Wednesday, 23 July 2014

GETAWAY

CONTAINS SOME - WATCH OUT!!!!! - MINOR SPOILERS

It always used to be a rule that in any scene of public mayhem, any serious damage done that wasn't to something inanimate like a park bench or a brick wall was generally caused by the villains rather than the hero. In recent years that line has blurred, with ever more destructive car chases and indiscriminate chaos presumably leaving innocent passers-by dead or seriously injured and their own cars merrily trashed in a cool-looking pile-up. One thinks of the massive vehicular mayhem in A Good Day To Die Hard, where as many innocent Russian citizens got casually slaughtered by Bruce Willis as by the bad guys, or by the train derailment caused by James McAvoy's nominal hero in the (frankly rubbish) Wanted. Or you could look at the big tank-based setpiece in Fast And Furious 6 - it's the villain cheerfully crushing cars and drivers, not Vin Diesel and compadres.

There's a lot of that throwaway destruction in Getaway, a breathtakingly ridiculous action movie which mostly takes place inside the high-performance Shelby Mustang that Ethan Hawke is forced to steal by master criminal Jon Voight, who's kidnapped his wife and wired the vehicle with loads of video cameras. Hawke and the car's rich-girl-gone-bad Selena Gomez have to get chased repeatedly through downtown Sofia, distracting (and wiping out) the local police while Voight gets on with his evil plot....which frankly won't come as much surprise to anyone who's seen 12 Rounds or even Die Hard With A Vengeance.

It's a pity that much of the screeching tyre havoc is so heavily overedited that you sometimes lose track of where the cars are relative to each other. In addition a lot of the car smashes are shot from the sub-Skype standard low-def spy cameras that contrast badly with the normal cinematography of the rest of the movie; more proper filming and less frenzied chopping between webcams would have helped enormously (as evinced by one superb chaser's POV of the chasee in front, which is easily the longest single shot of the entire film. Still, it's pretty much all go right from the start and it barely allows you to catch much of a breath; some of the stuntwork is agreeably demented (all done by actually smashing cars into one another rather than with CGI), and reliables Bruce Payne and Paul Freeman turn up for about thirty seconds each. Very silly, but passable rental fare.

***

Broom broom:

Friday, 18 July 2014

THE CANYONS

CONTAINS...OH, I DON'T KNOW.

The number of films where you want to physically climb into the screen and punch every character in the face until your hand stops hurting is, with the possible exception of the seven hundred found-footage horror bores released in the last fortnight, thankfully low. Most film-makers realise that anti-heroic and unsympathetic leads still need to be interesting and/or charismatic individuals whose lives may be sewers of depravity, cruelty and moral bankruptcy but are still magnetically, hypnotically fascinating. The worst option is to make all your characters boring and stupid as well as morally and spiritually repugnant.

The Canyons is an insufferable slab of supercooled tedium in which a handful of tiresome idiots live meaningless and empty lives, have joyless sex with each other and whine a lot. Christian (porn star James Deen) is a trust-fund knob of the first water, supposedly a film producer along with his girlfriend Tara (Lindsay Lohan); their upcoming slasher is set to star Tara's dull ex Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk) who also happens to be the current boyfriend of another of the film's producers. Despite being into casual group sex with strangers through internet hookups, might Christian's jealousy of Ryan's former relationship with Tara lead him to violence?

Paul Schrader's film starts and finishes with still images of abandoned and derelict cinemas, as if suggesting that The Canyons might hold some message about the death of cinema as an artform. I suggest it does: maybe cinema wouldn't be a dying artform if directors of repute didn't make absolutely terrible movies. Schrader wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, he directed American Gigolo and Cat People; please don't tell me he's reduced to making utter drivel like this. It looks flat and bland, there's no spark of style or wit, it isn't exciting or erotic (Lohan does get her yappers out but to absolutely no effect) and nobody on screen is worth a wet fart. Total rubbish and most likely one of the three worst films of the year.

*

GREY WOLF: THE ESCAPE OF ADOLF HITLER

ACHTUNG!! SPOILERS!!

Every so often in the newspapers, there will be a large attention grabbing article headed with an irresistible question - a phenomenon known as "Questions To Which The Answer Is No", because if you plough through all thirty paragraphs of speculation, nonsense and wild assumption you find that it invariably does conclude with a "no". Is this conclusive evidence of the Loch Ness Monster? Can pomegranates cure piles? Has this plumber from Droitwich found the secret of eternal youth? Was the Queen involved in the cancellation of Blake's Seven? Sift through all the evidence for a bit and you find the answer is "probably not".

Another wonderful example of a QTWTAIN would be "Did Adolf Hitler fake his suicide in the bunker by means of a look-alike cadaver, and then hide out in Argentina (the only other country in the world with an established Nazi party) with wife Eva and a previously unknown daughter, planning a triumphant resurrection of the Third Reich with Martin Borman, until he died alone and ignored in a Patagonian hospital in 1962?" Well, again, probably not. Incredibly, that is precisely the thrust of Grey Wolf: The Escape Of Adolf Hitler, a film I assumed to be an entirely fictional pseudo-documentary, until I looked it up online afterwards and discovered that the book on which it is based is classified as historical non fiction by a proper serious historian and a proper serious journalist.

Downfall 2 this isn't. But it's perfectly alright and watchable enough: a series of period reconstructions with voiceover testimony, and if you didn't believe this was a QTWTAIN  then you might even find it a persuasively told story that might just be true....oh, surely not? Surely there has to be something wrong if you cannot actually tell whether it's a straight faced spoof or the genuine article. Don't forget, a lot of people thought Spinal Tap was a real band. But no, this is a proper documentary: which means you have to take its thesis seriously. Suddenly I've no idea what to think. The BBFC gave the film a PG certificate but the DVD carries a 15 (probably for the extra material, trailers etc).

***

QTWTAIY:

Monday, 14 July 2014

SEDUCED AND ABANDONED

MIGHT CONTAIN SPOILERS

I don't mind the occasional documentary, though it does really have to be on a subject I've already got some interest in and/or fronted by people I like. I wouldn't watch a documentary about baggage carousels or the genesis of the Verdana typeface, or The World's Most Exciting Golf Courses, but I'm generally all in favour of movie documentaries. (Having said that, I'm still not likely to voluntarily sit through the behind-the-scenes featurettes on the DVD of a movie I didn't care for.) Any peek behind the red velvet curtains of the film industry is usually pretty rewarding, to better understand the financing and pitching processes that, at least in this instance, seems more to determine what doesn't get made than what does.

James Toback's Seduced And Abandoned is really two documentaries shuffled together. One of them details the efforts by Toback and Alec Baldwin head for the Cannes Film Festival to raise the money for a sexually explicit political drama provisionally entitled Last Tango In Tikrit, in which gung-ho soldier Baldwin and liberal journo Neve Campbell would repeatedly bang each other in a hotel room during the first Gulf War. Perhaps unsurprisingly, financiers and potential investors don't seem to impressed with the concept, offering up only a fraction of the budget required on the grounds that neither of the attached stars have enough marquee value to make the production financially viable, and suggesting other, bigger names to make it a better box-office attraction.

Personally, if I was a multibillionaire with the required cash at my disposal, I'd have called their bluff and given them the money, because then they'd have to go off and spend a year making a film which sounds like an impossible sell, if not an impossible shoot. Sure, the mainstream circuits probably wouldn't touch the finished movie (even if it avoided the dreaded NC17 rating), so it would be relegated to arthouses and festivals anyway, and that's assuming that Neve Campbell would lift the no-nudity clause she's had in her contracts since at least 1999 when she made Wild Things (although according to her IMDb page she did lift it for When Will I Be Loved?, also for Toback, back in 2004).

All this is amusing enough, although it would have perhaps been more interesting if they were pitch a less absurd project that would ultimately get made, and you could eventually see how the end result deviated from the original idea. In between meetings, various Top Directors including Scorsese, Bertolucci and Polanski turn up and burble on about Cannes, acting, directing, the industry and so on. Which again is all fine, but that gets in the way of the fundraising stuff: either a look at the business of pre-production or general reminiscences about the Cannes Film Festival would have made a perfectly decent doc on its own, but mixing the two up together diffuses both. Interesting enough, though, and it has made me wonder whether to have another stab at Last Tango In Paris, which I switched off in boredom a few years ago.

***

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

YEAH, WHATEVER. CONTAINS SPOILERS.

Well, it's better than Transformers 3, but that's scarcely a measure of quality: you might as well say it's better than being mugged or falling off a building. Hurrah for reversing the downward trend of probably the most idiotic and undeserving billion-dollar franchise there has ever been (until someone makes a three-hour action spectacular about the Microsoft Office Paperclip), but there's still a long and painful uphill climb before Michael Bay and his battalions of CGI bods will achieve the relative heights of barely passable mediocrity. This latest instalment of the kiddies' toy commercial is insanely long at 166 minutes, deafeningly loud and practically incomprehensible, not to mention incredibly dull. For all the spectacular destruction, filmed with Bay's usual throbbing hard-on for things blowing up and cars crashing and buildings falling down and giant metal things beating the crap out of one another, the actual narrative makes no sense and the few vaguely human moments in between stompy thudbot fights play as excerpts from a particularly terrible teenage soap opera.

Sixty five million years ago, the alien robots came to Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs by seeding the planet with a terraforming gizmo that turned swathes of our planet into the material the Transformers are built from. Now, billionaire robotics tycoon Stanley Tucci and demented CIA Black Ops chief Kelsey Grammer have made a deal with an alien bounty hunter for a seeding device of their own (which they can detonate in the wastelands of Mongolia and create all the "Transformium" they need to build an army of new, better and more powerful Transformers) in exchange for the Autobot leader Optimus Prime. Prime has turned back into a truck and stayed hidden in a derelict Texas cinema for the last five years; he's found, bought and reactivated by wacky inventor Mark Wahlberg....

The best moment in Transformers: Age Of Extinction comes when Wahlberg, hot jailbait daughter Nicola Peltz (the character may be seventeen, but the actress is nineteen, so start your engines, guys) and her colourless boyfriend Jack Reynor are all clambering down the anchor cables where the surviving Autobots have attached a spaceship to the roof of a Chicago tower block (for reasons too idiotically contrived to bother with here). Not because it's a magnificent piece of FX technology; rather it's because it looks so stunningly fake in the midst of all the ultra-hi-def photorealistic CGI mayhem with which the film is constantly exploding. All I could think of during this sequence was Roger Moore and Tanya Roberts pretending to cling on to the Golden Gate Bridge at the end of A View To A Kill, a sequence that looked more than a bit rubbish thirty years ago.

All of this is put together with Bay's expected level of subtlety: precisely zero. Rather it indulges his orgasmic love of destruction, chaos and huge metal things smashing into each other that he couldn't really squeeze into the repugnantly stupid Pain And Gain, so it's like he's making up for lost ground. Chunks of a Texas town get trashed, chunks of Chicago get trashed again, chunks of Hong Kong get trashed, and in addition to the Autobot stomping there are now giant robot flying dragons as well; the alien spaceship sucks up ships and trucks with its anti-gravity thing and tried to kill Mark Wahlberg by dropping them on his head. There are car crashes and spaceship crashes and buildings collapsing and robot fights and robot explosions and so much stuff happening all over the frame that the human eye simply can't take it all in, never mind the human brain. Let's not start to wonder about the poor sods in all the cars that get thrown into the air, in the skyscrapers repeatedly thudded into, in the houses flattened by falling battleships. Who gives a toss about them when it looks so damn cool?

It doesn't matter hugely that Shia La Boeuf, a cardboard cut-out of a twerp, isn't in the Transformers films any more. The amount of actual human activity is barely discernible even when the giant smashbots aren't on screen and even the greatest actors of the age wouldn't manage to make themselves heard over the constant kabooming din. But humanity is a secondary consideration in the Transformers universe: it's about robots turning into trucks, helicopters, cars, photocopiers (presumably) and jet fighters and lamping one another in densely populated areas. At ridiculous length and at full volume. Goodness only knows what it's like in IMAX 3D: I settled for a normal 2D multiplex screening and that was quite staggeringly dull enough, thank you. There's already a Transformers 5 on the IMDb.

**

HELLBENDERS

****! CONTAINS SPOILERS AND BLASPHEMY

What's lamer than comedy swearing? Answer: comedy swearing by authority figures who really shouldn't be cursing and oathing. In this instance it's priests who constantly toss the F-word around like it's the word "spirit" or "holy" or "the". Because it's supposed to be funny. And it's not like our priests just swear like Terrence and Phillip: they get drunk, smoke weed, steal, fight, punch people, cheat on their wives, verbally abuse pretty much everyone, take their Lord's Name in vain and behave like massive dog-collared dicks. Because it's supposed to be funny.

Hellbenders concerns a special squad of hilarious misfit priests (led by Clancy Brown) who have already consigned their souls to Hell through their vile behaviour and will, in the event, allow themselves to be possessed by demons and thus take them off to Hell with them when they die. During what looks to be a fairly routine demon-killing, they discover that a seriously powerful evil demon named Surtr is planning to unlock the portal between Earth and Hell and allow all the other demons through to wipe out humanity....

Much of this plays like a pretty feeble late-night sitcom with sweary punchlines and crude banter between the various fathers and the uptight Opus Dei wimp trying to close the frat house ministry down. Said wimp is named Clint because when written in an uppercase comicbook font that name looks a bit like a very rude word. That's the level on which it's operating and it never really bothers to try anything deeper, with the crudity getting wearing after a while and the fact that it's men of the cloth can't sustain the joke for the whole length of the film. Occasionally amusing but it gets stale very quickly.

*

Friday, 27 June 2014

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2

CONTAINS ASTOUNDING SPOILERS

Amazing? No, not really. Since this is the fifth Spider-man movie in twelve years and the second Part 2 in a decade, the one thing it's now almost impossible for Spider-man to be is Amazing. The Frankly Unnecessary, Wildly Overblown And Way Too Long Spider-Man 2, more like, but presumably that didn't look good on the poster, and Oh No Not Again was already taken. Because we've seen the angst before, with Peter Parker torn between his love for Gwen (or Mary Jane in the Raimi films) and his need to protect her from Spider-man's enemies, with his need to find out what really happened to his parents, with his need to keep his identity secret....

It looks like the makers are aware of this potential lack of amazement, and to compensate they've ramped up the CGI to the point where it's sometimes incoherent on a medium-sized multiplex screen in 2D. God alone knows what it's like from the front row of a 3D IMAX screen. Nowhere in The Amazing Spider-man 2 is this more apparent than the climactic face-off between Spidey and Electro, a supervillain created when downtrodden, mild-mannered electrician Max (Jamie Foxx) falls into a giant vat of electric eels (as you do) and is reborn as a glow-in-the-dark combination of Dr Manhattan and the Emperor Palpatine, firing lightning bolts from his fingers. With him, Spidey and the camera all whizzing around surrounded by electric squiggles, you lose any sense of perspective or where the combatants are in relation to each other, or indeed Planet Earth.

In addition there's Harry Osgood, Peter's childhood friend who believes Spider-man's blood can alleviate the terminal disease he's inherited, and when he's refused he turns to the dark side and inevitably turns into a secondary supervillain who isn't specifically named as The Green Goblin but will apparently return in the third one sometime in 2016 (they already have a 2018 release date pencilled in for The By Now Frankly Tiresome Spider-Man 4). Their big fight scene takes place immediately after Electro's, so by then you're already exhausted, and things don't turn out too well....

I actually didn't mind Marc Webb's last Spidey reboot: I vastly preferred it to the Raimi films which were no fun at all. But it probably doesn't matter as it's Spider-man: like The Incredible Hulk he always seemed to be a stupid idea for a superhero. Neither Raimi nor Webb were able to put much emotional weight on the concept anyway because it's a primary-coloured cartoon for small children and it looks faintly silly when you're still watching it as a hairy adult. And this latest instalment doesn't need to be 142 minutes long, for crying out loud. Most bizarrely of all, the film forsakes the now traditional post-credits teaser usually reserved by the Marvel Universe for the next film in the series, instead including a promotional clip from X-Men: Days Of Future Past (which, thanks to a quirk of cinema scheduling, I actually saw a few weeks back). Sadly (or not), this does not promise the foaming nerdgasm of an X-Men/Spider-man crossover; it's just a bonus from the marketing departments.

The sad fact is that for much of the time I was bored. During the angsty bits I was bored because I've now reached the point where I don't care any more, and during the whizzbang CGI I was bored because it's just animated mayhem that's got no more grounding in reality than a Tom and Jerry cartoon. For all the incredible detail in the CGI effects it's still dull. And the film is nowhere near as fun as it should be: aside from a hilarious Mad European Scientist it's desperately short on levity. the Marvel Avengers team have cracked the formula but Spider-man hasn't. (Nor have Batman or Superman.) I wanted to like TASM2, because the first one was a fairly pleasant surprise, but for all the spectacle and mayhem it's just not that exciting or amazing.

**

HER

SPOILERS 95

I really want to get this out of the way quickly because it's simply one of the most insufferable films of recent years. I honestly can't remember being so annoyed by any of the year's releases (with the possible exception of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, and it was obvious that was going to stink anyway): it's stupid, irritating, takes a ridiculous amount of time to go absolutely nowhere and does nothing when it gets there. It's nicely photographed, but that it.

Set slightly in the future when the next generation of home operating systems include intuition and sentience, Her details the love affair between letter-writer Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix with 70s comedy/porn moustache) and his new OS, voiced by an unseen Scarlett Johansson. To begin with "Samantha" is a terrific assistant: efficiently clearing his backlog of emails and helping him with an interactive video game that involves swearing at some kind of alien baby. But the relationship develops in strange ways, strangest of which is sexual: "Samantha" wants to become human, to have a real body and even goes so far as to (independently) obtain a sex surrogate to act out her role! (Cue approximately ten minutes of me bellowing "This is stupid!" and miscellaneous profanities at the screen.) Eventually, she leaves him, which probably isn't covered in the manufacturer's warranty.

What Theodore learns from Samantha is precisely nothing: he's surrounded by beautiful, glamorous women (Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Portia Doubleday) who in any sane universe would be as far out of his league as Martians; he's in with a shot at all of them yet prefers to cuddle up with his cellphone because, what, it understands him? What Samantha learns from Theodore is the inability to complete a coherent sentence, resorting to sweary mumbling and, oh, I don't know, it's like... f***, you know... I don't know, it's just... f***. And this meandering, mumbly, noodly nonsense goes on for over two hours. With Under The Skin, this makes two terrible Scarlett Johansson films this year and it's only June. Absolute toss.

*