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Sunday, 12 July 2009

Last Ride











There are some things Australian films just don't do well, and they don't all involve big-budget alien invasions. For example, our films are usually lacking when it comes to generating suspense: you might want to know what happens next, but that's almost always because you've taken a liking to the characters, not because they're in a situation where you're actually anywhere near the edge of your seat. And while it might be fair to argue that Last Ride isn't really a suspense kind of film, focusing as it does on the relationship between Kev (Hugh Weaving) a fairly dodgy character who just happens to be taking his pre-teen son Chook (Tom Russell) on a low-budget cross-country journey to parts unknown, that's no reason for it to be as flat and half-hearted as it turns out to be. It gets all the things right that Australian film traditionally gets right: it's very well acted, extremely well shot, and takes full advantage of its setting (the outback of South Australia) to show off both the bush and the landscape itself in a visually interesting way. But fairly early on in the piece it becomes obvious that Kev is on the run from the cops, and as the story unfolds it's not unreasonable to assume that there's a pretty big manhunt going on for them. So for the story to then unfold in a manner that's almost completely lacking in suspense or drama is pretty much a calculated insult to the reasonable expectations of the audience. On the flip side, it's fair to argue that this is a film more about the relationship between father and son than a man on the run from the cops, but with plenty of long, drawn-out scenes that add little to either side of things there's no reason that this couldn't have done both. Last Ride remains a worthy film; unfortunately, we've already got more than enough of those.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #456)

Bruno


UK comedian Sasha Baron Cohen's third movie (hands up who'd forgotten the one with Ali G) once again proves that context is pretty much everything when it comes to his style of comedy. Coming in at a tight 75-odd minutes - he packs so many jokes in you won't mind the short running time - the story is as thin as some of the outfits Austrian fashion reporter Bruno wears: after being kicked off Austrian television for ruining a fashion show, Bruno travels to America to become famous. Of course, this is just an excuse for various comedy set-pieces, from having gay sex with the ghost of his dead boyfriend Milli (from Milli Vanilli) and learning how to defend himself against a gay attacker welding a dildo to trying to broker Middle East peace by getting both sides to agree on humus and going on a hunting trip with a group of increasingly gay-unfriendly redneck hunters. Cohen's not afraid to push things to get a reaction and there's a number of images and scenes here that push the boundaries of good taste for the sake of a laugh, but it never feels gratuitous or overly nasty. Which is kind of a surprise, as various elements in the media seemed all set to denounce this as some kind of homophobic nightmare. Despite the pre-release drama, it turns out Bruno is too much of a sweet but utterly clueless airhead to be a symbol of any kind of lifestyle outside of one driven entirely by a lust for fame. As with Cohen's earlier film Borat, much of the impact comes from seeing the extremely camp and suggestive Bruno interact with real (often homophobic) people, but this time around we all know what to expect so if you're the kind of person who isn't all that good with taking things at face value - that is to say, if you're a bit of a humourless cynic - you'll probably want to annoy the hell out of your friends during the post-viewing discussion by going on about how much of this was staged. If, on the other hand, you're someone who actually enjoys laughing, then you'll get plenty of opportunities to do so here.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #458)

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen



Hollywood blockbusters are pretty much reviewer-proof and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is no exception. That's because, like most blockbusters, it's amazingly good at lowering your expectations. Be honest: so long as you get to see a whole bunch of giant robots wrecking up the place, with a lot of explosions and the occasional shot of American fighter jets whooshing past thrown in, this will pretty much get the job done. And on that level this does everything you could ask for. There are more robot fights than in the first film, there are more robots than the first film, there are bigger robots than in the first film, and there's enough fighting and shouting and exploding going to make pretty much anyone not fully laden with energy drink feel like taking a nap once this all-action two and a half hours is over. But if you're interested in anything at all past the giant robot side of things - and there are a few brief scenes without giant robots here - then this is one big sloppy mess. The plot is one of those plots that's extremely complicated without ever actually getting interesting: the Decepticons (the bad robots) are constantly looking for stuff - their defeated leader Megatron, a bit of the All-Spark left over from the first movie, some giant machine that'll turn out the sun - while the Autobots (the good robots) are working with the humans to kill the Decepticons even though this is such a blatant commercial for US military might it's not exactly clear why the humans even need their robot friends 95% of the time. Then Shia LaBoeuf runs around doing something or other while shots of Megan Fox's arse flash up on the screen, and by the time we get an old man robot with a cane, two robots who talk in ebonics, and a close up shot of a transforming robots' testicles it's safe to conclude that everything that doesn't involve a robot fight is a waste of time. Sadly, because all the robots look basically the same and have this extremely complicated design that only looks cool when they're standing still, pretty much all the robot fights are just a blur of grey metal parts twisting and turning on screen until someone gets their head ripped off, which is nowhere near as exciting as it should be. As big budget spectacles go this is state-of-the-art: as a film for people to enjoy, it still has a lot of transforming to do.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #456)

Friday, 10 July 2009

The Hangover


A bunch of mates go to Las Vegas for a bucks night, only to wake up the next morning with no memory of the night before and one of their party missing. Yep, it's Dude, Where's My Car, only with a guy in place of the car. That's actually a little unfair: with this kind of comedy it doesn't really matter what the actual plot is so long as you have some funny performers and some decent scenes for them to go nuts in. Which this does, though maybe not as many as it thinks it has. Guy-centric comedy might be the cool thing right now, but this film - from Old School director Todd Phillips - is actually pretty old-fashioned, despite the occasional currently-cool crude line or bewildering Mike Tyson cameo. And it's this slightly retro feel that makes this occasionally less impressive than you might expect: one of the reasons why a lot of the current film comedies work is a feeling that the guys involved are pushing boundaries and trying something a little new. It may not be strictly true, but it gives an energy to the performances and the script that The Hangover lacks. Again, to stress: this is still a mostly pretty funny film. Zach Galifianakis especially is constantly hysterical as the space case, with Ed Helms (from the US version of The Office) as the angry nerd Stu and Bradley Cooper as the once-cool guy turned frustrated family man not far behind. Any scene with kids and a taser is always going to be a laugh, likewise physical comedy involving smacking a baby's head with a car door. But when an Asian gambler character turns up with an amazingly camp accent, you'd be forgiven for wondering if it was 2009 or 1979, and not in a good way either. Which is the one flaw that stops this from being as flat-out funny as it so often comes close to being: the occasional sense that, rather than being a film where everyone involved is having a lot of fun being silly, they're just ticking boxes on a sheet labelled "Formula for Comedy Success".

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #455)