Project X – Review

How to tackle a review for a film with such low ambitions?

Project X is a found-footage film following three High School friends who want to throw the ultimate house party… and very little else besides. I imagine the aim of the project was simply to capture the energy and excitement of attending this “epic” party gone awry (over 1,000 party-goers in one house) as tops come off, ecstasy pills cascade from swearing gnomes, and the bass thuds from two competing DJs. In this respect the film partly succeeds; the party looks and feels authentic, though I was acutely aware that I wasn’t actually there but watching other people have fun on the big screen.

For the film to have any kind of resonance it needed to connect the audience to its characters, but the three nerds at the centre (no matter how familiar to me) were for the most part irritating boys looking to get drunk, sleep with girls with “big titties”, and attain some kind of legendary status at school. Mission accomplished for them perhaps, but I just got annoyed with the guy in the row in front who insisted on whooping and clapping like he’d never seen moving images before.

The film’s only attempt at having a semblance of plot or character arc was with the tentative romance between birthday boy Thomas (Thomas Mann) and his childhood friend Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton). Even this fell flat as it was given all of 10 minutes to develop and Thomas spent more screen time pursuing the token hot (and easy) girl from school. This is one time when even a pretty blonde can’t help.

I will admit to laughing a few times, particularly at the deadly serious and adolescent security guards, but with each giggle I felt a growing sense of shame. This is the type of film which includes a dwarf actor only so that he can be shut in an oven before going on a rampage, hitting a series of guys (and girls) in the groin before driving a car into the pool.

The plot (what little there is) of a wild house party and rampaging drug dealer (I forgot to mention him but refuse to go back and amend this review), is straight out of the first episode of Skins where the storyline was done in half the time and without the need for a flame-thrower.

Project X is an escalating disaster without depth, plot or character and it wouldn’t have it any other way. Amazing that a film so squarely designed as wish-fulfilment fare for teenage boys has gotten itself an 18 certificate, mostly due to the film’s lack of consequence. All this from Michael Bacall, co-writer of the Scott Pilgrim film. Tut.

Project X is out on wide release this Friday 2nd March but you are far too good for it.

2 Stars = Quite Unsettled

In Darkness – Trailer & Pics

In Darkness is the latest film from acclaimed Polish director Agnieszka Holland and, from what I’ve overheard whilst eavesdropping on people who know more than me, was essentially the runner-up for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars on Sunday.

In Darkness is set in Nazi-occupied Poland and follows a sewer workers attempts to hide a group of Jews deep within the sewer system. While I can’t yet tell you how good the film is, I can share with you the trailer and some images.

WARNING: Contains subtitles and extended scenes of sewers

[flashvideo file=wp-content/uploads/In_Darkness_Trailer.flv /]

In Darkness is on limited release from 16th March 2012.

This Means War – Review

McG has always been pretty much hit and miss. Well, not hit and miss per se; he hits every time but the quality of that hit only really makes it to first base, never coming close to a home run (to use an embarrassingly bad analogy). He’s directed the Charlie’s Angels movies, the [mostly] uninspiring Terminator Salvation and has been behind television shows such as angsty The O.C. and spy-comedy, Chuck. These were enjoyable for what they were supposed to be but were, for the most part, also stamped with far too many lingering shots of women jiggling their jugs, cringeworthy humour, OTT action and plots that bordered on the inconceivable.

This Means War appears to be more of the same from good ol’ McG: two male spies fancy a lady, the lady sells herself out dating both of them and we watch as all morals collapse into nothingness as the two professionals quickly turn into children with the power of the CIA behind them as they fight not for love, but for laughs, bragging rights and, well, Reese Witherspoon (oh, wow, winner). I’ve read tweets calling for the film to have been released on February 14th because they think this is a romantic film. Spoiler alert: it is not. Not remotely. But it is a hoot.

Packed with emasculating humour and the aforementioned boobs and action, This Means War is an enjoyable film at best. Surprisingly, it may be one of McG’s better outings as the cheesiness of it never really quite reaches the unbearable embarrassment of Charlie’s Angels or The O.C. Obviously, however, such corny laughs just aren’t for everyone as was proved to me by the gentleman I was sat next to whom barely cracked a smile whilst the rest of the auditorium was heaving with guilty laughter at some of the film’s more funny moments.

The surprises keep rolling as what I had assumed would be the worst part of This Means War (the casting of such talents as Captain James T. Kirk and Charles Bronson in a ‘romcom’) actually turns out to be a spot of excellence. Like the success of Gerard Butler before him, Tom Hardy’s tough guy image paired with his Britishness immediately makes you wonder why he hasn’t been in more comedy films before and Chris Pine is just a sexy hunk with a sharp tongue whom I’m sure all the ladies of today’s generation “well fancy”. On the female batting team is Reese Witherspoon who puts in an okay performance as the ‘lucky’ lady but Chelsea Handler’s arrogant best friend role is just genius, stealing any scene she’s in, and then there’s also the cute Rosemary Harris (Aunt May, people!) who I just wanted to hug and never let go of.

Going to see This Means War is a bit like when you go clubbing and realize you could have just as much fun at home with a cup of tea, but you still enjoy all the incomprehensible goings on in front of you as the overlaid heavy beats of techno and rap attempt to destroy your ears – because McG still thinks he’s 14, obviously. You might regret not seeing it at the cinema with friends but shame on you if you enjoy it just as much when you make the guilty pleasure purchase of it on DVD.

Oscars 2012: One Big Yawn of Agreement

The Oscars are clearly, and arbitrarily, the most important of all the award ceremonies yet coming as they do after a dozen of similar awards are given out to the same winners, by the time the Oscars finally arrive we are suffering from award season fatigue. This is where the desire for surprising winners comes in, despite The Artist, Meryl Streep, Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer all being worthy winners writing about them winning the awards they were tipped to win isn’t all that exciting.

But is that the point? The Artist really was the best film of the past year and deserves to win all the awards it won, the list of winners is not surprising but for the first time in years it is hard to disagree with any of the choices. Let’s not gripe about predictability and just be happy that worthy winners won awards and that Eddie Murphy wasn’t the host.

I am happy that The Artist won five Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Costume Design and Best Score) leaving Hugo to pick up all the technical awards. I am happy that A Separation won Best Foreign Language Film for being an amazing drama and that Rango won Best Animated Film despite being semi-grown-up. I’m happy that Woody Allen won an Oscar for the screenplay for Midnight in Paris and showed that he remains a relevant film-maker. I’m happy that Jim Rash co-won an award for co-writing The Descendants leaving amazing-but-almost-cancelled-sitcom Community with an Oscar winner amongst its cast. I’m happy that The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore won Best Animated Short Film because, as we all know, it is damned adorable.

What I am most happy about is Bret McKenzie won the Oscar for Best Original Song for “Man or Muppet”. There has never been a more obvious (there was only one other nominee for a start) yet deserving win.

So there you have it, the 2012 Oscar awards have made me happy but weren’t very exciting. It was the award ceremony equivalent of eating a trifle (for me at least).

Out Now – 24th February 2012

Safe House
Ryan Reynolds is a young CIA Agent with a single task, stay with a fugitive in a safe house. Typically unreliable, Reynolds is soon on the run with the fugitive who may well be played by Denzel Washington. For an insight into what it might look like if Judi Dench were in the lead role have a look above and wonder why I have nothing better to do.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
And now for a film which actually contains the goddess that is Judi Dench (along with every other British actor who can safely be called mature). If you like a gentle comedy filled with wrinkles then you’re in luck. Have yet to see a quote from my review used on any posters. Who wouldn’t see this film if they knew it “made me want to whisk Judi Dench off to India and retire in a dilapidated hotel”? Come on Fox Searchlight, sort out your marketing department.

Red Dog
A dog (the Red Dog in question) goes on a walkabout to find its owner and unites a small community in the process. It may sound a little twee but thanks to being an Australian film rather than American, it stands a chance of being funny and, if we let it, a little moving.

One for the Money
Katherine Heigl continues to fail to retire as she takes on the role of bounty hunter in her latest “comedy”. As punishment I have given her Judi Dench’s face, poor Dench.

Blood Car (limited release)
Filmed about five years ago and set “in the near future” this comedy horror, about a time in which human blood becomes the ultimate alternative fuel source, may well be happening RIGHT NOW!!! If you feel anaemic please check that your neighbour isn’t siphoning off your blood to make the school run.

Black Gold (limited release)
“Set in the 1930s Arab states at the dawn of the oil boom, the story centers on a young Arab prince torn between allegiance to his conservative father and modern, liberal father-in-law.” Sand and swords bore me too much to even try to be funny.

Laura (limited release)
The BFI continue their run of re-releasing classic films with a film noir from the 40s about a detective who falls for the woman whose murder he is investigating. Talk about dating anything with a pulse… or without.

Rampart (limited release)
Woody Harrelson is “the last of the renegade cops”, fighting for survival and being all gritty and stuff. Genuinely weird to think that he started off as Woody in Cheers.

Deviation (limited release)
Good God, it stars Danny Dyer. Move along.

Naachle London (limited release)
Thanks mostly to extreme racism I don’t tend to mention Bollywood releases, but this one is set in London so I’m going to mention it. Film mentioned, job done. Now for some humus.

Bring Me the Head of Adam Riches

The most recent time I stretched the scope of this blog to discuss comedy it was to talk about last year’s Laughs in the Park. Amongst the various acts was Adam Riches, someone I had never heard of but who turned out to be the highlight of the day. I swore back then in July 2011 that “if Adam Riches does a gig near me, I’m there.” Adam Riches has since won the Edinburgh Comedy Award at last year’s fringe festival and currently has a month-long stay at the Soho Theatre. Naturally I went along to see if he was as good as I remembered.

Adam Riches is a unique act; he never introduces himself or appears on-stage out of character, instead introducing himself as a series of characters, each more eccentric than the last. To go into too much detail about the characters and sketches would be to ruin the show, and frankly the sketches spiral so far out of control that I’d struggle to fully describe them and you might think I was making bits up. I will say that at one point the entire audience was in danger of getting a tennis ball in the face.

What Adam Riches has become known for is instilling fear in his small, vulnerable audience of just 150 comedy fans. The fear comes from Riches reliance on audience participation, for each of his sketches to work Riches must pluck at least one audience member from the crowd and gradually push them further out of their comfort zone. It was amazing to watch as not one of the selected few managed to resist their call to the stage, perhaps it was because Riches never asks, but simply demands, to be joined on-stage or maybe because we all knew deep down that to say no would ruin the show for everyone else. Whether they were riding lizards on skateboard or giving Riches a drink “as starlings do”, the unlucky chosen audiences members threw themselves into their roles.

Despite the perpetual sense of fear instilled in me by the possibility of having to go on-stage, Adam Riches was overwhelmingly funny. I laughed so hard I made noises I had never heard before and at one point tried to catch my breath mid-laugh, inhaled far too hard and almost killed myself in the process by inhaling my entire face. Adam Riches was so funny it was bad for my health.

I can’t recommend Bring Me the Head of Adam Riches enough, though for safety would suggest you sit near the back and in the middle of a row. What you get for your money is an hour filled with bizarre, insane comedy which can only truly be enjoyed when experienced live in a small theatre.

Bring Me the Head of Adam Riches is at the Soho Theatre until 17th March.

The Muppets – BlogalongaMuppets 7

Over 12 years since their last cinematic release, and over 30 years since The Muppet Show finished on the small screen, the Muppets have split up, their studios have fallen into disrepair and Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) wants to buy the land to drill for oil. Enter Walter (a puppet/Muppet?) and Gary (Jason Segel), a pair of brothers determined to help reunite the Muppets and raise the $10 million they need to save their studio. Given two hours of primetime TV to hold a telethon by a desperate studio exec (Rashida Jones), the gang have just days to put together a revival of The Muppet Show.

Amy Adams is also in the cast as Gary’s fiancée in a wholly redundant sub-plot about nothing much at all, but I’ll mostly be ignoring that part of the film. Other criticisms (let’s get them out of the way) include the fact that the premise of a telethon allows for a few too many brief celebrity cameos, and that some jokes are better in the set-up than the execution – the Muppet collecting montage is a prime example. The Muppets is also guilty of overusing green screen to get the Muppets in a variety of locations and doing things impossible for a puppet to do. I understand this can save time and money but it also takes away from the rustic charm of the Muppets.

Griping over.

At its heart The Muppets is one great big love letter to the Muppets. The film is a celebration of our favourite felt-based friends and acknowledges the TV and film heritage they have created. This is most evident in this instalment’s connections to 1979’s The Muppet Movie, not only is one song from this film reprised on-stage but the Standard Rich and Famous Contract, which the Muppets receive at the end of The Muppet Movie, serves as the Maguffin in The Muppets. This is roughly as intellectual as I can get.

Present but never overused is the standard Muppet meta-humour, the characters are aware that this is a film, and after the disappointment of Muppets from Space, the songs are back. And what amazing songs! Man or Muppet truly deserves to win the Oscar for Best Original Song. It is clear that Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords wrote the songs as they have that distinct Conchordian sound, and are all the better for it. My acid test for a musical is whether or not the songs are in my head the next day, and Man or Muppet was ringing loud and clear in my brain for the rest of the week. Job done.

There is so much to love about this film that the few flaws are easily forgiven and The Muppets ends up being a superior production to the early Muppet films it is paying tribute to. I left the cinema with a massive grin on my face, a song in my heart and a skip in my step. There was also a book in my bag, but this is unrelated.

The Muppets is a joy, made for the fans but surely just as enjoyable for the uninitiated.

Only one question remains about The Muppets, where the hell was Rizzo!?

Muppet Movie Ranking:
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol
2. Muppet Treasure Island
3. The Muppets
4. The Muppets Take Manhattan
5. The Great Muppet Caper
6. The Muppet Movie
7. Muppets from Space

Out Now – 21st February 2012

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (Selected Picturehouse venues)
Famous for making B-movies such as Attack of the Crab Monsters and Swamp Women, director/producer/writer Roger Corman is a Hollywood legend with an alternative method to making movies. This documentary explores Corman’s unique approach and includes contributions from Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Jack Nicholson, Ron Howard and William Shatner.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Review

In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel eight British pensioners are tempted away from their native country with the promise of a free flight to India and the chance to live out their retirements in a luxury hotel. On arrival they find the hotel is in disrepair and run by a young man called Sonny (Dev Patel). Over time the group grow to either love or loathe their new home, Sonny battles to keep his vision of an extraordinary retirement home afloat and each senior citizen goes on their own unique journey.

With such a large cast of British acting royalty the film is at risk of feeling fragmented as at least seven separate stories are told, but somehow it works. The various characters are each seeking something different; a lost love, sex, life after the loss of a partner, a new hip, a rich husband or to save their marriage. What links them together, and highlights their differences, is India itself. The country is photographed beautifully and the film is filled with vibrant colours, a myriad of sounds, and various exotic smells. Perhaps the smells were only in my mind. The characters learn to cope with their new surroundings with varying degrees of success, some thriving amongst the new experiences and others shying away from the terrifying world outside the hotel.

The various story threads bring with them a nice mix of humour, drama and even a little romance. The trailer may have sold the film as a slightly faster paced comedy than it is, but The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel still has plenty of laughs spread across its running time. What the film also offers, that perhaps the trailer does not showcase enough, is plenty of heartfelt moments and plots that go a little deeper than most light comedies allow. It doesn’t hurt that every role is filled by a beloved British face, from Judi Dench to Maggie Smith, from Bill Nighy to Tom Wilkinson, and from Penelope Wilton to Celia Imrie. With talent like this given the rare opportunity to strut their stuff in leading roles the two-hour running time flies by and at the end I wanted to check into the Marigold Hotel and stay a little while longer.

With an older cast and a gentler approach to comedy than is normally seen on the big screen, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is not going to excite everyone. I overheard a fellow critic at my screening suggesting that perhaps it would be preferred by an older audience, but speaking as a 23-year-old I recommend this film as proof that you don’t have to be the same age as the cast to find this film funny.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a gentle comedy with a lot of heart. The visuals were stunning and cast of British legends were wonderful to watch in their element. It was enough to make me want to whisk Judi Dench off to India and retire in a dilapidated hotel.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is on general release on 24th February 2012.

Out Now – 17th February 2012

What follows is an entirely unhelpful rundown of this week’s releases. I had a Red Bull earlier in the day if that helps explain things.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
The Cage is back as Johnny Blaze, a man who occasionally becomes little more than a flaming skull riding around on a motorbike – and he’s the good guy. While InterRailing in Europe (maybe) Johnny Blaze is called to action to help stop the devil taking human form. If there’s one thing worse than disembodied evil, it’s embodied evil, presumably. HIS HEAD IS ON FIRE! IN 3D!

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
I’ve been trying to figure out why this film feels so familiar to me, then I realised that I’m constantly being told (at home, at work, on the Tube), “Tim, you are extremely loud and incredibly close, please step back.” But this film is not about my lack of respect for vocal moderation and personal space, wonderful though that film would be, instead we have a story about a young boy who is looking for a lock to go with the key left behind by his father who died during 9/11. The reviews have been brutal, but not as brutal as having me standing next to you on a train, explaining directly to your eardrum why Footloose is the greatest film ever made.

The Woman in the Fifth (limited release)
Having the most awkward film title of the week the same day that Hadewijch comes out is quite an achievement. Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas play a scandalised lecturer and widow/potential murderer who meet in Paris and get romantically entangled.

Position Among the Stars (limited release)
“Through the eyes of grandmother Rumidjah, a poor old Christian woman living in the slums of Jakarta, we see the economical changing society of Indonesia and the influence of globalization reflected in the life of her juvenile granddaughter Tari and her sons Bakti and Dwi.”

ID:A (limited release)
Danish film about a woman who wakes up in a river with no memory and is forced to run from mysterious strangers and try to remember what is going on. We’ve all been there, I’ll never forget the time I woke up as a Danish woman in a river, it took forever to get home.

Hadewijch (London West End only)
If Wikipedia is to be believed (and when it comes to film plots it really should be) this French drama, about a fanatic Christian kicked out of a nunnery for having too much blind faith, takes a crazy turn towards the end. Shame only Londoners are allowed to see it.