January '08 Movie Round-Up! Juno! Cloverfield! Etc!
Posted by Diggler - 28/1/2008 22:10
It's been a while since we talked movies 'round these parts, so I figured a review-fest was in order. There's little method to the madness here, more a humungous rundown of random stuff I've been watching over the past couple o' months. Some from this year, some from last, and plenty from beyond. Do with it as you please...
|Co-produced by JJ Abrams of LOST and Alias fame, Cloverfield tries something a little off the beaten path for a major Hollywood big budget flick|
The latest US hype-o-thon is actually pretty darn good, truth be told. A crazed mixture of Godzilla by way of The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield is a CGI-tastic monster movie in which a ginormous, enigmatic beast - somewhat void of tact and good taste - tramples his way through New York city to mucho destruction. There's a twist, of course. The entire film is comprised of nothing but handheld DV footage, that from a camera "found" some time after the catastrophe. You know the drill then; lots of shaky camera work, blurry glimpses of the monster that you never quite make out, and a ton of people screaming while running down the street...yet nothing particularly full frontal. For the most part, anyway. It works too; super sleek special effect shots grow immeasurably more powerful when gleaned through the distorted lens of a grainy handheld camera, providing far more scares and thrills than we're used to from the standard Hollywood monster movie fair. Clover has some ace shocks up its sleeve in fact, that at choice times, renders it suitably potent. Sadly it gives a little too much away towards the end; brief glimpses of the monster are fantastically done in the early scenes, but we see far too much of it by film's end, only to draw the inevitable conclusion that we all knew going in; what we don't see is so regularly cooler than what we do. The characters are also an under-developed, somewhat annoying bunch whom you care little for, minus humorous cameraman himself, Hud. Still, the sequence in the subway, the explosive city shots, and the quality of the effects render Cloverfield a bit of a winner, even if it could have been a fair bit more.
No Country For Old Men 
As a long-time Coen Brothers fan, their latest effort let me down I'm afraid. A chase movie set in the deep south, it tells the tale of Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a hobbyist hunter out in the desert who randomly stumbles upon a corpse-laden drug deal gone wrong. Complete, of course, with a huge dollop of cash covered in blood. With no one around, and nothing to stop him, Llewelyn takes the money and runs, content in the fact that life just got a whole lot better for he and his hick wife (Trainspotting's Kelly Macdonald). Of course, it ain't that simple. Things promptly go wrong, and before he knows it, psychopathic hitman Javier Bardem is hot on his tail. Javier is by far the best thing in it in fact, with the opening hour in which we see him hard at work pretty spectacular stuff. Sadly, No Country doesn't really go anywhere though. The latter half is a complete let-down, it gets slower and slower as the film progresses, and although the Coen's beautiful cinematography and visual flair is often out on full display, their leftfield characters and quirky sense of humor most definitely ain't. No Country is more Blood Simple, than Big Lebowski, and worse off for it in my opinion. By anyone else, it'd be pleasant enough way to waste away a couple o' hours, but from arguably Hollywood's finest? You expect a little more.
The Chumscrubber 
Made back in 2005, but only recently released here in the UK, Chum's a funny, dark and offbeat look at dysfunctional American suburbia, like some kinda twisted melding of American Beauty by way of Donnie Darko. Among other things, it follows Dean, a troubled teenage boy whom after popping over to the house of his best and only friend, soon finds that he's hung himself. With distant parents who care little, and no one else in the world to turn to, life begins to spin out of control for poor Dean as a result, as he succumbs to drugs, hallucinations and deep inner turmoil. Cue super hot Camilla Belle to the rescue - a similarly affected friend to the deceased - seemingly one glimmer of light amidst Dean's solitary existence, yet as abductions, attempted murder and a crazy blackmail plot soon prove, things ain't quite so simple. Chum's a great flick choc full of brilliant performances, particularly those from its impeccable adult cast who's subplots I've yet to touch upon. Ralph Fiennes, Glen Close and Carrie Ann Moss pop along for the ride, as do William Fichtner and Allison Janney to particularly brilliant effect. It's Jamie Bell as Dean - yes, Billy Elliot himself - who knocks it out of the park with his sheer ace-ness however, with Chumscrubber going down as pleasing American satire that most definitely shouldn't be missed.
The Lookout 
From the scribe of Out of Sight comes a more serious crime caper with a somewhat intriguing premise. Chris Pratt is a high school ice hockey star who through drunken stupid-ness crashes his car in the film's opening minutes, killing two friends, removing limbs from his girlfriend, and more importantly blessing himself with permanent brain damage. Four years on - now out of high school and doing his best to survive in the real world - Chris walks funny, can't think straight, and has to write everything down in a little notepad or else he forgets (mildly reminiscent of Guy Peirce in Memento). These opening scenes in which we see Chris in his depressing day to day existence are the best parts of the film, nicely understated and well acted as they are. Reduced from high school hero to mere bank janitor, Chris' mundane and frustrating life is shortly turned on its head though when an old figure from the past turns up, seemingly befriends him and shortly ensnares the poor chap to rob the same bank which he cleans every night. As a heist movie with a difference, it's mildly interesting given Chris' "condition", but ultimately comes off second rate, cheap and never fulfils its promise. Pity.
Mysterious Skin 
|Disturbing and boundary pushing while still housing quite the heart, Skin's one of the most haunting films I've ever seen. Yes, that's Dawn from Buffy, pervos|
A deeply traumatizing film from a fair few years back that I only stumbled upon randomly this past month, and simply had to shout about from the rooftops. While I'd happily rate Skin as one of the most memorable and oddly touching films I've ever seen though, I don't think I could ever actually stomach watching it again, given its grizzly and often disturbing subject matter. The film focuses on two kids in Kansas, both of whom share a deep, dark child abuse experience at the age of eight. We then follow their lives as they grow up through teenage-hood, head their separate ways and thus detail the polar opposite, and even somewhat fascinating means of which they each deal with such tragedy. Gaybo Neil turns to prostitution, regularly contracting STDs, and risking his life day in, day out, in a shocking attempt to recapture the "good old days", while uber geek Brian blanks out said painful memories by hiding himself away in sci-fi material and alien abduction theories...completely oblivious to what he's been through. How the film resolves itself and brings the two back together is moving, powerful stuff, as is the turbulent journey that each endures along the way, rendering Mysterious Skin an amazing piece of work that anyone with a tough stomach should most definitely seek out immediately. Humungous kudos in particular go to Joseph Gordon-Levitt - who appears in three of the films listed here oddly enough - truly amazing (and eerily Heath Ledger like) as Neil.
Thumbsucker's the middling to average story of a mildly disturbed 17 year old boy named Justin who - as you may garner from the title - still sucks his thumb. A coming of age tale lightly touching upon drug abuse, infidelity and parent relations, it's a well acted film that's...pretty darn boring I'm afraid. Lou Taylor Pucci plays Justin to borderline perfection, covering a multitude of emotions and tones, but ultimately his journey and its eventual outcome just ain't particularly interesting really. A heavily hungover Vince Vaughn does his best too, playing against type as Justin's school tutor, but ultimately sticks out like a sore thumb in such serious subject matter as this. Next.
Hats off to Hitman for certainly trying; this is by far the less "videogamey" videogame movie of them all. It feels bleak, minimal and borderline stylish, where most feel like shit-stained cut-scenes from the games they portray. Timothy Olyphant does a decent enough job playing Agent 47, even if it's most definitely not the same Agent 47 from the games. Some impressive hits here and the odd boner thanks to gorgeous co-star Olga Kurylenko there, the film's ultimately let down by the piss-poor detectives hot on 47's trail, and the convoluted plot they drag with them that doesn't even mildly start to draw you in for one measly second. Hitman die-hards may find it passable though.
Alpha Dog 
AD's a horrible film about horrible people that I couldn't even sit through in one go. Essentially a shit version of Larry Clark's excellent Bully, Alpha Dog - much like that film - is a true to life story of a gang of kids murdering one of their own. The final five minutes are almost borderline identical in fact - minus the former's impact and precision - the only saving grace being - believe it or not - Justin Timberlake as "Frankie". The one character in this charmless bunch of idiots with an iota of a conscience, he almost makes the film watchable all by his lonesome. But not quite. See Bully if you ain't though, it's brill.
|Among so much more, Juno's a must-see for fans of the late, great Arrested Development. Trust me on this|
A low-budget indie flick not too dissimilar to all-time Dig fave Ghost World, Juno is a feel good "dramedy" about a 16 year old girl named Juno (Ellen Page) who gets knocked up by her best friend Paulie (Arrested Development's Michael Cera). Despite covering such serious subject matter as abortion and teenage parenthood, the film is most definitely more comedy than drama, with an insanely good cast continually firing off pearls in just about each and every scene. In fact I've seldom seen such a well-paced, tight and entertaining flick. A touching ending that'll melt the hearts of all but the most macho cavemen'll leave you with a great big smile as Juno's credits role too...and I wouldn't be surprised to see an Oscar in recently nominated Ellen Page's hand for her turn here come award season. A lovely little film that's genuinely hard to fault.
Art School Confidential 
Speaking of Ghost World, director Terry Zwigoff's latest - Art School Confidential - continues some of the same themes and ideas Ghost World setup back in its day, with a funny and satirical look at college, modern art and the state of today's media. The film follows talented young painter Jerome, as he enrolls in art school with the sole aim of becoming the next big thing, only to find early attempts to stand out amidst his class full of artistic misfits trying. His impeccably detailed renderings are regularly cast away by teacher John Malcovic in favour of the silly scribblings and baby-like car drawings of his peers to much amusement, with Jerome shortly hitting rock bottom and succumbing to increasing surges of darkness in order to get ahead. Zwigoff clearly revels in mocking modern art in its many forms, and does so deftly via a funny, and amusing opening, but sadly the film's latter, sinister and more brutal side - the simultaneous story of a serial killer murdering people around campus - is far less convincing. How the two plot strands ultimately meld is mildly crazy and beyond the suspension of disbelief, and thus leaves Art School going out with a bit of an eye-roll in its final half. A shame, given its setup.
Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem 
|Despite a way better cast, more gore, and a ramped-up rating...AvP2 is oddly worse than the last one. Weird|
I was one of the few who actually dug the first AvP. It wasn't high art, but had some sweet action, plenty of cool fight scenes, and took me back to my childhood for two odd hours. That film's biggest prob was its lack of gore though, a trait pleasingly sidestepped in its sequel here thanks to a heavily beefed-up rating. AvP2 if choc-full of the stuff, you see; human heads exploding in gibs of brain, Predator shurikens impaling chicks against walls left right and center, and good old Alien acid blood singing dudes' skin right down to their very skull like poor old Drake back in the day. So far, so good then. The sad part is, if you've seen the redband trailer here
, you know all this already. In fact, every single
kill and set-piece from the entire freakin' film is contained within. Looks pretty good, huh? Well, those bits are. Sadly the remaining 88 minutes ain't. AvP2 comes across more like a teen slasher flick, than the latest addition to some of cinemas most celebrated sci-fi franchises, while Rescue Me's Steven Pasquale and 24's Reiko Aylesworth might as well be wearing Predator's patented cloaking device given how invisible they both come off in the leads roles. My advice? Watch that trailer a couple times on a loop instead. You'll benefit from all of AvP2's best shots, and save an hour and a half of your life in the process.
Brick's a traditional film noire detective story on the face of it. A girl named Emily is dead (Claire from LOST), and dumped ex-boyfriend Brendan is out to find out who dunnit. The long lingering shots, the hard boiled detective who doesn't give a fuck, and the minimal, affecting soundtrack you'd expect from a noire are all present, yet Brick has a twist of its own to throw into the mix. It's a contemporary high-school movie. It proves quite the crazy concept, transporting the above into the world of teenagers, lockers and jocks - and the end result doesn't always work 100% - but the performances and writing prove more than enough to see it through to something somewhat special regardless. The film's oddball dialogue impresses in particular; fast-paced, giggly and downright nuts as it is. Worth a butchers.
Hard Candy 
Juno's Ellen Page returns in another, far grittier piece here from a few years back. Hard Candy is the story of a seemingly innocent 14 year old girl who, on suspecting she's tracked down an internet pedophile, lures him out of hiding with promises of sexy time...only to turn the tables, lay a trap and subsequently torture a confession out of him. That's the plan, at least. More of a stage play than a traditional film - with pretty much the entirety of its two odd hours focusing on nothing more than girl and sex pest trapped within the confines of his plush home - Hard Candy is an interesting twist on such sordid subject matter. One might argue Ellen's character is just as disturbed as Senior Pedo himself in fact, given some of the demented practices she subjects him too, and it's certainly very shocking and surprising in that regard. Sadly the rooftop ending is borderline ridiculous, somewhat tainting all that comes before it, but the preceding 90% is particularly well done, and for the most part, dead cool.
Gone Baby Gone 
|Casey Affleck joins Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris in a superbly casted, engaging story, even if it is a tad on the dreary and depressing side|
Ben Affleck's directorial debut sees him returning to material more akin to Good Will Hunting in tone, than, err, Daredevil and Pearl Harbor. Needless to say, the impressive results speak for themselves. An adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel, Gone is a worryingly close to home kidnapping tale not too indifferent to that of Madeline Mcann. A young blonde girl is snatched from her house due to parent neglect, and a working class detective duo are called in to track her down. Ben's bro - Casey Affleck - plays the better half of said duo, shortly uncovering an increasingly complex case involving drug dealers, crooked cops and tough moral choices aplenty, as he struggles to get to the bottom of just what exactly happened to wee Amanda. The film's beautifully put together and wonderfully edited, belaying its origins as that from a first time filmmaker, and Casey Affleck's monotone, almost wooden acting is oddly at home in the ultra realistic, down to earth mood the film exudes from head to toe. Casey's partner and girlfriend is the only real weak link - a character and actress both woefully out of place here - but her aside, this is gripping stuff and well worth a look.
I'll leave it there for now. Ya'll seen anything of note lately?