Thursday, July 31, 2008

You Don't Mess With the Zohan

"I just want to make people silky-smooth!"

Written by: Adam Sandler & Robert Smigel

Directed by: Dennis Dugan

Starring: Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Rob Schneider.

My rating: 5/10

I can't help it. All film lovers, no matter how well educated have their downfall. It seems mine is Adam Sandler (I have many, but he's a serious one). I have loved him since The Wedding Singer and have sat through some of the worst movies of my life because of him. But I always forgive him and I always see the best in them. After all, one thing you have to say about Sandler is that he seems like a pretty genuine guy. Thats why his films wind up being so crap a lot of the time, fun in favour of quality. That has to count for something right? Right? Anyone?

Well, You Don't Mess With the Zohan is something of a comfort zone for me. It's not a great movie but it doesn't offend me with it's crapness. Unlike I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry or Little Nicky which I found offensively bad. Zohan is too juvenile to loathe. It follows military hero Zohan (Adam Sandler) as he fakes his own death to ditch being a national hero in Israel and moves to New York to be a hairdresser armed with a fab new bouffant and a Paul Mitchell hairstyle book from the 1980s. Unfortunately, he doesn't know that the hairdressing world has moved on. However, he find his niche in a small hairdresser and falls for the owner who hates him (surprise! I wonder will she come round...). Things are going well until his Palestinian arch-nemesis Phantom tracks him down.

Zohan will probably not make you fall off your seat laughing but it will probably make you smile. Adam Sandler is his usual goofball self and his usual motley crew of character actors help to make this movie work. It's dreadfully silly, some people are offended that the politics are being brushed over/made fun of. I think it's charming. Leave your brain at home and maybe you'll get a few laughs out of this one!

- Charlene Lydon 31/9/08

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Written & Directed By: Woody Allen

Starring: Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz,Scarlett Johanssen, Rebecca Hall

My rating: 9/10

I have been a huge Woody Allen fan since the day I saw The Purple Rose of Cairo back in the early 90's. His sharp dialogue, complex relationships and really cool characters living where I want to live and having careers that I want. What's not to love about Woody Allen movies? The problem is, the past few Woody Allen films, actually anything after Bullets Over Broadway have made me feel a bit empty afterwards. Usually they're enjoyable enough (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion excluded) but afterwards there's just a feeling of lack of effort or that Woody Allen has forgotten how to be Woody Allen. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the first time I've really felt a spark from him in well over a decade.

Set in sunny Barcelona, the film has a warm, enticing glow to it that is rare in Allen's dreary, New York-set films. This seems to rub off on his characters because they all seem to be a little bit sunnier than his usual characters. Not that there isn't darkly complex human emotion going on here, it's here in spades.

Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johanssen)are on summer holidays in Barcelona, staying with Vicky's aunt. Vicky and Cristina, the narrator points out, could not be more different when it comes to men. Vicky needs stability and Cristina prefers grand romantic love affairs that always end abruptly and badly. When the pair meet sexy painter Juan Antonio they are both eventually seduced by his passion and his seemingly genuine romantic heart. As Cristina enters into a relationship with him, his ex-wife, crazy genius Marie-Elena (Penelope Cruz) comes back into his life and they live together and bond together as a threesome in love, finally giving Cristina a passionate realtionship and also making Juan Antonio and Marie-Elena's relationship work. In the meantime, Vicky marries her fiancee, boring Doug who seems to only talk about the house they're going to buy when they get home. Vicky, swayed and confused by the temptation of loving someone with passion and charisma but who will surely hurt her must struggle with her feelings as the events of the summer play out.

The reason why this film works is because each character is written in the most truly animated way. They are neurotic and playful and fascinating. Everyone here deserves credit for their performances. They are all wonderful and the chemistry between all the leads is electric. Woody Allen's sharp dialogue harkens back to when he was the top of his game. Lately, he may be accused of being a bit too Woody Allen but missing the mark but here his banter is perfectly scripted and his characters are full of life. I found it marvellous how he captured the essence of a generation of women that must be alien to him, at his age. He portrays Vicky perfectly and her conflict between passion and stability and I loved his willingness to make fun of Cristina's pretentiousness and lack of interest in anything other than the cool bohemian lifestyle.

A lot has been made of the love scene between Scarlett Johanssen and Penelope Cruz. I hate to burst anyone's bubble but you pretty much see most of it in the trailer. However, the film bursts with sexual energy throughout which is a credit to the enthusiasm of its cast. Penelope Cruz gives a truly standout performance here. Babbling in Spanish about love and art and craziness, she is on fire in every one of her scenes and she and real-life lover Javier Bardem are great together onscreen. Hopefully she won't be denied an Oscar this year after the Academy failed to reward her for her wonderful work on Almodovar's Volver.

I highly recommend this film. If you're a Woody Allen fan, it's a refreshingly upbeat (if ultimately as pessimistic as his other films) film that truly modernises his original brilliance and remind us why we loved him in the first place. If you're not a fan of Woody Allen, there's enough here to entertain you anyway. It doesn't parade his stamp around like many of his films do. It's an enjoyable comedy/drama about the nature of passionate love and asks whether it exists at all and if it does, can it ever survive?

- Charlene Lydon 31/07/08

Monday, July 28, 2008

Son of Rambow

"This has been my best day ever!"

Written & Directed by: Garth Jennings

Starring: Will Poulter, Bill Milner, Jessica Stevenson

My Rating: 4/10

If there's one thing that really gets my goat it's films selling themselves as the next big indie thing and it turns out its a marketing ploy and its not actually that indie at all.
Son of Rambow is directed by Garth Jennings of such "indie" favourites as The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Oh come on! The way people went on about this film, I was expecting handheld camcorder and a thousand pound budget. It is nothing of the sort. Like last year's Juno, it is directed by a pro who has proven he can make a glossy big-budget Hollywood film. I know its immature to dog a film for this reason but I can't help it. It's downright infuriating.

Ok, all that aside, it's an ok movie. It's very Hollywood, it's very standard and didn't have half the charm or sweetness I'd envisioned. The story revolves around bad boy Lee and good boy Will who is part of a religion that does not allow television. So when he sees a pirate version of First Blood he sets about helping Lee make a movie, Son of Rambo (the "w" in the Rambow of the title is added for copyright reasons. What a world we live in!). The usual trials and tribulations occur and there's the obligatory happy ending. Forget the annoying marketing for a second, there's just nothing memorable about this film. It's pretty run-of-the-mill. It's funny, and enjoyable (though it drags a little in parts) but its got nice performances and a good deal of imagination.

I guess all you need to know about Son of Rambow is that there's nothing very offensive about it, but then again, there's not much to love either. See it if you're bored on a saturday night. You'll have fun.

- Charlene Lydon 28/7/08

The X-Files: I Want To Believe

"Let's just say I want to believe"

Written By: Frank Spotnitz, Chris Carter

Directed By: Chris Carter

Starring, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Billy Connolly

My Rating: 6/10

So, after the torturous final seasons and another torturous 6 year wait, this was the best they could come up with! I am loathe to be critical of this film because I know it was made for the right reasons. It was a labour of love, however misguided and its very clear that everyone involved really wanted more films to come their way. So it's with a heavy heart that I must admit it wasn't wonderful. It wasn't awful! But unfortunately, as my friend exclaimed as the credits rolled "I've seen better episodes in Season 9!".

The film starts off 6 years after we left Mulder and Scully on the lam from the FBI, lying in bed together in a motel. If I was running from the FBI, based in Washington D.C., I would definitely run further than the countryside of Virginia. Not Mulder and Scully! They live together in a modest home in the country side. She is a paediatrician and he's a recluse who seems to do little other than cut weird stories from the newspaper and wallpaper his office. The FBI come along and offer to forget the past if Fox Mulder will come on board to help them with a case. Naturally, Mulder agrees, much to Scully's chagrin as it brings back the darkness of their past into the new life they've built together.

Billy Connolly plays a paedophile priest, Fr. Joe who claims to have psychic visions of the abductor of several women in the area. Mulder is needed as an expert to figure out if Fr. Joe is for real. Scully, with her love for children and still raw wounds of having to send her son William off to live on a farm, instantly hates Fr. Joe and this makes for some wonderfully biting dialogue (Scully: "Do you think God listens to your prayers?" Fr. Joe: "Do you think he listens to yours?" Scully: "Well, I didn't bugger thirty-seven altar boys").

The story moves along slowly and by the time we find out whats really going on it's hard not to feel like they should have given us more of this and less suspense. The final act and answer to the mystery is very very cool, but is hardly given any screen time.

Ok, so what's wrong with it? First of the horribly dated print that looked like a reject from the 1980s. With their meagre budget it seems they shot on pieces of film they found on the floor of the studios basement. I know it seems like a small thing, but it really effects the tone of a film. The aesthetic quality of the film is completely lost on such shoddy prints. At least the first movie looked fantastic. This, coupled with a pretty messy script made for an uneasy two hours.

What's right with it? First of all, the performances are as wonderful as ever. Gillian Anderson gets her acting chops out in full force here as almost every scene she's in is an emotional rollercoaster. Duchovny is his usual droll self but horrible underused. It's nice to see Scully shine for once, but really, Mulder was written like a bit of an idiot. When Mulder and Scully are together on screen, they both seem like they were never away. Their interaction has changed somewhat as they have settled into their romance and their love has deepened but of course become more blasse. Of course we miss the raging sexual tension but I loved that Carter had the balls to let them be realistic and not just give into the mob's demand for sex. He put Mulder and Scully exactly where they would be. Still each other's only other but domesticated. As the events of the film begin to tear them apart, you can see the strain and the fear in Scully of returning to that dark place that they've been before. You can't help but feel sorry for her and blame any over-reaction on her part on panic. Will it be the end of them? You have to wait for about two minutes into the end credits to see what the future holds in store for Mulder and Scully. I promise you the weirdest, most out of place image thats ever been committed to celluloid.

Personally, I am glad of where the story of Mulder and Scully went in this film. I would have loved to see them a bit more together and not unhappy and being torn apart. The tone couldn've used a bit of lightening up. Feeling more like an episode of Millenium than The X-Files, it's extremely dark and almost devoid of humour, which is unfortunate because that's where The X-Files and its stars really shine. So, I'll be content with this mediocre film and hope they're allowed make another one and that God sends Vince Gilligan or Darin Morgan back into the fray to write it. That's what I want to believe!

I still love you Mulder and Scully!

- Charlene Lydon


Friday, July 25, 2008

Stephen King's "N"

Dear Constant Readers (ha ha, like I have any, apart from my boyfriend who is actually only a casual reader, probably out of pity)

This is a new Stephen King project that looks interesting. It's based on a short story from his forthcoming short story collection Just After Sunset (released 11/11/08). Anyway, a new episode will appear daily so I thought it would be nice to put it on my blog for you, Constant Reader, to enjoy while you're not reading my manic crazy X-Files review.



Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Somebody calm me down....

...3 days and counting till

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Bottle Shock

Written By:Jody Savin & Randall Miller

Directed By: Randall Miller

Starring: Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Rachael Taylor

My Rating: 4/10

What a wonderful story! How Californian wines rose from obscurity through the tangled vines of snobbery to become some of the most revered and popular wines on today's market.

Bottle Shock tells the true story of how a disillusioned wine merchant living in Paris travelled to California in 1976 to gather wines to be sampled in a blind taste test by some of France's most reknowned wine connoisseurs. As the story goes, the Californian wine whooped the ass of the French wine and thus overcame French snobbery (no, they didn't, but it overcame it for a brief moment. Long enough to allow the rest of the world to see).

The wine merchant in question is played by Alan Rickman who is his usual charmingly horrible self. He is the hero of the piece, despite being a cantankerous know-it-all. That is the beauty of casting Alan Rickman. He can make any character kinda likeable.

So far so good right? The perfect seeds for a wonderful story. It's a shame then that someone thought it would be a good idea to add a bunch of horny teenager plotlines and focus more on stoner loser Bo, the vineyard owner's son and some sort of nonsense love triangle with poor Mexican wine-lover Gustavo. Instead of focussing on Bill Pullman's complicated Jim Barrett (the obsessive, aggressive owner of the vineyard), it completely skirts over him, making him almost impossible to like. That's a shame becasue he was an interesting character that mostly just came off like a prick because of lazy writing.

However, studios will be studios and audiences like pretty girls with blonde hair and boobies. Hence the kissing amongst the vines and the comic scene of flashing a police officer. Scenes like these are what destroyed this perfectly adorable story.

There's no bad performances here. Everyone is pretty much good at their job but there's such a clear line between what the film could've been (Rickman v. Pullman) and what it turned into (blonde teengers v. grown-ups). It's a shame because it had a lot of potential. See it for the interesting story, and start saving your pennies for a bottle of Chateau Montelene chardonnay which retails at about $40 a bottle. Whoosh!

- Charlene Lydon

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight (here be spoilers)

"You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

Written by: Jonathan & Christopher Nolan

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart

My rating: 8/10

Ok, that The Dark Knight has reached the No. 1 spot on IMDB's precious Top 250 Films of all time in less than 3 days says nothing to me other than people are idiots! I think this is a truly excellent piece of cinema but seriously, fanboys, get a life!

Enough venting...on with the review.

I am one of the very few people who didn't like Batman Begins. I didn't like it for a number of reasons. Mostly, the nonsensical and boring plot, and the dull as a mallet villains. I also hated Batman's stupid voice. It's a small thing, but it drove me nuts. However, I was pretty hopeful for this sequel because I knew for a fact that the villains were more interesting, and the film would be overall more entertaining because of this. Luckily, I was right.

The film really tells the tale of the fragile nature of heroism and villainy. The three main characters Batman, The Joker and Harvey Dent all revolve around the notion of what it means to be a hero. Bruce Wayne is convinced that the new District Attorney, Harvey Dent, is the white knight that Gotham needs. An uncorruptable, brave and, most importantly, good man. If Harvey can keep gaining power, they will no longer need Batman to clean up Gotham and Batman can be free. The Joker, a chillingly carefree criminal who cares not for money, humanity or even himself is in town merely to create chaos and enjoys playing moral games with people, highlighting how easy it is to get in touch with one's own dark side.

Insofar as this hero/villain dichotomy goes, The Dark Knight succeeds tremendously. Mostly due to the wonderful performances by absolutely everyone involved. The man of the hour, Heath Ledger delivers a fantastic performance as The Joker and it is a shame he didn't live to see the world enjoy this performance objectively. It's hard to see clearly through all the hype, but it is a solid, wonderfully creative performance from a seriously gifted actor.

However, I have to say, it was Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent that did it for me. He completely stole the show and every moment he was on screen, I was thrilled by not only his presence, but his ability to create a genuinely wholesome man out of what could have been so cheesy. Eckhart's performance is a lot more understated than The Joker, so bound to get less attention (plus, he's not dead, so we can look forward to seeing a lot more from him). However, his creation of Harvey and his convincing portayal of his dark side took a lot of charisma. His tragic downfall (I'm pretty sure I'm not spoiling anything here) is truly tragic and upsetting to see how he is used and manipulated by The Joker.

This is a superhero movie that will be talked about for years to come and is certainly one of the best (but who can even compare it to the kitsch of Spider-Man, which is pretty perfect in its own right). At almost two and a half hours, however, it's a bit of a stetch and if you ask me there's at least twenty minutes of set-up involving a very showy sequence in Hong-Kong that is completely unnecessary. The script overall had a lot of holes (when did Rachel get kidnapped?? I know it's not absolutely necessary to see it, but she just shows up kidnapped!!). And some kind of Sonar device which is just really stupidly over-the-top and conveniently pseudo-sciencey.

...Oh and Batman's voice is still ridiculous!!

However, despite these flaws, it is still a top-notch film and certainly the best summer blockbuster you'll see this year...yes, even The X-Files: I Want to Believe won't top this, I'm not that deluded.

Charlene Lydon 21/07/08

Dr Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog

"I have a Ph.D in horribleness"

Written by: Joss Whedon, Zac Whedon, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen

Directed by: Joss Whedon

Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day

My rating: 10/10

Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog came from the bored, genius mind of Joss Whedon during the recent Writer's Strike. Because he was not allowed to do any work, his mind wandered on to a non-union side project available to watch for free online. This project was to be shown in three acts, each almost 15 minutes long. It was to be strictly internet only (although there is talk of an imminent DVD release, fingers crossed).

The story is about a wanna be evil genius, Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), a nerdy loser with a flair for flamboyant science. He is in love with Penny, a girl he meets at the laundromat but doesn't have the nerve to talk to her. He must prove his worth by being accepted into the Evil League of Evil so he can find the confidence to ask her out. The only problem is, "cheesy on the outside" Captain Hammer also has eyes for her. Dr Horrible must battle Captain Hammer for both evil staus and Penny's heart.

First off, this work is not only revolutionary in its use of the internet medium, but it is also brilliant! Brilliantly funny, brilliantly tragic, brilliantly acted, brilliantly sung. The script is spot-on, the tone is spot-on and the songs are spot-on. The only variable here is your tolerance for the style of Joss Whedon. His ultra-hip turns of phrase and too witty to be believed banter can grate on some. But to others, it just helps to make the Buffyverse, and all it encapsulates, all the richer.

The first act starts with about 5 minutes of straight to camera video blog monologue from Dr. Horrible. Neil Patrick Harris absolutely nails the tone necessary to pull off this character. As with most of Whedon's characters they only work in the hands of the right people. Luckily he has a knack for casting and that explains his casting of Nathan Fillion as Captain Hammer. Joss knew a good thing when he found Fillion for the role of Captain Mal Reynolds in Firefly. He uses him to tremendous comic effect here. Nathan Fillion's asshole super hero is the perfect foil to our hero, the villainous Dr. Horrible.

The second act sees Dr. Horrible crumble as he sees Penny's relationship with Captain Hammer deepen. The third act takes as darker tone and the comedy fades and gives way to a tragic moral tale. Joss Whedon isn't just fancy one-liners folks. He's all about the heartbreak too. However disconcerting the final act was, in relation to the first two, it certainly proved that Joss is a daring storyteller and just an all-round genius who can do no wrong....hold your breath for his new show Dollhouse. Woo-hoo!

I know 10 out of 10 seems dramatic. But seriously, it's too silly to be called flawed and too joyous to criticise. It's about as perfect as silliness can be, but with a tragic punch to knock your socks off.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog is no longer available to watch for free online. It can be downloaded on i-Tunes, or if you're feeling naughty it can probably be You-Tubed :)

- Charlene Lydon 21/07/08