Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Case for Rekallections

For those who remember the 90s Arnie classic, the remake of Total Recall makes a few nods to the original.  All the familiar names are back, and Colin Farrell, as Quaid, has been working out a bit to get a buff bod and wear the Arnie collarless shirt with pride.  Some of the classic scenes are also back, altered slightly to mix things up a little, though I was disappointed that only one arm was severed, and that the arm of a robot.

Because, as much as nods are made to the previous movie, the audience seemed to be largely ignored.  The set up itself is strange.  We swoop down on the planet, dwelling over North America for about a minute, before being told that there are actually now only two places inhabitable on the planet: a place called the Colony, that might once have been Australia but, in some untold (and probably more interesting) story, was invaded by the US and every single person with an Antipodean accent was exterminated, the economy turned to use US currency, and then came an influx of people from the rest of the now uninhabited world.  For some reason, the American overlords renamed the place "Colony", which really does not instill a sense of independence, but then, some people seek to rectify that.

On the other side of the planet is the only other inhabitable place left, part of London.  And I say part of London, as it seems that, if walk down a few streets (or take a very American subway looking Underground train) you end up somewhere completely antithetical to life, which seems to lie somewhere in the East End (perhaps a commentary on London today?).  These two liveable zones are connected by a lift that travels through the core of the planet (quickly, we are told, though there seems to be no effect on gravity except when reaching the very centre of Earth); and even though London appears to be tiny, have no access to resources, and have a labour shortage, it is still economically the dominant force (though quite what Colony's "colony" status means is never fully explained).

So, for a start, I never really bought the set up.  And then things actually happened.  Like Farrell frowning.  A lot.  And running, a lot more.  He has two gorgeous women in his life: Jessica Biel and Kate Beckingsdale.  And he finds himself caught between two political forces, the Chancellor played by Bryan Cranston, and the leader of the resistance played by Bill Nighy.  All of the characters these people play are American (well, at least for some of the time).  Why?  

There are lots of "why" moments in there, unfortunately.  The action sequences are pretty well staged, but I kept asking myself "isn't this from I, Robot?" and "wasn't that in Minority Report?" and "this looks a lot like Blade Runner, doesn't it?"  The introduction of robots to the storyline may be in keeping with the source novel (I couldn't say to be sure), but it seems to be used as a way to increase the "bodycount" while not actually killing anyone - as in the aforementioned disarming scene.  While the human on human fights are incredibly well choreographed, Farrell is constantly "surprised" to find himself an ace fighting machine, and its a discovery that isn't amusing the first time.  

The Arnie version was not the best movie ever made, but it was amusing.  It didn't have the scale of the remake, but it had Mars and Michael Ironside.  It didn't have a very angry Beckingsdale, but it had a bad arse Sharon Stone.  And the original had a heart, whereas at the centre of the remake of Total Recall seems a strange attempt at gravity, and a disregard for anything that mike make sense.

Verdict: I will say this for the new Total Recall: it is an impressive movie to see on the big screen.  In almost every other respect, it is wet, rainy and a bit depressed.  The cast all look good, but they also seem to want to be elsewhere, Farrell at the gym, Beckingsdale fighting lychans, and Cranston making drugs.  And, at the end of the movie, I was wondering if there was some magic machine that show me a more exciting time than this film did.  5 missing lives out of 10.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Case for Rebirth

The most disappointing thing about the Bourne Legacy is not that Matt Damon isn’t in it.  Because he’s referred to quite a lot, and I quite like Jeremy Renner who is taking on the agent wronged role.  There isn’t a lack of beautiful love interest, with Rachel Wiesz filling those pouty lips admirably.  And its not the cinematography, which is quite stunning, especially in the mountain scenes.  No, its just that it is pretty dull (and I will give some SPOILERS in the below, so you are warned!).

The main characters are kept apart for most of the film, and as we slowly find out how they are going to get together, the awesome Edward Norton shouts a lot about assets and neutralising them and getting eyes and ears everywhere and damage control and a whole lot of stuff that sounds really impressive when shouted out loud but, when it seems to drag on for days, just ends up seeming a trifle silly.  Everything is very serious and grave and awful that might work in a pre-Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay world, but the idea of agents imbedded in networks around the world surely can’t come as a surprise to anyone so I am not altogether sure what all the panic and trauma is all about.

Meanwhile, Jenner is off being all Grizzly Adams and proving his worth, saving his razor for his chest and keeping the wolves at bay.  When he realises that the legacy of Jason Bourne means that he will be liquidated, its off to find the beautiful scientist to help her to help him, as is always the way.  And as mentioned, this takes up almost an hour of the film.  And it really does not happen all excited-like.

As with all these kinds of films, there are many things that work in favour of the heroes.  The fact the CIA doesn’t seem to have someone with the techno-skills of Penelope Garcia from Criminal Minds who could locate a needle in a gazillion electronic haystacks by cross referencing its library data with its grocery bill and laser telescopes based on the moon means that these two are able to get to elude capture on the continental USA without too much difficulty.  And then, when the evil government forces do catch up with them, it is all on, though for some reason, it seems to be with the one agent of the programme that was not eliminated, though no real reason why this person is so special or was spared is offered.

But for all how fairly… pointless it all seems, and loud, it did keep me mostly entertained.  And, more importantly, it stopped me from disemboweling the two men behind me who talked in their outdoor voices throughout the ENTIRE film.  If only a Jason Bourne clone would come along and liquidate people like that.

Verdict: The Bourne Legacy picks up the baton from the Matt Damon franchise and fumbles it a bit, drops it a couple of times, takes a long time to get to the finish line, but still sort of makes it there.  Half a blue pill from a child proof container.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Case for Ednable Goodies

I have to admit, it was not my initial idea to go to see Eat, Pray, Laugh, the swansong tour of Barry Humphries in his many guises, but I was very glad that I listened to the recommendation and went along.  Humphries’ creations, in particular Dame Edna Everage, are comedy classics, though their heyday was probably in the 80s.

The audience for the opening night show pretty much lived up to what one would expect, with a whole bunch of Kiwi celebrities (I spotted Rima Te Wiata and Louise Wallace, I believe) in amongst a mainly blue rinse set, with the odd scattering of late teenage kids brought along as well as a few of the more… intermediate members such as myself.  Of course, being a live performance, some people were determined to arrive late, though quite why about 30 people were let in about 15 minutes into the show, obscuring the view of those behind them as they stumbled dazedly around trying to find their seats, I can only blame on a misguided sense of charity.

Our seats were not the cheapest, but we ended up way back in the gods, the Civic theatre in Auckland packed to the rafters (literally) with a crowd that had braved fairly miserable weather to attend.  In the end, our distance from the stage was a bit of a blessing, as those closer in were subject to interrogation and a bit of mockery, not to mention the odd shower of spit.

Les Patterson led the charge, and provided most of the saliva, as the scene opened on a typical Aussie back yard Barbie (though the grass seemed an NZ kind of lush).  With a backing pianist and two couples of stunning backup dancers and singers, Patterson explored what it meant to be a cultural ambassador and connoisseur of cuisine, all from a mildly racist, sexist, Australian perspective.  His early spittage revealed that the front row was populated by a couple of shriekers, whose loud cries could be heard throughout the auditorium, though the tone indicated they kind of enjoyed what they were being subjected to.  A bit of toilet humour, a bit of audience participation, a few songs, and Patterson’s act gave way to some minor characters in Humphries’ backlog, one relying on paedophilic humour (I’m always a bit wary of that sort) and the next not really a funny character at all, though the audience chuckled at the odd mildly amusing reference as a way to get some levity out of the scene.

But, after the half time break, the character we had all come to see was brought on stage on the back of a large elephant, and while the stage was almost bereft of props, the glittering wardrobe, outlandish eyewear, and sheer personality of Dame Edna Everage lit up the entire stage.  The granny beside me definitely lit up at the sight.

Edna’s humour comes from the fact she is a narcissistic and otherwise quite horrible human being, putting everyone down in delightfully demonic ways, always with a smile on her face and with a non-apology afterwards.  An hilarious opening True Hollywood Stories style “whatever happened to Edna?” programme introduced her to the stage, and from there she defended her Al Qaeda connections, then progressed through a few other jokes, before licking her lips, sharpening her claws, eyeing the audience greedily and then launching in to attack her true prey – us.

And she was devastating.  Scorn was heaped on people at the back, in the cheap seats, but the real trauma was saved for those in the front row whom she found fascinating.  Up on stage a quartet were hauled, mauled and then shawled, before being returned to their seats for the grand, gladiola-filled finale.  

The great thing about humiliating the audience is that it does not rely on external references.  A lot of the material was, unsurprisingly, based on Australian knowledge and experiences, and so while I understood a lot of it, some of the barbs were completely unpointed for me.  Humphries is a smart cookie though, and there were several local references woven into the material.  However, the audience provided the funniest moments of the night, and sometimes Humphries ignorance of things Kiwi was bliss, such as when the audience members started talking about towns like Levin, as no one can roll her eyes like Edna, and even from the back of the room, we could feel the massive amounts of distaste packed in to the small pauses between her responses.

Humphries finished the night with a “personal” appearance, thanking everyone coming to his final tour  - until the next one of course.  It was a lovely way to finish the evening, and to congratulation the man who has created such quintessentially Australian characters, and who provided such a wonderful performance on an otherwise quite horrible evening.

Verdict: Eat, Pray, Laugh scored a few more misses amongst the hits than I would have expected, but Humphries’ mastery of classic putdowns, humour from new situations, and of the mild mockery of those who have paid to come see him made the evening a fun-filled affair.  The staging of the show itself might not have been particularly special, but the show itself glittered and shone like one of Dame Edna’s most bejewelled frocks.  7 diamantes out of 10.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Case for the International Film Festival 2012 – Weekend 2

My final two films of this year’s fest were all about youth.

The first asked the question: how do you stop bullying?

Bully is an amazing documentary, examining the lives and deaths of several teenagers across the United States.  The documentary makers started by obtaining access to one school district that prided itself on its anti-bullying stance.  While the High School programme proved successful (much to the expressed disappointment of the film maker, who attended the screening, though I am sure he didn’t mean it quite like it came across), the documentary maker found more “success’ at a Middle School also in the region, and exposed the cruelties that kids can inflict on one another and the powerlessness of schools to do anything about it, even despite the best of intentions.

Indeed, while the physical and verbal abuse of and by the kids is hard to watch, the most troubling thing to view is the reaction of adults.  Some show a complete lack of understanding about how bullying works, resorting to cliché and expecting it to prove effective, while others point to the stopping of a specific type of physical abuse as if it indicated an end to all abuse by that person.  The sheer inanity of some of the adult responses to the children was enough to make the audience laugh and cry in equal measure.

And then, of course, most heart-breaking, is the reaction of parents to learning of the abuse of their children, especially when they turn to their kids and ask, almost in the same breath, “Why didn’t you tell me?” and “Why don’t you stand up for yourself?”.  Of course, some parents don’t get the chance to ask those questions: the suicides of two boys after suffering bullying is also explored.

I don’t want to go too deeply into the case studies presented, as the film powerfully shows the different ways people can be bullied and the coping mechanisms they take to deal with them.  What the film does not really offer are any solutions for individuals caught in a bully’s web, as the voices of teachers, police and others are not called upon to discuss the issue in depth, their role kept as small parts of the lives of the bullied, as was the intent of the film makers.  However, it does offer some hope in a growing movement fighting bullying in schools, and in documenting the lives of some incredibly strong young individuals.

Verdict 4 (of 5):  Bully is an incredibly thought provoking and moving documentary that was so controversial that the film makers had to fight to get the film off an R rating (due to harsh language) so it could be seen by the people who could use it most (ironically, slaughter-fest Hunger Games got a PG).  But fight the documentary makers did, and it was well worth it.  Not an easy film to watch by a long shot, but a real eye opener in the ways in which all adults can turn a blind eye.  9 slushies out of 10.

My final film of my 2012 festival fare was On The Road, a movie based on the book by Jack Kerouac.  It was shown at the gorgeous Roxy Cinema and, perhaps unsurprisingly, was shown to a packed house.  Perhaps more surprising was when members of the audience began to leave half way through.

Not that many did, but from my vantage point, I could see them depart and not return.  Given the book is famous for its beatnik origins and… immoral morality, it did surprise me that people would be shocked by what was presented.  But then, the film dwells almost exclusively on the nude scenes, the lead characters out of clothing more often than not, with the road less travelled being the actual road.  I was a bit worried when I saw Kristen Stewart was in the cast, but she mainly gets to act with her breasts, the true female acting honours going to the ever awesome Kirsten Dunst.  The male leads are adequate, with Garrett Hedlund playing the roguish, sex-mad Dean Moriarty with a huge amount of charm, and there are also plenty of guest stars making the odd appearance.

And I think it was this obsession with the more tawdry aspects of the novel that is perhaps the most disappointing.  Relationships and the highs and lows of travelling across the US are lost amongst the almost constant getting in and out of clothing, and at two hours long, the film does tend to dwell a lot in the bedroom.

Verdict 5 (of 5):  I was hoping that the film version of On The Road would be a bit more accessible for me than the book, but in the end, while it was pretty to look at (if you didn’t mind looking at pretty people mostly undressed), it felt… well, not a whole lot.  5 routes out of 10.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Case for Delay Table Top

This morning, while waiting for services to resume on the train line, I somehow found myself watching an awesome episode of Table Top called Fiasco.  Definitely recommended if you have a spare hour.

Verdict:  The story telling was completely gripping and incredibly amusing.  Would that I had such an awesome imagination - and was friends with Bonnie.  8 disco balls of 10.