Saturday, November 20, 2010
David Gordon Green has been carving out a very respectable career directing comedy recently, departing from his earlier indie days. If his first foray into stoner comedy, with "Pineapple Express" wasn't exactly reassuring, then his recent directing stints on HBO's fantastic "Eastbound and Down" show that he knows funny. Here he is reunited with his two previous stars James Franco (in a complete 180 after "127 Hours") and the great Danny McBride. It may not look big or clever, but it looks very funny. The film is released in Europe, in Summer next year.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Here's one for you: a film that is painfully long and never ending, self-indulgant and at times pointlessly gratuitous and seedy. Now imagine, said film while exhibiting these negative traits and more, is also one of the most visually dazzling and unforgettable films you may ever see. That is the conflicting mind warp of "Enter The Void", Gaspar Noé's third feature length film and his first in almost eight years. For the uninitiated, Noé made headlines in 2002 with his second feature and breakthrough film "Irréversible". One of the most polarizing and undoubtedly shocking and controversial films of all time, it was also noted for its daring linear trajection and stunning technical prowess. For some it was one of the masterpieces of the decade, and for others it was one of the most horrific cinematic experiences of their life, including me. A film that thrived on ugliness and shock tactics, it seemed to me that Noé made the film, with the intention of not actually wanting his audience to like it. Of course it didn't help that its two most infamous scenes offered extreme sexual violence and horrifically real gore. I found the film to be near unwatchable, significant only for its technical achievements. Odd then, that Noé, didn't seem to learn anything from that experience, and now presents us with "Enter The Void", a film that is also, in my eyes at least near unwatchable, however, not for the same extreme reasons its predecessor was.
Noé presents his film in certain ways we have not ever experienced before in cinema. It is a truly visually dazzling trip. We open the film experiencing everything from Oscar's (Nathaniel Brown) point of view. The audience is effectively him, we even see his blinks. However a drug deal goes horribly wrong, and Oscar is murdered. Except then the film shifts its perspective as we then become Oscars spirit hovering high above the streets of Tokyo, or delve into his strange past in a third person view, effectively looking over his shoulder and always presented with the back of his head. As a spirit he visits those closest to him as they cope with his passing, namely his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) of which he seems to share an unhealthy relationship with. From a young age the two promised to never leave each other after their parents were killed in a very traumatising (and frequently revisited) car accident. And that's it. For a film so very long and slow moving, this is all the plot we're left with. The film is interspersed with pointless scenes of a sexual nature (Noé has always been obsessed with sex) and very frequent shots into intense visions of bright colours and strobe lighting. Each time Noé repeats this, it becomes ever more tiresome and less effective. The whole trip seems to be in actuality, a huge ego trip for the director himself. It doesn't respect characters or plot and is only ever concerned with its visual aura and dreamy textures. Thank God he shied away from the extreme violence of his previous cinematic efforts as this here seems to be Noé attempting to mature. He attempts to ask profound questions on life and death but gets bogged down in his psychedelic and very far out images and hallucinogenic dreamscapes. The result comes off as pretentious in the extreme. Just because he himself once may have had a profound drug trip, does necessarily mean audiences wish to accompany him along on one, especially one as hollow as presented here.
The acting from all involved is dreadful. de la Huerta offers a brief scene of genuine intensity and truthfulness towards the end, but it is too late in the game. It seems she was chosen for the fact that she would not mind the copious times her character spends in undress, rather than her true acting ability. As the lead character, Brown registers remarkably little interest or memorability on the audiences part. So he once saw his parents have sex, but does that really explain his predilection for his sister and older women? Noé doesn't seem to care to get into any of the characters heads or mindsets, rather more so, chucking more colours and strobe lights at the audience. It doesn't help that all the action is shot from perspectives that prevent you from actually truly seeing any of the actors faces, and crucially their eyes. It holds little emotional significance for the audience looking at the back of everyones head, or gazing straight down on the action from above.
Which brings me to the one thing the film has going for it. Its visual style. It really is, one of the most awe inspiring technical achievements I have ever seen in film. Every single shot is punctuated by a 'how did they do that?' so effective is its photo real CG effects. Noé moves his camera in ways never seen or thought to be impossible before and does it effortlessly and with great craftsmanship. It's sound design and music (created with help by one half of Daft Punk, Thomas Bangalter) add to its conviction. Its colours and vibrant lighting is a visual tour de force unlike anything seen before. Unfortunately it is nowhere near enough to sustain interest in a film so pretentious and dreary. It screams with desires to be taken seriously and to provoke genuine spiritual response. It is too in love with itself and believes that because of its technical achievements and emotional and heavy handed undercurrents, you should too, without actually working to gain your interest or giving you anything to invest in. If a never ending 2 and a half hour drug trip, punctuated by ugly characters and bad acting is your thing, then by all means, check it out. Mainstream audiences steer clear and everyone else who is curious, check out the trailer and leave it at that. It really is not worth much more of your time.
As far as basking your eyes in vivid images and colours, mixed with some the most seamless and stunning special effects and camera tricks you might ever see, it is dazzling. But as a truly transcendent theatrical experience it fails miserably, failing in almost every other department. For a film so up itself, it really offers next to nothing to hold your interest in its unmercifully long running time. Noé is an auteur and has created some of the most unforgettable films of all time, but until he grasps how important the warmth of basic humanity is in cinema, he will never make a truly great one.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Last Summer, "The Hangover" went on to become the highest grossing R-rated picture of all time in the States. Its success came out of nowhere. It was a film that reveled in its debauchery, and lack of maturity. It was also, very, very funny. Director Todd Phillips benefitted from a very strong cast with impeccable chemistry and comic timing. That was where its success lied. You wanted to go on this adventure and no matter how zany everything became, it was the cast that held it together. Wether or not Phillips can capture lightning in a bottle twice will have to remain to be seen next May when its sequel is released. For now, we will have to make do with "Due Date" unfortunately. For everything that "The Hangover" achieved, it only goes to add to the glaring errors in "Due Date". Of course, expecting another film as surprising and absurdly hilarious as that would have been wishful thinking, but considering the talent involved, would it have been too much to ask for some decent and well earned laughs during its running time. Phillips et al, seemed to think so.
Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) is on his way home to LA, to reach his heavily pregnant wife (a wasted Michelle Monaghan) in time for her induced labour in only a matter of days. A very highly strung architect, things immediately go from bad to worse the moment he meets Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), an incompetant bumbling fool, slash would-be actor. Of course, Peter immediately has nothing but disdain for the man, so imagine his shock, when through a series of apparantly 'hilarious' events, he renders himself on the 'no fly list' and is forced to drive cross country with Ethan. Ethan, carrying a coffee canister filled with his recently deceased Fathers ashes gets the the duo into an increasingly bizarre series of accidents and incidents along the way, all the while ever more enraging the straight laced Peter. Obvious comparisons are there to be made to "Planes, Trains and Automobiles", John Hughes' beloved 1987 comedy. However even despite the alarming similarities, it also bears resemblance to almost every road trip comedy ever produced, including Phillips own "Road Trip". This again would not be a problem had Phillips chosen to litter the film with confidant tone and pace. As it stands, the out and out shock comedy does not blend well with the obvious emotional undercurrents Phillips was aiming for. If this was to be more of a 'mature' departure before delving straight back into the bawdiness of "The Hangover Part II" then why pepper the film with increasingly shocking and mean spirited humour? This might be down to Phillips desire to strike more darker sensibilities, but it really does not blend with the overall tone of the film. It seems that no matter how much I wanted it to be what I wanted it to; a hilarious throw back to the road movies of the 80's and 90's, it veered off into more confused and uncomfortable territory.
When a film comes from a Director and Cast that you're a fan of, it is quite surprising what you will forgive in terms of the overall quality of the film, that you wouldn't with other less favoured features. Unfortunately, there is only so much you can let go before you the film truly reveals itself. This is apparant near the start when Downey Jr's character punches a child in the stomach for supposed hilarious effect. Now far be it for me to suggest that certain humour is ever too uncomfortable or too taboo; I am a firm believer in the "South Park" tradition of holding either everything funny, or nothing. But what all this comes down to, is tone. Peter punches a very young child for no true deserving reason and gets away with it. As an expectant Father this renders the character thoroughly unlikeable and almost ugly from the off. Spitting on a dog and mocking a disabled Army veteren doesn't do the character any favours either. Downey can portray likeable in his sleep. The man was born with God given charm and charisma. It could be argued that playing someone like Peter is a way out of becoming typecast in those types of roles, but it does a huge disservice to his talent here. Not even he can save it come the 'lessons learned' finale. Galifianakis fares mildly better. A bloated, camp, man child, his innocent naivety, while at times slightly grating, does provide most of the laughs in the film. Of course Galifianakis has portrayed this character enough times at this stage; it may seem that after playing Alan once more he could give it a rest for a while. After all, he certainly does have range as his role in HBO's "Bored To Death" can testify to, along with his upcoming part in "It's Kind of a Funny Story" out early next year. The man does have incredibly honed comic timing, and can make next to anything seem funny. Paired with Downey Jr. should have been a match made in heaven, however the two share almost no chemistry, and in a feature like this it is the most important ingredient.
So what is the film at the end of the day? An immature musing on Fatherhood? An emotionally in touch comic road movie? A funny contrast of different relationships put under extreme pressure? Unfortunately nothing seems to truly work. Some weak plot devices (nay, holes) only add to the confused feel. It's clear that there was certainly something here, but most of the promise falls by the wayside. The film does offer laughs occasionally (Ethan displaying his acting skills in a roadside toilet), but for every half decent line or joke, there are three missteps in the opposite direction. Phillips for the forseeable future it seems should stick to what he knows best; immature men doing stupid things that rarely learn the error of their ways. In short then, the best bits are in the trailer.
While not a cataclysmic failure it surprises all the more coming from a team that promised so much. Downey Jr. comes off as violent and cruel and Galifianakis' shtick shows signs of wearing a bit thin. Some laughs are there and unassuming audiences will lap it up on a Friday night but for now, this does not bode well for the imminent release of "The Hangover Part II".