Tag Archives: Review

Review: Bridge to Terabithia

Last night I decided to watch Bridge to Terabithia. It was a confusing experience. I will be first to accept that I am probably not ‘who this was made for’, an adaptation of a literary work for and about younger people than me wrapped up in Disney fuzziness. The film follows Peeta Mellark and his far too chirpy next door neighbour as they deal with their respective emotional/familial issues by imagining a childlike world of wonder. Here the more ethereal dangers that plague the young protagonists lives, such as bullying and a perceived lack of parental attention, manifest as trolls, flying gopher type things, and a mysterious shadow guy. By becoming solid they can be tackled head on, and as they do so Mellark and his not-girlfriend become happier.

However what I imagine in the book resolves as a beautiful commentary on escapism and the role of imagination in how we deal with the less manageable aspects of our lives, translates into the realness of film as a sort of shared schizophrenic episode. I have not read the book, but Wikipedia says it is one of the most frequently challenged books around. The film makes it obvious why, the lives of the people in the film are messy and their relationships are complicated in ways we are unused to in fiction for this audience. In this respect it should be great, it doesn’t wrap everything up in comfortable little packages because it believes its audience isn’t sophisticated enough to deal with what it is showing.

The problem is that in many ways the characters issues are caricatured and more problematic than they reasonably need to be. Mellarks father loves his sisters more than he loves him; we know this because whilst his sisters get sweet goodnights, Mellark is left with a gruff ‘lights out’. We never learn why this is. Some might argue that it is in fact not the case, there is a scene later in the film where the father does tenderly tuck the boy into bed, the problem is, the boy isn’t awake, in the world of the film his father still doesn’t love him as much as his siblings. This is just one of a plethora of similar problems, the film argues that bullying as revenge is a legitimate activity, it has a barely present mother whose attitude to her child is also not explained, and if you read the literal painting of a wall with gold as saying something about wealth, it says that money makes families happier.

These things might all be true, they might even be interesting in the hands of another film for a different audience, perhaps one that is prepared to think about how these things might have come about, but here the broad stroke caricatures of characters make them into a series of problematic events portrayed by characters with little or no motivation. Am I supposed to hate the father because of his nepotism? I do not know because I do not know why it exists. The film’s final moments ‘probably’ see the dark mysterious shadow person of the forest resolve into Mellarks father, who, rather than harming him catches him in an embrace – in doing so the film teaches us that the path to resolution can lay in the imaginary worlds it depicts, implicitly rejecting the ‘get your head out of the clouds’ attitude the film’s most divisive character (the father) adopts in response to his son. The problem is, the issues the film depicts, including a death, could be resolved by doing just that.

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This is actually the second time I have written about Prometheus on efihr.com, if you check out the first attempt you’ll see that it was slightly more enjoyable the second time around. Prometheus begins with a huge blue dude drinking a shot of toxic Sambuca and disintegrating into a waterfall as a giant oval space craft maneuvers overhead. Quite why the giant blue dude does this is anyone’s guess, but the subsequent close ups of DNA type stuff, multiplying in the water makes one thing extremely clear, the blue dudes shot antics have led to some sort of life. Prometheus is full of moments like this, on the surface entirely nonsensical, but ultimately making some sort of sense. The thing is, the strands that knit these moments together are not strong enough to make something like a coherent whole. There is the giant blue dude storyline, the aliens storyline, the cyborg storyline, then there is a whole bunch of things which I guess might serve some sort of purpose for character development, but that actually don’t mean much at all. The things people (and cyborgs, and alien dudes) do in Prometheus quite regularly make no sense. I think the aim might be to make the watcher go ‘well why did they do that?’ then think really deep meaningful thoughts about life, the universe, faith and our place in this big scary world, because, you know, that’s what this is all about, but really it just feels like everyone is doing silly things for no reason. The coolest character is a cyborg, one assumes, given Scotts obsession with cyborgs that this has some sort of link with Blade Runner, and indeed the whole ‘being human’ theme is well explored here – but the coolness really stems from the cyborg being the only character whose actions actually sort of make sense, plus he is pretty sassy with his non human-ness on top. It’s a worthy Alien predecessor if just for its good looks, but in trying to answer too many of lifes deepest questions at once Scott has rather taken all the fun out of it.

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Oil : The Billion Dollar Fire

Just to note, before we even get into talking about the film, that the title we have here is what it says on the DVD copy I have. There are however, about four other titles for the film, and we all know that a film which has been re-released under many titles is always going to be a goodun. Ever wondered how they put out oil fires? I have once or twice, not enough to actually, you know, type ‘how do they put out oil fires’ into google (other search engines are available, but, let’s be honest, they are not as good), but enough to jump at the chance to watch a whole ninety minute movie all about putting out oil fires. The big evil oil company has basically discovered that the longer an oil fire rages in Abu Lambeth, a place with such a ridiculous name one can only assume it was set ablaze by its embarrassed inhabitants, the higher their stock prices soar. This is sort of explained at the start of the film but the soundtrack is so muddy and the editing so all over the place that I am not entirely sure why burning oil somehow equates to better share prices. Then slightly wonky story lines are actually the least silly thing about this movie. Joining in the mix is a brilliant romance, hilarious jokes about smoking on a burning oil field, a laboured reference to salamanders legendary ability to withstand flames, amazing dubbing, an outstanding bar fight and the best mano e mano fight (including kick in the balls as a finisher) I have seen in ages, and finally, the crème de la crème, loads, and loads, and loads, of shots of oil fires. If I was prone to exaggeration I would say about 98% of the film is just shots of fires burning. The reality, without exaggeration, is that it is at least 87%, and that is just the close ups, the long shots that show lots of oil fires at once take it up to about 93% of total film time being oil fires. The other 7% is bar fights and helicopters taking off. And a safari scene. All in all this film has an entertainment value that is through the roof, it’s pretty much awful enough to be funny, but weirdly you do rather end up rooting for the guys putting out the fires towards the end. Oh I forgot to mention, look out for the best phone conversation you’ll ever see committed to screen.

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Cop Out

Any self respecting Kevin Smith fan (of which I regard myself as one) will know via the magic of Smodcast, Hollywood Babble on, etc, that Mr Smith isn’t the hugest fan of his own film Cop Out. In fact, in an unusual move for a director he quite often goes out of his way to actively dump on his own work. The thing is though; the film isn’t really that bad at all. It is a pretty generic buddy cop movie with all the clichés in place, but honestly, a buddy cop movie without the clichés isn’t a buddy cop movie. No one ever went to see a film about a pair of cops who are great friends throughout, never experience any friction in their relationship and dote upon one another mutually. Cop Out even features a pairing such as this as foils for our leading men, buddy cop clichés are such because they work. The problem might be that there is a lot of action here, more perhaps than would be reasonable to hand off to a second unit well versed in shooting such scenes. That it is perhaps not the strongest aspect of the film speaks to the skills of a director who made his name in long shots of people talking. Accordingly, here, the film succeeds when the action halts and we are in a car sharing juvenile jokes, even if Bruce Willis’ character isn’t too pleased about it. And about Bruce. The on-set grievances between leading man and director are pretty well known by now, but it’s a testament to someone (Willis? Smith? Smith in the editing room?) that it all looks like everyone was having rather a lot of fun putting the film together – perhaps it is just Willis’ half smile or Tracy Morgan’s indefatigable attitude. I also can’t help but love Seann William Scott as a sort of parkour wielding, house burgling asshole, whose brilliantly honest, but outstandingly childish outlook is the most Kevin Smith aspect of the film. This all assumes though that this is ‘A Kevin Smith film’. That such a thing can even exist. A wholesale example of auteur theory exemplified. The thing is, no matter how much creative control there might have been, this isn’t a Smith film, he didn’t write it, he didn’t produce it, hell, I can’t see a single one of his friends in the cast or crew in what has to be a first for serial friend enabler Smith. It is a Hollywood film that didn’t do so well. I am not sure it would have done any better with an action director at the helm; maybe we’d be having the same conversation but discussing the action scenes as the films saving grace. But what I am certain about though is that Cop Out isn’t quite as bad as everyone says it is, especially its director.

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Les Miserables

This review contains spoilers, but since I assume everyone in the world already knows the story it’s ok. It is surely a testament to the success of Les Miserables that any mention of the French Revolution is inextricably associated with flag waving barricade dwellers, defiantly standing against their oppressors and eventually rising to storm the Bastille. Perhaps though, that is the enduring image because it is actually what happened, that Les Mis co-opts this exciting and romantic narrative to be subjugated with a horrible little romance is frankly rather a shame. I have never seen the play. This is because I am no fan of musical theatre, and said theatres translation into film is never going to be especially appealing to me. I dislike all the standing around, its actually quite difficult to do anything whilst you are singing your little heart out. So it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch this outstandingly long film. It starts with singing, then there is more singing, then at the end, people are still singing. I don’t suppose I should have expected anything else. The thing is, for a film that is so bloody long, which ostensibly spans many years of French history, nothing much really happens.  Actually, that is not true, loads of stuff happens: a scumbag has a revelation that he probably shouldn’t be a scumbag, some other dude tries to catch him a lot, someone becomes a prostitute, some guys try to do a revolution, and someone kills themselves for no real reason. All this stuff though is ultimately in the service of the least interesting, and frankly confounding aspect of the story, a love affair based, literally, on a lingering glance across a crowded street. Most of that other stuff was quite exciting and fun, if gloriously stupid (especially the killing of self), but the love stuff is so wildly ridiculous that it is frankly astounding that it even exists as a plot device. Our main man Huge Jack Man literally decides he is willing to die, so some twerp he has never met, and who, incidentally, his daughter has only met for about seven seconds, can live. Given that the story so carefully lays out the reasons behind the French Revolution (basically everything being awful) it’s surprising that the same sort of care is not given to establishing at least some sort of relationship between the two people about which the whole film comes to revolve. Establishing a relationship would literally have required there to be some sense of them spending a couple of hours in a room together, and maybe a nice steamy scene to nicely juxtapose the awful prostitute times of Cassette tapes mother.  Did I mention her name is Cassette? I mean, its Cosette really, but it’s one of the only ways to make the film less infuriating if you call her Cassette tape. Les Mis isn’t a bad film for what it is, and I have no doubt lovers of the play will enjoy it. Really my issue is with the story not the film. I just really, really, can’t see how a story with such a shallow, meaningless love affair at its very heart has endured for so long.

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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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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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