Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Watch


Starring: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade & Billy Crudup.

Seen At: Didsbury.

On: Monday, 3rd September, 2012.

Comedy in populist, mainstream Hollywood is currently in quite a transitional phase. The mid-to-late nineties were Jim Carrey’s broadly comedic rubber-faced golden years; with the likes of Dumb and Dumber The Mask, Liar Liar, but also the slightly darker, edgier, left-field idiosyncratic gem: The Cable Guy, in 1996, directed by a certain, (then up-and-coming) Ben Stiller.
  Late nineties teen-comedy, was the next order of the day, followed in the light of audiences Screaming for the parodied side of Wes Craven’s Ghostface thanks to Scary Movie, or high-school-set students either: cleverly consulting Shakespeare’s more shrewish side, to brilliantly decide exactly what were the 10 Things (they) Hate(d) About You in 1999. Just before that, a bunch of teenagers were ravenous for their next raunchy slice of American Pie.
In 2001, Stiller burst onto that very same mainstream scene with the uproarious Meet The Parents. Two sequels intermittently followed, with varying success, and a steady stream of commercially successful crowd-pleasers in between. Among them was 2004’s Dodgeball, an enjoyable, if somewhat rather overrated ‘gross-out’ sports comedy.
   This was the film that, if little else established the dynamite pairing of Stiller’s collaboration with one of my very favourite actors – Vince Vaughn.
  Now they’re starring again, as one half of four suburbanites, thrown together through the most implausibly outrageous of circumstances. An alien attack has come to fruition in a Costco-inspired megastore of all barely conceivable locations. Stiller and Vaughn, together with Moneyball’s Jonah Hill and British actor/director Richard Ayoade - playing a self-assured but ultimately unfulfilled misfit, form a Neighbourhood Watch group.
  The style and premise – namely that of forming a quartet of contrasting, 21st Century Ghostbusters, actually works (if not up to those dizzily entertaining, box-office-smashing standards) – considerably better, and in a slightly funnier, more involving way than Dodgeball did.
  That most fiendishly difficult of equilibriums – the one between broadly comedic laughs while coupled with the occasional innocuous scare – is actually obtained marginally successfully – if not particularly memorably.
  The dialogue is never quite as sharp as expected, but in Vaughn’s wonderfully cynical vernacular of course, is delivered with his now customarily quick-fire rapidity. He steals the film, away from Stiller in a sense, with Stiller still stuck to playing it rather straight-laced, while remaining a reliably staple presence in the comedy cannon.
  It’s more left to Vaughn (as a likeable everyman) and particularly Ayoade and Hill, to provide the majority of what are, more often than not, fairly muted giggles when they should be unstoppable ones.
  The aliens themselves - summoned after the impulsive meddling of a futuristic, spherical metal orb that blows up a cow (much to their open-mouthed, enthused incredulity) – are welcomed rather than run-from.
  One of the funniest scenes, involves them revelling in the prospect of having pictures taken with the seemingly dormant alien (now in sunglasses), only to be the perilous, hapless victims of another attack, moments later.
  Human form also comes under suspicious question, with a clever sequence where members of the public are assessed for their extra-terrestrial potential.
  First on the list of possible culprits, is a very funny performance from Billy Crudup as an outwardly sinister, voyeuristic next-door neighbour figure, somewhat reminiscent of Norman Bates – all squinty-eyed and cold emotion - a vast antithesis to the reveal as to what’s actually happening behind his front door!
  Proceedings become more elaborate, but slightly overblown in the latter stages, and it’s quite male-centric throughout, but overall this is fizzy, undemanding fare, with a typically appealing cast – it’s just not written with quite enough of the comic pop as you’d hope for, given the talent involved.

Rating: * * *

Monday, 1 July 2013

The Bourne Legacy

Action Thriller/Reboot

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, David Strathairn, Joan Allen, Paddy Consadine & Albert Finney. 

Running Time: 126 mins.

Seen At: Didsbury.

On: Saturday, 25th August, 2012.

Originally based on the pulpy series of bestselling novels by Robert Ludlum, in 2002 - when Matt Damon burst into the intelligence sub-genre with an unusually intelligent bang with The Bourne Identity – rivaling Pierce Brosnan’s ultimate exstravagant last outing as Bond (the spectacular Die Another Day – my personal favourite Bond movie; fantastical in every sense), Damon and director Paul Greengrass instead opted for gritty realism and brutally visceral fight sequences. Bond produces obviously took note of the surprising impact it made, as they of course then followed suit, choosing to next introduce Daniel Craig.
  Damon and Greengrass though, after the phenomenal success of Bourne’s Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum respectively, chose not to have the above-poster top billing, passing the mantle onto the increasingly popular Jeremy Renner – importantly though, not playing Jason Bourne, but rather in the role of brand new renegade agent Aaron Cross.
  For my money, Renner’s a far more unassuming presence on screen than Damon is, it’s just a shame that, rather like Damon, he appears so devoid of emotive facial expression, that it’s very difficult to, in turn, emotionally invest in his fate in almost any ensuing jeopardy.
  Incidentally, those distinctly intermittent, yet frenetically involving bursts of set-piece are extremely few and far between. For the most part this is driven on a fuel of dialogue, only with more of the dialogue and much less of the drive. James Newton-Howard’s only occasionally punchy score is often glaringly present to only act as ominously-strung padding from one action sequence to the next.
  The director is the very smart choice of Tony Gilroy. His film, Micheal Clayton is a fantastic, quiet, slow-burner of a thriller, full of superb performances – (in my opinion it was George Clooney’s finest ever dramatic performance).
 The action sequences themselves are actually extremely well-staged, make great use of bullet-ricocheting sound effects, and are similarly brutal to Damon’s, with Renner proving to be in fine physical shape – (he’s an increasingly dominant action star: Hawkeye in Thor and The Avengers -  and he’s previously played morally ambiguous agents already, in 2003’s S.W.A.T. and the fourth Mission: Impossible: - Ghost Protocol, so he would be. It’s just a rather ironic shame that, as Aaron Cross, he gives us his least engaging performance to date. It’s to the screenplay’s plodding detriment, not his own fault, which spends much of its very overlong running-time pre-occupied with what is often highly scientific expositional terminology, all concerned with how Cross is genetically engineered.
  Edward Norton is reliably terrific, equally morally ambiguous as a cool-headed manipulator, and Rachel Weisz is extremely strong in the somewhat thankless role of a scientist, but she is given a singularly affecting scene under house-arrest, where a suitably frantic infiltration follows.
  From the outset, the screenplay treats this installment very much as a continuation of the previous trilogy, with endlessly elusive reference to ‘Tredstone’ and the so-called urgent prospect of ‘Burning the programme to the ground’ without ever even remotely attempting to explain what the ‘programme’ actually is, or, more to the point, why Edward Norton and his shadow-lit team want to do that so badly.
  Previous, brilliant supporting talent such as Joan Allen, the fantastically eclectic David Strathairn, and even Albert Finney, are only there to make fleeting, blink-and-you’d-miss-them appearances.
  There is an excellent climactic, beautifully-shot red motorcycle chase, with Renner as always looking super-cool in simple, black sun-shades, and it’s good that Gilroy, as he did with Clooney for Micheal Clayton, gives his central protagonist of Aaron Cross, a surprisingly intriguing, and fairly dark back-story as to exactly why he is the way he is.
  This, solidly entertaining as it is, could be a potential reboot of the Bourne franchise, with Renner possibly in future sequels – if today’s Hollywood franchise factory is any accurate yardstick. If so, lets hope the next one’s screenplay sees that Renner packs a little more punch emotionally, as well as physically, with a lot less long-winded dialogue in between…

Rating: * * *