Monthly Archives: June 2012

Source Code – A lesson in how to screw up an ending

There be spoilers

Quick run down on the plot of 2011′s Source Code for those who need it: Helicopter pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself on a Chicago-bound train, except he’s not who he appears to be and has assumed the body of teacher Sean Fentress. After Colter/Sean freaks out a bit, the train explodes.

Source CodeStevens then wakes up in an unfamiliar cockpit and is contacted by a woman on the other end of a TV screen who explains to him that the explosion was a real event that happened earlier that day and that he was sent to an alternate reality that lasts just eight minutes using a machine (the Source Code) in an attempt to discover the identity of the train bomber so to prevent a subsequent attack. Colter is then sent back to the train several times, each time with exactly eight minutes to discover who it was that blew up the train.

I think that just about covers it.

Now then, I was thoroughly enjoying Source Code; it was exciting, intriguing, a pretty original idea; even Jake Gyllenhaal was reasonably tolerable as the protagonist. But then , just as I was gearing up for the credits to role, it went and dropped one of the most ridiculous conclusions I can ever remember watching. The climax was fine; Stevens works out who the bomber is and they prevent a future nuclear attack. Great, well done. Then Stevens asks to be sent back into the Source Code to try and prevent the original bomb from going off, even though he’s repeatedly told that it would make no difference.

But guess what? It turns out that it DOES make a difference. Well, in that particular reality anyway. Cool, nice little twist, especially when he sends a text message to the Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), the woman he’s been liaising with in the ‘real’ reality, explaining that he had managed to stop the disaster. It’s a little confusing to explain but is a lot clearer on screen. Well it is until the denouement and then everything seems to go to shit.

In the Source Code reality, Stevens has disarmed the bomb, tied up the bomber and is pretty damn happy with himself. He has challenged a fellow passenger, a comedian who seems a bit of a dick, to make everyone laugh and has just made a move on his travelling companion Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who Sean Fentress obviously knows but Colter Stevens has had to get to know over the several eight-minute periods. So, they share a kiss, everyone on the train is happy and laughing and time freezes as the eight minutes he is allowed in the Source Code is up.

Everyone loves a happy ending...There. Just leave it there. Credits roll, please. You’ve got the happy ending that the film didn’t even need in the first place, but just leave us with a nice open-ended conclusion. Does time carry on now that he’s stopped the bomb or will that reality, once again, cease to exist after eight minutes? Just leave us to that thought and the film would have been rounded off nicely.

But then time unfreezes again. Everything continues and all those people will continue with their lives without being blown to bits or being turned back into computer code. Erm OK, I can see where you’re going with this. You want to give Stevens a super happy ending and give the audience a reason to go ‘fuck yeah we beat the terrorists and now it’s a big love-in’. Back in the ‘real world’ (it’s easy to make a few Matrix comparisons here), Goodwin has taken pity on Stevens, who we learn is being kept in a military facility on life support following an accident in Afghanistan, and turn off the machines keeping him alive, allowing him to die. But it’s Jake Gyllenhaal and he’s the good guy, the one all the men want to be and the women want to be with. He can’t really die, who’s going to make the audience grin and high-five when they leave the cinema? Forget the fact that Stevens actually wanted to die and had made peace with his dad, whom he had argued with previously, and had helped in foiling a nuclear attack, THAT’S JUST NOT HAPPY ENOUGH! IT MUST BE HAPPIER!

Instead, Stevens now gets to live on in an alternate reality with a new love of his life and everything is marvellous. But wait a second, if Stevens has assumed the body of Sean Fentress, then what the hell has happened to him? The face looking back at Christina is that of Sean’s, but it’s Stevens’ mind inside. Does Sean now just not exist? Has his mind just disappeared into thin air? So, while Christina and Stevens live on in happiness, Sean Fentress’ world is now completely torn to pieces. Just think of his family.

This picture makes as much sense as the film's endingAlso, in this alternate reality that Steven’s now inhabits, the Source Code machine hasn’t needed to be used because he stopped the bomb, but the actual Colter Stevens from that reality is still attached to the life support in the military facility. A little confusing, I know. But if that’s the case, unless I’m very much mistaken, then that means there are TWO Colter Stevens now in that reality. It just doesn’t make sense. My brain hurts.

There could well be an explanation for these points (and maybe I’m just too blinkered to see it), but rather than question the possibility of alternate realities and parallel universes, all I’m questioning is the writers’ ability to successfully craft a decent script. It seems that thought-provoking and coherent storytelling has been sacrificed for a happy ‘Hollywood’ ending that serves no purpose other than to attempt to satisfy the sentimentality of a particular demographic of cinema-goers who, if they had any inkling as to the film’s premise, probably wouldn’t have watched it with those expectations anyway.

Source Code got a pretty positive reception from critics when released, which makes me think I’m completely missing the point of it. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was an interesting concept and well done right up until the last five or ten minutes.  Am I over thinking it or is the ending really as full of train-sized plot holes as it appears? Maybe I’m just not as versed in quantum physics or whatever as I need to be.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Film review: The Prestige

“Now you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.”

The Prestige

Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are two aspiring illusionists working together in Victorian London, but when Angier’s wife is killed during an act, the two are torn apart. Hell-bent on outdoing each other, the pair, both aided and hampered by the beautiful Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlett Johansson), go to extraordinary lengths to prove they are the greater magician.

The Prestige formed part of a magical double bill in 2006 alongside The Illusionist, but largely thanks to its trio of Jackman, Bale and Johansson it pretty much eclipsed its illusionary brethren. It also had the advantage of having Christopher Nolan at the helm fresh from Batman Begins to lend a bit of narrative nouse that the director has become renowned for. Adapted from Christopher Priest’s novel of the same name, The Prestige is an atmospheric period piece that effectively combines magic’s inherent mystery and intrigue with a plot that constantly keeps you second guessing right to the very end.

Christian BaleThe narrative jumps around between different time periods of the magicians’ rivalry, although Nolan does well to ensure it never becomes too confusing. The carefully crafted mise-en-scene not only creates an intriguing world for the characters, but also elicits a certain dreamlike quality that is equal parts beautiful and sinister. Neither Algiers nor Borden are particularly likeable characters; both have somewhat dishonourable intentions and it’s hard to know who to naturally side with. This, combined with the cinematography and flitting narrative all adds to the feeling that nothing is quite as it seems and that you shouldn’t be so quick to take everything at face value.

The Prestige is a film that definitely warrants a second viewing, presuming you enjoyed it first time round of course. There are some superb instances of foreshadowing, with some being much more subtle than others. Again, this just adds to the film’s mystery and intrigue. And as with ‘real’ magic, these are the things the film does best. The plot itself has a few holes in it here and there, although nothing that will break the film, and the characters can be a little one-dimensional at times. Bale’s Borden is by far the pick of the bunch, whilst Jackman and Johansson don’t exactly give memorable performances. In fact, Jackman’s best moments are when he actually plays Gerald Root, an out of work actor used as Algier’s double in his act.

Although magic is undoubtedly the basis for the film, it also becomes somewhat of a MacGuffin. The real theme of the story is two men with an all-consuming obsession and a friendship not just turned sour, but deadly. The Prestige is an interesting example of art imitating art and one that challenges the audience to question everything they are seeing. With magic it’s the reveal that gets the big reactions, and The Prestige just about delivers on this front. It’s not going to have you open-mouthed in amazement but it will likely leave you with a sense of satisfaction, if indeed you had at all been fooled. But then again, as the quote at the top of this review states, you don’t really want to work it out anyway.

Words: Chris Thomson

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TV review: Game of Thrones – Season 1

Game of Thrones is not an easy show to describe. Based on George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, it sees a number of different families from all over the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros all vying for dynastic power and control. That’s it in a very small, anaemic looking nutshell, but trying to adequately describe the storyline is damn near impossible. There’s the Starks (essentially the good guys), the Lanisters (the bad guys), the barbaric Dothraki, and other clans and families fighting for control of the Iron Throne. There’s also another plot line revolving around The Wall, a barrier between the rest of the world and the freezing cold North where there have been reports of long-thought-disappered creatures killing those who misadventure too far. Add to that a smattering of other bits and bobs and it starts to get a little complicated.

Game of Thrones

But that’s always the way with HBO dramas – there’s loads going on with loads of characters and it takes you a while to get into the story and understand everything that’s going on. Once you do get to grips with things, however, Game of Thrones is thoroughly absorbing viewing. The world of Westeros is brilliantly realised and totally believable, and its inhabitants are intriguing and varied in their personalities. Very few of the characters feel surplus to requirements and there’s a genuine desire to see how each of the storylines develop, from the power struggle between the Starks and the Lanisters to little Arya Stark learning to swordfight.

There are characters you’ll love and root for and characters who will make you seethe with rage, but you simply can’t deny that even the most hateful of characters are brought to life superbly. Standouts include Ned Stark (Sean Bean going all Boromir), Petyr Bailish (Aiden Gillen) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), although you could to pretty much any of the others for further examples. However, without a doubt the best performance comes from Peter Dinklage as the diminutive Tyrion Lanister, known also as The Imp. His wit and sharp tongue is blended seamlessly with more sensitive moments; inviting you to root for him even though the rest of his family are the most abhorrent of the lot.

Spread over a rather thin ten episodes, this first season very much feels like a prelude to what’s to come. Very few of the storylines are resolved, but you’re never left frustrated, simply eager to see what’s to come next – a sign of truly great story telling. Game of Thrones is definitely not for those who struggle to keep track of multiple story arcs, but if you have the time to invest, then you’ll discover a rich world teeming with fascinating characters and enough blood and boobs to make even the heaviest eyebrows rise a little.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Movie trailer blowout: Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 2, Monsters University & Taken 2

Another couple of big-name trailers have hit the ‘net, so have a little look at them below…

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2

The Twilight: Breaking Dawn part 2 teaser trailer was released a little while back, but now the first full trailer has found its way online. You know what to expect from this by now; there’s not really much new to tell. If you’re a Twlight fan this will likely have you more excited than a vampire at a blood drive; if not then you’re probably sick of the sight of Stewart and Pattinson’ glum little faces. Expect some brooding, some fighting, a bit more brooding, a little running, and then a little more brooding on top for good measure.

Expect to see lines of giddy girls and reluctant boyfriends when the final part in the saga hits cinemas on November 16th.

Monsters University

Disney Pixar have taken their sweet little time with this one – it’ll be an unbelievable 12 years since the original by the time this hits screens next year. However, they don’t seem to have had any problem in remembering what made the original so popular. Monsters University is a prequel to the groundbreaking original and documents how Sully, Mike, et al, learnt their trade in the scare business. As a teaser, this gives very little away other than you can expect more of the great repartee between Billy Crystal’s Mike and John Goodman’s Sully.

You can expect Monsters University in cinemas next summer.

Taken 2

This came as a little bit of a bolt out of a blue, but a very welcome one nonetheless. Taken 2 looks like it’s going to feature more of what made the first such a sleeper hit. There’s plenty of Liam Neeson beating up and shooting people, Liam Neeson talking on the phone, and Liam Neeson not knowing who people are, but finding them and killing them. It doesn’t look like it’s going to reinvent the wheel, but looks enjoyable enough anyway.

Taken 2 is out in October.

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Film review: District 9

District 9It’s not difficult to see the subtext in District 9. In fact, it’s so blatant that it’s barely even a subtext at all. The story was inspired by writer/director Neill Blomkamp’s childhood growing up in the South African apartheid, and those influences are worn unapologetically on the film’s sleeve.

A huge spaceship hangs over Johannesburg, South Africa. We don’t really know why it’s there or where it’s come from. Its inhabitants, derogatorily nicknamed ‘prawns’ due to their appearance and perception as bottom-feeders, were found malnourished on the ship and subsequently housed by the government in a large township called District 9. Now living in squalor, the aliens have outstayed their welcome and are to be evicted by munitions company Multi-National United. Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is in charge of the evictions, but during the process is infected with a strange, black alien chemical. After the horrific effects of the chemical become apparent, he must team up with the prawns to survive.

The themes of social segregation, alienation and xenophobia smack you in the face from the very beginning, and it would be very easy to simply replace the aliens with black South Africans being exploited by the white men in suits. You don’t have to dig too deep to view the real life comparisons the film makes, but it’s handled well and doesn’t feel like a story that’s been told a thousand times before.

Seeing the aliens treated as they are is shocking, and the filmmakers have done a good job of giving the aliens a human element to elicit a more sympathetic reaction – although you could argue it speaks volumes that a human element is needed in order for us to feel that sympathy. It is even more shocking that real-life events are not too dissimilar (minus the alien technology, obviously) to those depicted on screen.

PrawnThe film’s strength lies in it’s first half, where we discover how the aliens are living and how they are treated; being guinea pigs for weapon testing, controlled by their addiction to cat food, assaulted and abused at every opportunity. It’s a depressingly believable situation but one that is absorbing and intriguing. The aliens have different personalities and skills (some are computer experts, for example), whilst there are whole families looking out for each other and simply struggling to survive.

However, the second half of the film loses direction slightly and veers off into more typical action film territory rather than the social commentary the first half establishes. That’s not to say the film goes dramatically down hill, it just seems to lose focus a little. Despite that, it’s engaging from start to finish, is well paced and feels genuinely original.

Throughout District 9, primary characters are kept to a minimum. We see plenty of Wikus and his alien companion Christopher, but other than that there are few characters who feature heavily. Often, this would lead a film to become a little two-dimensional, but limiting the number of primary characters works in District 9′s favour; we are afforded more time with the protagonists to see how their relationship develops, whilst the secondary characters, including Wikus’s wife and work colleagues, complement the main story nicely.

Wikus himself is an interesting character, and it’s intriguing to see how he develops as the story progresses. Initially a slightly hapless but nonetheless loyal white collar worker, he has the same resentment for the prawns as everyone else, but as he is forced to work alongside the aliens, he shares their plight and becomes one of them, in more ways than one.

District 9 is the kind of film that stays with you for quite a while after you’ve watched it. It effortlessly blends sci-fi and an examination of real-world issues that, although based on the past, are still relevant. Whilst it does lose its way slightly, Blomkamp has created a film that doesn’t sit in any particular genre, but instead carves its own niche and stands tall within it.

Words: Chris Thomson

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One Lovely Blog Award

One Lovely Blog Award

Seeing as this blog hasn’t been up and running for that long, it’s pretty nice to get a bit of recognition, which has come along from the very kind ClaratsiMovieBlog, so a massive thanks for that. Now I need to do my bit to keep the award nominations rolling on…

To accept this award:

  • Link back to the blogger who nominated you.
  • Paste the award image on your blog.
  • Tell 7 facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other blogs that you would like to give the award to.

Contact the bloggers that you have chosen and let them know about the award.

Here are 7 incredibly (un)interesting facts about me:

1. I am a qualified journalist

2. I am a football (soccer) referee in my spare time

3. I went to the same university as Danny Boyle (Bangor in North Wales)

4. I nearly died from heart failure when I was 22

5. I am training for my first marathon

6. I have a Pearl Jam tattoo on my right leg

7. I crack my knuckles too much

And here are the blogs I am passing this award on to:

1. Fogs’ Movie Reviews

2. TDYLF

3. Southern Vision

4. Reel Club

5. ClaratsiMovieBlog

6. Fandango Groovers Movie Blog

7. Marked Movies

8. Cirque Du Cinema

9. The Scruffy Nerdherder

10. Love Your Movies

11. Graham Edwards

To be honest, those are all the blogs i’m following as of yet, but as I inevitably follow more, I’ll try and remember to update this. To all those I’ve nominated, keep up the good work; I’m loving reading all your posts.

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A few of the best and worst movie dads

With Father’s Day coming up this weekend, I thought I’d highlight just a few of the best and worst dads the world of film has ever seen. So, without further ado…

The Best

Chris Gardener – The Pursuit of Happyness

Real life father and sonA film about simply doing what you have to do to provide for your family. Gardener (Will Smith) faces setback after setback in trying to provide a life for his family but never gives in. His wife leaves him, he’s investigated by the IRS and he and his son are evicted and have to sleep in a subway toilet. All in all, pretty rough stuff. Still, Gardener defies all the odds to turn his life around and make a better life for him and his son. There are plenty of reasons why this is such an affecting film, namely because it’s based on a true story, so all this crazy stuff actually happened. Also, it teams up Will Smith with his real-life son Jaden, adding that extra bit of chemistry between the two.

Atticus Finch – To Kill a Mockingbird

Atticus (Gregory Peck) doesn’t directly do a massive amount for his children in To Kill a Mockingbird. He doesn’t save their life or anything like that, but, instead, shows them that decency and standing up for what you believe is right are some of the most important traits a person can have. Atticus puts himself on the line for something he believes in and shows his children what being a compassionate and caring human being is all about.

Bryan Mills – Taken

I will look for you, i will find you, and i will kill youFirst of all, having Liam Neeson as your dad would be pretty damn amazing in itself. However, when he’s a CIA agent capable of taking out numerous armed thugs en route to rescuing his kidnapped daughter, you’ve got probably the coolest dad ever. Parents often say they would do anything for their kids. Well, in Taken that has never proved quite so apt.

Harry Stamper – Armageddon

Bruce Willis lands on a motherflippin’ asteroid and saves the Earth! Although he does effectively condemn his daughter to a life of living with Ben Affleck, so this one is 50/50.

Mufasa – The Lion King

The circle of lifeMufasa does his best to teach his little lion cub Simba the ways of the world but is tragically killed saving his son’s life in one of the most tear-jerking Disney moments to that point. Whilst many dads would have simply passed unto the void, Mufasa has the goodness to appear to his son as visions in the sky and cloud formations. Parenting from beyond the grave; now that’s dedication.

The Worst

Darth Vader

I am your father. Hug and make up?Before he even becomes Vader, Anakin Skywalker does his best to kill his wife and unborn child. He then lops off his son’s hand and does his very best to finish the job. You could argue that he is redeemed by saving his son’s life at the end, but that hardly makes up for the years of genocide and planet destruction. Ghost Yoda and Obi Wan at the end of Return of the Jedi are far too forgiving.

Humbert Humbert – Lolita

Not technically a father, but Humbert (James Mason) does act as the devious little nymphet’s guardian after her mother is hit by a car. This is after he has become so besotted with Lolita that he agrees to marry her mother just so he can be close to her and her sunbathing, hula hooping, ice lolly teasing ways. Humbert’s relationship with his ‘daughter’ is a little too close for comfort and, well, let’s just leave it at that.

All work and no play makes Jack a raging psycopathJack Torrence – The Shining

Teaching your son to shave, teaching your children to ride a bike, playing football in the park; all good fatherly things to do. Trying to hack your wife and son to bits with an axe? Not so much.

These are just a few famous film dads, but there are countless more, so hit us up with your suggestions for the best and worst.

Happy Father’s Day!

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Film review: Prometheus

Prometheus film posterIs it a prequel or isn’t it? Well yes, but not really. Kind of.

And therein lies arguably Prometheus’ biggest problem – it’s not really sure what it wants to be. Ridley Scott originally conceived Prometheus as a direct prequel to his 1979 seminal sci-fi horror Alien, but later shelved it due to the development of the monstrosity that was Alien vs Predator. He then picked up the project again sometime later but decided to move away from the idea of a prequel, instead opting for a film that referenced Alien and existed in the same universe but was not directly a part of the series.

Prometheus kicks off with archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discovering a cave painting featuring a constellation of stars that has also been found in paintings and carvings from other civilisations on Earth. Believing that this could somehow hold the secret of life on Earth, the pair, along with a hefty crew that includes the obligatory android, David (Michael Fassbender), and The Company’s cold and corporate Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), depart for the moon LV-223. But, of course, it all goes a bit pear-shaped and what they discover turns out to not just be a threat to themselves, but the whole of mankind.

Scott has reiterated several times that Prometheus is not a true Alien prequel, but at the same time hasn’t been subtle with connecting it to the original franchise. It’s the Weyland Corporation behind the expedition; there’s an android (or artificial person as they prefer); some of the creatures are more than a little familiar; and the whole plot revolves around Space Jockeys (or Engineers to give them their proper name), the mysterious species seen in Alien when Ripley et al first discover the downed ship on LV-426. It’s a clever way to drum up hype, but it only succeeds in neither standing on its own two feet nor providing a real link to the original film. Throughout much of the film, it struggles to find its own direction, seemingly unsure of how closely to stick to canon and how far to diverge from it.

Meredith VickersThis is down to the script which, for the most part, is pretty terrible. For a start, there are far too many characters; there’s a crew of 17 on board Prometheus, some of whom we see for little more than a couple of minutes and, as such, care very little whether they live, die or become enraged zombie-aliens. Try and remember the names of more than a few of the crew and you’ll have done well. The character development for those we do see a little more of is also non-existent. There’s little to no exposition and no depth to them whatsoever. Holloway is a prime example of this. Billed as the male lead, his character adds absolutely nothing to the story and is so underdeveloped you actually end up forgetting he’s even there at all.

Noomi Rapace is decent enough as Shaw, although the attempts to give her a back story seem very halfhearted and almost an afterthought. Vickers as The Company’s representative on the mission is an intriguing character but somewhat underused, and is one of the few characters you actually want to see more of. Then we come to David, the crew’s resident android and the single best thing about Prometheus. Fassbender delivers a superb performance, once again proving he’s one of the most versatile actors around at the moment. David’s creepy and unnerving persona continually has you second guessing his motives throughout and whether he has an agenda other than the one presented. Stealing every scene he’s in, it’s equal parts depressing and amazing that, as an android, he has more personality than the vast majority of the other crew members.

On to the plot. Prometheus starts of well enough, sets the scene, and just when you think it’s going to turn up the atmosphere and crank up the tension, well, it just doesn’t. You never really get that sense of fear and everything just becomes that little bit predictable. Nothing of relevance really seems to happen until towards the end when everything just feels hacked to pieces and it jumps all over the place; hopefully the inevitable Director’s Cut will add a bit more coherence to the narrative.

David, the crew's android

“The reason we came here was to find answers.”

These are the words uttered to David by Holloway as he explains his reasons for the expedition, and could also represent the mindset of many of the Alien fans excited to see Prometheus. However, it poses many more questions than it answers, which just leaves a sense of frustration and confusion. Trying to make sense of the events in Prometheus is a near impossible task, which is often just the result of poor writing rather than intriguing and enticing plot twists and turns.

We didn’t really need a load of answers; a film simply existing alongside Alien would have been fine, but Scott just couldn’t help throwing in ties to Alien that meant a direct comparison was always going to happen. And if that comparison is in any way intended then you have to make sure it fits nicely together, otherwise you’ll have fans baying for blood. Scott has said that there could well be a sequel, and if there is, it will likely move further away still from Alien. That is absolutely fine, but that’s the intentions, make sure it does move away from Alien; don’t keep clinging on to it.

Elizabeth ShawPrometheus has taken quite a hammering in this review, but it’s not a total disaster. There is, of course, the aforementioned superlative Fassbender performance, but it also looks absolutely stunning. From the beautiful vistas of the film’s outset to the Giger-inspired interiors, it is visually gorgeous and presents the film with an incredibly grand sense of scale. Also, the 3D actually works very well, adding an extra layer of depth to the visuals, whilst remaining subtle enough to not become distracting. On presentation alone Prometheus excels, but unfortunately is let down on too many other fronts. With a clear direction Prometheus could have been so much more, but it just failed to develop an identity that could work on its own or as part of the Alien series.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Film review: The Dictator

Whilst Borat was one of the most outlandish and original comedies of recent memory, Sacha Baron Cohen’s next creation, Brüno, was little more than irritating. The Dictator, featuring Cohen’s latest persona, the tyrannical but clueless General Aladeen, takes a different direction to the previous films, opting for a more scripted story rather than the more spontaneous ‘real life’ encounters that helped Cohen carve his niche.

General Aladeen

The Dictator is essentially a fish out of water story. After the UN gets twitchy about the nuclear weapons programme of Wadiya, the country’s egomaniacal despot, General Aladeen, is summoned to explain the actions of his nation. However, following a botched assassination, Aladeen, helped by the liberal Zoey (Anna Faris), is forced to integrate into everyday society.

Despite moving away from the usual Cohen formula, The Dictator still delivers a tirade of political incorrectness and jokes that will make you wonder whether to laugh or be outraged. There’s jibes about Arabs, women, feminist lesbians; just about everyone gets a turn in the firing line, although perhaps the most reviled of everyone is America and western culture in general.

When The Dictator is funny, it’s very funny indeed, but be prepared for more stifled chuckles than roaring belly laughs. Maybe it’s because Borat has already covered similar comedic territory, but once you’ve heard a few let’s-oppress-the-women-esque jokes, they start to become a little tired and lose their impact. After a while, the jokes also seem a little shoe-horned in and the film almost feels like a sketch show; a series of set pieces that don’t contribute anything to the story whatsoever.

However, there are attempts to diversify the styles of humour (probably to appeal to a wider audience), which does prevent the film from getting stale for too long. For every few satirical oppressed minority jibes, there’s a ‘bloke-on-a-bicycle-with-a-ladder’ style piece of slapstick. There’s definitely something for everyone to enjoy, but it does at times feel as if it’s trying to appeal to too wide an audience and therefore loses focus.

The Dictator is clearly Cohen’s attempt to break into the mainstream, and the story represents this. Behind the risque jokes, it is reasonably formulaic and nothing really comes as a huge surprise; there is definitely an element of playing it safer with this one, although the more sentimental elements to the story are handled pretty well. It’d be interesting to see how Cohen would handle a total departure from his comfort zone in the future to discover whether his talents are transferable into other genres.

If Borat is the sublime and Brüno the ridiculous, The Dictator sits somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t have the originality and freshness of the former, but is much more palatable than the latter, and arguably has more mass appeal than both. Many have compared Cohen to Peter Sellers for his character comedy, but it’s still too early to make such a comparison. The Dictator will probably do nothing to either enhance or harm his career, but his next film could well define it.

Words: Chris Thomson

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