Monday, September 26, 2005

LAND OF THE DEAD

The sky-flowers aren’t working anymore

Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Dennis Hopper

Tagline: The Legendary Filmmaker Brings You His Ultimate Zombie Masterpiece

“George A. Romero”, boasts the trailer, “returns to the genre he created”. What genre would that be? If you didn’t know you’d probably have to be told. “The post-apocalyptic action movie?” you’d say. For every cliché is present in this land of the heavily customised armoured vehicles, gladiator arenas, leather-lovin’ bikers, crazed Irish preachers, gentle, slow, deformed sidekicks, crudely drawn class systems and Dennis Hopper. But it’s worse than Waterworld. It’s actually worse than Super Mario Brothers.
It’s all very untidy really. Skilled actors are made fools of by shitty, graphic novel dialogue. Tension is built and released only by a Fox News-standard thriller score and brief but tedious quick-fright setups. Evil Dead blood and guts and Gremlins silliness seem out of place in such a slickly-filmed, humourless environment. It is an obnoxious, overly referential, condescending, misguided, preachy statement against ‘whitey’, a socio-racial group Romero seems unaware he is a member of. It is completely out of its time, lacks even the most basic pacing or character development and the Living Dead are practically an afterthought. How must Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright feel cameoing in one of their biggest film hero’s own Phantom Menace? As the film’s angry black voice puts it so frequently: “RRRAAAAAARRRRRGH!!!!”

WOLF CREEK

Based on actual non-events

Director: Greg McLean
Cast: John Jarratt, Cassandra McGrath, Andy McPhee, Kestie Morassi

Tagline: How can you be found when no-one knows you’re missing?

The group of three are pretty, goof around in the inane style of a Doritos advert and have no memorable features between them. They have a little party and drive into the outback. This takes fourty minutes, by which time it has been emphasized that no transsexual Inuit, crunk-loving Martian bacteria or bisexual coelacanth lacrosse enthusiast crack addict has ever felt so isolated. This is rendered pointless when they stop off at a bar and talk to people. A further twenty minutes and they encounter the suspicious bushman they encounter. Plotholes, relentless dashing of hopes and unimaginative yet harrowing torture take hold for the remainder.

If you like agony and banality in disproportionate measure, watch Discovery Home and Health instead.

RED EYE

Nightmare on plane, street

Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox

Tagline: Fear Takes Flight

Wes Craven’s latest horror sees a woman secretly held hostage on a crowded plane by a man armed only with a phone. The idea is brilliantly bare; it’s Poe, it’s Hitchcock and if properly maintained, terrifying. There are a few typical Craveny problems; the heroine’s average-life problems are a tad clinical and supporting characters weakly drawn, but suspense is maintained elegantly, the action is unpredictable, Cillian Murphy is suitably madcap (in spite of being named ‘Jackson [T?] Rippner’) and the psycho’s motives seep out quite artfully.
Sadly, all of this is an elaborate setup for the one of the most disastrous third acts ever committed to film. As the trailer suggests, the plane lands, removing all claustrophobic tension. The depressingly self-parodic game of cat and mouse in a house which follows would bore even fans of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. But the real sour aftertaste comes from writer Carl Ellsworth(briefly of both Buffy and Xena)’s primitive attitude towards women. This film actually thinks it’s feminist. It’s as misogynistic as a big bus of rapes driven by a man who doesn’t believe in rape, but it thinks it’s feminist. Monumental voyeuristic suffering is traded for the cheapest, quickest, puniest forms of female empowerment in the most ridiculous of manners. Little Lisa learns how to pose like a fighter, Kill Bill style. Little Lisa gains the confidence of her worried father. Little Lisa’s assertiveness in the workplace increases. Good for her! Let’s all give her an affectionate pat on the buttocks and tell her how well she’s done, considering! Now if only every woman could just survive having her ass and mind worked over by Patrick Bateman’s sicker step-brother every now and then, they could all be this productive. Wes Craven got married during the production of this film. Hmm.

THE DUKES OF HAZZARD

I think a better film could bounce out of my undercarriage

Director: Jay Chandrasekhar
Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Sean William Scott, Jessica Simpson, Burt Reynolds

Tagline: Cousins. Outlaws. Thrillbillies.

Well boys, looks like you messed it up. Written by Jonathan L. Davis and John O’Brien, the latter of 2004’s Starsky and Hutch, it seems that research consisted of barely perusing the blurb on the DVD boxset. In a movie where the borderline-retarded singer Jessica Simpson provides a ‘comparatively strong’ performance, acting is bound to be an issue too. Besides failing to achieve any kind of southern accents, Johnny Knoxville and Sean William Scott not only behave exactly as themselves, they don’t even appear to have changed out of their own clothes. Burt Reynolds’ Boss Hogg appears to have had multiple strokes, three grams of vicodin and a quart of bourbon. The Broken Lizard team (director Jay Chandrasekhar’s comedy troupe buddies) all have their smug cameos, mostly in the guise of their characters in Super Troopers, quoting unmemorable swathes of its dialogue as though it were comedy gospel.
It is this misplaced reverence which destroys the film. Sure the series had car chases, skimpy chicks, sunshine and punchups, but there was more to it than that. Each show was every bit as innocent, relaxing and wholesome as an episode of Kung Fu. There is no sense of space or nature anymore. Every shot is ugly or urban, the soundtrack is crowded and direction is crappy, with no attention paid to very basic details such as not obscuring the face of the person speaking. Whether it concerns weed, incest, George Bush, sex with cars, viagra, hiphop gangstas amorous gayboys, bestiality, The Confederacy or panty sniffing, every single joke comes from a snide, witless, collegehumor.com perspective, making the film look like a bastard offshoot of Eurotrip.
With Bruce Feirstein, writer on most recent James Bond films currently clutching an A-Team script, it is recommended that you begin learning how to build your own illegal distillery to ease the pain.

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY

Impure imagination

Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Freddy Highmore, Johnny Depp, Deep Roy, David Kelly

Tagline: The Factory Opens July 2005

While Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was a syrupy Technicolor masterpiece, joyous, camp, witty and dark as a Bourneville singularity if you want it to be, many of Roald Dahl’s objections to it were reasonable. Charlie was a loud, ungrateful Aryan posterchild incapable of expressing true relish while eating chocolate. The rounded-out ending in the glass elevator is too clean. Trained squirrels are infinitely more exciting than giant geese. Still. A remake? Fuck off. Why, the performances would have to be entirely brilliant! The design would have to capture the spirit of the original while being choc-full of further unpredictable candy contraptions! It would have to be grisly and funny, with all-new gags and updated politics! Who have you got to do all that? The guy who remade Planet of the Apes? Shit.

Why then is this a delight?

Well, the acting sells it. Violet, played by Anna-Sophia Robb, is dangerously perfect, as this excerpt of her web biography shows:

Of course, Anna-Sophia was ready for her busy life before the camera. She has competed in gymnastics since she was five, has won awards in Irish dance as early as seven, landed a national recurring radio voice-over at eight, and got her first TV and print commercial in Denver six months later (the ad is still in use). You might say that Anna-Sophia has danced her way to the movies, since she started by excelling equally well in jazz, hip-hop, break-dancing, and the Irish jig. But, she's also pretty terrific at swimming, skiing, running, and modeling. And when she's not working with animals, she's telling jokes and doing a bit of singing.

Jordan Fry’s Mike Teevee is pure Columbine terror and Julia Winter’s Veruca Salt a calculated it-girl to be. But the film has updated the political correctness and it is the parents who have become the real sinners gallery. The Gloops undergo the least change, the message more relevant than ever. Mrs Beauregarde is the dream-displacer, Mr Salt the panderer and Mr Teevee the denier. All the kids need is a little trauma to find their way, and Johnny Depp provides just the man-child to dish it out.
When the children finally meet Crazy Willy, the suspense is terrible. His first impression is even more theatrical than before, a marvelously awkward comedic car crash of sugar, music and violence. His simpering laugh is infectious, equal parts Michael Jackson and a nervous Muppet, much like the rest of him. His moodswings are wilder than Wilder’s, if not as loud, and his all-new backstory a fun-enough diversion for the younger viewers. Four foot four stuntman Deep Roy is also excellent as the entire Oompa Loompa race and pointless but amusing cameos from Mark Heap and Kevin Eldon raise a giggle.
Some of the touches are admittedly too Burtonesque; Charlie’s house is more warped-gothic than Jack Skellington’s, themes of father-son relations are a bit overegged and the Oompa-Loompa tunes continue Tim’s baffling love of funk in ways which might aggravate those who aren’t as into Thomas Dolby or Prince. A few set pieces could have been more interesting-looking (though others are as iconic as ever), but these are all minor quibbles. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a great golden beanfeast, cementing Burton’s reputation after a mildly shaky period as an altogether worthy dreamer of dreams.