Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Red State...

Now I actually wanted to check out other reviews of Red State before I started my own...Not that I doubt my own opinion but something was niggling me and I wondered if I had missed something.

Clearly I did.

A good majority of Rotten Tomato reviewers deem Red State as Kevin Smiths best film to date 'or close'.

Sorry guys but I'm not feeling the vibe. Maybe you have to be a Kevin Smith fan? I'm not.

But anyway...

"It's some scary film about crazy Church people against gays"

A bit of controversy close to home?...Interesting...

Three college guys make the wrong move when they accept an anonymous invitation to engage in group sex with a mysterious woman they meet on-line, only to be kidnapped and trialled in an extreme fundamentalist Church/Sanctuary (Five Points) led by a delusional Pastor, Abin Cooper.

Agent, Joseph Keenen, hears of the disturbances happening at Five Points and decides to take necessary action on the well known fundamentalists.

The issue of homosexuality and God in Red State makes a promising start. Witnessing members of Five Points protesting at a gay man's funeral certainly got me angry.

"Bastards" I muttered under my breath. Having said that, the anger I had built up, soon diminished.

I was preparing myself for a pretty intelligent and disturbing view of the controversial issues that surround homosexuality and the Church. But instead, I was left a little confused.

Kevin Smith seemed more interested in how far he could stretch 'extreme', so much so that I'm not even entirely sure of the points he was trying to make.

Abin Coopers 'famous' twelve minute solo sermon for example, was just too long. It felt like a pretentious tool to tick a box and claim itself to be 'daring'. Similarly, the overly acted nods of approval from his followers (including children) made me cringe and diluted the already weak impact of his words.

If Smith really wanted to get us angry...It didn't work. I simply got bored.

Personally, films that deal with such controversial issues have enough juice in their system to spark an emotion without having to over indulge in typical filmic codes and conventions. In regards to Red State, I found myself questioning why it slowly began to dip it's toes into the horror/action genre unless it wanted to pump it's viewers with energy, a few jumps and squeamish moments...Sound like a typical popcorn job to you?

Amongst the trials and questionable executions, the story develops slightly (if weakly) when Agent Joseph Keenen and his team close in on the Sanctuary.

We learn that Five Points is quite well known and forces have been waiting for the chance to take action.

Unfortunately, the way in which this information is executed and the following investigative steps seem like a wasted opportunity to learn more about fundamentalism in general. It exists in the real world as a debatable and controversial issue so why sprinkle it with shoddy details and ballistics? Again, pass me the popcorn.

Speaking of ballistics...John McClane and GI Jane have absolutely nothing on our middle aged Church goers. The whole uber-religious fighting force amazingly have the knowledge to reload and fire huge shiny guns...I get that Kevin Smith wanted to make these guys seem psychotic but there's only so much extreme you can do before things start to become a little too unrealistic.

Although I seem to be slating the horror/action genre of Red State, I am simply doing it with the consideration of it's context. In terms of dramatic effect, there is no denying that Red State has some exhilarating scenes, even I felt my legs twitch.

Similarly I have a slight admiration for the lack of predictability and the mercilessness of it's 'main' leads. Having said that, if you're someone who likes to bond with a character...I very much doubt that's going to happen.

During a ridiculously long stale-mate shoot out our main agent, Joseph Keenen is told from the top to eliminate every person within the Sanctuary, including victims, to cover up some horrible flaws within the police force.

It is at this point where I began to lose sense of the point to Red State.

What was once a narrow-minded view of fundamentalism and homosexuality now becomes a confusing statement about America's law enforcement...I just didn't get it.

Not only this but the approaching ending gave me quite a surprise. I actually stopped slating the film and began to wonder whether I had been successfully manipulated into a solid opinion and was about to fall on my arse but.......no, it was wishful thinking.

Kevin Smith must be an enquired taste.

At the moment he's my marmite.

And I don't like marmite very much.

Red State could have been a juicy film that intelligently dealt with controversial issues, struck anger and hit a nerve with a lot of people. Instead, it chose to depend on extremities and guns.

If you enjoy the odd scare, machine-gun bearing mothers and gore, Red State is highly recommend.

If you're one for the contrary, I hear 8: The Mormon Proposition is a pretty good watch....


Wednesday, 22 February 2012

"Some weird film that did well at Sundance"

I'm sitting in the back of the car with some friends on the way back from Nando's discussing what film we're going to watch when we finally get back in.

"Another Earth?"

"What's that?" I ask.

"Not sure but it's some weird film that did well at Sundance"

With that response, I'm intrigued as well as relieved.

"Not some mainstream crap then? Another Earth it is..."

Armed with a bottle of Budweiser and a reclining sofa, we press PLAY.

Another Earth is exactly what it says on the tin. Scientists discover a parallel Earth with another 'you'.
Our protagonist is young and ambitious student Rhoda who, on the night of discovery, tragically crosses paths with a composer and his young family.

A few years pass and the once ambitious Rhoda is now a more mature but guilt-ridden zombie working as a janitor in her local college.

It is revealed that the moment of discovery broke the parallel dimensions between Earth 1 and Earth 2, so our sister planet literally hangs in the air taunting Rhoda with the possibility of another, guilt-free 'self'.

But it's a case of 'So close, yet so far away'.

Pulling herself back down to Earth, she attempts to supress her guilt with an apology to the composer (John) whose life she tragically impacted a few years before. But, backing out at the last minute she becomes distortedly intertwined in his life without his knowledge of her true identity.

We are then taken on an emotional journey through human connection and the burdening question of 'what if?'.

What I find most interesting about this film is it's originality. Yes its a Science Fiction but it's not your typical blockbuster by far.

What we have is an identifiable and realistic human situation set against the backdrop of a physical human desire. So effectively, it's a character driven drama with a bit of artistic license...If you've ever seen Gattaca (1997) you're going to like this.

Immediately, this film tugs at the many philosophical questions us humans have battled. Is there a parallel 'you'? Would you be the same? Would you want to be the same? What path would you have taken? And so on and so forth. It's no surprise that the questions Rhoda faces are questions that we are forced to continue asking ourselves throughout the film and beyond. A pretty smart technique by director Mike Cahill that creatively manipulates us into becoming Rhoda, a definite thumbs up from me.

'Not much happens' is a common phase that I can imagine being associated with Another Earth. In terms of action this is probably suitable BUT so much happens under the surface that is beautifully orchestrated.

The developing bond between Rhoda and John, for example, is a complex and intriguing one. They are two intelligent individuals living a lifeless existence who find escapism within each other, effectively creating a world of their own where everything is OK. As viewers we know this is not the case and it adds such a tragic undertone to the whole relationship. This is no spoon fed screenplay but instead a web of deeper meanings that go beyond the obvious.

Stylistically Another Earth is beautiful on the inside as well as out. A film filled with gorgeous moments of contemplation that allow you to breathe and take time to scratch ones beard and ponder the mysterious of the universe. Again, if you're a person who likes action then Another Earth is going to disappoint but if you enjoy films that make you think, you're onto a winner.

If there's one thing I hate most about films, it's a predictable ending. With Another Earth I was far from disappointed. An excited discussion even erupted in our living room as we approached the final 15minutes, that's always a good sign......but I'll let you be the judge of that.

Another Earth is a deep and intelligent journey into human connection, the choices we make in life and the question that is sure to haunt every human being, 'What if?'. For the more open minded viewer this is definitely worth a watch but if you like your Sci-Fi's to sit comfortably next to Star Wars, I-Robot or Independence Day then Another Earth is definitely going to be your Marmite.....

Another Earth

Saturday, 11 February 2012

'F' for FAIL

I'm torn between which film to talk about first. The film that made me think 'I'd love to write about that..' or the film that made me think 'I'd love to slate that...'

I'm not in the best of moods today so I'm gonna go with the slate-ation :)

By now it should be clear that I'm one for a good Brit-Flick, something close to home, something with a bit of cynical sarcasm or something that rattles the 'that's TOO close to home' nervous system...So when I pick up a DVD with an edgy, urban, gritty cover titled 'F'..I'm hooked and I'm reading the synopsis.


"Empire?...Hmm.." I say to myself. I like Empire.

The cover is littered with 4star ratings, five lots of 4star ratings to be precise.

"Must be good"

 I buy it.

I'm at home, grandmas knitted duvet covering my legs (its cool), lights are out and I press PLAY.

Opening scene, a school boy head-butts his teacher. BRUTAL. "I'm gonna like this".

One hour and twenty-six minutes later, I'm massively disappointed.

A British version of an American high school slasher movie.

Formulaic, I think's the word. Even down to the gym babe who wears skimpy shorts, sweats and decides to chill out in the gym... on her own... in the near dark... (as you do).

A school is under attack by a group of hoodied figures (presumably students?) who roam around in the after-school darkness killing off any lingering persons who happen to unfortunately stay after 5pm..ish.
Well, there goes the cleaner.

Our unlikely hero is said teacher who, after having some time off,  has returned to school in no fit state whatsoever. As a paranoid weak wreck his teaching abilities have floundered, his classes are pitiful and his own daughter likes to punch his buttons during lessons.

There is obvious relationship issues here which grabs some interest but it's soon to be lost amongst the cries, screams, chases, blood and so on and so forth.

So, its after school hours and father and daughter are having problems. Daughter runs off. Dad needs to find daughter.

Meanwhile, our hoodied, faceless thugs are roaming the school and picking people off. I can't quite work out why the film makers of F thought it was necessary to make our antagonists look like Harry Potter's death-eaters? Not one identity is revealed, it almost feels like an excuse not to delve further into the reasons behind such attack. And to top it all off, these urban death-eaters are even more detached from the real world as they leap from bookcase to ceilings...yes, the entire ambiguous gang are free runners (?!)

If you're one for gruesome goodies however, there's the odd one or two treat. Some scenes made even me squint...

Having said that, one very annoying factor to this film is it's continuing decision to cut just when something is about to happen. A typical example :- Poor innocent person all alone, hears a noise, hoodied figure comes to light, person gets scared, hoodied figure closes in and CUT. We then return a few minutes later to see a face caved in, jaw ripped.....etc. Not a terribly bad technique but when it's overdone it gets predictable and when it gets predictable, it's gets boring.

So, amongst the CUTS, free running and blood the story continues as dad attempts to track down his daughter with the help of a gutless security guard.

Not much more can be said in terms of storyline until the ending. Another major disappointment. After a scrap with one of the many hoodied villains, dad scores with a badly acted stab into the thugs stomach. Are we about to witness a big reveal?? No..we're not. Oh well.

I will give credit where it's due however, as a tough decision is to be made by dad nearing the end of the film. This is probably the only point in the entire one hour and 26 minutes where I have some emotional attachment but again, it's short lived and rounded off with a cop out open ending.

Overall, I'd barely give F two stars.

If you like an easy watch, typical structures, a few jumps and some gory goodies then press PLAY but if you're like me and you appreciate a film for it's challenging and thought provoking juice then EJECT immediately.

F is a poor attempt at integrating the typical high school slasher movie with true British cinematic values.