Saturday 14 April 2012

Review: Battleship

Year: 2012
Director: Peter Berg
Screenplay: Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch, Rihanna

Synopsis is here:

Halfway through Battleship, my mind wandered and formed two creations. One was a basic plot premise for the alleged upcoming monopoly film (I suggest a film like It's a mad mad world or rate race with Ben Kingsley as the monopoly guy). The second invention was the Battleship drinking game. You drink when Rihanna does something feisty, spunky or sprouts dialogue that was clearly reserved for Michelle Rodriguez (possibly too busy to sign for this film). Drink when the film features a scene which displays hilarious jingoistic tendencies. Drink when risible line of trite sound bite friendly dialogue is uttered by Taylor Kitsch. Seriously, It just kept going.

Battleship (based inexplicably on the Hasbro board game  is one of the most expensive unintentional comedies I've had the (dis)pleasure of watching. I mean it must be winking at the camera if after two waves of alien attacks, its lead only then mentions "I've got a bad feeling about this". At one point after yet another moment of silly "lets-go-get-um" dialogue, a scientist actually asks in a rare moment of self reference: "who actually talks like that". The film suggests that the Army and Navy haven't neglected it's veteran's in any shape or form. So much so that they can not only rely on them when the chips are down, but said vet's will easily have the faculties to jump into action at a moments notice. Maybe I'm hopelessly wrong, and a ragtag band of U.S Dad's Armies and disabled soldiers could hold their own against an almost infinitely advanced Alien army but this I doubt. Such is escapism and suspension of belief. Maybe I'm just not pushing mine far enough.

But maybe not. Battleship is a film which costs around $200 million to make and yet is so invested in becoming Transformers at sea that they couldn't even be bothered to finish the script fully. The film looks like it's poking fun at itself and yet it can't even be bothered to sort it's structure out. In the obligatory alien autopsy scene, the film mimics Independence Day (it does this often) with a flashback sequence which reminds us of that weird mind meld moment with Bill Pullman in Area 51. The film half heartily gives us some   exposition of the beings, but then drops the info, immediately afterwards. The film is full of moments and devices like this in which scenes don't advance plot or character, but remind in the film because Battleship, that's why.

This is Peter Berg mimicking Michael Bay as close as he possibly can. An attack on Tokyo* feels lifted off Dark of the Moon. The film is littered with countless Bay-like circling shots and needless slow motion, paper thin character development and an obscene running time which belies the films actual depth. Yet, credit to Berg for delivering a popcorn which doesn't have that nasty after-taste that comes with choking down Bay's tedious fighting Robots saga.

Lets not lie, this is a jingoistic recruitment film for the U.S Navy, but the film is so ridiculous in it's creation you may not believe it. You may even laugh as hard I did. I was far more entertained by this films absurdity than any Transformer film. Just watch the way it shows images of children under threat from the alien "other". Or an amusing aside where Taylor Kitsch (who is woeful in this, what happened to the John Carter pluck?) basically does his best to make sure that little Jimmy or whoever joins the Navy with his description of life at sea ("I drive the ship, it's way more fun").

Whether or not the film and it's comically haphazard construction is intentional or not will be in the eye of the beholder. There's a good chance that those who love the likes of Battle L.A and Transformers will probably see no different. However, Bergs film despite it's sloppy scripting, terrible acting (featuring a criminally wasted Neeson) and dubious placement of not only military organisations but fizzy drinks, mobiles and the like, is relatively competent in one area. While the action itself was relatively bland, it at least it could be followed.  Berg's film misses the topical commentary (and more entertaining set pieces) of his earlier work, Hancock, and lacks the edginess that Very Bad Things, brought to proceedings. However, Battleship revels in its badness enough, to make it a poor movie worth watching once if not for the hilarity. I will be wasted if I ever sit down to watch this again.

Review: The Cabin in the Woods.

Year: 2009 (U.K release 2012)
Director: Drew Goddard
Screenplay: Joss Whedon
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth and Anna Hutchison

Synopsis ruins it.

WARNING: I do not wish to spoil this film for anyone. There's a good chance that other films I reference within this review may say too much even if it doesn't appear to. To be honest, other reviews out there have correctly mentioned that the trailer says more than it should. Warned you have been.

Horror is a section of cinema; which as of late, has been overloaded with found footage, overdone remakes and so called torture porn. Search the right sites, and the hardcore fans still find their fix. However for a viewer such as myself whose tastes dips in and out of the genre, horror films and their ongoing trends (ANOTHER Zombie movie?) have left my interests flagging.

Delayed for two years due to squabbles over 3D and studio bankupacy, comes The Cabin in the Woods, a "loving hate letter" to the horror genre. A film which carries all the traits, tropes and otherwise on it's sleeve, ready to remix and redistribute. Yes, it's post-modern and meta (a bug bear for some). However, Drew Goddards début feature is one made by genre fans (co written by one Joss Whedon) for genre fans. Much like Scream all those years before it, the film feels like it's soaked up all it can from the likes of Sam Rami, Sean Cunningham and the like and rearranged with a fresh and topical eye.

Cabin in the Woods is a deceptive beast. It's wafer thin story could be written on a napkin but it's secrets visuals and playful design are what make the film what it is. Like Drag me to Hell or Evil Dead (the films set design owes a lot to the latter), the film evokes the same devilish desire of the to see what happens next to these poor, clearly-too-old-to-be-teens when they creep around a corner. However, for the first time in ages, we're given a slasher film in which the characters we follow not only have a certain degree of intelligence to them (mostly due to the scripts streetwise smarts towards the proceedings), but we also like them, giving what happens an extra wicked kick.

These characters are slenderly drafted yet more than appealing enough and that's the point. Cabin needs us to be somewhat invested in these characters as the film constantly plays on our knowledge what we know about characters in movies.We are give just enough to whet the appetite before the devices that are in place, tug and tease at the seems. What exactly happens I will not say exactly, however fans of Buffy should smile, as well will many fans of various horror movies that the film happily riffs on, even lesser seen one such as My Little Eye. Credit is due to the cast who infuse the film with a particular charm and remind us of the Bruce Campbells and Shemps that littered those early Raimi films. The stand outs being Fran Kranz and Richard Jenkins, who steal scenes like their going out of business. The film toys with the actors as archetypes and us as spectators and does so with a crackling energy that doesn't falter even during it's outrageous third act, which is so fun that it doesn't lose tread despite some of it's wayward aspects.

I've tried to review the film as best as I can without ruining too much but it really is best to go in as blind as possible. Cabin in the woods is a boisterous meta-slasher, which boldly plays on the idea of expectation and free will. All this while being a lovable homage to a genre that often loses it's way. It doesn't have the fear factor of the classics it mimics, but it gleefully subverts the material we think we know so much about and cheerfully gives us something new to play with. I'm sure I missed a good chunk of the movie, but that was only because I was laughing so hard.