Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Inbetweeners Movie

**** 
When many sitcoms pack their bags in search of sunshine it not only feels unlikely but often removes everything that worked. The Inbetweeners Movie takes the boys away to sunny Malia in Greece but it all feels right. That’s exactly what four friends such as these might do; unlike a bunch of colleagues of wildy differing age and class (e.g. the staff of Grace Brothers heading off to Costa Plonka). The Inbetweeners TV series had thrown just about every kind of humiliation possible at Will, Simon, Jay and Neil. The movie had to turn things up to eleven. And where better place than a vile resort flowing with booze and bodily fluids, a place where Brits, like annoying wasps, are everywhere.

Having finished school, our four heroes travel away on a journey of discovery. Well… make that, in Jay’s words, “two weeks of sun, sea, booze, minge, fanny and sex”. Death in Venice this is not. As things go from bad to worse to great, we witness the behaviour of an uncivilised and Neanderthal species: Brits abroad. Not only are the supporting cast embarrassing, silly and unsophisticated, so are the protagonists. And amazingly, we still root for them. Perhaps it speaks to everyone’s inner idiot. Actually, the only ones resembling anything near sensible are the four girls they meet, which rubbishes any possible notions of sexism.

Cinematically, it doesn’t have that much to offer. It does have some semblance of story without just being a series of vignettes. Aside from a few helicopter shots, it doesn’t look a lot different from the TV show. But really, who cares? Spinal Tap is not exactly renowned for its camera work, nor is The Life of Brian. Am not saying it’s in those kinds of leagues, but my point being: comedies simply need jokes. And this is hilarious.

For Inbetweeners virgins, I wouldn’t exactly say avoid it but it’s probably advisable to know what you are letting yourself in for. (Check out the trailer on Youtube.) But if you like the show you have to go. Seeing it with a laughing mass of devotees is riotously good fun. Us fans helped smash the opening weekend record of a UK comedy (previously held by Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason). And unlike that movie, this one deserves every bit of its success.

 

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes


*** 
How exactly a planet can rise I’m not sure. If you can get past the nonsensical title (that’s noticeably a bit of a mouthful) it’s easy to enjoy the film. Actually, there is something else to get past. The visual effects still have a way to come to make this kind of thing truly believable but you just have to roll with it. There is no way, though, that men in costumes could have done even half of the spectacular ape gymnastics. Anyway, to stop being a grumpy old spoilsport for just a minute, it’s good solid summer entertainment. It does what it says on the tin and more. It is strongly plot-led, and not just a series of action set-pieces with stuff written to simply link them together. It is also devotes much to character but with the main focus, uniquely, being on a primate.

Cesar the chimpanzee is orphaned in a research facility. He is of extraordinary heightened intelligence as his mother was dosed with an experimental Alzheimer’s drug. Dr James Franco takes him home and raises him with a little help from his father (the ever-reliable John Lithgow) who he is using as a guinea pig for the drug. What could possibly go wrong? In fact, I thought it had perfect sitcom potential…

Although there is much explaining to do, things don’t get bogged down in exposition. As a result, the action moves along swiftly. There’s some great inventiveness to the action which makes it a lot of fun. It isn’t just about blowing big things up (and it doesn’t feel like it was made by committee). The scenes in an ape “sanctuary”, which is anything but, are tense and engaging even though the things are just grunting at each other - albeit in a nuanced way by the likes of Andy “Gollum” Serkis.

Director Rupert Wyatt has made quite a leap from the humble but brilliant beginnings of 2008’s The Escapist. According to his agent, it is the largest increase in budget (proportionally) between films made by any director. With the increase being $90million I don’t doubt it. No pressure then for this his second feature. But Wyatt really brings it and has deservedly created one of the possible biggest hits of this summer.


Friday, 12 August 2011

NEDS


**** 
The title is an acronym for ‘Non-Educated Delinquents’. (But you wouldn’t dare call them that to their faces.) NEDS paints a terrifying picture of Glasgow in the seventies.

John McGill (Connor McCarron / Gregg Forrest) has been a promising student from a young age, but the society in which he lives is seemingly wrecking any hopes of a bright future. His big brother Benny (Joe Szula) has a reputation for violence and his dad (Peter Mullan) is a good example of how not to be a father or husband. His classes are so dysfunctional school actually aids his progress down the wrong path. It’s not long before John gets in with the wrong crowd.

Peter Mullan is a hell of a talent. Not only is he a powerful presence on screen but he’s also a very good director. Did I mention he can write, too? The script is outstanding. Instead of aiming for social realism he has achieved something more cinematic while still maintaining authenticity. It is tragic, funny, at times surreal, but most of all, it’s downright scary. It’s not just the knife-wielding thugs that are scary either. The teachers appear to have received their training in hell. It’s not the casual (and constant) corporal punishment that’s so unpleasant. Some of the mental cruelty is unfathomable.

Pretty much all of the younger cast members are novices but the director elicits great performances from all of them. It doesn’t hurt that they’re all local boys and girls, scouted by Mullan. I don’t doubt they all bring a bit of their own life experience to the roles.

If you watch the DVD, be sure to check out Peter Mullan’s London Film Festival master class - a cut above your usual extras. Mullan is wonderfully unpretentious. He’s funny, self-deprecating and tough - like the characters in his film, you’d know better than to mess with him. 


Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Tree of Life


*****
Factoid of the day: Terence Malick wrote an early draft of Dirty Harry. Who’d have thunk that? I can’t even picture him and Clint in the same room (although the scenario has endless comic potential.) There’s no one quite like Terence Malick and apparently no one knows anything about the man. Rumour has it he was raised by ghosts in the offices of Cahiers du Cinema. Some say he was born in a manger.

The Tree of Life sees Mr and Mrs O’Brien (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) raising their three sons in a suburban Texas home. There are flash forwards to older versions of the couple and Jack (Sean Penn) in later life, all dealing with an untimely death. In a nutshell: along the way we witness life, the universe and everything.

Yes, The Tree of Life comes from waaaay left-field. Yes, it’s genuine arthouse cinema. And yes, it’s quite long. But wait… come back. It’s amazing. It’s a heart-achingly beautiful piece of work. Even if you don’t get it it’s still great. In the same way I still don’t know what that damn obelisk was doing in 2001: A Space Odyssey I can happily love this film and be confused at the same time. You’ve got to keep an open mind here. Conversely, I expected to loathe it. Philistine that I am. But it knocked me sideways. In a good way. Every single moment is loaded with weight and meaning. The whole thing is also like some kind of experiment in audience reaction. (We witnessed quite a few walkouts.) Just expect the unexpected.

It’s an impressive roll call of talent. Pitt delivers an understated, pressure cooker performance as the not-wholly-likeable father. Chastain, on the other hand, can only be described as ethereal in her performance as a loving mother. The kids are all ridiculously good. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki shoots like it’s the film he wishes to be remembered for (and it just might be). Living legend Douglas Trumbull wows us with some impressive effects, as does Prime Focus with the “controversial” dinosaur scenes. (Don’t listen to what you hear – said scenes are fantastic and puts the film into a whole new league.) However, the star of the show is Malick, who – more than ever – has got his serious groove on.

You must see it on a big screen. Having missed both The Thin Red Line and The New World at the cinema, as a result I found both something of a disappointment. (Please don’t hold it against me. I told you I was a Philistine.) But don’t make the same mistake and wait till its DVD release.

Super 8

****
Although Spielberg has the slightly less sexy credit title of Producer, his pervading influence makes it a Spielberg film in all but name. JJ Abrams takes writing and directing duties in this, his sci-fi homage to the great man.

The year is 1979 and a bunch of kids are making a zombie movie in their small town, in the titular Super 8 format. One of them is Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) who recently lost his mother in an accident at the local mill. One night when shooting a scene, they witness a spectacular train crash which triggers a dramatic chain of events. Synopsis-wise I don’t want to say much more.

I was completely bowled over by the human story. It is beautifully told. The film has heart and soul, and is embedded with old-fashioned movie magic – it gives me faith in the future of the blockbuster. Story and characterisation is clearly, as always, at the forefront of Abrams’ mind, not the wow factor or the ‘splosions. There are, of course, some pretty big ‘splosions but none of them would mean anything without the all-important human element. Star Trek was this reviewer’s favourite film of 2009. Am also a big fan of the job he did on ‘Mish’ 3. With Super 8 being JJ Abrams’ third directed feature it’s a hell of a track record.

As well as being a love letter to Spielberg it’s also a love letter to shooting films. These fictional youngsters are Spielbergs and Abrams in the making – dedicated fans of the medium who would do almost anything to get their movie made. They are also completely charming, and not in the slightest bit annoying (as so many screaming children in monster movies are). Newcomers Joel Courtney and Riley Griffiths hold their own against young veterans of film and TV such as Elle Fanning and Ryan Lee.

Abrams has a knack for humour and manages to make it not feel tagged on. He actually pushes the action forward with very funny material. He is simply a damn fine writer who has honed his skills for years, segueing smoothly back and forth from TV to features. This brings to mind Columbo and a little known talent who once directed an episode back in ’71: one Steven Spielberg. 

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