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Loud; chaotic and only periodically funny, "The Hangover" bets big but cannot cash out., 11 August 2017

Do not expect to see anything 'new' in "The Hangover", which is played for good, old-fashioned bawdy belly laughs. It has no real plot, although is very easy to pitch; possesses very little in the way of characterisation, although lots of people are frequently coming and going from the frame, and on top of everything else, does not seem to have a single thing to say on any particular issue whatsoever. We have already experienced quite a lot of what transpires here in an "American Pie" film, or some such other contemporary comedy about adults who should know better. Cameos by famous boxers and maybe a liberal use of various pop songs aside, there is very little actually going on.

Justin Bartha plays Doug, who is about to be married to Tracy (Barrese), in what promises to be a lavish Californian wedding between two people very much in love. In the opening scene, Doug and his brother-in-law to-be Alan (Galifianakis) are sizing up their wedding day apparel: Doug is shaven, handsome, has a good build and looks smart – he's worn suits in the past and he'll wear them again. Alan, by comparison, is flabby; unshaven and childlike – we do not sense he has ever worn a suit in his life, nor that he has ever had many friends.

Ahead of these two men, and before the wedding, is a trip to the Nevada city of Las Vegas, which they are lining up with two more of Doug's friends so as to provide the husband-to-be with a final night of bachelor driven fun and frolics. Of these two men, one is Bradley Cooper's Phil, whom we do not believe for one second is a teacher, while the other is Stuart (Helms), whom we do believe is a dentist and might possess a nice house in a good part of town with a sensible girlfriend who espouses conservative views on gambling and prostitution.

Discounting Alan, who is now family and present by default, we are unconvinced that each of these three men would really meet one another in life and hit it off to the extent they would entrust one another on a booze-cruise to Vegas. The film is not especially interested in who any of these people really are or what they think, just that Phil is very bohemian and aggressive; Stu is ultra-defensive due to a white-lie he has told his partner about going in the first place; Doug seems to be a kind of 'glue' which keeps everything from falling apart and that Alan is a little retarded.

Once in Las Vegas, the night out gives way to a morning after characterised by a wrecked hotel room and a total lack of memory of what happened. The major problem is that Doug did not wake up in the hotel suite with them. Consumed with panic, the three take to the daytime streets of Vegas on whatever meagre clues they have as they frantically try to piece together just what it was they did last night.

The set up allows the film to 'drop' various things on us which we might not otherwise find funny, such as a police car matching their valet ticket; two gangsters popping out of nowhere with baseball bats ready to do serious damage and a nude gentleman jumping out of a car boot. Other films would need to depict why these things are as they are, and would thus lose a lot of impact.

"The Hangover" is not without one or two genuine laughs, with the very sudden homage to "Rain Man" being one of them and a very amusing scene of confusion whereby an exchange with some unruly gangsters returns the 'wrong' Doug. Yet the overriding item permeating throughout is the strange sense of disassociation we feel as Phil; Alan and Stuart charge around various hotspots looking for the groom while essentially trying to save their own skins from various wives and in-laws finding out: Do we care if they find Doug, or that he gets to the wedding? Who is anybody in this film anyway? Why does any of this even matter in the first place?

Prior to their losing him, care is taken to set up a series of items which exist to then later be knocked down: Stuart's girlfriend, Melissa, hates Las Vegas and thinks he's gone to a winery; the gang's mode of transportation is an antique silver Mercedes lent to Doug by his fiancé's father, while Stuart's ring belonged to his grandmother, who survived Hitler's Final Solution. Are we surprised, or even amused, when any of these delicately poised things become tarnished or threatened by the chaos which begins to unfold around our leads?

The Hangover's director is Todd Phillips, who wrote 2006's "Borat" and before that directed "Road Trip". He later made "Due Date" in 2010, and "The Hangover" very much falls into line with that 'Phillips-ian' road movie-comedy-perpetual chaos 'aesthetic' which he seems to enjoy penning and making. "Borat" was often very funny because of the outlandishness of the central character and what he had to say to real people in real situations. "Road Trip" was about someone who had to learn to appreciate what he had, while "Due Date" depicted somebody learning to accept those different to him.

"The Hangover" isn't really about anything or anyone. Its opening montage of Vegas set to the gloomy tones of Bill Withers, followed by a shot of the four roadside and looking pretty desperate, seem to set something up on the nature of Vegas, but by the end the consensus seems to be that it's a pretty darned great place to go and that pole dancers make for better wives than conservatives. Once it's finished, we have seen a series of moderately unfunny scenes of no real order or coherence; have laughed maybe twice and been offended at least once. Skipping this particular Hangover is advisable.

Gravity (2013)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Trite and overrated, although not totally lacking merit - Gravity is ultimately disappointing., 29 July 2017

I think "Gravity" must be the first ever instance of a screensaver being re-calibrated and re-packaged as a cinematic experience. It's all well and good demonstrating what the latest and greatest in special effects is capable of, but of what use is it without a scrap of substance to back it up? Rebellious though it may sound, films such as "Gravity" are neither enhancing nor prolonging cinema, in fact they are killing it and if there is a genuine zeitgeist amongst audiences that this is the future then cinema has very little future to look forward to.

"Gravity" opens with a blank screen followed by a series of ultimately pointless statistics pertaining to the nature of the space vacuum. Its temperatures, we're told, "…fluctuate between minus 148 and positive 258". "Sound…" it says "…is unable travel" So what? To what is this any reference? Where is this relevant later on? We then begin with a startling composition of the lower hemisphere of Earth from outer space - our eyes are distracted by the land mass to the left of the frame as it slowly comes to form due to the Earth's rotating, failing to notice the object which sails into our eye-line from the hard right of the screen.

Lo-and-behold, it is the Hubble Telescope, and we meet our characters in the midst of spacewalking their way to upgrading said telescope. One of them is Matt Kowalski, played by George Clooney - a Texan stereotype with a brash attitude; a love of old cars, country music and a backstory that saw his ex-wife leave him 20 years ago. His opposite number is Sandra Bullock's Ryan Stone, a comparative rookie; a woman who doesn't really belong in space, whose past tragedy is her young daughter's recent death and who seems to be perpetually nervous when compared to Kowalski's bombing around confidently on a jetpack.

Disaster strikes when, out of nowhere, debris from an exploded satellite that has collided with a second satellite sends a glut of space junk the way of our leads. There is some clumsy propaganda about it being the fault of the Russian Federation, but this all acts as the catalyst for Cuarón's feature to turn into a mad dash for the sanctuary of a working spaceship, and then home, as the methodical Kowalski and the unhinged rookie Stone grapple with both one another and the elements.

Understanding why "Gravity" has done so well and received a lot of praise is at once both baffling and painstakingly obvious. It is an incredibly simplistic film - people take to it because of its linear nature; easy causality and the not having to follow any kind of narrative. Much in the same way crowds took to James Cameron's "Avatar" for similar reasons, the special effects play their role in hooking people in. It is also the case a character you expect to be around by the end is removed from the piece very early on, which I think has stunned people into thinking they've seen something of greater substance because they've not previously seen it happen.

The film essentially consists of a string of action set pieces told from the constrained perspective of those involved as they dodge a series of life threatening near-misses. Some of these are born out of the chance event of the space debris flying their way; others rely on the more convoluted occurrence of an onboard fire. Limited air supply also acts as a rudimentary source of drama. These set pieces might well happen in any order and be of any length of time. There is a heavy reliance on imagery and visuals; a complete lack of story and an all but total lack of complexity.

The film's apparent core strength, that of a strong female lead in Bullock's character, raises further questions. She has short hair; a boy's name (Ryan - something the film bothers to bring to our attention when Kowalski mentions it) and gets to fulfill the role of an astronaut - a job otherwise synonymous with men. She is androgynous in this respect, but it is Alan Evans writing for 'The Guardian' who points out that she needs either chance or other men to rescue her from every situation - rarely does she use her own ingenuity and, indeed, spends most of the film a gibbering wreck. The over-not to mention needless-use of shots of her dressed in her underwear when not in a space-suit is equally perplexing.

I accept, on the one hand, the majesty of the special effects and their ability to bring planet Earth to life as this rotating orb of blue ocean; white cloud cover and green land mass, as we float around in the space vacuum. In terms of characterisation, Cuarón seems to want to tell a story about somebody dealing with grief; discovering that life carries on and coming to want to grab it by the horns again, and this is admirable - but it gets lost. I note with deference as to how small and insignificant the film seems to want to tell us we really are in the grand scheme of things: Earth; Space; the Universe, etc.

And yet, the film is piecemeal and ultimately a little underwhelming - dare I say even dull? People have mistaken well-worn disaster movie genre tropes for top-level art because it had a shiny surface, or because they felt like they were able to reach out and touch it, or something. If enough people get it into their heads that this is the future of film-making or what constitutes a cinematic experience, then there will not be much of a future to look forward to.

Imperium (2016)
Though far from impervious, Imperium is about able to pack a white-power punch., 29 July 2017

Politics in the United States of America beyond the right of the Republican Party is a fairly murky pool – it seems you do not have to journey too far for too long before you at least arrive at a very basic form of fascism. "Imperium" is a film which dares to depict these circles – the ones you end up venturing into when you plough through the barriers of what might constitute plain-old-regular conservatism: when you've passed the place on the spectrum occupied by people possessing an allergy to abortion; a love of the Christian God and a good rifle collection and arrived at straw swastikas; Confederate flags; Nazi salutes and One World Government conspiracy theories.

I think this is ultimately down to the fact there is no such thing as American 'nationalism', so one does not need to go too far beyond the constraints of standard Roman Catholic/Christian/Mormon inflected right-of-centre conservatism (epitomised, perhaps, by George W. Bush or Mitt Romney in America in recent years) before one hits the brick wall of out-and-out hatred. This derives from two things: America, unlike European and Asian nations, lacks a physical national identity - an accepted national dress code; a national cuisine; a common language or religion. It opts, instead, for metaphysical things to determine its identity - things such as a love of freedom or faith in democracy. The point being that one can be of any racial denomination and from anywhere to share these beliefs.

Secondly, the USA never had to stare down the armies of Hitler in the way Britain did, nor suffer occupation like the French; the Dutch and everyone else had to. Because there was no direct Nazi threat to them in the 1940's, Americans appear less sceptical to picking up the torch of Hitler's ideology and running with when compared to Europeans. There are plenty of European politicians and parties who are accused of doing this, but a moment's thought should figure out that they often are not actually those types of people.

As for the film itself, "Imperium" is a perfectly workable thriller, which cracks along at a satisfying pace and never over-complicates what it's trying to do so much that you become lost in a maze-like narrative. It is fairly televisual and plays out its dynamic of 'cops' vs. 'racists' in a standard heroes and villains manner.

It is English actor Daniel Radcliffe, who is actually part Jewish and is on record as to having supported the British Labour Party, playing Nate Foster who leads the film - an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As a character, Foster appears shorter than the other agents in the bureau and a little geekier – he's bespectacled and listens to classical music. When he is given his brief in a local diner by the perpetually gum-chewing Agent Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette), he appears to have ordered a glass of wine rather than the standard beer or whisky. He is picked on at work and scorned for his "pipsqueak, ivy league" intellectualism. The film's overall arc in many ways is about Foster winning their respect.

Zamparo's said brief is the suggestion that Foster go undercover in order to infiltrate a skinhead gang with ties to wider neo-fascist movements – this is in the wake of the bureau discovering chemicals frequently used in terrorist attacks that could only have come from Africa in a recent road-traffic accident. You can, meanwhile, literally hear the clunking as there is the suggestion the chemicals might not have anything to do with an Islamic Terror cell, but a White Supremacist one. An amusing aside derives from Foster's way into the group: a fake story based on serving in Iraq and becoming inherently disillusioned with the direction America is going. This is despite the fact it not being very long prior to this that Johnny Rebel was singing "F... You" to Osama bin Laden in the wake of 9/11 and banging the drum for war in the Middle East while he did it.

It is to Daniel Ragussis' credit that he spins out a thriller as engaging as "Imperium" is, although it is not without its problems. The film is spearheaded not by any fantastic narrative or character study, but by a Daniel Radcliffe performance which demands credible fascist world outlooks on some occasions; inflexible fear on others and sheer terror at the worst of times as suspicions arise around him. Both actor and director combine well to convey the numerous dread-infused situations whereby Foster's otherwise liberal individual is forced to confront people most certainly not of his political persuasion under the pretence of solidarity. Similarly, the decision to unfold the film in such a way so that tremendous harm appears in the least likely of moments and vice-versa is incredibly satisfying. In spite of everything flimsy about the film, "Imperium" is worth catching up with.

Excruciating fight scenes; painful product placement and a central joke revolving around going to the bathroom, Demolition Man is worth avoiding., 29 July 2017

A measure of how bad "Demolition Man" is lies in the fact the IMDb's trivia pages inform me that both Steven Seagal AND Jean-Claude Van Damme turned the film down. The reason? We may never know, but Marco Brambilla's film certainly has that 'numbing' quality and sense of overuse of action which would not have been out of place in a feature starring the aforementioned stars. I think it would be wrong to say that there lies not an interesting idea at the epicentre of "Demolition Man", but anyone would be damned if they admit to what the final product resembles is the best way to go about executing it.

Sylvester Stallone plays John Spartan, an all-action police officer in the LAPD occupying a dystopian then-future set in accordance to the film's 1993 release. Crime, despite the law now essentially coming to resemble what some armies around the world might look like, is overrunning the city to the extent that the "Hollywood" sign is permanently alight. Perhaps there is a hidden subtext to this dramatic opening vista. Perhaps not. Filmed in the aftermath of the riots which were induced post-Rodney King fiasco, buildings are ruined; gunfire sprays up from the ground at patrol choppers and rubble often dominates the ground.

For reasons unexplained, Spartan is hunting a stock psychopath in the form of Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes), who this time has overrun a building with a gang of thugs and is holding some hostages he intends on killing. We sense the two share a backstory, in the mould of Batman and The Joker, but it is never clear. Phoenix is not an especially interesting villain – his reasoning for what he does seems to be to merely invoke chaos at a time when all law and civility has broken down. Spartan eventually apprehends his man, but the police force denigrates him for his blasé approach which leads to the building blowing up and the hostages dying.

Consequently, Spartan is frozen in ice, without being killed, so that he may be thawed and possibly paroled at a future date. This should strike us as strange for the fact much of what lies behind a prisoner being granted parole in the first place is good prison behaviour. Frozen in a block of ice, of course, negates this. However, he is thawed prematurely in 2032 when Phoenix escapes the very same prison (why Snipes' character was not given the death penalty, we do not know) and goes on a rampage for reasons which later become clearer. Spartan is charged with initially trying to put a stop to the violence and terror Phoenix is now unleashing.

The entire premise is mostly an excuse to have Snipes and Stallone duke it out in a variety of locations using their fists and an array of exotic weaponry not limited to: Kalashnikov rifles; sawn off shotguns; futuristic laser-blaster guns and, on one especially silly occasion, a Napoleonic era canon. But in a post-"Terminator 2: Judgment Day" era, the hand to hand combat is not up to standard while the action sequences themselves are rapid and unmoving.

More interesting is the world into which they are thawed, namely a future very much removed from the era they came from: a dreamy, gooey, wide-eyed Utopia stuck in a strange place on the political spectrum between liberalism and conservatism, and one which is now free of violence and anything which was once considered harmful to society – things not limited to: spicy food; sugar; cigarettes; sex and kissing. The pioneer of this world is Raymond Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne), who despite being a political visionary, is not adept enough to guard his own well-being following the bringing of other pre-frozen criminals into the new future.

Also in the future is Sandra Bullock's existing police officer Lenina Huxley, whose character arc blunders onto the screen when she whines about the lack of crime in the city: "I want some action!" she moans. She'll get it eventually, although is curiously absent during the film's climax when her catharsis of really learning about violence should have happened.

The film is a mostly weak exercise. Very little is made of the fact Spartan lost his wife in the interim of being frozen and then thawed and it is not satisfyingly tied in with his newfound fondness for Bullock. Can we remember, by the end, that he was even married? Similarly, the roots of Stallone's character are flaccid – he is seemingly responsible for the deaths of dozens of hostages in the beginning, but maintains this gung-ho approach again in the future when granted the opportunity to go after Phoenix again. Despite craving violence early on, and having experienced what she experiences, what does Bullock's character learn about anything?

By the end, when certain twists and turns have played out, we think we've seen something more interesting than we actually have, while the film's heavy reliance on elements from works such as Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" has the film feel loftier than it actually is. The film's insistence on bombarding us with product placement in-between its actions sequences becomes ingratiating, with no fewer than Taco Bell; Armour Hotdogs and Marlboro getting in on the act becomes insulting. Meanwhile, somewhat central to the film is a joke about seashells and going to the bathroom... When all is said and done, "Demolition Man" is a mostly empty, numbing experience.

Killer Joe (2011)
Winner winner, chicken dinner, 26 June 2017

There is much to admire in "Killer Joe", a film which depicts a number of characters ill-suited to their predicament slowly, yet surely, tightening the noose they only discover to be around their necks in the first place by the time it's too late. It is several things: a very funny black comedy; an engrossing stripped down drama portraying a family in a way that, if it was British, you would describe as "kitchen sink"; a mobster movie; a coming of age story... There are many places wherein it feels like a Jim Thompson novel, or at least an adaptation of one of his novels.

Fittingly, the film opens with a bang, and then does not really let up. Lightning cracks across a Texan sky and rain pummels down; a young man by the name of Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) arrives at his father's trailer in the dead of night and demands everyone wake up to let him in. He's in trouble - owing a local drug cartel $5,000 because his mother, divorced from his father and living separately, lost him the cocaine he was holding for them. His father's new wife, and the little sister they have custody of named Dottie (Juno Temple), are the epitome of dysfunctional – they shout; argue and bicker. Sharla (Gina Gershon) even answers the door nude from the waist down and it is revealed through quick-fire dialogue that Chris once beat his mother up.

At this crucial juncture, director William Friedkin very subtly introduces the aforementioned Dottie – somebody very physically cut off from the ensuing argumentative chaos unfolding next door. She is younger, more child-like. She has fridge magnets glued to her bedroom door which spell out her name and sleeps in a room decked out with stuffed animals clutching a cutesy snow globe. In a town of hicks; rednecks; lowlifes; loose women and grizzled men, Dottie is a photogenic blonde with an ample figure and a girlish allure. Temple plays the role in such a way that she is temptress without striking us as being some who necessarily knows what that is – her performance is subtle smiles and happy faces; snappy, friendly backchat which neither means nor infers any offence.

Strapped for ideas, Chris suggests the family have his and Dottie's mother – his father's ex-wife – killed. The reason? She has a $50,000 life insurance payout in Dottie's name. This would take care of Chris' money problems and it would eradicate a member of the public who has been a thorn in the sides of everyone else. When Dottie was a baby, for instance, she tried to suffocate her with a pillow.

The vehicle through which to make this a reality is the titular "Killer" Joe Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, who has come a long way from when would be ridiculed by the British press as "Matthew Mahogany" for yet another feature in the mould of "Failure to Launch" or "Fool's Gold". Joe is a local law enforcer in the city of Dallas, but his real paycheques seem to come from his moonlighting as a hit-man. He is both refined and calm – he's a professional dealing with amateurs and possesses his own series of principals and regulations to do with his work. Contrarily, we do not sense the Smith family have ever had a principal between them their whole lives. They meet in a disused games outlet where pool tables lie wrecked and pinball machines beyond repair – what follows will essentially come to form a series of very dangerous games, of both mind and body, involving these two parties.

Friedkin does not hold back in "Killer Joe" – within the first ten minutes, we have had presented to us blunt female nudity from both the waist up AND down. It is often an extraordinarily violent film in places, but the very distinct atmosphere of calm and method which dominates proceedings I think merely accentuates the violence. The film somewhat effortlessly combines the best of what Tarantino and the Coens were doing around twenty years ago with the manner about which Billy Wilder's very slowly cooks the situation in his 1944 feature "Double Indemnity", wherein characters are allowed to come and go on the issue of ending somebody else's life for an insurance payout before snowballing into further trouble once the murder has actually happened. There is plenty to recommend in "Killer Joe".

0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
More lacking beneath the surface of explosions and gunfire than I remember, but still very much worth a watch., 13 April 2017

The story goes that the inspiration behind the idea of the Terminator films derives from a bout of illness its creator, James Cameron, had whilst working on a previous project that had tumbled into being a bit of a creative nightmare. Frantically trying to piece what turned out to be "Piranha: The Spawning" together in an edit lab against a ticking clock, Cameron became run down by something which gave him all sorts of unpleasant dreams about indestructible robots chasing him; his life being in mortal danger and nobody believing him.

It is perhaps the nightmarish quality of "The Terminator" which really allows it to stand out. Let us not mince our words, here – Cameron essentially hopped from one exploitation feature to another in making it. Everything that needs to be present for an effective Z-movie is present: the gore; the action; the nudity; the causality and the lack of a plot. That is not to be rude to the IDEA, which is wonderful - a robot killing machine is sent back in time to assassinate the mother of a brave resistance leader, who is proving to be a thorn in the side of the metal maniacs in their attempts to wipe out every last human-being. One of Cameron's characters even pokes fun at the premise, describing what the robot is attempting to do as a kind of "retroactive abortion". It is, however, little more than a cue for all-out mayhem across the urban sprawl of Los Angeles.

We have all read the essays and digested the feminist theory which revolves around the character of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) enough times by now for anybody to need to rehash it here. Put simply, Connor is the aforementioned target – the protagonist who learns of her destiny and is taken from being your generic bimbo, and a useless waitress, to a brave soldier. Later theory would revolve around Connor and the Terminator character transgressing their respective roles in the sequel, which had the 'killer' robot being reprogrammed to become a mother/guardian figure and Hamilton's character tooling up to wipe out a defenceless anomaly (Miles Bennett Dyson) for being something they were not even privy to.

Chasing Connor here is Arnold Schwarzenegger's titular Terminator: a metal exoskeleton operating underneath living flesh tissue and impervious to the pathetic weaponry of the 1980's, while also sent back is one of the future humans' top fieldsmen in Kyle Reece (Michael Biehn). One of the most endearing things about watching the film now, I suppose, is that each are playing the roles they are most famous for. The opening exchanges, as both time-travellers adapt to their surroundings; tools up to take the other on and go about hunting down Sarah, are good value. We witness The Terminator dealing with three rough-shot punks upon arrival with the simplest of ease, while Reece is depicted as actually having to run away and hide when the police pick up on his otherworldly arrival. Cameron's goal is fairly obvious: the odds are stacked against the good guys.

What follows is by no means 'bad', but it is remarkable as to how quickly the film settles into a causality driven process of action; chase and recovery – something is to be said, however, in the way Cameron kicks things back into life via the ingenious ways the Terminator picks back up on his prey again when it seems they've gotten away. More substantial is Cameron's social commentary, not to mention the love story which develops between Reece and Connor. Cameron shoots on location in Los Angeles at night, capturing the down-to-Earth reality of homelessness; street hoodlums and the general junk and filth which litters the streets – making, in the process, a correlation between the nightmarish ruined LA of the future, where the war is taking place. The film goes on to use a very clever transitional edit using a caterpillar track during scene whereby Reece falls asleep and dreams of the future to reiterate this: utopias do not exist.

Digging a little deeper, and analysing some of the franchise's cod-philosophies to do with destiny; making the future what it is and not being bound to your fate, may very well reveal one or two more truths, but that is for the individual viewer. On the whole, and while I am unsure as to whether there is as much substance here as everybody seems to remember, "The Terminator" does very little of what it attempts to do especially badly, and I think that is what propels its lasting power.

Routine situational-comedy, which seems to want to say something although isn't sure what or how to do it, 12 March 2017

The cultural and sexual revolution is referred to as such because it revolutionised, aside from certain other things, attitudes towards culture and sex. Where it hit in the 1960's, among other places, was the United States of America and "American Pie" is less-so a commentary on why we-are-what-we -are than it is a reasonably funny depiction of a group of people living their lives in such a fashion BECAUSE of what preceded them. If GK Chesterton once said that "...there is a certain fury in sex that we cannot afford to inflame, and that a certain mystery and awe must always surround it if we are to remain sane" then Paul & Chris Weitz's 1999 film should seem like a kind of antithesis to this.

Indeed, I do wonder if the central characters in "American Pie" even know of the origins of the world outlooks they each possess. One of them, Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), seems to cut more of an esoteric figure than the others, or perhaps that's just because the others know less of the world than it first seems. Despite his nature, however, not even Finch seems to know why there exists a sudden rush amongst a class of youngsters to lose their virginity before the termination of an American high school year.

Writing in "Unspeakable Things", British social commentator Laurie Penny describes sex as 'something you do' - not as something ' wait around for someone to do TO you', before going on to describe her virginity as something she 'shook off' at the first opportunity she had – as if it was an annoying bout of influenza. "American Pie" captures this whole ethos somewhat well – the notion that abstinence is virtuous, or that sex is something else other than mere recreation, rears up in drips and drabs but not enough to convince us it's what the makers actually think.

"American Pie" depicts a diverse set of boys: one speaks Latin and drinks expensive coffee. Another, Chris (Chris Klein), is a bulky lacrosse player. Kevin already has a girlfriend; is close to sex anyway and is granted, I think, the deliberate privilege in this regard of being the best looking of the five while Stifler (Seann William-Scott) treads an uneasy line between unfriendly lout and colleague you cannot afford not to have. The last, Jim (Jason Biggs), we sense is some kind of lead – his father was, we feel, present when much of the aforementioned cultural revolution unfolded and was amongst the first to break the taboos. His willingness for Jim to follow in his footsteps hits a strange spot between curiously heart rendering and absolutely deplorable. Depending on your politics, of course...

Each of the boys is in their final year at your standard American high-school, but none of them have had sex yet except for Stifler, who seems to want to have it again, although is hindered by this fresh swarm of vultures now surrounding what was once his easy prey. They induce an agreement between them that they will press to lose their virginities before the year is up and a graduation prom takes place. How they go about doing this involves a diverse set of approaches and circumstances, neither really overwhelming the other and each different enough to entertain us reasonably well.

One character eventually only finds what he is looking for when he gives up all hope and accidentally finds it right under his nose – a process of maturing enough not to especially fall into a trap of hedonism and rather to take things as they come. Chris only joins a soppy choir group to score one of the many women who sing in it, although is depicted as to actually coming to care for one of the girls there.

Much of the gross out humour involving toilets and the consumption of bodily fluid is unwelcome, but then it always is in these films – writers never learn. Fortunately, these instances are rare and one can feel struck ultimately by how reigned in its material actually is. For instance, when the film finally bares a pair of breasts, we feel as if we should flinch because there has not been the cascade of nudity and 'raunch' we were perhaps expecting - the likes of which others in its genre have succumbed to.

Does one really recommend "American Pie"? Not especially: it is episodic and often quite disgusting, but it is not a film one can easily despise. Is it really a film which, hysterical conservative shrieking aside, really sends young men and women out to 'get laid' as soon as possible? It seems to present sex, or the pursuit of sex, as something frustrating; bumpy and ultimately superfluous to a good, hearty relationship with someone whose time you genuinely enjoy, but it seems nonplussed about people going out to get it anyway. The film is a long way from being a triumph of conservatism, but it does not seem to argue the case for the other side quite as manically as I remember it doing.

2 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
Difficult film to love, but rarely uninteresting and oddly captivating when it's at its best., 21 January 2017

Reaching a comprehensive conclusion on the first part of Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" is a grisly yet satisfying exercise. The film is generally refreshingly observationalist, in its taking a step back from what it depicts – from what I can garner, it neither glamorises nor demonises to any great extent the behaviour of the characters within. By the end, the characters have been neither punished nor rewarded for their actions. There is a very cold, empty tonality to von Trier's first Nymphomaniac volume, but this is not a criticism – the life of the film's lead, a middle aged woman who goes by the surely deliberately androgynous name of Joe (Jo), has almost entirely consisted of furrowing about trying to find that next lay with the opposite sex. She has done very little else and, despite living through the latter half of the twentieth century, not to mention possessing a gift for oration, we sense has very little else say on any other subject.

The film consists almost entirely of flashback. It is Charlotte Gainsbourg playing present-tense Joe, a woman found beaten and bloodied on the concrete courtyard of an apartment block in an unspecific English locality on a rainy day. Stellan Skarsgård's Seligman, a grey suited monosyllabic neighbour from abroad, finds her en route coming home from the local shop - rather than call for help when she asks him not to, he brings her back to his dwelling so that she may recover and that is when she decides to recount her life hedonistic life-story which will lead us to this very moment.

In the past, she is played by new-comer Stacy Martin, whose job it is to bring to life Joe's years of adolescence and young adulthood – one characterised by a radical outlook of anti-marriage; anti-bourgeois and anti-love on top of a demonstrating of just how much of a bohemian hedonist she really is. During this time, she will garner some menial office work; maintain a friendship with her father and have an on-off relationship with boyfriend Jerome (Shia LaBeouf). It is during these scenes that von Trier seems to combine props; attire and other mise-en-scene from the 1960's; 70's and 80's to create a very non-specific era –his shooting of it in Germany is further designed to disorientate us during the viewing.

But why was she lying on the concrete, bloodied and bruised, in the first scene? Why is she deciding to tell Seligman her tale in the first place? What, precisely, is Skarsgård in relation to anything at all anyway? These are not questions von Trier answers in Volume One – indeed, they are in a sense irrelevant to the film's nucleus. But then, what of that? It seems to be that, no matter what you are talking about, be it fly-fishing; organ music or something else, you can incorporate philosophies or stances on sex into it – sex is life and life is sex and parallels can be found between the actions of a good fly-fisherman and a woman on the prowl; between the makeup of the specifics of a Johann Sebastian Bach sonata and the way a sex-addict balances their lovers. Correlations and equivalents are everywhere, if only people would just take the time out to look for them...

But is this really the end of it? Perhaps one character is actually the figment of the other's imagination: a bored, single and lonely Seligman imagines he meets Joe coming home and concocts a story possessing everything he doesn't have. Moreover, perhaps a concussed Joe is still lying there in the street imagining aid from a stranger. Whatever the case, von Trier essentially allows his audience to fulfil the role of Seligman – someone who listens on in either silent awe or restrained disgust at how Joe had a sexual revelation as a young child with her friend Bea (Sophie Kennedy Clark) and decided to act on it in a way that saw her spend her teenage years as she did.

Their dual-dynamic itself opens up several tins of numerous kinds of worms in its basis – the gender imbalance is a pseudo-feminist driven psychoanalytic nightmare: a clear distinction between orator and receiver, it is the woman propelling proceedings but her tale is one of often perpetual sexual humiliation as she lowers herself to playing the whore; the tart; the loser. She has nothing else in life and is one-dimensional – she recounts her experiences for the pleasure of the male, be it Seligman or the member of the audience.

While they are Joe's experiences, the entire film seems to be made up of figments of Seligman's imagination: it is he who is picturing Joe in the bathroom; on the train and with on-off boyfriend Jerome – something alluded to when he tries to picture Joe studying geography although apologies for imagining it incorrectly before we carry on again. Then, there is the problem of the unreliable narrator – an issue Seligman himself even raises towards the end when he deliberately stops Joe mid-flow on account of not believing an aspect of the story she is telling. This is an odd and very disorientating moment, wherein Seligman wrestles power off the story-teller and is suddenly in command of what we play witness to.

What are we left with when everything is said and done? We certainly come away feeling like we have experienced something – there is a centrepiece which I will not spoil that seems to get stuck in to whether Joe has lived a worthy life: it reaches the conclusion that she has not, for bohemianism and nymphomania is a fatuous, rotten thing which destroys your life and the lives of those around you – lives you did not even know existed. Indifference is a strange reaction to have to the film, but then loving it or hating it is very difficult. I would certainly recommend it, but with reservations.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Quite striking social commentary on modern America and where it seems to be heading., 12 January 2017

Speaking in November 2009, American social-critic Christopher Hedges argued as to how America's decline, certainly as an empire, was inevitable – he lamented how Americans have become 'disconnected from who (they) are, what (they) represent and where (they're) going' and how they have essentially been kept in a perpetual state of adult-infancy through a series of badly judged political decisions over the last 40 years. The result of this, he asserted, was that people will begin to 'search for a demagogue or a saviour that promises moral renewal, vengeance and the glory.'

On the back of this, and if the depiction of America (or more importantly, Americans) in Bobcat Goldthwait's film "God Bless America" is at all accurate, I would say that there was almost certainly something in the fact that the British Channel 4 network decided to air "God Bless America" on the night of Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 US Presidential Election. To understand the deeper meaning of this, one needs to first understand the hypothesis of Goldthwait's film, but also be a little more familiar with the basic view of those such as Hedges who, if his public lectures and television interviews on the topic of America's direction are anything to go by, seems to have had much of what he has to say heard and then adapted to the screen right here.

In conjunction to his other remarks, Hedges commented on as to how America is shifting from a 'print' based society to an 'image' based society – how it was 'moving away from nuanced thought and from the struggle with ambiguity' for 'jargon and clichés'. He continued: 'We are seeing the dying gasps of a culture that is severing itself from print and entering an age of terrifying illiteracy', which will in turn supposedly give rise to certain horrifying things....

The crux of this evident in "God Bless America" – an ambitious, morbid comedy which seems to fuse the droll, even blackly empty, tonality of "America Psycho" with the sheer terror of the apparent barrenness of life as terrifically demonstrated in "Taxi Driver". It is confrontational and quite upsetting, but then most films which try to explore the fatuity or frustrations of a given era are.

Narrative is secondary to subtext here, but for the sake of simplicity I will reveal that the film centres around a middle aged American man called Frank (Joel Murray), who is divorced; lives alone and struggles over custody of his young daughter. He hates his life and those around him. Oddly, he seems to insist on engaging with the very thing he despises most: television, which glamorises fatuity; revels in the obscene and promotes a sort of sordid liberalism where everyone, no matter how contemptible they really are, is a champion in some of the ways Hedges argued. Away from home, he finds himself unable to escape the idiotic monotony of his co-workers and neighbours, who speak of nothing else but low-brow pop-culture. An exemplar of this divide lies in as to how he trades a BOOK with the receptionist at his desk job.

Frank is tipped over the edge when he is fired, in what appears to be a statement from the film on how maddening modern political correctness is when it comes to talking to/making moves on women, before completely loses contact with his daughter. Put briefly, the ingredients bubble up into an explosive rage forcing him across America and it isn't long before he and a young female accomplice named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), whom he meets along the way, are in way over their heads.

The film's tone is flippant throughout, and events seem to have been transplanted to an unreal universe which still strangely seems to be grounded in the real world. The characters are often viciously unlikable and hideously hypocritical – Roxy's left-wing mantra sees her rage against right-wingers who lobby for foreign wars and are against gay-marriage yet exudes a punk-fascism herself.

It is remarkable as to how cine-literate the film is – done deliberately, I'm sure, to disorientate the audience as it makes its overall point on the commoditised nature of American culture. Roxy's backstory is remarkably similar to Mallory Knox's in "Natural Born Killers"; a scene in a lay-by with a state trooper calls to mind "Psycho"; the leads dress at one point like "Bonnie and Clyde" and Samuel L. Jackson's riff on AK-47's from "Jackie Brown" is rehashed seemingly without shame.

Goldthwait's film is not generic, yet we have seen films like it in the past; it is satirical, yet seems to rage against a society whose fascination with funny quick-fixes and the visual image essentially began in the 1960's with a boom in the satire genre. It despises popular culture, yet cannot help but draw influence from it so as to either prove its point or garner a few laughs. The film plays like an amalgamation of the ideas put forward over time by various commentators warning where television; celebration of trash and the Capitalist free market might lead. It is Neil Postman merged with Hedges by way of the now conventional point on how the Western world has largely adopted the model of the universe found in Aldous Huxley's novel "Brave New World": where Orwell feared totalitarian regimes banning books, the reality now is that no one is willing or able to read them having been 'educated' out of liking high-culture and taught to sneer at intellect.

Few things have changed since "God Bless America's" release, but then it has only been three years. In Britain, the 2016 series of "X-Factor" made popular a would-be rapper named Honey-G, who was evidently terrible, and yet came to represent a true-to-life version of the Steven Clark character found within this very film – the fact they are so bad makes them so good. The fact "God Bless America" is as good as it is warrants you seeing it.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Falls well short of any kind of standard, in what is a series which once stood tall but now seems like all the others., 23 December 2016

I am somewhat confused. It is widely accepted that the first of the now five "Die Hard" films is the best one – if not, the most renowned and looked upon as the most inspirational. Indeed, if you were told you could only see one of the rather now bloated franchise, it would most likely be John Mctiernan's 1988 effort which kicked the entire series off. Odd, then, that the last two entries seem to draw more from the third in the series than any other – 1995's "Die Hard: With a Vengeance", what with its sense of the sprawling and of the madcap; of driving and of charging around with an accomplice to crack-wise as you aim to avoid yet another pile-up. Do not get me wrong, I have the time for "Vengeance", but this process of throwing action at the screen and hoping that doing nothing with a lot will compensate for your inability to do a lot with very little, is waning.

Indeed, it is unfortunate that "A Good Day to Die Hard" is as bad as it is – a throwaway film with nothing to really mark it out amongst any other action thriller; a terrifically grey film, cold and metallic and arid in character; a film lacking a villain and any sort of real tension. Then again, perhaps it is something else. Perhaps it is the removing of the film from its Christmas setting of the first two, or that Bruce Willis is a quarter of a century older now. Willis reprises the role of John McLane, a veteran NYPD police officer who is established as a decent shot in his taking down of numerous targets at the range – it seems you are expected to come to the film knowing the rest: the tempestuous relationship with his family; the never-say-die-attitude and the ability to handle himself in a crisis. Time has moved on – he was an analogue watch in a digital age in the fourth outing, powerless to stop his now adult daughter dating, and here now finds himself alone firing off rounds at the range under the watchful eye of a portrait of America's first black President.

This entry eventually sees him fly to Moscow, in Russia, where during his visit to meet his son John jr (Jai Courtney), the Central Intelligence Agency breaks out of prison a political prisoner in the mould of an Alexei Navalny or a Mikhail Khodorkovsky named Komarov (Sebastian Koch). In the area at the time for an unrelated reason, and uncovering both that his son was involved and that some especially nasty people want Komarov back, the charge is set for some Die Hard shenanigans as a race against time and for one's life plays out across the Russian capital's road systems and high-rise buildings.

Only, that is not what especially happens - in fact, far from it. The film is cold and detached; the opening hour might just as well be any standardised CIA/FSB/breakout espionage thriller, the difference here lying with the fact one of the most celebrated heroes in cinema (at least, according to those many AFI lists) just happens to be in amongst the thick of what is going on. McLane's son begins the film hating his father – are we sure this will still be the case, once they have had their adventure and Junior gets a taste of what his father has had to go through on all these occasions, by the end?

It has often been the case that a franchise, when it is loose on ideas but high in box office potential, begins to mix father and son relations into sequels. We know this from Indiana Jones (3 and 4) and one or two of "The Mummy" sequels. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is so contrived that one can be forgiven for rolling eyes at it. Admittedly, some of the action sequences are somewhat impressive, with the standout being a long repelling down a tall building, but gone is the sense of danger; of the sense of threat or terror in facing down obstacles with the potential to do you harm.

A later twist involving Komarov and the true reason why most of what's happened in the film has played out as it has done has us feel as if we have seen more than we actually have and has the plot feel more layered that it actually is. Meanwhile, director John Moore, he usually of remakes and video-game adaptations, would be better advised to resist invoking imagery of past entries if he wants his own version here to possess any stand-alone credibility. Anybody with any kind of real awareness about contemporary Hollywood cinema is going to seek out to watch "A Good Day to Day Hard" – purely from a completest perspective; the film is, essentially, 'critic-proof', but that does not stop it being just about the right side of terrible.

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