Deadpool: No Good Deed (2017)

2017 #32a
David Leitch | 4 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English

Logan

Screened before Logan in the US but only available to us poor disadvantaged foreigners thanks to the magic of the interweb, No Good Deed could be regarded as nothing more than a teaser trailer were it not: (a) about four times longer than your average teaser, (b) almost certainly not actually part of the film it’s teasing, (c) listed on IMDb and so forth as a short film, and (d) a self-contained story that is, all things considered, pretty amusing.

If you were also unfortunate enough to have not had your screening of Logan graced by Deadpool’s irreverent goodness, enjoy:

4 out of 5

All being well, Deadpool 2 will be released on 2nd March 2018.

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Twilight (2008)

2015 #145
Catherine Hardwicke | 122 mins | download (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

I’m not a big one for Halloween, but I’ve acknowledged the horrific holiday on a couple of occasions now. For 2015, I decided to review one of the most notorious supernatural films of recent times. A movie so horrific, it sent critics cowering behind their sofas. A film so evil, it’s perverted the minds of children — and some adults — the world over. A movie so renowned, it strikes fear into the hearts of even hardened movie lovers.

I speak, of course, of Twilight.

(That was more surprising when it was in a generically-titled post as an introduction to a whole week of reviews for the entire saga, but then it turned out I had better things to watch in October than four more Twilight films, so you’re only getting this one for now.)

For thems that don’t know, Twilight is the story of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a teenager who moves to live with her father in the small town of Forks, Washington (apparently it’s actually a city, but the film would have you think it’s almost a village). Attending the local high school, she’s intrigued by the introverted Cullen siblings, in particular Edward (Robert Pattinson). To cut a long ramble short, it turns out they’re vampires, but friendly vegetarian vampires. Bella instantly falls in love with Edward in all of three seconds, because he’s kinda dangerous but pretty and sparkles in sunlight (we shall come back to this), though his lust for her brings out his blood-drinking side. Just to make things complicated, there are some other vampires visiting the area who have fewer qualms about drinking human blood…

Twilight is adapted from a young adult novel by Stephenie “one too many Es in her name” Meyer that no one had heard of (bar its legion of bloodthirsty fans) before someone thought it would make a good movie. It would probably have been better if things had stayed that way. There are many reasons for that, but let’s take them in the order they must’ve occurred. First: the story, which is also the worst part. Edward is an odd, creepy stalker — turning up in Bella’s bedroom and staring at her while she sleeps, that kind of thing — who she then finds out is a century-old man (bit of an age gap) and, literally, a predator… but she instantly unconditionally loves him. What the merry fuck? She’s given no reason to even like the guy, and plenty of reasons to run away scared of him, but no, she falls in love. What message is this sending to young girls? That the guy who follows you around everywhere just staring at you and then confesses he’s having trouble controlling his impulse to murder you (yes, he says that) is the perfect soulmate? Not to mention that he’s 100-and-something years old and dating a 17-year-old. He shouldn’t be pre-teen girls’ idol, he should be Hugh Hefner’s!

All of the characters are this poorly drawn. Their motivations, actions, and reactions often make little sense. The number of times one of them does something because Plot are incalculable. That’s without even mentioning Bella’s almost total inability to do anything for herself, except use Google to find some tiny second-hand bookshop in a rarely-visited town to buy a book about something she wants to research, rather than, say, use Google to read up a bit first. Then she gets the book, looks at one illustration and its caption, and it’s back on Google to find out more. Nice work, Bella.

All of this is Meyer’s fault, faithfully translated to the screen by adapter Melissa Rosenberg. This is a woman with quality TV form: she was a lead writer on Dexter back in its first four seasons, when it was really, really good; now she’s showrunner on the forthcoming Marvel/Netflix series Jessica Jones, which has promising trailers and a well-reviewed first episode, in particular its treatment of female characters. Yet she also wrote this. Even if you allow for her being hamstrung by the novel in story terms, the dialogue is appalling, in every respect. Characters bluntly state their own and each other’s emotions at each other. We’re always being told stuff instead of shown it. Scenes heavy with exposition are shot with frenetic camerawork and underscored with driving music as if that somehow makes it filmic and exciting.

Ah, the acting and direction! Nearly every performance is poor. Pattinson and Stewart spend the entire film appearing uncomfortable and puzzled — by themselves, with each other, with everyone else. Her only other emotion is “moody loner”; he at least manages a smile, maybe twice. Some of it is unbelievably cheesy, like an ’80s genre B-movie by a music video director. That kind of thing can work, a) when it’s from the period, or b) when it’s done knowingly. Twilight is neither. The Pacific Northwest location is inherently atmospheric, which is handy because Catherine Hardwicke’s direction does nothing to conjure up any such feeling itself.

And then we have vampires who sparkle. Sparkly vampires. Sparkly. Vampires. Just… why?! The whole traditional mythology of vampires is played fast and loose with, which is fine, that’s what many vampire flicks do; and there are even some borderline-neat subversions… but golly, that sparkliness is silly.

Some of these points are definitely just niggles, but the film is so laden with them that it all becomes ripe to cause either laughter or frustration. Better the former than the latter, which is why the Honest Trailer is so entertaining. See for yourself:

Believe it or not, I didn’t actually hate Twilight as much as I thought I might. Occasionally there are shots or moments that work, maybe even the odd whole scene. Bella’s dad is pretty good, both their relationship and Billy Burke’s performance. I quite liked some of the aggressively-blue cinematography, but then I do like the colour blue. There’s almost a nice element of melancholic “leaving a fun ordinary life behind for this fantastic but dangerous new one”, but I think that might be limited to literally one shot-reverse-shot of Bella seeing her friends leaving a café.

So it’s not a good film, but it’s not a “worst film ever made”-level disaster either. I mean, it’s not so bad that I can’t even bear the thought of watching the sequels. Actually, they kind of intrigue me, because (spoiler warning!) it hasn’t even got to the Jacob/werewolves stuff yet, and that whole Team Edward / Team Jacob aspect seemed to be such a big thing. And I want to see what Michael Sheen has to do with anything. And I kinda wanna see if Breaking Dawn is as batshit crazy as the plot description I once read made it sound. And maybe there’ll be more of Anna Kendrick’s cleavage, because wow, who knew that was there? (Look, it’s a movie about a creepy stalker romance between a 100-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl — a little light ogling of someone around my own age pales in comparison.)

So that’s Twilight for you: poorly plotted, poorly written, poorly acted, poorly directed, teaching poor life lessons to its target age group, and yet still somehow so compelling that I’m prepared to sit through another eight-ish hours of the stuff. Never has the phrase “your mileage may vary” been so apt.*

2 out of 5

* Unless someone used it in reference to the Fast & Furious films.

No (2012)

2014 #96
Pablo Larraín | 112 mins | TV | 4:3 | Chile, USA, France & Mexico / Spanish | 15 / R

No1988: due to international pressure, Chile’s dictator, General Pinochet, has acquiesced to a vote on whether he should continue ruling the country. Despite the violent takeover he orchestrated, and subsequent murders and ‘disappearances’, the country has prospered under his rule, and many — especially influential affluent people — are keen for him to stay. The anti-Pinochet “no” campaign are allowed a daily slot on state-controlled television in the run up to the election, and they hire advertising exec René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) to mastermind the campaign. Cue internal conflict — the politicos want dour films highlighting Pinochet’s evil; René wants to use the language of advertising to sell the promise of a happy future — before the campaign itself finally gets underway, and the “no” campaigners become targets of the ruling regime’s evil tactics…

That’s most of the plot anyway, but the devil is naturally in the details — I mean, you probably know how it’s going to end, right? It’s how writer-director Pablo Larraín (adapting from a play by Antonio Skármeta) tells this tale that matters, and fortunately he does so with considerable class and intellect, albeit with the occasional obtuseness of Art cinema.

Most strikingly, the whole thing is shot on genuine ’80s videocameras, complete with poor resolution, colour bleeding, and all that jazz. Sounds like a pretentious gimmick, doesn’t it? It actually works rather well: it quickly evokes the era, it allows genuine news footage from the period to blend seamlessly with freshly-shot material (and it really does), and you quickly stop noticing. Or at least I did, but then I also watch a fair amount of classic TV, so I’m used to 4:3 black bars and the picture quality of video (though to suggest something likeThe Good Guys classic Doctor Who has picture quality as poor as this is an insult to the professionals who made it and those who restored it for DVD). In an era where the goal is often clean-as-possible ultra-HD images, it’s almost nice to see something so left-field used for excellent effect; a bit like when Pixar got over digital precision and started using soft-focus and the like in Ratatouille.

It seems many have made comparisons between No and the TV series Mad Men, because both are period-set pieces about ad men and the power of the work they produce. It’s a superficial comparison, though. For all its funny camerawork and subtitles, No is a much more straightforward story than Matthew Weiner’s frequently allegorical and oblique TV series. At the same time, Larraín’s film can be trickier to follow, guiding us less clearly through the thought processes behind the adverts, for example. Both have their merits, but the similarity is an incidental one — liking Mad Men does not mean No is a film for you, and vice versa. Unless you really like to see behind-the-scenes of advertising in any form, that is.

And on another aside, is it telling that Channel 4 premiered No in the run up to the Scottish independence referendum? The two votes had surprisingly similar results: about 45% for Yes and 55% for No; except in Chile it was “no” that was the vote for change. Very different political situations, of course: one vote was trying to overthrow an oppressive right-wing regime that had brought misery and instilled suspicious pseudo-Americanised values for far too long, and the other was trying to get rid of General Pinochet. Ho-ho-ho! The Bad GuysBut seriously, there’s not really a comparison between the brutal military regime that ruled Chile — which nonetheless many were happy with because it had brought modernisation and prosperousness for some — and the voluntary union between the rest of the UK and Scotland. I’m sure some of “the 45”, as they now call themselves, would identify with those battling for freedom in this film, but I think that might be taking it a bit far.

No has enough of the thriller about it to be entertaining and overcome its occasional desire to be needlessly Artsy. It’s also about the power of people to democratically bring about change, it’s lesson here perhaps being that for that to happen you need to stop lecturing the public on things they “should” care about and engage them on their own terms. Something a lot of organisations could benefit from learning.

4 out of 5

No is on Film4 tonight at 1am.

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2014. Read more here.

1945-1998 (2003)

2010 #66a
Isao Hashimoto | 14 mins | streaming

1945-1998 title cardIs 1945-1998 actually a film? Or is it a piece of video Art? Or just another online video?

Its setup is quite simple: it charts every nuclear explosion between the titular years; the total, by-the-way, is 2,053. These explosions play out as flashing dots on a world map; different colours indicate which country was responsible for the explosion, accompanied by running totals. You might note at the end that the US are solely responsible for over half.

The film begins with close-ups: the first test by the US; then the explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended World War II. Then it zooms out, to a map of the whole world (arranged differently to how we’re used to seeing it here, with the UK and Europe off to the far left and America on the right. I suppose this is neither here nor there, but it took me a bit to get my bearings on where the explosions were happening). From then it progresses through time at a precise rate of one month equalling one second. If that sounds quite reasonable, the maths holds that it’s 636 seconds, aka ten-and-a-half minutes; or, quite a long time to look at a static map with flashing lights.

There are long gaps between explosions to begin with, but as it heads into the ’60s things pick up (so to speak). As time wears on further, the initially lifeless map transforms into an almost hypnotic array of multi-coloured flashes and variously toned bleeps (provided your 1945-1998: the first testattention didn’t already wander, that is). There are ultimately so many flashes and bleeps, and the effect is so lulling, that I had to force myself to remember these represented Big Nasty Bombs that were Not A Good Thing. Perhaps something more aurally grating would’ve been appropriate; the counter argument going that this would cause even more viewers to abandon the work.

Sadly, it’s become outdated: the bleeps all but stop after 1993 but, as the webpage you can view it on notes, North Korea have since tested nuclear weapons several times. Perhaps Hashimoto needs to add another 2 minutes and 24 seconds, just to ram home that the issue of nuclear weapons is still depressingly relevant.

So is it a film, or video Art, or just another online video? It’s all of the above (of course). 1945-1998 isn’t exactly fun viewing — really speaking, it’s a kind of moving graph — but, if one sticks with it, and despite its outdatedness, Hashimoto makes his point reasonably well.

3 out of 5

1945-1998 can be seen at CTBTO.org.

Do You Wanna Date James Cameron’s Avatar?

It’s always fun to mush news stories together for potentially comedic effect.*

So when I heard, on the same day, of the expected success of the trailer for James Cameron’s Avatar (or, as I’ve taken to calling it, Phantom Menace 2: This Time Everyone’s Jar Jar) and the surprising success of The Guild’s music video for (Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar… well, I couldn’t help seeing what would happen were the two to collide…


* I’ll leave it to you to decide if this example is successful.