Saturday, 18 July 2009

Film Review: Public Enemies

Look its Michael Mann directing another film! And look Johnny Depp is in it! And look again its Christian Bale... AGAIN... Well sounds like a good enough set up right? Those with a knowledge of previous Michael Mann films (to name a few couple; Heat and Collateral) know he’s done his share of fast paced and crime driven while heavy in drama so naturally a film set in the 1930s based on the true story of notorious bank robber John Dillinger, is like bait for this director. Well put it this way... there’s a shoot out in the opening five minutes.

While Johnny Depp is paraded as the role of John Dillinger is every preview know to Mann (ha see what I did there? Forget it), once again with have Christian Bale, fresh from the last multiple blockbuster films as the lesser known FBI agent Melvin Purvis, with the obvious stances as “public enemies” to eachother. But by no means is it all about them, at the same time we’re quickly introduced to other Dillinger cronies and of course the inevitable love interest Billie Frechette, played by Marion Cotillard. So where does this leave them? After a semi-successful prison break, Dillinger is back in town and robbing banks left and right, each in a matter of minutes while Purvis is put on the case but what appears to be a rather slow “by the book” anti-crime agency. Fast forward and we have Dillinger swaying the likes of Frechette is a rather chauvinistic manner... although we have to keep in mind that this is the 1930s and women are still push overs (and in Johnny Depp’s case still would be). Without ruining any of the plot, the film then goes into a tug of war with bank robberies and FBI leads pulled off and hindered by the opposing party leading to what is a rather unconventional climax if you didn’t know much about the real life story.

Beyond the character plot itself, we are given a vintage 1930s backdrop from both the city and country settings conveying a real old modern styled feel you’d come to expect. All the men where brown and black suits and talk fast and all the women are dressed up and buried in make-up, with crudely built cars, oddly shaped rifles and “swinging” soundtracks. Believable setting, check. Believable characters on the other hand? Many people (fangirls) came to see Depp, the actor who while is painted by some (fangirls) as a handsome front man, actually can and has acted well and in all seriousness (fangirls aside) he pulls it off here. Playing a real life person is always tricky, more so if that person has historical visual and audio recordings, but its safe to say that Depp has adjusted his voice accordingly to the character and setting, being well mannered but cocky and a hard ball at times, with the ability to show emotion where its needed, and since its a Mann film its usually when someone has been shot dead. His other cronies are more two dimensional but interesting enough characters in their own right. For example there’s John (again?) “Red” Hamilton, a loyal co-robber and all round hard man, a long with Baby Face Nelson who to put it bluntly is a psychopath who would shot a fleeing civilian just because he not shooting at anything else and thus also making him the screw up! In the case of Billie Frechette on the other hand, you’d think the love interest would be tacked on but no, its kept in moderation and you can feel sympathy for this woman to an extent, particularly towards the end, but is sadly less memorable than the rest of the cast. In terms of shoot outs, well there’s not much to say, they’re hard to screw up in a mainstream film by an established director in the field. While there’s a good ratio of action and drama, one instance in the first half however seems dragged out. While not a total complaint, it breaks flow and fragments what can be a complex plot line if you as such as miss three minutes.

Now on to Christian Bale... He’s become a fickle actor to me since the films that put him on the map, like American Psycho being the best example for this one, but now I’m starting to think he’s coming down with “Nicholas Cage Syndrome”. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about, like Nicholas Cage once was, Bale seems to be appearing in an awful lot of films recently (more so if you watch the independent), Terminator Salvation only being roughly a mouth old, if even that. As a result, he’s become so established its hard to dive into the story if you can only see Bale and not the character he’s playing. Someone like Depp on the other hand, as well known as he is at least there’s space between his roles. But even if you haven’t seen those other Bale films, there’s another issue I have. Now I know its good for films to avoid being so black and white in characterization but when everyone is getting shot on a regular basis, who’s side am I supposed to be on? While there’s the obvious fact Dillinger and co are bank robbers, the law is not particularly within the law itself at times, with blackmail and beating women coming into an equation at one point. For me this adds realism and no doubt prevents it becoming a cliche case of cops and robbers but being objective about it, bleak could be another description for certain people... although in my view those are the people who shouldn’t be watching this sort of film, Johnny Depp or not...

Public Enemies is one of the better Michael Mann films and stands on its own in the midst of a summer blockbuster onslaught, with the setting providing its unique selling point. If you came expecting a series of violent shoot outs, you won’t be disappointed. If you came for the thrilling plot, you won’t be disappointed. And if you came for Johnny Depp, you won’t be disappointed...

Friday, 17 July 2009

Film Review: Brüno

Those familiar with the work of Sacha Baron Cohen are also familiar with his three alter-ego stereotypes; Ali G (black-rapper wannabe moron), Borat Sagdiyev (ignorant racist foreigner) and in this highlighted instance, Bruno (flamboyant perverted homosexual). Now all of them off the bat come off as horrible characters bent on shocking and offending... and I wouldn’t have it any other way! While Ali G Indahouse was a conventional comedy flick, Borat’s big screen outing on the other hand was a unique laugh a second mockumentary that surprised even the most high brow of critics, so naturally a Bruno incarnation would be an equal affair of offensive comedy material in real life situations?Well, there’s good news and bad news in the case of Bruno.

The GOOD news is all the in your face comedy and taboo shock value from Borat is retained, only in a different style of character. After a brief (and camp) opening sequence, the flamboyant Austrian fashion (I want to say) critic flaunts his overly out of this world fashion show and his life with his, as he puts “pigmy” lover, a long with a anal sex scene best described as the ZZ Top spinning guitar trick. After crashing a cat walk, his show is cancelled, pigmy gone rogue with Bruno going off to make it big in America. Already you’ll notice the same plot line as Borat but this time his follower is a rather timid assistant Lutz. Despite the similar set up to Borat, its the only, if not the best way to get the unsuspecting public and celebrities pranked in a variety of situations.

And boy there are a good few. If you weren’t put off by the unconventional anal sex in the introduction then what about a real penis flailing around to the beat of techno before light CGI makes the top shout? And I saw this on a cinema sized screen... you could actually feel the mental reactions of the surrounding audience, but of course no one could look away (even the jock guys at the back) because its almost a surreal moment considering this has got to be a first for mainstream cinema, and this is just one scene. Clearly the intention of the film (besides comedy of course) was to take those with any hang ups over homosexuality and hammer the subject matter into their eye-sockets. Without ruining anything to those who have yet to see it, lets just say the ending achieves this in an excellent (if boarder-line suicidal) gay statement leaving a previously overly aggressive testosterone induced southern American in tears.

Other great examples of vintage Sacha’s real life humor include an inappropriate pass at Ron Paul (funny even if you don’t know who that is), a “bitch-fest” with a drill instructor, adopting and parading a African baby in front of a full African-American audience and causing silence and tension with a trio of hunters.

The BAD news is, the majority of the sketches are randomly placed. While Borat went across America under the guise of reporting US topics. In Bruno however, he jumps from point A to B so fast its hard to tell at times where he is and thus who he’s making fun of, which somewhat hinders the illusion of its being a documentary. Secondly the jokes are too far apart, most delivering punch line humor with a large build up while Borat injected humor into even the most mundane of sentences. And of course there’s the simple truth of the subject matter... Now of course many will say they have no problem or nothing against homosexuals but when push comes to shove many of the “in your face” jokes will cause a cringe more than a laugh for some people, the problem being its just hard to tell who they will be. Arguable the humor is so gay it could turn a gay man into a homophobe at times but then of course you remember its just a joke on stereotypes (so forget about it).

Bruno is a solid effort and worthy follow up to Borat, but in all honesty Bruno is far from the superior film. Borat was more original for its time while Bruno has many recycled elements. But of course I don’t want to put down the film, it achieved what is was out to do, causes laughs in inappropriate situations and sticking a giant middle finger up to the nay sayers. Its offensive and cringe worthy but then again thats the whole bloody point and the reason you came to see it in the first place!