Talking Movies

August 12, 2019

Notes on The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain was the film of the week yesterday on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of those baffling films that successfully tells a story in a competent manner and yet leaves you perplexed as to who on earth the possible audience could be. It is a massively depressing film despite having Kevin Costner as the voice of Enzo, the adorable golden retriever owned by aspiring racing driver Milo Ventimiglia. If the audience for a movie about a dog’s life from the dog’s point of view is children then this succeeds admirably in the downer stakes next to Disney’s infamous 1950s effort Old Yeller. If it’s not intended for children then why the conceit of the dog? And why a tale of such unremitting misery? As Enzo is lying helpless at home in the first scene from which the entire flashbacks we have a notion at the back of our heads that nobody was around, so Amanda Seyfried’s love interest is marked for doom from the moment she arrives.

Listen here:

February 22, 2018

ADIFF: Paul Schrader recieves Volta

Acclaimed director and screenwriter Paul Schrader tonight receives the Audi Dublin International Film Festival’s prestigious Volta Award at the Irish Premiere of First Reformed.

Paul Schrader, renowned director of films such as Blue Collar, Hardcore, American Gigolo, Mishima: A Life in Four ChaptersThe Comfort of Strangers, Light Sleeper, Patty Hearst, and Affliction among many others, and screenwriter of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, tonight receives the Audi Dublin International Film Festival’s highest honour, the Volta Award, at the Irish Premiere of his new film First Reformed. The Volta Award celebrates the careers of individuals who have made a significant contribution to the world of film. Paul Schrader’s visit to ADIFF will include an in-depth Public Interview in the O’Reilly Theatre, broadcast live as an RTÉ Radio 1 Arena Special, and will introduce a series of screenings of films that have inspired him. Tickets are available to book now at www.diff.ie.

Gráinne Humphreys, Festival Director, said “I’m thrilled that the Audi Dublin International Film Festival will tonight bestow our highest honour, the Volta Award, to one of the great writer-directors at the Irish Premiere of his new film First Reformed. Paul Schrader started his career as one of the talented young filmmakers who were at the centre of an extraordinary renaissance of American cinema in the 1970s. Schrader has also had a remarkable career as a director and, as a critic, he’s a passionate advocate and interrogator of film culture.”

In First Reformed, ex-military chaplain Toller (Ethan Hawke) is tortured by the loss of the son he encouraged to enlist and struggles with his faith. A faith that’s challenged by befriending a radical environmentalist, Michael, and upon learning of his church’s complicity with unscrupulous corporations.

Previous winners of Audi Dublin International Film Festival’s Volta Award include Al Pacino, Julie Andrews, Danny DeVito, Daniel Day-Lewis, Joss Whedon, Brendan Gleeson, Angela Lansbury, Stanley Tucci, Stellan Skarsgård, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ennio Morricone. The Volta Award is named after Ireland’s first dedicated cinema, the Volta Picture Theatre on Mary Street in Dublin, which was opened on the 20th December 1909 by an enterprising young novelist named James Joyce.

Schrader will be this year’s ADIFF Guest Curator, selecting and introducing three films that have inspired his own work as a filmmaker including Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959), Yasujirō Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon (1962), and Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg’s Performance (1970).

Tickets for the Public Interview and the Paul Schrader season are available now via the ADIFF Box Office (www.diff.ie or 01 687 7974). 

SCHEDULE Paul Schrader – ADIFF 2018 Guest Curator 

Thursday 22nd February
18.00 (Cineworld) First Reformed (Irish Premiere with Q&A and Volta Award Presentation)

Friday 23rd February 
14.00 (Lighthouse Cinema)  – Pickpocket (1959), introduced by Paul Schrader
16.00 (Lighthouse Cinema) – Performance (1970), introduced by Paul Schrader
18.45 (O’Reilly Theatre) – Paul Schrader Public Talk 

Saturday 24th February
14.00 (Lighthouse Cinema) – An Autumn Afternoon (1962), introduced by Paul Schrader

January 4, 2018

ADIFF 2018: Paul Schrader

Acclaimed director and screenwriter Paul Schrader will receive the prestigious Volta Award and present his new film First Reformed at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried and Paul Schrader during the ‘First Reformed’ photocall at the 74th Venice International Film Festival at the Palazzo del Casino on August 31, 2017 in Venice, Italy

Paul Schrader, renowned director of Blue Collar, Hardcore, American Gigolo, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, The Comfort of Strangers, Light Sleeper, The Canyons and Affliction, and screenwriter of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, will visit the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21st Feb- 4th March) to receive a Volta Award at the Irish Premiere of his new film First Reformed on Thurs 22nd February 2018 at 6pm, and will also curate a special season of screenings and events that includes an in-depth Public Interview.

Gráinne Humphreys, Festival Director, says “Paul Schrader started his career as one of the talented young filmmakers who were at the centre of an extraordinary renaissance of American cinema in the 1970s. Schrader has also had a remarkable career as a director and, as a critic, he’s a passionate advocate and interrogator of film culture. I know my excitement at his visit and the Irish Premiere of First Reformed will be shared by many of Dublin’s cinema fans and we’re delighted to be honouring him with ADIFF’s prestigious Volta Award”. Previous winners of ADIFF’s Volta Award include Al Pacino, Julie Andrews, Danny DeVito, Daniel Day-Lewis, Joss Whedon, Brendan Gleeson, Angela Lansbury, Stanley Tucci, Stellan Skarsgård, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Ennio Morricone. The Award is named after Ireland’s first dedicated cinema, the Volta Picture Theatre on Mary Street in Dublin, which was opened on the 20th December 1909 by an enterprising young novelist named James Joyce.

In First Reformed, ex-military chaplain Toller (Ethan Hawke) is tortured by the loss of the son he encouraged to enlist and struggles with his faith. A faith that’s challenged by befriending a radical environmentalist, Michael, and upon learning of his church’s complicity with unscrupulous corporations.

Schrader will also be this year’s ADIFF Guest Curator, selecting and introducing three films that have inspired his own work as a filmmaker including Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959), Yasujirō Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon (1962), and Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg’s Performance (1970).

Tickets for the Irish Premiere of First Reformed and the Paul Schrader season are available now via the ADIFF Box Office (www.diff.ie or 01 687 7974). Discount packages are available for the full Paul Schrader season and for First Reformed + the Paul Schrader Public Talk.

SCHEDULE Paul Schrader – ADIFF 2018 Guest Curator

Thursday 22nd February
18.00 (Cineworld) First Reformed (Irish Premiere with Q&A and Volta Award Presentation)

Friday 23rd February
14.00 (Lighthouse Cinema)  – Pickpocket (1959), introduced by Paul Schrader
16.00 (Lighthouse Cinema) – Performance (1970), introduced by Paul Schrader
18.45 (O’Reilly Theatre) – Paul Schrader Public Interview 

Saturday 24th February
14.00 (Lighthouse Cinema) – An Autumn Afternoon (1962), introduced by Paul Schrader

July 31, 2015

Don’t Mess With Veronica Mars

The second novel in the Veronica Mars mystery series has been published, and creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell are talking about reviving the TV show for an 8 episode run in the vein of True Detective. What better time to fondly remember one of the last decade’s best shows? Here’s a teaser for my HeadStuff piece on Veronica Mars.

Logan: I thought our story was epic, you know? You and me.

Veronica: Epic how?

Logan: Spanning years and continents. Lives ruined, blood shed. Epic! But summer’s almost here. And we won’t see each other at all. Then you’ll leave town, and it’s over.

Veronica: Logan…

Logan: I’m sorry. About last summer. If I could do it over…

Veronica: C’mon… Ruined lives? Blood shed? You really think a relationship should be that hard?

Logan: No one writes songs about the ones that come easy.

It may seem odd to talk about Veronica Mars as a romantic show, but there’s a reason the ‘epic love’ scene was reprised in the 2014 movie; the show could be swooningly romantic, as evidenced by the giddy crane-work when Veronica kissed Logan for the first time in season 1. That was also one of the most shocking moments of season 1, not only because it felt like Veronica was betraying her dead best friend Lily by moving in on her boyfriend, but also because the pilot had introduced Logan with Veronica’s caustic voiceover: “Every school needs its psychotic jackass. Logan Echolls is ours”. Veronica’s on-off romance with Logan was not unlike Rory Gilmore’s with the equally charismatic but erratic Jess. There were nicer boys than Jason Dohring’s movie-star scion Logan, like Teddy Dunn’s Duncan Kane and Max Greenfield’s rookie cop Leo, but Leo’s fate was the voiceover gag; “It’s the old story. Girl meets boy. Girl uses boy. Girl likes boy. Boy finds out, girl gets what she deserves”; while Duncan’s entanglement with the ill-fated Meg saw Veronica nobly sacrifice her own relationship with Duncan to help him and his baby daughter evade the FBI and the Manning family, sadly pinning to her mirror a note saying ‘True love stories never end’. Season 3’s ‘nice boyfriend’ Chris Lowell’s Piz was the nicest boyfriend of all, and, in incredibly revealing commentary on the season 3 finale, Thomas noted that when Logan extravagantly apologises to a bruised Piz for beating him up earlier over a leaked sex-tape, Piz looks totally defeated; because he knows that Veronica, well-intentioned but ruthless, is the kind of girl who will only ever end up with the kind of guy who, repeatedly, has beaten people to a bloody pulp with his bare hands for hurting her.

Click here to read the full article on how Veronica Mars handled female friendship, a father-daughter detective agency, and how the sunny setting belied a dark heart of noir cynicism.

April 1, 2015

While We’re Young

Frances Ha director Noah Baumbach returns to the NYC art scene, but loses Greta Gerwig as co-writer and reinstates Greenberg cohort Ben Stiller as protagonist.

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Josh (Ben Stiller) is a documentarian. He’s married to Cornelia (Naomi Watts), a film producer, whose father is the legendary documentarian Leslie Breitbart (Charles Grodin).  Josh and Cornelia’s best friends Fletcher (Beastie Boy’s Adam Horovitz!!) and Marina (Maria Dizzia) have just had a kid. Indeed the misleading opening finds Josh and Cornelia gazing at the baby while a mobile playing a cutesy version of Bowie’s ‘Golden Years’ hangs over the cot. Having lost Fletcher to the children cult Josh is receptive to a hipster couple he meets after one of his New School extension lectures. Jamie (Adam Driver) is a would-be documentarian, his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) makes home-made ice cream, and they live in a Brooklyn flat with friend and occasional band-mate Tipper (Dree Hemingway). Josh is enchanted, and soon so is Cornelia, but can this rejuvenation end well?

While We’re Young is less sunny than Frances Ha, but thankfully not as bitter as Greenberg, and, from the opening hilarious quotes from Ibsen’s The Master Builder, is always engaging. Some montages of Josh and Cornelia’s rediscovery of their youth thru hip-hop and hats equal Frances Ha’s use of pop, and Baumbach also mocks ‘Eye of the Tiger’ motivational status (“I remember when this song was just bad”). But Frances Ha was about being lost and aimless. This is about a couple who have everything, and are jaded, meeting a couple who have little, but are liberated. Josh has spent 8 years not finishing a documentary, and laments “I only have two moods: wistful and disdainful.” For Jamie making a documentary is a free and easy process, as whimsy-driven as choosing to not know a factoid rather than google it.

But when Jamie uses a remote control to zoom-in for a close-up on his face during a ‘spontaneous’ tearful scene when interviewing old school-friend Kent (Brady Corbet), Josh realises Jamie’s directing is as affected as the love of vinyl and VHS… Then things get All About Eve as Jamie supplants Josh in the affections of Leslie (veteran Grodin on fine comedic form). It’s a bit silly, not least as it draws attention to Baumbach’s own idol-supplanting. Josh is Woody Allen in Crimes & Misdemeanours: a film-maker unable to finish a documentary showcasing an aged academic proffering arcane wisdom. It’s as odd as James Murphy’s music and Baumbach’s staging creating an oddly sinister intercutting of a valedictory speech and an ethical confrontation, almost as if Baumbach is parodying his own concerns: Woody’s stakes were life and death, his, just passé ethics.

While We’re Young has moments of genuine sadness, like Cornelia (who’s miscarried repeatedly) freaking out a baby music class, but Baumbach opts for an all too pat comedy ending.

3.5/5

June 26, 2014

A Million Ways to Screw up a Western

I come not to praise Seth MacFarlane, nor to bury him, but to consider his failure with a comedy-western alongside Damon Lindelof’s Cowboys & Aliens.

o-A-MILLION-WAYS-TO-DIE-IN-THE-WEST-TRAILER-facebook

I found A Million Ways to Die in the West to be oddly reminiscent of early Woody Allen films like Bananas; intermittently hilarious, but not really a film. But if Woody pre-Annie Hall was simply stitching together sketches without anything but the most broadly-drawn larger narrative purpose, then it seemed like the reverse was happening to MacFarlane – making ‘a Western, goddamnit!’ sucked the humour out of his comedy-western script. And so to a knotty point – there was a grindingly efficient story structure at work, but the central comic conceit of MacFarlane’s movie was unclear. Critic Joe Griffin pitches the film as – “it’s a normal guy with 21st century sensibilities who lives in the violent frontier of the Old West and is dragged into a typical Western story.” This nails MacFarlane’s interactions with Amanda Seyfried, which come close to replicating the clinical psychoanalysis terms Woody uses with Louise Lasser in Bananas with an almost identical purpose – the comedy of language entirely inappropriate to the situation. But the first genuinely funny moment is MacFarlane’s later riff on the dead mayor, which literally comes out of nowhere. Along with the inevitably blood-soaked county fair, it suggests that the titular conceit of horrible deaths would’ve been a far better source of thematic comedy. Instead MacFarlane decides to mine comedy by working the most exhausted seams of the rom-com with Charlize Theron; even down to the obligatory big lie – she chose not to tell him she’s married to terrifying Liam Neeson. Only very occasionally (to wake the audience) does he sprinkles absurdist comic moments; and meanwhile he’s also trying to touch every Western generic base.

Griffin writes “This, I think, is what happens when someone has had too much control on a project so early in his film career.” MacFarlane is the star, director, co-writer, and producer of A Million Ways; and his co-writers are his Ted and Family Guy cohorts Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild. That’s a lot of control. To put it in context, it’s more than M Night Shyamalan ever managed to acquire at the height of his hubris. It’s undeniable that without the success of Ted it’s unthinkable that MacFarlane would have been allowed to cast himself as the physical lead, and it’s probably equally unlikely that Wellesley and Sulkin would alienate their TV day-job boss by proposing a page-one rewrite of his pet film project. I have to agree with Griffin because getting too much control because of success is part and parcel of the disastrous creative bubble I described in 2011 which I predicted would scupper The Dark Knight Rises; Wellesley and Sulkin wouldn’t be silent because they wouldn’t want to rain on MacFarlane’s scripting parade, they’d be silent because they’d be doing the Macarena in the middle of the parade. Because they’d written Ted they’d assume whatever any of them suggested would be equally awesome, and so nobody cries halt until the train has gone far over the horizon. But I want to dissent against myself and speculate that what happened in the Million Ways writers’ room (story structure and Western tropes pushing out badly needed jokes) was the same as the fiasco that occurred not so long ago in another writers’ room not so very far away…

Cowboys and Aliens

Remember 2011’s Cowboys & Aliens? No, well, don’t feel bad. Here’s what its co-writer Damon (LOST) Lindelof had to say about it in an extremely interesting 2013 interview: “I think the instinct there was that all parties agreed that of the two roads to go down—a sci-fi film set in the Old West or a Western that had aliens as bad guys, two distinct genres—the latter felt like the cooler movie. Once we embraced the Western and all its trappings—the hero requiring redemption, the jailbreak action sequence, the Native Americans as allies—the tone naturally got more serious along the way. Maybe too serious for a movie called Cowboys & Aliens.” Cowboys & Aliens was supposedly based on a comic-book by Scott Mitchel Rosenberg, which, from the small sample available on Amazon, appears to proudly wear ‘guilt over the treatment of Native Americans in times gone by’ on its sleeve. That suggests that Ace Ventura creator Steve Oedekerk was right to create a fun screen story distinct from the comic-book. And then rewrites began… Of the credited writers a draft was done by Mark Fergus & Howard Ostby (Iron ManChildren of Men), whose credits suggest that a more serious tone had begun to emerge. Which is presumably why Lindelof and Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman (Transformers, M:I-3, Star Trek) were brought in to do the final draft of the script. Add some humour? Some nonsense? Yeah, well, obviously that didn’t work. But look at what Lindelof characterised as a genre trapping of the Western: Native American allies. What?! That would certainly be news to the Duke…

In 1991 historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr took aim at America’s universities in his polemic The Disuniting of America. Schlesinger was extremely alarmed at the mass of evidence that political correctness had triumphed over sanity: “When a student sent a memorandum to the ‘diversity education committee’ at the University of Pennsylvania mentioning her ‘deep regard for the individual,’ a college administrator returned the paper with the word individual underlined: ‘This is a red flag phrase today, which is considered by many to be racist. Arguments that champion the individual over the group ultimately privileges (sic) the ‘individuals’ belonging to the largest or dominant group.’” (117) In his 1982 novel Before She Met Me Julian Barnes had a history professor baffled by the genuine horror and anger of a student whenever the wrong side triumphed in any given stand-off. Schlesinger Jr was damning of attacks on ‘Eurocentric’ American history, and it was essentially an appeasement of Barnes’ fictional student; by rewriting history. In one district where Native Americans had political clout it was taught that their tribal politics had influenced Thomas Jefferson every bit as much as European Enlightenment. It had not, as Schlesinger Jr flatly stated. And yet… In Sleepy Hollow, co-created by Cowboys & Aliens scribes Kurtzman and Orci, we find Ichabod Crane noting how in his 1770s existence Native American tribal politics had been a pivotal influence on Thomas Jefferson. A throwaway cute line; to anyone who hasn’t read Schlesinger Jr’s book. If you have, you’re stunned that this is not meant as a joke or provocatively revisionist statement; it is simply stated as true when it is not.

Rio Bravo John Wayne Dean Martin

MacFarlane, Kurtzman, Orci, and Lindelof were all born in 1973. This puts them in college at Brown, Wesleyan, UT Austin, and NYU Film School, respectively, during the height of the ‘Death to DWEMs’ tide that Schlesinger Jr was trying to turn back. I honestly think every time somebody sits down to write anything Western-related in Hollywood these days they get some epic pol.sci/film studies college flashback. As a result, in between apologising to Native Americans, rewriting the role of women in the West, inserting grim truths about the lawlessness and brutality of life then, demythologising Wayne and Ford’s back catalogue, and faithfully inserting and then attempting to subvert in the accepted revisionist mode every Western trope they were ever taught, they lose any sense of fun. Lindelof posited “a Western that had aliens as bad guys” as “the cooler movie”, and yet Cowboys & Aliens is entirely lacking any sense of being a cool adventure. It is, indeed, simply unthinkable that anybody could produce a Western right now that is exuberant fun; nobody would give you the finale of Rio Bravo. I think that may be a combination of film school prioritising, nay, canonising, serious Westerns like The Searchers and Red River over entertainments like El Dorado and Gunfight at the OK CorralRio Bravo isn’t a silly movie, but it is unabashed adventure played with great humour. But Lindelof’s description of embracing “the Western and all its trappings—the hero requiring redemption, the jailbreak action sequence, the Native Americans as allies” suggests an inability to take the Western genre as it was, not as it ought to have been…

The complete failure of Cowboys & Aliens didn’t stop the even more epic failure of The Lone Ranger following it down the trail two years later. The savage darkness of The Lone Ranger was completely unsuitable for a Disney blockbuster supposedly aimed at kids, but it fitted perfectly the template of the Western produced by people Schlesinger couldn’t save. It’s admirable to insert a Sergio Leone tone into a Western romp for children, only if you also take that bloody-minded approach to your contemporary blockbusters and give us Transformers directed by Ken Loach as the working poor fighting against transforming robots who’re the highest form of capitalism. Really I think the idea of the Western as conceived by the children of 1973 is fundamentally incompatible with exuberance. In the 1970s radical directors like Robert Altman, Arthur Penn, Walter Hill and Michael Cimino couldn’t wait to make a Western. But the revisionist Western wasn’t what audiences wanted. Nicholas Jarecki on the Bret Easton Ellis podcast recently made some interesting points about ‘genre exhaustion’, when an audience has seen every possible permutation arising out of a generic set-up. I don’t believe that’s what happened to the Western in the 1970s. I follow Stephen King in believing that George Lucas took the ‘pioneer spirit’ of the Western and simply, in a belated emulation of JFK’s call for a New Frontier, relocated it in space. And, as Spielberg’s Western framing at the end of The Last Crusade transparently indicates, crying for the death of the Western is like bemoaning the death of the dinosaurs while looking at flying birds: dinosaurs aren’t dead, they evolved.

Clint_GranTorino

If the blockbuster is the repository of the spirit of exuberant fun that lights up Rio Bravo, what does that make the contemporary Western? Well, it’s tempting to twist Lindelof’s words and say merely the outward trappings of the genre, stripped of its soul. Since Heaven’s Gate we’ve had serious Westerns like Dances with WolvesOpen RangeWyatt EarpUnforgivenTombstoneThe Assassination of Jesses James by the Coward Robert Ford3:10 to Yuma, and Seraphim Falls. We’ve had comedy mash-up disasters like Wild Wild WestCowboys & Aliens and The Lone Ranger. And we’ve had nothing like a Rio Bravo… It’s admirable to try and cinematically reinstate the reality of the shameful treatment of the Native Americans in the Old West. But this admirable endeavour may run up against a problem if it’s part of a wider refusal to accept the Western genre for what it was and to believe that it can simply be rewritten to make it what it ought to have been. Such a massive undertaking may be more than the genre can accommodate, in one important respect – it can make for a good film, a good Western, but not a fun film. A Million Ways is not a fun film, even though it’s meant to be a comedy. And I think it’s because MacFarlane tried to hit every base; Native Americans as allies, the brutality and lawlessness of the West, rewriting the role of women (with particular emphasis on the brothels), the exploitation of Chinese labour; because he is one of that generation that can’t see a Western without giving a lecture on its propagandising.

MacFarlane certainly won’t be getting A Million Ways 2 off the ground, and his fiasco has probably scuppered any competent Destry Rides Again for the 2010s that was out there. But, considering Lindelof’s tropes, surely Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino comes closer to the cool movie that Lindelof wanted than Cowboys & Aliens. It shouldn’t be impossible to combine the 1973 generation’s ideal Western with exuberant fun – maybe it just needs Clint back in the saddle…

November 1, 2011

In Time

Andrew Niccol, writer of Gattaca and The Truman Show, brings his usual intelligence to a sci-fi actioner which takes Ben Franklin’s dictum ‘time is money’ at face value.

Justin Timberlake stars as Will Salas, a 28 year old living minute to minute – literally. All humans have been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25, and then die one year later unless they can earn more time by working, borrowing or stealing. Salas encounters Henry Hamilton (White Collar’s Matt Bomer), who, like an Anne Rice vampire, just wants to die as his mind has had enough, and has come to the Dayton ghetto to ‘time out’. He gifts Salas a century of time urging him – “Don’t waste my time”. Salas though is almost immediately struck by personal tragedy and so travels to New Greenwich, the richest time zone of them all, to try and use his time to bring down the corrupt system. He’s quickly made by timekeeper Leon and kidnaps time heiress Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), who becomes an unlikely ally in his crusade.

Timberlake sells the hurried nature of ghetto dwellers well with jumpy physicality, and also conveys a burning sense of righteousness, but, while Seyfried is gifted at comedy, here her huge eyes and pouting lips prove remarkably inexpressive and she’s out-acted by Olivia Wilde – who only has three scenes. Wilde’s stunt-casting concretises the high-concept by being Timberlake’s mother, but the horror on her face when a bus-fare suddenly rises lethally beyond her means is visceral: “But it’s a 2 hour walk. I only have an hour and a half left”, “So run…” Cillian Murphy is superb as Leon. He can’t be bribed, and to Salas’ amazement jumps, runs, shoots, and lets his time run low just like the ghetto inhabitant he used to be, making him formidably implacable. Leon is a great villain as he understands the system is unjust but swore to uphold it. Supporting turns are less nuanced but still effective. Alex Pettyfer is career-definingly loathsome as ghetto criminal Fortius, a sadistic but cowardly psychopath, and Vincent Kartheiser essays another weasel as time magnate Phillipe Weis.

Niccol fleshes out his high concept with numerous delightfully re-imagined phrases, “Do you come from Time?”, but like the best sci-fi this scarifying future is really dissecting our present. A critique of Darwinian capitalism it pits Weis’ “For a few to be immortal, many must die” against Salas’ “No one should be immortal if even one person has to die”. Salas’ motto is essentially an allegorised version of JS Mill’s moral axiom “Every person alive ought to have a subsistence before anyone has more” and is obviously morally right. Niccol though can’t mesh sci-fi brains with action brawn never mind square his allegorical circle. Salas and Sylvia become a latter day Bonnie and Clyde car-jacking the time-rich and staging heists on time-banks to the strains of Craig Armstrong’s ‘Karmacoma’ sampling score before then re-distributing time throughout the Dayton ghetto. We’re explicitly told robbing time-banks cannot break the system, yet that’s all Niccol proffers as ultimate solution to his problem. That and a credit crunch referencing possibility of time-market contagion…

In Time buckles in the third act, feels like it’s missing a detailed back-story between Leon and Will’s father, and features remarkably under-populated cities and a tendency to remove obstacles too easily, especially travelling across time zone borders. And yet it’s so near greatness that you want to like it. Well worth your time.

4/5

October 30, 2009

Jennifer’s Body

Oscar-winning Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody’s second feature script was expected to be a subversive feminist horror film, but it’s merely standard shlock with good gags.

The opening shot is very Evil Dead but turns out to be the first of many odd structural decisions as it bafflingly leads us into a lengthy spoiler-tastic prologue in a lunatic asylum. The patient is our narrator and heroine Anna ‘Needy’ Lesnicki. Ignore the posters and top billing, this is Amanda Seyfried’s film rather than Megan Fox’s. Seyfried plays a dork (Cody disappointingly conveys this thru her wearing glasses and writing for the school newspaper) who is best friends forever with mean cheerleader Jennifer (Fox). Jennifer bullies Needy into attending a concert by indie band Low Shoulder at the town bar and after an inferno rips thru the venue Needy discovers that her BFF has changed from high school evil to actual evil…

Juno was a good film enlivened by a great lead performance but neither Seyfried nor Fox are in Ellen Page’s league, and the structure of this film is far less logical. There are two incredibly creepy images, of Jennifer smiling at Needy while dripping blood, and crouching spider-like over a dead body in a sequence inter-cut with Needy having sex, but many of the scares are too well signposted. There are some subversive touches – neither lead actually appears naked (despite the marketing of the film around Fox’s hotness) and the link between virginity and survival is reversed – but given the teenage characters’ pop culture reference points surely they’d know that that’s been done before (and better) by Scream. Even the feminist angle is underdeveloped apart from a few good lines. Compared to last year’s Teeth where violently misogynist males got castrated by a rampaging feminist there’s no vicious justice served up here by the choice of male victims.

JK Simmons, almost unrecognisable in a curly wig, is rather good in another subdued outing in a Cody script but supporting honours are stolen by Adam Brody’s cameo. Brody is awesome as the lead singer of indie band Low Shoulder, and this is not just my Seth Cohen obsession speaking. His turn could best be described as a Satanic version of Brandon Flowers. Indeed the bizarre scene where the action stops near the end of the film so that Jennifer can explain to Needy what actually happened near the start of the film between Low Shoulder and Jennifer is the best of the movie as the flashback is pitch-perfect comedy-horror, dripping with blood but eminently quotable. It is baffling why Cody didn’t go with that gory comedy-horror formula for the whole movie rather than just occasionally enliven routine shlock with her flair for bitchy comedic dialogue like this three-way repartee: “She can fly?!” “She’s just hovering, it’s not that impressive” “God, do you have to undercut everything I do?!”

This is fine Hallowe’en fare, with a satisfyingly vindictive super-powered final fight between humans and demons, but Juno fans should lower their expectations.

3/5

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