5 Old Film Reviews

500 Days of Summer

500 days of summer is one of those films that splits opinions. It has been variously seen as the saviour of the Romcom, the noughties answer to Annie Hall, and an indie hit, or it is described as annoying, self-satisfied, and everything that is wrong with film at the moment. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

It is a mildly diverting Romantic Comedy, but it is not Annie Hall. Truth be told, it is not even Annie, for in that tomorrow is only a day away, here we have 500 days to contend with.

The story looks at Summer (Zooey Deschannel) and Tom (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and their relationship. A sub Morgan Freeman type narrative tells us that it is a story of Boy meeting Girl, but it is not a love story. It starts at the end, with Summer telling Tom she does not want to see him anymore.

Tom is a failed Architecture student, who now spends his time writing the saccharine verse in Greetings cards, while Summer is the new secretary. After a few days of not speaking much, they eventually bond over karaoke and the Smiths. In a more Indie film version, it would be Belle and Sebastian. We learn about their relationship, but nothing real about them as people. Tom believes in love and ‘the one’ whilst Summer is not really happy with being ‘anyone’s anything’. Tom has based his romantic aspirations on Indie music and a misreading of the plot of the Graduate, whilst Summer has learnt about love from her life.

The fractured nature of the story means that there are a lot of things that don’t necessarily make sense. After Summer leaves the job, Tom becomes increasingly jaded, until a chance meeting with Summer on a train going to a colleague’s wedding reunites them. They have a good time at the wedding, and Summer invites Tom to a party she is having. What she neglects to mention is that it is her engagement party. In a scene at the end of the film, as they are saying goodbye, she tells him she had a feeling about her new husband, a feeling she never got from Tom.

In a scene in the film, Tom makes an impassioned speech about how their cards don’t make things better, they are not real life, they are cheap words that save someone else from saying them. The helpless romantic has become cynical, whilst the girl who never believed in love marries a man in less than a year of knowing him.

This is a film that does not live up to the hype, but it is a good film, well told, with very good lead actors, and does not out-stay its welcome. An unlikely, but fitting coda finds Tom applying for a job at the last Architecture firm that he has not been turned down for, meeting and asking out a girl, and in true Indie fashion, her name is Autumn. Only in America……………

Film Review – Funny People –

It is often said that less is more. Funny People is a very good example at that. This film is too long for its story, its character development, and its ideas.

It stars Adam Sandler as George, a successful, but characterless comedian who has sold out to make big budget films that do nothing for comedy, but a lot for his bank balance. He likes his life, with its large cheques, and available female fans, but when he is diagnosed with a terminal disease he realises how empty and vacuous his life is. Only an experimental drug can save him, and that only has an 8% chance of working.

George returns to the live comedy circuit, greeted like a returning hero, until he begins his set of dark comedy. The following act, Ira (Seth Rogan) a struggling comedy writer bombs even worse, but it is at that gig where the two meet, and start an unlikely partnership. Ira writes gags for George, as well as performing as his opening act.

As the film progresses, both George and Ira becoming increasingly better performers, although they still have their problems. Ira’s housemate is a Comedy actor, appearing in the dire sit-com ‘Yo-Teach’ but they have their eye on the same girl. She goes for the housemate with his glamorous life, rather than Ira who still works at a super-market and sleeps on the couch. George realises that he only loved one women, and goes to see her, knowing that he does not have long for the world.

He tries to mend fences with his comedy friends, his sister and her family, as well as his Mum and Dad, and eventually meets up with the one he let go, even though she has moved on, with a husband, Clarke, (Eric Bana) and two young daughters. She claims to love George, but her life has moved on, and Ira knows that George wants to break up the family.

It is this part of the film that needed the most work. It seems to belong in a different film altogether, and an actor of Bana’s stature really deserves a three dimensional character, rather than the outline that he is expected to work with.

In one of those Hollywood twists, George is in the 8% who responds to the treatment, and in what should have been a turning point in the film, there is no real change in George. His is not really changed by a life threatening disease, he does not change his life, or set out to become a better man for the chance he has been gifted.

Broad brush strokes of comedy are used throughout the film, and from the same group that gave the world Knocked Up, or the 40 Year Old Virgin, this a step backwards. There are even times when the film jumps the shark.

A Myspace gig pays George a lot of money, but king of the bedsit singers James Taylor is also performing at the same gig. An unsurprisingly foul-mouthed Cameo from Eminem sees him talk of death as a career option, before a confrontation with Ray Ramano. It seems not everyone loves Raymond, with his way of talking very slowly to smaller people.

Sarah Silverman appears as a cameo, and so do a number of other people, but not all of them work successfully. The film does not have a happy ending. We do not see George wander into the sunset with the girl he loved, but we do see George and Ira talking at the end of the film (2 and a half hours later), and may be there is a sense of redemption. We see Ira talking to the girl who slept with his housemate, whilst George has a lot of making up to do, but seems ready to move on.

The film is well acted, and well written, but there is far too much padding, far too many k**b gags and far too many storylines in a film which would have been so much better had everyone involved realised that less is more for a reason.

Piranha 3D

Bodies and Blood. Girls and Gore. Readers of the Daily Mail really should look away now. With a look back at the B Movies from the 1970’s, this 3D monster really is not a film for those of a nervous disposition.

The film has common themes with such other B Movie styled films as Tremors, whilst there is something of the spirit of Gremlins in some of the scenes. The film contains a strong cast, with Elizabeth Shue playing a local town sheriff, Christopher Lloyd being another science expert, Ving Rhames being a tough guy police man, and Jerry O’Connell playing a sleazy film producer It is Summer in America, and a species of Piranha, only found in the fossil record has been unleashed in a lake, following a tremor, just as Spring Break is beginning, adding to the worries of the town’s small police team.

The film contains a lot of inter film text. Richard Dreyfus, who memorably survived an attack from one of films most famous sharks is the first victim of the titular fish, and yes, he does still need a bigger boat. Stephen R McQueen, the real life grandson of iconic film star Steve McQueen is cast as the local geek. Christopher Lloyd appears as the local fish expert, a roll which he plays with the same relish as he attacked Doc Brown in Back to the Future.

There is a lot of blood, and more than enough blood drenched, water logged death to keep fans of horror happy, whilst in some scenes, the film may well have been called Piranha 3DD. This should really appeal to fifteen year old boys, but the film’s justifiable 18 certificate would stop that.

The 3D element of the film has been well integrated, adding an extra sense of urgency to some scenes, particularly a nine minute section when anybody in the lake becomes food for the newly released, very hungry fish. As well as the visual aspects of the film, the sound-scape has been particularly well looked after. The scene where two divers are in the cave with the Piranhas has a claustrophobic sense of unease and forboding, with the music adding to the sense of dread.

The Fish themselves have the same ferocity as you would expect. The scenes with them are particularly gruesome. Bodies become skeletons in seconds, the Piranhas fight amongst themselves, and although they are computer generated, they still look dangerous enough to have gained their real life reputation.

However, the dialogue is cheesy, with Jerry O’Connell as a sleazy film producer seeming to be having a good time with the dialogue, and in the heavily trailed nude scenes. None of the main character come to any real harm. Shue’s Deputy gets her family out alive, and the Piranhas are killed by the same ending that did for Jaws. An exploding boat.

This is a film that is not to be taken seriously. It offers no searing insight into the human condition, offers no easy answers, but it is what it is. Sometimes Schlock is a good thing, and when it is done as effectively as this, it makes you think twice about going into any body of water. You never know what might be lurking under the surface.

Film Review – The Invention of Lying –3 Stars 

Following on from ‘Ghost town’ Ricky Gervais’s latest film ‘The Invention of Lying’ finds the star rubbing shoulders with an ensemble cast high on star wattage.

Names from the American comedy firmament such as Tina Fey, Jason Bateman and Christopher Guest mix with critically acclaimed actors such as Ed Norton and Philip Seymour Hoffman and largely find themselves in thankless roles.

Gervais co-wrote the film, and gives himself the starring role as the man who invented God. He plays Mark Bellison, a lowly screenwriter in a documentary film making company, who is told he is about to lose his job, as he has been stuck with the 13th century, and can give the company what they need. He lives in a run down apartment with a suicidal neighbour, and his mother is in a nursing home.

It is an alternative universe, where nobody can lie, or make any thing up. People have to be brutally honest about themselves and other people, so we find people pointing out that they hate their jobs, or what they have done with their lives, or pointing out the shortcomings in other people. Mark tries to win the heart of Jennifer Garner, but all she does is point out that Gervais will give her children that are fat with snub noses.

Mark uses his new found gift of lying to get money from the bank, to impress women, and to win back his job with a historical document that does for history the same that Quentin Tarantino does. It is not until he offers words of comfort about heaven to his Mother on his deathbed that his gift is let lose on the world.

Inventing the concept of a Man in the sky who watches over everyone, and rewards them in heaven with their own mansions, and an existence free of pain, with their favourite people makes Mark a very rich and very popular man, but it does not bring him the happiness he was after.

After stopping the marriage of Jennifer Garner to Mark’s sworn nemesis at work (played by Rob Lowe) because they make a better genetic match, he wins her over with a cloyingly sentimental speech, and the Hollywood happy ending is tacked onto the end of a film that could have been so much more. It was a good idea, and a good script with a number of good performance, but somehow it never did take of as a film

Film Review – Whiteout – 2 stars 

‘Whiteout’ is one of those films that borrows so heavily from other films you remember what it borrows, and forget any originality.

It borrows a lumbering, quite predictable murder story line from a middling episode of Midsummer Murders, the Antartic setting of ‘The Thing’, the never ending sunlight or darkness of ‘Insomnia’, a prelude of a Russian plane crash and a twist which you suspect from the middle, and a number of other details.

It features Kate Beckinsale as Carrie Stetko, a Marshall in the tundra, serving the last few days of her service. A body is found, and she finds herself investigating the first murder in the Artic. Tom Skerritt plays an old friend, Doc, who is outwardly avuncular, and a number of other characters. I use the word character advisedly, for it is one of the things that is forgotten about.

The film looks good, but it has a number of serious flaws. The dialogue brings to mind Harrison Ford’s famous line to George Lucas during Star Wars: ‘You can write this shit, but you can’t say it’.

Characters are badly drawn. There is an FBI investigator who proves himself to be on the right side, the show-off pilot, who ends up being the murderer, a secret stash in the crashed Russian plane, which is at various time thought to be a weapon, or radio-active. It seems that the writers made it up on the day. The fact that the film was finished in 2007 is never a good sign.

Actors of the stature of Beckinsale or Skerrit deserve better than this. At one point, after losing two of her fingers to frost-bite, the only reaction Beckinsale shows is the type of tantrum we all throw when the computer loses our work, or a child might have. This is a traumatic event, but it does not come across as that. The bodies that feature are frozen, and so is the film.

There are a number of generic secondary characters, but the only ones that feature at all are Marshall, the kindly pilot, the FBI agent, and the Doctor, but he only stays behind to help the Pilot, who has been shot. They all stay behind, and cannot leave for six months due to the weather, but there is no real sense of isolation for the characters. Even when a hooded killer with a Ski mask on is terrorising the camp, none of the characters seem unduly concerned.

Throughout the film it keeps referring to the coldness, but there is still time for a gratuitous shower scene. This film could have been so much more than it is, but it is just a mess. It is not a long film, it just feels like one.

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