad, but that’s about all they give you. There aren’t any of the mindblowing set monster pieces from The Original The Thing—walking head, anyone?—but it more than adequately steps up to the monster plate with some pretty gross stuff. Otherwise, my only real issues were a pixelated spaceship drive that does not at all look like it’s there, and the 1980s costuming that is basically nonexistent—not a mullet or a teased fringe in sight, and Adam dresses about the same as a 1980s scientist as he does a 2011 hippy, though with, sadly, less nipples showing.

I give it five out of eight disgusting stumpy limbs.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


To the sound of retro-eighties musical styling and lashings of bubblegum-pink opening credits we are let into the world of The Kid: straight-faced Ryan Gosling, pulling on his driving gloves and preparing for a stint as a getaway car driver. The following driving scene, while breathtaking, isn’t quite the chase scene we’re used to—it’s more tactical driving than 6 Fast 6 Furious or whatever car movies the kids are watching nowadays—and it’s also one of only two real chase set pieces in the film. Don’t let that fact dissuade you, as Drive is a brilliant film, and Gosling just proves that he can do anything. But mostly he can out-smirk anyone.

The Kid is a getaway driver by night and a Hollywood stunt driver by day, spending his other waking hours as a mechanic working for ideas man Shannon (Bryan Cranston). He also appears to be indescribably lonely, never seeing anyone outside of those he drives around, Shannon himself, and his shyly smiling neighbour, Irene. It’s an eventual encounter with Irene in the car park that leads to the relationship that—while beautifully touching—changes the life of everyone in the film. As the friendship between The Kid, Irene, and Irene’s young son Benicio develops (and you’re never entirely sure what it develops into; it’s mostly told through five long silences, three big smiles and some hand-holding), their lives are disrupted when Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac, and, yes, a “deluxe” joke is
made) returns from prison. Nothing does noir better than a plotline that involves one last job before everyone lives happily ever after (and involves someone called Blanche—Christina Hendricks, who is dressed down and wonderful but not worthy of her top billing); nothing makes movie like a situation going wrong in spectacular, bloodthirsty fashion.

Drive keeps up a cracking pace despite the fact that you get no hint of the violence to come for quite some time, until the Kid is at a bar and encounters someone he’s driven previously. There are moments of such tension that I gripped the seat handles and closed my eyes; there are moments I wanted to last forever. It’s a world so ridiculous that you can’t tell if it’s realistic, or if it’s just that the Kid is so wrapped up in his own world that he believes he’s in a movie. The crimes he assists in seem victimless and he helps people to do good, then gets revenge when people are bad.

The choices of direction are interesting; the car chases are often told via the expressions on those inside rather than panning shots of the outside of the car; the Kid’s calm enthralling against the panic of others. Moments of violence you expect the camera to pan away from actually stick around for more splattering than you thought you could bear. Small touches—the cleaning of a pri
zed knife after it’s been used by a character to kill a friend; the sun-dappled family moment by the river; a shark-like murder by the sea—they’re all perfectly handled and indicative of an excellent movie.

Rounding out the flawless cast is Hellboy, aka Ron Perlman as a bad guy whose best moment is laughing uproariously in front of a bored blonde (and who has more lower face than any other actor but it makes him completely irresistible, to be honest) and Albert Brooks, Shannon’s benefactor and one of the few characters to show genuine emotion. The movie on the whole is an unexpected delight—I say unexpected because I included this smaller-than-usual movie poster to show that the Australian poster looks all WHOO DRIVING MOVIE VROOM VROOOOOOM when really, that leads you totally astray, and I recommend going off this next one.

I give it nine
out of ten stomps to the head. I might even give it ten out of ten but I haven’t done a perfect score yet and am not sure if I’ll ever be able to bring myself to do it. Also, even when they’re appropriate, long silences and people enigmatically not replying to questions just makes me want to tear my hair out.

Friday, October 7, 2011

real steel

When I first saw the preview for this Hugh Jackman robot fighting movie I was so underwhelmed that it was possible for a while I was covered in all the whelming in the world. But as good films are still thin on the ground at the moment, and the last thing I’d seen was massively depressing The Whistleblower (pro tip: do not see a movie about Bosnian sex trafficking as your anniversary date) so I was ready for something stupid. The big surprise was, however, that Real Steel isn’t actually that stupid, and when you readjust your preconceptions of the film, it’s actually quite smart and a hell of a good time.

It’s 2020 and robot fighting has superseded human boxing (hooray! I knew the future would be good for something), and Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman, unexpectedly jerky) is a total asshole who wrangles said robots for a living. He isn’t actually that good at it, and owes money to boxing promoters all over America, and is on the run from yet another one—the film’s cowboy-hatted villain Ricky (Kevin Durand, slimy)—when he gets a life-altering piece of news: his ex-girlfriend is dead, and their son Max (Dakota Goyo, awesome), who he abandoned years before, is now is his care. While trawling for robot parts, Max—after a heartstopping accident—finds an retro (read: 2014-era) sparring bot named Atom in the mud and digs it out with his bare hands, and is then determined to put him in the ring and show his dad that he has the nous to win. Will Charlie be able to stop being an asshole long enough to turn his life around? Will he stop ruining the lives of those who care for him, including old pal and robot mechanic/boxing gym owner Bailey (Evangeline Lilly, wise and hot)? It seems obvious, but actually Charlie is such a horrible person for the first half of the film that you really doubt it, and don’t even want him to get custody over Max’s rich aunt Debra (Hope Davis).

The movie is basically a kids’ fantasy: robots, fighting, a dad who takes you on the road to grungy underground fights, lots of money, hamburgers for dinner. So when I went in thinking it was a typical blockbuster, it did seem a little cheesy in parts, until Chris whispered, “This is basically a kids’ movie.” And it’s true. Like the equally fun Super 8, it’s the story of the kid’s troubles almost more than the adult’s—it’s devastating as Max tries desperately to forge an emotional bond with the robot that he is lacking in his own life—and follows a plotline where the kid is pretty much smarter and more savvy than all the adults at just about anything, including building a championship-quality robot out of dumpster parts. Real Steel, however, succeeds because of these childlike touches rather than in spite of them, and means you’re much more willing to dismiss plot holes and strange moments (why are more people not using these old robots if they are so damn excellent? Why does literally no one else ever turn up at Bailey’s gym? Also, isn’t it totally creepy when Charlie sneaks into Bailey’s bedroom at night? etc etc), because kids don’t always care about such stuff, and maybe adults shouldn’t either. At the risk of sounding like a prude, it’s actually nice to see a film where someone drives 1200 miles just for a kiss, women can be smart instead of nude and where blood is actually a very rare sight. It means you could take your twelve-year-old nephew as well as your eighty-year-old grandpa and everyone would have fun, though the word “shit” is said maybe three times if that’s something you’re concerned about.

The acting is top-notch—Jackman is a truly horrible person but still appealing because he’s basically the world’s favourite person; Dakota Goyo is someone you may literally cheer for (I sure as hell did) and Evangeline Lilly is a bit weepy, as women typically are in movies (but as a habitual weeper I can totally relate—I mean, I cried in a hospital ad showing before the movie today), but is also tough and smart. The special effects are great, the robots utterly convincing in the presence of the humans; the sets are huge and fun—glitzy arenas, jungle-based underground fights populated by future-punks (still wearing Ramones t-shirts), rodeo-style Texas fights with a bull. The last of those was the only thing I can really say I didn’t enjoy—of course the bull was CGI in most parts (assuming bulls aren’t good at dealing with green-screen acting) but pitting an animal against a hunk of metal still made me uncomfortable and it was horrible when it got thrown around. (Vague spoiler: the bull wins that fight, but still.) The dance scene where Atom shadows Max’s moves should suck but is actually quite hilarious. The robotic rival/final boss Zeus is huge, terrifying and smashes lesser robots instantly, all while being commanded by enigmatic maker Tak Mashido (Karl Yune, moody) and icy owner Farra Lemkova (Olga Fonda, tight ponytailed). It doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, but the movie’s full of women who are perfectly capable of doing their own thing, even including a bunch of little girls at the start who give Charlie attitude when he richly deserves it.

Top effort to director Shawn Levy for making me care about robots without actually giving them any personality. It probably has to do with Atom representing all of the Kanters’ hopes and dreams, and all behind a sad little stitched-together mesh face and in a future that looks pretty much exactly the same as right now. I don’t want them to make a sequel, but if they do, I’d see it. I give Real Steel four out of five punches in the nuts.