26 July 2005

Napoleon Dynamite

Nerd movies are nothing new. We've had them probably as long as movies themselves. From Little Shop of Horrors right the way through to Weird Science the nerd has been embraced by Hollywood with open arms. Lets face it-the nerd provides us with entertainment, so in that sense there will always be mileage in movies about nerds.

However every now and again a movie comes along which not only celebrates 'nerdom' but actually has cult written all over it from the word to go. Napoleon Dynamite is that film. A surprise sleeper hit of 2004 Napoleon Dynamite doesn't exactly break the film mould with its simplistic and obvious storyline. That is nerd sets out to prove he's more than a nerd. Only this time there isn't any nerd gets the girl, or nerd builds muscles kicks sand in the face of other school bullies...this nerd stays a nerd.

Napoleon lives with his grandmother and brother Kip Dynamite (brilliantly played by Aaron Ruell) who is a compulsive net surfer looking for a potential mate. Napoleon then by chance makes friends with a new school student who decides to run for school president. Napoleon decides to aid him in his quest for what seems a completely unobtainable goal. Two nerds fighting for support against your stereotypical US prom queen type Miss Popular (played by Haylie Duff)
Dynamite played by Jon Heder (who himself has only ever been in two previous films) delivers his lines with a deliberate wooden style that never grates. The script is bristling with some really funny one liners which are equally given out to the major players in this incredibly funny film.

This is a sparkling debut from director Jared Hess who previously only worked as an assistant cameraman-he ably takes up the directors chair as well as writing the script. ND never lapses into run of the mill film making. It even at one point surprises the audience with what I can only describe as one of the best film scenes I have ever seen when Napoleon is forced to dance on stage to support his friends running for school president

The film is an exercise in self-mocking littered with sight gags that turns the art of being a nerd to a a higher level. Its a comedy film that will make you laugh out loud and chuckle quietly to yourself...a mixture of slap stick and silly one liners.
I recommend this film to anyone who has that silly sense of humor-its crass and simplistic but pulls it off beautifully. Rent this movie now!!

16 July 2005

Switchblade Romance

"There is no doubt the sub genre of horror which always leaves the nastiest taste in the mouth it has to be the slasher flick. From its early origins in movies like Friday 13th it seems to have followed the same old weary path of young virgins getting killed, titillating sexual scenes all held togther by nasty gory violence. Of late the slasher flick has had to outdo the last-twists have been introduced, more gore and even more violence. Switchblade Romance is a particularly nasty film of the genre that confirms everything about the horror film I dislike. Extended scenes of violence, exploitation of the female sexuality and rape presented to the viewer as 'entertainment' The plot is simple-man chases women and kills along the way. Somehow a twist is made to make this film more palatable but it just left a nasty taste in my mouth. Its violent with a dark misogonystic undertone. If you like your slasher flicks Ive no doubt this will appeal to you. If however you dislike violent gory movies with no plot, extremely distasteful scenes and exploitation of the female body then avoid this movie at all costs. What has happened to a once great genre that relied on suspense and not shock value at any cost???? "

The Village

When 6th Sense arrived on our screen Shaylman was plauded equally by critics and cinemagoers alike. Indeed 6th Sense was the film industries best kept secret-with critics refusing to reveal the clever twist. Since that time however Shaylman has chosen to stick to the same route, that is originality with a twist. However what he has pulled off is 'lets see how ludicrous we can make the twist'. With 6th Sense he managed to oull it off-with Unbreakable he pushed the limits a bit to much and with The Village he simply has gone to far. The directors trademarks are still there. Breathtaking cinematography, beautiful set pieces and an eye to detail which truely is wonderful. The pace of the film draws you in-so in that respect he has done well. However its in the last 10 minutes the film falters. Brody does a great job of hamming up his role, pheonix holds it together remarkably well-but in the end its all for nothing. The twist truely is one of the most daftest endings I have ever seen with hardly any explanation for it. Shaylman truely has great vision as a director and producer but he really needs to put down the book of 'How to direct a wacky Twist' and get on with what he does best-making beautifully sublime films-hopefully without the silly ending! "

06 July 2005

Batman Begins

Often the films which we most eagerly anticipate are the ones which disappoint us the most. This has all-too-often been the case in the past for me.

I had been looking forward to seeing Batman Begins since late 2004 when I first read about the cast and director involved. That being the case, I may as well get straight to the point: I was not disappointed with this film.

Christopher Nolan first made his name with Memento, and although Batman Begins is more mainstream and ‘polished’, it nevertheless has his stamp all over it, both in the well- put-together flashback sequences that make up the first third of the film, and in other parts too: this is no cheesy, slick, cartoony Spiderman-style film. This is Batman as he really would be yet, strangely, totally true to the comics.

The cast, as I said above, looked good on paper. However, there is always a fear when such a great array of famous actors is assembled that they play on their own fame, rather than simply act the part. That fear is more than quashed here, as just about everyone is superb.

I’m not usually the biggest Gary Oldman fan, but here he goes totally against the usual Oldman grain and is all the better for it as Gordon (who looks eerily similar to a young version of Gordon from the Batman animated series, a world away from the bumbling idiot of the Tim Burton Batman films). One scene that I particularly enjoyed was the one where Gordon leaves his house and finds Batman sitting on the steps above him. The mood and tone felt like it had been lifted directly from a comic book.

Christian Bale has been threatening to be a major star ever since, as a fresh-faced twelve year old, he was superb in the Empire of the Sun. Since then he has flirted with various cinematic disasters (Reign of Fire, anyone?) as well as some decent indie films (the Machinist) and the not-as-bad-as-its-made-out-to-be Equilibrium. Here, however, Bale takes his work to a new level. No doubt cynics will say, after watching this, that such a great talent is wasted on a character who they would presumably regard as being fit only for childrens’ cartoons, but Bale makes Batman, and Bruce Wayne, utterly believable and real. If a sequel is planned, they must make sure at all costs that he, and Oldman, return, because they are both so perfect for the parts.

The rest of the film is also star studded – Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine. I especially, of these, liked Caine as Alfred. Although playing the part very differently to Michael Gough in the older films, it worked perfectly in the context of Nolan’s darker, grittier take on Batman. Cillian Murphy is also great as Dr Crane/The Scarecrow, and will prove to be one of the better actors to come out of Ireland in some years.

Unlike many, I personally also thought Katie Holmes was fine. It is possible that next to such a great cast and with such a good script and director, Holmes looked like the weak link in comparison, but let’s face it: she is hardly comparable to, say, Jar Jar Binks, which is what some of the more crazed fans seemed to be suggesting.
If anything, were I to look for a fault in the casting, I would have to point to Tom Wilkinson as Carimine Falcone. Even as a non-American, I found his accent sounded rather fake and unconvincing.

I also loved the fighting scenes. Whilst they might seem, to some, ‘choppy’ and blurred, I thought this method worked amazingly well. Batman doesn’t use guns, but he is usually fighting people who do. He has to come in in a blur and take people out as quickly as possible, and the way the fights were done really conveyed that.

Whilst the last 30 minutes do veer into more conventional action film territory, I nevertheless enjoyed them hugely, and the previous sections of the film had built the characters up so well that I actually cared about them.

All in all, I would have to rank this as possibly the all-time greatest superhero film, and easily the best film of 2005 so far (and one of the best of the noughties yet)


03 July 2005

War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds Still

War of the Worlds

Two names tower in front of this film: Cruise and Spielberg. These should not put you off as they both deliver contrary to recent form and WOTW is unlike Minority Report, their recent (and only?) collaboration.

Recently Spielberg has been out of sorts: AI was conceptual nonsense, Minority Report lacked punch, Catch Me If You Can was the cinematic version of Sunday driving and I have heard nothing to suggest The Terminal is worth seeing. Cruise's last, Collateral, saw him in his most aired and comfortable character, playing himself, flashing oft his pearlies. I am glad to report that both steer well clear of these troubled waters. Cruise is in a constant world of pain and Spielberg is magnificent directing action with few words.

Increasingly, many people rate films according to a broad acceptance of what genre the film falls into. Touching the Void (documentary), The Sphere (science fiction) and Kiss of the Dragon (kung fu) - all are excellent examples of their genre but not necessarily excellent films. War of the Worlds is good in its genre and in its own right. It is nice to be able to say its a great film and not append that with the words "for an action film"

The plot is well known. Martians invade kicking the living bejesus out of earth. It's inevitably wrapped in family story where Cruise is the divorced father who has the kids dumped on him for the weekend by the ex, the weekend earmarked by Martians for Earthly ass kicking. It's this wrapper which provides the instinctive and predictably bad final two minutes which Spielberg should be ashamed of.

There is surprisingly little dialogue in WOTW. This leads to an acutely visual film which is something of a rarity these days. The most dramatic moments are all visual such as the glazing over of an alien eye, a mass of humanity trying to board a small boat and the well designed tripod alien machines. The nice thing is that the effects don't take over, unlike recent ruinous Star Wars films. Instead they illustrate the human story of running and not knowing and being impossibly shafted beyond comprehension. It is a film not about survival but inevitable annihilation. There are also some inspired aural effects too such as the alien 'call' which is haunting and eerie. I can't remember the last time a film's sound was so central and so enjoyable.

For an action flick, there's little of the usual "welcome to the party" type lines and associated jingoistic flag waving. WOTW comes across as more sophisticated than that. The absence of the usual excessive 'jump' moments is another indicator that Spielberg felt he didn't need to employ conventional devices. He does ratchet up the tension again and again and again and just when you think its about to pause for thought, it doesn't. Probably the best scene in the movie is in the crumbling basement of a half-loon half-survivor played very well by Tim Robbins. It is in this scene where you see the aliens themselves who are very well designed and look great. It's a horrid hide and seek moment.

Be warned however, that there is a heavy nasty overtone in the film and I would hesitate to take little people to see it. It probably deserves a 15 rather than a 12A in the UK. There are some quite disturbing scenes, including people being vaporised and a fantastic river of blood shot.

One to see on the big screen. At one stage I looked across the cinema and everyone was riveted.