Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Raid

The Raid posterSynopsis

Written and directed by Gareth Huw Evans.  It takes place in Jakarta, Java Indonesia.  It is about a police raid on a squalid multi-storey building.  The place is run by Tama (a crimelord), the gangsters who live there are his creatures.  A SWAT team turn up, run by an aging lieutenant.  The police are betrayed, undone by the vicious collusion between the police hierarchy and the gangland.  There are two brothers, one a cop and the other seems to be a gangster.  The good cop gets the better of a lot of people but meets his match at the end.


Once again, I’m wondering what the critics see in this macho silliness.  The martial arts (pencak silat) on display is practised in Indonesia and I just don’t get the attraction.  The fight scenes may be well ‘choreographed’, but it looks to me like hundreds of other martial films, a few of which I endured when I lived in China and Indonesia.  It’s Jean-Claud van Damme stuff.  I can only speak as I find on this subject, to me it looks like anti-contest, the mutual cancelling out of expertise which only demonstrates its own prowess.  When this goes on for an hour it looks like demented puppets trying to win a wrap around contest, and it sounds like they’re shackled to collapsible trolleys of kitchen ware . Jonathan Pryce nicely mocked it in the 1997 Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies when he flapped his arms around and snorted “pathetic”!  The good cop leaves lots of broken bodies in his path and we see his ever so sensitive side when he meets up with his brother and then they speak as if violence never entered their heads as a career choice.  The whole film is set in the bleak cement boxes of high rise squalor.  This setting acts as a primitive mural of blank concrete, and the gangsters scuttle round like cockroaches.  We get little in the way of a plot except the predictable corrupt collusion between gangster and cop.  The two brothers effect a sort of reconciliation but these encounters are absurdly sidelined by the relentless killing and maiming that goes on around them.  I kept waiting for an hilarious punchline.  I suspect there might be double standards about this, if it were set in Britain it would look like an absurd film about the SAS but The Raid is set in an ‘exotic’ Jakarta, so its poverty chic makes it look more meaningful.

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Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Film Reviews, World cinema


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Avengers Assemble

The Avengers posterSynopsis

Characters from the comic book Marvel, the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johanssen) , Iron Man (Robert Downey junior), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner),) and Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow) try to save the world threatened by Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who has stolen the tesseract which can destroy the planet.  They battle with him.  Will they win and save us all as they fight Loki and his aliens in the streets of New York…?


The critics generally like this film and I wonder why.  I appreciate that Robert Downey Junior is given witty lines and he will always come up with a colourful phrase or rejoinder to cap what anyone has said, he makes a fine art out of smartass chat.  It’s the sort of vocal delivery that Geoff Goldblum conjures up, a sort of breathless disbelief at others’ slow witted inability to riposte, however, the others are standard action man dummies.  Captain America is a fascist fantasy figure in velcro with an American shield, a sort of Lindbergh wet dream.  If there is any retro irony, then it plods, and I doubt it’s there anyway.  Are we supposed to think that Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk, is endowed with tortuous self hate because he can mutate into an overgrown sumo wrestler with puke green skin?  This is preposterous, it’s endowing a comic book clown with an inner life.  What happens to critical facilities watching this tosh?  Do we enter into arrested development when we watch this?  Thor wields a sort of magic hammer and he looks like someone who would be in pain if he had to string more than two sentences together.  He makes Arnold Schwarzenegger look like a good actor.  Scarlet Johanssen looks like a Bond girl waiting for Bond to turn up.  Gwyneth Paltrow is Pepper Pots, Iron Man’s glorified side kick, like Moneypenny flunkying after James Bond.  The only decent role is Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who looks like Richard Grant in Kabuki theatre.  He is good at poshly clipped put downs, the latest in a long queue of Brit bad guys that Hollywood seems to breed.  The one really good scene is when Loki turns up at Stuttgart and he gets lots of Germans to kneel to him, no doubt the Greeks will like that.

The special effects are effective but monopolize the latter part of the film.  This is an ordinary film from a genre that struggles with big words.  It cannot be given the benefit of the doubt when we suspect it of enchantment with unresolved adolescence and its fetishes.


Posted by on May 29, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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The Dictator

The Dictator posterSynopsis

Sacha Baron Cohen plays Aladeen dictator of the Middle Eastern country of Wadiya.  Ben Kingsley plays a would be plotter against Aladeen who is threatening to nuke a neighbouring country.  He must go to the UN to avert an attack on his country.  Kingsley arranges for a nit wit double to take over as Aladeen whilst the real one meets a politically right on feminist (Anna Faris) who runs a vegetarian refuge for asylum seekers.  Aladeen removes the impostors and promises to implement democracy.


Another stunt by Sacha Baron Cohen like in Borat or Bruno.  I laughed for fifteen minutes and the rest of the time I felt embarrassed.  This time, there are no unwitting victims being set up by Cohen, it’s a straight comedy which satirizes the recently deceased Middle Eastern tyrants and the ones left around the world.  Cohen is playing a monster, so why does he want us to see the human side?  He does this when Aladeen strikes up a sort of rom-com friendship with the feminist (Anna Faris) .  The film seems to lose its way here and as if to compensate for the dangers of an embarrassing sag in the momentum, Cohen resorts to the usual escape clause of bad taste.  He is a ridiculous clown with a silly beard, and the obvious targets of Cohen’s scorn are dead but Assad is still busy repressing and murdering people in Syria.  It has just been banned in Tajikistan (just like Borat was temporarily banned in Kazakhstan).  It’s as if Norman Wisdom were making a satire on Stalin and it’s about as effective as that would have been.  This is in the tradition of the foolish innocent (or Ingenue) lost in the sophisticated city, yet Aladeen is not a naive bumpkin but a monstrously mad tyrant.  Cohen’s trick is to make us feel complicitly superior as he exposes the vileness of Aladeen and those around him.  The comfortable boundaries of comedy and taste shift so that smug white liberals might think they’re laughing at themselves when Cohen satirizes political correctness.  You wonder if his own contempt and hatred slips past the critical censor.  Is he trying to emulate Chris Morris in Brass Eye or his anti-terrorist spoof?  This is a Middle Eastern dictator but the film doesn’t make fun of Islam but then we don’t dare, do we?  It’s OK to make fun of Christianity, isn’t it?  There is a funny scene (there are a few) in which he promises to institute democracy of which the US is the perfect model with its grossly unaccountable oligarchy, its foreign wars, its grossly unequal medical provision, and its obscene capitalism.  He says this in the spirit of Swift’s A Modest Proposal where he is satirically mock serious about proposing the eating of human flesh to alleviate the famine.  Offending politically correct liberals is so easy that it has been commodified as another privileged western option, this diverts attention from the fact that real taboo busting still has a lot of hard and hazardous work to do.  Cohen is complicit in this self regard in this largely unfunny film.

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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Blackthorn posterSynopsis

Starring Sam Shepard as Butch Cassidy as in the famous Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid partnership.  In this film Cassidy has not been killed in the shoot-out we see at the end of the Paul Newman/Robert Redford film of 1969, instead they both get away and we see in flashbacks how the Sundance Kid dies in the Andes.  Butch is living under the name Mr Blackthorn.  He lives in the Bolivia of the 1920s, and on his way from a bank he is shot at and loses his money.  He teams up with a Spanish engineer, Eduardo Noriega playing Eduardo Apodaca who worked for a mining company.  Butch and Apodaca will take $50,000 hidden in the mine.  Others are after them, and it turns out that the Spanish want to take money belonging to Bolivian miners and Butch learns about this.  In flashbacks we see him and Etta and Sundance, and their parting (Etta goes back to the US), after escaping the Pinkerton agent played Stephen Rea.  The agent meets up with Blackthorn.  Will Butch get away…?


That Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid could escape from that gunfight with half the Bolivian army seems too preposterous, but that final scene has been contested by historians.  The jokey Paul Newman character is now played by the gloomily serious Sam Shepard like a man who has a long drawn out need for absolution.  He lives with a Bolivian woman and he has become a horse dealer.  When he withdraws cash from the bank, ironically the manager asks him if he has displeased him.  We see Cook’s travel brochure views of Bolivia: rain forest, gorges, pinnacles of rock, the Altiplano, and the salt flats.  Blackthorn is the loner with a secret.  When the Pinkerton agent meets up with him he will not be allowed to live down his past.  The film, I think, shares with US popular culture that ambivalence towards the outlaw, he is sometimes a thief but sometimes a class warrior like Robin Hood against corrupt authority, however, if your savings were taken by this person I suspect you wouldn’t have such a romantic view of outlaws.  In the Paul Newman/Robert Redford film the outlaws are told they belong to a vanished past.  In the Bolivia of the 20s Butch is simply a businessman who is law abiding.  His problems are more emotional than social.  He writes to Etta’s child (who might be his or the Sundance Kid’s child) and wants to see him in the US.  When he meets the Spanish engineer there is a sort of jokey relationship familiar from spaghetti westerns.  The pursuit of money in the mountains reminds me of Treasure of the Sierra Madre, except that in Blackthorn the indigenous people are not the amenable peasants of that John Huston film but miners who want justice with no time for obstructive gringos.  Butch is told by the Pinkerton agent who the real owners of the money are, so Blackthorn ensures justice is done.

The Pinkerton agent, McKinley, is shown sympathetically.  He has a thankless job chasing the clever and more glamorous outlaws.  McKinley is not vengeful, he helps Butch but one can sympathise with him.  Outlaws are often thieves and murderers, even if they can be likeable in the Ned Kelly mould.  A vividly impressive western.


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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen posterSynopsis

Starring Ewan McGregor as fisheries expert Fred Jones, and Emily Blunt as Harriet who recruits him to introduce salmon fishing in the waterways of Yemen, the desert country in southern Arabia.  Fred is not happily married and he is persuaded to start this project for a Yemeni sheikh played by Amr Waked.  Kristin Scott Thomas plays the pushy PR chief who gets the government to back the scheme in the face of lobby opposition.  The project is unwelcome to Yemeni terrorists and they try to sabotage it.  Harriet’s boyfriend has returned from service in Afghanistan but she and Fred get romantic…


This is a pretty lightweight rom-com.  I’ve been told it’s different from the novel in its romantic relationship.  For me it’s another of those irritatingly conservative and smug movies that could have been made in the 50’s starring Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna.  Ewan McGregor is a nice guy and works for UNICEF, so the only good this might do is to fund his UNICEF activities because it’s simply a vacuous waste of time.  It belongs to a world of social class deference when good looking stars are backdropped by servile helpers and good natured flunkies.  Richard Curtis is the chief culprit here, ever since Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill we get this nauseating romantic stuff that goes with the golf course and the country house.  The Yemeni sheikh looks like a benign Ben Kingsley, he becomes a sort of spiritual mentor to these hard eyed western atheists as he takes them around his Scottish estate.  The people of Yemen are ‘goodies’ because they help these westerners, or they are ‘baddies’ because they want to wreck the project.  Any cultural or political complexity is brushed aside.  Kristin Scott Thomas plays the smart-ass, fast talking, cynical politician obligatorily based on Alistair Campbell from Blair’s Labour government.  This is a lazy stereotype to stop the film from sagging.  Kristin Scott Thomas is another actor in danger of becoming like Helen Mirren playing the Queen, she should be careful.

Needless to say westerners overcome the baddies who want to damage the project and this strengthens their romantic interest.  This follows the plot line of too many films and so is wearily predictable.  It looks like a promotional DVD on how not to run an NGO.  Very missable.


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