Films

Compliance (2012)

Based on the strip search prank calls that occurred for over a decade, which saw numerous people being taken in by a mysterious caller pretending to be a state official, Compliance keeps its voyeuristic eyes on the 24 hour fallout from a phoncecall received by a fast-food restaurant on its busiest day of the week.

When till jockey, Becky (Dreama Walker), is accused by the aforementioned caller of stealing money from a customer, she finds herself violated, dehumanized and even sexually assaulted. And despite this, and being very aware we leave ourselves open to attack, Compliance isn’t really about her. It’s about Sandra, the frumpy, middle-aged restaurant manager who takes the call to begin with. Played wonderfully by Ann Dowd, she is a put upon woman who, when we first meet her, is being berated by a delivery man and mocked by the ankle biters, including Becky, who make up her team.

As soon as she receives the call that wags its audial finger at Becky, Sandra is pulled in. Whether this is as a way of showing her dominance in the restaurant or simply because she feels she’s doing her bit for society, it’s never made entirely clear, with a denouement that suggests that Sandra doesn’t really understand what she’s doing. It’s a testament to Dowd’s portrayal that you will flip flop from pitying her, to out and out anger at her stupidity.

Rarely stepping outside the perimeter of the restaurant’s car park, director Craig Zobel ensures Compliance is a claustrophobic affair. When we do leave the confines of the Kentucky fried cock-up, we find ourselves peering over the shoulder of the crank caller (Pat Healy) as he performs the most mundane of tasks, such as making a sandwich, whilst making the most malevolent of phone calls.

Compliance is not an easy ride. Like a dark relative to Ruben Östlund’s Involuntary, it adds to the discussion of human behaviours and group pressure. It’s very easy to reach the end credits and proclaim to the person next to you that you would never be caught out like Sandra and Becky, but how long afterwards you can keep up that pretense is another matter.

Project X (2012)

Todd Phillips produces this tale of three young nobodies who abuse an empty house to host, to use the poster’s words, “the party you’ve only dreamed about.” And with Nima Nourizadeh’s directorial debut, it’s hard to interrogate beyond the poster’s succinct explanation, because there genuinely isn’t much else on offer here. Whilst there is something admirable about the filmmakers’ unapologetic ode to shallow hedonism, it doesn’t leave much satisfaction as an audience member.

Thomas Mann stars as apprehensive teen Thomas whose friend Costa (Oliver Cooper) goes to extreme lengths to ensure his seventeenth birthday party puts them firmly on the social map. As wave after wave of teenagers descend upon Thomas’ suburban home, the party spirals out of control and onto the streets. As the title suggests, Project X comes across as experimental in nature. The film presents itself as the compiled footage of the ever-expanding number of partygoers, capturing every last event of the party from hell in gruesome detail. It’s a gimmick no doubt employed to inspire a feeling of vicarious involvement with the film, but instead proves as alienating as flicking through the Facebook photos of a friend of a friend.

Additionally, there’s the problem of found footage being associated almost unanimously with the horror genre. Whilst this doesn’t mean it cannot be implemented elsewhere, it’s hard to suppress the feeling that perhaps the filmmakers felt compromised to at least tip a hat to the tropes of such films when Project X’s party boils over to its ridiculously over the top conclusion. With found footage, there’s always the expectation that something abnormal will happen, and whilst successful horror films will build gradually to such a conclusion, Project X throws it in too abruptly and too unbelievably.

As previously discussed in this blog, the success of found footage relies on its ability to convince the audience of its authenticity. The problem with Project X is it immediately starts with a Jackass style warning against copying the stunts in the film, revealing that they were performed by professional stunt people. Of course the filmmakers cannot be blamed for wishing to insure themselves against copycats, it’s just a shame that it appears immediately before a Blair Witch style enforcement of the film’s authenticity in the form of a cheeky apology to the neighbouring residents of the party house. It’s a juxtaposition that’s hard to shake off in the opening minutes of the film.

Similarly, the filmmakers’ decision to hire relatively unknown actors is an understandable but not entirely successful move. There’s stiltedness between the three leads which can’t be helped by the lazy characterisation. There’s Costa the crude and obnoxious troublemaker, J.B the bespectacled ‘weird’ one and Thomas himself, the awkward mediator between the two. Whilst it’s no surprise that a teen film would use stereotypes, the whole first half hour reeks so much of a post-Superbad cash in that it leaves Nourizadeh’s effort lacking in comparison. There’s also none of the heart or warmth behind the vulgarity as there was in that Apatow production, or even in Phillips’ own The Hangover. Things come to a particularly nasty taste when twice the audience is forced into the position of peeping tom, as one partygoer aims his camera through a closet door, zooming in on his friend and a token hot girl getting steamy. It’s an uncomfortable excuse to make sure we know everything that occurs.

The soundtrack is brilliant, but then of course it would be. Once the film’s party commences, Project X turns into a series of music based montages. It’s all so ridiculously reminiscent of a plethora of music videos you half expect will.i.am to jump in the pool proclaiming “I GOT A FEELIN’!” Essentially, if you’ve seen either a Skins advert or the adidas commercial where David Beckham, Katy Perry, Missy Elliott et al attend a house party together, then you’ve seen the bulk of Project X. Heck, if you’ve seen the film’s very own trailer, you’ve already seen Project X. Just throw in more exposed breasts.

Ultimately Project X is as shallow as its characters, and with all too many moments of discomfort, it’s hard to root for, let alone party with.

The Ides of March (2011)

Ryan Gosling is Stephen Myers, the cocksure Junior Campaign Manager for Governor of Pennsylvania, Mike Morris (George Clooney). He’s awesome, he’s witty, he brown-noses Morris on a daily basis. Then one day, as they say in the trailers, his life is turned upside down when he is invited to a join the oppositions campaign trail and he begins a relationship with Evan Rachel Wood’s spunky intern. What’s a guy to do? Well, as Ryan Gosling is in the lead, we get lots of staring like a child who’s just been told that Father Christmas doesn’t exist.

The Ides of March wants to be so intelligent. It really does.

Everyone talks in ridiculously long sentences that can only ever happen in political movies. ‘Well, Ted, if we don’t get the vote for the 45% of the 10 members of the ABC generation in this state, then we may as well hook line and speak to the frighteners about approaching this campaign from a new angle nearer to the unions’ idea of a plate of eggs’.

Everyone furrows their brows, rolls up their sleeves, undoes their ties and look serious. We’re talking Oscar baiting seriousness. Hey, you know what Hollywood? This film has a message that needs to get out there… Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And you know politicians? They lie, man. They lie and they don’t care who gets hurt. It’s true. This film is pulling back the curtain, it’s through the looking glass, it’s pointing at other films and questioning their reason to exist.

It’s so heavy with it’s own self-importance, it gets crushed underneath the weight of it’s own bullshit.

That power corrupts is nothing new. The Godfather Part 2 pretty much wrote the book on wide-eyed innocence becoming a cold icy stare. That doesn’t instantly mean that the film is bad. It’s just it doesn’t shed any new light on to the subject. The other issue is that Gosling is so unappealing. His character is so unlikable, that you have next to no sympathy for him as the likes of Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei begin to piss on his parade. And piss they do. As Gosling stumbles like a new-born fawn from one ludicrous plot twist to the other, you wonder when he’s going to realise that he is acting like a total idiot that kind of deserves what’s happening to him. And as each bad thing that happens to him, the melodrama begins to increase. Evan Rachel Wood’s final scene genuinely made me smirk. I don’t think that was Clooney’s intention. I’m pretty sure he was going for drama. The final showdown between Gosling and Clooney is  nothing more than a moodily lit wailing and gnashing of teeth to show amazing these two actors can act when they want to show how good they are at acting. OMG, they R so gud!!1

The Ides of March is so serious and aiming to be worthy, that it loses sight of what’s important. Namely characterisation and plot. Seriously, save yourself some time and pop The Godfather Part 2 back in  the DVD player.

Big River Man (2009)

Big River Man is a brilliant documentary for, ooh, 3/4 of its running time and then it loses all credibility.

Telling the story of long distance swimmer, actor, humanitarian and beer drinker Martin Strel, we follow his attempt to swim the amazon. Teamed with his son, Borut, and a former Kmart employee, he swims day and sometimes night to achieve his goal before succumbing to madness. You get rather sucked into it all as we are first introduced to Martin’s home and lifestyle. He’s a man larger than life. His training includes drinking two bottles of wine whilst swimming and stealing bread-rolls from his own fundraisers so he can save money for the trip.

Once the journey gets underway, Martin almost seems to immediately regret his decision, almost succumbing to sun stroke within a few days. A few more days and Borut is worrying about his fathers physical and mental, whilst Kmart boy is beginning to see him as a deity. And this is where, for me, the documentary begins to tread on shaky ground. There are moments when a nagging feeling arrives that some things are being staged for the sake of viewer entertainment. A particular scene stands out where Martin runs/swims away and is later found naked on a beach. Whilst this most likely happened, the subsequent scene of him communicating with a dead tree just seems… Out of place.

Additionally, when Martin finally makes it to the end of his journey, he is taken on board an ambulance and we are subjected to a scene, which if it did happen, raises the question of how professional the paramedics were to allow that many uses of camera angles. I’m not even going to go into the Spinal Tap-esque pschiatrist who uses puppets.

Yes, it can be argued that real life ceases to be real once it becomes the subject of a documentary. It’s the director’s descretion as to what we see or don’t see. However, for the director, John Maringouin, to leave in scenes that could be seen as questionable, almost undrmines everything that precedes them.

Don’t be put off seeing Big River Man. It really is one of those films, you should give a go. What you take out of it is another matter entirely.

Nosferatu (1922)

F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu is the ultimate in vampire (sorry, vampyre) movies. Yes, it’s consider as German expressionism at it’s finest and Murnau’s direction is wonderful the main reason this film is so iconic is due to it’s titular antagonist. Mak Shreck’s Nosferatu not only beats up Edward Cullen, he has off it off with Bella whilst doing it.

Nosferatu is a terrifying creation and I vividly remember being very young and running out of the living room when his face was used briefly in a TV documentary on, unsurprisingly, horror. Schrek’s performance comes down in part to his body shape. Lengthy limbs that were made for casting recognisable silhouettes on the walls of unsuspecting victims. He was a like a Doug Jones of his day. Or is Doug Jones a Max Shreck of our time? I’m drifting…

One thing that surprised me was the humour that runs occasionally crops up through the film. Now, one may argue that my humour is derived from the fact that the film can look quaint compared to today’s offerings. Well, yes… But ol’ Nossie is a bit of one for the old one liners that in no way suggest he is a vampire…

Yep, no vampires here. I’m just liking your lady’s throat. Woo, mama! That’s a jugular.

Okay, I’m not suggesting this the precursor to Dracula: Dead and Loving It, but I was surprised how much it wasn’t like the furrowed brow offering I had always thought it was.

Nosferatu is obviously one of those movies you should at least try to watch.

I don’t want to tell you to watch the whole thing. That would be pushy. I feel we’re too early in the relationship to do that. Try it for ten minutes and if you don’t like it, then go look up topless pictures of Kat Dennings as it’ll probably be a better use of your time, you uncultured swine.

Okay, that was pushy.

 

Dr. Who and The Daleks (1965)

Dr. Who and the Daleks is what happens when the BBC tries to make a bit money off a flagship show, but realises it’ll be a good 30 years till someone invents video. With the promise of not only starring the Daleks, but also being in colour and having Peter Cushing as the Doctor, you can see how a child of the 60s would be screaming down the house to go see it. The thing is, if we were that child we’d be punishing ourselves afterwards for even letting our parents considering to take me.

The film wastes no time in taking us straight us to a mysterious planet and getting the plot running. At a run time of only 70 minutes, it can’t afford to. Within six minutes, we’ve met Dr Who, his family (also with the surname Who), a man called Ian (played in Carry-On style by Roy Castle), the TARDIS and then, BOOM, we’re on an alien planet. You want to get straight to the point, you come to this movie. Unfortunately, the proceeding 65 minutes is filled with poor acting, terrible scripting and some fantastic conjecture. ‘No one could survive on this planet,’ says Dr Who, having only been on the planet for 30 seconds and both seeing and hearing evidence to the contrary.

So, onto the Daleks… A race of terrifying aliens… who need static electricity to move around. Which really makes them a bit quaint and, honestly, a bit shit. They mope around wanting to be released from their casings and yet these metal pre-cursors to emos managed to find time to destroy half their home planet in a war. They really are crap.

The Thals, our hero species and enemies of the Daleks, look and act like a satirical dig at the rising hippie youth of the time. All floppy hairs and clothes no doubt made from hemp, Dr Who ensures that they buck up their ideas and learn to fight. In fact, aside from impersonating William Hartnell, this is all Cushing does for the entire film. He really does seem to be phoning this one in. It will be probably come as no surprise to some that he never mentioned this, or its sequel Dalek Invasion 2168 AD, in his autobiography or anywhere else.

What we have here is not so much a Doctor Who movie, but rather a cheap sci-fi movie that’s managed to get hold of a couple of BBC licenses. And once you remove those copyrighted items, you still can’t garner any joy from it.

Love and Other Disasters (2006)

Love and Other Disasters is a spiraling, screaming pile of overly saccharine poop. I don’t think you will find a truer sentence on this blog.

Starring the late Brittany Murphy, it tells the story of a fashion designer (Murphy) and her turbulent love life in London. Living with her gay best friend, Murphy is happy to set her friends up and enjoy the life of a bachlorette, despite having sterile, by the book sex with her vile ex. Then she meets Paulo. Thinking he’s gay, she promptly tries to set him up with her neurotic housemate, not realising that he really likes…. You know what, I’m going to stop there. The more I type about the thin tissue that’s called a plot, the more I want to take an eyeball out with a spoon.

I struggle to find anything positive to say about this film. Okay, it has a gimmick whereby the characters constantly remind us and each other that this is ‘real life’ and not a ‘movie’. In fact, Murphy seems to have it as part of her contract that she recites this mantra every other sentence. They reference the rules of a romantic comedy and all the clichés that come with one. That’s right. We’re in Scream for the Bridget Jones generation. However, if it were really was clever as it wants to be, then why allow everyone’s storylines to be resolved in the formulaic fashion that they mock.

The gay stereotyping that runs through this is equally trite. ‘Ooh, gay men. They love talking about girly things with girls. Thye like soooo get girls’. Ugh. I didn’t realise people still used the term ‘gaydar’, let a lone with a straight face.

Everyone is so English and so white and so middle class, part of me wondered if this ws a giant piss take in the vein of Epic Movie et al. Richard Curtis has liteally nothing to fear from this abortion of a movie.

But let’s look at the positives. The film had an ending.

The Beaver Trilogy (2001)

The Beaver Trilogy is an unusual beast. Directed by Trent Harris it is, as the title may suggest, a trilogy of short films. None of which feature actual beavers. Okay, there’s the city of Beaver, but still… I was expecting beavers. Filmed over the course of six years, each film centres on Olivia Newton-John impersonator and seeker of fame, Groovin’ Gary; a real resident of Salt Lake City who Harris met whilst trying out a new colour news camera.

The first third introduces us to Groovin’ Gary via the footage filmed by Harris. Gary is a word a second guy slipping from one impression to the next. His desire to be famous spills out of every nervous twitch and glance at the camera. The fact that he seems so nervous makes you wonder whether he truly has what it takes or whether he’s just so excited that he sees a spur of the moment interview in a car park as his big break. Harris later goes to the titular Beaver, Utah to film Gary perform as an Olivia Newton-John tribute act in a talent contest. It’s here we see how serious Gary is to be famous.

The next two thirds are two films, again directed by Trent Harris, that take the original premise of the preceding ‘documentary’ into two different directions. The Beaver Kid 2 is a dramatic interpretation staring Sean Penn as Groovin’ Larry. Whilst Crispin Glover dons the moniker Groovin’ Larry in the comedy, The Orkly Kid.

The Beaver Trilogy is more of an art house project than a true feature film and all three movies vary in quality; literally and figuratively. As it has never had an official release due to licensing problems (DAMN YOU OLIVIA!), the main selling point seems to be seeing Crispin Glover and Sean Penn dressed up as women. To be honest, this was the main selling point of To Wong Foo as well.

For me, there’s something morbid about about it all. Groovin’ Gary’s desire to be famous has come to fruition but it seems to be at the expense of his modesty. I’m genuinely interested to know what old Gary thinks of this. And whilst I can protest the point of this film, I’m half sure that if Gary does know about this film, then he’s probably happy with the results. After all, it’s not everyone who gets Sean Penn to play them in a film.

Green Lantern (2011)

When my fellow EBFS associate and I were young, we would often play superheroes. Batman, Superman, Spiderman and even Lion-O would be the opinion formers of our young fertile imaginations. Do you know who we never pretended to be? Green Lantern. Not once. Mainly because we had never heard of in the UK. Now, over the years, I’ve picked up a few bits and pieces about Green Lantern and, if I can be honest, it never really tightened my trousers.

Green Lantern, a superhero who is one of 7,200 other members of the Green Lantern Corps who, in turn, share exactly the same powers. He’s hardly special in the wider spectrum. The anthropomorphic Howard the Duck has more individuality compared to Hal Jordan. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m aware Green Lantern has a dedicated fan-base. I mean, who doesn’t admire someone whose biggest weakness is Yellow. ‘Argh, look out! It’s Big Bird. I’m fucked!’ DC and Warner Brothers know this as well, which is why they’ve been pushing Green Lantern movie as being the next best thing to Christopher Reeve rising from the dead and doing another Superman movie.

Now, I’ve been a bit late to the game because Lantern’s release was held back in Australia. Not sure why, but the fact they didn’t even release it during the Winter holidays in July suggests to me they didn’t think even kids would want to see it.

The film tells the story of Hal Jordan, a fighter pilot and asshole, who is given a ring and becomes a superhero and asshole. That’s pretty much it. I really don’t know have anything else to say about the plot. The Green Lantern is by far one of the worse superhero movies since Catwoman. Wait, scratch that. Leonard Part 6. It’s that bad. Before I enjoy myself, let’s get its good points out of the way. They are:

  • The brevity of it – Under two hours is a bonus
  • The special effects – For all it’s detractors, I actually thought the special were pretty good
  • Geoffrey Rush – Who doesn’t fucking love him?!
  • Being a DC film, it’s one of the few comic book movies that doesn’t have frigging Samuel L. Jackson

What’s wrong with the film? Well, how many ways are there to leave your lover. Let’s break it down into bite-size chunks.

Ryan Reynolds/Hal Jordan
The cinema’s answer to a poor man’s impression of Bradley Cooper. ‘Buried’ showed that Reynolds can be more than a sitcom actor severely punching above his weight. As Hal Jordan, Reynolds takes the novel approach of playing our hero as the biggest douche in the universe. During a battle simulation against a couple of plane drones, Hal sacrifices his wing-man in order to beat the drones, thus preventing them from being sold and, finally, meaning that a lot of people are made unemployed. Reynolds winks, giggles and flies off. Presumably we’re meant to think ‘wow, he’s so anti-authority, I wish I were him’. Didn’t work for me. I immediately thought he was a bucked toothed, tall glass of piss tasting milk. They also try to give Hal backstory, but all this boils down to is ‘dead daddy issues’. Yawn.

Peter Sarsgaard/Dr Hector Hammond
Hector is not a bad guy name. The Joker, Venom, Green Goblin… These are bad guy names. Hector Hammond is not a bad guy name. I don’t care he was in the comic book, he sounds like an accountancy firm. And he’s so whiny… God, he’s whiny. Least there’s no kitchen fucking.

Exposition
Most comic books try to establish a connection between the goody and the baddy. ‘The Green Lantern’ has no time for this. DC have decided that the chances are that if you’re in the cinema then you’re a Lantern fan and, therefore, don’t need to be told any backstory. This explains why they don’t extend on Hector and Hal’s relationship until the last half hour… Try and imagine having a conversation with a feriend in a pub. Halfway through the conversdation, your friend breaks off to have a conversation with some that’s walking past. You hear every word, but don’t understand what’s going on. You’d ask, but feel rude doing so. That’s what this film does. It makes you feel bad for wanting to know what the fuck is going on. Even the surprise ending following the credits makes no sense unless you’ve read the comics.

Pacing
‘Guys, I’ve been watching the final edit and I like what I see. That whole first hour where it’s ‘Hal Jordan: An asshole in portrait’ is great. Then when you follow it up with two hours of shooting shit up… Blew my mind!’

‘Glad you liked it.’

‘The thing is.. The folks upstairs want a film that comes in under two hours. They were thinking that maybe Reynolds should step into the suit within the 20 minute mark.’

‘Gee, the asshole part is pretty intricate to the whole thing…’

‘Yeah, I know. Look it’s either that or the two hours where Green Lantern shoot shits up… I know you guys will make the right decision.’

Aaaand that is exactly why (probably) the finale is so rushed.

All in all, Green Lantern is pretty poor as comic book films go. If this works out to be a trilogy, they really need to buck their ideas up… Or just not do it. Yeah, that would be better.

*Five minutes later*

Noonan: Well, that’s that review done. Oh, look there’s that yellow ring that makes you evil. May as well put it on with no real motivation for doing so.

BOOM!

Noonan: Yep. Looks like I’m evil!

Nick Fury: Wanna join the Avengers?

Noonan: Yay! To the inevitable sequel!

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’s Smarter Brother (1975)

Despite my vitriol rants to the contrary, I don’t like writing bad reviews. I certainly don’t like writing bad reviews about films I was full of hope about seeing. So, let’s not say this is a bad review. Let’s say it’s a mediocre review (both in critique and quality) and if anyone says otherwise, well, I’ll probably just stick my fingers in my ears and go ‘lalalalalalallalalalalalaaa! Blah, blah, blah! Can’t hear you’.

1974’s ‘Young Frankenstein’ is one of my favourite films. Everything about it works. Mel Brooks manages to get the tone right, the jokes are spot on and the lead actors, Gene Wilder, Madeleine Khan and Marty Feldman, are never beaten. In fact, I want it confirmed here that I think Madeleine Khan is one of my favourite comedy actors. She plays it straight faced with the best of them.

Anyway, I’m beating around the bush because what I’m going to say isn’t easy for me. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’s Smarter Brother just isn’t that funny. Oh, it has its moments. Marty Feldman’s photographic hearing is a lovely little detail. Only being able to repeat what he’s heard from the very leads to a great scene as Feldman is constantly interrupted by Wilder making him a cup of tea. What could have been played with building frustration, is better for Feldman reigning it in and refusing to get angry at Wilder’s interruptions. Other highlights include Dom Deluise and Madeleine Kahn performing an opera in English and glouriously over the top.

The rest of the film suffers from the curse of zany equals funny. Too many jokes fall flat or go on too long. The ballroom scene, in particular, with Feldman and Wilder unaware their arse cheeks are hanging out should be funny. Arses are generally funny, but this scene, with added homphobia, just irks a little.

Having worked with him so much, it’s no surprise that that Wilder would emulate Mel Brooks in his directorial debut. Brooks even makes a tiny cameo. It’s just a shame this is more Dracula: Dead and Love It, than Blazing Saddles.