Monday, 28 June 2010

Knight and Day

Tom Cruise has always been a pretty cool guy. Perhaps one of the biggest stars in the world, if not the biggest (not height-wise, he's quite small), he's a great actor, one who fully embodies his roles and gives memorable performances, always seeming to play likable characters who we love to watch on the big screen. Although he believes aliens created him or, uh, something, he is a hard person to hate, he's consistently on top-form and shining in each role he takes, but some do have these malign feelings towards him. Assholes!

His last film, war story Valkyrie, was in 2008 and I have to say that I've missed him since then. Cruise is one of the best of his field and a year without him is quite noticeable. But now he's back, starring alongside the ever-scrumptious Cameron Diaz in the lighthearted action comedy Knight and Day. So is it good? Well, keep reading, you lazy bastard.

Diaz is June Havens, a confident, rather typical, everyday woman who gets on a flight from Wichita, intending to go home and attend her sister's wedding. Sat in the aisle next to her is Roy Miller (Cruise), a suave and talkative cool cat who she "coincidentally" (wink, wink) bumped into twice on the way to the plane. After some chit-chat June visits the restroom, during which the few seated passengers jump up and attack Roy, but are all quickly killed along with the two pilots. Roy, you dumbass!

So, much to June's surprise, Roy crash-lands the plane in a field, after which it comes to light that he is a secret agent. Through a series of unfortunate events, Roy ends up having to protect June from a bunch of guys with guns, having to go globetrotting with her, all the while trying to keep hold of a certain object called a Zephyr. "What is a Zephyr?" I hear you ask. Well, you'll have to watch the movie.

Knight and Day apparently went through what filmmakers call Development Hell, with many different rewrites, directors and cast member changes along with budgetary problems and several re-shoots taking place. Because of this, I'm quite surprised by how the film turned out. With all of these predicaments, I would have assumed that the film would end up a confused mess like Jonah Hex, The Wolf Man or X-Men Origins: Wolverine, all of which went through the same bothersome process.

But Knight and Day manages to still be a fun, energetic movie which defies logic for the sake of silly entertainment, working as a decent satire of the spy genre. All of the cliches are there; the grand locations, the charismatic secret agent, the villain with a foreign accent, car chases, mass gunfire and fist fights, all of which add up to a great night out at the movies.

However, a little word of warning. Don't go into Knight and Day thinking that it's a side splittingly hilarious comedy because where the film fails is in the laughs department. Truth be told, this film does not achieve the hilarity it thinks it does, with it lacking in good jokes, taking the film down a notch or two. No doubt, the film is persistently humorous and has a strong tongue-in-cheek nature, but I would have liked more laugh-out-loud moments.

Saying that, it's not completely without shits and giggles as there were a few scenes which made me chuckle. For example, as Roy is in a cafe, dragging a handcuffed, struggling June outside, he points his gun and says to the customers, "Nobody follow us! Or I kill myself and then her!" This wittiness is few and far between and having more of it would massively lift the film up.

What the film lacks in hilarity, on the other hand, it very much makes up for in the action sequences. The movie is quite action-packed with several over-the-top fight scenes and vehicle pursuits, all of which are equally thrilling and exciting, as well as pretty damn creative. In one scene, June is worriedly driving a car down the highway from the backseat after the original driver is shot dead. Through the side window, we see Roy drive a police motorbike off-screen on an uphill road. Some seconds later, the Roy-less bike re-enters the frame and splashes into the lake below before Roy lands on top of the car's hood, smiling away through the windscreen. "That's a beautiful dress," he says to the terrified June.

Each of these action scenes are brilliantly shot by director James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Walk The Line), capturing the tense, yet cartoonish escapades going on without having to resort to the sometimes tedious shaky cam many action directors have recently helmed. They all crank up the tension and adrenaline whilst keeping the always-present humour intact. They really make the movie.

As you can probably tell by the two opening paragraphs of this review, I am a fan of Cruise (as you should be too) and here he most definitely did not disappoint my usually high standards. He plays the elegant and charming yet cheeky and lovable nature of Roy to a tee, additionally kicking some ass and shooting some bullets. And then some.

Diaz is first-class alongside Cruise, living up to her A-list name, playing June in a believable enough fashion, which is impressive considering the insane and incredibly unfamiliar circumstances her character has to deal with. Both Cruise and Diaz are juxtaposed with each other, one this energetic action hero, the other a commonplace, unassuming 30-something who's a little freaked out by Cruise's antics. Their on-screen chemistry is somewhat effective and helps in the film's appeal.

All in all, Knight and Day is pretty good. The movie loses itself in the middle for a little bit, but it manages to pick itself back up towards the end. It suffers from weak jokes, but the feel is still very comical, not taking itself seriously at all and the film is an action-packed one filled with twists and turns along the way. The French style music used in some scenes by John Powell sets the tone perfectly and household names Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz dazzlingly carry the movie without fault. It's not quite True Lies, nor is it Hot Fuzz, but at least it's not the Ashton Kutcher mega-fart known as Killers.


Friday, 25 June 2010

Jonah Hex

Hands up if you've heard of the DC comic book Jonah Hex by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga! No one? Yeah, thought not. Me neither, and my only knowledge of the comic book is purely from the new film adaptation directed by Jimmy Hayward. And my God, is it bloody terrible? Yes. Yes, it is.

Okay, so we've got a film based on a comic book that no one, other than chronic masturbators who live in a box in their mother's attic, has heard of. Little appeal, not many people care. And then the first trailer is released, which is abysmal and spreads an incredible amount of negative feedback across the internet. Even less appeal. And Megan Fox is in it. The film now appeals to Megan Fox, and Megan Fox only.

As you've probably assumed, the film was a gigantic flop, deservedly making only $5,378,800 on its opening weekend. Thank Christ this wasn't a success, otherwise movie studios would be dishing out more shit like this for a quick buck every chance they get. Wait, they do. But what is the film actually like? Well, what we get is a consistently stupid, mindnumbing mess of a film that lazily indulges itself for 72 minutes (seriously, it's THAT short) while the viewer screams in terror, watching as their horrified brain cells commit suicide, causing the viewer's brain to explode through their skull, after which they thank the lord for having mercy on them. That's about right.

Josh Brolin stars as Jonah Hex, a legendary bounty hunter living in John Wayne world, sometime during the American Civil War. He's a tad disgruntled after he is forced to watch his wife and child burn to death in a fire caused by Quentin Turnbull, played by John Malkovich (why, John Malkovich, why?!). Hex now wears a permanent nasty burn mark and is a bit of a Grumpy Gus.

Believing Turnbull to have died, Hex finds out that he is actually fine and dandy and the government wants the scarred outlaw to hunt down the terrorist. Turns out Turnbull is planning a massive attack on the US using advanced weaponary (Wild, Wild West much?), and Hex is told that the government will stop chasing him if he manages to thwart Turnbull's plan. And so Hex sets out to get revenge and to stop the dastardly bastard before he destroys the country.

Okay, where to start in the rant I'm about to do? Hmm, I'll begin with the characters. Every single character in this movie is a one-dimensional caricature without the slightest hint of development or believability. You find yourself not giving a damn about a single one of them, connecting with them or caring about what they do, where they go, why they do anything or how they feel. If Jonah or any other character in this shit-fest were to be continually tortured throughout its thankfully short running time, you really just would not bat an eyelid or feel a shred of pity for them. In fact, we're the ones being tortured by this pile of shit!

It's predictable as hell too, not only because it's a Western (they're all the same, aren't they?) but because it doesn't really even try to outstretch its limitations as a revenge flick. You know what's gonna happen almost every couple of minutes and the ending, well, guess which two characters have a face-off at the end?

The film hasn't even gotten its tone right, as it amateurishly shifts from over-the-top action to out-of-place supernaturalism and then to emotional drama and a cartoon at one point (not kidding), which lead me to believe that the film hasn't got the slightest clue as to what the hell it wants to be. Other than a horse's ass. It's chaotic, there's no consistency.

As for the writing, it pretty much entirely consists of pathetic one-liners popping up every two seconds, clearly intended to become catchphrases put on trailers and t-shirts and mugs or whatever. They're not funny and they're not smart, they're just there to cover up the lack of writing ability that embodies the movie. Now, to be fair, I have heard that Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor's script was raped to death by the studios, leaving only a crumb of the chocolate buffet that may have sprouted from the imaginative minds of these two writers. As shown in Crank, they know how to make a crazy movie without it coming across as a shambles, and it would have been interesting to see them directing this or had full control of the film's content.

The action scenes are pointlessly over-the-top, not fitting in at all with the film's shaky tone. There's a horse with massive machine guns strapped on it, Jonah runs down a corridor, firing dynamite pistols and there's a point where he deliberately sets his hand on fire just to punch someone in the face. All of this just seems completely out of place, leaving me sitting in my seat, confused, wondering what the bejesus fuck I was watching.

Josh Brolin really has hit a career low with Jonah Hex. After starring in No Country For Old Men, Planet Terror and Milk, you have to question what was going through his mind when he signed on for this. You're meant to be mesmerised by his character because he's supposedly awesome and cool, but you spend the entire movie staring at the distractingly hideous scar planted on the right hand side of his face. I felt sorry for him, I really did, because his performance isn't that bad, but practically everything else about the film is.

Megan Fox drags her way through each scene she's in, which isn't many (thank God) as a prostitute, sounding as if she's reading large-lettered cue-cards written in a Southern slur so she can try and pass off the undoubtedly fake accent. Her character doesn't really serve any purpose up until the end when she gets kidnapped, so just like in Transformers 2, Fox's character wasn't even needed.

And then there's the Shakespearean, Oscar winning actor John Malkovich. I should have the same pity for him as I do for Brolin, but I don't. And the reason for this is that he looks like he's genuinely having fun, unlike the rest of the cast. His performance was the best for me, playing a typical and kinda cliched villain, but for what it is, it works.

The only truly bearable thing in the movie is the music by Marco Beltrami and the band Mastodon. It has a deliberately grungy feel to it, lots of guitars, managing to fit into each genre the film pathetically lumps itself into.

This film is horrible. Almost every aspect of it is terrible, the film itself doesn't even know what the fuck it is. It deserves every Razzie award for awfulness it can fit in its asshole and then some! In fact, don't go and waste your money on this incomprehensible mess of a film, just go buy the soundtrack instead. At least you'll get your money's worth. And you won't have to look at Josh Brolin's face.


Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The Karate Kid (2010)

"Kung fu lives in everything we do," Mr Han says to young Dre Parker. "It lives in how we put on the jacket, how we take off the jacket. It lives in how we treat people. Everything is kung fu." Right, well that's all good and dandy, sir, but please explain why you're saying this in a remake of The Karate Kid? The Kung Fu Kid is thataway, man, not hereaway. Is hereaway a word?

Yes, Hollywood has remade 80's classic The Karate Kid. Come on, you knew it was gonna happen! And unsurprisingly, they've changed pretty much everything that was established in the well-respected and beloved original by John G. Avildsen. Karate is now apparently called kung fu and the 1984 version's setting of Los Angeles has been moved 6,200 miles over to China. Not to mention that the main character is now a 12 year old black kid with a braid hairstyle, whereas in the original he was 16 and white with a bad haircut. Well, they've both got the bad haircuts.

There are the obvious differences between the two versions, so that's already a reason to loathe the film. Or love it, it depends on you really. No doubt, this movie has garnered much hatred for its far stray from the fan-favourite, claimed to be another filmic cash-cow or as producer Will Smith trying to build a career for his spawn, the movie's main star Jaden Smith. I was one of the people with these opinions, I watched the film with a very biased view, wanting to detest it after I saw the trailers and TV spots. But god damn, I am astounded and flabbergasted to tell you that The Karate Kid remake is friggin' awesome!!

Smith stars as Dre Parker, a timid yet smart-mouthed young boy from Detroit who moves to China with his mother (Taraji P. Henson) to start a new life there. Dre develops a crush on and befriends violinist Mei Ying (Wen Wen Han) at school, but local bully Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) decides to separate the two, fighting Dre and continually taunting him.

During a pretty brutal fight in which Dre is being beaten up, Mr. Han (Chan), the maintenance guy at Dre's new apartment, shows up and takes out Cheng and his 12 year old thugs with masterful fighting skills. Go child abuse! Turns out Mr. Han is a wise, all-knowing kung-fu master and Dre persuades him to train him in the art of self-defence.

Mr. Han's training methods are a bit odd, starting off with getting Dre to continually hang up his jacket, drop it on the floor, pick it up, hang it up, put it on and repeat again and again and again. Soon, fighting skills come in and all this is leading up to the kung fu tournament where Dre plans to kick his bully's asses one by one. Fuck yeah!

As you can assume, the film is quite predictable, you can see the ending coming a mile off. Buuttttt, this does not stop it from being overwhelmingly entertaining. That's right, The Karate Kid remake is actually fun and cool and quite the hunky-dory family flick.

Now I'll admit, I have very little memory of the original Karate Kid from 1984. I probably watched it when I was little and have just forgotten, but all I remember is there's a bit with a fly in between some chopsticks, Mr Miyagi teaches his student to wax his car and there's something about a beach. I think. So, I can't really compare the two films aside from the blatant changes getting much attention on the interwebz, and I know many dedicated fans will be nitpicking at it for this.

What I advise viewers to do is to base your opinion on the film while thinking of it as a movie in of itself, not a remake, because in this way, it very much holds up as a fantastic and solid piece of light entertainment to take your kids to see.

The film is quite long, managing to make it to 140 minutes due to its somewhat slow pace, but I personally didn't feel my ass getting sore at any point. I admire it for the length as it lets us fully get involved with these characters and for them to all be developed properly, managing to fit in many subplots to keep us in enjoyment mode.

Smith and Chan both perfectly portray their characters, making them likable for the most part, especially Chan (how can you not love Jackie freakin' Chan?). Jaden gets a lot of shit for being a horrible young actor, but here he gives what I can't call anything less than a great performance. As for Chan, there's an immensely touching scene where the disturbing past of Mr Han is revealed and his performance in this sequence really shows that he can do much, much more than just kick some serious ass in fight scenes.

The two have a monumentally captivating chemistry together, one which is most prominent in the impressive Rocky-style montages of training. They have their differences and a couple little conflicts, but within their friendship is a connection that I for one responded to with much emotion and admiration. My heart isn't that cold really.

One of the things that really stood out for me in this film is the choreography in the several fight sequences. God damn, the choreography is off the chain, gloriously earning the movie more respect points from me. And those things are valuable! The action scenes don't shy away from realism, despite the over-the-top kung fu moves the kids are dashing out. You can practically feel every punch as they knock the wind out of poor little Jaden, shot in a particularly brutal style which I was not expecting. This is a film reliant on the kung-fu scenes to work, and they certainly do not disappoint.

Aiding in the film's appeal are some moments of comedy intertwined with the drama and action. The movie itself is not a comedy, but there are many humorous points used as unforced comic relief. The fact that the movie is about kung fu when the title is The Karate Kid is made fun of, with Dre's mother getting confused between the two. "What's the difference?" she asks. Indeed. Also, the film pays a little tribute to the original, with Mr. Han watching a fly, holding chopsticks much like Mr. Miyagi in the 1984 version. But this time, instead of catching the fly with the Chinese utensils, Mr. Han simply splatters the thing with a flyswatter. Unexpected and hilarious. Wait, that poor fly....

So to sum up, this film is unexpectedly awesome, working on pretty much every level it touches upon. Both Smith and Chan's performances are strong, the fight scenes are magnificent, the chemistry between the two main leads is quite touching and there's plenty of belly-laughs along the way. Great fun for all the family. Jacket on, jacket off. And hats off to what I'm surprised to say is a teriffic family film.


Tuesday, 22 June 2010


You know The SyFy channel that airs in the UK? In case you don't, let me fill you in. The SyFy channel is a TV station which regularly airs cheap, low-budget science fiction movies that are more often than not absolutely atrociously awful. They're laughable, they're poorly made and they're painful to watch on most occasions. Now, I don't commit myself to watching these "movies" but I have caught glimpes of them while channel surfing and I have to say, my eyes are scarred with images of sickeningly repulsive filmmaking.

Some films are destined to end up on this TV station, to be one of the crappy B-movies laughed at by however many viewers it can muster, which I would assume is very few. And Vincenzo Natali's new movie Splice has the appearance of one of these films. All of the elements are there as bait for the SyFy channel to eat up, digest and spew onto our television screens, but for some reason, Splice rises against it.

The film stars big-nose himself Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as Clive Nicoli and Elsa Kast, two committed scientists working in the field of gene splicing. One day, they get a tad ambitious and decide to splice human DNA with that of several different animals in the hopes of creating a new creature, despite being refused permission by officials. Naughty scientists!

And so, they go ahead with their little experiment and the result is a disgusting moving sack thing which attacks everything around it. Eww. However, from this cocoon sprouts a deformed female baby with crooked legs, a tail, a line splitting its scalp in two and eyes freakishly far apart from each other. Again, eww.

They learn that this new breed of creature they have created, which they name Dren, is growing at a rapid rate and will become fully-grown in a matter of months. As Dren develops more and more she becomes increasingly dangerous, risking the lives of those around her and causing much hastle for Clive and Elsa, eventually leading to murderous disaster. Dun dun dun.

For the first 15 or 20 minutes of the film, I was very unsure of it. The opening titles sequence is quite impressive, if coming across as a little familiar, but it sets the tone well for what is to follow. And then the film properly begins, starting off as your typical sci-fi horror, which, judging from what I was watching on-screen, I thought the rest of the movie would be like. Just another pile of pointless, cliched crap. But it isn't. Not really.

The film has a consistently eerie feel to it, one which is missing from many modern day horror flicks. There's some genuinely tense moments created by the great direction from Natali, helping in the movie's sense of paranoia, although it has its fair share of predictable happenstances too. It's paced quite slowly, but this is deliberate and is nothing if it's not effective, there's plenty of exciting moments to keep the plot moving forward fast enough.

In terms of actual scariness, Splice isn't too bad. There are some scenes where it resorts to cheap jump scares, which in this day and age is expected. Boo, abrupt decibel level change! However, the film's creepy tone is enough to have your buttocks on the edge of your seat throughout. The film's consistently freaky as hell.

Speaking of freaky as hell, we have Dren, the humanoid monster of this above average B-movie and boy, what a great character! Delphine Chanéac plays her at first as childlike, curious about the world and wanting to escape her surroundings, which of course would lead to havoc. It's interesting as her character goes from cute and cuddly to vicious and deadly in a split second, making her a substantially entertaining and intriguing villain. For the whole film, you know she's gonna turn very nasty at some point, but guessing how and when is all part of the fun.

The special effects used on Chanéac are hella incredible. The CGI splitting her eyes wide apart is jaw-droppingly ingenious and really shows what special effects can do. In fact, there were parts where I actually started wondering whether or not Chanéac's eyes indeed were that wide apart, but alas, the movie had tricked me.

Another of Splice's strong points are the two main leads, Brody and Polley. Unlike most B-movies, the acting in Splice is not stilted or corny, it's emotional and believable. Both of their characters have moments of likability as well as unlikability, and are three dimensional people. In a sci-fi horror, gasp. Brody is more against the creation of Dren while Polley is all cutest-wootsy with the hideous little shit, but their roles soon switch.

As for the film's weak points, well, it's certainly not without them. The script for one isn't that strong. It's not a bad script, not at all, but what it is is forgettable and uncaptivating, not standing out enough. It seems that it was too reliant on the plot and scares instead of the writing, which does pull the film down from what could have been a very high pedestal. Also, there's a pretty shocking and unexpected scene about four fifths into the film which is just....uncomfortable to watch and takes away from the film. I won't spoil it, but let's just say that Adrien Brody loves him some bestiality.

Splice is definitely an above average flick for its genre and I was fairly surprised by its intelligence. Its slow but engaging, a tad uncomfortable but eerie and effective with monumentally brilliant special effects, emotional performances and great direction. And as a side note, dayum, that hybrid creature lady is smokin' hot!


Monday, 21 June 2010

The A-Team

Ahh, The A-Team. You remember getting up every morning, putting on your leg warmers and parachute pants or whatever the kids wore those days, running down the stairs and switching the TV on to watch this 80's classic? Those were the days...I wasn't born then and I've never watched the show, but hey, I've googled some stuff.

The A-Team was a light-hearted kids show about four Vietnam vets on the run from the military for a crime they did not commit. On their adventures as outlaws, they would help members of the public in dire situations. The show was famous for its campy nature, its cheesiness and also for the fact that no one ever seemed to get injured, let alone die, in a single episode of the five-series show. So it made sense for the director of the blood-soaked, gratuitously violent and nutso actioner Smokin' Aces to helm the movie adaptation. Uhhhh...

Joe Carnahan's 2010 version has pretty much the same premise as the original TV series. The A-Team is a four-member elite combat unit lead by Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith. After an unofficial mission to bring back stolen treasury plates, the four heroes are thrown in prison with a ten-year sentence when their commander is killed, meaning the team have no way of proving that they were working on behalf of the US government.

Six months later and the team busts out of prison through rather over-elaborate means and are set on proving their innocence by blowing loads of shit up and causing millions of dollars in damages. Cut to disgruntled taxpayer who's, well, y'know, he's pissed off.

The team is supported by CIA agent Lynch (a coolio Patrick Wilson), who helps in their prison escape, while hunted down by the government and Faceman's ex-girlfriend Captain Charissa Sosa (Jessica Biel). And guess what? There's a twist! No, wait, there's two twists!

I don't think there's any denying that this film is freakin' insane. Nothing in the movie is subtle, it's all loud and clear, which sounds like a downside, but it really isn't. It all aids in what can only be called a joy-ride of pure entertainment, which is the only thing Carnahan set out to do. Let me tell you, it works marvelously.

The action sequences are mesmerisingly over-the-top, very much in the style of Smokin' Aces but without the overflowing swimming pools of blood and guts gushing everywhere. There's a scene where our four guys are in a plane which explodes into a million pieces, they get in a tank with a parachute attached, and while falling towards the earth at God knows what speed, fire at planes with a machine gun, all while blasting the tank's cannon to fly the goddamn thing so they can land in a river. It''s so entertaining.

Carnahan's a fantastic action director and he perfectly handles these adrenaline-fuelled set-pieces. True, there's some modern-day-cliche shaky cam involved, but the erratic events on-screen do call for this and it very much works to the film's advantage. He creates tension, engaging the viewer in what is going on as we wonder what's going to explode or catapult into the air next.

The cast is all on top-form, delivering performances which are true to those of the characters in the series. They all take the well-known traits of these TV icons and portray them on the big screen in a gloriously cheesy fashion. Liam Neeson is Hannibal, the cigar-chomping lover of plans that come together. Neeson is quite admirable as the team's leader, giving a strong, notable and highly likable performance. However, I've never been a fan of the Irish actor's American accent and here it's, err, questionable, but I suppose it works with the film's humorous tone.

Quinton Jackson is B.A. Baracus, the role made famous by Mr. T (who's, like, awesome). Jackson does a great job of sporting a mohawk, saying "fool" twice in every sentence and being an angry black man who punches things, mostly people. I kid, he is actually pretty impressive in the role, there's a lot of deliberate LOL moments in his portrayal. But you can't beat Mr. T, because, as previously stated, he's just so awesome.

Faceman is played by Bradley "Hunky McHunkerston" Cooper, the womanising, laid-back con-man of the group. I actually don't know if his performance was good or not, becuase I was staring into his beautiful, gorgeous eyes for the entirity of the movie, but I assume he was decent enough. *whispers* He was.

And finally, we have Sharlto Copley (yeah, that guy from District 9) as Murdock, a genuinely quirky, weird, possibly insane man who I wouldn't trust to hold my ham sandwich. He's the group's highly skilled pilot and can actually fly a helicopter upside down. Seriously, he does. I'm gonna say that Copley's the best of the four leads, he carries a convincing American accent (in your face, Neeson) and his performance seemed the most convincing to me.

The film's writing has a lot of laughs, such as an incompetent assassin and B.A's, well, B.A-isms. I found the script by Carnahan, Brian Bloom and Skip Woods to be pretty damn witty with the dialogue shining and allowing the characters to come alive. It lets them interact well with each other and you can really feel their friendship and commitment to one another. Tis quite moving. Oh, and the show's popular catchphrases are all there, in-your-face and not really caring about it. Respect.

The A-Team is well-paced and structured with a spectacularly action-packed 20 minute opening sequence introducing the characters. The editing's great, intercutting the going-over of a plan with the plan being set in motion, which actually happens twice in the movie. This isn't unique, it's been done before, but for some reason it did stand out for me.

Overall, The A-Team is a fun, thrilling, hilarious, exciting, fun-fest of fun-ness. It's everything that The Losers wanted to be and failed to achieve. It's camp, it's over-the-top, it's a great night out and it's a plan that certainly pieced itself into a complete form. No, wait, what's that catchphrase....


Monday, 14 June 2010


In the world of cinema, there are two kinds of movies. Big movies and small movies. The big movies are known for boasting grand special effects and are filled with gratuitous guns, explosions, CGI and heroes shooting a gazillion bullets at badguys while running away from CGI explosions. You know the type, the big-budget summer blockbuster, movies intended purely to entertain the movie-going public in a theatre for a couple hours and to rake in big bucks at the box-office, which most of them undeservedly do.

Greenberg is not one of these movies. It is in the "small movie" category. Despite household name funny-man Ben Stiller starring as the titular character, it is not meant as a cash cow and as expected, it wasn't too commercially succesful at the US box office. Movies like Greenberg will not make much money, and it certainly will not please every movie-goer out there. In fact, when I went to see this, there were just five in the audience, two of which walked out halfway through. Simply put, this movie is not for everyone. But god damn, it's good (in my superior opinion).

Roger Greenberg (Stiller) has recently had a nervous breakdown. After some hospital treatment and a determination to pretty much "do nothing" with his life, the 40 year old New Yorker travels to LA to housesit for his brother, Philip, who has gone on an extended vacation with the family. There, Roger meets his brother's assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig) with whom he shares a very awkward and stammering romance. They are on-and-off, at points looking like they're not even in a relationship, other points they sort of are, but not. Umm...

He also reconnects with his old bandmate, Ivan (a glorious Rhys Ifans), a rather rugged looking English fellow who's a tad bitter about Roger ruining the band's record deal 15 years ago. Bastard. In another exciting plotline, the family dog has become a mopey bugger and it turns out it's ill. Sad face. :-(

To be fair, looking at the basics of the film, it doesn't seem too strong or heavy plotwise, nor is it intended to be. This is not a plot-driven movie, it is a character study of a man who has just suffered a long period of depression and is looking to do nothing too drastic in his life. Sounds boring, I know, and some will no doubt find it this way, this is not exactly a thrilling movie. It's one for the upper-class, sophisticated film lovers, such as my intellectual self. Ahem.

The main thing that stood out for me about Greenberg is how human the characters are. They are three-dimensional people, not the one note, cardboard cut-out personalities Hollywood is known for vomiting out, but believable human beings who we, the audience, can connect with. They make mistakes, they are flawed individuals, but we can relate to them because of their believability. It's quite refreshing watching a movie with such plausible characters.

Stiller is mesmerising as Roger, a troubled man going through a very tough time in his life. As a main character, he is very interesting, or at least I found him to be. I went from liking him to finding him a bit of a dick, then liking him again. Odd. His sudden, somewhat violent mood swings caused mixed feelings in me about this man who has obviously had his personality broken. He doesn't know how much he has an affect on those around him and he doesn't seem to care. He shouts and rants at Florence about her lifestyle without batting an eyelid. So why should we care about him? Well, Stiller has played him to be likable and we can't help but care about him, despite him being an asswipe throughout. Stiller really is perfect for the role, one which is different from his typically comedic style.

Gerwig is equally as great, playing a vurnerable, slightly off-kilter character who tries to bond with Roger, sometimes succeeding, but mostly failing. As Roger does not drive, he relies on others to take him places, which is Florence most of the time, letting the two get to know each other better and giving her the chance to try and hop on his good foot and do the bad thing.

Also, the two take part in what I can only call a heartbreaking, cringe-worthy sex scene (or attempted sex) which is so awkward and uncomfortable to watch, you can't help but chuckle. "Can you hear a train?" she says as Stiller looks up from between her bare legs.

However, it is Ifans who I give the award of best performance to, as he is the only character in the whole film who is purely likable and seems to be the lone person who is good and kind throughout. As Roger's best friend, he is the moral of the two, trying to get his life back on track as well as Roger's. I've always been a fan of Ifans, he knows how to make a character memorable as well as unique, and he succeeds admirably here. He's awesome.

Noah Baumbach's writing is nothing short of spectacular, with the dialogue flowing marvelously, filled with wit and not coming across as stilted at any point in the film. When the characters talk, they are having a genuine conversation which aids in the realism the film has wrapped itself in. His direction is also impressive, creating striking images and symbology without being too self-indulgent. He has made this movie a downbeat one, but not with too many depressing moments (although be warned, it's not short of them), with some humorous points juxtaposed perfectly.

I can see why some viewers would find it a bit dull. As I've already said, it's not for everyone, there is a specific audience for films like this and they should know who they are. This is not a mainstream, audience-pleasing film, it's a low budget dramedy that some will like and some won't. Those who won't can just stick to Transformers.