This month: “127 Hours”, “A Matter of Life and Death”, “Exit Through the Gift Shop”, “Get Him to the Greek”, “The Goddess of 1967”, “The House of Yes”, “Kicking and Screaming”, “Monsters”, “Morvern Caller”, “Post Grad”, “Sin City”, “Slumdog Millionaire”, “Spider-Man”, “Spider-Man 2”, “Spider-Man 3”, “Spirited Away” (pictured above), “Styliagi”, “Whip It!” and “Your Friends & Neighbours”.
This month, the average rating is 6.12/10, and the film of the month is Whip It! Next month, expect reviews of Blue Valentine, True Grit and possibly The King’s Speech, if I get over my phobia of historically inaccurate Oscar bait. Follow @halfacanyon for more.
127 Hours (2010) – 7/10
Director: Danny Boyle
Writers: Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy, Aron Ralston (book)
Starring: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara
James Franco teams up with Danny Boyle for the portrayal of Aron Ralston, a man who cuts off his arm when it gets stuck in a climbing (or falling) accident. However, the most gruesome scene in 127 Hours is when you see a close-up of Aron changing a contact lens. It’s really horrible and unnecessary.
When the inevitable arm-chopping scene comes along, we are supposed to believe that Aron has changed as a person. He says: “Everything has been leading to me falling in this crack beneath the surface.” Really? He says, “Thank you,” once his arm is cut off, but he doesn’t become a better person – once he escapes, he takes water from strangers without saying, “Thank you,” and then drinks it in a really wasteful manner, spilling down his shirt. In short: he will show his gratitude to an inanimate rock that has ruined his life, but he won’t say anything to the saviours who gave him water.
I would quite like to meet Aron Ralston one day, but just so that I can ask him how he got so much blood on his chin in that scene.
A Matter of Life and Death (1946) – 7/10
Directors/Writers: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Starring: David Niven, Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey, Kim Hunter
“I love you, June. You’re life, and I’m leaving you.”
David Niven cheats death and has to argue his case to continue living – it’s like an earlier version of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Adventure. The film alternates between Earth and Heaven, with the refreshing twist being that Heaven is a horrible place – it’s black and white; no one has a sense of humour.
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) – 7.5/10
Starring: Thirry Guetta, Banksy
Get Him to the Greek (2010) – 7/10
Director/Writer: Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Elizabeth Moss, Rose Byrne, P Diddy
The Goddess of 1967 (2000) – 7.5/10
Director: Clara Law
Writers: Clara Law, Eddie Ling-Ching Fong
Starrying: Rose Byrne, Rikiya Kurosawa
A Japanese man travels to Australia to buy a car from a man he’s corresponded with in the internet. However, when he gets to the house to buy the car, it turns out the man has been murdered, and a blind Australian girl is there, looking after a small child she doesn’t know.
The House of Yes (1997) – 3/10
Director: Mark Waters
Writers: Mark Waters, Wendy MacLeod (play)
Starring: Parker Posey, Josh Hamilton, Freddie Prinze Jr, Tori Spelling
Kicking and Screaming (1995) – 7.5/10
Director: Noah Baumbach
Writers: Noah Baumbach, Oliver Berkman
Starring: Eric Stoltz, Olivia d’Abo, Parker Posey, Josh Hamilton
Firstly, Kicking and Screaming (1995)is different from Kicking and Screaming (2005), with the latter being a family comedy about middle-aged man taking over an underperforming children’s football team – I’ve seen that as well, it wasn’t fun, so let’s try not to mention it.
What’s the worst thing that could happen after graduation? One characters suggests a heart attack. The better solution is forgetting everything you learned.
Monsters (2010) – 4/10
Director/Writer: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able
Monsters received more press than it deserved because it notoriously cost under $500,000 and is supposed to be an intelligent ‘monster’ film – intelligent because the monsters are mostly in the background, with the focus on the two central protagonists. True, it doesn’t look like a cheap film, which is a credit to the laptop effects, but the dialogue is slow, shallow and uninteresting. The superb In Search of a Midnight Kiss is mentioned as a source of inspiration, even stealing the main actor, but the improvised performances lack chemistry, even though the pair are a real life couple.
Morvern Callar (2002) – 5.5/10
Director: Lynn Ramsay
Writers: Liana Dognini, Lynn Ramsay, Alan Warner (novel)
A supermarket clerk, Morvern Callar, wakes up to find her boyfriend has committed suicide. She reacts by keeping it a secret, continuing her life as if it never happened – she even takes a few days to dispose of the body, initially left lying in blood on the floor. Morvern’s silent nature means we never hear anything approaching an internal monologue, so it would be safe to assume her stoic exterior is her true being. However, subtle hints are dropped that all is perhaps not so well – she continuously reads his suicide note and listens to his mixtapes.
An even sharper turn is made when Morvern sends her boyfriend’s novel to publishers under her name. And so begins a promising premise, but the promise is broken.
Morvern’s coping method is fascinating – she runs around the park, strokes thorny branches – but too much mystery can leave you with a blank, unremarkable character. Her detached stare should produce a great character study, but it devolves into self-parody. Without explaining why, she goes on holiday in Spain, but is unmoved by the tourist resort’s hedonism – the second half deals with this trip abroad, and not only does it stray far away from her home in Britain, it lingers even further away from a promising start.
Post Grad (2009) – 4/10
Director: Vicky Jenson
Writer: Kelly Fremon
Starring: Alexis Bledel, Zach Gilford, Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch
Life is supposedly difficult for Ryden Malby. She’s graduated from a top university, which was paid for by a scholarship, but she’s having difficulty finding a job. Well, she can find a job, but she has her heart set on a specific Los Angeles publishing company that she’s always wanted to work for. It’s actually quite funny watching Ryden, as played by Alexis Bledel, hang around a swimming pool and call herself a ‘pathetic loser’. Meanwhile, she mishears her best friend declare his love to her. Repeatedly. He even sings a song about it. Twice.
Post Grad tries to be as inoffensive as possible, so the join-these-three-dots plot was somewhat entertaining once I lowered my expectations. However, in the middle, there’s a thirty minute interlude about a dead cat, a sleazy neighbour and a stolen belt, all of which has no connection to Ryden’s job hunt. So, a 30-minute detour in an 85-minute film, which highlights a lack of ideas on quite a topical subject. Right now, there are thousands of people in Ryden’s position writing their own screenplays about post-graduate misery, and I’m sure that they can manage a full-length script on the topic.
Once the film returns its focus to Ryden’s job hunt, we’re reminded of her one goal in life – working for this specific Los Angeles publishing company. It’s basically the crux of the film. Can she get a job at this publishing company? Will she? But she wants it so much! Well, she does, but changes her mind when she sees a little boy eating an ice cream. This obviously reminds her of when a guy called Adam insisted she would like ice cream. So she gives up the job she always wanted and moves to New York.
Sin City (2005) – 5/10
Directors: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Frank Miller
Starring: Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson
Robert Rodriguez takes the fantasy film-noir genre with action clichés, “babes” and shameless fetishising of guns. Sin City is supposedly a remarkably faithful adaptation of the comic books that bear the same name, which might explain why most of the film is shot with green screen technology – that’s not a criticism, as the animation is visually spectacular. The use of colour is effective, with a heightened black-and-white design, with colour used occasionally to highlight the importance of objects or metaphors.
The episodic approach lets down the overall product as the repetitive storylines feel empty and do little to disguise that Sin City is an excuse for celebrities to do action sequences with in-between scenes of more violence and female nudity. The darkness feels forced and the humour fails, particularly with any dialogue that approaches self-defeat with meta satisfaction – “Hey, there’s an arrow through me. Do you think, perhaps, somebody could call a doctor, or something?”
At least Alexis Bledel does a scarily accurate Katie Holmes impression.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008) – 6/10
Director: Danny Boyle
Writers: Simon Beaufoy, Vikas Swarup (novel)
Starring Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor
Spider-Man (2002) – 6.5/10
Spider-Man 2 (2004) – 7/10
Spider-Man 3 (2007) – 5.5/10
Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: David Koepp (1), Alvin Sargent (2 & 3), Sam Raimi (3), Ivan Raimi (3)
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco
In Spider-Man, Sam Raimi doesn’t take too long to play out the story of Spiderman’s origin. Peter Parker is a geeky kid who sees his best friend flirting with a girl he loves, and then he’s bitten by a radioactive spider – this is all you need to know for the three films. The costume? Parker makes it himself. The web he shoots from his wrists? It just happens. No need for explanation, so the action can begin immediately. Luckily, if you are confused, the Green Goblin frequently explains the plot to himself in the mirror.
By the second film, Sam Raimi seems to have much more creative control, with some scenes even echoing the comic horror of his Evil Dead trilogy, such as when a kidnapped aunt repeatedly falls off a tall building to be continuously rescued from peril. As a character, Spider-Man becomes more cartoony, as Peter Parker uses his webbed powers to skip traffic to deliver a pizza on time. It adds to the film’s mercilessly silly tone, considering how disconcertingly seriously the first film took itself in places.
Nevertheless, there is no excuse for how often Peter Parker nearly, and does, reveal his alter-ego in Spider-Man 2. Firstly, he washes his superhero outfit at the launderette, but without too much care in hiding his clothing from neighbouring launderetters. And yes, that is a word. The bigger sin is how often he takes his mask off in public, usually for no reason. The first few times are lucky as no one is around, but, by the end, his identity is revealed to an entire train, Mary-Jane and Harry – so, everyone finds out, apart from those who haven’t seen the film.
I guess it’s not too strange that Spider-Man can’t keep his identity secret, especially considering in the fictional world of Spider-Man 2, the final twist is that the indestructible machine, that will eviscerate New York, can actually be destroyed by water – even my laptop has survived that.
It’s worth noting that Spider-Man repeatedly gives his alter-ego away by saving people in his outfit without a mask. After all, in The Dark Knight, Batman lets several people for the sake of protecting his identity. The maskless scenes are presumably to manipulate Tobey Maguire’s marketability, which seems to work against Sam Raimi’s roots and indie credentials.
This almost leads to disaster in Spider-Man 3, a confused train wreck of a film that is ironically the only one of the trilogy not to include a train wreck. Plots topple over each other, and villains arrive out of nowhere to scarcely feature or make sense. Apart from Primer, it’s the only film I’ve ever seen that makes more sense to someone who watches for ten minutes at random intervals (and that’s ‘random’ meant with the proper definition).
Spider-Man 3 does have its moments, as it’s always fun to watch a man pretend to be a vigilante arachnid. However, the two high-points are unintentional – the hilariously convenient timing of James Franco’s butler revealing twenty minutes from the end that he just never felt like revealing he knew Spider-Man never killed his father, and how the evil version of Peter Parker is only recognisable because he styles himself like Conor Oberst.
Spirited Away (2001) – 8/10
Director/Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mara Natsuki, Takeshi Naito
Anyway, Spirited Away is an absorbing world where someone can cross a bridge, and find their life is ruined. The film is indeed powerful in its morals and lessons, but what did I learn? I’m not sure. I’m just assuming there were morals and lessons.
Styliagi (2008) – 7.5/10
Director: Valery Todorovsky
Writers: Valery Todorovsky, Yuriy Korotkov
Starring: Anton Shagin, Oksana Akinshina, Evgeniya Khirivskaya, Maksim Matveev
Back in the 1950s, Communist Russia had an underground movement called the styliagi (or ‘hipsters’). The styliagi rebelled against the strict culture by following American fashion as much as possible – kitsch colours, Elvis haircuts, bright mini-skirts and so on – and run wild parties in basements, drinking alcohol and listening to Charlie Mingus into the night. Outside, Communists wear grey and are portrayed as miserable villains.
Mels, the protagonist, is a Communist who crashes a styliagi party to ruin the mood and cut off people’s fashionable hair with clunky scissors. However, he bumps into Polina, a glittering, glamorous hipster who can sing and dance, and instantly falls in love.
Styliagi is the first 140 minute anti-Communist Russian language musical I’ve seen, and I would be interested in seeing another. The musical sequences are performed like a kaleidoscope, with additional saxophone, and joyful hedonism playing camera tricks and other games. By the time drama hits the central characters, the tone feels forced, as it’s only ten minutes later we learn that all can be cured by a song and a dance. And a beautiful, blonde, underground Russian hipster who inexplicably falls in love with you, introduces you to the styliagi crowd, then becomes responsible for making sure you don’t get kicked out of exclusive parties in secret basements. But, yes, a song and a dance.
Whip It! (2009) – 8/10
Director: Drew Barrymore
Writer: Shauna Cross
Starring: Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig
If you’re unfamiliar with roller derby, it’s a violent sport that involves making people fall off roller skates so that they hurt themselves. It’s also compulsory to have a funny name – the protagonist, Bliss, is forced to change her name to Babe Ruthless. Her skating friends include Smashley Simpson, Maggie Mayhem and Eva Destruction.
It’s hard not to enjoy Whip It! because roller derby involves so much kitsch fun and energy. The cast clearly had a blast making the film, which is something that I really appreciated, whilst I brushed the dust off my roller skates, stretching my legs onto the mud-strewn pavement, skating towards the vanishing point until I was a silhouette in the sun.
Your Friends & Neighbours (1998) – 3.5/10
Director/Writer; Neil LaBute
Starring: Ben Stiller, Aaron Eckhart, Catherine Keener, Amy Brenneman
“Are you a good person?”
“Hey, I’m trying to eat lunch.”
Follow @halfacanyon for more.