Monthly Archives: September 2014

Transcendence

Starts off pretty good, middle is also good, end is just ridiculous. The fun thing about the movie, and to some extent, arguably, the point, is that all of the technology is either already in existence, or is vaguely viable, the thing which makes it all function in a nice apocalyptic way is the addition of intelligence. Its a pretty good twist on the old ‘artificial intelligence goes nutso’ trope, given that the intelligence is actually that of a human, which nicely serves to accommodate a good ‘absolute power corrupts’ message. It could have been a powerful commentary on drone warfare, or the dangers of over reliance on technology, or even, a really good disaster movie. Instead the whole thing is eschewed for a stupid ending which relies on technology which is so fundamentally different from anything we have available now that it really becomes un-relateable, boring and stupid. Having an evil intelligence bent on taking over the world living in the internet is pretty scary, its not remotely scary when that intelligence literally thinks up the same wonky technology that the terminator movies came up with in 1991. Beyond this the apocalypse has no scope, it occurs in a crappy town in the middle of no-where. There was so much potential here to show people dealing with a technological meltdown, but the best thing we see is someone use a laptop as a door stop, as if a laptop is really a very effective door stop, more effective say than, a door stop.

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The Monuments Men

Critics had issues with the pacing, the acting, the plot, the Cloonmeister. It’s fair to say that The Monuments Men didn’t get the best of reviews. I actually enjoyed it a lot. The cast is outstanding and to be honest, most of the people in this film I am pretty happy just watching in whatever. I certainly would recommend the film, especially if you are fan Cloonbags other work in this sort of field (Three Kings…). The issue I had with it though in fact might be an issue with society at large. There is a real concerted effort to explain in a philosophical sense, the need for the unusual band of ‘Monuments Men’. If you read the book which brings the story to life with aplomb that the film unfortunately cannot quite match it becomes clear that these people really did believe in the power, and the need for art. The film focuses heavily on the Ghent alter-piece; undeniably this is regarded one of the most significant masterpieces the group saved. However, in placing such emphasis on the mission to track it down the power of every other piece of art they come across is slightly denigrated. Because the film needs a sense of excitement, and an overarching storyline it becomes a requirement that every success is followed by the question ‘but where is the alter-piece?’, prompting not only further searching, but increased urgency. But doesn’t this slightly confuse the very point of the film: that the cultural artefacts which we generate as we go through our lives are integral to our sense of ourselves and our place within the wider milieu. To place such stock in just one piece speaks to a value judgement, is a piece of art regarded as a masterpiece somehow better at fulfilling this role as arbiter of our collective humanity. There is one moment in the film (spoilers) when a single, unknown painting is returned to its rightful place on a wall in a humble family home. The family has long since been lost to the war, but the poignancy of this moment, the returned piece and it’s significance not for a nation, or even a city, but for one family, and eventually the one person who returns it, for me far outweighs the triumphant discovery of the alter-piece at the end of the movie.

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Lone Survivor

It’s an imaginary world where I have become a big shot Hollywood movie director, and somehow, I have achieved this whilst maintaining a moral compass. A producer comes to me with a package: Action movie based on a bestselling book, Mark Wahlberg, Afghanistan. I am all over it, this is a going to be great, we can go with the anti-war angle, because this is now obligatory, and still the good guys can pulverize the enemy whilst playing some tunes over the loud speakers, America wins again. Except “You didn’t let me finish … Action movie, Mark Wahlberg, Afghanistan, true story, only one man lives”. Oh, that, I wouldn’t touch. Because it is a potentially depressing story? Because America very much don’t get to win? No, because of those magic words true story. I think that true story is a fantastic pair of words to use in outstandingly uplifting and heartwarming situations or at the start of horror movies. Here though it is just slightly confusing. Lone Survivor is basically an action movie in the classic jingoistic, hero worshipping sense; it absolutely reinforces the notion that to die fighting bad people for the freedom of good people is an honourable and perhaps glorious way to go, and equally that good prevails. There is also no denying that it is a pretty amazing story. The advertising campaign made a big deal out of the fact that the one man who survived the events upon which the film is based was fully on board with the film. Those who didn’t make it were his friends and colleagues, and there is a definite sense that he felt that the film honoured those people, and went some way to showing their heroism and humanity in the face of unimaginable adversity. In this sense the film works. The problem I have with it is that people died, and this film graphically shows how that occurred. Morally, I am not sure where this places both the people who made the film and those of us who watched it. The film is, after all, entertainment, perhaps this is more problematic in this sense than with regard to the book upon which it draws. These events, written, and read are inextricably connected to the people who experienced them, the act of reading gives time to contemplate the position these people found themselves in, and time to consider the sacrifice they made in service to their country. What the film does though is allow Mark Wahlberg and some other actors to shoot an awful lot of people, before those other actors get shot themselves. There is no time to contemplate, it all looks amazing, exciting, awful, its Rambo but with the terrible realization that things like this actually happen. The question I am asking myself is why does the film exist? I am not saying it is a story which shouldn’t be told, there is an exceptionally important, and poignant point to it all. I am just not sure it should have been packaged, sold, and fun to watch.

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Divergent

Because here at EFIHR we believe in gender equality, and that women are, you know, humans and all that, the Bechdel test comes up every now and again. If you are unaware of it the Bechdel test states that a film may only pass if it has at least two women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man. It seems like a pretty simple thing to pass, but it says something of the state of gender equality in Hollywood film that more films fail the test than pass. You can head over to http://www.bechdeltest.com if you are interested. Anyway, I move that an additional caveat is added to the test, an addendum if you will. The Bechdel test first amendment will henceforth read: The film in question has to have at least two women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man, and it can’t be exactly like The Hunger Games. This will be known as the Hungry Bechdel test. Divergent passes the Bechdel test with ease. Katniss, or whatever the main character is called, is indeed a female, and though she comes close to ballsing it all up when she goes all gross out lovestruck over some good looking guy, let’s call him Gale, she does do a lot of talking about all sorts of other fun things with some other people who also appear to be female. The thing is though, I am not really sure an uplifting call to young women to find and express themselves, and reject the oppressive society within which they were raised, really counts, if you just basically took a film which already exists and replace a fairly brilliant plot thread involving complicated, and often quite confused sets of feelings towards members of the opposite sex, with a straight forward and predictable love story. In fact, I am not sure it counts at all. Divergent does pass the Bechdel test, but it resolutely fails the Hungry Bechdel test. This doesn’t really detract from the fact that it is a pretty entertaining movie and you could do a lot worse than watch it when you are stuck for something that looks good, bumbles along nicely, but is not too heavy. If you enjoyed the Hunger Games then this will certainly keep you going until the next instalment, unfortunately its all the worse for it.

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The Muppets Most Wanted

Lets put in on front street, A Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my number one favourite films of all time. I watch it every Christmas with my family, and even if it were not an amazing film it is imbued with enough fond memories, and the weight of tradition, that I would love it anyway. It is in this context that we must consider my opinions regarding the latest Muppets offering, Most Wanted. That is to say, my entire Muppet rubric is framed within A Muppet Christmas Carol. Those other films, Treasure Island, and In Space, and whatever else there was, as well as the show, barely register on my radar, such is my all encompassing love of the Christmas tale. Those films are not bad or anything, I just don’t watch them every year without fail. The thing is, the Muppets are now conceptually attached to a certain time of year, a certain feeling, and clearly, the Christmas Carol being my primary frame of reference, it is also unavoidable that it will become my key comparison piece. Is Most Wanted better than A Christmas Carol? Honestly, absolutely no idea, it might well be. It has brilliantly utilized cameos, a storyline which bumbles along nicely without being too complicated, but with enough going on to have some Muppet madness, and a good few laughs for good measure, as well as being aware enough of the Muppets mythos as to make it interesting for aficionados. But the question is, does it all feel a little flat because it is not Christmas Eve? Because there is no penguin skating party? Because Michael Caine is nowhere to be seen? I am afraid I will never be able to answer, because I plan to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol every year until I die…or some kind of disaster befalls the planet and all Muppet based visual media is destroyed, and it shall forever remain at the very centre of my Muppet heart.

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The Wolf of Wall Street

I am not usually a fan of films with narration. It seems like a bit of a cop out, a bit lazy, a bit like the film makers couldn’t quite come up with a way to convey everything they wanted to, or the actors don’t quite have the range. The last resort is to just have them say what is going on inside their brains out loud. Not the case here through, the absolute honesty of the narration here is what makes it brilliant. The films basic philosophy is that getting rich is easy, at least it was a little while back, so easy in fact that if you are not rich then basically you are either too lazy, too stupid, or perhaps to honest, and really you deserve absolutely no sympathy. It’s exceptionally assholey about it as well, and this makes it gloriously good fun. No one really believes this, even if it was once true, I guess banking regulations have come a long way. But the tales of ludicrous mansions, beautiful (really, honestly beautiful) cars, insane parties and ridiculous yachts are so endearingly jealousy inducing that it almost makes one want to believe that there is still millions to be made and smuggled into accounts manned by fantastic Swiss bankers. It is so easy to watch because no one really has a bad time in this film, even when bad things are happening, money makes bad things far more exciting than the everyday normal bad things that happen to the rest of us. It all comes back to that narration, its what holds this philosophy together, what explains it, and what makes it all seem more realistic. Well it is based on a true story after all, how true? I am sure we’ll never know.

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The Raid II

The first Raid film was something of a manly masterpiece, it could do no wrong as far as I was concerned. The second installment had something to live up to then, and a lot to lose. I am pleased to report though that it doesn’t disappoint. In fact, I would be so bold as to say it exceeds the original. That film was a pretty simple affair plot wise, sounding dangerously like a computer game, our hero had to fight his way up a building to the highest floor, where some sort of boss character waited. The second film does away with this plot, presumably because it can only really be done once, and relegates the titular raid to the very end of the film, leaving the rest wide open for all sorts of amazing fights in prisons, fights in night clubs, fights in offices, fights in kitchens, fights in car parks, fights in loading bays, fights just about everywhere to be honest … and a car chase. In between all the fightin is a far more involved plot than the first film, which is especially impressive because here we pick up almost immediately after the first installment ended, and are launched into the confusing and dangerous world of crime syndicates, corrupt cops and undercover work that would inevitably follow a raid of such epic proportions as the first film depicts. The only real issue is that it requires slightly more from the viewer in terms of suspension of disbelief. Whereas the first film involved falling through floors, taking people by surprise and generally a whole bunch of improvised weapons, the second film rather assumes that crime syndicates will not, on the whole, have a large stash of automatic weapons laying around, and that the best way of taking people out is not, contrary to popular belief, putting a slug in their dome, but to send large numbers of relatively inept henchmen to fight them to death. None the less, if the only issue with a film is that it wouldn’t really happen like this in the real world, its gotta be a pretty good film. 

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