Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.

*THERE WILL ALWAYS BE SPOILERS*

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Trust the Man

Year: 2005
Running time: 103 minutes
Certificate: 15
Language: English
Screenplay: Bart Freundlich
Director: Bart Freundlich
Starring: David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Dave.

Tom and Rebecca, talking about something.
Here we have a premise that is not terribly original: two successful couples living in New York are not particularly satisfied with their lives, there is some drama, cheating and such, they split up and then realise that actually they did love each other after all.

It's not quite as bad as that makes it sound, the reasons being David Duchovny and Julianne Moore. They have decent onscreen chemistry, and they are both good enough to make you care, at least a little, for the characters.

It's pretty standard fare, although there are a few quite funny scenes, a case in point being Rebecca Pollack (Moore), on her 'last carb day for a while', shoving as much cake down her throat as possible and choking. Grasping for a drink, the only thing to hand is a bottle of wine. It showcases Julianne Moore's under-used gift for physical comedy, something also seen in Evolution which, like Trust the Man also stars Duchovny and is decidedly average.

It may be set in New York, but this is no Annie Hall. It's not terrible, but it's forgettable.

Score: 5/10

Rachel.

Rebecca and Elaine, also talking about something.
I thought this film was OK, and agree with everything Dave has said. There was one thing about it that I thought ruined it a bit. At one point during the film Rebecca Pollack describes a relationship like the two of them are holding a stick. Sometimes you're really close and sometimes you're so far away from each other that one can barely see the other, but you never drop the stick! She's upset because her husband Tom Pollack (David Duchovny) has cheated on her, and so dropped the metaphorical stick. Pretty cheesy, but forgivable - it's a romantic comedy after all. However, the film reached a whole new level of cheesedom when in the final scene Rebecca used an actual stick to rescue Tom from the crowd, pulling him up on stage for a smooch. Tom had picked up the stick, and the film lost a point for me right then and there.

Score:6/10

Manohla at The New York Times is even less impressed than we were, and makes good points, while Stella at the BBC appeared to enjoy it a little more.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Firefly & Serenity

Year: 2002 - 2003 (Firefly), 2005 (Serenity)
Running time: 625 minutes (Firefly), 119 minutes (Serenity)
Certificate: 12 (Firefly), 15 (Serenity)
Language: English
Creator (Firefly): Joss Whedon
Screenplay (Serenity): Joss Whedon
Director (Serenity): Joss Whedon
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, Chiwetel Ejiofor


Dave.

Serenity herself, the tenth major character.
I'm not going to make a habit of reviewing TV shows in the blog because frankly not many of them warrant watching all the way through (pointed glance in the direction of Lost, 24 and Heroes). I will occasionally make exceptions when I think it is worth it (also, there is a film, so I can include it for that reason).

Fox have given us a lot over the years; in particular, we have them to thank for two of the best TV shows ever broadcast, in The Simpsons and The X-Files, as well as the defining show of an entire generation, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For Joss Whedon the powerful network is both the grantor and destroyer of dreams. Following the huge success of the aforementioned Whedon-created Buffy and spin-off Angel, Fox gave him the chance to create a new show without studio interference. The phenomenal sci-fi western Firefly is proof of Whedon's under-rated genius for creating near-perfect TV shows. The empty-headed ass-face at Fox who saw the pilot of this elaborate, brilliantly conceived show and said 'I don't get it, let's bury it in the schedules so no-one will watch it, giving us a reason to cancel it before the end of the first season' should be shot in the face or, in the interests of humanitarianism, should at the very least be flogged and forced to work in a shoe shop until they retire, so they cannot possibly influence television scheduling again.

"Curse your sudden yet inevitable betrayal!"
The show itself was truly flawless, set in a future where humanity has reached the stars and Earth is now just a myth of 'Earth-that-was'. English and Chinese are spoken by everybody fluently, reflecting a past (our future?) where China's elevation into a superpower rivalled anything in the West. There is an inner core of planets forming the Alliance, and an outer 'wild frontier' where people are left to pretty much fend for themselves. It's a whole new type of wild west, which allows for lots of clever mixing of futuristic technology and old-west style environments. The Alliance is the victor in a war fought against the Independence, a war many people are struggling to forget. And on the very edge of space are the Reavers; humans reduced to primal animals, cannibalistic and without mercy.

The show focuses on the ship Serenity and her crew who go from job to job, sometimes legal, sometimes not, and it is here where Whedon's talent shines through. Without fail every character, major or even minor recurring ones, are fully realised, completely developed and performed impeccably by perfectly cast actors.

The crew and passengers are wonderfully varied. There's Shepherd Book (Ron Glass), a man of faith hitching a ride for the sake of the journey rather than the destination, who has a secret somewhere in his past, giving him knowledge of tactical fighting and the ability to handle a weapon, not to mention clearance of the highest kind on any Alliance cruiser.
Mal channels Dirty Harry.
The show quickly developed an X-Files-type mythology in brother and sister fugitives Simon and River Tam (Sean Maher and the remarkably talented Summer Glau). River is a mystery with a damaged mind, rescued by her brother after being experimented on by Alliance research scientists. River's crazy-lost-girl-genius shtick could get old quickly with someone less gifted but Glau invests her with such an achingly acute sense of lost potential, you can't fail to love her and it's easy to see why her brother sacrificed a glittering medical career and all of his wealth to save what he could of her.

Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is the mechanic, who pulls genius tricks to keep the ship flying and exudes a charming mix of sunny innocence and uninhibited sexuality. Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin - not a Baldwin brother) is the muscle and provides much of the comic relief, being a man of simple appetites and limited IQ. Inara (the impossibly gorgeous Morena Baccarin) is one of the most intriguing characters, being a high class prostitute. In Whedon's world, prostitution is not only legal, but being a registered 'companion' is a distinguished career choice and she is the most respectable character on the ship, and gives them access to more civilised worlds than they would ordinarily be able to go to.

Mal escorts an excited Kaylee to a rare high-class shindig
in the episode called, um, Shindig.
Wash (Alan Tudyk) is the pilot, who can throw the old ship through the tightest spots like a master composer conducting an orchestra of flying metal and glass. Along with Jayne, Wash provides many of the lighter moments. Wash is married to second in command Zoe (the formidable and perfectly formed Gina Torres), a veteran of the war with the Alliance and pretty much the hardest character on the show.

Leading this varied assortment is Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion, who deserves to be much more popular than he is, due to being wonderful in everything he's in and a genuine '27%er' - a term for a popular but not A-list actor who instantly makes the prospect of seeing something 27% more attractive when their name is on the cast list), a captain equal parts James T. Kirk and Clint Eastwood. Mal is a veteran of the war (with Zoe, he was on the losing side) and lost his faith when he lost the war. He's damaged, and over the course of the show comes to slowly begin to heal.

She can kill you with her brain.
The show also had a tenth main character of equal standing in Serenity herself. Building all the sets to interconnect to give the actors a real sense of location to lose themselves in gave the ship a real personality and the potential for long takes through multiple ship locations. Every character had layers and layers that would have been peeled back over the years. The most engaging scenes are often of all the characters together and the easy camaraderie that exists between them, sharing a bond almost familial in nature. It's clear the show was as much fun to make as it is to watch.

Each episode has complex plotting, elaborate character development and is beautifully filmed using effects that are still very impressive for a television budget - the camera zooms and swoops over the CGI, not always putting it centre screen and this technique adds realism and wasn't really seen before Firefly and has since been seen in Avatar amongst other things. The dialogue is marvellous and ever-quotable, and is always accurate for the character speaking it - you never get one of those jarring moments where you think 'he wouldn't say that, it's just a plot contrivance'.
The crew brace themselves for something dramatic. Possibly.
When trying to pick stand out episodes, I quickly realised that all fourteen episodes are stand out, but my favourite scene, in a bittersweet kind of way is in episode 12 The Message. By the time they were filming they knew they had been cancelled and the final scene is of the crew delivering the body of a war buddy to his family. The shots of the crew standing in the snow while the music, which was written purposefully as a 'farewell' to the show plays are beautifully poignant, and, if you loved the show as much as I did, rather emotional. I simply cannot fathom why Fox got cold feet, and judging by the DVD sales, I'm not alone. They were so impressive that Universal decided it was worth funding a full-length movie to allow Whedon to tie up the loose end Fox had left him with.

Hero poses #9 and #21.
Serenity is pretty good, but it had more character on the small screen. If you watch it without seeing Firefly first, take a point off the score. The focus is on the Alliance hunt for River and Simon and the reason the Reavers became as they are and makes for some spectacular action sequences, the best of which involve Summer Glau, for she is incredible. Not all loose ends are tied up - for example the mystery behind Shepherd Book is purposefully left unexplained, which is inevitable when the complicated threads developed on the show are given less than two hours to resolve themselves.

Serenity does have one great example of how elaborate the characterisation is and how realistic the characters are. In the final moments of the pilot episode, also named Serenity, Mal explains something about himself to Simon: "If I ever kill you, you'll be awake, you'll be facing me and you'll be armed." In the movie Serenity Mal has fallen on some particularly difficult times and during the course of the film shoots three unarmed men, killing two of them. Mal is one of the good guys, but with this Whedon illustrates that even the best of people will abandon their principles if the situation requires it. This doesn't make Mal a failure or a bad person, it merely makes him realistically human.

Even though Serenity isn't how I would have chosen to see the show wound up, I'm grateful for some sense of completion. Whedon continues his rather annoying habit of pulling out surprise deaths during Serenity and it's a little heartbreaking to see certain characters bite the dust when you know they would have lived far longer if it wasn't for Fox. Maybe Fox did Whedon a favour in the long run. There's no doubt Firefly would've jumped the shark at some point, but following its cancellation, it never does and we're left with these fourteen near-perfect episodes.

Much loved, RIP.

Score:
Firefly: 9/10
Serenity: 7/10

Rachel.

Firefly was recommended to me by Dave after he watched the series alone and I was instantly hooked! The characters are immediately likable and intriguing, leaving the viewer trying to guess their secrets. The sci-fi western combination is surprisingly agreeable and, as Dave has mentioned, a real measure of the talent of its creator.
...And you will know her by the trail of dead reavers.

It is however very bittersweet to watch at times. While you're swept up in the crew's adventures, the brilliant and often memorable dialogue, the humour, and when you're appreciating the quality of the effects and depth of the characters, the fact that it will never reach its true potential sets a bit of a cloud over the series. I echo the sentiment that the decision maker who cancelled Firefly should not be allowed to work in television or indeed any part of the entertainment industry!

When compared to the series proper, Serenity is merely above average as a stand alone film and I fear for those who did not watch Firefly first it would make little lasting impression. However, for a fan like me tying up some of the loose ends did provide a little closure.

Score:
Firefly: 9/10
Serenity: 7/10

Firefly and Serenity are well liked out there - see Billie's episode-by-episode review of Firefly and Joshua's take on Serenity.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

(A note on the scores)

I'm no film critic. I'm just a little nobody who likes watching films a lot and decided to share some of his thoughts with, well, nobody in particular. It turns out I wasn't smart enough to figure out a perfect scoring system, opting for a simplistic out-of-ten approach. I didn't really think it mattered too much, as what I really think about the film is in the body of the review and the score is more like a general indication of my overall assessment. I have, I'm both saddened and somewhat ecstatic to tell you, received complaints.

I've only got ten numbers to play with. Some films get the same score. This does not necessarily mean I like
Children of Men, Stranger Than Fiction and The Departed equally. They all got eight because that's what I felt they should get. Not that it matters. What is a review? It's the opinion of the person writing it. Rarely are two people's opinions the same. If you tell me there's no way Stranger Than Fiction deserves eight, it isn't going to make me go 'Oh, right, fair enough, I'll knock it down a point then'. It just means you don't think it's as good as I do. To be frank, I'm pleased this thing is receiving any attention at all, good or bad. The whole point was I hoped it would kick-start discussions about the films featured. Still waiting for comments, though. Go on, be the first.

It's been pointed out to me that I apparently think
The Incredibles is as good as The Departed. Firstly, I don't really disagree - The Incredibles is a marvellous film. Second, in order to show exactly where each film fits compared to others the rating would have to be out of 1000 or something. If two films get the same score, it means they are broadly similar in quality, not exactly the same. Thirdly, the subject matter of The Departed and The Incredibles are not comparable in any way. The idea is each film should be compared to its peers. The Incredibles should have its eight compared to what I give other films of a similar type (which will hopefully be possible when the blog has a few more reviews published on it). As for The Departed, as mentioned in the review, it should be compared to its contemporaries - against Goodfellas or, say, The Godfather, it does OK, but is closer to Casino. It's nothing like The Incredibles, Stranger Than Fiction or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The quality is generally similar, but the comparisons don't and can't add up.

The Incredibles
was also snorted at and written off as a film for children. It's aimed primarily at kids, sure, but I fail to see how this matters. Should kids films automatically be given a maximum potential score of seven before even being watched? Of course not. Some of the greatest films ever made - Bambi, Spirited Away, Toy Story - are made for kids. Also, Star Wars and Dr. Who, overrated as I find them both, are made for young 'uns. The 'but it's for children' argument is hereby declared null and void.

So, in the interests of helping out those of you who are confused, here is a brief breakdown of what each score means:

1/10
- Quite possibly my least favourite ever film. Ever.
2/10
- Truly, tragically bad.
3/10
- Maybe there is one or two nice things to say.
4/10
- Wasn't dreadful, but wasn't really worth the time out of my life to watch.
5/10
- Average. OK. Alright.
6/10
- Not bad, but there are better alternatives out there.
7/10
- Really rather decent.
8/10
- Outstanding.
9/10
- Among the very best - cinematic bliss.
10/10
- Quite possibly my favourite ever film. Ever.

Got it? Good.