Cinema Movie Review: SPECTRE (2015)

FIRST-LOOK_postSo Poor, Even Colin Took Real Exception (SPECTRE)

Warning: There may be huge and unannounced spoilers in this review.

What a complete donkey of a Bond film this was. It’s like there’s going to be a thing in future movie lore that suggests every even-numbered Craig Bond is going to be absolute toilet. If Craig has the cojones to make a fifth, it had better be fucking phenomenal. Casino Royale (2006): a splendid return to Bond form, Quantum of Solace (2008): James went on about it but it wasn’t, on reflection, very good at all. Skyfall (2012): Woohoo! It had the lot. SPECTRE (2015): just a bit shy of being utterly unwatchable. Honestly, your friendly reviewer here was enjoying the hospitality provided at the premiere and it may have been the low lighting, the heat, or the two (OK, five) really good glasses of Bollinger I had but I shut down for a little snooze about half an hour in. Seriously, James had to hit my arm to make me wake up. I’m now sorry I may have missed the best 10 minutes of the film.

Let’s start with the credits, shall we? They look like they were done on a tight budget, which we all know isn’t true because the film cost around a squillion pounds to make, or thereabouts. Dreadful kaleidoscopey images with seemingly random faces from Bond’s past popping up for reasons only the ad agency could work out. Unimaginative, uninspiring and dull. One thing that wasn’t dull was the theme tune. Not only is it the worst Bond them ever, topping anything done by anyone else, it’s also a piss-poor attempt in its own right. I admit I had to look it up on the internet. It turns out it’s done by some caterwauling no-talent called Sam Smith and is called The Writing’s on the Wall. The writing on the wall was evidently “you suck”. Pathetic, weedy vocals squeak out a tune that manages to be both forgettable and grating at the same time. Just dreadful.

Where were we? Oh yes, there was a film going on. Sam Mendes (for it was he at the helm of this particular disaster) can knock out a decent film or two, as he has before but this time even his usually deft hands had trouble with a story and script so knowing, self referential and, quite frankly, dull that I stopped caring about it very early on. I watched the rest objectively, looking for the good and yes, there were a few top-drawer jokes, some clinically executed set pieces and a few pretty faces (male and female) to gawp at, depending on your preference. Let’s take these faces and play a little game called “what the hell were they thinking if it wasn’t about the massive pay cheque?” Starting with the most well-known (in my house) Daniel Craig: Looked like he couldn’t be bothered half the time. The words ‘contractual’ and ‘obligation’ sprung to mind. Christoph Waltz: managed an amazing coup by playing exactly the same villain he played in Inglourious Basterds (2009) but slightly less convincingly. His softly-spoken-with-a-big-stick schtick (try saying that fast) is wearing a little thin. Ralph ‘Raif’ Fiennes: couldn’t be more gangly and awkward as M if he tried. Practically invisible. Monica Bellucci: super sexy, all over Bond like a rash, made me think “hello, things are looking up”. She was in it for what seemed like five minutes, tops. Never saw her again. Ben Whishaw: Q never gets going and plays a rather wimpy role in this outing. Not Whishaw’s fault but you can’t polish a turd. Naomie Harris: sexy, funny, more than a match for Bond as we know, hardly appears at all. She’s a supporting actor at best, which sucks something fierce when you consider how she kicked it in Skyfall. Léa Seydoux: who cares? Really. She’s a doctor – just, I suspect to ‘prove’ that the Bond tits-and-teeth can be intelligent too. I bet feminists across the world are wondering if they’ll be out of business tomorrow. She looked well enough, which was at least half her job but again (and through no fault of her own) a weak script and some terribly executed character development made her almost an accessory after the fact. If the fact was ‘sexy doctor loves the taste of a man’s tonsils’.

Overall, you see, there were no characters to invest in, let alone to have ‘an arc’, as they say these days. ‘Facts’ about Bond, Oberhauser (Waltz) the old M, the new ‘C’ (Andrew Scott) and even SPECTRE itself were tossed into the script with a gay abandon that suggests you should either already know them, or that they were inconsequential and not really worth bigging up too much. When you figure out the how and why of one particular snippet, and the ramifications for all future Bond movies, you’ll be wishing there was a pause button in the cinema so you could hit it and go “hang on, what did he just say?”

Now then, you may have thought I’d forgotten to do a plot synopsis. I hadn’t, I was saving the best ’til near the end. Only joking, the story was paper-thin and had more holes than something with lots of holes in it. We kick off in Mexico City on the party day of the year, La dia de los muertos. Bond interrupts whatever he’s doing to go for a rooftop stroll in what I’ll grudgingly admit was a quite awesome piece of camerawork, in a five-minute tracking shot to ice some villain or other in a convoluted fashion to eat into some 15 minutes of the film’s total running time of what seemed like six hours. This made Bond a very naughty spy and he got a telling off for his refusal to stick to the playbook.

Also angry at his maverick attitude was the new boy, C. C is a Centre for National Security big cheese looking to consolidate spying services for Her Majesty’s government plc. Or is he? Yes. Or is he? No idea. Anyway, he takes Bond’s gun and badge, metaphorically, so Bond is forced to go under-undercover and enlist the help of Q and Moneypenny, both of whose time he wasted, really. Other things happen that lead him to SPECTRE HQ and there’s some snow and Oberhhauser is really that guy from Inglourious Basterds and there are some mischievously placed drills and a laughable monologuing scene and there’s a bit where things will blow up in three minutes – or will they? Again, I couldn’t really give a toss.

My final issue was with the colourization of the thing. Every new scene seemed to start in what appeared to be a washed-out pastel shade of some colour or other and, while reasonably easy on the eye, served no purpose, unless some of the film-studies groups out there can tell me why? The CGI in the opening scene was so obvious it hurt and the camera merely served to document rather than to bring anything much else to the party. That could also be due to the boredom factor a lot of the time. Not much really happens, and it takes a bloody ice age to happen when it does, save for the times the writers decided they wanted to introduce a potentially earth-shattering piece of information, when it was tossed into the script like bread to ducks. The ducks had long since lost interest.

Disjointed, messy, over-long and painfully obvious that Craig has had enough of being adored by millions of women worldwide and decided to back-pedal through the whole thing. Here’s the bit when the reviewer ties it all up with an elegant and witty quote and everyone thinks he’s cool. Except I leave you genuinely heavy-hearted in the knowledge that Bond will never be the same again and that complacency made it so. I really wanted to enjoy SPECTRE but I got so little to work with it felt like a labour of love where it should have been spontaneous. A real pity.

Cinema Movie Review: Gone Girl (2014)

rosamund-pike-in-gone-girl-movie-4Gone but not forgotten

It’s usually a pretty good sign when the writer of a top-selling book collaborates on the bringing to the screen of her baby, so it was a relief to find that Gillian Flynn had gone one better and done all of it herself. Good too, to see David Fincher in the director’s chair – a man who finds it difficult to make a bad film but who came very close to pulling it off with Alien 3 (1992). Fincher brought Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross along to add their brand of electro-melancholia to the proceedings, too. Surely this had to be a hit?

Not-really-spoiler alert: It was a hit but wish me luck in getting through the next couple of paragraphs without leaking too much in the way of plot details. Obviously, this wasn’t going to be the standard missing persons fare, with much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth. Oh, hands are wrung and teeth gnashed for sure but not for the reasons you might expect.

The story opens with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) standing, alone, in his front yard, staring into space. The reason for his pensive mood is the diappearance of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). Obviously upset, he does all the TV appearances, co-operates fully with the cops and does what anyone else would do, were their wife gone. in time, it transpires that the press might not believe him to be all sweetness and light and start a campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt around him.

The constant attention of Desi Collins (Neil Patrick Harris) was always a concern, could he have something to do with Amy’s disappearance? It seems Nick’s only true friend in the whole world is his sister Margo (Carrie Coon). His ‘celebrity’ lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) has hisback but the game he plays isn’t always as savoury as it might be.

Small but pertinent rant begins here

A lot of people seem to have already written reams about how this film is an obvious polemic to feminism and how it portrays how badly women are treated in society. An equal number have written on its misandry, using the same or similar arguments to present the opposite viewpoint. Vast swathes of text also appear in a simple Google search about the number of ‘plot holes’ in the film. My, how the basement-dwelling neckbeards and Fedora-wearers like to rehash everything their friends have said and pass it off as their own unique insight into the creative process. “But it’s all wrong” they bleat into their chosen social media platform, adding to the reams of pointless tosh already writen on the subject.

Tell you what guys (and it largely is guys, sadly) if you don’t feel you can suspend even a little disbelief for a couple of hours and just sit back with your popcorn in one hand and sparkling beverage of choice in the other and just enjoy the fucking movie, stay at home. When we want your opinion, we’ll beat it out of you.

Small but pertinent rant ends here

For the rest (majority) of us, sit back and enjoy the ride. Isms aside, this is a story that plays off man against woman in their respective geder roles, until it doesn’t. or does it? It also relies heavily on the interaction of no more than five characters, in essence. It’s a hard thing to keep going for over two hours, except with a great cast and a director who knows his way around these things like the back of his hand. Aside from my personal suspension of disbelief wavering slightly at the thought of Neil Patrick Harris not being Barney from How I Met Your Mother (2005-14) it’s very easy to wonder where the time went. Ignore the internet nay-sayers and enjoy this creepy and nerve-jangling potboiler.

149 mins.

Barely Legal Pawn

a_600x315Now I have your attention…

But seriously, that’s the name of this wonderful new promo for the Emmys starring Aaron Paul, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Bryan Cranston. If you’ve never seen Breaking Bad, it’s still an amusing spoof of those History Channel superstars and their seedy pawn shops. If you have seen Breaking Bad, you’ll see the gags and references come thick and fast. Seinfeld and BB references abound as they all send up their characters and have the occasional sly dig about whether a drama or comedy Emmy would be worth more.

Of course, Ms Louis-Dreyfus drives a lovely Audi, the company sponsoring the whole outing but to be fair, it’s subtle and not too in-your-face. The ending is worth waiting for, so don’t skip it.

Nobody Films With The Jesus…

6053294603_821e1436eb_z…or do they?

It seems there’s talk of John Turturro reprising the role of The Jesus, one you’ll remember he made his own in The Big Lebowski. Speaking at the Taormina Film Festival, he told The Hollywood Reporter:

“”If I can get the permission I need, I’d like to return to that role,”

It seems, then, he’s in talks with the Lebowski ‘people’ to play The Jesus again. In what capacity, we can’t know but we’d like to think he’ll be the slick, weird, ball-juggling genius he was. Perhaps an unlikely hero, or just a weird, Latino, Pee-Wee-like character? Time will tell but he’ll have some big shoes to fill, not to mention shaking off that whole eight-year-olds thing.

Photo by Joe Polletto via Flickr

Opinion: Enough With the Oscars

a_610x408In my ever-so-humble opinion

Back in my youth, I remember the Academy Awards being a thing of joy, of beauty and romance, tears of joy, tears of pain and fond, funny and sometimes touching acceptance speeches. The winners were deserving of the accolades bestowed upon them by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences itself, the award having been conceived to reward talent and to push the industry forward to strive for greater things, to push the boundaries and to dare to go bigger, better and further.

These days, awards are given for spurious reasons such as the popularity of an artist, the amount of hype preceding a release  and, seemingly, by wetting a finger and holding it in the air to see which way the tide of favour is blowing this week.

But doesn’t all this pomp and procession tell the world all that’s good in cinema and galvanize them into embracing the magic of cinema? Well, yes – if you’re American. Quite why the television networks of the world foist this US-centric show-and-tell on us is beyond me.

I have no truck with America (except the whole ‘World Series’ nonsense) but the fact is that the Oscars no longer represent the be all and end all of cinema. The US does indeed make some wonderful movies but they are far from being a cinematic island. Pick a country – any country – and there will be cinema oozing out all over the place. However, these countries may only submit one film per year each, meaning that the majority will never get the oxygen of publicity afforded to so many mediocre US offerings. I’d rather the Academy weren’t so condescending about ‘Best Foreign Film’ as the winner can rarely be thus.

Aside from the lack of non-US talent it is, ironically, the US talent that irks me. I use the word ‘talent’ in the loosest possible sense, too. I refer, of course to the usual suspects. Here’s how it runs down usually: Pre-awards build-up suggests unlikely contenders when the info has almost certainly already been leaked and said film hasn’t a hope in hell. Someone whom people with even a modicum of musical taste will never have heard of plugs his/her/their latest crappy tune, something contrivedly wacky and/or unexpected happens, giving the internet a chance to explode in a huge hysterical wave of “oh no you di’un!”, haplessly plugging whatever product is being placed by the greedy corporate snake oil salesmen who insist on cheapening everything with their bling. The people expected to walk off with awards do so (except, of course, Leo) and the attendees retire to their parties, posing oh-so-casually for ‘that’ shot in the revealing dress. It’s sickeningly formulaic and yet the product-buying public suck it up like it’s a fairy tale.

If I have to hear one more time about how Cate Blanchett was so (insert adjective here) I’ll be sick. Or how so-and-so rocked the place with his dramatic and edgy acceptance speech (he’s an actor, it’s his job) and yet again, how the film-going public simper and fawn over a film they’ve never seen and likely never will when the Academy announce, yet again, that they’re giving an award to another piece of pointless fluff from the meandering, self-masturbatory mind of Woody Allen, simply because he likely has photos of an Academy big cheese doing odd things to a goat.

Any – any – organization that could give Titanic (1996) an amazingly disproportionate 11 Oscars are entirely and deeply suspicious and should not be trusted in issues of judgement. I tire of the habit of giving a star an Oscar because the Academy realize he/she hasn’t had one yet and think they’d better do some justice before actor drops dead and embarrasses them. I don’t have to name any names. If you’ve seen any of the ceremonies or read the results in the past few years, you’ll know.

Of course, there are many, many people – some of whom have Oscars – that don’t subscribe to the charade any more than they have to contractually and many more talented behind-the-scenes guys and gals doing a stand-up job bringing us the films we love to watch who will never be officially recognized in their whole career.

We, the film-going public know who you are. We read the credits and we know the names. We love what you do and we want you to keep doing it. Please keep doing it for us but don’t be swayed by shiny objects. The hard work and dedication of such people doesn’t deserve to be tainted and have the gloss rubbed off it by an event that makes the Superbowl half-time show look shabby and under-produced. Let’s have a real awards ceremony, where everyone is involved and where the winners are decided by those who buy the DVDs and go to the movies. Until then, I’m out.

DVD Movie Review: Millions (2004)

millionsThe root of all evil?

When Danny Boyle wasn’t making Shallow Grave (1994) and Trainspotting (1996) and before he went on to the genius that was Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and the direction of the audacious opening ceremony for the London Olympics in 2012, there was Millions (2004).

It’s pretty hard to come out straight and say I disliked it, because there were many elements that made it a quite charming, appealing and very, well, English.

Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, who not only wrote some of the aforementioned Olympics ceremony stuff but also penned the cult hit 24 Hour Party People (2002) and starring James Nesbitt , Daisy Donovan and featuring a cameo from British light entertainment legend Leslie Phillips, it seems to have the pedigree to make a cracker of a movie but I’m sad to report that, although the components sat well together, it was very much more like a damp squib. A shame, as Boyle doesn’t seem to have stepped very far over line of being a talented and versatile director.

Damian (cheekily played by Alex Etel) is a boy who’s not only just lost his mother but now has to face the prospect of moving house too. Retreating into his semi-fantasy world, he builds a fort out of the cardboard moving crates, as young boys are wont to do. One day, as he is sitting in his fort, which is situated not too far from a railway line, a bag comes crashing in through his reveries, breaking some of his handiwork. As any young boy would, he opens it to see what is in there (as an adult, I’d think it was a severed head and leave it well alone). Happily, it contains large bundles of notes of various denominations. Of course, this apparent manna from heaven doesn’t necessarily bring the good luck and fortune many people suppose it will.

This isn’t what bothers me about it, though. The story itself only has one major flaw, that being that in one week the UK will convert to the euro and pounds will be useless. In reality, of course, there would be a long changeover period where both would be valid. It’s not even this that bothers me. It seems that the film’s propensity to drop into a fantasy world is used as a plot device too often. At first, I though it might be some kind of deus ex machina, there to sort out some troublesome moral dilemmas but no. It appears to me that Damian’s regular chats with saints from his favourite children’s book and the resolution of the situation (I can’t tell you too much without spoilers) appear to be story about a journey back to God, and in particular, Catholicism.

By all means have a God or a religion of yours or your parents’ choosing but please don’t use your personal choice of spiritual belief to prop up what is intrinsically a quite thin plot.

Not entirely unwatchable, but almost.

98 mins.

DVD Movie Review: God Bless America (2011)

1372305867_1385741813Let the hate flow through you

Where to begin? I suppose I should get the family tree out of the way. The guy who plays Frank in this (Joel Murray) is the brother of one Bill Murray, whom you may have heard of. I certainly don’t recall seeing Joel in a lot of things but it appears from his bio that he’s done a rather large amount of TV work. I’m going to stick my neck out here and suggest he gets a few more film roles as he really is a rather nifty talent.

The whole thing is dreamed up and directed by none other than Bobcat Goldthwaite.  Who he? Well, you may recall he was a successful stand-up comedian in the 80s/90s (depending on your age) and that he took the king’s shilling and ‘starred’ in a couple of the Police Academy movies. He’s done a lot more than that, including the writing and direction of World’s Greatest Dad (2009) so we won’t hold the Police Academy thing against him, honest. It turns out he knows his way around film too.

God Bless America is, for me, the Falling Down (1993) of the 21st century; perhaps not quite as slick or understated but well worth the time. Definitely less “psst, hey, look at this” and more “over here! Look at me Look at me!” That said, it is a compelling watch and even though you’d be a bit slow not to guess how it all pans out, you always feel you’d like to go along for the ride, just to see what happens. Of course, we aren’t going to tell you right out how it goes, oh no.

The story begins with Frank laying on his bed, racked with insomnia and migraine listening once again as his inconsiderate neighbours argue, watch TV loudly and discuss the relative merits of celebrities at full volume. As he puts it a little later in the film: “I am offended. Not because I got a problem with bitter, predictable, whining millionaire disc jockeys complaining about celebrities or how tough their life is, while I live in an apartment with paper-thin walls next to a couple of Neanderthals who, instead of a baby, decided to give birth to some kind of nocturnal civil defense air raid siren that goes off every fucking night like it’s Pearl Harbor.” Frank, we can see, is not a happy man. Divorced from his wife and with a brat of a daughter who doesn’t want to see him, he soon gets fired from his job on trumped-up charges of sexual harassment. Just to top things off nicely, his doctor tells him the reason for his headaches – he has an inoperable and terminal brain tumour. What to do?

I’m not sure what I’d do, but I’m almost sure it’s not what he does. Almost. He’s sick and tired of TV talent contests, racist and/or homophobic ‘shock jocks’, people that prey on the weak and afraid and basically pretty much everything that gets my back up, which is probably why this struck a chord with me. Having seen an episode of American Superstarz in his insomniac channel-surfing, in which a man with obvious mental health issues (Steven Clark, played by Aris Alvarado) is mocked and derided by the audience and panel as he shrieks and muddles his way through Diana Ross’s Theme From Mahogany, Frank snaps. He decides to end it all, but only after teaching a valuable life lesson to the bratty reality show star he saw throwing a hissy fit because she didn’t get the car she wanted for her birthday. Long story short, it doesn’t go quite as planned and in the ensuing confusion and attempted suicide he becomes embroiled with Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr in her film debut), a runaway girl with a carefree and slightly disturbing take on life and how to live it for one so young.

A lot of criticism has been levelled at this movie, some saying its treatment of the social issues raised are too heavy-handed but I would guess those people didn’t bat an eyelid when D-FENS pulled out a rocket launcher in Falling Down.

Sometimes it does feel a little like Goldthwaite is one royally pissed off individual who needs to set a record or two straight but the underlying dark, dark humour tempers it pretty well and it never seems to get to uppity. There are some quite magical set pieces and some very good performances. If you’re a miserable old bastard like me, you’ll get a vicarious kick out of a lot of the content, particularly when Frank wins those all-important petty victories we all know and love. God Bless America may not be perfect but it’s a very cathartic little number. Give it a go.

Frank rants.

Bobcat Goldthwaite’s stand-up. (extremely poor quality)

105 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Sin City (2005)

446534Short and sweet – unlike the film

OK, I’m not going to waste anyone’s time here. In a mere two paragraphs, I shall explain exactly why it is you should never waste any of your hard-earned cash on seeing this excercise in mental masturbation by usually reliable names. If it saves you even a few pounds/dollars/euro, I’ll consider my work done. Here goes:

Everybody I have come across who’s seen it raves about how much it’s like the comics. I suppose this is something to do with comic book author Frank Miller’s involvement in scene selection, storyboarding and direction. I would generally say this was a bad thing, not something to be celebrated. Let’s say you’re a massive fan of the band Talking Heads (and why wouldn’t you be, they were awesome) and you went to see a show. If it was just like the album, track-for-track and if you closed your eyes you could be at home listening to the album, you could have conceivably saved a few coins and done just that. Remaking something frame by frame (see: Psycho (1960)) does not make it good, it makes it artless and cold.  On the subject of ‘art’, the film opens with a scene in black-and-white, where the girl’s lips and dress are coloured bright red. A nice effect and a good use of green-screen technology. It would stand very well in music video but when it’s dragged out for over two hours, with various bits coloured for whatever effect they were attempting to achieve, it becomes pretty tiresome.

The story is deliberately noir with cheap-looking matte backgrounds and props and the actors dressed in pseudo-fifties costumes. Fine, a bit of pantomime, why not? the joke is pushed a little too far and any minute, i expected the curtain to lift, the colour to kick in and to feel overwhelmed by a sense of not being in Kansas any more.  The narration is supposed to be in the style of Sam Spade but just serves to accentuate the fact the actors are hamming it up. I wouldn’t mind if it was supposed to be funny – either that, or I missed the joke. The men are all rugged (except Kevin (Elijah Wood), who’s the best thing in the film by a country mile), the women are all sexy and are dangerous, giving them the kind of pseudo-empowerment that you could only get away with in cinema. All in all, it looked very much like director Robert Rodriguez was trying to emulate Tarantino, who also guest directs a short segment. It’s all jobs for the boys and nobody benefits. Overall, Sin City (2005) tries very hard to be clever, populist and indie and fails at all three.

124 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Gambit (2012)

Colin-Firth-in-Gambit-2012-Movie-ImageThe plot thins

Gambit(in chess) an opening move in which a player makes a sacrifice, typically of a pawn, for the sake of a compensating advantage.

Well, it certainly appears sacrifices were made in this 2012 production but it’s really kind of hard to pin down exactly where at first cursory glance over the cast and crew. With all the big stars illuminating the cast you’d be forgiven for believing it was a shoo-in for ‘Comedy of the Year’. The director, Michael Hoffman, is relatively less well-known but has a good few films under his belt and the writing team? Surely the deft fingers of the Coen brothers, who can do no wrong, would be able to idly tap out a major studio hit while resting from writing so many others? You’d think. And yet, this is as flat as a pancake. Based extremely loosely on the original (a belter of a 1966 caper movie with Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine), Gambit appears to lumber from ill-conceived set piece to ill-conceived set piece with no drive or passion to glue them together into a coherent whole.

I’ll flesh out the plot summary for you, as you’ll probably want to know what you’re getting yourselves into, should you ignore my advice not to see it at any cost. Harry Deane (Colin Firth) works as something of an independent art curator for his obsessive collector boss, Lionel Shahbandar (Alan Rickman), a man he despises. Having had enough of scraping a living working for the ungrateful boss, he hatches a cunning plan with his art-forger friend known only as ‘The Major’ to embezzle his hapless employer out of a sizable fortune. The plan is to get the Major to forge a copy of Monet’s masterpiece Haystacks at Dawn, then photograph it in a place where it would be feasible it had been hidden away for years. To add to the authenticity of the story, they employ the services of cowgirl rodeo rider PJ Puznowski (Cameron Diaz) to pretend it has been in her trailer for years, on account of her grandfather stealing it from retreating Nazis at the end of the second world war.

I wish I could add “…and then hilarity ensues”. However, I’d be doing myself a disservice as a reviewer and you as a filmgoer by pretending otherwise. The direction is as flat as an elephant’s foot, with the cast mired in a shambles that could use a GPS to get out of. The story is a fairly linear affair but you get the impression the cast have just put on different clothes and trusted to luck. Firth is seemingly uncomfortable with a slapstick role and makes a poor fist of being a bumbling fool when he’s so used to being the light-comedic heart-throb, or the guy in the flouncy shirt. Diaz does her best at being a rowdy cowgirl living it up in the big city on Deane’s ticket but I really get the feeling her heart wasn’t in it. ‘Cold’ and ‘wooden’ spring to mind. As for Alan Rickman, the apple of Picturenose’s eye and a man who can quite probably make a silk purse from a proverbial sow’s ear is mere filler in this outing. Characteristically sneering and nasty, he spends the entire time (when not trying to get into the knickers of Puznowski) being sneering and, well, nasty. Without a strong script, this is simply not enough to carry even an on-par Rickman rant or two. Oh yes, the script. What a lot of old tosh. Poorly based on the old movie, even if ever-so slightly, it has none of the pace, nor the wit we have come to expect from the Coens, although the direction may have a hand in the lack of pace and excitement. Do I expect too much of the Coens? I don’t think so, when you consider the quality of the script they penned for the re-do of True Grit (2010).

Mostly disappointing, poorly-used talent and badly paced, Gambit is a bit of a let-down from minute one. The gag everyone finds the most base and cheap is, in fact, the funniest. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it here but you’ll know it when you see it. Although I’d urge you not to.

89 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Nothing But the Truth (2008)

nothing_but_the_truth_2008_3The more things change…

Before his ill-advised and not-terribly-well-received remake of Straw Dogs in 2011, director Rod Lurie showed us what he can really do at the helm of a picture. I use the term ‘at the helm’ advisedly here, as it’s pretty much a one-man show, with Lurie having not only produced and directed but written the piece as well. Due to a fairly limited release in cinemas across the globe – problems with the distribution company going up the Swanee, apparently – it will not have been available to the popcorn and hot dog set. It has done very well on DVD however and I was lucky enough to come across a copy courtesy of our good friends here in Belgium, Paradiso Entertainment, without whom, as they say in the Oscars, none of this would have been possible.

Nothing But the Truth (2008) opens with a journalist, Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale) pitching what could be the scoop of the year to her editorial team. Following an assassination attempt on the president of the US, intelligence reported that Venezuela were responsible and with the usual restraint of western superpowers, the US launched a retaliatory air strike, causing repercussions around the globe. Things are not always as they appear, and Armstrong has evidence that there was strong evidence from a CIA agent, Erica Van Doren (Vera Farmiga) that the Venezuelans weren’t in fact involved. Worse still, it may have been ignored for political or jingoistic purposes. This is a story that could be the next Watergate and Armstrong wants to blow it open, and maybe collect a Pulitzer prize into the bargain. There are complications, however – aren’t there always?

Rachel has her sources but is not required to disclose them under state law. This point would be entirely moot, except for the small matter of the story blowing an embarrassing hole in the government’s PR – a consequence that will come back to haunt Rachel, Erica and many of the people they hold dear. Trouble pretty soon comes knocking at the two ladies’ doors. Not least because their children go to the same school, putting Van Doren’s integrity as an agent in jeopardy. The name of this trouble is Special State Prosecutor, Patton Dubois (Matt Dillon). The newspaper Rachel works for knows the reputation of the special prosecutors and hires the talents of the best representation money can buy, in the form of Albert Burnside (Alan Alda). The courtroom and political drama that plays out form here is a joy to watch, albeit in a voyeuristic and helpless fashion. No spoilers here, you’ll really have to go see it. Suffice to say, it’s based on a true story, so if your nerves are jangling by the end – as they should be – the cast will have done their job well.

You’d think that with Dillon and Alda as the (alpha) male leads, the little ladies would be pushed out and play second fiddle, in true Hollywood style. How wrong you’d be. Alda is superb as a genial older lawyer who’s obviously still kept his legal chops and Dillon is great as the snide agent playing both good and bad cop simultaneously. You’ll despise him, really you will. However, the female leads act them out of the ring. Beckinsale manages to be sassy, hard and a vulnerable family woman by turns and pretty much steals the show. Farmiga shows equal amounts of strength and vulnerability as she fights not only the press but her spymasters as well. This is all about the women and works extremely well. As an aside, the weakest male role by far was David Schwimmer as Rachel’s husband. Every scene he’s in, he brings down by being incapable of not being Ross from Friends. A shame, and for me one of the only low points of a wonderfully told tale.

No SFX, no scenery and no car chases, just dialogue, direction and some great performances. As I mentioned, Lurie obviously knows his way around a film set, and I doubt his years as a journalist did him any harm. He writes and directs with fluidity and excellent continuity, never letting the pace go slack. As legal dramas go, they can get a bit tired and flabby in the middle, only to pull out the big guns in the end. Nothing But the Truth sets a lively pace and maintains throughout, leading to a finale that will leave you sickened. Even though you may have second-guessed it.

108 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Y Tu Mamá También (2001)

Y-Tu-Mama-Tambien-1Carnal overload

“Oh, but isn’t Alfonso Cuarón amazing?” I hear people say all the time when discussing film. True, his work on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) brought new depth and darkness to the series, mirroring the metamorphosis of the teenage protagonists from spotty kids to not-quite-so-spotty teenagers. But that’s not what they mean. Oh no. Almost everyone means Y Tu Mamá También (2001), the film that made his name, the film that broke Mexican box office records, the film that’s in every true movie lover’s top ten. They bang on about this and that, how deep the meaning is and on just how many fucking levels they get it. OK, I thought, it’s probably time to watch this as I have just spotted it in the bargain bin and it’ll make an interesting review for our movie blog.  So I watched it. My God, what a load of  crap it is.

“But, but..” I hear people say ‘It’s <insert adjective here>”, “it changed my life”. Fine – if you like it, great. Me? I reckon it’s too much a case of the Emperor’s New Mexico. Very few people who are interested in film would openly express the opinion that it’s less than perfect but here at Picturenose, we live on the edge. To begin, the story. Essentially a road movie, the plot revolves around three main characters; two teenage boys, Tenoch and Julio (Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal) and the older woman, Luisa (Maribel Verdú). the two teenage boys are just doing teenage boy stuff, knocking around in the home city, smoking dope, drinking, being bored and wishing for brighter days. Tenoch is the son of a local politician who has good connexions with the president of Mexico himself, whereas Julio is from a regular, middle-class type family. The wife of Tenoch’s cousin, Luisa, finds out her husband is cheating on her and is looking for distraction. they all get into a car and take a road trip to a beach, the name of which the boys have made up in order to lure Luisa away.

Well, blow me if you can’t guess what happens? Actually, that could easily be a line from the film. If this film were to be cut for US television, it would run at around 12 minutes. Every other scene there’s someone putting something into someone else, in various guises, positions and combinations. Boy, does it ever get dull. It’d be no spoiler to let on that the boys end up playing ‘hide the sausage’ with Luisa at the drop of a thong. The sheer volume of sex is totally off-putting and jars horribly with what I feel urged to point out is some visually stunning camera and some genuinely funny japes. “What’s wrong with attractive people having sex” I hear the plaintive cry from the guy in the raincoat at the back. Nothing at all. Imagine, though, you could watch Tom & Jerry for a whole week – but only one cartoon over and over. You know that bit where Tom gets hit with a giant salami? That’d soon lose its edge.

At this point, you may wonder if I found any good in it. I did. Aside from the aforementioned glorious camera work, the story is actually quite touching. Many things are revealed (no, stop it) and the whole thing comes to a satisfying conclusion. There are several cut scenes that appear to mean nothing but which, in fact, add a good deal of texture to the piece as a whole, so I can give credit where it’s due there. The soundtrack is lively and apt and the lighting – provided by the sun and Mexico itself – is beautiful.

And yes, I get it about being about sexual awakening, the politics of the Mexican class system and all that old malarkey. I really do. However, padding out what is essentially a short story with loads of rather gratuitous – if well-lit – sex does not a masterpiece make. Boring, for the most part.

 106 mins. In Spanish.