Saturday, 25 January 2014


Title: Her
Director: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde

Plot: lonely recent divorcee Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) who soon finds himself forming an unusual relationship with his operating system Samantha (Scarlett Johansson).

Review: Has it only been four years since Spike Jonze’s last film? No doubt for those of us who skipped over his adaptation of “Where the Wild Things Are” it would mean eleven years since he has graced a cinema screen with his unique world view. This is not because he has been not working, as a quick glance at his IMDB page over further reinforces the fact that he is still one of the hardest working directors out there, as while he might not have been directing features, he has still been racking up credits either producing projects like “Bad Grandpa” or directing music video and short films, while still finding time to direct more skate films and even put in the occasional acting role. Now though he has finallyreturned to bring us another truly original vision, which is equal parts sci-fi and surreal romance.

Okay true the plot might be alittle.....oh all right it’s batshit insane, but trust me when I tell I tell you that it is also a surprisingly touching and sweet story of a very unique relationship, but it is still a highly accessible film, but then Jonze has always been the kind of director who can take a truly out there premise and lead an audience through these frequently surreal with none of the confusion which they may get from similar cinematic journeys in the hands of a director like David Lynch, Lars Von Trier or perhaps Alejandro Jodorowsky. So instead what you get here is a sweet love story, only instead of one between two people, it is instead about one between a man and a program.

While the fact that such a premise actually works is surprising enough, what is more suprising is the low key performance from Phoenix who once again reminds us of his range, as he grows a questionable moustache and truly gives the performance of someone whose world has been crushed with the failure of his marriage. Now he lives solely for his job where he spends his day ghost writing letters between couples in a role which also serves as his sole emotional output, for away from the office he has created a cocoon of solitude, while mainly spending his evenings putting off invites from his few close friends or playing video games. Needless to say the arrival (or should that be purchase) of Samantha soon turns out to the solution to Theodore’s problems as she helps not only to life him out of his slump, but to break out of his comfort zone aswell.

Needless to say Johansson is perfect for this role which is essentially one of a glorified narrator, as her sultry tone, always one of her best features really comes into play here and in many ways not making it too surprising that the relationship between Theodore and Samantha grows as naturally as it does. It is equally worth noting that Samantha is not like Suri which from the synopsis she might sound and leading some critics to brand this film “Suri: The Movie” aswell as drawing immediately comparisons to the episode of “The Big Bang Theory” were Raj starts up a questionable (one sided) relationship with his phone. Samantha is instead the equivalent of having a real person on the other end of the phone ready to answer your every whim. Even more intresting is that Samantha with constantly evolving the more contact she has with Theodore, while able to access any part his life that uses a computer, so allowing her to read through his e-mails and work all the while adjusting her personality and molding herself essentially into the perfect (if formless) woman.

Of course the idea of embarking on a relationship with a woman who is solely a voice is always going to be a challenging one, but a question certainly asked here while certainly pleasing those who were wondering how the subject of sex would be handled, which in this case starts of predictable enough with enthusiastic phone sex, which certainly comes off a lot more normal than the phone sex he has with supposed humans, especially as it doesn’t involve the use of a dead cat as one memorable encounter includes.

Needless to say these are all puzzles which Jonze takes great delight in finding inventive solutions for, with sex with a formless girlfriend being seemingly resolved via the use of a body surrogate, in possibly one of the more unnervingly surreal moments of the film, as the surrogate responds to what Samantha is playing out. The result is unquestionably uncomfortable viewing with Phoenix almost tapping into the audience psyche with his awkward reactions to what essentially someone playing a living doll.

The relationship between Theodore and Samantha however goes a lot deeper than awkward phone sex as their relationship plays out like any movie romance, especially as Theodore confidence continues to grow and he stop questioning just how normal his relationship is, especially as he soon learns that he is not the alone in this situation, while Jonze almost teases the idea of such a relationship becoming as normal as any other relationship, though saving a cold reality of how one side truly views the relationship for his finale which while certainly providing closure still felt like it had been pulled out of nowhere. 
The world of “Her” could be best described as near future for while it comes with a lot of technical advancements,  which build on many things which already dominate our day to day lives such as mobiles and tablet computers. At the same time though this is not so far in the future that it is unrecognisable. What Jonze does here is to simply exaggerate them.  At the same time with the relationship at the heart of the film, he could almost be seen as questioning society’s current love with technology, would it be such a leap that if given a the option of technology being developed to save us the disappointment and potential heartbreak of the dating game that some wouldn’t take on such an opportunity. Most of us live off our phones or computers to cover most aspects of our lives, so why not your relationships aswell?
Clearly in the time between films Jonze has lost none of his quirky style and here it shows even if this is one of his more straight forward films. I can only hope that the wait until his next film isn’t so long as cinema clearly still needs visionaries like him, if only to shake things up.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Godzilla (1998)

Title: Godzilla
Director: Robert Emmerich
Released: 1998
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria, Kevin Dunn, Michael Lerner, Harry Shearer, Arabella Field, Vicki Lewis, Doug Savant, Malcolm Danare, Lorry Goldman

Plot: In the wake of French atomic bomb tests in the South Pacific, decades later a Japanese fishing vessel is attacked by a mysterious creature. Now the creature is heading towards New York and it is up to NRC scientist Nick Tatopoulous (Broderick) and his team to stop the creature before it takes a bite out of the big apple.

Review: Since its original release this ill-advised remake has frequently been used as the yardstick of bad movies, with its original release being greeted with cries of disappointment by both establish Godzilla fans aswell as the general movie going public, while the critics of course were more than happy to cut the film down and mark it out as a monster sized flop.

So now with the new Godzilla movie mere months away I felt it was time to revisit this last attempt to adapt the legendry franchise and question if it really as bad a film as everyone seems to remember it as, with some fans refusing to even acknowledge it as being part of the franchise even though this Godzilla (or Zilla as he has become known) making a cheeky appearance in “Godzilla Final Wars”. Personally I have it on the same shelf as my Toho originals. Okay true it’s filed after those films, but it’s not like I have it stored in a brown bag or anything.

I guess from the start when you’re setting out to remake such a legendry franchise let alone the greatest movie of all time, you are essentially set to fail from the start, especially when you also have a rabid fanbase to appease while still finding a way to make it accessible to those not familiar with the original Toho movies. It is also equally questionable to hire a director who openly admitted to having no love for the original movies and only agreed to direct the film to ensure he could choose his next project. Meanwhile rumours floated around about Godzilla facing off against another monster in the lead up to the release, but with Emmerich clearly wanting to make the film within the boundaries of the sort of film he wanted to make, went for a monster on the loose storyline instead, while also ensuring that he was unable to unleash destruction and chaos on the screen somthing which has frequently been his film making mantra it would seem, especially with his previous summer blockbuster “Independence Day” being sold on such principles let alone its legendry trailer which simply showed the White House being blown up, while for Godzilla he just had him stomp on a t-rex skeleton.  

The other curious production choice is the casting of Matthew Broderick in the lead role, especially as here he plays more of a bumbling sidekick rather than fearless leader you would expect for such a role. As a result most of the film see’s Nick being the brunt of the jokes, over his unpronounceable surname or generally being referred to as “The Worm Guy” on the basis of his work researching the effects of radiation on the local worm population at Chernobyl, which of course clearly makes him the first choice when dealing with a giant radioactive lizard.

Thankfully the gung-ho hero quota is filled by Jean Reno’s Philippe and his team of DGSE (French foreign intelligence agency) agents who reveal their true purpose in the second half of the film, after the American forces have spent the best part of the first film generally causing more damage to the city than Godzilla, something which could be taken as a knowing nod to the original films where the armed forces would also inevitably cause more damage than the monsters attacking Tokyo that week. Sadly these same agents are regularly reduced to stereotypes, as they question the lack of pastries and decent coffee, let alone the fact that they perceive chewing gum and acting like Elvis to be a convincing way to disguise themselves as American soldiers. Still despite such xenophobic jabs Jean Reno is as watchable as always and makes the most of his role here as a man of action and no doubt largely responsible for the success of Nick’s mission here, considering how he frequently seems to be taking charge of the situation and rescuing Nick.

Such bizarre scripting and casting choices frequently seems to be the main issue here, while possibly the really surreal moment come from the pot shots at critics Emmerich takes throughout the film with the key one of course the candy loving and thumb raising Mayor Ebert (the always great Michael Lerner) and his aide Gene (Goldman), while a more obscure dig is the extra cast as a look-alike for “G-Fan Magazine” editor J.D. Lees who had made negative comments over leaked information from the films production. M. Night Shyamalan would also try and take a similar jab at the critics with “Lady In The Water” only to come off more smug than anything, especially when he made the least likeable character in the film a film critic. Roger Ebert of course being the constant professional simply responded to this homage of sorts in his review by proclaiming

“They let us off lightly; I fully expected to be squished like a bug by Godzilla”

Still the real draw of course is Godzilla, or should that be Zilla as he’s become more popularly known amongst the G-Fans and if Emmerich does anything right it is with giving us atleast an impressive looking monster. True he may be more energetic than his Toho counterpart better known for his stomping style than the leaping and charging pace which Zilla favours, but then outside of the passing resemblance to each other, they are very different monsters which again may have been the source of much disappointment for the established fans expecting to see more of the Godzilla that they had become accustomed to than this version who comes with his own skills and seemingly none of those processed by his Toho counterpart. So while the Toho Godzilla breathed radioactive fire and enjoyed reducing Tokyo to rubble, Zilla is able to burrow underground, disappear at will aswell as being create some form of fiery breath which is never truly explained or shown clear enough (let alone frequently enough) to understand how it works. On the plus side the design and effects work while forgoing the traditional man in a suit in favour of CGI still look great even now, while giving Emmerich more flexibility with the destruction he chooses to unleash on New York (or “The City That Never Sleeps” as it is known here).

Emmerich despite not having love for the project still manages to craft some exciting scenes of monster rampage action including an exciting gunship pursuit. Elsewhere the scenes of destructions are equally well handled from the moment the incoming Zilla obliterates a pier. The real surprise here though after all the peak a boo teasing that Emmerich put into the promotion for the film, is the unexpected third quarter which sees him unleashing a horde of mini zilla’s on the screen which thankfully are nothing like the Toho Godzilla’s son Manila, though the slap stick moments which follow the group trying to escape these babies did end up grating on most audiences, but personally I found them to pretty fun, thanks largely to the comedic timing of Broderick, especially when the lift doors open to reveal a horde of Zilla babies destroying a popcorn stand, he manages to do more with a simple facial expression than a clumsy one liner as other actors might be included to do in such a scene. True it could be perceived as a sign that Emmerich couldn’t find a way to keep the audience interest with Godzilla on the rampage, especially when he somehow manages to find a way of hiding him every fifteen minutes, thanks to his new burrowing ability (let alone his unintentional size changes) which I thought was something limited to Baragon only. However it is hard to deny that the initial discover of the nest is not a great scene and one clearly taking its cues from the nest scenes in both “Alien” and “Aliens”, but like the memorable scenes in those films it seems to be pay (if perhaps unintentionally) homage to and its scenes like this and the end chase scene in the seemingly indestructible taxi cab, which seem to get frequently forgotten when people talk about the film.

So yes this film might not have been the Godzilla movie us G-fans wanted, but at the same time it is far from the worst film in the franchise (a toss up between "Godzilla's Revenge" or "Godzilla Vs. Megalon") or even the worst film ever made (The Zombie Diaries, Deaden, anything associated with Noel Clarke all come to mind) as most folks tend to view it, while certainly Emmerich would go on to make worse and even more overblown films like “2012”. Even with its flaws when ever Zilla or the mini-zilla’s are on the screen it is generally a lot of fun, which I guess is were it counts and if you get past the human distractions you might even realise that its not really that bad…..failing that take heart in the fact that you only have a few months till the new film is realised.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Porco Rosso

Title: Porco Rosso
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Released: 1992
Starring: Michael Keaton, Cary Elwes, Kimberly Willams

Plot: Set in 1930s Italy, veteran WW1 pilot Porco Rosso (Keaton) makes a living hunting the local sky pirates, when not drinking away his evenings at his long-time friend Gina’s bar. However when the local sky pirates hire the arrogant American Ace Curtis (Elwes), Porco finds his peaceful life thrown into turmoil as he heads towards an inevitable showdown for dominance of the skies with Curtis, while also unintentionally gaining a feisty mechanic in the form of Fio (Willams).

Review: As I’ve covered in my previous Studio Ghibli reviews, studio founder Hayao Miyazaki has always held a fascination with flight and flying machines, which really make this, his love letters to these passions, even more so when he is given such free reign to explore these passions here in a way hadn’t had with his previous films and it’s an opportunity he fully embraces

One of the more overlooked titles in the Ghibli back catalogue alongside the likes of “Little Norse Prince” and “Pom Poko” it is still unclear to myself why it isn’t viewed as being on the same level of "Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” especially when this is perfect entry title to Ghibli’s  with its fast and humorous plotting, colourful characters and exciting flight scenes all make for an accessible film even for viewers getting their first taste of anime. As a result it joins a rather unique club of movies alongside films likes of Kurosawa’s “Red Beard”, Hitchcock’s “I Confess” and Spielberg’s “Amistad”. All films equally on a par with their better known films, yet for one reason or another seemingly destined to remain as lower ranked films on their resume.

Opening to Porco rescuing a group of kidnapped schoolgirls from the Mamma Aiuto Gang, the tone of the film is set from the start, with the bumbling sky pirates and Porco’s philosophy of only damaging the pirates planes to put them out of action temporarily rather than permanently to ensure he can hunt them another day as part of an unspoken symbiotic relationship they share, if more from Porco’s side so he can maintain his carefree existence. The fact that he also has the face of a pig being of minor concern to everyone it would seem, even in terms of plotting were it is never fully explained and instead alluded to an act of cowardice committed by Porco while serving in the Italian Air force during WW1 and from whom he is still being AWOL.

The world the film is set is far from a realistic one as it bars all the usual fantastical touches which have become so reknown with Miyazaki’s work, even if this time he not setting the film in a fantastical land, but instead Miyazaki’s vision of the Adriatic coast  and Milan in a pre-war Italy. The tone though is kept intentionally light hearted throughout, as established in the opening were we see the kidnapped schoolgirls being far from concerned at the prospect of being kidnapped by the Mamma Aiuto Gang, especially when they spend the experience generally causing mischief and havoc for the gang.  

Despite the humorous tone the film still manages to fall somewhere between the two distinct styles of film making Miyazaki, with his film either falling into a cynical or positive categories, here he has made a film which can never be placed in either categories as here he focuses on the small things which make life worth living, while alluding to the horror which we create for ourselves with war during a flashback were Porco remembers seeing a spectral trail which upon closer examination turns out to be the souls of lost fighter pilots. Still this is a film which isn’t going for heavy social commentary but wonder and amazement instead as here he is clearly firing on all cylinders as both storyteller and craftsman.

Unquestionably though this is a film which Miyazaki has made for himself first and foremost, as clearly seen by the amount of references to the pioneers of aviation through to the  details which have gone into the various planes and thrilling Ariel sequences none the more seen than during the final showdown between Porco and and Curtis which starts despite starting as a traditional dogfight soon takes on a mischievous edge as the two pilots resort to throwing junk from their planes at each other, before finally deciding to land and settle things with a spontaneous boxing match.  Such a sequence is only really pulled of on the strength of the characters with Curtis being everybit the brash American while at the same time clearly being modelled after the heroes Errol Flynn was renown for playing while the two also clearly share a jawline to boot.

Unlike the other dubs which Studio Ghibli have received on their other titles the English voice cast on hand here certainly contains a lot less star power than some of the more popular titles, with Michael Keaton being the closest the cast list comes to an A-list name. Despite this the dub is none the less superb, with Keaton once again being unrecognisable as seems to always be the way whenever he lends his voice to an animated  character. Despite the lack of star power each of the cast really embody their characters and really make them seem believable.   

While it might not be as deep as “Princess Mononoke or as playful as “My Neighbour Totoro” but this is still an enjoyable film none the less while Miyazaki proves himself more than capable of working outside of his comfort zone.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Troll Hunter

Title: Troll Hunter
Director: André Øvredal
Released: 2010
Starring: Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Mørck, Knut Nærum, Robert Stoltenberg, Glenn Erland Tosterud

Plot: Student film makers, Thomas, Johanna and cameraman Kalle are making a documentary about a suspected bear poacher Hans (Jespersen). Soon however they discover what Hans is hunting is not bears but trolls. Following this revelation the group choose to follow Hans as he goes about his work.

Review: When it comes to the found footage genre, I frequently find myself zoning out, especially when so many of the films belonging to this sub-genre seem to be under the impression that fuzzy shots and frantic camera movements give the viewer the illusion of being with the character being followed or that it somehow increases the tension, which is an interesting idea considering how hard it is to be affected by something that the camera can’t even bother to focus on for more than a couple of seconds at a time. This of course is not to say that there havn’t been films which have managed to make the format work with both “The Blair Witch Project” and the original found footage movie “The Last Broadcast” (though some may argue that “Man Bites Dog” is the true owner of this title) being prime examples and now with this film we finally we have another film to challenge my lack of faith in these films.

Shot in a similar style to “Man Bites Dog” and makes it kind of a shame that they didn’t go for a cheeky nod and call this “Man Hunts Troll”. Shot in a documentary style, it is one faithfully maintained throughout aswell as one which proves to be highly effective as the students discover the truth about Hans and soon find themselves joining him as he goes about his work for the Troll Security Agency ensuring that trolls don’t enter into populated areas, something which seems to be happening more regularly Hans reveals and the reasons why he attempts to discover over the course of the film, all the while with the students in tow while still finding time to fill in the gaps as the students hold spontaneous interview sessions between hunts while educating the group on the behaviour and general troll biology.
Hans generally is a great central character, especially as he is played as just another bored government employee who just happens to hunt troll for a living and in many ways bringing back for myself memories of the Masaru Daisato in “Big Man Japan”. Here Øvredal really shows an eye for details, from Hans armoured truck which wouldn’t look out of place in “Mad Max” through to his hunt equipment ranging from the UV lights which cause the trolls to turn to stone or explode (depending on their age)  through to his clunky suit of armour he wheels out when required to get a blood sample from one particularly angry troll. Han’s even has developed his own brand of Troll stink to allow himself and the film crew to disguise themselves, though for some reason nothing can overpower the scent of a Christian which for some reason trolls are especially attracted to. Over the course of the film we also get to meet some of the other members of the Troll security agency such as Finn (Hansen) who is less than happy with the students threatening to expose this secret organisation, while generally covering for troll attacks by making them look like bear attacks.

Another film which is certainly worth noting while drawing comparisons would be “Jurassic Park” which when it comes to the troll footage seems to have been an inspiration, as director Øvredal makes real effort to shot the various species of troll with a style none to dissimilar to a nature film, as especially seen in the first encounter we have with these mythical creatures with said creature being shown majestically making its way through the woods as it tries to locate them with its multiple heads. Here we see none of the usual camera jerking as instead he maintains a sustained and focus camera shot as he tracks the creature, were as most films would shot these same sequences with jerky camera movement and out of focus shots. Its of course these sequences were the strength of the film lies as Øvredal ensures that each troll encounter is memorable building on each encounter to the finale show down with a towering Jotnar troll.

Unsurprisingly the troll sequences form the real highlights of the film with Øvredal showing a keen eye for directing this action, while finding new ways to mix up how he shows each of these sequences, from skilfully cranking up the tension as the group find themselves in a troll infested cave, while their escape in Han’s truck from the Jotnar troll is truly a standout sequence and one which certainly benefits from watching the film on a large screen, especially as it only adds to the visual illusion of riding with the group as they make thier escape.

While the film is unquestionably at its strongest when the trolls are on the screen, or the group are learning more about Hans and his trade, the is still a fair amount of filler especially during the third quarter were we get to see perhaps alittle too much of the unquestionably picturesque Norwegian landscape, but used to such extent it does frequently give the feeling of the film slipping into a video postcard. As such the film perhaps could have benefited from trimming some of this fat of the run time or even another encounter which could have been found during these segments. The film equally suffers with several of its more regionlised moments humour, while the sheer amount of Norwegian comedians rounding out the cast (or so Wikipedia tells me) I have to wonder if this film is funnier to Norwegian audiences than it is to English speaking audiences??

While it might have its flaws there is still fun to be had here, especially as Øvredal goes more for spectacle than scares, but then the found footage genre has hardly been renown for producing such scares. Øvredal through has truly brought his own style to the genre and it is only all the stronger that he chooses to not stick to the established rules of the genre. Ultimately though this is a fun ride while the originally ensure that this is worth giving a curious watch.

Sunday, 5 January 2014


Title: Bronies
Director: Laurent Malaquais
Released: 2012
Plot: Documentary which sets out to meet the Bronies, the adult male fanbase of "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic"

Review: Back in 2010 Hasbro was looking to relaunch their iconic “My Little Ponies” line after the success of re-envisioning “Transformers”. This forth generation of ponies would become “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”. Okay so far nothing unusual there as franchises as we all know frequently go through changes and revamps over the years following their initial release. What could not be expected would be the popularity of the show with guys aged 13 to 35, a group who would soon come to identify themselves as “Bronies” but one the makes of the show would soon quickly embrace as they brought out a line of merchandise to target these fans. This documentary sets out to meet some of these fans and to find out what it is about these adorable ponies which appeals to them so much, let alone for some of these fans form the basis of their own artistic tributes ranging from artwork through to laser shows and even dance remixes.
“Bronies” or to give the documentary it’s full title “Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony” started life as a Kickstarter campaign with a modest target of $60,000 and one which it achieved within three days of the campaign. In the end $322,022 had been pledged making it the fourth most funded film project on Kickstarter. As a result of the extra budget the film grew from focusing on the 2012 “BrodyCon” convention to the truly in-depth look at the Bronies phenomenon that it now is.

Narrated by John de Lancie who “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fans will know for his role as “Q” and here keeps a fun tone to the film, especially with his musical interludes where he voices a pony lecturer providing the history elements for the franchise. De Lancie originally became involved with the show when he voiced the character of “Discord” a character who was essentially a send up of “Q”. Dismissing the project inititally as another small role, it would only be months later that he would be caught by surprise when he began receiving e-mails from fans of the show and even more that a lot of them were from full grown men and so marking his first encounter with Bronies.
Rather than going for sheer shock tactics and hunting out oddballs within the Bronie community, the film instead genuinely seems to have been made with the intention of trying to shed light onto these fans and why adult men are so obsessed with a show originally intended for little girls, let alone the fact that it is written and animated with such overwhelming cuteness, that watching it is like being clubbed with a sack of kittens.

Over the course of the film we meet a handful of these fans, all who could be considered to be normal everyday guys.  So here we get to meet a redneck Bronie who proudly displays his pony love on his car, only to soon find himself the target of less open minded locals who decided to trash his car and even pulled a rifle on him after believing his love of the show meant in some way he must also be gay.  The film also goes international to meet a British fan traveling to a UK convention for the first time, having previous put due to suffering from Aspergers, a condition which he also believes the show has helped him with aswell as dealing with society and challenges it presents someone with his condition.

One of the main stories featured here though is of the young teen who enjoys the show but is worried about sharing this love with his conservative father. He of course get his opportunity to expose his father to this world when he takes his parents to “Bronycon” where he also gets help from De Lancie who is sympathetic to the boys’ cause especially when he came from a similar stand point as the father currently views the show from. What follows is a touching series of meetings at the con as the family not only meet with De Lancie who comes off just as nice a guy as he seems in his interviews, while he also introduces the father to the father of another boy whose own father was once in a similarly reserved view point regarding the show.

Aiming to provide a positive overview of the community, the film chooses to gloss over some of the more extreme aspects and warped visions that some fans have chosen to express their love for the series via. In choosing this path the film keeps things fun and upbeat  and ultimately goes a way to proving that just because these guys like a show for little girls does not make them freaks as most would choose to view them. Ironically in researching for this review I did come across a whole heap of Brodies complaining about these aspects not being covered, while generally blasting the film for not representing them correctly which is a view I still can’t get my head around seeing how I left this film with a positive view of their community, if none the wiser as to what it is about the show which hold such appeal with these fans.  I guess this goes to prove once again that you really can’t please everyone.

Overall this is fun and colourful documentary and one which really helps to shed some light on this little known and frequently misunderstood fanbase. Packed with colourful animation, insightful interviews and fun songs, you really get the feel for the show due to being shot in the same style as the show itself, something only further reinforced by the numerous clips also included. So if your curious about the show or just the fanbase in general this is a great place to start while making a curious evening viewing for the rest of us.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Easy A

Title: Easy A
Director: Will Cluck
Released: 2010
Starring: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Dan Byrd, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Cam Gigandet, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell, Aly Michlka

Plot: Clean cut student Olive (Stone) lies to her best friend Rhiannon (Michalka) about going on a date to get out of a camping trip, which soon escalates to her lying aswell about losing her virginity to a college guy. However when her lie is overheard by the strictly religious Marianne (Bynes), it soon starts to spread around the school while also leading to a surprising new business for Olive

Review: Okay it’s safe to say that when I was working out what to watch this for my review, things weren’t going so great seeing how I been drenched by two jerks driving through puddles beside me on the way home, as well as the stupid blinds falling down again….needless to say it wasn’t the best of times. So hence I decided to finally watching while angry punching the buttons on the Sky+ in hopes of finding something fun and carefree. It is only all the more of a bonus that it also happened to feature Emma Stone

Following in the footsteps of Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You and Cruel Intentions, this film sees Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlett Letter” also getting the high school remake treatment in what was originally intended to be the first part of an interlinking trilogy of films and one which would have seen both “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” also being given a similar treatment. As of the time of writing this is still to happen and sadly currently seems unlikely to either. Still as a standalone film this still stands well on its own as Olive not so much reworks the story of Hester Prynne, but instead draws comparison between Hester’s life and her own as their situation especially as both are thrown into turmoil by the rumour of sexual promiscuity.

One big difference here though is that Olive unlike Hester refuses to let her new found reputation as the school tramp persecute her, as she not only starts playing up her fake reputation by dressing more provocatively and proudly displaying a red A (the old symbol adulaters as well as the symbol Hester was branded with) on her clothes as she works it for the added popularity and increase social status it gives her, especially when she helps her gay friend Brandon (Byrd) convince the rest of the school is straight by pretending to sleep with him, an event which soon has her offering a similar service to boys at her school that are hopeless in love to help improve their own social status’s in exchange for money and gifts though while this starts well with her friend Brandon the quality of gifts soon sharply decline in quality, which only makes it all the more amusing to see Olive working her own pricing structure in regards to what a hardware gift card gets someone.
Sadly while the film plays out it’s Scarlett Letter inspired plot well, it sadly throws it away in the last quarter with an unneeded romance between Olive and the school mascot “Woodchuck” Todd played here with grating smugness by Penn Badgley, who I can only guess director Cluck felt came across more hip than he does. It is equally frustrating that the film in places descends into an John Hughes homage, especially with the ending which goes for the grand crescendo of combining elements of The Breakfast Club, Say Anything and Can’t Buy Me Love to nauseating effect and the overwhelming feeling that Cluck couldn’t think of any other way to end it, especially when it doesn’t flow as well as an earlier nod to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. Still these references only continue to baffle further when you consider that she is supposed to be a current 17 year old and honestly I don’t know many kids born in the 90’s / 00’s who really care about these movies held in such high regard by the kids of my own generation who mostly grew up with them, while those playing catch up like myself usually struggle to see what the fuss is about. True Olive is played as being mature for her age, especially as she confidently references the key points of the “The Scarlett Letter” something I doubt most students her age could, let alone will have watched both film versions, even if her comparison and dismissal of the Demi Moore version is great.

Of course the real strength of this film lies with the confident lead performance by Emma Stone, who is every bit the feisty redhead with an equally sharp and witty tongue, which only makes Olive more fun to be around. It is also equally an advantage that Stone is more than capable of providing a frequently humorous narration (something deceptively harder than it seems as Keira Knightly proved as she snarled her way through “Domino”) as she regales the tale of her current situation via webcast complete with handwritten title cards. Equally fun is the support from the more established actors like Thomas Haden Church who appears as a cliché spouting teacher, while Lisa Kudrow takes a break from playing her usual dumb blondes and psycho bitches to instead give us a more neurotic and frantic character as the school guidance councillor who also seems to be frequently justifying her role within the school, as she references one after school session for a student who brought a butter knife to school as she proclaims “It’s a gateway knife”. Both are so much fun here it makes me wonder why they are not seen more.
Sadly such strong support doesn’t extend to her fellow students who are a mixed bag to say the least with Bynes’s fanatical Christian being so over the top that it regularly becomes farcial, but considering how Bynes’s suffered a breakdown which saw her retire from acting after this film it is hard to tell with this knowledge how much of this was planned. Equally unbelievable is Michalka as Olive’s supposive best friend Rhiannon, but never at one point does their friendship seem believable which is only made the more worrying when they are supposed to be best friends which never seems to come across at any point, as instead we are left with a feeling that Rhiannon is someone who has just claimed friendship with Olive rather than anything closer.

It is purely on the strength of Stone’s abilities as an actress that this film is as strong as it is, especially with its artistic licence regarding students and patching supporting cast, let alone the fact she pretty much carries it on her own performance which ultimately makes this a fun and breezy watch and certainly put me in better mood, but then considering how fun Olive is to be around its hardly surprising and the type of role we will see Stone playing more in the future, especially as who doesn’t love a feisty redhead?
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