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