June 2010

“This isn’t the feelgood movie of the year,” says our hero during the first of many, lengthy, broken fourth wall moments in Woody Allen’s latest comedy. He isn’t lying.

Boris Yellnikoff is a brilliant if grumpy New York quantum mechanics professor who realises that life is futile and pointless and goes around boring his friends with long, existential rants about God and A Wonderful Life and becomes so consumed by his neuroses that he fails to find the joy or beauty in the life around him. Haven’t we been here before? Yes. Yes, we have. The only surprise thus far is that Woody Allen isn’t in the lead role. Instead, we have Larry David playing Woody Allen playing Boris Yellnikoff.

We learn in that first broken fourth wall moment that Boris nearly won a Nobel Prize, developed panic attacks due to his genius mind and realisation that nothing is forever. He throws himself out of a window, survives, loses his wife and now makes a living from essentially insulting children while operating under the premise that he’s teaching them chess. Chess instructors must make more money than I thought because he’s able to sustain a comfortable lifestyle in New York’s Chinatown.

The film seems to take a fifteen minute detour from credibility when a Southern Belle named Melody (Evan Rachel Wood) literally turns up on his doorstep, a stranger and a vagrant, begging for food and shelter. Boris, suddenly developing a heart, provides this for her, treats her like a moron and utterly inexplicably they fall in love and get married.

We come at least within throwing distance of reality once our basic set-up is complete and then a few spanners decide to gang up on the works. Melody’s mom (played by Patricia Clarkson and the first of two “Wasn’t she in Frasier?” moments) turns up, is understandably miffed at the turns her daughter’s life has taken. Mommy Dearest then proceeds to try and scupper her daughter’s relationship by setting her up with a British actor called … wait for it … credibility get ready to look away again … Randy. His name is Randy. He says so. With a straight face. Randy. And while credibility is otherwise occupied, let me add that the mother then discovers she has a knack for art, becomes bohemian and starts living with two men.

“Whatever works,” Woody Allen says to us through the medium of film. “So long as you’re happy and you’re not hurting anyone, fine, go for it, have a ball.” Woody then takes this message, wraps it around a baseball bat and batters us over the head with it for an hour and a half.

And sadly, for all Larry David makes a good Larry David, he doesn’t really do a good Woody Allen. Evan Rachel Wood, who was excellent in Thirteen and pretty damned fine in everything else of hers I’ve seen, continues to impress and she makes the most of a role that doesn’t really demand too much from her.

At several points, I thought this would make a half-decent play. You know the sort; compact and tightly shot, lots of navel-gazing, profound observations on the universe, funny in the way that you’re more likely to think, “oh, yeah” to yourself rather than laugh out loud but generally kinda works because it’s in the right environment. On the big screen, the comedy doesn’t even work to the “oh, yeah” level. It’s tired, obvious and thanks to the icky nature of the main relationship, it lacks any real charm. And with everything being so contained, we don’t even have majestic cinematography to fall back on.

Overall, it’s a lackluster amalgam of so much from Woody Allen’s back catalogue that in years to come, it will barely register and suddenly, the likes of Annie Hall, Manhattan and Mighty Aphrodite all seem a very long time ago.

To the person who came to the blog after searching for “How long to drive from Alloa to Cowdenbeath” … it can be done in about 35 to 40 minutes, traffic dependent, if you take the Trans Fife Expressway (A92).

You’re welcome.

I have to wonder if Russell Brand ever looks back at his body of work and thinks if it’s just coincidence that he ends up involved in so many projects that are essentially stories of his life. Get Him To The Greek is the latest in the line of would-be biopics and the form looks set to continue with his remake of Arthur slated for a release next year.

Here, Brand takes the incarnation of himself from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and turns a minor character into a driving force and for a showcase of rock excess, it’s a successful development.

Outrageous rock frontman, Aldous Snow (Brand), is down on his luck. His last album — African Child — has been named third behind War and Famine as the worst things to hit the continent. In steps loyal fan and record company gopher, Aaron Green (Hill) who comes up with the idea of reenacting Snow’s seminal gig in LA’s Greek theatre 10 years later. Green is charged with escorting the washed out hedonistic rock star from London to the venue and this is where the fun begins.

And it is fun, for the most part. The movie is filled with some perfectly pitched parodies of AC/DC style misogyny (favourites being the backdoor flavoured Ring ‘Round and the rather does-what-it-says-on-the-tin Fuck Your Shit Up) and while there is a bit of gross-out as we’d expect from anything that Judd Apatow puts his name to, I was pleasantly surprised that we didn’t have to reach for vomit or oversized dildos for the chuckles. Well, not all the time, anyway.

Some of the best laughs came from the simple moments like Snow’s reaction to Metallica’s Lars Ulrich coming into the room (“Oh, Enter Sandman”), or when he tries to talk down Green from spazzing out on a drug cocktail called Jeffrey (“When the world slips you a Jeffrey, stroke the furry wall”). Our two heroes work well together and a lot of the interaction has an improv and natural feel about it, to the extent that I felt quite within my rights to worry that Russell Brand was leading Jonah Hill astray.

But for a movie whose very premise is about the trials and tribulations of getting an unreliable person to an important appointment in a challenging timeframe, there’s absolutely no urgency. The plot plods along from location to location, takes off its shoes, makes itself comfy and stays awhile. If you’re ever in the market for a film that should last 90 minutes, this is probably a pretty decent example. Why, then, it goes on for practically 110 is anyone’s guess.

Revelation of the film — despite the turns from Brand and Hill — has to be Sean “Insert Current Moniker” Combs, whose comic timing and presence is a constant delight in the role of Hill’s nervy boss. To steal a scene or two from Brand takes some doing and deserves credit.

If you’re looking for funny, you could do a lot worse, but in the tradition of less being more, a twenty minute shorter director’s cut might well be rock nirvana.

Under normal circumstances, I usually have my review written in my head during the drive home and then when I get to the computer, I spend an hour or so making it look as nice as possible. Then it’s done and I move on.

I saw Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me yesterday evening, slept on it and I’m just starting to get my thoughts together on it.

For the vast majority of its running time, 95% or more, The Killer Inside Me is very good indeed, due in no small way to Casey Affleck’s disturbingly assured portrayal of the sociopath, Lou Ford. Affleck is the spine to the whole film — to the best of my memory, he’s in every scene — and despite the absolutely appalling acts his character commits, he has a very engaging presence, which leaves the viewer affected, disturbed and a whole host of other adjectives and emotions.

The movie is set in a small town in 1950s Texas and as Ford says at the start, it’s the sort of place where you say “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, ma’am.” This bright, post-war setting, brimming with naïve optimism gives the events a more unsettling twist.

Lou Ford is a young, deputy sheriff, pillar-of-the-community kinda guy with a beautiful girlfriend, Amy (Kate Hudson). Softly spoken and polite, he seems almost a juvenile when we first meet him. When he’s asked to chase Joyce the prostitute (Jessica Alba) out of town, they have an argument, she hits him, he hits her back and in a move reminiscent to Dynasty, they end up getting it on. And so begins a rather murky sadomasochistic relationship but it’s when Joyce reveals that she’s also been servicing the son of a local big-wig property developer, Chester Conway (Ned Beatty) and is hatching a blackmail plot, that things take a really dark turn. Ford decides to avenge his brother’s death by framing Conway’s son for Joyce’s murder and to do that, he has to kill Joyce. And he does this by punching her to death.

This attack probably feels like it lasts longer than it actually does and we probably don’t see as much as we think we do, but by anyone’s standards, this is a shocking, disturbing moment and I found it impossible not to look away while Ford caves Joyce’s face in. What’s perhaps just as shocking is Ford apologising to Joyce as he’s doing it and Joyce re-iterating her love for him. When it was over, not only was I relieved, I felt a bit sick.

Conway’s son, in a marked contrast, is dispatched with a few bullets to the head.

Joyce, somehow, survives but is comatose and over the rest of the film, Ford’s mask of sanity slowly slips while he attempts to cover his tracks. More men swifty meet their maker and another woman has a slow, lingering death. Meanwhile, there’s a sense that the townsfolk aren’t as fooled by Ford as they like to think but this isn’t truly developed and in the end, this possible silent complicity could be put down to Ford’s own perception.

The actual noir aspects of this are spot on and the plot complications and tangles, perhaps aided by the setting, reminded me of something like Blood Simple. Judging the film by 95% of its content, it’s actually great stuff. The leads are just wonderful and no one in the ensemble lets the side down. Winterbottom at the helm is always in control and uses open spaces and heat and dust to great effect. The soundtrack, which flirts between classics and hillbilly country, perfectly matches the line that Ford walks; a fence that Ford claims at one point will rip him in two, straight down the middle. My only real complaint is that the complexity of the initial plot could’ve been laid out more clearly. By the end, I’m pretty sure I got everything I was meant to get but there were moments during the first half hour or so where I felt lost and my concentration drifted while I tried to piece it back together.

But it’s the two scenes, the other 5%, that will stay in the minds of those who go to see it. Charges of misogyny have been laid at the door due to the way the camera lingers — perhaps too lovingly — on Joyce’s destruction and how all the male deaths are treated in an opposite manner (one of them even happens off-screen). Is it misogynistic? Well, Ford certainly is. I don’t think, though, that Winterbottom’s movie is intended to leave its audience with anything less than utter disgust at his actions and its purpose could be to show the effects of violence. When someone gets hit, they fall down. It’s not a glamorous business in the real world.

I think, though, like Ford, the movie walks a very thin line through a particularly grey area and I’m certainly not surprised that people could see it as misogynistic. American Psycho, book and film, has the sense to portray its male characters as largely weak, shallow individuals. Patrick Bateman, for example, can’t get it up unless he’s absorbed into his possibly imagined world of S&M torture and on many levels, he’s a bit of a failure. The Killer Inside Me doesn’t use any such insurance policies and so as a result, I find it harder to argue fully in its defence.

That said, it’s a film worth seeing and it’s nice to be able to say that someone in the Affleck family might be on the receiving end of an Oscar rather than a Razzie come award-season.

Wild Target is one of those British movies that seems to revel in its British-ness, that knows it’s rehashing decades-old jokes to a poor standard, that knows its script insults its stars and its audience but that it doesn’t matter because its stars are all operating at 50% anyway and its audience are asleep, that knows it’s going to get released to little fanfare in the middle of a major, international sporting event, that knows it will be seen by a few hundred people and then it can quietly disappear to reminisce about what could have been.

On the plus side, its poster is quite pretty.

I can just about understand why this remake of a seventeen-year-old French movie must’ve seemed a decent idea at the time. I mean, what’s not to love? Bill Nighy might well stick his name to a few stinkers, but we all know he’s usually the best thing in those stinkers. Rupert Grint, pretty much the only kid who could act in the early Harry Potters, has come out from under its shadow in a few successful projects so we know he’s a safe pair of hands. I seem to have been systematically avoiding Emily Blunt’s career up to now, but I’m assuming she’s also an accomplished talent because although I hated her character here, I think I was meant to. And overseeing proceedings is Jonathan Lynn who is stepping behind the camera for the first time in seven years and whose previous work includes The Whole Nine Yards, My Cousin Vinny and Sgt. Bilko. Ah.

The poster is lovely, though. I particularly like the font.

As is the norm in a farce, the premise starts fairly straight forwardly and then quickly becomes rather complex and convoluted. Here’s the lowdown:

Art thief and general scoundrel, Rose (Blunt), turns out to be pretty poor at thieving art and her victims hire a world-renowned hitman Victor Maynard (Nighy) to bump her off. Through a series of coincidences and luck, he misses his chances and then deliberately lets her go, presumably because he’s found her a bit cookie and a free-spirit or something. The clients, understandably, are a bit peeved by this and send their own boys to sort it out. Maynard, trying to make amends for his previous gaffe, corners Rose and new hitman in a multi-storey car park and in a development that I can barely muster the energy to describe, spliff and bath loving layabout, Tony (Grint), shoots the new hitman and he, Rose and Maynard end up on the run from Rupert Everett and his assortment of baddies.

Along the ninety-odd minute way there are chases in a Mini (Clockwise, Fawlty Towers), a dead parrot (Monty Python, a million Monty Python rip-offs), a set of novelty teeth (practically every episode of The Two Ronnies) and a scene between Nighy and Blunt that might well have been effective in the French original, but just seemed icky here.

Oh, and for no reason whatsoever, Emily Blunt’s character digs some holes in Bill Nighy’s lawn with a pick-axe. At this point, I realised I was massaging my own temples.

Okay, so it’s not the greatest premise ever, but surely Lynn and the assembled talent can eek half-a-dozen chuckles out of it. Well, no. I think I might have smiled once. That said, I did hear one laugh from a female member of the audience but for all I know it was generated by the memory of something amusing that had happened to her earlier that day, or was perhaps laced with irony in the knowledge that what she was watching should’ve been funny. Or maybe it was a sorry plea for help.

If nothing else, Wild Target is a case in point that a bad script has an exceptionally low ceiling; that even a talented cast and a mediocre director can only do so much to salvage the whole project; and if the best thing about a movie is its poster, it should be left to disappear from the memories of those unfortunate enough to witness the sorry mess.

Let’s never talk of it again.

I don’t spend an awful lot of my time looking at the reasons why people end up on these pages. As far as I can tell, most of the traffic I get is from searches for various movie posters. However, every so often something jumps out at me.

Today, someone ended up at my blog after doing a search on أماندا هولدن and not only do I not know what that means, I’m not even sure what language it is.

Whatever the answer is, welcome. I hope you found what you were looking for.

… or Since I’ve Been Gone. Whichever works.

I’ve been neglecting the blog of late. Here are my top three reasons why:

  • There have been no movies worth going to see, never mind review. Actually, there have been a few but both my local multiplexes are more concerned about filling their 12 screens with whatever rank 3D fayre is on offer than, say, allow one measly screen to show the new Michael Winterbottom film.
  • My workplace has removed all stupid signage, I hope in response to my posts here.
  • Facebook.

None of this should leave you with the impression that nothing much has been going on. Lordy, no. Here’s just a sample of some of the shit that’s been going down chez moi. I guess that means more bullets:

  • On Monday, one of my stories — Beekeeper’s Blues — came 1st out of 518 entries and won $100 in Reading Writers’ Once Upon A Day competition. This is officially sweet. I’m not saying much about it, not because I’m not hugely chuffed, but because it still hasn’t really sunk in. 518. Jeez.
  • Every Day Poets took my Edgar Allan Poe inspired poem, Nevermore, and it’ll appear in a future edition. I always feel a bit of a fraud when one of my poems is picked up somewhere and this was no exception. Still, the poem’s a bit of fun and EDP agreed.
  • Meanwhile, another story — The Boy and the Broken Bird — was published on Every Day Fiction on 5 June and received some great feedback. Not that any one opinion is better than the other, but I was chuffed to attract a comment from xTx, whose work I really, really like.
  • Back in May, I attended my first writers’ conference. Falkirk Writers hold an annual tryst / seminar at the Town Hall and they have a number of competitions. I got a commendation for Postcards from the Departure Lounge and a lovely certificate to prove it. I spent most of the day enjoying the company of two members of Angus Writers Group, who’d travelled down from, erm, Angus, and between them, they picked up three 1sts, a 2nd, a 3rd and a commendation so it was worth their trip.
  • I’m very excited to announce that this week saw the launch of my attempt to enter the literary e-zine business. Waterhouse Review will debut on 1 October 2010 but before then, I need some top notch content. Writers can submit by clicking here and work that features in the zine will be rewarded to the tune of £2. Tiny acorns and all that, but I’ve long been of the opinion that writers deserve to be paid, even if it is just a token amount. Expect more news of this over the coming weeks.

So, anyway, that’s enough about me. How’ve you been?