Friday, 26 February 2010

Leap Year: Adams & Goode Take the Money and Run

I didn't want to harp on about another romantic comedy after "Valentine's Day" but the one I just sat through was so mundane, formulaic, predictable and contrived that I feel I must vent.

"Leap Year" is another variation on the "It Happened One Night" formula in which two apparently mis-matched individuals are forced together on some quest for something they each believe they need, only to discover along the way that all they really need is each other.

Many great films have worked with variations of this plot, but Leap Year brings no variation whatsoever. The story plays out like a metronome, hitting obvious beats like clockwork and generating no emotional or intellectual interest at any point.

Amy Adams plays a girl who is sick of waiting for her boyfriend to propose, so she flits off to Ireland to propose to him on the 29th of February, cos it's some Irish tradition or summat.

This idea is put to her by her father(a single-scene appearance by John Lithgow, playing it either drunk or completely insane), who she later establishes as an unreliable waster who frittered all her family's money away, making her work two jobs through her teens. So his ideas are the ones to listen to, obviously.

After a series of rushed and incredibly contrived mishaps, Amy Adams finds herself in need of a lift to Dublin, so she hires a local barman(Matthew Goode) to be her driver, because they don't have buses or taxis in backward, rural, stone-age ireland, right?

So the scene is set for a parade of ropey Oirish stereotypes, some choppy and incoherent editing and an over-reliance on pretty scenery, rendering this an arduous slog through a humourless quagmire.

Fearlessly unoriginal, "Leap Year" leaves no cliche un-wafted: The male lead's bitter and cynical front hides a soft, caramel centre, the female's intended spouse is the obvious "wrong man"(insensitive, superficial and inattentive), so nobody feels bad when he gets ditched, there is a sequence where our heroes have to pretend to be married for some contrived bull-shit reason, leading not only to uncomfortable proximity in a shared bed, but also an embarrassingly blunt scene in which they are literally forced to kiss one another by some old people at a dinner table. Plus, the emotional climax is pretty much entirely lifted from the "let's not get married" bit from the end of "Four Weddings"

Adding insult to injury is the shameful wastage of the two talented leads: Goode smirks his way through a phoned-in performance featuring one of the worst Irish accents since time immemorial, barely managing to wring out the movie's few half-chuckles with his disdainful demeanour, while the film commits the cardinal sin of making Amy Adams play a stiff.

Adams is a charming, effervescent presence on any screen, but here she is reduced to a shrill, shallow, materialistic dullard who only holds any kind of appeal at all because she's Amy fucking Adams. Which(I never thought I'd say this), just isn't enough.

In closing, I will leave you with Matthew Goode's own comments on the film, quoted from the Daily Telegraph last weekend:

"That was the main reason I took it – so that I could come home at the weekends. It wasn’t because of the script, trust me... It’s turgid... I just know that there are a lot of people who will say it is the worst film of 2010... Was it a bad job? Yes, it was. But, you know, I had a nice time and I got paid."

I got paid to watch this film, but I did not have a nice time.

Monday, 22 February 2010

My Cinema Pet-Hates # 4

#4: Films with too many logos at the start.

You know the feeling.

You've just had to sit through an advert reel of between 10/15 minutes (maybe even longer on a bigger film or around christmas time), followed by a sequence of trailers running for about the same length again; maybe an advert for the cinema chain you're in, then perhaps some comedy skit with a celebrity guest telling you to switch your phone off and, finally, the certificate for the movie appears on screen.

"At last", you think. "Let's get this show on the road!" Fade to black. And then...

A logo for some movie studio appears. Just a 30 second animation, maybe the Universal or Fox logo, nothing too unexpected.

Here we go. Film on.

Another logo appears, maybe this time its a production company, or another studio that's working in affiliation with the first studio, but whoever they are, they deserve a short animation to mark their territory as well.

And then there's another.

Maybe the lead actor has a company, and he/she wants their stamp on the product. And another. And another. The start of a feature film has started to feel like an advertisement break in itself, only all the adverts are for movie production companies. It won't be long before you see "Catering by Mike's Movie Munchies" before you see the title of the bloody film.

And the greatest insult? The fact that you know damn well that, after having to sit through this parade of "idents", the first minute or two of credits in the film will simply be a re-affirmation of the involvement of each and every one of the companies who just announced their ownership of the film to you in an animation. "I know Warner Bros Pictures are presenting this film, I saw their cocking logo not thirty fucking seconds ago! Get on with the fucking film, you self-promoting bastards!"

Friday, 12 February 2010

If Movies be the Food of Love...

If movies be the food of love, then "Valentine's Day" is a massive wedding cake, complete with dinky model bride and groom on the top: unwieldy, tacky, cliched and hard to swallow, especially all by yourself.

"Valentine's Day" is one of those self-consciously intricate, multi-plot stories which follows several seemingly unconnected characters throughout their (Valentine's) day and attempts to tie all the plot strands together in various ways. It's kind of like "Magnolia" with less frogs and more flowers.

The movie takes place in some bizarre parallel universe where only beautiful people seem to exist. Kathy Bates shows up for a minute and you think "Aha! They're going to show us that the plain folk have love-lives too!" But no, she's a mere cameo in a storyline much more concerned with better looking people. I nearly cheered when Kristen Schaal (Mel from "Flight of the Conchords") showed up, thinking I was in for a storyline about the love-related trials of the incredibly bizarre-looking, but then the shot cut to Emma (Daughter of Eric, Niece of Julia) Roberts looking all young and pretty and I knew Schaal would not be the focus of this storyline, either.

The only exceptions to the "Beauties Only" rule are allowances for old people and kids. They are apparently allowed to engage in love-stories, probably because it is cute or summat. Nobody wants to see a bunch of grotty uggers drooling on each other on a big screen, do they?

This is the reason that "Valentine's Day" acts as a perfect representative of the holiday it is named after. It is a superficial, syrupy, commercialised, showy trivialisation of the deepest and most indefinable human emotion. Watching it feels like getting a massive, flashy, musical Valentine's card from someone you know is cheating on you.

All this is not necessarily to say it's a "bad" film, as such. It's simply a cynically pre-packaged, homogenised one. There are moments of amusement: Jamie Foxx gets most of the laughs, but is only onscreen for about 10 mins in total, and it's probably quite telling that one of the best lines comes from a Twilight injoke wherein Taylor Lautner claims an aversion to taking his top off in public.

Ultimately, the film remains bland and safe, the comedy is resolutely shit-sit-com level and the musings on love are uninspired and uninsightful at best. Out of all the storylines, there are no unhappy endings. So everyone gets what they deserve on Valentine's Day, right?

This is a feel-good movie for people who already feel good anyway. How you react to it may well be equated with how you would react to witnessing a public display of affection. If you would smile and think "Oh, they must be so in love", you will probably enjoy this film. If, however, PDAs make you want to puke, then this film will tip you into a chasm of despair dug by the knowledge that your entire life will never be as romantically satisfying as one predictable day in these characters' lives.

Have a Nice Valentine's Day.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Disney and 2D: Back to the Boring Board?

The word is on the street: hand-drawn animation is all but dead. Pixar saw to that. But, wait! Here comes Pixar top-dog John Lasseter, rallying the very animators he helped put out of business, to re-open the Disney "classic" catalogue and put pencil and paint back on our screens.

"The Princess and the Frog" is the first hand-drawn Disney film since "Home on the Range" wheezed its way into the bargain bin about six years ago, and we can all remember how that went, right? Anyone?

The diminishing returns on 2D and the runaway success of Pixar and Dreamworks' CG films led Disney to sound the death knell on old-school cartooning, due to the misconception that people didn't want to look at bits of ink moving around onscreen when they could have bunches of pixels instead.

When Lasseter took over a large portion of the Disney company, he pointed out that the down-turn in ticket sales was more likely to be because of the down-turn in the quality of the movies, rather than the passing of the medium. Disney had been churning out formulaic and uninteresting flicks for some time, whilst audiences were becoming accustomed to the expert storytelling of the Pixar oeuvre, so they had been left trailing behind.

So, does "The Princess and the Frog" resuscitate Disney's comatose animation wing? To some extent, yes. However, it is less a case of "return to form" than "return to formula".

"Princess and the Frog" is packed with stock characters (strong willed, but lonely heroine who is too focused on her work to actually live her life/handsome, playboy prince too wrapped up in himself to care about anyone else) wandering through familiar situations, meeting a disparate bunch of comedy sidekicks and learning their lessons on the way to an expected finale. It looks great, however, although some of the character design is slightly unbalanced - veering wildly between caricature and semi-realism - and the tunes are fun, if not show-stopping.

The story is typically syrupy, with a pat message about the difference between what you want and what you need, but won't quite induce a diabetic coma due to the general lightness of touch and a few laughs from the nonchalant Prince and Childs-from-out-of-The-Thing as the scene-eating bad guy.

Much has been made of the fact that the lead, Tiana, is the first black Disney "Princess", surely indicating that the winds of change are blowing through the corridors of the Mouse House, right? I mean only a massive cynic would call into question the good intentions that no doubt motivated the racial selection by pointing out that Disney's first black-centric tale features lots of jazz, voodoo and a heroine obsessed with gumbo. At least it wasn't fried chicken, eh?

There's also an inbred, toothless retard red-neck Cajun firefly, so the stereotypes aren't just limited to the black community.

Cynical racial analyses aside, the film remains a solidly entertaining, if unremarkable experience akin to Disney also-rans such as "Basil the Great Mouse Detective" or "Hercules", but is not fit to shine the shoes of "Bambi", "Pinocchio" or more recent works like "The Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast", let alone anything from the Pixar library. Except "Cars". It's better than "Cars".

On the strength of this evidence, Disney needs to take a leaf out of Pixar's book and let passionate, talented directors tell us stories that need to be told, rather than cobbling together a product from demographic breakdowns and market research. Until they do, we'll just have to rely on Lasseter's stable and the unfortunately-not-exactly-prolific genius Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli for quality family animation.

Monday, 1 February 2010

My Cinema Pet-Hates #3


#3: People who knowingly ruin films for others.

I overheard a conversation on the bus the other day. It went something like this:

"Did you watch that Slumdog Millionaire last night?"

"No, was it good?"

"Oh, yeah. They had a hell of a time, the little kids. I felt sorry for them, but then he won the millionaire quiz at the end so it was alright. They shot his brother, though. Shot him in a bath. The gangsters did."

Is this how you recommend a film to someone? By negating the need to actually watch the film? Do you think you're doing them a favour? They missed the film, not their child's first words! You don't need to fill them in on the important bits!

The person I overheard wasn't doing this deliberately, I'm sure. The spoilers were delivered in a gossipy, "you'll-never-guess-what-I-saw" manner, as if imparting some astonishing secret. This is not always the case.

I have a friend who takes pure, sadistic pleasure in ruining films for people. If you said "I'm watching "The Sixth Sense" for the first time ever tonight. Have you seen it?" His response would be "Yeah, The twist is: Bruce Willis is dead." No witty hints or humourous attempts to feign accidental revelation, he will spoil a film for you just to see the look on your face.

I'm sure there is a psychological reason for this phenomenon; something to do with "need for control" or "sadistic, malignant narcissism" or summat, but I prefer to call it simply annoying as shit.