Friday, 29 July 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Tree Of Life

Directed by: Terence Malick

Produced by: Dede Gardner
Sarah Green
Grant Hill
Brad Pitt
Bill Pohland

Screenplay by: Terence Malick

Starring: Brad Pitt
Sean Penn
Jessica Chastain

Music by: Alexandre Desplat

Cinematography by: Emmanuel Lubezki

Editing by: Hank Corwin
Jay Rabinowitz
Daniel Renzende
Billy Weber
Mark Yoshikawa

Studio(s): Plan B Entertainment
River Road Entertainment

Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures (United States/United Kingdom)
EuropaCorp (France)

Release date(s): May 16, 2011 (Cannes)
May 27, 2011 (United States)
July 8, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 138 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $32 million

Gross revenue (as of publication): $37, 428, 179

Okay, I may or may not be firing in a review for Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 today, because I have come to the conclusion that despite annoying children in the screening I can still make a valid and accurate analysis of the film. I would like to get this done today as it is my last day of reviewing for at least a good week as I am taking our scout troop away for a week on a trip, so that should be fun. Of course, whenever I get back I will be reviewing Cars 2 and I think Captain American is out in the next few days so that will probably be on the list. Speaking of American, I found a copy of Anton Corbijn's The American starring George Clooney, one of my favourite film's of 2010 for £5 the other day so I can't wait to kick back and watch this film.

Today's film is a rather interesting case. One of the year's most highly anticipated films, The Tree Of Life registers as an event as it marks the release of a new film by Terence Malick, one of America's most influential directors over the past forty years, despite having only released five films. Met with a chorus of both boos and applause at Cannes, as well as taking home the Palme d'Or, Malick's stylistic approach has truly polarised audiences. I'm going to avoid the usual plot synopsis, as it is one of those film's that truly needs to be seen, whether you like or not, with as little plot detail as is possible. Instead, I will tell a couple of little stories about the screening. I was worried going in as I didn't have much money on me and whether or not I'd be able to afford both a ticket and a taxi home. I knew at the QFT it was going to be at least a fiver, but the £6 admission fee certainly through me off balance. Even more off-putting was a group of silly old women, who were at the previous showing, blabbing their conclusions about a certain character in the film, while I was out the front having a cigarette. As someone who believes in the integrity of not spoiling a film, this was rather annoying, and even more annoying was their bemused looks when I said aloud "spoilers, spoilers, spoilers" as though not aware or purely ignorant of the fact that they are blurting important details aloud. Nevertheless, these miscrepancies did not stop me from making the 9.15 deadline.

The film opens with a quote from the Book Of Job, and from here we are truly taken on an extraordinary cinematic journey. Emmanuel Lubezki cinematography is breathtaking to behold. The various images the fill the screen show some great imagination in the location shooting, but the scenes involving the O'Brien family in 1950's Texas really have a dreamlike, hyper-realised quality that is wholly appropriate to the narrative and thematic treatment of the film. The Tree Of Life also has the distinction of being the film with perhaps the largest collection of credited editors (five in all) for a feature film I have seen for a long time. Considering the epic scope and nature of the project, it is my conclusion that they each worked on certain parts catering to their strengths. Overall, they did a really great job. This film is one that really has a phenomenal overall mise-en-scene that encompasses the viewer and throws us right into the deep end. Another important contributor would certainly be Douglas Trumbull, whose role as 'visual effects consultant' I think was vital in contributing to the legitimacy and believability of the project. The biggest pleasant surprise was that Alexandre Desplat, a composer I have had problems with in the past, has created some fantastic pieces for this film that stand head-and-shoulders alongside the classical recordings that have made their way into the film. The central cast in the film too are spot-on, bringing a sympathetic, human feeling to a technically brilliant film. Brad Pitt gives a tremendous performance as Mr. O'Brien, and Jessica Chastain is wonderful as Mrs. O'Brien. The young cast too are also terrific, but I would like to single out specifically Hunter McCracken as the young Jack. The changes in his personality are very subtle and handled with grace and the craft of a fine actor. One cannot talk about this film without mentioned Terence Malick. As the film's writer-director, it is his singular vision and style that guides this project to fruition. The film has been criticised in by elements of the critical community as being a collection of too many images being thrown together, and there was a particular twenty/thirty-minute sequence where I thought "Gee, he better have something connect the dot's so that it makes sense." Thankfully, Malick did, and the whole thing, despite being all over the place, does make sense, so you don't have that horrible feeling of a filmmaker declaring "this is art" because you appreciate as art without being told. Malick's script, despite going places far and away, is actually very well-grounded. He is very much in touch with human emotion, and injects this film with the humanism and spirit that is lacking in a lot of films of this type. Importantly, people have complained about the non-linear narrative/non-narrative style of the film's structure. I feel that it works brilliantly, the fragmentary nature being consistent and appropriate. Also, as a singular directorial achievement, it is stunning, and matches the work Christopher Nolan and James Cameron on Inception and Avatar respectively. Furthermore, the comparisons have been made between this and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I like 2001 a lot, but this does everything 2001 does and contains a warmth and heart that is lacking in that film. It is unquestionably a masterpiece.

The Tree Of Life truly is a majestic film, but there are problems which are identifiable with the film and not just mere niggles that happen to be a matter of personal taste. Sean Penn plays the character of Jack when he is older. Unfortunately, despite being a pivotal character is this story, Penn gets all off about ten-minutes of screen time at the very most in which to express his character. I think this is certainly a fault when you bring an actor of his caliber into your film and do not utilise him appropriately. Saying that, I've heard that Penn's role was significantly decreased in post-production. Frankly, I could have watched this film for another twenty minutes I was enjoying it that much, so it is a shame that we are missing more footage with Penn. You just get the impression that they use Penn in the manner that Sergei Eisenstein would use typage in his film's, casting unknown's via their faces to express an emotion in little screen time. This certainly is the main problem with the film, and I feel personally that it is poorly balanced by comparison to the rest of the film, and leaves a gaping hole in an otherwise fine film.

I really do have a problem with lack of balance in the Sean Penn aspect of The Tree Of Life. However, despite this hole, The Tree Of Life is a wonderful film. It is overall a fine technical achievement in the cinematography, visual effects and editing departments. The score/soundtrack is very powerful and contributes significantly to the success of the film. Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Hunter McCracken gives great performance. The thematic content of the picture is dense, entering the realm of the meta-physical and will no doubt conjure debate from humanist and spiritualist philosophical circles for years to come. Finally, the singularity of Terrence Malick as the architect of this film is the key to unlocking Pandora's Box, and watching The Tree Of Life we bear witness to a true masterpiece of film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bowled over

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Horrible Bosses

Directed by: Seth Gordon

Produced by: Brett Ratner
Jay Stern

Screenplay by: Michael Markowitz
John Frances Daley
Jonathan Goldstein

Story by: Michael Markowitz

Starring: Jason Bateman
Charlie Day
Jason Sudeikis
Kevin Spacey
Jennifer Aniston
Colin Farrell
Jamie Fox

Music by: Christopher Lennertz

Cinematography by: David Hennings

Editing by: Peter Teschner

Studio(s): New Line Cinema
Rat Entertainment

Distributed by: Warner Bros.

Release date(s): July 8, 2011 (United States)
July 22, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 98 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $35-37 million

Gross revenue(as of publication): $74,367,000 (Estimate/Domestic only)

At the risk of sounding like everyone else at the moment, rest in peace to Amy Winehouse. Yesterday, we lost one of the greatest young talents in music today. Although she had a small output of two albums, Frank and Back To Black, she certainly made a positive impact on the music world and will be sorely missed. Some weekend, eh? Amy Winehouse is dead along with Anders Behring Breivik killing (at time of publication) another 92 in two separate attacks, one a bombing in Oslo, another an attack on a youth camp on the island of Utoeya. We've still got all of Sunday to get through! I'm half expecting a jet engine to land on my house! In other news, I am going to be seeing The Tree Of Life and hopefully Cars 2 this week, so the reviews will be coming in.

And so we go, another day, another comedy. Despite being glad of an invite to another press screening, courtesy of Daniel Kelly once again, I found myself trying to go in with an open heart. I just find that I have been seeing so many comedies that they have a tendency to overwhelm with how bad they are or underwhelm at how average they are. Daniel made a fair point whenever he mentioned how comedy is the genre which divides opinions and taste the most of all film genres. This'll be a short synopsis, for it is always better to sum up the movie in as little words as is possible without spoiling much of the plot. Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman) works for an abusive psychopath of a boss in the form of Dave Harken. Dale Arbus (Charlie Day) works for sexually abusive man-eater Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston). Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) works for a sweetheart of a boss Jack Pellitt (Donald Sutherland), who treats him like his son, but things go belly up when he dies of a heart attack and his cocaine-addicted biological son Bobby (Colin Farrell) takes over. With the help of Dean 'Motherfucker' Jones (Jamie Foxx), the three plot to kill each other's bosses.

And so, there is your plot. It is all you need, for it is a movie strong enough to invite viewer's on the strength of this concept alone. By no means is it an entirely new concept (Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train could be seen as a point of reference), but the fact is that screenwriters Markowitz, Daley and Goldstein have approached the subject matter with care. Although it certainly contains some of the vulgarities which have become standard issue for mainstream comedies today, it's humour is far darker and actually has a bit of edge to it. Setting up the three leads as fundamentally nice people who decided that their lives would be better without these nasty people is a nice twist as opposed to the usual idea of bad people killing good people. The film's main strength is perhaps the way the cast is able to convey their characters and the story being told. Bateman in particular, but also Day and Sudeikis, are great at playing everyman characters with distinct personalities. Also, this is a trio that I would rather watch any day than a certain other famous comic trio doing the rounds of the box-office over the past few years. Praise must also be given to the bosses. Jennifer Aniston, who has not had the best feature-film track record although certainly a good television actress, is very strong as man-eating Julia, who is constantly in the ear (if not chewing on the ear) of Dale. The way she presents the character, with the right sense of tone and double entendres, is spot on for this character. Also, Colin Farrell, although having far less screen-time than the other two bosses, makes a strong impression as Bobby Pellitt. Despite being drastically different than his usual appearance, Farrell is not out of place as this slimy, greasy character with a combover, pot-belly and countless tics. The best role as a boss and in the film though is reserved for what is the best written character, with the magnificent Kevin Spacey playing Dave Harken. Almost like he is playing up the more menacing roles in his career (but not to tedious self-parody), he taps into the fine line of tension between humour and horror. Walking onscreen, Harken carries a powerful presence which puts you on the edge of your seat, and Spacey skilfully pulls off the character's dialogue to put the audience at ease, and then blasts you down to bottom of your seat. The essence of the film itself is nailed with the character of Harken and the performance Spacey gives.

That said, despite liking a lot of the film, it was hampered occasionally by a number of different problems. As I said, it contains the vulgarities expected of mainstream comedies. That, I have no problem with. What I did have a problem with was the fact that there were times whenever Horrible Bosses did deteriorate into 'tried and tested' trademarks of the mainstream comedy and didn't have the strength of it's convictions to remain in the black comedy domain where it so belongs. Also, there were times when the film was unnecessarily loud, not due to Christopher Lennertz's score even if he has done some terrible work for terrible films in the past, but because the whole movie's sound design caters towards excessive, boorish and with added OOMPH! as I call it, or as Kermode would say, PHWOAR! There really is no need for the film to sound like Transformers 3 whenever it is just a case of three guys trying to kill their bosses. Less is more! It is nowhere near as loud as The Hangover films, but it did suffer from these problems occasionally. Finally, the wrapping-up of the film came across as rushed and did not convincingly bring a close to an otherwise solid film.

Horrible Bosses has some horrible problems in it's sound department and attempts to appease the mass market and not have the strength of it's conviction. However, for the most part it is a pretty successful comedy, with a sharp script that's handled with care by director Seth Gordon, and an all-round strong cast of comic acting, particularly from Kevin Spacey. Alongside Bridesmaids, this film stands as among the strongest comedies to emerge from America this year and is a real pleasure to watch.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Relaxed (in dressing gown and it's near 3'o'clock)

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Guard

Directed by: John Michael McDonagh

Produced by: Chris Clark
Flora Fernandez-Marengo
Ed Guiney
Andrew Lowe
Paul Brett
Don Cheadle
Martin McDonagh
David Nash
Ralph Kamp
Lenore Zerman
Elizabeth Eves
Lee Magiday

Screenplay by: John Michael McDonagh

Starring: Brendan Gleeson
Don Cheadle
Liam Cunningham
David Wilmot
Mark Strong
Fionnula Flanagan

Cinematography by: Larry Smith

Editing by: Chris Gill

Studio(s): Reprisal Films
Element Pictures
Crescendo Productions

Distributed by: Sony Picture Classics
Element Pictures
Optimum Releasing

Release date(s): January 20, 2011 (Sundance)
July 7, 2011 (Ireland)
July 29, 2011 (United States)
August 19, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 96 minutes

Country: Ireland

Language: English

Budget: (Unavailable)

Gross revenue (as of publication): $761, 079 (Foreign gross only)

Another week, another obligatory and rather boring introduction to my review(s). Not only have I seen this movie, but I have also seen Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and Horrible Bosses. The reviews for these films will be coming soon, although I may well be heading to The Strand to re-watch HP7.2, as the press screening I went to, though I was pleased of course of the invite from my good friend and fellow film critic Daniel Kelly, was in 3D and plagued by an audience of families (3-year-olds way too young to see HP7.2 included) making whispering amongst each other interspersed with the occasional dropped popcorn box. Apologies for the Jamesian sentence there.

The movie we have here is an interesting case, given that this year seems to have had a tendency to produce comedies which are effectively biologically linked to those that have come before. As Bridesmaids is in many ways The Hangover with women, this has been critically received as the new In Bruges. When In Bruges came out a couple of years ago, I did enjoy it but it certainly wasn't the comic masterpiece that many people cracked it up to be. Here, we have Brendan Gleeson from that film being directed by John Michael McDonagh, the brother of the In Bruges writer-directed Martin McDonagh, so similarities are perhaps inevitable. In The Guard, a rather-anglicised version of a title that should have been The Garda (I'm nit-picking), Gleeson plays Sergeant Gerry Boyle, a bit of a Bad Lieutenant type with an unorthodox style and a penchant for drink and prostitutes, is forced into an investigation with straight-laced by F.B.I. agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) when drug smugglers are attempting to bring contrabands into Connemara.

To start with what is good about the film, we must bring up one Sergeant Gerry Boyle himself. Regardless of whether or not he does things by the rules or is politically correct (which he certainly isn't), his character is a fantastic comic creation. John Michael McDonagh writes some of the most spiky dialogue in any comedy for some time, and the character of Boyle is very well-rounded. The big pro on this side of things is Brendan Gleeson. He gives such a fine performance as this bonkers, uncouth policeman. Just watching the facial expressions he pulls when his colleagues question his behaviour is a thing of beauty. Also, what could have been a poor drunken Irish stereotype is made whole and three-dimensional by Gleeson. He embodies the essence of that character, and this is the kind of performance that a man of his talents has been waiting for his entire career. Also, I like how John Michael McDonagh keeps the film sticking to it's guns. This is not a PG-13 comedy and it is admirable how unashamedly un-PC the movie is. It is a movie with some really strong comedic ideas, and it embraces the fine line of tension between horror and comedy, the darkness and the light.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that I laughed at a good few bits in the movie, frankly I was not able to escape the feeling that despite a couple of new ideas and funny parts, this was merely window-dressing to what is a tried and tested genre. Granted, McDonagh does have some good pointers in his script, but structurally it is all same old, same old. The buddy cop genre of 'good-cop/bad-cop' routine has been done so many times and The Guard frankly follows down the same pattern. Although Gleeson and Fionnula Flanagan add pathos to the backstory of Boyle and his mother, it is a plot device that has been used over and over. Furthermore, the 'good-cop/bad-cop' routine is not even particularly well-balance. There is one scene, in which Everett's investigation are contrasted with Boyle's 'investigation' of two young women, where Everett's character seems appropriate in this movie. Otherwise, for the most part the character is a sore thumb. It is nowhere near as well-written as Boyle, whom the whole movie caters towards. Don Cheadle is a good actor, but is saddled with lackluster folly that is an excuse for a character. Finally, the ending is the movie is completely botched. There is nothing wrong with movies that are different in tone to the rest of the preceding film, but in this case, it seems inappropriate. I'll try my best not to spoil it, but for a movie so unashamed of it's no-bullshit approach, it felt like a copout and as though they were saying "You know what? There's more to this than the un-PC bullshit that you all enjoyed."

The Guard is one of those movies I get intensely frustrated at, perhaps more so than a terrible movie. On the one hand, there is a lot of good about the movie, as Sergeant Gerry Boyle is a fantastic character, Brendan Gleeson gives what I feel is thus far the best lead acting performance by a male of the year, and the sharp, jagged-edge un-PC humour is enough to make me want to see it one more time. However, it does feel as though they betray this with a truly poor ending, and that the film is essentially the Lethal Weapon-achetype buddy-cop movie, except set in Connemara and without the balance of the pairing of Riggs and Murtaugh. I was very disappointed by this film, and while I don't dislike it, I don't what the fuss that the critics are making is all about.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Very busy (tight schedule today, believe you me!)

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Transformers: Dark Of The Moon

Directed by: Michael Bay

Produced by: Don Murphy
Tom DeSanto
Lorenzo di Bonaventura
Ian Bryce

Screenplay by: Ehren Kruger

Based on: Transformers by Hasbro

Starring: Shia LaBeouf
Josh Duhamel
John Turturro
Tyrese Gibson
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
Patrick Dempsey
Kevin Dunn
Julie White
John Malkovich
Frances McDormand

Music by: Steve Jablonsky

Cinematography by: Amir Mokri

Editing by: Roger Barton
William Goldenberg
Joel Negron

Studio: DreamWorks Pictures

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Release date(s): June 23, 2011 (Moscow International Film Festival)
June 29, 2011 (United States/Canada)

Running time: 155 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $195 million

Gross revenue: $693, 683, 712

Once again (as is per usual, i sound like a broken fucking record!), I am slack on catching up with reviews. There isn't much new coming out in my defence, and I have seen the final Harry Potter film, review of which will be coming in soon (I hope). If I am being truthful though, I will confess that my recent sickness has infected me with the dreaded disease of laziness, so I have essentially been sitting around drinking beer and watching Ross Kemp In Afghanistan. Alas, I digress, for this is the review that you, my omnipresent/non-existent readership, have all been waiting for.

History and the benefit of hindsight gives one the time to reflect upon one's past judgements and question as to whether or not one made a completely rational decision. So, in looking at history, with the benefit of hindsight, I asked myself these questions: was I right in voting the last Transformers movie (which is and forever will be known not by it's official title, because it doesn't deserve to choose, but instead my self-assigned title, The Robot Movie: With Added Phwoar! Hello Dr. Kermode!) the worst movie of 2009, and was I right in voting Michael Bay, the director of works such as Bad Boys, The Rock and Armageddon, a Horseman Of The Apocalypse two years running? To answer both those questions, in my not-so humble opinion, yes, yes, abso-fucking-lutely yes! Armond White would be ashamed of my language, but I'll be damned if that wasn't the worst movie 2009 and there is no other way in which I can convey how strongly I feel about that film, through lack of invention or otherwise. Furthermore, Michael Bay, who is a man I believe to have a good degree of talent, decides to takes GWAR's satirical lyrics a bit too far, make it a personal manifesto and become one of the infinite amount of assembly-line, money-men Scumdogs Of The Universe that threaten to destroy both art and entertainment as we know it. Despite these (extreme!) reservations, I really did make a genuine effort to go in with an open mind to this film. I am going to skip out plot synopsis because I would like people to try as a personal challenge to keep up with the movie and make sense of it all.

That said, there is good to found in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, a film that is deserving of choosing it's own title, as opposed to a slightly insulting and patronising one a critic has bestowed upon it. For starters, having to film in 3D seems to have forced Bay and new cinematographer to the series Amir Mokri to restrain themselves. This can only be a good thing, as now I can see what is going on, and there are some genuinely terrific images in the film. Also, unlike the other films, despite it being long and boisterous, it actually embraces the fact that it is essentially about robots hitting each other and big, big special effects. The last hour of the film in Chicago is effectively a long series of action sequences, and creates some scenes that are genuinely entertaining, in particular the scene involving a building (no spoilers, but you'll have probably been bombarded by advertisements and trailers). So yes, this is high praise from me, but this film did actually have a couple of things going for it.

However, despite having a few things going for it, it has a lot more going against it. Ehren Kruger, a new screenwriter who has been brought in to avoid the series going stale, despite efforts to make a far darker and edgier film than previous instalments, simply doesn't structure it appropriately enough. It is all over the place and jumps from one thing to another. I actually struggle to remember the film, as the film just introduces characters, including one played by the under-utilised and brilliant John Malkovich, Ken Jeong going mad again in a silly part, and just disposes of them or gives no valid reason as to their absence. Even John Turturro, who to be fair always got an amusing part, and Frances McDormand, who gets a decent amount of screen time, have poorly written roles. I know that badly written parts usually have a reciprical effect on the actors, but I'll spare some time on Rosie-Huntington Whiteley's performance. Now, in many ways she is the talking point of the film, with Megan Fox having left the series, and so she probably had a lot of pressure being thrown into this behemoth (yes, it is that, but 'scourge' is probably more appropriate) of a franchise. Nevertheless, it does not excuse one from the terrible performance she gives. Her delivery of lines comes across as borderline self-parody, and yet you realise that this is meant to be taken seriously. Also, sometimes you cannot understand whether she is meant to be serious, ironic or whatever. Good acting is about conveying the correct emotions to your audience, looking through the viewfinder without looking like you are, playing the magician's trick. Unfortunately, this no magician's trick and constitutes the word 'FAIL.' Finally, although there are other annoying things in this boom-boom-chicka-boom-boom-snap-fizz-crackle-spew and pop-diddly-op mess of a film (terrible vocabulary I know), Steve Jablonsky's score has to rank up there with the worst of them. It is so loud and excessive that alongside the explosions and Transformers hitting each other, I wanted the sound in the Strand Cinema to have one of it's occasional random breakdowns. Also, it is so grandoise and full of pomp as though to say/shout at the audience "isn't this something grand and significant and how awesome is that!" Look mate, I watched Seven Samurai the other day, and despite being about hour longer, it kept me entertained throughout and the action sequences were shot with great dignity and respect to their audience. This is just too fucking loud and excessive and needs an intermission (which conveniently came as part of my copy of Seven Samurai as a five-minute scene of music with Japanese characters reading 'Intermission'), as I was extremely nauseated by the experience. I shudder to think what the 3D version would have done for my sanity.

It is a real shame that Michael Bay has used his powers to do evil, as even in this monstrous clusterfuck (there you go, Kermode) of a film, there are flourishes of the Bayian (if there such a term) brilliance that we have seen in some of his films. This is actually a well-shot movie that looks the part, some of the action scenes are really good, and I like the fact that in many ways they embrace the lack of seriousness of the concept and just go for the balls-to-the-wall attitude. However, as soon as you hear that Steve Jablonsky score, one that makes the bad work of Alesandre Desplat sound like Ennio Morricone, you just want to pop some conveniently placed cotton buds in your ear, shut yourself off from the world, and get the well-earned rest you deserve, and dream up an even better movie than the one in the theatre. It is a step-up from The Robot Movie: With Added Phwoar! aka Previous Film, but it is still S.O.S. (Same Old Shit or genuine S.O.S.!) and I am bored, dulled and indifferent. Words of advice for Michael Bay, do a Tony Jaa and retire to the jungle for some meditation, come back and watch some Kurosawa and then make a great film. Honestly, you should really know better than this!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Craving (can't wait a beer. Look, I'm sitting in a Duff t-shirt, I can't not have one!)

P.S. Morals are not necessarily required for a film review, but they do suck in this. It is pretty leery and excessive and boorish, and I (and every one else in the audience) did not miss the American flag waving behind the Transformers. Also, look at the motorway sequence: every car bashed over and destroyed has blacked-out windows so you can't see anyone in them and all the other cars avoided or otherwise unscathed have people in them. It gives one interesting food for thought with regards to screen violence, as does the depiction of the Transformers fighting: if it was human beings fighting, the film would be a solid, Lucio Fulci big fat red 18. Finally, I hate the stereotypical humour of African-Americans, the Irish and the Scottish. Michael Bay, you suck, I hope you have a bad Christmas!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Bridesmaids

Directed by: Paul Feig

Produced by: Judd Apatow
Barry Mendel
Clayton Townsend

Screenplay by: Annie Mumolo
Kristen Wiig

Starring: Kristen Wiig
Maya Rudolph
Rose Byrne
Wendi McLendon-Covey
Ellie Kemper
Melissa McCarthy
Chris O'Dowd

Music by: Michael Andrews

Cinematography by: Robert D. Yeoman

Editing by: William Kerr
Michael L. Sale

Studio(s): Universal Pictures
Relativity Media
Apatow Productions

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): May 13, 2011 (United States)
June 24, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 125 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $32.5 million

Gross revenue (as of publication): $191, 174,000

Hey folks, The Thin White Dude here. No real updates from the outside world for the past few days. I haven't really been doing much, although I did get to see Tron for the first time last night. Visually, it's stunning, Jeff Bridges is always a great and charismatic screen presence, but honestly, it can be boring and overwhelming, to the point where I spent large sections just looking at the visuals in the background and opposed to the characters in the foreground. The big elephant in the room is that later on today I will be going to see Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. For those of you who don't remember or don't follow the blog, I declared the previous Transformers (which I refer to as The Robot Movie, for it doesn't deserve to be known under it's title) the flat-out worst movie of 2009, and Michael Bay has two years in a row been one of my Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse. I am going to try and go in with an open mind, but if I'm being honest, things aren't looking up.

Today's film for review is Bridesmaids. To put the work in a bit of context, it was written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, and stars Wiig as Annie, the maid of honour for Lillian's (Maya Rudolph) wedding, leading up a troop of bridesmaids that includes the slightly jealous and competitive Helen (Rose Byrne), bitter and cynical mother Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), idealistic and happy newlywed Becca (Ellie Kemper) and unashamedly blunt and forthright Megan (Melissa McCarthy). Of course, as goes these comedies (deliberate grammar gaffs in case you grammar freaks hold me up on that), during the process of setting up the wedding, all manner of things happen with, you know it, 'hilarious consequences.' Good critical reviews in comparison to the Sex And The City film's made me go in with a relatively open heart. That said, I was partially ambiguous, because the last time the critics latched onto a comedy like this the movie was The Hangover, and the last 'comedy' I saw Wiig and Rudolph star in was MacGruber, so there was also part of me holding back.

To start with what is good about the film, I must point out the acting because there are a number of very good performances. Kristen Wiig delivers a real star-maker of a turn as Annie. Having wrote the character, she clearly knows her very well, but Wiig takes her theoretical knowledge of the character and plies it practically into delivering a great performance. She really nails the various dimensions of the character. At once charming and endearing, Wiig is able to skilfully reveal Annie's flaws without losing any of her charm. It truly is a fine performance, and perhaps the best I have seen full-stop so far from this year. Also good in a supporting capacity is Maya Rudolph, who, although not having as much screen time as her Bridesmaids, gives depth to the character of Lillian. Her role would be the equivalent of the often-absent Doug in The Hangover films, but it is through Rudolph's skill that we get to know this character. Subtle brilliance is to be found in the performance that Rose Byrne gives as Helen. The competitive nature that she possesses towards Annie is revealed is glances and smiles, and as such the character's nature and it's projection relies much on Byrne's performance. However, like her fellows Bridesmaids, she is a fully-rounded character, something that can also be attributed the strength of the script, and Byrne conveys that with conviction. On the other end of the spectrum, this film's equivalent Zach Galifianakis is to be found in Melissa McCarthy's borderline boorishness as Megan. Providing a lot of scene-stealing laughs and nigh-on perfect comic delivery, this, along with the aformented performances, proves Bridesmaids as a high watermark for female acting. On the male side, good bit-parts are to be found in Matt Lucas and Jon Hamm. I would like to point the wonderful Chris O'Dowd as Officer Rhodes. He too is a really solid comic creation, but also possesses a tenderness and a good heart that embodies all that is good about this film. These strong characters and their complementing dialogue can be attributed to Wiig and Mumolo's fine script, which really is a fine slap/wake-up call to the scribes of film's such as The Hangover and Sex And The City. On the one hand, it shows that there can be such a thing as good 'women's pictures', although I usually refrain from using the term, as it, along with the film's under the label, usually alienate it's male audience. On the other, it is easily as smutty as The Hangover and in many ways flips those guys the bird and says "screw you, we can outdo that!"

Bridesmaids is an all-round pretty solid movie. However, by no means is a perfect comedy. The script is for the most part great. There are occasions in which the gags are stretched out too-long and feel more like sketches as opposed to part of a feature-length film. Also, it suffers from a recent tendency in a lot of comedies of being too long as a whole. I personally feel that this could well have been been trimmed by about fifteen minutes. Also, despite being in many ways an innovative comedy, in others it is very nuts-and-bolts, and does feel like I have seen it all before. There was this feeling of deja vu as I watched the film, as you get from much of the Judd Apatow stable of comedies.

Despite these issues, and they are ones that do genuinely annoy and feel like a thorn in my side, Bridesmaids is a great comedy. The script, although occasionally problematic, is full of really strong, fully-rounded characters, and a number of gags and things that happen in the film are genuinely funny. Furthermore, it boasts terrific acting, particularly from Kristen Wiig as Annie, but also Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy and Chris O'Dowd. I don't think, even in the bit-parts, there is a single bad performance. I really enjoyed Bridesmaids and would sincerely encourage people to go and see it, as it is a comedy that seems to appeal both to highbrow and lowbrow humour. A really solid film that everyone can enjoy, as it caters towards females without alienating the male audience.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Very well (despite being awake pretty early today)

P.S. Wish me luck for Transformers: Dark Of The Moon

P.P.S. Wish me luck also: I am considering re-watching Marley and Me in the wake of getting a dog and my reaction to the puppies in this movie, as I am worried I'm going soft

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Kung Fu Panda 2

Directed by: Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Produced by: Melissa Cobb
Guillermo del Toro

Written by: Jonathan Abel
Glenn Berger

Starring: Jack Black
Angelina Jolie
Gary Oldman
Dustin Hoffman
Jackie Chan
Seth Rogen
Lucy Liu
David Cross
James Hong

Music by: Hans Zimmer
John Powell

Editing by: Clare Knight

Studio: DreamWorks Animation

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Release date(s): May 26, 2011 (United States)
June 10, 2011 (United Kingdom)
June 23, 2011 (Australia)

Running time: 91 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $150 million

Gross revenue (as of publication): $536, 866, 756

I tell you guys, I have made some awesome buys on DVD lately. I've been shopping primarily out of a shop called Head (I know, horrible name), picking up great films such as Tetsuo: The Iron Man, but also building up a stockpile with stuff like Capturing The Friedman's and a very nice book/film combo of The Hustler for £2. It is rare that I buy a DVD over a £5 these days, and it is my sincere recommendation, no matter how much you like movies, that you rarely do so yourself. The only 'expensive' purchase (at £6) I made was a full restored version of Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse der Spieler. Considering the specialist nature of the film (silent movie, four-and-a-half hours long), that is a good buy. Also, I'm finding that the YouTube uploading service is shit, and my attempt's to branch out into video reviewing is getting pretty hampered, so you'll be seeing me here quite a lot over the next few weeks.

So, the film here today is Kung Fu Panda 2. For those of you who don't know the history of my blog (I don't expect you to, the early stuff is boring anyway), I was a big fan of the original Kung Fu Panda film, so much so that I bestowed upon it the honour of my Stan and Ollie Award for Best Comedic Film of 2008. In Kung Fu Panda 2, Po (Jack Black) and the rest of his fellow Kung Fu masters return to confront, as Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) seems to predict, that the nefarious Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) has returned, creating a weapon that threatens the very existence of Kung Fu. Furthermore, Po is forced to confront the demons of his past in order to achieve inner peace.

One of the best things about the original was the all-star vocal cast, and the sequel follows suit in this manner. Jack Black, who I think is one of the most charismatic funny-men in America gives Po an instantly likeable and humorous presence onscreen. Also, he handles well the rather emotional character arc of Po with real dignity and pathos. Dustin Hoffman is also good once again as Master Shifu. However, the really great voice role in the film belongs to Gary Oldman as Lord Shen. It is almost as though this is a role he had been waiting for, understanding the absurdity of it appearing in celluloid, unleashing it now that he is playing an animated character. Shen is at once absolutely terrifying (a great achievement, given that he is a peacock) and a great comic creation. Furthermore, Oldman's vocal performance makes him feel real, a flesh and bone character, despite being a bunch of animated pixels: we feel for Shen and there is strong pathos in his character arc. I would like to point out as a positive the arc's of both Shen and Po, and the parallels they possess. Both are character's who ultimately are damaged as the result of circumstances outside their control. These decisions involve their parents, but it is the attitude that both take that defines them. The theme of parents, origins and birthright give the film one of it's greatest strengths. Finally, I would like to point out the film's imagery and imagination. Clearly there has been more research done into the Asian/Buddhist/Kung Fu iconography, and this gives the film a unique feel and taste. The use of Po as the prothesized enemy of "black-and-white" takes the yin-ying symbol, transplants it to the physical features of the panda and turns it into a plot point. Also, the film look absolutely wonderful. The original looked the part, but DreamWorks Animation have really outdone themselves this time. It is completely seamless and of an appropriate frame-rate, but also the colour palette is really balanced and of a great variety. If anything, Kung Fu Panda 2 stands as a testament to the real beauty and potential of contemporary animation.

That said, despite the fact I am and will gladly gush over a number of the points in Kung Fu Panda 2, it is by no means faultless. In fact, there are actually a number of severe problems with the film. Despite strong thematic content and character arcs, the film is tedious and predictable, and more importantly, it simply isn't as funny as the original. The balance of great comedy and story has teetered too far towards the story this time around and not enough towards the comedy. I found the 2D-dream sequences/memories of Po harrowing, but the film just was not that funny. I fear that with DreamWorks now having another cash cow on their hands, they are going to turn this into the new Shrek series, and milk the cow until it is a dry skin-and-bone abomination. Furthermore, the film does feel very undeveloped. For such strong material with regard to thematic content, it is a real shame that more time was not spent on scribing the film with the respect that it's characters deserve. Also, it is clear that they have spent so much time and invested some much effort in the film that it seems a waste for the film to feel as lacking as it does. To use a horrible pun, it lacks the punch of the original.

The script is pretty flawed and there are a number of elements in the film which just seem to be there for the sake of being there, their potential being wasted, but Kung Fu Panda 2 is by no means a bad movie. It is certainly a good movie, with some great vocal performances from Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman and (particularly) Gary Oldman. Also, DreamWorks Animation has crossed over into new bounds of brilliance in the visual style and beauty of it's animation, bringing to mind the scale (on occasion) of something like James Cameron's Avatar. Finally, the film is worth seeing for the emotional depth of the thematic content surrounding parents alone. I did find myself on the point of tears at one point. Even though the floodgates did not open, that is an achievement in itself. While not a perfect movie, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a good movie to go and see, and is worth the price of a ticket.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Active (for the first time in a few weeks, I feel genuinely awake and like I have achieved something today)

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Bad Teacher

Directed by: Jake Kasdan

Produced by: Jimmy Miller
David Householter

Written by: Lee Eisenberg
Gene Stupnitsky

Starring: Cameron Diaz
Lucy Punch
Justin Timberlake
Jason Segel

Music by: Michael Andrews

Cinematography by: Alar Kivilo

Editing by: Tara Timpone

Studio: Mosaic

Distributed by: Colombia Pictures

Release date(s): June 17, 2011 (United Kingdom)
June 24, 2011 (United States)

Running time: 92 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $20 million

Gross revenue (as of publication): $91, 307, 505

Once again, I have disappeared off the radar and stopped posting for near enough two weeks. However, this time I would like to think that I had a valid enough excuse. This annoys me because I had seen a ton of movies and now have to rush through them all (Kung Fu Panda 2 and Bridesmaids coming soon). Nevertheless, I have been sick with a bad flu/fever which for the first few days put me in what was more-or-less a state of delirium and for the week after gave me a bad stomach bug which has caused me to lose eight pounds of weight. I have not weighed under eleven stone for about four years, so this was a temporary health concern, I am ok, but I have had to pretty much schedule my timetable around it. Unfortunately, no reviewing or writing of any sort was factored in, and I have been resting up. Now, temporary setbacks aside, the show will go on.

The film in front of the panel today is Bad Teacher. By no means a particularly original concept, although judging from the film's tone they have clearly seen Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans, as the influence extends beyond the title and concept. Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, who after her rich fiance dumps her, is forced to continue her job as a teacher. After being attracted at the possibility of breast enlargement surgery (priced at $10,000), she begins to try to win over wealthy substitute teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake). However, he seems more taken with the kind and dedicated, if slightly eccentric Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), which along with gym teacher Russell Gettis' (Jason Segel) teasing advances, compounds Elizabeth's stress, which she takes out on her pupil's.

As mentioned, it is not exactly an original role, but Cameron Diaz clearly relishes the part. She is a charming comedic actor, and this is a role that I feel only a woman of her talents could have pulled off. Instead of coming across as attempting to act bad, she just does, and it all seems to be a natural process for her. The part is nuts-and-bolts, but Diaz does a great job of it, and is the beacon of the film's comedic potential. Also in the acting department, in a role that could have ended being the film's worst and all-round filler, Jason Segel is really good as Russel Gettis, the gym teacher who is constantly Elizabeth's case. He is a very funny man who in this part does not fail to be both funny and creepy. However, he is a sympathetic character with whom the audience can empathise, and Segel plays this aspects of the character well. Despite the film not having particularly well-written characters or a strong story/structure, there are a number of funny gags. Elizabeth's Halsey's constant dismissal of certain characters challenges public politeness, which is usually pretty humorous. Also, I do rather like the fact that instead a false pretence of being 'Bad' or a kind of faux-hip version of being bad, the film actually goes for an R-rating and has a proper consistency and appropriate level of badness. Halsey smokes pot, is rude and crass to her fellow faculty members, and is ruthless in the pursuit of her ultimately selfish goal in getting her boob job. Having a boob job in itself as a the prime motivator for a character is a 'Bad' move, and feels appropriate for the movie.

That said, Bad Teacher is by no means a flawless movie. As I have mentioned already, the script's character's are poorly written. They are all cardboard cutouts, each with the eccentricities and fetishes so that one can put a label on them and say "these are fully-rounded character's" when they aren't really. Also, in terms of structure, the plot is very nuts-and-bolts. We've seen it all before, and like all good chess-masters, we can predict the move of our opponent before they have even made it. One must automatically approach a film as an enemy, for it is the film's task to spin an illusion before us and convince us that it is our friend. Ultimately, Bad Teacher is not convincing enough to make me believe it is my friend, for it's frilly exterior does not disguise what I see as a rotten core. Furthermore, the film is wrapped up and sugar-coated in a pop-culture kind of contemporary feel of trying too much to be a movie of it's time that it occasionally betray's it's 'Badness,' turning out as more a member-of-the-pack than a truly 'Bad' original.

That said, with all it's problems, particularly with certain aspects of the script and it's pop-culture ridden feeling of ubiquitousness, Bad Teacher is not a bad film. It's not a particularly good movie by any means, but nowhere near the monstrosity a grumpy film critic such as I would lead myself to believe. I laughed a number of times during the course of the film, which actually does make a pretty ballsy attempt at sticking with it's guns as an R-rated comedy, and boasting some pretty good performances from Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Excitable (very busy, things to do, time too short, time my enemy)

P.S. Weird to think that the slightly overbearing music was done by Michael Andrews, whose very different score for Donnie Darko was one of the greatest in movie history