1 December 2008

The Reel Deal #2

This time around...
Max Payne
Changeling

Reviews may contain some mild spoilers, but where I can, I try to avoid telling you everything that happens in the movie. So instead, sit back and read as I tell you what to watch!

MAX PAYNE (Cert. 15)

Who's in it? Mark Wahlberg, (The Happening) Mila Kunis, (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) Olga Kurylenko, (Quantum of Solace) Chris Bridges, (RocknRolla) and Beau Bridges, (Charlotte's Web)

What's it all about?
Based on the video game series, Max Payne's very name suggests violence abounds as this New York cop crusades against the shady organisation that killed his wife and child in cold blood. In the seedy criminal underground, assassins and super-soldier experiments run rampant as Max (Wahlberg) searches for answers, but is there a more spiritual force at work? Who knows, it's not quite clear what the hell's going on.

Any good?
It's all too tempting to give this post a headline of "video game translates into shitty movie shocker" but sarcasm isn't the best way to approach Max Payne. You know that the first six words of the above summary are not the best premise on which to base any film, but this one in particular is a stinker. Director John Moore previously helmed remakes of The Omen and Flight of the Phoenix, and now he brings this game to the screen. And it's a mess. Having never played the game, I couldn't tell you what the point of all the spiritual gubbins in this film is. One minute, Marky Mark's talking about how he believes in heaven, and the next we're told that it's the side-effects of an experimental drug. It's hardly like the plot is the most cerebral that anyone's encountered in recent cinema outings, so it's Moore's apparent inability to concentrate long enough on such aspects is part of what makes this film such a mess.

I already mentioned "Marky" Mark Wahlberg, who seems to be having a year of shitty script decisions. First came M. Night Shyamalan's eco-horror crap, The Happening, in which he was utterly miscast as a soft-spoken teacher with a ton of crappy lines about outrunning the wind. And now this, for which he just seems to phone it in rather than put any effort in. This is Dignam from The Departed, dammit! The Oscar nominee! Take some better parts, Mark! All the paltry script has to offer him here is random violence and vague longing for his late beloved. As for the rest of the cast, Mila Kunis, who made a great breakout performance in Forgetting Sarah Marshall jars here on account of that aforementioned script. While I never thought about her role on Family Guy while watching that film, it was quite jarring during this one to just keep in mind that this is the voice of Meg Griffin. As in most of Moore's films, she and the rest of the female cast (such as it is) have little to do. What we're left with is a brainless action movie. While brainless action movies can certainly be a good thing, this isn't even a very good one. Even the most brainless of action movies have some sense of direction or plot, but Max Payne careens all over the place, from choppy, joyless action sequence to clunky exposition dump. Then lather, rinse and repeat for 100 minutes.

With an appallingly predictable "twist" near the end, Max Payne just doesn't give even the most committed of game fans the engagement that it probably should. The plot moves like a glacier and the film itself will leave you cold. Riddled with plot holes and set ups that don't pay off, there is little to redeem it, and it's one of the worst I've seen this year. Add a star if you're a fan, but you'd probably prefer to spend 100 minutes playing the game instead to be honest.



CHANGELING (Cert. 15)


Who's in it? Angelina Jolie, (Wanted) John Malkovich, (Burn After Reading) Jeffrey Donovan, (Hitch) Colm Feore, (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and Jason Butler Harner, (Next)

What's it all about?
Based on a true story, Christine Collins, (Jolie) is a young mother whose son goes missing. Over the course of five months, the investigation does not advance, and Christine comes up against the corruption and slackness of the 1920s-era LAPD, when they bring back another young boy and insist he is her son. With the help of a local pastor, (Malkovich) she mounts an unprecedented appeal against the system.

Any good?
Clint Eastwood is perhaps best known for his acting in Westerns, but it's in his latter years that he's really gotten into directing. In recent years, he's directed World War II epic double-bill, Flags Of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, and won an Oscar for his work on Million Dollar Baby. The first of his two directorial efforts this year is Changeling, which is quite simply magnificent. A film that very much had the potential to be a melodramatic Oscar baiting prestige picture is elevated beyond such pandering by superb performances and a leisurely pace that draws out the tension. Now before we go any further, I must reveal what many of you might believe makes me a monster- I usually hate films where mothers lose their children, because I just cannot empathise with the mother character. Before you all start booing and throwing rotten fruit, it's for a simple reason- melodrama. Poor performances by actresses, such as Jodie Foster's shouty turn in Flight Plan, can wreck any emotion I feel about the character's predicament, and so I approached Changeling with some apprehension.

I'm pleased to admit that this apprehension was misjudged- Angelina Jolie delivers marvellously as Christine Collins, and it's one of the standout performances by an actress this year. True, it's been a slow year, but she dazzles here. This is possibly the best film I've seen her in, no doubt thanks to Eastwood always getting exactly what he wants from his cast- the man directed Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman to Oscar glory in Million Dollar Baby, and now looks set to fill his mantlepiece with more little gold men come February. The direction here is just beautiful- the set design and costume design perfectly emulates 1920s Los Angeles, and the cinematography is meticulously orchestrated. John Malkovich is somewhat underused as the Reverend Gustav Briegleb, who leads an impassioned crusade against corruption in the LAPD, but that's excusable given how the story belongs to Christine and the search for her missing son. The LAPD themselves are not demonised to the point that some historical films will paint the baddies with swastikas, just so we know they're bad. But Malkovich's sermon about the corrupting effect of their power holds true, and Jeffrey Donovan purveys an aura of menace as Captain Jones even sitting in his office and filing paperwork that will remove Christine to a place where she can't trouble them.

If you've seen the trailers for this film by the way, you should know that there's an entire side of the plot that's unadvertised and yet is crucial. This is something almost unique in these days of dumbed-down advertising appealing to the masses, so I won't divulge details. But trust me, it's genius. It's as haunting as it is gripping, and ensures that Changeling is a film that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema. I can draw favourable comparisons here with one of my favourite films, LA Confidential, but it doesn't really do it justice to compare it to others. A prestige picture that should outshine the others due over the next few months, with the possible exception of Eastwood's second offering this year, Gran Torino, and deserves to win and win big when it comes round to the Oscars. One of the best films of the year and one that finally convinced me Jolie can act, and act very well.



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Next time, I'm likely to be reviewing Lakeview Terrace, What Just Happened and/or Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.
Until next time then, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch,
Mark.

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