Hey, it's been a long time. How you doing?? Stuff's back from its summer holidays - an entirely unplanned one, as it happens. Rest assured I've not just been sitting around in my pants watching old TV shows on DVD (well, not all the time) but circumstances have kept me away from posting for a while. Having just notched up 2 years of Stuff (albeit a pretty quiet second one) it's onwards and upwards now with far more regular psoting throughout the autumn and winter. To get us back up and running, a quick rundown of some of the big (and not so big) summer movies, the films you'll be snapping up in time for Christmas if you missed 'em on the big screen. 'ere we go...
Of course I’ve seen ‘Inception’. What sort of a cinematic equivalent of a luddite do you think I am?? In fact, I saw ‘inception’ twice and there’s every possibility I’ll see it again when it arrive son DVD. I’m very glad I saw it twice because first time, frankly, I was scratching my head after thirty minutes and pretty much lost by the time we reached the shock ‘twist’ ending – which left the audience gasping and oohing and ahhing and me just going “What just happened?” Second time’s a winner though; this is where ‘Inception’ starts to make sense (only starts, mind you). I remain a bit ambivalent about Christopher Nolan, the director touted by many as the Great Saviour of modern cinema. His ‘Batman’ films leave me cold, I loved his version of ‘Insomnia’ (the Nolan film most cinephiles are coldest about) and admired ‘The Prestige’ and I’ll admit my three-disc ‘Memento’ DVD stares balefully at me from me shelf demanding that I take up the challenge and actually just watched the damn thing. but I’m scared of it, it’s all backwards apparently! So I’m wary of Nolan’s movies, and maybe, to my own shame, it’s because I know I’m going to be challenged and expected to use my grey matter in an era when lots of CGI and blowing stuff up is thought to be enough to tell a story. Nolan doesn’t play those games; he uses those toys but he has his own rules.
‘Inception’, then, is a real mind-mangler. You’ve surely seen it so I won’t bore you with the details of what I’ve gleaned of the plot but it’s built upon the tantalising premise that it’s possible to infiltrate someone’s dreams and steal their ideas. Loenardo DiTitanic plays Cobb, an intense and troubled ‘corporate raider’ who is hired to do something rather different; he’s charged with planting an idea into a business rival’s mind through dreams. Like some warped ‘Oceans 11’ Cobb sets about assembling a team of experts to help him, including new girl Ariadne (Ellen Page, thankfully far less irritating than her smart-mouthed turn as ‘Juno’) who, by being new to the technology and the concepts, acts as our “But what…?” girl throughout the movie although even she has a moment where she’s required to ask “Whose dream are we in now??”
It’s when the mind-heist starts that the film really starts to get brow-furrowing as Cobb and his gang penetrate deeper and deep into their victim’s subconscious until the audience is never really sure which unreality they’re in and how far away from the real world they’ve drifted. Along the way the film is punctuated by bravura action sequences – ferocious gunbattles (one of which is an achingly-loving homage to ‘Oh Her Majesty’s Secret Service’) and some astonishing special FX as cities fold back in on themselves and landscapes collapse like decks of cards.
‘Inception’ is as multi-layered as the minds its characters invade and, unusually for a modern multiplex movie, it demands your absolute attention from start to finish; anything else means you’ve lost your way and once you’ve lost your way in ‘Inception’ it’s the Devil’s job to find your way back. Yet again DiCaprio reaffirms his position as one of modern Hollywood’s most intriguing star names and ultimately ‘Inception’ is a broad, intoxicating, intelligent and yes, a sometimes frustratingly opaque movie. But it’s a movie like no other and it’s one you’ll find yourself revisiting rather more than the more obvious blockbusters of the last few years. Film of the year? Well, not for me…that’s still either ‘Kick Ass’ or ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ but in a year punctuated by stale warmed-up sequels and misfiring action movies, ‘Inception’ is a breath of fresh, if somewhat occasionally foggy air.
What can you say about a film as dumb as ‘Piranha 3D’? I mean, it absolutely does what it says in the tin and it does it with its tongue lodged so firmly in its cheek it’s virtually breaking through the skin. I’m still not sold on 3D movies because I’ve still not seen one which uses the technology to advance the story; it’s all about throwing things or jabbing things at the audience. No-one’s using it to support the narrative (excuse the pretension) and when, in ‘Piranha 3D’, a killer fish consumes Jerry O’Connell’s bloodied manhood, swims off with it, swims back into frame and coughs it up, burping as the…appendage floats out of the screen towards us, it’s hard to imagine that anyone ever will. Notionally a sequel to the two 1980s Piranha movies (the second of which was directed, in part, by James Cameron, fact fans) this is, in so many ways, more of the same with a bit more gore. An underwater tremor opens a sea-floor fissure through which swim shoals of prehistoric piranha. This, obviously, occurs in the vicinity of a breach town on sleepy Lake Victoria. Worried local sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue), investigating some grisly slayings on the lake, fails to get the semi-naked party-frenzied spring break teens to “get out of the water” and it’s not exactly spoiling the movie’s great secret to reveal that the kids are attacked by piranhas and ripped to bits – with plenty of blood, exploding heads and severed limbs hurtling across the screen. Elsewhere Julie’s kids (one nervous teen, two yappy under-tens) have somehow become involved with a local pornographer (O’Connell) making the softest of soft-core porn movies on his yacht (the underwater naked lesbian dancing clinch scene is real laugh out loud stuff) and it’s not long before the yacht is breached and starts to sink whilst the piranhas circle hungrily and snappily.
Utter nonsense from start to finish but directed by Alexandra (Hills Have Eyes) Aja with gusto if not much regard for narrative logic. There are some funs cameos amidst the buckets of blood including Eli Roth as a party-goer who gets decapitated, Christopher Lloyd in his default loony scientist mode, and Richard Dreyfuss acknowledging his legendary role in ‘Jaws’ and taking an early, bloody bath.
Tom Cruise can’t do right for doing wrong these days and his star seems to be on the wane moré through a campaign of attrition rather than due to the quality of his movies. he’s back this summer along with Cameron Diaz in the frothy, thrilling ‘Night and Day’ which has been panned to high heaven by sniffy critics tired of Cruise’s wholesomeness (he’s a family man, doesn’t take drugs, doesn’t have affairs – shock! horror!) despite the fact it’s been a welcome shaft of good old-fashioned action/romcom adventure in a sadly lacking cinema summer. Cruise plays secret agent Roy Miller who engineers an airport encounter with ditzy June Havens (Cameron Diaz) for reasons which aren’t immediately obvious but soon become clear as we realise that Miller’s on the run from his superiors who have decided he’s outlived his field usefulness. There’s something familiar about ‘Knight and Day’ as it marries elements of films as diverse as ‘What’s Up Doc’ and ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ without bring much new to the table, it’s true. But Cruise is always good value and here he’s at his best, mixing a twinkling humour with a cold-blooded ruthlessness and Diaz, out of her depth, desperate to get back to her normal life and yet finding herself caught in Miller’s wild slipstream, gives depth to a character which could have been a one-dimensional whining stereotype. It’s a real worldwide travelogue, too, with scenes in Austria, the US, the UK, and most points in between. Great action sequences, stunning car chases, visceral fights – ‘Knight and Day’ is pretty much a perfect popcorn concoction and although it may have sold itself short at the Box office, it’s one worth seeking out when it hits DVD later in the year.
Which is more than I can say for ‘The A Team’. Hollywood’s obsession with plundering tis TV past continues despite the bellyflop of films likew ‘Bewitched’, ‘Lost in Space’, ‘Starskly and Hutch’ and numerous others. The movie versions always miss the point of the originals, jettisoning the charm of a TV show and replacing it with mindless spectacle and tongue-in-cheek scripts. Of course ‘The A Team’ was fairly tongue-in-cheek to start with so it’s hard to work out why the movie version seems to underpowered. Maybe it’s she sheer bloody-minded emptiness of it or maybe it’s just the noise or the idiocy of some of s set pieces – the parachuting tank is one stunt contrary to the laws of phsyics too far for Stuff’s liking. Or maybe it’s just the casting – it doesn’t really work. Liam Neeson looks vaguely embarrassed as A Team head honcho Hannibal Smith, charged with putting together a crack team to liberate some currency printing plates from Iraq only to find themselves framed for something else and imprisoned when they get home. Fortunately they busy loose, kick ass (not in a good way) and clear their names – yet still end up on the run for sequels which, hopefully, will never be made. Smith is joined by Sharlto Copley as the borderline clinically-insane ‘Howlin’ Mann’ Murdock, a character so endlessly irritating you really crave a stray bullet to put him out of our misery. then there’s bland smoothie Templeton ‘Face’ Peck (Bradley Cooper) and, worst of all, a wrestler called Quinton ‘Rampage’ Johnson as the legendary BA Baracus. The original BA was of course played by bling-crazed Mr T whose portrayal and real-life persona were so larger-than-life he’s pretty much irreplaceable. Johnson doesn’t come close. Not much of an actor, he has no real screen presence or charisma and a mid-movie decision to make Baracus discovers religion and eschew violence pretty much robs the character of any purpose.
‘The A Team’ is a mess because it makes the mistake of not even trying to take itself seriously. The stunts and actions sequences are either ridiculous (the tank) or bafflingly pointless (the climax involving all the container crates) and even a bit of knowing self-referencing (an imprisoned Murdock is watching an old ‘A Team’ episode on TV) can’t salvage much from this noisy, raucous, dead-headed piece of trash aimed at the attention-deficit crowd. having said that, like last year’s similarly-stupid ‘GI Joe’ it’s not offensively bad it’s just not a movie likely to enamour itself to many fans of the TV version and it’s certainly not a film you’re going to remember much about three days after you’ve seen it.
Angelina Jolie is back in action-heroine mode in the moody, pacey ‘Salt. another film clearly set up to launch a franchise and, by virtue of the fact that it’s actually quite good, more likely to earn one than ‘The A Team’. The titular Evelyn Salt is clearly being pitched as a female Jason Bourne; she starts out as a quiet CIA agent craving piece and tranquillity and domestic bliss. When an apprehended Russian defector ‘outs’ her as a Russian spy, Evelyn, despite her protestations of innocence, has to go on the run and fast. This involve outlandish chases and escapes – one sequence sees her leapfrogging from vehicle roof to roof across a busy freeway, another has her climbing a lift shaft wall like some human fly – as she keeps one step ahead of her CIA pursuers, particularly the cool-headed Liev Shrieber, her friend and confidant who may have his own secrets.
The sort of action flick is scarcely new territory for luscious, putting Angelina – she’s been here before in the underrated ‘Tomb Raider’ movies and the ridiculous ‘Wanted’. ‘Salt’ is better because there’s some humanity in the characters and the audience is rooting for Evelyn as she tries to evade capture and even when it suddenly becomes clear that there’s more to her than meets the eye. At 90 minutes this is a fast and furious film with no noticeable flab and plenty of bang for your back. Ending with Evelyn on the run, let’s hope ‘Salt’ has left enough Box office flavouring (eh?) to generate a sequel because I’m always up for a bit of Angelina action. If you know what I mean…