Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Dictator

WRITTEN BY: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer
DIRECTED BY: Larry Charles
STARRING: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley
RATING: 2.5 stars

A lot of people have rubbished The Dictator for being discriminatory, politically incorrect, racist and sexist. To those people, I say, what did you expect? Sacha Baron Cohen has a certain style of offensive humour and with outlandish characters like Borat, Bruno and Ali G, surely we've come to expect the unexpected from him so much so that we've built a resistance wall so that nothing he says can really offend or surprise us any more? If you're not a fan of his style of comedy, then The Dictator certainly won't change your mind and you won't be interested in seeing the film. So, despite not being an especially enthusiastic fan, I'm going to try to provide an honest review of The Dictator for the Cohen fans.

Dedicated to the memory of quintessential dictator Kim Jong Il (a good gag to start the film with) The Dictator tells the story of General Admiral Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen), the dictator of Wadiya, who is developing nuclear weapons. The UN instructs him to address the General Assembly or face war from the rest of the world. So Aladeen and his adviser Tamir (Ben Kingsley) go to New York. But Aladeen is kidnapped and swapped with an impersonator who plans to announce to the UN that Wadiya will become a democracy. So, Aladeen enlists the help of innocent anti-Aladeen protester Zoey (Anna Faris), who doesn't know his true identity, to save his dictatorship.

The first 15 minutes are actually quite entertaining but it all goes pear-shaped after that and there are only a few redeeming scenes that save the film from disaster. I don't want to spoil any of the good or bad moments by describing them to you, suffice to say there is a good September 11 joke (amazing that it actually works), an odd masturbation scene, and a ridiculous child birth scene, to name a few. There is also male and female nudity.

Unfortunately, there are several jokes that fall flat. While there were gasps from the audience at times over the most outlandish moments, others were so unfunny that there was a stone-faced expression from everyone and even some awkwardness. I'm sorry, but there is just no way to make child abuse or rape funny. I am not easily offended. I love racist, sexist and political jokes because they're based on stereotypes and very few people actually conform to those stereotypes, so why not have a laugh at the ridiculousness of it all? Celebrity jokes are also worth a good laugh. But, when it comes to any form of abuse, it is impossible to make it funny.

Cohen is actually a good actor and I prefer seeing him in controlled comedic scenarios where he can shine as a comedian while being reined in by a clever director and without going too far with his jokes. Perfect examples of this are Hugo and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Unfortunately, when he is left to his own devices, Cohen barely stumbles through some awful skits. I'm not sure why Ben Kingsley agreed to be in this film because his character was ridiculous. However, Anna Faris was a shining light. She's one of the best comedic actresses in Hollywood (take a lesson, Jennifer Aniston) and her portrayal of a left-wing, feminist, green-loving hippie is fantastic. There are also a couple of good celebrity cameos.

The Dictator is sure to delight Cohen fans. Just go in with an open mind and remember that it is all a big joke. Please don't leave the cinema carrying racist and sexist opinions.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Dark Shadows

WRITTEN BY: Seth Grahame-Smith
STARRING: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helen Bonham Carter
RATING: 2.5 stars

Johnny Depp and Tim Burton have collaborated on eight films, all of which have been a little (or a lot) left of field in their quirky, dark humour. Some collaborations have been a success (Edward Scissorhands) while others are best forgotten (Corpse Bride). Their latest offering is Dark Shadows, based on the television series from the 60s and 70s. If I can say one very positive thing about the film it's that it is a different kind of vampire film to what we've seen recently. Unfortunately, aside from a few good laughs thanks to Depp, the film lacks a substantive plot and, at almost two hours long, you're left wondering what took so long to get to such a minor point?

Dark Shadows tells the tale of the rich and powerful Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp) who, in 1752, beaks the heart of a witch named Angelique Brouchard (Eva Green). Angelique turns Barnabus into a vampire and buries him alive to suffer for eternity. Two centuries later, in 1972, Barnabas is inadvertently freed. He returns to his beloved Collinwood Manor to find that his estate has been ruined. At the manor, he meets matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) who has called upon psychiatrist Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and nanny Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) to help her nephew who sees the ghost of his mother. Barnabus decides it is time to take revenge on Angelique, who has become an admired town personality, and help the remaining members of his extended family rebuild the family name.

Seth Grahame-Smith has written a script that is all over the place. He introduces us to a character and then forgets about them for 20 minutes and reintroduces them before they mysteriously drop off the radar. It seems there are too many ideas compressed into the script and yet, nothing really happens. It would have been interesting to explore the boy's relationship with his ghost mother and learn more about Elizabeth's daughter too. The characters are seemingly quite complex but they aren't developed enough. Instead, the story is focused on Barnabus, which is fine, but then little happens to him for a film that stretches so long.

Depp is, as always, entertaining and quirky in Dark Shadows. The scenes where his character must adjust to the way of life in 70s is especially good. For a theme that is so overdone in films where the protagonist has been reawaken in the modern world or time travelled, Depp brings a freshness to those awkward adaptation into society scenes. Green also does a great job as the evil, sexy witch. She's fun to watch in all her scenes. Unfortunately, Pfeiffer, who was apparently a fan of the television series, is not at all challenged in this film. However, she does look amazing for a woman in her 50's and it's great to see an older actress who is able to frown! Bonham Carter has unfortunately become so engrossed in her director husband’s style that she doesn't have an opportunity to shine like she should in this film either.

If you're a fan of past Burton/Depp collaborations, then you will like Dark Shadows. I think it is one of the better collaborations between the pair but it is still lacking. Frankly, I'm over this director/actor relationship. What do you think?

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Five-Year Engagement

WRITTEN BY: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller
DIRECTED BY: Nicholas Stoller
STARRING: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Rhys Ifans
RATING: 2.5 stars

I like romantic comedies because they are usually mindless fun. The great thing about them is that they are short and easy to digest. So why would you make a romantic comedy that is more than two hours long? It defeats the purpose of what should be a quick and simple film. The Five-Year Engagement is about 30 minutes too long and, unfortunately, this makes what would otherwise be an enjoyable romantic comedy, almost a waste of time.

After dating for a year, promising chef Tom (Jason Segel) proposes to aspiring academic Violet (Emily Blunt). But when Violet gets a new job that will catapult her career, the couple move states and postpone their wedding for two years. Meanwhile, other family members get married and others pass away. Soon, other aspects of life take over before Tom and Violet realise they have delayed their wedding for five years and may have grown apart.

The first 40 minutes are relatively good and set up an interesting premise. However, the middle drama that drives a wedge in their relationship before the final resolution is just tiresome and boring. It felt like Segel and co-writer/director Nicholas Stoller came up with a bunch of short skits they thought were hilarious and decided to try to squeeze in as many as they could, while only loosely linking them to the plot.

However, for all my criticism of the film, I can't deny that there is some heart to the The Five-Year Engagement. The central theme is that no two people are 100 per cent right for each other, even if they have been happily married for years. The other message is that you should not wait for something better to come along, but seize the love right in front of you. The Five-Year Engagement actually addresses these themes in a couple of effective scenes that add some sparks to the film.

Segel and Blunt, who have been friends for years, also have good chemistry, which helps. They are well supported by predominantly television comedians Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation) and Alison Brie (Community) who manage to steal every scene they are in. Australian actress Jacki Weaver also has a notable small role as Violet's mother, which should help distance her from her Animal Kingdom character for American audiences. Meanwhile, Rhys Ifans is almost unrecognisable as Violet's professor, Winton Childs, though he is not at all a likeable character.

With some stricter editing, I probably would have enjoyed The Five-Year Engagement more. If you're a fan of other Judd Apatow produced films then you will probably enjoy The Five-Year Engagement. If not, you're better off re-watching one of your favourite romantic comedies on DVD.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012


WRITTEN BY: Boaz Yakin
STARRING: Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, Chris Sarandon, Reggie Lee, Robert John Burke
RATING: 2.5 stars

Jason Statham is a special kind of action hero. While Bruce Willis kicked arse in films like Die Hard, he also got his fair share of knocks, bumps, bruises and bleeding injuries. But Statham is more like an intimidating superhero. In fact, despite a few punches, he barely gets a scratch on him during the film. The superheroes in The Avengers were more seriously injured than this "everyday" man. We've come to expect a certain style of revenge-inspired action film from Statham and in Safe that is exactly what we get. The film is full of plot holes and the story itself is far-fetched. Yet, there is so much fun action that audiences could almost forgive the film for being so bad because, while it's technically not a good film, it's so much fun to watch Statham bash and shoot random bad guys.

Luke Wright (Statham) is a disgraced New York policeman, turned cage-fighter. When he fails to take a dive during a fight, costing the Russian Mafia lots of money, they kill his wife and threaten to keep a close eye on him until he cracks. Luke becomes homeless and when he reaches rock bottom, he decides to jump in front of a train. But, before he can commit suicide, he sees a 12-year-old Chinese girl named Mei (Catherine Chan) on the run from the same mobsters. Luke saves Mei and soon realises that she is also wanted by the Chinese Triad, who originally kidnapped her from China, and corrupt police, who Luke used to work with, because Mei has memorised the digits that will open a safe with money and information that everyone wants.

It's an unlikely pairing but I have to admit I quite liked the buddy film idea explored between Statham and Chan's characters. Their chemistry is good and they both have some enjoyable one-liners. Unfortunately, that's the only complimentary thing I can say about the film. Safe could almost be offensive towards the Russians and Chinese, but just when you think "ethnic mobsters" are causing all the trouble, the film shows us that the corrupt police of New York are just as bad. Yeah, because it's always corrupt cops, isn’t it?

As if writer/director Boaz Yakin's formulaic storyline full of plot holes wasn't bad enough, the supporting cast did little to boost my enthusiasm for the film. It's not that they were particularly bad; they were just boring and two-dimensional. None of the characters had any depth from the corrupt captain (Robert John Burke) to the mayor (Chris Sarandon) and even Mei's "adopted father" (Reggie Lee) who should have been far more interesting felt like a caricature.

If you're a Statham fan, I'm sure you'll enjoy Safe. If you're not, this film won't change your mind.