Movie Review: From Paris with Love (2009)

March 12, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

Taken was one of my favourite films of 2008, and one of the best action movies I had seen in years.  From Paris with Love has the same director (Pierre Morel), and Luc Besson worked on both screenplays, so needless to say, expectations were high.

Unfortunately, From Paris with Love is not even close.  It tells the story of James Reese (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a personal aide to a US Ambassador in Paris, who is drawn into a wild terrorist plot thanks to his crazy new partner Charlie Wax (John Travolta).

Well, From Paris with Love has some fairly good action scenes, but it’s far too loud, noisy and repetitious.  It’s all guns blazing, fast cars, explosions, and f-bombs.  However, most of it is wrapped in humour, and because of that, it lacks that edginess that Taken had.

Like Taken, the film is totally preposterous, but at least in Taken, you could allow yourself accept the reckless carnage because Liam Neeson was a man on a mission to save his daughter.  But in From Paris with Love, Travolta’s Wax just comes off as an over-the-top nutjob who simply wants to kill everyone.

I don’t know what the deal is.  Travolta as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction was perfect.  He was cool, charming, and likable.  But for some reason, being a gun-toting, wise-cracking bad ass in his two recent films, From Paris with Love and The Taking of Pelham 123, just doesn’t work for Travolta.  Perhaps it’s the dialogue or the appearance – either way, Travolta feels obnoxious and looks like he’s trying too hard.

That said, From Paris with Love is not all bad.  Some of the jokes do work, and there is occasional excitement.  Plus Jonathan Rhys Meyers is excellent as always, making Reese’s relationship with Wax an enjoyable focus of the movie.  But none of that really makes up for a sub-par film.

2.5 out of 5 stars!

Voice, Point of View and Workshopping

March 12, 2010 in On Writing, Study by pacejmiller

What the heck is “voice” in writing?

That’s what we’ve been discussing in my narrative class, even though we did traverse the subject in screenwriting and theory as well.  And after hours of discussion and studying texts, I don’t think the answer is any clearer.  Is it point of view?  Style?  Tone?  Simply the way a story is told?  All of the above?

The main reason the discussions went nowhere is because there was this old dude in class that would not shut up with the comments.  It was a night class, so it should have been past his bed time, but this guy just went on and on.  He just had to make a comment about everything.  Talking over the tutor, interrupting others in the class.  I wouldn’t have minded so much had these been constructive comments.  But no, it was just stupid, random, pointless stuff.  He told at least three ‘stories’ from over 20 years ago that had no connection to whatever we were doing.  It was a 70-year-old (okay, he was probably only 60), unstoppable force of nature.

That said, there was a bit of fun.  We discussed the readings for the week, including The Resurrectionist by James Bradley (an Australian novel about the apprentice of an anatomist in the 1800s), Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, and The Turning (a collection of interlinked short stories) by Tim Winton.

Bright Lights, Big City was interesting because it was told from a rare second person perspective.  Some people in the class loved it (especially the old dude), but others found it a little tedious reading “you you you” all the time.

Oh, and we also had to read out our shit in class and give constructive feedback.  They call it “workshopping”.  It was terrifying, even though only “positive” comments were allowed (with a bit of room for “development” suggestions).  I suppose it’s necessary and useful to get used to people reading your stuff and commenting on it if you ever want to get published.  Still, being left alone is what I prefer.

Anyway, back to voice.  The true definition is actually very simple.  According to John Farnham, the voice is YOU.  You just have to try and understand it.

You’re the voice, try and understand it
Make a noise and make it clear
(Oh Oh Oh Ohooooh)
(Oh Oh Oh Oh Ohooooh)

Movie Review: The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

March 12, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

The Men Who Stare at Goats is one of those light, quirky, darkly amusing comedies very loosely based on real events.  It features an all-star cast including George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey.  It’s enjoyable, fascinating, and in no way meant to be taken seriously.  It’s not memorable, and is unlikely to win any awards, but it’ll give you a laugh and a good time for 94 minutes.

The film is told through the eyes of Ewan McGregor’s Bob Wilton, a journalist who ends up stumbling across the story of a lifetime – the US army’s attempts to develop psychic spies with super powers.  Yes, the US military actually tried to do this (and who knows, may still be trying to do this)!

You could be forgiven for thinking that The Men Who Stare at Goats is a Coen brothers movie in the vein of The Big Lebowski and Burn After Reading.  It has that quirky feel from start to finish; you wonder what the heck is happening and what might happen next.  Every character Bob Wilton comes across is fascinating and hilarious, especially Lyn Cassady, perfectly played by the “so serious it’s funny” George Clooney.

But actually, The Men Who Stare at Goats is written by Peter Straughan (How to Lose Friends and Alienate People), loosely based on the book of the same name by Jon Ronson.  It’s directed by Grant Helsov, who hasn’t done much directing and is more of an actor.  Hopefully Helsov will have more opportunities to direct after this film.

Anyway, there’s nothing particularly outstanding about the film.  It’s constantly amusing, but the big laughs are less frequent.  That said, it is clever, and somehow manages to stand on the fence when it comes to psychics.  The movie doesn’t endorse them as genuine, but it doesn’t exactly ridicule them as frauds either.  It does, however, suggest they may all be crazy!  My favourite thing about the whole film is that it makes constant references to Star Wars, especially because it stars young Obi-Wan Kenobi himself!

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: and yes, goats are stared at in this movie]