About Jack Clark

Newcastle, England, United Kingdom

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Other Guys is a Will Ferrell highlight

Will Ferrell has appeared in countless Hollywood comedies, managing to put his own stamp on them every time. Whether he is the star, in films like 2004's 'Anchorman' and 'Elf' in 2003, or takes up a role less seen than that of the lead actor, such as Ben Stiller's hilarious 'Zoolander' from 2001; Ferrell can consistently be seen in films that are substantially better than they look on paper. 'Elf' shouldn't theoretically have been as good as it was, it was a children's film with a  ridiculous storyline, but subtracting the sickening ending, Ferrell persuades you to accept it, and it pays off. His touch made it a film that, if marketed away from children completely, would not have made any less of an impression. 'Zoolander' had a similar feel to it; when word spread about a comedy written and directed by Ben Stiller about a male model, I wasn't looking forward to it. However, the film turned out to be an end product that I have gone back to watch numerous times since, and Ferrell's input can be felt throughout.
     The success of these films could be attributed to others, such as the legend that is James Caan as Ferrell's father in 'Elf', or the occassional appearance of Jack Black's bandmate Kyle Gass. Also, 'Zoolander' is packed with actors who frequently work together, such as Vince Vaughn and Stiller's now wife Christine Taylor,  who worked closely with Stiller on the set of 'Dodgeball'. Also of note are Owen Wilson, who can be seen alongside Stiller in projects such as the 'Meet The Parents' series as well as the 'Night At The Museum' films. Christopher Walken can be seen in 'Zoolander', who later worked alongside Ferrell himself in the film 'Blades Of Glory' in 2007. Although the films are full of such big names, and close casts, Ferrell's fingerprints are all over them, and it has to be said that for comedies that shouldn't have worked, his recent role in 'The Other Guys' definitely follows suit. Ferrell once again turns a Hollywood role into an oppurtunity for alternative comedy, a move that becomes the maker of an unusually hilarious film.
     From the opening scene, 'The Other Guys' sets itself out as a police action film. There are an impressive few scenes with NYPD partners Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson chasing criminals through New York streets, which is satisfying to see Jackson in a role that is frequent for him, the weapon-packed and loud-mouthed police officer, and which he is clearly experienced at. In a clever move, the impression of an action thriller is smashed, and Jackson makes it clear that he can play jokes on his own career, in one move, as the cocky Jackson and Johnson fall to their unexpected deaths. If Sam Jackson works effectively as an arrogant police officer, then I see no reason why he shouldn't play one here, and I was left satisfied by the decision to show that he knows it. Their death is a dose of humour in a way that's not usual to Jackson, and done by anyone else would have seemed farcical and pointless, but it was a way to poke fun at his film tradition, and left me feeling satisfied. It also went some of the way to redeeming Johnson for his recent spell of children's films, as it was obviously a great decision to be a part of a scene like that.
     So into their shoes step Ferrell and his partner Mark Wahlberg. Similar to Jackson, Wahlberg was hilarious and refreshing to see in a comedy like this. Again in the same style as Samuel L. Jackson, Wahlberg has had a successful career in Hollywood police movies, Martin Scorseze's 'The Departed' being a high point in 2006. Wahlberg plays a police detective who becomes depressed with not being called out of the office for duty anymore, and without wanting to say anything bad about his impressive film history, it's unignorably an amusing role to see a police film veteran such as himself in.
     Regrettably not contributing many of his own material, as he isn't allowed many lines in the film, British actor Steve Coogan helps Ferrell to add a touch of alternative comedy to the film. With a well-known stand-up career in Britain, and as writer and star of the timelessly funny 'I'm Alan Partridge' television series, it has been long-awaited that he could gain an international audience. He has worked on occassional international films, such as the recent children's hits 'Percy Jackson' and, again, the 'Night At The Museum' series, but I hope this recent accomplishment alongside Will Ferrell will help him to be seen on the international stage as the alternative comedian he is known as in Britain.
     In 'The Other Guys', there are even jokes that I haven't seen done before; in a lot of Hollywood comedies, you can see lines reworked between films, but here there is fresh writing from Adam Mckay, who also had writing credits on Will Ferrell films such as 'Anchorman' and 'Talladega Nights' in 2006. From everyone involved, the film is hilarious in ways that are new and exciting, and should be remembered as a highlight of many careers in the film. I would recommend it and would say it is up to the standards of past films such as 'Anchorman' and 'Zoolander' themselves.

Friday, 27 August 2010

'Piranha 3D' sinks when it simply fails to scare

There is one aim for a successful horror film; to be scary. A horror film presents you with a whole new thrill of watching a film, with other genres you could laugh or you could cry, and of course a film that makes the audience want to do either, or more, is very effective, but to feel scared is a completely different range of emotions. A horror film in my view sets itself apart from other films, because it is a huge step away from feeling happy for the characters or from feeling sad for the characters when it is you as yourself that is feeling threatened. To personally threaten someone watching a film, or to make them feel uneasy or uncomfortable, is an amazing skill in a filmmaker, and pays off to huge results; the adrenaline rush from feeling scared simply can't be given by any other genre.
     The fact that it is so skillful to create a truly scary film is one that many overlook when making a film; there is a tendancy to produce an essentially formulaic end product, using a frequently-used, and therefore predictable, set of ingredients. I don't by any means want to say that these films aren't effective at giving the scares that we want as viewers. Some of the greatest horror films use this technique, from the likes of 'Psycho' as early as 1960, to recent cult horrors such as 'The Descent' and 'Drag Me To Hell' in 2005 and 2009 respectively. Overall, if a horror has honestly scared you then it has been a success.
     One of the key aspects of this formula is to spend the first half of the film building the atmosphere, and this was done extremely well in 'Piranha 3D'. The characters had started meeting each other, of course unaware of what was to come later in the film, the setting had been established, and there was enough discreetly strange events and suggestively dangerous camera angles to create a satisfying sense of building tension.
     Another key ingredient that is frequently used is to make the viewer think they are about to be scared, and then to let the built atmosphere drop, as it turns out that it was an innocent series of events after all. It was usually the cat. This puts you into a feeling of insecurity, and therefore a sense of vulnerability about yourself. The makers can play on this later when something scary really does happen, and hopefully it has been the cat so many times that this time you're tricked into an opposite feeling of security, and it's not the cat this time. It was the killer. And you get the biggest fright so far in the film. This is also used throughout the first half of the film, so much so that I really felt like the rest of the film would be really effectively scary. There had been no darkness, and in my experience darkness really plays on that insecurity, but I got the impression there would be some later in the film. It had followed the formula so far, why would it stop?
     I don't know why it stopped sticking to the formula, but everywhere the film hadn't quite succeeded in the first half, mostly the obvious lack of darkness and ridiculous explanation of events, was exactly where it focussed in the second half. I would have huge amounts of respect for a film that strays from the norm, and bucks tradition, if it pays off in the scare stakes, but 'Piranha 3D' simply didn't. The film really lost all sense of horror when the explanation was provided, which was so ridiculous that it just wasn't scary anymore. A film has to have some sense of realism, some sense of 'oh my god it could actually happen to me', or it is not scary at all. You can't help completely stopping to empathise with the characters in the slightest, and that is precisely what happened in 'Piranha 3D'.
     The quotation everybody uses when talking about horror films is that the best make you 'afraid of fear itself', or that it's scariest when you 'don't even know what you're scared of', which is why it's such a good idea to use darkness. However, the entirity of the film was set in complete sunshine, in the clearest water the location scouts could find. This makes you wonder if the makers of this film were even intending to scare you in th second half. If they didn't want to, then they wouldn't have used prehistoric man-eating piranhas, or amounts of blood to make the 'Saw' series jealous, so what you're forced to conclude is that it was a horror that failed in trying to scare.
     Where the film doesn't fail, though, is being a spring break-themed teen film. There are countless instances of nudity, in certain areas full-body nudity (cleverly no camera angles compromising enough to class the film as hardcore) and solely consists of drinking, dancing, swimming, and not a T-shirt in sight. Until the piranhas show their ugly faces. Then it's just a lot of dying. So, until the piranhas are introduced, the film is ideal for it's audience. It's actually impressive at creating a party atmosphere even before the first opening credit.
     Another thing I was pleased to see was Christopher Lloyd, or Dr. Brown from 1985's science fiction classic 'Back To The Future', an essential part of my childhood. Joining him as someone else who I thought must surely be dead was 'Kojak', credited instead as Ving Rhames. I have seen him since, in the epitamy of action films, 'Con Air', in 1997, and one of my favourite films of all time, Tarrantino's 'Pulp Fiction' in 1995. Of course it was nice to be reunited with these faces in a film, but I was let down by what an un-scary horror film they'd both signed up for.
     This became my sentiment for the entire film, I can see how effective it was at creating that college party vibe, and it was pleasure in itself to once again see Rhames and Lloyd, but my approval couldn't be gained for it as a film because it was so obviously a horror film that wasn't scary.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World has trouble adapting to film... it's lucky Michael Cera and Edgar Wright are at hand

On first hearing about the film, I thought the hilarious Edgar Wright would be a fascinating director to work with Michael Cera, who has built quite a cult career for himself playing nervous teens, since his introduction to the international media in 2007's 'Superbad'. Edgar Wright has a particular style that can be noted from past accomplishments such as 'Shaun Of The Dead', the frustratingly similar 'Hot Fuzz', and the hilarious classic TV series 'Spaced'. This style can be easily seen within 'Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World', and certainly lends itself fantastically well to a graphic novel adaptation. An aspect of Wright's direcorial style is scattering pieces of story, certain phrases or objects, that slowly work together to create a very satisfying friendly touch, making the film conclude as a successful whole; this was used in 'Shaun Of The Dead' in 2004, making it one of the best British comedies of the last ten years. Not only was this used to impressive effect this time round, playing on the novel's themes, but pairs with the film's dream-like state of switching seemlessly and confusingly between locations and conversations as we follow the protagonist, Scott Pilgrim.
     It was an asset to have a director such as Wright at hand when making this film, as the story was clearly farcical, and had a tendancy to stray over the line between uncomfortable and unwatchable during the climax, even under Wright's watchful eye; it can easily be said that in less capable hands, this would have happened destructively more often. The story from Bryan Lee O'Malley was flawed from the beginning, a story that worked in graphic novel form wouldn't necessarily work as a film. The filmmakers made a good job of adapting the story, using original graphics from the series, and even seemed self-aware at times, which only added to the comedy of the end product. The team behind the film have to be commended on working the story into film, and when all is said about the fatalities involved with adapting the story to film, it's clear that Wright's move to Hollywood, and higher budgets, is a seemless transition. His input is defined, and the film is clearly his own, but allthewhile works perfectly with international names like Cera and 'Up In The Air' support Anna Kendrick.
     Something else that let the film down when adapting it was the casting of Michael Cera. I don't think that he gave a bad performance by any means, but with such a history of films in his background, Cera is experienced at playing the nervous teen, and of course it shows; 'Superbad', 'Juno', 'Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist' and 'Youth In Revolt', among others, range from 2007 to 2009, and in what feels already like a whole career, Cera has perfected mannerisms and characteristics that are trademark to him. There are scatterings of these within 'Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World', but at the same time as being the funniest lines in the film, they made it hard to see him as anything other than who he's been in films before. He just wasn't believable as a grunge guitarist who the seventeen-year-old character Knives looks up to.
     In fact, Cera's performance was great in his own right, a fact that was not let down by the wrong decision to cast him, and this was equalled, if not overshadowed, by the inclusion of Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the role of Ramona, and I look forward to her roles in the future. Also making a welcomed appearance was Anna Kendrick, the award-winning supporting actress from 'Up In The Air', who is also a name from the set of the undeniably, and annoyingly, successful Twilight saga. For such a fatal story, the cast and whole team behind the film handle it in a way that has trouble translating to screen, but the personal touches from all involved makes it a film to note, and hopefully a step to bigger things for everyone.