Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - MacGruber


Directed by: Jorma Taccone

Produced by: Lorne Michaels

John Goldwyn

Ryan Kavanaugh

Seth Meyers

Akiva Schaffer

Written by: Jorma Taccone

Will Forte

John Solomon

Starring: Will Forte

Kristen Wiig

Ryan Phillippe

Val Kilmer

Maya Rudolph

Music by: Matthew Compton

Cinematography by: Brandon Trost

Editing by: Jamie Gross

Studio: Relativity Media

Distributed by: Rogue

Universal Pictures (DVD/Blu-Ray only)

Release date(s): May 21, 2010

Running time: 99 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $10 million

Gross revenue: $9, 259, 314

The broken record that I am is jumping back and forth in a perpetual, never-ending apology, although with good reason. I am getting rather cross at my continual apologizing and am quite sick of the fact that I am only at my current rate averaging one review every two weeks. This one has been waiting on the backburner for literally that long, so I figure it is about time I get down to it. On better notes, I will also have reviews for coming for Despicable Me, Cemetery Junction and The Crazies. Also, this is my first review on my new MacBook laptop, which is simply brilliant, and a pleasure to type on. I won't normally talk up products or big consumer machines, but one has give to them credit for the iPod.

Anyway, let's talk MacGruber. This film is based on a Saturday Night Live sketch, which itself was a parody of MacGyver. SNL has a tradition of occasionally adapting some their more successful sketches into feature films, the most notable examples probably being The Blues Brothers and Wayne's World, other examples being of varying quality in terms of critical and box-office reception. Will Forte reprises his role as MacGruber, who is brings himself out of self-imposed retirement in an Ecuadorian monastery in order to track down the brilliantly named Dieter von Cunth, played by Val Kilmer, who is shown at the beginning of the films stealing a nuclear warhead. MacGruber assembles a team, including Lt. Dixon Piper, played by Ryan Phillippe and Vicki St. Elmo, played by Kristen Wiig. So, the table is set for a hilarious comedy that parodies and lampoons 1980's action films.

What could possibly go wrong, after all, it's a tried and tested formula that's worked before, eh? To give the film some credit, although any more than listing the following gags would be to overstep my boundaries, there are some funny bits to give MacGruber its due. The scene in which Vicki dresses up as MacGruber in the coffee shop is funny and the "incident" (for those who really want to see it, I won't spoil it) that befalls the team that MacGruber assembles stand out. Also, WWE star The Big Show's appearances in the film conjure a number of titters in a real against type role. However, the best gag of the film is undoubtedly the name Dieter von Cunth. For anyone who cares to look up the translation, whilst it's more blunt, it is by no means any funnier. Also, while obviously a jokey name, it sounds enough like a real villains name to make it both funny and knowing. The various plays-on-words, "lets pound some Cunth" that revolve around this name are just tremendous and represent the peak of the film's ability to conjure a laugh from me.

Bar some giggles (uproar at Dieter von Cunth), MacGruber does not have much to offer in the way of not just laughs, but anything. The acting in the film "comedic" performing at its unfunniest. Playing a controversial sadist in MacGruber, Forte completely hams everything up to ridiculous proportions. Remember when Nigel Tufnel mentioned how he likes his speakers at 11 and not 10? The thing is that Forte and everything else involved go too far past 11 and in the end give us what has to be the most absurd film I have seen since Marmaduke. Forte isn't even a funny sociopath, just an annoying prick. While this may not be the case, after all, no one shoe size fits all, the film gave me nothing to find endearing or vaguely amusing about the character of MacGruber.

I feel that I have pertinent points to make here regarding this, as I am currently reading Irvine Welsh's Filth, whose protagonist D.S. Bruce Robertson is one of the most morally corrupt characters in the history of the written word. However, despite the fact that he is actually more of a prick than MacGruber, there is something about this man, through the skills of Welsh as a writer, that makes the reader sympathize with him: I feel nothing for MacGruber bar unadulterated hate. This unamusing sociopath should not return to the monastery, but retreat to a bear's cave. Then again, I wouldn't want to subject a bear to this boring prick. Jorma Taccone, John Solomon and Will Forte himself must bear a great amount of responsibility for this monstrosity of a film being birthed from whatever mother's anus it came from. The film is murder-by-numbers in the worst way possible, both abiding by the clichés of the 1980s action film genre and the clichés of the action film parody genre, so we have a double failure here. Structurally, it is incredibly simple and stripped down. If the script were a biological organism, it would be a naked man running around without either his clothes or his skin. The dialogue, which we are expected to eat up, is god awfully unfunny bar the obvious Dieter von Cunth.

While not shot or directed very well, I do have to give the film-makers credit for keeping the film relatively low-budget at $10 million. It would be a shame to spend any more money than is necessary to prove the point that someone can make a terrible film. Also, signs are good that the film did not recoup its budget, so according to the way the cookie crumbles in the horrible capitalist hub that is Hollywood, there will definitely not be any sequels: you live by the sword, you die by the sword, so ha ha ha ha ha! Want to make a boorish and excessive bordering on stupidity film, you go ahead and do so, but this is living proof that people are not going to accept bad films forever. Jean Beaudrillard is becoming increasingly prophetic in the years following his death, as is Philip K. Dick regarding the media and the world that we live in. If the film had lived up to the hilarity and standard found in the name Dieter von Cunth, the film would have been great, except that it isn't.

MacGruber was a shit sandwich movie that masqueraded as nothing less than a shit sandwich, and got no better a reception than a shit sandwich. The Naked Gun done this twenty years ago, when the 1980s action movies were still being churned out, and is the only film (along with its successors and Team America: World Police) worth watching if you want to study a worthy parody of this genre of film. Rent them out, or even better buy them, I got the Naked Gun Trilogy for under £10 in great little three-disc set. Do not, under any circumstances, rent or buy MacGruber, lest it gets a cult audience on DVD. If you want a recent example of sociopaths on film, although I didn't like it much, rent Observe And Report. Or better still buy The King Of Comedy. I don't dislike excessive films, but this surely has to take the biscuit. Having a sociopath as a lead character is not niche unless you are able to get it past the hurdle of making a good film, and a good film this isn't: three words, 1. A 2. SHIT 3. SANDWICH!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 2.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cathartic

P.S.: Dieter von Cunth... try not to laugh.

P.P.S. For some reason my copy and paste from MS Word to this isn't working very well so right now I'm spitting bullets at my MacBook.

P.P.P.S "The best action-comedy since Beverley Hills Cop": dog's bollocks!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Devil

Directed by: John Erick Dowdle

Produced by: John Erick Dowdle, Drew Dowdle, M. Night Shyamalan, Sam Mercer

Screenplay by: Brian Nelson

Story by: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: Chris Messina, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O'Hara, Geoffrey Arend

Music by: Fernando Velazquez

Cinematography by: Tak Fujimoto

Editing by: Elliot Greenberg

Studio: Media Rights Captial, The Night Chronicles, Blinding Edge Pictures

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release Date(s): September 17, 2010

Running time: 80 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $10 million

Gross revenue (as of publication): $37,498,001

Followed by: Reincarnate

Unfortunately the "surprise" review is now null and void for complicated and boring reasons being the fact that the movie came out on limited release last year. The film was The Road and I loved it. As a sort of consolation, I went to see this film and have reviews for Cemetery Junction and MacGruber coming up. Todays film is a film which has been doing the rounds of the cinemas by the name of Devil. It has been getting whispers because the concept of the film is that one of five people stuck in a lift is the devil. The whispers have been emerging because the man who is behind the concept (but didn't write the screenplay) is one M. Night Shyamalan.

Shyamalan is of course the man who in the past directed and wrote terrific suspense films such The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs. Of late though, he has had a bad run, including the critically-slated Lady In The Water, alongside the absolutely terrible The Happening and his most recent offering The Last Airbender. It seems that with Devil, the first in a planned trio of films known as The Night Chronicles, his collaboration with Media Rights Capital is being used a time for him to meditate on just what exactly he has been doing wrong with his films of late. Also, if the films mess up, it falls back on everyone else involved (not least the director), so hey, it's better than getting the blame for making another bad film. Nevertheless, Shyamalan, like him or not, is an ideas man, whether or not he can get the job done, and this provides a great opportunity for the young directors working on this three-part project.

Getting to the crunch, five people stuck in life, one is the devil, nuff said. To start with, as per usual, the good, of which there is a relative amount, certainly in stark comparison to Shyamalan's recent output. By no means does the acting prove to be outstanding, quite the contrary in the case of Chris Messina as Detective Bowden, but I feel that the emotion displayed by the five actors who remained for the most part of shooting the film in the lift (Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O'Hara, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine and Geoffrey Arend) created a very tense atmosphere. None delivered particularly impressive roles, but as a cohesive unit working together, this was highly skilled synchronised acting which helps make bigger things of a simple idea. This is helped greatly by the furiously paced dialogue by Brian Nelson, who transforms this concept of the supernatural into something vaguely believable which can exist in the real world. John Erick Dowdle, who in the past directed Quarantine, a remake of a Spanish-language horror film called REC which I reviewed a few years ago, does the job efficiently and delivers by all means a pretty good, solid horror/thriller (I'm still undecided). For someone who directed a horror-remake which to be honest never needed to happen, he impressed me enough. On that topic though, this is his fifth film, and Tom Six, who directed The Human Centipede, gives us similar welly in his first attempt at making a film. For me, the standout component of the overall composite that makes up Devil is the cinematography by Tak Fujimoto. He has shot three of Shyamalan's films. Despite being known recently for his work on these projects, Fujimoto has also shot films such as The Silence Of The Lambs, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Badlands, a film with superb photography, so clearly we have on our hands a man who knows what he is doing. The film opens with a really disorienting and unnerving series of shots to play over the opening credits. They are really simply done, but the more you think about it, you realise how wise this sequence is in setting up the mood for the film. Shot from a helicopter above the city, flying alongside the side of a bridge, alls normal, except for the fact that it is upside down, the cityscape at the top of the screen and the sky at the bottom and every time it looks like the shot is going to revert to a normal perspective, it cuts back to the upside down perspective, except from a different point. For a film that spends much of its duration inside a small, enclosed space, he manages to capture all of the necessary details while still maintaining a strong sense of claustrophobic tension. This is really tremendous work that stands out in the midst of what is truthfully a six out of ten film, bringing me swiftly on to my next series of points, el negativo (I know, it's the singular translation in Spanish, at least I think so, I certainly don't know the plural, but hey, language is transcendent, I think you get the point).

While there are unquestionably a number of good elements about the film, Devil is a highly flawed film. The main flaw is the structural problems involved the script. Being an ideas film, the entire story revolves around the characters that are stuck in the lift. Being an idea-driven film and not character, it must have awkward trying to write around the problems that could arise from this. For starters, the film is heavily unbalanced in terms of consistency and enjoyment. Everything inside the lift is great, and would have been better had it not been for the highly-flawed sections of the action occurring outside the lift. The dialogue in these sections is poorly written and the action does not unfold in a logical manner, but instead comes across as awkward and forced attempts to drive the plot forward or fill in the rest of the running time. Despite trying to look at it objectively and what could have been made of these sections, I can't help but feel that film would have been better if the action had have remained inside the lift. This would have placed high restrictions on all involved and forced them to make the better film that this could have been. The script's problems affect virtually all aspects of the film. For example, the characters outside the lift are badly written and overly simplistic, not even serving their purpose as characters which are symbolic and not meant to be fully fleshed out. This does not do the actors, Chris Messina and Jacob Vargas coming prominently to mind, any favours, causing them to deliver no more than very wooden (Messina) and too emotional (Vargas) variations of the acting craft. It also forces compromises on the editing of the film, which, bar the final "twist" if you will, becomes predictable (cue lighting as signal for important event) and begins to make the audience start to guess what is happening next. If I was criticise another aspect, unrelated to script issues, it would be the score by Fernando Velazquez. Like last week's film The Special Relationship, the score does everything murder by numbers. It plays heavy on the minimal, deep string/brass combo sound whenever the tension builds and of course, rattles and screeches and pounds exactly at the moments you would expect it to.

Why the hell do scores which do nothing original exist? Is it because we need to sieve through all of the shit in order to find something of genuine substance? If you want a masterclass in horror/thriller scores (and a masterclass in tension, film-making and everything else to boot), look no further than Wayne Bell and Tobe Hooper's score for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is enough to scare most people without having to see the film. If you want to go for the whole strings thing, why not hire someone like the band Apocalyptica, who with cellos alone can be very terrifying.

I digress. Perhaps it's because there isn't really much else to say about Devil bar my aeon's old argument about the fact that I feel that not enough effort was put into the film. Besides some outstanding elements, it is pretty nuts-and-bolts, and a case of another group of film-makers writing the film whilst re-enacting that ubiquitous painting of the dogs playing poker: it is film-making that comes across, bar Tak Fujimoto's genuinely inventive photography, as lazy and a wasted effort. This trend of factory assembly line films coming from Hollywood, a former haven of cutting-edge inventiveness for the film industry now limited to the rare studios such as Pixar, must stop, and I believe it will stop, because Hollywood will sooner or later wake up to the fact that we, the audience, demand more for our buck: if cinema prices are going up, we should expect nothing less from the industry than a quality of films that parallel these prices.

So, Devil? It is a film that is not without its flaws, not least Brian Nelson's script, which outside of the lift, really falters and affects a number of different aspects of the film, a poor score and the assembly-line mentality that prevails throughout. However, the action, acting wise and script-wise in the lift is really great and we are given the pleasure of some really great cinematography by Tak Fujimoto, so Devil is certainly worth at least one viewing, and is definitely better than Shyamalan's recent offerings.

The Thin White Dude’s Prognosis – 6.1/10

The Thin White Dude’s Self-Diagnosis - Underwhelmed