Film Reviews 30: “Bachelorette”, “The Dictator”, “Ted” and 6 others…

unforgiven

This fortnight: “Bachelorette”, “Bedazzled”, “Bernie”, “Caché”, “The Dictator”, “The Five-Year Engagement”, “Take Me Home Tonight”, “Ted” and “Unforgiven”.

The average rating is 5.83/10 with film of the fortnight being Unforgiven. Follow @halfacanyon for more.

Bachelorette (2012) – 5.5/10

Director/Writer: Leslye Headland
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Lizza Caplan, Isla Fisher
“Guys, I know I’m on drugs, but that room you just put me in – I swear it was moving.”

Remember how Friends With Benefits came out a few months after No Strings Attached and turned out to better? Well, Bachelorette is a pale imitation of Bridesmaids, despite being edgier – I think nearly every scene involves cocaine, sex, or both. The raucous action speeds past with a few laughs, but feels too inconsequential. In the final act, when there should be an emotional and comedic payoff, the relentlessly pumping soundtrack undermines any potential tragedy. A missed chance.


Bedazzled
(2000) – 2/10

Director: Harold Ramis
Writers: Larry Gelbart, Harold Ramis, Peter Tolan
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley
“What if I told you that I had the cataclysmic power to give you everything you’ve ever wanted and dreamed of?”

It was a bad decision to remake Peter Cook’s 1967 classic, and an even worse choice to not steal more from the original script. The rewrite deviates heavily from the source material (which was based on the legend of Faust, anyway) with the barebones story as Brendan Fraser being granted wishes that never work out the way he hopes.

It’s Liz Hurley as the Devil, which is just an excuse for fancy dress, complete with comedic timing that deserves to be damned. Whereas the repetition in the original built like an oiled structure, this remake creaks very slowly and without style – notice how odd it is that the Devil doesn’t swear, but says, “What the fig.”


Bernie
(2012) – 8/10

Director: Richard Linklater
Writer: Skip Hollandsworth, Richard Linklater
Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey
“In a small town, people will always suspect the worst of someone. But they will also suspect the best.”

I’ve been hearing a lot of people calling Bernie a black comedy, but is that just because it stars Jack Black? Well, no. It’s a retelling of a true story – when an elderly millionaire was murdered in 1996 by Bernie Tiede, who never denied the crime. Bernie was so popular in his town, the trial had to be geographically moved.

In Linlkater’s retelling, talking heads are interspersed with comedic value, meaning the community become a supporting cast. Before Shirley MacClaine is shot in the back, she is suitable cold as an 81-year-old who ruins Bernie’s life out of obsessive love and jealousy. If it was a Hollywood film, she would find redemption – but, as life is always crueller than fiction, she dies a villain.

Jack Black is a revelation in the role of Bernie – he puts aside his eccentric tendencies and eyebrow acting, instead delivering an emotionally assured performance as a sympathetic killer who can make curtains. It’s like a light-hearted Sunset Boulevard, except it really did happen.


Caché
(2005) – 7.5/10

Director/Writer: Michael Haneke
Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Bénichou
“I have nothing to hide.”

The opening shot of Caché is a still shot of an ordinary setting, challenging the viewer to spend three minutes on the alert for any subtle clues – but for what? There is a mystery of Daniel Auteuill’s anonymous tapes he receives in the post, which is eclipsed by the bigger question over his guilt. The ambiguous plot isn’t to build suspense, but to unravel different readings of a man’s lifetime guilt – or perhaps the viewer can find a conspiracy theory for Haneke’s loose threads. It’s frustrating for all the right reasons.


The Dictator
(2012) – 2.5/10

Director: Larry Charles
Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Jason Mantzoukas
“I am really attracted to you in a fucked up way.”

It’s been repeatedly said that Sacha Baron Cohen can’t repeat playing tricks with the public as his face is too recognisable following Borat and Bruno. His next feat was to instead play a grander practical joke on the public by releasing an infantile, unfunny, one-note comedy, and make it a blockbuster. As Borat, he fooled strangers to join in with his racist humour while cinema audiences howled with laughter.

As Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen, he connives that same cinema audience into spending money on racist humour, and this time it’s the film executives who are laughing. The satire levels are disappointingly low with The Dictator, with more concentration on fitting in as many jokes as possible.

The comparisons with the Marx Brothers and Duck Soup genuinely baffle me, as The Dictator grinds itself down with a single, tired character, and lacks an iota of Harpo’s charm or Groucho’s wit. It’s a strange situation where the press promotion outshines the film’s content – to semi-quote Cohen’s obnoxious character, it’s very Aladeen with not enough Aladeen.


The Five-Year Engagement
(2012) – 8/10

Director: Nicholas Stoller
Writers: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Emily Blunt, Jason Segel

Films are supposed to be the highlights of our fate, which is why we can’t stay away. The planets align and predict our futures, just as the two romantic leads can’t escape each other, regardless of whatever contrived obstacles they encounter. After all, you look at the sky and see the stars that represent our destiny, knowing that any one of those gaseous masses could crash into Earth and burn it all to the ground.

All of that has nothing to do with the romcom genre, which is still popular even though its strongest supporters admit it’s a dead shark that’s recycling memorable moments of the past. While the horror genre reinvents itself with Scream, The Blair Witch Project and The Cabin in the Woods every few years, the furthest the genre gets in the mainstream is (500) Days of Summer – not that subversive, and still cops out with an inconceivably happy ending.

It’s why The Five-Year Engagement is so refreshing in that it doesn’t attempt to redefine a genre which resists change, while keeping its sickly sweet couple seem sincere and believable. That’s mainly down to Emily Blunt, as brilliant as always, and Jason Segel who is perfecting the same character he always seems to play. They’re surrounded by sharp comedic actors, particularly Chris Pratt and Alison Brie, and it meanders between funny dialogue and warm slapstick.

Not only is there nothing particularly edgy, but the entire plot is given away in the title. That gives the impression that you could stop at any moment, but it’s not really the point – it’s over two hours for no real reason, but I was sad when it finished because I enjoyed their company. I waved goodbye to the actors on the TV screen, then returned to real life.


Take Me Home Tonight
  (2011) – 5.5/10

Director: Michael Dowse
Writers: Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo
Starring: Topher Grace, Teresa Palmer, Dan Fogler
“Everything changes, but nothing changes”

Comedies about school reunions should perhaps have their own genre. Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Grosse Point Blank and American Pie all heavily cover middle-aged insecurities, lying about your job, hiding your jealousy, and trying to impress the boy/girl who was too popular to talk to you at school. The slight difference with Take Me Home Tonight is that it’s set in 1988, making it a period drama, but only in the sense that everything seems outdated and there’s a distinctly disco soundtrack.

Every aspect of Take Me Home Tonight plays out in the manner you predict, all in good humour but with little actual humour. Scenes are storylines interchange rapidly and the cast are mostly likeable, but it’s devoid of any cutting edge – its main aim is to pay tribute to the American college film of the 80s. In the end, it’s a 96-minute lesson that you can’t recreate Dazed and Confused.


Ted
(2012) – 4/10

Director: Seth MacFarlane
Writers: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, a CGI bear
“Fuck you, thunder.”

It’s hard for me to start this review without opening up about my dislike of Family Guy. I just don’t get it. It’s not that it’s offensive, crudely drawn and on TV almost as much as Come Dine With Me, but the non sequiturs don’t impress me much (as Shania Twain would say).

The hope with Ted is that the structure of a feature film would exercise more restraint and instil some discipline in a talented writing team who seem content to stick whatever they have into a melting point. For that alone, it’s better than Family Guy. Most of the one-liners failed to make me smile, but it’s actually the slapstick that impressed me more (as Shania Twain wouldn’t say).

If we just call Ted a live-action version of Family Guy, then it’s fitting that the cartoonish elements transfer smoothly. Bizarrely, it’s the talking bear that feels out of place – aside from being a talking bear, there’s just no justification for it to exist, other than for Seth MacFarlane’s desire to voice a CGI MacGuffin.


Unforgiven
(1992) – 8.5/10

Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: David Webb Peoples
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman
“His head was all broken. I could see inside of it.”

If there’s such a thing as a Western for people who don’t like Westerns, then it would probably be called Anti-Western. Seeing as there’s no actual film of that name, you will have to make do with Unforgiven. As one of the few Westerns to win an Oscar for Best Film, it unsurprisingly has many aspects that will appease sceptics – most of the characters hate cowboys, and even hate themselves.

When a bounty is called, a retired gunslinger (played by Clint Eastwood) reluctantly comes out of retirement, and heads to a town where guns are outlawed. He still lives with the guilt of his youth, hallucinating about the Angel of Death and people he’s killed, and worried about the future generations who will recreate his mistakes. Similarly, youngsters look up to his reputation as a figure of awe, but instead see a weary man who’s had his life slowly kicked out of him.

It’s a violent film where no one wants to be a murderer, and the pacifists are the deadliest figureheads. For this reason, it can be seen as an existential cowboy film where everybody wants to depart their bodies and become a floating spirit. These wistful conversations never happen, but there’s always the magical score soundtracking a beating sunset.

Follow @halfacanyon for more.

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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. Feeling pullovered apart by clothes horses. Lesser known Olsen brother. Multiple instances of words misused contemporaneously.
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