March 31, 2006 | Category: Uncategorized

Film Fight 2006: February

Living closer to the cinema (a 15 minute walk) has meant that this month has a massive eight films lined up.

Spielberg fills in the blanks after the infamous murder of the Israeli Olympic athletes two decades ago in his epic Munich. Focussing on the Mossad agents charged with vengeance on those responsible rather than the incident itself was the first error here. While we watch Eric Bana morph from struggling with his mission to becoming a paranoid but capable agent, we do not care; his inner turmoil is largely his own, motivated only by a flimsy patriotism which, self defeatingly, is gone in the end. The plot itself is entertaining, if a little plodding, but does nothing to communicate a message effectively to the viewer.

A Johnny Cash biopic was always going to feature music heavily, that’s a given. What is surprising is the impressive job that both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon do in the lead roles, allegedly providing the song vocals themselves. The film looks at Cash’s rise to stardom in the first act, but swiftly changes to his pursuit of his would-be wife, despite his drug abuse and family. Sure, there are more interesting parts of his life that could have been looked at, but putting them in a plot would have been haphazard. The writers took an obvious and easy route that, not without challenging moments, paints the lead character as the anti-hero many take him for. Walk The Line is fitting, if rose-tainted.

Hidden (Cache) is, in words that I can only assure you are weak, absolutely dire. Two hours of twaddle that had some of the pieces to make an interesting film (a stalker mailing video tapes of the lead character and the paranoia around that) but was, instead, resolutely dull. For the vast majority of the two hour length, nothing happens. When the few events of the film actually occur, you will be too bored rigid to care. How does the film wrap? Perhaps with the lead character learning a lesson? The stalker being shown justice, or even escaping in some cunning way? Maybe some dubious or deep moralising? The plot strands (any of them) being resolved? Nope. Just a five minute shot of people coming out of a building. Really. An instant place in my worst three movies of all time.

Expecting a chick flick, Derailed both shocked and surprised. Beginning as a story about a man having an affair with a beautiful and intelligent woman, it quickly spirals into a blackmail drama with a sting in the tail. Though the twist is predictable, it is nonetheless enjoyable. The cast, as a whole, put in a sterling performance, the film hampered only by an extra fifteen minutes that tidy things up a little too nicely.

Final Destination 3 is nothing but trashy, fun horror. The “plot”, gaping holes and all, features the same prophetic warning of imminent disaster as seen in the previous two parts followed by fate closing in on the survivors of the accident. Essentially the whole film is just the set-up for some incredibly gory and intricate death scenes. Awful but enjoyable, chewing gum cinema.

The journalists who helped bring down Senator McCarthy get their story told by George Clooney in black and white biopic Good Night, And Good Luck. Tightly focussed on the respected newsmen who fight a lengthy media war to get rid of the overbearing paranoia and witch hunts for communists that the Senator used to get into power, it rarely falters into the extraneous. Smart, short, perfectly paced: along with his previous directorial effort (Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind) Clooney shows he has style and flair, and a well-judged knowledge of the subject matter.

On the other hand, Lucky Number Slevin is all style and no substance. Sharp, witty and off the wall dialogue is lost in a movie that can’t back it up. The plot attempts to be intricately woven and clever but is, in fact, just badly cut. Repeat to self: putting scenes out of order and using revelatory flashbacks is a difficult plot device to get right. Memento understands this, Lucky Number Slevin does not. Obvious, occassionally amusing, and nothing special.

Finally, Aeon Flux is exactly how not to adapt from other media. While I cannot claim to have seen the MTV cartoon on which this film is based, a brief inspection of the film shows that there is clearly a well planned, long term plot and a detailed, intricate universe. For inexperienced hands to fit it all into this 90 minute travesty of an action film means that much of the material is handled in the most juvenile way; trampling over the ideas, rather than nurturing them. That is bad enough; to then further the awful telling by focussing in all the wrong places for bite-sized pieces of time is just unforgivable. Awful.

The winner for February? Good Night, And Good luck. While the Johnny Cash film is excellent and Derailed is solid if not for the final scenes, Clooney’s work barely misses a beat.