Homer Numan

Homer Numan

Friday, October 23, 2009

Couples Retreat -- or preferably run away

The first film I saw in a cinema was 'Grease' back in 1979. There was literally a scrum at the door to get in. The auditorium was completely packed and the whole thing was a real event from start to finish.

Fast forward 30 years and we have huge multiplexes with myriad screens, virtually all of them close to empty. Why should this be? At around a fiver, a cinema ticket isn't overly expensive, most venues turn a blind eye to sneaking in your own snacks and the seats are comfortable and often recline. What's not to like?

Well there IS one little problem. The actual product on offer is, let's be honest, generally dire. I've seen literally dozens of films this year, and with a handful of exceptions, they have ranged from uninspired to atrocious.

One in the latter camp is most definitely 'Couples Retreat', a supposed comedy with all the laughs of an audience with Gordon Brown.

On paper, this movie looks decent enough -- a talented cast including Vince Vaughn, one of the girls from 'Sex And The City' and various other reasonably familiar faces. The premise of four couples going for a 'bonding' week in paradise surely has some great comic possibilities a la 'The Hangover' no?

That IS a no. This film is painful to watch -- it fails to be either a romantic or gross-out comedy, or indeed a comedy of any sort whatsoever. One example is Vaughn's 'shark' scene, reminiscent of a joke with no punchline.
We're treated to mind-numbingly tedious therapy sessions, a couple of middle-aged man's embaressment moments and an obese guy's butt.
The male characters are dull and annoying while their partners are completely forgettable. No-one seems even remotely interested in being on set, never mind in a major movie.
When the sole laugh is delivered via a small boy on a toilet, you know you've hit rock bottom.

And while this may be, by a squeak, the worst film I've seen this year, it's by no means unique. I've also sat through Ricky Gervais' lame 'Invention Of Lying', Terry Gilliam's complete mess of a movie 'Imaginarium' and the dreadful Jim Carey vehicle 'Yes Man.' OK there have been pluses -- Tarrantino's 'Inglorious Basterds' is well worth a look, Jason Statham's 'Crank 2' is good knuckle-headed fun and Disney's recent kids classic 'Up' is a real gem, but just about everything else is at best forgettable.

It does make you wonder how films are actually chosen for the multiplexes. Hundreds of movies are made every year, but only a minute percentage appear in your local fleapit. Surely it would be feasible for each multiplex to set aside one or two screens for 'less mainstream' films. After all they could hardly be less well attended than most of the 'big budget blockbusters', many of which attract a dozen or so punters to an auditorium seated for several hundred.

At a time when the public's attention is easily distracted by myriad TV channels, computer games and unlimited online entertainment, the film industry needs to be taking bold steps to get those bums back on seats. That means quality product -- comedy that is actually funny rather than embaressing, horror that scares rather than disgusts and thrillers that actually have a plot rather than a pile of explosions.

'Couples Retreat' is the perfect example of everything that is wrong with today's cinema -- tired, uninteresting stodge that will encourage no-one to return. Major rethink needed.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Editors In This Light and on This Evening

It doesn't often happen but sometimes seeing a band live that you're barely familiar with can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

A couple of months ago my total number of Last.Fm plays for Editors was one. As of today it's almost two hundred.
My mate John lent me the band's first album 'The Back Room' and while I wasn't blown away, I was impressed and we booked tickets for their Belfast gig on October 7th.

As the huge opening synth (yes synth) bars of 'In This Light and On This Evening' echoed around the venue I was suddenly and abruptly hooked. This track is quite simply awesome as is the new single 'Papillon', neither of which I'd heard before the gig.

Check out the video for 'Papillon' (below) -- a simple but effective shoot of one man running. Sometimes joined by others but ultimately alone, the video is open to interpretation, at least one commentator comparing it to the scene in 'Forrest Gump' where Tom Hanks runs the USA solo. For me it represents one line from the song -- 'you're born, grow old and die here'. The lyrics basically concern the need for a deity -- 'if there really was a god here, he'd have raised a hand by now', a subject which you won't be surprised to know I agree with, but even without such profoundity I'd still love this wonderful synth driven classic.

The Editors have sharply divided their fanbase with this move away from indie rock to VNV Nation style synth but damn I'm in the thumbs up camp.

And the gig? Well aside from ringing ears for several days afterwards it was fucking brilliant. This may well be the start of attending more gigs by artists I'm less familiar with. Hey you only live once. And that's quite enough for me dear.

The Editors Papillon

It kicks like a sleep twitch.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Invention of Lying

The somewhat unlikely transition of Ricky Gervais from 'Office' cultdom to Hollywood stalwart appeared to be vindicated by his recent 'Ghost Town' foray, perhaps best described as a gentle triumph.

So how would he deal with the really big concept? The notion of a world where no-one was able to tell a lie, or indeed even thought of doing so, is a potentially fascinating one, ripe with possibility for both mirth and wisdom.

Things begin promisingly enough with tubby Gervais arriving for a first date with the attractive Jennifer Garner, who almost immediately informs him that sex is off the menu as she doesn't find him attractive. Refreshing if just a tad galling.
Their restaurant date proves richly entertaining thanks to a brutally honest waiter and a hilarious inter-meal phone call from Garner's mother.

But it quickly becomes apparent that a world where no-one tells lies is both a cruel and depressing place. On being fired from his job, Gervais' secretary informs him that she loathed almost every moment she worked for him. Another colleague informs Gervais that he has always hated him.

And in a twist which few outside Hollywood would have thought of, all 'movies' consist of someone reading historical facts from a given century, logical when you consider that nothing can be 'made up.'

There are a few rich 'commercial' asides, particularly 'Pepsi -- for when they don't have Coke' and the guy in the Coke commercial opining that 'it's a bit too sweet'.

But things come unstuck almost as soon as Gervais thinks up the idea of lying -- in this case by telling the bank cashier that he has more money in his account than he actually has.

His exploitation of this incredible discovery is muted at best, pathetic at worst. 'Winning' some money at a casino and getting his job back with a made-up script about the 13th century might not be everyone's first priorities.

And things really go pear-shaped when Gervais (a committed atheist in real life) 'makes up' a notion of heaven to comfort his dying mother in hospital. Overheard by several nurses, he is besieged at home by huge crowds demanding to know about this supposed afterlife.

It goes without saying that attacking the 'man in the sky' idea is akin to shooting fish in a barrel. To achieve any thought-provoking or comic effect, it needs to be done subtlely, a la 'Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy' for instance. Instead, Gervais goes for the bull at a gate approach, coming across as infantile. Though the 'sermon on the mount' using two pizza boxes as stone tablets is a nice little touch it has to be said.

The highly unsatisfactory rom-com denouement is both disappointing and pathetic and we're left with a high concept ruined by a complete cop-out plot-wise and a screenplay that simply doesn't flow.

And WTAF with the bottles of Budweiser everywhere? Product placement fair enough but this is just ridiculous. Even when Gervais becomes a recluse with a drink problem, he's still surrounded by bottles of Bud. As the guy in the advert might say 'it's too sweet.'

(3 out of 10)