Cinema Movie Review: Youth (2015)

largeAgeing poorly

They say that youth is wasted on the young; I say retirement is wasted on the old. No, I don’t really mean it – other than for myself, of course. In general terms, I mean that people develop a strong work ethic after slogging for many years and they have difficulty retiring. I would like to front-load my retirement and do it now, before it’s too late and my work ethic has been totally and irrevocably formed.

Which brings me to Youth (2015), a film by Paolo Sorrentino. It is about a retired composer and an unwilling-to-retire film director. I had never heard of the director Sorrentino, but had been very tempted – at least by the trailer – by La grande bellezza (2013), but I didn’t get round to seeing it. Have to say that, unless I hear to the contrary, I am really glad I didn’t bother going. Drawing links between a trailer of one film and another full film may seem unfair. Nevertheless, I was impressed by both the cinematography, the beautiful landscapes and what seemed to be a story outside the normal run-of-the-mill. Those benefits aside, I have to say that Youth is truly a very bad film.

It pains me to write this, but not quite as much as it pained me to sit through it – Youth is a very, very bad film (sorry, I may have already mentioned this). I was also a little flabbergasted and disappointed that the cast had signed up for it. For goodness sake, this film had Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and a few others including Rachel Weisz and Jane Fonda, FFS. How on earth were they persuaded to turn up for this gig? I imagine they all fancied a bit of a holiday in the Swiss Alps. At the beginning I thought this is going to be great, but it wasn’t. A particular low point was the appearance of singer Paloma Faith, who was there as herself – I had to look her up afterwards and find out who she is and, regrettably, she wasn’t misrepresenting herself.

I could tell you a bit about the story…but honestly, I really can’t be bothered, it was so unbelievably dull. I heartily recommend that anyone who admires and respects the afore-mentioned actors avoids this film.

118 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Irrational Man (2015)

screen-shot-2015-04-29-at-5-58-10-pmCatherine Feore returns with Picturenose‘s 900th post and her thoughts on Woody Allen‘s latest.

Sipping on a beer before the film, I overheard a wonderfully Allenesque conversation – words that he might have given to a character: ‘J’ai jamais fait du sport, je suis plutot intello’ (I’ve never been sporting, I’m more of an intellectual).

This was said without a trace of irony, I think I managed to stifle a giggle. The guy probably was an intellectual, but to utter this phrase in the Anglo-Saxon world would be an open invitation to savage derision (happily, it was uttered in Belgium). This raised a worrying question in my mind – there appear to be two camps when it comes to Woody Allen, those who are generally in the ‘he is so over-rated’ camp and those who are ‘devotees’. Am I an intello, who doesn’t like sport? All I can say is that to one of these questions, my answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.

To those in the haters camp, I might be considered incapable of critical judgement when it comes to Allen’s films. I would have to query this a little, but will confess that while I have found some of his films unsettling and some not quite as good as others, I have always found them interesting and I always get some sort of insight from them – I even liked Melinda and Melinda (2004).

Irrational Man is a reference to a book of the same name by William Barret on existentialism; the film also leans on Allen’s fascination with the novels of Dostoyevsky, in this instance Crime and Punishment. When it comes to films that address existential questions, I would place Allen somewhere between Bergman and the director of The Fast and the Furious 3, let’s say near the top. So, if this is your bag, you are in for a fun night at the cinema.

The eponymous irrational man is Abe, played by Joaquin Phoenix, a philosophy professor who is resigned to the pointlessness of existence; I say pointlessness, because he has already transcended meaninglessness and despair. Refreshingly, Allen has allowed Phoenix to play an angst-ridden man without forcing him to adopt Woody-like mannerisms – other actors have been less able to resist.

Abe’s arrival on campus is widely anticipated – Rita (Parker Posey), a bored chemistry professor, who has been serially unfaithful to her often-absent husband, is particularly looking forward to meeting the new professor and potential conquest. The other main character, Jill (Emma Stone), is a student who sparks Abe’s interest with an essay where she heavily critiques one of his books.

Jill comes to idolize Abe, and fails to see that ‘he’s a wreck and he smells’. Jill is not the most interesting character, especially compared to the sassy Rita. It would be difficult to see Jill’s attraction to Abe, if it weren’t for her insipid and clinging boyfriend. Abe’s capitulation to Jill’s advances is another aspect of his moral decline.

SPOILER ALERT!

Abe and Jill overhear a discussion in a diner, where a women tells her friends about how a judge has given the custody of her child to her ex-husband who has shown little or no interest in his child to date – she has been impoverished by the legal process and sees no point in an appeal, especially since the judge seems unlikely to move and is an acquaintance of the errant father. Abe decides that he is going to intervene and murder the judge. Initially, he verifies that the judge is the despicable person he appears to be, then he starts to follow his movements and plan his crime. Abe is liberated by his action and feels no guilt afterwards, just a new found love for life. Predictably, things start to go very wrong; when Jill discovers what he’s done, she urges Abe to turn himself in.

I can’t say that I enjoyed this film as much as other Allen work; at times it felt like there had been a lot of cutting and pasting from earlier films. There were a couple of brilliant moments, for example when Abe demonstrates how Russian roulette works to a bunch of optimistic, preppy students, but on the whole, there weren’t many laughs and this can definitely be classed as one of Allen’s darker films, alongside Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).

Feeling nostalgic for cheerier works, I turned to Hannah and her Sisters (1986), my preferred take on existence where – after dabbling with various religions – Mickey (Allen) finds meaning through the Marx Brothers film Duck Soup (1933), concluding: “What if the worst is true, what if there is no God and you only go round once, and that’s it? Well don’t you want to be part of the experience? It’s not all a drag and I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I’m never going to get and just enjoy it while it lasts. And afterwards, who knows…”

Is this a great Woody Allen? No, it is not, but ultimately he is still the best at this kind of stuff – maybe too comfortable with it, as I sometimes felt in this film. To pull off a work that explicitly addresses existentialist  ideas with any aplomb requires skill – I wouldn’t place this movie (his 50th!) in the top ranking of his work to date; however, to my mind, 97 minutes in a cinema exploring existential ideas beats several evenings in reading Kierkegaard.

97 mins.

DVD Movie Review: The King of Comedy (1983)

Film Tribeca Closing NightJohnny Carson. David Letterman. Jay Leno. Larry Sanders. Rupert Pupkin. Famous, household name comedians who went onto achieve superstardom as late-night TV show hosts.

Legends of the small screen…hang on, Rupert who? Do you remember him? Of course not. Neither do I. Other than being the leading antagonistic protagonist in a brilliantly dark, fictitious meditation on the vain, soulless search for fame, he lives in a world of make-believe. He is the fly at a picnic who cannot be swatted. He is the spot that cannot be removed prior to a date. He is the friend who tags along at parties uninvited.

Mark Kermode opined, in his damning indictment of Seth Rogen’s 2009 lame effort Observe and Report, that Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro had already remade their seminal 1976 nocturnal netherworld nightmare Taxi Driver as a comedy, an achievement that Rogen had laid claim to.

Instead, they had, in the good doctor’s opinion, merely rehashed the already unremarkable Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009) Scorsese and De Niro, on the other hand, had made a comedy as dark as the ace of spades, a London Taxi or the finest Columbian/Ethiopian coffee.

If De Niro’s Travis Bickle began Taxi Driver somewhat unhinged but with good intentions before descending into full-on psychosis (I’ve seen Travis diagnosed with many psychiatric disorders over the years in books/articles/magazines being one of the most famous/iconic/analysed characters in film history) then his Rupert Pupkin is Travis Bickle turned up to eleven in a full Spinal Tap sense, and he never regresses.

The irony is that he is never a visible threat or appears as such. Robert De Niro has become an icon of cinema from playing some very loud, threatening, abusive, verbally and physically violent characters in between some great very sweet and tender performances. His Oscar-winning performance as real-life prize fighter Jake La Motta in 1980s Raging Bull, the hand book for modern method acting, is as despicable a character that has ever been depicted in cinema.

Rupert, however, is mild mannered, never swears – note the films parental guidance certification – He rarely gets noticeably angry, except at his psycho-like mother, who always hollers at him off camera in a Norma Bates-esque way, and his crazy friend Masha who’ll be dissected later. When he does, he acts with such little threat you’d be more intimidated by a little rabbit with boo scribbled on its face. If anything, in terms of voice tone, De Niro is as close to his real middle class, son of artists, Greenwich Village comfortable upbringing voice as he has ever been. The heavy New York of 1973’s Mean Streets and Raging Bull is eschewed in favour of a more softly spoken approach.

Incidentally, many mistake Travis Bickle as a New Yorker. He is actually mid-western, a nuance that goes unnoticed in the overwhelming praise of his famous cabbie performance. This performance has largely gone unnoticed. Although deservedly nominated for a BAFTA, the academy shunned the film in favour of best picture winner tear-jerker Terms of Endearment and three other forgettable nominees – The Right Stuff is alright – and De Niro’s performance in favour of five others, won by Robert Duvall for Tender Mercies. Edward Norton cites De Niro’s performance as his favourite of all time. Kermode and Scorsese called it his greatest. High praise indeed.

Nowadays, a De Niro greatest performance list would be laughed out of the room, something Rupert frequently has done to him, if Pupkin is not included. An aspiring stand-up comedian, Rupert idolises and studies Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis – Frank Sinatra turned the role down), stand-up comic turned successful late-night TV show host. Lewis plays Langford as the total antithesis of his earlier on screen zany, wacky, nutty professor persona. He is a consummate professional at work but a weary eyed, cynical, burned-out celebrity outside of office hours who values his privacy. Rupert seizes his moment and weasels his way into a private meeting with Jerry in his limousine after frankly scary tactics from Masha.

He states his intention that he wants to be just like Jerry and that he wants a spot on his show despite his opposition to actually performing live in comedy clubs. He practices alone in his room and the audience in his head always laughs. He creepily waxes lyrical with cardboard cut outs of Langford and Liza Minnelli (De Niro’s co-star in Scorsese disaster New York, New York – it has its moments), in his bedroom, which is designed like a talk show set.

It is a precursor to the Kramer-led Seinfeld episode where he reassembles the Merv Griffin set in his living room conducting interviews with all and sundry. Will he eventually seek to become more than Jerry and to supersede him? Unwilling at 34 years of age – too old, apparently – to start at the bottom, he wants his shot now. Charles Bukowski lived his life, somewhat seedily, but earned his stripes and didn’t have a career until in his 50s. Ricky Gervais’ breakthrough came at 40. This is an anathema to Rupert yet he reluctantly accepts Jerry’s advice, given under virtual duress, “you have to start at the bottom…the bottom is the perfect place to start”. A pearl of wisdom is offered, “you don’t say ‘hey folks, here’s the punch-line’, you just do the punch-line”. Rupert fails to empathise and sense the fear of his virtual detainee in such a strange encounter. A mediocre joke from Rupert is followed by an offer of a business card. This is a clear swat from Jerry but an opportunity for Rupert.

Nobody remembers his name. Rupert who? Rupert Pipkin? Pumpkin? Are Jerry’s production team capable of rebuffing Pumpkins, sorry, I mean Pupkin’s right to a TV gig? There is a hilarious slapstick sequence that wouldn’t look out of place in a silent comedy film whereby Rupert is chased down a corridor by security guards only to reappear again running in the opposite direction with security still in pursuit. Viewed from a camera inside a room looking out into the corridor, it has me in stitches. Eventually caught, he is told in no uncertain terms to never return again without an appointment or the authorities will be called.

He is aided largely by his partner in crime Masha. Their relationship is a very odd love-hate dichotomy. Neediness binds them. The need being Langford. Masha stalks Jerry like a great giant stalking thing. Portrayed by Sandra Bernhard, not everybody’s cup of tea – I find her repellent mostly – she is cast perfectly by Scorsese, who utilizes all the worst annoying elements of her persona to great effect here. Meryl Streep, double Oscar winner by that point, and with previous great on screen chemistry with De Niro in The Deer Hunter, couldn’t have bettered her performance. She should have got an Oscar nod. In a hilarious scene, they clash in a busy New York City street and quibble and bicker over who has a greater right of access to their property Jerry. Look out for a split second cameo from the great 1970’s/80’s band The Clash, credited as ‘street trash’.

Scorsese again really gets under the skin of New York City. The vast size and crowdedness is portrayed well. The image of Rupert desperately clutching onto a public telephone (his office number) in anticipation of an extremely important phone call whilst a long queue berates him is hilarious. It is a different side to the sleaze and mirth of Taxi Driver and the street energy of Mean Streets. Surrealism abounds.

Undeterred, Rupert drags his reluctant girlfriend to Langford’s holiday home, his hideaway, uninvited. The promise is that Jerry is his friend and collaborator. This delusion is enough to convince his former high-school fantasy to accompany him after she rejected him at school. In truth, in one of the films rare weaknesses, it is a thankless role played without vigour by De Niro’s wife (now ex) at the time, Dianne Abbott.

The role serves little purpose other than to fill the empty trophy cabinet in Rupert’s love life thus satisfying his teenage wet dream of dating a cheerleader, the most beautiful girl in school, now working late night shifts as a bartender. The point is made sharply but acted meekly. Pam Grier would have burned the screen down even with such little to do, but she wasn’t rediscovered until 1997 by Quentin Tarantino in the similarly unappreciated Jackie Brown, now slowly getting the recognition it deserves. The encounter at Jerry’s hideaway is awkward and tense to say the least. De Niro used anti-semitic epithets on set, not included in the film, to truly rile Lewis.

Alas, the show goes on. The darkness increases. You’ll never laugh at a plastic toy, chewing gum, sentence prompts, a knitted sweater and sellotape in quite the same way ever again. Will you get the chance to see if Rupert lives up to his own hype…

Upon its release, and following on from De Niro’s Oscar success for best actor in Raging Bull, Scorsese was shamefully shunned in favour of the capable but steady Robert Redford for his direction of family drama Ordinary PeopleThe King of Comedy was an expensive flop. To my knowledge, Scorsese’s vision was largely untouched yet sank like a box of tea being thrown into the Boston harbour. Despite the hatchet job done to many films released in the 1980’s, butchered by hacks, then later restored – Blade Runner, Once Upon A Time In America and Heaven’s Gate (debatable) are perfect examples – Scorsese making what appeared to be merely a wacky, zany comedy was deemed unacceptable by critics. True filmmakers indulge themselves as they like within certain limits. Paul Thomas Anderson slipped seamlessly from long, multi-layered/multi-character drama Magnolia to the darkly wacky Punch Drunk Love onto the truly epic There Will Be Blood without vilification.

Obviously expecting a brutal left jab followed by a knockout right hook of a movie like ‘Raging Bull’ or a gunshot film of .44 Magnum proportions that would be used in Africa for killing elephants like Taxi Driver, The King Of Comedy was heckled off the stage like a misunderstood comedian in front of an ignorant, unappreciative audience and was ranked one of the worst films of the year by many respected critics. Over 30 years later it has been reappraised as more than mere wacky high jinks, but as a dark comedy as black as cup of Joe that wouldn’t be out of place on agent Dale Cooper’s table in Twin Peaks.

Way ahead of its time, it pre-empted The X-Factor, American Idol and Britain’s Got Talent (even Cambodia has ‘…Talent’), whereby wannabees, whether talented or not, life’s winners or losers, attempt to make it to the top of the tree with little work or no effort. The 2000/2010’s may have reappraised the band Oasis as overrated, of their time, Beatles rip-offs, Britpop rubbish etc but Oasis earned their stripes in pubs and clubs for years before their 1995 – 1997 zenith. As did many, many others.

Whether you appreciate him or not, Bill Hicks had to die to gain true recognition, whereas instant fame, contracts, wealth and adulation is hoisted upon winners of glorified talent contests that should be reserved for Matthew Kelly’s Stars In Their Eyes or Butlins holiday camp. Truly a nadir for modern culture. With a few notable exceptions, the general system exists to provide instant gratification then the back door to obscurity. Step forward…Joe McElderry! Singing sensation X-Factor winner. Remember him? Nope, me neither really. Although those present at Rage Against The Machine’s free 2010 Finsbury Park gig will always remember him with fondness. in 2011 ITV had a stand up comedy X-Factor. It was not a success. Nevertheless, even the most talentless in society can become Z-list celebrities, get book deals, front covers of magazines, This Morning/Loose Women interviews. God bless Jade Goody’s racist little soul.

Is Rupert Pupkin a king? Or a schmuck? Whether or not, irrespective of circumstances, he always sticks to his motto: “It’s better to be king for a day than a schmuck for a lifetime.”

109 mins.

DVD Movie Review: A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

BeatlesWe at Picturenose would never boast that we have the world’s finest film critics. But we have some of the most honest (honest, guv). What other website gives you critics that openly admit their age? This writer mused on this when revisiting, and loving, A Hard Day’s Night(1964) the other day and hoping that he looks as good at 50 as this stunning film.

Too much ink has been expended on The Beatles to bother with the music in this, their first picture- but what, without the music, would they have been in the first place? Suffice it to say that little of their output of any kind was as indicative of what they meant to their era as this movie which, I would propose, is not only the finest rock movie of all time – prior to This Is Spinal Tap (1984), anyway – but at the time of production was possibly the best British film yet made. In terms of direction, scripting, but also in terms of sheer innovation and freshness, it had no peer.

It was unarguably the finest hour of American director Richard Lester, an expat who found in 60s Britain an outlet for his penchant for groovily zany, in-your-face comedy, often harking back to 20s and 30s Hollywood. Rarely can a script (by Alan Owen), a director and subjects for a documentary (the Beatles themselves, ostensibly in an archetypal ‘day in the life’ neo-verite project) have come together at such an opportune moment in time.

One superb line says it all – a City gent, played by Richard Vernon, confronts the lads in full lovable-Scouse cry: “I fought the war for people like you.” John wiseacres back: “I bet you’re sorry you won!” And the gradual demolition of Victor Spinetti’s old-school TV director is a thing of joy, as is Wilfrid Brambell playing to type as Paul’s horrible old grandad, tagging along with the band for a spree in ‘that London’.

In the vernacular of the period, it’s gear, daddy-o.

87 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

15-outrageous-scenes-in-martin-scorseses-wolf-of-wall-street-we-cant-wait-to-seeGone Gonzo

“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it off to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.” Hunter S. Thompson

Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) is nothing more than Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in a fitted suit. Both stories retell the story through the inebriated mind of the criminal protagonist who’s in pursuit of an unreachable destination: The American Dream. Instead of the sleazy, sunburnt cascade of Las Vegas, we’re thrown into the concrete jungle of New York City– the city known for its lack of care and compassion. But which dream is it, you ask? The dream of becoming insanely rich. So rich, so quick that it couldn’t possibly be true and definitely not legal. Sell your soul for an early retirement. Why see your child when you can see your yacht? The plan is to out trick the trickster. Then when caught, deny the whole thing.

Martin Scorsese has proven his ability to transcend genres through his ability to capture his audience’s attention at every turn. In The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese has again teamed up with his regular title-card actor, Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed (2006), The Aviator (2004), Shutter Island (2010), and Gangs of New York (2002)) for the fifth time and created his darkest comedy to date. In both The Aviator and Shutter Island, DiCaprio was tasked with playing the manic sociopath. Instead of saving his own urine or choosing to be a mental patient, Dicaprio knocks it out of the park with his bewildering and drug-enriched portrayal. Just remember that this entire story is based on fact.

Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) is a young man trying to make a name for himself on Wall Street. Not long after losing his job for a large reputable firm, he spins off and creates a new sector of investing. This sector utilizes Belfort’s greatest asset which is his ability to sell to people by tapping into a part of the psyche where people are most vulnerable – their hopes and dreams. He cons those looking for a sweet deal. The deal that is too good to be true. Those who only have a few thousand in savings and no retirement in sight. Belfort knows that people’s greed will eventually overtake their ability to think critically and when they do he will be there ready to pounce.

Once the dreams have been plundered, the fun can begin. Parties and drugs. Women and boats. At times, The Wolf of Wall Street feels more like a advertisement for cocaine use. Need a lift? Cocaine. Need to sell more stocks? Cocaine. Need something to even out your quaaludes? Cocaine. Cocaine – the miracle drug. I would say that coke should get a supporting acting credit for how much it brought to the table.

Soon enough, the drugs begin to weigh on people’s judgement and poor (i.e. more illegal) decisions continue to be made. Belfort decides to branch out. He creates a monster in his own image: a firm in Manhattan trading penny stocks. He diversifies his liabilities by opening offshore accounts. The success is publicized, but unlike Belfort’s gullible ‘investors’ the FBI knows when an investment is too good to be true and can smell the spoiled meat leftover from ‘The Wolf’.

My favorite scene is when the FBI agent (Kyle Chandler) is confronts Belfort on his million-dollar yacht for a casual discussion on why the FBI has been so interested on Belfort’s dealings. To paint the scene, once FBI agent Patrick Denham and his partner are welcomed aboard, there are two skimpily clad women, a buffet, and all the drinks you could imagine. What begins as a casual discussion, turns into a discreet and cheeky bribe by Belfort, and the ‘aww-schucks’ mentality of the FBI turns out to be part of the ploy. Belfort realizes he screwed up and loses his composure.

Still, for Belfort, the only crime is getting caught. He begins to blame others’ weaknesses and stupidity for his eventual downfall. Never once accepting the blame for evaporating millions in others’ retirement funds. His menace and straight lack of compassion is always expertly placed at the forefront. For all the credit that DeCaprio has gotten, I feel a lot more needs to go to the director.

Scorsese includes two scenes that are completely unforgettable. In their meticulous debauchery, you are unsure whether to laugh or be disgusted. Quaaludes instigate the disasters. Both scenes are as austere and unsettling as Jonah Hill’s teeth; at the same time, the scenes are so well choreographed that Scorsese’s vision shines. The energy jumps from the screen and into your lap (or up your nose).

Although the story reaches unbelievable heights, it isn’t until there’s an ill-timed drug overdose that the film manages to achieve its fever pitch. Things unravel and individuals’ true colours come to light when the money begins to dry up.

The pure insanity of the story has Gonzo in its marrow. Rising above the insanity there is a story wrestling with its morals. But you simply realize that story has no morals. There is no soul. It is nothing more than a buzzed weekend stroll through the desert and into the board room. Still, it is a drug you will not forget.

180 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Nebraska (2013)

Nebraska_thumbLGOn the road again

During the 1970s, Bruce Dern‘s reputation as a fine character actor was established by films such as They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969)Silent Running (1972), Black Sunday (1977)The Driver (1978) and Coming Home (1978), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. More recently, he has appeared in Inside Out (2011), Django Unchained (2012) and  From Up on Poppy Hill (2012).

He has also (quite deservedly) received a nod from the Academy for Nebraska (2013), in which he stars as aging, booze-addled father Woody Grant who, convinced that he has won a million dollars in a Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize scam, takes a trip all the way from from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son David (Will Forte), in order to collect his ‘winnings’. En route, he is set to visit the small town of his birth, where he is seemingly welcomed by his old friends and family, but soon discovers that they are really only interested in the money they believe he has won. David, meanwhile, while playing along with his father’s fantasy for the sake of spending some time with him, comes to realise that there is much more to the old man than meets the eye.

It’s rare to find such a genuinely sweet, affecting film – Dern is excellent as the cantankerous, bitter but nevertheless proud Woody, as is June Squibb as his long-suffering wife Kate who, while seeming to have no more time for her man, nevertheless has a deep and abiding love for him.

Alexander Payne, who also made the excellent About Schmidt (2002) and Sideways (2004), coaxes moving and real performances from his entire cast, in a film that speaks poignantly of regret, loss and frustration without resort to melodrama – you will be torn, as I was, between rooting for Woody and wishing that he, and his dysunctional family, would simply get a grip, and the ending is unexpected, uplifting and genuinely moving. Best of luck with the gong, old son.

115 mins.

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.

Online Movie Review: Star Wars Downunder (2003)

98a823d4ea25b7b6b28c211deb697fd1_Star_Wars_Downunder_Fan_Film_Home_00-920-470-cNow this, is fun. Director Michael Cox and co-writer Bryan Meakin made the fan film Star Wars Downunder (2003) ten years ago, but it has only just seen the light of day online, which is more than a little surprising, as it is a spoof/pastiche/tribute of near-perfect comedy pitch of Star Wars (1977), a little-seen avant garde flick that some of Picturenose’s readers may be aware of.
Anyway, Picturenose’s very good friend David Nicoll (who in fact first made us aware of the film) plays one Merve Bushwacker (ie, Luke Skywalker), a ‘Jedi Knight’ who is horrified to discover that his favourite Outback watering hole has been destroyed and raided of all its ‘amber liquid’ by one Darth Drongo. And it’s not just a one-off crime, either – Drongo is draining the land of all the golden good stuff, and Merve has got a serious thirst on him. What’s a boy to do? I should imagine that you can probably see where this is going from the description above, but worry not a jot – it’s rib-ticklingly funny, made with great attention to detail, truly excellent S/FX and a barnstorming central performance from Nicoll. Some of the silliness on display may well go over the heads of those not, ahem, ‘attuned’ to Aussie/Star Wars culture, but what the hell, it’s about time you learned, isn’t it?

Check it out here, you’ll love it, mate. 🙂

30 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.

Cinema Movie Review: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (2013)

jackass-presents02One step too far(t)

Strap on your prosthetic nose and head to a place where people’s generosity is only exceeded by their waistlines – the southern United States. Johnny Knoxville reprises his role as Irving Zisman, the dirty old man from his Jackass years, to supply 90 minutes of perverted and outlandish acts caught on tape with unsuspecting victims.

In correlation with Borat (2006), Bad Grandpa tries to establish a believable storyline that begins with a road trip through the South after the ‘protagonist’s’ wife dies. At his wife’s funeral, Irving’s daughter dumps his eight-year-old grandson, Billy, under his supervision. Set on getting laid, Irving is more than agitated by having this youthful cock-block ruining his freedom. So Irving devises a plan to dump the kid with Billy’s indigent father.

As the two prank their way from state to state, the comedic pairing does instigate some pretty hysterical laughs, but the majority of the film seems like the scenarios are too manufactured or simply just to shock the audience. Case in point being one scene involving a farting contest where one contestant pushes a little too hard. The film also has some genuinely nice moments towards the end when the two reconcile and incorporates an anti-child abuse motorcycle gang into their plan.

Johnny Knoxville has always been the only one within the Jackass family that had any real talent. In addition to having a high tolerance for pain (while also possibly being sober), he has the wit to think on his toes. All of the best moments in the previous movies were Knoxville performing a prank and then knowing how to take it to the next level (see this film as an example). The same goes for Bad Grandpa.

As the grandson, Jackson Nicoll also shows off his budding prank abilities. While it is clear at the beginning of the movie that the kid has an earpiece from which he is fed lines from an adult, he deserves credit for execution. Lines are delivered without hesitation or character break.

Of course, Bad Grandpa is not the film you’d attend with, say, your own grandpa. But, if your grandpa were Zisman, Christmas dinner would be a hell of a lot more entertaining.

92 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.