I went for a long drive today, for the first time in more than 6 weeks, and it was good. It’s also been ages since I’d seen a movie, so I thought I’d check out the cinema, and it came down to a choice between Source Code and Paul. I’m rather glad I picked the former (which is not to say I don’t want to see the latter)…
Source Code is the second feature from Duncan Jones, director of Moon, which was possibly my favorite movie from 2009. Very little of what I’d heard or seen about his new film excited me, since it sounded like an action sci-fi departure which could only be a let-down by comparison. Basically I expected something a bit like Minority Report– watchable, but never great. I was to be pleasantly surprised.
With the exception of one truly, saucepan-bangingly awful exposition scene, I loved this movie. The colour, the light and the opening shots grabbed me immediately and my mind didn’t wander for a second of the duration. The weird combination of having both everything and nothing at stake really adds to the story. And just like with Moon, Jones doesn’t dick you around just for the sake of a big reveal, but rather lets the story unfold at its own natural pace.
This annoyingly talented director seems to have the ability to take a pretty basic sci-fi premise (and in this case a raaather sketchy one) and make it into so much more, such that there is a point in this film which I can only describe as a moment of Grace. He achieved the same with Moon, and I’m still not entirely sure how. I would bet money that Jones is a Buddhist, given that both his films have this repetition and theme of self-salvation in them (update: just looked it up, apparently he is an atheist, so whatever). When Harold Ramis (who apparently is a Buddhist) made the thematically similar Groundhog Day I don’t think anyone expected it to be as great a movie as it was, and part of the reason for this was that he stripped away the crap that wasn’t necessary and found the heart of the film. I think Duncan Jones has this same talent, and really hope he can keep doing it for ever and ever until he gets it so right that he sublimes into a film-maker comprised of pure energy and just projects his ideas right into our tiny human brains.
Related: Go here to hear Stephen Tobolowsky (Ned Ryerson!) describe the horror of what Groundhog Day might have been …
When I get old I want to be Jeff Bridges.
Jeff Bridges is ageing so damn well, and the new Coen brothers version of True Grit is the perfect vehicle for him. Even though I could barely understand a word he uttered, I really loved the film– especially the end, which is just beautiful. Go see it! (when I say “the end” I am not referring to the epilogue, which I found the least interesting part of the film).
Although Disney’s Tron: Legacy was a fairly forgettable film, Jeff Bridges was by far the best thing in it, even channeling a little Lebowski for the fans.
“You’re really messing with my Zen thing, man”
In Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges made me care about an alcoholic country singer, and I enjoyed the movie even though I saw it in a cinema that smelled of piss (perhaps appropriately?)
I’m starting to suspect it’s mostly the beard– unfortunately I can’t grow a decent one myself, so I guess I will never be Jeff Bridges, unless I want to be this version, which let’s face it no one wants to go see:
Actually the MacGuffin in question is called the Loom of Fate, but I think Death is punchier.
A member of the ancient fraternity of assassins decodes the name of their next target.
Apart from being the dumbest movie in the history of dumbness, Wanted was actually quite enjoyable. If you can ignore the terrible plot, the terrible acting and the fact that parts of it feel like a ripoff of the Matrix 5 years after everyone else got bored with ripping off the Matrix, it’s kind of exciting sort of… in a morally reprehensibly kind of way.
Wanted is all about how much you and I suck for being ordinary, and how much better our lives would be if we went around murdering people at the behest of an ancient loom which acts as God’s answering machine (inexplicably, the names woven into the fabric by the breath of God are interpreted as conferring an execution order, rather than, say, an honorary sainthood). A subplot involves a man fighting to do what’s right and yet never finding the time to send an email or pick up the phone when it would be really frikking useful for him to do so, thus condemning himself and countless others to pointless and bloody deaths. Also, candle-lit baths are apparently incredibly good for you, as is subsisting solely on a diet of pork.
PS: Morgan Freeman has exceeded his movie quota and should be banned from acting for at least a year. It’s just getting ridulous– does he even change his shirt between roles these days?
*** SPOILSPORT ALERT ***
What is the frikkin deal with CGI monkeys? Ever since Jumanji they have looked like shit, and always seem less believable than any other animated animal. Perhaps it’s because of their human-like traits; the more human the animal the more sensitive we may be to flaws in appearance and movement.
Compare this miniature computer generated Dr. Zaius (Mrs Coulter’s unnamed golden monkey daemon) to the fabulously real monkey from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and you can see there’s still a long way to go.
The other daemons are for the most part superb, especially Pantalaimon in cat and mongoose form, and really serve to break up what otherwise might be stuffy exposition scenes with people sitting around a table. It’s great watching them padding into a room behind their respective humans, deftly avoiding being trodden on and apparently attracting no special attention.
Ok, so apart from the daemons… The story seems to follow the book pretty closely, although it ends at a slightly different spot (which is understandable but somewhat annoying). Lyra is very well cast, being a little rough looking (you can actually imagine her beating up other kids) and Daniel Craig as Azriel would be great if he were on screen for more than 30 seconds. Nicole Kidman is so-so as Mrs Coulter (especially when she pretends to reach out and hold mini-Zaius).
The main criticism I have for The Golden Compass, which I have already heard elsewhere, is that the movie does feel rather rushed… in order to include all the major plot points there never seems to be much of a pause for breath. I think it could have easily been 45 minutes longer to allow better establishment of the world of the College and the Magisterium (which is still very obviously a version of the Catholic church), and to allow the characters time to get to know each other a bit.
(images nicked from this article)
Had Adam not recommended this documentary to me, I probably would have skipped it, assuming it to be the work of yet another reactionary loser setting out to beat Michael Moore at his own game (the title doesn’t help). Instead it is a breath of fresh air, simply examining Moore’s work and revealing tactics and methods which are not exactly admirable.
The central message is not that Moore is a Big Fat Liar, so much as that in his quest to influence the American people he has lost sight of what a documentary is supposed to be– namely true, in such a way that what the audience comes away believing is in fact the truth (or at least part thereof). This is not an issue of bias, since as Moore rightly points out (when hassled by idiotic mainstream media) it is not his responsibility to present "both sides" in a fair and balanced way. Even in this post-post-modern era such a thing is impossible, and ironically the only people who might believe it to be otherwise are the FOX news viewers who may just swallow that official line.
The issue raised is mainly that of misrepresentation through editing and omission, as well as implications of links and causalities which may not actually exist. The film doesn’t really question Moore’s political stance, in fact it is just as effective as his own films at making conservatives look like misinformed religious freaks (but then it’s pretty easy to get a dumbass quote out of any group of people if you ask enough of them). It boils down to the issue of whether the end justifies the means, and watching this little doco while reflecting on Moore’s films it is easy to imagine that he is firmly in the YES camp on this issue, whether he acknowledges it or not.
I’ve always been fine with Moore’s unique blend of hyperbole and regular joe, there’s a logic to it and it seems harmless enough, but using quotes out of context and fiddling with timelines (and adding fictional content for dramatic/comic effect without marking it as such) is misrepresentation, and that kind of sucks, undermining his messages (and therefore any good that may come of them).
You can get Manufacturing Dissent on DVD or as a torrent from all good repositories. It’s probably good that it sounds more like a backlash movie than it is (and will likely be sold as such), because really what it does is remind us that nothing is as black and white as we would like to believe, and perhaps those who so passionately hate Michael Moore for the evil fat anti-american Satanic communist that he is will see this and be surprised that you can in fact criticize a person without trying to destroy them.
BTW I still think you should go see Sicko if you are a US citizen and you haven’t seen it already, because it is total bullshit that you guys don’t have universal healthcare :)
A lot more enjoyable than Ocean’s 13, but still left me rather cold. A similar complaint is that made up technology is no substitute for real action, although in this case the technology is of the magical variety. Wizard fights are just boring because magic has no set limits, and there’s only so many bolts of enery shot out of wands I can sit through before it all gets a bit ho hum. Dumbledore is brilliant, Snape is good, Sirius is not seen nearly enough (considering the plot), but the kids are very forgettable– except perhaps for Luna Lovegood, who is likable mostly because she is different.
Also shown at the screening was a trailer for The Golden Compass, the first in the His Dark Materials adaptation, and I was slightly saddened to see how much it looked like a blend of Harry Potter and Narnia… I really wish they’d focus less on the glorious fantasy vistas and more on the incredibly strong characters and story. The casting seems pretty decent at least, with Daniel Craig beardied up as the gruff professor and Nicole Kidman as [ice queen bitch from hell] Ms Coulter. I can’t wait to see how much of the church bashing makes it into the final cut (probably not much, but here’s hoping).
I can’t believe I made the mistake of seeing this one; after the previous sequel I should know better. Ocean’s 12 made me angry with its stupid holographic FabergÃ© egg + Julia Roberts plot line, and 13 just makes me sad, because it is not even so imaginative. What kind of entertainment is there to be had in a heist movie when every problem and every solution consists of some bullshit made up technological contrivance? Ugh! And oh! but aren’t George Clooney and Brad Pitt just so dreamy when they slouch about in immaculate suits finishing each other’s sentences!
The new Transformers movie rawks! – especially when compared to my expectations for it, which were really quite low. It has more believability than Spiderman 3, and is just packed with exciting explosions and mayhem. Optimus Prime is voiced by Peter Cullen, who provided the voice for the original cartoon series, which means he can deliver those ridiculous monologues and still seem authentic. Considering the utterly terrible premise of the story I think Michael Bay did an outstanding job bringing this to the big screen.
To bring at least a tiny bit of credibility to the plot, it is made clear that the Autobots (and the Decepticons) have the power to choose their camouflage forms (I don’t think this was the case in the original series), which begs the question: Why are the Autobots so squeamish about flying? It takes them a long time to reach their destinations by road; meanwhile the Decepticons turn into helicopters and jet fighters and arrive in minutes.
Spiderman 3 – sucks arse! What are the odds of a meteorite carrying some sort of sticky black xenomorph crashing right next to Toby MacGuire in the same week a surprisingly buff Thomas Haden Church stumbles into an open air particle experiment?
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End – also sucks arse! But visually splendid so I would at least deem it watchable. Seeing Keith Richards as Johnny Depp’s dad is almost worth the price of admission (ok no it’s not, but they do look good together).
28 Weeks Later – This was surprisingly good and largely in keeping with the style of the original, even though it’s from a very different perspective (the US military forces and even to a degree that of the "infected"). What was disappointing was that there is no middle act; it just kind of begins and then ends… They go from "everything’s fine" to "code red" in just one scene, where instead we could have had a gradual (excruciating) breakdown of containment.
When I saw the preview a while back I loved the look of it (and you can’t go wrong with a bit of Sigur Ros for a soundtrack) and the concept is just so big and chunky that I knew I had to see it.
Sure there’s not so much by the way of story… but the theme, the setting, the premise, the design, the cinematography– I loved it!
I’ve seen a few movies in the past few weeks and not really mentioned here, so some condensed reviews follow (all links are to Wikipedia entries, because official sites are always too flash-heavy, and IMDB is such a useless pile of poo that I’ve decided to boycott it):
Kenny – Excellent Australian film that will hopefully get a wider release with positive reviews. I’d call it documentary-style more than a mockumentary, since the latter has very negative connotations to me (ie piss-take). Kenny is a plumber who installs and maintains portable toilets, and is one of the most likeable (and believable) characters I’ve seen in an Australian film in ages.
Jackass Number Two – Utterly repulsive and yet still I laughed a lot. To clarify, I think this is a very bad film, which will have a very negative influence on dumb young men, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t funny. There seems to be a particular propensity for vomit in this one, especially from Bam Marguera who will dive into a scene just so he can upchuck on film.
Little Miss Sunshine – I thought I’d already mentioned this one, but must have been in email. The dysfunctional family tag might make you groan but it does it really well. There wasn’t a character I didn’t warm to.
I saw Renaissance recently, and as I suspected it was (unfortunately) somewhat lacking– there’s not a lot of substance beneath the style, with wooden acting and a plodding storyline about missing scientists and evil corporations… YAWN!
The style has a hard time supporting the range of visuals required for a feature length film, with some scenes being downright irritating to watch (but many others looking quite beautiful). Visually, Sin City worked a lot better, in that it didn’t commit to any particular technique but rather to an overall aesthetic. I think Renaissance is too much a slave to a single visual concept. The animation is so smooth that I actually found myself wishing for a reduction in the frame rate, as the shadow threshold gliding over the characters’ cheekbones can get quite distracting.