Avatar 3D

Avatar 3D 12A (2009)

Dir: James Cameron; Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Joel Moore, Michele Rodriguez

Sully and his Avatar

Jake sully and his new, improved body

Note to James Cameron – if you can’t be bothered coming up with a proper story then I can’t be bothered writing about your over-inflated, over-long excuse for a film that’s nothing more than a patronising morality tale that actually made me want to destroy the planet. I really tried to go in with the right attitude – “just take it for what it is, it’s a breakthrough in visual entertainment, don’t look too deeply at the content” – but I’m afraid I just couldn’t.

I spent most of the film rolling my eyes at its condescension both to me (I think I’m ok for constant recaps of the threadbare plot, thanks very much) and the ‘natives’ on Pandora, the Na’vi, whose primitive, earth mother existence is threatened by the nasty humans mining their land for something or other whilst not appreciating their culture. On top of this you’ve got every cliche in the book, from the gun happy Republican general to the Pocohontas style simplistic ‘insights’ provided by the Na’vi woman who ends up with the disabled ex-marine Jake Sully – oh, what an interesting and contemporary idea, that a disabled man can walk again through his Avatar on another planet. Then there’s Rodriguez as a half-baked good guy, driving her aeroplane around spouting Seagal-esque lines like “I didn’t sign up for this” and “yeah, you will run bitch”.

I have nothing positive to say about Avatar other than it provided some proper belly laughs for the journey home.

Che Part One

Che Part 1 15 (2008)

Dir: Steven Soderbergh; Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Benjamin Bratt, Demian Bichir, Kahlil Mendez, Rodrigo Santoro, Santiago Cabrera

Guerrila del Toro

It’s funny how student paraphernalia hasn’t changed one jot in the last twenty years even though the majority of undergraduates swim happily in a comfortable sea of apathy, dreaming of the day they can stop playing around at being philosophers and paddle towards the bright lights of investment banking. The standard issue  over-sized Che Guevara t-shirt warms many a conscience  in bed, sleep made easier by the knowledge that the system can be changed from the inside, though the cold, dead eyes staring back from the bathroom mirror every morning say otherwise.

Che Guevara is such an iconic figure that sometimes it’s difficult to remember who he was. Bits of his story have been told before, most attractively represented by Gael Garcia Bernal in The Motorcycle Diaries, which charted a post-medical school trip across South America in the early 1950s, a journey that politicised the young Guevara.

Del Toro and Sodenbergh take the story from 1955, where Che meets Fidel Castro, who deposed Cuban dictator Batista only to become a dictator himself, and joins a small rebel invasion party. With Guevara as a driving force both on and off the battlefield, the proceed to try and unite all the rebel factions with one thing in mind (well, for Che at least): to create a new kind of  society.

It’s a vivid account of the war, drawing on Guevara’s own reminiscences of action, and Del Toro succeeds in portraying him as a committed, intellectual fighter, keen to ensure the resistance army don’t engage in improper behaviour and to try and teach them all to read and write, for “a people who cannot read and write are a people easy to deceive”.

All in all, it’s an interesting, exciting film and I shall look forward to watching Part Two and making notes about it in my limited edition Che Guevara notebook from Paperchase.

The Wild Blue Yonder

The Wild Blue Yonder PG (2005)

Dir: Werner Herzog

I’d like to have a brew with Werner Herzog, although it would take far longer than the length of time it takes to consume three chocolate hob-nobs to explore the recesses of his peculiarly brilliant mind. I’d also like to convince him to have a go at saving the world: scientists can try as much as they like but I believe it’s only through the arts that us humans will really respond. Throw facts and figures about the cataclysmic future that awaits us ’til you’re blue in the face and people might just get round to sorting their recyclables; show us through poetic visuals mixed with said science and we might all gain a sense of urgency.

Wild Blue Yonder is Herzog’s requiem for the planet; a plea for us to try and save it from its destruction and an aria to its beauty. Aliens settle on an earth that’s verging on becoming uninhabitable and humans head off into space to try and find other planets to colonize. One of the aliens (played by Brad Dourif) tells the aliens’ story, providing an elegy for his own planet, Andromeda, which has frozen over. The story is told using footage of NASA missions and deep-sea diving expeditions and old news reels, but it’s the soundtrack that really stands out – haunting vocals that made me think of whales crying out to each other or funeral song. The slow, beautiful shots of the astronauts exploring the planet are stunning, and the passionate performance by Dourif is really moving.

Philosophical, poignant, and with a bit of humour that Herzog always manages to inject into his films. I tell you, he’s the one to save us.

Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead 18 (1968)

Dir: George A. Romero; Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley, Kyra Schon

Scary daughter

Zombierrific

I thought it wouldn’t be scary…I was wrong; oh my lord this is a chilling film. A genre making, imitation spawning classic, Night of the Living Dead manages to create stomach-churning tension throughout from a simple premise – radiation from a fallen satellite has caused the recently deceased to rise up and want to eat the living. Zombies roam through the countryside and seven people barricade themselves into a farmhouse and try and fight them off. The unrefined way in which it’s shot only adds to the spookiness. I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been back in the 60s.

If I was ever faced with flesh-munching ghouls I’d want Ben (Jones) on my side and I’d like to think I’d hold it together more than the pathetic Barbra (O’Dea), who does less than nothing to help the situation. The thing I liked best about this film was the unrelenting horror as the end drew nearer, particularly the trapped couple’s kid (the monster pictured above) brutally attacking her mother in the basement, which I had to watch from behind my hands, and the grim humour of the only survivor being taken out by a single bullet after fighting off the demons all night. I also enjoyed the way tensions were created within the group thrown together in the farmhouse; the bickering couple, the fight to be the alpha male, the desperation to make the right decisions.

The eerie music just finishes the whole thing off nicely – horror at its most ghoulish.

Funny Ha Ha

Funny Ha Ha 15 (2002)

Dir: Andrew Bujalski; Starring: Kate Dollenmayer, Christian Rudder,  Jennifer L. Schap,  Myles Paige, Andrew Bujalski

She's, like, so bored

I like films where nothing really happens. On a day-to-day basis, what does really happen, anyway? I don’t see men in lycra scaling the walls of my house (unless Steven the Window Cleaner is trying something new); I never win life-changing amounts of money on TV show then get brutalised by the local police; nor do my neighbours go all technicolour and break into a perfectly choreographed dance number (though I do sometimes listen to next door really let their hair down on Guitar Hero). No, nothing really happens and so I’m more than happy to see  normal, unstylised, unscripted life shown on film, though I’d take my life over Marnie’s any day of the week.

Funny Ha Ha follows said Marnie (Dollenmayer) for a summer as she hangs around doing not really very much at all; drifting, you might say, from one shitty temp job to another, hanging round with old friends from college who invite her to tedious dinners, all the while pining for her friend Alex (Rudder) and being hopelessly flirted with by the hapless Mitchell (played by Bujalski).

Shot in 16mm, the film has a grainy quality (though you don’t get this as much watching on a lap-top), making it all more ‘real’. Ah, real life: a  stuttering, awkward, unsatisfying search for some kind of point (erm, Marnie, not me). Funny Ha Ha isn’t exactly funny, unless it’s self-conscious laughter at the painful reality of it all. It’s a load of uncomfortable post-uni kids saying not really anything at all and saying it badly.

A lot of people probably hate this film and I can see why. I thought it was, like, pretty funny, pretty sad and quite endearing, painting a painfully accurate picture of that old ennui.

George Washington

George Washington 12 (2000)

Dir:  David Gordon Green; Starring: Candace Evanofski, Donald Holden, Damian Jewan Lee, Curtis Cotton III, Rachael Handy, Paul Schneider

Nasia and George

Children carrying a film can go one way or the other. Bugsy Malone is up there with the best, Stand By Me is close to perfection, and hell, I’ve even got a soft spot for the inexplicably cute kid from Mrs Doubtfire and Matilda. When directors take a more naturalistic approach is when them youths can really shine, Laurent Cantet’s 2008 subtly brilliant success The Class being a prime example, and in George Washington David Gordon Green does just that, creating a languid, haunting film that has little to do with America’s first President.

Set in North Carolina, the film follows a group of young friends trying to work out who they are and where their lives will end up, though, tellingly, at thirteen the Bonnie and Clyde-esque Vernon (Lee) and Sonya (Hardy) have already predicted the future’s disappointment. The film is narrated by Nasia (Evanofski), a thirteen-year-old going on twenty-five, who’s patient, southern drawl provides shrewd insights into their positions. Nasia has just broken twelve-year-old Buddy’s (Cotton III) heart – he’s too young for her, she needs someone more mature – and she pins her hopes on George (Holden) who she sees as a quiet hero. When Buddy is killed during a game, the kids decide to hide the body, and then we see them try and deal with the consequences.

It’s beautifully shot, making the whole film seem like a dream, but it’s the kids’ dreams we are caught up in. There are shots taken from the eyes of the children, into the junkyards around town, the fields, the wastelands, like they’re seeing what their world is about. The slow pace means the film almost drifts by, with simple dialogue and loose narrative. Although it’s not about the Founding Father it is a glimpse at young people who are forced to grow up and realize, among other things, that the American Dream might be just that.

A Serious Man

A Serious Man 15 (2009)

Dir: Ethan & Joel Coen; Starring: Aaron Wolf, Fred Melamed, Jessica McManus, Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick

He tried to be A Serious Man...

A funny but disturbing film? Must be the Coens, then. Let me start by saying I liked this film. I’m not a huge fan of good ol’ Ethan and Joel’s work; I found obligatory student viewing The Big Lebowski underwhelming, and that put me off watching their other films for  quite a while. When I did get round to more, I enjoyed the black comedy and brutal violence of Fargo (but then who isn’t a sucker for Steve Buscemi?); liked the tongue-in-cheek humour and sing-a-long of O Brother, Where Art Thou?; I appreciated Javier Bardem’s psychotic turn in No Country for Old Men; and found Burn After Reading a passable comic farce (I liked it more before I heard it said out loud and thought it was called ‘Burn After Reading’ – a British Rail thriller in which everyone spontaneously combusts thirty minutes outside London: a wry look at our nation’s ridiculous bias towards the capital, playing on Londoners’ fears of leaving the land of plenty).

So, having found the trailer hugely entertaining I finally got round to watching A Serious Man, another obliquely funny film from the Brothers Comically-Grim, this time a semi-autobiographical tale about the luckless Larry Gopnik, whose life becomes unmoored when his wife announces their marriage is over and she now wants to marry one of their self-satisfied acquaintances. From there on in, everything falls apart and in an increasingly desperate state he seeks the advice of his local rabbis.

Like many a Coen Brothers film, you can either read deeper into it or just enjoy it surface level. Has Larry wavered too much away from Judaism? Does he keep telling himself that ‘he tried to be a serious man’ as a way of trying to redefine himself as a righteous Jew as his life spirals  further and further out of his control? Heck, there’s certainly a lot of morality in it (the film opens with a strange, unexplained folk tale on morals and fear, setting the tone of the piece) and yet whilst Larry fights to maintain a grasp on his situation, more bizarre things happen. There are many attempts to link the seemingly disparate events in the film – like Larry’s son being completely off his noggin as he goes through his bar mitzvah echoing his dad’s mental tensions; Larry’s car accident, another simultaneous crash involving his wife’s new ‘friend’, and the Schrödinger’s cat paradox, which I don’t fully understand but I think has something to do with life and death.

It’s one of those films that you perhaps enjoy more on reflection. It isn’t laugh-out-loud funny and doesn’t come off on first viewing as anything particularly amazing. Pretty good, but not amazing. I woke up thinking about it this morning (which perhaps says more about me, I don’t know), and considering the idea that all these little incidents were perhaps made out to be part of a bigger plan, perhaps a divine plan, which would make the apocalyptic ending more understandable. Not that you have to understand it. Who understands life? I sure as hell don’t.