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Film4… Can Will Ferrell do subtle. “Everything Must Go” says yes!

22 Dec

Will Ferrell has a new movie out, Anchorman 2, so no surprise that Film4 is screening a mini Will Ferrell film festival  to warm us up with a double header. Tonight the first of the two for one Will Ferrell film fiesta was the 2010 film Everything Must Go.

When you see Will Ferrell name on the credits of the film you are pretty much guaranteed no-hold barred, in your face, over the top, frat boy humour. Well you would in most of his films but not Everything Must Go.

I would say this is probably the best Will Ferrell film I have ever watched. It was a subtle portrayal of a man whose life had suddenly and catastrophically fallen to pieces all around him. He lost his job, his wife and his house all on the same day. Forced to leave in the front yard of his old home with old his possessions, he learns to let go of his past both in a literal and metaphorical sense. A drama rather than a comedy it is a studied portrayal of suburban dysfunction.

 

 

Will Ferrell’s performance as a drunken middle aged man whose life should be a suburban dream but is a suburban nightmare is engaging, thoughtful and emotive. Kudos also to Christopher Jordan Wallace (son of the late Rapper Notorious B.I.G) who put in a superb performance as Kenny, a local nieghbourhood kid, who befriends Ferrell and helps him come to terms with his changed life.

BBC2…Up In The Air (Movie)

17 Nov

Up In The Air is a bitter-sweet tale of modern life. George Clooney is superb in the film as Ryan Bingham, a “Corporate Downsizer” a man whose job is to fire people when the companies they work for don’t have the balls to do the job themselves.

He lives a nomadic existence travelling the length and breadth of the United States like some kind of corporate Anti-Santa Claus leaving shattered dreams and despair in his wake. Not content with this, he also has a career as a public speaker and his theme? Shedding you relationships and travel through life with no “personal baggage”. His one true pleasure in life is pursuing the acquisition of as many air miles as possible.

On the surface you would expect the character to be a grey, grizzled and unfulfilled middle age coporate drone, but that would not be a role for George Clooney. What Clooney brings to the role is a large dose of humanity and allows us to understand that what you do for a living is not always a definition of what you are.

His company pairs him up with Natalie Keener (Anna Kendric), a fresh faced new executive with a big idea to move the company away from face-t0-face firing, to firing people over video conference. Ryan is unconvinced by this idea and agrees to take Natalie on the road to experience the reality of the job they do and unintentionally also giving her an insight into the life he leads.

Firing someone face to face it goes without saying is much harder than you can imagine, and was much harder that anything Natalie was ready for. The whole experience left her distraught especially when one woman she fired  calmly telling Natalie she was going to kill herself.

As they journey across the country Natalie struggles to understand Ryan’s approach to life questioning his relationship-free existence. Along the way they also meet Alex (Vera Farmiga) a fellow traveller with whom Ryan is having a casual relationship.

While all three are getting to know each other Natalie receives a text message from her boyfriend dumping here, an irony given the new system she is championing. As Alex and Ryan try to comfort her the conversation turns to questions of what they are seeking from from life and Alex answers are suggestive of Ryan being the sort of man she would be content with.

Natalie eventually returns to the head office to implement her new system. Ryan on the other hand persuades Alex to accompany him to his sister’s wedding. In a pivotal scene in the movie, his brother-in-law to be is developing cold feet and Ryan contrary to all his has preached and the live he has lived persuades him to go ahead, with a speech emphasising how “everyone needs a co-pilot” and how the “most important moments in life are shared”.

This leaves Ryan thinking of his own life and about Alex, and days later purely on impulse he decides to fly to Chicago to surprise Alex. He arrives at her home and knocks, she opens the door to a background of noisy kids and a less than welcoming look on her face. No words need to be said by either Alex or Ryan. As he turns around to leave, in the background we hear her husband call out “Who was that?” and her answer “Just someone who was lost” and that sums up what Ryan’s life has become and how he has has only just come to realise it.

Natalie learns the woman who threatened suicide actually did, devastated she left the company and her programme was canned. Ryan is last seen receiving an air miles reward and returning to the road.

How would I describe Up In the Air? A dark powerful, character driven and evocative romantic comedy, a reminder of how the convenience of modern life can seduce us away from the things that make us truly happy often until it is too late.

Movies on TV…Salt…Slightly over seasoned, completely unhinged (CH4)

18 Mar

I struggle to think of the last film I saw with Angelina Jolie where she wasn’t some sort of femme fatale rampaging through enemy territory guns blazing and fists flailing. From the Tomb Raider franchise, Mr and Mrs Smith, Wanted and even more recently The Tourist Ms Jolie is all action.

Did she take a break in Salt? You wish.

The essence of the plot had Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) as a sleeper agent planted as a child in the United States by an agency of the then Soviet Union and she ends up working for the CIA.

Fast forward quite a few years and a Russian defector Orlov, turns up out of the blue to Salt’s office and is brought in for interrogation led by Salt. He tells a story of children trained by the Soviets as sleeper agents, how they are swapped with the real children of Americans and embedded as sleeper agents. He tells of one child swapped when her supposed parent die on a trip to Russia. The child has been trained as an assassin and  is to be triggered to kill the Russian President, a reformer, who is on a visit to the USA. He reveals the sleeper agent’s name – Evelyn Salt.

Her colleague Ted Winter and CIA counterintelligence officer Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) were observing and a decision is made to detain Salt, and from that point on the film doesn’t not take a breather weaving at breakneck speed through one unexplained and implausible situation after another.

Why did Salt resist being questioned about Orlov’s allegations? Why did Orlov’s visit trigger Salt’s flight? How did she escape form so many well trained agents? Why did she go back to her apartment after fleeing? Why did the CIA not think to send people to her apartment straight after she escaped? Why was her friend and close colleague Winter allowed to join in the hunt?

Escaping from the CIA office Salt then seemingly kicked into her sleeper role mission to kill the the Russian President who was attending the funeral of his friend the Vice President of the USA. Despite the security cordon by the NYPD, FBI, CIA and the US secret service. Salt got into church, blew up the floor beneath the lectern where the Russian President was giving a Eulogy and as he dropped through the floor to where she was, she shot him.

More questions? Why did she go on this mission? How come she was so well prepared? Had she planned for the mission? and the inevitable question how come she outwitted and out fought her way through what were insurmountable odds.

After wrecking carnage at Funeral Salt meets up with Orlov in a hideout he has with the other sleepers who kidnapped and later kill Salt’s husband to test if she is still loyal. He reveals the next part of the plot to Salt, breaking into America’s nuclear bunker, kidnapping the President and starting a nuclear war with Russia. He sets up a rendezvous with a new sleeper agent who will get Salt into the White House. Salt however is not in a forgiving mood and kills Orlov and all the other sleepers in revenge for her husband’s murder.

Why were all the sleepers in one place, had they all been activated at once?  If they were all as highly trained as Salt how come she got rid of them so easily?

In the finale act she meets up with another sleeper who gets her into the White House. This sleeper attempts to assassinate the President by blowing himself up, but ends up triggering emergency procedures that takes the President into a safe room deep in the bowels of the White house. In there it turns out Winter, Salts colleague, is also sleeper. He kills all the agents and with the President all alone tries to force him to launch a nuclear war. Salt who had been trying to breaks into the bunker, finally does so and prevents Winter from launching the missiles.

More questions Was this part of the master plan? Why was Winter allowed to be part of the President’s security detail? What triggered his mission?

After nuclear was is averted. Salt is arrested but before they can take her away in a kerfuffle she engineers  she uses her handcuffs to choke Winter to death.

Why did she kill him? What purpose did that serve? If she hadn’t changed sides he was an ally she could use. If she hadn’t he might have valuable information on the rest of the sleeper network.

She is finally whisked away in a military helicopter, where even more implausibly after all the havoc she’s wrecked she persuades Peabody to release her and she escapes.

Why did he let go ?

I think the film should really have been called Saltyyyyyyy cause it left me with so many Whys?

p.s  The action scenes were great.

 

Movies on TV…Good Morning Vietnam (Film4)

16 Mar

If you were to ask me to name my ten best films ever, maybe even my five best films ever there will be a spot reserved for Good Morning Vietnam. I can’t say how many times I have watched it but too many times is not  one of the answers I would give.

The film is a tour de force by Robin Williams  who plays Armed Forces DJ Adrian Cronauer. Ably supported by a phenomenal cast which includes Forest Whitaker (Edward Garlick), Bruno Kirby (Lt Hauk), J T Walsh (Sgt Dickerson) and not to forget  Cu Ba Nguyen as the irrepressible Vietnamese  bar owner Jimmy amongst others.

On the surface Good Morning Vietnam is probably deemed to be comedy, a vehicle for Robin Williams to perform his trademark rapid fire humour, but that would be doing it a massive disservice.

The film is much more than that. It is political film touching on the lies, untruths and duplicity that shrouded America’s involvement in Vietnam.

It is a love story with the unrequited love Robin Williams has for his Vietnamese student Trinh.

It is a buddy movie and you can take pick of buddy relationships, Adrian Cronauer and Edward Garlick, Adrian Cronauer and Tuan  (Tung Thanh Tran)  who turns out to be Viet Cong, or even the ‘axis of Evil’ Lt Hauk and Sgt Dickerson.

It is a journey through some of the popular rock and roll, soul and pop  anthems of the 60′s James Brown, Wilson Pickett, The Rivieras,  Perry Como, The Beach Boys and much more.

It is about power and it use and abuse. The power to send thousand of young men into war fought over reason that were at best nebulous. The power to censor to censor the truth and ultimately that the power of the state trunphs the power of an individual.

The film follows Adrian Cronauer’s valiant and ultimately doomed attempt to breath life in to a Military Radio station. There are so many greats moments in the film but this always stands out for me for its poignancy and humour.

 

Movies on TV…Skyline (Channel 4)

10 Mar

I think I get Skyline. Whenever there is a movie about  a massive alien invasion of earth you expect two things. Firstly you expect the aliens to arrive with overwhelming force battering mankind to the point where they are just one hero, or one stroke of good luck, away from defeat (Independence Day, War of the Worlds,  or even Mars Attacks)

Invariably the plot gets to a point where just when it seems all is lost the tide turns, mankind triumphs and we are reminded of the human ability to survive adversities of all kinds as misty eyed survivors gather and celebrate the indomitable human spirit.

Skyline does not buy into this, well they buy into the first part about aliens battering mankind close to submission, but not the part of  turning the tide. In Skyline when the aliens go on a rampage, they really go on a rampage.  Earth is totally beaten.

In some ways Skyline is arguably a dose of realism, well as real as you can get when you are talking about  aliens and flying saucers.

We as human race have pretty much scanned the all the planets close by and quite a few not so close and not found any signs of life. If aliens do invade they would be in all likelihood be coming from some seriously far-flung star system and would be equipped with technology far in advance of anything we have.

The chances are that the battles would be one-sided and that was what we get in Skyline.  An alien race with the ability to hover vast number of humans into their space ships to satisfy their taste for human brains and equipped with an unstoppable war machine to do this. In the process they defied the best the US Army and Airforce could throw at them including nuclear bombs.

The plot centered around 6 main characters Terry  played by Daniel Faison (Turk for Scrubs aficionados), Jarrod (Eric Balfour), Elaine (Scottie Thompson), Candice (Brittany Daniels), Denise (Crystal Reed) and Oliver (David Zayas).

Terry is a wealthy LA entrepreneur who is living the LA dream with  Candice his girlfriend. Terry invites old school buddy Jarrod over to LA from New York for hedonistic weekend to celebrate his birthday, but also plans to ask him to join his business. Jarrod comes along with his pregnant girlfriend Elaine. Joining the couples for a weekend of fun is Terry’s assistant Denise with whom he is having an affair. Added to the mix later on is David the building manager of the penthouse where Terry lives.

After Terry and his guests indulge in some serious pool and penthouse partying their well-earned late morning lie-in is interrupted by strange goings-on. The aliens have landed and from their we are pulled into a claustrophobic thriller as the party goers later joined by Oliver the building manager struggle to evade the alien brain snatchers.

For a film that depicts a world-wide invasion of earth the concentration on the such a limited number of characters and staging the bulk of the plot  in a single building may have been great for the budget, but was pretty poor for creating a sense of scale. It was like Attack on Precinct 13 but with slimy aliens as the bad guys.

I also never worked out why it took the US Airforce a whole day to respond to the wholesale alien invasion of Los Angeles. When they did respond we were treated to a some very good air battles cumulating in the detonation of the mother ship with a thermo nuclear device in Los Angeles.

I am not an expert  on nuclear war, but I would assume the White House in authorising that attack had pretty much had accepted that the casualties from the radiation fallout were justified in attempt to save earth.  The attack was unsuccessful in stopping the aliens because the mother ship seemed to have some ability to self-heal, but the radiation fallout so close to ground zero of the explosion seemed to have no effect on our cast of 6.

The nuclear bomb and radiation fallout might not have done them in but one by one they were picked up by the Aliens till were left with Jarrod and Elaine and this was with a couple of minutes left in the movie and then it clicked. Isn’t there going to be a twist, will the aliens suddenly realise they are vulnerable to the common cold, will a brave pilot fly into the middle of the mother ship on Kamikaze style and bring it down or will we find that country music played on loud speakers is there kryptonite.

The answer was none of the above, Jarrods brain was sucked out and Elaine was swept away into slimy, grimy alien incubator for pregnant women. Aliens 1 Mankind 0.

 

Movies on TV…Unstoppable (Channel 4)

25 Feb

If you’re stuck at a signal point on the 7:15 from Peterborough to Kings Cross on a Monday morning it would be almost next to impossible to imagine a high-octane thriller featuring a high-speed runaway train.

If you transfer the scene to Pennsylvania, USA, swap the passenger train for a freight train loaded with highly volatile chemicals and bring in über action film director the late Tony Scott, then what you couldn’t image as your read your copy of The Metro for the 4th time becomes much closer to reality.

If Keanu Reeve’s blockbuster Speed was re-made by a train spotter, the result would be Unstoppable – a disaster movie about freight trains.

A somewhat unclear turn of events at the beginning of the film involving a train driver called Dewey (Ethan Suplee) saw a goods train laden with chemical left running without a driver, and the dead man switch all trains are supposed to be equipped with not functioning (a key plot point which again was not fully explained).

The result of this series of mishaps meant our accidental heroes Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) and Wil Colson (Chris Pine) were called into action. Cue a fast paced thriller with the late Tony Scott’s trademark frenetic camera style As first Frank and Wil struggled to avoid the freight train they were driving colliding with the runaway train.

Then after that narrow escape from that head on collision, they quickly came to realise that the train company’s plan to stop the runaway train was a non starter and the train was heading towards the city of Stanton (population 700,000+ we were helpfully reminded). The only people who could save the town from disaster were, yes you gessed right,  Wil and Frank.

With disaster movies like this you pretty much know how it going to end, it is Hollywood after all. It is like driving with a SatNav you know where it is taking you, you just don’t how far from it will deviate from what you think is the route. We knew Wil and Frank were going to save the day, all that was in doubt was how close to disaster they go before the heroic finale.

Like many disaster movies that have gone  before it Unstoppable threadd a familiar path taking  us through edge of the seat tension, gritty determination of our heroes, several near mishaps and finally heroic triumph as our heroes boarded the runaway train and brought it to a halt.

In the process they both achieved the trademark personal redemption, Wil had fallen out with his wife and had a restraining order slapped on him and Frank somewhat less dramatically had forgotten his daughter’s birthday.

A masterpiece, no. An entertaining way to spend one and half hours, definitely.

Movies on TV….Lesbian Vampire Killers (BBC1)

8 Feb
Lesbian Vampire Killers

Lesbian Vampire Killers (Wikipedia)

Imagine if I you were a hormonal 17 year old lad and the star of a hit TV show that enthralled the nation and turned you into a star across the country.

Imagine if some film dudes came along, looking to cash in on your new found popularity and offered to make any film you like with you as the star. I can imagine a film like Lesbian Vampire Killers would be top of your list, but surely not if you are in your 30′s with thoughts of a serious career.

Well Matthew Horne and James Corden stars of hit comedy Gavin and Stacey did just that, leveraging their fame from the BBC3 cult hit into one of the worst films to grace our TV screens in a long while.

The premise is very simple, two lads find themselves in the middle of the Norwich countryside late at night and spend the next hour and half stitching together every conceivable horror film cliche.

From the darkly lit pub with a bunch of unfriendly, inbred looking locals warning the two lads to be wary. The priest fighting a lone battle against the forces of evil. A camper van of exceptionally fine looking Swedish girls happy to party with the boys. The absence of any women over the age of 25 (we can’t have any actresses not there for anything other than their looks and youth). The lipstick lesbian vampires. It’s all there

What was missing was a discernible plot that made much sense, even for an outlandish horror movie.

It turns out that somehow this little village has a curse that turns all women over 18 into lesbian vampires. The only thing standing in the way of their  total domination of East Anglia is the character played by Matthew Horne who unknown to him is a descendant of a legendary vampire slayer.

The boys party with the girls, the Swedish girls get killed or turned into vampires one by one, till we are left with the two heroes, the last of the Swedish girls and the final not-so-epic battle with the forces of evil at a graveyard.

If you have been out on the lash, and struggled home with a doner kebab stuffed with salad and lashings of chilli sauce you may well think this has Oscar winning potential, but when you wake up in the morning you’ll quickly realise the film was just slightly more memorable than the remnants of last night’s Kebab.

 

 

Channel 4 News…Django Director Tarantino shuts Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s butt down – “You’re not my master”

13 Jan
Quentin Tarantino at the 82nd Academy Awards, ...

Quentin Tarantino(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Quentin Tarantino was in town to promote his latest film Django about a slave-turned-bounty hunter who sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.

The film featuring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio has won rave reviews and Oscar nominations, but there is not escaping that in common with many other Tarantino movies there is a considerable level of violence an aspect the Channel Four newcaster Guru-Murthy was keen to explore.

Tarantino on the other hand was not to keen to explore any linkage between violence in movies and real life violence. Cue a very explosive and forthright interview with more than few choice quotes.

Normally these interviews for films are sychophantic and boring, but this was definitely not!

and just to make sure we don’t upset Mr Tarantino, cos he might shut our butts down here is the trailer for Django

Movies on TV….UP (BBC3)

12 Jan

Up

This review contains tons of spoilers, so if you just here for the movie on BBC iPlayer skip to the bottom.

Animation films are tricky not just because they require a huge amount of detailed and sustained creativity but they have to appeal to two different audiences simultaneously. To the kids who want an amusing day out watching a nice colourful tale with a happy ending, and to the adults accompanying them who need to need to enjoy the film but require more nuance and subtext to keep them engaged.

The best animation films do this superbly, with UP I think it did more of the later, providing more subtext for adult viewers than it needed to particularly so in the first half.

UP is the story of Carl Fredricksen a shy boy with a love for adventure. We meet him as a child amazed by the adventures of a legendary explorer Charles F. Muntz, Muntz however has been ostracized over  what were assumed to be false claims that he had discovered a new giant bird specie.

Carl meets a young neighbourhood girl Ellie also a fan of Muntz, they become friends, promising themselves one day they will go on an adventure to South America like their hero Muntz. The film rolls forward to their eventual marriage

Here is takes a somewhat dark twist. Ellie suffers a miscarriage and it seems cannot have children of her own. Various hiccups in life meaning the money they are saving for that trip of a lifetime continually gets used up. Eventually by their old age they saved the money and Carl plans to surprise Ellie but it turns out she is sick and eventually dies. All a bit bleak, but it gets bleaker.

Carl is now an old age pensioner, a man in the last stages of life with a big unfulfilled ambition, a widower stuck in big house and with little or no contact with the outside world. Except that is for the construction folk who are tearing down the old neighbourhood to build shiny new flats and have tried in vain to persuade Carl to sell on move to a retirement home.

Carl gets into a confrontation with one of the construction workers, assaults him and is arrested and taken to court. There he is found guilty and forced to sell his house and is scheduled to move into the retirement home.

This is all in the first 20 minutes of the film, but fortunately, especially if you are a kid, it is at this point the bleakness ends and the fantasy begins.

Carl it seems had no plans to go into an retirement home and has rigged the house with thousands of helium balloons. As the staff from the retirement home come to cart him away he releases the balloons and his house is uprooted from the ground and he sets sail with a picture of his beloved wife on the adventure they had promised themselves all those years ago.

The flight presumably a metaphor for leaving all his worldly pains and problems behind, or maybe that it is never to late to chase your dreams, but a small problem pops up, Russell. Russell is a local Wilderness Explorer (read Cub Scout) who had been pestering Carl offering to ‘assist’ him as a means of he, Russell, getting his ‘Assisting the Elderly’  badge. He inadvertently gets trapped in the house and is now also bound for South America much to Carl’s consternation.

After a bumpy ride they land in South America. There come across a very exotic looking ostrich like creature and it turns out it was the creature the explorer Muntz had claimed he found but was ignored so many years back. Not only that but a much aged Muntz was in the area still trying to capture the creature aided by a pack of ‘talking dogs’.

At this point you might say a happy ending would be Muntz takes the creature and Russell back to the USA restoring his reputation and reuniting Russell with his family and Carl lives happily ever after in South America. Well as any film buff would tell you you can’t have a film without a ‘Climax’ and the ‘Denoument’  and without these UP probably would not have got its two Oscars.

So we get the ‘Climax’, Muntz’s plan to capture the animal is transformed in a ‘dastardly plot’. It turns out the bird is the mother of several cute chicks and Muntz is prepared to take the bird  (named Kevin by Russell, he didn’t know about the chicks) back dead or alive.  Karl and Russell battle Muntz in their bid to rescue Kevin. The battle in involves dog flying propeller planes, chases across vast canyons, and the use of false teeth as weapons of limited destruction. Eventually however Carl and Russell triumph.

Kevin is restored to his family, Carl finds out that for Ellie married life with him was the adventure she wanted and she hadn’t held him to the promise to move to South America, and Russell proudly got his helping the elderly badge. Denoument done!

If you are quick you can catch it on BBC’s iPlayer (available to Jan 17, 2013).

If you were not so fast, you can still enjoy the trailer :-)

 

Movies on TV…Green Zone (Channel 4)

4 Nov

Matt Damon has pretty much established himself as an all action hero and his role as a tough marine with a conscience in Green Zone was a pretty good fit.

The film was centered around the days shortly after the Coalition (well really the US Army) had swept through Iraq, toppled Saddam Hussien and was looking to establish its authority.

Matt Damon’s unit was charged with locating and securing the vast quantity of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD’s) that overthrown Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein supposedly had hidden across the country.

Now my first question when watching this film was did everyone American in Iraq refer to each other as “Chief”. The film was littered with phrases like “Chief can I have a word”, “Chief load up the truck and lets roll out”, “Chief there is an IED coming in at nine o’clock”, “Chief can I have a Macaroni and Cheese and a Soda to go” and so on. I know Americans are informal and all, but it was all a bit bizarre.

The crux of the Movie was how Matt Damon’s unit following up on intelligence reports on the supposed location of the WMDs, never found any and they were beginning to suspect all was not right.

It turns out he was right to be concerned. There was supposedly a massive conspiracy and he was determined to expose it.

Which brings me to my second question. As conspiracy go this was definitely a conspiracy-lite, really calling it a conspiracy is an insult to ‘real’ conspiracies like the Moon Landing, Area 51 or JFK’s assassination.

The gist of it was prior to the war senoir Iraqis had confessed to American intelligence they had no WMD’s, intelligence sat on this to give a pretext to go to war. Now I am no political guru, but I am pretty sure that WMD or no WMD the war was pretty much a done deal. So why was Damon so worked up about it? Could he not have worked out that in the euphoria of the “victory” it would be an unfortunate revelation but nothing more than that. May be it was his conscience but as a premise for a conspiracy movie it was very weak.

On the flip side there was enough action and fire fights throughout the movie to keep any war film buff suitably entertained. An entertaining but not necessarily a cerebal watch.