Grindhouse: Death Proof. A washed up stuntman stalks and hunts sexy wimin’ in his ‘death proof’ stunt car. Part of the ‘Grindhouse’ double feature; this is given the ‘aged movie reel’ treatment – with tons of deliberately rough editing, cutting, lo-fi mono audio, scratched film, bad ADR, black/white… to make it feel like you’re watching a 70s film. It gets confusing however when people have mobile phones, and talk about CGI and Red Bull… Also, for whatever reason, this isn’t carried on through the second half of the film – making it seem even more gimmicky than it first appears. It’s ridiculously sweary – even by Tarantino standards – and boasts more leg and bum shots than a Michael Bay outing. The pacing is all over the shop – waiting 50 mins to first Final Destination style deaths, and spending most of the runtime listening to women gossiping and referencing niche pop culture in various cars and bars. For the most part, it’s not really gripping, but the action finale saves the day as stuntwoman Zoe Bell perilously navigates the bonnet of a speeding muscle car with no tricks. Despite only being in a handful of scenes Kurt Russel steals the show as an old-skool senseless maniac. Although Death Proof is a bit of a mess it remains watchable because of Tarantino’s quirks, dialogue, and the fact that you’re never really sure what’s coming up next. Definitely not his finest hour.
Southpaw [minor plot spoilers]: a boxer’s life crumbles when his wife is killed, and he loses everything else he cares about. For a standard beat-down/comeback sports story arc, it feels overly ripe and melodramatic – the ‘Fall’ section of the story takes forever and just gets worse and worse, to the point where it’s becomes borderline comical: losing wife, then fighting licence, then money, then child, then house, then gets a shit job… Because this bit and the token training montages take so long the short-but-more-upbeat ending doesn’t really counterbalance the emotional front end. For a boxing movie we don’t actually get much fighting either; as the focus is on 1-dimensional characters (slimy agent, has-been trainer…) and a well-worn story arc. Although his character’s a simple short-tempered meat-head Gyllenhaal puts in another sterling shift (talk about a hot streak); the rest of the cast are definitely supporting roles. You’ve seen everything in Southpaw before, but with a bit of emotion and some strong storytelling Fuqua and The Weinsteins deliver a solid – if unremarkable – boxing picture.
Out of the Furnace: when his kid brother disappears after getting involved in redneck bare-knuckle boxing, his stoic brother takes the law into his own hands. The acting is nothing short of stupendous; everyone is in full on beast mode; although Casey Affleck does his trademark mumbling incoherency shtick – which is becoming pretty tiresome / irksome. Despite the array of colossal performances topped by Bale and Harrelson, the film is completely marred by a time-bendingly-slow pace, which makes it seem like a 4-hour affair. It’d be like watching Aryton Senna do a Formula 1 circuit in on a mobility scooter. When you’re filling an already lengthy movie with unnecessarily long aerial takes of a car driving through woods, and a time-consuming barely relevant sub-plots (like drink driving) – your editor needs to take a running jump. As the buildup to the finale is so agonisingly drawn out, the end – although satisfying – is ultimately underwhelming. Despite being a more grim version of the boxing sub-plot from Snatch, this it’s a gritty portrayal of a broken American steeltown community in decline. A very Eastwoodian sleeper, but only because it makes you want to sleep…
Happy Endings (aka Winter Passing): when a struggling actress is offered some quick cash for her famous mother and father’s early love letters, she goes back home to weigh up her choices. First-off, this is Ms Deschanel being quirky and indie to the max: the movie opens with her singing at the 2 minute mark, and playing the piano within 15 mins so be prepared for full-on mopey, morose and tedious Zooey. It’s not just her though, every character is defined by their quirks and eccentricities, which makes them all memorable, but annoyingly the film ends up containing more randomness than a green flamingo in a roller-skate carrying a backpack full of iguana-flavoured blancmange. Don’t be fooled though, there’s some good moments of acting in here, particularly Ed Harris and Will Ferrel, who both go beyond their stereotyping and comfort zones. If you love a bit of shoe-gazing solemn quirkiness this will be right up your trendy street.
Cheer up goth!
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger: shows two married couples and what happens when infidelity and ‘real life’ takes over. It’s starting to feel a bit like Woody Allen only has one story, and he just changes the
locations, names and occupations of his characters. Once again, the focus is on some ridiculously beautiful, artistic, troubled and self-obsessed middle class people that are quite hard to empathise with. This one struggles, trying to juggle far too many characters and flesh out each of their stories: the divorced female wreck, mid-life crisis pensioner, wife seeking family, disillusioned writer, art gallery owner, exotic love interest, blonde bimbo… As we expect from Allen, there’s some sporadic narration by the most Jewish voice ever, a really adorable ragtime old-fashioned score, and a whimsical / romanticised vibe – although I spent over half of the time shouting in my head “THIS IS NOT LONDON!!” There are some really nice touches; great lines hidden among the script, proper belly laughs and the odd comedy character – like the charlatan. It is enjoyable, but not much more. Don’t get me wrong, I like Allen but he’s been doing this schtick for far too long now.