Sep 26 2012

Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Tag: blinkboxblinkbox @ 12:56 pm

On a small island off the East Coast of 1960s America, twelve year-old Suzy runs away from her desperately unhappy parents and meets up with her pen pal Sam, an orphaned Boy Scout. Together they make their way across an island only hours before a tropical storm. In the hands of any other director, this would be the start to a pretty dark film! However, this is a Wes Anderson joint — and it’s the best film he’s made in over a decade.

This being a Wes Anderson movie, the cast will of course feature Bill Murray. He and Frances McDormand play the young girl’s parents, who launch into a full-blown panic once they realise their daughter is missing. A subdued Bruce Willis plays the local sheriff, a quiet, solitary man who may be ‘carrying on’ with Murray’s wife. Edward Norton has a great turn as the leader of the boy’s troupe who prides himself as a scoutmaster above all other things. It’s no coincidence that the film is set on an island: most of the characters are surrounded by other people but defined by their loneliness.

But at the heart of the film is the endearing courtship-of-sorts between the adolescent runaways. Suzy is a dreamer who dresses like Jeanne Moreau and packs the most impractical supplies for her exodus: a portable record player and a selection of her favourite hardbacks. Sam is confident as a scout, but little else. Having fallen for Suzy the summer before, he steals her away from her unhappy home, taking her on an adventure filled with visual gags, mini encounters and those tiny truthful moments of awkwardness that so often characterises young love.

After his back to back successes with Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson became an indie-mainstream darling and took a self-indulgent dive into the deep end of the quirky pool, developing the style with which he would become synonymous. In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited, his 60s-inspired designs, twee retro soundtracks and flights of fancy were all ramped up to the point of parody. It became curiously noticeable that all of his lead characters were insufferably miserable egomaniacs.

While Moonrise Kingdom doesn’t rein back the aesthetic, Anderson has found the heart that’s been missing from his recent work. He’s managed to cut back on his excesses without compromising anything. The willful whimsy has been replaced by a control and sense of sadness that makes the film cohere and linger in the memory. Coming in at little over 90 minutes, Moonrise Kingdom packs in so much wit, character and visual invention that it feels like the perfect union of Anderson’s talents.

We like this movie an awful lot, and we think that you might too.

For more blinkbox reviews, return to the blinkblog

Sep 19 2012

Trailer: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Tag: blinkboxblinkbox @ 3:46 pm

The trailer for this Christmas’ biggest film has finally dropped, giving Tolkien fan’s a decent glimpse at Peter Jackson’s long-awaited return to Middle Earth. And from the looks of it, we can expect a lot of dwarfs behaving badly, more from Iain McKellan’s Gandalf and everyone’s favourite ring-obsessed cave-dweller.

The first installment of Jackson’s new trilogy has taken ages to get off the ground, with the studio’s financial and legal troubles halting pre-production and original director Guillermo del Toro’s unexpected departure from the project. But by the looks of this trailer, An Unexpected Journey will be more than worth the wait once December rolls around.

Sep 14 2012

Quality Matters: Our favourite HBO comedies

Tag: blinkboxblinkbox @ 3:16 pm

It’s safe to say that the cable channel HBO is best known for its critically acclaimed dramas. With The Wire and The Sopranos, they boast the two titles most often referred to as ‘the greatest TV dramas ever made”. Throw in some all-time classics like Band of Brothers and Game of Thrones and you’ve got yourself an unbeatable track record for quality dramas. Which is why their comedies are so often overlooked.

Now traditionally, hour-long programmes are dramas while comedies are half-hour affairs. At HBO, there are a few 30 minute shows that aren’t really all-out comedies. Entourage and Hung are sort of light dramas with elements of humour but you would be hard pushed to define them as purely comedy. But when they produce shows that directly target their audience’s funny-bone, they rarely produce anything less than a weapons-grade classic.

In the States, HBO is one of the few channels that don’t rely on advertising revenue to fund their shows: as a premium subscription service, they count on their reputation as purveyors of challenging, ground-breaking and often risqué  programs to shore up subscriptions. Their maverick edge isn’t limited to just their dramas of course. HBO’s comedies are every bit as inventive as their serious cousins. Let’s take a look at three of our favourites.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
Without question the most successful comedy in the HBO stable, Curb Your Enthusiasm has been on the air for 8 seasons, with talks of a ninth in the works. This pseudo-confessional, semi-improvised comedy follows Larry David (co-creator of Seinfeld) as he poorly navigates the LA social scene. Playing a thinly veiled version of himself, Larry’s pedantry, pettiness and ultra-neurotic tendencies get him into trouble with everyone from studio executives to parking attendants.

There are many shades of Seinfeld in Curb, especially in its knack for codifying everyday behaviour: the stop-and-chat immediately springs to mind (when you’re passing an acquaintance on the street, at what point are you obliged to stop and have a little chinwag? What if you’re in a hurry?). On top of that, it’s a poorly kept secret that Seinfeld’s George Costanza was almost entirely based on David, so there are inevitable comparisons. But despite the show’s improvised nature, David and his writers structure each episode meticulously creating something closer to a farce or a comedy of manners than a traditional sitcom.

It goes without saying that Curb is a very funny show, but your tolerance to awkward comedy will determine how quickly you blast through each season. Personally, we can’t watch more than 2 episodes without getting completely frustrated with Larry. The trouble with his character is that he’s rarely wrong, but the way he goes about dealing with people is borderline psychotic and that’s part of the genius of Curb Your Enthusiasm: the show is great, but in real life we’d  never want to spend more than a minute with its leading man.

Flight of the Conchords

The Kiwi folk parody duo has done very well for itself in the past 10 years. After two years at the Edinburgh Fringe and a BBC Radio 2 series, America came a-calling. This quirky musical-comedy is based largely on their British Radio show and it sees the hapless antipodean musicians trying to break into the New York music scene. Aided -or perhaps hindered- by their manager Murray (fellow Kiwi comic Rhys Darby), they bounce between aimless band meetings, doomed romances, failed gigs and the occasional stalking from their number-one fan (Kristen Schaal).

Like the Conchords themselves, the show’s tone is very subdued with a lot of the humour stemming from their fish-out-of-water naiveté clashing against some genius strokes of absurdism (an occasional inventor, Bret’s creations include a helmet with a wig on it and a camera-phone he’s made by strapping a camera to his phone).  Not to mention, the songs that pepper each episode are unbelievably catchy and funny – no mean feat considering that musical parodists are often the whipping boys of the comedy world.

After only two seasons, the Conchords have called it a day on their show, pursuing other successful projects in its place. Jemaine (the glasses one) has bagged some choice supporting roles in Dinner for Schmucks and the Men in Black 3 while Bret (the beardy guy) only went and won himself an Oscar this year for his work on the Muppets movie. With that in mind, it would still be fair to say that their best work lies in these 22 episodes. A musical sitcom that works on so many levels, this is a show that could only have been made for HBO.

Eastbound and Down
Kenny Powers is a burnt-out Major League Baseball pitcher who comes back home after a scandal-ridden end to his career. He takes a job teaching PE at the local High School, where his jilted teenage sweetheart also works and is engaged to the principal. Powers is by far the most crass, self-aggrandising, self-involved character in the history of television. As played by co-creator Danny McBride (Tropic Thunder, Your Highness), he’s also ridiculously funny and painfully delusional: both a bully and a victim of his own ego.

The supporting cast is also excellent. The characters range wildly from his sensible brother (played by indie king John Hawkes with the same earthy realism he brings to his acclaimed dramas) and the buttoned-down principal to Will Ferrell’s crazy turn as a groin-smacking local BMW dealer. The show is profane, strange, hilarious and poignant but also beautifully made. McBride and his director/co-writer Jody Hill have created a blustering caricature of a man who also has layers, as the episodes slowly reveal. The inventive editing and choice music selections also help to elevate this show to a level that very few movie comedies ever reach.

You may have seen Eastbound and Down when it aired here on FX, but if you didn’t, you’re in luck. blinkbox has all 4 series now available to watch. If you consider yourself a fan of comedy, we implore you: check out this show. It’s so very good.

All 8 seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm are now available on blinkbox along with all 4seasons of Eastbound and Down and both seasons of Flight of the Conchords.

Sep 13 2012

Review: The Dictator

Tag: blinkboxblinkbox @ 9:31 am

The Dictator

Are the American films of Sacha Baron Cohen suffering from diminishing returns? 2007’s Borat was an unexpected hit, coming out of nowhere and becoming a genuine cultural phenomenon complete with its own catchphrases (“My Wiiife!” “High Fiiiive”). He followed this up with Bruno, a film that reused his prank show/shock humour formula to skewer American homophobia and gullibility. A common observation from audiences and critics was it similarity to Borat; that the makers were not ambitious enough. The box-office also responded anemically, grossing little over $60 million at the US box office. Needless to say, Baron Cohen had a lot to prove with The Dictator.

Abandoning the quasi-documentary format of his two previous films, this largely-scripted comedy sees Cohen as Admiral General Aladeen, the Gaddafi-esque ruler of an oil-rich Middle-Eastern state. In New York City to deliver a damning speech to the United Nations, he is abducted by the CIA and replaced with a body double in a nod to Saddam Hussein, who was known to have used imposters for his entire family. The fun and games come next as the cruel, racist, sexist and deluded Aladeen is forced to live like a mere commoner in Brooklyn, working in a organic supermarket for Anna Faris’ crusty, feminist shop manager.

Although Faris is a very accomplished comedic actor, her scenes never quite feel like they work. There are a lot of jokes about hippies and feminism, but all of them quite predictable.  Aladeen finds a much stronger comic foil when he enlists the help a former Wadiyan nuclear scientist (Jason Mantzoukas), now living in exile. A veteran of the New York and LA comedy circuits, Mantzoukas’ improvised sections with Baron Cohen are hilarious, going some way to reproducing the red-hot irreverence of Borat. The fact that those scenes are so funny could partially explain why some audiences were disappointed with the final movie. It seems like they had the potential to make a film that had 90 minutes of pure hilarity, but their need to work in a standard movie plot also required some scenes that were less than explosive.

Don’t get us wrong, we liked The Dictator a lot: there are a lot of great laughs and some very memorable scenes. But simply because it’s not as devastatingly funny or outrageous as Borat, it will be considered a bit of a letdown. This is what it means to be a victim of your own success.

For more blinkbox reviews, return to the blinkblog.

Sep 06 2012

Review: The Sweeney

Tag: blinkboxblinkbox @ 8:47 am

Attention female readers! You will hate this movie on account of it not being made for you. You can stop reading this review now, safe in the knowledge that you’ll never see this movie of your own accord.

Okay lads, now that the birds are out of the room: let’s talk Sweeney! It’s only a big screen adaptation of the classic cop show starring your man Ray Winstone and top London rapper Plan B! Now, this ain’t your old man’s cop show: shot in and around East London’s Canary Wharf, writer/director/dreamweaver Nick Love has substituted the grotty boozers of the ancient TV show for the gleaming steel and glass spires of modern London.

They play two members of the Flying Squad (Sweeney Todd/Flying Squad, geddit?), a division of the London Met responsible for nabbing robbers and such. As the movie opens, some bean-counting bureaucrat is threatening to close down the unit: he says he’s ‘unhappy’ with Winstone’s unorthodox methods of police work but he’s probably just annoyed that Raymundo’s sticking it to his missus (Hayley Atwell, woof woof, etc…). But when you’re dealing with The Sweeney, you’re dealing with men who get results, rules and regulations be damned.

So far, this film has garnered some pretty poor reviews from the major broadsheets, accusing Love of presenting an unrealistically macho view of police work. But we’re talking about the REAL London, not the fake one the media wants us to see. In the real world, men don’t observe health and safety standards or respect the chain of command. They do whatever it takes to nick the bad guys, even if it means staging a gun fight in Trafalgar Square that injures/kills dozens of tourists. It’s just a small price to pay for stopping diamond thieves who rob heavily-insured private banks.

Some members of the PC brigade would probably accuse The Sweeney of having ‘a mindlessly misogynistic script’ and ‘brutally outdated worldview’ but those squares don’t understand that nobody wants to see a movie that bothers with things like subtlety or restraint. From the very first minute, The Sweeney’s all like CRASH then SMACK and BIFF and then ’YOU’RE NICKED’!

I know what you’re saying: Hey, I’m a young guy. Why would I want to see some movie about old people based on some TV show my granddad watched? Well, duh: of course you don’t. This is not a movie for old people. Nick Love, who done made the Football Factory and The Firm has put this together just for you, casting popular rapper Plan B as a kid from the streets who’s turned himself into a tough-as-nails super cop. A lot of other actors would’ve played this character big in order to keep up with Winstone’s dinosaur-sized performance, but Ben Drew (that’s Plazzan Bizzle’s real name) portrays George Carter as a strong, silent, man of action — like some sort of Hackney Clint Eastwood.

You know you’re going to love this. It’s got birds, shooters, motors and all the action you could possibly want. If you’re a fan of Nick Love’s meticulously authentic vision of modern Britain, then this is the action movie you deserve.

Rating: Five Screaming Rays