Movie Review: New York, I Love You (2009)

April 29, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

I just went to see a screening of New York, I Love You, a collection of 10 short films masquerading as a full-length feature.  Despite having one of the most amazing ensemble casts ever, it was no good.  No good at all.

New York, I Love You comes to us from the producers of the French film Paris, je t’aime (ie “Paris, I Love You”) and has basically the same concept.  All stories take place in the city of New York, and each one is about love, or the search for love (which is often confused for sex).  Apart from that, they are entirely different and standalone pieces, even though it is put together as though it is a single film.  Characters from one story might make a cameo in another every now and then — and there’s one character, a girl who walks around New York carrying a video camera, that I suppose links the pieces together — but there’s absolutely no connection between the stories.

You can’t discuss this movie without talking about the actors that make up the ensemble cast.  Just off the top of my head, there was: Natalie Portman, Shia LaBeouf, Ethan Hawke, Bradley Cooper, Hayden Christensen, Anton Yelchin, Blake Lively, Orlando Bloom, Chris Cooper, Christina Ricci, Julie Christie, James Caan, Rachel Bilson, Andy Garcia, Robin Wright Penn, Jacinda Barrett, Maggie Q and Shu Qi.  Brett Ratner directed one of the stories and Natalie Portman wrote and directed another.

I guess the whole point of New York, I Love You was to show off New York as a city, and to make some sort of general comment about the “moments” and “connections” people make, whether it is with a completely random stranger or with someone you’ve been with for 60 years.

Needless to say, I struggled with this movie.  Putting aside that I did not know it was really a collection of short films as opposed to a segmented narrative (eg Love Actually, Crash, He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentines Day), many of the stories didn’t work for me.

That’s what happens when you combine what is essentially 10 films written and directed by different people.  There is no consistency in the style or the tone or the feel of each one (for instance, some stories used internal dialogue; another had a narrator).  More importantly, many of the situations and much of the dialogue felt contrived.  It was very uncomfortable watching something you know is trying to manipulate your emotions in a hurry because it only has 10 minutes in which to do it.  I often found myself shaking my head wondering who on the planet reacts and talks like that to random strangers!

The short films all certainly had a lot of style — with the pretty shots, arty imagery and poetic chit chat — but there was rarely enough substance to establish an emotional connection.  And besides, even if you did connect with a particular character, you may never see them again anyway.

Individually, some of the stories were pretty good, witty and insightful.  My favourite one was a short conversation between Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q.  A couple of others, the one with Anton Yelchin and the one with the old couple, were decent.  However, not all of them hit the mark.  One or two were actually quite boring or irritating.  And the worst part about this being a collection of short films is that about half of them (or more) had a twist ending.  Usually one or two in a film is fine, but when it keeps happening over and over, it can start to get a bit tedious.

I would have very much preferred it had they simply presented the movie as 10 short films written and directed by different people, and broken them up accordingly without trying to force an unnecessary link between them.  Knowing when one short story ended and another began would have helped me reset and watch the next one with a clean slate.  Instead, the “combined” collection we ended up with felt uneven, disjointed and lacking in direction.

New York, I Love You is technically sound, shows New York in a nice light, and features an amazing cast — but so what?  It wasn’t enjoyable and that’s all that mattered in the end.

1.5 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

April 28, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

When I first heard about the film How to Train Your Dragon, I thought it was the name of a penile enlargement instructional video.  Little did I know it was actually the new DreamWorks Animation feature featuring an amazing voice cast including Jay Baruchel (She’s Out of My League), Gerard Butler (300, The Bounty Hunter), Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera (TV’s Ugly Betty), Jonah Hill (Superbad) and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Kick-Ass).

I usually like animated films, but rarely do I see one that I really love.  I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it has been.  Well, How to Train Your Dragon is definitely one of the better animated films I have seen over the last few years, but it still doesn’t quite get me over the hump.

The story is based loosely on the 2003 book of the same title by Cressida Cowell.  It’s about a weak little Viking boy by the name of Hiccup (Baruchel) who lives in a world where people live to slay dragons.  All Hiccup does is try to please his father, the Viking Chief (Butler), by capturing a killing a dragon of his own.  But of course, as the title suggests, Hiccup eventually befriends and trains one, turning the world as they know it upside down.

In terms of pure laughs, How to Train Your Dragon is not as strong as a lot of the other animated films out there — that’s not to say it isn’t still very funny.  But where the film stood out for me was its heart.  The relationships between Hiccup and his dragon, his father (Butler), his mentor (Ferguson) and the girl of his dreams (Ferrera) are all extremely well developed and more poignant than you would have expected from a cartoon about dragons.  The story itself is actually pretty good too.

And of course there’s the excellent voice cast.  Apart from Butler and Ferguson, I don’t think any of the others are immediately recognisable, but they all sound strangely familiar.  One way or the other, they manage the bring the quirky characters to life.

I think it’s definitely a film that can be enjoyed equally by children (for the dragons and the action) and the adults (for the laughs, the characters and the storyline).

4 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

April 27, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

When I first heard there’s a new movie called Hot Tub Time Machine, I almost rolled my eyes.  Sounded like one of those horrible, straight-to-video, B/C-grade films from the 80s.

However, that was before I glanced past some seemingly favourable reviews and read that John Cusack stars in it.  John Cusack!  There’s no way he could be in something trashy.

And so, against all preconceptions, I went to watch Hot Tub Time Machine, and actually expecting something good.

The name of the film is pretty self-explanatory, so there’s no need to go too much into the plot.  Three 40-something men (Cusack, Craig Robinson and Rob Corddry) and a nephew of one of these men (Clark Duke) somehow find themselves in the titular device and are transported back to 1986.

As with most time travel movies, much of Hot Tub Time Machine focuses on the “what could have been”, and asking the question “if I could live my life again, what would I do differently?”  That is the current underlying the film and there’s a bit of poignancy to be found in there, but on the surface it’s all craziness and gross-out laughs, and of course, making fun of the 80s.

A lot of the jokes are very 80s, if that qualifies as a description.  Kind of zany and outrageous, sexually charged but extremely homophobic.  When the humour hits the spot it can be pretty fun, and it’s quite astounding when you realise how much fashion, technology and attitudes have changed over the last 20 years or so.  But there are also plenty of jokes that fell horribly flat, especially when you can tell they were going for some big laughs but just couldn’t channel the right punch line.

John Cusack’s talents are somewhat wasted as Adam, the least comical of the foursome, and Clark Duke (Kick-Ass and Sex Drive) is not fully utilised as his geeky, socially reclusive nephew Jacob.  The standouts end up being Rob Corddry (The Heartbreak Kid, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay), who plays Lou, a depressed alcoholic and really the central character of the story, as well as Craig Robinson (Pineapple Express, Zack and Miri Make a Porno), who plays Nick, a pussy-whipped former singer.  Chevy Chase’s minor role failed badly in my opinion, but Crispin Glover as the hotel bellhop was pretty awesome.

Hot Tub Time Machine is funnier than the title suggests, but it’s very very hit and miss.  And there’s just too many misses to make it a consistently enjoyable film.

2.5 stars out of 5!

The Power of Bieber Fever (in Sydney)!

April 27, 2010 in Entertainment, Social/Political Commentary by pacejmiller

All I’ve been hearing and seeing lately is “Bieber Fever”.

I don’t really know much about the pop teen sensation with the bangs and the prepubescent voice, but when I first heard his name mentioned on the radio (not very clearly), I was stunned.  I was like, “Is this possible?  A teenage heartthrob with the name ‘Beaver’?”  Everyone’s talking about this kid who’s giving young girls “Beaver Fever?”

I was kind of relieved (and disappointed) when I found out that I had misheard.  Damn.

Anyway, for weeks all people could talk about was how Justin Bieber, a 16-year-old Canadian who was discovered on YouTube, was coming to Australia.  And that he was only going to be giving a single, once-off performance on the local morning television show Sunrise.

Originally, I think the performance was supposed to take place outside the Sunrise studio outdoors in Martin Place, the heart of the Sydney CBD, but “safety concerns” forced them to shift to the more spacious Overseas Passenger Terminal down the road at Circular Quay (not too far from the Opera House).

Young girls started camping out from 6pm the night before, and the crowd numbers surged into the early hours of the morning.  Reports say there were already around 4000 people waiting to catch a glimpse of Bieber by 2am.

However, the girls got too excited and broke through the barriers and people started getting crushed and trampled.  Apparently, at least 10 girls fainted, and someone may have fractured a knee cap.  Efforts by police to calm the crowd down were futile, and eventually the live concert was cancelled!

Risking a riot on their hands, Sunrise invited Bieber into the studios back at Martin Place to perform one song (Baby) instead of the scheduled three.  Needless to say, it got very crowded there, as many of the kids from Circular Quay migrated back up in a hurry.  Even after Bieber left, they stuck around for ages, hoping to catch another glimpse of him.

Disappointed fans lashed out at organisers and Sunrise for the botched concert.  Many had camped out all night in the cold, while some travelled all the way from other states just to see him.  Meanwhile the police pointed the finger at uncooperative parents (the few that bothered to show up with their young kids).

One 10-year-old who came out with her mother by train at 3am said:

“I like Justin ’cause he’s hot.  He’s got a fantastic body and a great voice.”

I swear, I did not make that up.  Direct quote from the papers.

One father was particularly angry at the whole mess, and said:  “Clearly this total waste of our kids’ time, sleep and pocket money getting there was a deliberate publicity stunt designed to exploit fans.  Certainly [Sunrise] knew that thousands of kids would turn out, and it would be unmanageable, and set him up to play to a few kids at Martin Place.  Channel Seven and Sunrise owe the fans and their parents an apology for shameless publicity stunts that ended in injury, hurt , disappointment, money spent and sleep deprived.”

Personally, I am quite perplexed about this whole thing.  I have nothing against the Beaver himself (I think good for him, the kid must have some talent for getting discovered via YouTube).  But there’s just so much wrong with what happened here.

First of all, what the heck are parents doing by allowing their children (some of which are very young) to camp out in the city all night by themselves?  Some of these kids are like 10, 11, 12 years old.  I just can’t imagine my parents giving the okay to something like that to me and my sister when we were at that age.  Secondly, as unlikely as that is, it’s even more unbelievable to me that some parents would actually accompany their kids in the middle of the night, or camp out, just to see the Beaver perform a couple of songs.  If they’re a fan of the Beaver themselves, that’s another thing (though it is quite disturbing in itself), but are these adults being good parents by making the effort to come out with their kids to make sure they are safe, or are they spoiling their children?  I think that’s an interesting debate.

Nonetheless, I place the blame with the organisers.  It was simply poor organisation.  Seriously, they are making 4000 young girls seem like some sort of unstoppable force of nature.  We’ve seen other outdoor concerts and performances, marathons, political marches, industrial action, not to mention sporting events, in and around the city CBD that have way more people, some way more unruly (though when it comes to teenage girls, this is debatable).  And we never seen any of them cancelled for “safety concerns”.

Most of all, this is not the first time something like this has happened for the Beaver, so it’s not like they can say what happened was totally unexpected.  Bieber’s concert in a mall in Long Island last November was also cancelled due to overflowing crowd concerns.

Fact is, they underestimated the power of “Beaver Fever”.

The Trouble With Being An Ex-Lawyer

April 26, 2010 in Novel, On Writing, Study by pacejmiller

You don't need double talk, you need Bob Loblaw!

I thought I had left my legal career behind for good, but apparently not so.

The trouble with people knowing that you once practised law is that they think you love giving legal advice and drafting legal documents for free in your spare time.  Not that I mind helping people — it’s just that I don’t feel like doing anything related to law anymore…why else would I have retreated from the profession like a frightened turtle?

But alas, I am still technically qualified to dish out legal advice until the end of this financial year.  Accordingly, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately reviewing contracts and drafting letters as favours for friends and family friends.  And the thing is, some people tend to think that if you are a lawyer, you know everything about the law.  Not the case.  Even when I was practising I seldom had any idea what I was doing right off the bat.  There’s almost always a lot of research and reading involved, and when all else fails, ask the firm expert, of which there is always one (why do you think lawyers cost so damn much to hire?)

There are also a couple of other complications.  First, when you do stuff for a friend (and especially a family friend), the stakes are a lot higher.  You can’t afford to stuff up, and the consequences of stuffing up are far worse (from a mental and emotional standpoint) than when they happen at work.  You can always look for a new job, but how can you look your parents in the eyes when you have fucked up the lives of their friends?  Second (and this is related), you don’t have a boss/supervisor to review your work and fix it up.  Whatever you do, that’s it.

So it’s strange but it’s true — I am far more careful and meticulous when doing legal stuff for people who don’t pay me.  And I take a hell of a lot longer.

I really should be working on my numerous assessments, and if not, my other writing projects (ie two novels).  And if not that, I should be doing other things to get my writing out there, such as entering competitions and sending works to publications to get credits under my belt.  But unfortunately, I’m still haunted by the career I tried to leave behind.

As Jack Bauer would say, “Dammit!”