I’m So Excited!
The latest film by acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar is an unlikely comedy set almost entirely on board a plane suffering from serious technical difficulties. Despite the potentially dark outcome, it is frothy, flippant and light; it is also immature, naïve and, at times, particularly unpleasant in its humour.
With the economy class passengers drugged so they sleep through the ordeal, the film focuses on the two pilots, three air stewards, and handful of business class passengers, including a psychic virgin, a drug-addled honeymooning couple, and a dominatrix. Initially the potential disaster is concealed by the crew, who ply their wards with cocktails spiked with mescaline and perform outrageous song-and-dance numbers (explaining the film’s title), but as the situation becomes known by all, very little actually changes. Sex is the source of humour, not the situation; here the film reveals its juvenile nature.
The three stewards are the epitome of bitchy, camp gay stereotypes, engaging in promiscuous sex with the supposedly heterosexual pilots, prancing and preening up and down the aisles. It is one-note humour that feels dated in its attitude. Even more offensive, however, is a serious lapse in comic judgement, when the virgin opts to pop her cherry with an unconscious man in economy class – were the genders reversed, it is hard to see how anyone would find this rape scene entertaining and, as it stands, it is neither funny nor novel.
Almodóvar stages his film well, and it looks beautiful – full of bright, bold colours that evoke a kitsch, 50s inspired style. The actors appear to be having fun, and mug their way through their vacuous roles with aplomb, while two brief cameos in the opening scenes nod to the director’s ongoing friendships with his regular collaborators. Yet the retro, chic visuals are not enough; I’m So Excited is pithy and unpalatable.
Olympus Has Fallen
Invariably described as “Die Hard in the White House,” Olympus Has Fallen is Antoine Fuqua’s latest action film, arriving in cinemas several months before Roland Emmerich’s similarly themed offering, White House Down. Personally, as a big fan of Emmerich, I predict his will be superior but, despite (or, perhaps, because of) low expectations, this was an utterly preposterous, but entertaining flick.
After letting the president’s wife die in a freak car accident, special agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) has been consigned to a desk job. President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) – a good, noble man, of course – has just invited the South Korean prime minister into the White House when Washington DC is unceremoniously gunned down by a massive army of terrorists who, naturally, have a never-ending supply of guns, ammo, planes, people, and explosives. Because the entire secret service – and the army, and, in fact, everyone American – are completely inept, soon Banning is the only person who can help his former friend, now locked in a bunker beneath the building with the criminal mastermind, the smug and sinister Kang (Rick Yune).
The premise may be completely daft, but it does allow for unceasing action and, as a result, two hours zoom by. Dialogue is perfunctory, as are the majority of the characters, who are all clichés. This is predominantly Butler’s vehicle – Asher spends most of the film handcuffed to a railing, making bad decisions (apparently it’s worth risking the entire population of South Korea to save the life of one person in the bunker), while acting president Morgan Freeman (sorry, Trumbell) is, well, Morgan Freeman.
The action is surprisingly gory, though it becomes repetitive – there are only so many head shots a person can watch before the novelty of blood splattering the walls wears off – and the aerial attack is less than impressive because of some very sloppy CGI, but it’s fast-paced and silly enough to be reasonably fun. Every scene provides a chance to roll your eyes in exasperation, or smirk knowingly at the latest idiotic stunt. It’s harmless, trashy, a total waste of good actors (but an oddly successful vehicle for Butler) and stupid – my advice is, leave your brain at the door and you won’t be disappointed.
Based on true events, Rebellion offers a revised account of a situation in 1988 on the beautiful Pacific island of New Caledonia, where thirty French gendarmes were captured and held hostage by a group of native separatists. Philippe Legorjus (Mathieu Kassovitz, also the writer and director), a hostage negotiator of special branch GIGN, is brought in to discuss the terms of the men’s release, but finds himself caught in the middle of a much larger struggle, between the local insurgents wanting independence, and the French army.
Multi-talented Kassovitz (La Haine) leads a strong cast; all the men and their actions are believable, thanks in part to understated performances. The script is considered and well written, though non-French viewers may need a few extra minutes to figure out the various factions situated on the island. The politics within the film are approached in a serious, earnest manner – it is clear that Kassovitz intends to provide his audience with the “true” events, untainted by media spin and political secrecy. Consequently, his own bias is revealed in his depiction of the separatists – portrayed as fathers and husbands who have unwittingly found themselves backed into a corner – in contrast to the bureaucratic, more ruthless French army. Yet the power struggle is well realised and, in truth, nobody really emerges the hero.
The film is shot in a verité style; functional rather than artistic, the island’s natural beauty and the events that take place on it are punctuated by deep, booming base tones that echo through the film like dropped bombs. The script could be tightened up in parts – the middle section is too long and starts to drag – but there is a tension running throughout the film due to Kassovitz’ decision to start the story by showing the final outcome, then backtracking to explain how it came to be. Rebellion is a serious picture, with no designs on exploitation; it feels small and contained, while offering suggestions towards a much bigger picture.
The latest in a long line of horror remakes, this time tackling one of the most beloved cult favourites – Sam Raimi’s second feature and the ultimate video nasty, The Evil Dead. In 1981 Raimi’s film delighted and appalled audiences due to its tongue-in-cheek attitude, its unrelenting, tangible gore and utter bad taste; today it is kitsch and fun and still manages to shock, but it is familiar, and the things that made it so new and controversial are commonplace.
Evil Dead is a standard remake – minor details in the plot have been changed, but it pays homage to its predecessor on numerous occasions, which is respectful, but hardly original. All the moments that made Raimi’s film so memorable are included – the car, the camera zooming through the forest to indicate that evil is approaching, the chainsaw, the giggling girl in the basement, even the famous tree-rape scene features, though it too has lost its shock factor. This is not to say the film is a failure, however. Its gore is refreshingly old-school, with CGI kept to a minimum and a focus on bodily mutilation realised through make-up and prosthetics. And it is bloody – once possessed by the demon, the five young adults amiably subject their bodies to nail guns and electric carving knives and shards of mirror glass with disgusting, expertly realised results.
There is something missing, however. This time, the classic story is approached completely seriously; the careful balancing act that Raimi managed so well, combining fear, disgust, and comedy, is gone and, with it, so too is the soul of the cult franchise. There are occasional hints, mainly in the final few moments, but it is not enough. And, because this is a remake, it all feels familiar. We’ve seen it all before. The decision to make the film an 18 certificate rather than the more commonplace 15, while undoubtedly the right choice in terms of artistry, also means that it is likely the majority of viewers will have seen the original at some point and comparisons are inevitable. Evil Dead is not a bad film, but it’s hard to imagine anyone will remember it in thirty years time. Raimi’s film, however? That will continue to live on.