Weekly Roundup (27/1/13)

Any week which sees new releases from cinematic titans including Steven Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, Arnold Schwarzenegger and all those gullible twonks who were somehow talked into appearing in Movie 43 is one to be reckoned with. Luckily for you I’ve already written about Lincoln, and sadly haven’t been able to catch Movie 43 yet, so this won’t be quite the slog it could have been. 

Ali G

On the TV front I’m still working my way through Twin Peaks (the Laura Palmer storyline has been resolved but there’s still a lot left to watch), I’m fully caught up with 30 Rock (which I’ll write about after this week’s final episodes), and I also re-watched Da Ali G Show on Netflix. I’ll briefly discuss the latter, which I was prompted to watch after last week’s viewing of I Give It A Year, which of course was directed by Dan Mazer who wrote and produced the aforementioned series and much of Sacha Baron Cohen’s other comedy vehicles. The show’s very hit and miss (although Borat’s segments are all, without exception, comedy gold), but it finds its feet as it progresses and some of the segments still had me in stitches more than a decade after I first saw them. Ali’s interviews with Anita Roddick and John Humphrys both stand out because the interviewees are fully aware of the comic creation they’re dealing with, but it’s when he interacts with people who are less aware that (as we saw with the Borat movie) work the best. With hind sight it’s easy to watch this series and realise why Borat worked and Ali G Indahouse didn’t because some of the sketches are pretty one-note, but when he’s put in front of people who don’t realise he’s a character you get great comedy both from the naive responses of those people and from Ali G himself. “This is going to be a film that doesn’t run away from the real issues of violence and drugs,” he says when pitching his film idea to a movie producer less than 4 minutes into the first episode, “This is gonna glamourise them. Ai, for real.” That alone was enough to hook me in for all of the six episodes. 

The Last Stand

On the cinema front this week I can speak about two of those four main new releases, and if you’d like to read my thoughts on the superlative Lincoln then read last week’s entry. Last Monday I caught The Last Stand (The Hospital), which meant I could then attend the movie’s press conference and sit in the same room as Arnie himself, and later interview Johnny Knoxville about the film. Johnny Knoxville’s positioning in the film’s marketing is odd. I don’t know whether they were worried audiences would be turned off by an out-and-out Arnie action flick (who are these idiots?), but Knoxville’s hardly in the bloody thing and it doesn’t seem to have helped the box office anyway. 

With some reservations, I have to say I actually really enjoyed The Last Stand. The set-up’s incredibly simple (even if it does take the film the best part of an hour to sufficiently explain) – an escaped drug baron is speeding towards the Mexican border in a super-car and there’s only one man left who can stop him! For a while it plods along averagely and inoffensively enough, but when the action beats kick in it becomes a whole load of dumb fun. The script is weak as hell and Arnie has to deliver some truly rubbish lines as if they were zingers (the delivery alone still raises a laugh though), but Kim Jee-woon’s direction is the exact opposite. Goodness knows how bored he must have been directing the early scenes, but he crafts a deliriously entertaining final act which doesn’t fail to play up just how old and lumbering Arnie now is. It’s a masterclass in inside-the-box casting too, with every actor doing what they’ve done a million times before as well as they always do, and personally I think it’s a shame that audiences aren’t all that interested.

Zero Dark Thirty 2

The other new release that I’ll be writing about is the torture-promoting Zero Dark Thirty (Cineworld O2, Screen 7), which it seems audiences are loving a lot more than the Arnie flick because they all love and advocate torture too! It reminded me a lot of Lincoln in which Spielberg basically said bribing politicians was cool, or that point in Beasts of the Southern Wild where Benh Zeitlin advocates blowing up levees, or Django Unchained’s blatant condoning of mandingo fighting. So yeah, I basically think that he argument thats posits that ZDT’s depiction of torture in some way advocates it or glorifies it is utter bullshit, regardless of what certain individuals might choose to take from the retelling of true events. 

So I’m on Bigelow’s side there, but I’m not going to wholly praise her movie. In fact, it’s a 3-star kinda movie for me. Structurally and dramatically I think the film suffers a lot from wanting to present itself as a piece of journalism which faithfully depicts real events. That makes for a really oddly-paced movie which has a thrilling climax and a fascinating first half hour, but also a middle act that does little to progress the narrative nor ever really engage. Maya’s arc is a relatively small (and predictable?) one which can’t even be fully appreciated because of the jumps in time, and I even found Jessica Chastain’s performance to fall a little short of the tour de force I was expecting. Everything about Jennifer Ehle’s performance, character and plot strand didn’t work for me either, and I haven’t even got to that Barrowman cameo!

All that being said, there’s still a lot to love – and you can find most of it in the first and third act. Bigelow really knows how to shoot action, and she also knows how to make even the most pedestrian dialogue scenes look great (so you can chalk her down as another Oscar oversight), and there’s a lot of good acting on show from Jason Clarke, Mark Strong and Chastain (who is clearly still great, all I’m saying is I think she has some serious Oscar competition) in particular. This is another film that I feel like I’m having to be down on because of the context I’m watching it – lost in a haze of awards hype and great reviews – but I think it has some big problems, and I have to say I probably preferred The Hurt Locker. I could sit here and repeat all the good things about it that you’ve already read a million times, but I’m choosing to write about the things that disappointed me that I feel haven’t been talked about as much…so essentially I’m trying to present the counter-point. Obviously it’s better than The Last Stand, which might not have been obvious from all that I’ve written so far, but at least now you know my reasoning behind what I’ve chosen to write. 

Amour

The other two films that I caught at cinemas last week were Welcome to the Punch and Reality, although the first is currently embargoed, and I’m planning on writing a full review of the latter when its released. So instead I’ll talk about one of the two films I caught at home last week (the other was Olivier’s Henry V, which I wrote two tweets about and that’s your lot) which was the Best Picture nominee Amour. I haven’t seen all of Michael Haneke’s movies (in fact, I may have only seen five – two of which are Funny Games) and my favourite remains The White Ribbon, but I still thought this was kind of fantastic. From my limited experience of family members falling ill the film rung all too true. The emotions on show were ones that I’d either observed or experienced before, and that made it devastating and very difficult to watch. But as depressing as it is the title’s still very apt, and Haneke’s unusual focus on a more positive aspect of humanity still manages to come across despite his rather sterile directing style. I often find his films difficult to grapple with and there were a couple of moments here that went over my head here – the pigeon scene and the dream sequence still baffle me – and I’m unsure what to make of the (metaphorical) malevolent force which seemingly intrudes into their lives, but if anything all that only intrigued me further. It’s a big thumbs up from me.

Kick Ass 2

That was what I’ve been watching, and I as you’ll see I did a lot more watching than writing last week. There’s not anything new from me on HeyUGuys aside from the Knoxville interview I linked to above, and there’s a little less on The Playlist this week because I took Friday off. I did manage to write about the following for them though; McG’s Venice, a new James Wan horror flick, Pain and Gain/Side Effects, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, Evil Dead, a John McAffee biopic, Kick Ass 2 and some Sundance clips. That’s it for this week, but I’ll be back soon with hopefully some thoughts on Movie 43, 30 Rock, and whatever else I manage to catch next weekend.

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