Review – Never Let Me Go

February 24, 2011


Few things can annoy me like people who have no social etiquette; especially those who lack t in a movie screen. And so it was that I spent the first hour of Never Let Me Go being extremely frustrated at The Stupidest Couple in the World© chat continuously throughout the first hour, before getting up and leaving. Evidently then, this film isn’t for everyone.

I’m not really sure what that couple expected, and come to think about it I can’t really remember what my expectations were walking into this film either; I definitely had some knowledge that the three central characters (played by Mulligan, Garfield and Knightley) were raised as organ donors but that’s about it. Whilst potentially then we could have ended up with another The Island, what we’re left with is something far more subtle and character driven – and it’s all the better for it.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret here; when it comes to writing reviews of films, I’m not always sure what I’m going to say about them until my fingers start hitting the keys. I usually have a vague idea of major things I want to cover, but sometimes it doesn’t strike me quite how much I did or didn’t like a film until the words start pouring out – in this case, how much I liked Never Let Me Go has come as quite a surprise even to me; that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it at the time, but now I seem to be quite enamoured with it. Get ready for some compliments.

A good place to start would be with the cast. Performance wise, it’s Andrew Garfield who really stands out here, although I do have to say it was nice to see Keira Knightley in a role where I was encouraged to hate her for a change. To say that Garfield’s performance was captivating would be something of an understatement, every time he’s on screen he steals the scene – even when he’s on the sidelines. He’s wonderfully shy and bashful, possesses a childlike enthusiasm and optimism and seems to lack self confidence in what can only be described as an extremely confident way; it’s my opinion that it takes someone extremely self assured to be able to portray someone this vulnerable. Whilst his character is primarily the driver in the relationship between the three leads; he’s never the one instigating the action.

If this performance, alongside those in Dr Parnassus and the Social Network are anything to go by, we can expect big things from this guy in the future. In just three films he’s managed to show a range that most actors would struggle to show in twice that many (that’s six for those who don’t fancy doing the maths).

Another thing to celebrate in this movie is the score. Whilst it doesn’t contain any hooks you’ll leave the theatre whistling, it’s impactful enough to really add some bite to the more emotional scenes and some hope to some of the more downbeat ones. That being said though, it is another of the more understated elements that’s great about the film; Alex Garland provides a solid script with some very emotive dialogue, the aesthetic of an alternative 70’s and 80’s is well represented on screen and the pacing of the direction doesn’t ever feel too slow or drawn out despite nothing much ever really happening. The subtleties ooze from every pore and if it weren’t for last year’s excellent Clooneyfest The American, I’d be saying this was probably the best deliberate pacing I’ve seen in a long time.

Yet another thing that I liked about this film is that there’s no real questioning of the lives that the characters lead or the society they live in. Alternate reality films (especially those set in dystopian societies) often fall into the trap of trying to have the lead characters be the ones to bring down the system. Not so in this case; there’s no revolution, there’s no ill advised escape attempt, there’s no bad guys hunting our trio down and there’s no (or very little anyway) reflection or commentary on the people who are on the receiving end of the organs; the film is entirely character focussed from beginning to end and its all the better for it.

I think though that if I had to pick one thing that stands out to me as what I liked most about this whole film above else, it would be the fact that the whole organ donor issue is completely moot. All the major emotional themes that are visited (love, life, death, mortality, fear, loss, regret etc) are universal and transcend the alternate reality our characters live in. Perhaps these emotions are more intense because of the very finite nature of our characters’ lives, but their approach to live, death and everything in between is essentially the same as ours. That observation may sounds trite, but it’s certainly not something to be underestimated.

Well that’s it, enough gushing; as I mentioned at the very beginning, this film might not be for everyone and I can totally understand any criticism regarding it being dull, overly emotional or too drawn out. But hey, I found a lot to like.




Review – Neds

January 28, 2011

Neds falls into the broad category of “coming of age” movies that automatically have words like “gritty,” “uncompromising,” “brutal” and “realistic” pinned on to them far before we’re given the opportunity to make up our own mind about them. Set in Glasgow in the 1970’s, it tells the story of John McGill, a promising student who falls in with gangs and goes off the rails.

Let’s start off by saying this; Neds has absolute flashes of brilliance in some parts but is ultimately a very flawed experience. Whilst those who are into their Shane Meadows style dramas will certainly find a lot to like, the rest of us might leave feeling somewhat unsatisfied.

Whilst by and large the events that take place in Neds are similar to those of other youth dramas (abuse, violence, searching for belonging etc) and are in part delivered very well compared to its peers, it’s difficult to sing its praises purely because of the major flaw that runs throughout the film; the strength of its lead character. This isn’t a major sleight against newcomer Conor McCarron as much as it is a comment on the development of John McGill as the crux of the narrative (saying that though I couldn’t quite tell if McCarron was meant to look like he was on the verge of bursting out laughing at any given moment or whether this was just a poor job on his part).

The real issue for me is that we’re never really given enough insight into why John does anything that he does. Some things are made painfully obvious but we don’t have the ability to join the dots as we’re never explicitly told how they affect John. We know that he has an abusive alcoholic father, but we never really see John reacting to this up until the point at which he snaps. We see that he initially lives outside of the gangs but don’t really see much of what it is that leads him to become involved in them; what’s driving him? The lust for power? Respect? Control? These questions are never satisfactorily answered and we see John move from one thing to the next without really knowing why he’s doing what it is. Unfortunately this leaves the whole movie a somewhat hollow experience: even after we’ve seen John go full circle and head back to school under the banner of reform, five minutes later he’s off beating the shit out of someone else and we’re never really filled in on the blanks.

Don’t even get me started on the whole hallucinogenic Jesus scene…

The whole package is rounded off nicely (in terms of supporting my previous points rather than satisfyingly) with one of the most bizarre finales I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. Obviously I don’t want to give the game away here, but I’ll just say that its attempts at being metaphorical are heavy handed and overtly obtuse. Once again a suggestion is made towards what these events might mean to or show from the characters, but ultimately they’re not obvious or relative enough to previous events for you to be able to make your mind up definitively to their meaning one way or the other. I’m all for ambiguity and audience interpretation, but crucially for both of these things to actually work, you need to ensure that the audience has the right information to base their judgements on, and in this case they just don’t.

Before I complain too much though, let’s consider that it’s not all about the narrative, as a lot of this film relies on its Scottish setting. The most obvious thing to pick up on is the language. The swearing in Neds is prolific but, if my experience is anything to go by, is quite representative of how Glaswegians speak. Whilst in other areas of the UK (and indeed the English speaking world) fillers within sentences may take the form of “er,” “um,” “like” or “you know,” it’s perfectly normal on the west coast for these to be f*ck or f*cking. These are not usually meant offensively (when used in the aforementioned manner) but those not familiar with its use as such might initially find the language used in Neds a tad excessive. Whilst the language in this film might at first seem a bit over the top, it’s fair to say it’s a fairly accurate portrayal of Glaswegian dialogue.

Even though I live in Scotland and am very accustomed to the accent, there were parts in which I found it difficult to understand what characters were saying; nothing there to spoil the movie particularly for me – but others who aren’t as used to the accent might find it hard to decipher what the characters are saying and thus lose some of the film’s (oft implied) subtleties.

Still, it was in parts an enjoyable watch that perhaps suffers from being slightly overlong and needing better thought in explaining character motivation. Or, if you read every other review I’ve seen of it so far; it’s a gritty, realistic, brutal and uncompromising view of gang youth in seventies Glasgow. Feel free to make your own mind up.

Review – Season of the Witch

January 23, 2011

And so it was that during  Castamind revision for our upcoming episode, I was feeling extremely proud of myself for picking such a balls out great specialist subject. Nic Cage action movies of the mid 1990’s – I’d already finished (and had a blast with) Con Air and was half way through Face/Off  when the sudden mad urge struck me to venture out to the movies to catch Cage’s latest flick.

Poor old Nicolas Cage – admonished more regularly than praised, he remains the only person we have ever dedicated and anti dedicated episodes to (and it was in the same one too!). There’s something quite enigmatic about Cage because we all know that he has the ability to pull some huge performances out of the bag, but despite that he just seems to have a knack to pick completely rubbish movies; good examples there are Ghost Rider and Knowing which stand out to me as easily two of the worst films I have ever seen. Recent choices have been underwhelming compared to his form of old but have proven themselves to be relatively inoffensive; Next was alright I guess, Bangkok Dangerous was pretty watchable action fare, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was a fun ride and both Bad Lieutenant and Kick Ass proved that he still has the chops when he works with the right material.

Needless to say then I was feeling pretty unoptimistic about Season of the Witch, which has suffered from both a completely lacklustre marketing campaign as well as pretty dire reviews all round – scoring only 4% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite all that though, I felt as though I owed Nic something – like as a friend – so I buried my doubts and optimistically strolled into the screen.

95 minutes later I walked out a different man. Well not quite. In fact I was probably more the same man than I had been after seeing any other film ever. Let’s be clear on this from the off (just in case the aforementioned universal panning didn’t clarify it enough for you already) in no way is Season of the Witch a good film. What I’m here to tell you that this film is nowhere as bad as what you may have been led to believe.

The set up is simple, Nic Cage and Ron Perlman are two disenfranchised knights who have had pretty much enough of killing everyone in the name of God. They abandon the army and head for home, only to find that a mysterious plague has ravaged every town they pass. They’re reluctantly enlisted to deliver a witch (believed to be the cause of the plague) to a nearby monastery, where she can be “dealt with”. They assemble a rag tag band of compatriots and head off to the monastery, only to find that on the journey [insert generic plot twist here].

Like Solomon Kane last year, this film features an intriguing mix of history and fantasy, which helps to differentiate it enough from the mainstay of average cinema. The events are most passable when they’re in full on history mode, as some of the fantasy ends up becoming a little too goofy looking to really be taken too seriously – especially in the climactic ten minutes which actually serve to undermine the subtlety of the preceding eighty minutes by being so ridiculously over the top.

There are some pretty nice performances here; Cage in the lead role is fairly stoic and unemotional, Perlman as his partner is full of wisecracks and punches and Christopher Lee drops in a nice five minute scene with some pretty horrific (in a good way) makeup. Other no namers make up the remainder of the cast but they all just turn up and do their part. No one will be putting this movie at the top of their CV, but it certainly doesn’t deserve to be at the bottom either.

Nic Cage does nothing wrong in this film; saying that though he doesn’t do anything right either; this movie then can happily be added to the likes of Lord of War, Bangkok Dangerous and Gone in 60 seconds which all prove themselves to be as mildly entertaining as any other junk you may happen to flick over to on TV. The real question for me then is why the hell does Nic Cage keep doing this to himself?! Sure we can forgive a bad choice every now and then but this guy seems to have no filter!

Having said that though, it could also be argued that this is exactly what makes Nic Cage so bold and brave an actor – it could be that he’s made his money, paid his dues and now he just does whatever he wants, whether that be the good (Adaptation) or the really really bad (Knowing). I think there must be a degree of personal drive and passion behind his choices of role; otherwise why the hell would he be going back to Ghost Rider?!

Fair play to him I say; I hope he keeps putting out three films a year and that every now and then we strike upon something amazing. But hey even if it’s all junk, we can rest assured that at least someone will be enjoying themselves. Saying that though, I would be too if I was on his kind of money…

I’m aware that maybe went a bit off kilter for a review in the end and became something of a micro-analysis on the enigma that is Nic Cage but it’s hard not o segue into that discussion when he pulls something so average out of the bag yet again. To sum up though I had a pretty enjoyable, completely passable time watching this film and it certainly doesn’t feel to me like it deserves all the negativity it has received. Don’t go out of your way to see it, but maybe consider sticking it on when it’s out on DVD and you have to do the ironing or something.

Tag Team Review – Henry’s Crime

January 16, 2011

Hola Casta fans! Here’s a review of a film that is most definitely out at cinemas right now but which you’ve probably never heard of. Never fear though because, as ever, your intrepid Captains of Casta are on hand to dish the dirt on Keanu Reeves’ latest flick (in which Reeves decides to rob a bank after a brief stint in prison). As always in reviews of this ilk, Chris W is in green and Chris M in blue.

At a point in the year where I have sworn to avoid the more mundane offerings of the local multiplex, I sat in my seat to experience Henry’s Crime with a mixture of scepticism and fear.

Here was a movie that not only came complete with the usual ‘indie-ensemble’ trappings of quirky character’s and concept (and we all know how It’s Kind of a Funny Story worked out) but also entered UK cinemas without as much as a silent-farts worth of promotion; until 3 days before seeing Henry’s Crime I had no idea it even existed.

It therefore pleases me to announce that I had myself a jolly old time watching the events of Henry’s Crime unfold.

Slow to get going, and perhaps a little too heavy handed with its message, Henry’s Crime is nevertheless an enjoyable caper-cum-life-lesson-cum-romance-cum-existential-theatre-piece-cum-comedy held together by an intriguing central performance from Keanu Reeves, one of Hollywood’s most cryptic stars but someone who this writer certainly enjoys trying to decode on screen.

There is so much to be said about Reeves’ performance alone that it could drown out the rest of the movie, and perhaps one of these days I’ll take the time to write out exactly why I find him so engaging, but suffice it to say that the role of Henry feels like one that the once-dude was destined to play.

Playing a character who begins the film as an emotionless drone and eventually finds his true self through theatre and the love of a good (if slightly overzealous) woman, there is a case to be made that the film acts as a metaphor for the way audience’s generally perceive Reeves as an actor. At least once I started thinking in those terms it was certainly hard to shake the idea!

Films set around staging a play have a tendency of becoming pompous and flagrant, and it’s hard to find a bank heist story that hasn’t been told a thousand times before. Surprisingly in combining these devices writers Sacha Gervasi and David White have done an excellent job of taking tried and tested subplots and caricatures and moulding them into something that feels half original.

Much of this is down to the casting. Peter Stormare has stolen just about every scene I have ever seen him play in, and as a crackpot director in this film he does not disappoint. Vera Farmiga manages to make neurotic, sexy, stylish, awkward, romantic and stubborn look effortless and certainly deserves better work in the future to back up her turn in last year’s Up in the Air. And as the confidence man with a heart of gold but the cunning of a fox James Caan phones in every line he delivers, but still manages to make each one work and raise a smile whilst doing so- you can see him doing roles like this for the rest of his career just to bring in the bacon.

It won’t win awards, it won’t set the box office on fire and it certainly won’t last long in the memory, but for 90 or so minutes on a Friday evening I was charmed and entertained.

There’s no crime in that.

As referenced by Chris above, there was something of an unspoken agreement that we would try to avoid cack films this year, but something about the prospect of walking into a movie knowing nothing about it other than its title and the fact that it starred Keanu Reeves kind of excited me. It’s all too often we’re  given reason to complain because a lazily put together trailer has shown us the last moments of a film so what’s the best way to counter that? Well of that I’m not entirely sure, I thought I’d give going in blind a shot; whilst it may be true that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, in this case it seems that no knowledge at all is worse.

I really really didn’t enjoy this film and for me its greatest crime is that it’s incredibly boring. In varying degrees it’s a romance which doesn’t feel romantic, a character drama which is all but dramatic and a heist movie in which the heist doesn’t feel at all important. I actually took my ipod out and listened to some music at one point (something I have never done before), I was that bored.

The best thing by far about this film is James Caan who, despite having an awfully underdeveloped character to play (the movie makes a point of establishing that he’s a confidence man and then doesn’t give him anyone to con) is entirely watchable throughout – shame then that he didn’t really have anything to do.

As sure as I am that I really didn’t enjoy this film, I’m still quite unsure what to make of Reeves’ performance in this film. Sure there’s some progression, at the outset he’s a blank canvas; a guy who seems unaffected by pretty much everything, including getting sent to prison – by the end he’s professing his love on stage after being shot in the leg (and running back to the theatre might I add…) however I remain unconvinced that there was anything particularly special from Reeves that anyone else couldn’t have achieved. I’m hesitant to jump on the Reeves bashing bandwagon because there was nothing awful about this, I just didn’t see it as anything special.

Admittedly I might not be the intended audience for this kind of movie (I still stand by the fact that Punch Drunk Love was awful – seems to be a good indication of my take on this kind of thing) but even if it wasn’t as excruciatingly boring, its slight positives can in no way counter the slap dash approach it has to so many of its key plot points; the heist which is integral to so many aspects of the movie as a whole is the greatest casualty of this and by the end fades into the background so much that you barely care whether they get away with it or not. Maybe that’s the point of the whole thing, but without a better focus on delivering a solid message in its finale to bring a tidy close to proceedings, Henry’s Crime feels little more than mundane.

Next time I get the urge to walk into a movie blind, I hope that I grab hold of myself and at least force myself to look at a poster. Arguably having the right expectations at the outset could have led to a different experience for me, but I have no doubt that I’d still be saying that Henry’s Crime has set the bar pretty highly for the most boring cinematic experience of 2011.

Review – Love & Other Drugs

January 8, 2011

Wanting to always buck the trend of how I write reviews, let’s start with an all-encapsulating conclusive sentence. Sex and other Drugs is a very run of the mill romantic dramedy that wears many different hats throughout its run length. If that’s quite enough for you then you can stop reading now I suppose; if however it has you intrigued (as was the intention) then read on!

Let’s start at the beginning. To start with L&OD (even copying and pasting the full title seems like too much effort) is an all out rom-com. Jake Gyllenhaal (Jamie) is a young go getter who starts work for a pharmaceutical company and is good at two things; making people buy stuff and sexing girls. It doesn’t take long for him to figure out that in the medical business, the latter helps exponentially with the former. All is well with the world and Jamie has a very base (albeit sexy) lifestyle; that is until he meets Anne Hathaway (Maggie).
At this point it occurs to me like I could literally be reading this off of the back of a cereal box, it’s that generic…

With Maggie’s introduction though, the film takes an unexpected turn and changes style completely. Sure the goings on are still standard romantic dramedy fare (girl hates guy, guy eventually convinces girl to go out with him, neither want anything serious, it becomes serious, inevitable complications) but the way in which it delivers these standard occurrences differs majorly to the norm because of two things. Anne Hathaway’s boobs.

I was relatively surprised the first time she whips one out at the doctor’s surgery, but after about ten minutes of them coming out at every opportunity I was begging for her to put them away (for context here, I was in the cinema with my sister…). This in conjunction with the frequency and semi graphic nature of Jamie and Maggie’s many forays into sexy time over the next half an hour or so leaves the second “part” of this movie (or hat if you want to keep that analogy going) feeling more akin to soft core porn than anything else.

Now for the drama. Maggie’s character has an extremely severe case of Parkinson’s disease, and whilst this is introduced alongside her character earlier in the move, nothing more than passing reference is made to it until now. That’s all well and good, but the manner in which the subject is approached is a little more than heavy handed; over the course of the next twenty minutes we see Maggie degenerate massively and the focus turns to Parkinson’s itself rather than the characters affected by it. I can’t help but feel that the drama in this kind of movie should derive from conscious choices made by the characters, rather than circumstances which they prove only to be passengers to. There’s no dispute from me here about the gravity of Parkinson’s but I remain to be convinced that a movie of L&OD’s ilk is the right place to jump on the soapbox and try to raise mass awareness of the disease in such a serious fashion. Admirable though the message may be, it feels massively misplaced.

This is further compounded by L&OD’s next hat where everything gets a little stupid (thought it best to bring some levity back; we’re getting a little too serious here!). The fourth part rolls around on the back of some conflict between the two leads and the introduction of Viagra – oh hadn’t I mentioned that this film is set in the mid nineties? Well other than Jamie’s constant use of his pager you wouldn’t notice it; as such we’ll pay it no further reference…

The film steps back into really obvious comedy territory here and makes nothing but pithy erection jokes until way past when they’re already boring. Speaking contextually, the inclusion of Viagra proves to be an odd step as seemingly this is the influencing factor in setting the film in the nineties, which in itself adds nothing to the movie; it could just as easily have been set in “any time” and Viagra replaced with “any drug” and it wouldn’t have felt any different – arguments here are that Viagra serves to embody Jamie’s poorer qualities but that doesn’t really hold up when ten minutes later Viagra is all but forgotten. Whether or not the decision to include Viagra was a good one, the whole section feels limp (PUN!); the comedy is about ten years too late and isn’t strong enough to hold its own, especially against the juxtaposition with the ill advised drama.

Finally the film comes full circle and goes back to generic roots; guy realises error of his ways, goes pathetically average lengths to win girl back, waits around for a bit, wins girl back and they live happily ever after. There’s very little in the way of character development; Maggie is still just as much a moody bitch as she ever was and although Jamie sleeps around a little less, he still went through extremely selfish measures to get exactly what he wanted. There are some other characters that crop up throughout but no one does anything I can even really be bothered talking about. Vanilla does not even go halfway to describing the rest of the cast.

Reflecting on it, it almost seems like someone involved decided that rather than taking the constituent elements of what makes a romantic dramedy (romance, drama and comedy) and, as is standard for this kind of film, interspersing them throughout the course of the movie in equal measure; they decided that the best idea was to make their film by throwing together a huge slice of each. None of these parts is any worse than the others, but in the same breath none of them are any better either.

What we’re left with then is a movie that is only as strong as the sum of its parts; the truth could be said of any movie, but these parts feel so fragmented and disparate that other than the fact Maggie and Jamie appear in most scenes there really isn’t any cohesion to the film as a whole. The New Year is typically a weak time for cinema with one or two decent releases and a lot of other offerings that prove to be too weak to fill any of the movie calendar’s most prized slots. Love and Other Drugs is one such movie; it’s not terrible but (quite rightly) it won’t set the world on fire either. If you’re hankering for something right now that vaguely fits the rom-com mould then it’s fairly watchable but entirely forgettable. With the exception of that chest. Naturally.

Review – Megamind

December 9, 2010

Funny how movies have a tendency to come in pairs… Hot off the heels of the massively disappointing (and yes I’ll stick to that) Despicable Me, we’re treated to yet another angle on the whole ‘bad guy gone good’ theme – and the similarities don’t end there; both have needless voice casting, both have a lead character who deliberately mispronounces words, both have odd armies of sidekicks, both have soundtracks by Hans Zimmer and both (unrelated to that last point there) aren’t brilliant. That might tell a little too much of the tale right there – but as for the “who comes out trumps; who’s Antz and who’s A Bugs Life?” question…  You’ll just have to read on to the end!

Megamind tells the story of the titular character (Will Ferrell), who has grown up being the bad guy yang to Metroman’s (Brad Pitt) Ying and begs the question; what does the bad guy do when the good guy isn’t around? Cue lots of things happening that beginning to end, no one really cares about; some good times are had, some bad times, people fall out and make up, some life lesson is learned and everyone ends up happy. Sorry, should have probably prefaced that with a SPOILER ALERT! The actual narrative content of this movie is very meh. Entirely predictable and supremely lacklustre, Megamind falls into the ever expanding category of films that fail to impress, and as such won’t stick around in your memory for long.

Visually the movie to ticks all the right boxes and is very well presented; that being said though this isn’t anything you won’t have seen before. My major exception in this case would be the look and feel of the characters themselves. I’m not quite sure what it is about them but there was something I found oddly disengaging – have a peek at this trailer and see if you can see what I mean – there’s just something about them I can’t get on board with…

So what’s the big topic of contention when it comes to animated movies? That’s right! The voice acting! Megamind definitely falls into the “mixed bag” category here with some worthy voice cast, some questionable and some just plain unnecessary. I’ll happily stand by the idea of having Will Ferrell and David Cross as the main voice talent – both are unobtrusive enough (with Cross being particularly well suited to his part as Minion) and hold together the main action well. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill however actually bring very little to the table, and even comedy’s leading (and lest we forget ridiculously hot) lady Tina Fey has very little to do here . That’s the worthy and questionable out of the way, but what about the unnecessary? Well this movie includes contributions from (deep breath) Justin Long, JK Simmons, Bill Hader, Amy Poehler and Ben Stiller all in completely unnoticeable roles – so much so that I only discovered half of them played their roles when researching the movie to write this review. It just makes me wonder what the necessity of having big names on board if they’re barely even noticeable and have less than a handful of lines? Surely those guys don’t work for free and it strikes me that it would have perhaps been a better use of money to hire actual (cheap) voice actors and use the funds saved for like a beach party or something awesome instead.

The one ace that Megamind does have up its sleeve though is an absolutely killer soundtrack featuring the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC, Michael Jackson and Guns & Roses. Admittedly it is only extremely well known songs from each act; however these songs actually serve to complement the action and don’t feel crowbarred in like on so many other similar occasions. The film’s score itself comes from Hans Zimmer but is mostly of little note, especially when you consider the other really great score he’s worked on this year.

I think my main issue with Megamind comes from the fact that there’s no real depth to it. Obviously this is fine if you’re looking for something fairly two dimensional or simply don’t care about moral undertones or life lessons; somewhere along the way though (and most likely because of the mastery of better films studios in this regard) I’ve come to expect that a high calibre animated movie will contain some central character conflict in the middle of everything else that is going on, and ultimately this movie felt hollow without it. Megamind’s discovery that being the adored good guy is better than being the notorious bad guy feels very arbitrary in this respect, and doesn’t carry the same kind of weight that some of the more complicated (and actually very mature) themes we’re used to encountering in this kind of film do.

So the inevitable comparison then; how does this compare to Despicable Me and (perhaps more importantly) which one will stand up in years to come as the more memorable bad guy film of 2010?

Megamind wins this one for me hands down. It’s far better than Despicable Me in incident, story, characterisation and animation (although that’s not really saying much…). That’s not to say that it’s perfect however, as it’s still a long way behind the likes of Pixar and even (to a lesser extent) 2010’s other animated joys in the form of How to Train Your Dragon and The Princess and the Frog.  Megamind then is an early Christmas present for those who are either huge animated fans or those who are desperate to take their kids to see something relatively entertaining in the next couple of weeks. In the long term though I feel that this will be added to the ever growing pile of animated films that no one really cares about.

Review – Machete

December 7, 2010

Okay this review is going to need a little more work on your part than usual. Before we get going, go and watch this trailer.

All done? Good! Okay so that trailer is one that screened before/during/after the 2007 Grindhouse double bill helmed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino and wasn’t something to be taken entirely seriously. There are a number of other like fake trailers included in the feature from such calibre as Rob Zombie, Eli Roth and Edgar Wright, which all take the same homage/mock approach to classic B Movies of yesteryear. What’s the need for me telling you this? Well it’s that Machete then started off as kind of a joke.

Well not entirely; from very on in their working relationship Rodriguez had been developing the character of Machete and had always had Trejo in mind for the part. The Grindhouse feature gave him the opportunity to put the vibe for Machete out there, and the reaction was so positive that they decided to go whole hog and make the movie.

Now that you know that, go and watch this trailer for the actual movie. Other than the obvious high def upgrade and some additional scenes, what do you notice? That’s right Casta fans, certain parts are the same, verbatim. So what’s the point in me getting you to do all this hard work? Well these two trailers go some way in helping to illustrate some of the problems that I had with Machete (and interaction is fun no?).

To make this clear before I start ranting, I don’t know if at the point that the mock trailer for Machete was made, whether or not Rodriguez had the movie fully scripted, and knew what parts of the story he wanted to include in a pretend trailer. I’m going to presume then that he didn’t, but even if he did the following criticism still stands.

Something we frequently complain about on Casta is that all the best bits happen in the trailer, and when a trailer is created specifically to show you only the good bits (as theoretically no other scenes existed) it should go without saying that if you try and build a story around those scenes, it’s either;

a) not going to be anywhere as interesting as the scenes themselves
b) not going to work

Machete falls into the former category which, whilst not as bad as the latter, still isn’t a good place to be. Certain scenes in the movie feel like stepping stones purely to get to the more outlandish bits that the first trailer established had to happen – it almost feels like a child telling an “and then and then and then” story. In a way sticking so rigidly to that first trailer seems to have worked against the movie a lot more than it should have.

Enough about trailers already and onto the main critique! Is Machete actually any bloody good? Well yes and no. But mostly no. (DECISIVE!)

There are parts of this movie that are sheer genius and hilarious to watch. The first five minutes in particular go a good way of demonstrating all that’s right with this movie; against all orders, Machete storms a bad guy’s base to save a damsel in distress (killing his partner in the process) and proceeds to chop everyone who stands in his way to bits. With the bad guys dispensed with, the girl double crosses him and pulls a mobile from her… parts… to call her boss in to finish Machete off. Gasp! It’s Steven Seagal! He then kills Machete’s wife in front of him and escapes the building just before it blows up with Machete still in it. Cue opening credits. Don’t worry that I’ve spoiled too much for you there; as mentioned earlier all that takes place in the first five minutes. When Machete works it really works.

However, not all of the movie holds up as well. The problem with paying such dedicated homage to something is that you can often carry all the bad parts over with it. Let’s take the dialogue for example; B Movies are well known for having poor, sloppy, cheesy dialogue and Machete carries this trait too. Although it’s clear that this is done purposefully, the real sticker for me is that it doesn’t really matter if you’re trying to emulate something from the past, bad dialogue is bad dialogue; and whilst it might prove entertaining to some for me it felt stunted, incomplete and awkward – even compared to some of the poorer films of the year. There’s a reason that B Movies and straight to TV/DVD flicks fall into those categories, and although I admire the passion displayed in staying so close to subject matter, I can’t help but feel that if you emulate rubbish, all you’ll end up with is rubbish. Also, in parts it’s really boring.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this film was Trejo himself, and not through any real fault of his own. The script only ever requires him to arbitrarily move from place to place, say some wooden dialogue and then either stab some people or sex them instead. It’s a real shame that his first leading role (after twenty five years in the business in the business I might add) actually requires very little of him, whilst the supporting cast actually gets the more interesting lines and action.

On that note, the cast weighting feels very odd with Trejo not actually getting all that much screen time. Don’t get me wrong; he is a presence throughout the story, but by the finale there’s so many differing groups and “lead” characters (De Niro, Seagal, and Rodriguez to name but a few) all vying for revenge/justice/whatever, that Trejo isn’t really left with anything to do; in fact it seems to be Jessica Alba who ends up with the most screen time – strange considering that she’s billed in a “with” part.

All in all then Machete proved to be a disappointment with odd flashes of greatness. It dedicates so much of its efforts into being as close an homage as possible, that it neglects the flaws inherent in its subject’s stylings. As great as it is to see Trejo abseiling using someone’s intestines, chopping people’s arms off willy nilly, or flying through the sky with a minigun mounted on the front of a motorbike, ultimately the few isolated incidents aren’t worth sitting through the rest of Machete’s tiresome duration. Unfortunately this movie just didn’t work for me.

Arguably then only for the B Movie aficionados. If you’re after 2010’s best rubbish action move, go watch From Paris with Love instead.