review

Review: This Means War

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The Pitch: Mr and Mr and Miss Smith.

The Review: If ever there were two genres guilty of falling back on high concepts, then it’s the rom-com and the action movie. Die Hard On A… movies and Four Weddings knock-offs are two a penny, and This Means War is not the first time that the action movie and the rom-com have been made into strange bedfellows. But This Means War is also the melding of two high concepts into one vertigo-inducing idea: what if James Bond and Jason Bourne went head to head. Who would win? But what if they weren’t just competing in the field, but in the bedroom as well? It does require the two concepts to be merged in such a way that’s not only fair to both, but also allows room for each to breathe. Can you make a film that’s both a good rom-com and a good action movie?

No; at least, not if This Means War is anything to go by. There are three main elements to This Means War, and considering each in tone it’s the com of rom-com that comes off by far the best. Reese Witherspoon is an old hand at this kind of thing, and has a light touch for the material, even if the film does it’s best to make her look as if she’s an international-class trollop. It’s her lightness of touch that makes long sequences watchable, but also her pairing with Chelsea Handler makes much of the film more tolerable. Handler gets the majority of the best lines, and isn’t in the slightest hindered by the fact that she plainly can’t act (early scenes have the feeling of her reading from an autocue – bady – before she hits her stride later on), but her spunky energy keeps the film afloat during the com elements. Hardy and Pine get lots of banter, but only the occasional opportunity for out and out comedy, and it’s a shame there’s not more scenes allowing them to riff.

The rom, however, is where things start to go pear-shaped. This Means War wants to have its cake, eat it and have sex with it, so we’re left with two competing rom-coms as Tom and Chris both attempt to woo Reese for themselves. Sadly, the way that the competing romances are structured, neither comes off as even remotely believable, full of people reading lines from a script that would just about pass for drama students in an improv but would never be said by real people (or even characters in a good rom-com). Consequently it’s impossible to root for either protagonist; the shouting and recriminations that normally sit in the second act of the rom-com are so predicable, you could set your watch by them. Worse than that, though, is that the set-up of the first fifteen minutes means that there’s only one way this is ever going to play out, and despite rumours of multiple endings, the one which panders to all of the lowest common denominators is the one you’ll get to see.

Then there’s the action element, which is nothing short of disastrous. Just three action sequences, at beginning, middle and end; the first is so badly shot it’s impossible to discern anything that’s happening, the second is edited so choppily that any excitement is drained out of it, and the last actually shamelessly rips off other, better action movies before simply giving up and resolving all of the obvious plot threads from earlier on. Put simply, This Means War is an insult to your intelligence on a number of levels, presenting a film where two characters need to get together that has such a random view of basic morality that the inevitable and predictable outcome is actually the last one you’ll want, but also spoonfeeding you action scenes so utterly unwatchable and lacking in originality that if being asked to sit through them doesn’t make you angry, I might politely suggest that you need higher standards. Director McG and writers such as Simon Kinberg have all worked in these genres before, and everything from the hyper-kinetic Charlie’s Angels films to the disturbingly similar in concept and execution Mr and Mrs Smith make this feel nothing more than a sequel subject to the law of diminishing returns. Hardy and Pine are both on an upward career trajectory after years of hard graft in the business, but let’s hope this is a blip and nothing more.

Why see it at the cinema: Not for the action sequences, which are a shameful affront to at least two of your senses, but for the comedy; at least if other people are laughing, there’s a chance you might feel like joining in.

The Score: 4/10

Review Of The Year 2010: My Top 40 Movies Of 2010

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I’ve never really understood birthdays. Call me an old curmudgeon if you like, but I’ve somehow missed the point that our arbitrary calendar system, based on the distance round the giant glowy thing that our damp ball of rock has travelled, requires us to mark each revolution with some significance. Same applies to New Year – we have an odd and occasionally unhealthy fascination with running out of days in a particular year that requires us to spend ridiculous amounts of money to get drunk in public or stand around in the early hours of the morning singing a song that no one actually understands a word of. I’m not averse to a party, I can just think of better reasons.

Now lists, on the other hand, that’s something I can relate to. The need to obsessively collate and rank things in some sense of order, for no real point other than the satisfaction of having done it? Fantastic. I’m also absurdly competitive – get me in a pub with a pool cue or a set of darts in my hand and the demons appear from inside me and take over my brain. So if we have to mark the passing of the year, then I can think of no better way of doing it that with a purely arbitrary collection of a competitive nature, based around another damp-rock-glowy-thing-orbit.

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The Friday Encourager: Do The Monster Mash

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Another Friday rolls around, and normally at this point I’d be attempting to cajole you, dear reader, into a trip to the cinema at some point in the coming week, for as we all know that is the place where movies must be watched for the fullest effect. But this week, with snow on the ground and the country grinding to a halt, I find it harder than ever to suggest that those of you living in a winter wonderland should trek out and find something to watch. (And it’s not even winter yet – an autumn wonderland?)

But there is something that is worth making the trek for this week, and it’s from a British director who’s marked himself out as a real talent to watch, Gareth Edwards. His first feature film is a labour of love, and has the look of a movie ten times its budget. But there’s something lurking in this Monster’s closet; the marketing campaign.

There’s a number of different cuts of the trailer around, and some of them err on the side of suggesting this is another District 9, a monster mash with the emphasis on the monsters. I attempted to draw the distinction in my review that this isn’t just about the monsters by drawing out the differences, and if anything the title itself may be misleading. It’s a hard movie to pin down, being part road movie, part love story and part giant monster movie, but it’s absolutely not a thrill-a-minute action ride, so try to go in without expectations, and just let Monsters grab hold of you. I hope you’ll be as enraptured as I was.

Why I will almost certainly be disappointed by Inception – My top 50 of the noughties

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It’s finally here. After months of secrecy, speculation and salivation (not to mention alliteration), the saviour of the summer blockbuster is finally upon us. And anticipation in my head is reaching levels not seen since the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phanton Menace, when, despite having a ticket, I queued for an hour outside the screening to get the best possible seat. (Despite the movie being satisfactory rather than spectacular, my flatmate and I still bought lightsabers and fought with them until the early hours. I was 25 at the time.)

The risk here is that I have built this movie (and Toy Story 3 to a lesser extent) up in my mind to such an extent that it can never deliver on that expectation. Christopher Nolan has succeeded in pulling together possibly the best cast for a major Hollywood release known to man (and the best ensemble I can think of since Heat), filmed in seven countries on four continents, spent a huge amount of money on realistic stunts that avoid too much CGI, but has one thing which makes it stand out above pretty much anything else I’m likely to see this year – Christopher Nolan.

There are a few directors whose movies I would go and see if I had been kept in a hermetically sealed bubble until the day of release and knew nothing of the movie itself; they include David Fincher, the Coen brothers, Michael Haneke, Brad Bird and David Cronenberg. But if every other rational human being had dismissed his latest opus, I would still give Nolan a chance.

I could sit and write a lengthy dissertation for this (because, being a blogger, I love nothing more than the sound of my own voice reading my own posts back in my head). It occurred to me, though, that it might be easier just to share with you, my readers (hello, both of you), my top 50 movies of the previous decade. I originally wrote this for my Facebook at the back end of last year, as a summary of my movie-going obsession of that decade; reading it through gives some clear indication of my Nolan-love and why my expectations are vertigo-inducingly high for this one.

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Guest Review: Sex and the City 2

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My wife went to see Sex and the City 2 with friends instead of me. I love her very much.

This is her review, edited purely for punctuation by me, because I am that obsessive compulsive.

The Pitch: Old birds on a road trip.

The Review: I loved Sex and the City as a teenager and even until my early 20s it was still daring and provocative.  Not any more.  In the same way as you don’t want to imagine your parents having sex, the idea of Samantha still being a sleep-around kinda gal is repulsive.  Charlotte appears unable to cope with two children despite having a nanny, which again makes all sympathy disappear.  Oh my god Carrie and Mr Big are happy, oh no their not, oh yes they are etc, really who cares?? The only character which seems to have it together is Miranda and she really isn’t on screen enough; her dry sarcasm could have been a redeeming feature but sadly it wasn’t.  Oh, and they went to Abu Dhabi had a few ‘girlie’ moments, all the above character flaws continued ad nauseum, then they went home and had a happy ending.

I wish I could be more positive but really I’m now old enough to know better and so are they. This won’t appeal to the early 20s market as they have no connection to 40+ year olds sleeping around and the viewing 30+ year old who require a nostalgia fest should watch the reruns on Comedy Central, not this dross.

Why see it at the cinema: The clothes are pretty and the scenery spectacular. Oh and Liza Minnelli singing Beyonce is worth the entrance fee alone in my book. But that’s about it.

The Score: A well below expectations 5 /10

I now love her even more for saving me from this.

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