Friday, March 20, 2009

Neckin' November, Huntress!

Lots of shit went down in recent months in both the private and work sector of Ye Olde Cinewhore, resulting in this long-delayed roundup of last November's movies.

Quantum of Solace
After the strong showing of the franchise reboot Casino Royale, this became my most anticipated Bond movie since... well, ever. And I'm happy to report that it doesn't disappoint. Fatigue set in with the previous slightly overlong installment, but not with this lean and pacey thriller that clocked in below two hours (!). The setpieces are exciting and visceral, and the quieter emotional beats are rather well played, if a little on the nose sometimes (damn you, Forster & Haggis!). True, the rational given for the climactic multi-explosion seemed rather forced (a hotel in the middle of the desert has to be conveniently powered by extremely flammable fuel cells - really?!), but all in all, it was much better than what I expected. All in all, a very good thriller indeed.

The Carrot Cake Conversations
There's a lot of talking in here, and not much action, and nothing is really inherently cinematic. Frankly, it might be a lot better as a stage play. Andrea Fonseka acquits herself well, but unfortunately her character is completely unbelievable - a local prostitute that walks around Geylang, speaks good English, and harbors dreams of being a jazz singer? If there's someone like this out there, I'll print this page out and eat it. Most of the dialogue is like nothing any real person ever says, and it's all very indie and self-indulgent. It does get better towards the end, mainly thanks to Adrian Pang's down-to-earth performance, but the damage has been done. No fault of the actors though, as they're almost all decent. It just seems like this was made by some rich, pretentious guy with no idea what the real world is like. Oh wait, I think it was.

Julianne Moore carries the entire film on her more than capable shoulders. This movie feels dirty and gritty and gross, and that's a big plus. It's just that there's nothing much more to the film than the Big Theme that jumps out and slaps you about the face. In fact, every character except Moore's is completely one-dimensional because they serve purpose other than to illustrate the Theme, and so every scene and every act proceeds to its logical and entirely predictable conclusion. It begins as it ends - abruptly, arbitrarily, and entirely pointlessly. It's a real disappointment from director Meirelles.

I saw Quarantine the month after I saw this, so I'll leave the comparisons to another post and just evaluate this as it is. The first 20 minutes or so, while anathema to a mainstream audience, is really nice setup - so mindnumbingly boring that you feel sorry for the protagonist and, like her, almost wish something would happen. And then, of course it does and the proverbial feces collides with the air circulation device. Wish fulfillment in a scary movie is never pretty, and take my word for it, this is a scary movie. A horror movie needs to be scary, above all, and this delivers the bloody goods with minimal cheap shocks. It's cheap (budget-wise), it's down-and-dirty, it's gimmicky, and it's also very effective. And when a horror movie works, all else are forgiven.

The Coffin
This is a pointed reminder (particularly after [Rec]'s effectiveness) that most so-called horror movies are nothing than a bunch of toothless clichés wandering around in a dark room. A pointless rehash of countless Asian horror flicks, this is completely devoid of scares or even chills. You get two major Asian stars, Karen Mok and the Thai guy whose name I can't spell, but they're in two separate storylines that are only perfunctorily linked at the end. Meanwhile, they're surrounded by an amateurish supporting cast and mope around getting haunted a lot. There's a lot of stupid emo bullshit stuff and random dripping blood, but the only frightful thing about this is how boring it all is.

The story for Fight Club appears to be a disjointed mess, but it was handled by David Fincher, and ended up being pure brilliance (some might argue that it's overrated, but I do love it so). The story for Choke, on the other hand, appears to be a disjointed mess, and handled by Clark Gregg, it ends up being, well, a really disjointed mess. It tries to be in-your-face and sexually and morally offensive and all, but in the end, it's nothing but random scenes and quirks wandering around looking for a semblance of some point - any point at all. And scarily enough, for all that quirk, it's all very narratively inert, and only comes alive whenever Anjelica Huston is onscreen, which is, sadly, not that often.

좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈 (The Good, the Bad and the Weird)
While I don't always like director Kim Jee-Woon's films (I found A Bittersweet Life, well, more bitterly boring than sweet), I'm usually able to find something interesting about them, whether it's playful visuals or re-interpretations of genres. This is no different - a visually stunning take on the Western with ample style and panache. Sure, the convoluted plot doesn't make complete sense, and it's a little too long, but man, the gunfights are amazing to look at and the energy level is insanely high. Really, who the hell cares when the results are so much fun?

Talk to Me
There's no buzz about this movie at all, despite having a stellar cast headed by Cheadle and Ejiofor, and the reason is that all the best actors in the world cannot make something amazing out of a trite, familiar biopic. Yes, the two have a wonderful chemistry together, and they really bring their relationship to life. Unfortunately, for a biopic about such a controversial figure, the movie chooses to play it safe and go the warm, and fuzzy route that we've all seen one too many times before. Plus, you know, it's a biopic, which means I'm predisposed to dislike it already.

Body of Lies
Ridley Scott seems to be phoning it in at this point in his career, making generic thrillers-of-the-day with star billing but unfortunately nothing much else in terms of writing. DiCaprio and Crowe are decent in their roles, but mostly forgettable, and needless to say, they are vastly overshadowed by actor Mark Strong in a supporting role. This guy has charisma and danger dripping from every pore. Director Scott also seems to be on autopilot, and everything feels very familiar and rote. There's also a very forced romance subplot that sticks out like a sore thumb. Reeks of mediocrity, and that's yet another disappointment this month.

海角 7 号 (Cape No. 7)
There's a nice helping of local Taiwanese flavor, which really brings the locale to life, aided in no small part by the strong and entertaining supporting cast. Unfortunately, these are the only things that stand out in this otherwise mediocre mish-mash of genres. In trying to be too many things, it ends up not being anything in particular, and most of the plotlines collapse under their own inherent flimsiness. The weakest link has to be the main romantic plot, with its pointless referencing of a decades-old relationship and some long-lost love letters, written in the most cringe-inducing, twee language imaginable. This main relationship is utterly unconvincing, and the leads are unable to do much with their one-note characters. All in all, a grossly overrated movie. I might be more lenient if it weren't such a big hit.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Kevin Smith attempts to do an Apatow and inject some sweetness into his typically raunchy comedies, but he simply isn't as adept as the latter in mixing the two, which results in a somewhat uneven and overlong movie. The humor is best described as hit or miss, with one rather traumatizingly awful shit joke that left me shaking my head in horror. Still, there are some genuinely funny-as-hell scenes, among which is Justin Long's bit part as an aggressively gay porn star. Rogen and Banks are convincing and winning in their portrayals, which go a long way towards gaining audience approval.

Actually, you know what, I think I liked the posters more than the movie.