Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Case for Inside the 60s

Inside Llewyn Davis is the latest Coen Brothers film.  It hasn't been received with quite the praise of some of their other work, but as a Coen film, and even knowing that Justin Timberlake is in there and the touch of death he seems to have on films, I was keen to give this one a shot.

Oscar Isaac stars as Davis, and despite the fact the character is incredibly annoying, the actor himself is amazing.  The songs all come across as pre-recorded (which is a major shame) but it is quite apparent that the man is a talented singer and guitar player, and he can portray the fairly unlikeable Davis remarkably and irritatingly well.

Carey Mulligan also gets the chance to show how much she can sing (and swear) as Jean, half of Jim and Jean with the multi talented Justine Timberlake.  Adam Driver, "the" boyfriend in Girls, also sings a little as Al Cody, and some familiar faces (John Goodman, Ethan Phillips and a lot of others) show up in smaller supporting roles, some more memorable than others.

The story concerns a 60s folk singer trying to make it on his own after his partner passes away.  However, talented as the folk singer may be, Davis is trying to break into a scene that has not yet been painted: Bob Dylan has not yet arrived, and folk singing is mainly relegated to small dusty bars.  Davis totally believes in his destiny to be a major star, though, and so devotes himself completely to his craft, avoiding jobs, relationships or posessoins that might slow him down.  He also happens to be a bit of an ar$ehole, so his existence is a fairly lonely one.

The film follows a couple of days in his life, as he follows the beatnik trail to Chicago and then back again, finding minor successes and some pretty major failures along the way.  Of course, there are twists along the way, but while all of these are dealt with, not all of them are acted upon (if I can be very obtuse about them all), which I found refreshing.  One of the twists had the person next to me inhaling sharply as every minor point was slowly and painfully revealed, so much so, I was either going to have to stab her for being so clueless and annoying ot else call a Doctor if she hyperventilated.

Anyway, annoying fellow cinema-goers aside, the film is amazingly well put together with some great songs, but overall is not as engrossing and engaging as some other Coen films.  It could be that the main character is just too hard to empathise with (he is nigh on impossible to like to be sure), and so it stopped me from really getting into what was going on, and there is no other character that we really learn that much about or follow with anything approaching regularity.

So, while a finely crafted film with some amazing performances, I had to say I was a little underwhelmed by the film, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  And the person next to me made it all the way to the end without fainting.

Verdict: Inside Llewyn Davis is a good film, solid all around one could say, with amazing actors giving incredible performances in a beautifully realised world, but it lacks a certain oomph to make it highly memorable.  7 harmonicas out of 10.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Case for Another 300

300 Rise of an Empire.

Well, what can I really say.

I went in with my eyes open, expecting swords and sandals and well oiled muscles and it delivered.

The muscles are not quite as cut or well oiled this time though, as this time the story is about the Athenians, not the legendary Spartan 300.  While the gang of super cut super warriors fought the forces of Xerxes to the south, the Athenian led Greeks, who spent much less time in the gym honing their six packs, fought the Persian navy.

And that's it, really.  The film reunites some of the old cast (Lena Hedy and David Wenham are back as Spartans, Rodrigo Santoro camps things up as giant Xerxes) to be background to the new battle waged with earnestness by Sullivan Stapleton as Themistocles and with high camp by Eva Green as Artemisia.

Green seems to relish the chance to chew the scenery (luckily it is all low calorie CG) and basically takes the centre stage from the far less interesting Greek heroes.  The battles on the water are... well, lack any sense of actual strategy or tactics and reek of convenience and plot contrivance, but the action is a lot more entertaining than the turgid dialogue.  Whenever the characters interact, the whole enterprise slows to a crawl, and even the obligatory "attempted conversion" sex scene starts off with a cliche heavy exchange and then the act itself comes across as confused and ill conceived.

Besides Green, it is really hard to tell if anyone is really enjoying themselves - though I would wager that Santoro had fun swanning around as Xerxes again.  I know my own enjoyment varied from entertained to nodding off to wanting to shout out MontyPython quotes at the screen ("'Tis but a scratch!", "Fwee Bawabas!"), but as my expectations were low, I can't say I came out of the film disappointed.

No, I came away with what I expected: rubbish, drivel, and lots of slow motion CGI blood.  Though I was concerned for the (rather stupidly used) horse, and hope it too was a CGI construction.

Verdict: 300 Rise of an Empire is a nice way for some actors to work out and get great abs and earn a bit of money, and for an army of CG artists to render uber violence in new and creative ways.  No need for interesting characters or witty dialogue or innovative direction, and the film definitely steers away from these.  2 abs in a six pack.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Case for the Ghost in the Machine

I am not entirely sure why I had reservations before I went into Her.

Considering Spike Jonz's previous works, I should have been looking forward to a beautifully crafted, funny, quirky film, which is actually totally what Her is.  Instead, the low key posters and trailers had made me a bit nervous that I would find it all just a bit dull.

But yes, as I said, I was totally wrong.  Despite a two hour running time in which not a whole lot happens, the time just flew by and the film effortlessly entertained throughout.

Joaquin Phoenix, in the lead role of Theodore, is completely captivating as a single man living in a possible near future world where everyone lives through their phones and the next generation of operating system gives him the option of having an artificially intelligent companion to help him with his day to day activities.  His new OS, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johanssen) slowly develops into his best friend, and from there...

It's not just Phoenix on screen: a frazzle-haired Amy Adams and a wide eyed Chris Pratt show up as Theodore's physical friends, but mainly the scenes (I can't really say "action") sticks to Theodore and his daily life, with insane computer games (hilarious) and a few trips on an incredible public transport  system and of course the high waisted trousers.

The film is witty, funny, full of foul language and is all about sex, and it is incredibly sweet and tender and wonderful to boot.  It's about love and finding companionship and growing apart and dealing with loss, and despite the premise, it all feels genuine and engaging and is very, very cool.

Can I gush more?  Yes, but I won't.

Suffice to say that Her is an incredible film and totally worth seeing.

Verdict: Her is all about him, and has so much to say and says it so well, with humour, depth, insight, and no violence whatsover.  Amazing film, and deserving 9.5 OS's out of 10.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Case for Purchases

The Dallas Buyers Club has just won several Oscars for its leading characters - and deservedly so.

It really is a McConough-sance, as Mathew takes on the role of Ron Woodruff a partier afflicted by HIV who does all he can to obtain the drugs to keep him alive.

Along the way he encounters a Doctor (Jennifer Garner) disturbed by the FDA and its bureaucratic and perhaps corrupt way to find a drug that will help the AIDS sufferers, and Jared Leto as Rayon, a transvestite who also contracts AIDS.

It's all very well acted though oddly enough enough the story itself is a little less engrossing than the performances.  It starts off with a hiss and a roar - literally - with bull fighting and much machismo, and then, once Woodruff processes that he has AIDS, his energy is directed to finding drugs that may not be FDA approved but which are more efficacious when dealing with the symptoms.

It then gets a little murkier as the story widens to Woodruff's battles with the FDA and his growing contact and interaction with the AIDS community.  His drive and determination and capitalist spirit make him a kind of hero, though his interactions with others, even Rayon, are more superficial than really affecting.

Luckily, Woodruff's story is quite engrossing.  And McConoughy rightly deserves his acolades.  As to Leto, well, I was not convinced that his character was being rewarded more than his actual performance, but still, he does really well.

Verdict: The Dallas Buyers Club is a good movie made great by some amazing performances and a compelling story.  The style of the telling is perhaps a bit uneven and pedestrian, but it is definitely worthwhile and deserving of all its accolades.