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Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Green Lantern

Directed by: Martin Campbell

Produced by: Donald De Line
Greg Berlanti

Screenplay by: Greg Berlanti
Michael Green
Marc Guggenheim
Michael Goldenberg

Story by: Greg Berlanti
Michael Green
Marc Guggenheim

Based on: The Green Lantern by
John Broome
Gil Kane

Starring: Ryan Reynolds
Blake Lively
Peter Sarsgaard
Mark Strong
Angela Bassett
Tim Robbins

Music by: James Newton Howard

Cinematography by: Dion Beebe

Editing by: Stuart Baird

Studio: DC Entertainment
De Line Pictures

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date: June 17, 2011

Running time: 114 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $200 million

Gross revenue(as of publication): $118, 711, 000


Here comes the obligatory movie updates. I have since seen Kung Fu Panda 2, and my next review following on from this will be that of Bad Teacher. Oh, and by the way, loved Way Out West all over again, and am looking forward to watching Our Relations tonight. I really urge people to get into Laurel and Hardy: comedic brilliance, brilliance full-stop, is never outdated. Also, listen to Bjork. I know that my recent infatuation with her music has been viewed by some of my friend's as borderline obsession, but her work is that of genuine and emotionally heartrending power.

Anyway, post-indulgence in obsessions, it would be wise to stick to the job at hand, and at hand, of course, we have Green Lantern. Unlike the movie, I'm not going to get into the decades-long mythology of the Green Lantern universe, so I'm going to try and make this synopsis as brief as possible (not an easy task). Aircraft test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a bit of a loose cannon whose attitude problems ultimately stem from a degree of guilt at the trauma of his father, also an air pilot, dying untimely in an explosion, is chosen by the ring of Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), who appoints him a Green Lantern. After being transported to the Lantern home plant Oa, he discovers he is the first human appointed to the honour, and the significance and responsibility of his position as protector of Earth. Back home, government scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) is summoned by his father Senator Robert Hammond (Tim Robbins) to conduct an autopsy on an alien being. During this autopsy, Hector is infected with an organism, which turns out to be the DNA of Parallax, the arch-nemesis of the Green Lantern Corps, who is threatening to destroy the universe.

This synopsis I like to think would more than aptly set the scene for the film, although I'm leaving out large chunks of what is in the film. For a movie that is as large as the Green Lantern is, you'd like to think that the visual effects are of a decent standard. Well, you won't be disappointed, because visual effects team that worked on Green Lantern have done a stunning job that, despite being of a dirty, murky tone for much of the film, stands as one of the best examples of contemporary visual effects. Also, editor Stuart Baird does a good job of making sure that the visual effects and live-action are able to coexist in a universe that is seamless and believable, if a bit overdone on the greenscreen side of things. The action scenes, particularly the final battle between Hal Jordan and Parallax, are extremely well edited, considering the ambition and the scope that the filmmakers were aiming for. It perhaps sounds horrible to judge how good these things were in the context of the future and not on the basis of the film itself, but this spectacular sequence made me genuinely believe it would be possible to now adapt Half-Life for the screen.

Despite these qualities about Green Lantern, it is ultimately a very flawed film. First and foremost at fault, as ever, is the script. The film opens and closes with some amazing action sequences, but they comes across as bookends to what is an emotionally vacuous film that bombards you with way too many details to get involved in the central story. I read a review of the film in which a fan of the franchise argues that if you know some of the backstory going in you will enjoy it. The thing about that is that it inevitably alienates everyone who hasn't read any of the original source material. For adaptations of comic-book series, structurally there should be a balance between backstory and moving story. Backstory is the history that must be covered and moving story is the one that they want to cover for the movie. With roughly two-thirds of the movie being spent on backstory and a rushed last act being spent on moving story, we have a highly uneven film that is unbalanced. Perhaps Green Lantern is not good material for adaptation to the screen, which doesn't make it a bad source, I haven't read them, but for film, a medium for which some vigilance and editing is inevitable and required in the process of adaptation, it just does not work. In other Warner Bros. superhero-pics, such as Superman, they deal with this problem by spending an hour on backstory and an hour-and-a-half on moving story. Others, such as Batman, do away with backstory altogether, and dive straight into moving story. In a rare example that more or less completely worked, Batman Begins dealt with both in a cohesive manner which did them justice. Green Lantern's structure feels like the first hour of Superman with a really expensive episode of a television series clumped on the end. Furthermore, the screenwriters do not craft characters that make me want to care what is going on. I understand the various little bits of cliche synchronicity going on, such as the theme of parents, children and responsibility occurring between Hal Jordan and Hector Hammond, but no character makes me feel as though they could exist as a human being. The thing that comes to mind is in fact Six Characters In Search Of An Author, in which the Six Characters laugh at the Actors for portraying them as cardboard cutouts. All of the actors, perhaps as much the fault of the script as their own, give Eisenstein-esque acting performances, the difference being Eisenstein wanted his actors to come across as simplistic and two-dimensional. Finally, director Martin Campbell should really know better. Don't forget, Campbell is the man who was responsible for rebooting the James Bond franchise not just once with Goldeneye, but twice with Casino Royale. I know he has worked with poor scripts before, I mean look at Vertical Limit and to a lesser extent the 2009/2010 Edge Of Darkness, but his work has always had a flair and pace, an energy that keeps things going. Here, outside of the action scenes, it lags and feels like flogging a dead horse. Perhaps a six-part HBO series a-la 1985 Edge Of Darkness would have been more appropriate.

Green Lantern is not an absolutely terrible movie, although it certainly gives one much food for thought regarding it's pros-and-cons. It possesses some terrific visual effects, and Stuart Baird really deserves to be commended for his work in the editing department. However, it is a very boring and lifeless two-dimensional piece of badly structured drivel that is not befitting of some of the better work of director Martin Campbell. Ultimately, it reflects worst of all on Warner Bros., who clearly are just trying to pump money into any potentially bankable superhero franchise in the wake of the box-office success of Christopher Nolan's Batman films. They are really lucky they have Nolan and the Harry Potter series, because they have lost so much money with this and other films of late.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bored and indifferent (eating up Eric Clapton/Michael Kamen Edge Of Darkness theme)

P.S. Why was I only seeing marketing for this a few weeks before it was released? You do not spent $200 million dollars on a movie and have shit marketing campaigns. Warner Bros., you know what I am talking about, especially after Inception was being hyped nearly half a year in advance of it's release!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - X-Men: First Class

Directed by: Matthew Vaughan

Produced by: Gregory Goodman
Simon Kinberg
Lauren Shuler Donner
Bryan Singer

Screenplay by: Ashley Edward Miller
Zack Stentz
Jane Goldman
Matthew Vaughan

Story by: Sheldon Turner
Bryan Singer

Based on: Characters by
Stan Lee
Jack Kirby
Chris Claremont

Starring: James McAvoy
Michael Fassbender
Rose Byrne
January Jones
Jennifer Lawrence
Oliver Platt
Kevin Bacon

Music by: Henry Jackson

Cinematography by: John Mathieson

Editing by: Eddie Hamilton
Lee Smith

Studio: Marvel Entertainment
Dune Entertainment
Bad Hat Harry Productions
Donners' Company

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): June 1, 2011 (United Kingdom)
June 3, 2011 (United States)

Running time: 132 minutes

Country: United States
United Kingdom

Budget: $140-$160 million

Gross revenue: $289, 378, 043


Updates once again on the movie watching front! I have now seen Green Lantern and Bad Teacher, with reviews for both coming in soon. Also, on another note, I have been a fan of Laurel and Hardy for many years, but honestly, they make most of the so-called 'comedians' of today look horrible. I re-watched A Chump At Oxford last night: I haven't laughed this much at any of the comedies I have seen all year. Take note young comics, these guys could tell you a thing or two about how to make people laugh. No doubt Way Out West tonight will be as much fun!

The movie up for analysis today is X-Men: First Class. To be frank, it does suffer from the problem of 'is there any need to make this film?' After all, we already have X-Men, X2 (both of which I bought together for £4) and X-Men: The Last Strand as a trilogy, plus X-Men Origins: Wolverine as a stand-alone film. The idea of making a prequel to set up something already established seems superfluous. However, despite not caring for Layer Cake, after last year's Kick-Ass, I was enthused about Matthew Vaughan's switch from superhero parody/tribute to legitimate superhero franchise. In this film, set around the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and foster-sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), are drafted by the CIA on the basis of their knowledge of mutants to install nuclear missiles in Turkey. The man behind this plot is Sebastian Shaw, formerly known as 'Dr. Schmidt' (Kevin Bacon), who conducted cruel experiments in a German concentration camp in Poland on a young man named Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), who seeks revenge on Shaw. Xavier, seeing the power of Lensherr, drafts him in to help bring down their mutual enemy.

To start off with the goods, the X-Men series has always been known for having a good cast, and this film is no exception. James McAvoy plays a rather charming, intelligent, if occasionally rash young Charles Xavier. In a part that could have been very much the boring lead that ends up being dwarfed by his supporting cast, McAvoy makes us believe legitimately in this character and his playing it. Although having perhaps not as hard a job to do as McAvoy, Michael Fassbender is also great as Lensherr. His chameleonic abilities are displayed his skill as an actor to use dialogue (and languages) to throw as many powerful punches as any bullet in an action scene. The single-minded revenge plot and gradually unravelling future leader is a fascinating watch. Jennifer Lawrence, who got saddled with an unfortunately small part in The Beaver, gets a great role to play in Raven. This character has always been of a smaller proportion in the big picture, so it is nice to get Raven a good arc and an actress who is primed and ready to play it to the best of her abilities. Finally on the acting front, Kevin Bacon is wonderful as ever playing Sebastian Shaw/Dr. Schmidt. He makes a potentially boring villain a pleasure to watch. There are other good aspects about X-Men: First Class excepting the acting. Director Matthew Vaughan really has come into his own with this picture. His personal stamp is clearly all over First Class, and could be seen as a companion piece to Kick-Ass. He steps up his A-game and handles a difficult project with finesse and a love for the material. I personally feel that this is his best work yet and that only greater things will come. First Class has some excellent production design which is of worthy note. Some of the set's in the film, such as The War Room, which I gather is a reference to Dr. Strangelove, are magnificent and a pleasure to behold. Jane Goldman's contributions to the script inject a sense of personality and humour to what could be cold proceedings. Despite dark topic matter, it is at heart a warm film.

X-Men: First Class is a very fine film, however, to argue that it is a flawless film would be an out-and-out lie. Fundamentally, the X-Men as a franchise has always had problems in balancing out it's characters onscreen. As film is a medium which inevitably has more editing by default than a multi-decade long comic-book source material, there is a lot of stuff that ends up for the chop. As such, some of the characters in this film, particularly Shaw's cronies, some of the young mutants that Xavier finds and the CIA agents end up coming across as two-dimensional filler and not fully-fleshed characters. This is the type of film in which these characters are not well written have performances which correspond to this quality, or lack thereof. As a result, too many characters are involved in the film, move in and out of the plot and it ends up becoming, for lack of a better word, a bit of a clusterfuck.

Despite these problems, annoying as they are, X-Men: First Class is a great movie, the first I have come across in 2011. It may have too many characters, pretty messy and performances which correspond with the weaker characters, but it is the best origin story/stand-alone superhero film (excepting Hellboy II: The Golden Army) to emerge in the post-Batman Begins era of superhero films. It is handled well, efficiently and admirably by Matthew Vaughan. I have already mentioned a Dr. Strangelove reference, but the opening scene in the concentration camp is a shot-for-shot remake of the opening scene in Bryan Singer's X-Men, showing a real love and respect for those who came before him. McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence and Bacon give some great performances, and Jane Goldman's contributions give the script a real sense of personality. This is a very fine film and deserves to be seen more than some of the shoddier summer far we have on offer.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Pleased (I am about to watch Way Out West after all!)

P.S. Great to see Bill Milner, Michael Ironside and a certain fantastic cameo appearance

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Swinging With The Finkels

Directed by: Jonathan Newman

Produced by: Philip von Alvensleben
Thomas Augsberger
Alice Dawson
David Nutch
Deepak Nayar

Screenplay by: Jonathan Newman

Starring: Mandy Moore
Martin Freeman
Melissa George
Jonathan Silverman

Music by: Mark Thomas

Cinematography by: Dirk Nel

Editing by: Eddie Hamilton

Distributed by: Moving Pictures Film and Television
Wild Bunch Distribution

Release date(s): June 17, 2011 (United Kingdom and Ireland)

Country: United Kingdom
United States

Language: English

Budget: $3 million

Gross revenue unknown

Here's another one of those intro's. You're probably getting a bit sick of me telling you what movies I am going to watch at the cinema, so I will give you a little update on some movies I have watched that are not from 2011. Over the past week, I have seen Away From Her, a very good film with solid performances by Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent, and that isn't overbearingly preachy, despite being a film about Alzheimer's. Also, last night I watched City Of Ghosts, Matt Dillon's directorial debut, which is a decent enough flick with some interesting plot construction and atmosphere that in the last reel completely fumbles the ball. However, the best and most original film I have seen in some time is Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Being a geek, originality is something hard to come across these days so this film, a rollicking, relentless assault on the senses, with montage editing that would give Sergei Eisenstein nausea, a pulsating industrial soundtrack and dense thematic content, is really worth seeking out.

Once again, of course, I am moving away from the topic of discussion, but in this case, I would like to think that there is ample reason. That is not to say that this is a bad movie, far from it, in fact. I am an objective critic who addresses the film's he has seen with an open mind going in, regardless of the fact that Swinging With The Finkels is a bad title that is just a few steps above 13 Going On Dick. Sorry, I know, bad joke, pedophilia is not a laughing matter. Don't blame me, I stole the damn line! Anyway, Swinging With The Finkels follows Sarah and Martin Finkel (Mandy Moore and Martin Freeman), a married couple who are having some issues, particularly in the sex department. So what we have for sure is a sex-comedy of the Carry On flavour that 'simon-alphastar' of IMDb describes as "funny, fresh and original." As 'he' says, "If you enjoyed 'Something Like Mary' - you will definitely enjoy this." Sometimes I really feel Armond White's pain.

As per usual, we'll start with the good. Martin Freeman in any movie, regardless of it's quality, adds a thoroughly likeable presence to the proceedings, even if much of the acting consists of the notorious 'Martin Freeman look,' which me and Daniel Kelly spent much of the film's duration noting. Finally, there is at least one pretty funny gag involving a cucumber which would have made the basis for a good Comic Relief sketch.

That's it! At least that would be it, if it were not for the fact that I also have to highlight the bad as well as the good. Let's start with the soundtrack, in particular the use of Edvard Grieg's piece 'In The Hall Of The Mountain King.' The piece was famously used as the whistle of the child murderer in Fritz Lang's M, as a leitmotif to signify his changing temperament. In Swinging With The Finkels, the irony and humour of the piece is used to it's more literal meaning, signifying something that could interpreted (not implied) as "funny, fresh and original." For the first thirty minutes of the film, it must have been used over a dozen times, and every time I heard it my temper flared, to the point where I was physically uncomfortable and visibly unsettled. This is the mood for most of the film. Structurally, the script is episodic, which does not mean bad, look at Pulp Fiction. However, the episodic nature of this script is used as a structural balance, if you could call it that, to string together a number of really bad jokes. The characters are dull, cliche and poorly written, which obviously effected the performances of the actor's, poor Martin Freeman being reduced to giving a ninety-minuted 'Martin Freeman look' that came across as something between bewilderment and frustration. Worst of all, it tries to betray it's fundamentally smutty, pseudo-intellectual, leery (and sneery) sense of humour that is above that of the commoners to try and say 'you know what, there is more to life (and this film) than sex jokes.'

I think this leaves me at a good point to conclude, because thinking about this movie, although perhaps good therapy, does me no good in the heat of the moment. Bar one good laugh and the forever likeable presence of Martin Freeman, I thoroughly despised Swinging With The Finkels. The script just screws up in every way possible, it is a poorly handled piece of work that it's director Jonathan Newman should have really noted, but then again, he also wrote the damn thing, so he is immune to it's potential charms or lack thereof. He is near enough a dead-cert for induction as a Horseman Of The Apocalypse in next year's Best and Worst. Maybe the leader of the gang Michael Bay can have a whipping boy for the next year! I haven't felt this sore a headache watching a movie since A Serbian Film, a film which I would say is far worse and even less tasteful. I found it very insulting, patronising and demeaning, and now I might not be able to watch Fritz Lang's M without In The Hall Of The Mountain King reminding me of this. As my friend's at Spill.com would say "Fuck you!" See what you have reduced me to, I'm swearing and quoting people now! Good night and good luck, "Kiss my ass, lousy bastard" (quoth Jim Ross), your movie really sucked!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 1.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Sore

P.S. I hope you agree, the title does indeed suck! And Jonathan Silverman's performance is rubbish!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Beaver

Directed by: Jodie Foster

Produced by: Steve Golin
Keith Redmon
Ann Ruark

Screenplay by: Kyle Killen

Starring: Mel Gibson
Jodie Foster
Anton Yelchin
Jennifer Lawrence

Music by: Marcelo Zarvos

Cinematography by: Hagen Bogdanski

Editing by: Lynzee Klingman

Distributed by: Summit Entertainment (USA)
Icon Productions (UK)

Release date(s): May 6, 2011 (United States)
June 17, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $21 million

Gross revenue (as of publication): $923, 063 (domestic only)

Hey guys, still yet to see Kung Fu Panda 2 or Senna, but they are works in progress. Furthermore, the Strand has a whole slew of new movies coming in, including Green Lantern, Bad Teacher and Bridesmaids. Also, I have now seen X-Men: First Class, which will be reviewed after this movie and Swinging With The Finkels. I'm keeping pretty busy guys, and I'm thinking that I can cover all of these movies at some point in the next couple of weeks, so keep your eyes on this space.

The movie I've got here for reviewing is The Beaver. The film is an interesting case, not least of course as it features a protagonist who uses a hand puppet to help him communicate in the midst of serious depression. Also, the film is directed by the great Jodie Foster, one of my favourite actresses, who I inducted into my film Hall Of Fame in the 3rd Best And Worst of the Year. However, it is unquestionable that the reason that the movie is most notable is because it is the first theatrically-released role of Mel Gibson since the emergence of his phone calls to his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. I went to see this film on a double-bill (followed by Swinging With The Finkels) with my good friend and fellow film critic Daniel Kelly, who wrote a very funny review for the film on his blog at Danland Movies. As someone who has always tried to defend Mel Gibson even when he makes a tool of himself, I went in with an open heart and mind.

Once again, Mad Mel did not disappoint. Daniel Kelly was not a fan of his previous movie Edge Of Darkness, and while it wasn't that good, I think it is a decent enough flick, and Mel's presence gives a nuts-and-bolts thriller some credibility. Gibson's performance in The Beaver, while perhaps not adding to the credibility of his offscreen self, adds credibility to a bold concept. Moving seamlessly between what are essentially two different performances, Gibson creates a fascinating and legitimately believable character in Walter Black. Effectively mute, The Beaver, with his mock Cockney accent, becomes Walter's voice, and Gibson's performance never feels inappropriate or overdone. It is work of great skill, and proof of his talent when tapped into. Kyle Killen's script is part of the reason why the character's are so well-written. Despite Gibson's Walter Black taking the lead, Foster and Yelchin are able to deliver solid performances because of the fact that their characters are so well-written. Importantly, the film is very funny in parts and understands the absurdity of a man using a hand puppet to communicate with the world. Finally, Jodie Foster manages for the most part to keep control of a movie that could have been all over the place and rather hideous. She clearly has a brain on her head and knows how to make the right decisions for a movie of this type. Also, I must say that the animation/manipulation of the hand puppet is utilised rather well. It does importantly in narrative terms feel like a separate character as opposed to an extension of Walter. If the puppet didn't work, the movie wouldn't, but it is not like distracts, and we do accept and embrace this hand puppet/concept as legitimate.

While there is no question that Kyle Killen knows how to write dialogue, characters and humour, his script has a lot of tonal problems and suffers from an identity crisis which is similar to that of but far less bothersome than that of Cedar Rapids. My problem does not emerge from it being a 'dramedy,' I love some of Alexander Payne's stuff and Anton Chekhov is one of my favourite authors so this is not an issue. Like Cedar Rapids, it lacks consistency and jumps too freely between genre instead of trying to make a hybrid entity. There are subgenres of comedy, such as black, absurdo and whimsical explored, and of course we have drama, but there are scenes, particularly reflected in Walter's own identity crisis where the film becomes a borderline horror film. These scenes end up dwarfing the seriousness of the scenes that follow and makes the film ultimately seem anticlimactic. Also, I think that the subplot between Walter's son Porter and Norah (Jennifer Lawrence) comes across as flat and distracting from the central story. It seems as though it was written for another movie. As mentioned, while I think Jodie Foster does a really good job, I feel that she really should have dug deeper and cracked the whip on Killen. It is easy with hindsight to say, now that it is onscreen and you don't get this benefit while writing, but I would have been having Killen re-write the film at least twice more, because the script, while good, certainly needs work.

The Beaver undoubtedly suffers from the same identity crisis that it's main character Walter Black suffers from. Tonally, it jumps too freely from different types of comedy and once it reaches a borderline horror film it becomes the absurd film that it stays away from for the most part. Also, the subplot of Porter and Norah doesn't work and have the strength that it requires, and just serves to distract from the central story. Foster really should have clamped down on this script, although she does seem to take control of the absurdity for the most part and still bring in a very good film. She directs Killen's script with emphasis on strong dialogue and characterisation, enabling good performances from herself and Yelchin. However, the viewfinder is on Mel Gibson, who delivers a performance that is worthy of the talents that he does possess. Although it is hard to forgive, I hope that people will open their eyes to Gibson again as a legitimately good performer on the basis of this role. He guides this movie with a part that is both funny and poignant, and ensures that The Beaver, while not a great movie, is at the least a very enjoyable comedy.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Glad to see Mel being good (P.S. When could we see a new directorial feature?)


Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Water For Elephants

Directed by: Francis Lawrence

Produced by: Kevin Halloran
Gil Netter
Erwin Stoff
Andrew R. Tennenbaum

Screenplay by: Richard LaGravenese

Based on: Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

Starring: Robert Pattinson
Reese Witherspoon
Christoph Waltz

Music by: James Newton Howard

Cinematography by: Rodrigo Pieto

Editing by: Alan Edward Bell

Studio(s): Fox 2000 Pictures
3 Arts Entertainment
Crazy Horse Pictures
Flashpoint Entertainment

Distributed by: Fox 2000 Pictures

Release date(s): April 22, 2011 (United States)
May 4, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 120 minutes

Country: United States

Budget: $38 million

Gross revenue (as of publication): $111, 926, 892

When I told you guys I was back in action, I bloody well meant it! In the week or so, I have seen not only this film, but also The Beaver, Swinging With The Finkels and X-Men: First Class. I plan on seeing Kung Fu Panda over the next few days and will be trying to see Green Lantern at some point. This has been one busy week for the reviews, which will be coming in fast and furious (pardon the pun).

So what we have here is Water For Elephants. We are introduced to Jacob Jankowski (Hal Halbrook), who has attended a circus alone, after his son fails to join him. Two circus workers insist on helping him, and Jacob mentions how he was part of the Benzini Circus during the 1931 disaster. Along with Jacob and the circus workers, we go back in time to 1931, where Jacob, at 23, (Robert Pattinson) has been orphaned by his parents dying in a car crash, and after the bank forecloses his home, he leaves school and jumps onto a passing train. He discover the passing train is the Benzini Brothers Circus train, led by August Rosenbluth (Christoph Waltz). Jacob convinces August of his skills as a vet, and gets work tending to the horses that Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), the star of the show and August's wife, rides and cares for. After the death of one of the horses, August inspires himself with an idea to bring an elephant by the name of Rosie (Tai the elephant) in as the new star attraction.

To start with what is good about the film, the three leads must be mentioned. Robert Pattinson gets his best role to date in Jacob and rolls with it. In the Twilight films, Edward has always been the least fleshed-out character, and in last year's Remember Me, we saw that Pattinson could handle a meatier role. Here, his presence means more than just that, and through his performance, we feel that this human being exists. Reese Witherspoon, although getting a character that is not as strongly written, shines up the screen as Marlena. Her performance is incredibly well-balanced, and is one of those actresses, as displayed here, who understands the importance of little gestures, sighs and messages. The best performance though is unquestionably that of Christoph Waltz. Although there are certainly similarities between this role and that of Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds, August is less a caricature and more a human being. He seduces us with his infinite charm, and within seconds can emerge into full-blown rage. It is a credit to Waltz's talents that despite us knowing these psychopathic tendencies, we are still lulled by the snake-charmer. Also, you do feel sorry for this man who is obviously just a damaged, tortured soul, who happens to very creative and in control of a circus. Although the three leads are the film's best sell, good words must also be said about the production design. You really get the impression of a plausible and legitimate world, despite it of course being a period piece. It really gives that wonderful, magical feel that one gets going to the circus. Also, Rodrigo Prieto, a cinematographer who has done some great stuff in the past, adds to this magical feel by giving the film a real glow in it's look. Finally, much of how well the film is made is down to director Francis Lawrence. He has redeemed himself in my eyes, for his previous film I Am Legend was my most disappointing film of 2007 and the namesake for the most disappointing film award in my annual best and worst selections. His input has helped constructively contribute and control the final product that has made it to the screen.

Whilst being a very good film, problems do emerge on occasion from the screenplay by Richard LaGravenese. It is not exactly a bad screenplay, and could be even a good one, but there are issues with it. For starters, although well-done, the film is very predictable and does have a tendency to progress down the line of point's A-to-B without any real deviations. Also, as mentioned, I feel that Reese Witherspoon's character is not as well written as those of Pattinson and Waltz. Another problem with the film is that it is certainly 15-20 minutes too long. More vigilance in the editing room on the part of Alan Edward Bell and Francis Lawrence would have been appropriate.

Despite these problems, I rather liked the film, and over recent contemplation, I'd say that Water For Elephants is the best film that I have seen from 2011. It really gives me the same feeling that I get from watching Golden Age Hollywood films such as On The Waterfront. Yes, it is cliche and too long, but there are some great performances here, with some solid production design and cinematography, and I have been thoroughly convinced of Francis Lawrence's talents as a director.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Very pleased

Friday, 10 June 2011

A Film Critic On A Film Critic - Addressing Armond White




I am doing this to address the critic's circle's opinions of Armond White. But then again, perhaps I am not the right person to be doing this, as White would no doubt consider outside of the strata of the 'legitimate' film critic's circle. Known for his contrarian views, White has built a reputation for irking many other film critic's, sullying the Tomatometer status of some people's favourite film's (Toy Story 3, my Best Film of 2010, included), and for being a general moan. However, I will present as best I can an objective and critical view of White's opinions.

As mentioned, White would consider me unqualified to offer my position, both on himself and film. He has no shame (and so he shouldn't, it is his opinion) in arguing that he associates online film critics with "amateurism, gossip [and] cliques." I get the amateur part certainly, as I am an amateur, but experience is the only way you are gonna learn and I am now in my fifth year of criticism and know that I have and will continue to improve. I don't get the gossip part, for many people who go to the effort of writing film reviews which are informative don't give a shit about who slept with who, who is gay or straight, who divorced who etc etc. Finally, we have the "cliques." The reason that many people who write online do so is because mainstream film reviewing magazines, newspapers and broadsheets have by default a particular style of writing that they are looking. The Internet gives critics, young, unemployed ones at that, the opportunity to have distinctive critical voices that deserve to be heard and clearly stand out from the "cliques."

Here come's the part that really get's me riled up. White argues that "there should be no film critics under the age of 30" as they lack life experience and the necessary scholarship. I do get White's argument on the former: there is a distinct lack of lack experience, however, life experience can cloud one's judgement, and thus if we look the work of younger critic's and artists under the age of 18, one can find a sort of untainted purity in their opinion's. This is where new ideas emerge and keep alive film criticism. Also, the lack of a necessary scholarship is, put simply, an elitist argument that shows White as approving of a sort of inner circle of film criticism, rather ironic considering he sees himself as apart from the mould of these critics. This is rather paradoxical, like calling oneself an anti-intellectual intellectual. Furthermore, Mr. White, I will have the necessary scholarship required to qualify in your boundaries of critical estimation in two years, but it still won't stop me from posting and adding to the scourge of film criticism and your general disdain in the period that I will have to wait for these qualifications.

There are other things that I could say, but to be frank, I am tired. I have written reviews for Attack The Block and The Hangover Part II today off of four-and-a-half hours sleep, so I haven't done too bad. With regards to Armond White though, whilst I disagree with much of his opinion's, he is certainly entitled to them. We cannot let ourselves sneer and fire ill-minded judgements in his general direction. Film criticism is as White puts it "intellectual anarchy," though I'd love to scratch the intellectual out of that, as it is a horrible word. This anarchy creates a vast, wide multiplicity of ideas through which audiences can gaze into our literal smelting pot of opinions. There is no reason why one cannot be an individual critic, who views film's in socio-politico terms, as pure entertainment, or even both, whilst embracing a respect for other's opinion's, no matter how right one might think themselves.


The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Hangover Part II

Directed by: Todd Phillips

Produced by: Daniel Goldberg
Todd Phillips

Written by: Scott Armstrong
Craig Mazin
Todd Phillips

Starring:
Bradley Cooper
Ed Helms
Zach Galifianakis

Music by: Christophe Beck

Cinematography by: Lawrence Sher

Editing by: Debra Neil-Fisher
Mike Sale

Studio: Legendary Pictures
Green Hat Films

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date: May 26, 2011

Running time: 102 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $80 million

Gross revenue (as of publication): $349, 560, 132

Just so you know, I wasn't lying about my intention to go and see X-Men: First Class tonight. However, circumstances out of my control means that my screening for this film will have to be put back for a few days. Also, along with the bunch of films I mentioned earlier, I will be seeing Kung Fu Panda 2 next week, as, like the original, it will probably have a running time in The Strand for four or five months. Honestly, it was the longest running in a cinema I have ever seen: I'm pretty sure it was on DVD release whilst on it's original run in The Strand. Typical Strand, but you gotta love 'em!

But then again, I'm avoiding the argument. As the film for review today is The Hangover Part II, those who follow my blog will know how I feel about the original, and my general approach to sequels and remakes, particularly those I deem 'unnecessary.' I acknowledge that I am in the minority on this one, but I seem to be one of the few people (alongside Richard Corliss and Mark Kermode) who didn't care for the original, excepting Zack Galifianakis' performance as Alan Garner. My personal feelings for those who want to watch The Hangover is that they should go see Withnail and I, full fucking stop! But I keep the pretence of being a critic, so I'll be objective. Following on from their chaotic adventures in Las Vegas, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha) travel to Thailand with Stu (Ed Helms) to celebrate his wedding. Along with Stu's future brother-in-law Teddy (Mason Lee), they toast to his future on a beach with a single beer, however, things do not go to plan. They awaken, sans Teddy in a dirty hotel room in Bangkok, flanked by old best fiend Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) and a chain-smoking monkey, and have to figure out how to get Stu back to his wedding.

I know, long paragraph, but I have to have a little structure! Anyway, let's start with the good. Once again, Zach Galifianakis hits the right nail on the head with his performance as Alan Garner. He balances well the line of tension between fear and comedy: we do love that character, but when he glares at Teddy, we also fear him. Also, Bradley Cooper, whose back I always jump on, didn't annoy me with as much swagger this time, and exuded a charisma that indicates a promising future. Paul Giamatti has a small but wonderful role in the film that highlights just how damn good an actor he is. The film's cinematography by Laurence Sher has a great sheen to it. Despite depicting a tourist's view of Bangkok (more director Todd Phillips fault), it is a startling picaresque portrait that is presented. Finally, with regard to the script, there are some moments of dark comedy which are humorous, although one can't help but feel why they didn't pool these ideas into one (as in the previous) movie.

Which brings me to the bad. I just had a big intake of breath there in contemplation of the storm on the horizon. Where to start? I guess the fundamental thing at fault is the rocky foundations in the script, written by Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong. Bradley Cooper is quoted in Vanity Fair as having said "we hadn't earned the ability to take these three guys out and put them in a new structure:" for me, this is as much an admission of the structural limitations of the film. As opposed to coming up with new and potentially innovative ideas presented by the new territory, the writers have opted to essentially remake the original film, switching Doug with Teddy, the baby with the monkey, Chow with Kingsley, Heather Graham with, well, try and guess, it is Bangkok. Everyone knows the joke that we cultured Western folk love to make at the Thai. Honestly, I smiled three times, and that was the closest I came to laughing throughout: it is an insidiously unfunny film. Todd Philipps, who last time round I said "needs to reconsider his occupational position in the near future," I am beyond words with frustration at. Last time I get that some people found the film funny even though I found it moronic. However, by simply cashing it in and playing out the same jokes, only in Bangkok and not Vegas, Philips is alienating his central audience by attempting to push the boundaries to the heights of ridiculousness. I am not that angry at the film, I just found it intensely boring and stupid.

With The Hangover Part II, the writers/filmmakers really missed a great opportunity. I would love have seen them flip the bird to the money-men and make a really far-out dark comedy. They had that potential, Zach Galifianakis being the flag-bearer for my argument. While the film certainly looks the part, albeit in a tourist's view of Bangkok, it is a really boring re-tread of the original, which I felt wasn't good in the first place. The attempts to push things to things to their brashest, crudest possible levels of excessiveness has proved to make a very boring and stupid comedy. The fact that people are still going to see this in their droves, having re-couped it's budget four times over already is frankly terrifying. Go fucking watch Withnail and I! Or if you want the ultimate in excess, go watch Re-Animator: at least it has some proper context. The Hangover Part II was draining and had me closing my eyes at certain points because I knew the plot was going from A to B, and that if I opened my eyes (as predicted) I'd be in the exact same place as I was in the last film. Honestly, it is not worth your time, and not worth mine for the filmmakers to have an excuse for the impending threequel.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired (both from reviewing and lack of sleep: I had to take my dog to a bloody grooming session earlier, still love him though!)

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Attack The Block

Directed by: Joe Cornish

Produced by: Nira Park
James Wilson
Mary Burke
Edgar Wright

Screenplay by: Joe Cornish

Starring: John Boyega
Alex Esmail
Franz Drameh
Leeon Jones
Simon Howard
Jodie Whittaker
Luke Treadaway
Nick Frost

Music by: Basement Jaxx
Steven Price

Cinematography by: Thomas Townend

Editing by: Jonathan Amos

Studio: Studio Canal
Big Talk Productions
Film4
UK Film Council

Distributed by: Optimum Releasing (United Kingdom)
Screen Gems (United States)
StudioCanal (International)

Release date(s): 12 March 2011 (SXSW)
13 May 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 88 minutes

Country: United Kingdom
France

Language: English

Budget: £8 million

Gross revenue (as of publication): $3, 964, 682 (BoxOfficeMojo.com)

Been another one of those long week's since I last uploaded a review. However, in the process, as I fear of running out of potential film's to review, I have been frequenting the Strand Cinema again of late. They are running their terrific summer programmes, ensuring cheap cinema prices and deals through my loyalty card. I have since seen The Hangover Part II and Water For Elephants, reviews for which will be posted soon, as will a review for X-Men: First Class, which I am seeing tonight, The Beaver on Monday alongside a British comedy on a double-bill whose name escapes me. Keep your eyes peeled. And once again, to Jack's complete lack of surprise, the Shutter Island film review will be posted at some point.

So here we have Joe Cornish's Attack The Block. The film has received a number of critical raves and plaudits since it's premiere at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival. Scott Wampler of The Examiner has compared the work to other low-budget features such as Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Neill Blomkamp's District 9. Also, it currently sits on the Rotten Tomatoes website at a rating of 88% positive. It has certainly opened up the eyes of a number of film critics, and as my good friend and fellow film critic Daniel Kelly (DanlandMovies) didn't get see a press screening of the film, the both of us made a venture to the Movie House Dublin Road to see what the fuss was all about.

The film follows a group of young London hoods, characters who are each played by the actors portraying them, particularly John Boyega as Moses, who after mugging one of their neighbour's Sam, played by Jodie Whitaker, discover that aliens are crash-landing nearby and decide to hole up in and defend their council estate. Joe Cornish is clearly a talented guy, who handles a potentially very messy project with skill and class, making what is a low-budget affair feel like a bigger-budgeted American flick. This is of course helped by the technical departments in the filmmaking process, as Thomas Townend and Jonathan Amos do good jobs with regards to the cinematography and editing respectively. Finally, Basement Jaxx and Steven Price deliver a thumping good soundtrack which in it's bass-heavy house beats consistently matches the appropriate pace(s) of the film.

Despite being a movie that has a number of strengths, there are ultimately flaws which condemn it from being the great movie that it really could be. For starters, you do get the impression that the great Nick Frost is cashing it in when it comes to his performance. However, the big problem is not Frost, that is a minor gripe, but Joe Cornish's script. Like Cedar Rapids, it suffers from a severe identity crisis. However, while Cedar Rapids is more along the lines of multiple personality disorder, Attack The Block is written too much as a jack all trades, trying to be too many things at once. As a result, it is not as funny as a comedy as it should be, nor as scary as a horror film should be. Furthermore, despite having some solid performances, their overall characterisation is very two-dimensional. Finally, despite interesting features, they just come across as great window-dressing to what is essentially a nuts-and-bolts film.

That is not to say that nuts-and-bolts does not mean good. I thought that the film, despite a severely hampered script, was a good, solid piece of entertainment. However, to put things in perspective, and perhaps attempting to put myself on a pedestal, the film is not as good as the majority of critics seem to believe. If you read Daniel Kelly's review on DanlandMovies you'll find that I am the most generous of the two, both of us having seen the film. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't engaged, as it was consistent throughout, and at one point I actually had to pull myself back from shouting and pointing "behind you!" The last time that happened was at a full screening, family and all, of the most recent Harry Potter, in which I loudly said "Of course it's the fucking sword" at the appropriate moment. While really needing to brush up on the screenwriting side of things, Attack The Block proves that Joe Cornish is a director to watch out for.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Good enough (happy at the idea that one character spent most of the film inside a bin)

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Cedar Rapids

Directed by: Miguel Arteta

Produced by: Alexander Payne
Jim Taylor
Ed Helms

Written by: Phil Johnston

Starring: Ed Helms
John C. Reilly
Anne Heche
Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Kurtwood Smith
Stephen Root
Mike O'Malley
Sigourney Weaver
Alia Shawkat

Music by: Christophe Beck

Cinematography by: Chuy Chavez

Editing by: Eric Kissack

Studio: Ad Hominem Productions

Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Release date(s): January 23, 2011 (Sundance)
February 11, 2011 (United States)
29 April, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 87 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Gross revenue: $6, 861, 102

Hoy, hoy there gang, as you can tell (I hope), I am back in action. Thankfully, I have a real mixed bag of films to talk about in the immediate time-space of my return to the blogosphere. Also, very happy that I managed to return a month-and-a-half ahead of my previous year's timetable, so this year I will undoubtedly get more reviews in than I did last year. Plus, I have found a number of websites (free, anti-piracy ones at that), including www.topdocumentaryfilms.com which gave me the pleasures of Collapse and Restrepo last year.

Anyway, as ever, I'm off topic. Topic of course being the film Cedar Rapids. I knew nothing about this going into it, as it was a press screening I attended with DK of DanlandMovies (no longer the mystery critic, check his stuff out), and was delighted to be informed that Ed Helms of The Hangover, a film he loved but one I was in the minority of disliking, was the film's lead, so my hopes weren't exactly high. Saying that, it was in the 2009 Blacklist as one of the most popular un-produced screenplays. In this film, Ed Helms plays a naive insurance agent by the name of Tim Lippe, who following the unfortunate death of a co-worker, attends a regional conference representing his firm in the eponymous Cedar Rapids.

To start with the good about the film, I'll deal with some of the 'gags.' Now, the tone of the film is all over the place, more of which I'll get to later, but there are standout moments where the film works. Ed Helms' Lippe is naive, and finds out that the big bad world is not as nice as he might imagine it. This results in a number of good laughs. For starters, he is no longer in the bosom of a borderline incestuous sexual relationship between he and his former teacher Marcy Vanderhei, played by Sigourney Weaver. The black comedy, when it emerges, is great. Individual scenes, for example Tim getting high on crack at a suspicious looking house party with suspicious looking people prove humorous. Also, Helms, who got slacked with a two-dimensional part in The Hangover, does his best with his role. On another note, it is funny in itself to see and have Kurtwood Smith, who I remember as Clarence Boddicker from Robocop, wear wooly sweaters. He's also pretty good in this. Finally, Miguel Arteta manages to keep the film under some degree of control.

Despite these good things about the film, particularly the black comedy, it has some severe problems. For starters, as a script that was revered on the 2009 Blacklist alongside Aaron Sorkin's The Social Network, it is not really that good. The black comedy, while well written, comes across as filler for the rest of the film. Tonally, it alternates too freely between black, whimsical, smut, and dramedy humour, and altogether, doesn't fit well, making a potential standout movie slot itself nicely in the crowd of the year's poor comedies. Also, the characters are pretty poorly written, even if those such as Helms, Weaver and Smith do their best to redeem themselves. John C. Reilly just plays a role that doesn't serve to stretch him any more than the roles he has had written for him in recent years. Finally, bad words must be said about Christophe Beck's score. I'm not going to gripe him on The Hangover, because I don't remember his score for that film. However, his score for this film is typical of those kind of intrusive comedy scores that are all bouncy-bouncy, ha-ha ha-ha. I think the first sigh (I'm now rating in sighs!) was at thirty seconds in, with Ed Helms narrating, an opening a bit too much like American Beauty for it's own good. Also, seeing as how Alexander Payne produced it, there seems to be a link between this score and About Schmidt's, although that is a much better score. It ensures that the film not only sounds like, but feels like too many other films. There were times I just wanted the film's score to shut up and it makes Cyrus look like a great film!

Cedar Rapids does undeniably have some gags. The black humour, though punctuating moments of out-and-out boredom, is very funny and saves it from true jet-lag. Also, the performances by Helms, Weaver, Smith and to a certain extent John C. Reilly deserve praise. Finally, Miguel Arteta tries his best to make the movie stand out. However, Cedar Rapids, with a bad script, featuring poor characterisation and tonal balance/identity and a dreadful score by Christophe Beck, is condemned to slot itself into obscurity. An instantly forgettable film, neither completely bad or particularly good.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Dulled