Friday, 30 March 2012

Casual Sex

In today's liberal minded times, sex is advertised everywhere. It fuels the music industry. It is used to promote products. It's even hidden away in kids' shows. But yet, the movies tell us it always turns into love. There is no such thing as casual sex. No Strings Attached, starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher challenged this idea but in all honesty, the trailer suggested this was never going to ring true. So along came a rival. Almost surreal as it stars Natalie Portman's co-star from Black Swan, this movie looked at the exact same concept. Its trailer is far more amusing but still hints that relationships really are as black and white as they seem. Let's take a look at Friends With Benefits.

Dylan Harper (Justin Timberlake) is an art director for a small internet company in LA. One day, head hunter Jamie Rellis (Mila Kunis) tries to recruit Dylan for GQ magazine in New York. After an interview with GQ, Dylan is hesitant to take the job and so Jamie takes him for a tour of New York to convince him that it is worth the jump. Dylan finally accepts the job and, knowing no one in New York, strikes up a friendship with Jamie. They begin to hang out together and become best friends. One night, while watching a rom-com (starring Jason Segel), they come onto the conversation of sex and relationships. They both agree that sex can be nothing more then physical intimacy without feelings getting in the way. With this fresh in their minds, they make a deal: to have sex with one another, and not get attached. Despite everyone telling them that this is a bad idea - Dylan's gay co-worker, Tommy (Woody Harrelson), Jamie's mum, Lorna (Patricia Clarkson), Dylan's sister, Annie (Jenna Elfman) - they continue on with it. A simple rom-com without the romance right?

'Hands up if you would sleep with one of these two.'

A pretty perfect comedy crew. Not only is this a funny cast, it also has a few solid actors. Mila Kunis and Woody Harrelson are both outstanding actors. Justin Timberlake is also a good actor as we discovered with The Social Network but he fits so well in comedies. He's perfect for the role of Dylan. He is confident but also careful. He's hesitant to take risks but yet he knows he's good at what he does. Plus his beautiful voice comes in handy a couple of times. My only issue is his extremely exaggerated stutter when he is scared but there's no trace of it anywhere else. Mila Kunis, who men will droll over throughout the movie, does a good job against Timberlake. She's not as funny, though she does have some of the best lines, but she's a spot on partner for Dylan. She's got control and she knows what she wants. She's enough to put Dylan in his place. All this being said, Richard Jenkins stood out for me. Playing Mr. Harper, Dylan's father who suffers from early stages of Alzheimer's disease, he creates really touching scenes in what is essentially an extremely shallow, yet funny, film.

'How are you even doing that?!?!'

Admittedly, a second class follow up for Will Gluck after his previous comedy, Easy A, but still a good film. It's got a wicked soundtrack and some real laughs (and maybe you'll be on the edge of tears at two or three points. I was.) You'll end up quoting it back and forward, hopefully not always in the same context as in the movie. I do recommend singing closing time to your partner, but not shouting, 'What are you try'na do? Dig your way to China?' in an intimate moment. My biggest issue with the movie is, despite setting out to make a film that does not involve love and is just sex, it piles on the clich├ęs in the latter half of the movie. Gently at first and then they rain from the cinematic sky like a monsoon.

A good laugh and one that everyone (above a certain age) can enjoy. It's not a chick flick, it's a sex flick. Also fun cameos from all your favourites like Emma Stone and Andy Samberg.

Best Bit? Honestly, the first sex scene. Not for the obvious reasons either. I find the interaction hilarious.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Misleadingly Titled Games

In our world that is running ever short of good ideas for new, original movies, producers often turn to books. It's no secret that if you write a successful teenage-aimed book series, you are almost certainly going to be offered a film adaptation. We saw it with Harry Potter, with Twilight, and some of us are waiting eagerly for more formal news on the Cherub series, but there's something different about this series of books. The following is more of a cult following rather than mainstream. The plot is devastating and horrifying rather than joyous or loving. There's very little fun involved. It's The Hunger Games.

Some time in the future, North America has collapsed. War and poverty overran it and now it is a whole new country known as Panem. Panem is ruled by the Capitol which is surrounded by thirteen districts. District Thirteen, however, was destroyed after an uprising - known as the Dark Days in the novels - and as a constant reminder to the citizens of the other districts of the Capitol's power, a boy and a girl are selected from each district every year to fight to the death live on television for all to see. It is the year of the 74th annual Hunger Games (which have very little to do about hunger) and in District 12, Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields) is selected as the female tribute. Horrified, her sister, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), volunteers as tribute. After much crying an screaming, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is selected as the male tribute. The two of them are taken by Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) to the Capitol where they will be interviewed by Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), made pretty by Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), trained by Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), and thrown into the arena by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) with 22 other contestants. With plenty of twists and turns along the way, the District 12 tributes will have to fight for their survival against tributes who have trained their whole life for this.

In a post-apocalyptic society, TV is really dull.

Starting straight away, the acting in this film was pretty much spot on. As a fan of the books, I could see more or less all of the characters. Admittedly, there was a lack of developing, but that's simply because films cannot capture everything. Someone who had not read the books would not know the difference. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic as Katniss. Her fear is portrayed in both the most subtle of ways - like when she is trembling in the tube before the games - and in the plain obvious - when Primrose is selected as tribute. She truly nailed the image I had of Katniss. The cold, distrusting approach to people but her caring heart hidden behind that. Josh Hutcherson, as the male lead, is also great. I've heard some people claim that he lacked charisma and he seemed too young, but he is meant to be sixteen. He is young. And lack of charisma? The interview between Peeta and Caesar is enough charisma for three people. I think he really captured Peeta's soft and gentle side as well as his more outgoing side. Stanley Tucci was superb as Caesar with his flamboyance and confidence that a chat show host needs and Donald Sutherland, while not at all how I imagined President Snow, perfected the character. Seemingly harmless but more deadly than nightlock berries.

'Come on, Katniss. Give us your rendition of 'Hound Dog''

The technical elements of the film were brilliant. The soundtrack was perfectly orchestrated to create the right atmosphere for the movie. Even more so, the lack of sound at moments in the film were used even better than the moments with sound. The sound editing really captured the moments portrayed on screen and jumped between heartbreaking and joyous with excellent balance. The cinematography was really good as well, though far from perfect. There were some shots that were outstanding but the overuse of close-ups and shaking camera shots near the beginning was a little tiring. Now onto one of the most crucial things in an adaptation: the script. The writing was excellent. Considering the book is written from a first person perspective, there were plenty of completely necessary changes that needed to be made. For example, the reader would only know as much as Katniss would know, but that would get boring on screen. The viewer is treated to behind the scene conversations with Snow and Crane as well as seeing how the games are pieced together. Bits and pieces were jiggled to make it more suitable for screen but they didn't really annoy me that much. That being said, some moments really got to me. (See Spoiler section at the end for details. That's where most of the negative elements of the film will be)

I included this photo simply because I think Jennifer Lawrence is beautiful.

Overall, a fantastic adaptation from a brilliant book. Handled very cleverly as they didn't include things that would make the film reliant on a sequel, but did enough to make you want to know more. That is how to handle a book series intelligently. It blows other adaptations out of the water but, in all honesty, I would love to see an R/18 rated version of this movie. While it captured the atmosphere around the games, the nightmarish world of the games was lost due to the PG-13 killings. It is impossible to make a film about brutally murdering teenagers as good as it can be without showing the brutal murders. Though I completely understand why they did it, I hope there might be a special edition DVD that is slightly more gruesome.

Best Bit? There were lots of good bits. My favourite bits in the novel (the tracker jackers, the muttations) were slightly anti-climatic because of how dark they are in the books and how that can't be recreated on screen for a young teen audience. So my best bit is Jennifer Lawrence. Just her. With brown hair. I think she is fantastic and beautiful in every way. But in all seriousness, I had tingles when the tributes arrived in their chariots. When Peeta and Katniss held their hands in the air, I was captivated. Good film making.

SPOILER SECTION (Read on at your own peril (Contains book spoilers too))

There was very little I disliked about the film. I didn't mind the slight changes in plot in order to make it less reliant on a sequel. However, I did mind how badly the muttations were handled. I saw a review were the reviewer, having not read the book, thought that they had been inserted digitally. Of course, in the book, the real horror of the Mutts is that they are made from the dead tributes (Glimmers eyes are what Katniss notices) and that is a horrifying concept. Without that, they are just big dogs and that's a bit boring. Also, I didn't like the way such important information was so skimmed over. The Mockingjay pin is crucial in the next two books and yet we only see it in the beginning and end of the movie, and Madge was cut out all together. Still, that can be recovered in a sequel if need be.

It was a long film, though it didn't seem it and I just wanted another 20 minutes or so to explain things like the Mutts, or Gale and Katniss' relationship. (To anyone who didn't know, the cut aways to Gale seemed cheesy and unexplained. I honestly found them too 'Twilight love triangle') And the injuries sustained by Katniss and Peeta are minimal. Peeta should lose a leg! Katniss should be deaf in one ear! The games are a lot less nightmarish without this. And what about Peeta claiming his real love for Katniss? And Katniss shooting him down on the train home? While the relationship was handled well, I wanted that bit, that crucial, crucial and heartbreaking bit.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Movies That I Haven’t Seen But Should Have - Part 1: Zombies

There are a lot of movies I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never seen. But rather than pretend I’ve seen them or change the subject when they’re mentioned, I’ve decided to share them with you. These films that are cult classics or masterpieces that I have missed or avoided, I am sitting down to review. So let’s start with the father of all zombie movies: Night Of The Living Dead.

Barbara (Judith O'Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) travel across the country in order to put a wreath on their father’s grave. The graveyard gives Barbara the creeps and Johnny pokes fun at her for this. ‘They’re gonna get ya!’ He laughs gesturing to a man stumbling towards them. Barbara goes to apologise to the man but he tries to attack her. Johnny jumps in to protect her sister and she runs. She is chased by the mysterious man until she finds a house. She hides away in the house and her sanity slowly leaves her. Another person, Ben (Duane Jones), finds the house and begins to board up every window and door to make himself and Barbara safe. The house slowly becomes surrounded by people who, as the television will tell Ben and Barbara, are the animated corpses of the unburied dead. Ben takes charge of the house, much to the disapproval Mr Cooper (Karl Hardman), who was hiding in the cellar with his four others.

Duane Jones was actually related to Indiana Jones.

Well, this is the one that really started it all. The father of all zombie movies. The part of Ben, the protagonist, was given to Duane Jones simply because he was the best actor, his race was completely ignored. And rightly so. Duane Jones is brilliant. In a movie of extremely low budget special effects that look as cheap as they are, Duane Jones stands out above everyone else. He's the strongest character but his subtle vulnerability is wonderfully shown through angry outbursts and moments of quiet. Karl Hardman was also brilliant and an ideal confrontational partner for Duane Jones' Ben. Their scenes together played out better than most of the scenes in the movie.  Judith O'Dea also manages to pull off catatonic rather well. (Disturbingly well, perhaps?) She shivers and shakes with just the right amount of understanding of the situation.

'Say hello to my little friend.'

What really makes this film stand out for me is all behind the scenes. The work that went into it. George A. Romero and his team started with an idea and no money. Their investors were given roles in the movie. Karl Hardman (One of the $300 investors) was not only given a role, but also helped with make up, sound effects and took the still photos for the credits. The team won the sound mixing equipment in a game of chess with one of the investors. When they finished the movie, they threw it in the trunk of a car and drove to New York to try and get it played. Made for only $114,000 it has made over $30million worldwide. It went into the public domain after there was an issue with the copyright and now anyone can distribute it. This really is proof that an idea, combined with determination, can become something incredible.

I really enjoyed this movie. Yes, it is very cheap and there are some really cheesy moments. But one has to remember that the movie was shot in the 60s for a micro-budget. And yet, despite all this, the second it finished, all I wanted to do was watch it again. There's something very captivating about it. A good watch.

Best Bit? There will never be any moment better in a zombie movie than when the zombies start outnumbering the people fighting them. The fear, the panic, the strength, the teamwork (or lack of it) I find it all fascinating. 

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Great Return

Apologies. I slipped into a movie related coma after the Oscars but the good news is their back on our screen! It's been six years since they released any form of movie (The Wizard of Oz) and 20 years since the last time they had their famous TV show. Finally, with great vision and determination, they return with a post-modern, biographical (sort of), comedy starring themselves. Who am I talking about? Yes, it's The Muppets.

Three Muppet enthusiasts, Gary (Jason Segel), Mary (Amy Adams), and Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), head off to Hollywood to see the Muppet theatre and to celebrate Mary and Gary's tenth anniversary. However, on the tour of the theatre, Walter overhears Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) discussing his plans to buy the theatre and destroy it to get to the oil underneath. In horror, the trio set out to find Kermit and with him, hatch a plan to get the gang back together, raise the $10 million, and return the theatre to its glorious state. They begin to travel around the world in search of the other Muppets and try to find a TV company that will air their telethon. It's a tough time for them though considering they're no longer considered 'popular' and on top of this, Tex Richman is keeping a close eye on them.

When they realised there wasn't enough seatbelts to go around,
The Muppets got scared.
There is very little in terms of human performance here. Jason Segel was absolutely fantastic as Gary. Not only is he absolutely hilarious, he is also so touching and heartfelt when the moment calls for it. Not to mention he can sing and dance like a pro. His voice in Man or Muppet - which won Best Original Song at the Oscars - is natural and raw. It gives me tingles every time. Amy Adams was also a delight in this movie. Her innocence and charm made her perfect for the role of Mary. And we all know she's a wonderful singer because of Enchanted. Finally, Chris Cooper played a mean (if not overdone) baddie. There was several things I disliked about Tex Richman as a character which I don't think was down to Chris Cooper's portrayal; I think it was down to the writers and directors. All the cameos in this movie were fantastic. They were so perfectly inserted with excellent jokes and pure wit.

Our Lord and Saviour... Kermit.
The film was spearheaded by Jason Segel and the promotion of it was fantastic. The world became excited for The Muppets. The film was great fun for all the family. Kids will love it because it’s silly and its protagonists are puppets and adults will love it because it brings The Muppets back to the screen with plenty of clever jokes and meta-humour. The script, while at parts dipped in quality and dragged a little, was mostly true to The Muppets style with a typical ‘good vs evil’ plot and silly comedy mixed with well thought out jokes. The songs in the movie were fantastic – probably the best parts of the movie – and were all worthy of an Oscar nomination (though Man or Muppet rightfully won.)

I find The Muppets sense of humour hilarious. Things like travelling by map or the line ‘They must have got broken in the dance number I was just doing,’ just make the movie that little bit better for me. Also, if you know me, you’ll know I’m a fool for singing and dancing, especially songs as good as the ones in The Muppets. I would definitely suggest this movie to people. It’s just plain good fun.

Best Bit? Man or Muppet was a definite highlight for me due to my love of songs, puppets and Jason Segel. I also very much enjoyed the post modern collection of the rest of The Muppets.