Monday 31 March 2014

The Double

Given that The Double is about a mysterious doppelgänger (Jesse Eisenberg), physically identical to but psychologically different from the original (Jesse Eisenberg, obvs), it can't be a coincidence that Richard Ayoade's second film feels strangely familiar, yet at the same time distinctively odd. Set in a bureaucratic nightmare world as much 1984 as it is Brazil, it evokes a number of cinematic dystopian fantasies but is essentially unlike any of them. Perhaps Ayoade's greatest achievement is to have made a film that's Kafkaesque, Orwellian and, uh... Gilliamish (definitely a word), while maintaining a distinct style of his own - even though he doesn't really have one.
ZOMG there's totally, like, two of them

That's not a criticism; it's just that stylistically, The Double is such a stark contrast to Ayoade's first film - cold, impersonal and fatalistic where Submarine was warm, heartfelt and optimistic - that were it not for the fact that he's re-cast almost everyone from his first film in his second (plus the odd face from The IT Crowd), you'd be hard pressed to work out who was behind the camera here. As a result, I'm already looking forward to the director's third feature just to see where the hell he goes next.

For now, though, this will have to do, and while it's a treat for the eyes and ears - Ayoade has an absolute riot with production and sound design - it's a curiously hollow experience. Chuckles are injected along the way to alleviate the crushing greyness, but a lack of LOLs isn't The Double's problem; it's the absence of any tangible meaning behind the surreal happenings on screen. Sure, the meditations on identity, the notion of the self, the pressures of society blah blah blah are all great, I get that, but I found them a lot more enjoyable in '60s TV triumph The Prisoner - specifically the episode The Schizoid Man, if anyone's interested.
ZOMG there's totally, like, two of them

The Double lost me in its final act, when it became harder to reconcile what I was seeing with what I thought the story was trying to say, but maybe that's just me. I am a bit thick after all, and nobody likes a film that's cleverer than they are. Eisenberg is fine as both sides of his character (although no better than Michael Cera - for whom Eisenberg is, ironically, often mistaken - in Youth In Revolt), and Mia Wasikowska is charming as Hannah, whose palindromic name reflects her link between two identical people. I imagine.

The rest of the cast are equally adequate, but the fact that most of them were in Submarine draws attention to the film's artifice to such an extent that it must surely be deliberate. What's Ayoade saying here? That The Double is Submarine's evil twin? Unlikely. That actors must access alternate versions of themselves as part of their daily life? Doubt it. That he just likes working with those guys? Probably. It doesn't really matter: the film is open to interpretation, and whether you want answers or not is up to you. At least you'll enjoy watching the question unfold.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Labor Day [sic]: suspiciously familiar

Now that Labor Day [sic] is out in cinemas and we can all enjoy Josh Brolin sticking his fingers in Kate Winslet's moist, warm peach pie, I think it may well be time to lift the lid on its source material. Jason Reitman might claim that he based his screenplay on Joyce Maynard's book of the same name, but from where did Joyce get the idea? The answer to this question, as the answer to most questions should be, is Roger Moore.
Nice raised eyebrow, Kate. WHERE DID YOU GET THAT IDEA?

Specifically, Sir Rodge's 1992 non-hit Bed & Breakfast, which was only recently covered so thoroughly and painfully on the pages of this very blog. Now I suspect I may be the only person in the world to have seen both Labor Day [sic] and Bed & Breakfast, so naturally it falls to me to uncover this act of plagiarism. So without further ado, let's examine the evidence:

Labor Day [sic] and Bed & Breakfast spoilers ahoy!

A sexy crook on the run (Josh Brolin) goes into hiding in a sexy single woman's homeA crook on the run (Roger Moore) goes into hiding in a single woman's home
The sexy single woman (Kate Winslet) has a young, naive son who fancies a local girlThe single woman (Talia Shire) has a young, naive daughter who fancies a local boy
The sexy crook turns out to be quite the handyman, doing odd jobs around the houseThe crook turns out to be quite the handyman, doing odd jobs around the house
The sexy crook is a whizz in the kitchen, whipping up a peach pie while talking in sex metaphorsThe crook is a whizz in the kitchen, whipping up a curry while talking in a racist Indian accent
The sexy crook becomes a father-figure to the sexy single woman's sonThe crook becomes a father-figure to the single woman's daughter
The sexy crook gives the sexy single woman the hot, steamy sex she's been missing for yearsThe crook gives the single woman the rusty pensioner sex she never knew she wanted
The citizens of the small town begin to wonder just who this mysterious, sexy man could beThe citizens of the small town begin to wonder just who this mysterious, old man could be
The sexy crook's past eventually catches up with him and he's forced to leave his surrogate familyThe crook's past eventually catches up with him and he's forced to leave his surrogate family
Eventually the sexy crook is reunited with the sexy single woman and they live happily ever afterEventually the crook is reunited with the single woman and they live happily ever after
The naive young son grows up to be Tobey MaguireThe naive young daughter grows up to be Tobey Maguire

I haven't been able to clarify that last point but I'm pretty sure it's the case.

The floor is hereby left open to Jason Reitman and Joyce Maynard to defend themselves. We're waiting, guys!


Thursday 20 March 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

There's a moment in Captain America: The Winter Soldier in which Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) has to ask his boss, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) for a favour. Pierce agrees to the favour, but only if Fury arranges for Iron Man to visit Pierce's young niece on her birthday. It's a throwaway moment, designed for a chuckle and to remind us of the wider world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but what it actually does, very swiftly and brutally, is make the point that even in his own film, Cap is nobody's first choice for a fun time. And on the basis of his second dedicated feature, it's not hard to see why.

Without its prequel's knockabout novelty value of being set in ye olde 1940s, CA:TWS is left adrift in the MCU without a USP. Seriously, what's it got to offer that the rest of The Avengers' stories haven't? A hero whose superpower is that he's quite strong? Come on. The only interesting thing about Steve Rogers is that he's a fish out of water; a man out of time, with different values and an outsider's view of the modern world. All of which worked well for him in The First Avenger and Marvel Avengers Assemble, but that arc was pretty much complete once he took part in a technologically advanced assault on an alien army from another dimension. The Winter Soldier gets Cap's diminishing confusion with the 21st century out of the way in the first twenty minutes and never refers to it again, rendering him as exciting and unique as magnolia-painted walls.
Spot the difference

In an attempt to inject some kind of socio-political message into a popcorn blockbuster, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely display all the incisive wit of a school assembly about how war is bad and governments are evil. There's a vague attempt to examine the well-worn irony of keeping massive fuck-off weapons as a means of peacekeeping, with Rogers mournfully complaining that "this isn't freedom, this is fear", but I'm fairly sure the same point was made in Marvel Avengers Assemble, and everyone forgot about it there too once the awesome pyrotechnics began. And if you thought the casting of Robert Redford and the Washington setting might lead to some seventies-era political paranoia, think again: Redford's sole purpose here is to chat to a hologrammatic Jim Robinson from Neighbours in what looks suspiciously like the Star Wars prequels' Jedi Council.

But, like the film itself, let's ignore the interesting stuff and get on with its failings as entertainment. With a hero who's already the least interesting person in the room, Captain America: The Winter Soldier's job is to empty that room and refill it with people even less interesting in order to make sure you notice him. And so, as well as the criminally wasted Redford - who said so much more with near-silence in All Is Lost than he does with all the inconsequential waffle he's given here - we have Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, who's ill-advisedly been given a major role despite being a character so lacking in character that she's incapable of sustaining more than a few scenes per film. Then there's Anthony Mackie, a charismatic actor lumbered with the black sidekick role that worked so well in Iron Man Three that it may as well be replicated here, right? (If you can name Mackie's character after you leave the cinema without being a fan of the comics, bravo.)
It's not Rhodey, you massive racist.

And then there's the titular Winter Soldier (not to be confused with the titular Captain America, who is not The Winter Soldier despite the title clumsily suggesting otherwise). Winty, as everyone should call him in order to diminish his menace, starts out mysterious but dull, and before long he's not even mysterious. An uninspired villain with a faux-tragic backstory, his mission is twofold: to sit awkwardly alongside the story's core without getting involved too much in the plot, and to extend every fight and shootout to interminable lengths. Prepare to facepalm as Winty, after a long and messy assault on one of our hero's vehicles, simply unleashes a gadget which flips the car over. Could have saved quite a lot of bother if you'd done that ten minutes earlier, Winty old fruit.

But it can't be all bad, right? Well, no, although boy does it try. Cap hanging out in museums to remember the old days is a nice touch, what with him being a museum piece himself, and there are some witty moments and lines - although for every "I'm 95, I'm not dead", there's an exchange like "It's a tough way to live..." "But it's a good way not to die". NOBODY talks like that. Not even superheroes. And Samuel L Jackson is always good value, but again he's hamstrung by the script: one moment affords him the perfect chance to deliver a world-class SLJ line with great vengeance and furious anger, but nobody's written one for him. That sound you can hear is a million fanboys being brought to the brink of orgasm before suddenly having a bucket of ice dumped over their nethers. Even the film's big reveal, an admirably brave plot turn which affects the past, present and future of the entire MCU, is explained at length in a ridiculous exposition scene by a "character" who has absolutely no reason to do so.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier's problems are perhaps encapsulated in one gag towards the end which I won't spoil here, but suffice to say that at the exact point when you think they've pulled off at least one brilliant, funny, surprising moment, it's immediately undone by a dumb - and worse, unnecessary - punchline. It's the kind of thing Joss Whedon or Drew Pearce would have nailed in their sleep, and it leaves the whole exercise reeking of what could have been. If Marvel want to keep making superhero films for the ages, they need to invest in writers and directors with vision and characters worth watching. Guardians Of The Galaxy and Ant-Man look bonkers enough to be worthwhile, but given the choice between Captain America 3 and Iron Man 4, on this evidence, I'm with Robert Redford's niece.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Proof that Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure is a documentary

This is a painting called 'A Concert'. It was done in around 1490 by an Italian artist called Lorenzo Costa.
Pretty sure this is the earliest recorded appearance of Wyld Stallyns (featuring one of the beautiful babes from England), and therefore proof that Bill S Preston Esq. and Ted "Theodore" Logan were in fact genuine time travellers.

Now seems as good a time as any to mention that a 25th Anniversary edition of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure is out on Blu-ray this week. It's still *sigh* totally bodacious, dude.

(via Zac Caldwell at the Bill & Ted 3 Facebook page)

Monday 17 March 2014

Under The Skin

As an image, the sight of Scarlett Johansson prowling the streets of Glasgow at the wheel of a Ford Transit isn't just incongruous, it's downright weird. But within the singular netherworld of Jonathan Glazer's filmed nightmare, it's just about the least strange thing you'll witness for its entire duration. To attempt to describe any of the freakier visual episodes Glazer has spawned for Under The Skin would be futile, but if you've ever woken up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because of some unbidden, indefinable terror, you'll have a vague idea of what to expect.

That's not to say that Under The Skin is unwatchably terrifying; in fact the reputation it's already attracted as fuel for a lifetime of mental trauma may well have been overstated. But it is undeniably fascinating, chin-strokingly thought-provoking and wilfully, intrinsically alien. As some kind of un-person, harvesting unwitting souls for a disturbing purpose, Johansson is remarkable in a role from which you genuinely have no idea what to expect next - and if you think you do, you'll be wrong. She's front (and full-frontal) and centre in a tale which requires her to barely hint at a universe of emotions without any exposition, and your slender grasp on proceedings is entirely at her mercy.

Boosting the bonkers is Mica Levi's deeply unsettling score, with a three-note motif for Johansson's subcutaneous succubus which rivals any superhero theme of recent times for character identification. If you never heard it again for another ten years, the moment you did you'd be transported right back to an unremarkable Scottish cottage with an unconventional floor and the darkest secrets in the basement.

As you'd expect of a film this obscure, interpretations of Under The Skin's intent are entirely down to you. Its potential themes are boundless but universal, and while it isn't about to hold your hand and guide you through its haunted forest of ideas, it would be a shame not to take anything away from it. It's not perfect, but it's wholly original, and these days that's rarer than a Hollywood starlet cruising Sauchiehall Street in a white van.

Thursday 13 March 2014

Script pitch - Noah 2: The Curse Of Ham

With the new trailer for Darrenaronarrenofsky's Noah currently doing the rounds, it struck me that if ever a story was ripe for a sequel it was this one. After all, there are ruddy thousands of stories already written that follow Noah's watery tale, so adapting them should be a piece of piss.

With that in mind, I skim-read Wikipedia's summary of The Book Of Genesis and knocked up the following key scenes in an attempt to sell my Noah sequel to Hollywood. All you fans of The Bible out there will hopefully recognise how closely I've stuck to the original text.

Scene: Post-flood, Noah and God settle their differences. God presents Noah with a rainbow as a peace offering to him and all mankind.
I say Noah old bean, I really am frightfully sorry about that apocalyptic global tsunami. I'm afraid I just sort of got carried away, I was very cross you see, and I think I may have overdone it a little. I hope your insurance will cover any leaks in your shack's roof.

Are you fucking joking?

I realise you're angry, but so was I. I had a lot on my plate, and I just lost it for a minute. Could happen to anyone. Anyway, by way of apols, I made you this.

The fuck?

It's a pretty bow, in the most glorious colours of all creation. It's made of sunshine and rain, and I call it a rainbow.

You must be taking the piss. I've had enough rain to last a lifetime you insensitive bastard. Shove it up yer arse and leave me alone.

(To Himself)
I knew I should have called it a sunbow.


Scene: Noah uses his newly fertile land to create an alcoholic drink made from his grapes. He enjoys the fruits of his labour while relaxing in his tent au naturel. One day, his son Ham stumbles into his father's tent unannounced.
[Swigging liberally from a wine bottle]
Ah fuggin love you, tent. You're my besht tent in the WHOLE WORLD. I wanna kish you, tent, come ere yer fuggin gaggin for it you are.

NOAH cuts a hole in the side of his tent and is attempting to make love to it when his son, HAM, approaches.

DAD! Oh my GOD! You're like totally butt naked, I can see your cock and balls! Jesus!

Fuggoff you, I'm busy. Go and fetch me some fuggin crisps or something you useless shit. And stop clocking my junk fafugsake before I fuggin curse your pasty ass.

UGH, I HATE you! You're the worst dad EVER, I wish I'd never been BORN!

HAM runs away in tears.


Scene: Ham tells his brothers Shem and Japheth of the episode. Angered at this betrayal, Noah curses Ham's son Canaan to a life of servitude beneath his brothers.
...and it was all droopy and everything and he was still trying to stick it through the side of the tent, it was GROSS.

Dude, that is fucked up.

You shouldn't be telling us this man, Dad'll go postal. You know what he's like when he gets all cursey.

NOAH bursts in to the room.

You little fugger, I knew you'd blab! I might be shitfaced but I curse thee! I curse thee so hard you'll wish you'd never fallen outa your mama's cooch! SHAZAM!

NOAH waves his hands around ineffectually then falls over.

Well that was embarrassing.

HAM's son CANAAN enters the room in a butler's outfit.

Dad, can you explain this? I'm suddenly dressed like a butler and Cush, Mizraim and Phut are all like "fetch this bro, fetch that bro".



Hollywood, I am literally sitting by the phone waiting for your call.

Friday 7 March 2014

That's Rogertainment! Rogisode 3:
Fire, Ice And Dynamite

The Winter Olympics may be a distant, homophobic memory, but they were the catalyst for my viewing of this 1990 German film starring Sir Roger Moore as the instigator of an extreme alpine sports competition for reasons too stupid to go into (although fear not; I will). Having vigorously enjoyed watching various women's curling teams in action in Sochi, I assumed I might be in for similar entertainment with this stunts-in-the-snow flick; I could not have been more wrong if I had asked John Travolta to introduce Georgian footballer Rati Tsinamdzghvrishvili to Madagascan president Hery Martial Rakotoarimanana Rajaonarimampianina.
Rodge plays wealthy businessman Sir George Windsor, the board of whose company are diametrically opposed to his policies of not slaughtering rhinos or burning rainforests down. Rather than firing these imbeciles who he has mysteriously appointed despite their obvious lack of suitability for their role, Sir George opts for the clearly more sensible choice: to fake his own suicide. Via a supposedly pre-death video, he then arranges the Megathon, a series of winter sports open to all, with the winner receiving his entire fortune. If you haven't died of disbelief yet, his blind hope grand plan is that his three illegitimate children - none of whom he knows from Adam - will enter and win, keeping the money in the family. As great plots go, this isn't one.

What it is, in fact, is the world's shittest excuse for over an hour of stunts arranged by director Willy Bogner, who did such sterling work on the skiing sequences in various James Bond films. The stunts, which consist primarily of people on skis falling over, aren't a patch on anything from Bond, and have the added burden of being linked by some of the worst characters ever committed to film. It's worth taking a moment to examine some of them:
  • Alexander, one of Sir George's offspring, is as camp as Christmas, yet is seen entwined with a lady at one point because while being squealingly camp is obviously hilarious, being gay is clearly out of the question.
  • Another son, Dudley, is played by Roger Moore's own son Geoffrey. He does literally nothing of any note whatsoever.
  • One of the teams consists of a bald brother and sister, comedy villains who are as incompetent as they are irritating.
  • One competitor is funny because he really likes bananas.

Lowlights of the film include the competition's opening ceremony, which namechecks a lengthy list of disparate sponsors who presumably contributed to the film's budget, and which also shoehorns in several baffling, one-shot cameos: why Isaac Hayes, Nikki Lauda, Buzz Aldrin and Jennifer Rush would ever be found in the same place is a colossal mystery which the film chooses not to address. There's also a scrotum-tighteningly awful scene in which Sir George's daughter Lucy revitalises her flagging team by performing the kind of appalling rock song Germans really went for in their immediately post-Berlin Wall days.

If there is anything noteworthy about Fire, Ice And Dynamite, it is that one sequence takes place at Switzerland's Verzasca Dam, and features a stuntman bungee-jumping from the top of it. If that sounds familiar, it's because the stunt would be repeated five years later (far more impressively) at the exact same location for GoldenEye. It's interesting that in all of that Bond film's promotional material, nobody makes reference to the Roger Moore stinker which predated it.
The whole sorry affair is like The Cannonball Run in woolly mittens, but devoid of anything that made that film watchable, and it delights in frequently challenging you to avoid ejecting the DVD, smashing it into pieces and severing your optic nerves with a shard of the disc. But this is That's Rogertainment!, so what of the man himself? Surely his very presence elevates it from one-star catastrophe to two-star catastrophe with a bona fide legend in it?

Yeah, no. Presumably out of loyalty to Willy Bogner for making him look so good in For Your Eyes Only, Rodge suffers indignities like having to deliver the line "Saving these rainforests may one day save this planet", before popping up sporadically during the rest of the film disguised as his own Scottish butler, complete with an accent which fools nobody but his idiotic offspring.
"Hoots! Ah'm mah oon Scortesh butla ye noo. Wood ye layk sum haggess? Etc."

Rodge even refuses to go into any detail about the film in his autobiography, except to say that his son was quite good in it, which is nice of him. It's more than anyone involved in this icy bollocks deserves.

I'm beginning to wonder if this whole project was a good idea.

Tuesday 4 March 2014

The Wes Anderson Movie Episode 8:
The Grand Budapest Hotel

I've come to the conclusion that reviewing any of the individual episodes of The Wes Anderson Movie, which is now in its eighteenth year of production, is an exercise in staggering futility. If you enjoy the other parts then you'll enjoy Episode 8: The Grand Budapest Hotel, probably immensely. If you don't like the others, you probably won't like this one. And if, like me, you have no strong feelings either way, then guess what?
If you've never seen any episodes of The Wes Anderson Movie, then this is as good a one to watch as any: it's the apotheosis of his uniquely genius / gratingly irritating (delete as applicable) style, with symmetrical, borderline-OCD compositions, 90-degree pans, meticulous production design, wacky characters, a tremendous soundtrack and Owen Wilson all popping up as ordained by the Prophecy which I believe Bill Murray delivered on the day Anderson first picked up a camera. In its favour, this episode does have a panoply of splendid facial hair, a glorious variety of aspect ratios (most of it is shot in 1.33:1) and a more tremendous soundtrack than most, but otherwise it's business as usual. I look forward to copying and pasting most of this post in a couple of years for Episode 9.