Monthly Archives: September 2008

Creatio Ex Materia

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It appears I’ve found myself in a Smackdown of sorts with my dear American friend Ted McNeil. Its seems that Ted feels the need to backhand me atleast once a month on his blog over something, this time bizarrely, its over Swedish Cinema. To be fair, Ted is a great friend of mine who would really love to live in Australia, but his personal politics of “guns for all, healthcare for no-one” is more suited to the American Dream.To be even more fair, Ted’s blog Creatio Ex Materia is a great read, mainly focused on film, every now and then straying into political commentary, which really should be in your RSS feed. He’s one of those Americans that remind you why we buy their products, watch their films, and despite their president, we believe they really do mean well…Tell him Pete sent you…

Eagle Eye

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Shia LaBeouf is in absolutely everything at the moment, and his latest release is D.J. Caruso’s action/thriller/science fiction-esque Eagle Eye. LaBeouf plays Jerry Shaw, who along with Rachel Holloman (the delicious Michelle Monaghan) are contacted by a mysterious woman who begins to dictate their actions via mobile phone.Caruso has previously directed LaBeouf in the commercially successful Disturbia, and Michael Chiklis in several episodes of The Shield. The director has obviously paid a lot of attention to the action elements of the film, which Eagle Eye has in spades. Verbs like “relentless”, “explosive”, and “non-stop” might be appropriate to use in describing the pacing of the film with the characters leaping from precarious positions to dire situations as they’re manipulated by the woman on the phone. Caruso certainly didn’t want even the most ADD afflicted members of his audience to get bored on this outing, and the screen lights up frequently with explosions, obviously over-cranked car chases, and plenty of gun play.Eagle Eye had the potential to be a paranoia-inducing look at the state of surveillance technology and fear following the September 11 incident, and its implications on self determination, privacy, and the FBI’s Magic Lantern and Omnibus initiatives. There were some indications early on the film was heading that way, but in reality these were just used to set up the main premise of the film which swiftly dropped all shreds of believability.By far the most annoying aspects of the film are the way patriotism and terrorism are rammed down our throats as the motivators of every action. That plot elements are telegraphed so far ahead, the Bourne-syndrome editing (where by the audience is given the impression of frantic activity by not being able to track what’s happening on screen), the obvious plot holes, and the terrible ending to the film only serve to make Caruso seem a little closer to Michael Bay 2.0.Billy Bob Thornton plays a respectable Agent Thomas Morgan and Rosario Dawson is lacklustre as Agent Zoe Perez. LaBeouf and Monaghan really only need to run around and yell at each other for most of their onscreen time, and feel a little wasted and disconnected as a result. The film generally looks good apart from some of the previously mentioned over-cranked sequences which looks like video, and a couple of suspect comps. It’s entertaining but was a missed opportunity.2.5 stars

Twice A Week Might Have Been Optimistic

Lucky we recorded two shows last week. Ahem. Anyhoo, this week we bounce through quite a few reviews, From Hellboy 2 to Tropic Thunder, HBO’s Generation Kill and the ABC’s Hollowmen, and general rantiness in between. Look out for the Coens Poll to follow. For interactive show notes, ask David, Justin, or myself questions on twitter.

TV Rewind – Scrubs

I’ve been rewatching that old NBC chestnut Scrubs. Disclaimer: I’ve watched the first 3 seasons about 3 times now, and have never really made it past the fourth season. if the show became terrible post Season 3, i dont know, and please dont tell me in the comments. Sure it helps that like the central character JD i’m a pathetic man-child that will never grow up, i’m self obsessed and self absorbed, I can only relate to people in the real world through a missmash of pop culture references, i spend half my life flaked out in my own dream scape, i’m only ever interested in life when i’ve fucked up enough to create drama all around me, i obsessively hone in on the flaws of the people i know so i can ignore the reflection of said flaws in myself, i…  Sadly, i’m not as pretty as Zach Braff, but then, this is the real world, not some tv show.Anyhoo, i really believe Scrubs is a remarkable show. On the surface, its just a stupid sitcom, but its hospital setting means that the show deals with death, fate, and social injustice more than NBC probably preferred. It uses that good old cliché of the on-again off-again romance of it’s central characters, but plays it beautifully. Unlike Friends, where the conceit is Ross is in love with Rachel, but the timing is just never right; with Scrubs, JD and Elliot are just too messed up to ever know if they love each other or not, and equally love, hate, and manipulated  each other from season to season. And of course, if you love Doctor House, meet Doctor Cox.. Scrubs must also be thanked for ushering in the new era of No Laugh Track. Sure, as one of the first, it uses whip pans, flashbacks, musical numbers and a swag of other techniques to sell a joke, but that can be forgiven. More often than not, these techniques enhance the storyline. Even the constant voiceover, which is a considered the cheapest form of storytelling, works.  If its been a while since you gave Scrubs a try, or you just gave up by the complete dicking around of it by Channel Seven, then give it another go. Grab the first season from your local store, and tell me if it doesnt cheer you up from a  bad day at work.

Yaks and Yetis and Dragons, oh my!

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor brings the series back to the silver screen with a new mummy that isn’t, 3 bouncing yetis, and an airsick vomiting Yak. Yeah it sounds great.Jet. Fucking. Li. At one time his name would have been enough for me to go watch anything and grin like fiend right the way through. That was before the Westernisation of Jet and his progression from Danny the Dog, to Fearless, then The Forbidden Kingdom, and now The Mummy.It turns out that Jet Li is actually a pretty god-damn average actor, but still better than Statham and not so wooden.My biggest bone of contention with The Mummy is that it felt like the film makers just didn’t give a  fuck about what they were putting on screen. A key actor has been replaced, Brendan Fraser’s Australian son looks more like his brother – (probably because there’s only 13 years between them), and there are seemingly random additions to the plot, probably because they couldn’t think of anything else to progress the story (“I know, suddenly Yetis!” “Yeah, on Springs!” “Oh and now he’s a dragon!”).It’s a B grade movie with far too much budget, if Brendan Fraser didn’t take himself so seriously it could be passed off as parody. Instead it almost seemed like a self-promotion piece, lacking any of the charisma from the earlier films. Directed by Rob Cohen of The Fast and the Furious, the film is tedious and never gives the audience a reason to become anxious – something that should be pretty important in a monster film. Instead this is designed to be fluffy family-friendly comedy/action film and even on that level it fails: it’s not funny, you don’t care what happens to the characters, and really you’re just waiting for it to all be over so you can go home and floss the popcorn out of your teeth.Not as bad as Hellboy but it certainly tries to come close.2 stars.

Death Race

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Sometimes a movie comes along which makes me question my filmic tastes, and whether or not I should shoot my mouth off about what I do or don’t like. I was never a student film maker – rather a student vfx guy wanting to build the explosions and gun shots, rig and animate the characters, then blend it all together so it looks like the guy leaps from building to building. I like well done work and much of what’s on screen in Death Race is suprisingly good from a visual stand point; I found myself grinning and entertained for a considerable portion of this film yet wonder if that makes me a bad person?Death Race is a depthless action spectacular; sometimes artful in it’s excecution but never beautiful. For the most part it’s a roaring, mindless, brute of a thing: It splatters and pulps and makes things go boom. It’s like Burnout meets Mad Max and the video game influence is obvious in some of the slick presentation and driving sequences. The cars are the real stars of the film and look stunning in their over-engineered cyberpunk aesthetic, given the script and acting it would be nice to think the excellent art department got the lions share of the pay packet. By far the most impressive thing about the film was the realism – not the realism of the non-existant story, characters, or laughable premise, but the real cars, real precision driving, real fire and explosions, and the real and gob-smacking demise of a big bad.That said, once you get past the exciting parts there’s not very much film in there. The script, such as it is, really is terrible. The dialogue is stupid, the delivery is poor, and if you engage your brain at all it will scream at you “You’re currently giving me brain damage! Hello! What the fuck are you being subjected to?!” Given the pedigree of the director/writer/producer Paul W.S. Anderson (who was responsible for foisting Mortal Kombat on an unsuspecting public) I’m actually surprised by how much I enjoyed of this film.The final third of the film gets a bit more watery, I guess Anderson figured he had to try and wrap things up. Kind of hard when the film didn’t really have any other point that making you grip your metaphorical testicles and hoot at the screen as the adrenaline and testosterone kicked in. Jason Statham plays the lead with his typical lack of ability as an ex-race driver framed for the murder of his wife, Joan Allen shows why she’s never won an Oscar or BAFTA in her role as Hennessey, the iron fist in velvet glove prison warden, and Ian McShane shows that even actors involved in the brilliance that was Deadwood still need to make a buck by doing what ever is on offer. Yet despite the innumerable flaws and the real lack of any redeeming features a young student film-maker may find here, I still grinned like an idiot at the cars and the stunts – I should hang my head in shame.2.5 stars.