July 2010

MAN and WOMAN standing near entrance to store.

MAN (to WOMAN): Okay, great. Lovely to see you again. Take care.

They part.

MAN: Fucking nutter.

Maybe I’m slow on the uptake. Or maybe I just missed the point. But I didn’t start laughing at Splice until about halfway through. Until then, I was watching it as though it was a regular bit of Sci-Fi Creature Feature hokum and was largely disappointed that I hadn’t been shocked or scared or grossed out to that point.

I feel rather sheepish to admit that I mistook the following signs:

  • Adrien Brody’s Severus Snape haircut deliberate coiffed to make his nose look even bigger.
  • While trying to creature a new creature using human DNA, our hero and heroine are notified of their success or failure via a Windows style dialog box on a PC that announces something to the effect: “Human gene splice unsuccessful.”
  • Our hero and heroine “finally” get the big green tick and succeed in the splicing /human hybrid malarky before Adrien Brody’s character changes his clothes from a previous business meeting, leading me to conclude that the whole process, including previous failed attempts, took less than a day.

It’s perhaps easy to conclude that Splice is in itself a bit of a splice of other movies. It’s all a bit Bride of Frankenstein meets Species meets The Fly meets Weird Science meets Eraserhead.

Providing it’s not taken too seriously, it’s actually not bad. Adrien Brody and Satah Polley seem to enjoy the ridiculously complicated things their characters are asked to say and the whole affair has a very David Cronenberg feel which drapes the movie in an effective, clinical ambiance.

Matters take a rather sinister and downright icky course in the last twenty minutes or so but that aside, there’s probably enough here to distract all but the genetic scientists among us of own mortality for 100 minutes or so.

That said, even with the best will in the world it’s no better than average and my suspicion is if it took itself a little more seriously or, preferably, played it all out for laughs, it would’ve been an infinitely better experience.

Sometimes, trying to review a film is a pretty easy exercise because everything you need to know can be summed up in a few simple sentences. The whole franchise is wonderful. The third installment is pretty much perfect. Hamm the piggy-bank gets the best lines. It’ll probably pick up a Best Picture nomination. You should go see it right this minute.

But I try to write a few hundred words for these things so …

It’s 15 years since Toy Story. 11 years since Toy Story 2. Understandably, Andy, the boy who owns the toys, has done a lot of growing up in that time and he’s about to head off to college and his mother, seemingly keen to get his room cleared out, needs to get him to decide what to do with all his old toys. Over the years, he’s kept hold of Woody and Buzz. Somewhat more inexplicably, he’s also held on to a plastic dinosaur that looks like a Happy Meal toy and Mr & Mrs Potato Head. Kids are weird, I suppose.

To some extent, you know what you’re going to get with a Toy Story movie — the gang are going to get separated and spend the next 90 minutes getting back together again. Toy Story 3 doesn’t exactly break new ground but the fact that it sticks to the formula is never a disappointment because the genius of Pixar means it’s kept fresh and has enough new elements to ensure the magic stays alive. It feels new.

In a massive nod to movies like The Great Escape, the gang are sent off to Sunnyside Day Care Centre when the resident head honcho toy — Lotso the Bear, wonderfully voiced by Ned Beatty — promises that they’ll get the attention they’ve sorely missed in the year’s that Andy’s been growing up. Things, however, aren’t all they seem and a grotesque giant baby doll might just be the start of their troubles.

It’s all just so effortlessly magical. Advances in technology help the 3D become the deeply immersive experience that it is, but more importantly, the weaker animated aspects of the previous films — the humans and animals — finally work as well as the toys. Avatar’s 3D wasn’t as good as this. Shrek’s certainly wasn’t (and nor was it as funny). While I’d need to see it in 2D to decide if the extra dimension really adds anything, it didn’t feel like wearing Elvis Costellos took anything away from it. I suspect, though, that the visuals are so strong, it’ll be an equal delight no matter how it’s seen.

For me, the real winner is the script. I think we take it for granted that it should be inclusive, that kids and adults should be equally entertained, sometimes for different reasons, sometimes not, but both groups should be captivated throughout. It’s something we expect from Pixar titles and although this is by no means an exception, it’s good to take a step back to appreciate how effective it is when it works as well as it does here. The masterful understanding of plot and pacing and emotion is simply a joy.

All objectivity aside, if you do go to see it — and I strongly recommend that you do — keep your eyes and ears open for Hamm the piggy-bank and then reminisce about the majesty of John Ratzenberger’s voice and comic timing. That pig’s going to keep me chuckling away for some time.

A triumph!

Going to the cinema roughly once a week has meant that I’ve seen the trailer for Inception roughly a million times, so it was good to go see the actual film, for no other reason than I could be guaranteed that they surely wouldn’t show the trailer again. They didn’t.

The trailer has done the business, though. Christopher Nolan’s new film has been my most eagerly awaited movie since Kick Ass. Where Kick Ass was good enough fun and had its moments, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Inception just blew me away. It’s the best movie I’ve seen so far this year, it’ll probably be the best non-animated film I’ll see all year. It’s bold, inventive, original, breath-taking and utterly amazing.

It’s also the sort of film you’re probably better going into with as little information about it as possible so I’ll be careful about what I give away here. Best advice, though, if you do go to see it, pay attention.

Leonardo Di Caprio plays Cobb, a psychological specialist who (using technology that thankfully isn’t explained in any great detail) is able to put himself into other people’s dreams to extract confidential information and steal there secrets. Cobb, though, has secrets of his own that mean he can’t go home to see his children. When an obscenely wealthy businessman approaches him to plant the seed of an idea in the head of a rival — the Inception of the title — he assembles his team to carry out this dangerous and seemingly impossible task to clear his name and put his ghosts to bed.

In black and white, I’m not sure how appealing I’ve made that sound, but in practice, the concept allows for a hugely complex structure of dreams within dreams, stunning visuals, ridiculous physics and all the action and “stuff exploding” you’d expect to see in a Jimmy Bond flick.

Every single performance is first rate. I’ve loved Ellen Page (Juno, Hard Candy) and Cillian Murphy (Dark Knght) anyway but it was the performances of Di Caprio, Jospeh Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock from the Sun) and Tom Hardy (Rock n Rolla) that really impressed, especially Di Caprio. In fairness, he has a couple of shaky moments when he’s explaining the plot to people, but everything works so well and it’s so captivating, it’s easy to forgive the odd blip. For once, those moments of exposition are actually a bit of a relief as it gives the audience time to process what it’s seeing.

The real masters here, though, are director Christopher Nolan who it would appear can do no wrong at the moment, and cinematographer Wally Pfister. The duo have worked together on Dark Knight, Batman Begins and The Prestige amongst others and Inception is shot and lit in a similar way. There are a few slo-mo scenes that are jaw-droppingly beautiful to look at and the set pieces you’ve probably seen snippets of in the trailer don’t disappoint and seem all the grander on the big screen. How good this must look on iMax, God knows.

In general then, the only way you’re going to see as good a movie is by doing what I’m going to do: go see it again.

There’s a moment in the latest installment of the Twilight saga where Jacob asks Bella how she’s doing and she says she’s fine except for the fact a bunch of vampires want to kill her. As Jacob scoops her up in to his arms and holds her against his mighty barechested buffness, he observes, “Same old, same old.”

And that, right there, is the problem.

The good news is that Eclipse is the best so far in the series of Twilight movies. The bad news is, it’s still pretty dull and the story moves forward at such a deathly slow pace, there were times when I thought I was still watching New Moon.

At the end of Part Two, Edward proposes to Bella and essentially Part Three is a two hour journal of her making up her mind. In between there’s a subplot of a bunch of newborn vampires gathering an army to destroy our heroine and despite the big build up afforded to The Fight or The Battle all the way through, this is really a movie about choice: yes or no, werewolf or vampire, living or dead, jock frat boys or functioning heroin addicts, Burger King or McDonalds, Coke or … Coke Zero.

Perhaps unsurprising, most of my thoughts about New Moon hold true for Eclipse. Robert Pattinson is a pretty good actor, Kristen Stewart is terrible, there’s still an awful lot of moping about being miserable and the motivations of Bella simply confuse me pretty much from start to finish.

At one point, after a-huggin and a-smootchin with her supposed raison d’ĂȘtre and the guy she’s constantly nagging at to change her, when wolf boy turns up — someone she knows vampire boy despises, someone she knows has feelings for her, someone she knows wants to steal her away — and yet she jumps on the wolf bike and buggers off without so much as how-do-you-do, leaving vamp standing about like the kid waiting for someone, anyone, to accept his hanging high-five.

Who does that? Who behaves that way? I just don’t get it. Let’s assume Bella was after a green card rather than immortality, Edward was going to provide that for her and Jacob works for the Department of Immigration. You see? You see my problem? Apparently, Bella is confused but Kristen Stewart doesn’t do light and shade so if that’s in the source material, I don’t think it transferred onto the screen.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Some comedic relief is provided from the supporting cast of Ashley Greene (Alice), Billy Burke (Charlie) and Anna Kendrick (Jessica). Plus, in Eclipse we find out some of the history of how the Cullen vampires came to be and these vignettes, while very much reminiscent of Interview With The Vampire, was well done, interesting, quite edgy and generally I would’ve been happy with more.

I know this isn’t for me, I know I’m not target, and I doubt whether this will be the movie of July, never mind the movie of the summer or the movie of the year, but I can’t help but feel frustrated that for all the money and the size of the machine behind it, this is the best they can do.

Something was bothering me about Katherine Heigl for most of the way through Killers. There was something about her and her character’s relationship with Ashton Kutcher’s character that just didn’t ring true. At one point, it was all I could do to stay in my seat and not stop the movie to ask the dozen or so people in the cinema if any of them know what I was talking about. Her character, Jen / Jenny / Jennifer, either seemed far too old for Kutcher’s character, Spencer, or Spencer was far too young. As it turns out, they’re the same age in real life, which makes sense because in the movie, they look the same age, too. It was confusing the hell out of me.

Then it came to me. They look the same age. But they don’t sound the same age because Katherine Heigl sounds like Katey Sagal, the woman who played Al Bundy’s wife, Peggy, in Married With Children and that was what was throwing me out.

Unfortunately, this realisation didn’t happen until about 80 minutes in and while my mind had been elsewhere trying to figure out this conundrum, absolutely nothing of interest happened on the screen. Absolutely. Nothing.

Spencer is an assassin. Jen is on holiday with her parents (Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara). The two meet, fall instantly in love, Spencer packs in the killing but not before confessing his deadly secret to a drunken Jen who, yep you guessed it, falls asleep at the key moment. And I really can’t stress how instantly they fall in love. It’s more instant than instant coffee. They were strangers when I started eating a nacho and that nacho was still partially intact and full of crunch by the time they declared their undying to each other. Director Robert Luketic is clearly in a hurry. So much so, we need to dispense with motivation, continuity and establishing character. The thing is, Luketic is something of a King of the Guilty Pleasure. He has the awesome Legally Blonde and the not anywhere near as good but still pretty enjoyable Win a Date With Tad Hamilton under his belt. He should know what he’s doing.

Anyhoo, three years later, someone wants to get architect / designer / whatever Spencer back in the killing business, he ends up with a $20 million bounty on his head and everyone who Spencer and Jen had thought of as friends and neighbours is a potential assassin.

There’s lots here that’s supposed to be funny. Jen’s timid reaction to a gun is meant to be funny. Jen’s mom drinking bloody mary’s for breakfast is probably meant to be hilarious. The purpose of Tom Selleck talking about bushy moustaches is surely there to threaten the stitching on our sides and the whole idea of assassins in suburbia is clearly an attempt to necessitate the use of special knickers. It’s knowing, it’s post-modern, it’s sarcastic and it’s just not funny.

Kutcher and Heigl / Peggy Bundy have no on screen chemistry and in no two successive scenes do they remain true to their characters. Spencer is a $20 million dollar assassin, who bricks it against tubby contemporary. Jen is holding a gun like it’s a sweaty sock one moment and then happily pulling the trigger the next. It’s just a mess.

It comes close, but it’s not entirely without merit. The first action scene when a neighbour turns bounty hunter is pretty well done. But everything else has been done before and been done better and with more care and affection and originality and been done recently enough for us all to demand better.

By the laws of diminishing returns, this fourth outing for the inexplicably Scottish ogre should have been an utter dog.

Back in 2001, the original Shrek was an incredible experience. Jaw-dropping CGI coupled with sassy characters, crisp, knowing dialogue and jokes aplenty. A sequel was inevitable and in 2004, sure enough, we were given Shrek 2. Truth be told, I enjoyed it as much as the original. The story was just as fresh, the animation actually went as far as to dislocate the jaw and seeing Puss In Boots pull that face for the first time was wonderful. We’ll all remember 2007 as being the year where it all went horribly wrong. Shrek The Third was diabolical. Tired and laboured, it’s difficult to think back to any great jokes or redeeming features.

So I didn’t hold out much hope for Shrek Forever After and nor did I think 3D was going to be enough to save it. The 3D really doesn’t add much to the movie but I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by this and if indeed this is the final outing, it’s gone out on a higher note than it would’ve done had they stopped at three.

Shrek is at a low ebb. His days are melting into one, he’s no longer the fearsome creature he used to be and he’s become something of a celebrity bus tourist attraction. Strangely, or perhaps not, Shrek sees himself in pretty much the same terms as many see the franchise.

There then follows an odd few moments as Shrek appears to suffer a nervous breakdown and he starts to wonder what his life would’ve been like had he not rescued Princess Fiona. Enter the diminutive Rumpelstiltskin, a Tarantino lookalike with a penchant for contracts and granting wishes who hoodwinks Shrek into signing up to a day of anonymity where he can roar to his heart’s content. However, in return, the fate of Far Far Away and of Shrek himself are in the balance.

It’s a mainstay for situation comedies and high-numbered sequels: stick our heroes in It’s A Wonderful Life. The next stage after that is to put them in a holiday special. So seeing Shrek interact with all his friends who no longer recognise him does have a clutching at straws sort of feel about it, but it kinda works. And okay, so Donkey singing R&B hits has been done to death in the previous three films, but it still is kinda funny. And alright, so Puss pulling that face yadda yadda yadda.

You get the idea. There’s not an awful lot new on view — the exception to this is Rumpelstiltskin who is a welcome addition to the cast and has some of the best lines and mannerisms — and the plot seems to run out of steam and descend into pointless schmaltz before the end, but I couldn’t help but enjoy it. The witches were genuinely scary, the Boadicea subplot had more potential than it was allowed but still proved an interesting distraction and, as usual, it was the little asides and throwaway gags that really made it. Perhaps worryingly, in a cinema full of children, there wasn’t much in the way of laughter or excitement, so maybe the kids have got bored with the whole affair before me.

So, yeah. A definite step-up from version three, but let that be an end of it, yes? Let’s have no more. Let the surly, green ogre die now before we see him and Donkey ‘avin it large in Ibiza. Okay? Okay.