Sunday 8 November 2009

Review: The Men Who Stare At Goats

Year: 2009
Director: Grant Heslov
Screenplay: Peter Straughan
Starring: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey

Synopsis is here

The Men Who Stare At Goats is a film which reminds me of one of my favorite films of 2002: Confessions of a dangerous mind. Both deal with larger than life characters who may or may not have had self-confessed influential roles with American government agencies. Confessions dealt with Game Show host/creator Chuck Barris' run ins with the C.I.A while TMWSAG tells the story of a group of Army men with Physic abilities. The entertainment isn't in how true these stories might be but how amusing the delusions can get and while TMWSAG's gets extremely goofy with it's flashback tales of the new earth army, it doesn't have the slick direction of confessions, nor does it have the narrative structure to keep the hi jinks going.

TMWSAG's strongest aspect is it's acting. Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey and George Clooney (whose on a bit of a roll with me as of late) play the films lunatics so deadpan it's impossible not to smirk at the very sight of them at times. Played completely straight, the more absurd the the tale gets, the funny the characters become. It helps that the best roles are being taken by The dude, John Doe and Danny Ocean. All three are having a great time with the bizarre nature of their roles, it is only Ewan Mcgregor and his dubious American accent that struggles as the films straight man. After a brief chat with my podcast co host, we both agreed that Jason Bateman would have been just as entertaining in that role, if not more so.

It's great to have such a cast as it allows director Grant Heslov less to worry about. Although it would have been nice if he didn't allow his debut film to run out of narrative steam at the end of the film. This mostly stems from the films screenplay but by the time the film reaches it's climax it's clear that the film has gone as far as it can go with the material, which is odd because a film as batty as this should have almost limitless potential. With this being Grant Heslov's first film however, the man shows that he has more then enough talent to not only work with an ensemble cast but managing to craft an amusing film which for the most part is very funny. Heslov also knows his genre well and makes sure his film isn't bloated. The film does lose momentum but unlike many other comedies, it doesn't outstay it's welcome.

The Men Who Stares At Goats is a quirky little film with some great laugh out loud moments and a cast that manage to keep the film going during the films dry spots (mostly occurring near the end). I may not have found it as entertaining as Clooney wonderfully dry Confessions of a dangerous mind, but for a first time director being in the same ballpark as that film is nothing but a good thing in my book.

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Review: Jennifer's Body

Year: 2009
Director: Karyn Kusama
Screenplay: Diablo Cody
Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, J.K. Simmons

Synopsis is here

There's a shot in Jennifer's body that stayed with me for quite a while after I watched it. It's not the lesbian kiss (although that scene has more sexual energy flowing through it than most of the drab, dry screen relationships we can get during a year of cinema). It's the shot of Megan Fox (the movies titular Jennifer) looking dead on at the camera. She is battered, bruised and bleedling. She begins to grin manically at the camera and blood oozes from her mouth. To many it's a nothing moment but to me it got me. It's the moment that I realized that I didn't mind Jennifer's body. In fact by the end of the movie I found that I quite enjoyed it. It's the horror film fan in me.

Yes Jennifer's body suffers from having try hard dialogue that's "too cool for school" and of course Megan Fox will never win awards for what she considers acting. But the film is what it is, a movie in love with the 80's style horror flicks it tries to ape. It's a little undercooked, but it still has moments of intelligence which are more enjoyable to watch than many of the sequels and remakes that are taking place at the moment.

What I enjoyed about the movie is how fun Diablo Cody's screenplay actually is. Her imprint on the movie is just as strong as it was in Juno, however here she is playing around with conventions and doing the best to subvert them in a genre she clearly loves. When the dialogue isn't trying its best to be "hip" the film is actually quite funny. The films best moments stem from the screenplays skewed view of the media idolization (reminiscent of the jedward hubbub of the past few weeks or the Jade Goody manipulation of her first big brother outing). The idea of a band selling a soul to the devil in order to be as big as Maroon 5 is as absurd as it is droll.

Also Cody's positioning of females in the forefront is every refreshing. Both the characters of Jennifer and Needy are more rounded than a sub-genre like this one usually allows. In fact despite Jennifer being a demon for most of the film in the beginning, she's not a complete bitch merely a naive young girl. It's no surprise that the screenplay uses sexuality to cloud the judgment of all the young minds on screen, as Jennifer's transformation is a well used but nicely executed metaphor for hormonal changes. With that said, considering the films influences, I'm surprised that it's not as sexy as it could be, and I'm mean that in the best possible way.

It's clear that Jennifer's body is more Cody's film than that of the films director Karyn Kusama. While she manages to give the movie some well crafted moments there's a struggle to keep the balance of the films tone. The screenplay is amusing, however, Kusama's direction lacks the suspense and horror that would send the film in the big leagues of your evil deads, Shaun of the deads etc. An issue that many have had within the comedy-horror sub-genre.

Kusama however is a female director who has shown that she can get a watchable performance from Megan Fox. She ain't no Streep, but this is a film that plays to her strengths well enough and to be honest, she does get a good grip on Cody's dialogue here. Compare this turn to her risible performances in those toy movies and you do see a small jump in quality. It also helps that she is carried though the film by a steady display by Amanda Seyfried. While she's a woman whose a little bit too attractive to be a frump, she shows that she has the just as much potential and range as her Mean Girls cohort Rachel McAdams. The male performers aren't nothing to write home about bar a nice take on the douchebag lead singer by Adam Brody who gets the biggest laughs of the movie.

Jennifer's body hasn't had the great time at the box office, nor did it stand a chance with film critics who constantly do their best to show horror movies as a lesser genre. But it's a film with a nice screenplay by a strong writer whose quickly finding her voice and a director who may not be Kathryn Bigalow but still puts in a truckload of effort and succeeds more often than this review may claim. It's fluff but it's watchable fluff.

More Jennifer's body talk at Geekplanetonline