Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - White House Down

Directed by: Roland Emmerich

Produced by: Roland Emmerich
Bradley J. Fischer
Harald Kloser
James Vanderbilt
Larry Franco
Laeta Kalogridis

Screenplay by: James Vanderbilit

Starring: Channing Tatum
Jamie Foxx
Joey King
James Woods
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Jason Clarke
Richard Jenkins

Music by: Harald Kloser
Thomas Wander

Cinematography by: Anna Foerster

Editing by: Adam Wolfe

Studio(s): Centropolis Entertainment
Mythology Entertainment

Distributed by: Colombia Pictures

Release date(s): June 28, 2013 (United States)
September 13, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 131 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $150 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $185, 003, 784

It's not that I'm continuing down the line of the perennial stop-start routine of busting out a few reviews every now and then, it's just that it's pretty hard to follow something like my review for Grown Ups 2. That stuff about rolling around naked in a landfill was good, even by my usual, unconstructed rambling standards. Anywho, along with this, I have guaranteed reviews in the pipeline for Runner Runner, Elysium (I've finally seen it!) and either this month or next (depending how I feel) Stoker, Sanitarium and The Lords Of Salem. I might save those three for next month, being horror movies and Halloween 'n all. Maybe I'll put out a guide to Alternative Halloween Movies... and then I'll remember I did that last year so I'll have to have some miserable excuse to publish a new list, or else I'll just have to reprint the same one. So, for all the latest in movie-watching madness, keep your eyes posted!

So, here we have White House Down, a film which got some brilliant accidentally-on-purpose publicity on account of the two stars, Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, doing the Jimmy Kimmel sketch, (I Wanna) Channing All Over Your Tatum. Genius marketing or not, I would have tried to see it anyway, not just because I like the stars (Tatum won Best Lead Actor from myself last year for Magic Mike), but also because the director, Roland Emmerich, has always been somewhat of a guilty pleasure. Right up until 2000's The Patriot, Emmerich made some highly entertaining blockbuster films which delivered more than enough bang for their buck, the best of these being the Jean-Claude Van Damme/Dolph Lundgren action flick Universal Solider. However, since The Day After Tomorrow (a singularly awful movie that strangely spotlights of all places in my home country Banbridge), he's made a spat of highly ambitious yet outright dull pictures that in terms of quality fail to match up to the scope of the central concept. Here, Emmerich is back in rather more familiar action territory, Tatum playing John Cale, a Capitol Police officer who takes his daughter Emily (Joey King) to the White House for a tour while he has a job interview for the Secret Service. The interview is conducted by former college acquaintance Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who believes him unfit for the job. His skills are put to the test when after Jamie Foxx's President Sawyer announces a controversial peace treaty between allied countries to remove military forces from the Middle East, the White House is taken over by a group of mercenaries with intent to extort from the Federal Reserve, to access NORAD, and to assassinate the President. Got it?

To start with what's good here, the fact is that this is a return to form for Emmerich. I mean, don't get me wrong, some of his action epics such as The Patriot are good movies, but he's been doing that same schtick for well over a decade, and it's nice to see a return to outright, balls-to-the-wall nonsense. It's a simple premise, it's not particularly inventive or well-written (more of which later), but the fact is is that it works! Emmerich is one of the few filmmakers working in Hollywood that can take this sort of material and turn it into genuinely entertaining material, and only Emmerich could manage to convince us in the legitimacy (or rather, absurdity) of a car chase on the White House lawn. I've long been a Roland Emmerich apologist and it's no secret that one of my genre weaknesses as a reviewer is those 1980s-early 1990s action films that don't make a whole lot of sense but feature fights, chases and things that blow up, and both come well together here. I know it's not a work of art by any means, but I'd be a liar if I said I didn't have a whale of a time with this movie. Also helping the movie is the fact overall it is well-cast. Even if they are in smaller, less well-fleshed out roles, Richard Jenkins, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jason Clarke (very busy, of late) are always a pleasure to see. James Woods does a great job of portraying the inner emotional conflict of Martin Walker, the head of the Presidential Detail. Also a standout is Joey King, who has emerged over the past couple of years as one of the US' most promising child actors. After a bit part in The Dark Knight Rises and a voice role in Oz The Great And Powerful, she has progressed with finesse into a major supporting part. As Emily, King gets across all of the daddy issues and the angst of young adolescence, while also proving herself not just as a competent performer, but a confident one at that. The highlight in the acting terms though is the rapport and chemistry between Tatum and Foxx. Although in many ways Tatum is the lead and Foxx the supporting act, both are equally important on the acting front in putting the movie over to audiences. As I'm sure anyone who follows this blog is aware, I'm more than convinced of Tatum's lead star quality, and that I see him in the same vein of a Brando of old, a quality which he puts on display here, making a character that could have been a dullard amusing and engaging. Foxx too, more versatile than he's ever given credit, last seen comfortably wielding guns in Django Unchained, is an entertaining screen presence as he fumbles around, making decisions about the military yet seemingly unable to handle a gun. Foxx gives the character enough complexity so that it's not a Republican-painted picture of Obama, but instead injected with irony and giving Sawyer this boyish sort-of innocence. As you'd expect from a big $150 million dollar budgeted enterprise, the film is technically proficient. While offering us nothing special, cinematographer Anna Foerster and editor Adam Wolfe do a good job in their respective departments in keeping the ball rolling with the film. Also, the film's production design, special effects and the stunt departments work in great cohesion in helping to deliver the film's success. This is a movie filled to the brim with big explosions, action scenes et al, and if you go in with that expectation in mind, you won't be disappointed. Just to flag up another critic briefly, Andrew Chan of the Film Critics Circle Of Australia wrote "I am not entirely sure, whether I should be happy or sad that someone got shot or bomb [his grammar, not mine], but such is the manner of how the film is played out." Much as I like Chan and his succinct reviewing, I have to disagree, because I had a great time watching people get blown up and shot!

However, that is not to say White House Down is perfect, or by any means a great movie, because while I admit rather enjoying it, the flaws it contains are nonetheless potent and quite visible through all the pomp and circumstance. The major problem, not too much of an issue but a flaw regardless, is James Vanderbilt's script. Vanderbilt is no slouch in the writing department (he was the scribe behind David Fincher's masterful Zodiac), but even with Tatum, Foxx and company performing this stuff, it's still a frightfully derivative work with an abundance of tropes that would have seen cliched in the late eighties. I'm not going to say what they are, not out of laziness, but because it would take the fun out of you unveiling for yourself the various plot (in)intricacies. We have Lethal Weapon buddy cop interactions, the Die Hard siege format played out, insert precocious child here yadda yadda yadda, in an intensely, militaristic 'Merica movie that then has the gall to say "there's more to life than this." It's fun, but reflexive and satirical in the vein of Robocop (the remake of which is being scribed by Vanderbilt) it ain't. The score, accredited to both Harald Kloser and Thomas Wander (birth name Wanker), is also of this same mould. It didn't strike as much as the script, but the fact is that it too is full of the classic genre composition themes. It's been a while since I've reference them (though I'm sure they've been there in spirit), but the EHO (Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra) plays their tired cliches of times past for today. Simply put!

Don't get me wrong, it's terribly derivative and, quite frankly, astonishing in how uninventive it is, but the fact of the matter is is that I enjoyed White House Down very much. It's a technically proficient picture that delivers with the explosions and action scenes, while the cast as a whole, but especially the leads Tatum and Foxx, hold the movie together and sell us on it. Also, Roland Emmerich is one of the few directors today who could direct such a crazy and absurd action movie that despite all it's faults, is still great fun. Finally, as the only person in the theatre who laughed during The Act Of Killing (still my favourite film of the year), I had no question of morality or politics and just had a whale of a time with White House Down.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Sweet (just taking in life day by day)

Friday, 20 September 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Grown Ups 2

Directed by: Dennis Dugan

Produced by: Adam Sandler
Jack Giarraputo

Screenplay by: Adam Sandler
Tim Herlihy
Fred Wolf

Starring: Adam Sandler
Kevin James
Chris Rock
David Spade
Salma Hayek
Maria Bello
Maya Rudolph
Alexander Ludwig
Nick Swardson
Steve Austin
Taylor Lautner

Music by: Rupert Gregson-Williams

Cinematography by: Theo van de Sande

Editing by: Tom Costain

Studio: Happy Madison

Distributed by: Colombia Pictures

Release date(s): July 12, 2013 (United States)
August 9, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 101 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $80 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $221, 017, 503

Much as I might like to rave in a self-promotional manner about how busy I've been, what movies to expect etc etc, but I think that everyone who's looking in at this one perhaps knows what to expect. Hey, I might surprise you and Grown Ups 2 might turn out to be a comedic masterpiece in the vein of Sons Of The Desert, City Lights, The Naked Gun, Withnail & I and Toy Story 3 (BLASPHEMER!). I ain't even gonna lie, I'm finding it hard to hold back on the sheer wattage that is just emerging from my pores, as though I'm gonna turn out like Tetsuo in Otomo's Akira. It's almost as if the medium of reviewing a movie with the power of the typed word is inadequate in fully expressing my feelings. I'm gonna give you a visual image here. There are some of you who will not have seen the movie, but there will be others who get what I'm talking about: Darryl Revok, Ending, Scanners. That's where I'm at!

So, even though I've eschewed my traditional format in the previous paragraph for a State Of My Mind By Way Of Grown Ups 2 Address, here I'm actually going to make some sort of attempt to give the film a bit of context and brief synopsis. Well, there's history here to say the least. Adam Sandler is a guy who had a string of entertaining comedies in the nineties, with films such as Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy. There have been other good works here and there, but since the beginning of the new millennium, it's hard to detect when exactly, but at some point Sandler went a bit off the rails. Then he made Funny People with Judd Apatow, which deconstructed his onscreen comedic persona and seemed to be his way of saying "I'm done with making shit movies," all of which only seemed to be a harbinger for where he is now, stuck in the worst rut in his career. Stuck is perhaps a bit generous, given that he has been a producer and writer on most of the projects he's been involved in since that film. He followed Funny People with the original Grown Ups film, which I dismissed at the time of it's release as a lazy bit of work which was essentially Sandler and co. going on holiday and calling each other different names for the craic of it, then released it as a movie. I thought this was the artistic nadir until I saw last year Jack And Jill, a film so bad that despite being the first film I saw that year, it managed to remain that way from start to finish, a more than deserving winner of Worst Film of 2012. In the midst of this, there's the anomaly of That's My Boy, a solid and outrageous return to R-rated comedy for Sandler, which, while not perfect by any means, is a movie that is genuinely daring in terms of pushing the boundaries of comedy. However, now we're back to the PG-13, 'family-friendly' territory of Grown Ups 2, although what families these movies are deemed friendly to is another matter altogether. Directed by Dennis Dugan, regular Sandler collaborator, including the nineties heyday, the previous Grown Ups film and Jack And Jill, for which he was made one of my Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse last year, Grown Ups 2 sees Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Spade (no Rob Schneider, best thing in last movie :( ) reprise their roles with their respective wives in tow, as over the course of a single day, a bunch of stuff happens before Sandler and wife Salma Hayek throw a party at their house. If I sound lazy, it's not that I'm actively being so, it's just that I defy anyone to tell me in a detailed, constructed manner what the hell the plot actually is.

As I bang this one out, I'm listening the Guiseppe Verdi's Requiem, and the Dies Irae is about to start up, a harbinger perhaps for the unleashing of the proverbial beast. Before I get there I have to note that there is one thing that made me laugh, as it did with the first one, Chris Rock's relationship with his mother-in-law. Described in the first film as "Idi Amin with a propeller on her head," there are two strong but all too brief gags at the expense of this woman. The first, involving Rock waiting on her going to the toilet so she can't answer the door to get her cable, is silly but funny, and the second, the mother-in-law sitting watching television static in the middle of a montage is outrageous in its absurdity. Apart from these moments, there's nothing to merit. 

"And here we go." - Joker, The Dark Knight

And the Dies Irae is off! Only something of this magnitude could give me the energy of cultural and temporal reflexivity necessary to drive the gears forward in tacking a turgid mess of such magnitude, because Grown Ups 2 is just that. As mentioned, I defy anyone to tell me what exactly the plot of this film is. The only structure of the film is that it seems to be split into two parts. The first part (and the film) opens with a deer pissing all over Sandler's house and his family (here comes the Tuba Mirum), and that pretty much sets the template for everything that's to come. Virtually every gag is jacked up to the maximum level of ridiculousness, and while I'm all and one for comedy, the fact of the matter is that they don't even bother playing up to this and are in fact deadly serious about being funny, if you catch my drift. In this first segment, it comes across as a badly patched together series of sketches, none of which are funny, begging once again the question "With all this talent, why hasn't anyone caught onto the fact that this shit ain't funny?" Oh yeah, answer: Because they're making wackloads of cash! Gordon Gecko might have said "Greed is good," but I don't think Michael Douglas will ever see Grown Ups 2. The second part is an eighties-themed party (woops, spoiler, huh, huh, huh), and it's one of those parties where despite the fact I was born in the nineties, I'm culturally astute enough to get that one's dressed as Prince, the other Meat Loaf, Sandler Springsteen etc., yet they still feel the need to say "Hey, nice Terminator outfit," and as such comments like that only conjure the inimitable Bill Hicks in my head going "Shut the fuck up." But it doesn't STFU, it just goes on and on and on and on and on, and not like Don't Stop Believin', but goes on like a perpetual Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family (bonus points if you get that without Wikipedia), all wielding mallets smashing my head for the entirety of the film's running time. Well, that would be generous, because I reckon that some of the feelings I got from this film are akin to post-traumatic stress and shell-shock. I love the period of culture they are referencing, but no amount of Frankie, New Order and (I think I saw someone in a) Devo (costume) are going to save this monstrosity. Neither are the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, Steve Buscemi, Andy Samberg, Jon Lovitz (a highly underrated comedic talent), Shaq, Taylor Lautner, all of whom are thrown in to play off their respective personae, but don't seem to have any appropriate place in the scheme of things. Speaking of playing off ones persona, the same could be said for the primaries, if they were written or acted as though their characters actually had any semblance of a personality. Sandler knows fine rightly that he's being lazy and seems content to rub it in everyone's face, while James is obviously more than happy playing a part of someone who burps, sneezes and farts consecutively (don't know, don't remember, don't care), but Rock and Spade seem bored to tears. It's a sad state of affairs when Rob Schneider can't appear in the film due to 'scheduling conflicts,' and it'll be one of those cases where when they are all old and retired that they admit "you know what, this really sucked." The budget of the film was $80 million, an absurd figure probably about fifty times or more larger than the budget of Rita, Sue And Bob Too, the raucous Alan Clarke comedy from 1987 ("Thatcher's Britain With Her Knickers Down"), which is uproariously funny and something like this monstrosity can't hold a candle. It is phantasmagoric just how bad this film is, and take into account that this comes from the same bad breed as Grown Ups and Jack And Jill, yet makes them seem sooooooooooooo much better! Phantasmagoric is perhaps the wrong word, because it implies something on genuine fascination, whereas it would be far more interesting spending one hundred minutes rolling around naked in a landfill. Much as I'd like to discuss each aspect constructively in thorough detail (Rupert Gregson-Williams' terrible scores strike again!), I'm losing the genuine power for words on this one, so I'll just leave you with another image: Tissue paper, clean, soggy garbage water: that image + first para Revok + Verdi's Requiem = Grown Ups 2 review.

These things being said, I perhaps have only touched upon the precipice of just how bad this movie is. I'm sure there are critics out there who have written far more eloquent and wonderful pieces on just how rubbish this is. I've had to go back through my archive to decide just how bad this is. I've walked into numerous Worst Films, such as Deja Vu, Prom Night, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, Vampires Suck, Barbarossa: Siege Lord and last year's Jack & Jill. Each of those film's are monumentally bad, but I think we may find a new low in Grown Ups 2, which is quite possibly (benefit of the doubt my arse!) the worst movie I have seen in my time of reviewing. I think there will be worse, as it's not completely faultless, but it is among the worst movies I have ever seen. I saw this with my mother and sister, the former leaving about thirty minutes in ("I can't stick this anymore!") and the latter continually mentioning how bad it was. There many things to be said about this, but I'll leave it here. At present I'm reading Irvine Welsh's Maribou Stork Nightmares, a novel that involves three layers of consciousness, as the comatose protagonist attempts to escape from the real world into fantasy. If Grown Ups 2 is a part of the real world, than I, like Roy Strang, will be happy to retreat into delirium. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 0.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Grizzled and migrainous (thinking too much about this movie has hurt my head. All communication I've had today with humans sounds like something from Retarded Animal Babies)

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P.S. Blogger's screwed this up, but you get the above sentiment!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - What Maisie Knew

Directed by: Scott McGehee
David Siegel

Produced by: William Teitler
Charles Weinstock
Daniela Taplin Lundberg
Daniel Crown

Screenplay by: Nancy Doyne
Carroll Cartwright

Based on: What Maisie Knew by Henry James

Starring: Onata Aprile
Julianne Moore
Alexander Skarsgard
Joanna Vanderham
Steve Coogan

Music by: Nick Urata

Cinematography by: Giles Nuttgens

Editing by: Madeline Gavin

Studio: Red Crown Productions

Distributed by: Millennium Entertainment

Release date(s): September 7, 2012 (Toronto International Film Festival)
May 3, 2013 (United States)
August 23, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 99 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $6 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $1, 066, 471 (domestic gross only)

Aloha, there, TTWD here, as per usual, shooting from the hip, yadda, yadda, yadda. The movie watching has started to pick itself up again and I can confirm for certain that reviews for Grown Ups 2 and White House Down will coming up soon enough. Anyone who follows this blog knows my feelings on the first Grown Ups and the recent output of one Adam Sandler, and I would say you're not going to get a rant, but those would be famous last words. Also, with regards to White House Down, I am a fan of Roland Emmerich, but his recent output (like much of his back catalogue) has been a bit of a mixed bag, so I'll leave that one up in the air until the time of the review. Because of the lack of output in August, I've decided to compile my work for August and September into one 'Review Of The Month,' and on a side note, Ian Fleming's Casino Royale is a terrific read and I'd recommend you all give it a go, especially if you're into the recent Daniel Craig-led Bond films. So, for all the latest in movies, and the odd off-topic observation, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for analysis is What Maisie Knew, an adaptation of the 1897 Henry James novel of the same name, updated to a contemporary setting of present-day New York. I use contemporary because I feel we are well past the age referred to as 'modern,' and that it is an antiquated term used rather lazily by just about everyone to describe the world we live in. Anywho, me and Monsieur James have a bit of history, given that I had to read his 1898 novella The Turn Of The Screw, which, although the source for Jack Clayton's 1961 The Innocents, I found to be frightfully dull and in terms of nineteenth-century gothic fiction does not hold a candle to the likes of Sheridan Le Fanu or Edgar Allan Poe. However, Henry James has long since started turning over in his grave, so my hope going in was that his lifeless prose did not translate in adaptation over the course of one hundred and fifteen years. In What Maisie Knew, the titular child protagonist (Onata Aprile), is witness to the disintegration of the marriage of her parents, rock star mother Susanna (Julianne Moore) and art dealer Beale (Steve Coogan), and their relationship(s) with their new partners Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard) and Margo (Joanna Vanderham). Got it? Good! Let's go!

Starting with the good about What Maisie Knew, I must say that it is an excellently cast film, and certainly the best ensemble of a film I have seen so far this year. The cast as a whole is top-notch. In the supporting roles, we have a strong level of three-dimensional qualities in all of the adults. Julianne Moore is reliable as ever, at moments tender and at other volatile and outright vicious, and Steve Coogan comes across well as both a charming rogue and someone who is quite clearly an unfit father. The younger partners, Alexander Skarsgard and Joanna Vanderham, are also convincing and believable in their parts. Skarsgard's character could have come across as too sappy, but he is never anything but genuine in his role as nice guy Lincoln. Vanderham too, in her debut feature, is a pleasant surprise with her underlying strength and understanding of the character. The real revelation, and the true heart and soul of the picture, however, is Onata Aprile in the eponymous part of Maisie. Not dissimilar to the work we saw last year from Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts Of The Southern Wild, Aprile seems to possess this sort of innate intelligence beyond her years, comprehending the whole scheme of things and following appropriately her character's story arc. Never anything less than cute and sympathetic, Aprile's precocious innocence is a wholly endearing quality, especially given the underhanded machinations of her parents. Also, there is something to be said in a casting process about selecting a face, for Aprile's features, which dominates much of the posters in the film's marketing campaign, though on the outside represent a lovely-looking child, hint inside at the inner trauma that the parents are putting her through. My compadre on BBC Radio Five Live Dr. K described the film as a masterclass in acting, and while I wholeheartedly agree, it is Aprile's central performance that sells the picture as a whole. Although the cast is the large selling point of the movie in terms of it's qualities, there are certain other aspects which contribute to the overall tapestry of the picture. As you've perhaps gathered from how I've written about the three-dimensionality of the characters, the script is a uniformly dense, solid piece of work from which the actors derive the core of their parts. Writers Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright have crafted this work from the ground, starting with a tight, narratively appropriate plot structure. In this way, although a script is sometimes by default segmented, here it flows seamlessly from scene to scene as blood along the body's pulsing veins. Also, the implications the structure has on the characters that inhabit it is of importance. As the plot develops, and we, like Maisie, realise that her parents are not necessarily up to scratch in the responsibility of caring for a child, there forms a sort-of surrogate family that surrounds Maisie that is both highly comforting and strangely disturbing at the same time. Also, the dialogue of the film is played for the most part just right down the middle, Doyne and Cartwright using neutral language bereft of the usual melodramatic nonsense and which, like most human conversations, is up in the air for one's own interpretation. The film was shot beautifully by Gilles Nuttgens, a cinematographer most famous for his collaborations with Deepa Mehta and, er, Battlefield Earth. Thankfully, What Maisie Knew contains none of the dutch angle nonsense of said film, and is instead shot with the wise modesty of a Sven Nykvist naturalism. There is a wonderfully serene quality to the child's-eye view in the lighting of the picture, the filters giving it a bright hue that suggests the lead character, like us, being overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. It's a subtle but important aspect of the film key to our understanding the bigger picture. Finally, directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel ensure that the film does not lapse into banality. Usually this is the type of film adaptation that could be incredibly self-indulgent and self-important, but the two manage to extinguish this for the most part, and What Maisie Knew is definitely one of the freshest and most genuinely interesting dramas I have seen over the past few years.

Now, while I thought What Maisie Knew was a great film that I liked very much and there might not be much to criticise negatively, there are nevertheless certain elements which did not go down well with me, especially given the context of their place in an otherwise great film. As I've said, I loved the cinematography and how the lighting helps depict the child's-eye perspective. However, the way that this interacts with some of the editing by Madeline Gavin, who, although obviously under direction from above, has injected the film with some slow-motion elements. Perhaps there's also high-speed photography involved, but there's a particular example in the film where things slow down and I became automatically aware that something 'dramatic' was going to happen. If it wasn't flagged up to me in such a gimmicky way, I would have found it interesting, but instead it undercuts the whole sequence. Although not often enough to detract from the whole movie, What Maisie Knew does have moments of wholly unnecessary gimmickry which wave at my like a big red flag.

What Maisie Knew has moments of gimmickry that clash and grate with the rest of the picture, waving out at me like a big red flag and undercutting the whole sequences in which they involved. Thankfully these moments are few and far between, because What Maisie Knew is an intelligent drama. It is a masterclass in acting, for Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgard, Joanna Vanderham, but most especially Onata Aprile. I don't mean this as a disservice to her abilities, but she does for this film what Quvenzhane Wallis did last year for Beasts Of The Southern Wild, holding the whole film upon her shoulders. It's also a tightly scripted piece, the structure and the way the plot deconstructs 'family' dynamics is very interesting, and the majestic cinematography does much to put over the film's concept of the child's-eye perspective. Also, for the most part, directors McGehee and Siegel keep control of all the tangible elements, delivering a near uniformly solid movie. Finally, worth noting is the fact that it is a PG-rated movie, and proof that you don't need to push any of the swearing, sex, drugs and blood and guts buttons of the BBFC to put out a well-thought out, well-crafted movie.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (although I'm at the Scout Hall later, nice to have a day off and play some GTA 5!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Heat

Directed by: Paul Feig

Produced by: Peter Chernin
Jenno Topping

Screenplay by: Katie Dippold

Starring: Sandra Bullock
Melissa McCarthy

Music by: Michael Andrews

Cinematography by: Robert Yeoman

Editing by: Brent White
Bellah Mae
Jay Deuby

Studio(s): Chernin Entertainment
Dune Entertainment

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): June 28, 2013 (United States)
July 31, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 117 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $43 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $218, 471, 431

Yep, it's one of my perennial and perfunctory statements about my status as an ever-returning film critic. If it seems like I've been neglecting my work in this department, well, it's because I have. In the past few weeks, I've worked security at the Creamfields, Electric Picnic and Bestival music festivals, so it's like I've been on bloody tour, and anytime I was at home, it was a case of (as the French say) "Je suis fatigant." Speaking of home, the only time I have seen movies recently has been on McCready Family Values outings, as along with The Heat, I have seen What Maisie Knew, and tonight I have the dubious honour of taking my mother and sister to see Grown Ups 2. Much as I try to be objective on this one, I just have Ozzy's voice on Black Sabbath's God Is Dead? going on about rising "up from my tomb into impending doom..." So, for those wishing to observe the gradual push towards a consistent pace of reviewing movies, while finding out my, oh my - (SLAPS SELF ON WRIST: George Takei, registered trademark!), opines on whatever falls under my gaze, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for dissection is The Heat, an action-comedy in the vein of the now-vintage 1980s buddy films in all their various machinations such as Lethal Weapon (which, incidentally, is a lot darker than people remember it being),  48 Hrs., Beverly Hills Cop, Turner & Hooch et al. The origins of this subgenre of movies involved two character who are polar opposites can be traced back to the great Laurel And Hardy (a shout-out to the boys at Lucky Dog Theatre Productions, who I had the pleasure of meeting while working backstage at Pig's Big Ballroom at Bestival). This particular variation came from screenwriter Katie Dippold's intention to write female characters as the two leads. Directed by Paul Feig, who has previous experience female casts in Bridesmaids, The Heat stars Sandra Bullock and Bridesmaids star (and Oscar nominee) Melissa McCarthy as FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn and Boston Detective Shannon Mullins respectively, who are forced to work together to take down a mobster. Comprende?

Starting with the good about The Heat, the best thing going for it is that it is an excellently cast movie with regards to the two leads. Bullock and McCarthy have a great rapport and superb screen chemistry. It's not particular inventive casting (Bullock and McCarthy are proven commodities in their parts as overexcitable/neurotic schtick and brash, loud/foul-mouthed brute), but the fact that the two manage to gel together and deliver their lines at a flawless pace is a commendable thing indeed. It's a fast script, and there are so many times that the two leads, who spend much of the film bickering, really insult and bite into each other, the only thing being in common is that neither is fazed by the other, which only seems to spur them on even more. McCarthy is quite a formidable presence when she's getting stuck in, and Bullock just takes it on the chin. If there's one reason you should see The Heat, it's to see Bullock and McCarthy as an onscreen duo. The film, as mentioned, is directed by Paul Feig, who made Bridesmaids, a very fine comedy from a couple of years ago, for which McCarthy was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Once again, he understands that the strengths of his cast and wisely leaves them to their devices, while hiding their weaknesses and accentuating their positives. While Feig may never get the reputation of an auteur (unless pseudo-feminists adopt him into their sistren), he most definitely knows how to get the best out of his cast, as nobody comes off looking particular the worse for wear. Finally, while not perfect (more of which...), Dippold's script has some real zingers, the scenes that don't involve expository details and just have Bullock and McCarthy shooting from the hip are often uproariously funny. It is at these moments, which are not few and far between, that The Heat is at it's best.

( due time) That's not an addendum, but rather a continuum, for although I liked The Heat and found it oftentimes very funny, one cannot fail to recognise it's fundamental flaws, which lie in the double-edged sword of Dippold's script. Some critics have overanalysed the feminist qualities of the film, in that it's an action-comedy with two females in the lead, yadda, yadda, yadda, but that doesn't change the fact that the plot itself is entirely derivative and predictable. It consists of just about every trope and cliche that emerges from the buddy cop film genre, and, frankly, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. Furthermore, like Feig's previous Bridesmaids, it's too long (about twenty minutes), and the end of second act 'dramatic tension' interlude does nothing to add to the film, especially when the tension is more or less non-existent and the outcome pre-determined. I was listening to a BBC Radio Five Live review of the film with James King, whose opening line that the film was "simultaneously both incredibly familiar and refreshingly different," and I think that is as good a summary of the film as any. 

Not to take away from my own work (it'd be an act of gross false modesty to do), but it is kinda hard to look at the film any other way than King laid it out. It certainly has it's problems in a script which does not really have a modicum of originality to it and like Paul Feig's previous movie it's twenty minutes too long, but hey, I've gotta say that overall I came out of The Heat mostly satisfied. Paul Feig, while he's never gonna be recognised as an auteur, understands the positives of the people he's working with, and lets Bullock and McCarthy take appropriate centre stage. Dippold's script, while problematic, is at it's best while the two leads, who have a fantastic amount of chemistry to the point that I probably think the film is better than it is, are just left to their own bickering devices. Underneath the surface material, there might not be much there, but the surface material is entertaining enough to convince to believe in the illusion.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Relaxed (just happy to have a bit of time off work and chill out)