Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Wayan Bros' tear up indie comedy-drama!

Well, no. But surprisingly enough, if they did it would probably look a lot like this (which is, to my knowledge, not a tongue-in-cheek feature at all).

Sunday, 10 July 2011

'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' Review

If nothing else, The Transformers movie franchise has been a successful conduit for the product at large. Essentially eking out a slow death outside of the collectors market, the robots in disguise were given a major lifeline in the form Michael Bay’s 2007 commercial, if not critical, hit. Now, the series has seen not only two cinematic sequels, but two successful animated series’, a series of videogames, mugs, jugs, lunchboxes, and, of course, more toy lines than you can shake a stick at. So in many ways, Mark Kermode’s recent statement that the films were nothing more than an industrial point extends far beyond the concerns of commercial 3D moviemaking. For better or for worse, post-2007 Transformers is a major example of the power in merchandising – in branding. So there’s a sort of terrible logic behind the acceptance that the films can be utter tripe – bums will get on seats, kids will be enraptured, and product will be sold. It’s a fairly standard trick, but it didn’t work quite so well the first time round. The original, fairly ill-known Transformers: the Movie, the true cinematic debut of the franchise, was, at its release in 1986, essentially just a way to kill off all the old toys onscreen so that new ones could be introduced and advertised in a rip off Star Wars storyline. Now largely forgotten, it’s the stuff of convention goers and neckbeards. And yet it’s interesting to note that something so unashamedly superficial, a piece of fluff from some 80s kid’s childhood, holds more charm than this, the third instalment of one seriously lucrative movie trilogy. Dark of the Moon manages to correct some of the problems of its predecessor, the sorry abortion that was Revenge of the Fallen, but it’s like taking the gherkin out of your Big Mac; the immediate, stinging offense is removed, but the reality is you’re still ingesting a pile of shit.

Dark of the Moon, at least, begins with a semblance of entertaining filmmaking. The film’s plot spins out from a fun opening sequence, wherein it is revealed that the first lunar landing was a front for a mission to investigate a crashed object on the dark side of the moon; the Ark, an Autobot spacecraft that holds the key to deciding the war between those paragons of freedom and their nefarious enemies, the Decepticons (rendered, as always, with as little depth or screen time as may be allowed). It transpires that this key is the Space Bridge – a mass teleportation device whose components Optimus Prime (Petter Cullen) and gang will race to track down with the aid of the Ark’s pilot, the imaginatively named Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy). There’s a nice sense of logic to the opening sequence, with its splicing of real and fictional footage, that we know the film will quickly shun once manchild hero Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBouf) takes centre stage, now armed with a new girlfriend Carly – or rather, that pair of buttocks and BJ lips. It’s good to see that, from her first moments on screen, Bay’s objectification of the female body has shown no signs of abating, in this instance intensifying in that there is no doubt over whether or not Rosie Huntington-Whiteley can actually act (she can't). But then, this wouldn’t be a Transformers film if we didn’t get to cringe at awkward close-ups of women, spinning cameras to suggest a “heady, romantic scene”, or schizophrenic switches in tone, devoid of rhyme or reason.

From here on out, all the usual gang are present and accounted for, going about their business with the occasional pop up from (the presumably work-starved pairing of) John Malkovich and Frances McDormand. Admittedly, the first hour is as entertaining as such a mix allows, recalling the stronger parts of the unduly demonised 2007 feature, but half way through, any semblance of sense in the plot is swiftly thrown out, and Bay indulges in an HOUR LONG action sequence that will numb your butt and rot your brain. Every so often, something cool will happen, but it’s a bit like watching someone play a videogame; you might occasionally have some sort of detached interest in a particular visual effect, but by and large you’re in the passenger seat buddy, and don’t you know it. By the end of the film, I was willing someone to die, and I didn’t really care who, so long as it brought things to a close. However, there is an odd sort of relief when it’s all said and done, the knowledge that, as bad as it may have been, the experience could have been worse; swinging robot testicles are thankfully absent, and whilst Bay clearly can’t help but throw in a few racial stereotypes, those awful ghetto twins from Revenge of the Fallen apparently got dusted off by some superior Decepticon between the two films. Therein lies the rub with Dark of the Moon; where its predecessor was an offensively bad excuse of a film, the latest (and hopefully last) outing for the Bay-formers was largely just bland, bland, and a little more bland. Apparently there were some cool 3D effects in there too, but I think my brain had melted too much to register them by the time they showed up in force. Or maybe 3D is just a complete fucking gimmick and by the 2 hour 30 mark your eyes are too used to the whole malarkey to really notice anyway. But hey, what do I know! I’m not the one helming what will no doubt turn out to be this summer’s biggest blockbuster outside of Harry Potter...

(happy 100th post!)

Saturday, 2 July 2011

'Scenes from the Suburbs' Review

Those of you who’ve been reading for awhile and have (extremely) good memories might remember that I’m a bit of an Arcade Fire fan. “A bit” meaning I walked around chanting “Neighbourhood #1” like some sort of mantra for a solid week at the tender, impressionable, po-faced age of 15. Those same people might also remember that I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Spike Jonze. So it was a happy day when I found out last year that those two forces would combine in the 30 minute short film, Scenes from the Suburbs. It’s been a long wait, but the finished product has finally been made available through festivals and – briefly – MUBI, and I’ve given it a gander. Puzzling, sincere, with the same touch of over the top seriousness that colours much of the band’s work, it lives up to its role as “that Arcade Fire film” whilst also containing some indelible Jonze touches.

The movie focuses on a summer in the life of Kyle and his friends in a small suburb, though particularly the intense friendship he shares with his best one Winter. In true Win Butler fashion, we are told that “this is the summer Winter cut his hair.” This is the somewhat ridiculous cue that shit is about to get real, and what follows dances on the line between arresting and absurd without ever firmly crossing over; amidst all of the nostalgia for a teen life past, with its heady dramas and fearful curiosity for what lies beyond the horizon, the powerlessness of teen life is literalized in that these American suburbs are actually warring states. To move away is to throw your allegiance to your former life away forever. It’s an interesting conceit on the surface, but once you prod it a little, it threatens to give way. Thankfully the film offers it as a backdrop that colours the breakdown between Kyle and Winter without pushing it too far; despite all its embellishments this is the classic tale of how painful the transition from boy to man can be, and the thirty minutes convey this effectively. Kyle is a particularly likeable protagonist, and the film’s presentation of the teenagers feels real without the current vogue for gritty “raw teen” life (thanks Skins!) polluting things up.

This is aided through Jonze’s distinct personality, the whimsy of his prior work transforming into the darker sincerity that characterised Where the Wild Things Are, though in this instance the small town lifestyle carries with it the same 80s cinema resonance that Super 8 is currently trading in on (why is that period so endlessly fascinating?). Between this and last year’s I’m Here, Jonze is on a winning streak with the short films, and I hope it continues for awhile longer; Jackass is fun and all, but I mean...come on. Fans of Arcade Fire will love this film regardless; the music from ‘The Suburbs’ album bleeds in and out as required and is largely a welcome, unobtrusive presence, its melancholic tones finding focused expression in the storyline. For everyone else, this is a solid enough piece of short cinema, something that’s always worth championing.