Film Reviews 15: “The King’s Speech”, “12 Monkeys”, “The Trotsky” and 14 others…

cracks 1

This month: “12 Monkeys”, “Art School Confidential”, “Charlie Bartlett”, “Cracks” (pictured above), “Dick”, “Drugstore Cowboy”, “Far From Heaven”, “Fetching Cody”, “Fired Up!”, “Josie and the Pussycats”, “Just Buried”, “The King’s Speech”, “Lonesome Jim”, “Modern Romance”, “Smart People”,  “Strike!” and “The Trotsky”.

Readers, I have never seen Star Wars, Citizen Kane, Lord of the Rings, Casablanca or Apocalypse Now. But, this month, I watched Josie and the Pussycats, two films about time travel, and three films starring Jay Baruchel.

This month, the average rating is 5.30/10, and the film of the month is Far From Heaven or Just Buried. Follow @halfacanyon for more.

12 Monkeys (1995) – 8/10

Director: Terry Gilliam
Writers: David Peoples, Janet Peoples, Chris Marker (original screenplay)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Madeleine Stoew, Christopher Plumer

12 monkeysBack in 1995, Bruce Willis was a deeply troubled man, even though he found his father’s watch the previous year. He suffered from something called “Cassandra’s Complex”, whereby nobody believed he was sent back in time from the future to prevent the spread of a virus that would wipe out the human race.

I also endured “Cassandra’s Complex” back in 2007 when everyone ignored my warnings about Elizabethtown, and I can still hear my voice, echoing: “It’s really bad. Yes, I know you just feel like watching a “harmless, stupid film”, but it’s not even enjoyable, and it’s about three hours long. Yes, I know he did Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire, but even Winston Churchill made mistakes.”

Anyway, Terry Gilliam creates an antidote to Back to the Future by having a time-traveller who gives up and doubts his sanity. Whereas Marty McFly only had to rekindle his parents’ romance, Bruce Willis has to save mankind without using a skateboard.

Terry Gilliam has always been great at creating gimmicky surfaces that serve as temporary distractions from deeper suffering. The dream sequences in Brazil end with reminders of a bureaucratic world that sort-of exists around us. The animation in Monty Python disguises the sadness in Graham Chapman’s eyes, staring at you, even when he’s pretending to be a woman looking for the key to her albatross. In 12 Monkeys, the main fear of 1995 is brought to life that, one day, Brad Pitt will become famous, and that will coincide with the end of mankind.

RECOMMENDED IF: Your name is Cassandra and nobody believes you.
DON’T WATCH IF: You don’t enjoy watching human beings suffer.

Art School Confidential
(2006) – 4/10

Director: Terry Zwigoff
Writer: Daniel Clowes
Starring: Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, John Malkovich

art school confidentialLike many art school students, Art School Confidential is confused about what it wants to be. A swing could come from nowhere, with identities metamorphosing at any given moment with stoic denial. The director’s schizophrenic approach leaves a very unaccomplished product – it wants to be an intelligent insight into the art world, complete with classical music and sharp dialogue, but is equally an unfunny, crass sex comedy with tropes American Pie 7: The Funeral wouldn’t touch. Yet, as the genre-mashing proves to be a failure, it devolves into a murder mystery. Should have gone to law school (and written a court room drama).

RECOMMENDED IF: You have seen Ghost World too many times.
DON’T WATCH IF: You are a serious artist.

Charlie Bartlett
(2007) – 3/10

Director: Jon Poll
Writer: Gustin Nash
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Kat Dennings, Robert Downey Jr

charlie bartlettCharlie Bartlett is a predictably quirky character, whose unconvincing dialogue is the only consistent theme throughout a film that changes tone every scene and always misses its mark – the  schizophrenic direction suggests that one scene should work, just through laws of averages, but no.

When it isn’t an exchange of flat one-liners, it feels like watching a spontaneously extended Youtube video of a Napoleon Dynamite fan with an expensive camera and too much time. Well, if I continue watching films like Charlie Bartlett from beginning to end, then I also have too much time. No camera, though.

RECOMMENDED IF: The drugs are wearing off.
DON’T WATCH IF: The drugs have worn off.

(2009) – 5/10

Director: Jordan Scott
Writers: Ben Court, Caroline Ip, Jordan Scott, Sheila Kohler (novel)
Starring: Eva Green, Juno Temple, María Valverde, Imogen Poots

cracks 2Everyone has different experiences at school.

RECOMMENDED IF: You are a school building.
DON’T WATCH IF: You can’t swim.

(1999) – 5.5/10

Director: Andrew Fleming
Writers: Andrew Fleming, Sheryl Longpin
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams

dick dunst michelle williamsIt felt a bit strange watching Dick in 2011. Firstly, the film is an alternate version of the 1974 Watergate scandal at Washington, whereby Deep Throat is actually two fifteen-year-old girls. As I was born in England in the following decade, Richard Nixon’s resignation had less of an impact on my life. Secondly, the identity of Deep Throat was actually revealed a few years after Dick, and it wasn’t Michelle Williams.

The idea is that the Watergate burglary was accidently caused by two innocent teenage girls sneaking out in the middle of the night to post a letter. The plot becomes so convoluted and contrived that they somehow become the spark that influences the most important world events, mostly from becoming Nixon’s dog’s walkers, and sneaking marijuana cookies into the White House.

It should seem that Dick is a political satire aimed at an older generation, but it is aimed at no one. The jokes are frequently jovial, especially the running jokes involving marijuana consumption and mentioning Dick [Nixon]’s name in public, but this imaginary teenage audience is too young to remember Nixon’s resignation. In fact, the highlights are when Dick becomes aware of its impossible target audience, and the ensuing weirdness – Michelle Williams becomes infatuated with Nixon, and sticks heart-shaped newspaper cut-outs over her bedroom wall.

I’m not really sure who Dick is aimed at. The only person I can think of is Deep Throat, but he’s dead.

RECOMMENDED IF: You think Forrest Gump is too emotional.
DON’T WATCH IF: You know who William Mark Felt is.

Drugstore Cowboy
(1989) – 6/10

Director: Gus Van Sant
Writers: Gus Van Sant, Daniel Yost, James Fogle (novel)
Starring: Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, Heather Graham

drugstore cowboyMatt Dillon is a drugstore cowboy. By this, I mean that he is a drug addict who robs chemists and makes the most of what he can grab. When he decides to go clean, he finds that it isn’t so easy. Well, he was a drug addict, so I’m not sure why you look so surprised, reader.

The humour is slightly demented, but excused by its whimsy – the crux of the film is based on a lingering suspicion that a hex is caused by a hat being placed on a bed. There’s no real explanation – we just have to accept that hats on beds are bad. They are – they are supposed to be on heads. And when the crime stops, so does the interest.

RECOMMENDED IF: You are curious about a cameo from William Burroughs.
DON’T WATCH IF: There is a hat on your bed.

Far From Heaven
(2002) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Todd Haynes
Starring: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert

far from heavenWhen I listen to My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive or some other shoegaze artist, I never realise how much I’m enjoying the music until it unexpectedly stops, and everyone suddenly feels amiss. There was a moment in Far From Heaven when the DVD skipped, and I felt a similar sensation. The colours of Far From Heaven wraps in the viewer in a similar way that Kevin Shield’s guitars stir such a blissful headache.

The 1950s seem like a beautiful, but troubled decade. Julianne Moore stars as a suburban housewife who discovers her husband is homosexual, and she then falls in love with a black man, much to the disdain of her gossiping neighbours. Like Loveless, it begins with “Only Shallow” and ends too “Soon”.

RECOMMENDED IF: You enjoyed my My Bloody Valentine song title puns.
DON’T WATCH IF: You dislike Todd Haynes.

Fetching Cody
(2005) – 8/10

Director/Writer: David Ray
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Sarah Lind
“I always knew you had a good heart. I’m glad you’re putting it to good use with a time machine.”

fetching codyThat quotation should tell you everything you need to know about this film.

Fetching Cody stars Jay Baruchel in a twisted version of Run Lola Run. Baruchel stumbles upon Cody, his girlfriend, moments after she overdoses on heroin. Fortunately, Baruchel finds a time machine, and decides to save Cody’s life. You might think that the sensible solution would be to go back to five minutes before the death, but no – he decides to visit his girlfriend back in school and convince her to not become a drug addict.

Baruchel is an incredibly incompetent time traveller. If he was the lead in Back to the Future, there would be no trilogy – just twenty minutes before he accidentally wipes out the human race. Strangely, the poor decisions made with the time machine aren’t so much the protagonist’s, as the fault lies with the screenplay writer. There are many odd ideas in how to prevent a drug overdose. The oddest attempt involves a 15-minute sequence of trying to give a tampon to Cody back when she was 12-years-old, in the hope that this would prevent a bullying incident that could spiral into a heroin addiction.

You might find this hard to believe, but this is not a comedy – that is what makes Fetching Cody such an intriguing viewing experience.

RECOMMENDED IF: Back to the Future was too “clever”.
DON’T WATCH IF: Your government has banned time travel.

Fired Up!
(2009) – 1/10

Director/Writer: Will Gluck
Starring: Eric Christian Olsen, Nicholas D’Agosto, Sarah Roemer

fired upIt was 3am. I spilled water on my laptop, and had to leave it to dry. I drank 25 cups of tea that day, so couldn’t sleep. I had a headache, so couldn’t read. Everyone was asleep. I switched on the television, and there was Fired Up! Two high-school jocks decide to go to cheerleading camp to meet more girls. If I was to describe the film in five words: homophobic, sexist, unfunny, repetitive and predictable.

RECOMMENDED IF: Your friend wrote the script, and you didn’t want to offend any of the five people who didn’t want to be credited for the screenplay.
DON’T WATCH IF: You can.

Josie and the Pussycats
(2001) – 7/10

Directors/Writers: Harry Elfont, Deborah Kaplans
Starring: Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, Rosario Dawson, Parker Posey
“Does anybody else think that it’s strange that all of this happened within a week?”

josie and the pussycatsJosie and the Pussycats is a satire. The premise is that Parker Posey manufactures pop groups to send subliminal messages to teenagers about which products to buy, and I bought a can of Coke online after thirty minutes.

The actual band is made up of Rachael Leigh Cook (vocals, guitar), Tara Reid (drums) and Rosario Dawson (bass). “All I ever wanted is to be popular. Is that so bad?”

RECOMMENDED IF: You have waited sixty years to see Rachael Leigh Cook front a rock band.
DON’T WATCH IF: You were disappointed by Totally Crushed Out, as Anna Waronker writes some of the music.

Just Buried
(2007) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Chaz Thorne
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Rose Byrne, Graham Greene

just buriedThis month, after seeing Fetching Cody, The Trotsky and Just Buried, I wondered if Jay Baruchel picks his films based on which has the “quirkiest” one-line description. I never had much respect for Baruchel as an actor, but I am now a great admirer of his dedication to selecting stupid films – the filmography on his Wikipedia page confirms this.

The concept isn’t particularly innovative. Jay Baruchel inherits his father’s funeral home and carries out business with Rose Byrne as his employee. The problem is that nobody dies, so the company is heavily in debt. When they accidentally kill a man when driving late at night, they get an idea…

Perhaps I’m too easily pleased. This hasn’t been a great month for what I chose to watch. To be honest, Just Buried is more hilariously stupid than hilariously stupid, but I couldn’t stop laughing. It never strays too far over the top, yet is one of the most ludicrous films I’ve seen – bear in mind that I own Serial Mom on DVD, and this review is just below Josie and the Pussycats, an adaptation of a children’s cartoon that is actually a subversive satire on the commercialisation of pop music.

One particular highlight is Rose Byrne murdering someone with a peanut allergy by kissing him with a peanut hidden in her cheek.

RECOMMENDED IF: You want to find yourself asking: “When did Rose Byrne get so funny?” Answer: 2007, apparently.
DON’T WATCH IF: You don’t trust my judgement.

The King’s Speech
(2010) – 3.5/10

Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: David Seidler
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Heena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce

the king's speechIn 1969, the Kübler-Ross Model was featured in a book by Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross – she almost certainly named it after herself, unless if it’s just a coincidence. There are five stages to this model, and they all apply to The King’s Speech.

1. DENIAL Nobody wants a film about a king – especially if there are no singing lions. You can dress up the central relationship as Versace as you want, but it’s a formality between a dull monarch and an insolent speech therapist. The praise for The King’s Speech is a temporary defence for humanity. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of positions and individuals that will be left behind after the death of Wikipedia.

2. ANGER How dare you say this film is educational.

3. BARGAINING I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed. Perhaps if they could remake it…

4. DEPRESSION It’s painfully tedious. I only watched it because I didn’t want to be left out.
5. ACCEPTANCE [speech]
“Thank you for this Oscar.”

RECOMMENDED FOR: George Bonanno.
DON’T WATCH IF: You haven’t yet seen Rocket Science – a superior film about a stutterer who joins his school debating team.

Lonesome Jim
(2005) – 2.5/10

Director: Steve Buscemi
Writer: James C Strouse
Starring: Casey Affleck, Liv Tyler, Kevin corrigan

lonesome jimWhy is Casey Affleck so miserable? Because he plays a one-dimentional slice of angst – an irredeemable character surrounded by indie clichés. He finds a romance with Liv Tyler, but not really – every half-hearted action is equalled by a half-hearted reaction, with complaints on both sides.

RECOMMENDED IF: You like Liv Tyler.
DON’T WATCH IF: You prefer Liz Taylor.

Modern Romance
(1981) – 3/10

Director: Albert Brooks
Writers: Albert Brooks, Monica Johnson
Starring: Albert Brooks, Kathryn Harrold, Bruno Kirby

modern romanceAlbert Brooks writes, directs and stars in Modern Romance. The inconsequential events detail how he overcomes the end of a relationship – he gets drunk, then mutters bland remarks for 90 minutes.

RECOMMENDED IF: You wondered what it is like to be friends with Albert Brooks.
DON’T WATCH IF: You dumped Albert Brooks and have been trying to not visualise him sulking for 90 minutes.

Smart People
(2008) – 4/10

Director: Noam Murro
Writer: Mark Poirier
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church, Ellen Page
“I’m sorry I called you an arrogant windbag the other day.”
“You called me a
pompous windbag.”

smart peopleAt first, Smart People wants to be an intelligent comedy. The title already shows the screenplay’s insecurities. The first few scenes deal with comedy that involves, grammar, grammar, grammar and being smart, as if to prove a point. However, it then unwrinkles into a placid romantic comedy when Sarah Jessica Parker begins to play a larger role. The fun evaporates, proving grammar is more important than companionship for fulfilment in a satisfied existence.

RECOMMENDED IF: You want to see You Can Count on Me, but without the tension or believable characters.
DON’T WATCH IF: You are fed up of indie cliches.

(1998) – 2.5/10

Alt title: All I Wanna Do
Alt, alt title: The Hairy Bird
Director/Writer: Sarah Kernochan
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Gaby Hoffmann, Lynn Redgrave

strike dunstThe film was released as Strike! It was also released as All I Wanna Do and The Hairy Bird. I have no idea what any of these three titles have to do with the film in terms of plot or themes. The plot is dull and ridiculous, and there are no themes. For a moment, I was tricked, as it’s set in 1963 and there was a passing reference to the Bay of Pigs invasion, but it’s all as vacuous as the centre of a cell.

RECOMMENDED IF: You thought this film was going to be bowling.
DON’T WATCH IF: You know this film isn’t going to be about bowling.

The Trotsky
(2009) – 7.5/10

Director/Writer: Jacob Tierney
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, Colm Feore, Saul Rubinek

trotskyJay Baruchel plays Leon Bronshtein, a teenager who believes he is the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky. Leon attempts to unionise his new school on his first day – the teachers are fascists for delivering detentions, and must be punished. When he catches his father reading My Life (Trotsky’s autobiography), he adolescently moans, “Please stop reading my journal!”

I had trepidation beforehand – The Trotsky seems like a film that could be a single joke repeated for two hours. The witty screenplay doesn’t waste the Trotsky angle, and draws out as much as possible – Leon lusts after a woman called Alexandra, searches for the modern reincarnation of Vladimir Lenin, and has a recurring nightmare of being the baby from Battleship Potemkin. Fortunately, most of the humour lies with how his friends and families react, rather than a delusional child – you could learn from this, [redacted].

The film follows Leon, but the audience never truly understands him. Instead, he encounters a range of reactions, and you wonder which one represents you – yes, you! Leon’s father picks apart Trotsky’s autobiography to admonish his son, much to the disdain of his confused, but supportive, wife. At school, the teachers are ‘fascists’, and classmates are doomed with boredom or apathy – the difference being that boredom can be cured, which is the motivation behind The Trotsky. I think.

DON’T WATCH IF: You are the reincarnation of Stalin. Or Stalin, himself.

Follow @halfacanyon for more.

About Nick Chen

26-year-old journalist who's written for places like Total Film, Sight & Sound, Little White Lies, Complex, SFX Magazine, Dazed and Confused, Grolsch Film Works, London Calling, Vice, and a bunch of other places. Why pencils have razors. Based on a book. Screenwriter. Buzz word. London. Twitter: @halfacanyon. Lesser known Olsen brother. Multiple instances of words misused contemporaneously.
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1 Response to Film Reviews 15: “The King’s Speech”, “12 Monkeys”, “The Trotsky” and 14 others…

  1. Pingback: Kenicky’s 2011 film roundup | half a canyon film reviews

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