Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Case for Swedish Mums

Well, I didn’t get to the pictures (love that “old school” phrase), but a wee while ago, the BananaBoat showed me her DVD of film version Bjorn and Benny’s stage show, Mama Mia.

I had initially been dubious about seeing this film. I am a huge fan of the music of ABBA, but seeing the songs repackaged amongst a fragile framework of flimsy plot did not really appeal. More to the point, part of my joy of ABBA were the fantastic singing voices of Frida and Agnetha, so to hear the same songs performed by the likes of Julie Walters and Pierce Brosnan seemed underwhelming. Nonetheless, provided with DVD before me and the Bananaboat’s enthusiasm to guide me, I embarked on a quest to the Greek Islands.

Of course, these Greek islands are populated by lots of English speakers. In fact, the Greeks only really provided backup singers, and provided nothing to the tale. But the idea of having a Greek Chorus and everyone dressed up in garishly bright summer clothes obviously appealed.

The story… well, I won’t dilly dally here. The story is rubbish. Plot twists are more gentle bends sign-posted way in advance, and getting everyone together and then breaking them apart (for a wee while anyway) is completely contrived.

But the film redeems itself totally in my eyes by putting the divine Christine Baranski in the position of fending off the aggressive advances of a young, semi-clad black man with the suggestive lyrics of "Does your mother know?". That performance alone made the whole film worthwhile.

The rest is light escapism, every actor appearing to have a ball with the songs despite the dearth of development. The singing ability ranges from adequate to great (though not to the hallowed heights of the As in ABBA), but the whole thing is infectiously fun so it doesn’t really matter.

Verdict: This is the time when being the Judge is hardest. I have to come down on the side of reviewing law rather than sentimental attachment. So I will admit, Mama Mia is deeply flawed and will do nothing for those who are not ABBA fans. But my thanks to the BananaBoat for sharing the music with me. An A and half a B out of ABBA.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Case for Helping Hands

I was not really intending to go to a film this week, but when I saw there was a local movie that got relatively good news and, most importantly, starred the fantabulous Melanie Lynsky, I had to go.

Show of Hands is based in New Plymouth, and a win a car competition. Based on a true story, the film follows contestants in a competition to win a Land Rover by keeping their hands on the car the longest. Quite where the true story is abandoned for the whimsy of fantasy is unclear, but it seems fairly early on as a whole bundle of cliched characters takes the stage. Not that this is a bad thing - the characters are all entertaining and it is great seeing Kiwi actors up on screen, and catching up on what some of the old Shortland Street alumni are up to these days.

Unfortunately, the film doesn't really know where to end, and, after establishing the lead characters quite strongly in the first part, the film seems to take the easy way out. And then it kind of just... ends.

So it's fairly easy to sum up this film. It is nice, well done, fairly Nu Zild, but ultimately a bit half baked, stumbling at the final hurdle and failing to deliver a satisfying conclusion. But Melanie Lynsky is there, and she is awesome (though the dress at the end... something else I didn't quite get), and the rest of the cast are great as well. It's just a pity the material doesn't quite live up to the performances.

Verdict: Show of Hands presented some fairly decent actors in some fairly predictable material with an unfortunately unsatisfying ending. 5 fingers out of 10.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Case for Crack Ups

My last entry brought about the wonderful topic of "matters of perspective". My thanks to those who took the time to show me the R18 perspective - I may not agree, but at least I will (begin to) understand.

Along similar lines, a relatively recent article on Stuff about the humour of the BBC TV show Little Britain caught my eye.

Little Britain, as I am sure you know, is a very offensive television show, poking fun at some English stereotypes by presenting them in the most extreme light possible. This, according to the article, promotes hatred by inviting us all to laugh at groups of society.

What really struck me about the article though was this: isn't that really what a lot of humour is all about? Jokes about Irishmen, Scots, the French; pratfalls and farce; misunderstandings and double entendre - aren't they all, in one way or another laughing at people, and ourselves, as well? Does this mean these types of humour promote hatred of other nationalities; clumsy people; and the slow or stupid?

From my perspective, I cannot imagine a person who hated the Vicky Pollards or the Daffyds of the world watching a show that is all about them. Does that mean those that do watch these shows, such as myself, are slowly (or quickly) developing a hatred for those stereotypes I am invited to laugh at?

The surveys on which these kind of articles are based are beginning to annoy me. Of course these types of shows are offensive. Of course they "push the envelope". But isn't bringing the obscure into the mainstream also a way of destigmatising them, of showing the behaviours as either harmless or harmful rather than just "unknown"? I would choose to see this kind of show as forcing us to look at our own perceptions of things, of reassessing the prejudices and judgements we make about groups of people we may know nothing about, rather than actually forcing a point of view upon us. I choose to laugh at my ignorance of those different from myself, and hopefully learn something about the things that we share in common.

Verdict. I am up on my pulpit looking down on the masses, pointing my judgemental finger at those who try to crush humour in a misguided attempt at curbing hatred. One snort of derision out of a belly laugh.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Case for Herr Heimlich

It’s been a while since I went to see an R18 film, and Choke, while earning an this rating, was no worse than watching a Badabing-based episode of The Sopranos. If trailer for the film gives the impression of a fairly tame film laced with lots of references to the “wild thing”, it is doing a very good job, as that is more or less what you get, with an impressive number of boobies and lots of “discretely done dirty deeds”.

I quite like Sam Rockwell, finding his usual amiable loser persona quite entertaining, if not necessarily lead character material. But in this film, his Victor gets to interact with a bevy of strange and unusual characters, and if ever attention wanes on his performance, the others are more than capable of picking up the slack. In particular, the divine Anjelica Huston gets one of the more interesting roles I have seen her in for a long time, and the flashbacks to her in her trashy glory are remarkable (I would love to know how much (if any) CGI went in to making her look “young”).

The story itself is fun, the dialogue amusing, with no major histrionics (except at important times) and some developments that appear to happen outside the scope of the film but which push things along quite nicely and aren’t too jarring. It is all played for laughs, and despite the rating, the laughs are fairly easy.

Overall, I enjoyed this film and the performances in particular. The one question I came away with though was, considering what passes for entertainment on the telly these days, why was Choke rated R18? I have seen episodes of Outrageous Fortune that were explicit and violent and used harsher language than this film. But then perhaps I have become jaded with age…

Verdict: A pleasant, entertaining film with humour of the naughty kind, Choke was fun, and a lot more accessible than the censorship rating may have indicated. An R13 out of R18.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Case for Pineapple Lumps

I think it was in keeping with the Pineapple Express that, coming out of the film, I had a short spell of trouble with my depth perception. It was an odd sensation, keeping not only with the stoner ethos of the film, but also the fairly two dimensional characters within it.

Now, I went to this film because of Seth Rogan. He has a slobbish, roguish charisma about him that I find hilarious, and in this film he is the charming person I find him to be. Considering he helped write the film, the fact his character plays on Seth Rogan’s strengths is not that surprising. Considering the film was probably written while all the writers were high, one can understand the path the film takes.

From a fairly routine, entertaining beginning, with encounters with people from all walks of life, the Pineapple Express starts off fairly amiably. We eventually meet ex Freaks and Geeks alumnus James Franco as the Dealer, and then the movie swings into a buddy movie with the two leads mixed up in crazy drug cartel shenanigans.

Which is really (for me) where the fun faded. Gone were most attempts at witty banter, abandoned in favour of physical comedy with a splash of violence and lots of guns. Character tones shift and change (humourous to deadly serious; shifty to comic relief to “pull through in the end”) and the budlove of the main characters rings hollow.

Perhaps the ultra-long running time jaded my enjoyment of the film. Which, to be fair, I did enjoy. But, this movie about a “slacker” had the feel of a film written by slackers, so the promise of the concept and of the leads is wasted, with the resulting film likeable but forgettable.

Verdict: I am sure, had I been stoned at the screening, would have improved my overall impression of the film. As it was, I enjoyed the Pineapple Express, but that was about it. Six reefers out of ten.