Monday, 31 January 2011

The Mechanic

Jason Statham is the quintessential action hero, a modern-day Stallone or Schwarzenegger, just without his surname brandished in boldly fonted steel at the top of his posters. He's got the looks, he's got the muscles, he's got the charm, and he's got the agility -- all that's missing is a voice rendered incomprehensible by the litres of testosterone running through his perfectly formed limbs.

Here, he's taking over from a moustachioed revenge-flick icon, the scowling Charles Bronson, in this remake of 1972's "The Mechanic." What is a mechanic, aside from the obvious definition? It's someone who fixes things, someone who fixes certain situations, someone who drowns a man in a swimming pool and makes it look like an accident. Like Michael Barrymore.

Arthur Bishop (Statham, "The Transporter") is a mechanic, and a damn good one. He knows everything there is to know about the business, and he knows exactly what he's doing. He works on his own and is very careful to not make any silly slip-ups. He kills people for money, a job he's comfortable with.

Harry (Donald Sutherland, "Dirty Sexy Money"), a bearded oldie in a wheelchair, is Arthur's close friend and mentor. When Arthur is handed an assignment to take down his disabled pal, he finds himself in a dilemma -- should he kill his veteran buddy or defy his unflinching boss (a slimy Tony Goldwyn, "Ghost")? He regrettably goes for the former.

Harry's funeral follows, in which Arthur meets the son of his deceased friend, Steve (Ben Foster, "Pandorum"). The rugged spawn is curious about the assassin's work, and Arthur reluctantly lets Steve become his apprentice of sorts. Arthur trains Steve, teaches him the tricks of the trade, and gives him one of his assignments to complete. Eventually, the two end up working together, the fact that Arthur killed Steve's father unbeknownst to the new recruit.

"The Mechanic" is filled with formula, its simplistic plotting refraining from pushing the boundaries of the action movie template. It's a clichéd "manly movie" that only wants to surge the adrenaline of nacho-chomping viewers. It's borderline brainless, dazzling with explosions and gunfire just for the Hell of it. And this is precisely the reason why the film works.

It's directed by Simon West, the hit-and-miss director of "Con Air" (hit) and "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" (epic miss). Known for his entertainment-only flicks, West is doing nothing new here, though it's not like he's trying to. He's crafted a fun, nicely paced movie that's rarely uninteresting and will please those who know they'll be pleased by it.

He handles set-pieces well, as Arthur and Steve blast their way through violent action sequences with pistol-firing mayhem and car-destroying chaos. The film is not an all-out actioner, but when the guns are loaded and the engines are revved, it manages to squeeze out some tension and be explosively entertaining.

The Stath is on top-form here, back in the boots of a revolver-aiming tough-guy with a stubble as sharp as a newly-bought sewing needle. The "Crank" actor charms and intimidates with his steely glare, showing off his pecs in the thrilling opening scene -- all the ladies (and men) will be swooning and collapsing in the aisles of the cinema screens.

Foster is an ample sidekick, his character clueless about his partner's slaying of his beloved father. Steve is a vengeful rogue, wanting justice brought to his dear pop's murderer, living under the belief that the killer is a carjacker. The "3:10 to Yuma" actor brings his skilled acting chops to equal his Cockney-tongued co-star, showing himself to be more than just the angel who appeared in two scenes of "X-Men: The Last Stand." What was that about?

"The Mechanic" needs its bolts tightened in certain areas, but it pleases in terms of being a film in which villainous shooters are incompetent when aiming their guns at the runaway heroes. It's all bang-bang, boom-boom, for which it surprisingly functions well. This isn't West's next "Con Air," but it'll do.


Friday, 28 January 2011

The Company Men

The protagonists in "The Company Men" are all big-bucks business types. They're men in suits, their briefcases permanently attached to their fingers as they discuss numbers and percentages in daily meetings. They all live in comfortable, splendid suburban homes, with beautiful families to boot. Every ioda of their existence is an image of success, the sort of thing we, as a society, are told to aim for. They are living The America Dream. "The Company Men" takes these affluent types and rids them of their precious jobs, leaving them unemployed and job-searching, their abundance tipping and their careers vanished into thin air.

This is John Wells' timely tale of the ruthless bitch that is the business world. Here, the writer-director is tackling the cruel recession us folks have suffered through in recent times, the economy having taken an agonising blow to the gonads. It assesses the effects of downsizing, leaning a little more towards the negative impact this money-saving strategy can have on fired individuals. Damn you, corporate buffoons!

The company in question here is Global Transportation Systems (GTX), a fictional Boston-based corporation limping under the pressure of the economic downturn. As a result of this, they are forced to give a hefty amount of employees the can, butchering their staff count to save on some dosh.

One of the first to get the sack is Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck, "The Town"), an accomplished 37-year-old salesman who strolls into work one fine day, bragging of his morning golfing score to his po-faced colleagues, only to be given a pink slip. Shocked, he tells his boss to "fuck off," goes home, tells his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt, "Rachel Getting Married"), and realises he's gonna have to get a new job.

In a later stage of the occupational lottery, company co-founder Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones, "No Country for Old Men") and executive Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper, "American Beauty") are also left without employment. Both formerly top-ranking men of their business, Gene and Phil go through a similar struggle for a nine-to-five position.

The film charts the experiences of these three unfortunate men as they battle it out to make ends meet without their colossal pay checks to help. Each deals with the predicament in a different way, their emotional and physical reactions dissimilar to one another, though equally heartbreaking.

Now, you may ask: "Why should we care about these rich white men losing their over-paying jobs?" but "The Company Men" impressively avoids this flaw. Wells (who has had stints on "The West Wing" and "ER") manages to overcome this in his wonderful script, crafting characters we care about and surprisingly identify with.

We can sense Affleck's frustration as he whacks golf balls down a course again and again. We can see the pain Cooper is going through as he drunkenly hurls stones at the company's windows. And we can perceive Jones' sadness because of his, y'know, his usual sad, craggy face.

They're white-collar professionals suddenly left without a job, unable to find a new one that best fits their personal requirements. Anyone can identify with this, as our three protagonists have their blissful lives yanked out of their mits, now forced to scramble together as much money as they can to survive. They become regular folks.

The film clutches on to sentimentality as bad-tempered family man Bobby quests for a new job, having to reluctantly take on construction work alongside his blue-collar brother-in-law Jack (Kevin Costner, "Dances with Wolves"). Once a man with a fancy sports car who looked down on natural born workers, Bobby begins to appreciate the not-so-sophisticated labour.

Phil could be said to be the weakest of the three men, his unemployed status making him feel shame and rage, turning him to alcohol. "I won't let the bastards just kick me out after 30 years," he shouts. He's pushing 60, making him a difficult sell to employers, and nobody's interested in him. Without his job, he has nothing to do, and he is nothing.

Gene, unexpectedly fired by his oldest friend (Craig T. Nelson, "Blades of Glory"), was the sharp-witted veteran of the firm, claiming to be the "first employee" at a benefit. He's having an affair with a co-worker, turning to her upon receiving the news that he is jobless. He believes in loyalty over income, a value no longer shared by the firm's CEO.

"The Company Men" succeeds in being a character story as well as a noggin-poker about corporations and finances. Its trio of protagonists, each humiliated at the thought of being unemployed, are vastly sympathetic individuals, Wells' writing encouraging us to tune in to their anguish. It's a tender (albeit corny) film, and one to make us hate those heartless companies even more than we already do. They're such gits.


Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A Serbian Film

"A Serbian Film" is a feature so monstrous that the mere thought of it makes me tremble with rage. Here is a film so desperate to cause nationwide controversy that it ends up butchering and embarrassing itself in the process. It is a film that goes too far, keeps on going, and doesn't know when it should stop. In the end, it's gone so far that all redeemable factors (and there were a few) are mere blurs in the distance, absent from memory.

The film, as the title suggests, is Serbian, directed and co-written by first-time filmmaker Srdjan Spasojevic. Its intention is to satirise the titular country's modern politics in the most brutal methods possible, but these aims all become lost and drowned in the gratuitous exploitation bleeding and ejaculating in almost every frame -- the film suffers massively from its extraordinarily bleak displays of inhuman violence.

It begins with a raunchy clip from a goofy porn film starring David Spade look-alike Milos (Srdjan Todorovic, "Black Cat, White Cat") as he, err, gets it on with a frisky lady. This is being watched by the porn star's six-year-old son, Petar, who has found one of daddy's naughty DVDs. Kids grow up so fast these days.

Milos has been out of work for quite some time, strapped for cash, though his homelife is carefree. One day, he meets up with former co-star Lejla (Katarina Zutic, "The Robber of the Third Reich"), who proposes that he take a role in a new, ahem, art film being directed by some wealthy dude called Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic, "Next").

Milos and Vukmir meet, the latter turning out to be a passionate, massively eccentric XXX filmmaker with a keen and distinct vision. Milos very reluctantly signs a contract to star in Vukmir's new picture, despite the director's insistence that the well-endowed actor know nothing until filming begins.

Well, shooting begins, and so sparks the trip to drugged-up madness Milos ventures into. Turns out this project is a fucked-up-beyond-belief snuff film, in which Milos (according to Vukmir) is the only one not "a victim." We’re amongst the victims, I guess. Things go from a little odd to a bit creepy to newborn-baby-raping levels of insanity, as Milos is forced to take part in the sick feature against his sober, clear-thinking will.

To sum up "A Serbian Film" would be to look up "horrifying" and "repulsive" in every thesaurus known to man. This frankly unforgivable piece of trash goes from bad to worse to sickening to traumatising, the film's sole objective to grin as it vomits down the viewer's throat.

Necrophilia and paedophilia are paraded with stomach-churning glee, as our once-sympathetic "hero," in a drug-pumped state, spreads his seed like a sex maniac on Viagra. As the film goes on, he becomes more and more loathsome, the fact that he's intoxicated out of his mind completely irrelevant. His actions are far too barbaric for us to feel sorry for him.

An unconscious toddler is raped, a screaming one-minute-old baby is raped, chained-up women are raped, a passed-out man is sodomised, a recently-toothless woman suffocates from a penis shoved down her throat, a woman is beheaded with a machete during forced sex, and a man is literally skull-fucked by a penis penetrating his eye socket.

This movie is a fucking nightmare, containing a jaw-dropping amount of scenes so clearly filmed just so that the director could sit at the premiere and giggle away at the groaning, moaning audience members fainting around him. Never have I been more put-off by a film than this Serbian one, and never will I even consider watching it again.

It's this grotesqueness that overshadows the genuinely decent filmmaking presented in terms of visuals and over-the-top acting performances, both of which are actually rather splendid, especially the sharp and richly atmospheric cinematography. It's sad that the film's second half decides to take a dump on the talents on display, as it descends into vomit-encouraging stupidity, obsessively yanking out the film's sparkly teeth with a pair of rusty pliers.

"A Serbian Film" will inevitably hold a cult status as time goes by, if only for the envelope-shoving of the sexualised gore and torturous violence. It's sick, it's fucked up, it's absolutely worthless, and I fucking despised it. I could easily give this film a couple of marks for the cinematography or the acting, but a film this mortifying in nature really doesn't deserve it.


Monday, 24 January 2011

The Fighter

In boxing movies, the classic and accepted format is for the hero to be a sympathetic underdog. They must be down on their luck, all odds against them, no chance in Hell of these being overcome. All opponents must be lumbering thugs with dribble trickling down their chins as they wallop their meaty guns around the ring, seemingly having the upper hand as the hero struggles his way through the match, yet somehow the hero prevails. "The Fighter" takes on this well-known template with much pride, making ample use of it, trained well to be a strong, heavyweight contender in the competitive world of sports flicks.

David O. Russell's biopic is as much a family drama as it is a glove-clobbering feature, if not more. Taking place in the mid '80s, it tells the true story of Micky Ward (nicknamed "Irish") and his half-brother Dicky Eklund, both Irish-American boxers. Dicky (Christian Bale, "American Psycho") is the trainer of Micky (Mark Wahlberg, "Boogie Nights") as the latter attempts to get back into the game and hopefully reach the top.

Micky's manager is his mother, Alice (Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"), a hard-nosed woman who believes no one, bar close relations, should be trusted for advice. The family is a big one, with sisters galore, all of whom have a say in the boxing business. Dicky is the pride of the city (Lowell, Massachusetts, to be exact), having previously defeated Sugar Ray Leonard, causing Micky to live under a shadow.

Meanwhile, Micky is dating Charlene (Amy Adams, "Enchanted"), a bar waitress who has certain opinions about the way her boxer boyfriend is running his business, leading to some fights (domestic, not in-the-ring fights) between she and the whole of Micky's family. To add to this melodrama, Dicky is addicted to crack cocaine (resulting in an HBO documentary crew following him around) and ends up in serious trouble with the law.

When the opponent who Micky has been training for is switched with another and much heavier contender, the underdog is defeated, losing out on a big opportunity, causing his confidence to shatter. Frustrated that he has disappointed his vast family once again, Micky finds himself in a dilemma as to whether or not he should dump his dysfunctional fam and go on to a more professional business outlet.

"The Fighter" is filled with soap opera dramatics, as family members fall out, argue and cry their little hearts out. Those expecting a shorts-and-all slugfest may be taken aback, as the ding-ding-dings of boxing bells take a back seat to family matters. It's certainly overdone and a little worn-out by the final act, but with such great acting as this, melodrama can be worth the occasional corniness.

Wahlberg's character is a much quieter personality than his trainer/sibling, though talkative and charming upon opening his mouth. He knows he's being dragged down by his overbearing family as they try to run his boxing career, his mother claiming that he should stick to whatever they say because they're family. He loves them, but he knows they are only holding him back as he tries to really make a name for himself.

Bale has the figure of a punch-drunk anorexic and the energy of a sugar-snorting toddler. His character is a loud one, the excited type (most likely attributed to his drug addiction), giving Bale much room to swing his fists like the committed scenery-gnawer he is. The skeletal physique the "3:10 to Yuma" actor has taken on (similar to that of his mega-slim role in "The Machinist") is one of many memorabilia to take away from what is arguably Bale's best performance in years. Go Batman!

Adams takes on the role of a bar gal who's not afraid of her boyfriend's controlling family. Looked down upon by Micky's mother and sisters, Charlene is determined to split the up-and-coming boxer from their domineering claws. The flame-haired "Julie & Julia" actress may not have much chemistry with Mr. Wahlberg, but she's a fine performer.

Leo (who recently beat Adams to the punch at the Golden Globes) is a wonderful presence here as Micky's mother-knows-best mama. Her character is not necessarily hateable, just selfish and overly protective of her youngest boy, who she believes will be her next champion. She thinks she and she alone can guide her son to victory -- she can't.

The boxing matches don't reach the stylish nature of that of Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" saga, but they pack a punch of both uplifting and saddening impact. Opponents groan and swing their gloves at each other in effective slow motion, tension utilised perfectly, especially in the emotional final fight. They wave their fists as we slide our bottoms to the edge of our seats, even though we're pretty sure as to what the result will be.

"The Fighter" is a film that rests on the shoulders of its talented actors, each of whom are on more-than-top-form -- Bale in particular. They take it through melodrama, through shouting and yelling, through tender moments, and through prize fighting. They're a fantastic cast in what is a solid blue-collar sports movie, certainly one of the better of the genre. It's not quite a knockout, but it's got a rather strong jab that gets it through a relatively easy round.


Friday, 21 January 2011

I Spit on Your Grave

I'm going to start this review by expressing my resentment of the original "I Spit on Your Grave." Meir Zarchi's 1978 video nasty was, in my opinion, a sick, vile waste of film that existed for the sole purpose of shocking and revolting wincing viewers. I've despised it ever since I caught it while surfing through the channels of my Sky Box, and my loathing of it has never ceased to grow. These feelings may not carry on to the modern-day remake, but there are echoes of them bouncing off the walls of occasional scenes.

Steven R. Monroe's redo of the appalling men-are-bastards shocker retreads the same steps as its subject material -- it just does them slightly better. Its objective is still to disgust, to outrage, to upset off-guard audience members, and, while it achieves this abhorrent aim with some creativity thrown in, it's still a load of rotten garbage.

The film begins with 20-something Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler, "Flu Bird Horror") driving on her own to the middle of nowhere in Hillbilly-ville. She doesn't watch many horror films, does she? She's planning on staying in an isolated cabin in the woods to write away in peace and tranquillity, all by her lonesome. Well, she's got a bit of a shock coming to her.

On her way to the secluded, spooky house of death, she encounters Johnny (Jeff Branson, "The Young and the Restless") at a gas station. The hulking hick tries his moves on the lass, but she has none of it, embarrassing him in front of his hick pals. As Jennifer resides in the wooded lodging, Johnny and his best buds strike up a twisted plan.

They break into her house at around 4:00am, scare her, torment her, and finally rape her, one by one. After over 30 minutes of this (I'm not kidding), the abused girl wanders away from the group (which includes a sheriff) and plunges into a nearby river before they can shoot her dead.

They search the banks of the river, but cannot see any sign of Jennifer, dead or alive. They go back to their daily business as if nothing happened, while still regularly studying the creek to no avail. Little do they know that Jennifer is cooking up her own brand of leg-snapping, eye socket-hooking, penis-chopping punishment, watching their every move, and waiting.

"I Spit on Your Grave" is a sadistic film, the kind of ghoulish exploitation that should not be encouraged. I don't usually mind rape scenes, as squalid they may be, but the one (or two, or three) contained within this unpleasant confusion of morals discomforted me to no end. You may say this was the intention, but it doesn't make for a satisfying film-going experience, no matter how you look at it.

When Sheriff Storch (Andrew Howard, "Revolver") has poor Jennifer bent over on the ground, her face in a puddle, her bare ass sticking in the air, the lawman unzipping his trousers and saying to her, "I'm an ass man," you'll chop your own balls off with a pair of garden shears and stuff them in your mouth out of shame for being a man.

The gang-rapists are especially loathsome (all played as snarling rednecks), and to see them have some DIY justice inflicted on them is sweetly delightful, but ultimately Jennifer's bloody vengeance is a little too cartoonish. She sets up intricate traps like The Jigsaw Killer, a little too far-fetched when compared to the realism of Jennifer's repeated violation. It goes for thrills and schlocky, almost humorous horror, feeling like a cop-out in comparison with earlier violence.

The muted and bleached colour scheme that covers the screen is haunting, as is Corey A. Jackson's eerie music as Jennifer travels to inevitable anguish. I'll admit that the film is well-made; Monroe's direction is unnerving and suitably gloomy, but one cannot help but be put off by the film as a whole.

"I Spit on Your Grave" is a rare example of a remake that surpasses the original, but it's nonetheless something to gag at. It's depressing, a film that makes one despise humanity, and is altogether too stomach-churning. Why anyone would pay to watch this filth, I do not know.


Thursday, 20 January 2011

Blue Valentine

"Blue Valentine" is a difficult watch, an experience that makes one cringe and feel unsettled by its realistic nature. It's quite the opposite of a horror movie, the usual culprit for these reactions, the film instead a romance that inspires one's heart to sink without the tired genre clichés. Anyone with a soul, or indeed a chest-beater, will find Derek Cianfrance's drama harrowing viewing, this being the film's brave intention.

As a character piece, its study is of Dean (Ryan Gosling, "Lars and the Real Girl") and Cindy (Michelle Williams, "Shutter Island"), two lovebirds who soar together but end up flying solo. They meet, as happens in all great love stories, by pure chance -- furniture mover Dean sees medical student Cindy in the opposite room of a retirement home, and something clicks.

He asks her out, she awkwardly refuses, he obsesses a little, and they meet again, this time on a bus. Cindy is more approachable, Dean's charms wiggling away her guard, and they date on a night of tap-dancing, alcohol-drinking and ukulele-playing. They continue dating, Cindy discovers she's pregnant (not with Dean), Dean meets Cindy's parents, and they quickly marry.

These moments, the origins of the couple's relationship, are treated as flashbacks, an opposition to the current state of their marriage. Six years later, they now have a five-year-old daughter, Frankie (Faith Wladyka in her debut role), and live in the countryside of Pennsylvania. They're unhappy, but attempt to stay together for the sake of their little girl.

The film jumps back and forth between these two stages of their shaky years together, the current predicament a bitter shadow of what once was. Dean and Cindy barely look at each other now, irritated by the few words they share. Scenes of happier times intercutting with the present sourness only enhance the troubling essence the latter holds.

Dean has tumbled into a chain-smoking alcoholic with a receding hairline. He remains cocky, but without the good-natured humour he once possessed. Constantly taking things the wrong way, he reacts to his wife with hostility as if insulted, twisting her words, as she points out. He's not a particularly angry man, just morose and with a chip on his shoulder, thinking his marriage is fine when it's not.

Cindy has a saddened interior and exterior. She smiles here and there, but it's false, inauthentic, or out of pity. Now a nurse, she's not bothered about her homelife anymore, tired of her husband, with whom she claims to have fallen out of love. Physically, she looks exhausted, as if all life has been liposuctioned out of her.

Gosling and Williams outdo themselves, the subtlety of their performances the film's breath and life. They take on the challenge of depicting both a romance of love and a marriage down in the dumps. Their characterisations in the earlier stages of the relationship are so likable that the horror of what becomes of them is enough to poke a tear duct.

The beginnings of their romance are performed to give a sense of joyful affection. Their first sex scene is a perfect portrayal of intimacy and curiosity, the pair giggling away as they explore each other's bodies, slipping off each other's clothes with care and attention.

This is opposed to the couple's current sex life, of which all lust is impaired. They go to a sleazy hotel, drink themselves to intoxication, and Cindy -- just to get him off her back -- lets Dean fuck her as she lays on the carpet, barely even taking part in the act. Just to give a sense of how distressing this scene is, the moment alone very nearly slammed the film's release with the dreaded NC-17 rating in America. Such prudes.

So, yeah, "Blue Valentine" isn't quite a strawberry-flavoured Richard Curtis rom-com with Hugh Grant throwing his floppy hair around and falling in love with a dreamy English girl. It's a downer, but it's good for it. It's raw, uncomfortable and chilling, but mesmerising in its beautiful portrayal of a marriage that's spiralled out of control. It's a romance, but not romantic, nor a whimsical date movie. It's powerful, honest and, most of all, heartbreaking. It's cinema at its most emotionally effective.


Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Green Hornet

I remain unenthusiastic about Michel Gondry's "The Green Hornet," a mash-up of superhero action and slacker comedy. I wouldn't say I was particularly anticipating the feature (the marketing garnered mixed reactions from me), and I walked out of my screening mildly satisfied, but the experience itself was underwhelming for the most part. Forgive me if I sound confused, but "The Green Hornet" rendered me entertained as I acknowledged that the film was generally mediocre. If that makes sense.

"The Green Hornet" marks the third feature-film writing collaboration of Seth Rogen and Evan Golberg, the filthy-minded individuals behind 2007's "Superbad" and 2008's "Pineapple Express." Here, they've penned an adaptation of the fairly well-known '30s radio show and '60s TV series of the same name, writing under the constraints of a PG-13 rating. They still get to put some "shit" and "bitch" in there, though.

Britt Reid (Rogen, "Knocked Up") is a partier, a drunken buffoon and a disappointment to his father, James (Tom Wilkinson, "The Full Monty"), the owner of Los Angeles newspaper The Sentinel. When the big-time publisher dies from a bee sting, his playboy son is left with the mansion and responsibility of running the paper, for which he is unprepared.

He discovers Kato (Jay Chou, "Kung Fu Dunk"), his late father's Asian mechanic and coffee-maker. As they drink together in one of the many cars in his papa's garage, they realise that they both hated the stuck-up James, and decide to remove the head from the publisher's statue. They do so, and come across a gang of thugs tormenting innocents.

They fight the crooks, Britt sees Kato do some slow-motion kung-fu shit, and they outrun the cops when mistaken for the thugs. Surged with adrenaline, Britt excitedly tells Kato of a plan for them to become superheroes, but to pose as bad-guys to get close to the villains. What could possibly go wrong?

The behind-the-scenes pairing of Gondry and Rogen is an odd one. The French filmmaker is known for his bizarre, mind-bending works ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Be Kind Rewind"), while the Canadian chubby chuckler is renowned for his juvenile sense of humour (the Judd Apatow side of filmmaking), this incongruity very much coming across in the movie itself.

"The Green Hornet" is a little unfocused as it juggles laughs with action, characters with explosions, and light comedy with unexpectedly sinister humour. The plot and hue of the film get a little muddled as Rogen and Gondry apply their distinct and different styles, resulting in a movie that looks a little perplexed as to what it really is.

Rogen and Goldberg's script is as sluggish as the characters the "40 Year-Old Virgin" actor is prone to playing. Laughs are non-existent as dialogue provides comedy that falls flat on its mask-sporting face. I like the "Superbad" scribers, they do have skill, but "The Green Hornet" really should have a heck of a lot more laugh-out-loud moments.

Gondry brings the razzle-dazzle of some visual flair, action scenes shot with some imagination intact. The self-titled Kato Vision is a treat, as we see the Asian fighter plan out battles as they happen in slow-motion, visibly highlighting objects he can use to his advantage. There's also a scene in which we watch word spreading across town through the use of an increasing amount of split-screens reproducing on-screen like cells multiplying through a microscope. It's a fascinating sequence, a pleasure for the eyes, and a definite high point.

Rogen and Chou are a dynamic duo (see what I did there?), their relationship in the film (which they strain is platonic) worthy of our attention as they fight and fall out. Reid's irresponsibility and incompetence is a neat opposer to Kato's talents and capabilities, despite Rogen's approach being a far cry from that of the TV series' Van Williams. The big-screen adaptation's two main stars aren't quite Williams and Lee, but they're an adequate pair.

As the head villain, Christoph Waltz ("Inglourious Basterds") has much fun, taking advantage of the silliness required for the heinous role. His character, a Russian named Chudnofsky, is going through a mid-life crisis, afraid that he's not scary anymore, mocked by drug lord Danny "Crystal" Clear (James Franco in an uncredited cameo) in Chudnofsky's first scene. The Oscar-winning Austrian actor brings a sense of class to the proceedings as a crime boss unsure of himself, though Chudnofsky ain't no Hans Landa.

The movie's main saving grace is the heart-racing climax, an action-packed bonanza riddled with explosive warfare. Bullets tear through buildings, cars speed through the streets, and chair legs go through eye sockets as the heroes take on the vicious villains. It's a thrilling finale, and one that bravely rescues the film.

"The Green Hornet" may be disappointing, but it's worthy of a light recommendation. The comedy requires much fine-tuning, the tone begs for more focus, and the script needs more of a sting. Still, it's worth the price of a 2D ticket for a slice of not-so-serious entertainment, and to hear Seth Rogen's distinguished cackle once again. If only the post-converted 3D weren't so flat and dim.


The King's Speech

"The King's Speech" is what you would call a classy film. It's a period piece, spanning from 1925 to 1939, set in the world of upper-class England. Its plot revolves around the British monarchy, all posh-spoken and formal in their royal doings. The music is all classical and orchestral, of strings and woodwinds. And it stars Colin Firth, aka the dashing Mr. Darcy of "Pride and Prejudice" fame, in the lead role. Ooh la la.

The English actor fills the aristocratic boots of Prince Albert, Duke of York, known as Bertie by his family. He's a timid fellow, despite having a bit of a temper on him, one that bursts out on occasion from frustration. He suffers from a stammer, as shown in the opening scene, in which he awkwardly struggles his way through a speech at Wembley Stadium, barely able to get even the first few words out.

He's been seeking aid for his irritating condition, one which he has had ever since his first memory. However, after being asked to shove seven marbles into his mouth fails to solve the problem, he gives up, but his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, "Alice in Wonderland") refuses to bow down just yet.

While searching, she meets Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush, "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers"), an eccentric speech therapist from Australia. His practices are said to be "controversial," which does not bode well with Duchess Lizzy. Resistant at first, Albert gives in to his wife's persistence, greeting the Aussie therapist, but not on a first-name basis. Albert requests to be called "Your Royal Highness." Lionel refuses.

The first session does not go smoothly with the monarch, stubborn that he cannot speak without stammering. The more kind and patient of the two, Lionel is determined to cure dear Bertie of his impediment, despite Albert's insistence that his voice is well and truly screwed. The lessons continue as the weight of national responsibility is slowly concentrated on Albert's unprepared shoulders, worsening when his father (Michael Gambon, "Gosford Park") dies and his brother (Guy Pearce, "Memento") abdicates the thrown.

"The King's Speech" is t-t-terrific stuff. I was previously unfamiliar with the life of the man who would become George VI, his 15-year reign as King of England not part of my historical knowledge. His story, as shown in director Tom Hooper ("The Damned United")'s period drama, is an inspiring one, not only for his speech difficulties, but also for the stress he endured under the pressure of his overwhelming obligations in power.

Hooper's direction gives a sense of the immense load thrust upon a man unready to hold it. Albert marches through St. James' Palace to stand in front of the entire Accession Council, the vastness of the room shown as the council looms ominously in front of the successor to the thrown as he stumbles through another talk, clad in regal clothing.

The dread that the man feels as he prepares to verbalise, ready to embarrass himself yet again, rings true. We feel for him as he opens his mouth, choking on every second word, blurting out the same syllables again and again.

Firth goes not for sympathy, not for the "poor me" act, but for strength found at its most vulnerable. Albert's a man who is required to speak for his country, yet he cannot use his voice properly. He doesn't want to become King, he doesn't feel he is qualified for the duties of such an occupation, yet he must.

His austere demeanour makes for a perfect juxtaposition with Lionel's almost happy-go-lucky personality, the pair carrying a remarkable on-screen presence that is the film's strongest suit. The sense of peculiarity that comes so naturally to Rush is in full force here as the speech therapist interacts with the troubled Albert, breaking down the barriers the monarch has built to protect himself. They're an amusing duo to watch and chuckle at.

Bonham Carter glistens as the Duchess of York and eventual Queen Mother, a woman whose only wish is for her husband to overcome his ailment. She is Albert's encouragement and guiding light, an extravagant showcase of the fashion of the era, and a likable supporting role for the "Sweeney Todd" actress.

"The King's Speech" is a precious work of art, and a sure staple in the British film industry. David Seidler (“Tucker: The Man and His Dream”)’s script is adorned with wit and humour, standing tall amongst the more tender and emotional moments contained within. Firth is a sublime leading actor, playing a relatable man of power, while Rush and Bonham Carter provide stunning support. The film is a splendid piece of cinema and not just the pompous Oscar/BAFTA-baiter it may seem, the end result a crowd-pleaser not only for the intellectuals out there. Tom Hooper's period drama is fit for a king, stammerer or not.


Monday, 17 January 2011

What Done Did Happen at the 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards

It was 5:00pm PST, the fine and foxy A-listers were all seated in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel, and all eyes were on Beverly Hills, California for the 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards. Once described as "foreplay for the Oscars" by funnyman Robin Williams, the ceremony is a celebration of the best in movies and TV of the past year. Well, according to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

The night kicked off with the glitz and glamour of the red carpet parade, with celebs of the TV, film and music industry being asked "who" they're wearing by interviewers as if they're Buffalo Bill, clad in the skins of their recently-murdered victims. Helena Bonham Carter looked like a drawing made by her gothic-by-nature husband, while Christian Bale seemed to have thought he was going to a Jesus Christ fancy-dress party. Photographers flashed their cameras, celebrities posed, and somebody forgot Hugh Laurie's name, shouting "You! You!!" at the acclaimed "House" actor.

Man-with-the-maniacal-cackle Ricky Gervais took to the stage and commenced the show's three-hour-long proceedings with some risqué humour, including references to Tom Cruise's sexual orientation and why the bloody hell "The Tourist" was in the running for three awards. The audience chuckled and gasped as the controversial comedian -- who hosted last year's grand spectacle -- insulted damn near half the room.

As per usual, thank-you speeches were timed by a 30-second counter positioned in full view of the podium, after which elevator music would play to tell the recipient to shut up and sit back down. This was ignored by the first winner of the night, Christian Bale for his supporting performance in "The Fighter," going on and on, name-dropping for two minutes before looking into the camera and saying the award was for his daughter. Aawwwr.

The show went on with much ease, with TV series "Boardwalk Empire" receiving two awards in a row -- one for Mr. Pink, Steve Buscemi; and another for Best Television Series - Drama. "Burlesque" thankfully only won in the category of Best Song in a Motion Picture, while "The Social Network" showed its first sign of success, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross presented with the Best Original Score award.

Hailee Steinfeld (yay!) and Justin Bieber (boo!) presented Lee Unkrich with the accolade for Best Animated Film, the "Toy Story 3" director asking if the two teens were even born when the first "Toy Story" film was released. I'm doubting Bieber was. He's, like, 12, right?

Annette Bening beat her "The Kids Are All Right" co-star Julianne Moore for Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical, while Al Pacino and Claire Danes gave humble speeches for their wins in HBO TV movies "You Don't Know Jack" and "Temple Grandin." Doesn't Pacino get nominated for everything he's in?

An absent Laura Linney won Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical Series for her performance in "The Big C" just before the brilliant Jim Parsons took to the stage to receive his award for "The Big Bang Theory." Sheldon for the win! Melissa Leo became another acting honour for "The Fighter," knocking out co-star Amy Adams for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture.

Matt Damon introduced the Cecil B. DeMille Award -- which went to Robert De Niro -- by lightheartedly claiming he'd never heard of the "Taxi Driver" legend. Following a lovely montage of De Niro's career (which stupidly contained a clip from "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle"), the 67-year-old strolled onto the stage and read a playful 4-minute speech, in which he poked fun at himself and laid into "Little Fockers," his latest film. "It's OK, we all have our jobs to do," said De Niro. My respect for the man just goes up and up.

There were no real surprises in the Best Actor or Actress in a Drama categories, with Colin Firth winning for "The King's Speech" and Natalie Portman for "Black Swan." Paul Giamatti was a worthy champion for the Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical rank, claiming in his acceptance speech that he was "a little jacked up because [he'd eaten] five boxes of the free Godiva chocolates." You have to love this man.

Scattered throughout the show were clips from each and every film in the two Best Motion Picture categories, most introduced by members of the cast. Andrew "Spider-Man" Garfield, giving the brief blurb for "The Social Network," couldn't say "inspiringly written" to save his life, having to repeat it four times while laughing along with the audience. Bruce Willis, introducing "Red," was called "Ashton Kutcher's dad" by a cheeky Gervais. And Megan Fox probably wasn't even taking what she was saying seriously as she tried to read aloud positive things about the Johnny Depp/Angelina Jolie mess that was "The Tourist."

"Glee" was the big TV winner of the night, nabbing Best Supporting Actress for Jane Lynch, Best Supporting Actor for Chris Colfer, and Best TV Series - Comedy/Musical. "The Kids Are All Right" was a very worthy recipient for Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical, although it was the only film in the category worthy of any award.

And the rightful conqueror of the night was David Fincher's "The Social Network," deservedly accepting four awards -- Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Score and Best Motion Picture - Drama. Does this mean that either the Facebook biopic or "The Kids Are All Right" will win the grand prizes at the Academy Awards? Not necessarily, as "Avatar" was the big winner of last year's Golden Globes, yet only received a nomination for Best Picture at the Oscars -- "The Hurt Locker" was the appropriate champion there. Oh well, I'm sure the Academy will see some sense and agree with the Golden Globes to make "The Social Network" their perfectly-matched friend. You know it's only right.

Here's a full list of all winners in order of presentation.

Best Performance by an Actor In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Christian Bale -- "The Fighter"

Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series - Drama
Katey Sagal -- "Sons Of Anarchy"

Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Best Supporting Actor, Series/Mini-Series/Television Movie
Chris Colfer -- "Glee"

Best Performance by an Actor in a TV series - Drama
Steve Buscemi -- "Boardwalk Empire"

Best Television Series - Drama
"Boardwalk Empire"

Best Original Song - Motion Picture
"You Haven't Seen The Last of Me" -- Burlesque

Best Original Score - Motion Picture
Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross -- "The Social Network"

Best Animated Feature Film
"Toy Story 3"

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical
Annette Bening -- "The Kids Are All Right"

Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or TV Movie
Al Pacino -- "You Don't Know Jack"

Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or TV Movie
Claire Danes -- "Temple Grandin"

Best Screenplay - Motion Picture
Aaron Sorkin -- "The Social Network"

Best Supporting Actress in a Series/Mini-Series/TV Movie
Jane Lynch -- "Glee"

Best Foreign Language Film
"In a Better World" (Denmark)

Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series, Comedy or Musical
Laura Linney -- "The Big C"

Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series, Comedy or Musical
Jim Parsons -- "The Big Bang Theory"

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Melissa Leo -- "The Fighter"

Cecil B. DeMille Award
Robert De Niro

Best Director - Motion Picture
David Fincher -- "The Social Network"

Best Television Series - Comedy or Musical

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy Or Musical
Paul Giamatti -- "Barney's Version"

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama
Natalie Portman -- "Black Swan"

Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical
"The Kids Are All Right"

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama
Colin Firth -- "The King's Speech"

Best Motion Picture - Drama
"The Social Network"

Thursday, 13 January 2011

True Grit

The closest thing to "True Grit" the Coen Brothers have previously made would be "No Country for Old Men," the picture I see as the duo's finest work. 2007's big Oscar-winner, "No Country" captured the true heart and spirit of the Western template, despite being set in a contemporary West Texas. "True Grit" is their stab at the classic, more recognisable form of a standard Western, with a tale of Stetson hats, vengeance, rifle-firing and whisky-swigging.

It's based on the Charles Portis novel of 1968, as well as the 1969 big-screen adaptation starring the legendary John Wayne, for which The Duke received his one and only Academy Award. Set in the late 19th Century, it takes place in Arkansas and the Indian Nation Territory that would soon become Oklahoma, the landscapes of which are photographed in beautiful fashion.

We open on the image of a dead man lying on the street as the snow descends from the calm night-sky. This is the father of 14-year-old Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld), and he has been murdered by his intoxicated hired hand Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin, "Jonah Hex") over money troubles. Mattie wants revenge. And Mattie will get revenge.

She inquires about U.S. Marshals to hire for tracking down the fleeing Chaney, and is told of Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, "The Big Lebowski"), a booze-hound currently being questioned for the unjustified shooting of crooks. He pushes away her offer at first, but Mattie knows that a little money can go a long way.

Mattie is adamant to go with Cogburn on his manhunt -- he doesn't want her with him. Guess who wins this argument? Joining them on their trail is Laboeuf (Matt Damon, "Good Will Hunting"), a smug Texas ranger who is also after Chaney for the assassination of a Texas senator. The three journey across the land, encountering death and danger on almost every step as they hunt down the murderous bandit.

"True Grit" marks another success from the more-talented-than-talented Coen siblings -- Joel and Ethan don't disappoint in the slightest. They direct this costume piece with supreme confidence, the feature given an immersive atmosphere straight out of the days of the classic Westerns. The narrative of the book is so strong, it'd be difficult to screw it up.

Steinfeld, 13 years of age during shooting, manifests the stubbornness of a mule. Her stiff-faced character seeks nothing other than vengeance, to watch her father's murderer hang at the neck or die by the barrel of a gun. Mattie has taken on the role of an independent, responsible adult, her mother unseen as the pigtailed teen unflinchingly negotiates with taken-aback townsfolk. The fresh-faced actress stuns as this poker-faced gal who's ripened at an early age, taking treacherous matters into her own young hands.

Bridges mumbles a Southern slur, the kind that's almost incomprehensible in some scenes. His unintelligible drawl only adds to his drunkard character, a man who kills criminals because it's easier than arresting them. The versatile "TRON" actor matches every bit of ignorant, gun-slinging cool John Wayne set back in '69, maybe even surpassing the Western icon. He distances himself from Wayne's seminal performance, making Mr. Cogburn his very own creation. The eye-patch has been passed on more than suitably.

Damon appears to be the more noble of the two men, a Texas ranger who loves his home state, and lawman committed to tracking down the "crafty” outlaw he's been unsuccessfully chasing for over a year. He clashes with Cogburn, their personalities and morals ricocheting off the trees of the wooded setting, leading to much amusement as they bicker away in playful rivalry. Mattie is equally not fooled by his self-important facade, calling him a rodeo clown when they initially converse. Damon's moustache sure is perdy.

Part of the genius of "True Grit" is the combination of the three main characters themselves. Their personas just bash and thump against each other like chipmunks trapped in a jam jar. Surely attributed to the book, the mismatched trio are what give the film its power, each given two contradicting characters to bounce off of.

The Coens write the film with splendid glee, their style a welcome addition to the cowboys-and-horses genre. They shower the film with dollops of their unique brand of dry humour, from amusing banter to over-the-top violence. The movie is truly gritty in tone, though.

Dialogue flows like a river, characters appropriately talking in a formal, ye olde times manner -- people knew what grammar was back then. Coen 1 and Coen 2 make sure to saddle the script with old-fashioned wit, breathing life into each and every character, no matter how small their role. One wishes the sheriffs and horse-riders never shut their mouths.

If there's anything negative I have to say about "True Grit," it's that it grazes its knee on the final hurdle. The last act, in which simpleton Chaney's face is finally shown, is a minor stumble in what was before a tantalising work of art. This concluding act certainly isn't bad (it's the Coens, remember), but particular moments carry a muffled impact.

Nonetheless, "True Grit" is a refreshing piece of engrossing cinema armed with exceptional talent both in front of the camera and behind it. It works wonders with the subject material, handling it with care before setting it free. The script strengthens a compelling story, and the cast is outstanding, especially (and expectedly) Mr. Bridges. It's nice to see him without a CGI face, too.