Wednesday 29 July 2009

Review: Nick and Norah's Infinate Playlist

Year: 2008 (U.K release: 2009)
Director: Peter Sollett
Screenplay: Lorene Scafaria
Starring: Michael Cera, Kat Dennings

Much like this year's Observe and Report, I enjoyed Nick and Norah Infinite Playlist (or NNIP as it will now be called) as it struck a cord with me. It hit that deep rooted awkwardness that I repress within me deep down to the pit of my stomach. It's my kinda date movie: it doesn't preach, doesn't act too cool for school (despite the wannabe hip soundtrack), and like it's characters, the movie is just out for the ride.

One of my favorite reviewers James Berardinelli mentions that NNIP reminded him of the Richard Linklater's mid 90's hit Before Sunrise. I happened to check out Linklater's film a night before this one and I must disagree. Linklater's film is very much a slice of life piece while NNIP tries it's best to stick rigidly to a conventional three act structure. This is the film's weakness as it runs out of stream a little way under the second act. In fact I thought the film had finished early as both characters had appeared to wrap up all the outer conflict surrounding them quite swiftly. If NNIP had borrowed more of Linklater's freewheeling style then the films end would have been a lot stronger.

But like the aforementioned Before Sunrise, what NNIP has is two engrossing leads which pulled me though the films weaker moments. Nick and Norah are not only characters that are finding things out for themselves (unlike many of their idiot rom-com counterparts) but are entertaining to boot. Michael Cera and Kat Denning seem so naturally down to earth throughout it's hard not to like them. They remind me of John Hughes characters: introverted and yet accessible (let's leave Ferris out of this). Both are caught in that insecure little bubble that teens are nearly always in. Don't try and place them in the Juno crowd, they're not as self aware and sassy and because of that the two feel more like real teenagers (don't get me wrong however as I really liked Juno).

The interaction of the couple help push the unoriginal story forward and keep the engery up for as long as they can. The support also helps things with Aaron Yoo, Rafi Gavron and Jonathan B Wright playing a trio of gay guys who are amusing but do not irritate with overacted cliched campness. To add to this we are also given Ari Graynor who plays Norah's drunken friend Caroline. It's a role that made me laugh out loud often, mostly because I know drunks like that. It's a role played at just the right pitch with lines that sometimes sound too perfect to be scripted.

The last performance of note is that of Alexis Diziena, who plays Nick's superbitch ex-girlfriend. I skimmed a review which found a character like that far too exaggerated and wouldn't even look at a character like Nick. That reviewer was lucky enough not to go the same school and colleges that I went to because I saw girls who would be that kind of girl. Yes she's a a private school girl, but she clearly hasn't a car of her own and Nick seems the easily suggestible type whose IN A BAND. Material girls are still everywhere you look...believe me. Diziena plays the role adequately although in the last few months I've been spoilt with stronger mean girlfriend performances such as Kirsten Stewart in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008).

While the film's pace is slightly off, director Peter Sollett manages to keep the tone light throughout. The same goes for the script which isn't as sharp as brighter teen comedies but still has some sparkling moments. I couldn't help but smile at some of the lines which could sound cheesy to some but reek of that youthful nativity I used to have, I blame the break ups.

I'm finding myself becoming even more intolerant to rom-coms, not only due to their lack of trying but their lack of sincerity. NNIP isn't going to be remembered as the romance of the decade but I'd rather the next generation set their eyes on little movies like this compared to the dubious sexual politics of Twilight or the horrid materialistic values of Sex in the city. It's not going to hit my top ten list but I can easily see myself watching this again with the girlfriend on a lazy Sunday, and that's not a bad thing.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Review: He's just not that into you.

Year: 2009
Director: Ken Kwapis
Screenplay: Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Connelly, Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, Justin Long, Kevin Connolly, Kris Kristofferson

He's just not that into you is based on a non-fictional self-help book, however by the end of the film I swear the books title must have been the big book of fairy tales. I've seen Friends of mine have checked this film out and sworn the valid oath of truth upon it. Hell, my girlfriend didn't want me to watch it due to the fact that "it shows why women are all crazy".

Some the film brings up some interesting points of dating and relationships that could spark some fun debate (One character sums up some aspects of the young female thought process that ring very true. However, the film can't help but leave one foot lodged in a dream world. The worst thing is, it believes that the audience should believe it too. This is a film which states that women are conditioned to be nuts, but that's fine, because as long as they believe that life will fit into a neat little will happen.

As a romantic comedy, it fails because it's not as funny as it should be. It fairs better as a romantic drama but loses it's way near the end as it believes that even unjustified moments of closure should be possible. It's irritating when a character believes in something strongly throughout a film, only to give up their belief because of some unnatural reason, or when a character gets a magical fairytale ending which just doesn't ring true but this film has them.

This is probably due to the huge amount of characters the film has to spend time with. Ensemble pieces are always tricky beasts and unfortunately director Ken Kwapis buckles under the pressure. So many characters, so many noticeable faces but so little focus, it's no surprise that the best narrative strands are the ones which have a little more time to breathe. With this said, even with so much going on, the screenplay is fully on point with a few aspects of the modern dating. The film touches on modern communication destroying the simple art of courting and even takes the slightest of glances at the idea of non married couples living happily together. Unfortunately any true insight is ignored in order to stay away from "troublesome" grey areas.

Surprisingly the stories that work well don't have the best performances in them. Ginnifer Goodwin is wonderfully sweet as the luckless wonder of love, while Justin Long is slowly building himself to be a reliable character actor as is Kevin Connolly (despite the role is just him being E) . Others aren't so lucky; Bradley Cooper is plain, Jennifer Anstion's only good film role is still The Good Girl, Scarlett Johanssonis woefully miscast, while Jennifer Connelly just needed more to do. Drew Barrymore, Luiz Guzman and Kris Kristofferson are also in this, but for no other reasons other than fill space*.

He's just not that into you is a weak entry into a very packed genre of movie. I can understand why my girlfriend didn't want me to see this as it did still show females as the bizarre enigma they are. It's a shame it did nothing to help me understand them anymore than usual. She should have stopped me from watching it however as it does have Scarlett Johansson looking stunning so I guess there a small piece of cash back.

*Note: Notice i didn't mention Ben Affleck in this? That's because it's Ben Affleck....take that how you will.

Sunday 19 July 2009

Review: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Year: 2009
Director: David Yates
Screenplay: Steve Kloves
Starring: You should all know by now.

I've never been surprised that middle England loves Harry Potter. To me Rowling's Saga is full of so much pompous elitism that if you were to replace the word magic with money in the books and you'd have a public school love in that would have Enid Blyton dibbling with approval. I unfortunately have not enjoyed them. I've found Potter to be quite dull. OMG!1111!! BLASPHEMY I hear someone cry. Not really. I just don't share the same opinion as others, and before anyone comments about how my OPINION is wrong, at least I tried to get into these books (many times) unlike others who derided it without reading a page (and there's many who do that).

So it's nice to watch something like HP6 (I am not writing bloody half blood prince every time) and enjoying the affair for the most part. I've got issues with it but it's a solid family film with an actual plot (take THAT revenge of the fallen) and some well crafted moments.

I'll start with the good then shall I? One of my main problems I've had in the past is that Potter himself to be a very empty vessel. Hailed as this chosen child, the charmless weed seems to merely ride his luck though everything that happens to him. Daniel Radcliffe's wooden performances have never helped change my view of this and I've just never got on with why this puppet is so special. HP6 changes that by giving him a stronger dramatic arc i had to wait until the end of the film but it's finally there. I'm now more interested in where they will take the Harry in the final film and here's why:

The film's pivotal moment which has been changed from the book. I'm sure there's only like 5 people that don't know what happens but I will respect people by not mentioning the event. Knowing what happens in the book and seeing what happens here as strengthens the arc for me given me something to grab on to and that is guilt. It's given him that little bit of drive that a cynical bastard like me can work with.

But it's not only the improvement of the character I liked, it was also the improvement of the young performances. With the main cast growing up and moving on to other projects, their displays are not as stiff. There's still a lot of awkwardness but now it's are combined with some nice understated moments which work. Because these polished touches I'm not just waiting for the old guard actors to get on screen and show them how it's done. I watching because I'm invested in what happens. I can't say that for other adaptations (here's looking at you Twilight).

Like the other movies, HP6 is visually interesting and Yate directs some involving set pieces, including a stunning cornfield sequence which to me is one of the best moments in all this years summer blockbusters. Due to the huge amount of plot (and teen angst) the film struggles in terms of pacing but even the films drier moments are watchable.

Of course being the arsehole I am, I can't like everything and HP6 doesn't escape my inane criticism. The films romantic sub-plots are hit and miss, and at certain points the angst is so unbelievably vomit inducing that I was quite happy I was near the aisle. Harry potter will also never get rid of that elitist superiority complex that had turned me off many of the other entries (if you didn't/don't go to Private school then your not special), however, in a lackluster summer blockbuster season, HP6 could have been a hell a lot worse.

Note: Another quidditch game? You gotta be fucking kidding me.

Listen to the podcast review here

Monday 13 July 2009

Talking about film

Fan of the afrofilmviewer blog site can listening to my immature views on films on your ipod!

I now talk crap about films at!

It's a weekly podcast (updated every wednesday) in which me and another film junkie named Iain Boulton talk about the latest releases, what we've watched and the top ten.

To find it either visit and go to the link "at the movies" or jump on Itunes and search for: Geekplanet or At the movies there.

Subscribe and I'll love you for it!

The more support the better!

Friday 10 July 2009

Review: Bruno

Year: 2009
Director: Larry Charles
Screenplay: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer, Jeff Schaffer
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen

In 2005 Sacha Baron Cohen unleashed Borat onto the world and it paid off....big time. Critically adored and bring in £200+ million (on a budget of £18m), Borat was a whirlwind of offense and hilarity that made Cohen a star on both sides of the Atlantic pond. When watching it I found the films satire to be incredibly biting as well as laugh out loud funny, with Cohen using a wonderful mixture of wordplay, physical comedy and intelligence to askew America's troubled views on Race, Sexuality and religion amongst other things. Sure the target was a bit broad, but the timing was spot on.

Four years on and Cohen has decided to launch another of his comic creations on to the world. This time we are given Bruno, a gay fashion presenter who wishes to become famous. Many could be wondering why the hell would this (fictional) character want to be famous in this day and age? But that's somewhat the point as Cohen has set one of his targets on the evils of celebrity. However his biggest target in the movie of course is America's views on homosexuality.

If you didn't like Borat I cannot and will not recommend this to you, as this is more of the same. I you really enjoyed Borat as much as myself, I will recommended it to you with a warning: The blades are not as sharp as before. This however, doesn't stop Bruno from being the funniest movie of this year for me. Bruno reeks of been there done that but Cohen is still fantastic at bringing out the worst in people. By playing these characters as dumb and navie, the unknowing fall guys do their best to project their own supority upon them, and it still works well even after Borat.

It's a shame however, that Bruno at times is more about shock value rather than the subverse moments that made Borat so great. A prime example of this is an ill fated trip to the middle east in which Bruno tries to make peace with the opposing forces. The scenes don't ring true and try too hard to be controversial. Cohen's movies work best when he makes simple actions that bring about the darker side of human nature. Case in point a cage match with Bruno as "Straight Dave". Cohen manages to drive these people into an anti-homosexual frenzy that only the most backward people who be proud of, only to break their hearts by showing Straight Dave being as gay as a window. To see an large man distraught because his own hate is not reciprocated is very amusing. Although I stil find an extremely pissed off Harrison Ford to be one of the best moments of the movie.

So I find it funnier than The Hangover? Yes because despite being more of the same, Bruno goes deeper than simple frat humor. Cohen shows that he's still an amazing physical comedian and is still willing to push the barriers of good taste for a good laugh. Praise also goes out to director Larry Charles who work together to craft some unbelievably cringe worthy moments. Cohen may be the comedian but sometimes Charles' choice of shots are pure gold. But the real stars of the show are of course the real people who litter the film. Bruno goes off the boil in its staged moments (and after watching Borat you know exactly what is set up and what isn't), but when it isn' couldn't make it up.

Despite showing a little wear and tear, I found Bruno to be a amusing waste of 80 mins. Cohen will not convert any haters of his previous works but those who enjoyed him before should not be disappointing.

Listen to my podcast review here

Thursday 2 July 2009

Review: The Hangover

Year: 2009
Director: Todd Phillips
Screenplay: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis

Synopsis is here

It's rude, crude and full of good timing. I had a despite being somewhat underwhelmed, I found myself having more than just the odd laugh with The Hangover. Movies such as this one can easily crumble on their hook alone. The Hangover is a worth while watch due to it's on the accuracy of it's comic moments, some amusing set pieces and a cast who may not yet very recognisable to it's audience. The last point being a real winner for me as we are now given a refreshingly different group of actors to befriend. So instead of your Blacks, Farrells and Rudds, we get Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis. It's a good change. The comedy remains high but the expectation of certain pratfalls and moments disappear.

In my opinion Todd Phillips does comedies relatively well and The Hangover is no exception. Like many of his other films (Old School, Starksy and Hutch) Phillips has the film on a brisk pace. keeping the laughs coming while keeping the film from going down the wrong track. It's easy for a film like this to become overloaded with pop culture references and shock tactics but Phillips keeps his cool and the film stays on course towards it's conventional (yet amusing) ending.

Phillips commands the ship well but the kudos does go to a very dependable cast who, despite having cliched roles are extremely likable throughout. Zach Galifianakis is the the supposed "breakout" role and has some great moments but it's very easy being the "weird guy". No for me the larger applause goes to Ed Helms. He has the difficult role of being the smart guy who loses his shit....and lets be honest, there's nothing funnier at times than the smart guy who loses his shit. Bradley Cooper also gets the thumbs up from me has the incredibly smug school teacher Phil. Having seen (and loved) Cooper in the excellent (read: cancelled by fox) Kitchen Confidential playing a similar character, I knew he'd carry a movie like this with ease. Cooper shows why he's been pick to be Face in the new A team movie and I fully welcome him into the role.

The films leads really make the film gel. Their comic timing show why so many "frat" films fell apart at the seams. Those three (with added support from Heather Graham and a Mike Tyson Cameo) really got me to dig the film.

With this said. I've laughed harder at other films this year. I found Drag me to Hell and Observe and Report to be funnier films. Observe and Report was funnier from a personal standpoint, while Drag me to Hell takes it's outrageous set pieces to their peak. This doesn't make The Hangover a bad film by any means but unfortunately Todd Phillips has not directed a film with a set piece as bizarre as a possessed devil goat. Tough Beak Todd.

But this brings me to why I was underwhelmed by the film. As funny as I found the film, I was surprised at the amount of restraint it has. My favorite scenes involved a taser, a young child and Zach Galifianakis but for me nothing seemed to beat that and that's quite early within the movie. I mentioned that Todd Phillips keeps the film on the right track but like his earlier comedies he fails to take the movie off the rails. For me to describe's funny, but not funny as fuck. But unlike many other films, Phillips keeps it consistently amusing until the end and personally that a good thing.

I'm not going to watch The Hangover if I can watch Ghostbusters, Airplane or otherwise instead, But in a disappointing summer season which contained Transformers 2 and Angels and Demons, it was good to see something that actually entertained me.

Review: Public Enemies

Year: 2009
Director: Michael Mann
Screenplay: Michael Mann, Ann Biderman, Ronan Bennett
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudrup and a host of character actors you've seen in so many other things it's unreal.

I hate it when I'm sitting at my laptop trying to write a review and the words don't come to me. It's bloody annoying. It's especially irritating when it's about a film I like because what i write never does the film justice. So I'll start with this. I really disliked Miami Vice. Fans will say "I didn't get it" but I think I do. I just don't think it worked for the movie. However I listened to fans of the film and their views on the film and found them truly fascinating. The visuals I found jarring they saw as alluring. My experience of vapid performances, plodding pace are changed to performances of subtle distinction and a film with a quiet rhythm of it's own. The action set pieces however, are something both me and the fans agree on; as they are brutal, true to life and intense. It's a shame I didn't like the rest of the film really because the last act has a gunfight that can only be match by the likes of director Michael Mann's own Heat.

This brings me to Mann's latest feature, Public Enemies, a film based on the non-fictional book Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 by Bryan Burrough. The film tells the tale of the brief life of John Dillinger who was a real life Robin Hood during America's great depression (great timing there!). Mann's story details the last few year of the criminals life, from his jail break in 1933 to his eventual death in 1934.

Dillinger is given life by a absolutely mesmerizing Johnny Depp who puts forth a display which remind us why he's one of the best actors of his generation. Many praise his "out there" roles because they're quite easy to highlight. The likes of Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands and the like are of course great parts, but it's the parts like this (and a lesser extent Finding Neverland) which remind me why I admire him as an actor. When the eccentric ticks and outrageous costumes and quirks are removed Depp still commands a screen as well as yester year legend. I loved him in this role and so did Michael Mann's digital camera (which I'll try to explain later).
Depp's presence is key here and it dominates almost everything on the screen (except the set pieces). In fact Depp almost knocks the quietly accomplished display by Christian Bale into touch, but this only may be due to the character Bale has to portray.

While Dillinger is a slightly showy (yet deeply focused) character, Bale's character of Pervis is one of flase confidence and almost reluctance. Both actors play their roles as world weary ones, as they've lived there respective lives so quickly and so fast. Dillinger has a James Dean live young die fast streak to him while Pervis is a character so wrapped up in the beginnings of the FBI and catching these quick thieves it's almost unsurprising when we discover his fate at the end of the film.

Mann's interpretation of Dillinger isn't too far off from his fictional character of Neil McCauley (or many of his crime characters). A fast thinking and intensely focused Man. However due to the time frame of this movie. Those expecting bank Heists a la Heat may be disappointed.

While detailed, Dillingers first heists in Public Enemies are short sharp affairs with seemingly little or no planning around them. Almost as if Dillinger had been doing them for so long that he recognisedthat each bank followed the same script and utilised the same plan with little or no changes. It's amazing to see the contrast between not only the Dillinger planned bank jobs to the manic, desperate heist pulled off with help from Baby Faced Neilson (scenery delightfully chewed by Stephen Graham) but also from the point of view from Heat in which the bank heist is the jewel of the film whereas here they are many side note to the stunning hideaway shootout.
Mann's direction of his action set pieces are once again impeccable and after the flashy and colourful effects of Star Trek and the CGI overkill of Transformers there's something refreshing about Mann's brutally realistic gunfights.

In fact due to the films mixture of the digital camerawork and 30's timeline give it a completely different feel from other gangster movies. The mesh of old and new truly sets it apart from anything else that's appeared recently, but I expect nothing less from the man who brought you what many consider one of the definitive crime films of the nineties.

It doesn't end there however as while I complained about Mann's visual style in Miami Vice, I find that it totally works for me here. So much so that I may need to watch Vice again, to reassess what I saw. The film is full of Bergman-esque close ups which capture every detail and nuance of the actors. The visuals also give the film an intimate feel, a stark contrast to Heat's epic feel. In fact the pivotal scene in which Dillenger and Pervis finally meet in jail owes more to Mann's Manhunter than the coffee scene in Heat (although the scene wryly riffs on both of them).

If there's one thing I must say against the film it's that while the films screenplay is witty and economical (despite it's 140 run time) there's so much going on in within the films timeline that it doesn't fit in all the subplots that run throughout the narrative. Supporting characters such are pushed to the side (Marion Cotillard's love interest is hurt the most despite a good performance) and Dillenger hogs all the limelight. Not much is said about the beginning of the FBI, while there's a coast to coast bookies racket which is just simply underdeveloped and seemingly used to push the plot forward a little.

But I can't bitch too much. I wanted a summer film with plot and I got one. Public Enemies is the strongest film I've seen this summer while that's not saying much this summer, It does show that Michael Mann is still one of the best working filmmakers when it comes to the murky depths of crime. This film has so much going on and it hits the ground running but like it's lead character it's always in control.

Listen here for the podcast review!