Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Town (2010)

(Poster by Adam Bendict)

With 8 Golden Raspberry nominations, 3 of which he won, you'd be inclined to think Ben Affleck was in the wrong game as an actor. You'd probably be right too, because he's much better when he's behind the camera. The Town, a Boston-based crime drama, is Affleck's  second film as director following his 2007 Boston-based crime drama Gone Baby Gone.

To be fair we're not exactly retreading previous work though. Gone Baby Gone was a missing person mystery told from the perspective of the police, and The Town is full of bank heists and is told through the eyes of the thieves. Set piece after set piece ramp up the action and deliver some fantastic tension and a tangible sense of risk. With all the guns and get ups (there's a lot of fun with masks), it'd be easy for the film to turn into a Grand Theft Auto-style ridiculousness festival, but there's a weight to the actions of the police and the robbers. When someone starts shooting, shit gets real rather than it being just another scene and when someone dies it's actually addressed instead of a case of Henchman #457 just taking early retirement.

In between the action sequences, The Town is solid. It's not going to change the world of storytelling as we know it, but it holds together well enough. You do have to allow for some suspension of disbelief in regards to Affleck's character's choice of ally though, because it might just make him the dumbest bank robber on the planet. Seriously, watch the opening sequence and ask yourself "Who is the worst possible person Doug could possibly fall head over heels for right now?" and it's them. But if you're willing to get past that it's not that bad.

A credit to Affleck is how great the film looks. Some credit should probably also go to the city of Boston. Most US heist movies seem to feature some small, deserty, sparsely populated town or a high-rise dominated metropolis made up completely of right angles. Boston, at least in The Town, feels a lot more European with windy allies, old buildings mixed with new and a lot of greenery on screen from the sky shots.

There's a lot of fun to be had watching The Town. Money, guns, nuns and tension is a good recipe for what is apparently becoming it's own little sub-genre: the Boston Crime Drama.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Fountain (2006)

(FYI the film isn't japanese, I just like this poster best)

A love story that spans a thousand years, multiple people and different solar systems.

Three different incarnations of Tommy and Izzie are at the centre of The Fountain, all of them dealing with death and the biblical Tree of Life. The main story revolves around a modern day medical research doctor desperately trying to discover a cure for his terminally ill wife, who is much more accepting of her fate. On either side of this story are fantastical and ethereal takes on the same idea. On the earlier side is Spanish Conquistador Tomas, who hacks through the Mayan jungle on a mission from his Queen Isabella and on the later side is futuristic space traveller Tom flying through the heavens on a mission to find the underworld, and ultimately his departed wife, itself.

As a Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream) film, there's obviously a lot going on under the surface. What that is exactly, though isn't as clear. Where some of his later films like Black Swan are very tight and focussed, The Fountain is a bit scatter-shot and has lots of things going on at once. The range of different imagery going on is a bit jarring. There imagery influences include, but definitely aren't limited to: Old testament Christian creation stories, Mayan mythology, psychedelic astronomical stuff, Buddhist practices and legend, and mathematical metaphors. It would have benefited greatly, in my opinion, if it embraced just the Mayan and Christian elements, but that's probably just a matter of taste.

Behind the superficial guff, The Fountain is a tragic love story at its heart. The multiple Toms are so madly in love with their Izzies and so obsessed with saving them that they're blinded from the reality they're presented with. If you can move past a lot of the excess, you can enjoy The Fountain as a story of misplaced determination and how we all react to the idea of death, compared to how (Aronofsky thinks) we should.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

21 Jump Street (2012)

There isn't too much to say about 21 Jump Street other than that it's quite a smart dumb movie, if that makes any sense. It doesn't try to be clever or satirical or too deep. It's just a hilarious film with a ridiculous premise: where two mid twenties cops who go back to high school undercover to root out a drug ring., and all the clichés that involves.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum get thrown back into a world they've only been out of long enough for it to change. They both still vividly remember how highschool worked when they were there, but find it not quite going along as they planned. The two of them have a great chemistry, something you really need for this type of buddy-cop feature. As they run, shot and gossip their way through the traumas of popularity and drug dealing they do hit all the traditional plot bumps that these sort of movies do, but it's smart enough to know when to turn a cliche on its head and when to just embrace the cheese factor of it all.

It might just be a rehash of an 80s TV show, but it's really, genuinely funny.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Havoc (2005)

A muddled film about middle class kids slumming it, that doesn't quite know what it wants to be.

Havoc is the story of Allison, a girl from a wealthy but broken home, and her similarly rich friends who do the unpredictable thing of rebelling against their parents by getting into hiphop and gangsta culture. They quickly find themselves in over their heads, in what could have been an interesting way of showing the gulf between two lifestyles that are so far apart but so geographically close. There are one or two acknowledgements of that sort bt they're pretty hamfisted and really break the immersion; at one point a drug dealer literally takes Ally on a tour of the neighbourhood pointing out how bad it is. Not exactly subtle. But ultimately, you get a tale that seems a bit more 'lock up your daughters because the dirty poors will destroy them!'.

In some ways the film feels rushed. Some plot threads are left hanging, in particular the character who acts as a window for the audience. A budding filmmaker friend of Allison's so-called "crew" is making a documentary about why they identify with the gangsta thug lifestlye, but he's quickly dropped off and only revisited once to push the plot along . The ending also feels very unpolished. The exciting climax of the final act happens, and the film just ends. Those events aren't dealt with and you're just left with a quick sign off.

Overall, Havoc's a film that doesn't quite know what it was trying to be. If it were a lighter story about some kids getting in over there head it would work, and if it were a slightly deeper film about the pain and loneliness felt at both ends of the class system it would work even better. But what you get is a little bit too much of the former, and only becomes the latter in short, hard bursts that can be a bit too much at once.

It's a prime example of the execution not quite matching up to the idea. Anne Hathaway in the lead as Allison is the only real saving grace in terms of production. The multiple facades the character has are entertaining and believable, as are the cracks that appear in the masks she wears either when alone or put on the spot.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

American Psycho (2000)

Patrick Bateman is a successful 1980s Wall Street businessman. He has a beautiful fiancée. He has a beautifully chic high rise apartment. He has rich and successful friends and he has great taste in suits and business cards.

Patrick Bateman, however, is not human. He has blood. He has bones. He has fantastic hair and immaculate skin. He has all the physical characteristics of a person, but he is a monster who has no discernible emotions other than a narcissistic hunger for sex, violence and lying.

American Psycho follows Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman as he sates his lust for murder in this satirical take on the excesses of 1980's materialistic "yuppie" culture. He is a fully fledged psychopath. Not your usual "experienced a traumatic event that turned him crazy" or "is actually just a misunderstood eccentric" hollywood psychopath, but a properly terrifying, unfeeling and unrepentant inhuman machine. Christian Bale is fantastic as Bateman and makes him truly scary. In his voice alone he manages to capture the idea that, in his everyday life, Patrick is simply acting out a role of how he thinks a normal person would act. We only hear the real Patrick through voiceover monologues, quite fittingly as well, as there are few moments in the film where you see behind the facade itself.

The film tries very hard to be a biting satire of a certain type of materialistic culture, but falls just short of hitting the mark. The world that Bateman inhabits is disgustingly materialistic and fake, but the killer is hardly any kind of solution, he's just simply a different type of disgusting and disingenuity. The real intelligence behind the picture comes in Bale's performance and that alone really.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

50/50 (2011)

There aren't a lot of ways that you can describe 50/50 concisely and not paint everyone involved as a bit of an arsehole. 50/50 is a comedy drama. It's a comedy drama, about a man who gets cancer.

Now, bear with me. Seth Rogan describes it best having said "Most films about cancer try to avoid the fact that sometimes funny things just happen. We didn't add humour to something that isn't funny, I'm not saying every cancer story is funny, but ours was a mix of tragic and funny". And he should know: Rogan takes on the role of Adam (the patient)'s best friend, a role that he had in the real of the writer, Will Reiser, when he had cancer. The film isn't what happened to the pair, but is "indicative of the sort of journey we went on".

With that behind him, Seth Rogan essentially plays a part that he actually lived himself for a long time. A real sense of weight and authenticity shines through in the scenes with Rogan, even when he's kind of taking advantage of his friend's condition you get the sense that he really, genuinely loves his friend and would ultimately be lost without him.

But of course, the real star here is Joseph Gordon Levitt. Recently he's fallen into an action style, suave operator kind of niche (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, the upcoming Looper) but in 50/50 you get the more personable 500 Days of Summer JGL. Running the full gauntlet of emotions, from worrying about everyone around him through anger and frustration on to soul crushing fear,Gordon Levitt's Adam is fantastic. He's a character that takes you on an emotional journey that doesn't feel fake or constructed.

50/50 is billed as a comedy drama but really the comedy element that is there had to be included, because when this film hits the emotional notes, it hits like a fucking freight train. Small things like finding a book in someone's apartment or just asking a family member how they're doing are elevated to moments that encapsulate an entire relationship in a glance or a hug. Thankfully, I've never experienced the effects of cancer on myself or anyone around me, I imagine it's something you'll only understand if you've been there, but even so 50/50 gives a powerful insight into what it can be like and is a genuinely moving film.