Thursday, 24 December 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Okay folks, in case you didn't know its Christmas Eve, and I'm going to be doing a review for a very Christmas movie indeed. Or so one would like to have themselves think. On the topic of Christmas anyway, can someone please make a comment as to who actually likes Christmas music bar the likes of Fairytale of New York. Also, to all foreigners reading the review, the UK's Christmas Number #1 this year is Rage Against The Machine's Killing In The Name, I kid you not. How awesome is that. Maybe people are actually realising, hang on, this music is better than typical Christmas music. Everyone is sick of Christmas music. Anyway, sorry about the digression, the topic of Christmas cannot be avoided and it does make for suitable distraction from my feelings about this movie. Picking up where the last Twilight left off, Bella Swan, played by Kristen Stewart, is eighteen and now older than her seventeen-year-old boyfriend Edward Cullen, who is a vampire. This causes relational tensions, woo woo. Because of an accumulation of tensions, Edward and his leave town and Bella goes into a big sulk at the loss of her love. Then, to fill the void in her life, she begins hanging around once again with her hulking childhood friend Jacob Black, played by Taylor Lautner, creating a strange love triangle of sorts, for he is, you guessed it, a werewolf, arch-nemesis of the vampire clan. Now, to get this off the fly for starters, I felt that the first Twilight film was a good, charming film on teenage angst and love, which was handled brilliantly by Katherine Hardwicke. Now, I won't grub on Chris Weitz, because he is taking over as director here, but really I do question whether he is able to do this kind of material. With a franchise, I feel that while each movie must be different and advance the story, there should always be a consistent tone and mood persistent throughout a series, and I feel that without Katherine Hardwicke, the original mood of the novel's cannot be captured. I haven't read the books, but I know enough from conversations with people who have that there is a consistent eroticism prevalent throughout and here it is completely absent. I feel under Weitz' direction, who previously directed American Pie with his brother Paul, the complete polar opposite of this film on the "love scale," if you will, the tone of the story cannot be achieved. And with credit to him, at least he does try, but in truth it just comes across as very bland and boring. Really, I was giving this movie a chance because for half-an-hour to an hour I thought, "this is really wise, they are setting up what is going to be an interesting story." Unfortunately, it’s the set-up for something that never happens. As a result, it just makes Kristen Stewart, who really could have come across here with an interesting portrayal of Bella Swan horribly turns out to be really one-note. Also, Robert Pattinson, R-Patz, whatever you want to call him, loses the mystique and romanticism of the previous film's character and just proves to be window dressing if anything. Taylor Lautner is the only one who escapes this acting dirge, and really does his best and proves capable with what is in truth poor material. You can sense his characters angst and hurt underneath the massive physical presence he poses. There is obviously an interesting character arc here for him, but unfortunately it never gets that far. That is the real problem with New Moon: everything seems like a set-up to something genuinely interesting, but only serves as a hint at something that never proves to be a prevalent and intelligent theme. For example, in the midst of Bella's sulk, there are hints of suicide, and it is hinted at so well that elaboration would make sense, yet it remains completely under the surface here. As mentioned, the Jacob Black-subplot could have done with this elaboration. Finally, the ageing process too is hinted at, but is not elaborated: the movie is like something teasing the audience with a carrot-and-stick, seeing if all the asses will follow. Well, I'm sorry, I tried following the carrot-and-stick for a bit, and needless to say was very disappointed by the end result. I mean, how did Melissa Rosenberg, who wrote such a well-structured screenplay for the previous film, end up writing such a hack of a script for this one. Now, there are good moments in this, particularly the surreal elements, such as the dream sequences, or the brilliant underwater sequence, there are some really interesting things in the movie. Also, the cinematography, while not great by any means, is done in a music video style that really lends itself to these sequences, creating potentially "iconic" moments, or "trailer moments." These things are done well. But indeed, that is the real tragedy of New Moon. I won't say that it is an absolutely horrible movie, because there is quite clearly good material there, but unfortunately it is completely underdeveloped and utterly disappointing as a result, especially with regards to the darker themes and the underdevelopment of the Jacob Black-subplot, which to Lautner's credit he did his best.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.4/10 - On the topic of this, it is better than Fast and Furious, which got a 3.6/10, however, my opinions on that film are probably more of a 2-3/10 now.

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Genuinely saddened and disappointed.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Avatar

If you would rather see the movie without any knowledge, which is the best way to see it, don’t read the review until after you have seen it, lest you feel that any spoilers, which I have made my best effort to veil over, have been revealed

In order to mark this historic review, I have skipped my usual course of reviewing each movie in order I have seen them in order for you to get the official verdict on Avatar two days before its world premiere. Having been invited by a fellow esteemed critic (the infamous "you know who you are" source I have previously made reference to) to a press screening, I managed to see Avatar in 3D for free. Incidentally, to do a plug for the cinema holding this press screening, for those of you who live in Belfast or in and about, Movie House Dublin Road is the only cinema in Belfast that does not charge extra money for a 3D feature, so if you are, and you should, see Avatar in it's intended 3D form, see it in the Movie House, and save yourself from the capitalists/money-launderers that be ruining our industry. Anyway, let's talk about Avatar. The film is historic for two main reasons: first off, it is the first feature film in twelve years from "The King of the World" James Cameron. A giant in the past twenty-five years of cinema, with films such as The Terminator and its sequel Judgement Day, Aliens, The Abyss, True Lies and Titanic, his influence and masterful visions have remained with us even in his twelve-year feature absence. Also, as with many previous Cameron movies, he is presenting on pushing the boundaries of the possibilities of cinema, as seen particular in his underwater films, and here, with the use of 3D technology and newly-innovated computer graphics and special effects, and long last, he is able to realise that vision. A brief synopsis without giving away too much, goes that Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, is a former Marine selected for the Avatar programme and travels to a lush jungle-based world called Pandora. Nuff said, it is better to see the movie without knowing anything. With all of the exposition out of the way, both for the movie and the review, let's get down to the big question: Is Avatar a good movie? In truth, Avatar is a good movie. However, to say good would be a fierce understatement and almost an insult to this landmark piece of work, and it is just that. Put it bluntly: AVATAR IS SUPERB! But I'm not allowed to do that, so sorry for the procrastinating, now we're really going. I'll shoot with the usual gob, the acting in the film is, as seen in the ensemble casts of Cameron’s' past films, is suitably great. As the audience eyes and ears into the world of Pandora, Sam Worthington does a great job in the lead role as Sully. One of the aspects of his role that really impressed me was his portrayal of wonder and awe at the beautiful world of Pandora. On more than one occasion referred to as "a child," Worthington gives a great performance that obviously highlights him as a great talent for the next decade, after being the best thing in this years Terminator: Salvation. Also, the character arc in which Sully must make a TOUGH DECISION (spoilers not permitted by my own hand folks, not Cameron's or 20th Century Fox) is portrayed excellently with all the parts involved in conflicting views done aptly and in a very human manner. As ever in virtually every film she is in, Sigourney Weaver is on top form as the idealistic and determined botanist Grace Augustine, in a strong performance that she herself clearly relished. Unlike Ben Kingsley in Fifty Dead Men Walking, who made the mistake of leaning too far in favour of giving his younger counterpart onscreen all of the film without focusing on his own performance, Weaver is clearly aware of this and as an environmentalist and activist herself, injects a great amount of passion into the role of Grace and strong deadpan humour, whilst also letting Worthington take centre stage. Giovanni Ribisi is also very good as the passive-aggressive as administrator Parker Selfridge, in a role which is perhaps as terrifying as any military presence in the film, bringing a lot of reminders with Conservative politician ideology. Finally in the acting department, filling the void of a serious villain such the Alien or Terminator, Stephen Lang gives a very strong performance as Colonel Miles Quaritch. Whilst Ribisi is scary as the government-type in the film, the presence and charismatic machismo of Lang in this film are very scary indeed. Very sinister when warning people, but later showing his true colours as a full-blown psychopath, Lang plays the multiple aspects and strong arcs of this character very well. And the special effects? Well, in agreement with my fellow film critic, this may well be one of the most majestic and beautiful films artistically of the past decade, and as such this could not be achieved without the excellent effects. Cameron believes that this film will hark in a new age of cinema, that said, however beautiful the film is, I hope it doesn't replace 2D cinema. This is by no means a criticism of the film, for Avatar advanced technological innovation has opened no doors to produce a variety of unique and strong films. 60% of the film is made up of special effects, and as such it has such a unique artistic direction, which has been touched upon in the likes of Sin City and 300, but only now has it truly come of age. I am very glad that it has come of age with such a good film. With a lush colour palette that is really amazing for the eyes to look at but not too distracting as to deter from the story, Weta Digital have created perhaps the best realisation of the creation of a believable world with the use of special effects, so to all the animators from me, "You done a good job." This work however, would not be possible without the cinematography or editing departments. Mauro Fiore makes use of the brand-new virtual camera technology and performance-capture stage The Volume with great aplomb, and makes it possible for the lush effects to be realised, without losing any of the quality of the acting performances. Also, Cameron puts his hand in the editing pot, alongside John Refoua and Stephen E. Rivkin, and, bar maybe ten minutes that could have been erased from the film during the transition of the strong ending of the second act onto the climactic act of the film, deliver for the most part a stellar piece of editing. Another thing seen in Camerons' films often, despite them being big, epic blockbusters is that there are always strong underlying themes. With the true mission of the Avatar programme being revealed, we find out that there is alot of corruption and deceit at hand. A very green movie, which condemns the destruction of the environment for the draining of its resources, this message comes across brilliantly during a key moment that closes the second act, which more or less completely lifts any veil that may have covered the underlying theme. Also, quite clearly, there are less than under the surface references that parallel the United States' war on terror, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq and low and behold impending Iran. When we witness a briefing by the Colonel, we see him portray the Navi forest people very stereotypically, despite the fact that they are human, albeit looking very different. I see in Avatar a lot of underlying critiques of environmental destruction, the war on terror and war in general, racism, capitalism and a really savage view on the corruption of human nature. However, it is not all doom and gloom, for glimmers of hope and the goodness of humanity are given glimpses among the darkness and destruction throughout. My final point on the good about the film is director “The King of the World” James Cameron. Cameron has been a very patient man throughout the creative process of making the film. Often known for his perfectionism and ferocious temper, his creative drive must have been aching have waited so long. Having wrote a treatment of the film in 1994, Cameron cited his reasons for not making the film because the technology was not available at the time, and to me that shows true creative smarts. Instead of compromising his vision, he waited until he was able to realise it the way he wanted, and in the process advancing film-making technology by at least ten years. He has once again proved himself to be one of the best directors in the world with his undying perfectionism, a true auteur with the amount of work, time and effort he has put into this project. Avatar is easily for me as a fan who has seen his entire back catalogue (excluding Piranha II, which he was fired from for refusing to compromise with the studio taking final cut, so it’s not really a “James Cameron movie) a masterpiece up there with the best of them. Bar a few script problems (the old action movie quips have returned), particularly in the previously mentioned transition period between the end of the second act and the setting up of the third act, Avatar is certainly up there to be a Best Action Movie of the Decade nominee, and at present is a sure-fire nominee for Best Film of the Year. This is indeed The Return of the King.

The Thin White Dude’s Prognosis – 9.3/10

The Thin White Dude’s Self-Diagnosis – So happy that it destroyed any shred of negative vibes surrounding the hype. Well done Jim!

Oh yeah, James Horner’s score is also very good.


I am posting the review for Avatar two days before official world premiere tonight. Get the verdict now!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Good, The Bad, The Weird

This seems to be continuing in the vein of Transsiberian, in that I am reviewing some films here which may pass through the gaze of more mainstream critics bar the ike of Dr Kermode and what have you. The Good, The Bad, The Weird is a South Korean film by Kim Jee-woon, director of A Tale Of Two Sisters, who was inspired by The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and his love of westerns to create and scribe this project of his alongside writing and producing partners Kim Min-suk and Choi Jae-won. At its basest simplicity, you could say that the film is a remake of the Sergio Leone classic, which it clearly is not, but instead takes the bare bones i.e. three different men on the chase for treasure at a certain location. Bar these details and little things which make nods towards the spaghetti western genre, the film is more or less a completely original piece. In this film, set in 1930s Manchuria, The Bad, a hitman, is hired to steal a map off a Japanese official, which leads to treasure. Unfortunately, The Weird, a thief, gets there before him and intends to claim the treasure for himself. Also on the chase is The Good, a bounty hunter, who is on the hunt for The Bad and becomes aware of the map and becomes involved in the chase for the treasure. Also in the chase for the treasure are the Japanese Army and a Manchurian bandit gang. As one can imagine with this many strands involved, all hell and anarchy ensues throughout the film. However, despite the fact that there are so many strands, the film is very skilfully handled in this respect, more in due time. To start with The Good (clearly no pun intended, seeing as how this my general routine, to all the nitpicking Einsteins of the film community), technically the film is amazing. Maybe its a western thing for me, I don't know, but the cinematography in this film by either Oh Seung-chul or Lee Mogae is excellent (I have searched on IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes and Wikipedia to find out the name of the mystery cinematographer and have been unable to find his or her name, so if anyone who reads this happens to know, please tell me). The lush landscapes and horizons in the film are caught beautifully throughout the film. Also, there is quite clearly some experimentalisation with different types of shots in different portions of the film, creating some shots which are genuinely unique and have a personality of their own, making the film stand out. Finally, unlike the majority of action scenes in films today, especially in American cinema, the cinematographer has directed the cameramen in a way so that you are actually able to see all of the action. For example, in America they have had an awful tendency to shake the camera really fast ever since the Jason Bourne series, so as to create a sense of frantic reality to the situation. However, as is often the case, the "frantic sense of reality" is not actually an ample sense of reality, simultaneously disabling us from being able to distinguish whether or not it is real because we cannot see it, therefore defaulting their claims and reality, while adding to cinema caretakers workload at cleaning up sick in the bathroom. In The Good, The Bad, The Weird, this does not happen. Even while using the digital handheld camera, you are able to see the action onscreen with great clarity, while also creating a great sense of frenetic reality, particularly in the second Ghost Market action sequence with the rain pouring down, echoing Seven Samurai. Also, there are some brilliant helicopter and vehicle shots in the climactic chase, which really capture the expansive scope of the film. Another quality of the film is the excellent score by Chan Young-gyu and Dalparan. This is a really cool score that hooks you into the movie and gives you a real sense of elation any time you here a piece play. The image I get in my head when the music plays is a large mariachi-esque band, with guitars, borons and trumpets in big sombreros playing some really cool numbers to have a samba to. Excuse the stereotypes, but it is really in truth one of the coolest score I have heard in ages. The Latin flavour to the score is a real breath of fresh air when watching this film and is a great contrast to that type of incidental music I have become so sick of in films of late. You know, the ones I am always talking about, with the likes of big orchestral string instruments playing, more or less saying what the film can't: "this is where you are meant to cry." I would couple this score with my favourites of last year, The Wrestler, The Dark Knight and Waltz With Bashir. With regards to the acting, Song Kang-ho is really good as The Weird. One of my favourite Asian actors of today, Kang-ho has a great charisma to him and obviously is a great comedic actor, as seen in The Host, but also is a great dramatic actor, as seen in Park Chan-wook's Joint Security Area and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. Here, his Weird dominates the film, a wise move considering the stripped down, bare bones characters of The Good and The Bad. With a brilliant sense of comic timing and charisma which makes you really feel for the character, regardless of his corrupt and devious nature, and there are many comparisons to be made to Eli Wallach’s role as Tuco/The Ugly in the original source that inspired the film. Finally, the direction from Kim Jee-woon is really dynamic, creating a spectacle that is a real joy to watch. However, despite the fact that I am clearly glowing over it, there are a number of problems with the film. For starters, the film is too long, and does seem to drag on at points in the process of the story. Also, after the climactic chase, the actual ending and wrapping up the film is disappointing. It’s not a case of expectations being defied, it’s more a case of the fact that you feel you have been on a journey with these characters and that a really good climax would only do the film justice. I was contemplating which ending I would include as the version I would review, for the UK/Europe release has a different ending as opposed to the Korean version originale, but both are rather unsatisfactory for different reasons. Jee-woon and Min-suk really should have put more thought into this climax. Which brings me to my final point. If you are going to have three main characters dominate the film, each with their own distinct personalities, never make any of the characters look inferior to the other. To compare this to its source, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ three main characters are each distinct and different, but nonetheless have interesting niches to their personalities. In this, it is like there is a hierarchical ranking in order of character development. Here, The Good is just made to look like a two-dimensional bore with the odd quip (and don’t dare say that about Clint Eastwood), The Bad is merely the Korean, evil equivalent to the kids from Twilight: make a man look unbelievably ripped and give him some eye-liner and a hairstyle, and look pretty for the camera, and huzzah! We have a brilliant subversion of the typical villain. Not! Then The Weird, who is played well by Kang-ho, is pretty two-dimensional in his own way. So in all, the main characters driving the film are not fleshed out well at all. This would more than likely constitute for the film’s odd occasion of jet lag. Finally, plot and dialogue are fairly simplistic. However, The Good, The Bad, The Weird is by no means a bad film. The film gave me an idea to create a new award, Rollercoaster Film of the Year: the film is nothing special, but has a definitive fun factor throughout. With Drag Me To Hell in good company with this, this could be a new category for Year-End Awards. In conclusion, The Good, The Bad, The Weird boasts superb cinematography and sounds, alongside good direction from Kim Jee-woon and a charismatic performance from Song Kang-ho. However, its simplicity, lack of real characterisation and plot deny the film from being anything great, though it is certainly a really fun, rollercoaster of an action film above the level of much of them this year.

The Thin White Dude’s Prognosis – 7.7/10

The Thin White Dude’s Self-Diagnosis - Jolly

Note to blogger, sort out you cutting and pasting, it took me over two hours to do this post because I could paste the text when my connection failed.

Monday, 7 December 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Transsiberian

Here's a little-known but interesting oddity which no doubt has been overlooked by many over the past year. Transsiberian is the new film by Brad Anderson, most famous for directing the sublime thriller The Machinist, starring Christian Bale. The film has been going around the indie circuit over the past year, having its official premiere in the UK at last year's Edinburgh Film Festival, but I have been unable to find an official theatrical release on IMDB, so I am under the assumption that the film went straight to DVD. I first heard about the film through an advertisement for the DVD release in Empire magazine, and was intrigued at the prospect of a new Brad Anderson film and the presence of Woody Harrelson, who just seems to be in everything this year. No really, I mean it. Between playing a blind meat-salesman cum pianist in Seven Pounds, a madman obsessed with Twinkies in Zombieland, and now in Transsiberian he plays a jolly and kind Christian on his return home from a mission in China with his wife, played by Emily Mortimer. And once again, despite being the "name" of the movie, he does play more of a supporting role as opposed to Mortimer's lead role which dominates the film. Anyway, the couple on a "Transsiberian" train from China to Russia encounter another couple, to whom Roy, Harrelson's character warms to, whereas Jessie, Mortimer's character, does not, for reasons to be found out as the movie progresses. To start with the good about the film, the acting in the film is solid. Mortimer does a competent job of portraying what is I must say a difficult character with many different arcs. Also, Ben Kingsley aka Sir Ben, plays a Russian detective in the film and gives a good performance here, with a convincing Russian accent that would, despite us knowing him as Sir Ben, would convince anyone who didn't know otherwise that he was Russian. However, his role does not dominate the screen, and as such he plays very much the role that he did in Fifty Dead Men Walking, playing second fiddle as a supporting player once again. I'm sorry, I've got to say it though, but Woody Harrelson gives the best performance in the film. While in every film he is in he is quite clearly Woody Harrelson, with his distinctive Texas accent, but he has such a brilliant chameleonic quality which means that while this is clearly Harrelson, he is quite clearly also the film's character. In this he portrays just a very nice man, and does it well. Its not a brilliant performance, but by all means it is the best in the film. Also, the fresh and slick cinematography by Xavi Gimenez is solid, managing to maintain a great sense of restraint and control over the technical aspect of the film. Finally, it cannot be denied by any means that Brad Anderson is a talented director with a real niche in the thriller genre. He too shows great restraint throughout, never over-directing at a single point in the film. The big however must come along, and to start with the problems, I must really target the script. Now Anderson and his screenwriting partner Will Conroy are clearly good at writing a script which builds tension wonderfully and creates some interesting characters. My big problem with this film, and to compare it to The Machinist (call me a hypocrite, I know I hate comparing, but sometimes it really is neccessary), The Machinist had all this and more. The big problem with the script is not the development of tension or characters, but the plot itself. The plot is the core to any good script, and virtually every good film full stop. Whereas The Machinist had a really well-structured plot without any holes, this film has real gaping plot holes throughout. Now, there's a difference between not telling us things for the sake of mystique and what have you, but here it is completely over-exploited and over-played. It really annoys me when thrillers have really good formula but leave these holes for the sake of not spending enough time on rewrites. By no means is the plot altogether bad, it just seems structurally very lazy particularly in the last thirty or forty minutes of the film. Also, the plot is too convuluted for its own good. The whole Ben Kingsley Russian Detective aspect of the film could have been eliminated, or if they wanted to follow that route, eliminate the other couple from the script, though their presence is completely neccessary to the story and would garner the neccessity for a near complete rewrite of the film. It gets too muddled and tangled, much to the film's detriment. Also, another problem is that Mortimer's character is quite clearly the dominating character in the film, who to be fair does have a behemoth task with this very complicated character. However, it is my belief, and I'm sure numerous film fans agree, that the effort of acting or underplayed acting should be more so from the lead and more well-developed character than any other actor in the film. Granted, it is a hard role, and maybe I'm being harsh, but I don't believe Mortimer pulled it off, and I didn't have much feeling for the character as a result of her acting, which is quite clearly the point of the role and the characters internal conflicts. Finally, the film, which really does enough potential to be a really solid and genuinely good thriller, ends up being unremarkable, even in its own positive merits. Unremarkable is really the one word to describe the film. It's not horrible or bad, but it's unremarkable. And by the way, in the film Harrelson wears glasses, unlike the poster, which tries to give off one of those slightly confused and scared poses of him for the sake of marketing.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Disappointed

Thursday, 26 November 2009

A Shout Out

Seeing as how I have received numerous comments from very kind and intelligent folks, I thought that I would make the time and effort to make a shout out to a few people and try to include each of them as a shout out at the start of each review. This is kind of similar to what Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo do on their radio show so here goes. "A Shout Out" to Jack's complete lack of surprise. I think Frost/Nixon is one of the better films of last year, I just missed it in time for review, but the acting is superb. It is like a clash of the titans, a boxing match between the old heavyweight champion and his younger contender. I really like Ghost Dog: Way of The Samurai, and Forest Whitaker is brilliant in it, proving he is one the best living actors once again, and it is an overally solid film. I absolutely love Waltz With Bashir. I truly think it is an important film, with amazing style and a story and plot that really packs an emotional punch, not so much as a tear-jerking punch, but one that leaves you in a state of semi-comatose and I am currently toying with whether I think this or The Wrestler is the best film of last year. Once again, I did not unfortunately get down to reviewing it. The second "Shout Out" is for Danland - Movies. Thank you very much for the comment and I am intending to getting down to reading your reviews. My third "Shout Out" is to Dimedude, you know what I think of you anyway: cracking guitarist, solid intellectual and all-round righteous dude: and no, I still have yet to see whether or not The Boat Did Indeed Rock. Finally, a "Shout Out" to HB Steenekamp, please get back to me, you are following my blog and I am unable to access your own and have not heard from you. Incidentally, while I am here, I have got over a grand-hundred posts now, something I only noticed after posting Bad Grammar, so this celebration can never quite be the same. Nevertheless, this is The Thin White Dude signing out to y'all. Peace.

Bad Grammar

Apologies to those who read the blogs and notice the bad grammar. I try my best considering I cannot copy and paste the posts without actually posting them in their simplified manner, so just so you know I can spell and it is a mere issue of speed-typing in paralell with the thoughts in my head.

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Paranormal Activity

Time to be digest on (or be digested by) the new horror film which has "taken the United States by storm." Now, don't let that quote get to your head, because the last time a sleeper hit "took the United States by storm" it was Paul Blart: Mall Cop, so don't forget that this quote is not neccessarily a recipe for a great film, never mind one of the worst films of the year. In a manner, reminiscent to The Blair Witch Project, which did something very similar except it was set in the woods, here we have a very low-budget, short, snappy horror film shot on digital video, creating what is deemed to be a realistic atmosphere. Basically, to cut the story short and get down to throughly dissecting this film, the film is set entirely in one house inhabited by a young boyfriend and girlfriend, with the girlfriend being followed by what she feels is a haunting precence, and the boyfriend attempts to document this precence on camera. Right, that's all you need to know. To get down to the big question on everyone's mind and the tips of their lips, is it scary. Well, yes it is indeed quite scary. For starters, and this is one of the best things about it, the acting, if you could call it that, is thoroughly convincing. First and foremost, this is completely neccessary with the fact that these two characters dominate the film and bar few appearances from minor characters, are the only people who appear onscreen in the film. Both play their parts realistically, with very human reactions emerging from the actions of both the eponymous Paranormal Activity and the way in which the couple interact with one another and their solutions towards the Paranormal Activity. Sorry for the vagueness here, but it would be a real shame to spoil the film, for it is great watching it the first time. Also, while it is clear that there is no real script in place with regards to character development and dialogue, leaving room for improvisation, there is a clearly solid structure to the film. Incidentally, to those who intend to see it, please be patient on it, because the tension and exposition is done brilliantly at the start, and don't walk out like the angry couple a few rows in front of me and my fellow esteemed critic (you know who you are). It really is a movie that rewards ones patience with some heart-pounding tension. It builds slowly and slowly, knowing when to offer us some scares, pull itself back, give us some more, but even scares this time, and so on until by the end there is literally all tension and the balance between safety and (audience) vulnerability become broken down. This is a genuinely smart, intelligent film that knows it's audience. I am very happy to see a horror movie like this come out in the midst of slew like Saw VI, which it incidentally beat out at the box office, showing that if a decent film has been given exposure, then they will flock to it, rather than being forced to eat the superfluous bilge that is dished out as a consumer product every single day. To talk about the techical aspects of the film, the cinematography is solid, showing some the best and most simplistically subtle uses of DV I have seen in a long time. It is a technique often used without skill simply to cut costs or look "realistic," but here it works so well as to add to the believability of the film. Kudos must be given to director and editor Oren Peli, who created this film in order to channel his lifelong fear of ghosts into something positive. Well, good on you I say. You have done something really good, proving that anyone can make a good movie if they channel themselves psychologically into sensing what is good and what isn't. Adressing yourself from me Mr Peli, you are certainly on my shortlists for editing and direction at the year-end awards, because this is some really good solid work. Finally on the good about the film, the "Paranormal Activity" of the film is a really interesting idea, which is perfect for a high-concept film such as this, and is a genuinely sound and unique idea that is suitably scary. Now, to say on what was bad about the film, and there wasn't a lot that was wrong about the film, for starters, the film makes no attempts to be a genuine terror masterpiece, and I feel that there was a lot of potential here for it to be just that. There is a strong underlying creepiness that permeates throughout despite there not being many "screamer-scares," a creepiness found in really solid, intelligent horror classics such as The Wicker Man, The Shining and Hellraiser. However, they do not really capitalise on this I feel, and I really do worry that the scares themselves are not particularly memorable rather than the experience. Unfortunately, this film is quite clearly an experience horror film, and probably with experience films, it is all about how you feel about it the first time you see it. I fear that I probably will not like the film as much second time round, much like Cloverfield after you see it multiple times. I will remain to admire the technical brilliance of the film, but it just is an experience film without any moments that stand out bar one scene which is not exactly capitalised on well. This is it's real outstanding problem. I feel that it will be remembered for about five to ten years max as a genuinely great horror film and after that it will be remembered as a good horror film. Realistically, all films must be looked upon with the power of time and how they test. I think the best example of this is The Battleship Potemkin, the classic Russian film by Sergei Eisenstein. Despite being nearly ninety years old, a silent film in black-and-white and a propaganda film, one cannot deny the power of the images that the film projects despite the change of time. Other examples could be included but the point is made: whilst Paranormal Activity is one of the best horror films of the year, with good acting, characerisation, solid structure and superb techincal simplicity, proving that indeed less is more in this case, the film is not distinct enough to last the test of time and will prove to be a completely different film second time, and while maybe a very good film, is not a masterpiece in my eyes.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Quite happy

Transformers sucks!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Jennifer's Body

And without further adieu adieu, the new, much-hyped new movie from the new Quentin Tarantino of screenwriting as some critics would have themselves think, Diablo Cody. Oh, and did I mention the new MEGAN FOX movie. Apologies already, but it was neccessary and will be continually neccessary for me to refer to MEGAN FOX in caps, because let's face it, it is the big talking point of the movie. Hey, maybe if I say MEGAN FOX in caps, it will come up more on Google and I can get more hits on the blog. MEGAN FOX. Sorry. Compulsion setting in. Anyway plot here goes is that the eponymous cheerleader, played by MEGAN FOX, is possessed by a demon, and starts killing her male classmates and her best friend "Needy" is on the trial to stop her. The reason that Jennifer's Body has been getting such hype is as a result of the precence of the two femmes diabolique of Hollywood are collaborating on a film, the culmination of these forces being that the resulting film is to be some edgy, grungy and dirty cult classic. Quite clearly, this is the reputation that the film is attempting to gain for itself, so that it can in future years be seen in the vein of the likes of The Evil Dead series and the films of Quentin Taratino. For starters, to break tradition on a negative, you can tell this because the film is clearly no masterpiece in any shape or form whatsoever. So basically, that is perhaps my largest problem with the film, because it simply tries too hard, saying "this is a cult classic" rather than let the audience think for themselves and formulate that in their head. This has become a real annoyance for me, and telling the audience what they are supposed to think is a terrible but nonetheless true example of the dumbing down of American cinema, which cannot help but permeate through the whole industry in itself. Anyway, excuse the negative for a moment, because to open on a negative is usually the cue for a bad review, and this is not altogether bad film. To deal with the good here, the two lead acting performances are solid. Amanda Seyfried manages to do the most she can with the least bravado of the two characters, at least keeping her character interesting, even if she is limited in terms of character development, but that is more the fault of the script than anything, especially considering I believe her to be more of a lead actor than MEGAN FOX in this film. And to get onto that topic, MEGAN FOX is probably the best thing about this film. As per proof from the Transformers series, in which she is just window dressing, How To Lose Friends and Alienate People, she has proven her abilities to use her body and comedic wit before. In this film she delivers her best performance thus far in her career, in her first leading role of note. All the neccessary laughs are pulled off perfectly at the right parts, and she has a terrific sense of precence in the film. Mixing up between a genuinely funny, alluring and altogether scary performance, if there is any reason the film is destined to become a cult film, it is because of this performance. So far this year, it is one of the best female performances, and is a real stab in the heart to screenwriters who write Academy Award winning performances for females who portray stereotypical characters. This is a really twisted subversion of the stereotypical ditzy cheerleader role, and without question the best thing about this film. Incidentally, can I just flag up the ever watchable J.K Simmons for giving me a few laughs for all your few minutes onscreen. Needless to say I was disappointed when your character did not take a Donald Pleasance in Halloween-turn. Also, to flag up our other member of the dynamic duo, Diablo Cody writes some damn good dialogue in this film, following up excellently from her brilliant work in Juno. However, unlike Juno, and I'm not going to make silly comparisons like ugh, it has no heart because it doesn't and it's not meant to, but where both films have excellent dialogue and wit, the story and structure of Cody's script here is really at fault. The story and plot is more or less subsidiary here to dialogue and FOX's performance, and story should never, never be subsidiary unless with really darn good reason, which here they don't. Everything is revolved around the next kill, the next scream, the next laugh and so on, progressing us as quickly as possible from point A to point A. Blah blah blah. I have been comparing this to Inglorious Basterds (yes I can say that, so screw you, naysayers) and initially my argument was that this was better because it was shorter. Well, can I say that for all the boring bits in Inglorious Basterds, there was a hell of a lot of good about, and at least QT does take into account that his audience aren't stupid, even if it is a bloated mess and his worst film. Jennifer's Body some good qualities in it, such as sharp dialogue, solid performances from Amanda Seyfriend and particularly MEGAN FOX, the best thing in the movie. However, it tries so hard to be hip and cool and cult that it ultimately falls flat on it's own ass in doing so, for the audience do not appreciate being patronised thank you very much!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Chastised (for a clearly feminist movie it is so patronising. Double standards or what?)

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Michael Jackson's This Is It

Okay, folks if anyone by now does not know the background context behind this film, you have been officially living under a rock for the past year or there is really, really something deeply wrong with you. For those of the, eh, how should I put this, the less informed manner, this film is a documentary film built from footage originally intended for Michael Jackson's archives, covering the production and the run-up to his This Is It tour, which as everyone knows never happened, as a result of the death of Michael Jackson. Yes, he is dead, in case you didn't know. Anyway, excuse me, sorry, it's just it has been rammed down my throat so much over the past few months, and it can't not be annoying to some extent, despite my great respect for him and the fact that his music was among the first I ever enjoyed. It's just that everyone has jumped the bandwagon like never before. You know, you thought Heath Ledger's death had necro-clingers, this is like that up to 11. Alright, post-rant, let's see, to start with the good about the film, Kenny Ortega, director of the High School Musical trilogy, which is a lot better than people give it credit, who was directing the concerts, is on board here and does a really solid job of balancing between documenting the process behind the concerts and making a tribute to the singer. Once again, Ortega proves that he is a master for grand spectacles, taking upon his shoulders a behemoth task and performing it with gusto. Also, for what is essentially a bunch of bits intended for the ever-perfectionist Jackson's archive to study, it certainly is a well-done job, all things considered. What I am so glad that the film-makers and all involved did was that they did not let the movie run too long into overtime. They keep it snappy, easy to digest, and fill in the gaps where appropriate and neccessary. Granted, it does get repetitive through it's structure, which continues in the same pattern throughout (people talking about Jackson, set-up of song, song etc), but at least they decide not to let it go on to the point of extreme boredom, overexploiting the whole thing and not sticking to the grand old principle of less is more. Also, seeing as how he is the subject of the film, mention must be made of Michael Jackson himself. Watching him in this film, whilst he has slowed down a pace or two, he makes up for it for his creativity in the overall dance choreography. His voice however, despite his age, seems as youthful and powerful as ever, as though these literally were his last breathes. The power of the songs in this film cannot help but permeate as they always have, and whilst Jackson may be dead, the songs are infinite and drive the film. Also, the production quality of the concerts that never happened were stellar, proving indeed that these concerts would have been the grandest spectacle on stage over the past decade. However, and this where things will get controversial considering the sensitivity felt towards Michael Jackson at present, there are a number of criticisms that must be flagged up. Like many films which are very good, the film-makers do not seem to make the effort to go that extra bit further and make them masterpieces. Granted, this is a good tribute to Jackson, but it certainly is no masterpiece, and will forever be remembered as the Michael Jackson movie, which is not fair by any means. Also, one thing I have a real problem with is the limitations that have been imposed on the film-makers and that this footage has in itself. In the contract between Columbia Picture and AEG Live, the distributors of the film and the concert promoters respectively, it states not only that the film must attain a PG rating, be under 150 mins long, but that "Under the terms of the proposed contract, the film will have to be screened for Jackson's estate and cannot include any footage that puts the superstar in the bad light." Now, I'm sorry, but if that does not sound like limitations and restrictions laid out for the sake of making a family-friendly, non-controversial, non-lengthy film for the sake of earning a bit of extra money, I don't know what it is. Also, notice that Man In The Mirror is the final song in the movie, considering the song was never one of his "classic" songs, good song or not, but quite simply capitalising on it's recent recognition. Finally, the footage itself has it's limitations. Whilst it is refreshing and nice to see this footage, truthfully I feel a YouTube Channel would have been sufficient and, if you want to put it in financial terms, more successful. Considering the popularity of the Internet these days, releasing a new song every week would have been a master viral marketing campaign, and truthfully, a more fitting tribute to Jackson in my opinion. In all honesty, I found some of the footage in the film to be too gushy and cheesy, and felt that it was not truthful representation, but merely filler, and at certain points I was quite bored, garnering one of my rare film toilet breaks. Nonetheless, despite the flaws in the limitations, causing occasional boredom, for what it is it's an enjoyable, touching tribute to Jackson, despite my resignations.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Iffy

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Up

Finally, after having waited for a considerable amount of time, too long in fact, I am now finally able to review the annual Pixar release, this year's release being Up. To get this off my chest, I will not deny that I absolutely love Pixar. I feel that Pixar are the only animation studio in the world, including Japanese giant Studio Ghibli, that releases consistently great films. Also, Pixar is not just the best animation studio in the world, it is one of the best studio's in the world, going strong both critically and commercially with a resume that can perhaps only in these terms be matched by the likes of Steven Spielberg. Having released what I feel to be their masterpiece Wall-E last year, Pixar have a tough act to follow with Up. In Up, Edward Asner voices Carl Fredrickson, a widower who has been given a court order to move to a retirement home following a debacle with a construction worker, decides to fly away to South America in an aircraft that consists of his house being kept afloat by helium baloons with Russell, a young Scout who has accidentally stowed away on is porch, much to the old man's displeasure. This is quite clearly Pixar once again doing their brilliant high-concept and absolutely magical tales which captivate all with their fantastical and heartwarming nature. To start with what is good about Up, and there is a lot of good about this film, the voice acting is absolutely great. Edward Asner is superb in his vocals as Carl, portraying excellently both the sweet and grumpy sides of this multi-faceted character. Also, Jordan Nagai gives a charming performance as Russell, capturing perfectly the innocence and hyperactivity of his character, also managing to overcome the fact that this could well have been a very annoying character. Direction from Pete Doctor, director of Monsters Inc., is also strong, once again proving himself as one of the most valuable members of the Pixar stable. As seen previously in Monster's Inc., Docter once again injects his own personal morality into the tale, the message of Up being to realise and appreciate all the good in the world all around you, a message which is very uplifting and refreshing considering film's seeming obsession with darkness and edge. This is one of the qualities that makes the Pixar studio so brilliant, always looking at the good in the world, but not unafraid to undertake challenging material. The best thing about Up in my opinion is the script. Here in Up, we are really taken off guard in our introduction to the life of Carl Fredrickson, portraying a very tragic and very human story. Then, throughout the film, Carl rediscovers his humanity, an ultimately heartwarming character arc. Without question however, this would not be a review of a Pixar movie without mentioning it's animation. Once again, the studio outdoes themselves, with the animation here advancing on the human animation seen in their previous project The Incredibles. With their lush colour palett, brilliant designs and contrasting sights from the obviously fantastical to the near photo-realistic, as the innovators of 3D-animation, Pixar prove to all, not that they need to do so already, that they are the kings of the animation world. Whilst certainly Up is a highly commendable film that is one of the year's best, there are a couple of niggling flaws which restrict the film from being a masterpiece. One of the main problems with Up is that Pixar films do attempt to balance out the emotional horizon between sentimentalisation and darkness. While the film stands up only many merits, in Up I feel that the balance teeters too much in the direction of sentiment, without accessing some of the more challenging themes which could have also been adressed. Also, despite containing moments of genuine beauty and majesty at various parts of the film, there are a few scenes during the travels of our characters which do drag on and do seem to be there merely for filler. Despite these flaws, this does not change the fact that Up is one of the best films of the year, with wonderful animation, great vocal performances from Asner and Nagai in particular, alongside a strong story which makes this film another worthy member of the Pixar canon.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Warmed

Friday, 23 October 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Zombieland

Here is now the final part of the comedy trilogy which I have been reviewing this month, starting with the absolutely dreadful Paul Blart: Mall Cop, the perfectly watchable Role Models, and finally, Zombieland. Whether or not the pattern of the movies getting better continues you will find in due course of the review. To get us into context, Zombieland has been one of the more low-key comedies of the year, but as of late, has become a bit of a sleeper hit, having grossed over $60 million on a $23.6 million budget, and has the great privilege, if there can be such a thing, of being the highest-grossing zombie film of all time. In Zombieland, we follow the travels of Colombus, played by Jesse Eisenberg, during the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. Along the way, he meets Tallahasee, played by Woody Harrelson, and the sisters Wichita and Little Rock, during which all manner of chaos occurs for comedic purposes. Whilst chaos and wanton destruction does occur to a great degree here, it is not without reason. In the context of a zombie apocalyspe, most of the stuff here is proportionally funny and not overly ridiculous, unlike many of the Apatow-esque comedies of the moment, which attempt to turn a real-life story into the most ridiculous thing possible, and as such are completely out of balance. The gags in this movie are quick-firing, sharp and completely dead on for timing for much of the way throughout the film. The four leads each play their roles to varying degrees of quality. Jesse Eisenberg gives a great bash at playing the slightly creepy college student, and is a suitably relatable precence in the film, despite his obvious issues. Emma Stone does her job competently, but unfortunately just serves the purpose of window dressing, while Abigail Breslin does a decent job, but her character really is undeveloped like that of Stone. Rather unfortunately for the young actors in the film, it is Woody Harrelson's Tallahasee who really steals the show. Harrelson has always been a great actor, and there is a certain wicked sense of humour which injects into his characters that has made many of his performances so memorable, and it is this sense of humour completely blown up to 11 which makes this character so funny. Harrelson, like his character, seems to have unleashed his inner child, and gives what I feel to be thus far perhaps the best supporting actor role of the year, with a character that could have been your archetypal crazy guy given some life by the ever great Harrelson. Also, first-time director Ruben Fleischer does a good job on what could have absolutely anarchy for a debuting director. My final real pro with regards to this film is, well, two different things combined, but that is the look of the film. From the 60's to the early 80's, you could get away with slightly dodgy looking art direction by covering up with some inventive cinematography, take Jaws for perhaps the best example. Today, audiences are unconvinced and must see a vision onscreen. Like District 9, I feel that they did a perfectly good job in the portrayal of the zombie apocolyspe, shooting well, even if they do at times work their way around it. Though not technically a "zombie" film, I still think the film that portrayed a social epidemic such as this was Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. Unfortunately, as it always seems to, it comes down to the big however. Despite the fact that this is a solid comedy, which I thought was the best comedy of the year bar Bruno, there are a number of real flaws in the film, much to my annoyance considering my enthusiasm towards the film. Firstoff, the two female characters in the film do not really serve any great character purpose, and are just there for more jokes. I'm sorry, I thought they both did very well, but the male characters do dominate the film. Also, there is an obvious imbalance with regards to the jokes and characters. While obviously Tallahasee is meant as a character to get the big woop-woop laughs and Eisenberg the giggles, Stone and Breslin do not really draw as many laughs, and as such become dull as characters, despite perfectly decent performances. Also rather unfortunately, whilst the film is only 88 minutes and is a lean piece of work in many respects, they made the right decision in the cutoff point, because near the end, the film does start to drag on, in great contrast to earlier on. Really, there is only so many variations on the zombie joke before it wears thin. Finally, rather like this year's Drag Me To Hell, it does not strive to be any greater than it is. Granted, it is nice to have rollarcoaster movies like this at times, every movie should strive to be great. With regards to horror-comedy, An American Werewolf In London for one breaks out of it's rollercoaster leashes and becomes a genuinely fantastically funny and terrifying work of art. Here, it does not do much but serve to conjure a few laughes. Please don't take this as an ending on a downer. Overall, I enjoyed the film very much, got a good few laughs out, and Woody Harrelson excels in a great performance.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.3/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Pretty happy

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Role Models

It seems that I currently seem to be doing a run-through on some of the "notable" comedies of the year, what with the hideous Paul Blart: Mall Cop, this film and the upcoming review for Zombieland. Anyway, new gross-out comedy in the vein of the slew of Judd Apatow releases as of late, here we have Role Models. In this film, Danny and Wheeler, played by Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott, are forced to partipate in a big brother-esque program in order to serve out their 150 hours of community service as a result of their crashing into a school statue while promoting the sales of their energy drink. Danny is paired up with Augie, an older kid who has a passion for live action role-playing games and Wheeler is paired up with Ronnie, a potty-mouthed youth with an obsession with breasts. Of course, any number of anarchic things ensue throughout the film, much to the belly-laughing pleasure of the audience. Or so the readers will find out. To start with what is good about it, the people casting the film have cast the right actors in the lead roles. Paul Rudd is an immensly likeable precence onscreen, but is also very funny, a genuinely underrated actor who plays his part quite well here. Sean William Scott too plays his role well, however, the character is more or less Stifler from American Pie with a couple of extra summers behind him. Also, Christopher Mintz-Plasse of Superbad/McLovin fame plays his character well, which while being more or less a spinoff of McLovin, at least has a character arc which injects a bit of heart into the film, and likewise with Bobb'e J. Johnson, who injects these same qualities into a stereotypical character. Whilst otherwise these stereotypical roles may have been a problem with me, unlike many of the other gross out Apatow comedies of which it shares similarites, it does have heart and meaning to it, which does set it apart. Also, in both the comedic and serious senses, the dialogue is solidly written, making for at times quite an enjoyable film. It is rather a shame that something like this makes less money than the Judd Apatow comedies, because in many respects, it really is better. I have a hunch if Apatow's name was on the poster, the film would have made another $50 million. However, despite it's obvious goods, there are some issues involved. For example, while the script is solidly written with regards to dialogue and the development of the gags, it is unfortunately really nuts-and-bolts and predictable. I mean, let's face it, who won't know how the movie ends by about ten minutes into it? You would have to be stupid. Also, Elizabeth Banks is given a rather misdemeaning role. She is a rather funny actress, as seen in The 40-Year Old Virgin and Zack and Miri Make A Porno. Here her talents are completely underutilised and she is given the unfortunate role that is given to many young actresses, the annoying girlfriend or unfunny, serious character. On the topic of this, Jane Lynch is cracker as Gayle Sweeney in this, delivering what is the best performance in the film, a multi-faceted character who could be taken seriously but her deadpan humour is pulled off so well to the point that it can be interpreted either way. A potential nomination for Year-End Awards is at the of my mind with regards to the Best Supporting Actress award. Anyway, direction of the film is poor by David Wain. As a comedian himself, he really should know better, and at times the film does descend into moments of unfunny, uncontrolled anarchy, reminiscent of moments of the worst gross-out comedy. Ultimately in my opinion, while having some great gags and enjoyable performances, the film is condemned by it's inability to distinguish itself from any other gross-out comedy out there, but nonetheless, it is certainly a good film I could watch a second time over.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Inbetween

Saturday, 3 October 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Paul Blart: Mall Cop

And as the Monty Python crew would say, "Now for something completely different," and never has the case been more true, with the brutality of Bronson acting as a stark contrast to the family-friendly comedy that is Paul Blart: Mall Cop. To fill you in readers on some facts regards Paul Blart, the film was made for a relatively modest in Hollywood $26 million and has become a real surprise success financially, return over $200 million dollars, returning profits eight-fold. And how exactly it returned this money I will get to in due time. Anyway, to start on the plot, Paul Blart is an overweight single parent divorcee, who has failed to pass his State Police physical due his passing out as a result of hypoglycemia. Blart, down on his luck with regards to his love life and feeling low about himself, befriends a young woman who runs a kiosk in the mall that he acts as security guard. However, things go pear-shaped when a group of thieves attempt to use credit card codes to steal $30 million take hostages in the mall, Blart is the only security guard left in the building, and as a result, it is up to him to save the day. Now, from what I gather, and surely this must have been the intention of the film-makers, is that Paul Blart is supposed be a representative symbol of white-collar America. He is a man who works to put food on the table for his daughter and his mother, at times feels pretty down on himself, and is, of course, overweight. Now, please, any American reading this do not be offended, but this is merely a stereotype which Americans have become associated with as a result of films like this and the consumerist culture: it's not you fault! It's the bureaucrats and bourgeoisie! Anyway, excusing digressions and justifications, this is what Paul Blart as a character seems to represent, to me you would have to be a fool not to realise this. And this brings me to what is good about the film. Truthfully, Kevin James I feel does play the Paul Blart character from this "typical American" perspective rather well, and also injects not neccessarily what I would call a charm, for he is not a charming fellow, but rather in my opinion a warmth, a kindness and a sense that this character is really just a nice guy. Seeing someone in a lead role play character who doesn't seem to have any dark side or dark arc to their character is very refreshing to see nowadays. Blart is almost a symbol for purity in this sense, a characterisation of good against evil. Also, I cannot deny that there are the odd giggles, mostly as a result of Kevin James' Blart. However, as much as I was warmed by the character Blart, this is not a good film. In fact, it is certainly one of the worst films of the year. The only reason that I was able to keep watching was because of the warmth of the Blart character. Maybe that was the smokey haze that covered everyone else from all the crap of the film. For starters, the plot is absolutely predictable as anything and completely atrocious. The central plot, which sees Blart seeking love, is so corny and so cheesy that it is beyond annoying and quite simply would drive one to the edge of sanity if it were not for the good nature of Blart. Also, the hook of the film, which sees the thieves take over the mall and Blart attempting to save the day is completely stupid. Using freerunners and scary people dressed like skaters contrasted to the fat Blart, this is a completely empty attempt at building tension and is completely farcical in the worst way possible in that you are actually able to tell what is a joke and what isn't. It's like those signs in a taped television interview that highlight "APPLAUSE." It is like the film-makers are telling you when to laugh. I was actually talking to a friend (you know who you are) with regards to this film. He said that there was one good gag in the film, and that is when Blart rises out of a ball pit via his segueway in a clear nod to Nosferatu. Now I'm sorry, I know I'm a grumpy critic, but for me, the fact that when a friend says that the film's best laugh was a nod to another film which is incidentally now 87 years old, I think that just proves how bad the film is. From a technical standpoint, the film is more or less non-existent, I don't even remember there being music in the film, the cinematography and editing simply serve their purpose, and the direction is more or less non-existent. The big question: Why has Paul Blart made so much money? Answer: America. The film has only made all this money in America because it is exactly the kind of film that appeals to middle-America. It represents everything that the Conservative Republicans would like to see in every American, and despite the fact that there are good people in America, this movie's financial success only unfortunately seems to demean the country's reputation. I mean, who buys this stuff. It is so bad. This is like the kind of homily you would see in a church. Everything is about symbolism. It's not about the story, or how interesting it is, it is about what represents what. Incidentally, religion is more interesting than this film, that much is certain. To cut myself short, the only appropriate place for Paul Blart is on a Saturday Night Live sketch, for as a comedy character, quite frankly he does not deserve our time.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 1.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Deeply infuriated

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Bronson

Apologies for the delay on my past reviews, but I have reviews for the movie for which this review is the subject and Paul Blart: Mall Cop coming up. Anyway, here is Bronson, a movie has been generating a great amount of it's attention due to it's notoriety, being labelled as a "Clockwork Orange of the 21st Century." And in many respects, I won't deny that that label is rather fitting, despite it being one of those typically cliche things that lazy critics will say about a movie. Story goes that this a biopic based on the life of British prisoner Charles Bronson, who has gained notoriety himself for having spent only four months outside of prison since 1974 and being labelled "the most violent prisoner in Britain." Now, the film is mostly fictional, which I have no problem with, seeing as how fiction can sometimes tell the truth to a story even better than fact, lies or not. That has to be got off the plate, for this is only partially based on the Concrete Coffin autobiography by Charles Bronson, which happens to be one of my favourite books. To start with the good, Tom Hardy gives a superb lead performance as Bronson, in what might well be the best lead performance of the year thus far. Putting on three stone of muscle in a strict training regimin, Hardy certainly looks the part of Bronson, and creates a terrifying and fascinating physical prescence out of Bronson, which perfectly appropriate for the mystery and almost superhuman persona which he has created for himself. Also, he displays the different facets of Bronson's psyche brilliantly. Having read his book, I do know a good bit about Charles Bronson's way of thinking and enigmatic persona. The key to Hardy's performance as Bronson is contrast. He contrasts his outright disgust with himself at times with the grandoise and charming persona he creates of himself justifying his belief with great humour. Also, he contrasts the violent and brutal phsyicality of Bronson with a delicately, if slightly subversive beauty to be found in his drawings. Hardy really does, use a cliche, become Charles Bronson. Also, the film's use of soundtrack is rather interesting, juxtaposing what is happening onscreen, often in the ironic sense, with some piece of music which in a strange way, because of the strength of it's ironic use, makes sense. Also, the cinematography is solid, shot well in digital video for a very low budget of £150,000. Despite an obvious lack of financial buck to sit back on, the cinematographers don't shy away from making the most out of it, capturing some genuinely great images onscreen at certain points. Finally, the film is very daring and brave, perhaps even groundbreaking to a certain extent with it's rather unflinching portrayal of violence and the brutality of prison life, but not without it's humour. The film shows extended scenes of intense violence throughout, but it's real brutality is the torment and destitude of a life which Charles Bronson is forced to live. While Bronson is certainly a very good movie, it is certainly not without it's flaws at that. The big flaw, which spreads off like a virus and contaminates numerous aspects of the production, is the fact that the film is completely over-stylised. Now, I mentioned the unflinching nature of the film, which is a style in itself, but the film attempts really to stick it's hand in every sweety jar of cool styles in order to play all their cards. Instead of what I feel should have been done, and focusing on the brutality with spurious uses of black humour, the film on numerous occassions deviates from material whenever it starts to get interesting, particularly with regards to exploring the more serious nature of Bronson's psyche. While the onstage Bronson narrating his own story is well-played by Hardy, it is a completely misjudged and inappropriate for the project concept which does nothing but make the film seem like some kind of music video on MTV. Things like this and the animation sequence are silly and pointless in my opinion, inappropriate to the film because there are so many different styles. The writing is frantic and deranged, like the mind of Bronson. Granted, maybe that's what they were trying to reflect, but surely they could have pulled that across better rather than having a bunch of bits mashed together. Clearly director Nicolas Winding Refn is having problems in controlling the beast that is his movie about Charley Bronson, and not that of the real beast himself. However, the film is certainly not without it's pros. It is, even with these annoyances, as an oddity, a very good film, with a behemoth of a performance by Tom Hardy that swallows up the entire film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.8/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Mesmerised by Hardy's performance

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Inglourious Basterds

And no, for those of you who don't know, that is not a typo, that is just as director Quentin Tarantino would say about the title, describing it as the "Tarantino way of spelling it," which pretty much sums up the entire mood of the film. Inglourious Basterds as I have checked has gotten a great amount of critical success, and those who are negative about the film are usually negative about Tarantino. To make this clear, I am currently neutral with Tarantino. He made two superb films in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, I missed Jackie Brown, Kill Bill was sorely underrated and I really did not like Death Proof. This review will be conducted with a completely unbiased view, seeing as how I still have enough respect for Tarantino after the blip on his CV that was Death Proof. Most who have not liked this film are always slandering what is the quintessential Tarantino style, that of fast-paced dialogue, stylistically excessive violence and non-linear storylines. Whether he likes it or not, that really is the Tarantino style. Anyway, this is not about Tarantino style, this is about his latest film. The story, or stories for better of a word, summed up in as few words as possible goes, that in Nazi-occupied France, two different plots are formed to destroy the Nazi leadership, that of a young French Jewish cinema proprieter and that of the eponymous "Basterds." Didn't do too bad did I? Once again like many of Tarantino's films, this is an episodic film with different interconnecting strands tying together the story. To start at the start, and at the good, the first chapter "Once Upon A Time... In Nazi-Occupied France" is a stellar piece of film-making, and perhaps one of the best extended openings to a film in a decade. The chapter perfectly establishes the first of the many plot strands in the film and also manages to encapsulate the mood of the film in one extended sequence. Furthermore, it establishes the villain of the piece, Colonel Hans Landa, played by the magnificent Christoph Waltz just about as well as one could possibly. He comes across in this scene as absolutely terrifying and completely sinister, yet the entire time there is an ironic and twisted sense of humour to be found in the fact that he is so polite and controlled the entire time. Very much the opposite of the stereotypical screaming Nazi, Waltz delivers a truly original performance which subverts the original perceptions of an evil Nazi, and will doubtless be imitated by many. Also, for a scene that is simply just dialogue, the camerawork is excellent, capturing the essence and mood of the scene to perfection, but not without maintaining a sense of stylishness. Also, the section is written fantastically, particularly for Waltz's Landa, giving him a great stepping stone for the rest of the film. Unfortunately, with such an amazing opening, it is perhaps inevitably a tough job to live up to, but never did I think the film would go so off the wall. Nonetheless, the film is not without it's pros outside of that incredible introduction. Brad Pitt plays a very solid comical/serious role in the leader of the "Basterds" Lt Aldo Raine. Nailing the thick Tennessee accent, Pitt both manages to parody the typical portrayal of the "tough guy" role, yet injects it with enough humour of his own to make his performance stand out in a typical leader role that could have seen him well overshadowed. Also, Melanie Laurent plays the French Jewish Shoshanna to the best of her capabilities, even if the role is ultimately a stereotypical one that needs rewritten. One role which hasn't been mentioned by critics and I think has been sorely overlooked is that of Martin Luttke as Adolf Hitler. His Adolf Hitler is a brilliantly and deliberately over-the-top portrayal of the dictator which fits in exactly right with the mood and tone of the film, which is just plain insanity. Also, as mentioned, the camerawork is very slick and the cinematography and editing makes the film look the part, so from a technical standpoint, two thumbs up. However, this is where the gribes are going to start, and boy does this critic have a lot of gribes. To start with the pithy, will Tarantino please stop casting his friends in his films because they are his friends?! I mean, Eli Roth in a main role. Eli frickin "Holy Christ, it's that guy who made that crap torture movie, yeah, Hostel man," Roth is in a main acting role. It is a role written simply for the purpose of having Roth in the movie. All he does is look expressionless. In all seriousness, if you were to mistaken Roth's face with some unmoving totem pole, you could quite easily forgiven. He is not wooden, this is solid stone. Also, with all due respect to Tarantino, this stands as proof that the guy has literally gone insane. I mean, people say that the great Werner Herzog is a madman. Madman or not, and I believe not, he's an artiste, to say that Herzog is a madman alongside the anarchy that is witnessed onscreen in Inglourious Basterds is like comparing The Wizard Of Oz and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Here come the big grimes. For a start, the film is far too long and the script is completely unstructured and unneccessarily excessive. I'm not one of those people who likes my films prim and proper and unwilling to push boundaries, but this is not just overstepping the boundaries of sanity, this is quite dilligently defying all logic and meaning and is more close to the drawings of that of an inmate in Arkham Asylum. For starters, the film has way too many plot strands, and is at times like two or three different movies. An idea that came to my head just there was that Tarantino could have focused on one side of the story in each movie and attempted to make this movie his first franchise. Idea and a half eh? The worst example of this is the inclusion of the British in this film. This is a subplot which takes up between twenty and thirty minutes of the film, yet serves no purpose but to introduce Diane Kruger's character. Surely Tarantino has enough sense to write her in in a different manner? But no, he has been blinded by his own madness. In the scene in the British chapter in the bar, I in fact for the first time in ages felt the eyes going down and the dizzyness coming over my head. Yep, I very nearly fell asleep at Inglourious Basterds. With the film being as long as it was as well, I think if I fell asleep in this film I wouldn't have woke up, regardless of the noise and mayhem. Quentin, if you ever read this, I am sorry if I insulted you by calling you insane, but it's just that the first chapter was so tremendous and that I was so disappointed by the film's outcome after such great promise. Next time, in all seriousness, please please learn to compress your stories and make a lean mean machine of a film like we know you are able to. The story for Inglourious Basterds is too big for one film. That's why Kill Bill worked being released in two parts: as a four-hour piece together it works too, its just that you dedicate four hours to a story which is smaller than this story, which is two-and-a-half hours. Also, write less sub-plots as simple excuses to make time on the film. Finally, please don't rush your next film. Work on it and labour for it. This could have been your magnum opus, but instead you rushed too damn quickly to get the film out. I know you have been working on this film for the best part of a decade, but don't be so impatient. Paul Verhoeven had been working on 2006's Black Book since the end of the 1970's and spent six years after Hollow Man attempting to bring it to the screen before final realising his vision. So, in conclusion, while there is some solid acting, particularly from Christoph Waltz, who is certainly up for the end of year Best Supporting Male Actor awards, cinematography, editing and dialogue, the film is ultimately destroyed by it's structural flaws in it's script and plot and the uncontrolled anarchy which Tarantino presents onscreen, which is clearly a reflection of his direction and writing in this film.

On a further note, this has been hard for me to criticise, with my Dad having paid for VIP seats at the Oddyssey (£12 each!) and the fact that I do genuinely like Tarantino, so I hope you all appreciate the effort. Toodles!

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - 6.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Deeply saddened and disappointed.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - District 9

Often lazily referred to by people as this year's Cloverfield, the phrase is nonetheless appropriate in many ways. Both are science-fiction films, both are directed by first-time directors in a documentary-esque manner, the films are produced by far more famous producers, J.J Abrams and Peter Jackson respectively. However, where Cloverfield was a romping adrenaline rush of a film, this here is a completely different beast. While Cloverfield exists really as an exciting entertainment film, this is far more dense and deep than last year's mystery film. The story goes that in Johannesburg in 1982, an alien ship suddenly appears and does not move, and the aliens inside must be kept somewhere, so a camp is built for them in order to keep them housed. The film is presented in a rather unique manner. In contrast to the much overly-used at times recent style in which films are shot with a digital camera in a documentary style, for while this is used for numerous scenes, it is also presented in digital film, faux interviews and faux documentaries, so as to create a story which is as grounded in reality as it possibly can be. Which is really what set's this movie apart from the rest of these films. While most attempt to ground their films in reality, they really more or less disconnect their audience from the action, whereas with this you completely involved. To start with the good of this film, of which there is a lot, I was greatly impressed by Sharlto Copley as Wikus van der Merwe. In what truthfully could have been a nothing role and merely an excuse for an effects movie to exist, Copley completely grasps this role with both hands reached out, giving a role that both surprised and impressed me with it's multi-facetedness. Copley improvises all of his dialogue during the eviction sequence, a sequence which is key to setting up the hypocrisies and three-dimensional portions of his character. Also, he is genuinely well written as a character otherwise, with his journey throughout the film giving him a rather interesting character arc, which sees him transform as a human being throughout the course of the film. Also, Neill Blomkamp does a brilliant job of directing this piece, especially as a first-time director. This is a project that even Peter Jackson, the film's producer would have found challenging, but Blomkamp makes the film's direction and focus seem so relaxed throughout. Another thing that is pulled off brilliantly here which done very rarely these days is that this is quite clearly a science-fiction as much about humans as it is aliens. The film's depiction of the suffering of the aliens is quite clearly a social commentary on slavery, with the way that the unwitting aliens are locked up and isolated and on xenophobia and racism in the way that the human's treat and exploit the aliens, such as the slang name "prawn" being used to refer to them as a result of their resemblance to the food. Also, not only is it a social commentary, a good one at that, it is a very scathing satire of capitalism, the arms trade and the security forces of America in general. This fits with the argument very much that only foreign directors can make satires on America, such as Robocop by Paul Verhoeven being the prime example. Finally with regards to the themes, it is also as much about human nature as anything else. The film suggests to the viewer, is it really humans who are corrupt, or are they corrupted by the world around them? It is questions like this which really challenged the viewer. Also, one thing that must be talked about and must be noted by producers, particularly in our current economic climate. Transformer 2: Revenge of the Fallen was made for a grand budget of $200 million as one of the most expensive films ever made. If anything, the visual effects in this are as good, if not better, and let's face it, guess which is the better movie. District 9 was made for a budget of $30 million small by Hollywood standards, yet the effects and action sequences hit with the panache of a movie of five times this budget. The production of this film is stellar on the part of Jackson, and he deserves commendation for producing a Hollywood blockbuster of a film at it's best and keeping the film relatively low-budget by Hollywood standards. This film and Cloverfield stand as proof that you can make damn good Hollywood blockbusters for lower budgets and beat at their own game by making damn good films full stop. Producers should be released ten of these films a year intead of bloated messes like the Transformers franchise. If you want to look at it selfishly and financially, The Transformers films were made for a budget $350 million together. Together they made over $1.5 billion. While District 9 is still is the cinema, with it's current $120 million gross, I think it will leave with $140 million at an estimate. If you made ten District 9's for $30 millions, estimated gross would be $1.4 billion. Oops, I'm sorry, the Wombles (my word for moguls, coincidentally, is quite like muggles) are down $100 million. Don't worry, because you've still got $50 million left, you can make another one, just to be sure. It's that easy. And, I forgot to add, with the $20 million left over you can make some really good low-budget films. Overally revenue at rough estimate: $1.8 billion. With money like that, I could fund my entire film career for life and have about nine tenths of it left over! Anyway, excuse the way off topic digression, we'll get back to District 9. Unfortunately we have come to that stage where I must point out the film's issues, of which there are few but halt the film's acension to the higher echelons of science-fiction. At 112 minutes, the films around twenty minutes too long, and a shorter film would certainly have made the themes which the film-makers are trying to get across come more to the forefront. Also, while the action sequences certainly are very impressive, they at times lack effectiveness and can be quite numbing, disconnecting us from the reality that the film is quite clearly entrenched, the best action sequence being between Wikus, the alien Christopher Johnson and the MNU operatives on their attack on the building. Also, at times the script is rather troubling, particularly as the film gets on, suffering from the old syndrome in science-fiction of such a strong film throughout hitting a real dead end. You just feel that while it is entertaining, the film really has just given up and decided to revert to the primitive excuses resorted to by the likes of Michael Bay and Tony Scott. Is it a masterpiece? No it is not, but it is certainly a great film, a genuine suprise and a real pleasure to watch, proving that 2009 might well be the year of the re-emergence of serious science-fiction with Moon also heading up that category. All and all, a good, solid film that really touches all bases (no connotations please) in the variety of film audience member's categories.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Pleased

Saturday, 12 September 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Let The Right One In

Here I have on my hands today is a movie which has been highly anticipated by myself and rather unique in cinema in that it's attention is not coming from resounding box-office success or awards or critical acclaim, but more on the power of word-of-mouth. Let The Right One In has been creeping around the whispers of film fans for much of the past year. As a result of these whispers and missing the film in the cinema, I eventually bought the book, thinking that this may well be just an alright book which has made into a greatly successful film. However, I fell in love with John Ajvide Lindqvist's book. The story itself is an absolute original, the likes of which are hard to come across these days in all forms of creativity, so there is already solid footing, with Lindqvist serving here as screenwriter adapting his own book. The story goes that young loner Oskar, an eleven-year-old Swedish boy in the 1980's, who live with his single mother, meets the mysterious Eli, who has moved in next door. A friendship develops between the two, with the discovery by Oskar with regards to Eli's strange habits that she is a vampire. While this is revealed by confession relatively well into the movie it's not exactly a spoiler, of which there are numerous plot twists and turns throughout, though none are really inappropriate. To start with what is good about the movie, let's start with the two young leads. The entire movie is laid upon the shoulders of the two leads in this film, and if these roles were to be unsuccessful and unconvincing then the whole movie would have been for nought. When casting the film, it took the film-makers over a year of auditions to find their two leads, something which is unheard of today with regards to a casting process. The meticulousness of the casting process has paid off to say the least. Kare Hedebrant gives a strong performance as the twisted and tormented young Oskar, creating a genuinely scary at times child but never unsympathetic despite his introverted and ocassionally violent tendancies. These aspects of angst and reclusion are really well contrasted with the more relatable aspects of his character, that of the inner child in everyone which we can all relate to. Also, Lina Leandersson delivers her role as the young vampire with great intelligence. Similar to the role played by Hedebrant, she must contrast a different aspect of her character, that of being a supernatural creature, with that of the character original being and instinct in many ways, the inner child. The aspect of childhood and inner child is explored brilliantly in this film, and both of the lead actors are certainly in the short-lists for my year-end awards for lead acting. Also solid with regards to this film is the direction of Tomas Alfredson, who truthfully brings to the screen, excuse the cliche, an unfilmable book. He has quite obviously done great work with the lead actors, making their chemistry and relationship work brilliantly and consistently throughout. Also, this is a film which does not go over-the-top with regards to it's direction. Alfredson directs with such restrain but dedication to the material throughout that one cannot help but admire what he has crafted, and himself is on the short-list for the year-end awards. Another aspect of the film which worked for me surprisingly well was the composition. Normally, while I do not like to say I like a specific type of composition, I absolutely hate it whenever films have scores which tell me when to laugh, when to cry et al. However, the score of this film, which is one of these grand scores filled with orchestra to convey emotion, actually fits with this film. It did not annoy me, and I was very concious of this throughout. I think that this score which was full of emotion perfectly fitted the delicate poetic romanticism which is prominent throughout, but is also reminiscent of Pan's Labrinyth in it's dark fairy-tale manner. Finally, the cinematography, while certainly nothing new or innovative, is perfect for this film and not over-the-top, once again perfectly restrained with story and emotion being key. So, I'm one is under the assumption by now they are reading a glowing review? Well you're right, but one can't help but point out one specific flaw which stops it from hitting the upper echelons of film. Yes, the film is certainly a masterpiece, but there is one specific flaw which really annoys me. In this story, there is a sub-plot which is in more detail in the book, which I have no problem with but here, the characters still play a key part to the story, but their characters are very two-dimensional, despite their key part in moving the story on and getting a great amount of screen-time. Now Lindqvist, while being perfect for the job of writing a screenplay to his book, has a tough job, which while at times admirably handled, particularly with regards to Oskar and Eli, is not entirely pulled off. Whereas the character of Hakan is stripped down brilliantly, removing an entire sub-plot involving him, but keeping certain elements which make his character fit in, the characters of Lacke, Gosta, Virginia and Jocke are merely there and completely undeveloped despite their significant screen-time in the supporting manner. While obviously things must be stripped down in adaptation, this aspect is not pulled off properly and proves to be a great annoyance. However, despite this Lindqvist screenplay is the nice, lighter and poetic side of the Let The Right One In story as opposed to the dark, brutal nihilism in which Oskar and Eli's friendship emerges. All in all, bare the odd screenplay problem, which should have been expanded, although it is hard to balance this between the focus on Oskar and Eli, the film is a masterpiece and a true original, bringing an amazing to life onscreen and exposing a modern-day fairy tale to a wider audience.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Touched