24 October 2005

Serenity (2005)

Directed by Joss Whedon; Writen by Joss Whedon
Starring: Nathan Fillion - Mal; Gina Torres - Zoe; Alan Tudyk - Wash; Morena Baccarin - Inara; Adam Baldwin - Jayne; Jewel Staite - Kaylee; Sean Maher - Simon; Summer Glau - River; Ron Glass - Shepherd Book; Chiwetel Ejiofor - The Operative; David Krumholtz - Mr. Universe; Michael Hitchcock - Dr. Mathias; Sarah Paulson - Dr. Caron; Yan Feldman - Mingo; Raphael Feldman - Fanty

Coming highly recomended, despite the cancellation of the original TV series 'Firefly' after a single season, Serenity was the exciting new sci-fi movie from the man who brought us Buffy and Toy Story. There is, apparently, style, wit. kick ass action, and snappy dialogue throughout - just what you'd hope for really.

But what we actually got was a turgid thousand year old plot, with characters plucked straight form every other western in space. A raggedy band of outlaws, rebels against an all powerful 'civilisation' on the outskirts of the universe, a knackered old ship, a dangerous (but unlettgoable) cargo, and a mission they will probably never return from. Hmmm, where have we heard all that before?

Oh the irony when we discover where the reavers came from! Oh the pathetic disgust when we see how easily the chief baddy is converted to the side of righteousness. Oh how we laughed when at least one of the 'heros' died. But only one - not enough.

There are a few good lines, I laughed three or four times, and there a a few nice shots, but not that many. It's stuck in its TV origins and there seemed to be no attempt to strike out from that. All in all a dull waste of an evening & a tenner, should have gone to see Corpse Bride instead.

11 October 2005

George A. Romero's Land of the Dead (2005)

Dir. - George A. Romero; Writer - George A. Romero
Cast - Simon Baker - Riley; John Leguizamo - Cholo; Dennis Hopper - Kaufman; Asia Argento - Slack; Robert Joy - Charlie; Eugene Clark - Big Daddy; Joanne Boland - Pretty Boy; Tony Nappo - Foxy; Jennifer Baxter - Number 9

Following on from his previous commentaries on racism, the environbment and consumerism, the latest in Romero's socio-political critique of late western capitalism and it's inherent tendencies to self-destruction clearly bases itself around an assault on the prevailing real politik following the twin towers and war on 'terrorism'.

The film opens with a typical post-apocalyptic looking gang of anti-stench warriors together with their cobbled together armoured vehicle Dead Reckoning going into battle against a large crowd of zombies in search of 'essential supplies' (food, guns, and maybe some beer). Turns out such raids are essential as the only real live humans are pretty well trapped in a heavilly walled New York City, where they can't grow food - so have to go out and steal it.

However when one of the workers in uniform, Cholo (John Leguizamo), attempts to demand that he is rewarded for his long service by a place in 'Fiddlers Green' - the twin towers trope - a large skyscraper reserved for the rich and powerful, from which the living poor are as excluded as the dead are from the city itself, he is rejected by patriarchal figure of Kaufmann (Dennis Hopper). Thus he must seek his revenge, by threatening to blow up the tower itself!

All american hero Riley (Simon Baker)is therefore sent out on one last mission to stop Cholo and rescue Dead Reckoning for Kaufmann. He picks up a couple more misfits and off they go - but it's the people of the city they are interested in saving, not Kaufmann or his cronies.

Meanwhile, the dead are becoming almost conscious and are marching on the city....

The dialectical relationship between the workers (in and out of uniform) and the dead (essentially the 'third world' peasantry, Romero is clearing establishing the nature of the theory of labour aristocracy in relation to the two groups) is a fascinating development, where we see Cholo as essentially the role of the union leadership (simply wanting a slightly bigger share of the pie for himself/[i]his[/i] cronies, rather than a fundamental shift in the nature of power), versus Rileys (an explicit call to tear down all the walls, which keep the workers locked in as much as the dead locked out) revolutionary socialism. That the oppressed turn on each other before turning on the bosses is shown clearly in both this aspect of the film, and in the way many of the dead fight each other for scraps, before achieving a consciousness that enables them to unite and march on the city.

Here Romero boldly breaks with Marxist theory (or at least the common Leninist version thereof)by having that consciousness come from within the 'class' itself - the gas pump attendant whose vestigial memory allows him to begin to use tools and to organise the dead as a class for itself.

The only criticism of the film would be in that Romoero's visual representations of the destructiveness of US imperialism is far too weak. Tho there are many scenes of explicit and horrific gore, they cannot come close to the true depths of depravity experienced by Iraqi civilians - even in scenes such as that where Big Daddy (the leader of the dead) stomps his foot down and splatters another combatants head forty feet across the screen cannot compare the the brutality of the Basra road, or Falluja. The scene where a (living) soldier falls and is blown to pieces by his own grenade is, however, a telling commentary on the 'friendly fire' deaths the US are so keen to avoid mentioning.

One cannot give away the ending of the film, of course, however, it would certainly be fair to say that it is in keeping with the political and didactic tone of the previous ninety minutes. Sides must be chosen, even by the 'aristocrats', and indeed they are.

All in all, a magnificent marxist allegory for the twenty-first century. Had it only mentioned the need to build a revolutionary party, it would have been all but perfect.

02 October 2005

The Longest Yard (2005)

Adam Sandler has always struggled to successfully tap into the european film going pysche. In the US he is nothing short of massive and his name is a big draw for audiences there-but his films here have only done fairly well compared to box office receipts in his home country.
Why this could be down to a number of reasons. His humour fails to translate well or he's just plain shit. I strongly suspect the answer lies somewhere half way between (although like Carey in Sunshine of The Eternal Spotless Mind-he does better when he plays against type i.e Punch Drunk Love)
The Longest Yard does him no favours at all. Clearly what we have here is a star vehicle movie with zero substance. TLY tells the lame story of a washed up ex football star who ended out disgraced from the game for allegedly throwing a match. The movie opens with him stealing his girlfriends car whilst drunk and subsequently gets himself arrested and locked down in a tough US jail. In there he manages to win favour with the warden by forming what should be a team of wash out football players to play-yes you guessed it-a team of guards. If this is all sounding familiar to you by now then the answer to that suspicion is indeed true. Its a remake of the far superior1974 movie Mean Machine(UK Title)/The Longest Yard (US Title). Remakes very rarely sit well with me-on the whole arguably they are dross-and this one certainly doesnt break with tradition. The director Peter Segal obviously loves Sandler-having previously worked with him on the abysmally poor 50 First Dates and the truely unfunny Anger Management-he delves even further into this director/actor relationship sinking himself even further into the pit of despair.
TLY simply isn't remotely funny. When your watching a movie which is intended to be a comedy and one that illicts one slight belly laugh you know your watching dross-and bad dross at that. Sandler muddles along with Chris Rock who has always been hit and miss for me (stick to the live shows is my advice) both delivering dreadful lines that truely miss the bulls eye of comedy. The films soundtrack is a mixture of hip hop and some awful sounding rock type anthems which supposedly pumps up the viewer to plump for the underdogs which by this time I had lost total interest in. A cameo appearance by a well worn Burt Reynolds does nothing for this movie whatsoever. Some of the characters are bordering on the offensive with gross stereotypes of homosexuals and the black community. This film is a pile of shit-and the cherry on the top of this Mr Whippy turd is the blatant product placement of McDonalds in this movie (yes you read that right-McDonalds in a prison). By the end of this movie I couldnt care who won or lost the finale game. When Chris Rocks character bites the bullet and the cross read CARETAKER I was mulling over the possibility that the name on his cross should've read DIRECTOR instead. Yes folks-that bad.
If I hadnt been watching this movie at 36,000 ft (it was an inflight movie) I wouldve walked out. Come to think of it-freefalling at 36,000ft with no parachute is far more attractive than sitting through what can only be described as a painful experience. As witty as a burning orphanage.