Friday, 24 June 2011

Airline Food

I've not been able to update here for a little while, thanks to a recent trip to sunny San Francisco where I visited the offices of Pixar - as the Disney press machine prepares the world to receive 'Cars 2'. But before the fruits of that trip - including interviews with the likes of John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton - are be published over the coming weeks, I thought I'd unleash some mini-reviews of the rag-tag (and fairly recent) selection of movies to which I was treated whilst airborne.

'The Adjustment Bureau' is a Phillip K. Dick adaptation about a New York politician (Matt Damon) who falls desperately in love with a ballerina (Emily Blunt) following a chance encounter on a bus - changing both their pre-determined fates. It's then that the shady, besuited and seemingly omnipotent Adjustment Bureau pop in, with Terence Stamp and 'Mad Men' actor John Slattery among their ranks. They try to dissuade the loved-up couple from utilising this new found free will, but find Damon is not about to give up on love so easily.

It's undeniably slick and the leads are likeable, yet the film just never builds up any forward momentum until the final minutes. Instead we are taken slowly through a story which covers years of its character's lives, without much feeling of threat along the way. As a result it's hard to feel to involved in what's going on. Though there are some interesting ideas at play here, mostly concerning our desperate need to believe we have control over our lives even if we don't.

Probably the most entertaining film I saw on the flight, 'The Eagle' is the story of a Roman officer (Channing Tatum) and his Gaul slave (Jamie Bell) as they traverse the unclaimed lands north of Hadrian's Wall in search of a stolen standard - a golden Eagle lost by a massacred company of soldiers under the command of Tatum's father whose reputation has been shamed. What follows is a sort of occasionally violent road movie as two disparate individuals relate their different experiences of life, honour and war whilst fighting woad warriors and rolling around in mud.

Most intriguing is the film's casting of Americans as Roman soliders and British people as local Gauls - a fact flagged up as all the more deliberate when we hear the English Mark Strong also doing an American accent as a Roman. This not only sets up the Romans as invading foreigners and reverses the traditional movie role of the square-jawed American hero, but also opens the film up for potential reading as a critique of US foreign policy - a reading which holds up thanks to a degree of nuance and sophistication lacking in many more direct contemporary war films.

Director Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp extended their 'Pirates of the Caribbean' friendship into the animated realm with 'Rango', a Spaghetti Western about a domesticated, big-city chameleon (Depp) who convinces a hayseed town of assorted desert creatures that he is a notorious gun-slinger rather than an actor - soon becoming entrusted as the town's sheriff (a similar premise to that of 'A Bug's Life' or 'The Three Amigos').

Boasting a distinctive look, brilliant character designs and an edgy tone, 'Rango' takes a great many risks for a mainstream animated adventure film: the imagery is often a little dark (such as when Rango talks to a roadkill armadillo) and the dialogue isn't far off that of the genre's earnest live-action equivalents. Frequent references to Clint Eastwood or Western genre tropes (and even a nod to 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas') will pass over the heads of younger audience members, but it's still a blast for those in the know. Nicely animated too - 'Rango' is probably the most technically impressive computer animation yet seen outside of Disney/Pixar.

Before the popular emergence of Judd Apatow, the masters of all that is crass and disgusting were the Farrelly Brothers ('There's Something About Mary', 'Dumb and Dumber', 'Me, Myself & Irene'). But their latest tasteless gag-fest 'Hall Pass' fares much less well than either its predecessors or the current crop of American lad comedies. A likeable cast of Owen Wilson, Jenna Fischer, Jason Sudeikis and Stephen Merchant can not save what is an unfunny and desperate affair, which just tries far too hard to shock and ends up feeling tame as a result.

'Cedar Rapids' is very much an "offbeat, indie comedy" in the Fox Searchlight style, this time starring the third banana of the 'Hangover' films, Ed Helms. Directed by Miguel Arteta ('Chuck and Buck', 'The Good Girl', 'Youth in Revolt'), 'Cedar Rapids' wears its quirkiness on its sleeve, with overbearing, foul-mouthed characters straying into "wacky" territory at every turn. Its saving grace is that John C. Reilly is genuinely very funny whenever he's on-screen, though not enough to distract attention from the predictable and sanctimonious ending (you can smell a closing speech about "integrity" forming somewhere before the end of the first act). At the very best 'Cedar Rapids' should be considered an inoffensive and middling comedy from a director and cast who can do much better.

The less said about this one the better. 'Just Peck' is an "R-rated" teen comedy which looks and feels like a hideously misjudged Disney channel sitcom. There are moments when it becomes clear that the film is supposed to play as satire, such as when the "why are we here" duo of Adam Arkin and Marcia Cross threaten to sue the school principal if she disciplines their son for smoking drugs at school ("are you questioning our parenting?"), but generally it is hard to tell where the sappy, high school drama ends and the joke begins. It's like watching an episode of 'Hannah Montana' full of crude jokes about rape, incest and self-abuse (and often all of the above). It just doesn't make any sense. Who is this movie intended for?

1 comment:

  1. I travel the world, and I’m happy to say that America is still the great melting pot – maybe a chunky stew rather than a melting pot at this point, but you know what I mean.
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